Escaping urban jungle, man finds 'perfect fit' with Army - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

A weapons range goes hot on a cold winter morning four years ago in Fort Lewis, Washington. The silent cold air is replaced by the snapping of gun fire as the morning dew is knocked loose off the blades of grass. Soldiers’ breath is visible as they curse in despair, for they are at another range yet again, wet and freezing.

The smell of spent ammunition and wintergreen chewing tobacco is present as raindrops fall and turn into steam on the weapons’ hot barrels.

Like a dense Pacific Northwest fog, the memories dissipate, and Spc. Flavio Mendoza is dragged back to reality and the clacking of fingers on a computer keyboard.


Like many soldiers, Mendoza has surmounted many challenges in his life, from growing up in a tough, urban environment to coping with the heartbreak of losing something he loved.

But through all this, he pushed forward.

The urban jungle

Raised on the northeast side of Los Angeles, Mendoza said he knew he was always destined for more than what surrounded him in his gritty, inner-city upbringing.

But with the odds stacked against him, he had to make a choice from an early age his path in life.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

Spc. Flavio Mendoza, assigned to the 22nd Human Resources Company, 4th Special Troops Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, poses for a photo on Fort Carson, Colorado, Dec. 28, 2018.

(Photo by Sgt. Asa Bingham)

Mendoza’s parents, Flavio Sr. and Veronica Mendoza — both born in Jalisco, Mexico — always tried to give the best life possible for their family of five. They both worked during the day leaving Mendoza and his two sisters with their grandmother.

Twelve family members — both immediate and extended — packed into a two bedroom house made for claustrophobic conditions. To escape from the cramped living situation, Mendoza would play outside.

“I had a lot of friends around my age growing up,” said Mendoza. “Even though the neighborhood wasn’t one for us to be playing in, we still made the best of it.”

Graffiti lined the walls of the street like uncontrollable ivy growing wild. The gunshots from rival gangs trying to kill each other, followed by the police sirens and helicopters circling with their bright lights all just became natural.

He didn’t have to go far from his childhood home to find trouble, he said. Right next door was far enough.

“I remember cops always being at that house for something,” Mendoza said. “It seems like everyone from the gang hung out there. There was always cars filled with nothing but bald heads, and gangsters with guns rolling up, asking where I was from or if I banged.”

The gang life was calling for Mendoza, who was given many opportunities to join. He ignored the beckoning calls unlike some of his friends.

“A couple of kids I grew up playing with and thought were my homies broke into our house one day,” he said. “They stole anything and everything.”

Mendoza’s parents saw what was happening to the neighborhood. They saw what path their kids could go down if they weren’t careful. So in an effort to get away from the trouble they saved up their money and moved to Monterey Park, Los Angeles.

“I didn’t hear any sirens anymore, no more gunshots, and no more constant fear from always having to turn around and watch my back at night,” said Mendoza.

His upbringing gave him a burning desire to do more, to be better then what he saw around him. The noise. The chaos. The crime. It was all motivation to get away.

The great escape

“After graduating high school, I immediately wanted to join the Army,” said then 18-year old Mendoza. “I walked into the recruiter one day and told them that I wanted to join and go fight.”

Mendoza’s parents and family were hesitant about the Army; they wanted him to go to college.

“I tried for a semester or two, but I realized school just wasn’t for me,” he said. His goal was to get away and to serve his country.

Knowing only what he saw from movies and TV shows, Mendoza said he had his heart set on joining up as an infantry soldier, but his recruiter, a combat engineer, persuaded him otherwise.

“He asked me if I wanted to blow things up,” Mendoza said. “After showing me a couple of videos and stories of what a sapper was and did, I was hooked.”

Next thing he knew, Mendoza was hauling his own weight in duffel bags with a drill sergeant in his face yelling at him to get off the bus at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

It was 2014, and his Army journey had just begun.

He spent days that felt like weeks pushing the earth away, counting “One, drill sergeant. Two, drill sergeant,” the never-ending pushups followed by the sprints, road marches, early mornings, yelling and apprehension that any moment a drill sergeant could burst in and make him question his decision to join.

“I would do it all over again,” said Mendoza. “It’s not that (One-Station Unit Training) was tough; it was more mental, like can you deal with the day to day suck and not quit.”

After completing OSUT, not knowing what to expect, Mendoza landed at his first duty station, Fort Lewis and was assigned to the 22nd Engineer Clearance Company, 864th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade.

“Life as an engineer had its ups and downs, but for the most part, it was fun,” said Mendoza. When soldiers aren’t training they’re cleaning. From picking up cigarette butts to sweeping and mopping, this was not what Mendoza thought he would be doing. But when it came time to train and learn engineer tactics and skills, Mendoza thrived.

“I made the best of friends doing the coolest stuff,” he said. From how to calculate demolition charges to identifying improvised explosive devices, Mendoza loved to learn the skills of an engineer.

Mendoza quickly gained the respect of his peers and leadership with his good attitude and even better work ethic.

“Working as an engineer is hard work, but being around good people makes it fun,” said Travis Ramirez, a former engineer who worked with Mendoza. “I could always count on Mendoza to have a good attitude. He was always making everyone laugh, even when the work we were doing was tough.”

His infectious personality brought many of his fellow engineers to his room after work and on weekends to just hang out and have fun. It was in these time that unbreakable bonds were formed and a lasting brotherhood was forged.

His work ethic and positive attitude were evident to his leaders, who gave him the responsibility of operating the Buffalo, a version of the mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle specifically used in route clearance operations as a mine interrogation asset.

Weighing in at more than 45,000 pounds and measuring a staggering 27 feet long, considerable skill and precision is required to maneuver the armored behemoth.

Mendoza was a perfect fit.

“I feel like I was given a higher level of responsibility driving the Buffalo,” said Mendoza. “The Buff is huge and an essential part to the route clearance mission. I had the best times in Buff 1-1.”

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

A US Army 759th Explosive Ordnance Disposal team Buffalo MRV.

(DoD photo by Ken Drylie)

The switch

On any given day, Mendoza could be found with his platoon conducting 12-mile road marches with upwards of 35-pounds on his back in full combat gear to repetitive field training exercises in the cold. The pace of training seemed endless, and within three years his body started feeling the effects.

“It was just chronic leg pain,” said Mendoza. “I went to go get it checked out and was going through physical therapy, but nothing was working.”

Mendoza was diagnosed with bone spurs in his shins.

He had gained so much from being an engineer — the memories of training exercises, the connections with fellow soldiers he now considers family. He never thought of himself doing anything else, no other job could match the bravado of being an engineer.

After going to physical therapy for close to a year, he received the news he had been dreading. His primary care provider permanently limited his physical abilities. He could no longer run. He couldn’t foot march. He wasn’t even supposed to jump anymore. He was forced to switch jobs and leave the engineer world.

“I felt like I was going to lose a part of me when I was told I had to switch,” said Mendoza, now assigned to the 22nd Human Resources Company, 4th Special Troops Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado.

The Army had served as his escape from a life he was sure would have landed him in jail or dead. He was not about to quit, he said.

Mendoza reclassified from combat engineer to human resources specialist.

A completely different world in his eyes

Instead of looking out the driver’s window of a Buffalo, he now stared into a computer screen. He went from patrolling for improvised explosive devices to scanning personnel records. From hearing loud explosions to now hearing the quiet clicks of a computer mouse.

Mendoza didn’t waver. He pushed forward, taking with him the same work ethic and positive attitude that drove him out of the streets of Los Angeles to become the soldier he is today.

“I still carry the engineer crest in my (patrol cap). It lets me know where I came from and that gives me pride,” said Mendoza. “Even though I’m away and in a new career field, I will always be an engineer.”

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of July 5th

Nothing beats the lazy Fridays of a four-day weekend – like today! Everyone probably did something patriotic for Independence Day. Whether it was seeing the fireworks with the family or getting roaring drunk in the barracks with the guys, we all did something extravagant yesterday.

And now today’s a day where nothing really happens after a big holiday. Now it’s time to just recoup and recover from the hangover by sitting on our collective asses with video games, movies, or whatever on a regular weekday… Only to do it all over again the moment your buddy calls you up or knocks on your barracks’ room door.


So here’s to sitting on our collective asses! Enjoy some memes. You earned it!

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via The Army’s Fckups)

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via Call for Fire)

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via Not CID)

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via Weapons of Meme Destruction)

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via Private News Network)

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)

MIGHTY MONEY

Designer of the F-15 & AH-64 is responsible for 30% rise in Dow this year

A single company, Boeing, has accounted for nearly 30% of the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s year-to-date gain of 11.5%, according to Bespoke Investment Group.

Boeing shares have soared 34% this year, contributing 812 points of the index’s 2,807-point gain so far this year. Without Boeing’s contribution, the index would be up about 8% YTD.


Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

(Bespoke Investment Group)

The index’s outsized gain is driven by Boeing having the heaviest weighting, 11.4%, among the Dow’s 30 stocks. The Dow is a price-weighted index, meaning the company with the highest share price, Boeing, has the heaviest weighting. Boeing’s stock price is the highest in the index and the only one over 0.

Unlike the Dow, the SP 500 is weighted by market cap, meaning Microsoft has the heaviest weighting. By comparison, Boeing commands the 15th biggest weighting of SP 500 names.

Such effects cut both ways and a 10% move in Boeing’s stock would move the DJIA index by over 250 points. The second-highest contributor to the Dow is Goldman Sachs, responsible for about 8% of the YTD gain.

Boeing shares were trading near all-time highs thanks to strong fundamentals and solid earnings growth based on the planned launch and development of the 777X, the largest and most-efficient twin-engine plane.

On Jan. 30, 2019, Boeing reporting strong quarterly results, with annual revenues topping 0 billion for the first time. The company forecast full-year 2019 earnings of between .90 and .10 a share, well ahead of Wall Street expectations.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

How veterans play an important role at the CIA

Veterans of the United States Armed Forces have always played an important role at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Take CIA’s predecessor organization, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), for instance. Founded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the outset of World War II — and in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on U.S. naval forces at Pearl Harbor — the OSS began its life as a wartime body tasked with mandates to collect and analyze strategic information and to conduct unconventional and paramilitary operations.

At its peak, OSS employed almost 13,000 people: Two-thirds of the workforce was U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Forces personnel. Civilians made up another quarter, and the rest were from the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. At the helm of OSS was World War I hero, General William “Wild Bill” Donovan. The story of CIA begins — and continues — alongside those of the U.S. military and its veterans.


Today, veterans comprise nearly 15% of CIA’s workforce, and we continue to serve alongside our military partners across the globe. CIA, the broader Intelligence Community, and the American people benefit tremendously from the insight and impact of veterans who bring to their work a wealth of experience and knowledge. They are mission-focused from day one and equipped with the skills CIA is looking for in its officers. Veterans often come into the building with the overseas experiences, clearances, and foreign languages that allow them to dive right into the action. A rich history of close collaboration between the military and CIA makes for a smooth transition from military to civilian service. While CIA is not a military body, its officers share that same commitment to mission and service. Veterans will find a familiar enthusiasm in the air at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

World War I hero, General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, helmed the pre-CIA OSS.

CIA is committed to the continued to developing relationships with veterans, and in May of 2013, it chartered the American Veterans Employee Resource Group (AVERG) to serve as a link between the veteran workforce and Agency leaders. The group is committed to goals that include the hiring and retention of veterans, education and engagement on veteran matters, continued career development and frequent community networking opportunities. AVERG offers veterans an important link to Agency leadership — one that ensures CIA’s continued investment in veterans and the unique perspectives they bring to an important mission.

Every day, but especially this week when we celebrate Veterans Day, CIA honors the commitment of its veterans who continue to serve and continue the fight in defense of freedom.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Marines have a new ‘toxic leadership’ test

The Marine Corps wants better enlisted leaders — and it’s on the hunt for a diagnostic tool that can help find them.


In October, the service published a request for information regarding an emotional intelligence test that can identify “career Marines who may develop into ineffective or counterproductive leaders.”

Officials said the Corps plans to use such a tool during a study period of at least five years, beginning in June 2018, to determine if it can help the service root out problem leaders.

“In his ‘Message to the Force 2017,’ [Commandant Gen. Robert Neller] stated that maintaining a force of the highest quality is one of his key areas of focus,” Col. Rudy Janiczek, head of enlisted assignments at the Marine Corps’ Manpower Management Division, told Military.com in a statement.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

“This effort will assist [Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs] in determining the metric for how we recognize, promote and retain those who are the most competent, mature and capable leaders,” he said.

The web-accessible test the Corps wants would be administered upon a Marine’s first re-enlistment, when he or she begins to assume more significant leadership roles, Janiczek said.

According to the contracting document, the service wants 3,600 emotional intelligence tests, sufficient for the fiscal 2018 re-enlistment period. The contractor selected to provide the tests will produce 300 full reports on a sampling of test participants so that Marine officials can study the data and assess its value.

The idea to implement an emotional intelligence test didn’t begin with the Corps, said Dr. Eric Charles, section head for Testing Control at the Manpower Plans and Policy Division. In a statement, he said other federal entities, including Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, had already implemented similar measures.

“Before we planned this effort, we reviewed lessons learned in those efforts, with a focus on what has been successful in other military, paramilitary, and law-enforcement contexts,” Charles said.

Read More: Marine Corps accuses 2 drill instructors of hazing

“Despite the impressive effort of such work, we are not willing to take any of that success as a guarantee that such efforts will work in the Marine Corps,” he said. “That is why we have chosen to pursue our own internal studies, rather than risking a premature leap to operational usage.”

The assessment period of at least five years means no currently serving Marine will face career repercussions as a result of taking the test upon re-enlistment, officials said.

Data in the study period won’t be used for assignment or promotion purposes. But, a Marine Corps manpower official said, if the effort is successful and the test is adopted as part of the leadership screening process, the data may be used to “better align people and positions to ensure the greatest opportunities for success.”

Timing — ensuring a Marine gets the right job at the right point in his or her career — is also a focus, the official said.

While officials cited Neller’s goals for the force rather than any specific event, the announcement does come in the wake of a scandal involving multiple allegations of hazing by Marine Corps drill instructors at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

Earlier this month, the drill instructor facing the most severe allegations of misconduct, Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, was convicted of hazing three Muslim recruits and assaulting others during his year on the drill field. He was sentenced at general court-martial to 10 years’ confinement and a dishonorable discharge.

The Corps is planning a “methodical and deliberate approach” in studying the possibility of using a tool like a toxic leadership test, officials said.

No operational changes are planned ahead of data collection.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

New technology keeps survival specialists out of ‘the danger zone’

An Air Force Research Laboratory team recently delivered version 2.0 of the Survival Health Awareness Responders Kit to instructors at Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis, Texas, a 28,000-acre site used to train survival, evasion, resistance, and escape specialists.

With SHARK, sensors are embedded into shirts to transmit key metrics including heart rate and estimated core temperature from smartphones to a server. As students undergo physical endurance tests during extended periods of isolation, the system allows instructors to monitor the data in real-time and issues alerts for heart rate spikes and significant increases in temperature. Since the device identifies the user’s location, medical personnel can quickly respond to those in need of care.

Second Lt. Matthew Dickinson, AFRL 711th Human Performance Wing biomechanical engineer, said SHARK 2.0 is user-friendly and more secure. He explained instructors and students are pleased with the streamlined setup process and the new web interface.


Maj. Toby Andrews, 66th Training Squadron, Detachment 3 commander, said he appreciates that SHARK “gives (instructors) real-time alerts on the health and well-being of students.” The system “truly eases my mind as a commander,” he said since it “allows us to provide preventative care (in cases) that could otherwise lead to serious medical situations.”

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

Staff Sgt. Randall Moss and Master Sgt. William Davis,16th Airlift Squadron loadmasters, sort through survival equipment during a survival, evasion, resistance and escape exercise in North, South Carolina Aug. 21, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Duncan C. Bevan)

Prior to SHARK, instructors checked on trainees at regular intervals to ensure their well-being. In certain cases, they administer ice baths to students with elevated body temperatures, said Tech. Sgt. John Garcia, a SERE instructor. However, since the introduction of this monitoring technology, zero ice baths have been required because the system alerts instructors before students reach what they call “the danger zone.”

To develop version 2.0, the SHARK team enlisted the help of Cedarville University students majoring in computer science. Loren Baum, who now works full time at 711th HPW, improved the code for his senior design project. He optimized the software, added functionality, enhanced security measures and streamlined the startup process.

Baum explained the team moved SHARK from the mobile app arena to the web to make the system usable in a wider variety of scenarios. With the new approach, instructors simply log into a website from any computer to monitor students’ health status instead of launching an application, which requires installation and manual upgrades.

The team simplified the startup process with Quick Response codes that automatically input students’ information when scanned, Baum said. This measure reduced the total setup time from one hour to five minutes and makes it easier for students and instructors to begin a new session.

In June 2019, the team traveled to JB San Antonio-Camp Bullis and conducted initial tests with version 2.0. Once the team integrated additional software improvements, SERE instructors officially launched the upgrade in September 2019.

The SHARK team continues to work with other squadron key leaders to address related needs. One such application involves using the included heart rate variability measurement to provide real-time feedback regarding students’ reactions to various training stressors.

This data would enable instructors to evaluate the effectiveness of interrogation techniques and determine the extent to which they affect individuals, said 1st Lt. David Feibus, a former software team lead who is now a student at the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

A 437th Operations Support Squadron survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist walks across a dirt road during a SERE exercise in North, South Carolina Aug. 21, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Duncan C. Bevan)

While SHARK is useful in various situations, Air Force instructors currently rely on this tool to offer “strenuous exercises in the safest manner possible,” said Ted Harmer, a 711th HPW engineer who also leads a medical readiness personnel recovery training research team. When administering physical tests, instructors must achieve the purpose of the training and minimize negative impacts, whether they be physical or emotional, he explained.

SHARK technology was born when the U.S. Air Force Survival School at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, opted to include more proactive safety measures in its training programs. Since AFRL had experience with wearable monitoring technology, leadership from 711th HPW offered to develop a solution for the SERE instructors during an immersion visit.

“Going in, we knew we needed a broad range of skill sets,” said Dr. James Christensen, a product line lead within the 711th HPW. He explains that to produce an effective system, the team relied on expertise in wearable devices, electronics, software development, communications, human factors and physiology.

“We pulled together capabilities from several different parts of the organization to assemble the sensors, develop the software to pull sensor data together and then build the communications capability to then send that data and be able to monitor it continuously and remotely.”

Following the initial design and development, the team arranged field tests with end-users. Several team members lived with JBSA-Camp Bullis instructors for one week to test SHARK 1.0 in 2018. Now, a year later, an upgraded system is in the field.

In the meantime, the SHARK team is also working with other groups who are interested in acquiring this technology including firefighters, NASA scientists, and Army special forces. Members are currently exploring a version of the system that the Department of Defense Fire Academy can use under fire protection gear to prevent heat injuries.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this heroic sailor earned 12 medals for valor

When Boatswain’s Mate First Class James E. Williams finally allowed the Navy to retire him after nearly twenty years of service, he was the proud holder of the Navy’s top seven awards for valor as well as three Purple Hearts and a number of other accolades.

Nearly all of those awards, which ranged from multiple Bronze Stars with “V” devices to the Medal of Honor, were earned in a less than seven-month period.


Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

Boatswain’s Mate First Class James E. Williams, the Navy’s most decorated enlisted sailor.

(U.S. Navy)

So, how did a young Cherokee boy grow to become one of the U.S. military’s greatest heroes? Well, first, in 1947, he convinced a county clerk to falsify a birth certificate so he could join at the age of 16. His first tour was uneventful, an experience he hated at the time, but learned from, according to a 1998 interview in All Hands Magazine.

“I’d joined the Navy to see the world — and doggonit, I wasn’t moving. I’d got orders to an [landing ship, tank] that just sat around a buoy in the San Diego harbor.”
Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

Landing Ship, Tanks were large supply vessels that could deposit most cargo directly onto the shore when necessary.

(U.S. Navy)

But a senior sailor gave him some perspective.

“An old chief told me, ‘Son, you got to learn to take orders, even if you disagree with them. That’s the first step to being a good Sailor and a good leader. If you can’t take orders now, you certainly won’t be respected when you give them later.’ Well, I got the message,” said Williams. “Learning discipline was the springboard that helped my Navy career. From then on, I had the sharpest damn knife and the shiniest shoes in the Navy. That’s what I was taught.”

And that sharp knife would come in handy.

Williams got his first taste of small craft and riverine warfare in Korea, where he was sent on raiding parties against small crafts near the shore.

It was this experience and his years of shining shoes and sharpening knives that led to Williams’ proudest day.

“The proudest day of my life had nothing to do with medals, ribbons, citations,” he told All Hands Magazine. “It was when they made me a patrol officer. That position was held only by chiefs and officers. It showed the trust the Navy had placed in me. I always wanted the opportunity to show what I could do. This Vietnam thing was it for me. The Navy gave me the chance to do my job.”

His job would be to take Patrol Boat, River-105 into the small, Viet-Cong-filled rivers of Vietnam.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

A Patrol Boat River in the waters of Vietnam.

(U.S. Navy)

The crew went out with Williams starting in May, 1966, and the fighting started early. While many of the patrols were quick forays into the river traffic to look for contraband, Williams and his crew saw major combat multiple times before the end of July.

On July 1, Williams and PBR 105 spotted an enemy sampan in the early morning darkness and gave chase. The sampan made for a friendly landing and Williams and his crew quickly came under fire from both the ship and shore. Maneuvering deftly, the men killed five enemies on the boat, captured the vessel and a few ship’s occupants, which were of “significant intelligence value.” He was later awarded the Bronze Star for his actions.

Just 22 days later, PBR-105 once again chased down an enemy sampan, this time at night. Again, they came under fire from enemies on shore but continued to fight. The crew killed six occupants of the boat, one enemy who had made it ashore, and captured the enemy sampan with its cargo and documents intact — again, these were of significant intelligence value. He would later be awarded a Bronze Star for his actions.

Less than a month later, Williams was leading PBR-105 and PBR-101 through the Mekong River in the early evening when they came under fire multiple times from a suspected 100-enemy-gun emplacements on both shores. They stayed in the kill zone, maneuvering and destroying multiple emplacements.

The men intercepted a sampan with two high-ranking Viet-Cong, but Williams was wounded in the face while salvaging documents from it. He kept up his men’s fire and captured 71 classified and sensitive documents before withdrawing. He would later be awarded the Silver Star.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

A machine gunner on a Patrol Boat River with his two machine guns.

(U.S. Navy)

His greatest heroism under fire came two months later in October, 1966, when PBR-105 and another boat went on what Williams thought would be a routine patrol.

“October 31, 1966, was supposed to be a restful day in the steamy heartland of the Viet Cong,” he said. “But it’s one of those times I won’t never forget, no matter how hard I try. We were on a day patrol, kind of like the ‘relax and recreation’ patrol — nothin’ too heavy.”

But, early in the patrol, the forward machine gunner yelled that he saw two motorized sampans. The motorized boats nearly always carried high-ranking Viet Cong. The Americans gave chase.

The boats attempted to scatter, forcing Williams to choose which to follow, but the Americans quickly killed one and began tracking down the other. The second sampan used the little time it had gained to turn down a shallow canal where the patrol boats couldn’t go.

Williams checked his map. The enemy’s most likely course of action was to follow the canal to its other end, a third of a mile away. He ordered his boats to intercept. Things immediately went sideways.

“We wanted to get them real bad,” he said. “I went around that corner at max sped to cut him off — and, lo and behold, I looked up and didn’t see nothing but boats and people and more boats and more people.”

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

Not a lot of armor or firepower when you’re dealing with thousands of enemy troops in the water and on shore.

(U.S. Army Center of Military History)

Williams and his boats had run straight into a massive enemy staging area. Suddenly, they found themselves surrounded by multiple companies of Viet Cong fighters. Williams, at the helm, immediately maxed out his engines and used his wake to disrupt the first sampan’s aim, then took off through the gauntlet.

Surprisingly, they made it. Williams later said that it seemed like the sampans were hitting each other more than him as the patrol boats made their mad dash through. Unfortunately for the Americans, they turned with the river only to have their luck worsen.

Their attempted escape landed them in another enemy staging area. Williams decided that the only way to save his shipmates was to fight it out with the Viet Cong, and they did. For over three hours, the patrol boats maneuvered at high speeds and provided fire for one another, cutting down enemy boats and shore positions as fast as they could in a desperate attempt to keep each other alive.

And it worked. The two boats and 10 Americans who went into the river all came back after inflicting a suspected 1,200 enemy casualties and destroying 65 boats. Williams would later be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, but he still wasn’t done in Vietnam.

Less than three months later, Williams was on a patrol when he saw a dredge strike a mine on Jan. 9, 1967. PBR-105 immediately gave aid and was picking up survivors when the crew heard a tapping coming from inside the hull. Williams jumped into the water.

During repeated dives, he directed the elderly man trapped inside to a nearby hatch, loosened two heavy pipes blocking the hatch, and then ran a line from a nearby tug around the pipes so they could be pulled free. Once the obstruction was removed, Williams and a crew member swam into the still-sinking dredge and pulled the man free, saving his life. He would later receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

A Patrol Boat River and a sampan in Vietnam.

(U.S. Navy)

On January 15, less than a week later, Williams was leading a patrol on the Mekong when the crew spotted a large enemy supply movement across one of the river branches. The boat moved to intercept but quickly came under heavy fire from fortified positions on the river banks.

The boat dropped back and called in Vietnamese artillery and U.S. air strikes to reduce the enemy positions, and then forayed back into the river branch. Once again, heavy fire came at them from the shore.

This time, the Americans stayed in the thick of it and took aim at enemy sampans the Vietnamese seemed eager to protect. The PBRs destroyed them before withdrawing. Williams was injured during the withdrawal, but continued to direct the movement and the PBRs’ fire.

The enemy force that the patrol had encountered was later assessed as three heavy weapons companies with 400 men. The patrol was credited with killing sixteen enemies and wounding 20 while destroying nine enemy watercraft, seven structures, and 2,400 pounds of rice. Williams would later receive the Navy Cross for his actions.

Finally, Williams let the Navy send him home to a very well-earned retirement at just under the standard 20 years. He received his Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson and entered a quiet nursing home to raise petun….

No. Of course not. He took his retirement and his Medal of Honor and became a U.S. Marshal, serving his country once again. This time, in South Carolina, Georgia, and Washington D.C.

He died on October 13, 1999, the Navy’s 224th birthday. According to The United States Navy Memorial, an unidentified, retired admiral spoke at Williams’ funeral and said,

“Willie did not seek awards. He did not covet getting them. We did not seek to make him a hero. The circumstances of time and place and the enemy’s presence did that. I know through personal investigation of each incident that he never placed his crew nor his patrol boats in danger without first ensuring the risk was calculated and that surprise was on his side. He always had the presence of mind not to endanger friendly villages. He inspired us all, junior and senior alike. It was my greatest honor to have served with the man who truly led us all with his example of unselfish devotion to duty.”

The Aegis destroyer DDG 95, christened in 2003, was named in his honor. Over the course of his career, he received the following awards for his service:

  • The Navy Cross Silver Star (with one gold award star)
  • The Legion of Merit (with valor device)
  • The Navy and Marine Corps Medal with gold star Bronze Star Medal with two gold stars
  • Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Gold Star and Palm
  • Navy Commendation Medal
  • Navy and Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation with one service star
  • Purple Heart with two gold stars
  • Vietnam Service Medal with bronze service star
  • Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal with bronze service star
  • United Nations Service Medal
  • Korean Service Medal with two bronze service stars
  • Korean Presidential Unit Citation
  • Korean War Service Medal
  • The Navy Good Conduct Medal with four bronze service stars
MIGHTY TRENDING

US destroyer sails through Chinese-claimed territory

US Navy warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait Jan. Jan. 24, 2019, in an apparent challenge to Beijing.

The Areligh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell and the Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler USNS Walter S. Diehl conducted a Taiwan Strait transit, demonstrating “the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” US Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gorman told CNN.

“The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he added.


The rhetoric in his statement is consistent with that used for freedom-of-navigation operations (FONOPs) and bomber overflights in the South China Sea, actions that tend to agitate the Chinese government.

After the USS McCampbell conducted a FONOP earlier this month, Chinese media responded with a warning that its military had deployed DF-26 missiles capable of sinking enemy ships in the South China Sea.

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The USS McCampbell.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 1st Class Bobbie G. Attaway)

While Taiwan Strait transits by US warships occurred infrequently in the past, the US has made these maneuvers routine in the past year, which has been characterized by rising tension between Washington and Beijing.

The US Navy sent the destroyer USS Stockdale and the replenishment oiler USNS Pecos through the strait in November 2018, just a few weeks after the destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and the cruiser USS Antietam did the same in October 2018.

The destroyers USS Mustin and USS Benfold sailed the strait between mainland China and Taiwan for the first time in July 2018.

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The Chinese government views Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic territory, as a renegade province, and is deeply concerned about foreign interference, particularly US military support.

Beijing feels it may embolden pro-independence forces. In a recent speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping made it clear that forceful reunification remains on the table.

A new Defense Intelligence Agency assessment of China’s military might explains: “Beijing’s longstanding interest to eventually compel Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland and deter any attempt by Taiwan to declare independence has served as the primary driver for China’s military modernization.”

“Beijing’s anticipation that foreign forces would intervene in a Taiwan scenario led the [Chinese military] to develop a range of systems to deter and deny foreign regional force projection.”

In a recent meeting with Adm. John Richardson, chief of US naval operations, Chinese Gen. Li Zuocheng asserted, “If anyone wants to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will safeguard the national unity at all costs so as to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Richardson said in Japan that the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway, and left the door open for the US to send an aircraft carrier through if necessary.

China sent military aircraft, specifically a Sukhoi Su-30 and a Shaanxi Y-8 transport plane, flying past Taiwan Jan. 22, 2019, causing the Taiwanese military to scramble aircraft and surveillance ships in response. China regularly conducts encirclement drills around Taiwan.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Meet the intelligence officer who urged Nimitz to kill Yamamoto

If you’ve seen the 1960 classic, The Gallant Hours, starring James Cagney as Admiral William F. Halsey, then you saw a very dramatized version of how the United States Navy got the information that would eventually lead to the demise of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. But Hollywood blockbusters have a way of twisting history for the sake of entertainment.


In the movie, Capt. Frank Enright, an intelligence officer, passes on the information to Halsey who then flies to Guadalcanal, where he gives the command to Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr. Lanphier would later bring justice to Isoroku Yamamoto in the skies over the island of Bougainville.

Historically, Halsey didn’t get the information about what would be Yamamoto’s last flight directly from the officer who recommended the mission. In fact, the officer who urged the mission to go ahead was in Pearl Harbor, right by the side of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. That officer was Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton.

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Edwin T. Layton, the intelligence officer who recommended that Yamamoto be taken out.

(U.S. Navy photo)

In his memoirs, And I Was There, Layton related his service as a naval attache in Tokyo prior to the war. He was one of a number of officers fluent in Japanese — the most notable of the others being Joe Rochefort, best known as the officer who saved Midway. Layton had been assigned as the chief intelligence officer for the Pacific Fleet in 1940 and witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nimitz chose to retain Layton, who would be the one officer Nimitz kept by his side throughout the war.

By April of 1943, Rochefort had been sidelined from code-breaking by jealous Washington bureaucrats, but Layton was still at Pearl Harbor when the message with Yamamoto’s itinerary was decoded. Having met Yamamoto a number of times in Japan (he had even played cards with him), Layton had a knowledge of the Japanese commander. He told Nimitz,

“Aside from the Emperor, probably no man in Japan is so important to civilian morale. And if he’s shot down, it would demoralize the fighting Navy.”
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Painting depicting the moment that Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr. shot down the Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” carrying Isoroku Yamamoto

(USAF photo)

The rest, as they say, is history. Eighteen P-38s were slated to carry out the mission of intercepting the Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers carrying Yamamoto and his staff. Two of the P-38s had to turn back. The rest tangled with Japanese forces, gunning for aircraft containing the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack. Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier landed the shot that ended Yamamoto.

After World War II, Layton served in the Navy until 1959, taking up his position as chief intelligence officer during the Korean War. He died in 1984, before his memoirs were published. Even though Layton played a crucial, yet unheralded role in America’s victory over Japan, no ship has been named in his honor.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This year’s Navy fleet week New York has a theme

This year, just like every year, America’s port cities will receive a series of special guests, American sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen. But instead of just flooding the city streets with 2,600 Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen complete with dress blues and white cracker jacks, this year’s Fleet Week in New York is bringing a theme: “Remembering World War I.”


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U.S. troops from New York State march down the streets of New York City.

The official centennial of the Armistice that ended the Great War may have come and gone, but the pageantry and tradition that surrounds the 100-year anniversary celebration of the end of World War I lives on. The U.S. Navy is partnering with the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, in a number of activities to tell the story of the 4 million American men and women who wore the uniform a century ago.

For the Navy’s annual visit to New York City, the story will also include the City’s role in the War to End All Wars. Notable events include

  • The horrible Black Tom explosion which damaged the Statue of Liberty.
  • The Ill-fated Lusitania’s departure for her last voyage from Pier 54 on Manhattan’s West Side.
  • The local men and women who fought the war, including the Harlem Hell Fighters and the Rainbow Division

Read: This is why you can’t climb the arm of the Statue of Liberty anymore

But the history of New York in the Great War is more than just a series of milestones. New York City is also an important place in U.S. Navy history, especially as it pertains to World War I. Half of the U.S. Navy’s World War I ships were built in Brooklyn. Half of all U.S. troops departed from and returned to the piers of Hoboken. The biggest Victory Parade of the war took place down 5th Avenue.

To help tell these incredible stories, the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission is offering subject matter experts, who can help local audiences understand this rich local history, and to possibly connect with their own World War I veteran family members. Five U.S. Navy ships, three U.S. Coast Guard cutters, four U.S. Naval Academy Yard Patrol boats, one Military Sealift Command ship, and two Royal Canadian Navy vessels will participate during 2019 Fleet Week New York, May 22-28.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is what would happen if German and British tanks did battle today

During World War II, the British and Germans had some epic tank battles — perhaps the most notable at the African battle of El Alamein.


Germany had some of the finest tanks, but British designs weren’t slouches – and some were modifications of American designs that added firepower (like the Sherman Firefly).

Fast forward to today and the matchups are about the same. Germany has the Leopard 2 main battle tank, while the United Kingdom has the Challenger 2. The two tanks reflect the difference in the preferred tactics of the Germans and British, even though both have 120mm main guns.

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Leopard 2 main battle tank. (Photo: US Army Visual Information Specialist Markus Rauchenberger)

The German gun is a 120mm smoothbore cannon, Early versions of the Leopard 2 had the same gun used on the M1A1 and M1A2 Abrams main battle tank. The Brits, though, installed a gun 25 percent longer on the Leopard 2A6. The British have gone with a rifled 120mm gun known as the L30 for the Challenger 2. This is a marked improvement over the L11A5 used on the Challenger 1, which set the record for the longest kill shot against another tank.

The Germans have chosen mobility, and the Leopard 2 can go 45 miles per hour with a maximum range of 342 miles. The Challenger only reaches 37 miles per hour, and has a range of 280 miles. That said, the Challenger is very well-protected, and its gun makes it one of the toughest tanks in a defensive role.

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Britain’s Challenger 2 tank (Photo by U.K. Ministry of Defense)

In essence, it is likely that the winner of a fight between a Challenger and a Leopard will come down to which tank is able to use its strengths. The tank that is thrown off its game, on the other hand, will likely be heading back to a repair yard.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The awesome reason some Air Force fighters have green stars

In the Air Force fighter community, there is a coveted and rare marker painted near the cockpit of certain planes, just beneath the pilot’s name, rank, and call sign. It’s 6-inch green star with a 1/2-inch black border that signifies that the aircraft has emerged victorious against an enemy jet in aerial combat.


Why this Air Force marking is so rare

www.youtube.com

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A U.S. P-51 with the decals showing aerial victories of Nazi, Italian, Japanese, and U.S. planes.

(Pima Air and Space Museum)

The Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force have allowed pilots to mark their victories on their fuselages for decades, but the height of the tradition was during World War II when the frequent aerial combat combined with the sheer numbers of planes in the air at once led to dozens of pilots having to kill or be killed on any given day.

In that era of fierce fighting, the U.S. Army Air Corps allowed most pilots to mark their aerial victories with a small replica of the enemy pilot’s flag, placed beneath the pilot’s name on the fuselage. This was typically either a decal or a bit of paint from applied by the ground crew. There were also some cases of fighter groups painting the silhouettes of the planes they had shot down.

One U.S. pilot even boasted every Axis flag — as well as a single U.S. flag — on his cockpit. Yes, he shot down a U.S. plane and got a medal for it.

But, eventually, the use of flags, silhouettes, and some other markings fell out of favor when it came to aerial victories, though the Air Force does still allow bomber crews to use bomb silhouettes to mark their missions.

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F-15E Strike Eagle #89-0487, the only F-15E to achieve an air-to-air kill, sports the green star on its fuselage while parked at Bagram Air Field in 2008.

(U.S. Air Force James D’Angina)

But for fighter pilots, it’s now all about the green star, standardized in Air Force Instruction 21-205 as:

“Aerial Victory Marking. Fighter aircraft awarded a verified aerial victory are authorized to display a 6-inch green star with a 1/2 inch black border located just below and centered on the pilot’s name block. The type of aircraft shot down shall be stenciled inside the star in 1/2 inch white lettering. For aircraft with multiple aerial victories, a star is authorized for each aircraft shot down. No other victory markings are authorized.”

Modern aerial victories are rare, not because the U.S. loses but because the Air Force dominates enemy air space so hard and fast that typically only a handful of pilots will actually engage the enemy in the air before the U.S. owns the airspace outright. In Desert Storm, about 30 U.S. pilots achieved aerial kills in about 30 aircraft. At least two of those aircraft, the F-14s, have since retired.

Meanwhile, there are almost 2,000 fighter aircraft in the U.S. inventory. So, yes, the green stars are very rare. So rare, the air wings occasionally brag about the green-star aircraft that are still in their units.

The 455 Air Expeditionary Wing history department released an article in 2008 bragging that a green-star aircraft from Desert Storm was then in active service over Afghanistan. The aircraft on display above is the only F-15E to ever achieve an air-to-air kill, a feat it pulled off by bombing a helicopter as it took off, destroying the helicopter and the troops it had just dropped off.

In 2010, the 353rd Special Operations Group historian released an article about their F-15C with its own green star. The plane was used by a Marine pilot in an exchange program who shot down one of two MiG-29s attempting to attack an F-14 flying all alone and unafraid during Desert Storm.

Of course, aerial victories are even rarer today. In 2017, the Navy claimed America’s first air-to-air kill of an enemy aircraft since 1999. Or, in other words, we’ve had only one aerial victory in almost 20 years. In the 2017 engagement, two U.S. Navy FA/-18E Super Hornets attacked a Syrian Su-22 fighter that was dropping bombs near forces friendly to the U.S.

For anyone wondering about how we invaded two countries at the start of this century without shooting down any enemy aircraft, Iraq lost most of its aircraft during Desert Storm and the following year while Afghanistan had no real air force to speak of in 2001. Most aircraft destroyed in Syria were killed on the ground.

So, no green stars there.

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.


Improving Capabilities

vimeo.com

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

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.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

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.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

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.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

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.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

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.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

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.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

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?

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

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.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

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.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

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.

Escaping urban jungle, man finds ‘perfect fit’ with Army

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.

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