Getting through the door on an enemy-held compound can be one of the most dangerous parts of a military operation. Luckily, the Simon is a rifle-fired grenade that allows soldiers to blow the door open from 15 to 30 meters away. The weapon, which is currently in testing, is pretty crazy in action.
US soldiers are patrolling Afghanistan with a new tool that lets them see the battlefield like never before — personal, pocket-sized drones.
The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division has deployed to Afghanistan with Black Hornet personal reconnaissance drones — a small, lightweight unmanned aerial vehicle produced by FLIR Systems that can be quickly and easily deployed to provide improved situational awareness on the battlefield.
A 3rd BCT paratrooper prepares to launch a Black Hornet in Kandahar, Aug. 9, 2019.
(US Army photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak)
Soldiers are taking these nano drones on patrol in combat zones.
The 3rd Brigade Combat Team deployed to Kandahar province in Afghanistan in July from Fort Bragg in North Carolina to replace the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Stars and Stripes reports.
Army paratroopers have been “routinely” using the Black Hornets, recon drones that look like tiny helicopters, for foot patrols, the Army said in a statement.
“The Black Hornet provided overhead surveillance for the patrol as it gauged security in the region and spoke to local Afghans about their concern,” a caption accompanying a handful of photos from a recent patrol in Kandahar explained.
A 3rd BCT paratrooper with a Black Hornet drone.
(US Army photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak)
These UAVs offer “immediate situational awareness of the battlefield,” the Army said previously.
The Army awarded FLIR a multimillion-dollar contract earlier this year to provide Black Hornet drones to US troops.
A little over 6 inches in length and weighing only 1.16 ounces, these drones are “small enough for a dismounted soldier to carry on a utility belt,” according to FLIR Systems.
These UAVs offer beyond-visual-line-of-sight capability during day or night out to distances of up to 1.24 miles and have a maximum speed of about 20 feet a second.
These drones, which are able to transmit high-quality images and video, can also be launched in a matter of seconds and can quietly provide covert coverage of the battlefield for around half an hour, Business Insider saw firsthand at an exclusive FLIR technology demonstration.
The Black Hornets “will give our soldiers operating at the squad level immediate situational awareness of the battlefield through its ability to gather intelligence, provide surveillance, and conduct reconnaissance,” Lt. Col. Isaac Taylor, an Army public affairs officer, previously told Business Insider.
Paratroopers on patrol in Kandahar province in Afghanistan.
(US Army photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak)
These drones have the potential to be a real “life-saver” for US troops.
Soldiers in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division were the first troops to get their hands on the new Black Hornet drones, part of the Soldier Borne Sensor (SBS) program.
Back in the spring, soldiers trained for a week at Fort Bragg with the new drones, getting a feel for the possibilities provided by this technology.
“This kind of technology will be a life-saver for us because it takes us out of harm’s way while enhancing our ability to execute whatever combat mission we’re on,” Sgt. Ryan Subers, one of the operators, said in a statement.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
It’s just about here – the sequel aviation and military buffs have been patiently waiting for.
“Top Gun: Maverick” was supposed to fly onto the big screen in July but was pushed back to December due to COVID-19. The sequel with Tom Cruise returning in the starring role as hotshot naval aviator LT Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a graduate of the US Navy’s elite TOPGUN school and a career fighter pilot flying the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.
Though not a whole lot of information about the new movie has been released just yet, it’s generally understood that Maverick will be an instructor or something similar, teaching the next generation of fighter pilots how to push themselves and their aircraft to the limit.
While a lot has changed in the three decades since Maverick first set foot on TOPGUN’s campus at NAS Miramar (now a Marine Corps base), one thing remains absolutely certain — Maverick really shouldn’t be anywhere near the school, especially as an instructor.
From his downright reckless flying to his cavalier attitude, this aviator is no example for new TOPGUN candidates, and he definitely shouldn’t be in a position to instruct them.
Here are four reasons why Maverick might actually be the worst possible choice to be a TOPGUN instructor in the sequel:
1. He wasn’t even the best pilot at Top Gun!
Far from it.
In fact, Maverick didn’t even come close to winning the top graduate award at the end of the program, losing his edge and competitiveness after his radar intercept officer, Lt. JG Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, died during a training exercise gone wrong.
In convincing him to return to the program, “Viper” — TOPGUN’s head honcho in the movie — lets the depressed soon-to-be washout know that he has enough points to graduate with the rest of his class… but certainly not enough to achieve the award for best pilot.
Instead, it’s Maverick’s classmate and fierce rival, Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazanski who took the plaque for first place (and gains the option to return to TOPGUN as an instructor). If anything, being that the program is designed to mature the most capable of all Navy fighter pilots currently serving, shouldn’t they only learn from the best?
2. He’s definitely not a team player
“You never, never leave your wingman.” – Lt. Cmdr. Rick “Jester” Heatherly (Photo Top Gun Youtube screengrab)
This is alarmingly evident from the very beginning of the movie, when the young pilot and his backseater decide to leave a fellow Tomcat behind and completely exposed to do a little showboating.
Instead of covering his wingman, Maverick pulls his F-14 over an enemy MiG-28 for Goose to take vanity images with a Polaroid camera. Meanwhile, “Cougar” and “Merlin” — the two aircrew of the other F-14 — are mercilessly hounded by another MiG fighter, causing Cougar to lose his edge and turn in his wings after nearly crashing his jet.
Over at Miramar, Maverick once again draws the ire of his fellow classmates by leaving them behind during training exercises, choosing instead to selfishly pursue Viper while allowing his wingmen to take a hit.
3. He’s too reckless and narcissistic
Every time Maverick goes up, he flies dangerously.
It’s a chronic problem and he doesn’t know how to solve it. From buzzing control towers to his inverted encounter with the MiG-28 to his training sorties at TOPGUN, Maverick just doesn’t know how to turn off his recklessness.
At times, he’s even been known to disobey direct orders from commanding officers. His superiors call him out on it repeatedly, from his time in the fleet aboard the USS Enterprise to his antics at TOPGUN, darting below the “hard deck” to get a radar lock on one of his instructors.
Perhaps this is a result of his inherent narcissism… a trait unbecoming of a potential TOPGUN instructor pilot. The young naval aviator is frankly way too self-absorbed to be an instructor given his penchant for doing things that would ultimately give himself the glory.
4. He’s way too old to be an instructor anyways
Let’s do the math here — “Top Gun” was released in 1986, over 3 decades ago. By the time the sequel makes its appearance on the silver screen, 34 years will have elapsed since Maverick’s stint at the former NAS Miramar. Let’s add another four years to that, since Maverick was a lieutenant back when he first entered the TOPGUN program… which brings us to a grand total of 37 years.
The vast majority of military officers don’t even have careers that long! Given Maverick’s penchant for angering people in authority over him, it’s unlikely that he’d still be in the Navy, though it’s also possible that he got relegated to a desk job, ending his flying career, where he might remain today.
With that being said, fighter pilots also have a “shelf life.” There’s only so much wear and tear that their bodies can take from the physical and mental stress of flying high-performance fighter aircraft, and most tend to either leave the cockpit due to advancement, or out of a personal choice to accept a less-strenuous job elsewhere (within or outside the service) within 15-20 years.
OF COURSE we’re going to see the new “Top Gun” when it comes out. But we’ll be looking to make sure that if Maverick is indeed an instructor, he’s matured from his previously reckless ways.
When you hear the word “jetpack,” you picture someone zooming through the sky like the Rocketeer. But DARPA and Arizona State University’s version of the jetpack is a complete let down.
“We’re not able to fly with our jetpack,” said graduate engineer Jason Kerestes, in a video from Arizona State University. “We have instantaneous thrust and we can pretty much trigger it to allow for faster movement and agile motions.”
The pack is designed to enable troops to run a mile in four minutes, but it doesn’t look like they’re quite there yet. At 3:07 of the video, the engineers say to a runner that his time improvement with the jetpack was only three seconds.
Yuri Drozdov, the Soviet spymaster who oversaw a sprawling network of KGB agents abroad, died on June 21. He was 91.
The Foreign Intelligence Service, a KGB successor agency known under its Russian acronym SVR, didn’t give the cause of Drozdov’s death or any other specifics in a terse statement.
Drozdov, a World War II veteran, joined the KGB in 1956 and was dispatched as a liaison officer with the East German secret police, the Stasi. In 1962, he took part in the exchange of Soviet undercover agent Rudolf Abel, convicted in the US, for downed American spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers.
Photo of the former chief of KGB Directorate “S” general Yuri Drozdov and a former soviet NOC Sergey Zhirnov at the office of consulting firm Namakon in Moscow. (Photo via of Wikimedia Commons)
The story was made into Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster “Bridge of Spies” in 2015 as well as the Soviet movie “The Shield and the Sword,” a 1968 classic that Russian President Vladimir Putin once said inspired him to join the KGB.
On June 21st, Putin himself offered condolences to Drozdov’s wife and two sons in a message published on the Kremlin’s website. Drozdov was “a legendary spy and an outstanding professional” who was also “an incredible person and true patriot,” Putin said.
Working under diplomatic cover, Drozdov served as the KGB resident in China in 1964-1968, and in the United States in 1975-1979.
In 1979, he came to head a KGB department overseeing a network of undercover agents abroad, the job he held until resigning in 1991. The agents who lived abroad under false identity were called “illegals” and were considered the elite of Soviet intelligence.
In December 1979, Drozdov led an operation to storm the palace of Afghan President Hafizullah Amin that paved the way for the Soviet invasion.
Drozdov also founded the KGB’s Vympel special forces unit intended for covert operations abroad.
The SVR praised Drozdov as a “real Russian officer, a warm-hearted person and a wise leader.”
“I was inspired as I learned about their food traditions and offered them comfort through food,” Lidia said in her PBS video Lidia Celebrates America.
One of her stops included a visit with some of We Are The Mighty’s veterans who shared some of their fondest food memories while serving in the military.
For Edith Casas (U.S. Navy), it was missing her mother’s meals during deployments. For Bryan Anderson (U.S. Army), it was the meals he prepared in the barracks. For Mike Dowling (U.S. Marine Corps), it was sharing his last meal with Rex, his military working dog.
The B-1B Lancer bomber, a plane designed with the ability to fly fast and low to the Earth in order to avoid enemy radars, might find itself operating at higher altitudes for the rest of its days in service, as officials weigh options to extend its lifespan.
The move is one of several being considered to keep the aircraft flying for years to come because low-altitude missions increase the wear and tear on the aircraft’s structure, Military.com has learned.
“We’re closely working with aircrews, maintenance, industry engineers and combatant commands to identify and determine what, if any, changes may be made as we balance operational necessity today with the longevity of the B-1 airframe for the future,” said Air Force Global Strike Command spokesman Lt. Col. David Faggard.
Specifically, officials are weighing whether to tell pilots to stop using the B-1’s low-altitude terrain-following capability, known as TERFLW mode, during training. The mode is operated by a basic switch on the plane’s avionics.
A B-1B Lancer bomber.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brian Ferguson)
“The B-1 and our airmen have consistently and professionally provided close-air support in the counterterror fight for decades, a mission the aircraft was never designed to fly,” Faggard said. The B-1 was designed for a range of activities, most notably its TERFLW capability, but instead has been used for years in Middle East conflicts — a role for which it was not designed.
“We’re building a viable transition plan to get us from the bomber force we have now to the bomber force of the future. We can change tactics — altering, bringing back or avoiding any tactics or procedures as necessary on any bomber at any time in the future,” Faggard said Friday.
TERFLW, which allows the plane to operate at low altitudes like a jet ski skimming water, was created to allow the B-1 “to sneak in low below enemy radars into Russia during the Cold War, employ nuclear weapons, and get out,” said Maj. Charles “Astro” Kilchrist, then-chief of training for the 9th Bomb Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, in a 2017 interview.
Kilchrist, also a pilot, showed off the maneuver when Military.com visited the base that year.
Four B-1B Lancers assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Richard P. Ebensberger)
Fatigue testing on the bomber has shown that low-altitude training may put additional stress on the airframe, according to two Air Force sources familiar with the discussions. Thus, the argument to limit TERFLW flights in future.
It’s not uncommon for bombers to switch up how they fly.
For example, B-52 Stratofortress pilots already tend to avoid low-altitude flights because of the additional stress on the venerable bomber’s airframe, according to Alan Williams, the B-52 deputy program element monitor at Global Strike Command. Williams has been involved in the B-52 community since 1975.
“When I first started flying in the B-52, we went down to 300 to 500 feet above the ground,” he said in an interview in August. “Two o’clock in the morning, we’d fly over western Wyoming and we’d pop out four hours later over eastern Wyoming. That was hard on the aircraft.”
He continued, “Low-level is hard on aircraft. There’s a lot of forces — atmosphere, turbulence, all those things. [But] over the last 30 years, the B-52 has returned to what it was designed to be: a high-altitude bomber.”
Officials haven’t totally forbidden B-52 crews to fly low, especially if they’re testing new weapons, according to a bomber weapons system officer, who asked not to be identified due to not being authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
A B-52H Stratofortress.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Greg Steele)
While the B-52 is sticking around into the 2050s, keeping the B-1 viable until its 2036 sunset date has been a priority for Air Force Global Strike Command.
Gen. Tim Ray, head of the command, announced in September that the Air Force had proved it can modify the Lancer to hold more ordnance — a step that may pave the way to future hypersonic weapons payloads as the bomber seeks new missions.
In tests with the 419th Flight Test Squadron, teams at Edwards Air Force Base, California, demonstrated how crews could fasten new racks onto the external hardpoints of the B-1, and reconfigure its internal bomb bays to hold heavier weapons.
“The conversation we’re having now is how we take that bomb bay [and] put four, potentially eight, large hypersonic weapons on there,” Ray said during the annual Air Force Association Air Space and Cyber conference.
“Certainly, the ability to put more JASSM-ER [Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range] or LRASM [Long Range Anti-Ship Missile] externally on the hardpoints as we open those up,” he said, as reported by Defense News. “There’s a lot more we can do.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
As the fighting in Mosul has started, some ISIS militants have been trying to make a fast getaway. Not a bad idea when you consider the atrocities they’ve committed and the size of the force lining up to drive them out.
According to the British newspaper The Sun, though, some of these militants have been trying to escape under the radar by dressing as women. For at least two of them, though, it didn’t work out – Kurdish peshmerga fighters saw through the disguise and nabbed them.
The tactic sometimes worked, as a 2009 article by the New York Daily News described how some Taliban insurgents were able to slip away from Marines. Items of clothing like the burqa also were used to hide weapons and explosives.
On July 15, 2021, 17 sailors of Crewman Qualification Training Class 115 completed the assessment and selection to become Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen. Included in the class is NSW’s first female operator.
SWCC is a special operations force under Naval Special Warfare Command that operates small watercraft to conduct special operations missions. Their exploits were highlighted in the 2012 film Act of Valor which featured active duty U.S. Navy SEALs and SWCC operators.
SEALs and SWCC go through similar but separate specialized training programs at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. SWCC operators train extensively on watercraft and weapons tactics to facilitate infiltration and exfiltration of other special operators under any condition. Historically, only 35% of candidates complete the course to become operators. The SWCC motto is “On Time, On Target, Never Quit,” and they live up to every word.
The graduation of the first female sailor from the SWCC course is a historic milestone for the Navy. “Becoming the first woman to graduate from a Naval Special Warfare training pipeline is an extraordinary accomplishment, and we are incredibly proud of our teammate,” said Rear Adm. H. W. Howard, commander, U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command. “Like her fellow operators, she demonstrated the character, cognitive and leadership attributes required to join our force.”
Following graduation, the sailors will either report to a Special Boat Team or further specialized training. In addition to their watercraft and weapon skills, SWCC operators are required to possess a plethora of special operations skills like parachuting, medical treatment, navigation, and engineering.
Let’s face some harsh reality, folks. While we won World War II in the European Theater, infantry anti-tank weapons were not one of the big reasons why. The sad fact of the matter is that the M1 and M9 bazookas were…well…GlobalSecurity.org notes that they “could not penetrate the heavy front armor of the German tanks.”
Suppose, though, that the GIs had perhaps the most modern anti-tank missile in the world. One that could reach out and touch the German tanks at a much safer range for the anti-tank specialists. In other words, imagine they had the FGM-148 Javelin. How might the Battle of the Bulge changed?
Let’s look at the Javelin to understand how the battle would change. According to militaryfactory.com, the Javelin uses imaging infra-red guidance. By contrast, the bazooka rounds were unguided. This meant that the Javelin missiles have a much better chance of hitting their targets.
The Javelin also has longer range, a little over a mile and a half, compared to the bazooka’s two-tenths of a mile, allowing the anti-tank teams to move out of the way — or reload.
But how would World War II GIs have used the Javelin? While some infantry units might have these missiles, it is far more likely that they would have been used for blocking and delaying the armored thrusts. The best vehicle for that purpose would have been the classic Jeep.
According to militaryfactory.com, this vehicle could carry a driver and four troops. Or, a two-man Javelin team and, say, six to eight of the 33-pound missiles and a 14-pound launch unit. A section of two vehicles could easily be expected to take out a company of German tanks.
Their most likely use would be in ambushes, using hit and run tactics to weaken German units and to buy time for reinforcements of heavy units (like Patton’s Third Army) to prepare a devastating counter attack.
But its sheer effectiveness may even have ended that battle much sooner simply because the initial attacks would likely have been blunted — and the German tanks would have required infantry to move ahead to clear likely ambush sites, and that would have made it impossible to achieve the objective of capturing Antwerp.
That said, while tactically this alternate Battle of the Bulge would have been a quicker win for the Allies, strategically German resources might not have been depleted so badly. This would mean a longer war and potentially more casualties — and the first atomic bomb may have been dropped on a city in Germany, not Japan.
The Army National Guard is using new Hollywood special effects to transform Humvees into T-72 tanks and other Russian combat vehicles to amp up the realism in training exercises.
In 2018, the National Guard Bureau hired WestEfx Military Services in Sun Valley, California, to help improve its Exportable Combat Training Capability program and its 21-day exercises designed to ensure units are ready for mobilization, according to an Army news release.
WestEfx has provided special effects for big-screen movies such as “Taken” and “Men in Black II,” it added.
The firm’s special VisMod kits convert M1097 Humvees into realistic mock-ups of Russian T-72 main battle tanks and BTR-90 personnel carriers.
Military engineers and mechanics have helped WestEfx install 12 kits onto Humvees at the Idaho Army National Guard’s Orchard Combat Training Center, according to the release. The Guard and WestEfx plan to continue production of 48 more kits over the next three years, it adds.
The upgraded T-72A which appeared in 1979.
“We will be able to train against a realistic enemy,” Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Doramus, Idaho Army National Guard VisMod fleet manager, said in the release. “These kits aren’t going to look and act like a Humvee. They are going to look and act like T-72s and BTR-90s.”
The kits weigh about 1,700 pounds and fit over a Humvee’s chassis to resemble the size and silhouette of the tank or personnel carrier, but use an inflatable canvas-like frame.
Its gas-operated weapon systems simulate the firing of .50-caliber and 125 mm main guns that can be configured to multiple integrated laser engagement systems (MILES) for added realism, according to the release.
“No enhanced battlefield training simulators can compare with the functionality, realism, durability and cost-effectiveness of this new VisMod vehicle,” WestEfx owner and lead designer Erick Brennan said in the release. “They are pretty amazing, and we are really proud of them.”
Army brigade combat teams have used similar technology over the years to replicate enemy vehicles, but these new kits are the “first of their kind,” Maj. Aaron Ammerman, XCTC program manager for the Guard Bureau, said in the release.
“Taking a look at how VisMods are done across the Army, I think these are the best I’ve ever seen,” he said. “They will provide an exponentially more realistic threat signature for troops to train against as they do force-on-force exercises.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
After a three-year absence, I returned to the big city a cliché, another down-and-out veteran with no job and nowhere to live. A local nonprofit helped me find a studio apartment, but a job proved more elusive.
I designed my résumé using whatever software was on my Mac. Thanks to the post-9/11 GI Bill, I was able to attend college after the military, so in the education section I proudly listed my bachelor’s degree and the fact that I’m currently enrolled in grad school, pursuing an MFA in creative writing. For work experience, I listed my military highlights: “Responsible for the accountability and maintenance of all assigned equipment,” Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, and Army Commendation Medal. I even mentioned that I was honorably discharged. I left off the small detail about how the Department of Veterans Affairs has clinically diagnosed me with PTSD. Who cares?
With my résumé complete, I went on Craigslist and scrolled through the admin/office jobs, applying to every single one. Moments later, my phone rang. A lady said she liked my résumé and that her tech company was looking to hire a veteran for an open position, which she described as 30 hours per week of light office duties. The job title was “culture coordinator,” and they needed to hire someone ASAP because the incumbent was taking time off to go to art school.
When she asked if I knew what a culture coordinator was, I told her no. She explained it was someone in charge of getting snacks for everyone, keeping the game room and lounge up to par, and scheduling company happy hours and other “super-fun team activities.”
I bullshitted her about how I had plenty of experience with all of this in the military. In the army, I said, they had us do group activities such as close-quarters hand-to-hand combat training whereby we beat the shit out of each other; road marches that felt like prep for the Bataan Death March; and six-mile unit-formation runs at six o’clock in the fucking morning that we did while singing cadences. All of this, theoretically, helped build esprit de corps. This office job would be easy.
My friend Janie has worked in tech for years. She knew exactly what a culture coordinator was and laughed when I told her I was interested. They had several such coordinators where she worked, although they called them “vibe coordinators” or the “vibe team.” Most tech companies are fighting talent wars, with many employees staying only a year, if that, before defecting to another company. So, to save money on recruiting costs — and to minimize damage to morale — these companies staff vibe coordinators to make sure employees are happy and never want to leave.
One of Janie’s good friends is a vibe coordinator. She told me all about how there’s this one vegan girl in her office who constantly sends mean emails complaining about the lunches, snacks, treats, etc. — how they’re not providing enough vegan options for after-work snack time and how there was cheese in the salad at lunch.
“I was reminded of my kids’ daycare center while walking past bean bags, ping-pong tables, a bike shop, PlayStations, and even a drum set with guitars casually placed around it.”
I got a flashback from basic training. One time, while MREs (meals ready to eat) were being handed out, a private raised his hand and said, “Excuse me, drill sergeant? I can’t eat this. I’m a vegetarian.” And before this private asked whether he could switch to a vegetarian MRE, which do exist, the drill sergeant answered, “Well, I guess you don’t eat, then.”
God, I miss the military.
Janie told me about another time when someone emailed the vibe team to complain about being sunburned through the window in their office (which I’m not sure is even possible). Another time, some remote employees in North Carolina filed a request to “set up a webcam so we can all experience the company party.”
I tried to imagine how I would handle this.
To the vegan girl, I’d say, “Fine. You don’t like it; you don’t eat it. Problem solved.” The guy getting sunburned? Fuck him. I’d throw him a bottle of sunblock. The person wanting a webcam to view the office party? Yeah, sure, log onto www.gofuckyourself.com. The password is getthefuckouttahere.
I’d be perfect for this job.
Janie invited me to her office so I could meet their vibe team and ask whatever questions I had. It was a cavernous space with a contemporary open-floor plan. I was reminded of my kids’ daycare center while walking past bean bags, ping-pong tables, a bike shop, PlayStations, and even a drum set with guitars casually placed around it. We passed by several employees, many of whom appeared to be cleaned-up versions of bike messengers, while others resembled adult incarnations of those shy geeks you went to high school with, kids who were in the band, the academic decathlon, or the model UN (which Janie had been in). When I stumbled across a room containing nothing more than a hammock, Janie said it was one of many break rooms where she sometimes slept off a hangover.
In the office’s open kitchen, I met three members of the vibe team. All were female; all wore leggings; all were cute and around my age; and all were frantically chopping fruits and vegetables, laying out a dessert tray, and arranging plates of finger foods loaded with various local cheeses, charcuterie, and gourmet crackers. This was happening in front of a fridge fully stocked with an insane assortment of craft beer, bottles of which a couple of techies were casually drinking mid-afternoon. One member of the team told me all about how she coordinated weekly yoga classes and periodically brought in cooking teachers because people there loved anything and everything “foodie.” I took notes in my journal. My idea of fine dining is a super burrito at El Farolito.
Janie advised me not to dress like a square at my own interview, because this would give the company the wrong impression. Dress “casual,” she said. I didn’t have time to drop 100 pounds or grow a beard, and I thought wearing fake glasses was pushing it, so I wore new Vans, Levis, and a long-sleeve, collared shirt from Ben Sherman.
I arrived punctually on the day of my interview. A receptionist didn’t greet me — an iPad did. It was cemented by the front door, and after a couple of minutes violently pressing the buttons, I gave up and banged on the door. Nobody answered. I made a phone call. Minutes later, a woman ushered me into a conference room and told me to wait. On the whiteboard was a bunch of stuff that looked like hieroglyphics. Through the window I could see people at their desks in the open-floor plan, one guy sporting a tank top and surf shorts. A few minutes later, the woman returned with the office’s current culture coordinator (who had stylish hair and a fun-looking dress). After telling me about the position and how everyone got along and loved to do group activities together, the woman asked if I’d be comfortable coordinating a game of hopscotch.
Let me pause for a biographical note: I was a 240 gunner in the army. I loved to go out on combat missions wearing gratuitous amounts of 7.62 ammunition. My job in Iraq, which I was trained to do, was pull the trigger when necessary. I worked with a gun team. I had an assistant gunner assigned to me who carried binoculars and whose job was to point out targets. I had an ammo bearer who carried a tripod and extra boxes of ammunition.
I couldn’t remember the last time I played hopscotch; in fact, I couldn’t remember how to play hopscotch, but of course I told her I had no problem Googling how that particular game worked. I could lead a damn good game of hopscotch if that’s what was needed to boost morale. A mantra pounded into my skull in the army was, “You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it.”
After this I was asked a series of questions about why I was perfect for the job. Again, with a smile — which physically hurt my face, because I hardly ever smile — I told them I loved people, I loved working with people, and I loved interacting with people. Making sure other people are happy makes me happy, I said. It makes life fulfilling.
I had come prepared with a list of fun group activities, such as boxing lessons at the gym I go to on Polk Street and happy-hour events at the 21 Club. I offered to bring in my old battalion commander to give motivational speeches, and I even offered to set up a company Twitter account where I’d Tweet stuff throughout the day like, “Hey guys! Come and get it! There’s some kick-ass dim sum in the break room popping off right now!” Or “Stick around after work today because we’ve got some Girl Scouts coming in with bomb-ass cookies to peddle!” A Twitter feed would show other tech companies just how much fun we were having.
I never got around to sharing these ideas, because the woman abruptly ended the interview and said their CEO was on vacation. We’ll call to schedule a follow-up, she told me.
I left the interview in defeat, sure I’d never hear from her again, but a couple of days later she called to schedule a follow-up. They said they liked me and that they liked my answers; I couldn’t believe it.
This time, I met with the CEO. He was about my age and dressed as if he was wearing laundry left on the floor the night before. He started the interview by thanking me for my service and said he was looking to give thanks by hiring a veteran. I knew this was bullshit — he was just looking for a tax break — but I nodded and smiled.
I expressed to this guy how there was nothing in life I wanted more than this job. Which was true. This job would have been one of the best things that happened to me. I remember when I told my mental health physician at the VA how I sometimes stayed in my room alone for days staring blankly at the wall, thinking, “What’s the point?” She advised me to get out and talk to other people, say hi to the cashier at the grocery store, ask how their day was going. Or, if nothing else, I should force myself to hang out in coffee shops and participate in group activities that didn’t include dive bars and alcohol. This job would be perfect for me because I’d be forced to socialize with people all fucking day. I had to have it.
A couple of days after this interview, I received an email from HR that read, “Thank you, but we’ve decided to go in a different direction with this position.” I understood, but for a while I always wondered, what if?
Now that I work a job where an app on my phone tells me to pick up people and drive them from point A to point B, I no longer think about that job. During my drives, I’ve realized a couple of things about the city. One is that we’re all vibe coordinators. You either work in tech, talk about tech, cater to tech, or, like me, you drive tech around town. It’s about keeping the vibe right. After all, if they’re happy, you’re happy.
Some ailing veterans can now use their federal health care benefits at CVS “MinuteClinics” to treat minor illnesses and injuries, under a pilot program announced April 18 by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The new program, currently limited to the Phoenix area, comes three years after the VA faced allegations of chronically long wait times at its centers, including its Phoenix facility, which treats about 120,000 veterans.
Veterans would not be bound by current restrictions under the VA’s Choice program, which limits outside care to those who have been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment or have to drive more than 40 miles to a facility. Instead, Phoenix VA nurses staffing the medical center’s help line will be able to refer veterans to MinuteClinics for government-paid care when “clinically appropriate.”
On April 19, President Donald Trump plans to sign legislation to temporarily extend the $10 billion Choice program until its money runs out, pending the administration’s plan due out by fall. That broader plan would have to be approved by Congress.
“Our number one priority is getting veterans’ access to care when and where they need it,” said Baligh Yehia, the VA’s deputy undersecretary for health for community care. “The launch of this partnership will enable VA to provide more care for veterans in their neighborhoods.”
Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., a long-time advocate of veterans’ expanded access to private care, lauded the new initiative as an “important step forward.”
“Veterans in need of routine health care services should not have to wait in line for weeks to get an appointment when they can visit community health centers like MinuteClinic to receive timely and convenient care,” he said.
The Veterans Health Administration said it opted to go with a CVS partnership in Phoenix after VA officials there specifically pushed for the additional option. They cited the feedback of local veterans and the success of a smaller test run with CVS last year in Palo Alto, Calif.
Shulkin has said he wants to expand private-sector partnerships in part by looking at wait times and the particular medical needs of veterans in different communities. Successful implementation of his broader plan will depend on the support of key members of Congress such as McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee.
The VA did not indicate whether it received requests from other VA medical centers or how quickly it might expand the program elsewhere.
The current Choice program was developed after the 2014 scandal in Phoenix in which some veterans died, yet the program has often encountered long waits of its own. The bill being signed by Trump seeks to alleviate some of the problems by helping speed up VA payments and promote greater sharing of medical records. Shulkin also has said he wants to eliminate Choice’s 30-day, 40 mile restrictions, allowing the VA instead to determine when outside care is “clinically needed.”
Despite a heavy spotlight on its problems, the Phoenix facility still grapples with delays. Only 61 percent of veterans surveyed said they got an appointment for urgent primary care when they needed it, according to VA data.
Maureen McCarthy, the Phoenix VA’s chief of staff, welcomed the new CVS partnership but acknowledged a potential challenge in providing seamless coordination to avoid gaps in care. She said a veteran’s medical record will be shared electronically, with MinuteClinic providing visit summaries to the veteran’s VA primary care physician so that the VA can provide follow-up services if needed.
The VA previously experimented with a similar program last year in the smaller market of Palo Alto, a $330,000 pilot to provide urgent care at 14 MinuteClinics. CVS says it’s pleased the VA has opted to test out a larger market and says it’s ready to roll the program out nationally if successful.
CVS, the biggest player in pharmacy retail clinics, operates more than 1,100 of them in 33 states and the District of Columbia.
“We believe in the MinuteClinic model of care and are excited to offer our health care services as one potential solution for the Phoenix VA Health Care System and its patients,” said Tobias Barker, chief medical officer of CVS MinuteClinic.