Air Force general explains what lethality really means - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

During an interview with Airman magazine, Higby discussed his mission and responsibilities and the roles of DevOps, cyber resiliency and diversity in increasing Air Force readiness and lethality.


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Airman magazine: Can you summarize the objectives of your office and how your responsibilities in DevOps and lethality pair together to impact the National Defense Strategy?


Maj. Gen. Higby: In my first meeting with Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, he also had a question about my duty title, which was something totally different, but really didn’t resonate with what was trending and what was gaining importance. So, we were struggling with what’s the right way to capture my role.

My role is to nudge the culture in a different direction, not just the culture in the Air Force, but the culture in the Pentagon in general, with all of the politics, stove piping and the other challenges we face sometime when we try to do something agile in DevOps. So, we came up with DevOps as being part of my title. And when I say DevOps, I include DevSecOps as Nick Chaillan, our chief software officer, always reminds me. The “Sec” adds the security aspect.

DevOps of 15 years ago wasn’t necessarily very security minded. Today when we say DevOps or SecDevOps, there is a big security aspect to it as you develop code and then deploy the code.

The lethality piece is there to influence the message, especially to our industry partners, we’re not just doing this for some admin system, this is war fighting. This is giving American men and women and our coalition partners the edge against the enemy to make sure we hit the right targets, we don’t inflict unneeded casualties and also protect our lives in combat.

Lethality is a balance it’s not just inflicting on the bad guys, it’s also preserving your own force.

Airman magazine: How do you define DevOps and what it means in the actual development of programs and weapons systems and what does that mean to the warfighter?

Maj. Gen. Higby: DevOps came out of the software and coder world in what some would argue the eighties and nineties, so it’s been around awhile.

The concept was that the developers that are writing code or software packages, they were historically not well connected with the operators, either the operators of the network or the operators that were going to consume that code.

What DevOps endeavored to do was to bring the coder and operator together. So, you have a very well-integrated team where you’re continuously checking with each other on what’s needed and what do we have to do and you are continuously delivering product.

The idea is that you have a continuous pipeline of valuable product, in this case software code, but you could apply this to anything that’s continuously being updated based on the needs of the user of that product.

In many cases what we’re delivering to them (the warfighter) is a pristine rotary dial telephone system connected to a landline and in their private lives as Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors or Marines they’re using iPhones. It’s like, I joined the military to have this high-tech experience to do good things and schwag bad guys and I’m burdened with this old technology.

And so, what do we owe our young men and women that have vowed to put their lives on the line to defend the constitution of the United States. We owe them the best technology that America has to offer. We have many industry partners that are alongside and stand strong in that message to say, we want our American fighting men and women to have the best technology available. And that’s not a rotary dial phone, it’s an iPhone that is continuously getting updated, getting new apps, getting refreshed, getting new security hardening, put on it continuously.

Airman magazine: What has been the traditional rift between the engineers who develop software iterations and the people who use these products in the field?

Maj. Gen. Higby: The rift has been it’s not delivered quickly enough at the speed of need. And so what DevOps or Agile, what that replaced was called the waterfall process where you have lots of intelligent engineers that are very capable and they come up with something that then gets delivered to the field.

The process takes a long time because you’re deploying a full solution vice, a prototype or a minimally viable product. It’s the full up solution that you’ve invested 10 years of work and billions of dollars in, you’d get it deployed and that’s the first time that the warfighter gets to use it and they’re like, wow, this needs a lot of work. Then it would go back to the engineers and then they’d come up with a “B” version that would take another 10 years and so on and so forth. In today’s environment at the velocity of change, the acceleration of change, that’s just not a viable architecture to have.

That’s why Agile development and then later on DevOps and DevSecOps, caught on, not just an industry, but in the Department of Defense and in the joint fight.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, discusses ÒThe Future Air Force, Faster, Smarter: The Next GearÓ during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 16, 2019. The ASC Conference is a professional development forum that offers the opportunity for Department of Defense personnel to participate in forums, speeches, seminars and workshops.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. CHAD TRUJILLO

Airman magazine: Is this why Dr. Roper talks continuously about the fact that speed is the most important aspect of development of weapon systems?

Maj. Gen. Higby: That’s exactly right. The challenge with speed is that implies more risk and as you know, the Pentagon, is very risk averse. No one wants to be the one that leads failure, so there’s a reluctance there and that’s part of the culture change of nudging people to be more comfortable and accepting risk. It’s getting that minimally viable product out there, vice always talking about the perfect solution, that we’ll get in a couple of years. No, give me something now that works and then I can give you immediate feedback on it and we can continue to iterate.

I’ll even reach back to historical examples in the P-51 Mustang and the German Fw 190 fighters of World War II. If you look at the history of how the P-51 came about, I would argue that’s a DevOps case study.

That came about with a minimally viable product built in the United States by a start-up company that was put out into the field for the British. It wasn’t quite right and then all these other ideas came along; can we put a Rolls Royce Merlin engine in there? Can we do this? Can we give it this kind of Gunsight? Next thing you know, you have one of the best fighters on the planet that helped us win WWII.

Now, did it still have shortcomings even when it was mature? Sure. It wasn’t well-suited maybe for the Pacific domain where you had to travel long distances. It didn’t have all those navigational aids that some of the more expensive, larger fighters did, but in terms of what we needed it for at the time, which was bomber escort to defeat Nazi Germany, it was the perfect system. And it could go beak to beak with enemy fighters and come out on top.

That was industry and coalition partners taking risks, making stuff happen. Then suddenly it dawned on the United States as our bomber crews are getting slaughtered that if we had some of those P-51s it would be a game changer for our air war against Germany.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

A P-51 Mustang passes over the Shaw flightline after being displayed as a static aircraft during the 20th Fighter Wing change of command ceremony, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 19, 2012.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

Airman magazine: So, what you’re saying is that what you’re attempting to do now in nudging this culture change, that it’s not a new culture?

Maj. Gen. Higby: It is not new, this has been done many times before. Today we call it DevOps. Five years ago, we were calling it Agile. Industry has been calling it DevOps for quite a while, but a lot of these concepts aren’t new. It’s just the getting out of our box that we sometimes get ourselves trapped in – we have this and we can’t change now because it’s too risky.

Airman magazine: What are the benefits of developing systems this way for the people in the field and how you would explain that to somebody on Capitol Hill who is holding the purse strings, making the decisions on the money? How do you explain to them that allocating a certain amount of money and taking risk at the front end is actually a better way to safeguard the taxpayer money than doing it the old way?

Maj. Gen. Higby: The best way to convince them, I believe, is to build trust through some successes. In a real DevOps risk accepting environment you are going to have failures, but you want those failures to inform the next success. After you do it for a while you can point to some successes like the modern-day P-51 kind of stories and we have several of those, not just in the Air Force, but in or other services.

One of those stories that we like to celebrate is the original DevOps software package the tanker (air refueling) planning tool grew out of. We were doing things in a very industrialized way in our combined air operations centers with grease pencils and white boards trying to schedule aerial refueling by hand. Then with some lines of code, working with the people that were actually using this planning tool and you create a product that saves a lot of man hours and comes up with a better solution in terms of planning where to put your tankers to conduct a certain portion of the air tasking order and taking the fight to the bad guy.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, provides command and control of air power throughout Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and other nations in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command region. In 2016, the CAOC was using dry erase boards to plan AFCENTÕs aerial refueling operations.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. ALEXANDER W. RIEDEL

This degree of automation and using an algorithm to figure things out is way faster than having a bunch of very smart people doing it the old-fashioned way. That’s just one example. There’re many others like that, but, those are the ones we need to continuously be pointing at to show Capitol Hill, hey, this works.

We also have to let them (Capitol Hill) understand that when we started this, we weren’t quite sure what the end solution was going to look like and that’s the other big hurdle. I don’t necessarily know where I’m going to end up when I start with something.

So, projects continuously changing as they go forward. So, what we think might be the destination today, five years from now, we might be over here somewhere better than we thought we were going to be. I don’t want to trap the DevOps teams into, you have to end up here, because somewhere else might be better.

Airman magazine: You mentioned the tanker planning tool and how much money that ended up saving and how it was one of the success stories we could go back to Congress and say, “Look, we took a risk on the front end, but here are the payoffs.” So, could you please explain a little bit about 804 and OTA has acquisition authorities and how that kind of goes hand in hand with the DevOps thing. How do you explain to someone who’s been on Capitol Hill for a long time, what the advantages are of making those mistakes at the beginning and spending money as you iterate instead of one big large chunk?

Maj. Gen. Higby: Right. OTA, other transactional authority, that’s what OTA stands for. There are two flavors. There’s the prototyping flavor and the experimentation flavor. Let me rewind, you can do either, you can take a product that’s already in the commercial sector and say we’re going to buy this and we’re going to experiment with it and see if it works.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Staff Sgt Brian Nesbitt, assigned to the 169th Maintenance Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base checks his M-16 assault rifle during the classroom portion of an the M-16 qualification course. Nesbitt is completing the training as part of his pre-deployment requirements.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

A good historical example is the M-16 rifle, a Vietnam era, the first plastic rifle, put into combat. That was done under an OTA. So, these (OTAs) aren’t necessarily that new. The 804 (Section 804) Middle Tier Acquisition (MTA) authorities, so that is trying to get after these middle-tier programs, so not the super big programs, but sort of the middle-tier programs.

We don’t need all this excess of documentation that’s been inflicted over years. Because again, historically, when you look back at programs that have failed, those failures usually end up in some kind of legislation that tries to point at, “this is what went wrong in that program.” Now we’re going to write a law to prevent that from happening and that volume of laws has continued to grow and grow and grow to the point where now when you try to do something fast and you’re confronted with all those laws, it makes it really hard to go fast. And that’s what the 804s were supposed to be incentivizing.

In the Air Force, we dove full in and we had, I don’t remember the count, but it was dozens of programs that went down the 804 path and saved a hundred years of labor and acquisition timeline and cut that out. That gets delivery of capability of the warfighter faster. That’s what we’re trying to do and the 804 does that.

Airman magazine: You mentioned the fact that it not only applies to programs being developed from the ground up, but programs that are taken off the shelf that already exist and are augmented, you said the M-16 rifle, but does the newly acquired MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter fit into that? Can you talk about that a little?

Maj. Gen. Higby: I would argue it could. The question on helicopters is, do I need to develop an all-new military-specific helicopter or can I use something that’s already in the civilian market that already has shown reliability, make the few minor modifications to it that I need for its military applicability, and then put it out there, begin to use it and then begin to iterate? There are many opportunities to ask this question from firearms, all the way up to helicopters and maybe even (flight) trainers and aircraft.

Part of this also is when we look at our defense industrial base, are there opportunities to bring along smaller companies that have some very genius ideas that we could use in the Department of Defense to help our mission that are also then viable in the commercial market.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

The MH-139A Grey Wolf lands at Duke Field, Fla., Dec. 19, 2019, before its unveiling and naming ceremony. The aircraft is set to replace the Air Force’s fleet of UH-1N Huey aircraft and has capability improvements related to speed, range, endurance and payload.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // SAMUEL KING JR.

And that’s another tack Dr. Roper is taking. Can we, the United States Air Force, become like a venture capital company, where we look out, we see this small company that has something and we’re like, “Hey, we could use that in the Air Force?” But, I don’t want to create another defense contractor where your only customer is the Air Force. I want you to also be viable in the commercial marketplace with that product. Now we might use a version of that product that’s adapted for military use, but in general, whatever you’ve got is going to be commercially viable as well.

There are tons of opportunities in the United States, with our intellectual capital, which I think is a strategic competitive advantage vis-a-vis some of the adversaries that we talk about in the national defense strategy.

Airman magazine: Before we move on, is there anything just on the general concept of DevOps that you want to talk about that you think we should have asked?

Maj. Gen. Higby: The one challenge with DevOps is there’s a temptation again in this building (the Pentagon) where we’re always looking for efficiencies. There’s a temptation to see DevOps as a money saver. I have to speak up about that because DevOps is not about saving money. DevOps is about being more effective for our warfighter, being more lethal for our warfighter.

You have to understand that when you roll out this minimally viable product, it could be an app for your phone or it could be a software module for the combined air operations center or anything like that, that continuous delivery and continuous integration continues and you’re always have a DevOps team that’s taking care of that product. So, when you think in the old term of sustainment and you’re making improvements, that comes at a cost.

You’re paying those people to be the caretakers of this product and to continuously be engaging with the users of the product, daily. And then employing new software updates could be daily, it could be multiple times a day if you’re doing extreme programming, but daily, weekly, monthly, and then maybe as, as the product ages you’re only doing a release once a year and you might not need as much human capital bandwidth to be paying attention to it. But it’s not a widget that you deliver and then you’re done.

DevOps is continuous, so the sustainment tail, as we call it in the industrial age, that sustainment tail is still there. It’s just that sustainment tail is now different in the sense that you’re not just sustaining the current capability. You’re continuously improving the capability up to the point where the operator or the user of the product says, “Hey, we think we need something different now.” And then you got to spool up another DevOps team to say, what do you need? Where do we go? What’s this new thing you’re trying to do? What’s this new capability you’re looking for?

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Pararescue jumpers and combat rescue officers with the 103rd Rescue Squadron, 106th Rescue Wing conduct mass casualty training with the Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided Knowledge System (BATMAN) at FS Gabreski ANG, Aug. 25, 2015. The BATMAN system is an Air Force research laboratory advanced technology demonstration program that develops enhanced capabilities for battlefield airmen. The program applies an airmen-centric design approach to all its research and development efforts to maximize the airmen’s mission effectiveness and efficiency.

NEW YORK AIR NATIONAL GUARD // STAFF SGT. CHRISTOPHER S MUNCY

Airman magazine: Can we explore a tangential perspective on that? A lot of warfighters that we spend a lot of money training in various disciplines have spent a lot of years saying nobody listens. Now people are listening on a weekly, sometimes daily basis about what they need to do their job. Is this a positive influence on retention?

Maj. Gen. Higby: I think it absolutely is because you’re giving the warfighter direct input into the tools that they’re using, sometimes in life or death situations. And, it’s being done with all of that bureaucracy abstracted away because your DevOps team, whether it’s in a software factory like Kessel Run or whether it’s a dedicated team to some specific mission, that DevOps team is a close-knit group and they are making stuff happen and adjusting capability the way the warfighter wants it with the warfighter right there.

That’s the amazing thing. Now again, you can study, you can look back in history and any of the successful programs that we’ve (Air Force) done, it’s usually predicated on a small team that’s protected from the bureaucracy that’s given a mission to do and they’re usually successful.

Airman magazine: So, let’s shift gears a little bit and get you to put your cyber hat on. Your job takes what appears to be the two foundations, the first bricks that are necessary in building an Air Force of the future and that’s acquisition reform and incorporating cyber resiliency from the very beginning. Is that correct?

Maj. Gen. Higby: So, cyber resiliency in simple terms is making sure you can get your mission done no matter what happens in cyberspace. In other words, no matter what happens to your computers or your phones or your RF links, you can get your mission done. That’s really what cyber resiliency is about.

Now, when you look at the original cybersecurity standards, they all had aspects of that in there. In civilian terms, we’d call it continuity of operations or continuity of business operations. And so those of us that went through our security plus training and CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) training, all those aspects of cyber resiliency were already there. But, the idea is to quit thinking just about cyber resiliency in terms of, I’m on a computer, I need cyber resiliency. It’s, I’m doing a mission and that mission is very reliant on what’s happening in the cyberspace domain, so you better make sure that you have some of those aspects of cyber resiliency built in.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

In a modern, data-driven Air Force, cyber-resiliency is crucial to mission security and success.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS KEVIN SOMMER GIRON

And again, some, some of this thought is still being developed. A NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) is on the verge of publishing Special Publication 800-160 Vol. 2, which is 14 different techniques to achieve cyber resiliency. And it’s everything from, do we have divergent or diverse paths to communicate with, all the way to are we doing a good job deceiving the adversary so that they don’t have the easy targets to poke at because we’re constantly putting up false targets and decoys and honeypots that they might be tempted to go after within the cyberspace domain.

But then there’s PACE planning, primary, alternate, contingency emergency, that is an aspect of cyber resiliency. So, I have a primary way to get my mission done, that primary way I’m going to take advantage of all those great electronic systems and computer systems and AI machine learning that’s available. But, if any one of those or all of those go away, I better still have an alternate way of doing the mission and then a contingency way and then an emergency way.

So, I may start off with a very elegant high-tech kind of strike and the emergency way may be, we’re back in the agricultural age and we might have to take Spears and go fight the bad guy. So, the idea behind resiliency is you’re going to fight to get your mission done, no matter what happens.

Airman magazine: Also, could you talk about the Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapons Systems or CROWS office and how this all works together?

Maj. Gen. Higby: The CROWS stood up in 2016, I believe, and it was in conjunction with a cyber squadron initiative, which called out this entity called a mission defense team.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Initially created to look at legacy weapon systems, the Air Force CROWS office will be taking aim at ensuring cybersecurity concerns are taken into account from the start of new programs.

AIR NATIONAL GUARD PHOTO // KELLYANN NOVAK

So, the thought was we would have mission defense teams at the tactical edge associated with a specific mission capability, be it F-16s (Fighting Falcons) or Air Operations Centers, B-52 (Stratofortress) bombers, tankers or presidential airlift support. All of those have mission defense teams associated with them. Again, they’re at that tactical edge that can detect something is going on here, that invisible hand or that obscured hand from the adversary. They’re the cop on the beat that sort of knows what their neighborhood is supposed to look like. They’re the first ones that can see that window over there isn’t supposed to be open, let’s go investigate.

So, they go in with the flashlight, they investigate and “holy cow” there’s somebody in there, where do you go with that? And so, the CROW stood up as sort of that interface, especially when you talk about legacy weapon systems.

Take the F-16, which are very cyber dependent as we’ve learned in the last 10-15 years. How does that team, that cop that’s on the beat that says, there’s a window open in that F-16 software that shouldn’t be open, how do you get the right experts, engineers and PhDs involved that may have built that system or designed that system and facilitate a very quick turn response to that? The response could be a whole number of things. It could be, we need to ground that asset for now. We can’t fly the next sortie because the risk is too great. It may be, I think we can still fly with that vulnerability in place because we have other work arounds.

Again, back to that resiliency discussion. It may be, we can deploy some code very quickly and shut that window and get the adversary out of the system. But you need the expert that built that system originally to be in that discussion.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Two F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the Alabama Air National Guard’s 187th Fighter Wing approach a tanker during an aerial refueling mission over Nevada during exercise Green Flag-West 13-02.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. CHRISTOPHER HUBENTHAL

We really want the CROWS to be that interface to the real expert of a given weapon system, whether it’s an aircraft, a missile, a helicopter or whatever, to understand, if you’re going to tweak this, it may have these other consequences to it. And then make that risk decision. Grounding the asset is not always an option, we have to launch because we have other actors that are dependent on us striking a target.

Airman magazine: Cyber was involved in everything we do. How does the Air Force get that level of education raised? That sea level of understanding about how cyber influences everything that we do across the entire force.

Maj. Gen. Higby: We do have a cyber (Air Force specialty code), a tribe of cyber professionals that are trained to do that. But as you said, cyber affects everything.

So, now the question is how do I open up that aperture to find more cyber talent that we may have on the force that we’re not aware of? And so, we came up with the concept of a cyber aptitude test. So just like you test for different aptitudes like spoken languages, you can test for cyber aptitude and you might find cyber aptitude in unusual places.

It may be a fuels troop in an LRS (Logistics Readiness Squadron) at a base somewhere that on the side, tinkers with Raspberry Pis and develops apps for phones. That’s probably the Airman that you want working to look at (creating) the digitized fuel pump that’s pumping fuel to the jets when they’re in the hot pad. He or she is probably the good beat cop to have on the mission defense team to say, “Hey, somebody is messing with that fuel pump” and I might be able to circumvent it right here on the spot and allow the mission to continue without having to escalate up and get those higher-level SWAT teams to come in.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Proposed content viewing page on the Cyber Education Hub, which is being developed at the Center for Cyberspace Research in the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The online site is a platform for multimedia cyber education content geared to cyber experts and Airmen seeking knowledge of how cyber applies to their career fields. The site builds user profiles based on user viewing history, job description and preferences, as well as command directives.

COURTESY PHOTO // AFIT CCR

Then there is modularized training and we began rolling that out in 2014, allowing some self-paced training. So, a certain module might be really easy for me, but might be really hard for you. Let me go through it at my speed and then the next module, it might be the other way around, but don’t limit the learning. If somebody already has the skills, I don’t have to have them relearn it at the school house. We can do it remotely. We can do it through things like YouTube videos.

All of that is now becoming available to our Airman. So, any Airman out there, on the chief software officer’s webpage (software.af.mil), there’s a whole bunch of training modules about DevOps, for example.

So, if you’re that LRS Airman fuels troop and you say, “Hey, I hear all this DevOps stuff and ‘Containers’ and ‘Kubernetes,’ what does all that mean? All of that is available to them.

Airman magazine: How important is it making sure that that cyber resiliency not only extends to the finished products, the war fighting systems that we use, but the supply chain from all the contractors and all the various companies that supply parts from various locations?

Maj. Gen. Higby: That’s a huge challenge. I was actually involved with our general counsel office because they were seeing the same concerns across the supply chain.

So, we’re building a new airplane or a new pod for an airplane. That system relies on a lot of integrated circuit boards, processors, chips, chipsets and timing clocks that all come from diverse places. And how do we assure ourselves that when they come together that they inter-operate properly and that there isn’t some kind of malware or malicious code or backdoor baked into them that the adversary could then use in the future to defeat that weapon in a way that would surprise us.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

A 507th Air Refueling Wing aircraft maintenance team installs a Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures pod onto the underside of a KC-135 Stratotanker Oct. 25, 2017 at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // TECH. SGT. SAMANTHA MATHISON

That is hard. Now again in the commercial sector this has been a concern for a long time too and there are companies, some pretty big-name computer companies, that have pretty good supply chain resiliency and supply chain monitoring making sure that you can track where a given product was made and if it was made in the right place by the people with the right clearances.

So, there are techniques out there. The challenge for the Air Force, since we don’t tend to make our own pods and airplanes, is we usually rely on an industry partner and what’s the right balance for us have that industry partner get the help they need, when they need it, but also to be open to communicate to us when they have concerns.

We have an Air Force asset, but it works for the entire Department of Defense, the defense Cyber Crime Center, under the Air Force Office of Special Investigations that specializes in just that kind of stuff. And I believe their role will increase in the future as we move forward. They need more staff and help and all kinds of things too. They’re the right experts that can look at a given component and say, this has something in it or this is behaving in a way that it shouldn’t, so they can detect some of that as well and then find ways to circumvent it and then upstream consequences for whoever the person was or the entity was that in injected that into the supply chain.

Our supply chain is a big concern not only for DoD, but for our industry partners as well.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Hypersonic Research Engineers, Ryan Helbach and 1st Lt David McLellan, talk in Hypersonic Combustion Research Cell 22, used in research into SCRAM jet technology, at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, Jul 21, 2016. Helbach is the program lead for AFRL’s Intellect to Intellect Exchange (i2i Exchange) which pairs AFRL scientists and engineers with innovative private tech companies and created the AFRL Entrepreneurial Program allowing scientists and engineers to take sabbaticals to pursue outside for-profit goals.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // J.M. EDDINS JR.

Airman magazine: What kind of things are being undertaken to try and attract new cyber talent and to retain our talent?

Maj. Gen. Higby: There’s a huge number of initiatives. One that I mentioned, again, the cyber aptitude test of finding talent and places where you may not think it exists.

So, there may be a young man or woman who grew up in the mountains of Appalachia that didn’t grow up with iPhones and computers. But, maybe they have a natural gift, they’re a gifted musician perhaps. And guess what gifted musicians sometimes make really good coders. Unless we can expose them to a cyber aptitude test, we won’t know that they have that ability. Then we could say, you scored really high in this thing, would you like to join this team that’s doing big important things for our country?

I think even today, despite all the bad rap that millennials get, there is a desire to be part of something that in our generation would call bigger than yourself, so doing something for the greater good.

There are still young Americans who are willing to step forward and do that. The key is attracting them and once we attract them, we know we’re not going to retain them by paying them more.

I can’t compete with the big-name companies in Silicon Valley in terms of financial compensation, but what I can compete with is the coolness factor of the mission. Hey, you’re doing something here that’s either saving American lives or making Americans that are in combat somewhere more effective in protecting our constitution. There are American millennials and the generation after them willing to do that.

The challenges, what’s the environment that they’re going to come into? Are they going to come into that environment where we hand them the rotary dial phone tethered to a cable or we are going to bring them into the force that says, here’s the iPhone or whatever that we’re going to issue you a basic training? Your orders are on there, all your personnel files are on there. Your training, a program that you need to go through is on there. The links to all those YouTube videos, it’s all on there. Where you need to go to get your uniform issued, that code or that app is on there. That’s the experience that they should be having. Not here’s your big rotary dial phone with the cable attached and then you need all these pieces of paper to go over there to get your uniform.

So, it’s on us to make that environment conducive to the generation that grew up as digital natives where we don’t bring them into an analog world, because that’ll be a turnoff very quickly.

It comes down to understanding our Airmen and the two biggest and in all of the retention surveys I’ve seen the results of, the two big factors that stick out is, one, does the Airman feel tethered to an important mission? That’s a huge retention factor.

And then the second is the Airman’s relationship with their supervisor? The frontline supervisor, not wing commander, that’s not MAJCOM commander, that’s not the chief of staff or the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. That is your frontline supervisor, the person that you’re interacting with every day. If that is a good relationship and that frontline supervisor is keeping you inspired about the importance of the mission you’re doing and how that plays into doing something bigger than yourself, you’re going to stay on the team.

Airman magazine: I would imagine the key to retention too is after you’ve trained them up to do these cool missions, is not having Airmen stuck doing housekeeping things. Can we talk about how (artifical intelligence) fits into this conversation?

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

U.S. Air Force Airmen 1st Class Raymond Rowe and Jaran Daly, 460th Space Communications Squadron, Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, and Staff Sgt. Derrick Shipley, 932nd Airlift Wing, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, students, attend the 24th Air Force Enterprise Cyber Security Tools Training Course at Lott Hall at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, Sept. 12, 2018. This is the first time the 690th Cyber Operations Group has held the course at Keesler.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // KEMBERLY GROUE

Maj. Gen. Higby: Our enlisted career field for coders, 3D0X4, we have a number of case studies where this good coder gets to go to Kessel Run and work on the tanker planning tool for example and absolutely love it.

They’re doing paired programming with the industry expert attached to their hip learning together, growing together, creating code that’s being used. They’re talking to the war fighter that’s actually using it on a daily basis. It’s a very rewarding experience and then after their six-month TDY ends, they go back to their base-level communication squadron and they’re a SharePoint administrator, which is not necessarily what they signed up for.

Now, does SharePoint need to be administered at that base? Absolutely it does. But, maybe now we have enough talent in that Airman where they could use something like an algorithm or some kind of machine learning tool to automate the SharePoint administration aspect and then free themselves up to do the DevOps full time, vice having to do a lot of the laborious housekeeping that could be done through code or through an industry partner.

If you look at the AFNet today and I think most of us that are working on the AFNet would agree, it is a complicated, convoluted mess. It’s overly complex and in terms of the user experience, if you ask most Airmen, how would you rate the AFNet? They’re not going to give it good grades.

What we’re trying to do now is get some of those industry providers that provide service for the commercial sector, for our civilian lives, to bring that experience into the Air Force and have them run the network at a base or have them run the network in a given region.

So now you get the same user experience that you like in your private life, you now get that at work as well instead of staring in the blue wheel of death, waiting for something to load.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Cyber-warfare specialists serving with the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group of the Maryland Air National Guard engage in weekend training at Warfield Air National Guard Base, Middle River, Md., Jun. 3, 2017.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // J.M. EDDINS JR.

Airman magazine: Let’s talk about our civilian Airman, the Air National Guard units. How important is that? When it comes to DevOps and contracting, acquisitions and cyber to have people out there getting real-world experience in a different vein and bringing that cross pollination back into the force.

Maj. Gen. Higby: That’s always been a huge success story for the Air Force between our total force as we say, “Guard, reserve and REGAF (regular Air Force).” In the guard and reserve, there is so much untapped talent, it’s everything from coders all the way through to pilots. If we can find the right ways to tap into that talent at the time of need, I think it would make us a much more capable Air Force.

Some functional areas have figured that out. It’s hard because again, a lot of these total force Airmen have civilian jobs and I can share anecdotes of say a cyber security officer for a high-end Fortune 500 company in civilian life, but they’re a defender for security forces in their guard role. I ask, “Can I make you a cyber Airman? And the answer is, well, I don’t want to do all that cyber stuff. I want to be in a foxhole with a gun.

We have to figure out what are the right incentives for someone like that to say, okay, I’ll leave you on the security forces side, but can we leverage some of your cyber talent to make that SF unit more capable? Because you can do some DevOps things to manipulate the base defense cameras or a system that detects non-ferrous materials coming into the base. You can manipulate those systems in ways to maybe have a quicker response or more capable response and you’ll still get to carry your gun and lay in the foxhole on the weekend if that’s really what you want to do.

Airman magazine: You have stated that your career field pyramid is inverted. What does that mean and how is that being addressed?

Maj. Gen. Higby: When I was the cyber career field manager two or three years ago, this was one of the challenges on the officer’s side. It ended up that in our inventory we had more field grade officer positions than company grade officer positions.

Normally in the military hierarchy, you would have more CGOs then you pick the best and promote them up and so you have a pyramid. The biggest hit was probably the PBD720 force shaping cuts of the 2008-2009 timeframe, that harvested a lot of the CGO positions. And so the cuts weren’t necessarily laid in a way that made sense in terms of that pyramid. That’s where you end up and in some cases it’s a good opportunity, where a captain fills a major’s position or a major fills a lieutenant colonel’s position and they can work at an echelon higher than they normally would be able to. Some do really well at that and it’s a great opportunity, but that’s something that needs to get fixed.

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I know Maj. Gen. Kevin Kennedy, who replaced me, that’s one of the challenges that he’s looking at is how do we right size that and are there places where perhaps we can trade FTO for CGO billets and fix that manpower map.

Our manpower system in the Air Force is an industrial age system and it is something that our A1 team (manpower, personnel and services) is struggling with, as well as figuring out how do we get into the DevOps and Agile age? I know Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly is working hard on that and trying to come up with different ways where we don’t get trapped in the old thinking of it has to be a pyramid. There may be cases where if you’re working as a team, it doesn’t have to be a pyramid and we can leave our rank at the door, so to speak.

Airman magazine: Does getting away from being a one mistake Air Force enter into that?

Maj. Gen. Higby: It certainly does and especially when you talk about the risk appetite that’s required to do DevOps or Agile, you have to be able to celebrate those failures.

Now again, I’m not talking about breaking laws and committing crimes. I’m talking about taking a risk on something and it ends up not working out. Failing forward, that’s the term that the chief (Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein) likes to use. It’s what do you learn from that failure to enable your next success.

Over history, there’s plenty of examples of people that have failed and failed and failed, but they keep trying and then eventually they hit that big success that makes all those failures pale in comparison. We’re talking about venture capital and venture capital is predicated on a lot of failures. You invest in a hundred different things as a venture capitalist waiting for that one big one to be the breakthrough. Ninety-nine of the rest aren’t going to make you any money.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein addresses members of the Project Kessel Run team during a visit in Boston Dec. 6. Kessel Run personnel, led by the program executive officer for Digital at Hanscom AFB, Mass., create and rapidly deliver software and applications for U.S. warfighters.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // JERRY SASLAV

Airman magazine: So how about you, if you don’t mind us asking, what did you learn from your failures? Has there been a failure in your career that has affected the way you lead or affected a project or something that you were working on?

Maj. Gen. Higby: Yeah, my career is replete with many failures. I’ll share one from when I first came in the Air Force and all of my failures in the Air Force, as I look back now, they have sort of a common theme and that is that I didn’t rely on the team in the way that I should have relied on the team.

My first duty station was at Fort Meade, Maryland, in the Musketeer Program. We didn’t use terms like cyber or DevOps at the time, but that’s essentially what we were doing in the musketeer program. So, I was given this assignment as, as part of a team. So think back to 1990, The Soviet Union has come apart, but they still had a very capable military and they were doing something like out of a Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October novel. They had something they were doing to non-acoustically detect submarines and that was very worrisome for us. I was assigned to this project to figure out what they were doing.

We figured out they had some airborne assets that were emanating a certain kind of signal and so I was assigned to figure out in three months how to correlate where the aircraft was so we could figure out what that power pattern polarization actually looked like coming from the aircraft. In other words, I had to figure out how to track the aircraft.

So, we’re deploying in like three months and I’ve already wasted two months and I’m at wit’s end. Nothing is working. And the whole team is relying on me to come up with this answer. Finally, a colleague of mine that wasn’t on the deployment team per se, but was a musketeer said, “have you considered a V beam?”

So, I do a little research and team up with him and we get two commercial yacht radars, put them back to back, tilt them at 37 degrees and spin them on top of a little container that I put in this gun emplacement to get azimuth bearing and altitude. And that all comes in digitally and then you write code to correlate to what the other system is collecting. It went from I’m an epic failure because I was trying to do it by myself to be the hero to there’s actually somebody over on my team and if only I would have engaged them earlier.

Every failure I’ve had in my career is where I try to solve a problem alone and sort of suffer in silence and then realize in hindsight there’s actually somebody right here that can help me. Whether it’s personal life problems or work projects I’m not able to get a breakthrough on, it’s always I’m trying to do it by myself and I’m not leveraging those other great Airmen that are around me that have different viewpoints and different backgrounds. That diversity of thought can help you solve a problem.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Oregon Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Carl Green and Airman 1st Class Michelle Johnson, 142nd Fighter Wing Diversity and Inclusion Counsel’s co-chairs, review notes during a group activity as part of the monthly Unit Training Assembly weekend of events, Jan. 11, 2015, at Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore. The Diversity and Inclusion Counsel helps foster communication by recognizing that a diverse set of experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds are crucial to mission success.

U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD PHOTO // TECH. SGT. JOHN HUGHEL

Airman magazine: When you put on those stars, is this something that is now a lesson learned that you’re feeding down the chain?

Maj. Gen. Higby: I talk a lot about diversity and making sure you have a diverse team that comes together. In some cases that diversity can be visually ascertained, like you all look different. In other cases that diversity can be ascertained once you get to know each other and you realize, wow, you really think about this very differently than I do. Instead of being afraid of that, we ought to embrace it, because there could come a time where I’m confronted with a situation that I can’t get around, but you’ll look at it in a different way and throw the solution on the table that helps us get the mission done quickly and again, that’s all part of DevOps.

Back to the original question, what is DevOps? DevOps is that team of diverse individuals that are continuously iterating and continuously improving that capability that you need to get the mission done.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Super Bowl salute to Pat Tillman will have you in tears

Just as the Super Bowl was about to kick off this Sunday, viewers were treated to an amazing commercial celebrating the 100th anniversary of the NFL. Last season, the NFL broke out its first 100 year celebration commercial which featured an astounding amount of NFL legends playing a black-tie version of “kill the man with the ball.”

This year, the NFL took it outside and showed a kid fielding a kick and running across several NFL stadiums and cities, juking and avoiding tacklers and getting encouragement from various NFL legends telling him to, “Take it to the House Kid!”


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We see Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Christian McCaffrey, Drew Brees, Payton Manning, Jerry Rice, and Barry Sanders, among others, as the kid takes the ball and (in an amazing, cool, interactive moment) runs onto the live Super Bowl field to deliver the game ball to the referees.

But there is one part of the vignette which really tugs at the heartstrings. One of the many stadiums the kid runs by is in Phoenix. As he nears, he stops at the statue honoring the late Pat Tillman.

Tillman was a safety for the Arizona Cardinals who famously turned down a .6 million dollar contract shortly after 9/11, so he could serve in the military. He and his brother enlisted in the Army, and Tillman became an Army Ranger. After serving one tour in Iraq, Tillman deployed to Afghanistan, where he was killed on April 24, 2004, in a friendly fire incident.

The homage to Tillman is an emotional moment and an integral part of American history.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Arctic Strategy Unveiled

In his last public appearance in 1935, Billy Mitchell, a former U.S. Army brigadier general and airpower visionary, testified before Congress that Alaska was the most strategic place in the world. From there, he said, U.S. Army aircraft could reach any capital in the northern hemisphere within nine hours. Mitchell cited, “Whoever holds Alaska will hold the world.” An Arctic presence enables global reach for whoever holds this region and the same is true today – although the flight times have drastically decreased.


Arctic – Strategic Importance

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Activity in the Far North is heating up, both environmentally and with competing sovereign interests. With the changing of maritime access due to receding land and sea ice, Russia has been refurbishing airfields and infrastructure, creating new bases, and developing an integrated network of air defense, while seeking to regulate shipping routes. China is also seizing the chance to expand its influence to obtain new sources of energy and faster shipping routes.

“The Arctic is among the most strategically significant regions of the world today – the keystone from which the U.S. Air and Space Forces exercise vigilance,” said Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, left, Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond attend a video conference at the Pentagon with members of the Atlantic Council think tank to discuss the rollout of the Arctic strategy, Arlington, Va., July 21, 2020. They discussed the Department of the Air Force’s first guiding strategy for operating in the Arctic region. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // ERIC DIETRICH)

Barrett unveiled the new, comprehensive Department of the Air Force Arctic Strategy July 21. The strategy outlines the Department’s unique regional role and efforts to optimize Air and Space Force capabilities throughout the region in support of the National Defense Strategy.

“This Arctic Strategy recognizes the immense geostrategic consequence of the region and its critical role for protecting the homeland and projecting global power,” Barrett said.

The strategy outlines how the Air and Space Forces will enhance vigilance, reach and power to the nation’s whole-of-government approach in the Arctic region through four coordinated lines of effort: vigilance in all domains, projecting power through a combat-credible force, cooperation with allies and partners and preparation for Arctic operations.

Vigilance

The number one Department of Defense priority is homeland defense.

“The strategic value of the Arctic as our first line of defense has reemerged and (U.S. Northern Command) and (North American Aerospace Defense Command) are taking active measures to ensure our ability to detect, to track and defeat potential threats in this region,” Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He is the commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM.

As the combatant commander charged with homeland defense, O’Shaughnessy is seeing the front line of homeland defense shifting north, making it clear the Arctic can no longer be viewed as a buffer. In a recently published commentary, O’Shaughnessy stated, “The Arctic is a potential approach for our adversaries to conduct strikes on North America and is now the front line in our defense.”

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

North American Aerospace Defense Command F-22s, CF-18s, supported by KC-135 Stratotanker and E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft, intercepted two Russian Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft entering the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone on Monday, March 9th. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO)

When it comes to the Arctic, U.S. Air and Space Forces are responsible for the majority of DoD missions in the region, including the regional architecture for detecting, tracking and engaging air and missile threats. Space Professionals in the region are responsible for critical nodes of the satellite control network that deliver space capabilities to joint and coalition partners, as well as the U.S. national command authority.

“Integrating space capabilities into joint operations fuels the joint force’s ability to project power anywhere on the planet, any time,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond. “The Arctic is no different. Spacepower is essential to Arctic operations, allowing us to see with clarity, navigate with accuracy, and communicate across vast distances.”

Projecting Power

Protecting America’s interests in the homeland and abroad entails more than a vigilant defensive posture. Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, present combat capability with fifth-generation fighters as well as mobility and refueling aircraft. The Air Force provides the capability to reach remote northern locations via the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing which operates ski-equipped LC-130s that can land on ice.

“Our unique positioning in locations like Alaska, Canada and Greenland are integrated with multi-domain combat power,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “These locations harness powerful capabilities, and their unwavering vigilance to protecting the homeland represents a strategic benefit that extends well beyond the region itself.”

Cooperation with Allies and Partners

Alliances and partnerships are key in the Arctic, where no one nation has sufficient infrastructure or capacity to operate alone. Interoperability is especially critical in the Arctic due to the terrains, limited access, and low density of domain awareness assets. Many regional allies and partners have dedicated decades of focus to the Arctic, developing concepts, tactics and techniques from which the joint force can greatly benefit. Indigenous communities possess millennia of knowledge about the Arctic domain passed down through generations. Working with indigenous communities helps Air and Space Forces understand the Arctic environment, enriches training and exercises, and ensures recognition of their contributions to Department of the Air Force activities.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Airmen with the 109th Airlift Wing cooperate with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 440th Squadron to load equipment on their Twin Otter aircraft in support of Air National Guard exercise Arctic Eagle February 23rd, 2020. (U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD PHOTO // TECH. SGT. JAMIE SPAULDING)

“Strong relationships with regional allies and partners, including at the local level, are a key strategic advantage for the U.S. in the Arctic,” Barrett said. “U.S. Air and Space Forces are focused on expanding interoperability with peers that value peaceful access in the region, and we appreciate our local hosts that have welcomed Department of the Air Force installations, Airmen and Space Professionals as part of their communities for decades.”

Preparation for Arctic Operations

The Arctic’s austerity requires specialized training and acclimation by both personnel and materiel. The ability to survive and operate in extreme cold weather is imperative for contingency response or combat power generation.

“Spanning the first airplane flights in Alaska in 1913 to today’s fifth-generation aircraft and sophisticated space monitoring systems operating in the region, the Arctic has consistently remained a location of strategic importance to the United States,” Barrett said. “While the often harsh weather and terrain there call for appropriate preparations and training, Airmen and Space Professionals remain ready to bring the nation’s Arctic air and space assets to bear to support the National Defense Strategy and protect the U.S. homeland.”

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

354th Security Forces Squadron Combat Arms Training and Maintenance (CATM) instructors oversee Airmen preparing to fire an M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Jan. 9, 2020. CATM instructors are responsible for training Airmen how to use various small arms weapon systems. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // SENIOR AIRMAN BEAUX HEBERT)

Eighty-five years have passed since Mitchell’s proclamation about Alaska, made just eight days before his death, and his words still ring true. The same could be said about his foretelling of the attack on Pearl Harbor or his vision of building the world’s mightiest Air Force. During his military career, his outspoken predictions were met with ridicule, which ultimately led to him resigning his commission. Mitchell’s strategic foresight on Alaska is no coincidence to the Air Force’s long history and appreciation to the Arctic, which has now led to the forward-looking approach by leadership to stabilize the region for years to come.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.


MIGHTY CULTURE

Divers wore 1940s gear to inter Pearl Harbor survivor on USS Arizona

Pearl Harbor survivor Lauren Bruner was laid to rest aboard the sunken remains of the USS Arizona with the help of two Army divers in diving gear from the period.

Army 7th Dive Detachment Divers SSG Fred Bible and SPC Julio Melendez wore lead boots and a drysuit — weighing a total of 220 pounds — and the last two Mark 5 vintage hard hats certified for operational use on the dive.

Bruner, who died on Sept. 10, 2019, at 98 years old, was interred on the wreck of the Arizona on December 7, the 78th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


Air Force general explains what lethality really means

(Library of Congress)

After Bruner’s death, only three Arizona crew members are still alive today.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Bruner survived the attack on the Arizona by going hand over hand across a rope stretched 70 feet above the harbor. Forty-four other survivors have had their remains interred on the ship, alongside their more than 900 shipmates who went down with the ship during the attack.

Bruner will be the last survivor to be interred on the wreckage, the Star-Advertiser reports; he was the second-to-last man to escape the flaming ship, according to CNN.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Attendees salute Bruner’s ashes.

(Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Holly L. Herline/US Navy)

SSG Fred Bible and SPC Julio Melendez wore vintage diving suits to place Bruner’s ashes in the well of barbette number four.

Bruner suffered burns on 80% of his body, but went back into service after he healed. He served aboard the USS Coghlan in eight other battles against Japan’s forces, CNN reports.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

US Army 7th Dive Detachment Divers SSG Fred Bible and SPC Julio Melendez interred the remains of Pearl Harbor Survivor Lauren Bruner amongst the remains of his fellow crewman on board the sunken USS Arizona.

(Screengrab/Sgt. Laura Martin/US Army/DVIDS)

The diving suits are similar to what salvage divers would have worn on salvage missions into Pearl Harbor.

The Mark 5 helmet and dive suit was used from 1916 until the 1980s, according to the US Naval Undersea Museum.

“In retrospect, it’s very historical and super-cool, but it’s kind of uncomfortable,” Melendez told the Star-Advertiser. “It’s super heavy and it’s kind of amazing to think that it took so long to kind of upgrade it.”

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

US Army 7th Dive Detachment Divers SSG Fred Bible and SPC Julio Melendez interred the remains of Pearl Harbor Survivor Lauren Bruner aboard the USS Arizona.

(Screengrab/Sgt. Laura Martin/US Army/DVIDS)

Underwater, Melendez and Bible walked about 200 feet along the wreckage of the Arizona before they brought Bruner’s remains to their final resting place.

While the Navy has performed this kind of ceremony before for other Pearl Harbor survivors, the divers have always worn modern diving kits.

“I think it was a really fitting tribute and I think it’s an interesting way to kind of close out the last of the interments — to have it done not only with the ceremony that we normally do, but to have historic hardhats like it would have been during the salvage in World War II,” Brett Seymour, the deputy chief of the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center, told the Star-Advertiser.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

(Screengrab/Sgt. Laura Martin/US Army/ DVIDS)

“We’ve never done an interment with hardhats for sure,” Seymour told the Star-Advertiser.

“It was historical. I was left speechless, honestly,” Melendez told the Star-Advertiser. “It was a very in-the-moment experience. Just kind of taking it all in and realizing what we were doing and the history that’s being made and remembering Lauren Bruner and everything that he had done.”

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

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Stone Cold Steve Austin’s Interview with this WWII Vet Will Amaze You

This article is sponsored by World of Tanks Console.

We all know Stone Cold Steve Austin from his years when he was the face of World Wrestling Entertainment. “The Texas Rattlesnake” was one of the toughest, most badass wrestlers who left an indelible mark in the ring — both on TV and on the silver screen. Recently, we got to see Stone Cold sit down with some gentlemen who exhibited an entirely different type of toughness and heroism. By partnering up with Wargaming, the company responsible for the hit game World of Tanks, Austin recently sat down to interview three World War II tankers about their experiences. Their stories are powerful, harrowing, and heartbreaking.

The second veteran interviewed is Clarence Smoyer.


Clarence Smoyer served in the 32nd Armored Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division. Hailing from Pennsylvania, Smoyer served as a gunner during World War II. On D-Day, he landed on Omaha Beach. He recounted that, by the time he landed on the beach, things were already under control — but that control didn’t extend far inland. Moving forward, he rapidly found himself in the thick of it.

Smoyer would load his tank’s gun fast and often get blistered up badly as a result. He recalls that once, he went to medical to get the blisters treated and, on the way back, heard a mortar coming in. He ran and took cover just as it exploded nearby. A piece of shrapnel ripped his nose up, but Smoyer didn’t want to go back to medical because, “I was afraid I’d get hit by another mortar,” so he soldiered on.

Austin asks Smoyer if his tank ever got hit. Smoyer tells us that his tank got hit with an armor piercing shell and it took a chunk out of the tank. If it had been six inches over, it would have gone through his telescopic sight and he would have died. It’s a harrowing thought.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

(Photo Courtesy of Clarence Smoyer)

In one of the most heart-wrenching accounts of losing a buddy, Smoyer relates a story about losing his tank commander who was also his best friend. When one of the open-top vehicles was hit, his friend ran toward them to assist — despite Smoyer’s warnings. “He always ran to help someone if they were in need.” Just before he reached the vehicle, he was killed instantly by two mortar shells as Smoyer watched in horror.

Smoyer’s stories are so powerful, in fact, that they’re the subject of a New York Times bestselling book, Spearhead, which is a great read if you’re looking for all the gritty details.

Austin asks Smoyer to recount the first time he took on a German tank. Smoyer tracked down a tank, but it backed off behind a building. Smoyer shot through the building and hit a pillar which caused the building to collapse. Smoyer learned later the building collapsed on the tank and put it out of actions. Years later, on his return to Europe, he met one of the occupants of the German tank after they fished him out from under the building’s rubble. “I hesitated, I didn’t know how he was going to feel about me. After all I dropped a building on him.” The meeting went well, and they shook hands. Smoyer told him, “The war is over now, we can be friends.”

To continue the Tank action, be sure to check out World of Tanks on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One today. Through the World of Tanks Tanker Rewards program, Wargaming offers tons of benefits and exclusive rewards both in-game and in person for all registered players. Be a part of our current WWE season and get endless opportunities to claim WWE and Tanker rewards. To learn more about the program, click here.

This article is sponsored by World of Tanks Console.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why some military survival kits include condoms

Listen, condoms will save your life. You may not believe it, but the condom is a multipurpose force multiplier that does more than protect one’s little trooper from NBC threats during unarmed combat. The idea of having condoms isn’t even all that new, so this may be old news to many readers. Even the Army’s official survival handbook lists condoms as a necessary item for survival kits.

The reasons are many, and I’m going to list them without a single dick joke. Sorry.


Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Water.

Water is the number one reason you should carry condoms in your survival kit as a U.S. troop. Water is the number two reason you should carry condoms in your survival kit as a civilian. Condoms, of course, are designed to keep fluids in – and they are really, really good at it. When properly handled, a condom can carry two liters of water. Just tie it off with a stick and wrap it in a sock, and you’ve got yourself a durable water container.

You should probably use non-lubricated condoms for this purpose.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Tinder.

I don’t mean you should be using condoms just for the Tinder dating app (although you should definitely be using condoms if you’re on the Tinder dating app). A condom can carry a lot of flammable material and – as I mentioned – the condom is totally waterproof so it will keep your cotton, newspaper, Doritos, whatever you use as tinder, dry.

We use dryer lint.

Also, be advised that a condom will go up in flames faster than you’re going to be comfortable watching. You can use them as tinder themselves and will even start a fire.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Barrels.

Turns out condoms are good at protecting a rifle and a gun, whether you’re fighting or having fun. This is actually a fairly common use among survivalists who spend a lot of time outdoors. You may see (again, non-lubricated) condoms over the barrel of a weapon to keep mud, dirt, and water out. They even make little condoms for this purpose.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

First Aid.

If you haven’t noticed by now, the condom’s greatest strengths are its elasticity and waterproofing. You can use the condom as a crude tourniquet in case of injury, but you can also use it as a rubber glove to protect both yourself from blood-borne disease and protect your patient from whatever muck is on your grubby little hands.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Guard teams up with Hungarian forces in successful live-fire exercise

National Guard units joined with the U.S. Army and Hungarian Defense Forces (HDF), who partnered for a live-fire training exercise as a part of Breakthrough 2019 in June.

Breakthrough 2019 aims to identify the capabilities and limitations of the U.S. Army and HDF on a tactical level while in theater. During the exercise, firing systems are tested to demonstrate multi-echelon interoperability between both the U.S. and Hungarian military forces. This provides an opportunity to observe the synchronization and execution of both manned and digital firing upon specified targets within a tactical environment.

“We are grateful to our strong NATO ally Hungary for hosting this outstanding training event,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, commander, U.S. Army Europe.” We appreciate the coordination and planning conducted by all of our allies and partners in the Balkan peninsula that ensured the success of this exercise.”


Breakthrough 2019 promotes regional stability and security while increasing readiness.
Units such as the 3rd 197th Artillery Battalion from Ohio and New Hampshire National Guards worked along with Hungarian Defense Forces.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Rose Barracks, Vilseck, Germany, salute the raising of the American flag during the opening ceremony of Breakthrough 2019

(Photo by Spc. Joseph E.D. Knoch)

“The exercise brings together the Ohio Army National Guard and other National Guard units from four other states to exercise with U.S. Army Europe’s 2d Cavalry Regiment,” Lt. Gen. Cavoli said. “We are strengthening partner capabilities and fostering trust. Our combined training grants an opportunity to greatly improve interoperability among participating allies and partners such as the HDF.”

All of Breakthrough 2019 is set up as a joint training exercise which is designed to afford U.S. and Hungarian military units of similar skill set the chance to work together in a field environment.

“One of the Army’s top priorities is training with allies and partners to improve multinational cooperation,” said Lt. Col. Davis Ulricson, 3rd 197th Artillery Battalion, New Hampshire National Guard. “I don’t think we’ve ever waged a war on our own. So if we don’t exercise together, we don’t understand each other, how we work together, or what our capabilities are, then we can’t be effective. So it’s important that we come together and exercise these things by really working together and understanding each other.”

Ulricson expressed his support for the opportunity that Breakthrough 2019 is affording his soldiers who brought, M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) all the way from New Hampshire in order to shoot with the Hungarian cannon unit.

“That’s pretty exciting,” Ulricson said. “It’s good for my Soldiers to understand cultures in other nations, meet other people and really just get to know people outside of their neighborhood, It makes them feel comfortable and fosters a trust that allows us all to do our jobs better.”

The Hungarian Defense Forces were quick to affirm Breakthrough 2019 in a positive light.

“It’s very important, the cooperation between the Americans and the Hungarian Defense Forces,” said Brig. Gen. George Sandor, Artillery Battalion, Hungarian Defense Forces.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Hungarian Defense Forces Col. Vokla Janos, commander, Bakony Combat Training Centre, calls for fire during Breakthrough 2019.

(Photo by Spc. Nyatan Bol)

Cavoli said that no nation can confront today’s challenges alone, and Breakthrough 2019 demonstrates the U.S. resolve to stand side-by-side with our NATO allies and partners.

The interoperability of Breakthrough 2019 demonstrates the realistic challenges of multi-domain exercises, which are orchestrated in order to learn how these armies are capable of fighting together.

“Breakthrough 2019 showcases the U.S. Army’s ‘Total Army’ concept,” Cavoli said. “Breakthrough demonstrates our ability to conduct combined field artillery operations with the Hungarian Defense Forces, which builds our interoperability and collective readiness.”

Exercises like Breakthrough involve the U.S. Army’s ability to move units and their equipment from the United States, offload them into European ports and then move them quickly throughout the region.

“In coming to Breakthrough 2019, readiness was our priority,” Ulricson said.

In sharing the real aspects of preparing a unit for an undertaking such as this, Ulricson said that a large portion of the work comes down to paperwork and online training for his soldiers. But he also shared that there are many aspects to preparing such as cultural awareness training, equipment inspections and tactical training, among other things.

“The movement here from New Hampshire lasted most of the year,” Ulricson said.

The 197th first had to prepare every piece of equipment, and every vehicle for the trip. Then a long series of events had to unfold. The vehicles were placed on a train to Charleston, then put on a boat and shipped to Slovenia, where they offloaded and driven by the unit the rest of the way to Hungary.

“It was an amazing effort. All in all, this is a lot of coordination and work from the people who keep this unit moving.” Ulricson said.

That same dedication and work ethic remained evident.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

U.S. Army Lt. General Christopher Cavoli, commander, U.S. Army Europe, receives a briefing from Hungarian Defense Forces Col. Vokla Janos, commander, Bakony Combat Training Centre, while observing a live fire exercise as part of Breakthrough 2019.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph E. D. Knoch)

“One of the biggest challenges was getting into the vehicles after having not seen them for so long and running communications checks to make sure that everyone was up and ready so that vehicles didn’t break down on the road.” said 2nd Lt. Taylor Mitchel, Platoon Leader, Bravo Battery, 3rd 197th Field Artillery Battalion, New Hampshire National Guard.

On the day of the live fire, Lt. Col. Ulricson explained that part of that day’s mission was to shoot one M142 HIMARS round each out of four separate MLRS within a tight time frame of just several seconds. The rockets would then travel close to the speed of sound to an impact area.

Mitchel said one of his favorite parts of this mission was the opportunity to plan and strategize.

“Especially in situations like where our launcher chiefs are coming out and finding places to hide, engage and deploy,” Mitchel said. “It showed a lot of the new guys, especially myself, who haven’t deployed, the process that is behind the deployment; moving an element of individuals as well as the equipment out to a battlefield area so that we can operate in that environment.”

He said another personal highlight to working in the POC and directing fires was finally seeing the HIMARS, that he helped call out, go off right next to him.

“It’s a very rewarding feeling as well as very humbling because of the power and teamwork that goes behind getting that rocket down range where it needs to be, it’s awesome,” Mitchel said.

As breakthrough 2019 came to a close Brig. Gen. Sandor shared his thoughts on the overall success of the training.

“Breakthrough 2019 was very useful,” said Sandor. “This exercise provided an opportunity to address differences between Hungarian and American military weapons, which has resulted in a more unified tactical preparedness between the two countries.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

March is Marine Infantry Month, here’s how to celebrate

Okay, okay. Marines are arrogant; we get it. So, maybe we don’t need to dedicate an entire month to one of the finest fighting forces on the planet. Maybe doing so will simply add fuel to their egotistical fire. But the fact is that Infantry Marines are some of the best, most badass creatures on the planet, and we’re going celebrate them however we damn-well want.

Luckily, for the celebratory folks among us, the Marine Corps’ MOS codes have given us a pretty easy-to-follow structure. So, we’re officially declaring that March be Marine Infantry Month, and we’re marking the following days on our calendars to celebrate each of the many Marine Corps Infantry sub-cultures.


Air Force general explains what lethality really means

It should be noted that, on this day, if you wish to express your anger, just yell, “but I have a college degree!”

(U.S. Marine Corps)

March 1st — Infantry Officers Day (0301)

While many may not feel like celebrating it, infantry officers are certainly something you can appreciate. Each year, we’ll start this day off with a land navigation course during which you purposely get lost before you find yourself on a beach, sipping on expensive alcohol with lance corporals cooking on grills (not in the barracks, though).

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

See how much fun this one’s having? That could be you.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brendan Custer)

March 11th — Day of the Rifleman (0311)

The most populous of the infantry jobs, on March 11, start your celebration with a long-distance run or a patrol into a densely wooded area nearby. Once you’re there, eat some MREs — but save that poundcake! You’ll need it for the ceremonial field birthday cake: an MRE pound cake with a burning cigarette in the center.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

This is a day of stillness. Don’t you move, boot.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Israel Chincio)

March 17th — Day of the Snipers (0317)

When you wake up on the 17th, paint your face in camouflage, crawl a few miles, and then lay there for the rest of the day. When the sun starts to set, shoot a rifle at something really far away, and then crawl home.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

A fun day at the beach, right?

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christian Ayers)

March 21st — Day of Reconnaissance (0321)

On the 21st, take a boat out from the shore before paddling it back in. What you do after you’ve landed is completely up to you, but no matter what, you can’t tell anyone what happened.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Also, make that dumb crunchy dig your fighting hole then take it over!

(U.S. Marine Corps)

March 31st – Weapons Day (0331, 0341, 0351, 0352…)

Because there are a lot of MOS codes out there that end in numbers bigger than 31, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover at the end of the month. Not exactly optimal — each job really deserves their own day — but hey, we didn’t make the universe.

Here’s how a celebration might go: You sit back and watch as the riflemen do all the work and only help them when they call up the proper radio report. Then maybe you help them. Otherwise, you’ve got an avenue of approach to keep an eye on, right?

MIGHTY CULTURE

This event is offering veterans the tools they need for a better night’s sleep

Are you a veteran that is having trouble sleeping? Please join VA’s Office of Connected Care and DAV on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, at 12 p.m. ET for a Facebook Live event – Get Back to Sleep with VA Tools and Technologies.

Getting quality sleep may not sound like a critical health issue, but there is a link between the lack of quality sleep and critical issues like suicidality, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and an increased risk of depression.

Compounding the problem, sleep issues are highly prevalent among veterans, and there is a shortage of sleep specialists nationwide.


VA experts will discuss sleep tools and technologies like Path to Better Sleep, Remote Veteran Apnea Management Platform (REVAMP), CBT-i Coach, and others. Many of these apps are designed to supplement work with a provider and add to care between appointments. Others are self-guided and can help with strategies for improving and tracking sleep over time.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Experts on the latest technologies

During the Facebook Live event, our experts will discuss how these technologies are helping to deliver care when and where it’s needed and share information about future enhancements of these tools and technologies.

Participating in the event is easy:

Be sure to tune in. For those unable to attend at that time, the event video will be archived and available on the VHA and DAV‘s Facebook page for later viewing.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

4 civilian jobs that troops appreciate the most

Sometimes, civilians have a difficult time relating with troops. In many cases, they just don’t know how to talk to them. Realistically, it’s pretty easy. After all, we’re simple creatures; we like a handful of things — alcohol, tattoos, and anything else that’s fun with a dash of self-destruction. We’re, essentially, the kings and queens of counter-culture — “rebels with a cause,” as we were once described by a Marine general.

That being said, there are plenty of civilians out there who fit right in with the troops — usually those who work in a select few professional fields. The following are the civilian professionals that get a ton of love from the troops.


But, before we kick this off, I want to make it clear you don’t have to work in one of these fields for troops to appreciate you. Troops appreciate support of any kind — even if it’s a simple “thank you.”

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

You should never piss off your bartender, honestly.

(U.S. Air Force)

Bartenders

Easily topping this list is your friendly neighborhood beer-slinger. Troops love to drink and, although some troops might find themselves embroiled in “friendly” disagreements with their bartender after kicking back a few, a good service member will always respect the person behind the bar that helps them wind down after a long week.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Tattoo artists are almost always cool with service members.

(William Cho)

Tattoo artists

Troops love tattoos, too. For each new piece, a troop will sit on the chair or bench for hours at a time — so you kind of can’t help but become friends with your tattoo artist. Artists in a military town tend to understand troops because they tattoo a lot of us. They know what we like to talk about and they can probably all draw a perfect eagle, globe, and anchor with their eyes closed.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Okay, okay. The ones from the shop on base aren’t always bad.

(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Chris Desmond)

Barbers

Troops need haircuts and a good barber is hard to find. If you’re lucky, you’ll find that one place off-base that isn’t too expensive and leaves you with a better cut than the clowns on base shop can offer.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

A lot of respect goes both ways in this regard.

(U.S. Navy)

Doctors

Life, especially one spent in the armed forces, leaves you with a lot of complications. As warfighters, we spend a lot of time working on our own bodies and training to deliver harm to the enemies’. Although doctors have a much more thorough understanding of human anatomy, troops certainly have a lot of questions.

Doctors specialize in fixing humans and grunts, well, we specialize in the opposite. Plus, grunts have medical professionals embedded with us in the form of medics and corpsman, who are usually the best friends any troop could have. So, we sort of lump all doctors in with them.

MIGHTY CULTURE

7 things no one wants to remember about ruck marches

Ah, the beloved ruck march. First, you get to center 35 or more pounds of gear on your back and feel the straps dig into your shoulders. Then you start walking until it becomes challenging… then it stops being fun… and then it finally becomes a great reason to never sign a contract with anyone ever again.

Here are seven miseries that are easy to forget about “advanced hiking.”


Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Every step, those blisters get a little larger — until they pop, tear, get filled with salt from sweat, and potentially get infected.

(Photo by U.S. Combined Division Chin-U Pak)

The feeling of a blister slowly growing across your feet

The most well-known consequence of a ruck march is those vicious blisters that are sometimes shared in photos on social media. While the pain of dealing with them is well-known, there’s an acute feeling of dread you experience during the ruck march. You can feel the skin separating and the fluid-filled bulge growing larger and larger as you march until — a sudden relief followed by a wet feeling lets you know it popped.

Guaranteed, the burning and stinging will grow worse within another mile of marching.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

You think it hurts now? Just wait till you try to get out of bed like, ever again.

(Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Caitlin Conner)

The way your legs don’t quite work for two days afterwards

No matter how much water you drink and how much you stretch before and after the ruck march, your legs are going to be wobbly and uncertain for days. It’s like running a marathon. You’re going to end up in pain no matter how well you trained for it.

Just embrace it. Plan to spend a couple of days on the couch — ordering out for food — immediately following the march. Unless you have duty, then just be sad.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

There’s always a faster ruck runner.

(Photo by U.S. Army Gertrud Zach)

The knowledge that, no matter how hard you push yourself, that freak in 2nd platoon is going to beat you by 30 minutes or more

You trained, you prepared, you sucked down those stupid packets of goo, and you set a personal record of 2:37 for a twelve-miler. Congrats. You came in over an hour before the cutoff, likely made your platoon proud, and lost to Capt. Jason Burnes by only an hour. If you don’t want to compare yourself to the Air Assault School record holder, then just look to your sister platoon where some corporal is kicking himself for not breaking the two-hour mark.

Oh well. You outscored him on marksmanship. Or the ASVAB. Probably. Maybe…

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

This dude looks like he’s been waiting all morning to yell at someone for being three ounces under.

(Photo by U.S. Air Force Misuzu Allen)

The fear of over or under-packing your ruck

For a lot of military schools and unit events, the ruck weigh-in takes place after the march, meaning that you can conduct the entire march in record time and then have your finish invalidated because your scale at home said the ruck was 35.2 pounds but it was actually 34.6 pounds, making you a cheater.

This leads to every marcher standing over their scale the night before a march, agonizing over whether to pack 5 more pounds than required — guaranteeing that they’ll pass weigh-in — or pack as close to the cutoff as possible and roll the dice. Fingers crossed.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

See how he’s sweating but there’s ice on his weapon? Not fun.

(Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Vincent Abril)

Everything is soaked in sweat, even if it’s freezing outside

It’s hours of laborious walking with, generally, a full uniform on. There’s no way to finish a ruck march without being drenched in sweat.

Even when it’s freezing outside, the slow build-up of body heat guarantees a coating of sweat. Bonus: That sweat will eventually dry and leave a layer of salt on the skin, making the crotch chafing and blisters that much worse.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

“Yeah, I’ll pace you, dude. But like, on a bicycle — it’s too hot for this.”

(Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Lerone Simmons)

There’s no “good weather” for a ruck march

As we hinted above, cold weather will reduce sweat buildup, but it won’t get rid of it. And dressing for a cold-weather march means balancing the need to get through the first two miles without frostbite and the need to not die of heat exhaustion on mile 13 (pro-tip: wear as little snivel gear as you can survive the first three miles in). The best a marcher can hope for is little precipitation combined with fall-like temperatures and humidity.

Even in ideal conditions, you’ll still be hot as hell by the end of it, though. If you start in hot weather, just drink water and imagine you’re in Miami, the rainforest, or the center of the sun. Any of those would be cooler than how you’ll feel at the finish.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

“You did it! Grab some water and an orange. Your next ruck march is tomorrow.”

(Photo by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Baker)

You’ve got another one coming up, probably sooner than you think

Of course, the worst part of doing a ruck march is knowing that you’ll have another one coming up, especially for people competing for school slots. Earned a coveted slot for air assault by setting a battalion record on the 12-mile? Congrats!

Remember, you’ll be verifying your performance the week before you ship to school. And you have to ruck in school. And the battalion is working on a ruck march to celebrate all the new graduates for the day after they return from school.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Female Marine combat photographer paves the way

Erin Kirk-Cuomo dreamed of being a combat photographer. She interviewed with multiple companies and publications within the civilian world, but none of them were willing to hire a female photographer for that position.


So, she decided to join the military.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

She chose to go into the United States Marine Corps. When she opened the doors to the Armed Forces recruitment office in 2004, she was ready to raise her right hand and do just that. But Kirk-Cuomo was told she couldn’t be a combat photographer, because she was female.

At that point, females were not allowed to serve in combat positions. But Kirk-Cuomo knew that the job she wanted wasn’t considered an active combat position, even though she’d be in the thick of things. She knew the recruiter was wrong and told him so. Kirk-Cuomo then demanded that he call a supervisor, which he begrudgingly did. That recruiter later came back and apologized for telling her she couldn’t be a combat photographer. He then asked if she could pass a physical fitness test.

The Marine Corps has the longest boot camp out of all of the armed forces and arguably the toughest to graduate from. In 2004 when she wanted to join, only 6% of enlisted Marines were female. Kirk-Cuomo did part of the physical fitness test right then and there in front of that recruiter.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

She shipped out to boot camp on Parris Island two weeks later.

Kirk-Cuomo made it through the still gender-segregated 13 weeks to become a Marine. She vividly remembers that if the female or male platoons came anywhere near each other, the drill instructors would make the males do an about face, away from the females. She recalls a time that the drill instructor yelled at the male recruits, “Don’t you look at those dirty females!”

This wouldn’t be the last time she’d hear those words.

Despite the hardships, she graduated boot camp as a high shooter. Kirk-Cuomo had the highest rifle score, beating out all of the other platoons that graduated boot camp with her. She left for combat training following boot camp and then went on to school to learn how to be a combat photographer. She left as the number one distinguished honor graduate.

Kirk-Cuomo was now a part of combat camera, or COMCAM. “There really weren’t a whole lot of us [females] at the time. Most of the women that were in COMCAM were lithographers or graphics people,” she said.

Kirk-Cuomo reported to her new duty station shortly thereafter – Camp Pendleton, located in San Diego, Calif. A couple of years later, she began deploying. From 2006-2008 she was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where she was the only female in her unit. She was also the only combat photographer for the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF).

Kirk-Cuomo shared that being in the field was a dream come true. She credited a male warrant officer for going against the norm. In a time where leadership was hesitant to send female combat photographers anywhere dangerous, he sent her everywhere she wanted to go. It’s because of his inclusiveness and belief in her abilities that she was able to go right into the thick of things just like her male counterparts. He never saw her as “just” a woman; he saw her as a competent Marine.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

When asked if serving as a combat photographer was everything she’d hoped for, Kirk-Cuomo smiled sadly. “I wasn’t prepared to stand up for myself as much as I should have,” she said. She recalled her experiences of continuous harassment and even a sexual assault. She feels strongly that the Marine Corp created a toxic environment by first segregating the sexes in boot camp and creating an environment that made females feel as though they were “less than.”

The Marine Corps just graduated its first co-ed company in March of 2019. If Congress has anything to say about, it will be mandatory due to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which has a provision requiring them to integrate both boot camp locations. The west coast location has never trained female recruits.

“I am horrified that I didn’t stand up for myself just to fit in and get by. We older female Marines really do carry a sense of guilt with that. How much worse did we make it for the generations that came after us because we didn’t stand up and say something?” she asked.

Kirk-Cuomo gives credit for being able to openly share her experiences with the new generation of female Marines that have refused to accept that behavior. “I am just in awe of them – seeing what they’ve done and what they continue to do,” said Kirk-Cuomo. She feels confident in the new wave of female Marines making positive changes.

When she left her last deployment, she became a photographer at Marine Corps Headquarters, assigned to the Commandant. She left the Marines in 2010 and went on to become a photographer for the Secretary of Defense.

After President Obama was elected, she remembers there being a level of high tension among male Marines and heavy discussion about whether Obama would repeal the rule that prohibited females from serving in combat positions. He did.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Kirk-Cuomo was able to photograph the moment the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff signed the repeal. “I remember standing in the briefing room, photographing this momentous thing,” she shared. “I was taking these pictures and just sobbing behind the camera.”

These days Kirk-Cuomo is an active advocate for female Marines and one of their loudest cheerleaders and supporters. When asked if she regrets joining, she didn’t hesitate to say no. But when asked if she would advise females to pick the Marine Corps over other branches of service to enlist in – she immediately said not yet, they still have a lot of work to do.

MIGHTY CULTURE

You won’t believe this F/A-18D flyover cost a U.S. Marine Corps Squadron Commander his job

A few days ago reading the news that Lt. Col. Ralph Featherstone, Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 225 squadron commander since last April, had been fired on Jan. 24 after performing a flyover during a “sundown” ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, “due to concerns about poor judgment” I immediately thought his F/A-18 had performed some kind of insane low passage or buzzed the Tower as done in the famous Top Gun scene.


Then, I found the video obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune that shows the actual flyover. According to the media outlet, an air wing official confirmed the removal was linked to the flight shown in the following video:

What is more, “Featherstone was in the rear seat of the jet when it flew lower and faster than was approved in the day’s flight plan.”

In about 30 years attending airshows and events and 25 years reporting about military aviation I’ve seen many many “stunts” (i.e. aggressive maneuvers at low altitude) far worse than the one in the video above. Maybe we miss some detail about the whole story here, but that flyover is far from being “low”! No matter you are an expert or not, I think you won’t find it dangerous from any point of view.

Let’s not forget that the sundown ceremony celebrated the squadron’s transition from the “Legacy Hornet” to the F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Lightning II aircraft. It’s an event aimed at boosting the morale of the squadron as it moves to another chapter of its history. Do you see anything “unsafe” in that passage?

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

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