How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Making it through selection to serve in one of America’s elite special operations units marks an unusual milestone in a service member’s career. Making the cut serves as the culmination of a lifetime of preparation and hard work, while simultaneously ushering in a new era full of brutal challenges, higher stakes, and even longer days ahead. Becoming a Green Beret is a lot like earning a spot on a professional football team: when everyone is elite, it takes something special to stand out.

Former Green Beret and current Director of Player Development for the Indianapolis Colts Brian Decker knows that, and he’s managed to quantify that something special into a model that improved candidate selection rates by thirty percent in his last Special Forces unit. Now, he’s brought that same model to the NFL.


How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Brian Decker

(Courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)

“What Brian did was change the paradigm,” said Col. Glenn Thomas, Decker’s former boss at Fort Bragg. “People get accustomed to looking at things the same way and applying the same solutions to the same problems. Brian challenged our assumptions. He took things that had generally been intangibles and turned them into tangibles.”

Football is, in many ways, analogous for war, with a combination of strategy and brute force playing out in a melee of individual skirmishes with the singular goal of advancing deep into enemy territory. The stakes in a football game are lower than in war, of course, but in the minds and hearts of those playing, themes like sacrifice and commitment are just prevalent between the hash marks as they are on the battlefield.

The thing is, despite the hard metrics both NFL teams and military units have been measuring for decades (using tests to assess things like speed and strength), many would contend that once a person has proven their physical ability to perform at that level, the real elements that dictate success or failure tend to be less tangible. A timed run can’t measure a soldier’s ability to dig deep in a firefight, nor can a series of drills determine if a rookie could handle the incredible pressure of playing at the professional level.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Decker believes there are some things that set elite operators apart in all fields, whether we’re talking combat operations or professional football.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Steven Lewis)

“One of the things about professional sports, rock climbing, parachuting, jumping from 123,000 feet in space to Earth, they’re all really hard things to do,” Decker explains.

“I think if you remove the sport, specific skills and domain from it, you find that (elite performers) are a lot alike. I think the demands placed upon greatness look a lot alike, regardless of field.”

Roughly half of all first-round draft picks in the NFL wash out of the league, and with so much money riding on these decisions, NFL teams have spent years trying to devise ways to predict a player’s success before they sign the contract. From Decker’s perspective, however, they simply haven’t been measuring the right things.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Teams are taking big financial risks with their draft picks. The entire franchise could be effected by these decisions for years to come.

(Swimfinfan on Flickr)

So Decker set out to quantify the unquantifiable–to find a way to use numerical measurements for seemingly intangible elements of a player’s personality like their drive or desire to succeed, their responses to stress, and their emotional intelligence. If all other things are equal, Decker’s approach states, it’s those qualifiers that will indicate the likelihood of a player’s (or Special Forces candidate’s) success.

The hard part is assigning hard numbers to such things in a uniform way, and while Decker won’t reveal the exact metrics he uses for his assessments, the success his program has been enjoying in the Colts’ locker room seems to speak for itself.

“Every team in the league is doing a lot of work in terms of psychological evaluations, and has been doing it forever and ever,” says Joe Banner, the former Browns CEO who gave Decker his first job in the league in 2014.

“But his approach, and the types of questions he asks, and his ability to synthesize information and get to the right conclusions, that part of it is absolutely groundbreaking. There is nobody in the league doing what he’s doing as effectively.”

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Last season the Colts went 10-6, marking a turnaround for the franchise.

(Indianapolis Colts)

Once Decker has met with a prospective player and made his assessments, he always follows the math up with five specific questions meant to steer his line of thinking:

Does this player have a favorable development profile?

Does he have a profile that supports handling pressure and adversity?

Does he have a good learning and support system?

Is he a character risk, and if so, how do we understand that risk and help this player?

Is he a good fit?

But it takes a lot more than assigning some figures and asking lofty questions. Prior to this season’s draft, Decker interviewed and assessed over 160 players. Next year, he plans to top 300.

“This is a commitment industry,” Decker, who served in the military for 22 years, explains. “That’s another thing I like about football. You can’t just be here for the T-shirt. You gotta give a pound of flesh to do this.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ex-slave who disguised herself as a man to enlist

Members of the Armed Forces will be familiar with the term “contraband.” In basic training, it was civilian clothing. On deployment, it was alcohol. For the Union soldiers that occupied Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1861, contraband referred to the slaves they captured. These captured slaves were pressed into service as cooks, laundresses or nurses to support the Union war effort. Among these captured slaves was 17-year-old Cathay Williams, who worked as a cook and washerwoman and eventually, as a soldier.


In September 1844, Williams was born in Independence, Missouri, to a free man and an enslaved woman. This made her legal status that of a slave. She worked as a house slave on the Johnson Plantation outside of Jefferson City, Missouri.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Painting of Cathay Williams by Williams Jennings (U.S. Army Profiles of Bravery)

After she was pressed into service, Williams served under General Philip Sheridan and accompanied the infantry on campaigns around the country, including the Red River Campaign, the Battle of Pea Ridge, and the Shenandoah Valley Raids in Virginia. Her extensive travels during the war influenced her decision to enlist afterwards.

On November 15, 1866, Williams enlisted in the 38th Infantry Regiment (“Rock of the Marne”). Because women were prohibited from military service, Williams disguised herself as a man and enlisted under the name “William Cathay”. At the time, the Army did not perform full medical examinations on enlistees, so Williams was able to maintain her cover. Only two people in the regiment, a cousin, and a friend, knew Williams’ true identity. “They never blowed on me,” Williams said. “They were partly the cause of me joining the Army. The other reason was I wanted to make my own living and not be dependent on relations or friends.”

Williams was able to keep her secret despite a case of smallpox shortly after her enlistment. After her hospitalization, Williams was able to rejoin her unit at Fort Bayard in the New Mexico territory, helping to secure the construction of the transcontinental railroads. However, a case of neuralgia (intermittent nerve pain) sent her to the post surgeon who uncovered Williams’ secret and reported her to the post commander. On October 14, 1868, she received an honorable discharge with the legacy of being the first and only female Buffalo Soldier.

Williams went on to work as a cook, laundress, and part-time nurse in New Mexico and Colorado. Years later, her declining health led to a hospitalization from 1890 to 1891. In June 1891, Williams applied for a military disability pension. A doctor concluded that she did not qualify, and the Pension Bureau cited the fact that her Army service was not legal. It is estimated that Williams died between 1892 and 1900. Her final resting place is also unknown.

American women have disguised themselves as men in order to serve since the Revolutionary War. Williams, however, was the first known African-American to do so. She is also the only known woman to disguise herself as a man during the Indian Wars. Her fierce independence and determination to serve are hallmarks of the American spirit that she, and so many others before and after her, have sought to defend.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Bronze bust of Cathay Williams at the Richard Allen Cultural Center in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (Buffalo Soldier Monument Committee)

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Questions to ask yourself before buying a new knife

Purchasing new gear can be a daunting challenge thanks to an internet ripe with strong opinions and the tribal mentality we sometimes develop around the brands we’ve come to love. Somebody on the internet thinks you have to spend a fortune to get anything worth having, someone else thinks that guy is an idiot, and everyone thinks they know what’s best for you.


When it comes to knives, the waters get even muddier thanks to a mind-boggling variety of manufacturers, styles, purposes, and production materials. Whether you’re a budget minded-fisherman in need of a decent pocket knife or you’re the fanciest of knife snobs with very particular tastes regarding the amount of carbon in the steel of your blade, there’s a laundry list of options awash in the sea of internet retailers–begging the question, just where in the hell is a guy supposed to start?

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

The biggest difference between a knife I made and a knife I bought is knowing exactly who to be mad at if it under performs.

Over the years, my hobbies, passions and professional pursuits have helped me develop a powerful respect for good quality knives, eventually leading me to put together a workshop to start making knives of my own. But don’t let my knife-snob credentials fool you; my favorite knife is still the one that does the job without prompting an angry “how much did you spend?” phone call from my wife. That balance of function and budget has led me to develop a simple three-question system to help anyone pick the right knife for their pocket, bank account, and needs.

What do you need the knife to do?

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

A good knife serves a specific purpose, a decent knife can get you out of a jam, and a bad knife tries to do everything.

Is your knife primarily going to be for self-defense or for opening Amazon packages at the office? Do you plan to rely on it for survival or as a general utility knife? Before you even open your browser and start perusing knives, knowing what you need the knife for will go far in narrowing down your options.

Survival knives, for instance, should almost always be “full-tang” fixed blades. That means the metal of the blade extends all the way through the handle in one solid piece, offering the greatest strength you can get out of the sharpened piece of steel on your hip. If you’re looking for a bit of easily concealable utility, on the other hand, a good quality folding pocket knife would do just fine.

You’ll be tempted to look for a knife that can do it all, but beware: any tool designed to do everything tends not to do anything particularly well.

How and where do you expect to carry the knife?

Crocodile Dundee may have been happy to carry a short sword around L.A., but for most of us, the knives we carry need to fit in with our lifestyles. Corporate environments would likely frown on you walking into HR with a machete strapped to your belt, and a keychain Swiss Army Knife probably won’t cut it if you’re planning to spend a weekend in the woods with that group of angry old Vets that used to be your fire team. The frequency and way you plan to carry the blade will help inform your shopping.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

No matter what Batman says, I’ve yet to find a way to carry batarangs around inconspicuously.

If you plan to carry the knife in your pocket as a part of your EDC, consider the space in your pocket and how it’ll feel when you stand, sit, and go about your normal daily duties. If it’s heavy, bulky, or pokes at you… chances are it’ll get left on the kitchen table instead of in your pocket.

If, however, you plan to keep the blade in a day pack or your glove box, you have more options regarding size and weight. If you’ve got to cover a lot of miles on foot, every ounce counts; if you’re stowing the blade in your trunk, you can get liberal with the tonnage.

How much do you want to spend?

You may know what you want the knife to do and how you intend to carry it, but the final purchase will always be determined by budget.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

These knives range in price from under (to make) to name brand special editions that never hit the market. They’re also all just sharp pieces of metal. It helps to remember that.

If you’re an enthusiast that loves a carbon-heavy blade that’ll hold an edge you can shave with until the cows come home, you can find some knives that cost as much as the used cars high school kids take to class. If you’re an everyday Joe looking for a blade made out of 1095 stainless (and you don’t mind hitting it with a sharpener from time to time), you’ll have options in the checkout line at Walmart.

A good knife does cost more than a bad one, but don’t let that mentality guide you into the poor house. I’ve seen some pretty crappy blades go for a premium just because of the names associated with them.

Read reviews, shop around, but above all, trust your gut. A knife you like carrying will always be more useful than one you leave at home.

MIGHTY CULTURE

As he approaches retirement, Wright examines his tenure as CMSAF

The 18th Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force carries a smile with confidence, which reflects his easy nature of engaging everyone wherever he goes. Who would have expected young dental technician Kaleth O. Wright in 1989 to one day become that man?


CMSAF18 Kaleth O. Wright – The Exit Interview

www.youtube.com

When he started his career in 1993, as a medical professional, Wright wasn’t sure of himself at first. But, with the help of mentors, he worked his way up the ranks. In 2016, he was serving as the command chief of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. After only a few months in the position, he was surprised to learn of his selection for the highest enlisted position in the United States Air Force.

“To be honest, my initial reaction was I was going to be the token black guy on the slate,” Wright explained.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright swear in delayed entry members during the Washington Redskins versus Philadelphia Eagles game at the FedExField in Hyattsville, Md., Sept. 10, 2017. The game was dedicated to the men and women of the U.S. Air Force in celebration of the service’s 70th birthday. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // SENIOR AIRMAN RUSTY FRANK)

However, he quickly realized that wasn’t the case and instead chose to embrace the opportunity presented to him.

“I decided…I’m going to take the opportunity to get the job, and then do the best that I can,” he said. “I guess, as they say, the rest is history.”

During his tenure, Wright worked with three Secretaries of the Air Force. He first worked with Acting Secretary Lisa Disbrow, then Secretary Heather Wilson, concluding his career with Secretary Barbara Barrett. Wright appreciated their guidance and leadership in tackling the position’s responsibilities and handling top issues that affected Airmen.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, right, checks out a piece of 3D printed material with Staff Sgt. March Tiche, 60th Maintenance Squadron aircraft metals apprentice, during his tour Sept. 23, 2019, at Travis Air Force Base, California. Wright arrived at Travis AFB for a three-day visit to meet with Airmen and get a firsthand look at how Team Travis contributes to rapid global mobility. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // LOUIS BRISCESE)

“I’ve had a fantastic relationship with all of them, they were all really great personalities and they all gave me the space to get after enlisted issues,” he said. “So I’ve really appreciated the guidance, feedback, and the listening ear from all three of the secretaries.”

One of the most important relationships during his time as CMSAF was the one with Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen David L. Goldfein. They developed a great relationship, Wright saw him as a big brother as they collaborated on many different projects and decisions.

“We’re able to provide each other feedback…,” said Wright. “We have a lot of fun together. It’s really been great… I got a mini-Ph.D. in leadership just being able to sit beside him.”

Mentorship and guidance to help improve the force didn’t just come from top leadership Wright met with Airmen from around the world to provide feedback on issues that affected them directly. As he traveled and met with other chiefs to discuss policies, Airmen were included in the conversations to advocate for the changes they wanted to see.

The 18th CMSAF led many improvements for the force. He enhanced leadership development by rolling back additional duties, evolving Enlisted Professional Military Education, removing weighted Airman Promotion System tests, and improving talent management and leadership development processes.

He also pushed for joint-custody assignments, changed bereavement to the service’s sick leave policy, and helped make job-specific fitness tests, as well as the diagnostic fitness assessments, which are currently in beta testing.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright greets one of his former Airmen, Tech. Sgt. Amanda Taylor, 726th Operations Group command support staff superintendent, during a base tour Oct. 19, 2018 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Wright and Taylor were stationed together at Osan Air Base, South Korea, between 2007 and 2008 where they used to play basketball together. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS ANDREW D. SARVER)

Initiatives he headed up also included increased dwell time for Airmen after giving birth and the Noncommissioned Officer Career Status Program, which includes indefinite enlistment based on high-year tenure and increased HYT for grades E-5 through E-9.

While addressing these issues, Wright built many relationships. The more he learned about Airmen accomplishing extraordinary things, the more he was determined to make the Air Force a better place for them.

“I think Airmen today are phenomenal,” Wright said. “I think they’re super talented in what we ask them to do. They’re creative, they’re innovative, they’re thoughtful, and they’re committed. I’ve just been amazed at what our Airmen have been able to accomplish, and what they do on a daily basis. And, to some extent, what they put up with on a daily basis.”

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright (right) coins Senior Airman Isaac Buck, 512th Rescue Squadron special mission aviator, at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., Sept. 27, 2019. Wright recognized Airmen belonging to Team Kirtland that performed above and beyond their own call of duty with his challenge coin. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS AUSTIN J. PRISBREY)

Wright explained that he wants Airmen to keep improving themselves and each other.

“I’m a dental tech who became Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and I think all too often, we provide Airmen with formulas for success…without the benefit of allowing them to dream, and for them to decide, ‘hey, this is what I want to be,'” he said. “It might be the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, or it might it be the President of the United States, but be dreamers – dream big.”

While trying to help those dreams come true, he acknowledges there are still challenges to be met.

“I do believe we have some areas we need to work on, and that’s racial inequality, as witnessed by what’s happening in our Air Force today, and I think we need to embrace technology and really invest in our IT infrastructure–some of the systems that we use are too old and too slow, and they slow our Airmen down,” he said.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright shakes hands with a 100th Security Forces Squadron Airman during a visit at RAF Mildenhall, England, Dec. 26, 2018. Both Wright and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein visited Team Mildenhall prior to heading back to the U.S. after a visit to U.S. Central Command during the holidays. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. CHRISTINE GROENING)

Wright put a spotlight on resilience as suicides across the service remain a concern. He prioritized ensuring programs and policies were in place and accessible, such as Task Force True North, which puts resources into squadrons to nurture mental health.

The CMSAF explained the service also needs “to do better with gender equality,” by improving diversity in recruitment, pilot accessions and leadership.

“I do think that in order for us to maintain our status as the greatest Air Force, we have to be tougher on ourselves than anybody else,” he said. “If we work on those areas, we’ll just become a better, more diverse, more capable Air Force.”

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright speaks to U.S. Air Force Airmen during an enlisted all-call at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, July 26, 2018. Wright visited numerous units to speak with Airmen about enlisted issues. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS D. BLAKE BROWNING)

Wright understands there’s still a lot more work that needs to be accomplished. But as he reflects on his time in uniform and as CMSAF, he credits his mentors, family and the Team 18 staff on the growth and success of his venture.

Chief Master Sgt. Manny Piñeiro, Air Force First Sergeant special duty manager, taught him how to be passionate about helping people and Wright credits Chief Master Sgt. Kristina Rogers, senior execute to the office of CMSAF, with, “keeping us all in check.” However, he acknowledges his character development grew from Master Sgt retired Joe Winbush, Wright’s first supervisor, who he considers “my mentor, my pops” from early in his career.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright answers a question during an all-call with the Airmen from the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, Aug. 16, 2017 at Fort George G. Meade, Md. During the CMSAF’s visit he conversed with the Airmen about topics concerning airmanship, professionalism and future enlisted Air Force initiatives. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. ALEXANDRE MONTES)

As his Air Force career concludes, Wright will forever be part of a legacy of leaders.

While the service prepares for Wright’s transition, he noted the new top enlisted leader, Chief JoAnne S. Bass, holds the same passion and focus on the Airmen as well as awareness of how decisions can affect their lives and careers.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright and Chief Master Sgt. Manny Piñeiro, Air Force first sergeant special duty manager, meet with 92nd and 141st Maintenance Group Airmen to discuss the streamlining of the periodic inspection process at Fairchild Air Force Base, March 22, 2019. The periodic inspection is the most in-depth inspection Fairchild maintainers conduct on the KC-135 Stratotanker. The two-week inspection is conducted every 24 months, 1,800 flight hours or 1,000 landings. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. MACKENZIE MENDEZ)

“This type of work is never finished and I’m excited about our next Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force,” he said. “She actually helped build some of these programs and processes. I think she’ll have her own priorities and things she’ll want to work on and I’m confident that she’ll continue to work on some of the things that we literally started together.”

He leaves one last bit of advice to his replacement, “do you.”

“I told her don’t ever be concerned or worry about changing something, eliminating something, offending me, or what have you,” he smiled, wanting her to stay true to her conviction and values. “I had three and a half, almost four years to impact the Air Force. Now it’s your turn.”

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, views a loadmaster training video with Chief Master Sgt. Manny Piñeiro, Air Force special duty manager for first sergeants, and Capt. Joseph Hunt, 314th Airlift Wing chief of group tactics, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Oct. 3, 2019. Wright visited multiple units across the installation including the 19th AW, 314th AW, and 189th AW to learn about Herk Nation’s singular focus on Combat Airlift. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // AIRMAN 1ST CLASS AARON IRVIN)

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


MIGHTY TACTICAL

This armored vehicle sports an anti-aircraft cannon

The M113 armored personnel carrier is one of the most versatile — and long-lasting — armored vehicles in the American inventory. The Army has just now, after 50 years of service, begun the process of replacing the M113 with the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle. Even then, the M113 will stick around in some capacity — over 80,000 have been produced.


One particularly notable variant of this APC is the M163. This is an M113 refitted with a turret-mounted M61 Vulcan 20mm Gatling gun. In one sense, this was a simple approach – the Army took the M61 Vulcan that has been a mainstay on fighters like the F-105 Thunderchief, F-104 Starfighter, and the F-4 Phantom and simply attached it to the M113. This gun proved to be quite a MiG-killer in air-to-air combat, and the assumption was it would be effective from the ground, too.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting
A close look at the heart of the M163: The M61 Gatling gun, which was a proven MiG-killer in air-to-air combat. (US Army photo)

The M163 saw some combat trials during the Vietnam War, but the radar systems weren’t quite ready to take on targets in the sky. Like the M45 “Meat Chopper,” however, the M163 proved that ground targets were no problem for this anti-aircraft vehicle, especially when it carried over 2,000 rounds of ammo for the gun. The M163 soon found itself exported to South Korea, Thailand, Israel, and a number of other countries.

The M163 eventually received upgrades, giving it a better radar and making things simpler for the gunner. It also got more powerful rounds for the M61 gun. Yet, in American service, the M163 would be more known for its use as a ground-support asset. However, the Israelis did score three kills with the vehicle, one of them a MiG-21, during the 1982 Lebanon War.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting
A M163 at Fort Bliss during the Cold War. Like the M45, it proved to be an awesome ground-support weapon. (US Army photo)

After Desert Storm, the Army retired the M163, replacing it and the M72 Chaparral with the 1-2 combination of the M1097 Avenger and the M6 Bradley Linebacker air-defense vehicle.

Learn more about this adapted M113 in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENsVvYgMh6s
MIGHTY TRENDING

How Russia’s UN vetoes have enabled mass murder in Syria

Since the start of Syria’s uprising in March 2011, Russia has vetoed 12 UN Security Council resolutions concerning the conflict. Among other things, these resolutions covered human rights violations, indiscriminate aerial bombing, the use of force against civilians, toxic chemical weapons, and calls for a meaningful ceasefire.

Russia’s behavior at the Security Council is not motivated by humanitarian concerns. Its vetoes have provided political cover for the Assad regime, protected Moscow’s strategic interests and arms deals with the Syrian state, and obstructed UN peacekeeping. They’ve helped shift the locus of peace talks from a UN-backed process in Geneva to a Russian-led one in Astana. And they’ve had real and dire consequences for the people of Syria.


The Syrian conflict has claimed more than 500,000 lives, turned millions of people into refugees, and all but destroyed the country. While all sides have contributed to this catastrophe, the Assad regime in particular has made repression, brutality, and destruction its signature tactics — and Russia has chosen to protect it.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Some seem resigned to dismiss this behavior as everyday international politicking. Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary of the UK’s opposition Labour Party, recently offered an excuse: “People will always block resolutions. If you look at the number of resolutions America has blocked, I mean that’s the way of politics.”

This is nothing more than idle whataboutism. Yes, it’s right to note what the US has done in defiance of the UN over the years, not least over Iraq and with its 44 Israel-related vetoes in the Security Council. But Russia has taken vetoes to another level on Syria, covering for and enabling atrocities while working to make sure the UN cannot do what it needs to do to stop the carnage.

Regime maintenance

Moscow first intervened militarily to prop up Assad’s deadly authoritarian rule in September 2015; had it not entered the fray, Assad’s reign would have almost certainly given way to a successor. But Russian backing for Assad began well before 2015.

For a start, his government has long been a major Russian arms client. While public data is incomplete because many transactions are highly opaque, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has tracked the build up of Syrian weapons purchases in the years leading up to the 2011 uprising. Russian military resources to Syria increased from 9m in 2000 to 272m in 2011.

Consider the Russian (and Chinese) veto of February 4 2012, which blocked a draft resolution calling on Assad to relinquish power. At the time, there was uncertainty about whether Russia would abstain or vote no. Facing defeat amid mass protests and now armed resistance, the Assad regime accelerated its brutality through bombing. On the eve of the scheduled Security Council meeting, Assad’s forces bombarded the city of Homs, murdering scores of civilians.

Was this massacre designed to signal to Russia that Assad was prepared to go all out, burn the country, and win at any cost, meaning Moscow might as well back him? Or was Assad informed in advance that Russia would cast the veto, so he could slaughter with impunity? Does a veto clear the way for more brutality, or do acts of brutality force Russia to veto UN reprisals?

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

A poster of Syria’s president at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Damascus.

(Photo by Elizabeth Arrott)

The most likely answer is both. The pattern is now firmly established: Assad kills civilians and political opponents, the Security Council considers a resolution, Russia vetoes it and puts outs propaganda to provide cover for Assad’s abuses, and the cycle of mass killings goes on. As Russian vetoes have become routine, they have emboldened Assad. As an Oxfam report said, even UN resolutions which were not blocked “have been ignored or undermined by the parties to the conflict, other UN member states, and even by members of the UNSC itself”.

The vetoes flaunt Moscow’s power to the world and reassure Russians at home. They are also helping Russia maintain a permanent military and political presence in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean. In exchange for intervention, the Kremlin has gained access to Syria’s energy infrastructure and secured the future of its major Syrian bases on the Mediterranean.

The wrong path

But Russia still has a choice: it can be a force for peace, liberty, and inclusion, or it can continue to shelter and defend tyrants. Given the Kremlin’s general hostility towards equality, liberalism, and democracy, it has chosen another path: to thwart the Security Council, violate its own ceasefire agreements, and overlook the consequences for civilians. This implicates it in the deaths of thousands of Syrians – more than the so-called Islamic State and the rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra combined.

To be sure, not all Security Council resolutions are worthy of support, and Russia cannot be held responsible for all of Assad’s crimes and human rights abuses. Western nations are certainly not unbiased; their decisions and interventions have had long-lasting pernicious effects on civilian populations in the Middle East, and they too have failed civilians in Syria and elsewhere.

The US intervened in Iraq to oust a dictator, Russia intervened in Syria to preserve one in power. Both moves have turned out to be disasters. But to document that Russia has killed civilians via its military and political interventions is not Russophobic. The death of each Syrian matters, regardless of who fired the shot, dropped the bomb, or maintained the siege.

Providing political cover for one tyrant will embolden others everywhere, as they learn how far they can push the boundaries of oppression. And all along, steps could have been taken to prevent or at least limit the carnage. Russia’s failure to do so in Syria and elsewhere will be to its eternal shame.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Air Force has selected bases for its future stealth bomber

On Nov. 16, 2018, the Air Force announced the first two bases that will host its new, highly advanced bomber for testing and maintenance.

The service said in a release that Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma would coordinate maintenance and sustainment for the B-21 Raider and that Edwards Air Force Base in California had been picked to lead testing and evaluation of the next generation long-range strike bomber.

Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and Hill Air Force Base in Utah will support Tinker with maintaining and, when necessary, overhauling and upgrading the new bomber, the Air Force said.


Personnel at those bases will be equipped to rebuild the aircraft’s parts, assemblies, or subassemblies as well as to test and reclaim equipment as necessary for depot activations.

The first B-21 is expected to be delivered in the mid-2020s.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

A B-2A stealth bomber at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma during a visit on April 11, 2017.

(US Air Force photo by Greg L. Davis)

The release noted the “deep and accomplished history” of the Air Logistics Complex of the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker and said officials believe the base has the knowledge and expertise to support the new bomber.

“With a talented workforce and decades of experience in aircraft maintenance, Tinker AFB is the right place for this critical mission,” Air Force Secretary Heather A. Wilson said.

Edwards Air Force Base is also home to the Air Force Test Center, which leads the service’s testing and evaluation efforts.

“From flight testing the X-15 to the F-117, Edwards AFB in the Mohave Desert [sic] has been at the forefront of keeping our Air Force on the cutting edge,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein said. “Now testing the B-21 Raider will begin another historic chapter in the base’s history.”

Air Force Brig. Gen. Carl Schaefer, head of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards, said in 2018 that the B-21 would be tested at the base. Few details about the B-21’s development have been released, and previous reports suggested it could be tested at the Air Force’s secretive Area 51 facility.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

A B-1B Lancer bomber awaits maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Jan. 27, 2017

(US Air Force photo by Greg L. Davis)

The B-21 acquisition cycle is currently in the engineering and manufacturing-development phase, the Air Force said. The Raider’s design and development headquarters is at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Melbourne, Florida.

The Air Force expects to buy about 100 of the new bomber, with each cost over 0 million, according to Air Force Times.

The Air Force said in May 2018 that once the new bombers begin arriving they will head to three bases in the US — Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

The service said those bases were “reasonable alternatives” for the new bomber, although it will likely not make a final basing decision until 2019.

The B-21 is to replace the B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit bombers at those bases, but the Air Force doesn’t plan to retire the existing bombers until there are enough B-21s to replace them.

Using existing bomber bases would reduce operational impact, lower overhead, and minimize costs, the Air Force said in May. “Our current bomber bases are best suited for the B-21,” Wilson said at the time.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last surviving head of state to serve during WWII is … Queen Elizabeth II?

Queen Elizabeth II is Britain’s longest reigning monarch. However, she was breaking barriers even before the crown became hers. Elizabeth was also the first female of the Royal family to be an active duty member of the British Armed Forces. This also makes her the last surviving head of state to have served during World War II.

When Elizabeth was born in 1926, she was not destined for the throne. Her father, Albert, was the second son of King George V. It wasn’t until 1936, when Elizabeth was 10, that her world was turned upside down. It was in this year that her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in the name of love and her father became King George VI. This made 10-year-old Elizabeth the heir presumptive.


It wasn’t until World War II that King George VI found his footing as the leader of Great Britain. During this time, despite the repeated aerial attacks by the Nazi air force, the King refused to leave London. The British government urged the queen to take her daughters to Canada, however. She refused stating, “The children won’t go without me. I won’t leave without the King. And the King will never leave.” Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret did end up leaving the city, though, just like thousands of other children who were evacuated at the time. The girls spent much of the war at Windsor Castle in Berkshire.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

HRH Princess Elizabeth (centre) with officers of the ATS Training Centre. (Wikimedia Commons)

As the war continued, Elizabeth, like many other young Britons, yearned to do her part for the cause. Her very protective parents refused to allow her to enlist. Elizabeth was head-strong though, and after a year of debate her parents relented. In early 1945, they gave the then 19-year-old Elizabeth their permission to join the Armed Forces.

In February 1945, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). ATS provided key support during the war. Its members were anti-aircraft gunners, radio operators, mechanics and drivers. Elizabeth attended six weeks of auto mechanic training at Aldershot. During this training she learned how to deconstruct, repair and rebuild engines. By July of that year she had risen in the ranks from Second Subaltern to Junior Commander. For the first time, Elizabeth worked alongside her fellow Brits, and revelled in the freedom of it.

She took her ATS duties very seriously. However, the future queen repairing automobiles proved to be irresistible to the press. Her enlistment made headlines around the world as they applauded her commitment to the war effort. The Associated Press deemed her “Princess Auto Mechanic.” In 1947 Collier’s Magazine wrote, “One of her major joys was to get dirt under her nails and grease stains in her hands, and display these signs of labor to her friends.”

Elizabeth was still serving in the ATS when Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. She and Margaret famously snuck out of Buckingham Palace to join the celebrations in London. Her military service officially ended when Japan surrendered later that same year.

Later, Elizabeth once again overcame objections from her family when she married Philip Mountbatten, a Greek-born officer in the Royal Navy, in November 1947.

Her father, King George VI, led his country through its darkest hour, but the war coupled with a life-long smoking habit left him in poor health. On February 6, 1952, King George VI died in his sleep after a long-suffering battle with lung cancer. This meant that at 25 years old, Elizabeth became Queen.

Even now in her 90s, Elizabeth maintains a love of automobiles. She can still be found behind the wheel of one of the many cars in the Royal collection. She’s also been known to jump at the chance to diagnose and repair faulty engines, just as she trained to do more than 70 years ago. She also holds on to her pride in the journey that brought her from military mechanic during World War II to the Crown.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Guardsmen who provide ‘honor with dignity’

The mission of the Nellis Air Force Base Honor Guard is to represent the Air Force in a variety of ceremonial functions in Southern Nevada, California, Arizona and Utah. They are responsible for rendering military honors for funeral services and various Air Force ceremonies, as well as provide their services at various opening ceremonies.

For the guardsmen, excellence is the only way “to honor with dignity.” Every day they are fine-tuning their skills, or tweaking the slightest hesitation or shift until they can no longer get it wrong.


Devotion to duty

Under the hot desert sun, a group of airmen stand motionless. In two rows of three, they’re positioned opposite of each other, where the only sound is coming from a gentle wind passing through the formation. Between them rests an unfurled American flag draped over a spotless white casket.

Without so much as a whisper, they simultaneously grip the flag and, with each motion as precise as the next, they begin folding it. As the flag reaches the final fold, the last airman bearing the folded flag breaks the silence.

“Again,” he says.

He hands the flag back to the formation for the airmen to unfold and repeat the movements. The airmen didn’t make a mistake, but in their line of work, they don’t practice until they get it right; they practice until they can’t get it wrong.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Airman 1st Class MaryJane Gutierrez, Nellis Air Force Base honor guardsman, salutes during after playing taps during a military honors funeral at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Sept. 14, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew D. Sarver)

Before any guardsman is put on a detail, they have nearly a month of training to learn the basic movements. Afterwards, they continue to meticulously work out the slightest imperfections.

“Most of us will have put in about 80 hours of training in the weeks prior to a detail because we have to be perfect. We can’t afford to mess up,” said Airman 1st Class David Diez, Nellis AFB honor guardsman. “Every funeral we do should be as perfect as we would want our funerals to be.”

Grit for greatness

In the distance, the repeated percussion of hands smacking against wood and metal escapes the open doors of the Honor Guard practice room. Inside, three airmen stand shoulder-to-shoulder, staring into a mirror to analyze their every movement.

“Present arms!” commands Senior Airman Philip Spegal, Nellis AFB honor guardsman.

The airmen lift their rifles with both hands then remove one hand, hit it against the stock and hold the rifles vertically in front of them.

“Port arms!” commands Spegal.

Again, they hit their rifles then position them diagonally across their chests. After taking a brief moment to pause and discuss what needs to be fixed, the airmen pick up their rifles and start again.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Nellis Honor Air Force Base Guardsmen march in formation after presenting the colors at the South Point 400 NASCAR race opening ceremonies at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Sept. 14, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew D. Sarver)

“Honor Guard is pure teamwork,” said Tech. Sgt. Leon Spence, Nellis AFB Honor Guard Non-commissioned officer in charge. “You can’t go to a funeral or a colors presentation and do everything by yourself. You have to be confident in your abilities and confident in your fellow guardsmen’s abilities to execute each detail as precise as possible.”

Passion for perfection

Down a hallway, the soft brushing of lint rollers against freshly pressed uniforms competes with the sound of gentle laughter from a poorly delivered dad joke.

In a room, Staff Sgt. Victoria Schooley and Airman 1st Class Ashley Libbey, Nellis AFB honor guardsmen, sit eye-level with their uniforms. With a ruler in one hand and a butterfly clutch in the other, Libby is aligning her ribbons. Across the room, Schooley is running her fingers up and down every seam of her ceremonial dress uniform, combing for loose strings to cut away with nail clippers or melt down with a lighter.

For them, looking sharp is just as important to having a successful detail as performing the actual maneuvers.

“I joined because I wanted to do a lot more than my regular day-to-day job. I wanted to feel like I had a bigger purpose in the Air Force and a bigger picture of our impact as a whole,” Diez said. “It will teach you to pay attention to detail, when you realize something as little as a crease in the uniform or a slight hesitation in a facing movement can be the difference between precision and failure.”

“We’re here to serve our community and I want to challenge people to come by and tell us what we could do better or to just learn about us and see what it is we do,” echoed Spence.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

Military Life

7 things grunts think about on watch in fighting holes

If nothing else has made you question your choice to join the infantry before, digging a fighting hole definitely will. It’s always miserable, it’s extremely time consuming, and there’s always a giant rock waiting for you once you’re halfway down. But, once you get that hole dug, it’s smooth sailing. Now, all you have to do is deal with the sleep deprivation and crummy weather.


Defensive postures allow your unit time to “rest” and recover after launching an offensive. Basically, you take some ground from the enemy and then hold it until your unit is ready to continue pushing the enemy back. If you’re not in an urban environment, you’ll have to dig two-person fighting holes in order to hold your ground. The enemy is likely going to return (with reinforcements) to try and retake some real estate — your unit will be entrenched, waiting for them.

Keep in mind that you’ll be in that position for at least 24 hours, so you’ll have lots of time to think about your life from every angle. Here are some of the things that’ll race through your mind during that time:

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Meanwhile, in the Air Force…

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cassie Whitman)

What you should have joined instead

This is at the top of the list because digging a fighting hole and then sitting in it, deprived of sleep, will make you seriously question why you joined the infantry. You might even think about how much nicer you would’ve had it in the Air Force — or literally anything else that wouldn’t land you in that damned fighting hole.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

If digging the hole wasn’t enough, this will definitely bring you back to list item #1.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaac Ibarra)

Current weather conditions

You’re likely to spend the majority of your time in the middle of the night, which means you’ll likely experience the coldest temperatures that environment has to offer. Joy!

If you don’t it gets cold in the desert or the jungle, you’ll become acquainted real quick. Since God basically hates the infantry, chances are it’s going to rain or, if you’re on a mountain, there will be a blizzard.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Just bring it on post with you.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Dwight Henderson)

Where your warming layers are

If you’re somewhere cold and rainy, you’ll be struggling to remember where you put your warmest layers are and if you can get to it without giving up your security for too long in the process. Chances are, your pack will be too far away and you’re sh*t out of luck.

After this realization, you’ll spend the rest of your watch experiencing every stage of grief.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

They’ll look so peaceful when you get there, too.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Nathaniel Cray)

When, exactly, is too soon to wake up relief

You’ll convince yourself you need to wake your buddy up 20 to 45 minutes before you actually need to because they “need time to get ready.” In reality, you just want to share the misery.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

You’ll imagine this moment over and over…

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Bernadette Wildes)

Going home

Since you’ll want to keep your mind off the weather, you’ll spend some time speculating on the fun your friends are having while you suffer. This will lead to thinking about what and who you want to do when you go home next.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

Anything is better than what you’re eating out there.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Kowshon Ye)

What you want to eat

If you didn’t bring snacks, you’ll be hungry on watch. This will lead you to thinking about all the food in the world. You’ll make deals with yourself, promising to eat it all once you get back to civilization.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting

You’ll figure it out, no problem.

How to get away with smoking

This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course, but it applies to a lot of us. Even if you don’t smoke when you first join, after you dig a fighting hole, you might start considering it. Those that already smoke will be thinking up ways to get away with it. After all, you run a huge risk of compromising your position.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Pentagon sets aside a 6th military base for quarantining people fleeing the coronavirus outbreak in China

The Pentagon has approved the use of six military installations, the most recent being a National Guard base in Nebraska, for the quarantine of evacuees returning to the US from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of a novel coronavirus outbreak.


The Department of Defense approved a request from the Department of Health and Human Services to quarantine up to 75 people for a period of 14 days upon their return from overseas at Camp Ashland, a Pentagon spokesman said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

On Saturday, the Pentagon announced that it would allow up to 1,000 people to be quarantined at Travis Air Force Base and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in California, Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and the 168th Regiment Regional Training Institute in Colorado.

Prior to that announcement, the Department of Defense approved the use of March Air Reserve Base in California for the quarantine of 195 passengers who arrived back in the US last week.

“This week,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement Wednesday, “several planes carrying passengers from Wuhan China will arrive in three states. These locations are Travis Air Force Base in Sacramento, CA, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, CA, Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX, and Eppley Airfield in Omaha, NE.”

Two aircraft arrived at Travis Air Force Base and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar carrying 350 passengers Wednesday morning, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The CDC said that the planes will be met by CDC teams upon their arrival. While the health statuses of the passengers were assessed before takeoff and during the flight, each passenger will undergo additional screening once they arrive in the US.

The passengers will then be quarantined for 14 days. The CDC explained that this is “intended to protect the travelers, their families, and the community.”

As of Wednesday, the novel coronavirus that broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December, had infected more than 24,000 people and killed nearly 500. While the outbreak is most severe in China, the virus has spread to more than two dozen countries.

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

popular

That time pirates mistook a Navy warship for a target

Remember when Somali pirates made headlines for seizing an oil tanker? That batch of Somali pirates was pretty smart. Others have managed to be very dumb. How dumb were they? Well, some pirates tried to hijack a pair of U.S. Navy warships.


 

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting
An armed suspected pirate looks over the edge of a skiff, in international waters off the coast of Somalia. (U.S. Navy photo.)

According to a United States Navy release, on March 18, 2006, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) were patrolling off the coast of Somalia as part of Task Force 150 to deter piracy. During their patrol, they were approached by a vessel towing a number of skiffs.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting
Confiscated weapons lay on the deck of guided missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) following an early-morning engagement with suspected pirates. (U.S. Navy photo.)

A boarding party from the Gonzalez was sent to investigate, but noticed a number of people were brandishing rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The pirates on board the skiffs then opened fire on the Cape St. George, inflicting minor damage.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting
Evidence of small arms fire impact is visible on USS Cape St. George’s (CG 71) hull after suspected pirates opened fire on USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) and Cape St. George. (U.S. Navy photo.)

The Cape St. George and the Gonzalez, as well as the boarding party, proceeded to return fire, using what a contemporary CNN.com report described as “small arms.” The main pirate vessel was set afire and sank. Two smaller skiffs were captured, along with 12 pirates and one body. A Somali pirate group would claim that 27 “coast guardsmen” had been sent out.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting
A suspected pirate vessel ignites in flames before burning to the waterline. (U.S. Navy photo)

The Virginian-Pilot reported that the wounded were first taken to the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA 4) for treatment. The pirates who survived this near-catastrophic failure in their victim-selection process were eventually released and repatriated back to Somalia.

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting
Rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and other armaments lay on the deck of USS Cape St. George (CG 71) after being confiscated during an early-morning engagement with suspected pirates. (U.S. Navy photo.)

Four years later, the guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47) also came under attack, according to a CBS News report. The BBC reported that five captured pirates were given life sentences for piracy.

Articles

Here’s why your MRE heater says to rest it on a ‘rock or something’

How one former Green Beret is changing everything about NFL recruiting


NATICK, Mass. (May 30, 2013) — If you’re familiar with the phrase “rock or something,” then you’ve probably used a Flameless Ration Heater to warm up a Meal, Ready-to-Eat.

To this day, the phrase remains part of a pictogram on the package of the heater, known as the FRH, which was developed at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate and is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2013. It refers to directions that advise warfighters to place the FRH at an angle when heating up a Meal, Ready-to-Eat, commonly known as an MRE.

“The term ‘rock or something’ has now reached cult status,” said Lauren Oleksyk, team leader of the Food Processing, Engineering and Technology Team at Combat Feeding. “It’s just taken on a life of its own.”

Oleksyk was there at the beginning with colleagues Bob Trottier and now-retired Don Pickard when the FRH and that memorable phrase were born in 1993.

“We were designing the FRH directions and wanted to show an object to rest the heater on,” Oleksyk recalled. “(Don) said, ‘I don’t know. Let’s make it a rock or something. So we wrote ‘rock or something’ on the object, kind of as a joke.”

The joke has legs. As Oleksyk pointed out, there now are T-shirts and other items for sale that bear those words. “Rock or something” even has its own Facebook page.

Introduced to the heater years ago, famed chef Julia Child insisted on following the package directions and activating it by herself. With no rock handy, she decided to employ a wine glass stem.

“Which is so classic Julia,” Oleksyk said, laughing. “So there have been many things other than the rock or something that have been used. There are many, many Soldiers over the years that have their own personal joke about what they might use in place of a rock.”

The FRH is no joke, however. Adding an ounce and a half of water to the magnesium-iron alloy and sodium in the heater will raise the temperature of an eight-ounce MRE entrée by 100 degrees in about 10 minutes.

“Some of the challenges were keeping it lightweight and low volume, and not requiring a lot to activate it,” Oleksyk said.

The heater’s arrival gave warfighters the option of a hot meal wherever they went and whenever they wanted.

“I’ve heard more feedback on this item than any other item I’ve ever worked on in my career here,” said Oleksyk, who has been at Natick nearly 30 years. “They’re so grateful to have this heater in the MRE. It’s almost always used whenever they have 10 minutes to sit down for lunch.”

Prior to the FRH, warfighters used Trioxane fuel bars with canteen cups and cup stands to heat their MRE entrees. As Oleksyk pointed out, the fuel bars couldn’t be packed alongside food in the MRE package.

“So if the fuel bar and the MRE didn’t marry up in the field,” said Oleksyk, “they really had no way to have a hot meal.”

The FRH has remained essentially the same over the past two decades because, as Oleksyk put it, “it’s tough to find a better chemistry that’s lighter in weight, lower in volume and that heats as well.” A larger version has been developed, however.

“We’ve expanded it to a group ration,” Oleksyk said. “So now we have a larger heater that is used to heat the Unitized Group Ration-Express. We call that ration a ‘kitchen in a carton.’ It serves 18 Soldiers.”

The next-generation MRE heater is being tested now, and it will eliminate the need to use one of the most precious commodities in the field.

“The next version of this is a waterless version,” Oleksyk said. “It’s an air-activated heater, so you wouldn’t have to add any water to activate it at all, but that’s still in development and will have to perform better than the FRH overall if it’s ever to replace it.”

Oleksyk remembered sitting on a mountain summit one time during a weekend hike with friends. Suddenly, she heard laughter behind her.

“I hear a guy — sure enough, he says, ‘Yeah, I need a rock or something,'” said Oleksyk, who turned to see him wearing fatigues, holding a Flameless Ration Heater, and telling his buddies how great it was.

“So it’s far reaching,” Oleksyk said. “It really had an impact on the warfighter.”

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