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.

airman.dodlive.mil

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

Borne the Battle: Army veteran Nathan Goncalves

On this week’s episode, Borne the Battle features guest Nathan Goncalves, who shares his story of struggle and perseverance.

While Goncalves didn’t have the intrinsic calling to join the military, he enlisted at 23, seeking reform and discipline. It was in the Army that Goncalves sharpened his focus and developed lifelong friendships and mentors.


Rough transition

However, Goncalves’ transition back to civilian life was not easy. In fact, it turned out to be some of his lowest valleys–involving addiction, PTSD, and anger management.

But things started to change when Goncalves heard he was going to be a father. In this episode, he discusses how an intense work ethic allowed him to achieve a bachelor’s degree at UCLA in less than three years.

Goncalves applied to UCLA’s Law school to study corporate law. He was accepted, but a bitter divorce hampered those plans. Through his own experiences, Goncalves realized there was no advocacy for situations like his own. So he sacrificed a potentially lucrative corporate law career and switched to family law to offer services to homeless and low-income veterans.

Equal Justice Works Responds to Veteran Crisis

www.youtube.com

Goncalves is now hosted by Harriet BuHai Center for Family Law and sponsored in house by Equal Justice Works. He continues to fight for family integration for homeless and low-income veterans as they transition back into the civilian communities.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Things I wish I knew before becoming a MilSpouse

It’s now been a couple of years since my husband retired from 31 years of active military service. I was along for the ride from the beginning, as I met him mere months after he arrived at his first duty station.

We were so young when we married (19 and 22), and I had no idea what I was getting myself into — no, I really didn’t. I hear so many military spouses say the same, even if they grew up in a military family. Being the spouse of a service member is such a unique experience. In the past two years, I think I’ve gained some hindsight and perspective in looking back at those decades of military life, and I’m thinking about what I wish I’d known, what I’d do differently, what surprised me, and what I’m glad for.


Whether you’re a brand new milspouse or nearly at the end of your journey too, see if any of this resonates with you. And I’d love to hear what you’ve learned.

What I wish I’d known

1. Not to underestimate the effect military life would have on our family.

While by this point in the military spouse world it’s been drilled into us how important it is to create our own identity, pursue our own dreams and passions, that we’re not just military spouses (all good things, of course), it does no good to pretend military life won’t have an impact on the spouse and family. It will have an effect, whether it’s where you’re living, how much you see your spouse, if your kids will change schools numerous times, or the rest of the family stays put while the military member moves. It isn’t just another job, one that can be picked up and put down at will. It’s a completely different way of life.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

U.S. Army Sgt.1st Class Danny J. Hocker, assigned to 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment is embraced by his family during a welcome home ceremony in Vilseck, Germany, Oct. 23, 2008.

(US Army Photo by SPC Pastora Y. Hall)

2. To not look back with rose colored glasses.

Whether location, friends, a church, or community, lingering too long on the things I loved from past assignments did not serve me well in the early days at a new base. While it’s important to grieve and take stock before moving on, at times, dwelling on what was carved out a hollow space within me that refused to be filled with the new. This led to prolonged times of loneliness and disillusion that I think might have been shorter if I hadn’t played the comparison game.

3. To take care of myself.

I think younger spouses these days may have a better handle on this than I did, but I had to learn the hard way that the world would not stop spinning on its axis if I took a nap, planned a walk alone, or said a firm no to the latest volunteering opportunity so that I could make self-care a priority more often.

4. Friendships won’t look the same, and that’s ok.

Back to comparisons. It just stinks to say goodbye to the best friend you’ve ever had and be forced to start over again. Sometimes it’s easier to just…not. It’s exhausting to lay the groundwork for friendships and community connections, knowing it’s temporary anyway. But I wish I could tell young me that making room for others, whether they resemble any friend you’ve ever had or would even look for, is important and can also be surprising.

5. Don’t wait for people to make the first move or make me feel welcome.

There’s no sense in standing to the side and expect people to bring the welcome wagon to you,because you’re the new one after all. Sometimes you have to be brave first.

6. Not worry so much about how our kids would turn out.

I spent a lot of needless worry on this one. A lot. This is not to say that military life isn’t hard on kids–it is. But I had way too many sleepless nights on this. Of course, making sure my military kids had the resources they needed was important and I’m glad I gave attention to that. Heck, maybe they did turn out as functioning adults because I worried so much? We’ll go with that thought.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

(US Army photo)

7. To make space for my husband again at the inevitable end of military life.

I’ll be honest–I wish I had done this better. While you’re in the thick of military life, it’s hard to believe it won’t always be like this. And while I gave lip service to how glad I’d be when he’d be home again regularly, no longer deploying, and become a regular part of the household after literally years of separation, the transition to civilian life was a little bumpier than I’d expected. I’d so carefully groomed my independent side for years (I had to, to survive), that creating space for him and for us as a couple was a much bigger adjustment than I’d expected.

What surprised me

1. How glad I am for the hard times.

They changed me, my perspective, and how I relate to others. It sounds cliche, but I wouldn’t have grown or appreciate life like I do now without the losses and pain that walked hand in hand with years of military life. I’m not sure I would have learned that lesson so well otherwise.

Reunited

2. The utter relief that came with the end of his military service.

The knowledge that we wouldn’t ever have to move again unless we choose to, that I won’t be holding down the fort as my husband deploys or leaves for training, or that military life will no longer define every detail of our existence struck me the day the words “you are relieved from active duty” were spoken at my husband’s retirement ceremony. I didn’t realize how heavy that weight was until it was gone.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Capt. Joe Faraone reunites with his wife, Suk, Jan. 15, 2014, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.

3. What I’d miss.

The instant camaraderie, the shared experiences with other military families can’t be understood unless you’ve been there. The unique language, the dark sense of humor that comes with the “deployment curse,” the understanding of what we all go through is hard to replicate. Hearing the notes of reveille played basewide to start the day, the National Anthem at the end of the duty day, and the heartbreaking sound of Taps each night — the sadness of which will forever make tears gather in my eyes–those are some ‘little things’ I still miss. The travel, the adventure, the not knowing what would be around the next corner? Yes, I miss that, too.

4. How strong I am. How strong we all are.

One reason I stay involved in my work with military spouses is because it’s now part of me. Military families are a special breed. Military spouses have my heart, and will forever. I have witnessed families go through unspeakable things, times that would crush a normal person, and come out stronger and also willing to reach out and help others going through the same thing. Whether it’s creating a non-profit to make life easier for other military families, embracing their entrepreneurial spirit and start a pop-up business at a desolate duty station, or simply rolling out of bed each morning to tote kids to school and themselves to work while their spouse serves hundreds of miles away….you inspire me every day.

My husband retired after 31 years in the Air Force. Shortly after, I stumbled across this poem and felt it was written just for him…for us.

The Last Parade

Let the bugle blow

Let the march be played

With the forming of the troops

For my last parade.

The years of war and the years of waiting

Obedience to orders, unhesitating

Years in the states, and the years overseas

All woven in a web of memories.

A lifetime of service passes in review

As many good friends and exotic places too

In the waning sunlight begin to fade

With the martial music of my last parade.

My last salute to the service and base

Now someone else will take my place

To the sharp young airmen marching away

I gladly pass the orders of the day.

Though uncertain of what my future may hold

Still, if needed-before I grow too old

I’ll keep my saber sharp, my powder dry

Lest I be recalled to duty by and by.

So let the bugle blow

Fire the evening gun

Slowly lower the colors

My retirement has begun.

-Author Unknown

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This smart scale whipped me into shape faster than a personal trainer

If December is the season for consumerist gluttony, and full-fat eggnog, then January is the time for carrot sticks, running on the treadmill, and staring blankly at a scale that says you’ve only lost two pounds since the new year. If you, like me, found yourself in that happy place between despondency and full-on despair, you may need a smart scale to ever so gently nudge you along.


We’ve all felt that intense, cloying sense of dread when stepping on the scale. They’re generally the square, bulky things you willfully sidestep when you walk in to take a leak. Enter the Qardio’s QardioBase2. It makes getting into shape … intriguing. It’s a WiFi- or Bluetooth-connected circular scale that hooks up with the corresponding app and works on any surface, and it’s designed to be your kinder and gentler weight loss and fitness coach.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Fitness resolutions may center on pounds and ounces, but Qardio’s QardioBase2 smart scale focuses its feedback on direction rather than specific, hard-core goals. If you’re looking for something that offers its readout in more general, encouraging terms rather than the bark of a drill instructor, this is the bathroom scale for you.

Rather than spitting out a single weight, the QardioBase2 provides feedback on your body mass index, tracking it over time and rewarding you with one of three faces: smiling for weight loss, a neutral face for negligible results, and a frown when you’ve indulged a little too much.

Granted, for some its smiley-centric feedback is a bit too twee, and for those who need black-and-white reports, it also reads weight, along with muscle mass, fat percentage, bone, and water composition, allowing you to drill down as far as you want. All stats are recorded via its app to you can track progress over time. It weights just under seven pounds, is 13 inches in diameter, and works with iOS 10.0 or later, Kindle, Android 5 or later, and the Apple Watch.

Beyond the emoji feedback, which may be a tad precious, there’s a lot more to love. Its sleek design and tempered glass top in either black or white is less than an inch thick and adds class to even the most humble bathroom.

For those who want options for the whole family, it automatically detects individual users, recording data separately as such. It also has a pregnancy mode to track weight gain and progress as your partner gets further and further along in her pregnancy. Plus, she can add pictures to her numbers, so she can look back and remember what she looked like when the baby was the size of a walnut.

With the QardioBase2, I had a healthy alternative to the dreaded decimal point. Its feedback is less judgy that others in its class, but the various functions and multi-user ease makes this a scale I’m happy to use all year. Instead of dreading weighing myself, I was actually … well, excited is too strong a word. But heavily invested.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Air Force ranges support environmental and cultural conservation

Within the confines of U.S. Air Force ranges there are things that exist nowhere else in the world.

Vast expanses of natural habitat containing unique plants and animals, archaeological sites and artifacts of Paleolithic Native Americans and cultures past, are contained in these, sometimes misunderstood, restricted spaces.

In fact, U.S. Air Force ranges support conservation efforts which strive to expand beyond man-made borders to increase numbers of threatened and endangered species to a healthy and sustainable population.

“I think the public has the perception that the training range is a bombing range in that we obliterate the entire range but that is a very large misconception,” said Anna Johnson, Nellis Air Force Base Natural Resource manager. “The target areas are a very small portion of the range and those target areas have remained the same for decades … going into the future the target areas are not supposed to change at all.”


These ranges, which are utilized for a wide variety of military training and or testing, try to strike a balance between responsible land stewardship and mission accomplishment.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

A very small area of the range is used for missions and targets while the surrounding area is left virtually untouched.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

According to Johnson, ranges require a lot of land area because of the distance and speed at which aircraft travel and for safety buffer zones during weapons employment.

Roads, targets and infrastructure account for less than 10 percent of the Nellis Test and Training Range landscape and the rest of the 2.9 million acres has been undeveloped and untouched. In fact, the only litter of note found on the range, according to Johnson, comes in the form of mylar balloons which travel extremely long distances.

The same can be said for ranges across the U.S. including Avon Park Air Force Range, which covers 106,000 acres, in Central Florida.

“Plain and simple, if we as the Air Force don’t take care of this property we’re going to lose the ability to use it,” said Mr. Buck MacLaughlin, APAFR range manager. “This is natural real estate and this is land we have been entrusted with to be able to do our training.”

That trust is granted by the American people and backed by U.S. federal regulations.

“The stewardship of the land is a responsibility that falls upon the Department of Defense and by proxy the Air Force, through the Sikes Act, where essentially we are mandated to partner with conservation organizations,” said Col. Chris Zuhkle, NTTR commander.

“In this case [with the NTTR] it’s the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nevada Department of Wildlife that make sure that we meet not only our mission needs but also that we do everything in our power to meet the conservation requirements and sustainment for those lands.”

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over 300 federally listed species live on Defense Department land. Range environmental management offices must always be mindful they’re falling within the guidelines of the endangered species act to keep the best interest of the mission and environment on their radar. Avon Park has 12 endangered species, which are spread throughout the entire range area. The large habitat poses some unique challenges when it comes to mission planning.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

‘I hear people call this place, the last bit of wild Florida or real Florida. You know, it’s pretty cool’ said Aline Morrow, a Fish Wildlife Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, assigned to Avon Park Air Force Range, Florida.

(U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

“If we are putting undue impact on these threatened and endangered species, and really not even just the threatened and endangered ones, all the natural species in Central Florida that make this range their home, if we’re not balancing the requirements between taking care of those species and doing the military mission the military mission is going to get curtailed,” said MacLaughlin.

“That costs money in terms of fuel, it costs money in terms of manpower and more importantly the units that need this training, those men and women who are going to go in harm’s way, they don’t get the ability to practice their craft if we’re not doing that other part.

According to Brent Bonner, APAFR environmental flight chief, the wildlife management piece takes a lot of moving parts to ensure mission accomplishment.

As part of the Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan species are constantly monitored so range operations knows their location and status, especially during critical times, such as nesting season for endangered birds, to help protect future generations of these rare creatures.

Aline Morrow, a USFWS biologist who works closely with the environmental flight, helps survey and track animals, such as the Florida Bonneted Bat, which some consider to be the most endangered bat in North America. She says the first natural roost of the bat was found on an impact area of Avon Park in 2014.

Once a roost is found, it’s marked and mission planners know to buffer a certain area around the roost so as not to disturb the bats.

“It’s just 110 percent support from everybody who’s out here,” exclaimed Morrow. “They’re [the Air Force] always asking us, ‘what are you doing?’ and they get just as excited as we do when, for example, just a couple weeks ago, we had a sighting of a Florida Panther and the commander sent an email out with the pictures to everybody. Now everyone has the picture as their background on their laptop … I never felt like someone from the Air Force sees us as a regulator, they see us as a partner. We’re there to help you guys [the Air Force] see your mission as much as ours.”

While most of the efforts focus on managing the landscapes inhabited by wildlife to ensure they are able to thrive, it’s just a piece of the bigger picture.

The Wild and Free Roaming Wild Horses and Burro Act of 1971 established requirements to manage these animals, which aided America’s expansion and growth, while also making sure there is an ecological balance.

Tabatha Romero, BLM Wild Horse and Burro specialist, knows first-hand how important management practices are.

She says people have an idealized version of how these horses are and the animals should just be left alone, but they don’t see the harm caused when the horses are overpopulated and they overgraze or run out of water and mothers have foals that can’t nurse because they can’t produce milk.

“With the NTTR it goes to show how sound our management practices can be,” said Romero. “When we are allowed to use the tools available to us and conduct comprehensive environmental management programs we have healthy horses on healthy ranges and that’s the ultimate goal of our program.”

Sound management practices are essential to ensuring the mission is accomplished, but with ranges providing pristine landscapes and safe havens for several endangered species it can sometimes become the only place these plants and animals live. In order to protect these species, and more effectively accomplish training, ranges have started looking at growing conservation efforts outside their physical boundaries.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Range borders protect against development leaving a majority of the range land as a safety buffer zone and therefore untouched. This pristine habitat (right) sometimes ends where the range fences end leaving the outside land (left) open for development or public usage.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

According to MacLaughlin, it all started with the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program. This program works with willing landowners that border ranges, and partners with conservation organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, using federal money to purchase conservation easements.

“This is a real estate negotiation with a landowner that comes to the table and says ‘I want to protect my property’,” stressed MacLaughlin.

The REPI program presented potential for conservation efforts and education to expand in a big way, but sometimes there were unforeseen issues.

Agencies such as the Department of Interior or Department of Agriculture may be trying to accomplish the same thing on the same lands but due to existing laws, where federal money could not be used from one account to the other, the efforts may be halted.

This is where the Sentinel Landscape Program, which APAFR was declared an official Sentinel Landscape in 2016, came in that allowed multiple agencies to leverage each other’s programs and focus on combined efforts.

“It’s a direct sustainment of the mission,” said Bonner. “As we increase the species on our property and they’re decreased off property they become more valuable to the public … we want to make sure we don’t get in a situation where we are the only people with Red Cockaded Woodpeckers – that will impact our mission. So, we want to go outside the fence on those conservation efforts, protecting those species.”

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

The Red-Cockaded Woodpecker is an endangered species thriving on the Avon Park Air Force Range. About the size of a cardinal, the RCW calls the longleaf pines located on the range home. Marked and protected by the range mangers. The goal of the range is to expand the RCW habitat off the range and increase the population.

(U.S. Air Force courtesy Photo)

While the natural resource management team is focused on current issues, facing threatened and endangered species, they are also looking at preserving the past. Many Air Force ranges are homes to thousands of years of cultural history which could potentially be lost forever if it weren’t housed in the safety of the range’s fences.

When a base or range requires building a new structure or beginning a new mission, it’s much more complicated than just planning for operations and making it happen.

Surveys and studies are done to ensure the space isn’t on ground that contains a culturally significant site, meaning it contains vital information such as relevant tools, or qualifying traces of history, that are eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

A map of the cultural dig sites on the Nevada Test and Training Range.

(Nellis Cultural Resource Office)

According to Kathy Couturier, APAFR cultural resource manager, she helps determine the Area of Potential Effect for a particular site and what the mission impacts will be on the site.

She then provides guidance or alternative solutions to operating around those sites and runs the plans up to the State Historic Preservation Office for review and approval. This process ensures that time, money, and resources are utilized in the best way possible to effectively accomplish the mission while still ensuring eligible sites remain protected.

Federal laws, regulations, and procedures, such as determining the APE, have been put in place to ensure these sites are preserved and treated with respect so as to not repeat the mistakes of the past when significant cultural resources were destroyed as highways and cities were built on top of potentially significant cultural sites.

Environmental teams across the nation’s ranges such as the NTTR, which has sites dating back 10,000 years and works closely with 17 Native American tribes, try to ensure that cultural ownership of the land is not lost.

“These tribes are very intact in their language, they still speak it fluently, they teach it in their schools to their children,” says Kish LaPierre, NAFB cultural resource manager. “They have amazing oral history so we work very closely with them and they give us information to help us protect the prehistoric and ethno historic sites.”

LaPierre says the conditions around the NTTR are perfect for the preservation of artifacts. There are several sites where, often times, there are baskets sitting still full of seeds and tools laying around as if the inhabitants just left and were planning to come back but they didn’t.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

While cultural sites on public lands are sometimes vandalized (left), sites on ranges remain pristine (right) due to limited access.

(Bureau of Land Management) (Nellis Cultural Resource Office)

“We have almost 3 million acres of land and it is virtually untouched,” said LaPierre. “The NTTR has been blocked off from the public since 1940 so it’s a huge prehistoric time capsule – it’s like a living museum.”

Understanding and mitigating the impact of how land use can have long lasting and far-reaching effects is on the forefront of the Air Force’s environmental programs.

Range teams across the country take great care when executing their mission to make sure they are not only following federal laws but also taking a vested interest in the lands they have been granted the ability to use so the past and present are preserved for future generations.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

This soldier’s passion for boxing is an inspiration to others

Puddles of sweat begin to form as the sound of 50-ounce gloves hitting a punching bag echo throughout the gym.

A buzzer goes off. That’s the signal to the drenched-in-sweat Sgt. Larry Mays that the warmup has ended and the real workout is about to begin.

The unit supply NCO with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, used that warmup routine to help earn first place in the Colorado Golden Gloves heavyweight division in April 2019.


“It’s a prestigious tournament that the state of Colorado holds on a yearly basis,” explained Mays. “I’ve been training since October of last year and it’s exciting to see that all my hard work paid off.”

Even though the Lambert, Mississippi native began his training for the Colorado tournament in October 2018, his journey with the sport started much earlier.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

U.S. Army Sgt. Larry Mays, a unit supply noncommissioned officer assigned to 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, hits a punching bag, May 11, 2019, at local boxing gym in Colorado Springs.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)

“I started fighting (when) I was in elementary school. I started with (mixed martial arts), taekwondo and Jiu-Jitsu,” said Mays. “I kept fighting as a way to stay in shape and relieve stress.”

While training in those combat sports, Mays’ coach recommended he try boxing as a way to help him with his MMA skills.

“I pretty much fell in love with (boxing) after that and never went back to MMA,” he explained. “It’s not an easy sport, but I love that there is always a challenge and something new to learn.”

Although boxing was a big part of his life, Mays said he found himself working odd jobs and bringing little income into his household.

With encouragement from his coaches, friends, and family members, Mays enlisted in the Army in 2012.

“I wanted to get out of Mississippi and I always wanted to join the military, so it was the perfect time to make that change,” said Mays.

He learned to adapt quickly to the military lifestyle.

“To me, my mindset with boxing and my military career are very similar,” he said. “You have to stay disciplined, have a clear and strong mind, and never back down from a fight.”

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

U.S. Army Sgt. Larry Mays, a unit supply noncommissioned officer assigned to 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, hits a speed bag May 11, 2019, at local boxing gym in Colorado Springs.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)

His ability to stay committed to his passion of boxing and effectively balance his career and family life began to inspire other soldiers in his unit.

“I would see him working long hours, helping his soldiers and then still see him going to the gym after work to train — that’s dedication,” said 1st Lt. Wilbert Paige, platoon leader, HHC, 704th BSB, 2nd IBCT. “He is a great example, not only to the junior soldiers in the company but to everyone, from top to bottom.”

Paige added that he hopes to see Mays in the “big leagues” in the future.

“He is a great example of what not quitting, putting in hard work and staying dedicated to your goals looks like,” said Paige. “He is the type of person who can do whatever he puts his mind to, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.”

With the support of his family and now his unit, Mays said he hopes to continue boxing and to ultimately do it professionally.

“This road of life I am on is kind of falling into place, I have come a long way,” said Mays. “I just want to be the guy who made it from nothing. I want to be the best soldier, best NCO and best boxer I can be.”

He hopes others see his journey as a way to encourage themselves to follow their dreams, Mays added.

“I want to be an inspiration to not only soldiers but to everyone,” he said. “You have to look at every day like a fight. Keep pushing even when you might be falling down because you can’t expect good things to happen if you don’t even try.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s what happens when the Coast Guard makes a drug bust

Most troops and vets know very little about what the Coast Guard actually does. They’re often seen as either the “Navy National Guard” or as a bunch of puddle pirates trying to pretend like they’re one of the cool, DoD kids.

Yeah, sure; we’ll hear their name get brought up whenever a hurricane hits or they’ll be cursed at when they catch someone speeding on a private lake, but the truth is that they’ve more than earned their right to be a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

When they aren’t out helping idiotic boaters, they’re dropping narco-terrorists just like their grunt brothers.


Air Force general explains what lethality really means

When it kicks off, Coasties stay busy and can probably expect six or so busts in a week after that long-ass wait.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake)

It all begins with actionable intelligence. Despite what you might think about gangs not snitching on each other to save their own hides — they absolutely do. Apparently, it doesn’t even take that much to get them to talk. A threat of extradition and being sent back to their home country (where they face grave, domestic threats) is usually enough to get them singing like a canary.

So, the Coast Guard goes out to the expected route of traffickers in their Cutters and they wait… and wait… and wait…

This process could take days, weeks, or even months. If it turns out that the collected information is indeed legit and they find the smugglers, then the fun begins.

First is the show of force and an appeal to try and get them to surrender peacefully. There’s literally no escape when the Coast Guard has you surrounded with much faster vessels and helicopters flying overhead. The ones who value their well-being will give themselves up.

If they don’t, warning shots will strafe the waters in front of the bow. If they still don’t get the message, snipers from inside the helicopters will disable the engines — that’s right: The Coast Guard has highly trained snipers who can hit speedboats from helicopters with surgical precision.

They should get the hint by now, but just in case they don’t, the Coast Guardsmen then board their vessel and detain the smugglers while remaining very weary of any potential threats that may appear. For a look at what that’s like, in a safe-for-television manner, check out the video below:

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Ever wonder what half a billion dollars looks like? This was from just three busts.

(U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Mariana O’Leary)

The traffickers will go into custody and may be sent back to their host nation for trial (or execution, depending on the country). Then, the drugs are incinerated or destroyed by other means.

We’re not talking small amounts either. We’re talking about cartel-level quantities. Each bust account for tons of narcotics that will never make it to the streets. When they’re set ablaze, that’s millions that will never make it back to the cartels. Between 2010 and 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard took out 500 tons of cocaine — billion in street value.

The war on drugs is a constant battle, but busts like these make significant dents.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How Prince Charles got all his medals without fighting in a war

When decked out in his full royal regalia, the Prince of Wales looks much like what you think a 69-year-old aristocrat might — much like what you think a stereotypical soon-to-be king might. His military uniform is emblazoned with medals, ropes, pins, patches, and other decorations worthy of someone who may soon occupy the biggest seat in the entire United Kingdom.

Which is amazing, considering he hasn’t seen combat once in his life.


Britain itself has not been devoid of conflict, even within Charles’ relatively short lifetime. He was born three years after the end of the Second World War, but broke royal tradition by going straight to university instead of joining the military after his secondary education. When he did join the armed forces in the 1970s, he did stints in both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Even though he was late to the game, there was still plenty of action to see.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Armed British soldiers in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

During Charles’ service window, the UK saw a number of shooting conflicts, most notably the Falklands War with Argentina and The Troubles, a military occupation of Northern Ireland. He saw action in neither conflict.

While the Prince of Wales didn’t see combat duty, he still trained vigorously with the members of units to which he was attached. He has trained in undersea warfare and commanded a Royal Navy Destroyer and has learned to fly helicopters and twin-engine jet fighters with the RAF. Charles also successfully completed the parachute regiment’s jump training at an age much older than the average recruit.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Charles, tasked to lead the parachute regiment in 1978, decided he would be unfit to lead them without undergoing the training himself. He was 30 years old.

(Clarence House)

Charles also commands the Welsh Guards, leading the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony on Horse Guards Parade, marking Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

The Prince wears the ceremonial uniform of Colonel of the Welsh Guards during the Trooping the Colour Ceremony.

(Clarence House)

So, this isn’t to say Charles’ medals are somehow unearned. He wears no medals for valor in combat. Instead, he wears the appropriate regalia, given his service, ranks in the Navy and Air Force, and appropriate titles. He wears the Order of Merit, the Order of the Bath, and the Queen’s Service Order, all for service to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

Other decorations of note include medals related to the Queen herself, including the Queen’s Coronation medal, Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal, all awarded for a celebration of his mother ascending to the throne and her continued reign as Queen. He also wears awards from Canada and New Zealand, and wears the Order of the Garter, chosen and awarded by the Queen herself.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

The Prince of Wales and Prince Harry presented Operational Medals to the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

(Buckingham Palace)

It’s a tradition for men in the Royal family to serve in the military. Charles’ father, Prince Philip, served in World War II and his sons, William and Harry, both served. Harry famously deployed to combat duties in Afghanistan in recent years.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Green Beret Foundation announces historic accreditation by Veterans Affairs

The Green Beret Foundation is the premiere benevolent organization dedicated to the Special Forces soldiers and their families. The organization is now poised to do even more thanks to its newly announced Veterans Services Organization accreditation by the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

The Green Beret Foundation’s accreditation by Veterans Affairs is an accomplishment that GBF is extremely proud of. At this time, it is the only special operations charity to hold the distinction. The organization recognizes the deep impact and importance the accreditation offers and leadership states that they look forward to being able to greatly expand their ability to serve. 

“The overall health and wellness of a Green Beret and their family is our priority, and this accreditation is a testament to our expertise and level of support as the premier benevolent organization in the Special Forces community,” Brent Cooper, Executive Director of GBF shared. 

While the GBF has been supporting its Special Forces soldiers with their needs from the VA for some time, its hands were tied with how much help they could give in many areas. With the new accreditation, the GBF can now walk alongside its soldiers throughout the entirety of the VA claims process, which is known to be cumbersome and difficult to navigate even with support.

John Armezzani is the Veterans Services Director for the claims process with the VA. In a statement posted to the GBF website, Armezzani shared that, “This process, which may range from initiating claims to carrying them through VA and Board of Veterans Appeals hearings when necessary, will greatly enhance the capability of the GBF and its Next Ridgeline program to provide unique assistance throughout the life of our Special Forces veterans.”

One deeply impactful way the Green Beret Foundation’s accreditation will help is by being able to more fully support its soldiers as they leave the military. “This [accreditation] allows the GBF to expand it’s Transition Assistance Program from providing general informational briefings on benefits to filing the benefits claims for those separating service members,” Armezzani explained. 

Not only will the organization be doing more to ensure its Special Forces soldiers receive the support they may need as they get out, but it will be able to be there throughout issues of hardship too. “GBF now has the ability to provide benefits assistance to Green Berets with life events such as change of career or in the event of a catastrophic health event. This includes dependents too,” Armezzani stated. 

As the Special Forces soldiers from the Vietnam War era continue to age, their needs will most likely increase. The VSO accreditation will allow the GBF to step in and support these honored veterans by being their voices in the benefits claims process. “Inherent in this accreditation is the ability to provide benefits assistance to our legacy holders from the Vietnam era as they enter into the twilight of their lives,” Armezzani said.

Perhaps one of the most impactful parts of the announcement is the ability for the GBF to now represent its Special Forces Soldiers in the appeal process. “We will be able to represent Green Berets in appellate actions before the Board of Veterans Appeals when they disagree with a VA decision,” Armezzani said. No longer will they have to fight appeals without support, the GBF will be right there with them and will fight to ensure they are heard.

The ultimate goal of this newly-expanded program is to be able to install a representative at each location where a Special Forces Group is located. This will all be made possible through the generosity of donors and future fundraising efforts. 

The Green Beret Foundation remains committed to ensuring that every single Special Forces soldier is not only honored for their service to this nation but also cared for the way they deserve. Although the VA VSO accreditation is an impressive and important feat to have achieved, GBF is ready to do even more. 

MIGHTY CULTURE

It’s Official: The Space Force is now the 6th Military Branch

President Donald Trump has directed the Pentagon to create a “space force” as a new, sixth military branch to oversee missions and operations in the space domain.

“We must have American dominance in space,” Trump said during a speech at the National Space Council meeting, held at the White House on June 18, 2018. “I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense to immediately begin the process to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.”


“We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the space force,” Trump said. “Separate, but equal. It is going to be something so important.”

Trump then directed Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to “carry that assignment out.”

“Let’s go get it, General,” he added to Dunford, who was at the council meeting.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means
Gen. Joseph Dunford

The Air Force did not immediately have a statement in response to the announcement, and directed all questions to the office of the secretary of defense.

In March 2018, Trump first revealed he had an idea for a “space force,” or separate military service for space.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, has been in a months-long debate over an additional branch.

Trump shared his vision for the force during a visit to troops at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California.

“Because we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space, maybe we need a new force,” he said. “We’ll call it the space force.”

Trump’s comments came a few months after discussions had wound down in the Pentagon about a separate military force for space.

Lawmakers have pushed the Air Force to stand up a branch for space within the service in hopes of taking adversarial threats in space more seriously.

Both Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein have been trying to discourage talk of a separate military branch, maintaining that the Air Force has the means and the personnel to meet current requirements for space.

“This [Air Force] budget accelerates our efforts to deter, defend and protect our ability to operate and win in space,” Wilson told a House Appropriations Committee panel days after Trump’s first announcement. “There are a number of different elements of this with respect to the space — the space portfolio.”

Goldfein agreed with the secretary during the March hearing, and added there is no question space is a warfighting domain in need of better protection. The Air Force has overseen the domain since the mid-1950s.

“As a joint chief, I see that same responsibility as the lead joint chief for space operations is making sure that we have those capabilities that the joint team requires. And so, as the president stated openly, this is a warfighting domain,” Goldfein said. “That is where we’ve been focused. And so I’m really looking forward to the conversation.”

Air Force general explains what lethality really means
Gen. David Goldfein

In 2017, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, and Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, R-Texas, first created language in the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act which would have required the service to stand up a “U.S. Space Corps.”

Soon after, Goldfein, Wilson and even Defense Secretary Jim Mattis publicly downplayed the idea, citing costliness and organizational challenges.

And while lawmakers ultimately removed language requiring such an overhaul of the Air Force’s mission, they still required a study of a space force and also backed changes to the management of the space cadre.

Rogers and other key lawmakers believe it is still possible to stand up a “space corps” within three to five years, and have still chastised the Air Force for not creating something like it “yesterday.”

“The situation we are in as a nation, the vulnerabilities we have to China and Russia, I’d like for the American public to know more, [but] I can’t because I don’t want to go to jail for leaking classified info. But we’re in a really bad situation,” Rogers said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event in March 2018.

Rogers has looked to Trump for support on the new space mission.

“Looking forward to working with @realDonaldTrump on this initiative!” he tweeted March 14, 2018.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

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MIGHTY CULTURE

From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support

Five years ago, Marine Corps Veteran Frederick Nardei returned to service, but not the military. He became a certified peer support specialist, dedicated to helping fellow Veterans whose futures were as uncertain as his had once been.


Nardei served as a peer specialist for a recent study at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, helping Veterans enrolled in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) manage their mental health and substance misuse challenges. The study was also conducted at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass., where it was led by Dr. Marsha Ellison.

Actively and significantly engaged in their own recovery from mental health issues, VA peer specialists serve as success stories for their fellow Veterans. Their experience using mental health services, combined with their VA training and certification, have made them valuable additions to VA’s mental health offerings.

“My own experiences with homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness had prepared my heart to serve in ways that the Veterans could easily relate to… When I share my recovery story, they say that they are inspired and empowered because they can see that I am the evidence that recovery is possible and achievable,” said Nardei.

The study, led by Pittsburgh VA’s Dr. Matthew Chinman, found that formerly homeless Veterans who worked extensively with peer specialists had greater improvements in their symptoms than those who did not work with a peer specialist. When asked about their work with a peer specialist, both the Veterans and the other HUD-VASH staff expressed great satisfaction. Veterans reported being less isolated, more integrated into their community, and more involved in recovery activities as a result of their work with a peer specialist.

Who better to help other Veterans on their recovery journey than someone who has been in their shoes?

“The Veterans who struggled with the shame and stigma of being homeless were able to overcome those barriers… because I was able to share with them my own experience with being homeless for seven months after my wife left, because of my heroin addiction,” said Nardei, one of an estimated 1,100 Veterans serving as VA peer specialists.

Recover, heal, grow

The peer support program inspires and empowers participants to recover, heal and grow. Nardei believes that there is nothing more powerful than seeing someone accomplish the things that once seemed impossible.

He’s the proof he inspires in others.

To become a VA-trained peer specialist, visit the VA Careers webpage for details.

To learn more about peer specialists and their how they improve Veterans’ lives, download the Peer Support Toolkit.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

This Navy SEAL wants to inspire kids to reach their full potential

Marc Lonergan-Hertel grew up in Massachusetts with the dream of becoming a Navy SEAL — a dream he made into a reality. But he had a long way to go before achieving such a feat. He decided he needed to toughen up first, so he joined the Marine Corps, where he eventually found himself in Force Recon.

His military career took him through some of the toughest training the military has to offer. And he wrote about it in his memoir, Sierra Two: A SEAL’s Odyssey in War and Peace.

But Lonergan-Hertel didn’t stop there. He continued a life of adventure and service after leaving the military and today, he wants to call attention to real-world heroes he met along the way. He wants his transformative journey to help inspire others — namely, our nation’s youth — so they can maximize their full potential and achieve their dreams.

He calls himself a Protector.


Air Force general explains what lethality really means
Lonergan-Hertel’s Book is available on Amazon.

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Lonergan-Hertel and 1st Force Recon.

(Courtesy of Marc Lonergan-Hertel)

Those who fight monsters inevitably change,” Lonergan-Hertel says, explaining what he means by the title “Protector.” It’s from a popular saying about post-traumatic stress, written by an unknown author. The quote goes on to note that if you stay in the fighting long enough, you will eventually become the monster. The former Navy SEAL wants to keep Protectors from getting that far.

“There is a cost to being a protector. Love is the only way to heal the wounds [that change you]. Remember this: As a protector, you run toward the things that others run away from. You go out to fight what you fear. You stand between others and the monsters on the other side of the wall.”

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Lonergan-Hertel in his world-record paraglider flight, 70 South Antarctica.

(Courtesy of Marc Lonergan-Hertel)

You can read about his adventures fighting monsters in his book, Sierra Two. After his time in Force Recon, he left the military and worked as a Emergency Medical Technician in Los Angeles as well as a hunting guide in Colorado. Eventually, he decided to explore the Army and join the Special Forces. Shortly after joining the California National Guard, he was able to wear a maroon beret in support of 19 Special Forces Group and prepared to try out for Delta Section. He didn’t make Delta, but it did prepare him a selection packet he could submit to the Navy. He graduated from BUD/S in 1996 and joined SEAL Team Four. He left the military in 2000, but didn’t leave behind the adventurer’s life.

“My platoon chief recommended me for an around-the-world expedition through the Cousteau Society,” Lonergan-Hertel says. “I ended up getting the position as a team member and expedition leader and scout for NatGeo and Discovery Channel programs to Antarctica the Amazon jungle, where I had experience as a SEAL.”

Air Force general explains what lethality really means

Lonergan-Hertel and his NatGeo Team. Lonergan-Hertel is center, in the cowboy hat.

(Courtesy of Marc Lonergan-Hertel)

During his military career and post-military adventuring, he began to question what he valued most in life. He began to look for his true purpose. As his journey sharpened his self-awareness, he was soon transformed into a new person. He became a Protector – and wanted to be the best Protector he could be. His life took him to rescue hurricane victims, assess the environment in Antarctica while diving under the ice shelves, hike up the Amazon River Basin alone and encounter endangered tribes along the way — he even lost his best friend to pirates along the same river.

“I wrote my book because I realized how much our life journey sharpens our awareness of what really matters in life,” Lonergan-Hertel says. “Real life experiences transform us as human beings and gives us an understanding of risk and sacrifice.”

He even has a line of survival gear, that includes a heat reflective thermal field blanket sleep system, called First Line Survival. Lonergan-Hertel calls it “base camp in a bag” and all the proceeds from First Line Survival benefit his Protectors tour.

But the longtime adventurer is more than just an author. He’s crossing the country with fellow Protectors to tell their stories in stage presentations, meant for school-age children but meaningful to parents as well. He wants children to grow up with the confidence to realize their abilities and potential, to see a personal path toward a positive future, and realize they have the power to do this within themselves at all times.

“I understand very clearly that the gift of life can be away very quickly,” Lonergan-Hertel says. “The best thing I can leave behind is to inspire others to have confidence in themselves and to help others who have a more difficult journey in life.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Meet the first enlisted female Guard soldiers to graduate Ranger School

Two soldiers from the South Carolina and Pennsylvania National Guard are the first enlisted National Guard females to graduate from U.S. Army Ranger School.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jessica Smiley, a South Carolina National Guard military police non-commissioned officer serving with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and U.S. Army Sgt. Danielle Farber, Pennsylvania National Guard 166th Regional Training Institute Medical Battalion Training Site instructor, completed the mentally and physically challenging school at Fort Benning Dec. 13, 2019. The school prepares soldiers to be better trained, more capable and more resilient leaders.


“My mindset going into this was to leave 100 percent on the table and never have regret or look back and say, ‘I should have pushed harder or I should have done something different,'” said Smiley. “My mindset today is that I did just that. I gave 100 percent. I did everything that I could, and now here I am.”

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U.S. Army Sgt. Danielle Farber, Pennsylvania National Guard 166th Regional Training Institute Medical Battalion Training Site instructor, and U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jessica Smiley, South Carolina National Guard military police non-commissioned officer currently serving with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, graduate U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia, Dec. 13, 2019, as the first National Guard enlisted females to complete the leadership school.

(Photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun)

As the first female National Guard enlisted soldiers to graduate from the school, Smiley and Farber join a small group of women who have earned a Ranger tab since the Pentagon lifted the ban on women serving in combat arms positions. The others are U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest and U.S. Army 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, who in 2015 became the first women to ever complete the school; U.S. Army 1st Lt. Emily Lilly, who was the first female National Guard officer to graduate in 2018; and U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Amanda Kelley, the first enlisted soldier to graduate, also in 2018. However, Smiley and Farber do not think Ranger school is an accomplishment only they are capable of achieving.

“I don’t think it’s charting a course for other women because it’s something that we all have in us. We just haven’t been allowed to do it … There are many women out there who are completely capable of doing it,” said Smiley. “Do it … Put in the hard work, put in the dedication to accomplish the goal.”

Smiley and Farber said the accomplishment took years of training and did not come without setbacks. Farber has been working toward this goal since 2016 when she first tried for the Pennsylvania Ranger/Sapper state assessment program and was not selected. She tried again in 2018 and was selected, with approximately 10 other soldiers. A year later, she left for Ranger school.

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U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jessica Smiley, South Carolina National Guard military police non-commissioned officer currently serving with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, graduates U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia, Dec. 13, 2019, as one of the first National Guard enlisted females to complete the leadership school.

(Photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun)

“Train hard for it,” said Farber. “Come into it knowing you’re going to be doing things that every other male that comes through here has to do. Don’t come through here and expect any sort of special treatment because it won’t happen.”

Now that they have earned their Ranger tab, Smiley and Farber hope to use the skills they’ve gained and help the soldiers they work with and lead.

“This day to me is not the end of the school, but is the beginning of the new chapter in my career, not only for myself but for future soldiers,” said Smiley.

U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Russ Vickery, South Carolina National Guard command sergeant major, said he is proud of what Smiley and Farber achieved.

“It is a big deal to be the first enlisted females in the National Guard graduating Ranger School. … It’s groundbreaking,” he said. “We always tell [soldiers] that they can do it. Physical size is not the limitation; it’s the amount of heart and soul that a soldier brings.”

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