Red, white and blast-off - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Red, white and blast-off

(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.

BLUE Episode 11 : The Spirit of Exploration

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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.

ORBITAL AIRMEN

(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?”

Transforming Human Spaceflight

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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.

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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.”

Red, white and blast-off

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.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a Congressman’s press conference killed 800 US sailors

Loose lips sink ships, the old saying goes. Nothing could be more true. And the combination of an international audience with highly classified intelligence along with a complete lack of understanding for what’s important and what’s not can be disastrous. It should come to no surprise for anyone reading that a Congressman learned this the hard way.

Back then, at least, it was enough to cost him the next election.


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This f*cking guy.

In the early days of World War II, the Japanese didn’t really understand Allied submarine technology. Most importantly, they had no idea American and British submarines could dive so deep. When fighting Allied subs, the Japanese set their depth charge fuses to explode at a depth roughly equivalent to what their submarines could handle, which was a lot more shallow than American and British subs could dive. As a result, the survival rate of Allied submarines encountering Japanese ships was amazingly high.

For the first year or so of the war, the Americans enjoyed this advantage in the Pacific. Japanese anti-submarine warfare was never sophisticated enough to realize its fatal flaws, and American sailors’ lives were saved as a result. Then Kentucky Congressman Andrew J. May made a visit to the Pacific Theater and changed all that.

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Droppin’ charges, droppin’ bodies

The Balao-class submarines of the time could dive to depths of some 400 feet, much deeper than the depth Japanese ships set their depth charges to explode. Congressman May was informed of this during his visit, along with a ton of other sensitive war-related information. Upon returning from his junket in the war zone, May held a press conference where he revealed this fact to the world, informing the press wires that American sailors were surviving in incredible numbers because the charges were set too shallow. The press reported his quotes, and eventually, it got back to the Japanese.

Who promptly changed their depth charge fuses.

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A depth charge-damaged submarine.

Vice-Admiral Charles Lockwood was understandably livid when he heard the news, not just because a Congressman had leaked sensitive information to the press for seemingly no reason, but because he knew what the tactical outcome of the reveal would be. And Admiral Lockwood was right. When the Japanese changed their fuses, it began to take its toll on American submarines, which might have normally survived such an attack. He estimated the slip cost ten submarines and 800 crewmen killed in action.

“I hear Congressman May said the Jap depth charges are not set deep enough,” Lockwood reportedly told the press. “He would be pleased to know that the Japs set them deeper now.”

When the time came for May’s re-election campaign after the war in 1946, the reveal (which became known as The May Incident) along with corruption allegations became too much for the Kentucky voters, and May lost his seat in the House of Representatives. May served nine months in a federal prison for corruption.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why old armies used to fight in lines

I just discovered The Armchair Historian, a rather endearing YouTuber who created an animated history lesson about why armies used to stand in lines and kill each other. It seems counterintuitive now that we have weapons designed to kill large quantities of people and traditional wars between nations have given way to asymmetrical conflicts.

According to our friendly historian here, there were three main reasons armies used this battlefield formation up until the 20th century:


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Griffin Johnsen (The Armchair Historian himself) narrates the video and summarizes the effectiveness of line formations succinctly. They were influenced by cavalry, order and communication, and the tactics of the enemy. As warfare technology advanced, so, too, did battlefield tactics. One example Johnson gives is how horses influenced warfighting.

Cavalry was effective against infantry, so the line formation was adopted to defend against cavalry. Once munitions became more accurate and lethal, cavalry became less effective… and the evolution continued.

Line formation warfare was developed during antiquity and used most notably in the Middle Ages, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Battle of the Bastards Battle of Cannae. It was seen as late as the First World War before giving way to trench warfare and specialized units with increased firepower and weaponry.

“Despite the prolific casualties suffered by units in close order formations during the start of the First World War, it should still be understood how effective line formations were in their heyday,” narrates Johnsen.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToOIvD5mlow

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But seriously, can we talk about the Battle of the Bastards? Geek Sundry broke down the tactics displayed (omitting the tactics not displayed — SERPENTINE, RICKON, SERPENTINE!!!) in what is arguably one of the most riveting Game of Thrones episodes created.

The Boltons’ tactic of using Romanesque scutums to surround the Stark forces was unnerving and would have delivered a crushing victory without the intervention of the Knights of the Vale.

The probable Bolton trap of allowing the appearance of an escape path (in this case…a mountain of bodies — talk about PSYOPS) effectively tempted their enemy to break formation.

Even commanding archers to volley their arrows into the fray of the battle was a gangster move; it killed Bolton’s own men, but for a man who believes in the ends justifying the means… it was a very lethal means to an end.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2Fl0Iybm2KuKnsulVaU.gif&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.giphy.com&s=167&h=07c916ce832a15f14d8e286973d31f448e8e5405f30743322b3f60fb35b2b1b7&size=980x&c=3336561657 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252Fl0Iybm2KuKnsulVaU.gif%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.giphy.com%26s%3D167%26h%3D07c916ce832a15f14d8e286973d31f448e8e5405f30743322b3f60fb35b2b1b7%26size%3D980x%26c%3D3336561657%22%7D” expand=1]

Anyway, I got distracted there for a second. Check out Johnson’s video above to learn more about why armies fought in lines. Shout-out to his segue into sponsor promotion at 6:38. Enjoy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A US troop helped an East German escape the Iron Curtain

There were only a few places around the world more tense than in the Cold War showdown between East and West that occurred every day in divided Berlin. In the West, American and NATO guards stared down the barrels of the Soviet-backed East German border guards from the other side of the Berlin Wall. These guards were known to shoot down any East German civilian trying to cross the wall, sometimes leaving their mangled corpse in the barbed wire.

One American decided he was going to do what he could to help.


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An East German border guard leaps over barbed wire and away from the East German “utopia.”

It’s a well-known fact by now that life behind the Iron Curtain wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Few places in the Eastern Bloc were more repressive than in East Germany, and East Berlin in particular. East Berlin’s proximity to the freedom enjoyed by West Germany and greater Western Europe forced the Communist regimes to be more harsh to those attempting to escape to freedom. Still, many East Germans made the attempt. Scores of people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Untold numbers more likely made the escape.

One of those successful escapees was Hans-Peter Spitzner and his daughter Peggy. Spitzner lived more than 100 miles from East Berlin, but when the Stasi – the East German secret police – came knocking on his door and arrested him in the middle of the night for not voting the Communist Party line, he was done. He resolved to get out of East Germany. When Spitzner’s wife was suddenly able to travel to the West for a family birthday, he decided to make his move.

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Spitzner with his wife and daughter.

Spitzner read in a Communist newspaper about how American and other troops were stripping East German stores of their stocks using favorable currency conversion rates. Under the post-World War II agreements, Western allies had free and open access to East Berlin and could come and go as they pleased. The author of the article even mentioned that Western soldiers’ cars weren’t searched. Spitzner rationalized that he and his daughter could hide in one of those cars and escape to freedom.

So the man drove 120 miles to East Berlin, just to hang out at the bus stops frequented by Western troops. All day long, he asked if anyone would be willing to smuggle him and his daughter out. Eventually, a young U.S. Army troop named Eric Yaw was walking up to his black Toyota.

He agreed to smuggle Spitzner and his daughter out of East Germany.

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Eric Yaw’s Toyota Corolla.

There was just one hitch: the heat sensors at Checkpoint Charlie. As soon as the family was in Yaw’s trunk, Spitzner was certain they were doomed. If they were caught, they’d be imprisoned. If they ran, they’d be shot. But as luck would have it, that day was particularly warm, and Yaw’s black Toyota retained enough heat to hide Spitzner and his daughter from the border guards. In just a few minutes, Yaw opened the trunk and informed the two they were free.

Spitzner phoned his wife on vacation in Austria and told her the news. Yaw was disciplined by the Army for smuggling the two East Germans, but repeatedly said he would do the same thing again. Today, Yaw is out of the Army but is still a family friend. The Spitzners have returned to their hometown in what used to be East Germany.

No one regrets a thing.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 things you may not have expected from serving

When you think of joining the military, a ton of images shoot through your mind. You think of that badass grunt running toward some unnamed, burning city, rifle in hand as aircraft rip through the skies above. When you actually start your service, you’ll quickly realize that reality is a far cry from your fantasy. In fact, grunts don’t even spend all of their time fighting wars.

Some things might surprise you, but then there are a ton of things you never saw coming.

It’s not even that your recruiter lied to you, it’s just that much of life in the military isn’t as advertised on posters or in TV ads. Some of thee surprises are cool, many of them suck, but at the end of the day, they’re what keeps the machine running.

You probably didn’t expect the following when you signed on the dotted line:


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It’s hard to lie about getting hit when you have paint splattered on you.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Leon M. Branchaud)

Playing paintball

If you’re a prospective Marine, then you’ve probably seen Jarhead (maybe one too many times). You know that one part where they train with paintball rounds? Most of us thought it was Hollywood bullsh*t — until we got to do the same. Granted, it doesn’t hurt as bad as they make it seem in the movie, but it’s actually a lot of fun. Hell, it’s probably some of the best training you can get.

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You see what the aircraft does with the ammo, though.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade)

Loading ammo onto an aircraft

We’ve all seen videos of jets flying overhead and raining pain onto the ground below. In those moments, with our jaws dropped, we’re thinking, “whoa… that’s so cool.” That is, of course, before you’re the one loading the ammo.

Remember, there are a lot of people behind every dropped bomb.

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Some may use their anger more than others.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Aaron Bolser)

Feeling emotional extremes of every type

Troops are tough bad*sses — but we’re definitely not emotionless. In fact, what makes veterans so stoic is that they’ve already felt every emotion in its most extreme form. You’ll never be more happy than when you get to sleep in an actual bed after months of sleeping in dirt, you’ll never be as angry as you were in a firefight, and you’ll never be more sad than when you lose a dear friend.

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You might even earn their accolades.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexander Mitchell)

Hanging with another country’s troops

You might expect to go to another country and train with their military, but you can’t really foresee the time you’ll spend hanging out with the Germans, Aussies, Koreans — you name it. You’ll quickly realize that you have a lot in common; you share a lot of the same, bullsh*t experiences.

And you all have that one a**hole in your chain of command.

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If you’ve got time and you’ll be using that model for a while, why not go all out?

(U.S. Army)

Building a terrain model

Did you ever think that a squad leader would tell you to go out and buy a pack of plastic army men? Probably not.

You also probably didn’t expect to build a terrain model to plan a mission and yet here you are. If you don’t mind spending a little extra time, you can actually have fun with this one.

MIGHTY CULTURE

18 photos of troops lighting up the night

The U.S. military and its allies create some of the best light shows on the planet, filling the night sky with everything from tracer rounds to bursts of artillery fire to missile engines.

Here are 18 of our favorite nighttime light shows from American troops and their buds in battle:


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(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Mark El-Rayes)

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(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Owen Kimbrel)

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(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class William McCann)

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(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Barker)

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(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Matthew Callahan)

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(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Timothy Jackson)

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(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Trey Fowler)

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(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kallysta Castillo)

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(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Gregory T. Summers)

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(U.S. Coast Guardphoto by Petty Officer 1st Class Phillip Null)

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

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(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Raymond Schaeffer)

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(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Anthony Zendejas IV)

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(U.S. Army photo by Timothy Hale)

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(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Schoenberger)

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(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Anthony Zendejas IV)

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(U.S. Army Central Command)

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(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)

MIGHTY CULTURE

This heroic working dog conducted 210 combat missions while deployed

Military Working Dog Gabe started his Army career in a rare way, escaping near-euthanasia in a Texas shelter before becoming a remarkably successful working dog and a celebrity loved by famous humans, like Betty White and Jay Leno.


2012 Hero Dog Awards Tribute – Gabe

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Gabe is credited with going on 210 combat missions and finding 26 caches of weapons and explosives before retiring to live with his handler in 2009 as a sergeant first class. He passed away in his handler’s arms in 2013.

Most military working dogs are purchased from European breeders and raised from birth to work in military units or police agencies. But the U.S. was running short on good dogs, and it has always allowed the occasional stray into the ranks. Gabe was one of those strays.

He had been sitting in a shelter where he was reportedly a day away from euthanasia when the Southeast Texas Labrador Retriever Rescue Organization pulled him out. The Army found him then and tested him for potential as a military working dog. He passed and was assigned to Army Staff Sgt. Charles Shuck.

The team trained together as a Specialized Search Dog team, a then-new program that focused on entirely detecting IED and IED-making components. Dogs in the SSD program don’t search for drugs. They don’t search for cadavers. They don’t chase.

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Gabe visits with actor Betty White.

(U.S. Army)

They find bombs. They find them in combat, in the burning desert, and sometimes under fire. Gabe finished a five-month training iteration and was the rock star of the class. After they graduated, Shuck’s commander asked if they could deploy to Iraq. They needed Gabe in the show.

And so he went, and Gabe and Shuck were quickly favorites with troops on the ground. They rolled out often, 210 times in a single deployment. Of those missions, 170 were combat patrols where they led columns of soldiers through dangerous areas, smelling for the tell-tale scents of IEDs.

And Gabe was able to find the goods. In one case, he hit on 36 mortar rounds stashed by insurgents. Mortar rounds are popular tools for bomb makers because their explosives are reliable and powerful. Recovering them saves lives. Gabe also visited soldiers during his deployment, improving morale.

Gabe would eventually garner three Army Commendation Medals, an Army Achievement Medal, and dozens of military coins and other awards. In 2008, he received the Heroic Military Working Dog Award Medal from the American Kennel Club.

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Gabe visiting with children in a school.

(U.S. Army)

But Gabe was senior and needed to retire soon after the deployment, something he did in 2009. The Army allowed Shuck, Gabe’s only handler, to adopt him. He visited schools and hospitals and became a celebrity, appearing in photos with Betty White and Jay Leno.

The heroic dog enjoyed almost four years of retirement, but cancer had stealthily crept through his liver and spleen. It was discovered in February 2013, but it was far too late to operate.

Shuck made the decision to have Gabe put to sleep and cradled him as he passed.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Marine veteran combats PTSD symptoms by serving others

Following World War I, many troops were rapidly diagnosed with “shell shock.” World War II brought the new label of “combat stress reaction.” Today, it’s known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD – which is diagnosed when negative symptoms arise after experiencing a traumatic event. Marine veteran John Welch doesn’t shy away from sharing his own diagnosis of PTSD caused by combat. In fact, he thinks it’s vital that it is talked about, because that’s the only way veterans will begin to heal.


Welch followed his father and brothers into the Marines. He always knew he’d become one himself because it was ingrained into him his whole life. Although he doesn’t regret a moment of his service to this country, he’s uncomfortable with talking about it. For a long time, being a Marine was all that he had and it wasn’t enough.

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He knows the dark and deeply-rooted impacts of PTSD intimately because he lived in that space for a long time after leaving the Marine Corps. Welch said that he slowly came back to life after receiving his service dog, Onyx, four years ago. “She took me out of the darkness and brought me back into the world,” he shared. Once Welch was on his own path of healing, he wanted to find ways to help other veterans make it there too.

He started with reclaimed wood.

Welch feels like he was probably always artistic, but that by working through his trauma by using things like art, he flourished. Since then, he has spent years building and creating custom wooden American flags for veterans. He doesn’t charge for them or take requests but instead waits to be led to the person who needs one the most. At this point, he has made hundreds.

“Yeah, I have PTSD. But there is a way out. That way out is to do for others,” Welch said candidly. He believes serving others saved him. Welch uses his flag art to work through his own trauma and give back, but he is also a peer liaison volunteer at his local VA. There, he works closely with other veterans suffering from the debilitating effects of PTSD. He was feeling content. But there was more waiting for him.

While shopping at his local Christmas tree store, he ran into a friend. After talking a while, he suggested that Welch join Team Rubicon, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that serves communities by mobilizing veterans to continue their service and leverages their skills and experience to help people prepare, respond and recover from disaster and humanitarian crisis. The friend wouldn’t give him details and instead pushed him to look it up. After he learned TR’s mission, he realized it was a way he could continue to further his service, and joined immediately, spending almost his first year deployed on Team Rubicon operations.

“Team Rubicon gave me the ability to serve others,” Welch said. “I lost that sense of service when I left the military. When I joined Team Rubicon, it gave me that back.” Welch has now been a volunteer with Team Rubicon since 2018 and has gone on several deployments with them. Currently, he’s entering his tenth straight week serving in the COVID-19 response team for New York.

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There’s nowhere he’d rather be than beside his fellow “Greyshirt” teammates helping people in need. “Team Rubicon has been instrumental in getting me better,” he shared. When the newest Team Rubicon volunteers didn’t receive their coveted grey shirts in time, Welch jumped in immediately and handcrafted wood plaques for them to welcome them to the team.

Welch shared that at one time he was deemed “broken.” He discovered that by serving others, he was made whole again. “When you look back at your life, you should ask, ‘Did I make a difference in the world?'” he said. Although he knows most people cannot give the amount of time that he does to service, he hopes that those who hear his story see the importance of giving back.

While Welch quite literally spends almost his entire day in service of some kind, he’s never been happier. It saved him. He’s hoping it’ll save others too.

Articles

This animated map shows Gettysburg in a whole new way

The Civil War Trust, known for its great maps and historical accounts of the war, has branched into animated maps that show move-by-move accounts of important battles like Antietam, Vicksburg and Shiloh.


The trust’s still maps are known for their accuracy and detail, and these new animated maps continue that tradition. The big difference is the motion; it’s like watching the battle play out on a sand table during a ROC drill.

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(GIF: YouTube/Civil War Trust)

A narrator provides context for the action, telling viewers everything from how the crippling heat affected the repeated clashes at Little Round Top to why Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles made his ill-advised deployment of artillery on the Union’s front.

Meanwhile, short video clips try to put the viewer on the ground with soldiers during the most fierce and important events, showing things like when Maj. Gen. John Reynolds was shot in the neck and killed.

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(GIF: YouTube/Civil War Trust)

The full videos for each battle are a little long, about 15-20 minutes each. But they let you get a better understanding of each battle that you can knock out in a lunch break. Check out Gettysburg below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUKreep2P1M
MIGHTY CULTURE

US Army soldiers honor the proud history of field artillery

Early in the morning, before the sun even had a chance to break the Oklahoma horizon and spread its rays, the soldiers assigned to the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section here are already at work mucking stalls, grooming horses, and training for their next event.

The Half Section is a special ceremonial unit responsible for carrying on the traditions of horse-drawn artillery from the era of World War I and was established at Fort Sill in 1963.

Throughout the year, the unit attends numerous ceremonies, parades, rodeos, and other events in historically accurate attire, preserving the proud history of the field artillery.


“The soldiers I receive at the Half Section do more than just shovel manure,” said Gerald Stuck, chief of the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section. “They learn in depth about the role field artillery has played in our history. They pay tribute to the soldiers who came before them by wearing nearly the same uniforms they wore. They study up on the wars and conflicts that shaped us as an Army, so when presented questions by onlookers they can answer with confidence.”

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Sgt. Robert O’Steen, Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, saddles up and rides Valcourt. Soldiers must first pass a 30-day trial period, which includes a bareback riding test.

(Photo by Dustin D. Biven)

In addition to performing at events, soldiers assigned to the Half Section are also entrusted with looking after and caring for several horses, each with their own unique personality.

“When I say the horses have their own personality, I mean it,” laughed Sgt. Robert O’Steen, Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, who’s assigned to the 15th Transportation Company, 100th Brigade Support Battalion. “We have our playful horses, our uptight ones, and even an alpha. It’s up to us to learn and adapt our behavior to each horse specifically to build that connection needed and earn their trust.”

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A Soldier assigned to the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section buffs up a Half Section belt buckle getting it ceremonially shiny.

(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)

O’Steen went on to say that although the horses are not assigned to specific Soldiers, they always seem to pair with a soldier with a similar personality.

The Half Section is a yearlong additional tasking that places soldiers on orders to the section and provides soldiers from all over Fort Sill an opportunity to develop not just as soldiers, but as leaders.

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Sgt. Robert O’Steen, Fort Sill Artillery Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, harnesses up his horse, Valcourt, in preparation for a ceremony June 25, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)

“I’ve learned a lot here at the Half Section,” said Spc. Randy Rogers, a soldier assigned to 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery. “Not only have I had a chance to build upon my leadership abilities by being placed in charge of training soldiers and rehearsing for events, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to learn trades like leather working and how to take care of the horses by (Mr. Stuck).”

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Soldiers selected for the Artillery Half Section serve a one-year tour at Fort Sill, Okla., providing them professional development and enhanced leadership skills, along with the opportunity to serve beside some magnificent horses.

(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)

Once soldiers have completed their time at the Half Section, they bring back to their units a years’ worth of unique experiences that could greatly improve upon their professional development and leadership potential as well as the soldiers they may mentor and train.

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Soldiers assigned to the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section spend time polishing and preparing the French 75mm field gun in preparation for a ceremony June 25, 2019.

(Photo by Sgt. Dustin D. Biven)

So the next time you find yourself on Fort Sill, be sure to take the time to visit the soldiers and horses of the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section and learn more about the history of the artillery within the Army and how, with help from our four-legged friends, we became the world’s most lethal fighting force.

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

Articles

Here’s when the F-15 outperforms the F-22 or an F-35

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Justin Bronk, a research fellow specializing in combat airpower at the Royal United Services Institute, revealed why the F-15, originally introduced four decades ago, is still more useful than either the F-22 or the F-35 in certain situations.


The F-15 is a traditional air-superiority fighter of the fourth generation. It’s big, fast, agile, and carriers lots of weapons under the wing where everyone can see them. For that last reason, it’s terrible at stealth, but the other side of the coin is that it’s perfect for intercepting enemy aircraft.

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An air-to-air view of two F-15 Eagle aircraft armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles. | McDonnell Douglas, St. Louis

Bronk says that when it comes to interception, a plane must “get up right next to the aircraft, fly alongside, show weapons, go on guard frequency, tell them they’re being intercepted, that they’re on course to violate airspace, and to turn back immediately.”

An F-22 or F-35 shouldn’t, and in some cases, can’t do that.

The major advantage of fifth-generation aircraft is their stealth abilities and situational awareness. Even the best aircraft in the world would be lucky to lay eyes on any fifth-generation fighter, which means they can set up and control the engagement entirely on their terms.

But while this paradigm lends itself ideally to fighting and killing, interception is a different beast.

The advantages of the F-22, and particularly of the F-35, diminish greatly once planes get within visual range of one another. Also, fifth-gens usually carry their munitions inside internal bomb bays, which is great for stealth but doesn’t really strike the same note that staring down an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on the side of an F-15 would.

Simply put, a fifth-gen revealing itself to a legacy fighter would be akin to a hunter laying down his gun before confronting a wild beast.

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An F-22 Raptor | US Air Force photo

“Fifth-gen fighters are not really necessary for that … other, cheaper interceptors can do the job,” Bronk said.

Furthermore, interception happens way more frequently than air-to-air combat. A US Air Force fighter most recently shot down an enemy plane in 2009 — and it was the Air Force’s own wayward drone over Afghanistan. Interceptions happen all the time, with the Baltics and the South China Sea being particular hot spots.

The fifth-gens, however, make sense for entering contested airspace. If the US wanted to enter North Korean or Iranian airspace, it wouldn’t just be to show off, and according to Bronk, the aircraft’s stealth and situational awareness would afford them the opportunity to slip in, hit their marks, and slip out undetected, unlike an F-15.

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F-35s are incredible aircraft, but within visual range confrontations are not their fight. | U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Remington Hall

In interception situations, it makes no sense to offer up an F-22 or an F-35 as a handicapped target to an older legacy plane. F-15s are more than capable of delivering the message themselves, and whoever they intercept will know that the full force of the US Air Force, including fifth-gens, stands behind them.

Articles

This is why there are no urinals on the Navy’s newest supercarrier

The United States Navy commissioned the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) this past weekend. The ship is noted for many advanced technologies on board, but what is also notable is what the ship doesn’t have.


According to a Navy Times report, though the Ford has a compliment of America’s most advanced fighters, it’s missing urinals in the men’s head.

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Tugboats maneuver the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) into the James River. | US Navy

The Navy claimed that the elimination of the urinals increase flexibility when it comes to shifting berthing arrangements for the crew on board the $13 billion vessel. However, there are some drawbacks to this new arrangement, according to experts.

Chuck Kaufman, president of the Public Restroom Company, is among those critical of the design change. The Public Restroom Company specializes in designing public restrooms that have been used in parks, rest areas, playgrounds – just about anywhere.

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USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) | US Navy photo

“[A toilet is] by far a less clean environment than a urinal. By far,” Kaufman told the Navy Times, citing the fact that men tend to miss normal toilets more often than they miss urinals.

“What is a problem is [with a water closet] you have a very big target and we can’t aim very quickly,” he added, noting that the only way to ensure men didn’t miss was to make them sit down. Furthermore, Kaufman explained, toilets take over twice the space of urinals. The Navy Times noted that about 18 percent of the Navy’s personnel are women.

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USS Gerald R. Ford in the drydock. (WATM archive)

The Gerald R. Ford replaced the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), which was taken out of service in 2012.

The ship will carry out its first deployment in 2020, according to a report from USNI News and incorporates almost two dozen technological improvements over the Nimitz-class carriers currently in service,

MIGHTY CULTURE

Military families call for the right to withhold rent in privatized housing disputes

Army Col. Scott Gerber said he had to pay out-of-pocket for an independent inspector to verify mold infestation and water damage in his home in an effort to get the attention of the private company running base housing at Fort Meade, Maryland.


Military spouse Linda Gherdovich said she had similar problems with mold at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C.

“The only reason we knew [it was there] was because our kids were getting sick,” she said.

Gherdovich said she had to pay ,700 to an outside inspector to verify her claims, and she’s still fighting to get reimbursement.

In testimony Tuesday before a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, Gerber and Gherdovich echoed the demands of other military families for an expansion of the recently approved Tenant Bill of Rights to let them withhold rent in disputes over repairs and maintenance of privatized military housing.

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And in a following panel the same day, representatives from four military housing companies said that they supported giving that right to military families.

They also expressed varying levels of regret for the military housing problems that have been detailed in numerous reports and hearings, including mold and pest infestation, poor performance on fulfilling work orders, and negligence in responding to tenants’ complaints.

In his prepared statement, Richard Taylor, president of Balfour Beatty Communities, said, “I would like to begin by saying that we sincerely apologize for having fallen short of the high standards our nation’s military families deserve.

“We fully accept that we must make improvements, and we are determined to regain the trust and confidence of our residents and our military partners,” he added.

On Feb. 25, the Pentagon announced that Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the secretaries of the service branches had signed the Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights, which was included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

There were 15 provisions in the bill, including “the right to a written lease with clearly defined rental terms” and “the right to reside in a housing unit and a community that meets applicable health and environmental standards.”

The Pentagon’s announcement acknowledged that three rights were missing from the list — access for tenants to a maintenance history of their units, a detailed process for dispute resolution, and the withholding of rent until disputes are resolved.

The military will work with the private companies and Congress to get those three provisions added to the list, the Pentagon said at the time.

At the hearing, Gerber said the right to withhold rent is vital to leveling the playing field with the private companies.

He said he and his wife, Sandy, “lived through two mold-infested homes,” adding “our situation wasn’t unique.”

Military families need “the ability to hold that contractor accountable. We need an easy mechanism to stop that [Basic Allowance for Housing]” from going to the private companies during disputes, Gerber said.

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In a separate panel at the hearing, representatives of four companies managing private housing on military bases said they are in favor of adding the ability to withhold rent and the other two missing provisions to the Tenant Bill of Rights.

Denis Hickey, chief executive officer of Lendlease Americas, said under questioning, “We realize we can and must do more” to improve conditions.

“Obviously, some of our families feel our company has come up short,” said Jeff Guild, vice president of Lincoln Military Housing. The company is resolved to “repairing a culture of trust with our residents,” he added.

Heath Burleson, a senior vice president at Corvias Group, said the company had gotten away in the past from the “basic blocking and tackling” needed to keep homes in good repair. “I believe we’re on the right path, but we’re not done,” he said.

After listening to the company representatives, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, the subcommittee’s chair, said, “all of your testimony is very nice now, [but] the system was set up as a gravy train for your companies.” There’s no accountability to military families, she added.

“It is outrageous,” she said.

The military contributed to the failures of the system through inattention and poor oversight of the performance of the private companies involved in military housing, said Pete Potochney, the acting assistant secretary of defense for sustainment.

“The fact that we’re having this hearing and others like it is saddening,” Potchney said. “We simply took our eye off the ball” over the years in oversight of military housing.

“We sure as hell didn’t do a great job,” he added.

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

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