6 times US troops killed their way out of enemy ambushes - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

6 times US troops killed their way out of enemy ambushes

Ambushes are a great tool in a commander’s toolbox. The attacker gets the element of surprise, usually has numerical superiority, and almost always has the good ground. With all of those advantages on one side, the fight usually plays out about the way you’d expect.

Sometimes, however, U.S. troops can use a mixture of technology, skill, and straight guts to turn the tables. Here are six times that happened:


An Iraqi tank burns during Operation Desert Storm.

1. Battle of 73 Easting

During the invasion of Iraq during Desert Storm, the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, was sent to cut off Iraqi lines of retreat before they could be used. But on February 26, 1991, Eagle Troop crested a rise during a sandstorm and found an entire Iraqi armored division laying in wait. The ground between the formations was seeded with mines and the terrain would force Eagle Troop to descend onto the battlefield with their vulnerable turrets exposed.

But, Eagle Troop was in Abrams tanks and their commander ordered an advance through the enemy fire. Most of the Iraqi rounds bounced off and drivers avoided the bulk of the mines. The Americans cut a “five kilometer wide swath of destruction” through the Iraqi tanks, according to the troop commander. They destroyed 30 tanks and 14 armored vehicles with no American losses.

An F-15E Strike Eagle flies over Afghanistan.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)

2. F-15s stumble into Iraqi ambush during Desert Storm

A flight of eight F-15s guarding a larger strike package during the start of Desert Storm got word from an E-3 Sentry that there were Iraqi MiGs in the target area, so the flight leader went with three more of his F-15s to root them out and kill them. But it was a trap, and the planes were suddenly painted by multiple surface-to-air missile sites on the ground.

The F-15s immediately started conducting insane acrobatics to get out alive. After evading the missiles, though, they were still thirsty for blood, so they continued after the MiGs that had lured them in and slaughtered them both, protecting a lone F-14 that the MiGs were either hunting or preparing to lure into the trap.

1st Infantry Division soldiers keep on eye on a wadi in Andar, Afghanistan, April 21, 2011.

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Guffey)

3. 1st ID troops come under well-planned ambush, get enemy to jump off cliff

On September 17, 2008, soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division caught wind on their signal intercept that revealed an ambush coming against them in Afghanistan. The patrol leader ordered his mounted element to proceed down the road to make sure his dismounts wouldn’t be caught in the fire and could provide support.

Just a few minutes down the road, the vehicles came under intense fire from “stacked” enemies. A lower element that had been concealed in a draw and opened up with RPGs, rifles, and machine guns, while another enemy element up a hill provided supporting fires. Two of the four vehicles were hit by RPGs, disabling one. That one took another three RPGs and the gunner was killed.

But the patrol leader killed one attacker trying to hit vehicle four and then charged the lower element with his weapon, driving some of them to jump down a nearby cliff in an attempt to escape. They died instead. American forces re-established comms and got 120mm and 60mm flying into the enemy’s faces as howitzers at the nearby combat outpost opened up. The gunner was the only American killed but the enemy lost about 20 personnel.

Troops fight their way through rivers in Vietnam.

(Naval War College Museum)

4. Coast Guard, Navy boats double back into ambush to rescue trapped UDT members

A Navy riverine force led by a Coast Guard officer came under a concentrated ambush in a Vietnamese river on April 12, 1969. The eight boats were hit with claymores detonated on the bank, machine gun fire, rockets, recoilless rifles, RPGs, and other weapons. The first two boats were engulfed in flames but were able to push out of the kill zone, but the trail boat was in need of maintenance and heavily loaded and got stuck after RPGs took out the pilot.

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr Paul A. Yost, Jr. went back with his and another boat and the pair put down withering cover fire into the jungle. Yost split his boat off from the attack and began picking up survivors. One allied Vietnamese marine and two Americans were killed in the fight, but 15 American survivors were pulled out of harm’s way and an unknown number of enemy Vietnamese killed.

U.S. Marines stand with weapons ready ready to advance if called, near Camp Al Qa’im, Iraq, Nov. 15, 2005.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

5. First Lt. Brian Chontosh and his Marines during the invasion of Iraq

Marine First Lt. Brian Chontosh was leading a convoy on March 25, 2003, when Iraqi insurgents suddenly hit it with a complex ambush. Mortars, automatic weapons, and RPGs all began firing onto the beleaguered Marines. Chontosh ordered his vehicle, and its .50-cal, forward. The machine gun cut a path into the enemy ranks, and Chontosh leapt from the vehicle to press the attack.

He emptied his M16 and M9 into the trenches and then picked up two enemy AK-47s and an enemy RPG to keep the kill train going. He was credited with clearing 200 meters of trench and killing 20 enemy soldiers in his Navy Cross citation.

North Korean tanks destroyed by Air Force napalm sit in craters during the Korean War.

(Air and Space Museum)

6. An Army task force annihilates the armored ambush set against it

During a movement on July 5, 1951, Task Force 777 was ambushed by an armored force of ten tanks supported by infantry and artillery. The cavalry task force, which was the size of a regimental combat team, was likely outnumbered and definitely outgunned, but the commander, Lt. Col. William Harris, organized a counterattack.

The American cavalrymen slaughtered their way through the ambushing forces, knocking out all ten tanks and killing and dispersing the infantry. They destroyed five artillery pieces and twelve trucks before leaving the site.

MIGHTY MOVIES

4 reasons to be more excited for this ‘super duper f—ing group’ than the Avengers

The second coming of Deadpool to the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes just a few weeks after the long-awaited, much-anticipated third installment of the Avengers series. And honestly, I’m a lot more excited for the Merc with the Mouth.


Avengers: Infinity War was a long time in the making. An incredible 18 films since 2008 have led to this moment, a tribute to the idea of truly building a complex series of interwoven stories that often collide — just like in comic books. The D.C. Universe should take note: Wonder Woman is awesome, but she’s not going to carry an entire franchise that viewers aren’t truly invested in.

Wonder Woman pictured here deflecting criticism of the DC Cinematic Universe.
(Warner Bros.)

But there’s something to be said for brevity, especially in terms of wit, and that’s something Wade Wilson (and the Deadpool series) has in spades. Audiences new to the character won’t need a week-long primer to understand every character and nuance of Deadpool 2. They probably won’t even need to see the first Deadpool movie (but totally should).

Because it’s awesome in every way you could think of. Ask my 10-year-old nephew.
(Marvel)

In the new trailer, Deadpool makes digs at DC (of course, that’s easy) but also makes fun of Marvel, calling Josh Brolin’s character Cable by the character Brolin plays in Infinity War, Thanos.

That’s just true to the character. In the recent Deadpool comic series, ‘The Marvel Universe Kills Deadpool,’ he also makes a dig a Marvel’s failed Inhumans series.

Deadpool #298
(Marvel)

We all knew the MCU’s X-Force was unlikely to include the lineup found in the original Deadpool comics, whch was Deadpool, Psylocke, Archangel, Fantomex, E.V.A., and freaking Wolverine. Just take look at how much Hugh Jackman costs — ain’t gonna happen. But that’s not important. The X-Force is a super duper f-ing group and though there aren’t as many big names in Deadpool 2, there are many reasons to be pumped to see the second incarnation of the Regenerating Degenerate.

(Marvel)

4. Cable.

First off, Josh Brolin as Cable? Awesome. Secondly, the time-traveling psychokinetic cyborg has tangled with Deadpool so many times in the comics (Deadpool even killed Cable recently in The Despicable Deadpool), watching the two actually fight onscreen is going to be action-sequence gold.

(Marvel)

3. “Peter.”

The goofy, powerless dad who “just saw the ad” is right there with the X-Force when they get into action.

Negasonic Teenage Warhead needs her own movie.

(Marvel)

2. The MCU X-Force

Stefan Kapicic’s Colossus was so awesome in Deadpool, It’s great they brought him (and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, of course) back for the sequel. Zazie Beetz and Terry Crews as Domino and Bedlam (respectively) are awesome choices to round out the X-Force.

(Marvel)

1. Deadpool isn’t for everyone and doesn’t pretend to be.

He’s called “The Merc With the Mouth” for a reason. Wade Wilson has never been politically correct, polite, entirely ethical, or even likable. And that’s the way it should be.

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.

NASA astronaut Robert Behnken, STS-130 mission specialist, takes a break in the mission’s second session of extravehicular activity (EVA) for construction and maintenance on the International Space Station in February of 2010 to allow air scrubbers to remove CO2 that had built up in his space suit. During the five-hour, 54-minute spacewalk, Behnken and astronaut Nicholas Patrick connected two ammonia coolant loops, installed thermal covers around the ammonia hoses, outfitted the Earth-facing port on the Tranquility node for the relocation of its Cupola, and installed handrails and a vent valve on the new module. (Photo/NASA)

“I spend six weeks in Star City, and then come back for a couple weeks, and then I’ll go back for six weeks,” said Hague. “There is a stress on the family, and they miss out on the things that I could be doing with them at home, and on the weekends. I’m TDY a lot, but my family’s making the same kinds of sacrifices that I see service families making day in and day out. I think that, that’s something that everybody that wears a uniform can appreciate.”

However, NASA has embarked on a new collaborative mission with commercial partners SpaceX and Boeing to provide an alternative to Soyuz for manned trips to and from the ISS. Cooperation in the development of new low-orbit launch vehicles by these commercial companies based in the United States will provide the Air Force with more orbital lift options and will also bring astronauts closer to home for training and for longer periods of time.

“It’s important for us to be able to return launch to Florida. You know, from a crew perspective, I can tell you that it makes it a whole lot easier on the crew, because you stop having to send people (to Star City, Russia) for six weeks at a shot over, and over, and over again and reduce the strain on the families,” said Hague.

“It’s also important from a redundancy perspective. Right now it’s Soyuz only, so if something happened with the Soyuz, now we’re looking for a way to get astronauts up there. It’ll provide us that flexibility to continue to fly Soyuz, and fly out of Florida and for the Russians to do the same.”

Once again the Air Force is a lynchpin in the development of a barrier breaking technology as astronaut Col. Robert Behnken is one of four test pilots for the commercial spacecraft and Hopkins is part of the team developing communications, displays and procedures for the new launch vehicles.

“Currently, my major focus is on one of those commercial crewed vehicles. It’s the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. I’m working as one of the CAPCOMs for that program; the communicator who would be talking to the astronauts in the vehicle as they’re going uphill and docking to the station,” said Hopkins. “There’s a lot of new material that we have to learn and figure out what the launch day is going to look like and what docking is going to look like and what the landing is going to look like.”

After one unmanned test of both the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, two-astronaut crews will fly subsequent tests before operational flights will begin taking six astronauts per flight to the ISS. Astronauts, such as Behnken, will not only flight-test the vehicles, but they are deeply involved in the design and development phase of the vehicles that is currently underway.

“The training for these missions is really wrapped into the development process. So we’re learning the vehicles as they’re designed and built, ” said Behnken, veteran of two of the Space Shuttle missions that built the ISS and the only active-duty member of the test crews. “(The test crews are) Air Force and Navy test pilot school graduates, and we’re really participating in a development process so that we can bring our space flight experience to the designs as they come to the table… that should wrap up around mid-2018 for both vehicles, and hopefully if the schedules hold, that’s when we’ll fly in space.”

These astronauts are the most recent in a continuing legacy of Air Force support of NASA and space exploration since the space program’s inception.

A total of eighty-five Air Force astronauts have traveled into space, from three of the first NASA astronauts, the Mercury Seven, Lt. Col. Gus Grissom, Col. Gordon Cooper and Major Deke Slayton, to two of the crew of Apollo 11, the first humans to set foot on the Moon, Col. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Maj. Gen. Michael Collins to Col. Jack Fischer, flight engineer for ISS Expedition 51/52, currently traveling at over 17,000 miles per hour (5 miles per second) for 25,000 miles on each of his 15.5 orbits per day aboard ISS.

Still more, like Hague, are in training for upcoming flights, and numerous Air Force personnel support both manned and unmanned NASA missions.

“The Air Force is supporting the mission on a daily basis,” said Hague. “It’s flight docs assigned here, search and rescue crews that are helping bring us home, we’ve got the range support for launching cargo and soon we’re going to be launching Americans back out of Florida. There’s also guys that are looking at all the radar coming back down from space trying to track space debris and they help us prevent things from flying into the Space Station, so they’re protecting us on a daily basis.”

Of course, participation in the civilian space program reaps great benefits for the Air Force from supporting space exploration and research.
“The Air Force gets access to space, and so from an expense standpoint, NASA’s already paid for that, now all you have to do is develop your experiment, and then we can get it onboard,” said Hopkins. “Then you get the astronaut’s time. We don’t go and charge the Air Force for the time of the astronaut on board that’s executing their experiment. You’re getting access to a microgravity laboratory, right? It’s a very unique laboratory, in fact the only one in existence.”

The Soyuz TMA-04M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 carrying Expedition 31 Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The partnership between the Air Force and NASA is a collaborative research relationship that fills gaps in each other’s research and facilities.

According to Dr. Morley Stone, chief technology officer of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, the Air Force benefits from NASA’s experience with human performance in microgravity environments, as NASA benefits from the Air Force’s research in the macrogravity realm of high sustained G-forces.

Both are participating in research on hypersonics, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and materials that can survive extreme environments.

“I would say certainly NASA is up near the top, as probably our most important federal partnership,” said Stone.

Life aboard the ISS is tightly scheduled to accommodate the necessary daily planning conference with ground controllers, two hours of exercise necessary to maintain the astronauts’ bodies in a microgravity environment, performing EVA for scheduled station maintenance or repairs and conducting the experiments sent to ISS by researchers on the ground, military and civilian.

However, on occasion, there are small gaps where astronauts can indulge the kid inside that still looks upon the cosmos in wonder.
Behnken had such an opportunity on his second STS mission to install components on the ISS. During an EVA to install the cupola observation window for Earth observation and photography, Behnken and a crewmate exerted themselves to the point that exhaled carbon dioxide was building up inside their suits faster than the air scrubbers could eliminate it.

“My partner and I had both worked harder than the suit could keep up with, and we got the chance to take about a 15-minute break,” said Behnken.

“They told us to “Attach yourself to the space station, and sit there, and look around. And don’t breathe too hard, because we’re trying to catch up with the scrubbing that’s on the suit.

“When you’re outside on a spacewalk, you get a panorama view that just can’t be captured with any of the windows … You get to see sunrises, and sunset, and that angular view of the atmosphere with thunderstorms lightning themselves up,” said Behnken.

“It’s of the whole majesty of the Earth, which is just awesome.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Air Force wants to recall 1,000 retirees to active duty

Good news for U.S. Air Force retirees: The service has expanded plans to not only welcome back retired pilots into active-duty staff positions, but also combat system officers and air battle managers.

To help alleviate its manning shortage, the service is encouraging retirees from the 11X, 12X and 13B Air Force Specialty Codes to apply for the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty Program, it announced May 23, 2018.


It could take in as many as 1,000 former airmen.

“Officers who return to active duty under VRRAD will fill rated staff and active flying staff, test, training and operational positions where rated officer expertise is required,” said VRRAD Rated Liaison Maj. Elizabeth Jarding of the Air Force’s Personnel Center.

“We can match VRRAD participants to stateside or overseas requirements where they’ll fill critical billets that would otherwise remain vacant due to the shortage of rated officers,” Jarding said in a service release.

Airmen who are currently in rated positions in those specialties but have already put in their retirement orders will also be welcome to extend their service in the VRRAD program, the release said.

Capt. Brad Matherne, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron pilot.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

The program expansion comes as the Air Force faces a growing deficit of 2,000 pilots, or roughly 10 percent of the total pilot force.

Previously, the VRRAD program — one of many efforts the service is making to ease the shortage — accepted only the 11X career field and remained limited in scope, said Air Force Personnel Center spokesman Mike Dickerson.

“The program was limited by law to a maximum of 25 participants and for a maximum 12-month tour, which limited officers to serving in non-flying staff positions,” Dickerson told Military.com on May 23, 2018.

Active-duty tour lengths have now increased to a minimum of 24 months and a maximum of 48 months, he said. VRRAD participants will deploy only if they volunteer, unless they are assigned to a combat-coded unit, the release said.

“Many who inquired expressed interest in the stability afforded by a longer tour. In addition, longer tours also afforded the potential to utilize these officers in flying as well as non-flying positions, providing more time to requalify and be effectively utilized in various airframes,” Dickerson said in an email.

To date, the 2017 VRRAD program has approved 10 officers, and five have returned to active duty, he said.

“We anticipate that will continue with the expanded authorities,” Dickerson said, adding the officers currently in the program could expand their tour lengths.

Some of the criteria for the expanded VRRAD program have changed: Eligibility applies to rated officers who received an active-duty retirement within the last five years or those in the window to retire within 12 months of their VRRAD date of application, the personnel center said.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Samuel King Jr.)

Airmen must have previously served in the ranks of captain, major or lieutenant colonel, and must be under age 50. Those who are 50 and older may be considered on a case-by-case basis. Previously, the criteria applied to those age 60 and younger in those ranks.

“Applicants must be medically qualified for active duty and have served in a rated staff position within 15 years or been qualified in an Air Force aircraft within 10 years of application for flying positions,” the release said.

Officers who retired for physical disability reasons are not eligible to apply.

The personnel center will accept applications for VRRAD until Dec. 31, 2018, or until all openings are filled, the release said. Those who return to active duty will not be eligible for the service’s aviation bonus nor promotion consideration.

In 2017, the Air Force asked for expanded authorities for its retention shortfalls. As a result, in October 2018, President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13223, which allowed the service to recall up to 1,000 former pilots.

The Air Force has said it does not plan to force anyone back on active duty involuntarily in any capacity. Officials said at the time they would work through how they could best use the executive order to voluntarily recall pilots.

Officials said additional VRRAD application procedures and eligibility requirements can be found on the VRRAD page of the AFPC public website.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

F-22s left at Tyndall likely damaged by massive hurricane

The U.S. Air Force anticipates that a number of F-22 Raptors left behind at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, during Hurricane Michael were damaged by the storm, an official said Oct. 12, 2018.

“A number of aircraft were left behind in hangars due to maintenance or safety reasons, and all of those hangars are damaged,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement. “We anticipate the aircraft parked inside may be damaged as well, but we won’t know the extent until our crews can safely enter those hangars and make an assessment.”

Neither the extent of the damage nor how many fighters were left behind was disclosed.


Officials also did not describe what maintenance was taking place that led officials to leave the jets at Tyndall instead of moving them to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where other F-22s from the 325th Fighter Wing moved.

The damage could hamper operations for the already dwindling Raptor fleet as the Defense Department aims to restore its fighter readiness rates.

While some aircraft have come out of active status for testing purposes, the Air Force has 183 of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made F-22s in its inventory today. More than 160 belong to active-duty units; the remainder are with Air National Guard elements. Four aircraft were lost or severely damaged between 2004 and 2012.

An Air Force F-22 Raptor assigned to the 3rd Wing flies over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Feb. 27, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Jamal Wilson)

The Pentagon last estimated the F-22 unit cost at 9 million in 2009, roughly 3 million in today’s money. The last F-22 was delivered in 2011. But in a classified report submitted to Congress in 2017, the Air Force estimated it would cost “6 million to 6 million per aircraft” should it ever want to restart the production line for newer, more advanced F-22s.

The DoD said that would amount to approximately ” billion to procure 194 additional F-22s.”

Roughly 120 fifth-generation stealth Raptors are combat-coded, or authorized to perform in wartime operations, at any given time. But the platform’s mission-capable rate has decreased over the years.

According to Defense News’ fiscal 2017 statistics, F-22s had a 49.01 percent mission-capable rate, meaning less than half were flyable at any given time. In 2014, more than three-quarters of F-22s were deemed mission capable.

The Pentagon wants to increase readiness rates for the F-22, F-16, F-35 and F/A-18 to 80 percent by September 2019 — a 31 percent bump for the Raptor alone.

An F/A-18 lands on the flight deck USS Theodore Roosevelt.

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Luke Williams)


In July 2018, the Government Accountability Office said the F-22 is frequently underutilized, mainly due to maintenance challenges and fewer opportunities for pilot training, as well as the fleet’s inefficient organizational structure.

In October 2018, an F-22 at Alaska’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson made an emergency landing on a base runway. Photos showed the jet, from the 3rd Wing, leaning on its left side, which the Air Force said was the result of a landing gear malfunction.

The latest incident comes months after an F-22, also assigned to JBER’s 3rd Wing, experienced engine failure April 6, 2018, during a routine training flight at Tyndall. Days preceding the engine failure, another F-22 experienced a belly skid at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.

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

MIGHTY SPORTS

7 ways to know you’re actually pushing yourself in the gym

You’re showing up and working out, but how do you know if you’re actually pushing yourself hard enough at the gym? If you’re putting the time in, but not seeing or feeling the results of all the hours spent grinding it out on the treadmill or in the weight room, you might be wondering if your effort is enough.

While techie gadgets like fitness trackers and exercise apps can help you stay focused, you sometimes need other ways to gauge your progress. INSIDER asked three fitness experts to share some ways you can tell if you’re pushing yourself hard enough when sweating it out at the gym.


1. You’re breathless during cardio

We all know that cardio workouts should make us sweat, but a better measure of an efficient aerobic workout is your breathing.”

A great way to tell if you’re pushing yourself enough in a cardio workout is if you’re getting breathless during the high-intensity moments,” said Aaptiv master trainer John Thornhill.

(Photo by Meghan Holmes)

For instance, Thornhill told INSIDER that at the end of a high-intensity cardio push, if you were having a conversation with another person and you could only say a few words in a breath, you’re pushing yourself appropriately.

However, if you’re new to fitness, he said it’s best not to get breathless too often. Instead, Thornhill recommended working your way up to sustaining mid to high levels of intensity for longer periods of time.

2. You measure the intensity by using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

One way to gauge intensity while working out, said iFit Trainer Mecayla Froerer, is by Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Using a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the absolute hardest you can work, Froerer told INSIDER that you can take inventory of where you’re at and how you are feeling.

If your workout is supposed to be a HIIT style workout, you’ll want to work in the 8-10 RPE range (anaerobic). Additionally, if your workout is scheduled to be a recovery workout, you’ll want to be in the 1-4 RPE range. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.

3. You’re seeing and feeling progress

If you’re feeling better, lifting heavier weights, moving faster, or recovering quicker, there’s a good chance you’re pushing yourself in the gym. But if you’re still feeling the same after putting in the time, Thornhill said you can up the intensity by increasing your resistance or weight incrementally, reduce your rest periods between HIIT (high-intensity-interval-training) sets, and increase the number of times you work out during the week.

(Photo by Scott Webb)

4. You’re experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness can happen after an intense workout. In other words, Thornhill said you know you’ve pushed the limits if your quads and calves are sore after a run, or your biceps are sore after a rigorous set of bicep curls.

“Tiny microscopic tears will develop in those muscles (don’t freak out, it’s totally normal) and your muscles will repair themselves and get stronger as you rest and recover,” he explained.

5. You feel some level of discomfort while working out

Strong effort and some discomfort go hand and hand, explained Tony Carvajal, certified CrossFit trainer with RSP Nutrition. He told INSIDER that you generally want to feel some level of discomfort (even minor) and pushing hard through a workout will cause that exact feeling.

(Photo by Danielle Cerullo)

“Pushing hard will create more ATP, your body will need extra oxygen, and so breathing increases and your heart starts pumping more blood to your muscles,” he explained.

As the heart rate spikes and the body requires more oxygen, Carvajal said lactic acid starts to flow through the muscles, mainly in the legs and arms. “That’s what is usually described as the ‘burn’ and is exactly what you should be reaching for,” he added.

6. You’re thinking about the reward

If you exercise on autopilot, there’s a good chance you’re not thinking about your “why,” which often leads to a lack of effort and disappointing results in the gym. That’s why Carvajal said to remind yourself before, during, and after the workout “why” you’re doing this — what is your reward?

(Photo by Victor Freitas)

“You may find it beneficial to have a mental or even physical picture of your reasons for working out hard, and focusing on this will help you to push through even when it’s tough,” he explained.

7. You’re excited to exercise

It’s normal to have days when you want to skip the gym. But if you’re coming up with excuses and finding reasons to ditch your workouts, you might actually be bored.

Hitting a plateau in your exercise routine can lead to a decrease in your fitness level and a lack of motivation to push yourself when you are working out. Consider hiring a trainer or taking a fitness class. Having an expert guide you through your workouts can help to ensure that you’re actually pushing yourself hard enough.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Tom Hanks is teaming up with Dale Dye for a new D-Day blockbuster

Tom Hanks is no stranger to producing incredible dramas that vividly revive battles and wars of the past.


From Saving Private Ryan to Band of Brothers and onward to the more-recent hit series, The Pacific, Hanks has outdone himself in bringing to light the gritty, true stories of combat throughout the Pacific and European theaters.

Now, Hanks, one of Hollywood’s best war-movie producers, will be teaming with another war-movie legend to tell the tale of the Allied airborne assault on Normandy in advance of the D-Day landings in June of 1944.

That’s right — Tom Hanks will be partnering up with retired U.S. Marine, author, and actor Dale Dye on his newest film project. Called No Better Place to Die, the movie tells the true story of a small group of paratroopers operating behind enemy lines during Mission Boston.

A U.S. Army paratrooper prepares to jump into combat on D-Day, June 1944 (Photo U.S. Army)

The actual mission itself, run by the U.S. Army’s 82nd “All American” Airborne Division, was later heralded as one of the most critical factors in ensuring the success of the D-Day amphibious landings.

“This is such an important and dramatic story that I’ve always wondered why no one has made a movie about it,” Dye remarks.

The defense of La Fiere Bridge, a vital part of the mission and the focus of the movie, was easily one of the most grueling engagements the 82nd’s All Americans would find themselves in throughout the war.

Listen to Dale Dye talk about the real story behind his movie and his plan to hire veterans to make it:

“I’m very glad to be teaming with Dale on this project,” Hanks said. He especially notes the importance of enhancing the discussion around D-Day and Operation Overlord with the 75th anniversary of the landings coming up later this year.

Hanks himself was a central character in Saving Private Ryan, playing Captain John Miller, an Army Ranger tasked with searching for and bringing home a paratrooper as part of the Sole Survivor policy, and his brothers were all killed in combat.

This won’t be the first time Hanks and Dye have worked together on a war drama.  In 2001, Dye was featured in Hanks’ mini-series, Band of Brothers, playing Col. Robert Sink, commander of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Before that, Dye had a role in Saving Private Ryan as a War Department officer. The two also worked together on Forrest Gump in 1994.

Tom Hanks on the set of Forrest Gump (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In both Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, as well as Hanks’ recent series, The Pacific, Dye contributed his combat experiences and background as a Marine by advising the production team to ensure accuracy, and by leading actors through a conditioning boot camp to give them a brief yet necessary look into the military lives of the soldiers they would be portraying.

While these silver-screen hits do a lot to share the realities of war and the numerous untold stories of heroism and bravery with the general public, Dye and Hanks will be taking it a step further by actually hiring military veterans to play characters in the new movie. It doesn’t just tell the stories of combat veterans, it helps modern-day veterans, too.

Dale Dye speaks to members of the press during the premiere for The Pacific (Photo U.S. Marine Corps)

Dye is no stranger to war, having served in combat in the jungles of Vietnam during the height of the war. Though a combat correspondent by trade, he wound up serving as an assistant machine gunner, volunteering to step outside the wire multiple times, even with a fresh injury from the Tet Offensive of 1968.

Retiring as a captain in 1984 after 20 years of service, both as an enlisted and a commissioned officer, Dye left the Marine Corps with a Bronze Star with a Combat V for his heroism in battle, earned while repeatedly exposing himself to withering enemy fire to rescue fallen comrades, and 3 Purple Hearts for wounds sustained in battle.

Given Dye’s track record with war movies, as both an advisor and an actor, and Hank’s history with WWII dramas, you can bet that No Better Place to Die will be an incredible must-watch when it makes its debut.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How these soldiers survived the Tet Offensive

The screams of a fellow soldier trapped inside his armored vehicle pierced through the radio.

Apparently surrounded by the enemy with no more ammunition, the soldier cried for help saying his crew had all been killed.

But with his radio keyed open and no one able to talk back to him, then-Spc. 4 Dave Garrod and others in Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, could only listen to the desperate pleas.


“It was a knee knocker,” Garrod recalled as his 25th Infantry Division unit raced down to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, which was under siege by enemy forces. “I had no idea what we were driving into.”

Tet Offensive 

On Jan. 30, 1968, the Vietnam War escalated as enemy forces launched surprise attacks during the country’s New Year holiday.

Then-Spc. 5 Dwight Birdwell, middle, seen on top of a tank during the Vietnam War. Birdwell and other Soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division’s 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment helped defend Tan Son Nhut Air Base in a Tet Offensive attack Jan. 31, 1968.

About 85,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army fighters rushed across the border to attack over 100 cities and towns in southern Vietnam in an attempt to break a stalemate in the war.

Weeks of intense fighting ensued causing heavy losses on both sides.

Before they could repel many of the attacks, thousands of U.S. and South Vietnamese troops would die. Tens of thousands of enemy fighters were also killed.

While not largely deemed a victory for the enemy forces, which suffered a greater toll, the attacks did trigger many in America to rethink U.S. involvement in the protracted war.

Tan Son Nhut

One of the enemy’s main targets was Tan Son Nhut, a key airbase near Saigon where the Military Assistance Command Vietnam and the South Vietnamese air force were headquartered.

After reports of Viet Cong fighters attempting to invade the airbase on Jan. 31, 1968, soldiers with 3rd Squadron’s Charlie Troop responded to the call.

As they drove toward the airbase in the early morning hours, then-Spc. 5 Dwight Birdwell remembers seeing no civilians along the highway — typically a bad omen.

Photos of Dwight Birdwell before he deployed to Vietnam.

Birdwell had seen attacks before during his tour, he said, but they were mainly mines or other small arms weapons fired by a hidden enemy. This day would be different.

When they arrived just outside the airbase, his unit’s column of tanks and armored personnel carriers suddenly stopped.

As if on cue, thousands of tracer rounds began to pepper the vehicles in front of his tank from both sides of the highway. Enemy fighters then jumped onto the vehicles, shooting inside of them.

“All hell broke loose,” Birdwell recalled.

A bullet then struck Birdwell’s tank commander right through the head and he collapsed inside the tank. Birdwell pulled him out, he said, and passed him over the side for medical treatment, which kept him alive.

Birdwell took command of the tank. By that time, all the vehicles ahead of him had been wiped out or were unable to return gunfire. Enemy fighters also set some ablaze after they failed to drive off with them.

“There was a lot of confusion and pandemonium,” he said.

His tank fired its 90 mm cannon toward the enemy while he shot off rounds from the .50-caliber machine gun to hold the enemy back.

Birdwell’s unit was stuck in the middle of an enemy invasion as hundreds of fighters had already crossed the highway and penetrated the airbase to his left. On his right side, even more fighters — some just 50 feet away — prepared to join the assault.

“They were getting close,” he recalled. “I could see their faces quite well.”

Around the same time he ran out of ammunition, a U.S. helicopter was hit and made an emergency landing behind his tank.

Spc. 4 Dave Garrod, left, poses for a photo with Spc. 5 Ed McKenna and Spc. 4 Joe Carlton during their tour in the Vietnam War.

“I thought that this is unreal,” Birdwell said. “Somebody is filming a movie.”

He jumped down from the tank and ran toward the helicopter. Once there, he grabbed one of the helicopter’s M-60 machine guns the door gunners had been using and returned to his position.

After a few minutes of firing rounds at the enemy, something hit the machine gun — likely an enemy bullet. The impact, he said, sprayed shrapnel up into his face and chest.

With the M-60 now destroyed, Birdwell said he took cover in a nearby ditch. He and a few soldiers then grabbed some M-16 rifles and grenades and moved to a closer position behind a large tree.

There, they exchanged gunfire and tossed grenades over the road until the enemy started to fire a machine gun at them.

As the barrage of bullets cut into the tree, it sounded like a chainsaw chewing it down.

“We were in a very desperate situation,” he said.

Reinforcements

Around that time, Garrod’s Bravo Troop began to roll into the area.

Soldiers in a different platoon within Charlie Troop also arrived to suppress the attack from inside the base.

“After pulling on line we started laying down fire,” Garrod recalled, “and trying to keep it as low as possible so as not to fire on Charlie Troop on the road.”

Garrod and other soldiers were then pulled away to help wounded crewmen near a textile factory from which the enemy had been commanding its attack.

Once there, he ran over to a tank that had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Inside, he could see the tank’s loader who could not move due to his legs being seriously wounded.

“Being a small, skinny guy, I jumped down in the hatch and without thinking put him on my shoulders and stuck him up through the hatch,” he said.

Later that day, the intensity of the battle hit home for Garrod as he rested in the shade of his vehicle.

Dave Garrod, fifth from right, poses for a photo in front of a Vietnam War memorial near where the Tan Son Nhut Air Base attack occurred on Jan. 31, 1968.

He lifted his canteen up to take a drink when an awful smell overcame him.

“When I looked down on my flak jacket, there was a hunk of flesh from that loader,” he recalled. “It’s something that’s etched into your mind forever.”

Almost 20 soldiers from the squadron were killed and many more wounded as they defended the airbase that day. About two dozen South Vietnamese troops were also killed along with hundreds of enemy fighters.

Garrod earned an Army Commendation Medal with valor device for his actions and a Purple Heart in another mission a few days later. Birdwell earned a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.

The squadron was also awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

Thirty years later, Garrod and other veterans traveled back to the site on the anniversary of the offensive as a way to find closure for what they saw that day.

They also visited a statue in a nearby park that honors those who were lost or suffered as a result of the battle.

Because of the devastation the war had caused, Garrod expected to see animosity on the faces of the Vietnamese people.

“Instead we found gracious, friendly people,” he said. “Even the veterans from the north whom we met … greeted us with hugs. It was very surprising. They had definitely moved on.”

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

China plans new satellites to spy in South China Sea

China reportedly wants to extend its surveillance state to the South China Sea by launching satellites to watch “every reef and ship” in the contested sea.

Beginning in 2019, China will begin launching satellites to monitor the region, as well as enforce “national sovereignty,” the South China Morning Post reported Aug. 16, 2018, citing China’s state-run China News Service. Six optical satellites, two hyerspectral satellites and two radar satellites will form the Hainan satellite constellation system, creating a real-time “CCTV network in space” controlled by operators in Hainan.


“Each reef and island as well as each vessel in the South China Sea will be under the watch of the ‘space eyes,'” Yang Tianliang, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Sanya Institute of Remote Sensing, told SCMP. “The system will [reinforce] national sovereignty, protection of fisheries, and marine search and rescue.”

The ten new surveillance satellites will allow China to keep a close watch on disputed territories, as well as the foreign ships entering the area. The project is expected to be completed by 2021, with three optical satellites going up in the second half of 2019.

The northeastern portion of the South China Sea.

The satellites, according to Asia Times, would be able to scan the entire 3.5-million-square-kilometer waterway and create an up-to-date satellite image database within a matter of days. Beijing has apparently promised transparency, stressing that it will share information with other countries.

Beijing’s efforts to alleviate the concerns of other claimant states are unlikely to result in a sign of relief, as China has been significantly increasing its military presence in the region this year by deploying point-defense systems, jamming technology, anti-ship cruise missiles, and surface-to-air missiles to Chinese occupied territories. China’s militarization of the South China Sea resulted in the country’s expulsion from the latest iteration of the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercises by the Pentagon.

In recent weeks, China has come under fire for issuing threats and warnings to foreign ships and planes operating in the South China Sea, an area largely upheld as international waters in a 2016 rebuke to China. “Philippine military aircraft, I’m warning you again: Leave immediately or you will bear responsibility for all the consequences,” a Chinese voice shouted over the radio recently when a Philippine aircraft flew past the Spratlys. China issued a similar warning to a US Navy plane on Aug. 10, 2018.

The incidents came just a few months after Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis accused China of “intimidation and coercion” at a security forum in Singapore.

“China has a right to take necessary steps to respond to foreign aircraft and ships that deliberately get close to or make incursions into the air and waters near China’s relevant islands and provocative actions that threaten the security of Chinese personnel stationed there,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement to Reuters on the matter.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

It rains on the sun – this is how

For five months in mid 2017, Emily Mason did the same thing every day. Arriving to her office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, she sat at her desk, opened up her computer, and stared at images of the Sun — all day, every day. “I probably looked through three or five years’ worth of data,” Mason estimated. Then, in October 2017, she stopped. She realized she had been looking at the wrong thing all along.

Mason, a graduate student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., was searching for coronal rain: giant globs of plasma, or electrified gas, that drip from the Sun’s outer atmosphere back to its surface. But she expected to find it in helmet streamers, the million-mile tall magnetic loops — named for their resemblance to a knight’s pointy helmet — that can be seen protruding from the Sun during a solar eclipse. Computer simulations predicted the coronal rain could be found there. Observations of the solar wind, the gas escaping from the Sun and out into space, hinted that the rain might be happening. And if she could just find it, the underlying rain-making physics would have major implications for the 70-year-old mystery of why the Sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona, is so much hotter than its surface. But after nearly half a year of searching, Mason just couldn’t find it. “It was a lot of looking,” Mason said, “for something that never ultimately happened.”


The problem, it turned out, wasn’t what she was looking for, but where. In a paper published today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, Mason and her coauthors describe the first observations of coronal rain in a smaller, previously overlooked kind of magnetic loop on the Sun. After a long, winding search in the wrong direction, the findings forge a new link between the anomalous heating of the corona and the source of the slow solar wind — two of the biggest mysteries facing solar science today.

Mason searched for coronal rain in helmet streamers like the one that appears on the left side of this image, taken during the 1994 eclipse as viewed from South America. A smaller pseudostreamer appears on the western limb (right side of image). Named for their resemblance to a knight’s pointy helmet, helmet streamers extend far into the Sun’s faint corona and are most readily seen when the light from the Sun’s bright surface is occluded.

(© 1994 Úpice observatory and Vojtech Rušin, © 2007 Miloslav Druckmüller)

How it rains on the Sun

Observed through the high-resolution telescopes mounted on NASA’s SDO spacecraft, the Sun – a hot ball of plasma, teeming with magnetic field lines traced by giant, fiery loops — seems to have few physical similarities with Earth. But our home planet provides a few useful guides in parsing the Sun’s chaotic tumult: among them, rain.

On Earth, rain is just one part of the larger water cycle, an endless tug-of-war between the push of heat and pull of gravity. It begins when liquid water, pooled on the planet’s surface in oceans, lakes, or streams, is heated by the Sun. Some of it evaporates and rises into the atmosphere, where it cools and condenses into clouds. Eventually, those clouds become heavy enough that gravity’s pull becomes irresistible and the water falls back to Earth as rain, before the process starts anew.

On the Sun, Mason said, coronal rain works similarly, “but instead of 60-degree water you’re dealing with a million-degree plasma.” Plasma, an electrically-charged gas, doesn’t pool like water, but instead traces the magnetic loops that emerge from the Sun’s surface like a rollercoaster on tracks. At the loop’s foot points, where it attaches to the Sun’s surface, the plasma is superheated from a few thousand to over 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit. It then expands up the loop and gathers at its peak, far from the heat source. As the plasma cools, it condenses and gravity lures it down the loop’s legs as coronal rain.

Coronal rain, like that shown in this movie from NASA’s SDO in 2012, is sometimes observed after solar eruptions, when the intense heating associated with a solar flare abruptly cuts off after the eruption and the remaining plasma cools and falls back to the solar surface. Mason was searching for coronal rain not associated with eruptions, but instead caused by a cyclical process of heating and cooling similar to the water cycle on Earth.

(NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory/Scientific Visualization Studio/Tom Bridgman, Lead Animator)

Mason was looking for coronal rain in helmet streamers, but her motivation for looking there had more to do with this underlying heating and cooling cycle than the rain itself. Since at least the mid-1990s, scientists have known that helmet streamers are one source of the slow solar wind, a comparatively slow, dense stream of gas that escapes the Sun separately from its fast-moving counterpart. But measurements of the slow solar wind gas revealed that it had once been heated to an extreme degree before cooling and escaping the Sun. The cyclical process of heating and cooling behind coronal rain, if it was happening inside the helmet streamers, would be one piece of the puzzle.

The other reason connects to the coronal heating problem — the mystery of how and why the Sun’s outer atmosphere is some 300 times hotter than its surface. Strikingly, simulations have shown that coronal rain only forms when heat is applied to the very bottom of the loop. “If a loop has coronal rain on it, that means that the bottom 10% of it, or less, is where coronal heating is happening,” said Mason. Raining loops provide a measuring rod, a cutoff point to determine where the corona gets heated. Starting their search in the largest loops they could find — giant helmet streamers — seemed like a modest goal, and one that would maximize their chances of success.

She had the best data for the job: Images taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, a spacecraft that has photographed the Sun every twelve seconds since its launch in 2010. But nearly half a year into the search, Mason still hadn’t observed a single drop of rain in a helmet streamer. She had, however, noticed a slew of tiny magnetic structures, ones she wasn’t familiar with. “They were really bright and they kept drawing my eye,” said Mason. “When I finally took a look at them, sure enough they had tens of hours of rain at a time.”

At first, Mason was so focused on her helmet streamer quest that she made nothing of the observations. “She came to group meeting and said, ‘I never found it — I see it all the time in these other structures, but they’re not helmet streamers,'” said Nicholeen Viall, a solar scientist at Goddard, and a coauthor of the paper. “And I said, ‘Wait…hold on. Where do you see it? I don’t think anybody’s ever seen that before!'”

A measuring rod for heating

These structures differed from helmet streamers in several ways. But the most striking thing about them was their size.

“These loops were much smaller than what we were looking for,” said Spiro Antiochos, who is also a solar physicist at Goddard and a coauthor of the paper. “So that tells you that the heating of the corona is much more localized than we were thinking.”

Mason’s article analyzed three observations of Raining Null-Point Topologies, or RNTPs, a previously overlooked magnetic structure shown here in two wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light. The coronal rain observed in these comparatively small magnetic loops suggests that the corona may be heated within a far more restricted region than previously expected.

(NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory/Emily Mason)

While the findings don’t say exactly how the corona is heated, “they do push down the floor of where coronal heating could happen,” said Mason. She had found raining loops that were some 30,000 miles high, a mere two percent the height of some of the helmet streamers she was originally looking for. And the rain condenses the region where the key coronal heating can be happening. “We still don’t know exactly what’s heating the corona, but we know it has to happen in this layer,” said Mason.

A new source for the slow solar wind

But one part of the observations didn’t jibe with previous theories. According to the current understanding, coronal rain only forms on closed loops, where the plasma can gather and cool without any means of escape. But as Mason sifted through the data, she found cases where rain was forming on open magnetic field lines. Anchored to the Sun at only one end, the other end of these open field lines fed out into space, and plasma there could escape into the solar wind. To explain the anomaly, Mason and the team developed an alternative explanation — one that connected rain on these tiny magnetic structures to the origins of the slow solar wind.

In the new explanation, the raining plasma begins its journey on a closed loop, but switches — through a process known as magnetic reconnection — to an open one. The phenomenon happens frequently on the Sun, when a closed loop bumps into an open field line and the system rewires itself. Suddenly, the superheated plasma on the closed loop finds itself on an open field line, like a train that has switched tracks. Some of that plasma will rapidly expand, cool down, and fall back to the Sun as coronal rain. But other parts of it will escape – forming, they suspect, one part of the slow solar wind.

Mason is currently working on a computer simulation of the new explanation, but she also hopes that soon-to-come observational evidence may confirm it. Now that Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, is traveling closer to the Sun than any spacecraft before it, it can fly through bursts of slow solar wind that can be traced back to the Sun — potentially, to one of Mason’s coronal rain events. After observing coronal rain on an open field line, the outgoing plasma, escaping to the solar wind, would normally be lost to posterity. But no longer. “Potentially we can make that connection with Parker Solar Probe and say, that was it,” said Viall.

Digging through the data

As for finding coronal rain in helmet streamers? The search continues. The simulations are clear: the rain should be there. “Maybe it’s so small you can’t see it?” said Antiochos. “We really don’t know.”

But then again, if Mason had found what she was looking for she might not have made the discovery — or have spent all that time learning the ins and outs of solar data.

“It sounds like a slog, but honestly it’s my favorite thing,” said Mason. “I mean that’s why we built something that takes that many images of the Sun: So we can look at them and figure it out.”

This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Was your enlistment ceremony this cool?

World History was made yesterday at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where the U.S. Army and NASA utilized state of the art technology to provide the most unique Oath of Enlistment ceremony for new soldiers.

“We have an incredible opportunity to experience a dream all of us grew up with – the opportunity to touch the stars… Right now… 250 miles above us… flies the International Space Station, traveling at speeds that defy imagination, circling the planet every 90 minutes. Simply amazing,” said Brigadier General Patrick Michaelis, USAREC Deputy Commanding General. “Though NASA and the U.S. Army have been working together for the past 60 years, this is the first time to host a nationwide Oath of Enlistment from space for over 1000 soldiers in 150 different locations, where they will launch; no pun intended, their careers.”


U.S. Army Recruiting Command

Twenty five recruits and their families came to celebrate the new soldiers embarking on their new careers via a live video stream from the International Space Station. Recruits got to ask questions to Army Astronaut Colonel Andrew R. Morgan, who has been in space since July 2019 and was selected as an astronaut in 2013. Morgan, a special operations physician, is the commander of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Army Astronaut Detachment at Johnson Space Center, Texas, and the space station’s flight engineer. Morgan is part of the U.S. Army Astronaut Detachment, which supports NASA with flight crew and provides engineering expertise for human interface with space systems. Additionally, Morgan is a combat veteran with airborne and ranger tabs and has also served as a combat diver. As an astronaut, he has completed seven spacewalks and one space flight to the International Space Station.

U.S. Army Recruiting Command

The recruits tuned in from all over the United States and were able to ask Morgan questions via the video link at the Johnson Space Center. Impressively, it did not take long for the video connection to happen and it was less painful than the time it takes conference calls that occur within the domestic U.S. to get connected. There was a brief lag after each sentence, but nothing different than what a VOIP user experiences via Skype or Facetime.

Morgan welcomed everyone aboard the ISS. When asked if there was recruiting going on for new astronauts, he informed the recruits what standards are needed and shared with them that a strong STEM, science and engineering background with a Master’s Degree was necessary and that they need well-rounded individuals who have the education, but also other qualities.

Morgan opened his uniform zipper to reveal an Army Strong t-shirt, much to the cheers of the recruits. He later displayed all of the US military branch flags and allowed them to float across the screen. He also did a few somersaults.

Also joining in the celebration was the newest Army Astronaut, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Rubio. Rubio entertained live questions from the audience at the Johnson Space Center and gave them lots of advice when facing difficulties in their lives.

Aim high, recruits! Congratulations on your new careers. The sky is literally the limit.

U.S. Army Recruiting Command

MIGHTY CULTURE

Facing appointments or giving birth alone? You’ve got this.

Jenny Byers, a first time mom living in San Diego at the time, laid on the hospital bed with tears streaming down her face as her son, Declan, was placed on her chest.

In what was such a joyous moment in her life, Byers wished just one thing — that her husband could be there to witness the occasion. She turned over her shoulder as a nurse nearby held up a computer with a live FaceTime call with PJ Byers, meeting his son for the first time.


Courtesy of Jenny Byers

“That’s your daddy,” she said to her newborn son experiencing skin-to-skin beneath a blanket.

PJ Byers redeployed when Declan was five months old and they met for the first time face-to-face in an emotional airport family reunion.

“At first I was scared our family was being robbed of one of the most special moments of our lives,” Jenny Byers told We Are The Mighty. “But I was wrong. That moment was still just as special, but in a way I wasn’t expecting. Thanks to modern day technology, we got to meet our son together.”

The Byers family’s story is not an outlier. Being married to someone in the military often means facing many of life’s challenges without your significant other and pregnancy is no exception.

“When my son was born we were at Fort Campbell, and my daughter was four,” said Sophie Pappas, a journalist and Army spouse. “I ended up driving myself to the hospital while my mom from Indiana stayed with my daughter. The midwife was super amazing during my second birth. She held one of my legs up with one of her hands and with her other hand she held my iPhone so my husband could FaceTime and see everything! I will always be grateful he was able to at least watch over FaceTime.”

Pappas credits the love and adrenaline running through her body for being able to deliver her baby boy without focusing on the absence of her husband.

Courtesy of Sophie Pappas

“When I was pushing, I remember laying in the hospital room at 8-centimeters dilated, totally alone,” she shared. “My water broke and I started to push right then and there with not even a nurse around. I didn’t know how to call anyone in, so I just started doing it alone. Looking back, that was one of the most amazing moments of my life. The strength that your body has to just do what it needs to do is incredible.”

While military spouses facing pregnancy alone and delivery without their spouse is not new, this is an unprecedented situation for many pregnant civilians as the coronavirus outbreak continues.

Heading to appointments without spousal support or delivering a new baby in a plan that looks different than it did six months ago is a scary realization that is top-of-mind for many moms-to-be.

Here is what military spouses who were pregnant and/or delivered alone want to share with expectant moms:

“I wish I trusted in myself a little more that I was capable and strong enough to do it alone and that it wouldn’t be forever. I also talked to my OB/GYN who knew about my experience and would let me videotape parts of the appointment such as ultrasounds. She was also really good about giving me lots of US pictures that I could send to my husband.” – Maureen Hannan Tufte

“I would tell them to be sure and ask for help when they need it. I was pretty stubborn about trying to do it all on my own, but when I did have help, I would realize how much I really needed it. Maybe find pregnancy groups (fitness or otherwise) to get involved in. Maybe they’ll find a kindred spirit who is going through the same thing? I would tell them that they can get through this.” – Julie Estrella

“I think the biggest thing with any pregnancy is that whether a national pandemic or a deployment or any event gets in the way, you’re going to have this ‘idea’ of exactly how you want things to go or you think things will go. I can 10000% guarantee that no pregnancy has ever turned out exactly like the mom and dad to be imagined, it’s just life. The sooner you adjust to the idea that things may change or unexpected events may occur, the better your anxiety and nerves will be and the less it will sting when that inevitable curveball comes your way.” – Kati Simmons

“It’s scary to be pregnant by yourself, especially during a first pregnancy. But the baby will keep growing no matter whether or not your partner is available. All you can do is take care of yourself and try not to stress out. Then be sure to Reach out to friends, call family, do what you can to find support because there are definitely people who are willing to help.” – Julie Yaste

“What brought me comfort before giving birth without my husband was hearing about other women who had labored alone before me. Knowing I wasn’t the only one to ever face this situation gave me every affirmation I needed, to know I was going to be okay.” – Jenny Byers

“I would tell someone to not get hung up on who won’t be there, think about who will. You and your baby! Embrace these moments to bond and build a connection. Dwelling on the sadness of your spouse not being there takes away from the joy.” – Kelsey Bucci

“We are capable and able to do hard things. It will be ok. Not having your spouse around for the birth is really hard. But, it will be ok. Lots of pictures and FaceTime. We are lucky to live in a land of technology.” – Alana Steppe

“Know it’s only temporary and the feeling of seeing your husband or spouse with your baby will be the most amazing feeling and make it all worth it.” – Emily Stewart

Courtesy of Kelly Callahan

“You are stronger than you know, and while the situation may not look anything like what you pictured, it is amazing what our mind and body will do (and do well) when we are faced with the challenge of bringing a new life into the world. What I realize now that we are on the other side of it, is that this situation is a small piece of our story and it’s a beautiful one. Lucy is in kindergarten now and I’ve heard her share with classmates and teachers more than once that her daddy could not be there when she was born, so she got to meet him on the computer, because he was fighting bad guys in other places. It all adds to who we are and how we are shaped. I would also add that the nurses and doctor who helped me deliver stepped up in ways I never could have imagined. They made sure the technology was just right so that my husband was included and included him in the conversations. They supported me like we had known each other for years and cried with me when she was born. The medical community is amazing and will not let anyone feel alone.” – Kelly Callahan

A spouse who wished to remain anonymous gave sage advice for expectant moms from the perspective of both a mom of six and labor and delivery nurse of ten years:

“I can confidently tell you that now, more than ever, your nurses are ready to be your doula, photographer and friend,” she shared. “You will not be left alone. You will have our entire team here to celebrate with you on your special day.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Korean War started 68 years ago this week

When the Korean War erupted on June 25, 1950 — 68 years ago in June 2018 — Master Sgt. Thomas B. Hutton soon found himself serving there with the Eighth U.S. Army as a first sergeant in an automotive maintenance unit, duty that gave him a rare chance to see the land and people of Korea up close as the country went about its daily life amid the privations and perils of war.

Hutton was an avid photographer and during 1952, he turned his 35 mm lens to preserving what he saw, snapping hundreds of photos — in color — that afford a rare look and feel of the country at that time.

The photos show ordinary people — country folk and city dwellers — going about their daily tasks — washing clothes in a river, bustling past a railroad station, making their way down a country road, standing in a rice field and watching a passing train haul tanks to some distant railhead.


Hutton died in 1988 and hundreds of his slides ended up in the Texas home of one of his daughters. As it happened, her son was Army Col. Brandon D. Newton, who until June 2018, served two years as commander of U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud and Area I. He’d digitized his grandfather’s Korean War photos, kept them on his smartphone, and one day in 2017 showed them to a Korean Army sergeant major who sat next to him at an informal dinner.

Master Sgt. Thomas B. Hutton an Eighth U.S. Army first sergeant in an automotive maintenance unit looks out on the South Korea countryside during the Korean War circa 1952.
(U.S. Army photo)

The sergeant major was amazed. Color photos of the Korean War were rare enough, but these truly captured Korea’s history. They showed what the country looked like. What the people looked like. And they even included rare shots of some of the earliest members of two organizations that are part of the U.S.-South Korean military alliance to this day: the Korean Service Corps and the KATUSAs — South Korean Soldiers who serve shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. Soldiers in U.S. Army units in Korea.

When the sergeant major asked Newton if he’d be willing to donate the photos to the Korean Army, Newton immediately said yes and soon gave the slides — 239 images — to the Korean Army.

The Korean Army was thrilled and got right to work on trying to pin down where the photos were taken and just what they showed. To get it right, they enlisted the aid of professors, museum curators and other experts.

Then on June 5, 2018 Newton, his wife and son were the guests of the Korean Army’s Personnel Command in Gyeryong, South Chungcheong Province, for an exhibition of some of Hutton’s photos and a ceremony marking the donation.

Early photo of a group of Korean Service Corps members during the Korean War circa 1952.
(U.S. Army photo)


The photos will be preserved in the Korean army’s official archives and copies would be distributed to museums and other institutions, the Korean army said during the ceremony.

During brief remarks at the ceremony, Newton said of the photos:

“First, they provide a very accurate and important history of what Korea was like in 1952, not just for the American Army, the Eighth Army, but also for the ROK army, Korean Service Corps and the KATUSAs. Second — most importantly — they demonstrate the strength of the alliance and an alliance that’s been in place for 68 years. And it helps us understand that our alliance is not just about the relationship between the militaries but also between our people, between the people of the United States of America and the people of the Republic of Korea. It’s a relationship that not only is about our service today but it’s about spanning generations from grandfathers and fathers and sons.”

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