NASA's 'chief sniffer' smells everything before it goes to space - We Are The Mighty
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NASA’s ‘chief sniffer’ smells everything before it goes to space

Thanks to George Aldrich and his team of NASA sniffers, astronauts can breathe a little bit easier. Aldrich is a chemical specialist or “chief sniffer” at the White Sands Test Facility’s Molecular Desorption and Analysis Laboratory in New Mexico. His job is to smell items before they can be flown in the space shuttle.

Aldrich explained that smells change in space and that once astronauts are up there, they’re stuck with whatever smells are onboard with them. In space, astronauts aren’t able to open the window for extra ventilation, Aldrich said. He also said that it is important not to introduce substances that will change the delicate balance of the climate of the International Space Station and the space shuttle.


More than being merely unpleasant, smells in space can indicate a health threat. Even objects that give off no odor can emit dangerous chemicals by a process called off-gassing. If an object’s off-gassing has toxic effects, it can be a matter of life and death.

“Smell is brought out by confined spaces and heat,” said Aldrich, “yet astronauts have no way of escaping a smell if it becomes pervasive. If that smell comes from dangerous compounds, it’s a serious health threat.”

It is Aldrich’s job to use his sense of smell to ensure the olfactory comfort, as well as the safety, of astronauts on orbit.

When he was just 18 years old, Aldrich began working at White Sand’s fire department and was asked to be on the department’s Odor Panel. Aldrich explained that one of the requirements to get a job as a sniffer is a lack of any allergies or respiratory problems. “If you have a lot of allergies, your nasal passages are already irritated and cannot be used,” he said.

(NASA photo)

NASA calibrates and certifies its sniffers’ noses every four months using a “10-bottle test” in which seven of the bottles have odors and three of them are blanks. The seven scents must be categorized as musky, floral, ethereal, camphoraceous, minty, pungent or putrid.

According to the NASAexplores Web site, Aldrich’s team tests nearly all items that astronauts would encounter during their flight — including fabric, toothpaste, circuit boards, makeup and even the ink on their checklists.

First, the items are tested for toxicity. They are placed into individually sealed containers and then into an oven, which is heated to 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) for three days to speed up the off-gassing process. The gases are then extracted and tested to determine whether they are toxic or carcinogenic. If the gases are deemed safe, the items then undergo odor testing.

Aldrich and four other team members smell the items and rank them on a scale of zero to four, ranging from non-detectable (zero), to barely detectable, easily detectable, objectionable and offensive (four). Aldrich refers to level four as “get-me-out-of-here.” Because the sense of smell can vary from person to person, sniffers give each object its own ratings, from which an average is obtained. If an item rates more than a 2.4 on the scale, it fails the test and is not allowed on the flight. Some items that have failed are camera film, felt-tipped markers, mascara and certain types of stuffed animals. Aldrich has done 765 of these “smell missions” to date.

(NASA photo)

NASA could use dogs or “electronic noses” for this testing, but as Aldrich pointed out, the Agency would rather use human sniffers because they serve as a screening test for the also-human astronauts. The human testers can more accurately identify smells that will offend the human crewmembers than an electronic nose could.

As a result of his career, Aldrich has had some uncommon opportunities. He has served as a judge four times at the Odor-Eaters Rotten Sneaker Competition. He has also appeared on television a number of times, including appearances on two game shows.

While others may chuckle at his unusual occupation, Aldrich said he believes in its value.

“I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think it was important,” he said.

This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.

Humor

These old Navy training videos on how to flirt are hilariously bad

The National Archives hosts countless educational films that have come from the military throughout the ages. If you want to learn about declassified nuclear testing, they’ve got it. If you want to learn how to properly resist communist propaganda, they’ve got that, too. If you want to learn the 1960’s way of wooing women, you better believe the U.S. Military has wasted money on making those videos, too.


First, in the filmmaker’s defense, videos that covered overall health and general well-being weren’t uncommon at the time. It should also go without saying that the advice the narrator gives — likely with the best of intentions — is a product of its time. There are a few gems in there that, by modern standards, are cringe-inducing, like, “treat her as an equal. Women love that!”

The first film in the series, Blondes Prefer Gentlemen, is a play on the Marilyn Monroe film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The 15-minute instructional movie follows two different midshipmen as they go on a date with a blonde (the narrator clarifies that the advice works for all women, regardless of hair color. Good to know). One midshipman, Charlie, shows all the “Don’ts.” Jack showcases all the “Dos.”

There’s actually plenty of legitimate advice in this film for fine dinning etiquette, including which fork to use during fancy dinners, how to start a proper conversation that engages everyone at the table, how to place unused silverware during the meal, and how to not be an arrogant prick during a three-course meal.

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The second video is a bit more, uh, of the times. If you only watch the first three minutes of How to Succeed with Brunettes, you could get the wrong impression. It joking plays off the “don’t” list before explaining all the ways things went wrong. Instead of spending the rest of the film on ways to actually “succeed” with your date, it instead tells you how to properly present her to your superior officer.

Of course, they sprinkle in nice, gentlemanly advice, like walking on the curbside of the sidewalk, opening doors for your date, and letting her pick a place to sit in the movie theater — you know, actual advice. Then, things take a nosedive directly back into, “here’s how you present your date to the Admiral.”

Give these videos a watch and appreciate how far we’ve come.

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MIGHTY TRENDING

Now the Russians are courting North Korea

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the country’s foreign minister ahead of a planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in June 2018.

Lavrov’s May 31, 2018 visit — his first to North Korea since 2009 — was seen as an attempt by Moscow to ensure its voice is heard in Pyongyang’s diplomatic overtures with the United States and South Korea.

Lavrov met Kim in Pyongyang, Russia’s Foreign Ministry tweeted, and extended an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin for the North Korean leader to visit Russia.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was too early to know whether there would be a Putin-Kim meeting in Russia.

Lavrov began his visit to North Korea by meeting with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.


“We welcome contacts between North and South Korea, as well as between North Korea and the United States,” Lavrov said on May 31, 2018, after meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.

The Russian minister called on “all the parties involved to fully realize their responsibility for preventing the failure of such an important but fragile process.”

Moscow is interested in implementing joint economic projects with Pyongyang and Seoul, including railway construction, Lavrov also said.

Russia and North Korea share a small border that is only a few kilometers from the Far East city of Vladivostok and they enjoy relatively cordial relations.

Lavrov’s trip to Pyongyang comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity to organize a historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Kim’s right-hand man, General Kim Yong Chol, in New York late on May 30 2018, to discuss the matter.

Kim Yong Chol, the most senior North Korean to visit the United States in nearly 20 years, dined with Pompeo and the two were due to meet again on May 31, 2018.

“Good working dinner with Kim Yong Chol in New York tonight. Steak, corn, and cheese on the menu,” Pompeo tweeted.

Trump previously cancelled the summit scheduled for June 12, 2018, in Singapore, but both sides have since made fresh efforts to hold it as planned.

Washington is seeking the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for certain economic and security benefits for Pyongyang.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Sergeant Major of the Army shares his reading list

Recently, I spoke with the Sergeant Major of the Army about COVID-19 and the challenges and opportunities we are facing right now as an Army and a Nation. He highlighted that now is the time to reassess our goals and set new ones.

One of your goals might be to read a book or two during this time. Goals are important and they are even more important now, as we all deal with the necessary restrictions to stop the spread.


We spoke again this week and he shared his reading list with me. He found that reading has helped him grow professionally and as a person. SMA Grinston also shared that reading helps him take a mental break from the day-to-day stressors of life. He even says that if he wasn’t a reader, he wouldn’t be the Sergeant Major of the Army.

You will notice that most of the books on this list aren’t about military battles or written by people in the Army for people in the Army. For the SMA, he likes to read about things outside the military to get new and fresh ideas. We both hope you find something on here that interests you.

The Reading List – in the SMA’s words:

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1. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard M. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

This is a controversial book –which is one of the reasons I like it. I read it when I was the FORSCOM Sergeant Major and it’s about choice architecture and how small changes to our environment can make a big difference. For example, the authors discuss an elementary school that placed food in different locations in the cafeteria to “nudge” the kids to make healthier choices…and it worked.

Since reading this book, I look at how I can make small changes to the placement of things in my personal life or in the Army to make it better.

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2. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action by Simon Sinek

I read this book as a brigade or division sergeant major, and it reminded me that sometimes in the Army we jump to the end first. When we ask our soldiers to do something, we focus on the how or the what and forget to explain the why.

Our enlisted Soldiers are smart, and when you explain the why to them, it increases their commitment to the mission. Sometimes, there isn’t enough time to explain why we are doing something, especially in the middle of a firefight, but most of the time we can. And as leaders, this is where we need to start.

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3. The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olson and John David Mann

After I was nominated Sergeant Major of the Army, people asked me for the keys to my professional success. I struggled to answer this question until the commander of the Old Guard recommended this book. Slight Edge helped me define for others how to be successful in the Army and how I got to where I’m at today.

The authors of this book look at what happens when you do something that no one else is willing to do and continue to do it over a long period of time. I’ve been in the Army for 32 years and every morning I wake up and do physical fitness. I read books for self-development. Doing those small things over time, year after year, made a difference in the long run. It’s about developing the discipline and commitment over a long period of time to achieve your goals.

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4. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

I think I was a Platoon Sergeant or Sergeant First Class when I read this book. Malcolm Gladwell discusses how it’s not only innate abilities that make people successful, other factors play a major role too –like timing.

One of the examples he uses in the book is Bill Gates. Growing up, Bill Gates had access to a computer early in his life which afforded him the opportunity to get 10,000 hours of practice with programming. Yes, he was born in the right place at the right time, but he also took advantage of the opportunity to make himself better.

This book has helped me focus on looking at the opportunities within assignments. I remember when I was nominated to be the brigade sergeant major of an infantry brigade. That job gave me the requisite skills and opened doors that led me down a path to where I am today. We all have the opportunity to be an outlier if we have the right mindset.

5. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

Since reading Mindset, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t reference or think about it. She writes about two mindsets: Growth vs. Fixed. A growth mindset says that even though I’m not good at a certain skill, I can learn and get better over time. With a fixed mindset, we don’t even try because we think we can’t grow beyond our current skill set. This line of thinking becomes more dangerous the higher in rank and position that leaders go in the Army.

6. Becoming a Resonant Leader: Develop Your Emotional Intelligence, Renew Your Relationships, Sustain Your Effectiveness by Annie McKee

I read this one as a corps sergeant major and this is probably my all-time favorite leadership book. Have you ever worked for someone and knew they weren’t listening to anything you said? As leaders, our level of emotional intelligence has a major impact on the morale of our Soldiers. We have to listen to our people and be mindful and show empathy.

This book made me a better leader, sergeant major, and follower. I started paying more attention to my own mindfulness.

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7. Winning by Jack Welch

I read this one around the time I was a sergeant first class or first sergeant and it taught me about the importance of managing talent. Welch writes that the top 5% of any organization needs to be identified and properly managed. He also writes that there is a large population of strong performers that will never be the top 5%, but are also important to the organization. He discusses how to identify, manage, and motivate both groups.

8. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This is the hardest book to read on this list. It took me a while to get through but I found it beneficial to understand the psychology of decision-making. I gained a much greater understanding and appreciation for how the mind works.

It’s difficult to read, but it helps us better understand how the mind works. If you like sociology and psychology books, this is a great starting place. The higher I go in position in the Army, the more I realize how important it is to understand human behavior. I have a greater appreciation now for how logic and emotion work together in the decision-making process and I know I’m a better leader and person for it.

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9. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

I read this one when I was a staff sergeant. I remember my battalion commander making all the officers read it and I wanted to learn something alongside them.

This was another controversial book when it was written. Heinlein uses science fiction to talk about what it means to be a citizen; he addresses the need for corrective training and several other issues that we see playing out today. This book is a fun read and makes for a great discussion between leaders in a unit.

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10. Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer

I read this one when I was a brigade sergeant major. It’s a thick one so if you decide to tackle it, it might take you awhile. I like Once an Eagle because it covers an entire career of an individual, his commitment to the Army, and the lessons he learns along the way. I found that when I read it, I put myself in the shoes of the main character and reflected on my own career.

Start today

During our interview, Grinston said he hopes you will want to read and take the opportunity now to start the habit of reading for professional development.

“I know life is difficult right now for a lot of people. But we will get through this.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

US accuses Russia of violating Cold War weapons treaty

Russia is unlikely to meet U.S. demands for more verification on a missile system Washington says has violated a key Cold War treaty, the lead U.S. negotiator on arms control issues said.

Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson downplayed the meetings that U.S. and Russian officials had in January 2019 in Geneva about the dispute, which has pushed the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to the brink of collapse.


And she downplayed an unusual public presentation made a day earlier in Moscow, in which Russian defense officials displayed elements of the disputed missile system, known as the 9M729 or SSC-8.

The Geneva talks weren’t “the normal bluster, propaganda, the kind of dramatics that we associate with some of these meetings,” Thompson said in a private briefing on Jan. 24, 2019.

Russian military presents 9M729 missile, which US claimed violates INF Treaty

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“But as I said before, we didn’t break any new ground. There was no new information. The Russians acknowledged having the system but continued to say in their talking points that it didn’t violate the INF Treaty despite showing them, repeated times, the intelligence, and information,” she said.

Thompson’s remarks were made nine days before a Feb. 2, 2019 deadline, when the United States has said it will formally withdraw from the treaty, and suspend its obligations.

“I’m not particularly optimistic” that Russia will meet U.S. demands to show it is complying with the treaty, she told reporters.

The 1987 treaty prohibits the two countries from possessing, producing, or deploying ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The agreement was the first of its kind to eliminate an entire class of missiles and is widely seen as a cornerstone of arms control stability, in Europe and elsewhere.

On Jan. 23, 2019, Russian officials held a public briefing for reporters and foreign diplomats in Moscow, where they showed missile tubes and diagrams of the missile in question — part of an effort to push back against the U.S. claims.

Lieutenant General Mikhail Matveyevsky, the chief of the military’s missile and artillery forces, said the missile has a maximum range of 480 kilometers.

“The distance was confirmed during strategic command and staff exercises” in 2017, he said. “Russia has observed and continues to strictly observe the points of the treaty and does not allow any violations.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova later accused U.S. officials of rebuffing Russian invitations to hold more talks on the question, something that Thompson disputed.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

“While seeking an uncontrolled arms buildup, Washington is actually trying to take down one of the major pillars of current global stability, and this could result in the most painful repercussions for global security,” Zakharova was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency. “It is not late yet for our American partners to work out a responsible attitude to the INF Treaty.”

Thompson said U.S. officials have proposed discussing a wider range of arms control issues on the sidelines of a United Nations meeting scheduled in Beijing.

The United States first publicly accused Moscow of violating the INF Treaty in 2014. After several years of fruitless talks, Washington began stepping up its rhetoric in late 2017, publicly identifying the missile in question and asserting that Russia had moved beyond testing and had begun deploying the systems.

“These are manned, equipped battalions now deployed in the field,” Thompson said.

Late 2018, Washington began providing NATO members and other allies with more detailed, classified satellite and telemetry data, as part of the effort to build support for its accusations.

Thompson said that in addition to providing detailed information on the dates and locations of the missile’s testing and deployment, U.S. officials had also given Russian counterparts a plan for a “verifiable” test of the missile’s range.

Moscow, however, countered with its own proposal, which she said wasn’t realistic because Russian officials were in charge of all aspects of such a test.

“When you go and select the missile and you select the fuel and you control all of those parameters, characteristics, you are controlling the outcome of the test,” she said.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is America’s Funniest Home Videos: Military

The folks over at America’s Funniest Home Videos, like, the actual producers of that show, have released a full 10 minutes of funny clips from the military that are actually fantastic with everything from funny training accidents, to hilarious pranks, to Joe doing stupid stuff in the barracks or on deployment.


★CRAZY Military Moments ★ | Army FAILS & Funny Soldiers | AFV 2019

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Some of them are common experiences that always have hilarious moments, like when soldiers stumble and fall fantastically while coming out of a rollover trainer. Others are a little more niche, like the foreign soldiers (probably British) conducting an amphibious assault who accidentally jump into waist-deep mud.

But the whole collection really shines when you see the soldiers doing stupid games that you’ve never tried. For instance, I’ve never made a wind-powered vehicle out of a poncho liner, some old wheels, and broken office chairs. But I want one. And my personal heroes are now the troops who lifted an entire tent off the ground and moved it so their buddy, asleep on their cot, would inexplicably wake up outside.

The full collection is available above (duh, you know what YouTube embeds look like). It’s mostly U.S. service members, but there’s a smattering of allies and even some clips that might be from rivals. The videos appear to have accumulated over decades with soldiers in ACUs appearing just moments from grainy shots that look like they’re from the ’80s.

Skip to 4:34 for the guy who accidentally launches himself onto a fire extinguisher.

But, by far, top recommendation comes at 7:01 when some apparent trainees play a game that appears to be an adult version of quarters. Remember quarters? The bloody knuckles game from school, not the drinking game. The one where each player takes turns making a fist on a table while the other person slides a quarter across the table as fast as they can to try and bloody the first player’s fist.

Yeah, these guys play that, but with a shoe instead of a quarter and a crotch instead of a fist. 10/10, would show the clip to trainees and hope it catches on.

MIGHTY TRENDING

New Russian propaganda claims bears are afraid of Putin

Russian state TV has dedicated an entire show to documenting Vladimir Putin’s activities and praising him.

In the first episode of Rossiya-1’s new show, which aired on Sept. 4, 2018, the Russian president can be seen hiking around the Russian countryside, while his employees compliment almost everything about him, from his physical fitness to his “very empathetic” personality.

The show — named “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin.” — aired during prime time on Sept. 3, 2018, with the first episode lasting an hour long, The Guardian reported.


Clips from the episode showed wholesome activities such as Putin hiking with his ministers and picking berries in the Russian hills. Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu can be seen complaining about his legs hurting several days after his hike, in what is most likely praise for Putin’s fitness levels.

The episode also showed footage of Putin’s recent hiking holiday in Siberia. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman and a guest on the show, said jokingly according to The Guardian: “This is wild nature, there are bears there. Bodyguards are armed in an appropriate manner, just in case. Although if a bear sees Putin — they aren’t idiots — they will behave themselves properly.”

Rossiya-1 also showed Putin meeting with schoolchildren and musicians. Peskov said: “Putin doesn’t only love children, he loves people in general.”

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Protests in Russia

The series comes as Putin is going through one of the lowest points in his presidency. August 2018 the president broke a 13-year-old promise to increase Russia’s retirement age, a decision which meant Russian workers could miss out on a pension altogether due to lower life expectancies in Russia than in Western countries.

Thousands of people around the country protested against the reforms in summer 2018, and Putin’s popularity rating plummeted to a four-year low, at around 67%.

Around 10,000 Russians across the political spectrum demonstrated against the pension reform on the streets of Moscow, while other small protests took place in cities like St Petersburg and Vladivostok, the Independent reported.

A protest against the Russian government’s proposal to raise the retirement age in Omsk in June 2018.

(Al Jazeera English / YouTube)

“Cult of personality”

Putin’s critics said the show was fostering a cult of personality.

Ilya Barabanov, a BBC journalist in Moscow, tweeted in response to the show on Sept. 4, 2018: “We must somehow record that in September 2018 we returned to the cult of personality.”

US journalist Susan Glasser also told CNN this was a “classic Kremlin project to elevate Vladimir Putin and to humanize him at a time when he’s under increasing fire from his own public.”

“It’s not an accident that this is occurring,” she added. “It seems to me right at a time when he’s embroiled in a real political controversy.”

The Kremlin has denied being behind the program, despite the broadcaster being state-run. Peskov, who appeared the show, said according to Agence France-Presse: “This is the project of [state TV company] VGTRK, not the Kremlin’s.

“It is important for us that information about the president and his work schedule is shown correctly and without distortion.”

Peskov added that Putin does not plan to be in the show.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These 4 brothers were heroes of the American Revolution

There were thousands of families that sent sons, fathers, brothers, and—when the families allowed it—daughters and sisters. But one family with five sons sent four of them to war as officers in the Revolution, and they fought at some of America’s crucial battles, eventually earning special honors from Gen. George Washington at Yorktown.


Col. Richard Butler, the eldest brother, later served as a general and died fighting Native Americans after the Revolutionary War.

(John Trumbull)

The Butler Family was born to Thomas Butler and his wife Eleanor. Thomas was a gunsmith and a patron of the church as well as an immigrant to America. He moved with his family from County Wicklow, Ireland, to the American Colonies in 1748 and settled in Pennsylvania. The older brothers, William and Richard, emigrated with their parents while Thomas Jr., Percival, and Edward were born in the colonies.

Obviously, this was a fateful time to set up life in the colonies. And, soon enough, the four elder brothers were serving in the Continental Army. Richard was recommended for commission as a major in 1776, and he received it. He was quickly promoted to lieutenant colonel and sent to Morgan’s Riflemen, The 11th Virginia Regiment. He received credit for the constant state of readiness in that unit.

More positions and commands followed. He survived Simcoe’s Rangers’ raids near Williamsburg and then was a part of the American victory at Saratoga. He then led troops in the assault on the British positions at Yorktown and, when British Gen. Charles Cornwallis was forced to surrender, Washington selected Richard to plant the first American flag on the former British fortifications. Baron von Steuben ultimately took the honor for himself, though.

The Battle of Monmouth, where three of the Butler brothers fought.

(Emanuel Leutze)

Richard’s younger brother William was commissioned as a captain in 1776 and promoted to major during October of that year. He fought in Canada and, after promotion to lieutenant colonel, at Monmouth. He then fought defensive actions against Native American tribes and took part in the successful Sullivan-Clinton Expedition to break the Iroquois Confederacy and its British allies in 1779.

The third brother, Thomas, was commissioned as a first lieutenant in early 1776 and promoted to captain later that year. His bravery at the Battle of Brandywine allowed him to rally retreating Colonials and stop a British thrust, earning him accolades from Washington. Later, he fought at Monmouth and was cited for defending a draw against severe attack, allowing his older brother Richard to escape as the British forces were tied up.

(Fun fact about Thomas: He was court-martialed in 1803 for multiple charges but defeated all of them except for “wearing his hair.” Basically, he wore a Federalist wig and refused to take it off for the Army.)

The youngest brother to fight in the war was Percival, who was commissioned as a first lieutenant in 1777 at the age of 18. He fought at Monmouth with two of his brothers after a winter at Valley Forge.

All of this led to the Butlers being specially praised by senior leaders. Washington gave a toast during a victory banquet, “To the Butlers and their five sons!” And Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, said, “When I wanted a thing done well, I had a Butler do it.”

Thomas, the men’s father, fought in the Revolutionary War as well and the youngest brother, Edward, fought for the U.S. and died in combat in 1791.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Service members could see big tax returns this year

Recent changes in tax law mean that many in uniform could see big returns when they file their 2018 taxes.

“This last tax year has been quite exciting with all of the changes that occurred to it,” said Army Lt. Col. David Dulaney, executive director of the Armed Forces Tax Council. “The good news is that most of our service members should see a substantial reduction in their overall federal taxes for 2018.”


One way service members can maximize their tax refund is to log onto Military OneSource and take advantage of MilTax, a free suite of services designed specifically for service members. MilTax includes personalized support from tax consultants and easy-to-use tax preparation and e-filing software.

(Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

• MilTax is available to active-duty, reserve and National Guard service members. Additionally, thanks to new language in the National Defense Authorization Act, “service” has been expanded to included transitioning service members — those who have separated or retired will be able to make use of MilTax for up to a year after leaving the military.

• MilTax is available through www.militaryonesource.mil and includes online tax preparation software designed specifically for military personnel and the unique circumstances that surround military life.

• Through Military OneSource and MilTax, service members have access to expert tax consultants specially trained to address tax issues related to military service. During tax season, consultants are available seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the Eastern time zone at 800-342-9647.

• Using MilTax, eligible individuals can file one federal and up to three state tax returns through the Military OneSource website. The service is available now through Oct. 15, 2019, for extended filers.

• At some installations, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, allows service members to sit down face to face with a tax professional to help prepare their tax forms.

• All service members are required to pay taxes. Military service doesn’t mean service members don’t have to pay. Fortunately, MilTax is free to those eligible to use it.

“One of the worst things we can hear is a military service member went out and paid for tax services that we provide for free through the DOD,” said Erika R. Slaton, program deputy for Military OneSource. “We want to ensure our service members and families know they are supported and we provide the best possible support for them in completing their tax services.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is why US troops don’t use ballistic shields

Note: For the sake of brevity, I will use the term “ballistic shields” to be an all-inclusive term for III-A rated shields used by law enforcement.

Even the Ballistic Resistant Protective Materials NIJ Standard 0108.01, a publication that is used by the U.S. Department of Justice, warns of highly technical jargon that may be confusing for the uninitiated when defining a ballistic shield:

“Because this NIJ standard is designed as a procurement aid, it is necessarily highly technical. For those who seek general guidance concerning the selection and application of law enforcement equipment, user guides have also been published. The guides explain, in non-technical language, how to select equipment capable of performance required by an agency.” – Lester D. Shubin, Program Manager for Standards, National Institute of Justice.

Related video:



An edge for the Thin Blue Line

Imagine, for a moment, a metropolis of crowded buildings, hours after nightfall. Strobes of red and blue paint the virtually empty streets. Police vehicles and personnel are poised with a single structure at their center. Negotiations are faltering, their demands are too ambitious, and the hostages are too far out of reach.

Your uniform declares “Special Weapons and Tactics” to the world. Your radio comes to life and the order is issued. Everyone is on high alert for what may happen next.

Leading a four-man formation with a shield and side arm, you glide, skirting the wall, right up to the front door. The second team arrives behind your stack. Protected by eyes and weapons pointed in all directions, you check the handle:

Locked.

After a moment of communication with a team member known as the breacher, he crosses to the opposite end of the door. You feel someone squeeze your arm; that’s the signal. You make eye contact with the breacher and he gives you a nod. The adrenaline pumping through your veins fuels a moment of clarity: You trained for this. You are ready for this. It’s time to lay down the f *cking law.

Every hallway, room, and staircase are methodically cleared using slow, but deliberate movements. Your shield never lowers, but the weight begins to take its toll on your strength.

Hostiles attempt to repel your advance by firing everything they’ve got. The roar of .44 magnums and 9mm pistols fill the air. Whatever your ballistic shield doesn’t block impacts around you.

You return the greeting — with interest — and push forward.

The outside world holds their breath, transfixed on the live-stream broadcast. The eyes of millions scan for every flash, boom, and bust from the safety of their phones. After what feels like an eternity, your team and the hostages emerge.

This is one of countless scenarios that law enforcement faces as “the thin blue line” separating the civilized world from the savagery of gangs and terror. Ballistic shields give officers an edge against an enemy that would otherwise prey on the innocent with impunity.

Could this edge be transferable to the battlefield?

A ballistic shield loses its edge on a battlefield – and more so against an unconventional foe.

First, its cumbersome size and weight reduces a rifleman’s speed and mobility — two very important traits that are not easily sacrificed by warriors. It’s always better to dodge a bullet than to block it (for obvious reasons). A modern troop will be equipped with heavy gear, ammo, and a chest full of patriotism.

The ballistic shield is lightweight only in the sense that it weighs under 20 pounds.

It just becomes another thing to lug around with no comfortable method of carry. It would be another asinine piece of gear that could potentially get you killed because some congressman and a defense firm shook hands. Firefights can sometimes last hours, days, or (in some of the most brutal circumstances) months, and you can literally and metaphorically find yourself fighting single-handed.

Second, unconventional enemies use high-caliber, armor-piercing rounds. Most of what you would find when fighting communists or terror organizations would turn a ballistic shield into Swiss cheese.

You won’t find the Islamic State imposing their twisted ideologies with a 9mm. An Improvised Explosive Device buried underneath the ground will effectively neutralize any benefit of that additional armor.

Third, most battles don’t devolve into a “Mexican Stand-Off,” sealed away from the rest of the city. If the enemy is fortified, but there are no hostages or prisoners of war, there are other options…

Ballistic shields have earned their place as a staple for law enforcement because they have a specific purpose. Those same shields offer little to no benefit in combat.

Articles

This is when the Pope’s Swiss Guard was deadlier than 300 Spartans

Military history is full of famous last stands – the Greeks at Thermopylae, Custer at Little Big Horn, the French Foreign Legion at Camarón — just to name a few. The last unit people might think of making a famous last stand are the Pope’s personal bodyguards: the Swiss Guard.


But even though the men who would respond to an incident involving the Pope have traded poofy pants for tactical gear, and bladed weapons for Sig SG 550 rifles, those razor-sharp halberds weren’t always just ceremonial. There was a time when the halberds, pikes, and swords carried by the ceremonial guards were the latest in military technology. The Swiss Guard are, after all, the oldest, continuous standing army in the world.

In 1527, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had just beat down the French in Italy. the only problem was, he couldn’t afford to pay the massive army he used to do it. Understandably pissed, the 34,000-strong army began to march on Rome, believing the Papal States would be an easy target to sack and pillage. They were right… for the most part.

On May 6, 1527, that army broke through Rome’s defenders and looted and pillaged the city for 12 days.

Paintings always make sacking, burning, and pillaging seem so tame.

But the city didn’t just roll over for the renegade army.

Defending Rome was a militia made up of 5,000 and 189 of the Pope’s Swiss Guard. Of those, around 40 or so escorted Pope Clement VII to safety – and they were the only survivors of the assault. The rest were slaughtered, choosing to hold their ground in the Vatican.

While that number seems like a horrifying loss for the Swiss Guards, consider that the elite unit reduced the fighting force of the Imperial Army by three-quarters. Of the 20,000 troops that moved to storm the city of Rome, 15,000 were killed or injured by the city’s defenders.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A Special Operator’s top unwritten rules of close-quarters combat

This series of articles isn’t meant to offer concrete, hard-and-fast rules about close-quarters combat (CQB). Like anything in life, there are dozens of paths to a destination, and efficiency and safety make the difference. This article series will just present some things that many forget or are simply not aware of.

The reality of today is that the majority of tactical approaches for CQB have not been validated via scientific research. A loth of them have been adopted following one dude hearing from another dude who heard from a third dude. Some of the techniques work well on paper targets or deliver successful feedback to the team or to the viewer on the catwalk with a timer. But they aren’t actually human-behavior compliant, or in other words, they aren’t going to work when bullets are being exchanged. The purpose of this article is to highlight certain known or commonly performed errors that are not human-behavior compliant and work against our human instincts but are still taught around the globe as a standard.


Sight fixation

Let’s begin with a small, very raw experiment. Stretch your arm while thumbing up. Now, look at the thumb. It appears in great detail, but to its right and left, your vision is more blurry. Your vision acutely drops by 50 percent to each side of the thumb. Long story short, precision sight is limited by angle due to the unique structure of the human eye. The conclusion is that:

  • While on your sights, only a narrow field of precision information can be processed. In low-light situations, you can imagine how fragile that becomes.
  • A wider field of peripheral (not in-depth) vision can be triggered by OR (observation response, aka movement that attracts the eyes)

Focused vision (aka Foveal field of vision) is only 1.5 inches in diameter at six feet and 2.5 inches at 10 feet. The central visual field is 12.7 inches in diameter at six feet and 21.1 inches at 10 feet. The peripheral visual field has no ability to detect precision focus. In other words, anything the green circle below covers has no sharp detail/precision sight coverage.

This image is a rough estimation and might be few inches off. Our Photoshop skills suck. (SOFREP)

Now that you are aware of these limitations I can present my case. One of the biggest problems that I encounter with both experienced and non-experienced students in CQB is that they move into rooms with their eyes buried into optics or slightly above. To my observations, this is one of the most consistent errors I see even in professional circles. I believe that its source is inexperienced instructors receiving implicit knowledge from movies or from someone who heard that reticle + target = success. Not always.

I’ll state the obvious: The average distance for CQB engagement is less than 10 meters and commonly ends up at three meters away from a threat. Things happen quickly and up close. There are two major factors that have a huge effect on human performance in CQB and should be considered: a lack of time and a limited field of view, both of which impact our intake of critical data and our target discrimination.

Viewing the world through a toilet paper roll will result not only in missing vital visual information — such as that extra door behind a closet or an innocent-looking tango secretly holding a folding knife — but will also result in accidents, such as a wingman shooting the shoulder or elbows of the point man because he could not get that visual data while under acute stress response (see the video above). While using pistols, this is even more apparent. From what I’ve seen with police officers, the wingman or the guy in the back will often experience target fixation and will flag the shit out of his partner’s head or body due to the sight fixation effect. Additionally, a shooter may trip over furniture, debris, kids, or other obstacles that are quite low and won’t be visible when you reduce your field of view to a toilet paper roll.

I have also recognized that reaction time seems to diminish until the individual receives a physical stimulus indicating there is, in fact, a threat in front of him. You are probably asking why. Well, it is simple: The shooter missed the critical vision information necessary to indicate the presence of a threat or a human being. In other words, the individual’s eyes were not receiving enough sensory data to process. Instead, his eyes were fixed on a reticle and linear perspective.

To summarize, sight fixation — moving with eyes locked on sights — is something that belongs in the movies. Sadly, the idea of clearing rooms while looking through optics is very common nowadays. Let’s be honest: Why do you need to aim down your Aimpoint at three meters, anyway? The only answer would be when precision shots (read, in hostage situations) are a must.

Flashlights are a force multiplier

For many people, flashlights are associated with crickets, dark rooms, or night operations. In reality, flashlights could and should be used as a standard, even in illuminated rooms, as soon as you encounter a non-compliant person or a threat.

Assuming your flashlight is powerful enough (which it should be), it can act as a non-lethal weapon that will disorient or divide attention, impairing a threat’s attempt to OODA himself or become proactive, since any kind of sensory stimulation moves them closer to a sympathetic response. For no-light/low-light situations, there are several nice techniques that can significantly reduce the threat’s capability to anticipate the moment of entry.

How can a flashlight be of help?

  • It’s a great disorientation tool. A flashlight’s beam pointed in the eyes can confuse and disorient a threat while giving you the threat’s specific location inside a room.
  • It divides attention. Flashlights are the ultimate tool of deception and manipulation. Especially since in low-light conditions, the world looks like a framed picture without details, contrast, or colors. You get to fill that picture; to manipulate it to fit your needs. It also causes a threat to fixate on the light, soaking up their attention and keeping it off your partners, who are ideally triangulating the threat.
  • It’s silent. The flashlight has no sound or signature, and will not compromise you during daylight.
  • It increases reaction time. Simply put, being able to see clearly increases your reaction time when determining threats versus hostages or obstacles.

During daylight room clearing, we instruct our students at Project Gecko to use flashlights almost as default (this also depends on law enforcement or military context) upon encountering a human presence in close proximity. A beam of 500 lumens can save your life. It will surely buy you more time and control, and in some cases — assuming your training is solid — it can even provide concealment. (We will get to this later in this article series.)

Acknowledge the potential of your flashlight. And don’t be cheap — carry two. One mounted and another handheld.

This article was written by Eli Feildboy, founder and CEO of Project Gecko and former Israeli commando. It was originally published in 2019.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the WWI battle between Mexico and the US

In 1917, British codebreakers intercepted a message from the German Foreign Minister bound for the German Legation to Mexico. The infamous message, now known as the Zimmerman Telegram, offered Mexico the territory it “lost” to the United States if they joined the ongoing World War I on the German side should the Americans join with the British. They very nearly did when one border clash almost sparked a full-scale war.


The U.S. never forgot the message (once the British showed it to them… and it was published in the United States press). It would turn President Wilson’s sentiment against Germany and help lead the Americans into the European war.

At home, it exacerbated tensions in towns on the American-Mexican border, which were already feeling tense because of Pancho Villa’s raids across the border and Gen. John J. Pershing’s “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico.

One border town, in particular, was feeling the tension. Nogales, which straddles the border in the U.S. state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora, was a town where anyone could cross into either country by simply walking across the street – International Street.

Nogales, Sonora, Mexico (left) and Nogales, Ariz., USA in 1899. Arizona was not yet a U.S. state. (National Archives)

In 1918, the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Division began receiving reports of “strange Mexicans” explaining military tactics and movements to the Federal Mexican garrison stationed in and around Nogales. After the publishing of the Zimmerman Telegram, these reports warranted seriously attention.

Even some of Pancho Villa’s former troops, who were disgusted by men they called Germans, addressed crowds and agitated the Mexican populace against the United States. The Army began to suspect German influence was at work and moved elements of the 10th Cavalry – the Buffalo Soldiers – into Nogales.

Nogales, Sonora, Mexico (left) and Nogales, Ariz., USA (right) around 2008.

The tension boiled over on Aug. 27, 1918, when a Mexican carpenter was trying to cross the border. He ignored U.S. customs officials who ordered the man to stop (because he was listening to Mexican customs officials ordering him to continue).

Shots were fired by the Americans. The Mexicans returned fire. The Battle of Ambos Nogales had begun.

Between two and five Mexican customs officers and an Army private were killed (the carpenter was not) as citizens in Mexico ran to their homes to grab their weapons and ammo. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Soldiers arrived and captured the hills overlooking the city. Mexican snipers also began to take shots in the streets of American Nogales.

Mexican troops began to dig trenches as American troops began to move house-to-house. By this time, the American soldiers were taking heavy fire from the Mexicans, both regular troops and citizens. So, American citizens took to their homes – and their guns – to take firing positions near the border. The U.S. 35th Infantry even fired a machine gun into the Mexican positions.

Machine Gun Co, 35th Infantry, Nogales, Ariz. 1917. (Photo courtesy of John Carr)

Suddenly, a lone figure walked among the bodies of Mexicans and U.S. troops in the street, waving a white handkerchief tied to a cane, the mayor of Mexican Nogales tried to de-escalate the situation by pleading with his citizens to put down their arms. He was shot from the Arizona side of the border.

It wouldn’t be until 7:45 that day, after just over three hours of fighting, that the Mexicans waved a white flag from their customs house. American buglers sounded “Cease Fire” and order was, eventually, restored.

In order to prevent such violence from happening again, the town constructed the first-ever border fence between Mexico and the United States.