Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost? - We Are The Mighty
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Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?

Editor’s note: With news of the Air Force potentially awarding the contract for the next-generation bomber and Congressional Republicans reaching an agreement with the White House on the defense budget, WATM presents a short primer by our friend Winslow Wheeler on how the Pentagon tends to complicate how much things actually cost.


Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?

On Wednesday March 25, 2009, an F-22 crashed near Edwards Air Force Base in California. Sadly, the pilot was killed. The news articles surrounding this event contained some strange assertions about the cost of the crashed airplane. Based on the price asserted in the Air Force’s “fact” sheet on the F-22 that was linked to a Pentagon news release on the crash, the press articles on the crash cited the cost per aircraft at $143 million.

It was incomplete, to put it charitably, but the media passed it on nevertheless. The extant “Selected Acquisition Report” (SAR) from the Defense Department is the definitive DOD data available to the public on the costs for the F-22. The SAR showed a “Current Estimate” for the F-22 program in “Then-Year” dollars of $64.540 billion. That $64.5 billion was for 184 aircraft.

Do the arithmetic: $64.540/184 = $350.1. Total program unit price for one F-22 calculates to $350 million per copy. So, where does the $143 million unit cost come from? Many will recognize that as the “flyaway” cost: the amount we pay today, just for the ongoing production costs of an F-22. (Note, however, the “flyaway” cost does not include the pilot, fuel and other consumables needed to fly the aircraft away.)

The SAR cost includes not just procurement costs, but research and development (RD) and some military construction, as well. At about the same time as the crash, a massive lobbying effort had started to buy more F-22s, to reverse Secretary of Defense Robert Gates impending announcement (in April 2009) that he wanted no more. F-22 advocates were asserting the aircraft could be had for this bargain $143 million unit price. That was, they argued, the “cost to go” for buying new models, which would not include the RD and other initially high production costs already sunk into the program.

Congressional appropriations bills and their accompanying reports are not user-friendly documents, but having plowed through them for decades, I know many of the places and methods that Appropriations Committee staff like to use to hide and obscure what Congress and the Pentagon are actually spending. Let’s check through the 2009 congressional appropriations for the F-22. Most – but not all – of the required information is contained in HR 2638, which contained the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2009.

In the “Joint Explanatory Statement” accompanying the bill, the House and Senate appropriators specified that $2.907 billion was to be appropriated for 20 F-22s in 2009. The math comes to just about what the Air Force said, $145 million per copy. So, what’s the problem?

Flipping down to the section on “modification of aircraft” we find another $327 million for the F-22 program. Switching over to the Research and Development section, we find another $607 million for the F-22 under the title “Operational System Development.” Some will know it is typical for DOD to provide “advance procurement” money in previous appropriations bills to support the subsequent year’s purchase.

In the case of the 2009 buy of 20 F-22’s, the previous 2008 appropriations act provided “advance procurement” for “long lead” F-22 items to enable the 2009 buy. The amount was $427 million.  Here’s the math: $2.907 + $.327 + $.607 + $.427 = $4.268 billion for 20 aircraft. That’s $213 million each.

Do not think these data represent an exceptional year. If you check any of the annual buys of F-22s, you will find the same pattern: in addition to the annual “procurement” amount, there is additional “modification,” RD” and advance procurement.

A few weeks later, F-22 advocate Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R–Ga., attempted to amend the 2010 DOD “authorization” bill coming out of the Senate Armed Services Committee to buy seven more F-22s for $1.75 billion, or $250 million each. The Chambliss effort, almost certainly worked out in close association with Lockheed Martin – a major F-22 plant is in Marietta, Ga. – surely sought to pay Lockheed the full amount to procure more aircraft: not $143 million each, but $250 million.

Clearly, Chambliss and Lockheed knew about some additional F-22 costs not included in my estimate of $213 million. The pathology of low-balling a weapon’s costs goes far beyond the F-22 example cited here; it is a basic tenet of bureaucratic behavior; it helps a program acquire support by top DOD management and Congress.

Understatement of cost does not occur in isolation in the Pentagon; it is accompanied by an overstatement of the performance the program will bring, and the schedule articulated will be unrealistically optimistic. Once the hook is set in the form of an approved program in the Pentagon (based on optimistic numbers) and an annual funding stream for it from Congress (based on local jobs and campaign contributions), the reality of actual cost, schedule and performance will come too late to generate anything but a few pesky newspaper articles.

(This post was excerpted from The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It.)

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
About the author: Winslow T. Wheeler focuses on the defense budget, why some weapons work and others don’t, congressional oversight, and the politics of Pentagon spending. Before joining the Center for Defense Information in 2002, he worked on Capitol Hill for four U.S. Senators from both political parties and for the Government Accountability Office. At GAO and the Senate, Wheeler focused on Pentagon budget issues, weapons testing, the performance of U.S. systems in actual combat, and the U.S. strategic “triad” of nuclear weapons.

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Here’s how NH vets can get care from doctors outside the VA

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced a new executive order Aug. 14 to permit VA physicians to treat patients at facilities outside the Department of Veterans Affairs.


Sununu’s announcement comes on the heels of a public relations disaster for the Manchester VA medical center, which recently suffered from a major pipe burst shortly after an article in the Boston Globe tore apart the facility for substandard conditions, the Associated Press reports. In response to the Boston Globe’s report, the VA has removed several officials at the facility.

The new executive order allows physicians at VA facilities to practice at facilities outside the department’s system for about eight months.

“The state of New Hampshire is committed to delivering results for New Hampshire’s veterans,” Sununu stated. “This executive order provides for a continuum of services for our veterans, and we will stop at nothing to deliver the best care. Period.”

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
Governer Christopher T Sununu. Photo from Facebook.

The executive order will result in more care for veterans, which has proved to a be a problem due to the recent pipe debacle, according to Manchester VA acting director Al Montoya. The issue caused major damage at the facility and led to the cancellation of 250 appointments

Sununu’s decision drew praise from the veterans’ advocacy organization Concerned Veterans for America.

“The health and safety of our veterans should always come first. We applaud Governor Sununu for lifting these burdensome regulatory barriers and allowing all hands on deck in the midst of this crisis,” CVA policy director Dan Caldwell said in a statement.

“We urge Secretary Shulkin to continue investigating the ongoing mismanagement at the Manchester VA. Regardless of the outcome, this entire situation underscores the need for expanded choice for our veterans,” Caldwell added. “If veterans cannot receive the care they need through their local VA, they should certainly have the ability to quickly access private sector care.”

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Paris attack planners obliterated in drone strike

Two Islamic State leaders behind the terrorist attacks in Paris last year were killed in a U.S.-led drone strike Dec. 4 in Raqqa, Syria, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.


The two targets, Salah Gourmat and Sammy Djedou, worked with external terror operations and recruitment of foreign fighters in Europe. They were directly involved in facilitating the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people.

Gourmat and Djedou were close associates of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, ISIS’s former chief spokesman who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in August.

Walid Hamman, the third terrorist killed in the drone strike, was a suicide attack planner, Hamman was convicted in absentia by a Belgian court for a terror plot foiled in 2015.

“The three were working together to plot and facilitate attacks against Western targets at the time of the strike,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters.

All three were part of a terror network led by Boubaker Al-Hakim, who died in another U.S.-led airstrike Nov. 26.

“Since mid-November, the coalition has now successfully targeted five top ISIL external plotters, further disrupting ISIL’s ability to carry out terrorist operations beyond Syria and Iraq,” Cook said.

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This is how the USS Arizona memorial made Elvis the King

In the early hours of Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, killing 2,403 service members and launching President Roosevelt’s decision to enter World War II.


Although the event was catastrophic, only two ships were beyond repair — USS Oklahoma and Arizona. The Oklahoma was eventually refloated to the surface, but the battle damage was too overwhelming to repair and return to service.

However, the USS Arizona took four devastating direct hits from 800kg bombs dropped from high altitude Japanese planes. One of the bombs ripped into the Arizona’s starboard deck and detonated. The explosion collapsed the ship’s forecastle decks, causing the conning tower to fall thirty feet into the hull.

Related: This American admiral planned the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1932

Talks of constructing a permanent memorial started as early as 1943, but it wasn’t until several years later that the effort would take shape. After the creation of Pacific War Memorial Commission, plans of how to commemorate the ship’s memory began rolling in.

Admiral Arthur Radford ordered a flag to be installed on the wreck site and have a colors ceremony conducted every day.

In 1950, requests for additional funds were denied by the government, as their top priority was to focus on the war efforts in Korea.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
USS Arizona after being struck by Japanese in Pearl Harbor.

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower inked Public Law 85-344 allowing the PWMC to raise $500,000 for the memorial construction. But after two years of fundraising, only $155,000 in total proceeds had been collected — they needed a lot of help.

Little did they know, they were about to get it.

Tom Parker read about the PWMC’s struggling endeavor and came up with a genius plan. Parker just happened to be Elvis Presley’s manager and was looking for ways to get his client back on top after being drafted by the Army in 1957 — Elvis was discharged from service in 1960.

Reportedly, Parker approached Elvis to perform at a benefit to help boost the memorial campaign — and his music and acting careers.

Elvis, who was not only patriotic but loved the idea of performing for a cause, agreed to help with the campaign. The PWMC agreed to Parker’s plan, and a performance date was set — March 25, 1961.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
The flyer for Elvis’ fundraising performance.

Also Read: 5 times the US was attacked at home during WWII (besides Pearl Harbor)

Although the performance brought in $60,000 in revenue, the campaign was still well short of its goal. But from the publicity of Elvis’ show, donations from outside sources rolled in, and the PWMC finally raise the $500,000 they needed.

On May 30, 1962, the USS Arizona Memorial officially opened thanks to Elvis and the PWMC.

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9 hilarious responses to Pitbull’s absurd Memorial Day tweet

So yeah, celebrities are as susceptible as any other civilian for confusing Memorial Day and Veterans Day. After pointing out the difference, it’s best to just let it go…with most people. Every now and then, some tone-deaf stuff comes from a celebrity social media account.


Forget Ivanka Trump’s champagne popsicles and stay silent on Ariel Winter’s bikini photo tribute to America’s fallen because Mr. Worldwide definitely took the cake on Memorial Day 2017.

 

Yes, that’s a tweet a musician with 24.4 million followers actually tweeted to all of them on Memorial Day 2017. Not to be outdone, Twitter let him know he done wrong.

Not enough to make him want to take it down, of course. But still, now we can relive this moment forever.

1. #TYFYS

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
@theseantcollins

2. Honoring Pitbull’s sacrifice.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
@AnnDabromovitz

3. Jonboy311s does not follow.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
@jonboy311s/@Advil

4. Check and Mate, Liam.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
@GGMcClanahan/@stan_shady13

5. The double-take we all shared.

6. Nothing says “you messed up” like a Crying Jordan meme.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
@hitman41165

7. Me too, honestly.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
@kingswell/@cmlael67

8. Some gave all.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
@cabot_phillips

9. … And then there was one reply to rule them all.

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Trump picks former Army intel officer to be SecNav

President Donald J. Trump today announced his intention to nominate Philip Bilden as the 76th secretary of the Navy.


If confirmed by the Senate, Bilden will replace Ray Mabus, who was the longest serving Navy secretary since World War I.

The announcement follows the president’s nomination of Heather Wilson as Air Force secretary and Vinnie Viola as Army secretary.

“All three of these nominees have my utmost confidence,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said in a statement following the announcement. “They will provide strong civilian leadership to strengthen military readiness, gain full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense, and support our service members, civilians, and their families. I appreciate the willingness of these three proven leaders to serve our country. They had my full support during the selection process, and they will have my full support during the Senate confirmation process.”

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
Pictured: The Navy| US Navy photo

Bilden is a business leader, former military intelligence officer and Naval War College cybersecurity leader who served on the board of directors for the United States Naval Academy Foundation and the board of trustees of the Naval War College Foundation.

He was commissioned in 1986 in the Army Reserve as a military intelligence officer and served for 10 years, achieving the rank of captain. Bilden’s family includes four consecutive generations of Navy and Army officers, including his two sons, who presently serve in the Navy.

“As secretary of the Navy, Philip Bilden will apply his terrific judgement and top-notch management skills to the task of rebuilding our unparalleled Navy,” Trump said. “Our number of ships is at the lowest point that it has been in decades. Philip Bilden is the right choice to help us expand and modernize our fleet, including surface ships, submarines and aircraft, and ensure America’s naval supremacy for decades to come. I am proud of the men and women of our armed forces. The people who serve in our military are our American heroes, and we honor their service every day.”

“I am deeply humbled and honored to serve as secretary of the Navy,” Bilden said. “Maintaining the strength, readiness, and capabilities of our maritime force is critical to our national security. If confirmed, I will ensure that our sailors and Marines have the resources they need to defend our interests around the globe and support our allies with commitment and capability.”

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Looking to hire veterans? Here’s how to attract and retain them

This past May marked six years since I left the Marine Corps for a civilian career. After nearly 30 years in the military, I was unsure of what exactly to expect in a civilian job. I saw my unit as a family and had grown very comfortable with military customs and traditions. Now, I was concerned if any civilian workplace would know how to evaluate my career and experience.

More than 250,000 service members transition out of the military every year, looking for engaging, valuable work. They are highly skilled, dedicated and motivated to be productive members of a new team, facing new challenges and opportunities. I was fortunate enough to get a job with Navy Federal Credit Union, an organization whose primary customer base is members of the military and their families. Based on their understanding of a service member’s career needs and experience, my transition was relatively smooth, but that’s not always the case.

July 25th is Hire A Veteran Day, which is meant to be a call to action for employers to seriously consider veteran and transitioning candidates. With 45% of our employees directly tied to the military, Navy Federal understands what service members need when looking for a satisfying civilian career, and how to attract and retain veteran talent.

Employers and workplaces are as diverse as the women and men who serve our country, however, there are still some common characteristics that make your organization attractive workplaces for veterans: 

  • Clear Path to Advancement/Development: In the military, your path to advancing is clear – work hard, follow the rules, go above and beyond – and veterans look for the same thing in new employers. Many also look for professional development opportunities and additional training that not only helps build their skill set, but allows you as an employer to show them the value you place on them. 
  • Mission-Driven/Team-Focused: In choosing a new line of work, veterans often look for opportunities that are focused on a mission or vision, and/or positions that have a focus on team operation. Many are drawn to these types of opportunities for the same reasons they were drawn to military service: a desire to work with others in advancing a cause they believe in that is greater than themselves.
Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, Wyoming Army National Guard, prepares to assault an objective during a combat exercise at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California, June 12, 2021. The 1-297th is supporting the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team’s, Mississippi Army National Guard, training rotation at NTC. (Mississippi National Guard photo by Sgt. Taylor Cleveland)
  • Match With Their Skills: The military provides service members with years of training in their occupational specialties, and veterans joining a new organization bring that real world experience to the new job. Our research from Best Careers After Service, in tandem with Hire Heroes USA, surveyed military veterans in the workplace and found that many veterans join industries knowing that their skill sets match and they would be an asset on day one. If you want to attract and retain veterans, make sure your job postings and recruiters clearly communicate how their skills would be valuable. The top industries, based on our research, include health care, government and/or public administration, defense contracting, and information technology.
Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
Marines with Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command in cyber operations room at Lasswell Hall aboard Fort Meade, Maryland. MARFORCYBER Marines conduct offensive and defensive cyber operations in support of United States Cyber Command and operate, secure and defend the Marine Corps Enterprise Network. USMC Photo.
  • Competitive Salaries and Benefits: This one should go without saying; everyone looks for a competitive salary and benefits. But more than most candidates, veterans bring the technical skills, leadership/team experience, and discipline to deliver results, which is why they should be highly sought after and recruited in the hiring process. Your salary ranges and compensation packages should reflect that worth. 

As service members transition to a civilian career, many of us simply want the opportunity to advance our skills and education, to provide for our families, and to start a rewarding career. Employers who can offer that opportunity to veterans absolutely should. In my experience, you certainly won’t regret it. 

By Clay Stackhouse, US Marine Corps (Ret.) and Regional Outreach Manager at Navy Federal Credit Union 

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How this Marine inched his way to knock out a Japanese machine gunner

On May 1, 1945, the 5th Marine Regiment arrived at the Shuri line in Okinawa, Japan, to support the war-torn 27th Army Infantry Division. As the Marines patrolled the dangerous area, a Japanese machine gunner opened fire on the incoming grunts, killing three and wounding a few others.


After taking cover, Sgt. Romus “R.V.” Burgin decided that he needed to take action and bring the fight to the enemy.

“I was with some of those Marines out there for two and a half years, and whenever somebody gets hit it’s just like your family,” Burgin states in an interview. “That’s when I decided he needed knocking out right quick.”

Related: This is how the first Asian-American Marine officer saved 8,000 men

At that moment, the Japanese machine gunner was completely hidden, and Burgin needed to locate the threat immediately. He knew what direction the incoming fire came from but he needed to acquire a proper distance to call in for support.

Burgin stepped out into the open and proceeded in the direction of the shooter, hoping to spot the enemy gunner’s muzzle flash — and making himself a target.

After a few steps, the brave Marine’s plan began to work, drawing the enemy’s fire once again. Burgin dodged the incoming fire, two rounds ripped through his dungarees — but the quick-footed Marine was safe.

Little did the Japanese gunner know, he’d just given away his position. Burgin spotted his target and called in the enemy’s coordinates for a mortar strike.

Also Read: 9 things you should know before becoming a Marine infantry officer

After the first round missed, the Marine made a slight adjustment and scored a direct hit with the second attempt.

“I got a direct hit with the second round. Machine gun went forward and the [enemy] went backwards,” he said.

Check out the American Heroes Channel‘s video to see this outstanding Marine take out an enemy gunner for yourself.

(American Heroes Channel, YouTube)
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This is why US Navy sailors wear rating badges

Every branch of the military has a specific ranking system that takes time and effort to move up through. Although each branch has different names for their ranks, the Navy’s system is different in comparison to the Air Force, Army, and the Marine Corps.


You can look at any service member and clearly notice their rank either on their sleeves or collar devices. You can also imagine what experiences they’ve had based on that rank and the ribbons on their rack — but you wouldn’t have a clue on their specific job title.

If spot a modern era sailor walking around sporting his or her dress blues, look below that perched crow (E-4 to E-9) on their left sleeve, and you’ll be able to tell how they contribute to their country.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
The rating badge for a Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman. (Source: Vanguardmil)

The image above showcases a rating badge consisting of three-inverted chevrons, one-inverted rocker, a perched crow, a five-point star (which makes the sailor an E-8), and the well-respected caduceus medical symbol (the specialty mark).

Only Hospital Corpsmen are allowed to wear the caduceus, as it applies to their distinguished military occupation.

In 1886, the Navy authorized sailors to wear these rating badges and created 15-specialty marks to recognize various fields of expertise.

Up until the late 1940s, it was up to the sailor on which sleeve they wore the rating badge on if they had issues deciphering which side was port (left) or starboard (right) as a reminder.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
These sailors stand proud sporting their inspection ready dress blues.

After the time period, the Navy established the rating badge be worn on the left for uniformity purposes. That same tradition is followed today.

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A Russian fighter just buzzed a US reconnaissance plane

A Russian Su-27 Flanker came within five feet of an American reconnaissance plane over the Baltic Sea. The incident came shortly after a major multi-national exercise concluded.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, the advanced Russian fighter armed with air-to-air missiles buzzed an Air Force RC-135. Since June 2, there have been 35 encounters between American and Russian aircraft, but this incident was notable due to how close the Flanker came to the American plane.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
An underside view of a Soviet Su-27 Flanker aircraft carrying air-to-air missiles. (DOD photo)

It is not the first close encounter. Earlier this year, a Russian plane came within 20 feet of a Navy patrol plane. Russian planes also buzzed the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) in the Black Sea in February, and a Russian “tattletale” operated off the East Coast earlier this year.

The BALTOPS exercise this year was notable in that all three American heavy bombers in service, the B-52H Stratofortress, the B-1B Lancer, and the B-2A Spirit, participated, an Air Force release noted. A B-52H was intercepted by Russian fighters earlier this month.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry AWACS, an RC-135, and KC-135s sit at the CURACAO/ARUBA Cooperative Security Location. | Photo via SOUTHCOM.

USNI News had reported that Russia threatened to target any U.S. aircraft in Syria west of the Euphrates River in response to the downing of a Syrian Su-22 Fitter by a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet. Russia has also deployed nuclear-capable ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, an enclave surrounded by Poland and Lithuania.

It was not immediately clear which version of the RC-135 was intercepted by the Russians in this incident. The Air Force has three variants of the RC-135. The RC-135S Cobra Ball specializes in ballistic missile tracking. The RC-135U Combat Sent is an electronic intelligence aircraft that specializes in locating emitters for radar systems. The RC-135V/W Rivet Joint specializes in electronic intelligence – and is even capable of intercepting communications.

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North Korea’s rocket fuel is an accident waiting to happen

The spate of recent North Korean missile tests require a special, unstable rocket fuel, UDMH. The fuel is a rare chemical, not something North Korea has always been able to make on its own.


Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, believes cutting the North off from the fuel could halt the development of Pyongyang’s rocket program.

From the start of the Hermit Kingdom’s missile quest, the country likely imported the fuel from China, its largest producer. It is currently made by a number of countries, including Russia. But UDMH was the cause of the worst ICBM disaster in Russian history, the Nedelin Catastrophe.

In 1960, the second stage engine of a Soviet R-16 ignited at Baukonur Cosmodrome, killing 150 people.

A Soviet Field Marshal ordered that repairs be made to the fuel tanks of the rocket without draining the propellant. Right before the launch, an errant communications signal set off the second stage of the rocket, igniting the propellant in a gigantic fireball.

The fire from the fuel reached a temperature of 3,000 degrees. Field Marshal Mitrofan Nedelin, who ordered the rocket repairs in the first place, was among those incinerated.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
Marshal Nedelin.

UDMH is also responsible for the one of the worst ICBM disasters in American history. The liquid fuel in the missile silo of a Titan II rocket exploded near Damascus, Arkansas, after its tank was punctured by a falling tool. That was in 1980.

That tank was filled with Aerozine 50, a mix of hydrazine and UDMH.

Luckily, only one airman was killed at Damascus. The United States has since stopped producing the chemical and uses stable solid fuels, something that will take the North Koreans another decade to do on their own.

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
A North Korean soldier stands guard at a missile test site.

The New York Times reports that there are no known efforts to disrupt North Korea’s ability to obtain UDMH. State Department officials and North Korea experts believe that the North could produce the fuel domestically if its supplies from abroad were cut off.

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Army veteran Jason Kander reflects on 9/11 anniversary, Afghanistan War and healing

As America approaches the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it’s a somber reminder of the lives lost but also those forever altered. Army veteran Jason Kander was one of them. 

“I grew up, not in a military family, but in a family where if you had the ability to help people, you did. I had always admired people who served and like most people, my grandfather and great grandfather served in World War II and World War I,” he explained. “When 9/11 happened, it just flipped the equation for me and it went from being ‘maybe someday’ category to, ‘I’m going do this and I’ll figure out the rest of my life around it.’”

As the world watched the events unfolding in horror, Kander recalled it all. “I remember those moments vividly. I was on my way to chemistry class when I heard about the first tower. Later that afternoon my roommates and I found out there was a place to give blood so we headed down there,” he said.

Though they waited for hours, they were unable to give blood because the location didn’t have the capacity to take anymore. But the words of one of the staff members stuck with him.

I hope you find some other way to help.

“At that moment it all crystallized for me. I had been thinking of joining all day but at that moment, I knew I would. Later that day I looked up the physical fitness standards for the Army and went on a run,” Kander shared. 

He enlisted in the Army National Guard in 2003 and while earning his law degree from Georgetown, was commissioned as a second lieutenant through the ROTC program. Upon graduation in 2005, Kander volunteered for a deployment to Afghanistan and left a well-paying position as a lawyer to willingly serve in a combat zone. In his book, Outside the Wire, Kander openly shared how crazy everyone thought he was. The first hour in Afghanistan began forming the invisible wounds which would take a decade to truly be discovered.

“This was for the first time in my life, the raw physical fear of being killed. I was sweating, my heart was pounding, and my feet felt heavy as I climbed into the Pajero’s grey cloth backseat.”

Excerpt from Outside the Wire

Not only was Kander continually in rooms with terrorists, he also went outside the wire up to four times a week. Before long, he was used to it, and eventually became a Convoy Commander walking newly arrived troops through the same instructions he received at arrival. Things like, there was no armor, if they were hit with an IED or ambushed, death was probably a reality. Though Kander walked many troops through these instructions, there was one new soldier he will always remember.

“I think about that kid a lot,” Kander wrote in his book. “I think about his path to that moment, how he volunteered to sign up after 9/11, knowing he’d probably end up in a place like Afghanistan, in that seat behind me on his way outside the wire. And in that moment, he chose to put his job first and get in the Pajero.” What struck Kander was how the young man had to choose between an easy path in his life or the right one, and in the end, he chose the right thing to do.

After his four month deployment to Afghanistan as an intelligence officer, Kander returned home. He taught Leadership Skills in Combat for OCS at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for awhile and also practiced as an attorney. He left the Army as a captain in 2011.

In 2008, Kander was elected into the Missouri House of Representatives and in 2012, became the Secretary of State. He was the youngest statewide elected official at the time. Just four years later he announced his Democratic bid for the United States Senate and went viral when he assembled a rifle blindfolded in a commercial.

Kander didn’t win his bid for the historically Republican-held seat, he only narrowly lost by three points. It was noticed.

He announced his intent to seek the mayoral seat for Kansas City, Missouri in 2018. There were even rumors circulating he’d be running for president (he eventually confirmed those). Kander was in high demand and had earned a solid reputation as a changemaker in the legislative space. But a year later, he walked away from it all. 

Though he could have continued his mayoral bid and most likely easily won, it wasn’t the right choice for him. On the outside, Kander had everything squared away: He married his high school sweet heart, built a successful career and had a promising future in politics. But there were invisible struggles no one was aware of.

In 2019, he shocked the world when he publicly announced he was seeking treatment for depression and PTSD. Kander openly shared it was caused by his time as an intelligence officer deployed to Afghanistan. In a Facebook post, Kander wrote:

“About four months ago, I contacted the VA to get help. It had been about 11 years since I left Afghanistan as an Army Intelligence Officer, and my tour over there still impacted me every day. So many men and women who served our country did so much more than me and were in so much more danger than I was on my four-month tour. I can’t have PTSD, I told myself, because I didn’t earn it.

But, on some level, I knew something was deeply wrong, and that it hadn’t felt that way before my deployment. After 11 years of this, I finally took a step toward dealing with it, but I didn’t step far enough.I went online and filled out the VA forms, but I left boxes unchecked – too scared to acknowledge my true symptoms. I knew I needed help and yet I still stopped short. I was afraid of the stigma. I was thinking about what it could mean for my political future if someone found out.That was stupid, and things have gotten even worse since.

By all objective measures, things have been going well for me the past few months. My first book became a New York Times Bestseller in August. Let America Vote has been incredibly effective, knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors and making hundreds of thousands of phone calls. I know that our work is making a big difference. And last Tuesday, I found out that we were going to raise more money than any Kansas City mayoral campaign ever has in a single quarter. But instead of celebrating that accomplishment, I found myself on the phone with the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, tearfully conceding that, yes, I have had suicidal thoughts. And it wasn’t the first time.

I’m done hiding this from myself and from the world. When I wrote in my book that I was lucky to not have PTSD, I was just trying to convince myself. And I wasn’t sharing the full picture. I still have nightmares. I am depressed.Instead of dealing with these issues, I’ve always tried to find a way around them. Most recently, I thought that if I could come home and work for the city I love so much as its mayor, I could finally solve my problems. I thought if I focused exclusively on service to my neighbors in my hometown, that I could fill the hole inside of me. But it’s just getting worse. So after 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it’s faster than me. That I have to stop running, turn around, and confront it.”

For the next year, Kander worked with the VA to process and work through it all. “No matter who you are or what you did, the military taught you someone else did more. It was good training when you had to go do dangerous things but it isn’t for life post-military,” he explained.

The Veterans Community Project veteran leadership quietly supported him in the early stages and assisted him with navigating the bureaucratic system of the VA. After witnessing the extraordinary mission and work, Kander began volunteering. Today, he’s leading the national expansion of the organization dedicated to serving homeless veterans. 

Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?
From the left, Mark Solomon, co-founder and executive director of VCP in Longmont, Kander, CEO and co-founder Bryan Meyer and Brandon Mixon, co-founder and chief project officer.

As the world reacted to the chaos surrounding the Afghanistan troop withdrawal in August 2021, Kander turned his focus to fellow veterans. “It’s an extremely difficult week. Fortunately, thanks to treatment I’ve had the opportunity to take advantage of at the VA, I feel I have the tools and know how to use them so I am making myself useful to my Afghanistan veterans,” he explained. “We are all checking on each other and that helps.”

Kander has utilized his platform to voice the feelings many veterans are having. Through national media appearances and podcasts, it’s his intent to ensure veterans’ voices are being heard. “It’s frustrating because it kind of feels like the American people found out this week that there’s a war in Afghanistan and they’re really pissed about it,” he said. 

But in his eyes, it’s because they didn’t have to think about it. “One of the lessons is that wars are a lot more likely to last 20 years when the average American back home doesn’t suffer even the most minor inconvenience or disruption to their daily routine,” Kander said. “I try not to be resentful toward those who want to write off the entire effort as a waste when they weren’t a part of it. What really bothers me though, is seeing people suddenly act like they were against this war from the beginning.”

His message to fellow veterans as the events continue to unfold in Afghanistan and the 9/11 anniversary comes was direct.

“One, check on your buddies. One of the hardest parts of being a veteran at a time when America has gone the longest consecutive period in its history without mandatory service means that a lot of us tend to feel isolated. It’s a big reason why they feel like what they are going through isn’t normal or must not be okay,” Kander explained. The second message was to take care of yourself. “We’ve done a very good job of getting the message out there that getting help isn’t a sign of weakness but is strength. But what we haven’t gotten out there is that treatment for PTSD is effective. It isn’t a terminal diagnosis…I refer to post-traumatic growth.” 

As he and his fellow veterans continued to watch the Taliban retake Afghanistan in horror, the question of, “What was it all for?” kept coming up.

Kander was adamant in highlighting the important missions of retaliating against al-Qaeda and fighting international terrorism and though the United States was ultimately unable to help the Afghan people retake their country from terrorists’ rule, it was never in vain or the wrong thing to do. Because when faced with the two choices Kander often references – easy or right – those who serve this country tend to go for the right one regardless of the sacrifice involved.

The American blood, sweat and tears left in the Afghanistan sand prove it.

Articles

Here’s what it’s like dodging six missiles in an F-16

It was in the opening days of Operation Desert Storm on Jan. 19, 1991 when fighter jets were roaring through Iraqi airspace, and anti-aircraft crews were waiting for them with surface-to-air missiles (SAM). For Air Force Maj. ET Tullia, it was an unforgettable mission that saw him cheating death not once, but six times.


Also Read: The AC-130 ‘Ultimate Battle Plane’ Is Getting Even More Firepower

According to Lucky-Devils, a military website that recounts much of the engagement, U.S. F-16s were trying to attack a rocket production facility north of Baghdad. The account continues:

As the flight approached the Baghdad IP, AAA [Anti-Aircraft Artillery] began firing at tremendous rates. Most of the AAA was at 10-12,000ft (3,658m), but there were some very heavy, large calibre explosions up to 27,000ft (8,230m). Low altitude AAA became so thick it appeared to be an undercast. At this time, the 388th TFW F-16’s were hitting the Nuclear Research Centre outside of the city, and the Weasels had fired off all their HARMs in support of initial parts of the strike and warnings to the 614th F-16’s going further into downtown went unheard.

Many of the F-16 pilots that day had to deal with SAM missiles locking on to them, and were forced to take evasive maneuvers. Maj. Tullia (Callsign: Stroke 3) had to dodge six of those missiles, at times banking and breathing so hard that he was losing his vision.

Again, via Lucky-Devils:

Meanwhile, ET became separated from the rest of the package because of his missile defensive break turns. As he defeats the missiles coming off the target, additional missiles are fired, this time, from either side of the rear quadrants of his aircraft. Training for SAM launches up to this point had been more or less book learning, recommending a pull to an orthogonal flight path 4 seconds prior to missile impact to overshoot the missile and create sufficient miss distance to negate the effects of the detonating warhead. Well, it works. The hard part though, is to see the missile early enough to make all the mental calculations.

The following video apparently shows footage through the view of Tullia’s heads-up display that day, and around the 3:00 mark, you can hear the warning beeps that a missile is locked on. Although the video is a bit grainy, the real focus should be on the hair-raising radio chatter, which, coupled with his heavy breathing, makes you realize that fighter pilots need to be in peak physical condition to do what they do.

YouTube, Scott Jackson

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