On July 20, 1969, the United States won the space race. America had put two astronauts on the moon, secured the ultimate high ground, and put an end to decades of back and forth victories won by American and Soviet scientists. While many Americans saw the space race as a matter of national honor and prestige, many involved in the race for each nation’s government knew the truth: the space race was an extension of the Cold War in every appreciable way, and there was far more at stake than simply bragging rights.
Perhaps it’s because of this struggle for space supremacy, or what felt like the very real possibility that the Soviets might win it, that makes American audiences tend to gloss over the incredible achievements of the Soviet space program. It certainly makes sense not to celebrate the victories of your opponent, but in the grand scheme of things, many of the incredible feats put on display in both Russian and American space programs were victories for the human race, even if the politics of the day made it impossible to appreciate such a concept.
There may be no better example of this idea than the Soviet Venera program that took place between 1961 and 1984. The Soviets’ Mars efforts may have been marred in failure, but many Americans may be surprised to learn that they actually had a great deal of success in sending orbiters and even landers to Venus.
This might be one of the toughest little space robots you’ve ever seen.
(Venera 10 courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)
Over the span of just over two decades, the Soviets managed to put thirteen probes in orbit around Venus, with ten hardened devices reaching the planet’s hell-like surface to send back scientific data and even images of the planet. Because of the Soviet practice of keeping their space-endeavors a secret until it was politically beneficial to announce them, very little was known about these missions for decades, and it seems that much of the data acquired by these landers was lost during the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, but some treasures did manage to survive. Color photos of the Venusian surface taken by Venera 13, for instance, offer us a rare glimpse of what it’s like on the surface of a world many of us may have never thought we’d get to see.
Unlike the arid and cold environment of Mars that allows for the extended use of landers and rovers, Venus’ harsh environment made the long-term survival of any equipment utterly impossible. Instead, Soviet scientists hardened their landing platforms using the best technology available to them with a singular goal: they only had to last long enough to gather some data, snap some pictures, and transmit it all back to earth. If a lander could do that before the extreme atmospheric pressures and temperatures as high as eight hundred and seventy degrees Fahrenheit destroyed it, it was deemed a success.
It took Venera 13 four months to reach the surface of Venus, but once there, it survived for only around 120 minutes. During that time, it sent back fourteen color photos, eight more in black and white, and it drilled for a few soil samples which it analyzed internally. A duplicate lander, the Venera 14, was launched five days later and also managed to reach the surface, but survived only about an hour before succumbing the extreme environment.
Venera 13 lasted around 2 hours on the surface of Venus before the heat and pressure destroyed it.
While other Venera landers reached Venus, no others were able to transmit back color photographs of the environment. A number of them did. however, transmit back black and white images.
The pictures we have of the surface of Venus taken by the Soviet Venera program may not offer the same sweeping panoramic views we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from NASA’s Martian efforts, but they do offer an almost uncanny glimpse into a world that, upon getting a good look, doesn’t appear as alien as we may have expected. In a strange way, seeing Venus makes it feel that much closer, and although these images were captured by the Soviet Union during an era of extreme tension and a world on the verge of conflict, from our vantage point firmly in the future, it’s hard not to appreciate the incredible accomplishment these photos truly represent.
Besides, we did end up winning the space race, after all.
If you ever saw the movie Black Hawk Down, you saw the “Little Bird” kick some serious butt out there. Officially, it comes in two variants, the MH-6 (a small transport that holds as many as nine troops, according to GlobalSecurity.org), and the AH-6 (a small but powerful attack helicopter that usually carries miniguns and Hydra rockets, per GlobalSecurity.org).
These helicopters serve well, but they had an ancestor that is much less known. That was the OH-6 Cayuse, also known as the Loach, which first flew in 1963, according to MilitaryFactory.com. Back then, it was made by the Hughes Tool Company’s aviation division, and was known as the Hughes 500 in the civilian market. And yes, that company was owned by the Howard Hughes – mastermind behind the Glomar Explorer and Spruce Goose, among other projects.
The OH-6A was not armed, other than whatever pilots took aboard. But it was small, nimble, and fast. The Army bought over 1,400 choppers, but the Army soon was forced to re-assess its procurement decision. Massive losses in Vietnam (over 650 airframes) and training (297 more) caused the Army to realize they needed a new helicopter.
In 1969, the Army bought a version of the Bell 206, which became the OH-58, and which would serve for almost five decades. It seemed like the end, but some U.S. allies bought the OH-6, and some found their way to what would become the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the Nightstalkers. In the wake of “Desert One,” the Army unveiled new versions using an improved version of the OH-6, the first “Little Bird” helicopters to serve America’s special operators.
There are two general types of elbow pain; golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow. Two very white collar injuries that have nothing to do with spandex singlets or cage matches. That’s good for us. It means we don’t need to fight a roided out muscle man to relieve our elbow discomfort.
Check out that wrist extension. There’s a reason it’s called tennis elbow.
(U.S.Air Force photo/Bill Evans)
Tennis elbow comes from an issue with your forearm extensors. Those are the muscles on the same side of your forearm as the back of your hand.
Repetitive movements that engage the extensors can start to cause them to become overactive, eventually shorten, and pull away from their connection on the outside of the elbow.
Tennis players generally live in an extended position while swinging the racket, when the ball is hit those muscles loosen dramatically. It’s that rapid contraction and loosening that causes pain.
This same thing happens in the weight room, whether you’re benching or manipulating dumbbells; the forearm extensors end up in a stuck contracted position. This is an overuse injury that is super easy to fix, which we’ll get into shortly.
Just some AF brass doin’ what they do best…
(U.S. Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem)
Golfer’s elbow is the exact opposite problem of tennis elbow; the issue is in your forearm flexors. Those are the muscles on the same side of your arm as your palm. These muscles become overly contracted, shortened, and eventually pull away from the bone on the inside of the elbow.
Golfers tend to live in this position when they hold their club.
In the gym, this pain can occur from cheating on pulling movements. When your back is too weak to finish a movement you may tend to curl the weight in closer with your forearm to get an extra inch or so of movement. If you’re too weak to let the weight back gently, which is probably the case, if you’re cheating on the rep, it’s going to snap back and cause an eccentric pull in your forearm. Over time this leads to chronic pain.
Elbow Pain When Working Out (WHY & HOW TO FIX IT!!)
Just add these to your training sessions three times per week until the pain subsides. Once you’re pain free you can reduce to training your forearms one time a week.
I fully understand that this article is by no means exhaustive. Respond in the comments of this article on Facebook or send me a direct message at firstname.lastname@example.org with your sticking points, comments, or concerns on all things elbow pain.
I’m also making a push to keep the conversation going over at the Mighty Fit Facebook Group. If you haven’t yet joined the group, do so. It’s where I spend the most time answering questions and helping people get the most out of their training.
In the era of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, training was frequent and necessary in order to maintain the level of combat readiness required to sustain and prevail in battle. While times have changed, our Operational Tempo (Optempo) has not.
The number of troops needed in combat zones has decreased significantly. The amount of funds needed to maintain those combat zones has decreased as well. Funds have been redirected to modernize equipment, further training and have helped our forces remain relevant and vigilant. But what is this current wartime Optempo and Personnel Tempo (Perstempo) doing to our troops and our families?
How much is it really costing us?
Since 2001, more than 6,000 U.S. service members and DOD civilians have lost their lives. Of that, over 5,000 were KIA. Even more staggering is the number of wounded in action (WIA) since then. At least 50,000 service members have been wounded in action (DOD 2019). Since the wars began in 2001, the United States has spent 0.4 billion dollars on medical care and disability benefits.
This is only the beginning of medical care for wounded troops.
According to Costs of War, the financial costs of medical care usually peaks 30 to 40 years after the initial conflict (Bilmes, et al. 2015). In a study, it shows that although veteran suicide rates have recently decreased in numbers, the rate of suicide of military members versus civilians is still substantially higher, and ever-increasing. Furthermore, the number of veterans who use VHA versus those who don’t also, have a higher rate of suicide (DVA 2018). The toll this is taking on military families is creating unsalvageable relationships, emotional distress for children, and, ultimately, lives that are forever lost.
At the start of the war in 2001, Perstempo policies have been disregarded by many. According to the GAO:
DOD has maintained the waiver of statutory Perstempo thresholds since 2001, and officials have cited the effect of the high pace of operations and training on service members; however, DOD has not taken action to focus attention on the management of Perstempo thresholds within the services and department-wide (GAO 2018).
Is there a lack of genuine concern for family stability and well-being? Understanding the expectation of family interaction would decrease during wartime, once the service member has completed their deployment, reintegration, and revitalization of the home and family must take place. Families have been neglected and left without the proper resources to cultivate a healthy family environment. The concern for service member readiness has been an on-going issue in recent years. Studies have been conducted, and programs implemented, but is that enough?
Marital issues have often been associated with Perstempo, such as length of partner separation, infidelity during separation, and other challenges encompassed in a military marriage. The stress on the family of a service member is immeasurable; oftentimes, even discounted in comparison to the stress the service member endures. Support or resources for military spouses seeking separation or divorce are nearly nonexistent. They have been conditioned to believe that the well being of their soldiers comes before their own.
Military spouses sacrifice their academic achievements and employment opportunities in support of their service member’s careers. As the budget cuts roll out for the fiscal year, more much-needed family programs are becoming extinct. Programs that provide support for spousal employment, childcare, and leisure activities are being defunded, which can destabilize already struggling families.
Child and domestic abuse are an ever-growing concern within a community that is known for its patriotism and heroism. The families suffer in silence. Surviving recurrent deployments, solo parenting, housing issues, and the lack of program funding, the plight of the military family continues to decrease soldier readiness and morale.
Their mental well-being
The rate of PTSD and mental health diagnoses is on the rise for both service members and their families. However, services providing support and medical care for these issues have declined. The effect of time away from children has taken a toll on military children.
Neglect, abuse, and mental health issues are being ignored due to a lack of care. Some military installations cannot provide adequate mental health care because of their remote locations, and the costs to contract providers are often more than the proposed budgets allow. Because of this, the family’s needs go unmet.
With orders coming down the wire, Command Teams are obligated to carry out relentless training exercises, and soldiers are feeling the burn. Everyone is exhausted, each soldier doing the job of three, and families are becoming isolated. They lack sleep and proper nutrition, putting them at greater risk of making mistakes during training that may cost them their lives, but the soldiers march on.
The way forward
Repairing family units are necessary for the success of soldier readiness. Programs and support for families should not be cut. Revisions of budget direction may be necessary in order to tailor programs in a way that both benefits the government and the well-being of the service member and their families.
Allow soldiers to receive mental health care without fear of retaliation or loss of career. Provide structured support programs for spouses that go beyond counseling. Long term care is necessary for service members and families upon redeployment. Taking a true interest in supporting our military members and families should be the priority for our Department of Defense. We are fighting wars but not fighting for our families. Cultivate strength by improving the quality of life for everyone.
The Army’s highest award for noncombat valor, the Soldier’s Medal had been bestowed exclusively to men since its creation in 1927.
But in 1943, a female nurse who braved a raging fire to save her fellow Joes was given the award at the explicit order of then President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Edith Greenwood was a lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps in World War II, and in 1943 she was serving patients at a hospital on the massive California Arizona Maneuver Area.
The CAMA served as a practice stage for troops headed to the battle front in North Africa and stretched from Southeast California into Arizona and Nevada. Across this expanse of desert and mountains, troops practiced all aspects of deployed life.
On the morning of Apr. 17, 1943, a cooking stove exploded and started a fire in the ward. Greenwood tried to fight the flames but quickly realized the building was lost. So Greenwood and her assistant, Pvt. James F. Ford, grabbed the 15 patients and ferried them outside to safety.
With the flames racing through the wooden structure, the entire ward burned down in about 5 minutes. But thanks to the quick actions of Greenwood and Ford, all of the patients made it out alive.
When the story of the fire reached Roosevelt, he ordered that both Ford and Greenwood receive the Soldier’s Medal, the highest award that he or the military could recommend under the circumstances.
On Jun. 10, 1943, Greenwood became the first woman to receive the medal. She survived the war and died of old age in 1999. The synopsis of her medal citation is below:
By direction of the President of the United States, The Soldier’s Medal is awarded to Lieutenant Edith Ellen Greenwood, Army Nurse Corps, United States Army. At 0630 on April 17, 1943, a stove exploded in the 37th Station Hospital’s diet kitchen, setting fire to the nearby ward where Lieutenant Greenwood was responsible for overseeing the care of 15 patients. Greenwood sounded the alarm and attempted to extinguish the blaze, but the fire quickly spread, with reports indicating that the ward burned down within five minutes. Greenwood safely evacuated all of her patients with the assistance of a young ward attendant, Private James F. Ford. By direction of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, both Greenwood and Ford were awarded the Soldier’s Medal on June 10, 1943.
Army Maj. Gen. “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell was at the top of the list for high commands as America entered World War I. A 1904 West Point graduate with lots of intelligence experience in World War I and extensive time in the Pacific, he was expected to take on some of the most important commands and win.
Instead, Stilwell spent most of the war in what was an important backwater, the Chinese-Burma-India Theater. Stilwell was in the middle of preparing Operation Gymnast, the landings of North Africa which would later be conducted as Operation Torch, when he learned that he was on the short list to command U.S. forces in CBI.
Stilwell didn’t want the job. He hoped to invade North Africa. From there, he would have a decent shot at commanding the European theater or at least all troops taking the fight to Italy.
This was a reasonable expectation. Operation Gymnast became Operation Torch and was passed to then-Brig. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower’s success in North Africa led to an appointment as Supreme Allied Commander Europe. A few years later, he used his status as a war hero to run for president.
He was facing a tough job, but Stilwell dove into it. He assumed control of an integrated force in Burma in 1942 and prepared an offensive against the Japanese.
But it was too late for that. Before Stilwell could lay the groundwork, a new Japanese thrust overcame Chinese forces and sent them reeling back. The rest of the Allied forces in the area, mostly Americans under Stilwell, were forced to follow. This caused the loss of Burma and a severing of important logistical corridors.
But Stilwell didn’t want to disrupt the Japanese in Burma, he wanted it back. In 1944, he was able to lead a force that retook the region. One of the most famous units in the effort was Merrill’s Marauders, led by Maj. Gen. Frank Merrill. Merrill was one of the survivors that left Burma with Stilwell. Merrill had survived the evacuation despite suffering a heart attack.
Stilwell was finally removed from CBI in 1944, mainly due to staff and national politics. He was sent to the Ryukyu Islands where he took over the 10th Army on Okinawa. It was in this position that he was tapped to lead the invasion of Japan, Operation Downfall.
Luckily for him and his men, though not for his career and legacy, the invasion was made unnecessary by the Japanese surrendering to MacArthur in 1945.
After sixteen years spent deployed to Qatar, Afghanistan, and Iraq, Army Reserve First Sgt. Seth Kastle retired and returned home to Wakeeney, Kansas. And while he was happy to be back with his wife Julia and daughters Raegan and Kennedy, Kastle struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“When I returned home and began the reintegration process, it was difficult, but I didn’t understand why,” Kastle told Babble. To deal with his feelings and hopefully help his kids understand his PTSD, Kastle sat down at the kitchen table and started writing a story he’d been mulling over for a long time. Half an hour later, the first draft of Why Is Dad So Mad? was complete.
Kastle’s effort is a children’s book is about a family of lions, modeled after Kastle’s own, in which the father is struggling with PTSD. The disorder is represented in the book’s illustrations by a fire raging inside his chest.
Kastle hopes that his book, which met its initial Kickstarter goal in a matter of hours, helps other veterans and their families, not just his own.
While on active duty, maintaining some level of fitness is essential. It is literally a requirement of your everyday life. But once it’s not required, it’s very easy to find yourself completely out of shape and overweight.
After giving yourself a look in the mirror, you’ll probably pine for the days of old — the days of tone and definition. Well, it’s never too late; here are a few ways to get in shape fast.
Summer is over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t get a headstart on next summer. Use this winter as a springboard into a body that everyone envies next summer
Full-body workouts are a hot topic these days
(Photo via Greatist.com)
Full-body training is a form of weightlifting that has been gaining lots of popularity in the fitness world recently, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Throughout the course of a single session, you’ll target each muscle group, getting a pump for your entire body.
Despite its recent popularity, full-body training has been around for ages. Design a routine that pays extra attention to your trouble spots and you should see some serious results very fast.
Johnny Bravo…the Bro Split poster dude.
(Cartoon Network Studios)
We all know what bro splits are, even if we don’t necessarily know them by that name. A bro-split is a routine that focuses on your back, your biceps, your chest, and your triceps. This technique, too, has been around for far longer than most of us have been alive.
There’s an obvious benefit to this: it’s simple and it’ll get you looking swole quickly. That being said, there’s must more to being fit than looking fit. If you’re only in it for the beach bod, this might be the method for you.
CrossFit is often the punchline of gym jokes, but the results and popularity can’t be denied.
(Photo via BoxRox.com)
Ahh, the much-maligned CrossFit. If you’re a CrossFit junkie, then you already know that everyone has an opinion on the recent trend. In the blink of an eye, CrossFit has managed to blossom into a full-blown sport that is beloved and practiced worldwide. Truthfully, CrossFit is an amazing workout and will give you great results… even if the exercises look a little funny at times.
Sprinter body vs marathon runner body? Both are low on fat, so pick your method and enjoy.
(Photo via RachelAttard.com)
Running is one of the most time-tested ways to lose weight and training for a marathon is one of the most certain ways to commit to running many miles with regularity. There’s simply no way to do all the running you need to prepare for a marathon without slimming down.
As an added bonus, committing to a run (marathon or otherwise) forces you to get your diet together. You simply won’t be able to go the distance without a proper diet.
Bodyweight exercises have been around since the beginning of time. Maybe it’s time you gave it a try.
Photo via Boss Royal.com
Can you do 40 push-ups without stopping? How about 40 dips within 2 minutes? How about 40 pull-ups in that same timespan?
Chances are, especially if you’re a recently retired/separated veteran, you can do the push-ups with no issue. The others, however, are going to be more challenging. Put together a quick, fun, and sweaty, circuit-style workout of your own and see the combined benefits of body weight movements and aerobic exercise.
To celebrate Ken Burns’ documentary, “The Vietnam War,” PBS and USAToday created a Vietnam War Draft Lottery calculator. Simply enter your birth month and day to find out if you would have been drafted for wartime service in Vietnam.
The calculator, of course, does not use your birth year because many of us were born well after the Vietnam War. For those born in 1950, however, being drafted in 1970 was a very real prospect. In today’s all-volunteer military, the idea of someone being forced into that lifestyle change can seem very bizarre. Most of the men who rotated through the country were volunteers, but a significant number were not.
Unlike World War II, there were no lines to sign up for service. And unlike the Civil War, there was no paying a substitute to take your place. But still, the perception existed that with money and connections, someone could avoid serving. So in an effort to make the draft more fair (or appear fair), a lottery was put in place.
Draft age men were assigned a number between 1 and 366, depending on their birthday. The lowest numbers were called first. This was all entirely at random.
Of course, that didn’t stop some of those who were called to service from further avoiding Selective Service. Some went to college or graduate school or faked medical conditions, while others fled to Canada. In all, half a million Americans dodged their Vietnam War service.
They were fugitives until 1977 when President Jimmy Carter ordered a general amnesty. Deserters, however, were not given amnesty.
Ken Burns’ film recalls the accounts of more than 100 witnesses to the war in what he calls a “360-degree narrative.” The 10-part, 18-hour documentary “The Vietnam War” is available for streaming on PBS.
There are some important fundamentals underlying proper shooting techniques that involve cover and what we’ll refer to as half-assed cover, based on hard-learned lessons gleaned from nearly two decades of continuous warfare. And they all fall under the most important principle of patrolling — common sense. Yet, you’ll still see outdated, old-school techniques used in the field and presented all over social media. I always say, “my way isn’t the only way,” but I preach what’s worked for the Special Forces community during the recent wars — nothing validates doctrine and fundamentals like confirmation under fire. Regardless of what you take from this article, at a minimum, do the following: have an offensive mindset, limit your exposure to the enemy, think in terms of near and far, and use what you have to stabilize your shooting platform.
The corner of this building provides some cover as well as stability for sending more effective fire downrange. The author braces his support hand and rifle against the edge of the building.
Cover and mindset
First, let’s define cover as the term’s used in military doctrine. Cover is anything that provides protection from bullets, fragments, flames, and nuclear, biological, and chemical agents. Cover can be man-made or naturally occurring. Examples include logs, trees, ravines, trenches, walls, rubble, craters, and small depressions. What’s half-assed cover, then? Well, you really never know… Vehicles are half-assed cover for the most part, but hat’s a whole other topic in itself. And it’s far better to use half-assed cover than to just stand out in the open.
Remember, we don’t hide, we fight, and nothing will ever afford us complete protection. In conflict, you either fight or you hide, period — and we fight! Always maintain an offensive mindset and act accordingly.
Is a mud wall in Afghanistan thick enough to provide cover? Well it all depends where you’re situated. Will a PKM smoke right through it? If someone says you should simply move to a 100-percent solid structure and fight from there, well that’s just not possible in most circumstances. Perhaps you’re next to a wall, the side of a building, or a door frame. They may or may not stop that PKM round, but they’re often sturdy and can provide you some stability. So use what you have as support and deliver faster, more accurate follow-up shots. If you’re behind something, why not use it to support yourself and your firearm? If you’re not using cover to support your position, no matter if it’s half-assed or not, you’re doing it wrong. If you think there’s theory and science behind what bullets do when they ricochet, please show us a scientifically validated study. You can apply techniques based on theory or maintain that offensive mindset. The choice is clear.
Take the sh*t and stop playing peek-a-boo
This isn’t just my opinion, but also that of the Special Operations Forces community, and those who’ve taught in its school house and know what’s right. Years ago, we’d come up to an alleyway and pie it off in a slow, methodical movement. It involved baby steps to clear the alleyway at angles to limit exposure, and we didn’t use the available cover to support our firing position. Was it valid? Perhaps. But what about our shooting position? We weren’t using the edge of the wall to support our shooting platforms. Could we engage someone close? Hell yes, but we weren’t effective at longer distances and weren’t supporting what we currently teach and refer to as a 10-round-string stance; that’s a strong, stable fighting stance from which you can effectively and quickly put multiple rounds on target. We’ve found it’s far more effective and faster to just take the alleyway by force, and then post up on the side of the wall in a stable firing position and collapse that sector.
Being able to shoot with both your strong and support side dramatically reduces your exposure behind cover.
The next time you go to the range, put up a barricade and place targets at 10 to 40 and 70 meters away. Pie off the barricade, don’t support yourself, and shoot five rounds at each target while timing yourself. Next, take it by force, post up in a good stable firing position, use the barricade, and execute the same drill. Your hits will be far more accurate, and your time will be much faster. We’ve put in the time using simunitions and teammates playing the peek-a-boo technique — the bottom line is if someone’s waiting for you to break a corner or an alleyway, he’ll see you anyway. Bring a good solid supported stance and shove 10 rounds of lead down his throat rather than slowly pieing off the corner and giving up the extra stability.
There’s a time and place for the pieing technique — save that for CQB. We never know how far our threat will be, and we plan for the worst case. So stop pieing sh*t off. Take it by force and post up while you collapse your sector of that alleyway or when you turn the corner of a house on a raid.
If you’re fighting from behind something, use it. Using your piece of cover or even half-assed cover will further stabilize your firing platform. The goal is to put fast, accurate follow-up shots on target, so use what’s in front of you. It doesn’t matter if you have a rifle or a pistol. Yes, there are a lot of great shooters that could run up to a barricade or position of cover and crush targets without a support. That’s great when running drills on the flat range, but the flat range is not reality. Reality is when you’re pulling security in an isolation or containment position — you’ll definitely benefit from using what’s in front of you to support yourself for extended periods of time. Then add in stress, adrenaline, the dark of night, weather, fatigue, and maybe an injury, like being down to one arm or hand.
There’s no single, best way to support your carbine on a piece of cover. The key is to get meat between your weapon and what you’re using for cover. That means your hands; it’s not a good idea to support yourself with equipment connected to your blaster. There are some exceptions, like laying your carbine flat on its side at 90 degrees. You definitely don’t want the slide of a pistol touching anything; we all know what’ll happen — a lot of shooter-induced malfunctions. Place the meaty portion of your palm against cover and form an L to support and brace your rifle. Use your forearm to brace against awkwardly shaped pieces of cover or half-assed cover like the front end of a vehicle. With a pistol, dig your knuckles into cover or use your support thumb to hook onto cover as well. However, attempt to maintain a solid fundamental grip on the pistol, and don’t let the piece of cover totally support you.
Being able to shoot with both your strong and support side dramatically reduces your exposure behind cover.
Square up to your piece of cover as best as you can. This isn’t a USPSA or three-gun match where you can be off balance, rip off two shots, and haul ass to the next position. Establish a solid base, square up to cover, and remember our 10-round-string stance. Squaring up also keeps legs and knees in a tight position so teammates aren’t tripping over legs at night. Who knows how many others will need to share that piece of cover with you.
When kneeling, always keep the outside knee up. Right or wrong? It’s a technique we teach. It provides a stable platform to drop your arm and tuck it into your thigh. It also avoids legs sticking out and tripping teammates as they run past the alleyway you’re posted up on. So, square up and support your firing platform, and remember the 10-round-string stance, no matter what awkward position you might find yourself in.
Limit your exposure
Limiting exposure sounds like common sense, but what it really means is you need to be an ambidextrous gunfighter. People get small and seek cover when it’s raining lead. Whether standing or kneeling, squaring up helps — you don’t want to expose yourself needlessly, yet you must stabilize yourself to support that 10-round string of fire.
Vehicles are half-assed cover, but you should still use them as support.
First, don’t try to conceal yourself so much that you give up both a stable firing position and the ability to fight effecively. Remember, we must have an offensive mindset — we don’t hide. Second, you have to shoot strong and support side — don’t forget we don’t have a weak side (see issue 7 of CONCEALMENT for more on weak sides). If you’re on the left side of something, you should shoot from the left side of your body with a carbine. The same applies for the right side of cover. Your mindset and training philosophy should be to become fully ambidextrous, especially when it comes to shooting around cover. Put in the practice time on the range.
Oh sh*t vehicle tactics
Vehicles aren’t cover; they’re half-assed cover. Yet the philosophy of using them to support yourself still applies. Be offensive and seek better positions like the rear of the vehicle, the engine block, and axles. This philosophy comes from battlefield experience, and is presented as doctrine in SOF and law enforcement training. First, have you seen ballistic data on ricochets? Bullet type, distance, angle, and so on; there are too many factors that influence what bullets will do when they hit sh*t. We used to have beer shoots, skipping rounds off car hoods into the A zone of targets. We knew the distance and where best to try to aim, but the reality is that there’s no telling where that bullet will go.
Kneeling with the outside knee up provides a more stable shooting platform than the alternative. Always have an offensive mindset.
It’s fine to take these things into consideration, but you shouldn’t avoid using the vehicle to support yourself. Most vehicle interdictions in military terms are close range, but not all of them… and not all engagements are at close range. So apply the same techniques for shooting around vehicles as for around walls. Of course, if the bad guy’s 5 feet away, you don’t have to support yourself on a vehicle. But some say that ricochet theories dictate that you shouldn’t support yourself on a vehicle. In my book, that’s not an offensive mindset, and we should always have an offensive mindset.
Outside the vehicle
So, get up close and personal on the outside of your vehicle. Use it to support yourself and your shots. Yes, vehicles don’t stop bullets, but what about armored or military vehicles? Don’t correlate this all to vehicles, but the principles apply to both. If you’re in an engagement, using the engine block or front of the vehicle to fight from, why would you be 3 to 5 feet away from the vehicle? Then, how would you support yourself in a junkyard prone position on the hood? If your threat is 5 feet away, you don’t need support; but what if it isn’t? Think night; think far.
When shooting underneath a vehicle, get close to it.
Second, consider fighting in a hostile environment where threats are at the rooftop level. The further you move away from a vehicle, the more exposed you are. You also limit your fields of fire. Try backing away from a piece of cover, then shoot underneath or over it — you better have some good loophole math locked into memory to avoid putting rounds into your cover in a stressful situation! Shooting underneath a vehicle certainly reduces your situational awareness, but you might need to do it at some point. I’ve seen it before — it’s easy with a gun truck, not so easy under a BMW with the tires blown out. When you only have a couple inches to get it done, hug those axles and get that gun up underneath the vehicle to get your shots off. This becomes very difficult when you’re several meters from the vehicle.
Inside the vehicle
When fighting from a vehicle, there are certain areas of the vehicles that afford better protection than others. Probably not the front two seats, though shooting through the front windshield is a viable option, if needed.
When shooting through windshields, don’t be stingy.
I’ve shot numerous types of ammunition through windshields, from inside and out. There’s one rule to remember — P for Plenty, plenty of lead! No matter what type of ammunition you use, it’ll take multiple shots through the same hole to get good hits on target. If a threat’s approaching your vehicle and you must engage through the windshield, put a couple rounds into the same hole and then jam your muzzle into the hole. To adjust your aim and point of impact, move your body. Never walk rounds across the windshield; you won’t make the positive contact you need to eliminate the threat.
Contingencies of gunfighting
Should you ever find yourself injured and in an engagement when behind cover, or half-assed cover, you’ll need that platform to support yourself. Don’t train or think of the best case scenarios at all time. Train and develop techniques that apply to contingencies as well. When rounds are flying, it shouldn’t be your first time figuring out how to fire your pistol one handed from behind a wall or how to support yourself using the wall.
Get meat between your weapon and the support — with a pistol as shown here, you can dig your knuckles into the fender.
There aren’t any right answers when sh*t hits the fan and it’s raining lead. What you do and how you do it on the range is the answer. There are a lot of ways to do things, but if you’re fighting from behind cover (or half-assed cover), utilize the following four fundamentals.
Have an offensive mindset
Limit your exposure
Think near and far for engagements
Support yourself to provide a solid, 10-round string firing position
Also don’t forget common sense, one of the principles of patrolling. If it works at night, in the rain and cold, when you’re exhausted or injured, then you’re on the right track. Fast, accurate shots win the day. Prepare yourself to take advantage of what’s around you and practice supported shooting from behind cover. Apply the fundamentals and push forward; remember that on the range, everything is a rehearsal for something.
Photos by Blake Rea and RECOIL Staff
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
Ever wonder what it would be like if Gunny Hartman trained elves using the same foul mouth he developed in the Marine Corps?
Well, wonder no longer because the internet has mashed “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” with the audio from the famous barracks scene in “Full Metal Jacket.” The result is hilarious, so check it out below. Be warned: Very profane language (after all, it’s f-cking Gunny Hartman).
Necessity is the mother of invention, but combat forces troops to get creative. When your life is on the line, you do whatever it takes to get the job done. Over the years, troops have found some surprising applications on the battlefield for simple everyday items. Here are some of the best.
1. Super Glue
Yes, the stuff that you use to fix broken pottery and then get all over your fingers had a military use. In fact, it was a live saving application. While developing a plastic gunsight and an aircraft canopy in the 1940s and 1950s, Harry Coover invented a new super strong and quick-drying adhesive. Realizing the potential medical application of his new invention, he submitted it to the FDA for approval. Although it was disapproved for use on human tissue because it caused skin irritation, the military sent Super Glue to the Vietnam. Applied with a spray bottle, medics would use Super Glue to close open wounds and stop bleeding in the field. This gave many troops the valuable time needed to be MEDEVACed to a field hospital for proper treatment. Later, Super Glue’s formula was reworked to be used specifically on human tissue.
2. Grease pencil
The grease pencil has plenty of uses in the military. Its ability to write on glass make it ideal for air traffic controllers, especially on aircraft carriers. However, the pilots of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment used the grease pencil as a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem. When the OH-6 Cayuse was adapted into the MH-6 Little Bird for Special Operations use, the Army added two M134 7.62x51mm mini-guns and two 2.75-inch rocket pods to the helicopter. However, the pilots had no way of aiming their weapons. To create a reference, they would fly a few practice gun runs to see exactly where their fire was landing in relation to their windscreen. Afterwards, they would mark the spot with a little “X” in grease pencil and use it as a gun sight. Despite its crudity, the grease pencil gun sight worked remarkably well. Sgt. Raleigh Cash, a member of Task Force Ranger during the Battle of Mogadishu remembers the accuracy of the Little Birds. “These guys hit exactly where you told them to,” Cash recalled, “using nothing but a little X on the windscreen.”
Thanks to Band of Brothers and Jurassic World, most people are probably familiar with this one. The cricket, or clicker, was originally designed in the 1920s as a timekeeping device for orchestra and band leaders. The simplicity of the clicking metal device meant that it was soon adopted as a children’s toy. However, during Operation Overlord, the cricket served a much more serious role than music or playtime. On D-Day, the 101st Airborne challenge and password was “flash-thunder”. If a paratrooper came across an unknown individual in the dark, they would whisper “flash” just loud enough for the person to hear. If they responded with “thunder”, it was another paratrooper and all was good. Otherwise, it was assumed that they were a German. The Screaming Eagles also used a nonverbal challenge and password. Using their crickets, paratroopers would make one click as a challenge. The appropriate response to identify yourself as a fellow trooper was two clicks with your own cricket. The simple cricket has also been used to train animals and has become iconic thanks to its depiction on screen.
4. Silly String
A favorite of children and vandals alike, the aerosol plastic string in a can found its way to the battlefield during the war in Iraq. Especially in the early days of the war, U.S. troops were heavily impeded by IEDs. Enemy fighters would rig up crude explosives with simple tripwires that made house-to-house fighting extremely difficult and dangerous. Adapting to this threat, troops discovered that Silly String could be used to identify tripwires that were otherwise invisible to the naked eye. The plastic stream can be shot 10 to 12 feet across a room and is light enough to not set off any potential triggers. If the string falls to the ground, no tripwires. If the string hangs in the air, you know there’s something there. Upon hearing about this application from her son, one Army mom organized a drive to send 80,000 cans of the stuff to Iraq in 2007.
Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan is the Air National Guard Special Assistant to Maj. Gen. Scott F. Smith, the Director of Training and Readiness, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Arlington, Va. The directorate, encompassing seven divisions and the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation, is responsible for policy, guidance and oversight of Air Force operations.
General Vaughan also serves as the lead for the Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team (AF-PEAT) and co-leads the ad hoc Joint-PEAT, along with Navy Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman.
General Vaughan completed Reserve Officer Training Corps at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received his commission as honor graduate from ANG’s Academy of Military Science. He previously served in leadership roles at the squadron, group, wing and higher headquarters levels in both the mobility and combat air forces. General Vaughan commanded the 156th Airlift Wing, Puerto Rico, and Detachment 1 of the 13th Air Expeditionary Group (formerly the 13th Expeditionary Support Squadron), Antarctica.
During an interview with Airman Magazine, Gen. Vaughan discussed his new post leading the joint investigation of Unexplained Physiological Episodes (UPEs) and his experiences as a mobility and combat airman and safety officer.
Airman Magazine: Please tell us about your new job investigating Unexplained Physiological Episodes.
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: As part of my role working in A3T, I’ve been tasked by the A3 Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly to lead the Physiological Episodes Action Team, also known as the PEAT.
PE stands for physiological episode or event. Essentially it’s any anomaly in the interaction among the aircrew, equipment, and environment that causes adverse physical or cognitive symptoms, which may impede the ability to fly..
What we’ve done across the Air Force and all aircraft, but most recently with the T-6 fleet, is to investigate what causes PEs. In some cases an Unknown PE will immediately reveal to us what happened. Maybe there was some sort of contamination in the cockpit due to an oil leak or some other fumes, so we’re able to identify it as a known physiological event.
In other cases, pilots will experience symptoms, come down and land, report them and we don’t know exactly what the cause is until we investigate further.
Members of the Navy Physiological Episodes Action Team and Air Force PEAT listen to a discussion between Rear Adm. Fredrick R. “Lucky” Luchtman (left) and Air Force Brig. Gen. Edward L. “Hertz” Vaughan (right) as they lay the ground work for the Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team, or J-PEAT.
(Photo by Scot Cregan)
Airman Magazine: Tell me about the PEAT. What is the structure and objective of the team?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: The AF-PEAT is Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team. Now, previously this has been known as the UPE IT or Unexplained Physiological Events Integration Team. We’re working very closely with our Navy partners and they came up with a pretty good name – Physiological Episodes Action Team. In the interest of both jointness and keeping it simple for all the flying community, we’ve aligned names with the Navy.
Of course, that’s not the only thing we’ve learned from the Navy. The Navy’s had some great success in exploring what happens in physiological episodes, what happens to aviators, and we’ve been able to learn a lot from them and they’ve learned from us as well.
Airman Magazine: How does the PEAT operate?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: We have two meetings per week. Every Friday the Air Force PEAT meets. Who is on this action team? The answer is those people who are required for that particular meeting.
We’ll have the topics of the week, sometimes we’re looking at specific incidents with airplanes, specific episodes, and other times we may be investigating new equipment that’s coming out, new procedures, new training or maybe there’s the results of an investigation that we’ll need to review. We have standing members of the team, about half a dozen, that are there at every meeting.
Then we have another kind of a second layer of folks, which gets us up closer to 20 people, who come in as needed. That second layer includes folks from the acquisition community or the 711th Human Performance Wing. We don’t necessarily need to have them come to every meeting, but there’s times we really need somebody from human performance wing present. That’s one meeting.
Then immediately following that meeting, we have, what I call the Joint-PEAT. It’s really an ad hoc Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team with the Navy. It is very much a joint effort in that we work closely together and meet weekly to keep a steady battle rhythm so as things come up during the week, if they’re not an emergency or if it’s not something that we’ve got to address right at that minute, we’ll be able to put it together on Friday. We know that once a week we’re going to have a meeting where we can sit down face-to-face and hash these things out.
My Navy counterpart is Rear Adm. Frederick Luckman, he goes by “Lucky”. My call sign is “Hertz”. We immediately got to a Hertz-Lucky professional friendly demeanor. We go through an awful lot of coffee. He and I meet as often as we can to share data. Like I said, we cannot share the information fast enough.
The Navy is doing a lot of good work. They had a series of issues with physiology not only in the F-18, but T-45s, and they’ve had very good success in their T-6 fleet. They have a T-6 fleet that’s about half the size of the Air Force’s. They have slightly different models, some of theirs are newer models, but the oxygen systems are very similar.
The Navy adopted early on, in response to some of the lessons they learned from other airframes, significant maintenance practices in their T-6 oxygen system that we found very useful. We watched the Navy adopt those, saw the results of it and in those cases we’ve been able to adopt it exactly the same way that they have.
Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan, head of the Air Force Unexplained Physiological Events Integration Team, and Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman, Navy Physiological Episodes Action Team lead, discuss ongoing efforts to minimize the risk of Physiological Episodes.
(U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Scot Cregan)
Airman Magazine: How does the timely resolution of PEs, affect training and readiness?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Looking at the National Defense Strategy, lethality is the primary objective and, for the Air Force, that equates to readiness. Are we ready to fight? You know, the question is readiness for what? Ready to do what? It’s ready to prosecute the war, ready to fight. In some cases, being ready to go out and influence and be that presence where we need to be.
If we’re having equipment struggles, delays in our programs, or we’re having to stand-down aircraft or cancel missions because of physiological episodes that will get in the way of us being ready. It will get in the way of us executing any plans we may have out there. So it’s important for us to get the information back, put the fixes in, get those funded, fielded and executed as quickly as possible. Once we do that, we’re going to enhance readiness and capability as we grow toward the Air Force We Need.
It also eliminates a distraction. Anytime you have aircraft mishaps of any kind, anytime you have a cluster of these PEs, it’s going to create a distraction, not just for the frontline airman, but for their families, and anybody else associated with it. Anybody involved with the operation and maintenance will have a distraction. That distraction takes our eye off the readiness ball. That’s one of the reasons that you’ll see the PEAT, Physiological Episodes Acting Team, embedded right in A3T. A3T’s tasking is training and readiness.
Airman Magazine: What types of symptoms are commonly associated with PEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Symptoms span the spectrum of what can happen to people on airplanes. I’ll caveat this with Air Force aviators receive extensive training in physiology and what may happen to them in tactical aviation. All pilots and other aircrew going through their initial training, experience the hypobaric chamber, we call it the altitude chamber. They get used to what it’s like to operate at high altitudes and what happens during decompression. They also have routine refresher training in all aspects of aviation physiology.
One of the main reasons for doing that training is so that each aviator can learn what their individual symptoms will be. No two people will react the same to an aircraft or environmental stimulus and, in fact, the same person may have different reactions on different days based on fatigue, fitness, nutrition, or other personal factors.
It’s important for each aviator to have a sense of what symptoms they might have, especially the early onset symptoms, so they can take early appropriate action to safely recover the aircraft or get out of the environment that’s causing the problem.
Some of these symptoms can range from things like tingling in the extremities, fingers and toes, headaches or nausea. There are actually cases of folks having euphoria, while other folks may become belligerent. They know if you’re flying along and all of a sudden you just feel a little irritated for no particular reason it may be time to check your oxygen system, look at the environment you’re in or determine if that’s caused by something else. Then take appropriate action to mitigate the risk.
Airman Magazine: You have said that when investigating and mitigating PEs, “We can’t share information fast enough.” Describe what you mean and how that process can be improved?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Sharing the right information and then making sense of the information is very important in dealing with this phenomenon. What we do right now in the Air Force is we listen to the pilots. Pilots will land and give us a debrief – What happened? When did it happen? What types of conditions were going on in the airplane?
You’ll find that in the Air Force fleet, and the Navy fleet as well, most of the aircraft have pretty sophisticated sensors when it comes to their engines and other aircraft systems. When they land that information is downloaded, aggregated, and acted upon. Much of the critical data is available real time and available to the pilot for immediate action. Each aircraft is slightly different as technology improves, but the amount of data that we’re able to download from a given flight is enormous. But hard data on the human weapon system is slim to none.
This gets into right into some of the themes of Secretary of the Air Force has talked about going into artificial intelligence, big data analytics. How do we deal with all this data, make some sense of it and not run down the wrong path to get a wrong conclusion?
I will tell you one area though, where we’re still struggling, not only the Air Force, but also the Navy and our colleagues at NASA, is collecting data from the actual human weapon system.
We want to know things like pulse rate, oxygen content in the blood, cognitive functions, any anomalies with eyesight, but these are very hard things to sense independently without interfering with the aviators while they conduct their mission.
That’s a fascinating area of research that’s happening out at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in conjunction with the Navy Medical Research Unit Dayton. What they’ve started to do, both those labs working together and along with some NASA support, is fielding some prototypes, such as sensors that might go, for example, in the (oxygen) mask or on the pilot’s helmet.
We actually know real-time information about the oxygen system in an airplane. We have sensors on the actual system to know the content of oxygen and other gases that might be presented to the aviator. What we don’t know is what happens in system losses; what happens between the actual oxygen production or the oxygen source and the pilot’s breathing. Furthermore, we don’t know the pilot’s ability to uptake that oxygen. There’s a lot of medical and physiological processes that we need to monitor better.
A technique called Hybrid 3D Printing, developed by AFRL researchers in collaboration with the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, uses additive manufacturing to integrate soft, conductive inks with material substrates to create stretchable electronic devices.
(Wyss Institute photo)
Airman Magazine: What does the end state of this research look like? Are you talking about monitoring physiological responses of pilots during missions in real time?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: That’s absolutely correct. We’d like to get to an end state where the human weapon system is instrumented in such a way that’s noninvasive and nonintrusive. The aviators won’t feel the sensors and it doesn’t interfere with their duties at all, but that that data is available just like you would read all the instruments on an engine. We’re trying to figure out, is that five years from now, two years from now or 20 years from now?
If you think of the human on the loop or in the loop going forward, especially in cyber systems and integrating across all-domain operations, it’s going to be more important than ever to make sure that the human weapon system is keeping up and that we’re able to monitor that.
So we’re looking at sensors that might be wearable. A lot of folks out in the community are familiar with wearable fitness monitors and the chips that go in your shoes if you’re going to run a race to keep track of where you are. One of the challenges we have in aviation is the sensors that might be worn in commercial practice that people might buy at a local store are not suitable for the aviation environment, particularly tactical aviation.
Not only do you have the pressure and temperature anomalies that occur as airplanes travel up and down, but in tactical aviation, fighters, bombers and training aircraft, there’s an awful lot of G-loading. There can be anomalies that go from high altitude to low altitude in very short order and that has a lot of wear and tear on the sensors. Some sensors are embedded in clothing and depend on contact with the skin. For example, in order to prepare themselves for a mission, aviators will strap down tighter than you might in an automobile to keep them safe, but that may also cause bulges in the clothing that interferes with sensory contact. There’s a lot of research yet to be done and a lot of development ahead of us.
I’m looking forward to the Air Force potentially investing more in that research. I’m especially impressed with our ability to work with our joint partners with the Navy and the Army, which is coming on board later this month, in this PEAT effort. They’ve got a lot of exciting things happening in their aerospace medicine field and then NASA has been a partner throughout. You really can’t beat, from an intellectual capacity standpoint, having partners like the 711th Human Performance Wing and NASA. We’ve got the best partners in the world.
Airman Magazine: Are there other interagency or commercial partners in the research and investigation of PEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Absolutely. Some of the companies that produce our aircraft have divisions dedicated to human physiology and enhancing the ability of the human to perform in or on the loop. They provide enhancements such as providing sensors and digital displays. In some cases, even an augmented reality display, which we have in many aircraft, where there’s a lens that comes over one eye and not only can you see your environment, but that lens will produce a heads-up display of images that will help you interpret what you’re seeing on the ground.
Not only do we have industry partners that helping us with this, we also have universities and some international partners. Primarily we’re working through the Navy to access the folks that are doing that work on the outside, but we’re going to start working a little more with our international affairs group here in the Air Force to foster those partnerships.
Airman Magazine: Do you see a time when human sensor capability will be baked in rather than bolted on?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I think we’re going to get to that point. Right now, we’ve got to be sensitive to the fact, that if we start utilizing every sensor that’s available commercially, we run the risk of interfering with the mission and maybe causing a distraction. The last thing we want to do is have sensors be the cause of problems. We want the sensors to help us solve those problems.
We’re looking at ways to prototype these things. Edwards Air Force Base, for example, where we do a lot of research and development flight testing, has been very instrumental in working with the 711th Human Performance Wing and the system program offices for the airplanes, to include the T-6, F-15, F-16 and others, in doing some remarkable testing that gives us great foundational data. That foundational data is important to determine where we do the development going forward. Also, we recently shook hands on an agreement with the Civil Air Patrol to help us collect, assess, and sort through the many commercially available wearable sensors.
Airman Magazine: What’s the benefit to the force of being able to process and utilize PE data faster?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: So for example, right now if we have a physiological event in the aircraft, we typically execute emergency procedures, get to a safe backup source of oxygen if it’s available, descend to an altitude where it’s safe to breathe ambient air and then land as soon as possible at the nearest suitable airfield.
Perhaps what will happen in the future, with sensors on board, you may be able to head off that emergency. Sensors may alert the pilots to the fact that they are entering a phase of flight or a set of activities or an environment, where they’re at higher risk of these kinds of anomalies. By alerting the pilot to that, they may be able to mitigate it or avoid a physiological event.
Furthermore, if there is a situation in flight, the sensors on board that gives them real time readings may enable them to do a better job of assessing what’s going on.
But this is where it gets insidious. With physiological events, one serious possible symptom is an inability to assess the situation.
Now that’s a pretty extreme symptom, but you may have those situations come up. In which case, presenting the data to the pilot as numbers or another traditional data format might not be as useful as, maybe, an alert light. There are some programs out there that cause the oxygen mask to vibrate a little bit. We do this with the control stick in airplanes as well. With such an equipped aircraft if you were to get into a stall, the control stick vibrates, They call it a stick shaker. Applying these proven technologies to other areas are all in prototype and being tested.
Zach Demers, an aerospace engineer, demonstrates the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS) in an F-16 flight simulator at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
(Photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)
Airman Magazine: Weren’t you involved in the adoption of another pilot safety system?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Formerly, I served as the Air National Guard’s national director of safety. Part of our safety portfolio is flight safety and in that we have some advanced fourth and fifth- generation aircraft, but we also have legacy systems out there. Systems that don’t have baked-in ground collision avoidance systems.
We worked very hard with the system program office and the Pilot Physician program in the United States Air Force to bring on board these Auto G-CAS systems (Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System). We have confirmed saves in situations where the pilot may have lost awareness. It doesn’t have to be a physiological event. It can be task saturation or other things that cause the pilot to lose awareness of proximity to the ground. Traditional GCAS systems will alert the pilot, such as an X symbol in the heads-up display, letting them know they’re near the ground and need to pull back on the stick.
In the Auto G-CAS, the aircraft sensors can actually determine the point where the pilot can no longer recover, due to the limits of human reaction time, and the system takes over the jet and recovers it for the pilot. As soon as the aircraft is in a safe regime, it returns the control back to the pilot. And that’s also had a couple of great saves for us.
Airman Magazine: You mentioned the Pilot Physician program, what is that and are they involved in the J-PEAT and investigating of UPEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan:Pilot Physician is a very unique program in the Air Force and its highly specialized. These are individuals are rated aviators of all sorts, but primarily pilots. Then they go to medical school and change their job category. So they’re no longer primarily pilots for the Air Force, they’re now physicians for the Air Force.
They’ve enabled to help us understand what’s going on both operationally and medically and where those two things meet. In other situations, you have pilots who were trying to describe what’s happening to them in the airplane and then you have medical doctors trying to understand that description. There can be things lost in translation between the communities.
The Pilot Physicians speak both aviation and medicine fluently, are able to identify with the pilots and, in many cases, have flown that exact aircraft being investigated.
Lt. Col. Jay Flottmann, pilot physician and 325th Fighter Wing chief of flight safety, explains how a valve in the upper pressure garment and the shape and the size of oxygen delivery hoses and connection points contributed to previously unexplained physiological issues during F-22 flights.
(Photo by Senior Airman Christina Brownlow)
Airman Magazine: Are there specific examples of investigations that benefitted from Pilot Physician experience and expertise?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Lt. Col. James “Bones” Flottman was the Pilot Physician directly involved in the F-22 investigation that we did a few years ago. The F-22 had a series of physiological episodes. He was the one that was able, as an F-22 pilot and a physician, to credibly determine that it was a work of breathing issue.
It was a combination of factors, we don’t need to go into all the specifics right here, but he was able to bridge the gap between pilot practices, things they’ve been taught to do and things they did through experience, and what was happening medically. That resulted in improvements in the whole system – improvements in some of the hardware and improvements in the pilot practices. Not only was he able to help the investigation team solve that, he was able to then go back and credibly relate this to the pilots, restoring faith both in the system, in the Air Force process.
There’s another one that is a friend of mine, retired Col. Peter Mapes. Dr. Pete Mapes is a classic Pilot Physician. He was a B-52 pilot and a fantastic doctor, as are all of them. He and I worked closely together on Auto G-CAS, as well as several key people in engineering and operations. He was really the driving force, along with Lt. Col. Kevin Price, at the Air Force and the OSD level to push that development and production through, especially for the legacy aircraft.
He also had a role in many other aviation safety improvements to include helicopters, specifically wire detection. A lot of helicopters have mishaps because they strike power lines. He was instrumental in getting some of those systems put into helicopters and out into the fleet.
He was also instrumental in improving some of the seat designs and some of the pilot-aircraft interface designs as well. Really too many to mention.
Another great a success story for the Air Force, when it comes to the Pilot Physician program is Col. Kathy Hughes, call sign “Fog”. She’s flown the T-38 and A-10, a great flying background, and has been a wonderful physician for the Air Force. She really explored the use, the application and the design of our G-suits and was able to help the Air Force evolve into a full coverage G-suit. So now the G-suits that our fighter aviators fly are more standardized and more effective than the previous generations of flight suits. Thanks, in large part, to her work. I recently met her at aviation safety conference where she is helping commercial interests design better ejection seats.
That’s just three examples. There’s a whole laundry list.
We also have advising both the Navy and Air Force PEAT, Col. William P. Mueller; call sign “Ferris”. Col. Mueller was an F-4 fighter pilot and now one of the top physicians in aerospace medicine. He’s been absolutely invaluable in helping us understand what’s going on with the physiological episodes. He not only sits on the Air Force PEAT, but he also has a permanent membership sitting on the Navy’s PEAT. So he’s part of that joint interaction and offers a fearless perspective on improving training.
Col. Kathryn Hughes, a pilot-physician and director, Human Systems Integration, 711th Human Performance Wing, sits on the stairs of a centrifuge at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, April 22, 2016.
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I like using the email analogy. So most of us have email. Those that work in an office may have one for work and one for personal use, or maybe even more than that. If you’re like me at all, if you skip checking your emails for even one day, you find yourself in a huge email deficit. Now imagine all the sensors, whether it’s a cyber system, aircraft systems, space system, and each piece of all the data being collected as an email coming to you. Within minutes you would be completely overwhelmed with data. So we’re going to rely on systems to help us sort through the data and present those things that are most important now for decision making.
Those other pieces of information that we might want later for analysis, it will store those and present them at the appropriate time. So that gets after artificial intelligence. We need these systems to work with the human in the loop. We don’t necessarily want it to be standalone. We want it to be integrated with humans and that’s where the real challenge comes in, because as an aviator flying an airplane, the data I want right at that moment to prosecute the fight, may be different than the data a cyber operator working with me in that operation may need at that same moment. Artificial Intelligence or underlying data systems will have to be smart enough to give the data to the operator that’s needed to make the right decision.
I recently spent some time with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. I asked him about this wicked technology problem of applying artificial intelligence on the tactical edge. His advice about leveraging cloud technology to perform advanced operations on big data, where and when needed, has been invaluable.
Airman Magazine: How does recorded data on individual pilots allow you establish baseline physiology and find relationships between PEs that may occur in aircrew from different units and bases?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: We’re already finding benefit from that data, so the 711th Human Performance Wing is working very closely, in this case with the T-6 system program office, and some big data analytic gurus. These folks will take large volumes of data and slice and dice it to find where there might be some differences from what would be considered a baseline or normal.
Then they can dig into those differences and see if there is something to learn. They’re finding a lot of great results that help us improve the systems. Because physiological events involve humans and each human has such a different reaction and an individual person will have a different reaction on a different day, it can be difficult to look at a small sample size and draw any big lessons. We need large sample sizes and that’s where you can start to kind of tease out the pieces of the data that are going to move us forward.
As we worked with the Navy on the Physiological Episode Action Team we have found that pilots in the Air Force and the Navy are more informed than ever. They know people in the tech business and the pilots talk amongst themselves and share information and they’re finding these wearable sensors.
Most of the wearable sensors are not suitable for aviation use. They just can’t provide good data under those conditions, but it’s worth exploring. Talking to Admiral Luckman, we wanted to find a way to get these sensors, and most of them are small things like fitness monitors, that just aren’t allowed in our environment right now, into the cockpit just to see how they survive a flight. The Civil Air Patrol, which flies general aviation aircraft, fly with their smart phones and other types of equipment.
They have a tremendous safety record, but they also have a completely different set of rules than we do. They typically just follow the AIM and the FAA civilian flight rules. Most of those flight rules don’t have any prohibitions on bringing equipment in your pocket or your flight bag.
So recently we sat down with some of the leaders of the Civil Air Patrol to work out a memorandum of understanding whereabouts we’ll get these ideas and sensors to our pilots in the fleet. Some of them will appropriately go through Air Force and Navy channels and may end up being something of a program of record in the long term.
Others that we can’t cross that gap and into the system, we’ll offer those to Civil Air Patrol and, at their option, they can start flying those. It’s not official flight test, but they can at least tell us, does this thing survive a flight up to 10,000 feet and back. And that piece of information might be just enough. That then allows our system program office with the labs to start taking a closer look.
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: So that’s a great question and that’s why I think the development of sensors and better understanding of baseline human physiology is so important.
The RPA environment is just the tip of the iceberg. As we look at humans in the loop or on the loop, human physiology, whether it’s in cyber, RPAs, intel, space, any of the other missions that we’re doing, is a very important consideration.
What we don’t have yet is a tremendous amount of baseline data. What’s physiology supposed to look like in those situations? So when it’s different, how would we know it? That’s some of the work that’s going on right now at the labs is base-lining that data.
I will tell you that while the environment of RPAs is uniquely different than the environment in airplanes, but it’s not always easier. You have a lot of folks that are out there engaged in very serious operations, life and death situations, that they are dealing with for hours on end and then go home every night to their families and to would be a normal environment. Most people have coping mechanisms to deal with that. But that’s one of the areas of research that folks are looking at in the labs – how do we better prepare people to go back and forth between these kinds of environments?
Maj. Bishane, an MQ-9 Reaper pilot, controls an aircraft from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. RPA personnel deal with the stressors of a deployed military service member while trying to maintain the normalcy of a day-to-day life.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
Airman Magazine: Let’s shift gears and talk about your career history. How does leading PEAT differ from your past experiences as a safety officer at a wing or a squadron?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Prior to this, I worked for Secretary Mattis in OSD reserve integration. We basically informed OSD policy relative to the seven different reserve components out there to include the Air National Guard.
Before that, I served as commander of the 156th Airlift Wing. As a wing commander, it is a minute-by-minute duty to make risk decisions and it’s very important to realize the consequences of those decisions and understand that whole risk matrix.
In my current position, I’m not a commander of anything. I’m not really in charge of folks specifically. We have a team, but we come together as required. So this job is more informative. One of our primary roles is to inform commanders. As they give us data, we give them back context so they can make better risk decisions.
It also allows the labs to put a focus on their studies enabling the system program offices to acquire and improve systems to support the mission. So this job is very different in that respect.
I think having been a commander previously helps me understand what these commanders they need to hear and how they want to receive that data so it doesn’t overwhelm them.
Airman Magazine: What is it you would like the pilots and aircrew to know about you, the PEAT and their part in preventing and mitigating PEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I traveled to Randolph Air Force Base and I had the opportunity to meet with some of the higher headquarters staff. I met with the commander of 19th Air Force and I was very encouraged and reassured with everyone’s openness to really solving this problem as aggressively and quickly as possible, talking about physiological episodes, but also, in a broader sense, the sustainment of the T-6 and sustainment of other airframes for which people might be interested.
I feel good about where that’s going. I also had a real eye-opener when I had an opportunity to meet with some of the T-6 pilots. We met off base. We decided to meet in a restaurant in a casual environment. We wanted that format because I wanted to hear really unfiltered what some of these T-6 pilots, who are some of the most experienced pilots in the Air Force flying that mission, that airframe. I was able to learn a lot. They have great faith in their chain of command and leadership. They have valid and serious concerns about physiological episodes, as does the commander all the way up to the chief of staff and the Secretary.
I think being able to hear their perspective, share with them my firsthand knowledge of meeting with senior level commanders in the Air Force bridged some gaps. I also was able to hear some very specific engineering questions and connect some of those pilots directly with some of the engineers at the system program office and some folks within their own chain of command that they just haven’t connected with yet. Just trying to get those dialogues going, because the solutions that the air Force is putting into place, whether it’s T-6 or any other airframe, are usually phased. Some of them require major investment, money and time-wise, and those take a little longer to accomplish.
So how do you bridge the gap between today and when we get to that promised land if some of those bigger fixes and it comes down to some solid risk management? In the case of the T-6, there’s a whole list of maintenance protocols that we handle and emergency procedures for the pilots that don’t necessarily reduce the number of these events, but they can reduce the severity and certainly mitigate the consequences. That’s what we’re trying to do. We don’t want a situation where any physiological episode goes far enough to lead to a permanent injury or harm of an aviator destruction of property. We want to catch those things as early as possible through these mitigation techniques.
Another thing I got to do when I was at Randolph was shadow the maintainers as they did maintenance on a T-6 that had a physiological episode. In the past, when these things would happen, there wasn’t a specific protocol. They would do their very best to look at the oxygen system, but there wasn’t a protocol on how to do that.
T-6 Texans fly in formation over Laughlin AFB, TX.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
Over the last year, with the help of a lot of the pilots, doctors, chain of command folks, human performance wing – a big team effort, when the airplane lands after one of those instances it’s an automatic protocol for that oxygen system.
In most cases it’s removed and a new one is put in and the suspect system then gets this thorough going over at the depot level and not only do we fix that, that particular system and return it to service. We’re able to learn a lot and collect data points. In some cases, we don’t find the specific cause in that system and then we look elsewhere – maybe more pilot interviews, talking to the doctors and trying to piece it together.
The protocols that are out there now not only helped mitigate the consequences of these events until we field new equipment, but they also help us in collecting data that will inform better decisions going forward.