At least 14,000 years ago in one of the most fascinating (and adorable) evolutionary events, dogs diverged from their wolven ancestors. The details of the domestication process are still hazy, but the results have changed our relationship with dogs completely. Working dogs even save lives.
While most of us view dogs as lovable family pets, they’re much more than that. Dogs have much of the same biological advantages as their evolutionary predecessors, including intelligence and a remarkably keen sense of smell. They’re also highly trainable, making them perfect candidates for jobs that are beyond human capabilities- including jobs in the military.
Military working dogs have been serving the US for over 100 years.
In the earliest years of our country’s history, dogs were out on the battlefield alongside their companions. Come World War II, the first formally trained military working dogs were deployed- over 10,000 of them. They’ve played a role in every war since, with some studies estimating that more than 10,000 human lives were saved by working dogs in Vietnam.
Not all breeds are suited to being military working dogs.
No offense, but a Shih-Tzu is better designed to be a pillow than a working dog. Many breeds have been used over the years, including Dobermans, Boxers, Rottweilers, and different types of terrier. In recent years, the staple breeds have leaned towards German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois. Why? These breeds are fiercely loyal, loving, and obedient, with an insanely powerful bite. Perfect.
These special pups take on several essential, life-saving roles in the field. These are some of the most common.
Trained to work silently, patrol dogs search for snipers and alert troops of possible ambushes. Having them around is a powerful deterrent to enemies. Because they’re so good at what they do, soldiers are often more at ease in their presence.
Sentry dogs are most often used to detect approaching enemies at night. The Coast Guard has even used them to alert ships of enemy submarine activity.
Messenger working dogs are trained to carry messages from one handler to the other. At times, they carry sensitive information through enemy territory, so they must travel as quietly as possible.
Bomb dogs start training when they’re just a year and a half old, and they’re practically made for the job. Their noses have 300 million olfactory receptors compared to just six million in humans, and over a third of their brain is used to process smells. These finely-tuned sniffers learn to detect the presence of dozens of chemical ingredients. When they recognize an ingredient, they’re trained to sit- can’t have a puppy pawing at TNT, can we?
The most heartwarming of all military working dogs are the ones who literally save lives. Their incredible sense of smell enables them to find injured soldiers in locations a human would never be able to guess. Armed with protective gear and tiny cameras, the dogs scout the scene to lead their human partners to critically injured companions.
After the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, over 300 search and rescue dogs helped out at ground zero. They sniffed out several injured civilians buried under feet of rubble. Rescue workers were so impressed by one dog that they saved his DNA. A few years later, they made five little casualty dog clones!
These dogs aren’t tools of the trade. They’re partners.
Ask any military dog handler, and they’ll tell you that working dogs are more than military assets. They work alongside their human companions with every bit as much loyalty and brotherhood as any other service member, except on four legs and with a much better schnoz. Their comparatively short lifespans make their devotion even more poignant; they truly dedicate most of their lives to saving ours.
They may not be able to read or speak, but they live up to their unofficial pledge with their actions:
“My eyes are your eyes. To watch and protect you and yours. My ears are your ears. To hear and detect evil minds in the dark. My nose is your nose to scent the invader of your domain. And so you may live, my life is also yours.”
Yoshihiko Fukuda, Iwakuni city mayor, presents Col. James C. Stewart, station commanding officer, with a letter of appreciation at the Iwakuni cityhall, June 13, for the station’s contribution during Operation Tomodachi. Operation Tomodachi was the joint relief effort conducted by the U.S. and Japanese government to help the victims of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that shook northern Japan March 11.
A letter of appreciation feels like a wet dollar: It still has value but it does not do much – at first glance. When a Marine does something above and beyond but not to the point that they earned a medal it’s a gray area for some commanders. Officers in particular want to recognize their troops for their service but there are several politics at play when issuing awards. You can cross the no-man’s land between nothing and awards using letters of appreciation to close the gap.
How to get some
Letter of Appreciation. Any officer senior to a Marine whose performance is considered noteworthy or commendable beyond the usual requirements of duty may issue a Letter of Appreciation. Do not forward copies of Letters of Appreciation to CMC (MMMA) or to CMC (MMSB). A copy will not be entered into the Marine’s OMPF.
Attaining a letter of appreciation is easy on paper yet you must do something that is outside the norm. For young troops first entering the Fleet Marine Force, good luck on getting awarded anything before your first deployment. No one is going to give you a Navy Cross for taking charge of working parties. A sergeant, however, may take notice of your dedication to duty and run it up the chain of command to give you something.
They’re the easiest award to pitch
The biggest mistake troops do when first meet their new platoon sergeant and platoon commander is not being upfront with what one wants out of the service. When they ask you ‘what motivates you?’ and you choose the generic, falsely altruistic response that doesn’t include awards that’s what you’re going to get – nothing. Months later you are in formation you will watch someone else get the recognition for what you’ve done a million times over. Its because you didn’t open your mouth.
One says that you do not want awards because that is the proper thing to say. Being a ribbon chaser, someone who pursues awards, is a perceived negative trait. However, you’re not chasing the enemy into an ambush so you can get the Medal of Honor, it’s an ‘atta ’boy’.
The next time you have a heart to heart with the first rung of your chain of command and they ask what motivates you, say ‘A letter of appreciation would be fine.’ They do not have to do too much paperwork, there isn’t a massive approval process, there is no investigation, its literally a letter saying that you did a good job. It takes less time to go to lunch. If your command won’t write two paragraphs thanking you for months of back breaking labor than it’s time to talk to your career planner and go somewhere else.
When you ask for so little, they may straight up give you the medal your deserve.
A side note: Although the order says a copy of the letter will not be put into your OMPF, it will annotated that you have received a letter of appreciation but not why. So, they’re still valuable.
Establishes a pattern of good conduct
After every major field op, battalion movement, or deployment is the time when the top brass asks their officers if anyone within their command deserves an award for meritorious action. This is where those letters of appreciation come in handy. It is a negative quality for an officer to continuously give LOAs. Enlisted troops also judge their officers when they continuously give LOAs than an actual awards.
Officers high up the food chain will see you name time and again and recommend a higher award. For example, the battalion commander informed his officers that they can issue ‘X’ amount of ‘Y’ awards pertaining to the deployment in Afghanistan. Where ‘Y’ is the various kinds of individual awards they’re willing to approve. A troop with seven LOAs deserves a Meritorious Mast, surely. A troop with two or three Meritorious Masts should be only earning medals past this point. The administrative element of the military has evolved into a bureaucratic machine, a necessary evil to keep the gears of war lubricated. It may be a wet dollar but you can still buy things with it.
Marc Lonergan-Hertel grew up in Massachusetts with the dream of becoming a Navy SEAL — a dream he made into a reality. But he had a long way to go before achieving such a feat. He decided he needed to toughen up first, so he joined the Marine Corps, where he eventually found himself in Force Recon.
His military career took him through some of the toughest training the military has to offer. And he wrote about it in his memoir, Sierra Two: A SEAL’s Odyssey in War and Peace.
But Lonergan-Hertel didn’t stop there. He continued a life of adventure and service after leaving the military and today, he wants to call attention to real-world heroes he met along the way. He wants his transformative journey to help inspire others — namely, our nation’s youth — so they can maximize their full potential and achieve their dreams.
He calls himself a Protector.
Lonergan-Hertel and 1st Force Recon.
(Courtesy of Marc Lonergan-Hertel)
“Those who fight monsters inevitably change,” Lonergan-Hertel says, explaining what he means by the title “Protector.” It’s from a popular saying about post-traumatic stress, written by an unknown author. The quote goes on to note that if you stay in the fighting long enough, you will eventually become the monster. The former Navy SEAL wants to keep Protectors from getting that far.
“There is a cost to being a protector. Love is the only way to heal the wounds [that change you]. Remember this: As a protector, you run toward the things that others run away from. You go out to fight what you fear. You stand between others and the monsters on the other side of the wall.”
Lonergan-Hertel in his world-record paraglider flight, 70 South Antarctica.
(Courtesy of Marc Lonergan-Hertel)
You can read about his adventures fighting monsters in his book, Sierra Two. After his time in Force Recon, he left the military and worked as a Emergency Medical Technician in Los Angeles as well as a hunting guide in Colorado. Eventually, he decided to explore the Army and join the Special Forces. Shortly after joining the California National Guard, he was able to wear a maroon beret in support of 19 Special Forces Group and prepared to try out for Delta Section. He didn’t make Delta, but it did prepare him a selection packet he could submit to the Navy. He graduated from BUD/S in 1996 and joined SEAL Team Four. He left the military in 2000, but didn’t leave behind the adventurer’s life.
“My platoon chief recommended me for an around-the-world expedition through the Cousteau Society,” Lonergan-Hertel says. “I ended up getting the position as a team member and expedition leader and scout for NatGeo and Discovery Channel programs to Antarctica the Amazon jungle, where I had experience as a SEAL.”
Lonergan-Hertel and his NatGeo Team. Lonergan-Hertel is center, in the cowboy hat.
(Courtesy of Marc Lonergan-Hertel)
During his military career and post-military adventuring, he began to question what he valued most in life. He began to look for his true purpose. As his journey sharpened his self-awareness, he was soon transformed into a new person. He became a Protector – and wanted to be the best Protector he could be. His life took him to rescue hurricane victims, assess the environment in Antarctica while diving under the ice shelves, hike up the Amazon River Basin alone and encounter endangered tribes along the way — he even lost his best friend to pirates along the same river.
“I wrote my book because I realized how much our life journey sharpens our awareness of what really matters in life,” Lonergan-Hertel says. “Real life experiences transform us as human beings and gives us an understanding of risk and sacrifice.”
He even has a line of survival gear, that includes a heat reflective thermal field blanket sleep system, called First Line Survival. Lonergan-Hertel calls it “base camp in a bag” and all the proceeds from First Line Survival benefit his Protectors tour.
But the longtime adventurer is more than just an author. He’s crossing the country with fellow Protectors to tell their stories in stage presentations, meant for school-age children but meaningful to parents as well. He wants children to grow up with the confidence to realize their abilities and potential, to see a personal path toward a positive future, and realize they have the power to do this within themselves at all times.
“I understand very clearly that the gift of life can be away very quickly,” Lonergan-Hertel says. “The best thing I can leave behind is to inspire others to have confidence in themselves and to help others who have a more difficult journey in life.”
The infantry squad leader is a billet that demands leadership and integrity. There is an unofficial rite of passage that every squad must endure. I’m not talking about the first order issued or the trials of combat. No–it’s when your squad leader sings his favorite, stereotypically “girly” songs. Maybe it’s boredom or his brain has turned to soup because of all the stupid he has to put up with.
In Afghanistan, our squad leader lost a bet to our Staff NCO and had to do a patrol debrief wearing spandex short shorts. What we saw was not meant for mortal eyes. The constant stretching and Ke$ha songs, however, were not mandatory. If he had to pay the price, so did all of us. If your squad leader doesn’t sing ridiculous songs at some point, is he even a real leader?
Ke$ha – Tik Tok
Vietnam Veterans had Jimi Hendrix and Creedence Clearwater Revival – meanwhile, we have this. Out of all the things that can give someone PTSD, I can’t listen to this song without remembering the horrors of that day. Was it worth it Staff Sergeant?
Pinkfong – Baby Shark
If you have had kids this song has given you PTSD. Naturally, drill instructors sunk their teeth into it immediately at the height of it’s popularity.
Katy Perry – Firework
For a long time, Katy Perry was the darling of the Marine Corps. She has done numerous shows for the troops on USO tours and even made a tribute music video. She has partnered with UNICEF and Generosity Water to help children around the world. Her humanitarian resume stretches decades into the past making it less inhibiting to be a fan in uniform. If your squad leader didn’t at least hum this during a tactical halt, sweating and losing his marbles – yet happy, then it wasn’t a real deployment.
Britney Spears – Baby one more time
A classic. A must have on the list. Generally the older SNCOs sing this because of their aversion to pop culture, although ironically, this is pop culture – but old.
Christina Aguilera – Genie in a Bottle
Same as above.
Lady Gaga – Bad Romance
When I was a devil pup embarking on my first deployment, this song hit the air waves. Unfortunately for us, since we were without internet, it was one of the only songs people would sing. Mother Monster is beautiful and a great singer. However, when her lyrics come out of the mouth of the leadership, you start reevaluating your life choices.
The Navy’s theme song
As is tradition.
Aqua – Barbie Girl
We’ve all sung this one. Laugh it up because then we’re going in a fun run when its over. Even the Russians are doing it!
The U.S. Air Force has officially kicked off its adversary air contract initiative by awarding seven companies a total of $6.4 billion to outsource its assault and combat training.
The service on Oct. 18, 2019, issued the collective, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract to Air USA Inc.; Airborne Tactical Advantage Company LLC, known as ATAC, a subset of Textron Airborne Solutions; Blue Air Training; Coastal Defense; Draken International; Tactical Air Support, known as TacAir; and Top Aces Corp. for Air Combat Command’s aggressor training, according to a Defense Department announcement.
“Contractors will provide complete contracted air support services for realistic and challenging advanced adversary air threats and close-air support threats,” the Defense Department said.
The Air Force for years has looked for a helping hand to fill the enemy, “red air” gap, which would in turn allow for more of its active-duty combat forces to attain air-to-air training on the friendly, or “blue air,” side.
Draken International’s L-159E.
The training comes down to a battle of simulated attacks for the purpose of enhancing tactics and techniques should pilots find themselves in an aerial dogfight, or having to stave off the enemy. The simulated flights would also include close-air support to enhance Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) training for ground operators.
During the onset of the fighter pilot shortage in 2016, Air Force officials signaled a renewed interest in contracting the work, a cheaper alternative than depleting the service’s budget for training and flight hours to act as the enemy.
“In a perfect world, we’d have the resources to maintain the aggressor squadrons that we used to have and kind of do it in house with modernized threats,” Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, told reporters during the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in 2017. “In the world we’re living in now, we’re limited in personnel and end strength.
Two French F-1 Mirages prepare to taxi and take off from Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Chad Thompson)
“If we can bring on some contract red air, then not only do we get some dedicated people to train against, we also reduce the amount of time that our crews are spending at a zero-sum budget for flight hours pretending to be somebody else instead of training for their primary skills,” he added.
A number of the red air companies have been expanding their aggressor fleets. For example, Draken currently has A-4 Skyhawks and L-159 “Honey Badgers” and recently purchased Dassault Mirage F1s and Atlas Cheetah fighters to add to its inventory. In 2017, ATAC bought upgraded F1 fighters from France; the company flew its first Mirage in August.
The training will be performed at “multiple locations across the Combat Air Force (CAF),” the DoD said. The Air Force has estimated that roughly 40,000 to 50,000 hours of flight time is needed to support aggressor air at a dozen bases across the U.S.
The Air Force will use fiscal 2020 operations and maintenance (OM) funds in the amount of .8 million toward the effort, set to run through October 2024, the announcement states.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr. is the commander of Air Force Materiel Command, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He handles installation and mission support, discovery and development, test and evaluation, life cycle management services and sustainment of every major Air Force weapon system. The command employs approximately 80,000 people and manages $60 billion of budget authority.
AFMC delivers war-winning expeditionary capabilities to the warfighter through development and transition of technology, professional acquisition management, exacting test and evaluation and world-class sustainment of all Air Force weapon systems.
There are eight AFMC host bases: Arnold AFB, Tennessee; Edwards AFB, California; Eglin AFB, Florida; Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts; Hill AFB, Utah; Robins AFB, Georgia; Tinker AFB, Oklahoma and Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. In addition, the command operates associate units on several non-AFMC bases.
During an interview with Airman magazine, Bunch discussed AFMC’s mission and responsibilities and the roles of science, technology and innovation in increasing Air Force readiness.
Airman magazine: Air Force Materiel Command is a large and diverse command which a lot of Airmen may not understand. Can you talk about the mission of the command?
Gen. Bunch: I would say we are the most diverse (major command) that there is in the Air Force. When you consider the demographics, we are very diverse. AFMC has huge mission diversity as well. What I want to tell the Airmen is, we touch everything that they touch on a day-to-day basis. When a system comes into the Air Force, we do a lot of the (science and technology) research upfront and early. That work is done through the research lab. We do a lot of the acquisition planning either through the Nuclear Weapons Center or through the Life Cycle Management Center and that starts the acquisition process. We test systems and we do all the activities to get it into the Air Force. Then we sustain the system for the long term through the sustainment center, all the way to the point that we get rid of it or retire it and put it at (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group) in some cases.
So, from the beginning all the way to the end of any system we have within the Air Force, AFMC plays a key role. Underlying all that and at the foundation is the work the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center.
The AFIMSC takes care of all facilities modernization and restoration. They also take care of contracting, security forces, housing privatization, dormitories and military construction. They take care of these things on our installations day-to-day to make sure that our facilities are up to date so that we can project power anywhere in the world.
So our mission diversity ranges from every mission system across the Air Force that we create, develop, test and maintain from the very beginning of the program all the way to the very end of a program’s life to support for the nuclear enterprise, and installation and mission support.. AFMC is involved in all of it, so it’s a very diverse mission.
Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr., Commander, Air Force Materiel Command, talks with members of the 412th Medical Group during his visit to Edwards Air Force Base, California, Oct. 18.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem)
Airman magazine: You talk about the importance of AFMC people. What is AFMC doing to attract top talent, develop and keep the workforce?
Gen. Bunch: Our Airmen, and when I use Airmen, I’m talking about military and civilian. I don’t distinguish within this command. We, more than any other command with (more than) 60,000 civilians, we are Airmen all focused on the Air Force mission. They are our most valuable resource and they are what make this organization tick. They’re the ones that get it done every day and execute their wartime mission each day.
We are trying to speed up the process of bringing the right people in and who we can recruit. We’ve actually taken some steps to speed that process up, to make it go quicker. We’re also doing some unique things where we’re doing job fairs to try to get at the right people. We’re using acquisition workforce development funds to pay off student loans to attract high quality, high caliber people in the skill sets we need. And what I’ve asked the team to start looking at is how do we communicate this so that we can keep people?
We had a lady who worked in the Air Force Test Center in May who retired after 68 years of service. We have 21 or 22 year-old young men and women coming in and I’ve got folks that have worked in the organization for 68 years. How you communicate across that diverse spectrum and how you motivate them all to keep going forward and how do you reward and award. Those are the things that we’re asking our people to take a look at and to help us drive our retention numbers the way we need them to go.
Since October of last year, we’ve seen about an 11% drop in the time to hire civilians. We’re not where we want to be, we’ve got to get better, but it’s a step in the right direction and something that I feel comfortable saying to the workforce. We know we’ve got to do better and we’re working at it.
Congress has been very helpful by giving us some additional authorities and we’re utilizing those authorities to try to go faster.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein congratulates Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr. after assuming command of Air Force Materiel Command commander, shake hands during an assumption of command ceremony inside the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, May 31, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley Farnsworth)
Airman magazine: The (Former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson) and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein) have called out the “Air Force We Need.” Can you please describe the “AFMC We Need” initiative? What are some focus areas and objectives?
Gen. Bunch: We have the National Defense Strategy that came out that everyone’s focused on and (the Air Force) came out with the “Air Force We Need.” When I came into the job, what I wanted to do was define what do we, as AFMC, need to be to support the National Defense Strategy and to support where the chief and secretary want to go with the “Air Force We Need.”
I didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what we wanted it to be. I wanted to tap into our most valuable resource, our Airmen. They’re the ones that are executing the mission each day. So we wanted to, as Gen. Goldfein says, “squint with our ears” and listen to our men and women about what’s impeding their ability to get the mission done and what do they think it means to speed things up, go at the speed of relevance. So, we formed a team. We sent them out. They did a lot of surveys. We got a lot of results back in and a lot of great ideas that we’re now trying to review and see how we want to implement the suggestions or what we can put in place to move forward.
One of the books I’ve read about leadership is “Primal Leadership.” In the book there is a quote about, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” So, what I wanted to do was capture the essence of what the men and women believe in the organization and then glean through those comments to figure out what we need to get after. So we’re excited about going forward.
Airman magazine: The “AFMC We Need” addressed broad areas across the command. What are some of the challenges identified?
Gen. Bunch: We did do some external interviews and I would say they’re kind of consistent. One of the things is we’ve got to do a better job of communicating our impact and what our mission is. Some of our folks didn’t understand what we do, internally and externally, so we’ve got to do a better job at communicating some of that. A couple other challenges identified were facilities, infrastructure and information technology.
We’re telling people they’re coming to work in this remarkable organization, but they’re having tremendous impacts on a day-to-day basis with how our information technology systems work and it’s causing limitations. So those will be some of the initial challenges that we are going to focus on.
Another challenge we are going to focus on and we are starting to take some actions in is leadership training. Our people want their supervisors to be better leaders.
Last month, we had a senior leader conference where we talked about that with all our center and installation commanders. One of the things we’re trying to find out is who are the “no” people. The goal is to stop some of those noes and see what we can do to get to “yes” to move forward as an organization so we’re better prepared to support the future.
One of the installation commanders gave me a sign and I’ve got it in the office. I asked everybody at the senior leader conference to sign it. It says, “Find out where no lives and kill it.”
Capt. Joshua Lee talks with Gen. Arnold Bunch, Air Force Materiel Command commander, about unmanned aerial systems Oct. 15 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The commander visited Air Force Research Lab Munitions Directorate’s newest networking test and design facility during an early stop on his two-day tour of the base.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
Airman magazine: You have stated the AFMC has to be better at anticipating Air Force needs. How will AFMC do this?
Gen. Bunch: We have to think forward. We have to think about the future. We can’t get caught up in what is Air Combat Command or Air Mobility Command or Global Strike Command asking for today. We need to focus our science and technology to go forward. (The Air Force) put out the Science and Technology 2030 strategy. We’re building an implementation plan to get after that. How do we create a competitive environment with what we’re doing within the research laboratory so that we are pushing ourselves and we’re scanning that horizon for what’s out there for the future. That’s one way that we can do that.
We also need to capitalize on a lot of what’s going on with commercial industry to get innovative ideas from outside that we may not have thought of. So we’re supporting the pitch days that (Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics) implemented in small business innovative research.
We’re supporting the stand-up of consortiums so that we can get good ideas in and see what people can do. So, there are a lot of activities we as AFMC need to work on. We need to continue to look at industry strategies for how they’re doing business and how they develop software. We need to look at how can we do those things in a more responsive manner and change how we hire the workforce and how we recruit and retain them.
We’ve got to get a more operational tie and more linkage with what we’re doing across AFMC, and with the other major commands. How are they employing some of their aircraft? How are they doing their communication? What do we need to do? What can we glean from within to find answers? We need to make our ties stronger.
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, left, and Dr. William Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, center, discuss the April 20 TechStars Autonomous Technology Accelerator for the Air Force Demo Day at the Westin Hotel in Boston with John Beatty, right, executive director of the Massachusetts Military Task Force. Ten startup companies pitched their ideas to potential investors and Air Force senior leaders during the event, which is a partnership between Techstars and AFWERX.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Linda LaBonte Britt)
Airman magazine: How is AFMC utilizing partnerships with commercial tech companies and academia to have a better understanding and mine those advanced capabilities that may be on the horizon?
Gen. Bunch: So there are a couple of different areas that I’ll focus on. We’re working right now and we’ve got some good partnerships with Delta, Tech Ops, and Georgia Tech Research Institute on what we’re doing for condition based maintenance. We’re looking at what the commercial industry is applying in managing their large fleets of aircraft. Also what can we do with machine learning or artificial intelligence so that we can be more predictive for when some of our systems may be going to fail and help us keep the supply lines primed with repair parts. To me, we have great partnerships with a lot of great ideas that we can employ and we’re working down that path together, so that’s good.
We’ve got to get rapid. That’s all part of the Rapid Sustainment Office that we stood up with Lt. Gen. Robert McMurry as the program executive officer. The RSO team is looking at condition based maintenance, additive manufacturing or 3D printing and are there technologies out there we can use and capitalize on. We’re starting to make grounds in those areas. So those are a few of the ideas that are coming from the commercial end that we can utilize.
Airman magazine: You’ve said our peer adversaries are developing new capabilities modernizing existing capabilities, eroding our tech advantage. Please describe how AFMC is responding to the need for speed?
Gen. Bunch: There are a lot of different things we can do to get at that need for speed. But what we also want to make sure of is while we’re speeding, we’re doing it with discipline. We need to go fast, but we also need to put the disciplines in place so that we’re thinking our way through some of those systems and some of the decisions we’re making so that we are looking long term as well as immediate. We’re looking at, can I get a technology to the field faster? That means a viable product that we would evolve over time versus going for the solution that would take 10 years and a lot more effort. Can I give you something that gets me on that path in two years that you would be able to utilize in the field and be able to move out with.
So that’s one area that we’re looking at. Can I turn things faster and build over time? Another one that we’re continuing to focus on is open mission systems. If we can get open mission systems architecture into our weapons systems and into our designs, we can then bring in new technologies as technology evolves or the threat changes, because those are two things that are never going to slow down. They’re going to change. But by having open mission system architecture, we can piecemeal in parts over time as the technology and the threat changes so that we can adapt more quickly. We shouldn’t have to test systems as long. We should be able to be cyber secure. Those are a couple examples of things that we can immediately get after.
A good example of that is R-EGI, our Resilient Embedded GPS/Inertial Navigation System. That’s a program that we’re running out of the Life Cycle Management Center and it’s to get after having a resilient position navigation and timing solution over time. If that becomes threatened, what we have is an enhanced GPS/INS, most folks know. We fly it in all of our aircraft. It’s common with us, the Navy, the Army; it’s in all platforms. It’s something that’s almost universal. What we’re doing in this effort is trying to build open mission system architecture design so if I needed to inject new software or I needed to add a new component, I could evolve that over time as the threat changes and we could be more resilient.
Another good example is we’re using and trying to push to digital engineering and a digital enterprise. Right now, the ground based strategic deterrent team is doing a good job with some model-based systems engineering. We want to digitize and become a more digital enterprise with what we’re doing within AFMC. In digital we can change things in a more rapid manner and do things on a computer and look at options and look into digital areas before we ever start doing some of the other advances. It should eliminate some of our trial and error.
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s AgilePod is shown mounted on the wing of the Textron Aviation Defense’s Scorpion Light Attack/ISR jet. The AgilePod is an Air Force-trademarked, multi-intelligence reconfigurable pod that enables flight-line operators to customize sensor packages based on specific mission needs. A fit check in late December 2017 provided an opportunity to demonstrate the ability of the pod to rapidly integrate onto a new platform with short notice, highlighting the benefits of Sensor Open Systems Architecture.
(U.S. Air Force photo by David Dixon)
Airman magazine: In fall of 2017, the secretary challenged us to develop a new Air Force ST Strategy for 2030. That document is now published. From your perspective, what are a few of the key takeaways?
Gen. Bunch: Really, it’s about competition and how do I create competition within what we do, within our research laboratory and our ST so that we’re continuing to push the bounds. I think that’s one of the key ingredients. How do we as an enterprise capitalize on the various basic research activities that may be out there so that we’re pushing the envelope and we’re looking at things and going, “That has great promise, I need to continue to work in that area.” Or, “That’s not making the progress I need. I need to off ramp that and I need to go another way.” So I think that one is really important.
The other one is we have science and technology dollars and how do I, over time, take those and shrink the investments so that they’re more focused in game changer technologies that I’m going to put out in the field. How do we capitalize on that knowledge base and how do we drive to where we’re transitioning game-changing technologies and we’re getting them into the field and capitalizing on that transition. I think those are two of the key things that we’re really looking at.
Airman magazine: How are AFMC and AFRL going to support the execution of the strategy?
Gen. Bunch: So there are a lot of activities already underway. Right now, we’re working with AFWIC, Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability, and we’re working with Dr. Roper’s team to come up with an implementation strategy. So that’s in the works. We are also trying to make some changes so that we can handle our money with a little more flexibility, so that we can shift and put our focus where the dollars need to be for those bigger projects.
So we’ve got a great partnership right now. The team is working with me on a regular basis. Our team’s trying to set in place processes to review where our tech focus areas are so we can make the right investments. They’re looking at what we want to do in basic research. They’re looking at what we want to do at the next level and then what we’re doing in our advanced research, where we’re getting to the prototyping and how do we focus.
A Republic of Singapore air force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft tactical aircraft maintainer assigned to the 425th Fighter Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, performs a launch inspection June 10, 2019, on the flightline at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. The 425th FS is at Tyndall to take part in a Combat Archer exercise.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee A. Darbasie)
Airman magazine: Is the Tyndall AFB rebuild an opportunity to take the Base of the Future off the drawing board and make Tyndall a proof of concept for new tech?
Gen. Bunch: We are looking at new technology for Tyndall. Tyndall, as devastating as that was, thank goodness we had a great team doing a lot of great work so that the damages were material damages to things that we can replace and it wasn’t to our Airmen and their families. That’s our number one focus, their safety. But now as we recover, we do have an opportunity to look at what would we want the base to look like for the future. How would we want the information technology system set up so that it’s more efficient? How would we set in the power lines? How would we build the buildings? We are looking at Tyndall as an example of what we may be able to do for the future.
We’ve actually had AFWERX bring in some outside companies to come in and pitch their ideas. So we’re trying to move as quickly as we can to get everything moving forward, to get the mission back to normalcy. We’re also looking at what would we do different now that we can make changes and we can look at the mission from a different perspective. How would we make it better when we rebuild it? How is it more resilient? How do we have a better information technology network? How do we design everything–from are we going to put anything above ground or are we going to put it all underground now that we have the time to be able to do that so that it’s safer and more secure and less likely to be damaged in the future. Those are all things that we’re looking at as we go forward.
Airman magazine: How does AFMC support the Air Force as a hub for innovation?
Gen. Bunch: Innovation’s been a foundation of what we’ve been as an Air Force from the very beginning. And it’s interesting, we have more than 80,000 people within AFMC and you ask them all what innovation means, you’d probably get 80,000-plus different definitions. And I’m good with that. Innovation can mean some groundbreaking revolutionary thing that we’ve never done or it could mean changing a process so that we can go faster because we’ve employed what the Sustainment Center uses which is the ‘art of the possible.’
I’m good with all of it. What we have to create, and I think we are doing a better job of it, is an environment where a good idea can come in. What I want to make sure, as the commander, is that our people understand I’m willing to let them try things. And I’m not talking crazy risks, but if they want to try a new idea or process, I’m okay with that. If it works, that’s great and if it doesn’t work, then we’ll learn from it and we’ll move on. So innovation can take many, many forms. I want people to come in with their good ideas and I want to capitalize on their innovative spirit. That is what we as an Air Force were founded upon.
We also tie in with AFWERX; the Pitch Days to me are innovative. We’re going to be doing an AFMC internal pitch day where we can pitch our own good ideas, not just try to capitalize on what industry does or what venture capitalists are doing. So we’re trying to actually harness those good ideas to go forward.
Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, welcomed event attendees during the Air Force Space Pitch Day, Nov. 5, 2019, San Francisco, Calif. Air Force Space Pitch Day is a two-day event demonstrating the department’s willingness and ability to work with non-traditional start-ups.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Van De Ha)
Airman magazine: With declining mission capable rates and an aging fleet with an average 28 years of service, what do these numbers mean and do MCRs equate to Air Force readiness rates?
Gen. Bunch: So readiness depends on where you sit as to what you believe the right metric is. The one we’re driving right now, we’re trying to increase, is aircraft availability. That’s one that we’re really focused on with our legacy fleets. And there are multiple factors that play into that. One of the things that we’re finding is, we have, in some cases, a shrinking industrial base. And that’s one that we’ve got to focus on to help grow that industrial base.
What we want to do is make sure that the people who are operating the systems have as much up time as they can so they’re as ready as possible to do their mission. That takes research. How would I go do this? It could take reverse engineering. How do I reverse engineer this component that there’s no longer a vendor for and create it? So we either build it ourselves or we put the drawings out to get it manufactured.
The fact we are flying aircraft as old as they are with the mission capable rates that we have today is because of the Airmen working in the Sustainment Center and the focus of our maintainers out on the line who can keep these legacy aircraft up and running.
At an average age of 28 years, the fact that we keep mobility aircraft taking off and landing, delivering supplies and equipment every two minutes is amazing work by a lot of different people. We’re ready, but we’ve got to continue to try to up that game and continue to try to improve.
An F-16 jet engine in max power during a test in the 576th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s hush house engine facility at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, June 5, 2019. The shop is responsible for performing organizational level maintenance on more than 200 engines per year. The shop’s maintenance tasks include engine inspections, external engine component removal and replacement, repairs, and troubleshooting during flight line and test cell operations.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Alex R. Lloyd)
Airman magazine: Can you identify some of the success stories throughout AFMC in new technologies like additive manufacturing, 3D printing and data analytics to improve readiness and decrease maintenance downtimes?
Gen. Bunch: We had a meeting last month where we were looking at engines. I’ll just use that as one example. We started looking at the performance of the engines over time and as we reviewed data and did the analytics, we started doing scheduled replacements of engines. So we could pull them off at the time that was of our choosing versus downtime required because the engine went too far.
What this allows us to do is control when we do maintenance. It allows us to prime the pump in the supply system so we get the right parts at the right time. That’s just one example that I can say from a data analytics perspective where we are really already seeing some great progress. We’re using condition based maintenance and algorithms right now with the C-5 Galaxy. We’re doing it in some cases in the B-1 bomber and we’re looking at growing it into the KC-135 fleet. So we’re trying to take some of those lessons learned in technologies and capabilities that others are using and apply it into our inventory and we’re starting to see some benefits.
We really want to get to the point if we’re going to send an aircraft down range and it’s going to have something fail in five days and the deployment is for 10 days, let’s fix it before we deploy it. If we can get to that point, we’ll really increase our aircraft availability and our ability to generate sorties and improve the mission dramatically.
On additive manufacturing, that one’s one that’s more challenging. A lot of people look at 3D printing as that’s really something easy to do. When you start talking about airworthiness that becomes a little more challenging. There are components we can build that are not airworthy components, and we’ve already got approval to do those parts. We have innovation centers at each of our three logistics complexes and they can do some of those. We save money and get the mission done in a timelier manner.
So we’re demonstrating some of those. It’ll take more time to get to where we can do a lot of airworthy parts. We’re working on that. We must get the engineers involved and get them the analysis.
We are seeing a lot of ground being made in additive manufacturing and in condition based maintenance. And then the other one, we’re taking technologies like cold spray, which is a repair technique, and we’re actually employing that in some of our depots so that we can minimize the downtime.
Airmen from the 90th Missile Maintenance Squadron prepare a reentry system for removal from a launch facility, Feb. 2, 2018, in the F. E. Warren Air Force Base missile complex. The 90th MMXS is the only squadron on F. E. Warren allowed to transport warheads from the missile complex back to base. Missile maintenance teams perform periodic maintenance to maintain the on-alert status for launch facilities, ensuring the success of the nuclear deterrence mission.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Braydon Williams)
Airman magazine: Would you talk about AFMC’s support to the nuclear enterprise from both a sustainment and modernization perspective?
Gen. Bunch: Maj. Gen. Shaun Morris is our Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center (AFNWC) commander and his team is doing an outstanding job making sure that our nuclear deterrent is solid and that there is never a question that if they are called are they going to be able to respond. And that goes across the full spectrum.
The Minuteman-III program was built many, many years ago with a short lifespan; well we’re still maintaining them. We’re going to be maintaining them until the 2030 timeframe. We’ve stood up depot maintenance now on our Minuteman-III system, which was never intended to have a depot capability, but we’re doing that so we can sustain it and ensure that it’s reliable if ever called upon to do its mission.
AFNWC is on the front edge of making sure that our nuclear deterrent is really a nuclear deterrent and it’s credible and it’s safe and secure and it can answer the nation’s call.
The other part of the nuclear mission is the air leg; we have to make sure that we’re doing what we need to sustain our bomber force. AFMC is key in making sure that the force is supportable, sustainable, with upgrades where needed, while making sure all the activity we’re doing in the depot is supporting the mission.
Airman magazine: Could you talk about agile software development and the way we buy and develop software and how does this relate to Agile DevOps and cyber protection for all of our weapon systems?
Gen. Bunch: Software is everywhere. We’re going to have to change our mindset about software. The way that industry does it is they’ll modify and continue to push updates on a more regular basis. I don’t ever think we’ll get to the point we’re doing what industry does with our systems, but we have to get into a more Agile mindset. That’s a challenge for a lot of the way we’ve done business. It’s not just that you have to bring in coders and create an environment where they can develop Agile methods, that’s part of it, but you also have to change the culture of the men and women that are working on this because it’s not the way they’ve historically done it.
You’re developing. You’re testing. You’re fielding. You’re correcting deficiencies and it goes on and on. That is a culture change for AFMC and the men and women that are doing the acquisition. It’s also a culture change for all of the test community and anybody involved. It’s a culture change with how you handle your dollars. One of the things that I’ve been a proponent of is the need for money that has not binned by a specific definition of sustainment, development, or production. If you’re really doing Agile or secure DevOps, those money lines are blurry. We need colorless money so that we’re not hindered by some of the rule sets on how the money gets moved around.
So it’s a big change. We’ve got to be able to change that culture. The other thing is you have to be able to attract and recruit software developers. We have to capitalize on that skill set. And a lot of what we’re doing right now, we’re actually bringing in Airmen who just have a propensity and a love for doing software development and we’re putting them to work and they love it. We also have to capitalize on our own capabilities along the way, but it’s one that we’ll have to re-look at how we bring in manpower.
Pilot Training Next instructor, U.S. Air Force Capt. Orion Kellogg, discuses a future PTN version 3 student’s virtual reality flight with members of NASA as part of a collaborative research agreement between Air Education and Training Command and NASA October 22, 2019, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, TX. The goal of the agreement is to help both AETC and NASA collect physiological and cognitive data and leverage each organization’s knowledge and skills to maximize learning potential for individual students.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)
Airman magazine: With the advancements in AI/VR, how do you see the Air Force further capitalizing on technology to equip Airmen with quality training through simulation scenarios?
Gen. Bunch: AI and VR, those are big areas that we’re going to continue to look at. The best example right now is one that our Air Education and Training Command started with Pilot Training Next. What they’re really doing is they’re capitalizing off of the gaming industry and artificial intelligence to understand and to personalize the training they’re doing for each individual student.
The way they’re building Pilot Training Next allows the student pilots to learn in a simulated immersive AI and VR environment with an individualized training methodology, which really speeds up the learning process.
I think you’re going to see more growing in that area. We’re looking at trying to apply that for maintenance. We’re also looking at other avenues to try to capitalize so we’re better able to train the workforce in a timelier manner.
Airman magazine: You have a lot of experience in your resume in the test community. How do you see the community evolving for the speed of relevancy?
Gen. Bunch: So there are a lot of initiatives here. One of the things we did in my previous job was take the test community leadership to Silicon Valley to expose them to how commercial industry tests software. The goal was to figure out what can we change within our initiatives to be able to test software more quickly to support Agile development ops, secure DevOps and to push things out into the field faster.
That’s now something we’re working on. We’re changing our philosophy. We’re working with the operational test community to set that up. Another area that we’re looking at is how do we combine more developmental tests and operational tests earlier in the process? Gen. Mike Holmes [Commander, Air Combat Command] and I have kicked off an initiative to look at that. We’re looking at how we could combine our developmental tests and our operational tests so that we’re getting more data quicker. We can streamline the amount of testing. We can save costs. We can get things into the field more readily.
There are a lot of great strides going on at the Air Force Test Center with Maj. Gen. Chris Azzano about how do we test things in a more rapid manner. He’s asking the questions: How do we not over test? How do we use digital enterprise, model-based systems engineering? How can we utilize that digital enterprise to get after some of that testing so that we don’t have to do everything in open air and repeat things?
The worst answer you can give me is, “Gen. Bunch, we got to test this much because that’s how we’ve always done it.” That is not a good answer. So anybody out there, that’s not a good answer to give me. There are certain things we’ve got to go test. We want to make sure that it’s safe for the Airmen we’re putting in harm’s way. We want to make sure that they have a good product. But we are making a lot of strides at relooking at how we do our test enterprise.
Staff Sgt. Ruth Elliot, 412th Medical Group, takes a selfie with Gen. Arnold Bunch, Commander, Air Force Materiel Command, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, Oct. 18. Elliot was a presented a commander’s coin by the AFMC commander.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem)
Airman magazine: What has been some of the most rewarding part of your career?
Gen. Bunch: From what I’ve done in the military, I go back to all I’ve ever really wanted to be was a commander and work for Airmen. I firmly believe in servant leadership and that the commander works for everybody in the organization. Right now I work for more than 80,000 men and women within AFMC, the Airmen making the mission happen every day and doing all the hard work. Getting to talk with them, getting to watch them grow and feeding off of their energy is the most rewarding thing I get to do every day.
If you listen to some of our young Airmen when they talk about the great things they’re doing or you watch them respond in a time of crisis with what they do, if that doesn’t put a smile on your face and make it great to put the uniform on every day then you probably got a problem and it may be time for you to go find something else to do.
To me, just the interactions with the our people and watching our Airmen succeed and watching them do the mission every day with the passion they do is just remarkable for me.
Airman magazine: What would you like to say directly to the Airmen of AFMC?
Gen. Bunch: So for the Airmen of AFMC, thanks for what you do each and every day, your wartime mission makes us successful. Remember that what we’re doing is critical to the war fighter and remember that we are the most important major command within the Air Force. If we’re going to achieve the National Defense Strategy and if we’re going to drive to the Air Force We Need, we’re the ones that have to succeed. If we don’t succeed then the Air Force can’t succeed. Remember, the programs and systems we’re working to sustain and test is to make sure America’s most valued treasure, our sons and daughters we send into harm’s way, have the technological advantage they need to do their mission supporting our nation’s defense and to come home safely.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
Jessica D. Blankshain is an assistant professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. All views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the United States government, Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or U.S. Naval War College.
One of the things most people agree on regarding U.S. civil-military relations is that the military should stay out of politics. But how do we keep the military out of politics when politicians are in the military?
Ultimately the Wisconsin Guard determined Kinzinger’s remarks were not a problem, announcing March 7, 2019, that a review had found he was speaking in his capacity as a Congressman, not a military officer.
Adam Kinzinger, representative for Illinois’ 16th Congressional District.
But this dustup also highlights broader issues raised by members of the National Guard (and service reserves) serving concurrently in political office.
Members of the National Guard and reserve serving in Congress has been relatively uncontroversial for nearly 200 years. In the early 1800s, the House took action against a member who joined the militia between congressional sessions, arguing that it violated the Incompatibility Clause (Article 1 Section 6 of the U.S. Constitution), which prohibits individuals from serving in the executive and legislative branches simultaneously.
The law defining “employees” has since been reworded to avoid this issue but, in recent years, the question of legislators serving in the Guard and reserve has begun to draw attention from those who study American civil-military relations. This interest may be driven in part by the effects of the “Abrams Doctrine,” which moved many critical capabilities into the Guard and reserve after Vietnam. [There are, of course, significant differences between the National Guard and service reserves, both in terms of force structure and relationship to state and federal government, but for present purposes I consider them together.]
Beginning roughly near the end of the Cold War and accelerating after 9/11, the United States has shifted from having a largely strategic reserve component — “weekend warriors” who did not expect to deploy unless there was a crisis — to having an operational reserve in which members of the Guard and reserve expect to deploy regularly in support of ongoing operations overseas, from the peacekeeping missions of the 1990s to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s and beyond.
As a result, members of the Guard and reserve may now be perceived less as civilians who take up arms in time of need and more as part-time professional soldiers who have more in common with their active-duty counterparts than with average Americans.
Given the professional military’s strong apolitical ethic, whether and when we view members of the Guard and reserve as members of the military profession has important implications for how we evaluate their political activity (similar to discussions of political participation by retired officers).
There can, of course, be benefits to having members of the Guard and reserve serving in Congress or other political offices. Their military experience may inform their lawmaking and oversight. And as we were somberly reminded by the death of Brent Taylor, a Utah National Guard major and mayor of North Ogden, in Afghanistan in 2018, they may also serve as a link between civilian communities and the military fighting on their behalf.
Utah National Guard major Brent Taylor (left) and Lt. Kefayatullah.
But there are challenges, too, as Rep. Kinzinger’s case makes clear. When an officer who is also a politician publicly criticizes orders from his commander in chief, who belongs to a different political party, it raises concerns about good order and discipline within the military and, perhaps most significantly, it makes it harder to keep clear separation in the public mind between the military and politics. As the reserve component’s role in the military has shifted, so too has the balance of these pros and cons.
Kinzinger’s personal criticism of the governor highlights that concerns about good order and discipline are linked with concerns about politicization. On Twitter, Kinzinger questioned whether Evers visited to the border himself to understand the deployment or instead made a “political” decision. In a Fox News interview, he said that he was breaking the news of the withdrawal because he believed the governor didn’t have the courage to do so. While these comments would not be particularly remarkable coming from a member of the opposing political party, they look very different coming from an officer in that state’s National Guard. Kinzinger, of course, is both. How will his fellow Wisconsin Guard members, whom he will continue to serve alongside, perceive these comments?
Kinzinger’s remarks also raise concerns about public perceptions of the politicization of the military. One of the main reasons Kinzinger’s comments held weight was that he had just returned from a deployment to the border and drew on his experience there to support his criticism of the withdrawal. In the Fox appearance in particular, the hosts and Kinzinger all position him as a neutral expert drawing on his two-week deployment to the border to make a policy judgment, in contrast to partisan politicians who oppose the president’s declaration of national emergency for political reasons.
Kinzinger is explicitly critical of Democrats, both in Congress and in state government. He might be perceived as trying to have it both ways — using his apolitical military credibility to go after political opponents — which could have implications for the public’s view of the military as an institution. This last point is perhaps of most concern, given the high level of confidence the American public has in the military compared to elected officials, as well as indications that this confidence is increasingly taking on partisan dimensions.
Kinzinger’s situation is by no means unique. There were at least 16 members concurrently serving in the Guard or reserve and the 115th Congress, and the intention of this piece is not to single him out for scrutiny. The shift from a strategic to an operational reserve component has changed the relationship between the reserve component and society, and we should be cognizant of those changes when thinking about how members of the Guard and reserve balance their military service with their political service.
Such a reassessment wouldn’t require a ban on concurrent service, but might mean developing either explicit regulations or implicit norms around which issues such members should recuse themselves on, what boundaries they draw on their partisan political speech, or to what degree they invoke their service while campaigning and governing.
The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
When the Navy called on women to volunteer for shore service during World War II to free up men for duty at sea, 102-year-old Melva Dolan Simon was among the first to raise her hand and take the oath.
“I went in so sailors could board ships and go do what they were supposed to be doing,” said Simon. She recalled her military service as “something different” in an era when women traditionally stayed home while men went off to war. “I helped sailors get on their way.”
Simon was the first woman in her hometown of Bridgeport, Pa., to join the WAVES, according to a yellowed clipping of a 1942 newspaper article. She was also among the first in the nation to join the service. It was just three months earlier, on July 30, 1942, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed the law establishing the corps.
“I had a good job with the school, but I felt I would be doing more for my country by being in the service,” said Simon.
The seventh of 12 children, Simon said she chose the Navy because several of her brothers were already serving in the Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
WWII Navy WAVES Veteran Melva Dolan Simon’s service memorabilia includes her rank and insignia, photos and official documents.
“They were all enlisted, and I thought, well, what’s wrong with joining the Navy?” said Simon. “I decided I wanted to go, and I was accepted.”
“That’s where we learned the basics of the Navy,” said Simon. “We were trained to march, we studied hard, and they drilled into us how important what we were doing was.”
After completing basic, many of the WAVES trainees spent another 12 weeks at the college for advanced training in secretarial duties.
From Oklahoma, Simon was assigned to active duty at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, which during World War II employed 40,000, built 53 warships and repaired another 1,218. She and her fellow yeomen earned anywhere from to 5 in basic pay per month, depending on their rank, plus food and quarters allowance, unless provided by the Navy.
Simon lived on the all-female fourth floor of the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia. WAVES personnel were under strict orders not to visit any other floors of the hotel – an order Simon said she followed.
“I didn’t go on the other floors,” said Simon, sternly. “It was none of my business.”
Simon’s military responsibilities included taking dictation from the officer in charge, performing clerical duties and driving officers around the base.
“They gave me a driver’s license for the Navy, and I would drive these officers, sometimes just very short distances,” Simon said, smiling as she motioned from her seat at a dining room table to the far side of her kitchen. “I thought that was interesting because it would have done them some good if they’d just walked.”
Simon wrote letters home to her family at first, then sent her parents money to have a home phone installed. Simon said that home phones were a luxury at the time. Before they installed the phone, her family used a telephone at a nearby store to call her.
“I sent them money every payday to keep the phone bill paid,” Simon said. “It was much easier to call than to sit down and write, especially since I was writing all day at the office.”
The phone also allowed her future husband, Joseph “Joe” Simon, to keep in touch with her. The two had met at the high school where Joe Simon worked as an agriculture teacher, and he’d visit with her when she was home on leave. They married in July 1945, just a few weeks before Melva Simon received an honorable discharge from the Navy in August 1945.
WAVES standing in formation.
The couple purchased a 22-acre farm in 1947 in Mt. Pleasant Township, Pa., where they supplemented Joe’s teacher’s salary by growing and selling sweet corn.
“It sold like hot fire because it was good sweet corn,” Melva Simon said. “Then Joe planted apple trees, and that’s what we decided to do.”
The couple started an apple orchard — Simon’s Apple Orchard — that remains family-run today. The orchard opens its doors to customers every fall, offering everything from pure sweet cider still made using the Simons’ original recipe to bags of fresh McIntosh, Stayman, Rome, Jonathan, red and yellow delicious, and other apple varieties.
At the VA
Melva Simon worked the orchard alongside her husband, then took over when he died in 2004 at the age of 88. Still spry at 102, she drove tractors, harvested apples, made cider and worked the counter at a small shop on the property until just a few years ago.
Blessed with a lifetime of good health, Melva Simon only recently discovered she is eligible for health care benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. With the help of her daughter, Melvajo Bennett, the World War II veteran has, since August, received care through VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s Westmoreland County VA Outpatient Clinic.
“It didn’t dawn on her to go to the VA because she’s always had such good health and never really had to see the doctor,” said Bennett. “But they’ve been wonderful with how they are treating her.”
Asked for the secret to good health and a long life, Melva Simon gave a simple answer.
“There is no secret,” she said. “All it takes is simple living. I eat simple food. I don’t drink, and I don’t smoke.”
As for her military service, Melva Simon said she’d do it all over again.
“That was all I ever wanted to do, was to do something for the government and the country,” she said. “I’d do it again.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Technically, there are five branches of service to choose from if you’re thinking about joining the military (including the Coast Guard). There’s a high level of rivalry among branches that can spark a lot of friendly sh*t talking. As veterans, we still love to take cheap shots at one another — but it’s always in good fun.
We’ve said it time-and-time again that the military has a dark sense of humor and we flex those comedic muscles at the other branches as often as possible. Since the U.S. Navy is hands-down the most dominant force to ever patrol the high seas, sailors do things that no other branch can do: kick ass while floating in the middle of nowhere.
The Army and the Air Force can’t compete with the Navy since they have no ships. The Marines can’t conduct business without the Navy navigating them around the world. Lastly, The Coast Guard is a bunch of land-hugging puddle jumpers.
Since we managed to sh*t talk to everyone (in good fun), it’s time to nail each of them, once again, through memes making you reconsider why you didn’t join the Navy instead.
No matter how badass and powerful you might think you are, remember, the U.S. Navy is way freakin’ bigger… and they’re coming for you.
ODA-525, the Sharkmen just prior to deploying out to the Iraqi desert. (Photo courtesy of Robert “Blade” Gardner, third from the left in back row)
The 1st Special Forces Group was a great place to be when they activated in 1984 in Ft. Lewis, Washington state. I made a mad dash to get out of Ft. Bragg and into the First. We were the only Green Beret unit on the post so it was like being “away from the flag pole” as we used to say, or away from the stressful prying eyes of the higher headquarters. That coupled with the novelty of new digs in a new hood just made it a pleasant place to be.
We weren’t even on the main post: We were in a little gouge of a satellite cantonment area across the freeway from the main post. It was very low-visibility and even, shall I say it, cozy there in our outskirt haven.
There the boys were being boys in their own Green Beret fashion and pipes suddenly became vogue on the premises. It seemed that you just might not be cool… unless you were smoking a pipe.
It wasn’t a “stoner-esque” sort of pipe smoking; it was like your grandpa sort of pipe smoking — ol’ geezer pipes that should have been the last thing that made you look cool, and yet somehow they did. It was kinda nice taking a break outside the team room in the middle of the day to go outside and… do a bowl. Except we weren’t doing bowls, we were… smoking pipes. Just, smoking pipes. Then a few taps of the pipe against the concrete steps and back to work.
(left) My own pipe from back in my Green Berets days as it sits on my desk today. One of my favorite pipes carried by a teammate was this Zeus head pipe. (SOFREP/George E. Hand IV)
Conversations took on a vastly different character and demeanor when were were smoking pipes. We could be talking quantum physics while descending the stairs to the porch, but once those pipes were torched:
“Big of a scorcher out today, eh?”
“Looks to be a bit of weather coming in from the nor-east tho…”
“Might be in for a coolin’ off — that’d be nice for a spell…”
The way we felt we looked smoking our pipes notwithstanding, this is rather more in keeping with the way people actually saw us.
Three of my team brothers and I had made a rare excursion to the main post for some harassment and all-around hateful time. Our Company Commander admonished us to “just stay the hell away from that place unless absolutely necessary,” knowing Green Berets over there would always draw attention and scrutiny.
We grabbed lunch at main Post Exchange (PX) and sat outside on a patio.
After lunch we instinctively pulled out the burners for some pleasing pipe puffing and discussion about the weather. It didn’t take long for a grumpy Master Sergeant to interrupt us: “Excuse me… you men are out of uniform,” meaning smoking pipes. That was most certainly not the case but he was grumpy and decided to call our bluff knowing that Green Berets were not heavy into drill and ceremony, pomp and circumstance. My Team Sergeant, a Master Sergeant himself replied:
“We’re not out of uniform, Sarge, we’re just smoking pipes!”
“And that’s out of uniform!” he huffed.
“Horse shit, Sarge… you know there’s nothing in AR670-5 that prohibits smoking a pipe while in uniform.”
Just knowing the title of the manual that governed the wear of the military uniform was enough of a counter-bluff and the grumpy Sergeant snorted off.
AR (Army Regulation) 670-5 governs the configuration and wear of the military uniform.
Another shenanigan the seemed to catch on with the A-Teams was bringing dogs to work. All types of dogs. Huntin’ dogs, coon dawgs, guard dogs. Take a break, smoke your pipe, pet yer dawg — Basic Dude Stuff! That concept, the dogs, never had a chance of getting off the ground. It was like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs: just too much there to go wrong.
Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Douglas J. Turner was an affidavit-sworn baddass. West Point had voice recordings of him from Vietnam calling in an artillery barrage on his own position because he was being overrun by Viet Cong. His voice was as calm as if he were reading from the day’s weather report. I had been assigned to his Battalion before he left the 7th Special Forces Group in Ft. Bragg. We bought him a really nice pistol as a going-away gift when he left. And now we were both in the same unit again.
Herstal Belgium Fabrique Nationale’s (FN), Browning Hi-Power, 9 x 19mm
CSM Turner stepped squarely into a pile of dog crap outside our team room building one day as he headed up to our room. He walked just inside the door of our room and — SPLOOSH — stepped into a puddle of fresh dog p00. He cocked his head down to observe the puddle of crap that he had just stepped in. Raising his head he spied a dog curled up next to one of the men’s desks.
Slowly trending over he reached down to pet the dog, which suddenly snapped its jaw up and bit the CSM on the hand. Douglas J. Turner stood back up, looked at his bleeding hand, and glared at the dog. The room of men became a petrified forest. D. J. Turner sucked the bite wound on his hand as he stepped out the door.
“Wha… what will become of us now?” Pondered one of the men, and we were all sorely afraid.
The next morning we gathered for our usual morning Physical Training (PT) formation. Outside our building the same dog that bit the CSM the day prior was leashed off to the stair rail. The CSM came by and, pointing to an exercise apparatus at the edge of the formation field, directed a man to “Chain that dog to the pull-up bars!” The man did so.
Forming up and not really taking note of the dog fasted at the bars, we were brought to attention as CSM Turner received the morning report. He then addressed the entire battalion:
“YOU MEN HAVE BEEN BRINGING YOUR DOGS TO WORK LATELY. I HAVE BEEN SEEING DOG SHIT AROUND MY COMPOUND AND EVEN STEPPED IN SOME DOG SHIT. YESTERDAY ONE OF THEM EVEN BIT ME!”
“FROM NOW ON THE NEXT TIME I SEE ANOTHER DOG IN MY BATTALION AREA, IT WILL BE SHOT!”
A measured chuckle emanated from the formation. D. J. walked over and stood by the dog. Another chuckle arose. With that CSM Douglas J. Turner reached to his lumbar and pulled out the pistol we got him when he left 7th Special Forces Group. He snatched back the slide, pointed the gun at the dog’s head and fired. The dog froze momentarily in a sort of seizure, then flopped over dead.
The distraught dog’s owner cried out and broke formation sprinting toward the CSM. Several men grabbed and restrained the man, carrying him up to their team room where they placed a guard on him to prevent him from getting out. The CSM returned to his office where he sat and quietly waited for the Military Police to arrive and take him away; which they did. Some say that it was just CSM Turner’s way of telling the world that he had had enough and was ready to retire from it all.
That is the extent of what happened to him. He was retired from the U.S. Army.
Later that day we broke from the team room to head downstairs for a peace pipe ceremony:
“Shame about Ingram’s dog there.”
“Shouldn’t oughtta be bringin’ a bitin’ dog to work that’s not potty trained tho.”
“Course, don’t make much sense a-shootin’ a dog over any of it neither.”
The International Space Station is getting the most amazing home-food delivery since the early days of Uber Eats. The recent launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket bound for the ISS carried genetically identical mice, a spherical AI robot named Cimon, and Death Wish Coffee — the world’s strongest coffee — at the request of Serena Aunon-Chancellor, one of the astronauts floating above the Earth.
The Upstate New York-based company created a zero gravity-friendly brew of their powerful joe just for the members of Expedition 56 aboard the ISS. The coffee has a whopping 472 milligrams of caffeine — more than twice the caffeine of a Starbucks Pike Place Roast, 13 times as much as a can of Coca-Cola, and four times as much as a Red Bull energy drink.
Astronauts love having fresh hot coffee aboard the International Space Station so much that they’ve designed and patented an espresso maker (called the ISSpresso machine) and the Zero-G Coffee Cup to facilitate their morning ritual.
Not having to drink the coffee from a bag is a big deal to astronauts. Any coffee aficionado will tell you that being able to smell a fine coffee is an important factor in tasting the coffee. Astronaut Don Pettit was one of many who were sick of the bags of coffee. So he crafted a prototype cup using overhead transparency film into a teardrop-shaped container and poured the coffee in. The design worked.
From diagnosing and treating patients in high-pressure situations to working with complex medical technology, former military healthcare workers are uniquely equipped to care for others. While these skills make an incredible asset to the civilian medical field, at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it takes on even more meaning. VA has careers, tied to specialized skill sets, where former military healthcare workers can heal and care for fellow veterans.
People trained in the healthcare field are in high demand all across the country. But VA understands veterans perhaps better than any other employer. It’s why VA goes beyond offering premium-paid health insurance and robust retirement plans. Veterans employed by VA enjoy education support through veteran-focused scholarships, professional development opportunities and special accommodations to make the workplace fully accessible.
These six VA healthcare jobs are perfect for former military members.
1. Intermediate Care Technician
After active duty, it may be difficult to find a civilian healthcare position that allows you to apply military training without additional licenses and credentials. But through VA’s ICT program, former military medics and corpsmen can work as healthcare providers at VA medical centers (VAMCs) and continue their medical training, skills and career.
Intermediate Care Technician Paul Singleton, a former Army medic who now works in the JJP Bronx VA emergency room, is known for his ability to put his patients at ease.
Although emergency room positions are highest in demand, ICTs are also needed in mental health, geriatrics, primary care and surgical services.
2. Health Technician
Professionals working as Health Technicians at VA provide diagnostic support duties and medical assistance to VAMCs and specialty clinics. In an emergency setting, many of the duties performed by this role mirror that of a paramedic and align closely with the experiences of military corpsmen.
3. Nursing Assistant
Nurses play a crucial role at VA. They work across disciplines and treatment settings with a medical team to provide integrated care for veterans under their watch. Day in and day out, they make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families through their patience, empathy, and care.
Nurses can start a post-military career at VA as a Nursing Assistant and take advantage of the special education support programs VA offers to earn the degrees and certifications necessary to become a Licensed Practical Nurse or a Registered Nurse.
4. Physician Assistant
Physician assistants provide primary care and preventative care as part of a medical team that includes nurses, physicians and surgeons. A physician assistant examines patients, offers diagnoses of conditions and provides treatment for veterans at VA under the supervision of a physician.
Dr. Angel Colón-Molero, Orlando VA Medical Center Deputy Chief of Staff, discusses procedures with VA Physician Assistants Aji Kurian and Mario Cordova at the VA’s Lake Baldwin campus.
With access to cutting-edge technology and pioneering research opportunities, physicians at VA lead the charge in veteran care. Their work includes primary care services and specialty medicine. Physicians at VA are given great latitude to develop solutions that improve patient outcomes. Physicians have special insight into VA’s patients and can thrive in this environment.
6. Physical Therapist
At VA, physical therapists make a huge impact in veterans’ quality of life. They increase mobility, reduce pain and restore independence through physical rehabilitation, wellness plans and fitness programs. Physical therapists help veterans understand their injuries so they can enjoy mobility benefits, long-term health and a high quality of life.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
After 9/11 we vowed that we would never forget. We set out to find those responsible for the horrific attacks and bring them to justice. To remember the people whose lives were taken that day, we erected memorials across the nation as focal points for grief and healing and as symbols of hope for the future. Here are five of the most beautiful, sobering and awe-inspiring.
(Frederic Schwartz Architects—Wikimedia Commons)
1. The Rising—Westchester, New York
Naturally, New York is home to the most 9/11 memorials. The Rising in Westchester remembers the 109 Westchester residents who lost their lives on 9/11 with 109 steel rods intertwined like strands. They rise 80 feet from the ground, “reaching upward to the heavens,” according to the architect. It also includes the names of 10 additional victims who were former Westchester residents etched on stones. A 110th victim from Westchester was unintentionally omitted from the memorial. Since their identification, their name has been added to the stones.
(9/11 Memorial Museum)
2. Postcards—Staten Island, New York
Dedicated on the fourth anniversary of the attacks, the Postcards 9/11 Memorial features two fiberglass structures that resemble postcards. It honors the 275 Staten Islanders who lost their lives on 9/11. Each victim is memorialized with a profile on a granite plaque that lists their name, date of birth and place of work at the time of the attack. The memorial frames the location across the water on Manhattan where the Twin Towers stood. Postcards was the first major 9/11 Memorial to be completed in New York City.
3. Trinity Root—New York, New York
Sculpted by artist Steve Tobin, Trinity Root measures 12.5×20 feet and weighs three tons. The bronze sculpture memorializes the stump of a 70-year-old Sycamore tree that shielded St. Paul’s Chapel from falling debris on 9/11. Unveiled in 2005, the sculpture has since been moved to Trinity’s Retreat Center in Connecticut.
(Boston Logan International Airport)
4. Boston Logan International Airport 9/11 Memorial—Boston, Massachusetts
Boston Logan International Airport houses a permanent memorial to the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11, both of which departed Logan for Los Angeles before they were hijacked and flown into the Twin Towers. A landscaped path leads to a large glass cube that houses two glass panels etched with the names of every person aboard the two planes.
5. Monument to the Struggle Against World Terrorism—Bayonne, New Jersey
Dedicated on the 5th anniversary of the attacks, this memorial stands 10-stories tall and was an official gift from the Russian government to the United States. The sculptor, Zurab Tsereteli, drove by the American Embassy in Russia every day for work. Following the attacks, this daily commute would bring him to tears, inspiring the teardrop focus of the memorial. It highlights the 26 Russians who were killed on 9/11 and also memorializes the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing. The memorial was originally gifted to the local government of Jersey City. After they rejected it, the memorial was placed in its current location in Bayonne.
There are dozens more memorials across the nation that honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks. In big cities and small towns throughout the United States, we keep our promise that we made all those years ago. We will never forget.