When people meet Capt. Kelsey Casey, they don’t initially think the petite, young woman with an energetic personality is a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps, but once she starts talking, her charisma becomes apparent, and it’s understandable why she’s the only female AV-8B Harrier pilot in the Marine Corps.
Her dream of flying started at space camp at a young age. To her delight, she was picked to be the simulated pilot and climbed into a small, fake cockpit built to simulate a spaceship taking off.
“Coming out of the final mission, we walked down a hall and all along the walls were these giant posters with every single astronaut team that had been to space,” Casey’s voice changed as she remembered, her eyes searching for the memory. “There were women in some of the later ones. I looked up at that and thought, ‘if they can do it, maybe I can too.’ That’s where it started.”
Casey attended the U.S. Naval Academy following high school. She planned to major in aerospace engineering and Chinese, but learned she would have to attend a year longer than planned, putting her at the bottom of the list to be a pilot. This eliminated her goal of becoming a pilot via the academy route. To fulfill her dream, Casey had only one option — leave the academy.
Casey found herself trekking across the country with everything she owned, trying to navigate her way through a snowstorm. She was alone, scared and her dreams seemed unattainable.
Capt. Kelsey Casey.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeanette Mullinax)
It was her insatiable tenacity and refined grit which led her through the years that followed.
“I’m driving across the country, calling my mom for directions while she also signs me up for courses at a community college in California,” Casey said. “All I could think was ‘wow, my family is going to disown me, I just left this amazing school with a full-ride scholarship, what am I going to do?’ It was a scary thing to go through as a 19-year-old, but it made me better.”
The way Casey saw it, she had only two options: give up or complete her degree and fly. She chose the latter, and like all Marines, attacked the obstacles in front of her to accomplish her mission.
“She was always a little fireball and tireless,” said Nyna Armstrong, Casey’s mother. “She never grows any moss, she’s always moving and is always going in whatever direction she wants despite what challenges she might [face].”
After leaving the academy, Casey made her way to the Bay Area to attend San Francisco State University. During her senior year at SFSU, Casey found herself longing to return to the Naval Academy to fulfill her dream. Again she applied to the academy but was denied. At this point in her life, she was accustomed to adversity and was experienced at overcoming it.
Refusing to give up, she sought out information and spoke to mentors, who encouraged her to pursue a career as a military officer. As a result of her unwillingness to quit, she found a way to accomplish her dream. After she earned a Bachelor of the Arts degree in political science at SFSU, Casey left for Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.
“My daughters and I never look to have special treatment because we are women,” said Armstrong. “The fact she is the only female is a testament to her skill and her drive and her work ethic.”
Though her experience with the Marine Corps has been mostly positive, there have been interesting moments for Casey.
While sitting at breakfast with her Marines, a nice older gentlemen with a veteran hat approached them, Casey explained. They all were in flight suits and wearing the same patches when the gentleman asked their table if they were all pilots. He seemed surprised to see Casey and specifically asked her if they let her fly. She laughed and informed him that not only was she a pilot, but she was also the one in charge.
Capt. Kelsey Casey.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeanette Mullinax)
Interactions like these are somewhat common and highlight a misconception of gender roles in the military; situations such as this motivate Casey to keep proving them wrong.
“As you move, you just keep on making that shift until you finally look around and realize you’ve made it,” she said. “But I don’t feel like I’ve really made it until I’m at an event somewhere and someone comes up to me, and they say ‘I want my daughter or my son to be like you, you are a fantastic role model.'”
Casey believes that the most important lesson is to keep moving forward — an ethos she learned from her uncle, who told her “they can’t kill you, and they can’t stop time.” This advice has helped her overcome many obstacles.
“It’s okay if it doesn’t work out the first time, and you make horrible mistakes because the next thing you know, I ended up getting internships, worked at the state department as an intern, and I worked in a congressman’s office,” said Casey. “I also moved to Colorado to be raft guide for a while before going to The Basic School because I could and then I still ended up going to TBS, commissioning as an officer and becoming a pilot.”
Casey has come a long way since being that wide-eyed little girl with aspirations of flying.
“I don’t think I’m better than anybody else ever,” she said. “I’m very good at failing but I don’t give up after I fail. Just don’t give up. It might take way longer than you thought, it might be really, really hard but anything that’s worth it is going to be hard but it will be worth it.”
Despite a difficult start, Casey succeeded and continued to excel. She completed her training and earned her wings of gold.
Appearances, as the saying goes, can be very deceiving.
This happened to be the exact concept behind Q-ships, heavily armed decoy vessels used by Allied navies during the First World War to harass and destroy German submarines, also known as U-boats.
The Germany Navy’s U-boat fleet quickly proved to be a scourge in the Atlantic, hunting down and sinking Allied merchant and combat ships with impunity. Able to sneak up to convoys and warships virtually undetected, U-boats began racking up kills in incredible numbers, quickly becoming a threat that needed to be dealt with immediately.
Allied ships, often loaded with troops, supplies, and materiel to aid the war effort in Europe were being lost at astonishing rates. As sonar was still an emerging technology, submarine detection was often difficult if not downright impossible. However, a solution began to form in the minds of Allied naval commanders.
U-boats could only remain submerged for short periods of time, and they were often deployed to sea with a limited supply of torpedoes. As such, most U-boat commanders preferred to run their vessels on the surface, utilizing deck guns for the majority of their attacks on enemy vessels.
The British Navy came up with a solution in the form of a thoroughly disguised merchant vessel carrying a crew of sailors dressed like fishers or merchant mariners. With fake boxes of cargo on the decks of the ship, German U-boats would likely assume that what they see in their periscope’s crosshairs was really just a supply ship, transporting munitions and weaponry for Allied soldiers on the front lines.
A juicy and defenseless target, ripe for the taking.
However, these ships were anything but defenseless. Armed with a variety of deck guns in different calibers, and even depth charges in some cases, the crew could open fire after luring the German submarines close enough, sinking, or at least thoroughly disabling, their enemy’s watercraft.
One less U-boat in the fight.
The British Admiralty decided that these decoy ships would be homeported at Queenstown, Ireland, where they would have easy access to the North Atlantic, and a safe harbor to return to. They would soon be nicknamed Q-ships, thanks to their port of origin.
Deployed in growing numbers, Q-ships began hunting down and attacking German submarines using deception and surprise to their advantage. As soon as U-boats closed in, panels were dropped, the Royal Navy’s ensign was raised and deck guns boomed while sending German sailors scrambling for cover.
However, the plan turned out to be a major dud.
By the war’s end, it was found that throughout 150 reported engagements between Q-ships and U-boats, only 14 submarines were destroyed, while the rest were either damaged or had escaped. The Q-ship program had an even lower success rate than mines, which, given the associated numbers and statistics, was highly embarrassing.
The program, once a closely-kept secret, was shuttered and remained fairly dormant in the years between World Wars, though other navies began exploring similar vessels of their own.
Q-ships would make a reappearance during the Second World War, serving with the German, British, American, and Japanese navies. Oddly enough, German Q-ships wound up racking up higher kill numbers than their Allied counterparts.
In the years since, anti-submarine warfare (ASW for short) has advanced considerably, making sub-hunting something of an art form. Thankfully, the Q-ship concept has been relegated to the history books once and for all, having experienced its trial by fire during the two World Wars, and coming up short.
It’s called the Metal Storm. This Australian-made, U.S.-funded behemoth of a cannon uses the same idea behind a Roman candle to fire round after round out of its 36 barrels. The prototype managed to achieve a maximum rate of fire of 1.62 million rounds per minute as it fired 180 rounds in a 0.01 second burst. At its peak, it can send, almost literally, a wall of 24,000 9mm rounds moving at Mach 5 that can eat through any armor it faces.
In 2007, the U.S. Navy announced that it would buy the Metal Storm grenade variant, but shy of that… nothing. The first prototype was created in June, 1997. It’s been over 20 years now and it’s never been fielded in combat.
These could revolutionize drone warfare.
(Metal Storm Limited)
In short, the reason why this potential game-changer has never seen combat is mostly tied to legal issues surrounding contracts. But there’s also the rarely-brought-up question of, “how would we use it?”
Originally developed by J. Mike O’Dwyer under a company of the same name, Metal Storm Limited, the technology behind how the gun electronically fires caseless rounds has been tossed between several countries’ governments and many more companies, acquiring the intellectual property and trademark claims along the way. The rights ultimately landed in the hands of Australian-owned DefendTex.
Owning this patent not only keeps the original Metal Storm under their corporate thumb, but also any variations, including the 3GL grenade launcher, which fires three rounds from one of its four barrels in seconds, and the MAUL (Multi-shot Accessory Under-barrel Launcher), an under-barrel 5-round shotgun using the same technology.
On the bright side, if you were turned to paste by this thing, you’d be obliterated in milliseconds and wouldn’t even have a chance to blink.
(Screengrab via YouTube)
Outside of legal issues, there are some very obvious downsides: cost and weight. Its applications, as is, are very circumstantial. It’s extremely heavy and requires plenty of prep time to set up effectively just for a single use. Then, there’s the insane amount of money that goes into fully loading it, only to have it waste nearly all of its ammunition.
Aiming this thing is also a challenge. It was originally conceived to remain stationary and to be used in setting up ambushes. Anything in its line of fire would be effectively turned into a paste, but by stepping a few feet to either side, the target remains fully composed solid.
These extreme limitations aren’t factors for the easier-to-sell versions, the MAUL and the 3GL, which can all easily be manned, moved, and loaded. The MAUL can easily be modified to fire less-lethal rounds and has been issued to Papau New Guinean prison guards while the 3GL has been fitted onto the Cerberus UAV with 3 rounds in a single barrel.
There is still hope for the Metal Storm’s technology. The caseless, electronically fired, multi-stacked rounds will change future wars. But, for now, don’t hold your breath on getting your hands on one of the 9mm versions.
College life and Navy life are very different, but there’s one thing they have in common: worried parents.
Whether you’re in college or the Navy, you can count on parents constantly checking in and asking a million questions. These conversations can feel like investigations; especially during deployments.
While Navy parents worry about their sons and daughters being in harm’s way, sailors are usually worried about more important things, like when’s the next port visit and what are their duty days. A little white lie can ease a parent’s worries. Here are some of the most common ones offered:
1. “I’m only allowed one call a month.”
2. “Sorry I won’t be able to call you during my next port visit, I have duty the entire time.”
3. “Of course I’m eating healthy, midrats is the healthiest meal of the day!”
4. “With the hours I work, I have no desire to stay out late.”
5. “Yes, I am spending my money wisely.”
6. “No, I never drink during port visits.”
7. “I spent my entire Hong Kong port visit sightseeing.”
The Civil War was a revolutionary conflict for the planet with steam power, repeating rifles, and improved cannons all changing the face of warfare. European powers sent observers to see how battles were fought, and how the rules of combat evolved as the conflict wore on.
A cannon sits on Powers Hill at Gettysburg National Military Park.
The exchange came on the morning of July 3, 1863. Two days earlier, on July 1, Confederate scouts had pushed against Union forces near the crossroads at the center of the small town of Gettysburg. Neither side’s generals had chosen the ground, but they both reinforced their men in contact and stumbled into one of the most iconic and deadly battles of the war.
On July 2, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee attacked Union positions on hilltops near the city, attempting to push them off the high ground before more Union reinforcements arrived. Confederate troops were in Union territory, and the balance of power would shift against them more and more the longer the battle wore on.
Civil War reenactors play as Confederate artillery crews in 2008.
By July 3, it was clear that Lee’s invasion of the north would have to either succeed on this day or likely fail altogether. The Union troops, on the other hand, despite some missteps, had improved their positions, and it would take great skill and a bit of luck to dislodge them.
Union forces under Maj. Gen. George Meade were arrayed on a series of ridges, and attackers were able to push Confederate troops out of a nearby field in the early hours of the morning. In a bid to re-seize the initiative and soften Union defenses in the early afternoon, Lee ordered a massive artillery bombardment of the Union troops, focused on Seminary and Cemetery ridges where he hoped to attack and pierce the lines.
When the afternoon artillery duel began, guns on each side began a disciplined but heavy bombardment of the opposing forces. For over 90 minutes, Confederate artillery tried to pick off Union guns and crews as the men ran back and forth from the caissons and ammo dumps to the guns to keep the rate of fire up. Good crews on either side could fire two rounds per minute. Thousands of rounds crisscrossed the field.
It’s the largest artillery barrage ever in the western hemisphere. The Union leaders ordered many of their crews to cease fire in an attempt to fool the Confederates into thinking the Union cannon crews were broken.
If the Confederate bombardment were successful, it would create a temporary gap in the Union defenses, an area where battered riflemen and depleted artillery crews would be hard-pressed to hold the line while reinforcements were moved in.
Union artillery holds its position at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Lee prepared a massive infantry column, the core of the assault coming from Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s 4,500-man division, with about 10,000 more men coming from other brigades, for an attack directly into the Union center. This would break the Army of the Potomac in half and force Union Maj. Gen. George C. Meade to withdraw or allow his men to be cut apart.
Despite the quiet Union guns, despite the massive infantry column, some of the Confederate generals still believed that the infantrymen could not possibly capture the hill. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was one of the top detractors of the plan, respectfully telling Lee that he didn’t think 15,000 men existed who could take the hill.
He would be proven right. The Union guns had been mostly sheltered by trees and fortifications during the exchange, and they survived the Confederate artillery attack in good order. Many of the guns on Cemetery Ridge were still in perfect order with ready crews manning them.
The 15,000 Confederate troops faced a march with .75 miles of open ground between the last spot of cover and the first Union defenses. For the entire distance, the Union cannon crews could hit them with balls and shot.
In what would become known as Pickett’s Charge, the Confederates came anyway. The artillery shredded their lines, but still, the Confederates advanced. Units faltered and were slaughtered wholesale on the open field, but the Confederates were undeterred. Fences at the start and end of the march had to be climbed or dismantled under fire, but the Confederates came anyway.
Union troops who had suffered devastating losses the year before at the Battle of Fredericksburg were merciless as the Confederate troops fell, yelling “Fredericksburg” at the fallen.
The Confederate troops did make it into infantry range, once charging at Union lines from only 80 yards away, but Union troops behind stone walls, fallen timbers, or raised terrain slaughtered even these attackers.
In total, Union forces lost 1,500 soldiers. The Confederate losses are estimated to have been over 6,000. The day featured what was, by some measurements, the greatest artillery exchange in Western Hemisphere history. It was an easy contender, by most measures, as the top exchange of the Civil War.
But it had failed to carry the day, failed to achieve its objective.
Aaron Shamo went from being a clean-cut Eagle Scout and deacon in the Mormon church to a clean-cut but alleged fentanyl drug lord on the darknet. When police raided his home in 2016, they found $1.2 million, another $2.2 million worth of product – some 95,000 pills.
Shamo was just 26-years-old, living in a quiet, affluent suburb in Utah when police took him into custody. He was playing his Xbox like any other twenty-something when DEA agents and a SWAT team kicked in his door.
Shamo grew up like most kids in Suburban Utah, a member of the church of Latter-Day Saints, and a pretty normal kid by his sister’s account. He may not have been good at sports and didn’t excel at his studies, but he wasn’t in any serious trouble as a teen, either. His parents still thought he was headed down a bad path because he rebelled against their authority, skipped school and church, and began smoking marijuana, so they sent him to a “lockdown facility” in La Verkin, Utah. That’s where Aaron graduated from high school and earned his Eagle Scout status.
He seemed to have changed, no longer had a temper, and was even pleasant to be around. He soon went to college, but that wasn’t for him. He would much rather spend time outdoors than going to class. His parents soon stopped paying his tuition. It was in college he got interested in Bitcoin, the popular cryptocurrency. He thought he could make real money in Bitcoin. But he went a different route.
A Dark web drugstore similar to the one Aaron Shamo ran as “Pharm-Master.”
Shortly after his interest in Bitcoin grew, around 2014, he and a partner ordered latex gloves, postage, bubble wrap and gelatin capsules – everything needed to set up a pill press. His skills using the dark web for Bitcoin also provided an area of exchange to ship those pills. Aaron Shamo was now Pharma-Master on AlphaBay, the biggest darknet market. He was ordering his product from China and having it delivered to the homes of nearby friends and was the only bulk distributor around.
Pharma-Master offered anything from valium, Xanax, oxycodone, and MDMA, to Viagra and fentanyl powder. His wealth surged during this time, and everyone thought it was solely due to Bitcoin. Because few people truly understand how Bitcoin works, that was usually as far as the questioning went. Not for U.S. Customs or the Drug Enforcement Agency, however.
Pure fentanyl is so powerful, it can cause an overdose with direct skin contact. Officers wore HAZMAT suits to raid Shamo’s house.
The Feds began seizing his shipments in June 2016, but that didn’t stop Shamo from conducting business as usual. His longtime partner became less involved with the business. Shamo began to feel like he was being followed, and he was right. Homeland Security flipped a number of confidential informants who spilled the beans on his whole operation. Shamo was shipping fentanyl labeled as oxycodone around the country, significantly contributing to the nationwide opioid crisis and causing potential overdoses everywhere he shipped.
On Aug. 30, 2019, Shamo was convicted by a federal jury in Salt Lake City of organizing and directing a drug trafficking organization that imported fentanyl and alprazolam from China and used the drugs to manufacture fake oxycodone pills made with fentanyl and counterfeit Xanax tablets.
“The opioid crisis has devastated individuals, families, and entire communities across the nation. Aaron Shamo controlled and led a highly profitable organization that delivered fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills to every state in the union. Though his customers remained faceless on the dark web, their despair was real. Shamo profited off that despair and a jury of his peers has held him accountable,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said.
Shamo will be sentenced on Dec. 3, 2019. Prosecutors want him to spend the rest of his life in prison.
The first time the radio was used in an aircraft, the message wasn’t one about science, technology, or even the wild blue yonder. It was much more mundane – but still unexpectedly hilarious. When the crew of the Airship America decided to attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, they opted to take a radio system with them along with a cat that had been living in the airship’s hangar, one named Kiddo. The first message transmitted by the airmen was about Kiddo.
“Roy, come and get this goddam cat!”
It was 1910, and America’s airman Walter Wellman loaded five companions onto the airship America in an effort to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. Though the mission would end in a kind of disaster (and not cross the Atlantic), it would still be historic, setting a number of firsts and records for traveling by air. The ship traveled more than a thousand miles and stayed in the air for a whopping 72 hours. Wellman also decided he would take a radio system and an engineer with him so he could communicate with ships below.
He also brought a stray cat, one they named Kiddo. But Kiddo wasn’t as daring as his human companions – at least not at first. And he made his wariness known to the rest of the crew.
“We can never have luck without a cat on board,” said navigator Murray Simon, a superstitious former sailor.
Kiddo was especially vocal with the radio engineer, Melvin Vaniman. Vaniman didn’t seem to like cats that much in the first place but when Kiddo began meowing loudly, crying, and running around “like a squirrel in a cage,” Vaniman decided enough was enough, and he made the first-ever ship-to-shore radio transmission to a secretary back on terra firma:
“Roy, come and get this goddam cat!”
The crew weren’t heartless. They tried to lower Kiddo into a trailing motorboat down below using a canvas bag, but the seas were much too rough to successfully do it, so they had to take him back up. Kiddo eventually got his air-legs and began to grow more accustomed to the floating dirigible. He even became a valuable member of the crew, warning them when the barometer dropped and a storm was on the horizon.
Wellman’s airship from the deck of the SS Trent.
It was the weather that would force the crew of the America to abandon ship and that particular plan to cross the Atlantic. Just a few hours into the journey, two of their engines failed. They proceeded with the remaining engine to drive them, but they soon realized it was throwing a lot of sparks into the area of a very hydrogen-filled balloon. Averting the likely fire, they ditched the airship and headed for the attached lifeboat. Kiddo came along too.
The America also sent the first radio distress signal from an aircraft when the airmen decided to abandon the ship. When the lifeboat detached from the airship, the balloon lifted off like never before – and was never seen again. The crew were rescued by a British steamer, the SS Trent. Kiddo and the crew returned to New York. Kiddo received a hero’s welcome and spent the rest of his days as an attraction at Gimbel’s department store.
Modern wars are defined by a number of technologies like guided missiles, helicopters, and submarines.
Except all three of those military technologies have been in service for hundreds of years. Here’s the story behind 5 modern weapons that have been in service for hundreds of years.
The ink had barely dried on the U.S. Declaration of Independence when an American launched the first submarine attack in history. Ezra Lee piloted the submarine, dubbed the Turtle, against the HMS Eagle but failed to sink it.
The Turtle was sent against a number of other ships but never claimed a kill before sinking in 1776.
Once the Kettering reached it’s target, its wings would fall off, the engine would stop, and the craft would fall to the ground with a 180-pound explosive. But the missile had a lot issues and the war ended before it saw combat.
Joining the military is a great opportunity for many young adults. There are countless benefits for those serve, ranging from financial security, means for obtaining a higher education, developing skills desired by future employers, and, most importantly, a way for someone to participate in something bigger than themselves.
If you want to sign your name on the dotted line in hopes of making a better life for yourself — you’re making an excellent decision.
If your sole purpose in enlisting is to collect fat paychecks… just know that literally everyone under the rank of general is still waiting for get-that-check-engine-light-looked-at kind of money. That being said, enlisting for cash is just scratching the surface of dumb, preconceived notions that troops come in with.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t meant to stop anyone from joining the military — after all, Uncle Sam needs that butt in OD Green. Just know that if you’re dead set on some of the following, it’s going to be painfully hilarious to everyone around you when the truth sets in.
The military also provides enough options to help you float until pay day, if you’d like.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Victor Mincy)
The pay is great
As mentioned above, troops don’t get paid all that well — especially when first entering the service. It’s been long joked within the military that you don’t actually break minimum wage until you reach E-3 (which usually takes a year without waiver) when you factor in work call at 0500 for PT and close out formation at 1700 — a 12-hour work day.
This number obviously doesn’t include overtime pay, 24-hour duties, weekend and holiday pay, or the fact that being in the military is a 24/7 job. If you do look at it like a 24-hour job, you’re looking more towards E-7 (at over 8 years time in service) or O-3 just to break minimum wage.
On the bright side, you’ll get two weeks of paid vacation if you use your leave days correctly!
To be honest, unless you become a drill instructor/drill sergeant, you’re not going to do much yelling for the sake of yelling.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Bryan Nygaard)
You’ll get to boss others around
If you thought that joining the military was the pathway to position where you can just yell at people and order them around, you’re absolutely wrong and would be a craptastic leader.
The only way for you to actually “yell at and boss people around” without getting some wall-to-wall counselling from your peers is to be in a position over someone — which won’t be simply handed to you. Even then, no one will respect you — your superiors, peers, and subordinates alike — if you don’t offer them that same respect.
Everyone wants to talk about the awesome moments of being in the infantry but never acknowledges all of the suck that comes with it.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)
By joining the military, you’ll be killing bad guys all the time
There’s always that one kid who played too much Call of Duty or watched too many war films and came away with the wrong idea about the military. The fact is, killing bad guys accounts for (maybe) the tiniest fraction of your time spent — even if go infantry.
Let’s overlook, just for a moment, the serious mental issue at play here and say that when this doofus says he wants to “kill all the bad guys,” he means he wants to be a grunt. First, they’d need to be part of the 20% of the military considered combat arms. Then, they’d need to be a part of the 60% of troops that actually deploy at least once. Then, they’ll have to be one of the 10% of troops who actually see combat — and this is skewed because it includes every troop that’s seen combat even just a single time, not the sustained badassery that most of these would-be killers expect. That number is astronomically low.
Then you’ll run into the old, “you’ve already got 10 years in, you might as well stay until retirement!” …And we do…
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Yasmin D. Perez)
You can simply collect the benefits and bounce
If you think you’ll just come in for the three years and get your full ride of the GI Bill, I won’t stop you. Good luck with that — the military has a way of keeping troops in.
It’s not really clear why it works so well, but the one of the most repeated lines by senior NCOs when retention numbers are low is, “you won’t find a job out there in the real world except Walmart greeter!” That one phrase has done more to keep troop numbers up than any motivational recruitment ad.
You’ll be so acquainted with the world’s deserts that you can tell exactly where someone is in the world just by the color of the dirt and sand around them…
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Garas)
By joining the military, you’ll travel the world
Oh, you’ll travel the world alright. There’s no denying that. It’s just that none of the locations on your bucket list match up with anywhere Uncle Sam wants to send you.
Sure, there’s a possibility that you’ll get stationed in Hawaii, Europe, or East Asia. But chances are far better that you’ll get sent to the exotic Fort Sill, Oklahoma, or tropical Minot AFB, North Dakota, before going to Trashcanistan.
Confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December 2019, the Honorable Dana Deasy is the Department of Defense chief information officer. With more than 38 years of experience leading and delivering large-scale information technology strategies and projects, Deasey serves as the primary advisor to the Secretary of Defense for matters of information management, information technology and information assurance, as well as non-intelligence space systems, critical satellite communications, navigation and timing programs, spectrum and telecommunications.
The Honorable Dana Deasy, Department of Defense chief information officer, and Lieutenant General Bradford J. “B.J.” Shwedo is the Director for Command, Control, Communications, and Computers (C4) /Cyber, and Chief Information Officer, Joint Staff, J6, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., discuss the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the DoD’s massive shift to teleworking, as well as, the Commercial Virtual Remote Environment, modernizing the cyber infrastructure, deterrence to cyber-attacks and the implementation of the Telework Readiness Task Force. Video // Andrew Breese and Travis Burcham
Lieutenant General Bradford J. “B.J.” Shwedo is the Director for Command, Control, Communications, and Computers (C4) /Cyber, and Chief Information Officer, Joint Staff, J6, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C. He develops C4 capabilities; conducts analysis and assessments; provides Joint and Combined Force C4 guidance, and evaluates C4 requirements, plans, programs and strategies for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
During this interview with Airman magazine, Deasy and Shwedo discussed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the DoD’s massive shift to teleworking. They also spoke on the Commercial Virtual Remote Environment, modernizing the cyber infrastructure, deterrence to cyber-attacks and the implementation of the Telework Readiness Task Force.
Airman magazine: The COVID – 19 pandemic has driven the DoD to pivot to maximum telework capacity on short notice. What effect has this had on our ability to support the National Defense Strategy?
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: I think quite frankly, it’s made us more resilient. The first thing that came to my mind when we first got this tasker, is never let a good crisis go to waste. We always knew we needed to do telework, but in a battle for finite resources, we were never able to fund those. And rapidly, this gave us an opportunity to correct a lot of our shortcomings, so that’s why I feel we’re more resilient. We now have a better comms (communications) situation than we had six months ago.
Dana Deasy: I think if you go back to when we first kicked off the teleworking task force, we had some basic principles we wanted to live by. Principle number one was, ensure we could quickly get as many of our employees, service men and women working from home in a safe way. Two, was ensuring that the technical staff could do their jobs in a safe way. Third, we asked ourselves, is what we are going to build or put in place not only going to get us through the pandemic, but how does this also set us up for a better tomorrow when it comes to supporting NDS (National Defense Strategy)? I think that has actually been a very important principle, because every time we thought through a problem we were trying to solve, we looked at the immediacy. Then we always would stop and say, “Okay, but down the road is this sustainable? Are we building this in a way that will help the war fighter over the long run?”
Airman magazine: The Secretary of Defense has defined our current times as “a new normal” that we will have to adapt to for an extended period of time in order to maintain a high degree of readiness. What are we learning about our infrastructure and our ability to communicate, lead during this time?
Dana Deasy: Here again, how we’ve conducted ourselves throughout this has been looking towards the future. People have said, “Will we go back to the way we used to work?” I don’t believe we ever go completely back. I think there is a new norm where we will have certain types of our workforce that will continue to work from home. I don’t think that we should think for a minute that we are out of this crisis and we’re ready to go back to a normal situation.
So, we continue to run our tele-tasking workforce, we continue to meet as if we’re still in the middle of trying to solve this problem. Let’s face it, we are going to have a sustained, new set of assets that we have been building out of COVID here, that are going to be here forever going forward. It’s not like we shut this down, we pack it up and we return it. We are going to keep what we’ve put in place. And so, I think this puts us in a much better position, if that day should come in the future, for whatever the reason might be, where the DOD has to go back to a maximum teleworking situation. We not only have the know-how, but we’ve created the technical assets to make that happen quickly.
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: : I was doing a forum with cadets, midshipmen and industry, and the Superintendent of the Air Force Academy kicked off the whole forum saying, “Now that we’re talking about the new normal and now that we know we can do this, I know every cadet and midshipman will hate what I’m going to say, but we have had the last snow day at the United States Air Force Academy.”
It drives home the point that now we know we can do these things. We’re setting up the infrastructure and it gives you more options and makes you more combat survivable in a myriad of scenarios. There’s no reason to ever want to go back. Quite frankly the landscape, not just within the Department of Defense, but across the world, has changed because of this experience.
Airman magazine: Telework has always been viewed as a benefit to employees, but has quickly become a need for readiness and safety. Can you talk to the nature of telework and how this time may shift the mindset and modernize the capability of the DoD?
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: I would say that the thing that directed us and the rule sets that we had associated with telework, no longer exist. So, the limitations of going into your e-mail, for instance, it’s been blown away. On top of that, we were always talking about giving people meaningful work and there was a cut-off where classified was concerned. Well, we’ve figured that out and we’re spending lots of money to enable that capability.
We’re finding that our folks are doing a great job from home or from the office. When you look at the larger strategies, like joint all domain command and control, and the things that we’re affording for our strategies in the National Defense Strategy, all of these things we’re discussing are further enablers to ensure that happens.
I believe we’re not going to turn back. The rules set has been blown away and we’re finding, as with every technology, better ways of doing business every day.
Dana Deasy: Could you imagine either of us standing up in front of the Air Force or even the whole DoD back in January of this year and saying, “Hey, we’ve got a whole new model how you can equip, train, create readiness, do operational reviews. People will be able to do that from home. People will be able to do that in a highly collaborative way and you will learn that you can do things highly effectively. I think we would really struggle trying to get people convinced.
You know, COVID forced us to revisit what we thought were the traditional ways of doing your various training, readiness, et cetera. I think now that people have actually seen that people can still do the training, they can still have conversations about readiness, they can still do their ops reviews is quite telling.
I think services such as the Air Force are going to challenge themselves and say, “Okay, we’ve been working this way, what can we continue to do versus falling back to all of the old ways of working going forward?”
Airman magazine: Speaking of the old ways, what was the mindset regarding telework when you were young officers coming up?
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: I think it was probably clouded by the limitation of technology, quite frankly. You can roll in and maybe get your e-mail but OWA (Outlook Web Access; email) wouldn’t let you get in and then would kick you out, it was incredibly frustrating. You had a lack of capability to do any classified work, rapidly. It (telework) had a bad connotation because there was not a lot of what would be portrayed as productive work.
I think all of the things that we set in motion very quickly, and proved that we can do, have blown away all of those false mindsets and all of the naysayers, quite frankly, were proven wrong.
Dana Deasy: I’d say all of the services probably had a preconceived view that the only way you can truly get readiness done, that you can get operational planning done, is you’ve got to have people face to face sitting in a room.
To General Shwedo’s point, about new tools that are available today, 10 years ago, five years ago, to be able to put 500 people in a video conference where they all would have full motion, not choppiness, fully could hear each other. They could put charts into that presentation. They could mark up things as if they were going to a whiteboard sitting in a command center, is quite telling. I would say that it’s become very clear that the technology is at the right level in capabilities today. But it’s not only the technology, it’s the way that people are getting creative and using that technology. I think is what’s made all of the difference in the world.
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: I’ll just finish up. When you look at all of the things that we’re being asked to do in the National Defense Strategy, joint all domain command-and-control in air, land, sea, space, cyber in a globally-integrated form, everything Mr. Deasy just described, is going to be your foundational base.
We are getting stronger on all of these things. Going back to never let a crisis go to waste, for a lot of these things, per Mr. Deasy’s scenario, if we walked in and tried to make a funding line for that, it probably would fall below the cutoff lines. So, this has been fortuitous, and not just enabling the telework, but also forwarding our defense strategies.
Dana Deasy: In the NDS we talk about allies and partnerships. We’ve clearly been able to demonstrate through teleworking that you can have very, very effective meetings. As a matter of fact, you might almost argue that when you’re talking to your allies and partners, that’s typically someone getting on a plane and going to a different time zone, you’ll lose a day going over, you lose a day coming back at minimum. This is a case where people were able to quickly say, “I need to speak to so-and-so,” whether it’s the U.K., Australia or whatever, and make that happen.
I think even in our relationships with our allies and partners, people are going to be stepping back and going, “Why do we really need to do all of this always face to face?”
Airman magazine: The DoD has a culture of innovating as a necessity to adversity, are there any analogies you can relate this crisis to from our history?
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: I struggle with that question. I think there was lots of standard planning processes that we attacked this problem with. So, the first thing you do is study your adversary and you have to protect your forces. So, to negate the adversary’s strength, if you want to superimpose COVID on this, the strength was getting us all together, so we’re going to take that away from them and force telework.
Also, you need to remember that the enemy gets a vote, and in this scenario, there were multiple enemies and we anticipated that when we opened up this attack access, when we brought all of these different people into these different forums, we had to make our folks ready for that realm.
What did we do? We did lots of education. Mr. Deasy’s shop and the greater task force put lots of products to increase the knowledge base, because they were going to be fighting in this cyber environment. The next piece is we needed to increase their tools and needed to ensure that we were securely operating. And then the last part is we knew they were coming, so increased vigilance. So, across the board we were attacking it as a battle plan and we were doing the organized train-and-equip things that is standard operation when we have an adverse situation.
Dana Deasy: I guess if I had to pick an analogy, and I have no idea how well this analogy works, but I think aspects of it work. I remember back when President Kennedy said, “We’re going to go to the moon.” We didn’t really know how we were going to get there or how we were going to pull that off, but a lot of new things were invented that were used not only for space missions, but were used for consumers. They were used for defense. And I think by us being forced to rethink our paradigm around how we get things done throughout the DOD, we created things, tools, techniques and technologies that we will find other ways to continue to use throughout the DOD.
Airman magazine: To accommodate the massive shift to telework, the DoD has activated more than 900,000 remote user accounts under the Commercial Virtual Remote Environment (CVR) launched in late March. Can you explain this system and the enhanced collaboration capabilities?
Dana Deasy: You know, it’s interesting, when we knew we were going to have to start putting people at home, everybody was fixated, early on, around e-mail. Everybody thought that was the way that people were going to solve how we were going to communicate.
But what is it about humans? Humans like the visual, they like to hear people’s voices, there’s a stimulus that occurs. We quickly realized it wasn’t about e-mail, it wasn’t about pushing a document from point A to point B, it was about trying to create and mimic if you and I were sitting right in our same office together, or if we were all in a conference room together.
We pivoted to this idea of what people really want is to look and talk to somebody on video. They want to push a button, have a phone call. They want to have chats, they want to move documents back and forth. So, CVR was the culmination of the variety of things that you think about that you do every day, when you’re in the office, that all came together through the concept of delivering a CVR.
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: I would say that they brought together a team very quickly. What was impressive was, we’ve watched kind of lethargic pace of whenever we wanted to bring on a new tool or anything else and the fact that this task force had NSA (National Security Agency), CYBERCOM (Cyber Command), DISA (Defense Information Systems Agency) and all of the services knew we needed tools very quickly.
You rapidly found things that they were already working on being brought forward. What was most important was for all of them to look at it quickly and get approval on a secure solution to implement them fast. Had we not had this crisis, I will tell you, the timelines associated with a lot of these initiatives would probably water your eyes.
Dana Deasy: You know, I’ll end by saying, when we set up CVR, we had no idea what the uptake would be. I remember early days, somebody asked me, “What would be an ambitious goal?” I said, “Boy, if we get up to 100,000 people using this tool, that would be great.”
But, never underestimate the need for humans to want to try to find ways to communicate in styles that work for them. And it clearly became apparent that we were going to blow by that 100,000 and to your point, you know, almost 900,000 accounts later and still growing.
Airman magazine: How has the coronavirus task force and relief legislation for DoD to support IT procurement and increase agency network bandwidth directly impacted the Air Force?
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: If you’re just talking about the Air Force, they got about $47 million. They went from VPN (Virtual Private Network) users of about 9,000 users to 430,000. So, it was very, very quick.
Remember, when I was talking about getting tools on board, they rapidly found secure (classified network access), because that was the main thing we were concerned about; getting secret-level capabilities as fast as we could. So, the ABMS, the Air Battle Management System program, device one, others, they had some things that we rapidly took, experimented and started using those pieces.
Also, for the folks that were able to use that just at the unclassified level, the Bring Your Own Device program, which had been in the process for a long time but rapidly got attention, you’ll find that DISA, Vice Admiral Nancy Norton and her team, did a lot of quick work to acquire products and push them out to the combatant commands and the other places to enable this capability.
Dana Deasy: I’d say the Air Force, not necessarily for teleworking, had been laying a lot of groundwork. If you think about the Joint All Domain, for some time they had been spending a lot of time and effort and money on technology to figure out how to get warfighters to collaborate in a different way, either within the Air Force or across services. I think that mindset and the fact that they were already down that road, when you overlaid COVID on top of that and the need for teleworking, I think they had positioned themselves well to be able to accelerate quickly.
Airman magazine: As we continue to adapt with increased telework, how do we ensure the adoption of cybersecurity strategies are ingrained into our solutions and not an add-on?
Dana Deasy: From the moment we held the first task force and we talked about keeping people safe, embedded in that was the need to keep people safe from in the cyber realm as well.
One of things I was worried about early on, was when people are sitting inside the Pentagon, or wherever they’re sitting around the world, they feel there is this extra layer of protection and when they go home and when they think they have that same layer of protection.
We spent a lot of time in the early days of educating the workforce. “Remember, when you are at home, here’s what’s different versus if you’re sitting inside the Pentagon.”
And I think that early education and coaching really paid dividends in helping to build a more safe, secure environment for us.
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: I would say that the education’s not going to go away. As a matter of fact, I see us continuing because this is a thinking enemy when it comes to this realm.
Also, when we start talking about transitioning from being very narrowly focused on a violent extremist threat to what we’re being directed in a National Defense Strategy, you’ll find that investment, attention and capabilities are herding us in a direction where we’re not going to go back to the way we were doing things.
We, quote, “accepted risks” in this violent extremist fight because the foes we were fighting did not have capability to counter our command-and-control systems, to jam our capabilities. All of these things that we’ve now teased out during this COVID environment are going to be very applicable for the future and the National Defense Strategy.
Airman magazine: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released an interim Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) 3.0 guidance focused on the rapid wide spread transition of telework, can you briefly outline this guidance?
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: This is an initiative from the Department of Homeland Security. I think it’s very helpful. The reasons why I say that is, watching hackers for years and years, like water, they go to the least defended place. So, you’ll see them fish around and they’ll hit hard points, and then go down to the lowest level.
What they produced was kind of a government-wide capability. So, the Pentagon can build their castle walls very high, but if our interaction with the rest of the government’s very low, they’ll go to that place and now they’re in the castle.
So that’s the larger conversation. When we start talking about defense for cyber and the defense for the future of telework, we have to have more of a whole of government (outlook). We have to have more of these collaborative documents and instruction as we go forward.
We have regular meetings with DHS and others to start securing the cyber landscape.
Airman magazine: Are we seeing increased cyber-attacks during the pandemic and does teleworking pose a greater threat to our security?
Dana Deasy: You know, every day I come to the Pentagon is a great threat day. We continue to use technology and we make it more and more pervasive. Every day you continue to do that, you are increasing the surface base of risk. Obviously, now that you’re taking a million people and you’re putting them at home, you’re increasing that risk.
One of the things that I think NSA and U.S. Cyber Command and JFHQ-DODIN (Joint Force Headquarters – Department of Defense information network) did extremely well, was in the very early days of our task force, we started getting them to give us the intel briefs. They were reporting what the adversaries were doing and there wasn’t a single meeting we had where we didn’t stop and say “OK, if we introduce X and we make that part of what we’re going to now provide for teleworking, what do we understand about an adversary’s intent or an adversary’s knowledge as far as how they can exploit that?”
From very early on, everything we architected, we always pivoted to ensure that we were understanding what was the exposure side, how would we monitor for it and how would we correct for it?
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: I will say with – there is something to the yin and yang. With great challenges comes great opportunity. So, what we found was, yes, we were expanding our attack access, but we also knew they were coming.
When you know they’re coming – and that’s not always the case in lower level conflicts – we got to study them, we got to move and it is a constant cycle. It is a spy versus spy. They are a learning enemy and what we’ve got to do is incorporate that.
And then back to the opportunity point, once you defend, now you have greater opportunities to go in the other direction. So as opposed to taking your football and going home, you look at it in the other direction as a great opportunity to start exploiting the cyber landscape.
Airman magazine: How do we build a more modern architecture and what does it look like? What will it look like in 10 years?
Dana Deasy: I think what we’ve done with CVR is an absolute example of a modern architecture. If you say today, “what does modern computing look like?” whether it’s in the defense world, whether it’s in other agencies, the consumer world, it starts with an instantaneous ability to reach out, touch somebody, communicate with them, get information from Point A to Point B.
Then there is the whole idea of how machines will help us think more rapidly, help us take more decisions more rapidly in the future? That will be things like artificial intelligence. If we’re going to have those machines help us think more rapidly, take better decisions, then our quality of data is going to have to change dramatically in terms of how we bring it together. The Joint All Domain discussion is a real perfect example, in that, you’ve got to create that instantaneous ability for war fighters to communicate. They’ve got to have the right data and they’re going to want the assistance of machine learning or artificial intelligence.
All of these elements, we were working already. I think this element of how you get people connected at large scale was just accelerated in COVID, but we were already on that journey towards that modern architecture.
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: When we talk about with Joint All Domain C2 (Command and Control) you’ll find we are looking 10 years out when we’re thinking, but the bottom line is we want to be able to securely talk anywhere on the planet at any level of classification. We want all of the data that Mr. Deasy’s talking about and, quite frankly, we’ve got to have a tablet or something that’s going to give us the ability to manage it.
I anticipate it’ll be managed by a series of apps that you’ll either turn on or turn off to rapidly overcome whatever event you’re in, the bottom-line is we have an on-ramp and it was actually aided by the COVID crisis.
Airman magazine: As the increasing number of cyber actors makes our systems vulnerable, how do we defend the cyber infrastructure? How do you build retaliation credibility in cyber?
Dana Deasy: Well I’ll speak to the defense side of this. You’re going to have to experiment and try new things, especially where you’re dramatically changing and pivoting your workforce – in this case, you know, pre-COVID we were maybe 90, 95,000 people any given day around the DoD world were teleworking and you’re now sitting over a million.
That right there is going to force you to step back and have a really hard, tough conversation about what defense looks like in that world? And I think there is defense around how you monitor. How do you collect the intel to know about our adversary’s intent? How do you educate the end user on their responsibilities of what they need to do differently when working from home?
Throughout this, we always asked ourselves adversary intent; do we have the tools to be able to monitor what’s going on with the adversary and are we feeling confident that our workforce and the men and women that serve this great country know exactly what’s expected of them?
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: I would say the holistic nature of taking on offense and defense and then operating the net is making sure that we’re exploiting our advantages and negating any of their strengths while you go forward.
On the defensive standpoint, you’ll rapidly find that we need to reduce their attack platforms – so cyber hygiene, education, reduce their infrastructure, reduce their tools, their capabilities and you do that from publicly exposing those tools or where you’ve seen us publicly expose their hackers on the defensive side.
On the attack side – on the offensive side – you’ll see opportunities, on-ramps from defense to defense and going back and forth. I love football, but it’s not football, it really is hockey. I like the hockey analogy because it goes a lot faster and it hurts bad if you don’t do it right. The bottom-line is going back and forth along those lines, there’s great opportunities and the whole time you’re trying to ensure that you have access and the capability to communicate where your bad guys do not.
Airman magazine: How critical is cyber to the future of the U.S. deterrent capability? How do we communicate our capabilities in order to deter adversaries?
Dana Deasy: Well first, you’ve got to buy into the premise that future warfare is going to be about who has superior technology. Then you then go to the next premise – then it’s all going to be about who can take out, disable, disrupt, spoof that technology. That becomes completely paramount.
I firmly believe that we’re looking to a future where everything that we are building, has to start with the mindset of technology’s going to be our superiority and how do we protect that, defend that and how do we use that technology, not only the connect side, but the cyber side to put us in advantageous position at all times?
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: We’ve been very clear our strategy is to do Joint All Domain C2 – air, land, sea, space, cyber. Unfortunately, I think some people have been confused. They would probably pick the worst analogy, which is nuclear weapons and superimpose it on cyber and there’s nothing that could be worse, because they’re two completely different worlds.
The capabilities to be able to produce a nuclear weapon or a cyber effect are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The reason why I bring that up is they carry that analogy further and they believe that we will only play this game of responding in kind, like mutually assured destruction with nuclear weapons. That is a false premise and could lead people down a very, very wrong road.
In 2011, we made very clear if you have cyber effects that are on the same level as any other weapon, we may come back at you not with cyber, but with some other kinetic strategy. A lot of people who were banking on this in-kind game plan rapidly destroyed all of their war plans, because they thought they could hit us and they could absorb our cyber blow; both are bad premises.
I think when you have the synergistic nature of air, land, sea, space and cyber and not separate them out, then it’s just another tool in your toolbox. You’re not going to put a round peg in a square hole, you are going to use the precise weapon in the precise scenario, for the precise solution.
Airman magazine: Is there anything else you would like to add about or discussions today that we have not asked?
Dana Deasy: I think that the Department of Defense, or maybe just the government in general, sometimes can get a bad rap about its inflexibility; that it doesn’t have agility. It doesn’t know how to think out of the box and doesn’t know how to innovate and it doesn’t have speed.
I mean, you do not take Department of Defense and move it to a million plus people working from home with like capabilities that there were in the office, and collaborating as if they were still sitting in the office, unless you can do that quickly with agility and with real innovation. I think this just demonstrated that we have incredibly talented people and, when set free, to have to do something in a completely tight, compressed time frame, great, great results will come.
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: I’ll just end it with one of the key strengths for the United States. We have friends.
You know, our adversaries have clients. When we watched during COVID they threatened them. Taking large swathes of their property because they weren’t paying their bills or even the manipulation of their free press.
The compare and contrast model; we start defending forward in cyber is we start sharing information, we learn in both directions, that is our strength, our partnerships, with all of our friends around the world. When you think about a realm of warfare where it is a manipulation of code or tactics, techniques and procedures that can rapidly get into our attack access in the United States, one of the quickest counters is ensuring that you have friends with whom you share intel. Then you push the defense further from your borders and it rapidly provides you an information advantage for yourself and all of your partners.
Airman magazine: I always like to end with asking how proud are you of the men and women that you are working with and is there anything that you would like to say directly to them?
Dana Deasy: From the moment we kicked off the task force, it looked like an insurmountable task. You know, somebody said “Well you can’t get a million plus people working from home?” There were so many challenges. No one ever walked into any of the meetings and had an attitude of “I’m not sure we could do that.” The Department of Defense is at its best when its back’s up against the wall and it truly has to deliver on something that appears to be insurmountable. And I think this was a great example of everybody coming together across services, civilians, contractors, our industry partners and doing truly extraordinary things.
Lt. Gen. Shwedo: I would just say I’m truly humbled. Mr. Deasy hit it right on the head. I love telling a story, especially to our younger airmen, when I’m traveling around, they always have an app for me and it’s always wonderful. One Airman showed me (an app) and I was wowing over this piece and he goes “Sir, do you want to know what I call it?” I go “sure, what do you call it?” And he goes, “Stonewall.” And I’m like “cool, how did you come up with Stonewall?” And he goes, “because that’s the reception it’s going to get from my boss when I show it to him.”
I buried my head in the sand and I was like, “god dang it” cause generally the very high (ranking) and the very low (ranking) get it, it’s these curmudgeons in between. To Mr. Deasy’s point, what I have found is this has been a learning opportunity where curmudgeons are getting smaller and smaller. We’ve forced them into an uncomfortable space and they’re excelling.
Every day, I am nothing but impressed and very proud to be on this team, because these guys are very adaptable and that is probably why I feel very good about a future fight. I know we’ll outthink them, we’ll outproduce them and we’ll make whatever changes we have to make sure that we have victory at the end.
Imagine signing up to be starved, sleep deprived and trying to fight for survival during a 19-day combat leadership course in the mosquito-, rattlesnake- and wild boar-infested hilly terrain north of San Antonio with 28 other Airmen.
This was the scenario for 29 Airmen who took part in the Ranger Assessment Course at Camp Bullis, Texas, Oct. 29 – Nov. 16. Upon successful completion of RAC, the Airmen would have a chance to enroll in the coveted, yet even more grueling, Army Ranger Course.
Airmen from different career fields challenge themselves in the Ranger Assessment course which is a combat leadership course which can lead to attending Army Ranger School. The 29 Airmen who began the course came from six major commands and represented security forces, tactical air control party, airfield management and battlefield Airmen specialties.
One of the 12 instructors, Tech. Sgt. Gavin Saiz from the 435th Security Forces Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, said RAC is a combat leadership course emphasizing doctrine that uses a host of tactical and technical procedures to instruct the students, who have to learn and apply a firehose of information in a short period.
Qualified Airmen from any career field can attend the course, which is held twice a year. Efforts are underway to see if the course can be expanded to four times a year in order to conduct them in U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa and Pacific Air Forces. If the applicant is physically and mentally qualified, they can enroll in the course, but not everyone makes it to the finish line. The course has a 66-percent fail rate.
Since 1955 when the Army began accepting Airmen into its school, nearly 300 Airmen have earned the Ranger tab. The Army Ranger Course is one of the Army’s toughest leadership courses, with a concentration on small-unit tactics and combat leadership. The course seeks to develop proficiency in leading squad and platoon dismounted operations in an around-the-clock, all-climates and terrain atmosphere. RAC is based on the first two weeks of the Army Ranger Course.
The RAC instructors provide this stress-oriented battle school for airmen to develop better leadership and command tools under the mental, emotional and physical strain. They push the students to improve their resiliency and coping mechanisms.
Capt. Nicholas Cunningham, 741st Missile Security Forces Squadron, Malmstrom AFB, Montana, was one of five students selected for the Ranger Training Assessment Course (RTAC) which is a dynamic two-week spin up to acclimate Army and sometimes joint or partner service members to the rigors of Ranger School. If he successfully completes that course, he may be referred to Army Ranger School. “The course taught us tons of lessons about working as a team, pushing past mental limits and mostly leadership,” he said. “Where we as Ranger students at first were acting as individuals, we had to shift toward operating together as a single unit. The more we acted by ourselves, the worse we did as a team. To meet the objective, whether it was packing our clothes within a certain amount of time or assaulting an enemy force, required every Ranger to do their part of the task and then some.”
After the first week of classroom and hands-on training, Sloat said they select students for various leadership positions for the missions and then challenge them to plan, prepare and conduct missions, whether it is a recon or ambush mission. They plan backwards based on a higher headquarters Operation Order.
On the last day of missions, ten tired, hungry and cold Airmen made it to the finish line, having tested their mettle to the extremes. The 29 Airmen who began the course came from six major commands and represented security forces, tactical air control party, airfield management and battlefield Airmen specialties.
The first female to finish the course, 2nd Lt. Chelsey Hibsch from Yokota Air Base, Japan, has also been selected for RTAC. She said she saw more individuals fail as a follower because they didn’t want to go out of their way to help their partners succeed. “Those who were good followers tended to have others follow them with more enthusiasm because they had each other’s backs,” she said. “You learn how you react when everything is against you. Some individuals pressed on and others froze.”
The Air Force Security Forces Center, one of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center’s subordinate units, hosted the course. The instructors, all having been through the course and graduated Army Ranger School, put the students through the mind-numbing days and nights. The instructors provide this stress-oriented battle school for Airmen to develop better leadership and command tools under the mental, emotional and physical strain and improve their resiliency and coping mechanisms.
Below are the names of those who successfully met the challenge in the 19-01 Ranger Assessment Course and will be recommended to attend the Army Ranger Course: Staff Sgt. Paul Cdebaca/TACP/3 Air Support Operations Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf – Richardson, Alaska Staff Sgt. Mark Bunkley/TACP/350 SWTS – Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas Senior Airman Troy Hicks/TACP/ 7 Air Support Operations Squadron– Ft. Bliss, Texas Senior Airman Aaron Lee/SF/9 Security Forces Squadron, Beale AFB, California Senior Airman Zachary Scott/SF/802 Security Forces Squadron, JBSA – Lackland, Texas
A second group of Airmen recommended for RTAC along with Cunningham and Hibsch: Senior Airman Sage Featherstone/TACP/7 Air Support Operations Squadron, Ft. Bliss, Texas Senior Airman Austin Flores/SF/75 Security Forces Squadron, Hill AFB, Utah Staff Sgt. Brayden Morrow/SF/341 Security Support Squadron, Malmstrom AFB, Montana
So, after sitting through weeks of military transition classes, you’ve decided, “screw it! I’ll just turn to a life of crime!” Congrats! You’re joining a long tradition — a tradition mostly limited to privateers in the 17th and 18th centuries, sure, but a tradition nonetheless.
So, how about piracy? It’s glamorous, it’s profitable, and it’s exciting (also brutal, uncomfortable, and morally repugnant — but don’t get wound around the axle). Here are seven awesome pirates and their crews who turned their seafaring skills into fun, usually short careers in sea vessel re-appropriation:
The face of a blacksmith who will absolutely start a crime syndicate and use it to topple an empire.
French Pirate King and American hero Jean Lafitte
Jean Lafitte was a French blacksmith who expanded his business into smuggling and piracy until he, his brother, and their men controlled a fleet in Barataria Bay, Louisiana, that was stronger than anything the U.S. Navy had in the area. During the War of 1812, Great Britain decided that it would be way easier to buy their way into New Orleans through him than fight for it.
So they offered him ,000 and a captaincy to help them, but he apparently loved America and told Louisiana instead. Authorities didn’t believe him and imprisoned him until then-Gen. Andrew Jackson pointed out that the British would totally do that. Lafitte and his men fought on Jackson’s side during the Battle of New Orleans and were granted full pardons. They later returned to piracy, focusing on Spanish ships because screw those guys.
Madame Cheng was known for her *ahem* humble roots and her ability to cut your fleet to shreds, fool.
The prostitute pirate Madame Cheng
Cheng was a pirate king looking for love when he fell in with a prostitute and married her. She took the name Cheng I Sao and, when her husband died in 1807, turned his pirate fleet from a successful operation into possibly the largest pirate fleet in history. She overhauled the command structure and rule of law in the fleet, captured vessel after vessel, and made enemies of every European power in China at the time.
Captain Bart Roberts captured 400 ships, including one filled with the Portuguese king’s personal jewels from the middle of a 44-ship fleet.
Black Bart’s buccaneers on the Royal Fortune
Black Bart was born John Roberts (and likely was never called Black Bart while he was still alive). He was forced into piracy in 1719, but was so good at navigation and assessing enemy ships strengths that he was elected commander only six weeks later when the captain was killed.
His flagship was generally named Royal Fortune, and the crews of his ships did very well for themselves when they weren’t attempting to mutiny. Bart’s crews once stole the best ship out of the Portuguese treasure fleet of 44 ships, including two man-of-wars. Onboard were 40,000 gold coins and a cross covered in diamonds destined for the King of Portugal. Black Bart and his men stole another 400 ships during their short career from 1719 to 1722.
Unfortunately, Bart pushed it too far, constantly pushing off his retirement until a British man-of-war forced the issue with grapeshot through his neck.
Benjamin Hornigold was known for his antics as well as his fuzzy features and thin ankles.
Blackbeard’s mentor, Benjamin Hornigold
Benjamin Hornigold began his pirate career in 1713 as the head of a small gang of men in canoes, but he quickly built up a fortune and a fleet, eventually leading 350 men in the 30-gun Ranger, possibly the most heavily armed ship in the Bahamas in 1717. In one awesome incident, they stopped a merchant ship and boarded it. Instead of stealing the cargo and ship, though, they said that they had all lost their hats the night before and needed to take the crew’s.
But his men were annoyed that Hornigold never allowed them to attack British ships, so they mutinied. Hornigold fled to Jamaica and received the king’s pardon for his piracy, then became a pirate hunter. No honor among thieves.
Henry Every stands on shore while his ship fights an enemy vessel. Not sure why Every is waving his sword around while hundreds of meters from any action, but whatever.
Henry Every and the Fancy’s successful retirement
Henry Every began his life at sea as a boy and, by 1693, he was an experienced seaman. He took a slot as first mate on a privateer vessel named Charles II. But the vessel sat in port for months and the crew went without pay, so Every stole that ship and renamed it the Fancy.
Capt. Jack Rackham got his nickname, “Calico Jack,” for his wardrobe. You’d think the fact that he helped a woman escape from prison and potentially got her pregnant while she was on his crew would be what he was known for, but nope. Calico.
(George S. Harris Sons)
Calico Jack Rackham
John Rackham was known for his calico clothing and for stealing the Ranger from then-Captain Charles Vane. He used the Ranger to plunder a series of merchant vessels, but then took the King’s pardon for a seemingly peaceful life. A peaceful life that involved an affair with the wife of a pirate informant. And then he voided his pardon to break said wife out of jail, and they started a new pirate crew and ship.
Rackham had another few months of successful piracy but then partied a little too hard. Capt. Jonathan Barnet was sent to capture Rackham and found him and most of his crew too drunk to defend themselves. Rackham was executed, but the two women in his crew, the aforementioned informant wife, Anne Bonny, and another woman, Mary Read, were pregnant and allowed to live.
William Kidd, pimp and traitor
William Kidd and his motley traitors
William Kidd was commissioned as a privateer, and he and his men were sent to the West Indies in 1696 where it didn’t go well. They couldn’t find good targets, so, in 1697, they went to Madagascar and started preying on Indian vessels. Then, in 1698, they spotted the Quedagh Merchant, a 500-ton ship loaded with treasures.
Kidd and his crew stole it, making off with a massive boatload of gold, silk, spices, and other goods. Unfortunately for them, one of the owners of the ship was a senior member of the Indian government and put pressure on the English government to turn Kidd over. Kidd tried to escape to America, but he was caught, bundled to England, and hanged on May 23, 1701.
It may surprise amateur historians to discover that wars can take a humanitarian turn. There are many, many recorded instances of exceptional displays of humanity, even during the most brutal fighting. Considering the Nazis’ monstrous reputation, it would surprise many others to discover that kind of kindness among the German officers in World War II.
Even in the Wehrmacht’s most desperate days, there were some among them who retained their humanity in the middle of one of the world’s deadliest conflicts. In the Hürtgen War Cemetery in Hürtgen, Germany, you’ll find a small monument to one of these brave souls.
“No man hath greater love than he who layeth down his life for his enemy.”
As the Allies pressed their post-Normandy advantage against the Nazis in Europe, they began to outrun their supply lines. Unfortunately, the men and materiel required to bring down the Nazi regime weren’t as fast at replacing the men and materiel who were actively taking down the regime. The Allies were forced to slow down and, in some places, pause as their supplies caught up to their breakneck drive toward Germany.
This lull gave the Germans time to regroup and rest.
The worst was yet to come.
Before the Allies could enter Germany, there were a few things they had to consider. They had to cross the Rhine, the city Aachen was under siege and refused to surrender, and the Allies were afraid the Germans would destroy the Ruhr Dam. To avoid this, the Allies needed to enter the dense woods that lay between the city and the dam and do it before the Germans thought to blow the dam.
During the relatively brief lull in the fighting, the Germans made good use of the Hürtgen Forest. Its hills and ravines were loaded with minefields, booby traps, barbed wire, and anything else they could think of that might halt the Allied advance or end it entirely. What’s more, deep inside the woods were the overgrown and abandoned remains of the concrete Siegfried Line. The advantage in numbers and air superiority the Allied troops enjoyed would be completely negated by the forest. The dark woods were now almost impenetrable, and the Allies were walking into it.
This is not the place you want to assault.
For four months, the Allies sent men into the German-held meat grinder trying to dislodge the Nazis. Among the Germans trying to keep the Americans out was a Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld. Lengfeld was a young officer who had just taken command of his unit in November 1944, after his commander was killed in combat. He and his men were holed up in a lodge of some kind, sheltering themselves from the elements and trying to stave off their hunger. Next to their shelter was a minefield known as the Wilde Sau.
An American attack pushed Lengfeld’s Germans from their shelter, but his men quickly counterattacked and retook it the day after. The U.S. troops scrambled out so fast that one of them walked right into the Wilde Sau and immediately stepped on a mine. The man survived and began calling for help.
None came. And to this day, no one knows who the wounded American was.
This road once bisected the Wilde Sau minefield.
Lieutenant Lengfeld ordered his troops that no one was to fire at any Americans who would come for the man. Hours passed, the man begged anyone within earshot to help him. But no one came. The man cried for his compatriots the entire time, but still, no one came to his aid. Lengfeld decided he would help, and took a team of his medics along a road that led to the minefield. He was determined to help the man, but while his team had placed anti-tank mines along the road, he did not know the location of anti-personnel mines. Lengfeld stepped on one immediately, shredding his back. He would die later that night.
In 1994, a monument was erected at the Hürtgen Forest Cemetery, bearing the name and wartime deeds of Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld. It read:
Here in Huertgen Forest on November 12, 1944, Lt. Lengfeld, a German officer, gave his life while trying to save the life of an American soldier lying severely wounded in the “Wilde Sau” minefield and appealing for medical aid.
The monument was placed there by the American members of the 22nd Infantry Regiment to honor Lt. Lengfeld.