The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

(Editor’s Note – The following is an updated repost of a story on the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine Epidemiology Reference Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, which was originally published on March 27, 2018. It contains new information on the lab’s mission during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

For the latest Air Force information and guidance on COVID-19 go to https://www.af.mil/News/Coronavirus-Disease-2019/

UPDATE – COVID-19 AND THE USAFSAM EPI LAB

The United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine’s epidemiology laboratory is the Air Force’s sole clinical reference laboratory, and as such, is testing and processing samples of COVID-19 sent from military treatment facilities around the world.


EPILAB

vimeo.com

The lab was authorized by the Defense Health Agency to test samples from Department of Defense beneficiaries for COVID-19 in early March, and received its test kit from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention shortly after.

“The USAFSAM Epi Lab is currently working long hours, testing and processing samples of COVID-19 that are coming in from MTFs globally,” said Col. Theresa Goodman, USAFSAM commander. “If you ask anyone on this team how they’re doing, they’ll tell you they’re fine–that they’re just doing their jobs. But I couldn’t be more proud of them right now — their selfless and tireless dedication to this mission. COVID-19 testing is our primary mission right now and the members of the Epi Lab are my front line to this fight.”

USAFSAM’s epidemiology laboratory, nested in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing, has a long history of testing and identifying various infectious respiratory diseases, including those that occur on a regular basis like influenza, and the ones similar to COVID-19 that become a public health issue, spreading globally. Because of this, the team works closely with the CDC and other agencies.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

Col. Theresa Goodman

“We have been in operation for approximately 30 years, and therefore involved with many other infectious disease outbreaks, for example SARS,” said Col. Dana Dane, USAFSAM Public Health Department chair.

This laboratory is only authorized to test samples coming in from DoD beneficiaries, but those outside this demographic have the support of their state public health departments for testing purposes. USAFSAM is working closely with public health professionals across the DoD, as well as with the CDC as the situation evolves. Per CDC guidelines, reference laboratories are no longer required to submit samples to the CDC for further testing and final confirmation. If the tests do show as positive, the USAFSAM Epi Lab marks the sample “confirmed positive.”

USAFSAM’s laboratory is not participating in vaccine development. It also is not the type of laboratory where people go to get blood drawn, nasal swabs, etc., like a CompuNet or clinic at a doctor’s office or in a hospital. USAFSAM’s clinical reference lab is set up to receive these samples from military treatment facilities. They run the tests on those samples and log the data.

“We’re all sensitive to those around the world who are grieving losses due to this awful virus as well as to others who are just downright scared. Our hearts go out to you,” said Goodman. “But just know that our epidemiology laboratory here in USAFSAM is waiting at the door 24/7 for any and all samples that come in from our DoD family.

Goodman also stated that the team is lockstep with public health personnel around the world as well as with our partners at the CDC.

“We truly are all in this together,” she said. “Fighting this virus will take all of us doing our part–from those staying at home washing their hands a little more often and checking on neighbors to USAFSAM’s public health team testing samples and getting the data where it needs to go.”

THE DISEASE DETECTIVES (ORIGINAL POST – MARCH 27, 2018 )

After slowly using a blade to cut through thick tape, a technician in a protective gown and glasses opens the flaps of a cardboard box revealing a polystyrene container. As her gloved hands cautiously remove the lid, a wisp of vapor rolls slowly over the edge of the box, clinging to its surface as it descends onto the tabletop.

The technician gingerly reaches through the fog and removes a plastic bag filled with clear vials from the container. This process is repeated over a hundred times each morning as carts filled with boxes of clinical patient specimens arrive at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine’s Epidemiology Laboratory Service at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Created in 1990, the Epi Lab, as it is referred to at USAFSAM, focuses on clinical diagnostic, public health testing and force health screening, performing 5,000 to 8,000 tests six days a week (or about 2.1 million tests a year) for clinics and hospitals treating active duty service members, reservists and National Guard members and their dependents and beneficiaries.

The data collected from these tests not only enables the analysis of disease within the joint force, but is shared with civilian public health agencies contributing to the tracking of diseases, such as influenza and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as supporting disease prevention efforts, such as the formulation of vaccines.

While the lab receives most of its medical samples from Air Force bases around the world, it also tests specimens sent by Navy and Army hospitals and clinics, totaling more than 200 military medical facilities around the globe.

The Epi Lab’s workload is a result of its efficiency and economics, according to Elizabeth Macias, Ph.D., a clinical microbiologist, and director of the Epi Lab.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

Elizabeth Macias, Ph.D., is a clinical microbiologist, and director of the Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the Epi Lab, at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. The lab, which receives between 5,000 and 8,000 samples, six days a week, for analysis, routinely reports results to Department of Defense hospitals and clinics around the world within 48 hours of a sample being shipped to the lab.

PHOTO BY J.M. EDDINS JR.

“A lot of the testing is very specialized, and in some cases can be very expensive. Many of our Air Force clinics and laboratories are small and don’t have the personnel to do that kind of thing or the funding to get all the specialized instruments that we have,” Macias said. “Our personnel are comprised of military, government civilians and contractor civilians, so we have the expertise and the personnel to handle the workload.”

Nearly 30 people work throughout the morning, removing samples packed in dry ice from their boxes, ensuring the patient information on the specimen tubes and paperwork match the orders on the computer system and then re-labeling them for the lab’s computer system before sending the samples to the appropriate testing departments.

“The laboratory consists of three branches; Customer Support, Immunodiagnostics and Microbiology. Immunodiagnostics and Microbiology perform testing, such as immune status and screening for STDs, like Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), gonorrhea, syphilis and hepatitis and some other serology assays,” said Tech. Sgt. Maryann Caso, noncommissioned officer in charge of the immunodiagnostic section of the Epi Lab.

Just over a year ago, the Epi Lab adopted fourth-generation HIV testing, which enables the lab to detect an HIV infection two weeks sooner after a patient is exposed. This newer technology allows patients to receive treatment and counseling sooner.

There is a constant flow of samples requiring STD screening and immune status testing, as these are gathered as part of the in-processing screening for each new service member. The tests help screen for potentially infectious diseases as well as establish a baseline of antibody types and levels for each new recruit to precisely target which vaccines they need.

“For example, all the new recruits are tested for measles, mumps, and rubella. So if they have antibodies to those diseases then they’re not vaccinated again. This saves the Department of Defense because they don’t waste manpower and money to vaccinate somebody that is already protected against those diseases,” Macias said.

The lab has become more efficient and safer for laboratory technicians after the installation of an automated testing system last year.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

Laboratory technicians unpack and log in blood serum, fecal, urine or respiratory samples which arrive from U.S. Air Force hospitals and clinics around the world, as well as some other Department of Defense facilities Jan. 30, 2018. The Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the Epi Lab, at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, receives 100-150 boxes a day, six days a week. The lab, which tests between 5,000 and 8,000 samples daily, is a Department of Defense reference laboratory offering clinical diagnostic, public health, and force health screening and testing.

PHOTO // J.M. EDDINS JR.

“The samples come in now and are put on an automated line. It will actually uncap the sample, spin it down, aliquot it (divide the sample into smaller portions for multiple tests) and sort it to whatever section and analyzer it needs for a particular test,” Caso said.

“Before, our techs had to manually uncap the tubes, aliquot the samples and sort them. When you have thousands of samples that you have to uncap and then recap by hand, you get repetitive-motion injuries to the wrist – such as carpal tunnel. The whole idea is to have automated processes and to eliminate or mitigate pre-analytical errors, such as specimen contamination.”

Once tested, the results are automatically returned to the submitting hospital or clinic via computer, unless the system notifies a technician to intervene and manually certify the test result.

“Specimens are collected at hospitals and clinics around the world and sent to us,” Macias said. “We receive the boxes within 24 hours and most of the results are completed within 24 hours… So, generally, we get those results back to the submitting clinic within 48 hours from when they are shipped to us, so the docs can then treat their patients appropriately and with a good turnaround time.”

In addition to the immunology testing that is performed in the lab, the Microbiology branch performs testing on bacterial cultures, examines fecal samples for parasites that cause intestinal disease, and performs influenza testing.

The Air Force began an influenza surveillance program in 1976 to collect data about disease and its spread in response to an outbreak of what was called “Bootcamp Flu.” In the close quarters of basic training, the virus spread through many barracks, according to Donald Minnich, technical supervisor for the Virology and manual testing section at the Epi Lab.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

Donald Minnich, technical supervisor for the manual testing section, oversees the influenza surveillance program at the Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the Epi Lab, at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.The lab identifies and sequences the genome of influenza samples received from U.S. Air Force hospitals and clinics around the world, as well as other Department of Defense facilities. The data collected on active flu strains contributes about 25 percent of the total data used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to formulate its yearly influenza vaccine.

PHOTO // J.M. EDDINS JR.

To combat illness, recruits needed to be regularly monitored, giving birth to Operation Gargle, in which recruits gargled with a solution and spit it back into a specimen cup which was then tested for influenza and other respiratory pathogens.

The Air Force program is now part of the Defense Health Agency’s Global, Laboratory-Based Respiratory Pathogen program which grows, sequences and collects data on influenza, parainfluenza, adenovirus and the Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV.

The flu surveillance program at the Epi Lab has approximately 95 submitting laboratories scattered across the continental United States and the globe, from deployed areas to Europe, Japan and Guam.

In a typical flu season, the surveillance program receives between 5,000 and 6,000 specimens. This year, the Epi Lab has received 5,000 specimens in just the first few months of the flu season, according to Minnich.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Navy wants to replace Vikings with drones

The return of great-power competition has the US military refocusing on the potential for a conflict with a sophisticated adversary whose submarines can sink the US’s supercarriers.

Defense experts are increasingly concerned by a resurgent Russian undersea force and by China’s increasingly capable boats.

But the centerpiece of the US Navy’s fleet has a decade-old gap in its submarine defenses, and filling it may require new, unmanned aircraft.


The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

A US Navy S-2G Tracker in the foreground, accompanied by its successor, the S-3A Viking, over Naval Air Station North Island, California, in July 1976.

(US Navy photo)

‘It’s got legs’

During the Cold War and the years afterward, aircraft carriers had fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters for anti-submarine-warfare operations. For much of that period, the fixed-wing option was the S-3 Viking.

Introduced in 1974, the turbofan S-3 was developed with Soviet submarines in mind. It replaced the propeller-driven S-2 Tracker, carrying a crew of four. It wasn’t particularly fast, but it had a 2,000-mile range and could stay airborne for up to 10 hours to hunt submarines.

“It’s got legs,” said Capt. John Rousseau, who flew the Navy’s last Vikings as part of an experimental squadron before their retirement in early 2016.

It had strong surface-search abilities to find periscopes, a magnetic anomaly detector to search for submerged subs, and gear to analyze sounds from sonobuoys it dropped in the ocean. Its search and processing capabilities tripled its search area. And in a war scenario, it could fire Harpoon missiles at ships and drop torpedoes and depth charges to destroy submarines.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

An S-3A Viking with a Magnetic Anomaly Detection boom extending from its tail in May 1983.

(US Navy photo)

“It can go fast and long. The radar, even though it’s old, there’s not many better. We still spot schools of dolphins and patches of seaweed” when patrolling off California, Rousseau said in 2016.

The Viking performed a variety of missions, including cargo transport, surveillance and electronic intelligence, search and rescue, and aerial refueling, but it was a mainstay of the carrier anti-submarine-warfare efforts.

Helicopters deployed on carriers typically perform close-in ASW, usually within about 90 miles of the ship. The S-3, with a longer range and the ability to linger, filled the midrange-ASW role, operating about 90 to 175 miles from the carrier.

Land-based aircraft, like the P-3 Orion and now the P-8 Poseidon, have flown the longest-range submarine patrols.

‘The leadership totally turned over’

As the sub threat lessened after the Cold War, the S-3 was reoriented toward anti-surface operations. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, an S-3 attacked a ground target for the first time, firing a missile at Saddam Hussein’s yacht.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

“Navy One,” a US Navy S-3B Viking carrying President George W. Bush, lands on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003.

(US Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Gabriel Piper)

An S-3 designated “Navy One” even flew President George W. Bush to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Some of the Navy’s last S-3s operated over Iraq in the late 2000s, looking for threats on the ground.

The S-3 was eventually able to deploy torpedoes, mines, depth charges, and missiles.

With the addition of Harpoon anti-ship missiles, the S-3’s designation in the carrier air wing shifted from “anti-submarine” to “sea control,” according to “Retreat from Range,” a 2015 report on carrier aviation by Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy officer who took part in force-structure planning and carrier-strike-group operations.

Amid shifts in Navy leadership and the rise of new threats after the Cold War, the S-3 lost favor. It officially left service in 2009. There was nothing to replace it.

“There was a slow transition in the makeup of the air wing, as well as a slow transition in the changeover in the leadership of the air-wing community,” Hendrix, now a vice president at Telemus Group, told Business Insider. As a naval aviator, Hendrix spent over a decade in P-3 patrol squadrons that routinely conducted maritime patrols looking for foreign submarines.

“By the time we got … to replace the S-3, essentially the leadership totally turned over to the short-range, light-attack community, led by the F/A-18 Hornet pilots, and also they’ve been operating for the better part of 20 years in permissive environments,” Hendrix said, referring to areas such as the Persian Gulf, where threats like enemy subs are almost nonexistent.

Because of the lack of other threats, the S-3 was relegated largely to a refueling role during its final years, mainly as a recovery tanker for aircraft returning to the carrier.

“When it came time to make a decision, they said, ‘Well, we really don’t need the recovery tanker. I can do recovery tanking with other Hornets, and this anti-submarine warfare doesn’t seem all that important to us because there’s not submarines around us,'” Hendrix said. “So they made a decision to get rid of the S-3.”

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

A US Navy S-3 Viking refuels another S-3 Viking over the Caribbean Sea in May 2006.

(US Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Christopher Stephens)

The S-3s that were retired had thousands of flying hours left in their airframes. Dozens are being held in reserve in the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.

“They actually got rid of the S-3 early in the sense that the community still had a viable population of aircraft,” Hendrix said.

Their departure left a hole in carrier defenses that remains unfilled, especially when carrier groups are far from the airfields where P-8 Poseidons are based.

More helicopters have been added to the carrier air wing, Hendrix said. “However, the helicopters don’t have either the sensors or the mobility to be able to really patrol the middle zone” in which the S-3 operated.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

Sailors on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell load a MK-46 torpedo on an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter during an ASW exercise in the Pacific Ocean in March 2014.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 3rd Class Chris Cavagnaro)

Nor does the arrival of the P-8 Poseidon — a vaunted maritime patrol aircraft introduced in 2013 to replace the P-3 — make up for the Viking’s absence, according to Hendrix.

“We haven’t brought the P-8s in in a one-to-one replacement basis for the older P-3s, and so they’re not really in sufficient numbers to do the middle-zone and outer-zone anti-submarine-warfare mission for the carrier strike groups,” he said. “So we haven’t filled that requirement in force structure.”

‘The Navy could mitigate this vulnerability’

Amid the increasing focus on facing a sophisticated adversary, discussion has intensified about changing the composition of the carrier air wing to replace the capabilities — anti-submarine warfare in particular — shed after the Cold War.

“ASW will become an increasingly important [carrier air wing] mission as adversary submarine forces increase in their size, sophistication, and ability to attack targets ashore and at sea using highly survivable long-range weapons,” said a recent report on the carrier air wing by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

A Navy S-3B Viking from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on January 23, 1995. It carries a refueling pod under its left wing, and openings in the fuselage for dropping sonobuoys are visible in the rear.

(US Navy photo by PH1 (AW) Mahlon K. Miller)

Longer-range anti-ship missiles allow subs to be farther outside carrier helicopters’ operational range, the report argued. (Long-range land-based weapons may also hinder ASW by reducing the area in which the P-8 can operate.)

“The increasing range of submarine-launched cruise missiles may result in [carrier air wing] aircraft being the only platforms able to defend civilian and other military shipping as well as high-value US and allied targets ashore from submarine attack,” the report added.

Unmanned systems — sensors as well as unmanned underwater and surface vehicles — are seen as an option to extend the carrier’s reach. (The Navy has already awarded Boeing a contract for unmanned aerial refueling vehicles.)

“The Navy could mitigate this vulnerability using distributed unmanned sensors to find and track enemy submarines at long ranges and over wide areas,” the CSBA report said, adding that ships and aircraft in the carrier strike group could then use anti-submarine rockets to keep enemy subs at bay rather than trying to sink all of them.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

Boeing conducts an MQ-25 deck-handling demonstration at its facility in St. Louis, Missouri, in January 2018.

(US Navy/Boeing photo)

The need to operate at longer ranges with more endurance and higher survivability also makes unmanned aerial vehicles appealing additions to the carrier air wing, according to the CSBA report.

“There’s potential there,” Hendrix said, but he added that using the vehicles in the ASW role would be complicated.

“A lot of times doing anti-submarine warfare, there’s a lot of human intuition that comes into play, or human ability to look at a sensor, which is a very confused sensor, and pick out the information” that may indicate the presence of a submarine, he said.

Much of the midrange mission vacated by the S-3 Viking is done within line-of-sight communication, meaning a range in which sensors can communicate with one another, so, Hendrix said, “you could use an unmanned platform to go out and drop sonobuoys or other sensors … and then monitor them, or be the relay aircraft to send their information back to” the ASW station aboard the carrier, where humans would be watching.

“I could see an unmanned platform playing in that role in the future.”

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

Articles

How Marines used a 3D printer and a little ‘grunt ingenuity’ to make gadgets that help them in combat

Second Lt. Ben Lacount knows that it’s never a good thing to run out of rounds during a firefight. And it’s certainly not a good thing to be surprised that you have.


That’s why he invented the “Lacounter” with help from Navy engineers and a 3D printer that allowed him to cut prototyping time down to a fraction. The device allows shooters to see how many rounds they’ve expended while pulling the trigger so that they’re not in a bind when they do.

The Lacounter even works with belt fed weapons like the M249 and M2 .50cal.

Lacount’s prototype takes advantage of a process known as “additive manufacturing,” and it’s one that could change the face of military logistics forever.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world
U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. Ben Lacount presents his winning entry from the Marine Corps Innovation Challenge during a showcase at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, in West Bethesda, Md., Aug. 15, 2017. Lacount created an expended rounds counter for the M16 rifle in the Manufacturing, Knowledge and Education Laboratory, Carderock™s additive manufacturing collaborative space. (U.S. Navy photo by Dustin Q. Diaz/Released)

“My goal for this project was to have a simple, lightweight, low-cost and no battery solution to this issue,” Lacount said, according to a Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock release.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

And Lacount’s not alone.

Captain Kyle McCarley helped come up with a new way to carry the “Bangalore torpedo,” an explosive device used to blow up obstacles like barbed wire. While they are very useful, they are bulky, and take up space. But McCarley used a 3D printer to make a quiver-like pack with elastic straps for the devices that can attack to a normal assault pack.

Then there was Staff Sgt. Daniel Diep, an artilleryman. After noticing that the cable for the Chief of Section Display got damaged from debris that got stuck in the cable – something that took a week and $3,000 to fix – he designed a 3D-printed cable head that cost $10 to make.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world
Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire their M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria as part of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Zachery Laning

“The neat thing about this cable cap is the cable heads themselves can be additively manufactured, and Marines like myself can take all the old cables, cut them down, and we can put new heads on them after 3-D printing,” Diep said.

But the neatest trick of all is getting the 3D printers closer to the grunts. Captain Tony Molnar and Master Sgt. Gage Conduto have worked that out – not only by bringing the printers to units at FOBs, but also a processing center to recycle plastic, like water bottles often delivered to troops on deployment. This will be a huge boon for explosive ordnance techs like Conduto.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world
Spc. Ryan Rolf, a combat engineer from Fullerton, Nebraska, with the 402nd Engineer Company, places a field expedient bangalore packed with C-4 explosive in a barbed wire obstacle during an in-stride breach event at the 2014 Sapper Stakes competition at Fort McCoy, Wis., May 5. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)

“I can’t walk down to the Marine Corps machinist with a stinger missile in my hand and say, ‘I need a set of tools made, can you get these back to me next week?'” he said.

But the tech could go even further, than just helping come up with new tools. In fact, it could be a huge game-changer for any forward-deployed unit.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world
3D Printing in a laboratory setting. Now, imagine a field-deployable 3D printer set-up, along with something to harvest or recycle materials to use in the printer. (Photo by Jonathan Juursema.)

“This container will benefit the Marine expeditionary units and the Marine Corps and DOD because it can do two things: One, it enhances the expeditionary readiness of forward-deployed units by being able to print parts locally on site using recycled materials, and second, it helps those combat units forward by providing stuff that they can’t do, as well as printing stuff for the local populous during humanitarian disaster relief that we couldn’t normally do and that we’d have to pay someone to do,” Molnar told the Navy News Service.

Marine grunts getting inventive — that’s a very frightening thought … for America’s enemies.

Articles

Army names first unit to receive service’s new pistol

U.S. Army weapon officials announced Wednesday that the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) will be the first unit to receive the service’s new Modular Handgun System.


The announcement comes as the service waits for the Government Accountability Office to rule on a protest filed by Glock Inc. in February against the Army’s selection of the Sig Sauer P320 as the replacement for its current M9 9mm pistol.

The GAO is expected to make a decision in early June, but the service is free to continue work on the effort.

The Army awarded Sig Sauer a contract worth up to $580 million Jan. 19. Sig Sauer beat out Glock Inc., FN America and Beretta USA, maker of the current M9 9mm service pistol, in the competition for the Modular Handgun System, or MHS, program.

The 10-year agreement calls for Sig to supply the Army with full-size XM17 and compact XM18 versions of its 9mm pistol. The pistols can be outfitted with suppressors and accommodate standard and extended-capacity magazines.

Related: This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

The service launched its long-awaited XM17 MHS competition in late August 2015 to replace its Cold War-era M9 9mm pistol. The decision formally ended the Beretta’s 30-year hold on the Army’s sidearm market.

Army officials have said very little about the new MHS since the contract award.

“It has increased lethality, faster target acquisition, better reliability,” Lt. Col. Steven Power, who runs Product Manager for Individual Weapons, told an audience at the National Defense Industrial Association’s 2017 Armaments Systems Forum.

Power said there have been a lot of misconceptions about what the requirements community meant when they described the new pistol as modular.

“This largely focused on the shooter’s hand size and the enablers that the weapon is compatible with,” Power said, describing how the MHS offers different grip sizes and can accept various attachments such as lights and optics.

The base configuration of the full-size XM17 pistol will come with Tritium sights and three magazines — one standard 17-round magazine and two extended 21-round magazines. Army equipment officials are developing a holster for the MHS as well.

One aspect of the MHS that Army officials have been reluctant to talk about is the type of ammunition the service’s new sidearm will use.

Also read: The 6 most awesome machine guns in U.S. history

A new Defense Department policy — that allows for the use of “special-purpose ammunition” — allowed the Army to require gunmakers to submit ammunition proposals along with their pistols to be evaluated in the competition.

The ammunition chosen to go with the Sig Sauer is a “Winchester jacketed hollow point” round, Power told Military.com.

But before it can be issued, the Pentagon must complete a “law of war determination,” which is scheduled to be complete in the next two months, Army officials said.

“Before we can field it, we have to have a law of war determination on the specific ammunition that was submitted with the handgun before we actually continue to field it to the soldier,” said Col. Brian Stehle, head of Project Manager Soldier Weapons.

“We have a law of war determination that stated that this type of ammunition is usable. We are very confident that the winning ammunition will be usable.”

The current plan is for the Army to buy 195,000 MHS pistols. Here’s a look at the MHS quantities the other services intend to buy, according to Army officials:

Air Force: 130,000

Navy: 61,000, XM18 only

Marine Corps: 35,000

As long as the GAO upholds the Army’s decision in the Glock protest, the service will conduct final testing of the MHS this summer, service officials maintain.

“Our first fielding of this is going to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, by the end of the calendar year,” Power said.

Articles

Lost Purple Hearts returned to families of dead soldiers

The families of seven dead US servicemen gathered August 7 to receive lost Purple Heart medals their loved ones had earned in four wars.


An eighth veteran was present for the ceremony at the historic Federal Hall on Wall Street on August 7, which was National Purple Heart Day.

The group Purple Hearts Reunited, based in Georgia, Vermont, has made it its mission to track down misplaced medals. Founder Zachariah Fike said as many as five are found each week across the country.

Seven of those medals returned August 7 went to men who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The eighth was presented to Army Specialist Daniel Swift, a firefighter injured by a roadside bomb in 2004 in Iraq as a member of the National Guard. In his honor, the ceremony opened to the sound of the Fire Department of New York’s bagpipe band.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

Rebecca Crofts, 72, was 10 when her dad, WWII Staff Sgt. Bernard Eldon Snow, of Santa Barbara, California, misplaced his medal.

“‘Little Becky, have you seen my medal?'” Crofts, of Superior, Wisconsin, quoted him as saying. “I began hunting for it and never found it.”

Snow’s medal was eventually recovered in a California jewelry shop and returned to the Purple Heart Foundation.

A tearful Crofts was handed a folded American flag honoring her father.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world
US Air National Guard Photo by Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot 185th ARW Wing PA

The Purple Hearts were presented framed, next to each recipient’s military rank.

Besides Snow and Swift, the Purple Hearts went to: Army Pvt. Frank Lyman Dunnell Jr., of Buffalo; Staff Sgt. George Wesley Roles, of Edna, Kansas; 1st Lt. Brian Woolley Flavelle, of North Caldwell, New Jersey; Pvt. Dan Lawrence Feragen, of Carlyle, Montana; Pvt. 1st Class Jack Carl Kightlinger, of Franklin, Pennsylvania; and Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Thomas Calhoun, of Great Bridge, Virginia.

The first Purple Heart was created by George Washington when he commanded the army serving the colonies that became the United States. Washington was sworn in as the first US president at Federal Hall, then the nation’s capital building.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Artsakh War brought about Armenia’s first all-women military unit

Armenia and Artsakh, the previously self-determined independent country bordering Armenia with a majority Armenian population, spent the better half of fall 2020 at war with neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey. The conflict drew worldwide attention with mercenaries being brought in from Syria to fight against Armenian diaspora who came from around the world to fight for their cultural home. 

On November 10, the Prime Minister of Armenia announced an unpopular ceasefire in which the historic Armenian homeland of Artsakh would be returned to Azerbaijan. The terms of the ceasefire, brokered by Russia, included that Turkish and Russian troops would guard the Armenian-Artsakh border for the next five years. Though this was not the end to the conflict that either Armenia or Artsakh wanted, a historic glass ceiling was broken for the women of Armenia; the first all-women military unit was created.

An Erato soldier fires an RPK (Armenian Ministry of Defense)

Prior to the Azerbaijan-Artsakh war, women in military service in Armenia was a fairly new concept. During the first war with Azerbaijan over Artsakh which took place from 1991-1994, at least 115 Armenian women are known to have taken part in combat throughout the conflict. However, the military academies in Armenia were not opened to women until 2013. The Marshal Khanperiants Aviation Institute, where pilots and air defense officers are trained, admitted 5 women in 2013, the first military academy to do so. The next year, the Vazgen Sarkissian Military University admitted its first group of female cadets. Now, in 2020, the Prime Minister of Armenia’s wife has formed the first all-women military unit in the ancient country’s history.

August 2020, a month prior to the resurgence of violence over the disputed region, Anna Hakobyan, wife of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, underwent a seven day combat readiness training program with women from Artsakh. The next month, Hakobyan created a voluntary 45-day basic training program for women aged 18-27. Following successful completion of the program, these women could elect to formally join the armed forces.

Erato soldiers build defensive positions (Armenian Ministry of Defense)

In October, a month into the Artsakh war, Hakobyan created an elite unit of 13 females called the Erato Detachment. The unit is named for Armenian Queen Erato, who ruled during the turn of the Common Era. The women of the Erato Detachment underwent more intense military training exercises in preparation for a frontline deployment. In early November, after extensive evaluation, their unit was deemed qualified for combat. Now, since the latest ceasefire, Hakobyan and the Erato Detachment remain on guard in their areas of responsibility. When she returns to Yerevan, Hakobyan plans to continue to grow the Erato detachment saying, “All women should go to battle when necessary.”

Anna Hakobyan answered her nation’s call to action when it was needed, despite her status in Armenia. With her commitment to the country and its people, she created the application process for the all-women military unit, scheduled their training, and got them on the frontlines alongside their male counterparts. Though the conflict is at an unpopular ceasefire, the door has been opened for Armenian women to serve their country and defend their homeland.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Lobster tails aren’t the problem with military spending, you monsters

In the wake of a startling report from the organization Open the Books showing massive federal government expenditures in the final month of the fiscal year, troops everywhere want you to know that they deserve steak and lobster every once in a while. But the Defense Department spending problems highlighted in the report may have little to do with surf and turf dinners.

The 32-page Open the Books report, published March 2019, showed the federal government as a whole spent an astounding $97 billion in September 2018 as the fiscal year was drawing to a close — up 16 percent from the previous fiscal year and 39 percent from fiscal 2015. DoD spending accounted for $61.2 billion of that spending spree, awarding “use-it-or-lose-it” contracts and buying, among other things, $4.6 million worth of crab and lobster and a Wexford leather club chair costing more than $9,300.


“This kind of waste has to stop. It’s an insult to taxpayers,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, tweeted, sharing a Fox Business story about the seafood buy.

Military veterans were quick to protest, however, saying the nice food is often used by military units to boost morale on grueling deployments or to soften the blow when bad news comes.

“Surf turf night was a regular thing even when I was in Iraq,” tweeted Maximilian Uriarte, a former Marine Corps infantryman and creator of the popular comic strip Terminal Lance. “Feeding troops lobster a few times a year is not a waste of money.”

Fred Wellman, a retired Army officer and the CEO of veteran-focused PR firm ScoutComms, also chimed in.

“Nothing that ever beat the morale boost like steak and lobster night downrange. Period,” he tweeted. “Taking care of the troops that you and your peers sent to war isn’t ‘waste.’ Gutlessly letting the war go without supervision of the actual effort is! But no…let’s take their good food.”

Focusing on the lobster, though, misses the point on how the Pentagon’s spending habits actually do troops a disservice, according to Mandy Smithberger, director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight.

“The lobster tail example captures one’s imagination, but that’s not where congressional oversight needs to focus,” Smithberger told Military.com. “As you see spending go up, you see the amount of this use-it-or-lose-it spending going up as well, and that’s really not to the good.”

She said the billions of expenditures demonstrated DoD efforts to “use money to paper over management problems.”

“None of our weapons systems are affordable and arriving on time; we can’t take care of military housing,” Smithberger said. “[There are] recruitment and retention problems; [the military] prioritizes procurement over training. As long as you keep having money thrown at these problems, people aren’t making tough decisions.”

For the Pentagon, the biggest year-end expenditure was professional services and support, accounting for .6 billion of spending in September 2018. Then came fixed-wing aircraft, a buy of .6 billion. Other top spending items include IT and telecom hardware services and support, .7 billion; combat ships and landing vessels, .9 billion; and guided missiles, nearly billion.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

(US Navy photo by Dale M. Hopkins)

More than the individual items and services purchased, the biggest problem may be the way the spending happens — and the perverse incentives not to end up with leftover money at the end of the year, because it might negatively impact efforts to obtain funds the following year.

“Congress is a lot of the problem,” Smithberger said. “Appropriators look and see whatever is not spent, they take and use for their pet project.”

As the Pentagon budget request continues to balloon year after year, Smithberger said she’d like to see incentives to save money and a system that would keep planners from worrying about a loss of resources the following year.

“If the department showed that it was able to save tens of billions of dollars, they would have a more credible case for the topline,” she said.

There’s plenty of evidence, Smithberger said, that money alone doesn’t solve or prevent institutional problems. For example, she said, the Navy was making big investments in shipbuilding when two guided-missile destroyers collided with commercial ships in separate deadly incidents within months of each other in 2017. While investigations did cite scarcity of resources, training was found to be a major shortfall contributing to the disasters.

When it comes to defense spending, “it’s a lot of hollow rhetoric and it’s really costly when we decide to only express our support through appropriations and not through real decision-making and responsibility,” she said.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

DO NOT use this as a survival hack

Peter R. Asks: If I had to, what parts of my body are healthiest to eat and offer the most caloric benefit? Essentially, what parts of me should I eat first to maximize my survival chances in some extreme situation? Would eating feces be of any benefit?

While of course how long one could survive without food and water varies dramatically based on exact scenario, on the more pressing issue of water, it would appear that if someone stopped consuming this life sustaining liquid at all (including not getting any from food), their death would generally occur within a maximum of about 14 days. This grim figure has been gleaned from data collected from the notes of terminally ill or end of life patients in hospitals who forgo artificial sustenance and their bodies are slowly allowed to die. In many of these cases, the individual is either bedridden or in a coma, meaning their caloric and water needs are potentially minimized, so this seems a good rough upper limit.


Unfortunately for our thoroughly average 5 ft. 9 inch, 195.5 pound everyman named Jeff, who is about to find himself in rather dire straits, death for him is likely to occur much faster. Beyond the fact that he’s likely to be more active than a person in a coma, these figures don’t necessarily immediately apply to him because of something known as adaptive thermogenesis. Adaptive thermogenesis is the term used to describe a unique quirk of physiology, which is often colloquially referred to as “starvation mode”. In a massively overly simplistic nutshell sure to trigger more than one medical professional out there, when the body is put on a restrictive diet for a significant length of time, it adapts to function less optimally, but at least still function, lowering the sustenance requirements it needs in a variety of fascinating ways that would take an entire video of its own to cover.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world
Giphy

Since terminally ill people and people in comas are typically already in this state when their sustenance is completely cut off, their bodies will, in some cases at least, likely survive longer than poor Jeff who, if he was randomly cut off from sustenance without warning in a survival situation would probably not make it more than about 3-4 days.

Of course, Jeff could last longer if he ate something because many foods contain quite a lot of water, his most pressing need. While body parts are among those food items that are jam-packed with H20, that liquid was already in Jeff anyway. So there is going to be no benefit to consuming his own body part in this situation, unless of course the limb just happened to have gotten lopped off outside of his control and he wants to recoup what he can from the lost appendage.

But let’s say that Jeff has an unlimited supply of water. Now he just needs some food, which the human body is literally made up of. Thus, Jeff targets those sweet, sweet calories within himself.

How many calories? Figures on this can vary wildly based on the individual in question as you might expect, but for a ballpark average for such an everyman as Jeff, he probably has about 80,000 calories in him, at least, according to figures compiled by one Dr. James Cole at the University of Brighton.

As for the legs, again with the caveat that this can vary wildly based on a specific individual, for a ballpark average, each leg contains around 7,000-8,000 calories (enough to sustain Jeff comfortably for around three and a half days).

If Jeff got really desperate he could cut off one of his arms which would net him an additional 2,000 or so calories. Another day of comfortable eating.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world
Giphy

Since he needs that other arm to perform surgeries, cook, eat, etc., let’s say Jeff, who is also now an expert surgeon, also removes a lung, a kidney, 70% of his liver, his gallbladder, his appendix, spleen and his testicles (all things that can removed from the body without killing you if done properly). We stopped just short of calculating the caloric value of a human penis because, come on, we have to leave Jeff something to do the rest of the day while he awaits rescue.

Based on available figures from the aforementioned British professor and, where needed, supplementing his calorie content numbers with animals with comparable organs to our own, this would all provide roughly 3,000 or so calories, give or take.

Finally, if Jeff took the bones from his severed limbs and boiled them in water, he could create something akin to bone broth, which contains about 130 calories per litre. It turns out that you can make about a gallon of bone broth with around 7 pounds of bones.

Your skeleton makes up about 15% of your total body weight and your legs and a single arm constitute just shy of 40% of your total weight. Taking Jeff’s weight which we’ve already established as being 195.5 pounds, Jeff’s legs and arm would provide around 12 pounds of bone, or enough to make a gallon and a half of bone broth. This amounts to in the ballpark of 900 calories.

Being resourceful, Jeff isn’t going to stop at limbs, organs, and bone, though. After all, a byproduct of eating produces another food source- feces. Unfortunately, there’s no study that has been done that we could find telling us definitively the calorific content of human poop. That said, from limited studies we did find on human poop’s nutritional makeup, and from many more done on mice feces, it would appear on average feces contains about 10% of the calories eaten previously, with the caveat that this does vary based on a variety of factors- work with us here people. If you want a better number for the calories in human feces when that human is eating human legs, arms, and organs, you feel free to Google to your heart’s content. We’re already a little uncomfortable with how our search history looks after this one.

In any event, if Jeff consumed in the ballpark of the 2000-2500 calories per day to maintain his original physique before he found himself in his little predicament, his poop may contain as many as 250 calories. Contrary to popular belief, his poop would also be reasonably safe to eat provided he kept it fairly sanitary after squeezing it out — the five second rule isn’t really a thing. A dropped turd is most definitely going to pick up some icky things from the floor.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world
Giphy

So, doing the math, if Jeff literally cut off or removed every extraneous part of his body save for a single arm, then ate his excrement, he could conceivably find himself with a total of around 20,000-22,000 or so calories, or around 10 days of comfortable sustenance. And, hey, with the loss of each extra body part, there’s fewer calories needed to support the remaining, meaning Jeff’s going to be able to stretch things out even further in this little fantasy land we’ve created.

Of course, in a real life scenario, slicing yourself up would by definition do severe damage to your body, expose yourself to infection, result in a loss of blood and hence reduce your hydration level, and just generally place a lot more demands on your body to keep on keeping on- when traumatically injured, your nutritional needs actually go up.

And, in the end, your body already had you covered.

You see, it turns out beyond attempting to get more efficient about caloric usage naturally if you stop giving the body enough to function optimally, the human body is also amazingly efficient at using stored sustenance in your various bits, particularly fat, muscle, and, to a lesser extent, bone. Sure, at the end of it, Jeff’s body fat percentage might be on the lean side and his lifts on the bench press may be vastly reduced from their former no doubt beast-mode levels. But he’ll be alive and whole anyway.

Thus, as with so many of life’s problems, the solution was inside himself all along… including the feces and urine which could potentially give a very slight benefit the first time if he wanted to muscle them down.

So to sum up the answer to the question posed by our new favorite reader, while certainly your body contains a lot of useful calories should you consume them directly, it turns out it’s already really good at more or less eating itself without you needing to cut anything off. That said, should you be stranded with a pleasantly plump companion in such a survival scenario, you might want to go check out our article- Do People Who Resort to Cannibalism in Survival Situations Get in Trouble? Knowledge is power people.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Air Force just launched a podcast

The inaugural Airman Podcast for the At Altitude channel features a conversation with Dr. Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

As the Air Force’s Service Acquisition Executive, Dr. Roper is responsible for and oversees Air Force research, development and acquisition activities totaling an annual budget in excess of $40 billion for more than 465 acquisition programs.


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podcasts.apple.com

In this position, Dr. Roper serves as the principal advisor to the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force for research and development, test, production and modernization efforts within the Air Force.

In the interview from early in 2019, Dr. Roper discusses how reforming the acquisition process is foundation to building the Air Force we need to maintain dominance in the battlespace today and tomorrow.

Listen to At Altitude Podcasts here.

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

R. Riveter’s new collection gives old uniforms new life

There are some things we can’t bear to part with. This holds especially true of items with sentimental value, those which spark memories or are a piece of family history. However, those items often remain tucked away in a box, a chest of drawers, attic or basement as we carry them from duty station to duty station. 

It’s those special items that inspired Cameron Cruse and Lisa Bradley, co-founders of the military-spouse owned handbag company R. Riveter, to come up with its one-of-a-kind Heirloom Collection earlier this year. 

“Most of us have things in our homes that have been passed down from generation to generation and mean a great deal to us but we struggle to find a way to showcase them every day,” Bradley said. 

The R. Riveter project allows customers to transform their well-loved and sentimental materials like old military uniforms, jackets and duffle bags into one-of-a-kind handbags and accessories.

For Mary Schmid Carter, the launch of the Heirloom Collection was fortuitous after finding her 93-year-old grandfather’s military uniform from his time serving during World War II.

“We’d always heard about his time serving in the South Pacific, and what else would you do with a uniform that’s at least 70 years old?” she said.

Charles Feigl received his draft letter in January of 1944, just one month after his 18th birthday. He enlisted in the Navy and packed his bags for training. After learning morse code, ship steering and how to prepare nautical charts, the young man from Buffalo, N.Y. boarded a newly commissioned ship on a journey to see more of the world than he could have ever imagined. 

“Our Heirloom Collection is a great way to honor our veterans and create something truly unique that is useful and beautiful,” Cruse said.

Crafted by military spouses like the rest of R. Riveter’s handbags and accessories, pieces created through the Heirloom Project range in price between $65-$500 depending on the size of the product and materials used.

When she took the uniform into R. Riveter’s flagship store in Southern Pines, N.C., the R. Riveter team discovered it was a Coast Guard uniform, even though Feigl served in the Navy.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world

Turns out, that discovery was part of Feigl’s story.

After the war was over in 1945, he made the long journey home from the Pacific to be discharged. On his last night of active duty service, Feigl was assigned an overnight watch on an empty English ship in New York Harbor. He returned to base the next morning to discover his belongings ransacked. His uniform, badges and memorabilia were all stolen. 

“He had to buy a uniform just to be discharged,” Schmid Carter said.

Her goal was to have handbags made for each of the women on that side of the family, including her mother, aunts and cousins.

“I knew it would be a challenge to get ten handbags made from just one uniform, but the team at R. Riveter was determined to make it happen,” she added.

Schmid Carter expects the handbags to arrive just in time for Christmas. 

“I think it will be a really special moment, an opportunity to honor [Feigl] while we still have him here. Rather than his uniform collecting dust, each of us can carry a piece of our family history with us,” said Schmid Carter.

Those interested in creating their own heirloom handbags can visit the R. Riveter flagship store in Southern Pines, or take a style survey on the R. Riveter website. There, the process is simple. Just upload photos of the item(s) and begin creating a one-of-a-kind piece. Customers select the leather color used, size of bags, and what aspects of the material they provide they want to be featured in their customized heirloom bag. The average bag takes approximately 6-10 weeks to craft.

Schmid Carter raves about the experience.

“It was wonderful. If I can get my hands on my other grandfather’s military uniform, I’d love to have handbags created for the other side of my family.”

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Navy gets more money for its next nuclear-armed submarines

The Navy 2019 budget request increases funding for the service’s new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine by $2 billion over 2018’s amount in what appears to be a clear effort to further accelerate technology development and early production.


The request, which marks a substantial move on the part of the Navy and DoD, asks for $3.7 billion in 2019, up from $1.9 billion in 2018. The new budget effort is quite significant, given that there has been a chorus of concern in recent years that there would not be enough money to fund development of the new submarines, without devastating the Navy shipbuilding budget.

The Columbia-class plus-up is a key element of the across-the-board Navy budget increase; overall, the Navy 2019 request jumps $14 billion over 2018, climbing to $194 billion.

Many regard the Columbia-class submarines, slated to enter service in the early 2030s, as the number one DoD priority, and it is quite possible the additional dollars will not only advance technical development and early construction, but may also move the entire production timeline closer.

Also read: This is what ‘eternal patrol’ means for submarines

Ultimately, the Navy hopes to build and operate as many as 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, to be in service by the early 2040s and serve well into the 2080s.

Construction on the first submarine in this new class is slated to be finished up by 2028, with initial combat patrols beginning in 2031, service officials said.

Perhaps of equal or greater significance is the fast-evolving current global threat environment which, among other things, brings the realistic prospect of a North Korean nuclear weapons attack. Undersea strategic deterrence therefore, as described by Navy leaders, brings a critical element of the nuclear triad by ensuring a second strike ability in the event of attack. The submarines are intended to quietly patrol lesser known portions of the global undersea domain. Ultimately, the Navy hopes to build and operate as many as 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, to be in service by the early 2040s and serve well into the 2080s.

Unless timelines are accelerated, which appears likely, construction on the first submarine in this new class is slated to be finished up by 2028, with initial combat patrols beginning in 2031, service officials said. Navy nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines are intended to perform a somewhat contradictory, yet essential mission. By ensuring the prospect of massive devastation to an enemy through counterattack, weapons of total destruction can – by design – succeed in keeping the peace.

Columbia-class technology

Although complete construction is slated to ramp up fully in the next decade, Navy and General Dynamics Electric Boat developers have already been prototyping key components, advancing science and technology efforts and working to mature a handful of next-generation technologies.

With this in mind, the development strategy for the Columbia-class could well be described in terms of a two-pronged approach; in key respects, the new boats will introduce a number of substantial leaps forward or technical innovations – while simultaneously leveraging currently available cutting-edge technologies from the Virginia-class attack submarines, Navy program managers have told Warrior in interviews over the years.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world
A conceptual image of the Virginia-class submarine. (US Depart of Defense graphic by Ron Stern)

Designed to be 560-feet– long and house 16 Trident II D5 missiles fired from 44-foot-long missile tubes, Columbia-class submarines will be engineered as a stealthy, high-tech nuclear deterrent able to quietly patrol the global undersea domain.

While Navy developers explain that many elements of the new submarines are not available for discussion for security reasons, some of its key innovations include a more efficient electric drive propulsion system driving the shafts and a next-generation nuclear reactor. A new reactor will enable extended deployment possibilities and also prolong the service life of submarines, without needing to perform the currently practiced mid-life refueling.

Related: Here’s what life is like aboard the largest US Navy submarine

By engineering a “life-of-ship” reactor core, the service is able to build 12 Columbia-class boats able to have the same at sea presence as the current fleet of 14 ballistic missile submarines. The plan is intended to save the program $40 billion savings in acquisition and life-cycle cost, Navy developers said.

Regarding development of the US-UK Common Missile Compartment, early “tube and hull” forging has been underway for several years already.

The US plans to build 12 new Columbia-class Submarines, each with 16 missile tubes, and the UK plans to build four nuclear-armed ballistic submarines, each with 12 missile tubes.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world
(Photo from U.S. Navy)

The Columbia-class will also use Virginia-class’s next-generation communications system, antennas, and mast. For instance, what used to be a periscope is now a camera mast connected to fiber-optic cable, enabling crew members in the submarine to see images without needing to stand beneath the periscope. This allows designers to move command and control areas to larger parts of the ship and still have access to images from the camera mast, Electric Boat and Navy officials said.

The Columbia-class will utilize Virginia-class’s fly-by-wire joystick control system and large-aperture bow array sonar. The automated control fly-by-wire navigation system is also a technology that is on the Virginia-class attack submarines. A computer built-into the ship’s control system uses algorithms to maintain course and depth by sending a signal to the rudder and the stern, a Navy Virginia Class program developer told Warrior Maven in a previous interview.

More: 27 Incredible Photos Of Life On A US Navy Submarine

Sonar technology works by sending out an acoustic ping and then analyzing the return signal in order to discern shape, location or dimensions of an undersea threat.

Navy experts explained that the large aperture bow array is water backed with no dome and very small hydrophones able to last for the life of the ship; the new submarines do not have an air-backed array, preventing the need to replace transducers every 10-years.

In January 2017, development of the new submarines has passed what’s termed “Milestone B,” clearing the way beyond early development toward ultimate production.

Fall 2017, the Navy awarded General Dynamics Electric Boat a $5 billion contract award is for design, completion, component and technology development and prototyping efforts.

MIGHTY CULTURE

‘From Cradle to Career’: Special Operations Warrior Foundation Leaves No Child of America’s Fallen Special Operators Behind

Alicia Sims was at her neighbor’s house to get some Tylenol when she heard a knock at the front door. At first she thought it was one of her five children.

“Come in,” she hollered.

There was no reply.

“It’s unlocked, come in,” she yelled.

Again, no answer.

She went to the door and there stood a chaplain and another man. Immediately, Alicia’s thoughts turned to her husband, Jacob, a 36-year-old MH-47G Chinook pilot in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who was deployed to Afghanistan at the time, in October 2017.

“Is he okay?” Alicia asked.

The two did not immediately reply.

“Is he okay?” she asked again, clinging to the hope that her husband was only wounded. “Just tell me where I have to go.”

“If he was okay, I wouldn’t be here right now,” the chaplain replied.

Then, he delivered the news: Jacob’s Chinook had crashed during a nighttime raid in Afghanistan’s Logar Province. Six crew members were injured. Jacob was dead.

Alicia and Jacob Sims. Photo courtesy of Alicia Sims.

High school sweethearts, the couple began dating when Alicia was a sophomore. She married Jacob the day after she graduated. As a married couple, they’d been through thick and thin. Five children, countless deployments, moving across the country. Not an unusual story for military families in the post-9/11 era.

A chief warrant officer in the Army’s elite aviation outfit the “Night Stalkers,” based at Fort Lewis in Washington, Jacob had steadily advanced in his career over the years. Having dedicated her life to her family, Alicia, for her part, had never gone to university or had a career of her own. Instead, she’d held down the home front while her husband deployed over and over again — more times than she can now remember — to the war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places such as Kosovo. And now the nightmare had come true. Her husband, the father of their five children, wouldn’t be coming home this time.

Alicia was devastated, and she would grieve. Yes, that would come. But not yet. In the immediate roil and tumble of the single worst instant of her life, the first thing that went through Alicia Sims’ mind was how she was going to give her children the news that their father had died.

“My first thought was, Now I’ve got to tell my five kids this,” Alicia says in a telephone interview with Coffee or Die Magazine from her home in Clarksville, Tennessee.

“I’d been with Jacob half my life, and I was a stay-at-home mom,” she continues. “All I could think was: What am I going to do? How am I going to support these kids? I don’t even have an education. How am I going to pay bills? There were a lot of things running through my mind.”

In the first days following Jacob’s death, Alicia’s needs revolved around simple things like food, laundry, and getting the children to school. She also had to go to Dover, Delaware, to receive her husband’s body.

“I had to come back and plan his funeral and do all of that. And when you’re being pulled in all those different directions, you don’t think about grocery shopping or food or anything else,” she says.

Jacob Sims with two of his five children. Photo courtesy of Alicia Sims.

As time went on, however, the immediacy of the tragedy faded and the long-term reality of being a single mother set in. Consequently, Alicia’s worries evolved to encompass larger issues — more complicated problems than a simple check or a home-cooked meal by a neighbor could fix. Above all, she needed a college degree to land a job that could support her and her five children. But how would she ever find the time to go to school? Their youngest child, a daughter named Harper, was just shy of 2 years old when Jacob died, and Alicia couldn’t afford day care or preschool. Plus, in a few years the two oldest daughters would be thinking about going to college — how was she ever going to pay for all that?

The walls seemed to be closing in until something incredible happened — an unexpected encounter that forever changed the course of Alicia’s life. At an event for families of the fallen, a Special Operations Warrior Foundation representative approached Alicia, informing her that the organization had begun funding preschool programs. And then the magic words: “Are you interested?”

“And so the youngest of my five was one of their first kids that they put through preschool, which is very fortunate for me,” Alicia later explains. “None of my kids have ever been in preschool or anything like that, so Harper is the only one. Last year she was in preschool and this year she’s in pre-K, fully funded by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.”

Today, Alicia Sims is a single mother, raising three daughters, aged 15, 14, and 4; and two boys, aged 11 and 10. The youngest daughter, Harper, will have her education paid for by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation from preschool to university. Her two older daughters are enrolled in a college preparation academy, and her son has been receiving math tutoring — all paid for by the foundation.

With her children’s educational needs provided for, Alicia has been able to pursue a college degree in social work.

“Knowing the [Special Operations Warrior Foundation] is just an email away if we were to need anything education-wise, it puts my mind at ease. Because I don’t have to worry about what to cut this month to pay for tutoring or anything like that,” Alicia says.

She adds: “Because my youngest gets to go to preschool, and I don’t have to worry about day care, it’s allowed me to better myself to further my own career so I can take care of myself and my kids and not have to rely on other people.”

The Sims family’s five children, now aged 15, 14, 11, 10, and 4. Photo courtesy Alicia Sims.

Typically after a tragedy, the immediate outpourings of grief and sympathy taper off as time goes on. And it is the family, the survivors, who are left to live with the enduring consequences of their loss, while others — no matter how well intentioned their initial expressions of sympathy may have been — are able to move on.

“Everybody else goes on with their lives, while our lives are still kind of at a standstill,” Alicia says. “But one thing I can say about the [Special Operations Warrior Foundation] is that they have never lost contact. Every few weeks, you know, they’re reaching out to make sure I don’t need anything. That the kids don’t need anything. ‘Is anybody struggling? Do they need a tutor?’ There’s a constant outreach just to make sure we’re okay.”

The Special Operations Warrior Foundation is an organization that provides college scholarships, as well as educational assistance as early as preschool, for the children of special operations soldiers killed in combat or training. The 40-year-old 501(c)(3) charitable organization distinguishes itself from other nonprofits by committing its resources to the children of the fallen for the long haul — from “cradle to career,” as the organization’s CEO and president, Clay Hutmacher, tells Coffee or Die Magazine.

“Our kids, I think, need this holistic approach because they’ve been through a traumatic event,” Hutmacher says. “They’ve lost a parent and most of them are in a single-parent home. Our strategy is to invest in these kids up front. And, you know, preschool statistically significantly enhances your kid’s chances of going on to higher education.”

That “holistic” approach is yielding results. Some 90% of the children sponsored by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation go on to pursue a college education immediately after high school — 20% above the national average. Moreover, between 92% and 93% of the foundation’s sponsored children graduate a four-year institution in five years or less — about 30% above the national average.

Currently, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation counts 882 children in its programs — the average age is 7. With up to $8,000 available per year for a child to go to preschool, the foundation also pays for tutoring and for specialized high school programs such as the college preparation courses in which Alicia Sims has enrolled her two oldest daughters. The organization also provides benefits to about a dozen children in need of special education.

“We pay for college visits, and we pay for study abroad,” Hutmacher says. “We help with internships just to defray some of the costs of relocating and all of that. And then we run [the students] through a program to prep them for college study skills, financial management, writing their essays, all that kind of stuff. And then, of course, we fully fund their [college degrees], and we don’t care where they go. We don’t care if they go to Harvard or to community college to be an auto mechanic.”

A 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) MH-47 in flight. Photo by Staff Sgt. Reed Knutson, courtesy of DVIDS.

Our nation will always need special operators. And those elite warriors will likely remain perpetually engaged in combat, whether covertly or overtly, to hold the world’s dark forces at bay beyond the edges of America’s borders, guaranteeing the peaceful life we enjoy and so often take for granted.

Each day when Hutmacher arrives at work, he takes a minute to pause in the main hallway of the foundation’s Tampa, Florida, offices. The walls are covered with photos of the college graduates the Special Operations Warrior Foundation has sponsored over the years — a stark testament to the toll of our nation’s wars, no doubt. But also a measure of all the good the foundation has done for the families left behind in the wake of those tragedies.

“You walk in this building every day and we’ve got pictures on the wall of kids that we’ve helped. The job satisfaction is off the chart,” Hutmacher tells Coffee or Die Magazine.

After a military career that spanned some 41 years — from his days as an enlisted Marine to retiring as an Army major general at the upper echelons of the special operations community — Hutmacher understands the reality of the threats facing our nation, as well as the constant expenditure of courage and sacrifice needed to keep those threats at bay.

“Behind every name, there’s a whole family whose lives are changed forever. Their struggle is just beginning. You know, their lives were changed in the blink of an eye and not for the better. And there’s many, many challenges ahead,” Hutmacher says.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Clay Hutmacher, president and CEO of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Photo courtesy of Clay Hutmacher.

Thus, each morning, as Hutmacher stands in that hallowed hallway and takes stock of the good work his organization has done, he also understands there’s a lot of work left to do. In this endless endeavor, Hutmacher says he is continually inspired by the exceptionalism of the men and women who’ve stood up to fight for our country.

“You have unique men and women that have chosen a life of service, and they are generally very, very talented and they could have done many other things,” Hutmacher explains. “But they chose a life of service. So I feel like it’s the least we can do to take care of their children.”

For her part, Alicia Sims says that thanks to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, her children are not simply surviving the trauma they’ve experienced. Rather, they’ve been galvanized to lead uniquely successful lives in honor of the legacy of their father’s heroic service and sacrifice.

“There’s a whole group of people standing in their corner, cheering them on, wanting them to succeed in life,” she says. “It is definitely putting more of an importance on furthering their education because, like I explained to them, you know, if your father hadn’t have died, we wouldn’t have been able to ever pay for all five of our kids to go to college. So this is an opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They see the importance of that. And they want to make sure he didn’t die in vain, and they’re making him proud, and they use the benefits they have to their fullest potential.”

The Special Operations Warrior Foundation was founded in the wake of Operation Eagle Claw — an April 1980 operation ordered by President Jimmy Carter to attempt to rescue the 52 hostages held at the US Embassy in the Iranian capital of Tehran. Five Air Force personnel and three Marines were killed in the ill-fated mission, leaving 17 children without a father.

At first, the charitable organization was focused on providing college scholarships to the children of special operators killed in combat or training. Yet, as its financial resources have improved over the years, its mission has expanded. Apart from the “cradle to career” philosophy espoused by Hutmacher, the foundation now also supports the children of living Medal of Honor recipients (if they’re associated with special operations forces), as well as the families of special operators who have been gravely wounded in training or combat.

“It’s a very amazing foundation. There’s no questions asked. You simply fill out a form just so they kind of know what’s needed, where the money needs to go. And it’s taken care of,” Alicia Sims says. “If the foundation wasn’t a part of our lives, I don’t know what we’d do.”

A helicopter in ashes during Operation Eagle Claw. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A triathlete and an outwardly laid-back guy (despite his six and a half years as a Marine and rising to the rank of major general in the Army), Hutmacher has a passion for his work that radiates through the telephone connection. In short, the man embodies the spirit of service, displaying a boundless drive to better others’ lives and to draw his own quiet happiness from that selfless endeavor. One small example: Hutmacher writes — by hand — a congratulatory note to every college student sponsored by the foundation who earns a 3.5 GPA or higher.

“I want to encourage the students to continue and to succeed. That’s my passion,” Hutmacher says. “I’m not a professional fundraiser, I’m a stick wiggler. But I get fired up about this job. Especially when I see the impact on these kids. It’s awesome.”

Hutmacher’s anecdotes exemplify his personal commitment to the foundation’s mission. He recounts the story of Josh Wheeler, a 39-year-old Army master sergeant who served with Delta Force and was killed during a hostage rescue mission in Iraq in 2015.

Throughout the course of his storied military career, Wheeler earned 11 Bronze Star Medals including four with Valor Devices. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the Medal of Patriotism.

When Wheeler left behind a wife and four sons, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation stepped in to help. And when one of Wheeler’s sons started having trouble in school, Hutmacher organized a cruise for the two of them around Tampa Bay as a “team-building” opportunity. Later, Hutmacher visited Wheeler’s family at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He brought them takeout Chinese food like their father used to do. Seemingly small gestures, perhaps, but in the end they made all the difference.

The son who had once been struggling in school went on to study at North Carolina’s Sandhills Community College. He earned a 3.5 GPA in his first quarter. Last quarter, he earned a 4.0 GPA, Hutmacher proudly says.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he explains. “You see, these are kids that have been through some tough times. So, to me, that’s why we’re here. We invest in each and every child to make sure they succeed.”

Army Sgt. Cameron Meddock, a Ranger, died in combat in Afghanistan in January 2019. After his daughter, Brinley, was born the following April, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation immediately reached out and enrolled her in their program. Next year, Brinley is set to attend preschool under the foundation’s sponsorship.

“I was six months pregnant when my husband was killed in Afghanistan,” said Meddock’s widow, Stevie, in a statement. “Looking or planning for the future seemed impossible. Special Operations Warrior Foundation reached out to me to help ease some of that stress for me. Knowing that my daughter will have the opportunity to have an education without the associated financial burden has taken a huge weight off my shoulders and given me something positive to look forward to.”

Starting in eighth grade, years from now, Brinley is slated to attend a college success academy. If she chooses to go to college, she’ll graduate in 2040.

“It’s a lifetime commitment,” Hutmacher says. “We pour our hearts and souls into these families.”

Army Sgt. Cameron Meddock, a Ranger, seen here with his wife, Stevie, died in combat in Afghanistan in January 2019. Photo courtesy of The Darby Project/Facebook.

A native of Wenatchee, Washington, Hutmacher commanded at every level during his three tours with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. He rounded out his illustrious career serving as commanding general of Army Special Operations Aviation Command, deputy commanding general of Army Special Operations Command, and director of operations at US Special Operations Command in Tampa.

When he retired in 2018 — just one month shy of 41 years of active-duty service — Hutmacher briefly considered working for a military contractor. However, an unexpected opportunity arose to take the reins of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation as president and CEO. It was a fork in the road, but after some careful consideration, he knew where his heart lay.

“It’s the dream job,” Hutmacher says. He admits, however, that fundraising is a “constant struggle.” For one, the foundation doesn’t pay for TV advertisements — its only paid advertising commitment is a $5,000 spread in the Air Commando Journal.

“The worst part of this job, to be honest with you, is asking for money. I’m not shy, but I hate to ask,” Hutmacher says. And this year, COVID-19 hasn’t helped matters. Many of the foundation’s annual fundraising events were canceled due to the pandemic.

“It’s not only us, everybody’s in the same boat,” Hutmacher says. “This is going to be a struggle for us to maintain our revenue, but it is what it is.”

To recoup a portion of its lost fundraising, the foundation has added some virtual events this year — including a virtual bourbon tasting hosted by Bardstown Bourbon Co. Additionally, Hutmacher lauds the efforts of veterans and active-duty personnel who occasionally embark on audacious fundraising endeavors on the foundation’s behalf. After all, service to one’s nation doesn’t necessarily end when the uniform starts collecting dust in the closet.

“We get a lot of current and retired special operators who feel driven to support us,” Hutmacher says.

One notable example is David Goggins, a retired Navy SEAL who has run numerous ultramarathons and performed other mind-boggling athletic feats — such as multiple world-record attempts to complete the most pullups in 24 hours — to raise money and awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

In some ways, Alicia Sims and her children were prepared for loss in ways that civilian families aren’t. The children, in particular, had gotten used to dad not being around due to the nonstop pace of deployments and training, which became part and parcel of life in the special operations community in the post-9/11 years. The couple’s youngest child, Harper, who was almost 2 when Jacob died, spent precious little time with her father.

“I mean, he maybe saw her four months out of those two years. Between training and deployment,” Alicia says. “Everybody asked me shortly after why the kids were adapting so easily. And the reality of it is, they were used to him being gone. You know, it wasn’t abnormal. He was gone more than he was there.”

Special operations forces bore a heavy burden in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And despite all the talk these days about so-called great power competition, America’s special operations units remain embroiled in counterterrorism combat in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, as well as various other sites in Africa and Asia.

Irregular warfare may not be the topic du jour in the Pentagon’s polished hallways, but America’s special operations forces remain engaged in nearly endless combat in some rough corners of the world. Consequently, the need for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation’s mission isn’t going away. Last year, the foundation added 79 children to its programs — roughly an even split between commissioned and enlisted families — representing 39 fatalities. And this year, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation has added 40 new children to its programs, with some 12 to 16 more pending.

Alicia Sims, bottom left, at a memorial ceremony for her husband, Jacob. Photo courtesy of Alicia Sims.

Clearly, the toll of counterinsurgency warfare has not abated — even if the lion’s share of that war effort occurs in the shadows. Overall, nearly 400 children supported by the Special Operations Warrior Foundation have graduated from college. And the foundation currently has 190 students enrolled in college programs. Overall, since its inception in 1980, the organization has provided benefits to more than 1,400 children, representing more than 1,130 fatalities.

Hutmacher explains that he had been a “benefactor” and a “big fan” of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation for years. While he was on active duty he saw firsthand the value of the foundation’s work to the families of the fallen, as well as the peace of mind it gave special operators as they went into the breach, again and again, on their country’s behalf.

“We had a lot of missions where we lost a lot of people,” Hutmacher says, going on to highlight how the foundation’s work reaches beyond the families it directly benefits.

“I’ve had dozens and dozens of active special operators from all the services share with me that it gives them peace of mind to know that if something happens to them the Special Operations Warrior Foundation will be there for their kids,” Hutmacher says. “You’d be hard pressed to find anybody in the special ops community who doesn’t get some peace of mind knowing that we’re out there.”

Similarly, Alicia Sims is confident that her personal experience with the foundation has sent a positive message to those men and women in the special operations community who are still fighting our country’s wars.

“I’m actually still in contact with everyone who survived that night,” Alicia says of the helicopter crash that killed her husband. “Knowing that there will be people there to take care of their families, God forbid something happens, helps them to not dwell on the ‘what-ifs’ when they’re going into combat. They know that their families will be taken care of. And that’s a huge relief.”

“When I flew AH-6 attack helicopters, there were a couple of times when I wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be on some of those missions,” Hutmacher says. “And, you know, my first concern was always about my kids … if I had one wish, it would be that my kids were taken care of.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russian assassins are probably sleeper agents hiding in the UK

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal left the hospital in May 2018, after recovering from an assassination attempt. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent at his home in Salisbury in March 2018, by Russian spies, British counter-terror authorities have said.

One creepy prospect for the Skripals is that the would-be assassins may still be in the UK, living undercover as normal people, Russian espionage experts say. It’s easy to smuggle people out of Britain. For those of us not in the espionage business, it seems surprising that the attackers would stay in the country rather than escape immediately.


But Russia probably left its agents in place for an extended period after the attack.

Russia probably has more “sleeper” agents living as ordinary British people in the UK right now that during the Cold war, according to Victor Madeira, a senior fellow at The Institute for Statecraft, who testified to Parliament about Russian covert interference in Britain. Russia’s “illegals” program places agents in Western countries where they live apparently normal lives for years, all the while quietly collecting influential contacts. Russia might activate an illegal for a special mission like an assassination. Fifteen people are suspected to have been killed by Russian spies in Britain since 2003. The most recent was Nikolay Glushkov, a vocal Putin critic who predicted his own murder.

The Air Force lab in charge of processing COVID-19 samples from military facilities around the world
Nikolay Glushkov

Madeira told Business Insider that if a sleeper agent was used in the attempt on Skripal’s life, he or she probably remained in Britain after the attack rather than trying to immediately escape back to Russia.

“Why leave someone here, at risk of detection, after such a high-profile attack?” he told Business Insider. “I can only think of two scenarios where that might happen:
  • “An actual ‘illegal’ with an existing, years-long ‘legend’ would attract attention by going missing all of a sudden – i.e. friends, co-workers or neighbours might report a missing person to police, who might then put two and two together and tie that person to the Skripal attack. Better to keep him/her in place, living a mundane life again, their role in this operation now concluded.”
  • “Someone who isn’t an ‘illegal’ in the strictest sense of the word, but for now having to stay in hiding in the UK until things settle down a bit. Perhaps with a new set of ID papers, s(he) can eventually look to exit the country via a quieter, lower-profile exit point.”

Obviously, we cannot know exactly what the operative did after the attack. The Mirror reported in April 2018, that one suspect has flown back to Russia. Earlier that month, the Mirror’s source speculated that the sleeper agent would still be in the UK, ready for another mission. “Unless it were an absolute emergency and the operative had to chance a ‘crash escape’, this exit point would normally be carefully picked based on e.g. the set of ID papers available, the person’s appearance and overall profile, history in the UK if checked by the Border Force, how tight border controls were assessed to be at that exit point, etc.,” Madeira told Business Insider.

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

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