The US Navy’s carrier-based pilots are skilled aviators who have to be able to take off and land on a ship moving swiftly through the open ocean. Two experienced naval aviators recently talked to Insider about the thrills and the dangers of the job.
Fighters and other aircraft aboard the US Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers are launched using steam catapults. The new Ford-class carriers use the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), a more advanced catapult system.
“Taking a cat shot is the most exciting roller coaster you will ever be on in your life,” Lt. Cmdr. Matt Deppen, who has served for 11 years and trapped on every aircraft carrier in the Navy except the USS Ronald Reagan, told Insider.
“It’s zero to a buck 70 [170 mph] in two, two and a half seconds,” Capt. J.J. Cummings, commanding officer of the USS Gerald R. Ford, told Insider. “The ride, I argue, is the best part of this. The traps are great, but in my view, the catapult is a blast, literally.”
“It’s the ride of a life. It’s great,” he explained. “I think the best part of flying off the ship is the catapult shot. There’s no ride like it in the world.”
The USS Gerald R. Ford recently wrapped up its first Fleet Replacement Squadron carrier qualifications for naval aviators while operating in the Atlantic Ocean. Cummings said that activities aboard the first-in-class ship have brought back memories of his first catapult launch more than 20 years ago.
“I still remember vividly my first trap on board the USS America in a T-2 Buckeye, and I remember even more vividly my first catapult shot,” he told Insider.
“As the catapult fired, I wasn’t ready for that. Those Gs,” Cummings added, revealing that he still remembers shouting out as his aircraft shot off the carrier’s flight deck.
Landing a plane on an aircraft carrier can be exciting too, but it isn’t an easy task. It can be both difficult and dangerous, Deppen told Insider, saying, “I think the toughest thing is landing a plane onboard an aircraft carrier.”
To land on a carrier, Navy pilots have to bring their aircraft in just right. Once on deck, a tailhook on the plane will snag a collection of arresting wires, bringing the plane to a stop.
“When you roll in behind the boat, your heart is pounding,” Deppen said. “It’s the craziest 15 to 18 seconds of your life. It’s the toughest thing we do in naval aviation.”
There is a thin margin of error, he explained, adding that “it can go south really quickly and develop into a very bad situation.” He told Insider it can be “very terrifying.”
The stress of landing on a carrier gets ratcheted up even more at night, when the carrier is just a “dot of light miles out and you’re in the middle of the ocean with no land for a thousand miles away,” Deppen said.
“You’re like, well, crap, I have to land on that thing. It is not easy, and it really gets your blood flowing.”
Still, the naval aviators love to fly. “The plane handles like no other airplane I can get my hands on,” Deppen said of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Navy’s main carrier-based fighter. “I just think it’s awesome.”
Do you need an introduction to this? I mean, really? You all know what the Army is, and that all the ranks have their virtues and their vices. Lot’s of vices. That’s why it’s easy to hate all of them.
(Disclaimer: It’s all in fun. If you might be offended by a few jokes about your rank, please just close the page before you spit your coffee all over your screen and write letters to my editor.)
An Army private first class watches out the window for enemy targets, probably while imagining his next kill streak on Fortnite because, seriously, these guys can not focus.
(U.S. Army Spc. William Dickinson)
Privates and Privates Second Class
Basically the same rank. They’re either a “Pubic Patch Private” with no rank to Velcro on or a Mosquito-Wing Private with rank that’s barely worth Velcroing on. Either way, they almost certainly need their hands held to be able to differentiate their fourth point of contact and a hole in the ground.
Even if they’re just left sweeping a room, chances are they’ll end up with two STDs and a warrant for their arrest before you get a chance to check on them again.
Privates First Class
Finally, you can look away for three seconds without them getting into trouble. But they still probably have no initiative, unless it’s grabbing more fatty cakes from the chow line.
Fatty cakes that you have to run off of them mile after grueling mile. If they would just eat some lean chicken, instead, maybe you could finally do a little physical training in the gym or at the pull-up bars, for once. But nope. Time to run the carbs off the privates for the third time this week.
Specialists and Corporals
Just smart enough to know how to shirk their duties, too dumb to realize they should do them anyway. The specialists will spend days setting up elaborate networks to get out of hours worth of work.
And the corporals, ah the corporals. They’re eager enough to show a little initiative and get an extra stripe, but few of them can actually assert their authority without having to whine about military customs and courtesies. It takes more work for the others NCOs to back up the corporal than they would have to do if the corporal just became a specialist again.
“See how your shots are barely on the paper? That’s because you don’t know how to shoot.”
(U.S. Army Spc. Tynisha L. Daniel)
Finally, a rank that can get stuff done without hand-holding or tons of guidance. Too bad this is when they start diddling subordinates, racking up unpaid alimony, and dying of caffeine and nicotine overdoses.
Seriously, buck sergeants, if you don’t have a staff sergeant or platoon sergeant’s tolerance for stimulants, stick to the Fun Dips like the other children.
The E-6 ranks are filled with both hard-chargers and the laziest of the careerists, you can never tell if a staff sergeant is going to be capable or slowly counting down to retirement until you meet them in person and see whether they’re more likely to bust out some pull-ups on the nearest door sill or bust tape on the next PT test.
But at least they don’t have control of a whole platoon, yet.
Sergeants First Class
Out there in front of a whole platoon, the good ones will inspire heroics and, even better, diligence in all the soldiers they lead. The others will just provide their preferred customer discount numbers at strip clubs and the tobacco counter.
But hey, at least they take themselves too seriously and will lose their tempers at literally anything.
Master Sergeants and First Sergeants
Half of them need to retire, the other half basically already have. Counting time until they get to give the Army the old double deuce with the middle fingers on either hand, these E-8s are probably so crabby because you can’t spend this much of your life using communal Army toilets and not literally catch crabs.
The staff sergeants major are supposedly just there to make sure section OICs don’t forget to take their meds and actually run every once in a while. But they actually run the show in most staff sections and absolutely will not let you forget it. And command sergeants major act like they’re the second-in-command like no one knows what a deputy commanding officer or executive officer is.
And no matter what you’re complaining about, be sure they will let you know how much worse it was before you were born. Doesn’t even matter if they took part in the war they’re complaining about. Fifty-year-old sergeants major will tell you how much worse they had it in the Korean War than you do now.
Absolute subject matter expert. Will not tell you what you’re doing wrong until he gets a good laugh about it.
(U.S. Army Sgt. M. Austin Parker)
Warrant Officers 1
All the training in the world couldn’t prepare warrant officers to be true subject matter experts on every aspect of their domain, and luckily for warrant officers 1, they’re not burdened by all that much training. Seriously, hope these guys learned some stuff before they went warrant, ’cause otherwise, they’re less useful than a user’s manual and even harder to find.
Chief Warrant Officers 2-4
Finally, a little expertise, but mostly in how to disappear before formations. They’ll always have a coffee cup in their hand, but there’s still a 15 percent chance they will feign falling asleep while talking to you. They’ll actually fall asleep while briefing the commander.
Chief Warrant Officer 5
Literal unicorns, but they hide their horns and hoofs wherever it is that they hide the rest of themselves, probably an entire office building that fell off the books three years ago, and only they know about. They know literally everything about their job area but will only tell you anything under duress or after they’ve gotten a few laughs at your ignorance.
An Army captain crawls through the dirt, sleeves rolled like he’s ready to adorn a movie poster.
(U.S. Army Capt. Daniel Parker)
Second and First Lieutenants
These men and women are children. Please, do not let them use anything as dangerous as a microwave without supervision. They will ask questions that brand new recruits are supposed to know before basic training, and then make the subject matter expert stand at attention while answering.
Give a guy a chance at company command, and they will puff up like newly born demigods. They always have the most self-satisfied smiles on their face, which is ironic since chances are they haven’t satisfied anyone personally or professionally in years.
Will only communicate with non-majors under duress. Seriously, these folks either hate the Army for existing or else hate it for not promoting them sooner. Maybe that’s because they always get stuck in battalion XO and other staff positions. Must suck to spend eight years climbing from company XO just to be the XO one level up.
Also, when you see one, there’s a 90 percent chance they’ll be standing and watching something happen. Not speaking, not guiding, just watching. It’s creepy.
Army lieutenant colonels will absolutely watch the Army pee on you while swearing it’s rain.
(U.S. Army Claudia LaMantia)
Somehow, all lieutenant colonels are majors but, half of them got their optimism back, and the other half hate you because they’re still in the Army. Half will lie to you and tell you that everything’s peachy, the other half will tell you dark truths even if they don’t apply to you.
Believe so much in the mission that they will sacrifice their very lives to get it done, but they’d much prefer to sacrifice someone else’s. Yours might be alright. They will write a real nice letter to your family afterward, though. So that and your life insurance policy will pay off the house, at least.
Brigadier and Major Generals
This marks the transition from where senior officers are generally in charge of managing downwards and become mostly tasked with managing up to the other generals and politicians, and boy do they ever forget what sense they had. General Officer Bright Idea is a commonly understood term for the total nonsense that these folks come up with.
That’s not an endorsement of their ideas.
Generals are some of the most accomplished ground combatants in history. Also, they will absolutely send you into a sacrificial cult if they think it will advance their mission one iota.
(U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathan Fernandez)
Lieutenant Generals and Generals
Ugh, almost no one can tell these folks no anymore, and it shows. Their GOBIs are usually turned into multi-million dollar programs that require thousands of junior soldiers to jump through all sorts of hoops. Half the time, it turns out these ideas could’ve been shot down from the outset by a competent warrant officer or noncom.
They give real inspiring speeches, though, usually by emailing them out to everyone in their command, even though a solid half of the recipients are in forward bases with no internet access. Thanks, boss!
Military drop tanks are attached under fighters and bombers, giving them extra fuel to extend their range, but easily falling away if the plane gets in a fight and needs to prioritize agility and weight over range. The drop tanks are light, aerodynamic, empty shells when not filled with fuel, and that actually makes them a great starting point for hot rods.
And the hot rod community noticed these tanks during the Cold War, with some innovative spirits snapping them up to create tiny, fast cars. Now, these “lakesters” are quick racers that humans will cram themselves into to race across salt flats and other courses.
Getting ahold of a steel drop tank to convert was easy for a few decades after World War II, but enthusiasts now have to look harder for longer to find one of the few remaining, unconverted drop tanks.
A P-38 Lightning with its drop tanks during World War II.
And they aren’t likely to get much help from the military. Modern militaries have often opted for more exotic materials for new drop tanks, reducing their weight and, therefore, the fuel usage of the plane. A lighter drop tank costs less fuel, and so provides more range, but the composite materials aren’t always great for racers.
It will only get worse, too. Drop tanks have a massive drawback for modern planes: They increase the plane’s radar signature while reducing the number of weapons it can carry. So the military and the aviation industry are shifting away from drop tanks, opting instead for “conformal fuel tanks.”
These are auxiliary tanks made to fit like a new, larger skin on an existing plane. They’re a little harder to install, and they can’t be jettisoned in flight, but they extend range with less drag and a much lower radar penalty. And they can be packed tighter to the body of the jet, allowing the plane to keep more of its agility than it would have with heavy tanks hanging from its wings.
Sorry, racers. Keep looking for the World War II-classics.
When Christine Hassing looked at the suicide statistics of U.S. military veterans, she was drawn to learn more about the experiences of veterans suffering from PTSD and military sexual trauma (MST). Through her research, Hassing learned the remarkable impact service dogs played in veterans’ journeys towards healing and recovery from the deepest emotional wounds.
The Michigan-based author and inspirational speaker was working on her master’s degree when she met a veteran and his service dog.
After listening to their story, she knew that she wanted to spotlight the struggles of fellow veterans like him who are healing from trauma with the support of their furry friend. From sensing a nightmare and waking a veteran before terror takes hold, to placing a comforting paw on someone’s shoulder to ward off a panic attack, these dogs provide immeasurable support day and night.
Wanting to share their perspective, she collaborated with twenty-three veterans and compiled their unique stories in her recently published book, “Hope Has A Cold Nose.”
“When my path intersected with the first veteran and his service dog that you can meet in ‘Hope Has a Cold Nose,’ I asked if I could write his life story for a class assignment,” Hassing told We Are The Mighty. “Our class had been given the challenge to do something creative that was outside our comfort zone. As a volunteer life story writer for a local hospice, writing life stories was not new to me. Writing a life story for someone who was not knowingly dying was.”
Statistics show that 22 U.S. military veterans commit suicide per day.
“In writing this veteran’s life story, I learned not only how effective canines are as a healing modality for PTSD, [but that] twenty-two lives a day have lost hope,” Hassing shared. “I was inspired to be a voice for the twenty-three co-authors of ‘Hope Has A Cold Nose’ who desired to inspire hope for 22 lives a day with a goal of reducing the suicide rate to zero.”
Each chapter shares the story of a different human-canine pair as they explore their life changing relationship. The compelling testimonies from each and every storyteller in the book reminds readers of the importance of compassion and community during the recovery process for veterans.
“It’s important to increase awareness about the healing impact that service dogs have on those journeying with PTSD and the power of listening that helps people heal,” she shared. “To foster hope for anyone who struggles with pain, trauma, sorrow, or despair and to foster compassion and community. This year may become one in which many will mark 2020 as a traumatic year. The co-authors in Hope Has a Cold Nose understand grief, sorrow, fear, isolation, anxiety, depression, and loss of hope. These stories can foster empathy and understanding in addition to inspiring hope.”
For Hassing, working to share these individual veteran stories stretches far beyond publishing a book.
“It is my hope that the readers will learn about the effectiveness of service dogs as a healing modality for those who struggle with PTSD,” Hassing said. “That increased understanding will foster the ability to listen to others experiencing pain, trauma, sorrow, or despair with the same kind of unconditional acceptance as those with fur do and that if the reader is undergoing significant pain, trauma, sorrow, or despair, may they find compassion and understanding for their own story. May they find hope.”
A healthy and strong military marriage is at the top of many people’s priority list, but accomplishing this takes effort.
Typically, tasks that aide this goal are not included on our to-do list. We do not think we need to add, “Daily say I love you”, but maybe we should. Reaching big goals, such as a successful relationship, is about taking little steps to get there. So, along with your task of weight-lifting Wednesdays for your hot bod, consider adding the following to-dos for your relationship.
1. Go for a walk.
There are numerous benefits to walking, but the point here is spending intentional time together away from the distractions of home. Walking is an extremely easy and effective way to get out of a communication rut. Change the scenery and see how the extra oxygen to your brain fuels creative conversations.
This is not another list of tasks, but a fun way to dream together. Think big and dream crazy dreams. Have fun imagining what you can accomplish/see/experience together. (Just keep your dates flexible!!)
3. Arm wrestle.
This was my husband’s response to things we could do to strengthen our relationship. Anyone who compared our size would know how ridiculous this is, but I’ve added it to my list. I’m not saying determining who has the most arm strength will improve your relationship, but adding something your significant other is interested in (or something just plain funny) is a good start! Find your version of arm wrestling!
There is a common misconception that going to marriage counseling is only for those in trouble. It is not. If you owned a business, you would evaluate its performance; if you want to stay healthy you do a yearly physical; if you want your car to run well, you have a maintenance check. Marriage is no different. Taking time to talk with a counselor, a mentor couple, or a real friend who will encourage and help you to grow together is an important part of keeping your relationship strong.
5. Build your calendar together.
It is extremely easy to get into a habit of living two completely separate lives. Even if you digitally share your calendar, take at least 15 minutes each week to do a rundown of what is happening each day. Verbally reviewing each other’s calendar allows you to be connected with each other’s events even when you are apart. It also provides background knowledge to ask questions more specific than, “How was your day?”
Words matter, and at some point in our military marriages, they are all we have to stay connected.Find ways to talk highly about your significant other when he/she is not around. Make a specific reminder to write encouraging notes, send messages listing their strengths or rent a billboard to highlight their accomplishments (to include choosing you). Your words count for something, make them count for your relationship’s good.
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.
Barbara Allen relives her husband’s murder, every day. “I don’t want to be out here doing this. This is not fun for me, it’s exhausting. It’s been fourteen years of it,” she shared.
On June 7, 2005 Lt. Louis Allen and Cpt. Phillip Esposito were on an Army base in Iraq winding down after a long day. Allen’s husband had just deployed to Iraq and kissed her and their four sons goodbye 10 days earlier. He was playing the board game, Risk, with the Captain. A few minutes after they started, a claymore mine was set off outside their window. Grenades exploded shortly after the mine went off. They were both rushed to the hospital immediately but died of internal injuries the following day.
While military investigators initially thought the enemy was an insurgent who had set off a rocket or mortar, the discovery of the hand placed mine led them to other suspects. Their subsequent investigation found that the enemy – was from within.
Photo courtesy of Barbara Allen
A staff sergeant within their company was soon charged with two counts of premeditated murder during the week both men were buried by their families. The widows of the men allegedly killed by the staff sergeant were flown to Kuwait a few months later for his Article 32 hearing. Nine witnesses testified and a general court martial for murder was recommended based on the evidence presented. In early 2006, after learning of the evidence against him, the staff sergeant accused offered up a guilty plea to avoid the death penalty.
It was rejected by the military.
Two years later on December 4, 2008, the accused staff sergeant was acquitted of both murders, despite a mountain of evidence that he had “fragged” the two officers. Allen wasn’t told until months later that he had entered a guilty plea and the accused staff sergeant was discharged from the Army. Honorably.
Many witnesses testified that the accused staff sergeant had pledged to “burn” and “frag” the captain. They also shared that he was seen smiling and laughing after their deaths. A supply sergeant even testified that she gave the accused ammunition, including a claymore mine. Despite all of that – it wasn’t enough to convince the jury.
Allen requested that the Senate Committee on Armed Services look into the case. They didn’t.
“If our trial had happened when social media was a thing, I think it would have gone completely differently. It fell through a gap and we can’t get it back. If we had the court of public opinion on our side, the country on our side, he’d get the Purple Heart,” said Allen.
Photo courtesy of Barbara Allen
Allen was devastated that, in her words, the accused got away with murder and her husband was forgotten afterward. Her husband’s death was declared non-hostile, meaning the military states that he wasn’t killed by the enemy. This meant he wasn’t a candidate for the Purple Heart. She described the whole experience as hell on earth.
“Anyone who willfully kills two soldiers in a combat zone has aided and abetted the enemy. Therefore, is the enemy,” Allen said. “Even the weapon used had the words ‘front to an enemy.’ Flabbergasted, Allen asked, “What else do you have to do to be considered an enemy?” Allen didn’t understand how Ft. Hood victims could get awarded Purple Hearts, but her husband, who was murdered in a combat zone, isn’t eligible.
Allen believes that the Army must decide that they either made a mistake and charged the wrong person and her husband was killed by an insurgent enemy or they let a guilty man go. She reported that “people tended to get fired” when they helped her. Allen said they’ve gone as far as having a Medal of Honor recipient deliver the casefile to President Trump to plead for her husband to receive the Purple Heart, without success.
When asked how her boys feel about all of this, she began to cry. “This is their father, their dad, who’s been missing for their entire lives,” she said. “In the eyes of history he doesn’t exist. His future was taken already; you can’t take his legacy. The message is that any member of the military is expendable. If you die in a way that is embarrassing, we [the military] will erase you. That isn’t the military that I believe in or that he believed in.”
Allen achieved a master’s in criminal justice years after her husband was killed. She reported studying 12 other capital cases like her husband’s. She believes that if the FBI’s protocol for workplace violence had been followed by the military with the accused, her husband wouldn’t have been killed. “They deserved to be protected; nobody was trained. They believed that the uniform was a barrier to reporting,” she said.
This ruling is more than just an award to Allen and her family, she shared. “If the military said that if you willfully injure or kill another service member in a combat zone, let’s just start there, you are an enemy. Teach them about the warning signs. I can testify to what happens when you don’t. It would change things,” said Allen.
Today, Allen says she has a glimmer of hope once again. Her murdered husband’s case file for a Purple Heart is currently sitting on a desk in the Pentagon, awaiting review and the stroke of a pen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The six years of experience and hundreds of hours of flight time needed to become a pilot of the US Air Force’s oldest spy plane are no more, and now trainee pilots will be eligible to take the controls of the venerable Dragon Lady.
The new U-2 First Assignment Companion Trainer, or FACT, program will allow Air Force student pilots to jump directly into the U-2 pipeline and join the 9th Reconnaissance Wing.
“Our focus is modernizing and sustaining the U-2 well into the future to meet the needs of our nation at the speed of relevance,” Air Force Col. Andy Clark, commander of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, said in a release.
Pilots from Beale Air Force Base go through pre-flight checks on a U-2 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, Sept. 29, 2018
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Schultze)
The new program is meant to create ” a new reconnaissance career path for young, highly qualified aviators eager to shape the next generation of [reconnaissance] warfighting capabilities,” Clark said. The first selection will be among fall 2018 undergraduate training pilots with the next round coming in about six months.
The change comes as the Air Force seeks to modernize the U-2 airframe and mission, as well as its pilot-acquisition and development process.
Once selected, pilots in the FACT program will go the T-38 pilot instructor training course at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas before a permanent change-of-station to Beale Air Force Base in California, where the U-2s are based.
Airmen refuel a U-2 at Beale Air Force Base, California, Aug. 9, 2018.
(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Parsons)
The selectee will then be a T-38 instructor pilot for the next two years, and once they have the requisite experience, they will undergo the standard two-week U-2 pilot interview process.
If hired, they’ll then start Basic Qualification Training.
“The well-established path to the U-2 has proven effective for over 60 years,” Lt. Col. Carl Maymi, commander of the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, said in a release.
“However, we need access to young, talented officers earlier in their careers. I believe we can do this while still maintaining the integrity of our selection process through the U-2 FACT program.”
A U-2 prepares to land at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, Nov. 16, 2017.
(Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)
‘An art, not a science’
The U-2 entered service during the Eisenhower administration, carrying out covert missions high above enemy territory during the height of the Cold War. The aircraft have been overhauled and the missions have changed in the decades since, but the Dragon Lady remains one of the most unique and challenging aircraft US pilots can fly.
Today’s U-2s are larger than the original versions and are made of slightly lighter material, as less weight translates into more altitude — about one extra foot for each pound shed, according to Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Phillips, who ventured up in a U-2 in 2018, accompanied by Jethro, one of the few pilots who’ve qualified to fly it.
Every six years, each U-2 is totally overhauled by Lockheed Martin, which takes the plane completely apart and goes through “every wire, every connector, every panel,” Jethro told Phillips.
“They’ll X-ray it … make sure there’s no cracks, replace anything that’s broken, put it back together, new coat of paint, and it looks like a brand-new airplane again, and it flies like a brand-new airplane again,” Jethro added.
A U-2 is prepped for takeoff from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, June 22, 2018.
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kristin High)
The long, narrow wings allow the U-2 to quickly lift heavy payloads of cameras and sensors to high altitudes and stay there for extended periods. It’s capable of gathering an array of imagery, including multi-spectral electro-optic, infrared, and synthetic aperture radar products that can be stored aboard or transmitted to the ground.
Some parts of the preparation process are still low-tech, however.
The U-2 has a central fuel tank fed by tanks in each wing. Crews will fill up the wing tanks and then look to see which way the aircraft leans. They they transfer fuel from one side to the other until it balances out.
“So it’s really kind of an art, not a science,” Jethro said.
U-2 pilots work in two-man crews, but the pilots go up in the aircraft alone. Their pre-flight preparations begin with donning a full-pressure suit, like those worn by astronauts, that regulates the pilot’s pressure and temperature.
“If the cockpit lost pressure at 70,000 feet” — the usual cruising altitude — “and I weren’t wearing a space suit, my blood would boil,” Phillips said.
Once suited, pilots head to the aircraft, accompanied by a crew member carrying their oxygen supply.
Pilots give the U-2 a traditional pat on the nose, shake hands with each flight crew member, and clamber into the cockpit, where a team of technicians hooks them up to an array of regulators and sensors.
A U-2 pilot prepares to board his aircraft at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, June 22, 2018.
(Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kristin High)
“I’ve got crew chiefs. I’ve got electricians. I’ve got different civilians for each of the sensors … so there may be 40 people around the aircraft, who are all there just to get you in the air,” Jethro said. “We don’t call it a takeoff. We call it a launch.”
The U-2’s 103-foot wingspan and broad turning radius make it hard to maneuver, and the wings, laden with fuel, are supported by bicycle-like wheels that break away during takeoff.
To help deal with those hazards, the other member of the two-man pilot team trails behind the U-2 at the wheel of a muscle car — like a Pontiac GTO or Tesla Model S — that can keep up with the U-2.
Other U-2 pilots who aren’t flying may be in Beale’s control tower, overseeing their fellow pilots’ missions.
During takeoff, the pilot wrestles with the plane as it gets off the ground.
“As soon as you throw the power up, you’re pushing 18,000 pounds of thrust out of the backend. You have those big, long wings, and it just wants to accelerate so fast,” said one U-2 pilot, identified only as Nova. “You gotta pull it up to about 40 degrees nose high just to keep the airplane within limits, and that is just one of the coolest feelings ever.”
“When you get a chance to look and just see the earth just falling away behind you so quickly, it’s awesome,” he added.
Temporary wheels, called “pogos,” that hold up the wings during takeoff drop away as the plane leaves the ground.
The U-2 ascends to about 70,000 feet for a typical mission. Up there, the curvature of the earth allows pilots to see 270 nautical miles in each direction — a field of vision of about 500 miles. It can map all of Iraq in a single mission.
On the edge of space, the cockpit is silent except for the raspy hiss of the breathing system, which sucks pure oxygen into the pilot’s helmet.
“The air pressure inside the cockpit is the equivalent to standing on top of Mount Everest,” Phillips said.
“Without the oxygen I’d be gasping for breath, and I’d be in danger of getting the bends,” he added, referring to an illness that occurs when dissolved gases enter the bloodstream as the body experiences changes in pressure.
“A lot of times when we get up to altitude, you’ll be able to look down and see the airliners,” Jethro, the pilot, said during the flight.
“And you can see that very gentle curve of the earth from here,” Phillips added, “It’s an extraordinary view.”
“When you get up there and you think, like, ‘What makes these people different from these people?’ And you just don’t see it from up there,” Nova, the other pilot, said. “It’s one world. There’s one planet.”
A U-2 lands at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, Nov. 16, 2017.
(Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott)
‘You’re in a small club’
The features that make the U-2 an exceptional high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft make it extremely difficult to land. Pilots have to perform a kind of controlled crash to bring the plane back to earth.
The two sets of wheels built into the plane are set up like bicycle wheels, with one set under the nose and the other under the tail. The massive wings, now relieved of their fuel, make the aircraft hard to control as it comes in.
The cars that saw the plane off zip in as it lands, their drivers giving the pilots a foot-by-foot countdown and alerting them to any problems. The cars can hit 140 mph while chasing an incoming U-2.
Once the plane has slowed down enough, one of the wings droops to the ground. Titanium skid plates on the bottoms of both wings help bring the plane to a full stop, at which point the temporary wheels are reattached. The plane then taxis off the runway.
Back on earth, technicians begin developing the imagery.
A flight can produce 10,500 feet of film, stored on a 250-pound spool, according to Phillips.
The U-2’s wet-film camera produces images that are clearer than digital images, which are analyzed with loupes or microscope-like optics that zoom in on the features captured on the film.
It’s an old-fashioned approach to aerial reconnaissance, Phillips noted. “But it works, and that’s why it’s still around,” one of the airmen overseeing the film-development process added.
After the first two undergraduate pilot training students are picked and enter the FACT program, the assignment process “will be assessed to determine the sustainability of this experimental pilot pipeline,” the Air Force said in its announcement.
For the time being, the Dragon Lady’s pilot corps will be a rare breed.
“A thousand pilots, [there are] way more Super Bowl rings out there. You’re in a small club,” Lt. Col. Matt Nussbaum, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron commander, told Phillips.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
For three years, RED HORSE airmen have been rotating every six months to Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger, to participate in the largest troop labor construction project in Air Force history. RED HORSE stands for Air Force Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers.
The Air Force built the base and its 6000-foot runway from the ground up. A similar mission had not been undertaken since Vietnam.
Airmen had to persevere and innovate through the lack of an asphalt production facility in the country, thunderstorms that caused flash floods, dust storms that made it impossible to work safely, high-sulfur diesel fuel that fouled construction equipment and even a plague of locusts.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Paul Waters, a vehicle maintance NCOIC with the 823 Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron, maintains the squadron’s construction equipment. Sgt Waters and his team battle the harsh environment and poor quality fuel that frequently breaks their equipment.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Perry Aston)
Despite working in one of the harshest environments in the Sahel region of Africa, RED HORSE finished a project that will allow aircraft as large as the C-17 Globemaster III to operate in western Africa, expanding the Air Force’s ability to bring air power to combat increasing extremist activity.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
NASA astronaut Col. Tyler N. “Nick” Hague waits to be lowered into the pool containing a mockup of the International Space Station at the Johnson Space Flight Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory for Extravehicular Activity training in Houston, Tex., Apr. 27, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
(Editor’s note: The following is a reposting of an Airman magazine story and an episode of BLUE, which aired in 2017 on AFTV, about Air Force astronauts assigned to NASA. Additional information from NASA is added to mark the culmination of a nearly decade-long goal to once again launch American astronauts from U.S. soil via NASA’s Commercial Crew Program with SpaceX and Boeing. On Wednesday, May 27, 2020, Air Force Col. Robert Behnken and retired Marine Col. Douglas Hurley are scheduled to pilot the inaugural, manned mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.)
A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, scheduled to lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:33 p.m. EDT May 27, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida, for an extended stay at the space station for the Demo-2 mission.
As the final flight test for SpaceX, this mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit.
Behnken and Hurley were among the first astronauts to begin working and training on SpaceX’s next-generation human space vehicle and were selected for their extensive test pilot and flight experience, including several missions on the space shuttle.
Behnken will be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the space station. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and has completed two space shuttle flights.
It is a career in space that had its beginnings in the Air Force ROTC program at Washington University in St. Louis.
“The Air Force felt strongly that I should get a physics degree, and so I did that. But I was interested in engineering, and I did a mechanical engineering degree as well,” Behnken said in a 2017 interview with Airman magazine.
“It was a time, in 1992, that the Air Force was not bringing everybody immediately on active duty… I had a pretty long wait, so I applied for graduate school and an educational delay, and the Air Force looked kindly on that. I got that opportunity and picked up a National Science Foundation fellowship in the process, so I had a way to pay for school; the Air Force let me take advantage of that until I had earned my PhD at Caltech.”
Behnken’s first assignment was as a mechanical engineer at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, working on new development programs at the Air Force Research Laboratory. It was there that his commanders, both test pilot school graduates, suggested he plot a similar career course.
“The lieutenant colonel and the colonel said, ‘Hey, you should think about test pilot school,'” Behnken said. “I applied and was accepted, and ended up out at Edwards Air Force Base (California) doing some flight tests on an F-22 when it was very early in its development process before being selected as an astronaut and moving to Houston.”
Behnken flew two Space Shuttle missions; STS-123, in March 2008, and STS-130, in February 2010. He performed three spacewalks during each mission.
His training for the Crew Dragon mission has been unique among recent astronauts.
“Training for these missions is really wrapped into the development process. We’re learning the vehicles as they’re designed and built, and then that will be part of our training material,” Behnken said.
“All of us are Air Force and Navy test pilot school graduates and we’re really participating in a development process so that we can then kind of bring our space flight experience to the designs as they come to the table. If there’s something that needs to be changed, we give them that feedback, and then they figure out what the cost impact is and decide how well they can incorporate our feedback into their design.”
Lifting off from Launch Pad 39A atop a specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon will accelerate its two passengers to approximately 17,000 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station.
Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system and the maneuvering thrusters, among other things. In about 24 hours, Crew Dragon will be in position to rendezvous and dock with the space station. The spacecraft is designed to do this autonomously but astronauts aboard the spacecraft and the station will be diligently monitoring approach and docking and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary.
After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard the station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.
Although the Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, the specific mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement.
Upon conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, depart the space station and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown just off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the crew will be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and return to Cape Canaveral.
The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.
“It’s a pretty exciting job. As a test pilot, the thing that we all hope is that we might get a chance to test a new airplane. We’re getting to test a new spacecraft. We’ll be the first people to fly on this vehicle, so we’re really the space test pilots for a brand-new spaceship, which is pretty cool,” Behnken said.
(Editor’s Note: Originally posted July 24, 2017, this article concentrated on the training of Air Force Col. Tyler Nicklaus “Nick” Hague, as he was the next of the Air Force astronauts scheduled to fly to the International Space Station. His first launch was on Soyuz MS-10, which aborted shortly after take-off on October 11, 2018. His second launch, on March 14, 2019, was successful, taking him and his fellow Soyuz MS-12 crew members to join ISS Expedition 59/60. He would spend just more than 202 days in space and completed nearly 20 hours of extravehicular activities, or space walks, before returning to Earth in October of 2019.)
On the rare instances when Col. Tyler N. “Nick” Hague returns from a day at the office and walks through the door of his own home, the oldest of his two boys occasionally asks, “Daddy, were you in space today?”
Not such a childish question when you consider the actual distance and travel time when Hague finally rides into space aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket in September of 2018.
It will only take him about 12 minutes to arrive in low-Earth orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, only 249 miles above the planet’s surface. In comparison, Hague traveled two miles farther when he was just a boy of 12; a total of 251 miles from his home in Hoxie, Kansas, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he first laid eyes on the place where his journey into space would actually begin – the United States Air Force Academy.
“Growing up in western Kansas, staring up at the sky at night, seeing all those stars, I’ve always wanted to do something involved with space,” said Hague. “I couldn’t find a better program in terms of being able to study astronautical engineering with building actual satellites and doing all that hands on work at an undergraduate level. That just didn’t exist anywhere else at that time and so that was the place I wanted to go.”
He graduated from the academy and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1998 and began a 20-year journey that would bring him to the International Space Station to begin a six-month mission as flight engineer on ISS Expedition 57/58.
During this journey, Hague earned a masters degree in engineering from MIT, worked on advanced spacecraft technologies at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, flight tested at Edwards AFB, California, completed a five-month deployment to Iraq to conduct experimental airborne reconnaissance in 2004, returned to the Air Force Academy to teach astronautics, became an advisor for the U.S. Senate on national defense and foreign policy, served as a congressional appropriations liaison for United States Central Command at the Pentagon and finally as deputy division chief for research and development at the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization before being selected for astronaut training in 2013.
“I applied the first time (to the astronaut training program) in 2003, so it took 10 years and three applications in order to finally get selected,” said Hague. “Twenty years ago could I look at what was going to lie before me and map all of that out that would connect that point to this point? There are all these different opportunities that I would have never been able to line up on my own, but the service in the Air Force has made it possible.”
When he finally received his crew assignment, Hague quickly learned that being an astronaut still means racking up a lot of miles on earth.
In this calendar year of mission training, Hague has logged five flights from Houston to Star City, Russia, where he has spent 33 weeks training on the Russian ISS modules – which make up half of the station – and the Soyuz launch vehicle.
When combined with flights to the European Space Agency training facility in Colon, Germany, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Tsukuba Space Center north of Tokyo for eight more weeks of training on those agency’s modules this year, Hague is closing on 100,000 miles of travel within the Earth’s atmosphere to prepare for the relatively short commute to ISS.
Much of Hague’s time in Star City is spent training for that 12-minute trip aboard Soyuz into space and the corresponding return trip six months later. A training emphasis that fellow Air Force astronaut Col. Michael Hopkins explains exists for a very good reason.
“The majority of your training will be associated with the ride up and the ride home. We have a two-year training flow and as much as a year of your time during that two years will be spent over in Russia and your time in Russia the majority of that time is being spent on the Soyuz vehicle,” said Hopkins, who has already spent six months aboard ISS in 2013-2014. “But just like airplanes, the critical phase of flight is take off and landing. That’s when if anything goes wrong, when you don’t have that much time to deal with it. Aboard the ISS you usually have days if not weeks to assess and correct a problem.”
The overseas travel has two-week breaks when Hague returns to Houston for training on the US systems and for extravehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalks, and an opportunity to sleep in his own bed for a change. This fierce training and travel tempo is one of the drawbacks for astronauts, as well as their spouses and children.
NASA astronaut Robert Behnken, STS-130 mission specialist, takes a break in the mission’s second session of extravehicular activity (EVA) for construction and maintenance on the International Space Station in February of 2010 to allow air scrubbers to remove CO2 that had built up in his space suit. During the five-hour, 54-minute spacewalk, Behnken and astronaut Nicholas Patrick connected two ammonia coolant loops, installed thermal covers around the ammonia hoses, outfitted the Earth-facing port on the Tranquility node for the relocation of its Cupola, and installed handrails and a vent valve on the new module. (Photo/NASA)
“I spend six weeks in Star City, and then come back for a couple weeks, and then I’ll go back for six weeks,” said Hague. “There is a stress on the family, and they miss out on the things that I could be doing with them at home, and on the weekends. I’m TDY a lot, but my family’s making the same kinds of sacrifices that I see service families making day in and day out. I think that, that’s something that everybody that wears a uniform can appreciate.”
However, NASA has embarked on a new collaborative mission with commercial partners SpaceX and Boeing to provide an alternative to Soyuz for manned trips to and from the ISS. Cooperation in the development of new low-orbit launch vehicles by these commercial companies based in the United States will provide the Air Force with more orbital lift options and will also bring astronauts closer to home for training and for longer periods of time.
“It’s important for us to be able to return launch to Florida. You know, from a crew perspective, I can tell you that it makes it a whole lot easier on the crew, because you stop having to send people (to Star City, Russia) for six weeks at a shot over, and over, and over again and reduce the strain on the families,” said Hague.
“It’s also important from a redundancy perspective. Right now it’s Soyuz only, so if something happened with the Soyuz, now we’re looking for a way to get astronauts up there. It’ll provide us that flexibility to continue to fly Soyuz, and fly out of Florida and for the Russians to do the same.”
Once again the Air Force is a lynchpin in the development of a barrier breaking technology as astronaut Col. Robert Behnken is one of four test pilots for the commercial spacecraft and Hopkins is part of the team developing communications, displays and procedures for the new launch vehicles.
“Currently, my major focus is on one of those commercial crewed vehicles. It’s the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. I’m working as one of the CAPCOMs for that program; the communicator who would be talking to the astronauts in the vehicle as they’re going uphill and docking to the station,” said Hopkins. “There’s a lot of new material that we have to learn and figure out what the launch day is going to look like and what docking is going to look like and what the landing is going to look like.”
After one unmanned test of both the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, two-astronaut crews will fly subsequent tests before operational flights will begin taking six astronauts per flight to the ISS. Astronauts, such as Behnken, will not only flight-test the vehicles, but they are deeply involved in the design and development phase of the vehicles that is currently underway.
“The training for these missions is really wrapped into the development process. So we’re learning the vehicles as they’re designed and built, ” said Behnken, veteran of two of the Space Shuttle missions that built the ISS and the only active-duty member of the test crews. “(The test crews are) Air Force and Navy test pilot school graduates, and we’re really participating in a development process so that we can bring our space flight experience to the designs as they come to the table… that should wrap up around mid-2018 for both vehicles, and hopefully if the schedules hold, that’s when we’ll fly in space.”
These astronauts are the most recent in a continuing legacy of Air Force support of NASA and space exploration since the space program’s inception.
A total of eighty-five Air Force astronauts have traveled into space, from three of the first NASA astronauts, the Mercury Seven, Lt. Col. Gus Grissom, Col. Gordon Cooper and Major Deke Slayton, to two of the crew of Apollo 11, the first humans to set foot on the Moon, Col. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Maj. Gen. Michael Collins to Col. Jack Fischer, flight engineer for ISS Expedition 51/52, currently traveling at over 17,000 miles per hour (5 miles per second) for 25,000 miles on each of his 15.5 orbits per day aboard ISS.
Still more, like Hague, are in training for upcoming flights, and numerous Air Force personnel support both manned and unmanned NASA missions.
“The Air Force is supporting the mission on a daily basis,” said Hague. “It’s flight docs assigned here, search and rescue crews that are helping bring us home, we’ve got the range support for launching cargo and soon we’re going to be launching Americans back out of Florida. There’s also guys that are looking at all the radar coming back down from space trying to track space debris and they help us prevent things from flying into the Space Station, so they’re protecting us on a daily basis.”
Of course, participation in the civilian space program reaps great benefits for the Air Force from supporting space exploration and research. “The Air Force gets access to space, and so from an expense standpoint, NASA’s already paid for that, now all you have to do is develop your experiment, and then we can get it onboard,” said Hopkins. “Then you get the astronaut’s time. We don’t go and charge the Air Force for the time of the astronaut on board that’s executing their experiment. You’re getting access to a microgravity laboratory, right? It’s a very unique laboratory, in fact the only one in existence.”
The Soyuz TMA-04M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 carrying Expedition 31 Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The partnership between the Air Force and NASA is a collaborative research relationship that fills gaps in each other’s research and facilities.
According to Dr. Morley Stone, chief technology officer of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, the Air Force benefits from NASA’s experience with human performance in microgravity environments, as NASA benefits from the Air Force’s research in the macrogravity realm of high sustained G-forces.
Both are participating in research on hypersonics, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and materials that can survive extreme environments.
“I would say certainly NASA is up near the top, as probably our most important federal partnership,” said Stone.
Life aboard the ISS is tightly scheduled to accommodate the necessary daily planning conference with ground controllers, two hours of exercise necessary to maintain the astronauts’ bodies in a microgravity environment, performing EVA for scheduled station maintenance or repairs and conducting the experiments sent to ISS by researchers on the ground, military and civilian.
However, on occasion, there are small gaps where astronauts can indulge the kid inside that still looks upon the cosmos in wonder. Behnken had such an opportunity on his second STS mission to install components on the ISS. During an EVA to install the cupola observation window for Earth observation and photography, Behnken and a crewmate exerted themselves to the point that exhaled carbon dioxide was building up inside their suits faster than the air scrubbers could eliminate it.
“My partner and I had both worked harder than the suit could keep up with, and we got the chance to take about a 15-minute break,” said Behnken.
“They told us to “Attach yourself to the space station, and sit there, and look around. And don’t breathe too hard, because we’re trying to catch up with the scrubbing that’s on the suit.
“When you’re outside on a spacewalk, you get a panorama view that just can’t be captured with any of the windows … You get to see sunrises, and sunset, and that angular view of the atmosphere with thunderstorms lightning themselves up,” said Behnken.
“It’s of the whole majesty of the Earth, which is just awesome.”
The sacrifice of a Soldier is not measured by the medals he wears. The unfathomable courage in a split second is when the real sacrifice is made. Bravery is cultivated in the most critical hours of our lives; in a decision that is often not intentional, but innate.
For CPT (RET) Florent Groberg, his hardest battle came after the fight. August 8, 2012, changed his life forever. Eight seconds was the only separation between life and death. From this tragedy rose a man who is fiercely passionate about leadership, mental health advocacy and sharing stories about the heroes we’ve lost. But those eight seconds took something from him. Here is the story of CPT Groberg’s unexpected bravery.
In an interview with We Are The Mighty, Groberg said, “After the ceremonies, the awards and the newly acquired celebrity, I was alone. My new life was hard. Being in the hospital was hard. The surgeries, the pain and the lack of sleep and privacy only made matters worse. For years I wasn’t myself. I was angry that I was alive. I survived, and my brothers didn’t. They were leaders that had families. Kennedy had a wife and one-year-old twins. I was single. I had no one, only survivor’s guilt. Four of my brothers were killed that day: August 8, 2012.
“The day started off as normal, well, as normal as it can be downrange. We were headed to a meeting in the governor’s province. This was a green zone, so not much ever happened there. I was working as the security detachment commander. The task was simple: Get everyone to and from the meeting safely. Easy enough, right? Our team proceeded to travel outside of the wire. We were carrying high ranking officials that day, so of course, precautionary safety measures were in place.
“As we traveled further outside of the wire, I received notification that the security detail at our arriving destination had dispersed. This left me with an eerie feeling. Two motorcycles approached our convoy on the bridge. I noticed a structure to the left … someone was standing there. As the motorcycles stopped, the drivers dismounted and began to flee. The person near the building began walking toward us.
“He had on a suicide vest.
“I ran toward him, to keep him away from the others. SGT Mahoney helped me. [The bomber] detonated his vest. The blast sent me flying. Another bomber was near and prematurely detonated his device. I was severely wounded, but alive.
“Lying in the hospital, I replayed the scenario over and over. Wondering what I could’ve done differently to save my brothers. I was heavily medicated and suicidal. My brain became my own worst enemy. I felt like a failure. I didn’t feel worthy of being alive. I wasn’t myself. My thoughts were constantly racing. I needed out.
“I learned a lot about myself during those two years. I learned that anyone is susceptible to PTS and it’s okay to be vulnerable. We just don’t have to hold onto those thoughts. During my hospital stay, Travis Mills visited me and reminded me of my purpose. I needed that. I had a new mission — honoring my brothers by telling the stories of their bravery. In order to understand true patriotism, we must be willing to forgo our personal needs and put our country first. I did that. Not for a medal. I was just doing my job. I was willing to fight for what I was proud of.”
On November 12, 2015, CPT Florent Groberg was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama, in a White House ceremony. In the ceremony, President Obama said, “On his very worst day, he managed to summon his very best. That’s the nature of courage — not being unafraid, but confronting fear and danger and performing in a selfless fashion. He showed his guts, he showed his training; how he would put it all on the line for his teammates. That’s an American we can all be grateful for.”
Countless veterans, service members and civilians agree. Krista Simpson, who lost her husband SSGT Michael Simpson recently had the opportunity to hear CPT Groberg speak at the Military Influencer Conference. Her reaction to his speech was profound. “There is something so remarkable about a leader who has the courage and intelligence to allow his people to guide him through something that can be life or death,” she said. “The humbling honor to serve his country wasn’t lost on Medal of Honor recipient, CPT Florent Groberg from the moment he put on the uniform.
“I sat in the audience watching this brave man downplay the highest honor our country awards a soldier with deep admiration. He hates being called a hero. Flo believes the heroes are the families of the men and women who gave their lives in service to our nation. He acknowledged that there were families missing out on a life with their loved ones. Tears streamed down my face as he looked at me, nodding in recognition for the final sacrifice my husband, SSG Michael H. Simpson, made May 1, 2013. It’s men like Flo and our great nation that ignite the pride I have for his sacrifice.”
CPT Groberg was medically retired, awarded the medal of honor and wrote a book about his experience:8 Seconds to Courage: Soldier’s Story from Immigrant to the Medal of Honor. He’s involved with organizations like Bravo Sierra, which helps strengthen the physical and mental wellness of current service members and veterans. CPT Groberg advocates for the mental well-being of our service members. If you are struggling with something, please speak up. CPT Groberg has a few suggestions on how you can remain mentally resilient during tough times.
Go have a conversation with someone you trust.
Don’t go through it alone. Keeping it in only leads to negative consequences.
Remember: It’s okay to be hurt. Take responsibility for your healing, get help.
Don’t be judgemental. Listen to your troops. Understand the cause of their discord.
Continue to evaluate the mental well-being of your troops. Incorporate training that will help eliminate the stigma of mental illness. Talk about TBIs, PTS and life after war.
Remember: Not every individual suffers the same. No one solution will fix it all. Be vigilant but remain open.
And as CPT Groberg so aptly stated, “There is an opportunity to strengthen our troops. Banding together will make us healthier and a stronger fighting force. Turn the lessons from failed missions into paths that lead to success.”
Guess what? In just a few short weeks, you’ll have officially survived 2020. Congratulations! No, really. Congrats. Give yourself a pat on the back, or maybe a bear hug, because just making it through this year in (mostly) one piece is something to be proud of.
When 2020 commenced, I was fired up. I had big plans. Within months, my plans looked like they had been shoved through a wood chipper. Planning anything at all felt impossible. Who knew what grenade 2020 would throw next? Stuck in my house, I felt incredibly alone. Yet, I wasn’t. There were millions of others in the same boat.
Now, it’s been a full year since the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re all still in the middle of the ocean. Whether you’re adapting to working from home, figuring out distance learning, or struggling with unemployment, 2020 has probably found a way to make your life harder.
Some of us are in sturdier boats than others, but at the end of the day we’re all just trying to stay afloat. And that’s okay.
Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or just plain depressed is all too common this year. If you’re worried it’s just you, take a look at these sobering statistics. In June, 40% of U.S. adults said they were struggling with mental health or substance use, while 18.1% are coping with an anxiety disorder.
Mental health in children has worsened as well; 9.7% of U.S. children have been diagnosed with severe major depression. Among those between the ages of 10 and 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death. Not cancer, not heart disease. Suicide. Veterans are also vulnerable; since 2008, the average number of veteran suicides hasn’t dropped below 17 a day.
These ugly numbers send a powerful message: Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s an essential service.
If you’re one of the millions of people who struggled to stay positive this year, this message is for you. Feeling burnt out isn’t a sign of weakness, and when you are burnt out, it’s OKAY to take a break.
This holiday season, don’t worry about what other people want. Focus about what you and your family need.
Seriously. Be kind to yourself. If you put on more holiday pounds than usual, give yourself a break. It’s okay. If you don’t have it in you to plan your annual family photoshoot and send out cards, forget about it. Gather everyone on the couch, hold up your TP and hand sanitizer, and say cheese. If you don’t have time to meticulously wrap presents, shove em’ in a gift bag with some tissue paper. Done. Don’t grind yourself into the ground.
Expectations from family members can also take a toll.
Hosting a Christmas party is now a topic of controversy, and families are divided. Some feel it’s irresponsible. Others feel it’s non-negotiable. The solution? Again, do what’s best for you. The people who love you should respect your choice, and if they don’t, they’re not worth your time anyway. This is a live and let live kind of year.
Self-care comes in many shapes and forms. Do what makes you feel good, whether it’s going for a long walk, taking up a new hobby, or panic baking. If you want to dance like no one is watching, go for it. Literally, no one is watching.
Click here for more ideas on self-care during this crazy and complicated year, and be patient with yourself and those around you.
If you or someone you know is experiencing signs or symptoms of depression or anxiety, don’t tough it out.
In a move that almost seems suspiciously logical, Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, has declared safety briefs no longer mandatory. That means no more long, drawn-out discussions led by the first sergeant about oddly specific incidents. No more sh*tbag “leaders” talking down to warfighters about crimes that they themselves committed. No more checking the box by reminding troops to not drink and drive, beat your spouse, or beat your kids in a monotone, apathetic voice that diminishes the gravity of those serious crimes.
Soldiers are about to get told that this weekend to “be safe” and then to fall out. Some units may try out this thing called, “assuming adults are responsible for their own actions” while others will be stuck in their old ways, discussing a few safety issues out of sheer habit.
For the love of all that is awesome in the Army – do not f*ck this up, troops. If even a single private gets a speeding ticket this weekend, the chain of command will put that incident on a pedestal in order to keep safety briefs. If a single douchebag gets arrested for a DUI and jokes that they weren’t told not to this week, that one asshat will Blue Falcon the entire United States Army.
So, enjoy some memes if it means you’re not out trying to appear on the blotter.