The United States Army Air Force’s daylight bombing campaign in Europe involved thousands of bombers, and tens of thousands of crewmen. While there were pilots, crew chiefs, radiomen, bombardiers, and navigators on planes like the B-17, about 40 percent of the crew were aerial gunners.
What did it take to get these specialists ready? In some ways, it didn’t take long – maybe a few weeks. But these gunners had to learn a lot. Maintenance of their machine guns was vitally important. But they also had to learn to hit a moving target – because the Nazi fighters trying to shoot the bombers down were not going to make things easy for them.
So, what did it take to teach gunners how to hit a moving target? Well, for starters, there were lessons on maintenance for both a .30-caliber machine gun (mostly used early in the war) and the M2 .50-caliber machine gun, and how fix them when they jammed. Then, they had to learn how bullets traveled downrange, and how to adjust for the drop of the bullets from the guns.
When that was done, the trainees were started on full-auto BB guns at an indoor range. Once that was mastered, they then did a lot of skeet shooting with 12-gauge shotguns.
Yep, a popular shooting sport was used to train the folks whose job involved keeping Nazi fighters from shooting down a bomber with ten airmen on board.
The training went on to include live-fire of the machine guns, as well as how the turrets used on planes like the B-17 and B-24 worked. Aircraft recognition — including knowing an enemy fighter’s wingspan — was also very important.
Following that, they took to the air, and learned how to fire the guns while wearing the gear they’d need on board a bomber – including a life vest, parachute, and the helmet.
B-17 gunners wearing bulky sheep-shearling flying clothing to protect against the deadly cold at the altitudes typically flown in Europe. At 25,000 feet, the temperature could drop below -60 degrees Fahrenheit. (U.S. Air Force photo)
As you can imagine, this included a lot of learning and skills to master. You can see an introductory video for aerial gunners made during World War II below.
When a country needs to replace increasingly obsolete fighters but can’t afford to buy new ones from the manufacturer, getting them second-hand is always an option. Croatia has found themselves in that very boat recently while seeking to upgrade their air force.
A MiG-21 Fishbed with the Croatian Air Force. These aircraft were left after the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Wikimedia Commons photo by Tomislav Haraminčić
According to a report by Agence France Presse, they found a solution in the form of 12 Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Israeli Air Force. The total cost of this deal was €403 million, nearly 0 million USD. That might seem pricey, but it’s a great deal when compared to the 5 million per new F-16 that Iraq paid, according to a 2011 Time Magazine report.
This Israeli F-16A shot down six and a half enemy planes and took part in the 1981 Osirak reactor strike. Israel retired these planes in 2015, but some will have new life in Croatia.
Wikimedia Commons photo by Zachi Evenor
Israel’s used Falcons provide a cheap upgrade
Currently, the Croatian Air Force has 12 MiG-21 Fishbed fighters on inventory. The Fishbed entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1959. Almost 11,500 Fishbeds were produced by the USSR and the plane was widely exported, seeing service with dozens of countries, including Vietnam, North Korea, Serbia, and Iraq. The MiG-21 is equipped with a twin-barrel 23mm cannon as well as AA-2 Atoll and AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missiles. It has a top speed of 1,381 miles per hour and an unrefueled range of 741 miles.
Compared to the newer F-16, the Fishbed looks like ancient technology. An Air Force fact sheet reports that the F-16 Fighting Falcon has a top speed of 1,500 miles per hour and a maximum range of over 2,000 miles. The F-16 is capable of carrying out a wide variety of missions. While the AFP report did not state which model of F-16s Israel is selling to Croatia, GlobalSecurity.org notes that Israel retired its force of F-16A/B models in 2015.
Not Israel’s first used plane sale
This is not the first time that Israel has sold off old warplanes. Argentina bought IAI Nesher fighters from Israel that saw action in the Falklands War. Additionally, a private company acquired former Israeli Air Force A-4s, which will soon see action in a multi-national exercise hosted by the Netherlands.
Already planning that special family getaway for next summer? If you’re thinking Disney World might be a little too expensive for your family, think again. Not only does the Magic Kingdom want more visits from more troops, but they’ve even created a special VIP place inside the kingdom just for American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and yes, Coast Guardsmen.
It’s a place for all shades of green and as a matter of fact, they call it Shades of Green.
Situated between two golf courses, now everyone who stays at Shades of Green can feel like they’re really in the Air Force for just a little while. Military members and their families can get discounts on food, stays, and park admission while staying here too – and it’s all just a stones throw away from the Disney World parks. The newly-renovated hotel area even has a direct walkway to the park. It is the only Armed Forces Recreation Center located in the continental United States and room rates are based on rank, starting with the lowest rates for E-1 to E-6 military personnel.
Before you start booking, be sure to check the resort’s eligibility requirements. To stay at Shades of Green, you must be an active duty service member, a retired service member, a surviving spouse, or a 100 percent service-connected disabled veteran. There are more categories to list but if you’re unsure, check out the eligibility requirements before you book. Sorry, regular vets with an honorable discharge. That’s not enough to stay on the Disney World AFRC any time you want. But through the Salute to Veterans program, honorably discharged vets can stay during the months of January and September.
Sure beats Minot in September.
If you’re wondering if January and September are worth the wait, keep in mind that Shades of Green has a great place in the area near Walt Disney World, very close to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and sits right between two PGA-level golf courses. Besides the pools, spas, and restaurants that one would expect at a Disney World Resort, the Shades of Green Resort also boasts Princess and Pirate Makeovers for the kids, arcades, tennis courts, and playgrounds (just in case the kids have a lot of extra energy to burn at the end of the day).
For the adults, the resorts boasts world-class bars and restaurants, along with a giant outlet mall filled with 50 different retail brand names. To top it all off, the resort even has an AAFES Exchange store, where you can still use your military benefits to get tax-free items for every day as well as Disney souvenirs.
Since the Shades of Green is a DoD Morale, Welfare, and Recreation facility, all proceeds from the resort go right back into keeping the facilities up and expanding its offerings.
Aside from the usual military discounts and benefits, the reasons for staying at Shades of Green are many. The resort’s rooms are larger than most other resorts on the Disney World Complex and the rooms are exempt from the Hotel Tax imposed on all other rooms in Florida and beyond. The best part is, the agreement between the DoD and Disney means that the rooms’ quality must meet Disney standards, so you aren’t staying in some forgotten lodging room somewhere. Also included are access to Disney FastPass services and Extra Magic Hours, and the monorail is just a short hike away from nearby Polynesian Springs.
So now there’s no excuse not to go to Disney World. You don’t even have to leave behind the comforts of the base or post when AAFES and MWR are traveling with you.
At the College of San Mateo this year, Kaplan University sponsored the Wounded Warrior Amputee vs. NFL Alumni Flag Football game prior to Super Bowl 50. The flag football game is a chance for these veterans to compete together against NFL greats, to raise awareness, and inspire their audience with their determination. Kaplan University proudly supports the Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team, a team made up of service members who were injured in the line of duty, in their drive to inspire their fans and prove their ability to go above and beyond all expectations.
So, the American warfighter is one of the most technologically advantaged warriors in history.
But we could still make it better, right? No one wants a fair fight in war, and nature is full of animal superpowers that would give the U.S. a greater advantage.
Here are four that might be on the way:
1. Snow fox rangefinder
Snow foxes have achieved internet fame recently for their “built-in compass” that makes them more successful in hunting mice under the snow or dirt when they strike at a small range of compass directions to the northeast of their position.
But it’s not exactly a built-in compass, it’s more of a range finder. This Discovery Blog article does a good job of explaining it, but the snow fox can basically sense disturbances at a fixed distance from them along a fixed direction. This allows them to much more accurately sense the exact range of the mouse from their position and attack with precision.
As for targeting enemy forces that aren’t actively engaging them, soldiers still have to spot the enemy and either guess, hit them with a laser rangefinder, or compare the enemy positions to their position on a map and do the math. No magic hunting powers are on the table yet.
There are still software limits, though. Someone will have to teach the mechanical noses what elements are present one, two, or eight days after an enemy infantry patrol passes a given point or a fuel point has been disbanded.
The short answer is maybe. Troops currently can see infrared energy through bulky optics, but there’s a possibility for contact lenses that sense infrared radiation. Because it’s tied to ultraviolet detection, it’s explained at the end of entry 4, below.
4. Jumping spider and bat eyes that see four primary colors
Yes. Four of them. We are told that the three primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. But that’s not exactly true. Red, yellow, and blue correspond with specific wavelengths of light that stimulate humans’ three kinds of color receptors. Human corneas filter out light in another, otherwise visible band, ultraviolet. Some bats and spiders can see this band.
Soldiers who can see UV light would have much better night vision with none of the “tunneling” of most NV goggles. They would also be able to see insects better, helping troops avoid them, and fingerprints, helping with site exploitation.
Is it coming?
Maybe. The major technology breakthroughs have already come thanks to graphene, which can be used to make “ultra-broadband” photoreceptors. Basically, sensors that can detect infrared energy, visible light, and UV rays and combine them into one final image.
Best of all, graphene is thin enough that the possibility exists to make these receptors into contact lenses. But no one has currently commissioned graphene contact lenses for the troops. Still, fingers crossed.
With its precision, stealth, long-range capability and payload capacity, the B-2 Spirit is one of the most versatile airframes in the Air Force’s inventory. The combination of its unique capabilities enables global reach and allows the Air Force to bypass the enemy’s most sophisticated defenses.
The B-2 Spirit’s low-observable, or stealth, characteristics give it the ability to penetrate an enemy’s most sophisticated defenses and threaten its most valued, and heavily defended targets. Its ability to penetrate air defenses and threaten effective retaliation provides a strong deterrent and combat capability to the Air Force well into the 21st century.
The revolutionary blending of low-observable technologies with high aerodynamic efficiency and large payload capacity gives the B-2 important advantages over existing bombers. Its low observability provides greater freedom of action at high altitudes, increasing its range and providing a better field of view for aircraft sensors. Its unrefueled range is approximately 6,000 nautical miles.
The B-2’s low observability is derived from a combination of reduced infrared, acoustic, electromagnetic, visual and radar signatures. These signatures make it difficult for the sophisticated defensive systems to detect, track and engage the B-2. Many aspects of the low-observability process remain classified; however, the B-2’s composite materials, special coatings and flying-wing design all contribute to its stealth attributes.
The B-2 Spirit is a multi-role bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions.
(US Air Force photo by Gary Ell)
The first B-2 was publicly displayed Nov. 22, 1988, in Palmdale, California and flew for the first time on July 17, 1989. The B-2 Combined Test Force at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, was responsible for flight testing, engineering, manufacturing and developing the B-2.
Whiteman AFB, Missouri, is the only operational base for the B-2. The first aircraft, Spirit of Missouri, was delivered Dec. 17, 1993. Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, is responsible for managing the B-2’s maintenance.
The B-2’s combat effectiveness and mettle was proved in Operation Allied Force, where it was responsible for destroying 33 percent of all Serbian targets in the first eight weeks, flying nonstop from Whiteman AFB to Kosovo and back.
In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the B-2 flew one of its longest missions to date from Whiteman AFB to Afghanistan and back. The B-2 completed its first-ever combat deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, flying 22 sorties from a forward operating location, 27 sorties from Whiteman AFB and releasing more than 1.5 million pounds of munitions.
A B-2 Spirit drops Joint Direct Attack Munitions separation test vehicles over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Aug. 8, 2003.
(US Air Force photo)
The aircraft received full operational capability status in December 2003. On Feb. 1, 2009, Air Force Global Strike Command assumed responsibility for the B-2 from Air Combat Command.
On Jan. 18, 2017, two B-2s attacked an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria training camp 19 miles southwest of Sirte, Libya, killing more than 80 militants. The B-2s dropped 108 500-pound precision-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition bombs. These strikes were followed by an MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle firing Hellfire missiles. The 34-hour-round-trip flight from Whiteman AFB was made possible with 15 aerial refuelings conducted by KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender crews from five different bases.
A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing refuels a U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit from the 509th Bomb Wing during a mission that targeted Islamic State training camps in Libya, Jan. 18, 2017.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton)
After getting pulled from theater in 2010, the B-2s rejoined the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-1B Lancer in continuous rotations to Andersen AFB, Guam, in 2016. The Continuous Bomber Presence mission, established in 2004, provides significant rapid global strike capability demonstrating U.S. commitment to deterrence. The mission also offers assurance to U.S. allies and strengthens regional security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Bomber rotations also provide the Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Pacific Command global strike capabilities and extended deterrence against any potential adversary while also strengthening regional alliances and long-standing military-to-military partnerships throughout the region.
U.S. military members stand with players of the Kansas City Royals during a military recognition ceremony at Kauffman Stadium as a B-2 Spirit performs a flyover, Kansas City, Mo., Sept. 11, 2018.
(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel)
Did you know
The B-2 can fly 6,000 nautical miles unrefueled and 10,000 nautical miles with just one aerial refueling, giving it the ability to fly to any point in the globe within hours.
The B-2 has a crew of two pilots—a pilot in the left seat and mission commander in the right, compared to the B-1B’s crew of four and the B-52’s crew of five.
13th Bomb Squadron established in 2005.
393rd Bomb Squadron established in 1993.
Both squadrons are located at Whiteman AFB and fall under Air Force Global Strike Command.
Primary function: multi-role heavy bomber
Contractor: Northrop Grumman Corp.
Contractor Team: Boeing Military Airplanes Co., Hughes Radar Systems Group, General Electric Aircraft Engine Group and Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc.
Power plant: four General Electric F118-GE-100 engines
Thrust: 17,300 pounds each engine
Wingspan: 172 feet
Length: 69 feet (20.9 meters)
Height: 17 feet (5.1 meters)
Weight: 160,000 pounds (72,575 kilograms)
Maximum takeoff weight: 336,500 pounds (152,634 kilograms)
Fuel capacity: 167,000 pounds (75750 kilograms)
Payload: 40,000 pounds (18,144 kilograms)
Speed: high subsonic
Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
Armament: conventional or nuclear weapons
Crew: two pilots
Unit cost: Approximately id=”listicle-2626058834″.157 billion (fiscal 1998 constant dollars)
Initial operating capability: April 1997
Inventory: active force: 20 (1 test)
Maximum speed: Mach 0.95 (550 knots, 630 mph, 1,010 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet altitude
Cruise speed: Mach 0.85 (487 knots, 560 mph, 900 kilometers per hour) at 40,000 feet altitude
Range: 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 kilometers (6,900 miles))
Service ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,200 meters)
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
Humans have a long history of being creative with their weapons. Necessity is the mother of invention, and there’s no necessity greater than not dying because you can’t shoot back. As a result, humans have come up with more than their share of surprising weapon systems – with varying degrees of success.
The tround, short for triangular round, was designed by David Dardick in the mid-1950s for use in his open-chamber line of weapons. It may sound strange, but the open cylinder allowed rounds to be fed into the weapon via the side as opposed to the front or rear. But the real draw was that triangular rounds would allow a weapon’s user to carry fifty percent more ammunition in a case.
Trounds also allowed for different cartridges to be used in place of the tround ammo, where the triangular casings were used as chamber adapters.
The gyrojet weapon was developed by an engineer who worked at Los Alamos who was trying to scale down the bazooka concept to create an antitank weapon that was also compact. The gyrojet was a rocket launcher shaped like a gun firing ammunition that actually accelerated as it got further from the weapon.
It had no recoil, could be fired underwater, and could penetrate armor at 100 yards. The only problem was that its accuracy was so terrible that hitting anything at 100 yards was problematic.
The Puckle Gun was an early development in the history of automatic weapons. It was a single-barreled flintlock weapon that was designed to keep boarders from getting onto another ship. The weapon was never actually used in combat, but it featured two rounds of ammunition; circular rounds for fighting Christians and square bullets for shooting Muslims, because square bullets apparently cause more damage. According to the patent, its purpose was to “convince the Turks of the benefits of Christian civilization.”
Lazy Dog missiles
What you see is what you get with the lazy dog ammo. There’s no cartridge, no propellant, no explosive – just a solid piece of metal attached to fins. They were dropped from high altitudes en masse and by the time they reached the ground were able to penetrate light armor.
Over 200 vehicles provided to the Afghan government by the United States have fallen into the hands of the Taliban in Badakhshan province. That shocking claim comes from a former Afghan intelligence chief who claims that the vehicles include High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles.
“We lost 200 Humvees and Rangers in two or three months as the result of incompetence. Imagine what has happened to the people in those two or three months,” Rahmatullah Nabi told TOLO News. Faisal Bigzad, the governor of Badakhshan province, has urged that NATO assist the Afghan government by destroying the stolen vehicles.
The story might sound familiar for another reason. Humvees and other vehicles provided to the Iraqi government were captured by ISIS when the terrorist group seized control of portions of Iraq. American air strikes have since destroyed some of that equipment. However, ISIS and the Taliban aren’t the first American enemies to get their dirty mitts on American military gear.
Artists rendering of the capture of the USS Chesapeake. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Way back in the War of 1812, several American vessels, including the frigates USS Essex, USS Chesapeake, and USS President were among those captured by the British in the fighting. The U.S. Navy, of course, captured or sank a number of British ships as well.
At the end of the Age of Sail, the Civil War saw some American ships captured. Most famous was the USS Merrimac, which was repurposed into the ironclad CSS Virginia. But the USS United States, one of the original six frigates ordered in 1797, was also captured by the Confederacy and briefly used until it was scuttled.
In World War II, Japan captured the four-stack destroyer USS Stewart (DD 224). The Stewart had fought in the Dutch East Indies campaign in January and February 1942 before being damaged. As Japanese forces neared, Allied personnel used demolition charges to try to scuttle her.
Despite the scuttling attempt and a hit from a Japanese bomber, the Stewart’s wreck was captured and the Japanese fixed her up and put her into service as Patrol Boat 102. The ship would be notable for assisting the sub chaser CD 22 in sinking the USS Harder (SS 257). After Japan surrendered, the old USS Stewart was recovered, although the name had already been assigned to an Edsall-class destroyer escort, DE 238. The ship was eventually sunk as a target.
Germany, though, takes the prize for its acquisition of American gear. Perhaps its most notable coup was the way the Luftwaffe was able to either capture or cobble together as many as 40 B-17 Flying Fortresses.
The captured planes were often used by Kampfgeschwader 200, sometimes for inserting agents or for reconnaissance. But some were used to infiltrate Allied bomber formations.
Even after World War II, American gear fell into enemy hands far too often. In 1975, a lot of American equipment fell into Communist hands when South Vietnam fell, including F-5E Tiger IIs, C-130 Hercules and C-123 Provider transports, and A-37 Dragonfly attack planes.
In 2005, Hugo Chavez threatened to give China and Cuba F-16 Falcons that the United States had sold to Venezuela in the 1980s. The Soviet Union acquired an F-14 Tomcat from an Iranian defector. In 2006, Marines in Iraq killed a sniper team of two insurgence who were trying to carry out a sniper attack, and recovered a M40A1 sniper rifle that had been lost in a 2004 ambush.
American gear falling into enemy hands is not new — there has been a long history of that happening in the past. Infuriatingly, it will happen in the future, despite the best efforts of American military personnel.
In the mid-1930s, baseball players Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Moe Berg (with a few others) formed an all-star group of baseball players who went on a goodwill tour of Japan to play some exhibition games. Ruth and Gehrig were already legends. Berg was a scholar with a degree from Princeton and a law degree from Columbia. He also spoke seven languages. But he wasn’t a baseball legend. He was a third-string catcher when he departed for Japan, and that visit might have changed the world forever.
World travel was in Berg’s blood. After his first season with the team that would become the Brooklyn Dodgers, he spent time in Paris, studying at the Sorbonne. He toured Italy and Switzerland during the next year’s offseason, instead of working on his game. He was transferred to the Midwest. He improved slightly and moved up to the White Sox, where he moved from shortstop to catcher. It was as a catcher that he traveled to Japan to teach seminars on baseball.
Ruth and Gehrig came with Berg on his second trip to Japan. He spoke Japanese and addressed the Japanese legislature with a welcome speech. While the all-stars were playing an exhibition in Omiya, Japan, Berg went to Saint Luke’s Hospital in Tsukiji, to visit the daughter of American ambassador Joseph Grew. Except he never saw Grew’s daughter. Berg’s language ability allowed him to talk his way onto the roof of the hospital. Once there, he used the 16mm film camera given to him by MovietoneNews to record his trip, to instead record the city and its harbor.
Berg’s footage was used by American intelligence agents to plan bombing runs over Tokyo during the coming Second World War, including the Doolittle Raid. Berg started the war monitoring the health and fitness of U.S. troops stationed in the Caribbean and South America for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. In 1943, he was recruited by “Wild” Bill Donovan into the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the American CIA.
Berg was dropped into Yugoslavia to assess the strength of Chetniks loyal to King Peter and the Communist partisans led by Josip Broz Tito. His assessment of Tito’s superiority led to the U.S. support for Tito. Berg also was assigned to assassinate German nuclear scientist Werner Heisenberg if the Germans were working on the atomic bomb. Berg determined the Germans would not be able to develop the bomb before war’s end and let Heisenberg live.
Moe Berg was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1945 but turned it down. His war service changed Berg forever. Often described as “strange,” he appeared to his friends to be more comfortable alone with books than around people. Moe Berg never told anyone what he did as a spy. When asked, he would just put his finger to his lips, as if that part of his life were a secret. He tried spying on the burgeoning Russian nuclear program for the CIA but returned little information and his contract was not renewed. He lived with relatives for the rest of his quiet life. After his death in 1972, his sister accepted the Medal of Freedom on his behalf.
Moscow has for the first time test-fired its Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile outside the Russian soil during a drill in Tajikistan, targeting a simulated terrorist camp located 15 kilometers from the Tajik-Afghan border.
Colonel Yaroslav Roshchupkin, an aide to the commander of Russia’s Central Military District, made the announcement on June 1 in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in the administrative center of Sverdlovsk Oblast.
Roshchupkin added that Uragan (Hurricane) rockets were also used in the joint military exercise named Dushanbe-Antiterror 2017 from May 30 to June 1 in Tajikistan.
Russia’s show of missile readiness took place amid mounting concerns over the deployment by the US Air Force of long-range nuclear-capable B-52 Stratofortress bombers and 800 airmen to the UK in support of joint exercises with NATO allies and partners taking place across Europe in June.
The NATO exercises are to take place near Russia in the Baltic Sea, the Arctic and along Russia’s border with several NATO partners.
On June 1, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated the expansion of US missile systems across the world is a “challenge” to his country and necessitates Moscow’s response in the form of a military build-up in the region.
The Russian president also warned against the negative impact of Sweden’s potential NATO membership on bilateral Moscow- Stockholm ties.
He said Russia will have to take additional security measures should Sweden join the Western military alliance.
“If Sweden joins NATO, it will negatively affect our relations because it will mean that NATO facilities will be set up in Sweden so we will have to think about the best ways to respond to this additional threat,” Putin said, adding, “We will consider this [membership] as an additional threat for Russia and will search for the ways to eliminate it,” Putin added.
Watch the actual test launch of the Iskander-M missile during Russia’s recent anti-terror exercise.
Tonight NBC and IAVA are hosting the first-ever “Commander-in-Chief Forum” in the hangar bay of the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that’s now a museum docked at Pier 86 in midtown Manhattan. The forum will not be a debate, but rather a hybrid “town hall” event, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appearing separately in back-to-back 30-minute segments to answer questions posed by NBC personality Matt Lauer. The forum airs tonight at 8 PM EDT. (Check local listings for the NBC/MSNBC station in your area.)
The military community — particularly the active duty community — has a unique stake in the outcome of this election since the Constitution makes the President of the United States the Commander-in-Chief of the nation’s military and give him or her the power to take the nation to war. As a result, servicemembers would be well advised to exercise their right to vote and to be as informed as possible while doing so.
Here’s a quick look at some of the issues that will likely come up during the event:
1. Defense budget
The defense budget is a complex beast, worth over $600 billion in annual spending (as measured by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act). Wrapped into that are the costs of fighting the wars in Afghanistan and against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the acquisition programs for defense systems (aka “program of record”), manpower funding, and ancillary items like child care and spouse employment. But look for tonight’s discussion to be centered around the issue of “sequestration,” the law passed in 2012 as a deficit reduction measure that wound up targeting the Pentagon more than any other part of the government as a way to yield the desired outcome. The result, which threatens to cut DoD’s budget by nearly 25 percent over the next eight years, has been blamed for harming military readiness in myriad ways, including gutting the number of troops on active duty and creating the need for squadrons to “cannibalize” scrapped airplanes in order to stay airworthy.
Watch for Trump to call for an end to sequestration with the assertion that the necessary deficit reductions can be met by elimination of government waste. For her part, Clinton is likely to avoid committing to ending sequestration, instead focusing on how America needs to be more judicious about when and where troops should be deployed.
2. Vet healthcare
This has been a hot-button topic during the campaign season to date and is sure to dominate a large portion of the discussion tonight. The VA has been plaqued by scandals in recent years — everything from long wait times that resulted in vet patient deaths to claims backlogs in the hundred of thousands — and Secretary Bob McDonald, who was brought in because of his corporate business experience, has been frustrated by the slow pace of change within the agency even as he touts the accomplishments that have occured on his watch.
Solutions for the VA’s woes are incredibly complex and don’t make for good television, so watch for Lauer to admininster the litmus test to the candidates in the form of a question around how each of them feels about privatization, which is basically a plan to outsource many if not all of the functions to private medical entities. (A “Commission on Care” recently released a report that said privatization was a bad idea cost-wise and that vets who tried it hated it because they felt lost in the system.) Trump initially said he supported privatization but has since softened that position, favoring it only “when it makes sense.” Clinton is against privatization.
A possible x-factor on this topic is that Trump recently called VA Secretary McDonald “a political hack.” While Lauer probably won’t directly ask him whether he stands by that, watch for a more-cryptic version of that question.
3. Vet suicides
This topic is a subset of the one above. The latest statistics released by DoD are that 20 veterans a day commit suicide. Last year the Clay Hunt Act was passed by Congress to combat this trend, and it aims to do so in 3 major ways: Improve the quality of mental health care, improve access to quality mental health care, and to increase the number of mental health care providers.
4. Foreign policy (and war against ISIS)
Trump has used the threat of ISIS as a centerpiece of his campaign, claiming that the group’s rise is a function of President Obama’s perceived weakness across the world stage. Clinton, on the other hand, primarily as a function of her recent experience as Secretary of State, tends to be very granular in her answers when asked what the U.S. should do to combat the Islamic State.
This topic as much as any other illustrates the contrast between the candidates. Watch for Trump to avoid details and instead state in general terms how we have to be tougher and how he’ll take care of the problem very quickly and Clinton to get into the weeds, which, in turn, will give Trump fuel for his thesis that, for all of her knowledge, she’s failed to keep America safer during her time in government. Trump has stated that he’s unwilling to topple Syrian president Assad, while Clinton has said she is willing to do that.
The other threat Lauer might introduce is the one posed by China, especially in light of recent saber rattling in the western Pacific and President Obama’s poor treatment, protocol-wise, at the G-8 Summit. Trump has been very aggressive with his anti-China rhetoric on the campaign trail, particularly around trade practices and currency devaluation, so expect him to be similarly oriented tonight.
5. Vet education
This topic will most certainly take the form of a question about how the candidates feel about the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the comprehensive education benefit made into law in 2009 that was expanded to cover spouses and dependents and has proved to be expensive as a result. As lawmakers continue to fight budget battles on the Hill, some have recently made feints toward narrowing the extent of the GI Bill, and those efforts have been met with stiff resistance from IAVA and other veteran service organizations.
If the subject comes up, and it certainly should, watch for both candidates to strongly support the GI Bill.
6. Vet employment
As important as getting vets the education opportunities they deserve is providing them with rewarding jobs in keeping with their experience and talents. Michele Obama and Jill Biden founded “Hire Our Heroes,” an intiative sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that has created awareness if not actual jobs. Clinton has said she supports government programs aimed at assisting veterans, and Trump generally answers questions on the subject with the claim that he will bring jobs back from overseas, which will benefit all Americans, including veterans.
7. Homeland defense/immigration
Immigration isn’t necessarily a veteran topic, except as it deals with the 6,000 Afghan interpreters who worked closely with our troops during the war and now would like to immigrate to the United States with their families because they fear for their safety in their homeland. These Afghans — supported by the veterans who fought alongside them — have faced roadblocks in obtaining visas to enter America.
While this topic most likely won’t come up tonight during the CiC Forum, it would be interesting to see how each candidate responds between now and the election.
Clinton: Benghazi, private email server and classified documents, smashed Blackberrys . . .
Trump: McCain “not a hero,” Purple Heart gaff, Khan (Gold Star) family kerfuffle, Saddam the awesome terrorist fighter . . .
Have your opinion thrown into the mix tonight by taking the #MilitaryVotesMatter poll. #MilitaryVotesMatter is powered by MilitaryOneClick teamed up with We Are The Mighty, Doctrine Man, Got Your Six and a handful of influencers who want to provide a non-partisan confidential opportunity for the military and veteran community to have their voices heard by sharing where they currently stand in the presidential election. The poll is short and straightforward collecting information about which state they will vote in, what branch of service they are affiliated with, their current military status, and the candidate they intend to vote for.
Lt. Col. Allison Black, commander of the 319th Special Operations Squadron, became the first woman in her special ops navigator field. Now younger generations of airmen can take the same path while embarking on their own journey in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force video // Jimmy D. Shea)
Under the cover of night, then-1st Lt. Allison Black left her tent in Uzbekistan to walk to a preflight brief. Hours later, she’d be making history.
On this November night in 2001, the United States was hoping to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks two months earlier in New York City and Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon.
Flying over the skies of Afghanistan, Black, who is now a lieutenant colonel and the commander of the 319th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Florida, was the navigator on the AC-130H Spectre. As the navigator, she was charged with several duties, one of which was to be the single voice communicating from the aircraft to troops on the ground.
As the gunship fired everything it had upon the Taliban, expending 400 40 mm rounds and 100 105 mm rounds, the Northern Alliance leader, Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum (often referred in the media and around camp fires as “Dostum the Taliban killer”) heard Black’s voice communicating to the joint terminal attack controller on the ground to better understand where rounds need to be fired.
“He heard my voice and asked the special ops guys ‘Is that a woman?’ and they said ‘Yeah, it is,'” Black recalled. “He couldn’t believe it. So he’s laughing and says, ‘America is so determined, they’ve brought their women to kill Taliban.’ He calls the guys we’re shooting and says ‘You guys need to surrender now. American women are killing you … you need to surrender now.'”
The morning after that first mission, those remaining Taliban members surrendered.
“My first combat mission began the collapse of Taliban in the north,” said Black, who became the first female to be awarded the Air Force Combat Action Medal.
This operation would have looked different in 1992.
When Black joined the Air Force in 1992, females weren’t allowed to fly combat missions. That didn’t change until 1993, as the Air Force opened all but less than 1 percent of career fields to women, with the remainder scheduled to open up by early 2016.
At just over 5 feet tall, the Long Island, New York, native seeks and embraces challenges and doesn’t play for second place — a mindset that led her to the Air Force.
“The Air Force seemed to be the hardest service to get into. That got my attention,” Black said. Arriving at basic military training as an enlisted Airman, she was guaranteed a job in the medical career field. But her plans changed when a survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialist briefed Black’s flight on his career field and challenged the group of trainees to join SERE.
“I didn’t know how to chop down a tree, didn’t know how to kill a rabbit, didn’t know how to set a snare, but I was willing,” Black said. “It sounded challenging.”
After more than four years as a SERE instructor, including time as an arctic survival instructor, Black wanted another challenge.
Upon finishing her degree, Black earned a commission as a second lieutenant and headed off to become a navigator — a career field available on several airframes, including bombers and fighters.
There was just one airframe Black wanted: the gunship — specifically, the AC-130H gunship — so she could be on the main flight deck with the pilot, right in the thick of things.
But becoming an Airman, a SERE specialist, an officer and a navigator wasn’t enough — she wanted to join the elite Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).
“It was exciting. It’s special operations command. You’re in a small force, asked to do tough missions — missions that operate in the gray,” Black said.
Black didn’t realize it at the time, but when she arrived at the 16th Special Operations Squadron, then stationed at Hurlburt Field, she became the first female navigator in that unit and on the AC-130H.
“The thought of being the first was the furthest thing on my mind,” she said. “At that time, I was so focused on being really good at my job and not letting any naysayers get in my way.”
Not only was the milestone the furthest thing from her mind, but it was also something she didn’t want to be on anyone else’s mind either.
“I wasn’t trying to change anyone’s opinion on whether I should or shouldn’t be in a job,” Black said. “I wanted to be an asset. I wanted to be sought after. I wanted to be really good at what I did. I didn’t want to come in second; I wanted to be first.”
Each person defines success differently.
Black doesn’t define success by the medals on her chest or the oak sleeves on her shoulders.
“By not trying to make a statement, I think I found success. I didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t join the Air Force, I didn’t join SERE, and I didn’t join AFSOC to prove that women can do a job,” Black said. “I joined all those things because of the challenge and the career field and the sexy mission. And I just happen to be a woman doing it. And, fortunately, because of my successes, it brought more visibility to ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter if it’s a guy or a girl.'”
Paying it forward
“It wasn’t until years later … when I’d have young female or male Airmen tell me that my story was inspiring, that hearing what I was able to do in AFSOC gave them the confidence to raise their hands and go forward. It was humbling,” Black said.
Black remembers vividly a point in her career where it was clear that she needed to pay it forward.
After a speech to members from base, a female senior airman approached her and referenced the part of the presentation when Black said it has been possible to mother children while also being an Airman. The senior airman was about to get out of the Air Force because she didn’t have anyone telling her the same thing.
“She’s a senior master sergeant now, and we still keep in contact,” Black said.
Seeing these tangible results from telling her story, Black began to reach out even more.
“It’s second and third order effect that just at the virtue of me doing my job, it highlighted that women can succeed. It highlighted the opportunity for women: ‘Hey you’re going to be accepted. They’re going to respect what you bring to the fight,'” Black said.
When she arrived at AFSOC, she didn’t have a cadre of female navigators to offer her mentorship. What she did have were those she refers to as her everything: her husband, Ryan, who was also a SERE instructor, and a supply of male mentors who were all willing to help a teammate grow, regardless of which bathroom stall they use.
“All of the gentlemen I’ve worked for have equipped me with the skills to be a good leader. They gave me that opportunity to shine and to step up,” she said. “You’re judged on game day. You can practice every day of the week, but it’s what you do on Sunday that counts. And I don’t believe in ‘Everyone gets a trophy.”
A new generation
When Black joined the Air Force in 1992, her options looked a lot different than they do for female Airmen today. However, because of her success and the success of many others like her, there are more options in the Air Force for females than in any other service.
This success gave people like 1st Lt. Margaret Courtney many options and paths to walk — or even fly.
Just over two years ago, Courtney had the world on a string, with options in droves. The Baylor University graduate, who majored in neuroscience, managed to pass the Law School Admission Test while working at a mental health institution helping to rehabilitate individuals with drug dependencies. Her potential career paths were in no way limited.
But she wanted more. She wanted a bigger challenge even than graduating with a neuroscience degree and going to law school.
After talking to recruiters from three different branches of the military, and after pinging several friends and family members, Courtney noticed a trend.
“It’s funny — everyone who wasn’t in the Air Force recommended the Air Force,” Courtney said.
After commissioning as an officer and going through training to become a navigator, Courtney faced a decision — what airframe did she want to work on for the remainder of her Air Force career?
“I remember going through (navigator) training, and there are several airframes that require (combat systems officers). You’re going through those aircraft and imagining your life three to 10 years down the road,” Courtney said. “How different would my life look if I joined this community or that community?”
The number of opportunities the Air Force has given Courtney caught her off guard.
“It’s not too bad to be in your young 20’s and have basically limitless possibilities laid out in front of you. I’m like ‘Goodness gracious, let me look into it all,'” Courtney said. “I feel like I’m hitting this whole job and career at the sweet spot. I’ve had plenty of people ahead of me pave the way.”
Knowing what’s ahead for Courtney, Black is excited, and almost proud of the options female Airmen now have.
“It’s exciting — hearing about Lieutenant Courtney,” Black said. “I can’t help but to reflect on when I was a lieutenant and how excited I was to come to the mission, then, after 9/11, to go and fight. I’m excited for her, because I know she’s going to find the reward.”
Black doesn’t just see the past and the present, but the future keeps her motivation high, knowing the possibilities now out there for females in the Air Force.
“The success is that we don’t hear about it because they’re blended in,” said Black said of current female aircrew members. “They’re just people doing great things – male and female. That’s success.”
When Black arrived at Hurlburt in 2000, she was wide-eyed and ready to take on the world. She saw a fork in the road and committed to a direction, not knowing the path. Now that she’s traveled that path, she feels she has a responsibility to people like Courtney and other female Airmen.
“She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know,” said Black of Courtney, who’s even more wide-eyed than the prior-enlisted Black was at this stage in her AFSOC career. “That’s where people like me come in. Lt. Col. Megan Ripple is the director of (operations) at the 4th Special Operations Squadron. We arrived here at Hurlburt together. We are taking the initiative to reach out to these women to prepare them for deployment, to teach them all the things we didn’t know.”
Considering Courtney’s only job up until this point has been to learn and receive training, she’s growing more and more excited to fly this new path.
“I’m still trying to figure out how everything works,” said Courtney, who was recently assigned to the 4th SOS. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t wait to actually partake in it, and do what I’ve been training for. They want you to learn, they want you to train; they want to set you up for success. No one really cares where you’ve come from, what your rank is. They care about how much work you put into your job every day. If you’re competent and put forth the work, you get rewarded.”
Though there are some years between Black and Courtney, they noted a common mentality present when they joined the AFSOC community.
“I haven’t noticed if anyone cares about me being a girl or not,” Courtney said. “They care about how good you are at what you do, and if you care or not, and if you take pride in your work.”
Letting your work speak for itself is a welcome reality for Courtney.
“It’s definitely a relief that you’re judged based on the quality of your work, and nothing else,” Courtney said, pointing out that the impact of the mission is way too important to care about the irrelevant. “AFSOC is pretty open about it. The game we play is life or death.”
There’s a very good reason Audie Murphy is one of the most decorated veterans to every wear the US Army uniform.
Murphy was born on June 20, 1925 in Texas. His family was extremely poor, partially due to having twelve young mouths to feed. When his father abandoned the family when Audie was fifteen years old, he was forced to pick up some of the slack by hunting and doing what work he could to keep food on the table. Unfortunately, his mother died just a year after his father left.
Shortly thereafter, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Audie attempted to join the various branches of the U.S. military but was turned down in each case owing to his age and diminutive stature -five and a half feet tall (1.66 meters) and weighing only about 100 pounds (45 kg).
About seven months later, just ten days after he turned seventeen, he tried again. Having gained some weight (getting up to a whopping 112 pounds / 50.8 kg) and with falsified testimony from his sister claiming he was actually 18, this time Audie was able to get into the army. He was then shipped off to North Africa and later deployed to Sicily.
Despite his small size, Murphy proved to be a phenomenal soldier. In 1944, after witnessing the death of a friend during Operation Dragoon, he charged a group of German soldiers, took over their machine guns and other weapons, and proceeded to take out the other enemy soldiers within range using their own artillery. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day, the first of many medals.
During another battle shortly after this, to cover retreating Allied soldiers, he jumped onto a tank that had been hit and was on fire, exposing himself to the advancing enemy soldiers. Why did he put himself in such an exposed position on a tank that could potentially explode at any minute? There was a .50 caliber machine gun on the tank.
As Private Anthony Abramski said of the event,
It was like standing on top of a time bomb … he was standing on the TD chassis, exposed to enemy fire from his ankles to his head and silhouetted against the trees and the snow behind him.
Nevertheless, over the course of the next hour, he held off six German tanks and several waves of enemy soldiers, who were all trying desperately to take out the little American who was the only thing in their way at that point. He only retreated when he ran out of ammo. Once this happened, having sustained a leg wound and completely exhausted, Audie said in his book To Hell and Back,
I slide off the tank destroyer and, without once looking back, walk down the road through the forest. If the Germans want to shoot me, let them. I am too weak from fear and exhaustion to care.
Despite the leg wound, as soon as he caught up with his retreating soldiers who had now re-formed, he turned them around and managed to reclaim a stretch of forest from German occupation. According to the official report, in that battle, he killed or severely wounding at least fifty German soldiers by himself. For this act of bravery and for “indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground [saving] his company from possible encirclement and destruction…” he was awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor.
He rose through the ranks and was a captain when he was pulled out of the war in 1945. All in all, he earned 33 awards and decorations for his exemplary service during the war. He was just 20 years old at the time and, as one movie critic later put it, knew more of death than he did of life.
When Murphy returned from the war, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that often went undiagnosed at the time. After being featured on the cover of Life magazine, he found himself in Hollywood without work, sleeping in rough conditions. He caught his big break in 1949 when he starred in the film Bad Boy. That same year, he released the aforementioned autobiography titled To Hell and Back, which topped the bestseller charts. He went on to star as himself in a movie with the same title in 1955; it was Universal’s top-grossing film for nearly 20 years until Jaws usurped it.
Acting seemed to suit him. He made no less than 44 feature films while he was in Hollywood, many of them westerns, and also filmed a 26-episode western TV series called Whispering Smith, which aired in 1961 on NBC. It was criticised for being too violent, however, and cancelled after just 20 episodes were aired.
A man of many talents, Murphy also dabbled in poetry and song-writing as well as horse breeding and racing. Thanks to his earnings from acting, he was able to purchase a ranch in Texas. He was living an incredibly comfortable life, far grander than what he had known as a child.
Yet all was not well with Murphy. Back to his post traumatic stress disorder, he became dependent on sleeping pills to combat the insomnia he experienced after the war. Realizing he had become addicted to them, he locked himself in a motel room for a week, while he worked through the withdrawal symptoms. He ended up beating the addiction and went on to break the taboo of talking about the mental disorders many soldiers suffered when they returned home. His willingness to do so opened up discussions about psychological care for veterans upon their return to the US.
Murphy ended up marrying twice, divorcing his first wife after just two years, and having two sons with his second wife. He appeared to be happy with his family, with more than enough money in the bank to keep them comfortable (though he squandered much of it on gambling in his later years); had acted in dozens of movies; and had amazing war stories to tell his grandkids about. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get to that stage of his life.
On May 28, 1971, Murphy was in a private plane flying on a business trip from Atlanta, Georgia to Martinsville, Virginia. The weather conditions were less than ideal: rain and fog shortened the pilot’s visibility considerably, and he had a questionable instrument rating. He called in to the Roanoke, Virginia airport to say that he would be landing shortly due to poor conditions. The plane, carrying five passengers including Murphy, never landed in the Roanoke Valley. It crashed into Brush Mountain twenty miles away, close to Blacksburg. Everyone in the crash was killed. Murphy was just 45 years old. The site of the crash has since been turned into a monument, and in the 1990s, the Appalachian Trail was rerouted to go past it.
That wasn’t quite the end for Murphy, though. After a funeral in Arlington Cemetery, where his grave remains the second most visited (after Kennedy’s), he was posthumously awarded his final medal, the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor. It was presented to his last remaining sister, Nadine Murphy, on October 29, 2013 by Governor Rick Perry.