Sometimes you just know something’s not right. You feel a twinge in the pit of your gut, a growing sense of uneasiness, and you start to notice things that you wouldn’t normally notice. Is that guy acting weird or am I just being paranoid? You ask yourself before dismissing the thought. Come on, nothing’s gonna happen in this neighborhood.
Despite the headlines saturating every media outlet in the country, the United States is (statistically speaking) an overwhelmingly safe place to live. Regardless of our ever-present concerns about violent crime, mass shootings, and terror attacks, the likelihood that you’ll find yourself faced with a violent end are far lower than you’ll find throughout much of the world… and as a result, Americans are at a disadvantage when it comes to cultivating a high level of situational awareness.
Instead, Americans tend to develop what’s called a normalcy bias. Put simply, normalcy bias is our natural inclination to shrug away concerns about potential threats, because we’ve developed a deep-seated sense of what’s normal.
I’m sure these guys are just waiting for an Uber.
(Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Shejal Pulivarti, US Army)
Our minds are evolutionarily hard-wired to assess and prioritize risks, and after decades of living in a world where you’ve never faced an active shooter or a terror attack, our brains tend to file those potential threats way in the back, after more pressing concerns like crashing our cars or falling down the stairs. The sheer unlikelihood that we could find ourselves in the middle of a fight for our lives just tends to make us ignore those fights until they’ve already landed right in our laps.
Normalcy bias manifests as a delay in our processing of what’s going on around us, as we hush away our gut instincts and dismiss our seemingly “unfounded” concerns as paranoia. In a nutshell, it’s our way of clinging to reality as we’ve come to know it through a lifetime of nervous twinges that we’ve ignored, followed by confirmations that we were safe. Those times you hesitated before dragging your trash can through the dark alley behind your house growing up helped you to overcome a fear of the dark, but also helped to establish a bias toward dismissing your concerns about what could be a threat.
Instead of dismissing your nervousness about dark alleys, listen to your gut and be objective about any potential threats.
That intellectual buffer is the source of normalcy bias. We discount concerns that seem unlikely and scold ourselves for being afraid of the dark, but those gut feelings are often actually the sum of a series of parts assembled subconsciously by the incredible, pattern recognizing computers we call our brains. The evidence of a threat may not be irrefutable, but something has our hair standing on end. We dismiss it as a product of our overactive imaginations and eventually, this even stalls our ability to process real evidence of threats; as they break through the cognitive barriers between what our lives have been to this point and what they are about to become.
Fortunately, there’s a simple way to overcome the mental inhibitors of normalcy bias: simply practice maintaining an objective mindset when it comes to threats. When you catch yourself dismissing concerns about a bulge in the waistband of the rowdy drunk at the bar or the chances something dangerous could be waiting for you at the other end of a dark alley, stop and put some real thought into your situation instead of allowing normalcy bias to silence the warning bells in your head.
I snapped this photo of the closest rooftop to us with my phone as we got out of dodge.
While in Alexandria, Egypt with my wife a few years ago, we were given a tour of a large building near the city’s port. As our tour reached the roof, our tour guide left us to enjoy the views and see ourselves out at our leisure, but before we could really take in the sights, I noticed a two-man sniper team perching themselves on a nearby roof. A bit further down the closed road to the port, I saw another team moving into position as well, and then another.. Chances were good that these guys were members of law enforcement preparing security for an arrival, or port security conducting training. Honestly, we’ll never know–because the minute I spotted what could be a sign of impending trouble, I made the decision that we were leaving.
I never heard any news about something terrible happening at that port in Alexandria that day, but as an American traveling overseas with my adorable (but not all that good in a fight) wife, I try my best to avoid situations that involve armed overwatch from guys that aren’t wearing Old Glory on their shoulders.
Overcoming normalcy bias isn’t about living in a constant state of paranoia, but rather about listening to your gut and making a rational decision. Sometimes the things we perceive as threats are nothing more than bumps in the night… but when those bumps in the night are caused by real people that mean you harm, it pays to trust your gut.
Ivan Safronov (right), adviser to the Roscosmos State Corporation General Director, remanded in custody for two months on suspicion of treason, leaves a hearing at Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court.
Russia has arrested a former journalist on a charge of high treason for allegedly passing military secrets to a NATO government in what some are calling a clear attack on press freedoms.
Ivan Safronov Jr., who since May has been working as an adviser to the chief of Russia’s state space agency Roskosmos, was detained and searched by armed officers of the FSB security service outside his Moscow apartment on July 7 before being taken to court, where he entered a not guilty plea. The court ordered him held behind bars until September 6.
Prosecutors accuse him of passing information to the Czech Republic in 2017 about the sale of Russian arms to the Middle East and Africa, his lawyer Ivan Pavlov said. Safronov was working as a journalist at the time covering issues related to the activities of Russia’s military industrial sector. Russia claims the United States was the final beneficiary of the information, Pavlov said.
Safronov could face up to 20 years in prison, if convicted.
His arrest — the latest in a series of law enforcement actions against Russian journalists and researchers — sparked outrage among former colleagues and prompted dozens to protest outside the FSB headquarters in Moscow.
“The experience of the last few years shows that any citizen of Russia whose work is connected with public activities — whether it is a human rights defender, scientist, journalist, or employee of a state corporation — can face a serious charge at any time,” Kommersant, the newspaper where Safronov worked for a decade until last year, said in a statement on its website.
Kommersant called Safronov a “true patriot of Russia” and said the FSB allegations were “absurd.” It also called on prosecutors to make the case as open to the public as possible, saying it’s hard for people accused of treason in Russia to get a fair trial.
Andrei Soldatov, a respected journalist who has written extensively about Russia’s security services, called Safronov’s arrest “a new level of repression” against reporters.
“I can only think of one reason why this is happening – we are being told what other topics of importance for society are now off limits for all except ‘for those who should know,'” he said in a Facebook post.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Safronov’s arrest was linked to his work as a reporter.
“He is accused of high treason, of passing secret data to foreign intelligence. As far as we are informed, the detainment has nothing to do with the journalistic activities Safronov was involved with in the past,” Peskov said.
Pavel Chikov, a top human rights lawyer whose organization, Agora, provides legal support to Russians detained in politically motivated cases, wrote on Telegram that police also searched the apartment of journalist Taisia Bekbulatova, who is believed to be close to Safronov.
According to Chikov, after the search she was questioned as a witness in an unspecified case along with her lawyer Nikolai Vasilyev.
TASS and Interfax both quoted unidentified sources as saying Bekbulatova is being questioned as a witness in the Safronov case.
As a journalist, Safronov mainly covered issues related to the activities of Russia’s military industrial sector, including an accident last year on an atomic submarine and the nation’s military exercises.
His father, Ivan Safronov Sr., also worked for Kommersant, focusing mainly on the military industrial complex’s operations.
Safronov Sr. died at the age of 51 after he mysteriously fell out of a corridor window in his apartment block in Moscow in 2007. Police concluded the death was a suicide, though relatives and friends say they suspect foul play.
Safronov Jr. was fired from Kommersant in May 2019 after writing an article about the possible resignation of Valentina Matviyenko, the chairwoman of the Russian parliament’s upper chamber. Matviyenko continues to serve as its chairwoman.
Safronov’s firing led to a crisis at the paper after all of the journalists in Kommersant’s politics department resigned in protest. He soon joined Vedomosti, then the nation’s leading business newspaper, before quitting following an ownership change that installed a Kremlin-friendly chief editor.
In June 2019, media reports surfaced saying that Kommersant might face administrative lawsuits for making state secrets public.
It was not clear which state secrets had been made public, but one of Safronov’s articles about Russia’s plans to deliver Su-35 military planes to Egypt was removed from the newspaper’s website.
At the time, U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo warned of possible sanctions against Egypt if Cairo purchased the planes from Moscow, The Bell website said.
Kommersant Director General Vladimir Zhelonkin told the Open Media group on July 7 that there were no issues with authorities related to Safronov’s article published last year in his newspaper, adding that the article in question did not contain any data that might be classified as a state secret.
Following Safronov’s detainment on July 7, more than 20 journalists were held by police as they staged single-picket protests in front of the Federal Security Service’s headquarters in Moscow. They were demanding “transparency, openness, and detailed information” on Safronov’s case.
Other journalists continued the single-picket protests, which do not require pre-approval from the authorities.
Safronov’s arrest is at least the third of a current or former journalist in the past 13 months that has garnered national attention and raised fears of a further curtailment of media freedom.
Ivan Golunov, an investigative reporter for Meduza, was arrested in Moscow in June on drug charges that were later dropped following street protests.
Police later admitted to planting the drugs on the reporter, who worked on stories about corruption at the highest echelons of the government and security services.
Svetlana Prokopyeva, a freelance contributor to RFE/RL’s Russian Service, was found guilty this month of “justifying terrorism” for a commentary she gave to a radio station.
Prosecutors sought a six-year prison term for Prokopyeva, who linked a suicide bombing with the country’s political climate.
When people think of traveling 1,000 miles it often conjures thoughts of long, uncomfortable drives with kids shouting “are we there yet?” or perhaps of long lines waiting to get through airport security.
But what it almost certainly does not evoke is the thought of running those 1,000 miles.
The mere idea of running such a distance would seem crazy to most people. But it seemed like a great idea to Lt. Col. Daniel R. Hanson, Task Force Guardian Arizona Joint Staff, Arizona Army National Guard, and he decided to set out to accomplish it in one year.
For Hanson running 1,000 miles in a year was a chance to strive for a goal that would stretch his physical and mental limits.
“I believe if you are not setting goals that stretch you, you’re probably not setting those goals high enough,” said Hanson.
To reach for such a goal, Hanson would take the lessons he learned while attending the Senior War College.
Lt. Col. Daniel R. Hanson, Task Force Guardian Joint Staff, Arizona Army National Guard, stands with the shoes and race bib he wore when running the Revel Mt. Lemmon Marathon, along with the medal he earned for completing the race held in Tucson, Ariz. on Nov. 02, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Nicholas Moyte)
“In 2017 I accepted admission into the Senior War College,” said Hanson. “I had seen several of my friends and leaders come out of the school wrecked. It is very hard to keep a balanced life in that, and so I decided when I accepted Senior Service College that I was going to make sure I kept all my fitness’s in check.”
For Hanson, this simply means focusing on establishing and maintaining a balance between all aspects of his life.
“Try not to be over-focused,” said Hanson. “If our goals support other goals, all of our fitness’s, I think that we find that we have a much better experience in getting to those goals and accomplishing them.”
Running 1,000 miles in a year is difficult in the best of circumstances, but it would be nearly impossible without the support of his wife. Fortunately for Hanson, his wife was right beside him providing support, balance, and often a training partner.
“In my case, my spouse is very involved in my military life, and she’s very involved in my spiritual life, and she’s very involved in my physical life,” said Hanson. “We’d go places and we’d run together. We’d go places and we’d hike together. We find ways to make physical fitness not separate from each other.”
Lt. Col. Daniel R. Hanson, Task Force Guardian Arizona Joint Staff, Arizona Army National Guard, gestures to the camera as he runs the Revel Mt. Lemon marathon in Tucson, Ariz. on Nov. 02, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Nicholas Moyte)
Hanson also had the support of his Army Family to help bolster his efforts.
“I know my team out here, they would make sure that I would hydrate,” said Hanson. “They would make sure that I ate properly. They would support me and motivate me.”
As he approached the homestretch of his journey, the idea of running a marathon to complete his 1,000 miles began to gain traction in his mind. He also saw it as an opportunity to take another shot at a goal he had once reached for but fell short of grasping.
“I did a marathon in 2004 and I did not reach my goal of doing a less than 3 hour and 30-minute marathon,” said Hanson. “But this one here, as I was running I was kind of watching my splits and in the back of my mind, I knew I had not met my goal in 2004. I started to mention to my wife that my splits are getting close to Boston times.”
Hanson decided to complete his journey and pursue his secondary goal at the Revel Mt. Lemmon marathon held in Tucson, Ariz. on Nov. 02, 2019. As the marathon progressed, he knew he would complete his 1,000 miles and felt confident he would finally achieve the goal that eluded him in 2004.
“I would say I was pretty doggone focused,” said Hanson. “Certainly you’re feeling discomfort, but up until the point I started having debilitating cramps, I fully felt I was going to be able to accomplish my goal.”
Lt. Col. Daniel R. Hanson, Task Force Guardian Joint Staff, Arizona Army National Guard, returns the salute of Capt. Aaron Thacker, Public Affairs Officer In Charge, Arizona National Guard, at Papago Park Military Reservation in Phoenix, Ariz. on Nov. 07, 2019.
(Photo by Sgt. Nicholas Moyte)
Hanson would complete the marathon and reach 1,000 miles. However, despite his spirit willing him to keep going, his body would rebel and he would fall short of his secondary goal of a sub 3 hour and 25-minute marathon. He would cross the finish line with a time of 3 hours and 40 minutes, which would place him in the top 23% of all finishers.
“So, my goal was to be under 3 hours and 25 minutes,” said Hanson. “I think I was on pace to be under until mile 23. Somewhere in the 23rd is when the cramping started and I lost my pace.”
Failure to reach a goal, even if not the primary goal, is often enough for many people to avoid striving for difficult goals in the future. For Lt. Col. Hanson it is simply a confirmation that he is setting goals that will continually push him to expand his own limits.
“Not meeting a goal is a disappointment, but it’s only a setback,” said Hanson. “It’s a mentality thing. Although I felt like I failed, it’s just setting goals for yourself that are relevant to yourself that push you to the next level.”
And that disappointment is not enough to stop Hanson, it is just more motivation to keep chasing his white rabbit.
“There is a marathon here in Phoenix/Mesa in February,” said Hanson with a grin. “I think I can get it next time. I just need to tweak a couple of things.”
U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Command will begin a second round of testing in 2019 on a two-piece organizational clothing variant that offers flame resistance and moves the Navy one step closer to delivering sailors a safe, comfortable, no-cost alternative to the Improved Flame Resistant Variant (IFRV) coveralls, with the same travel flexibility as the Type III working uniform.
USFF conducted the initial wear test on two-piece variants from May through September of 2018 and collected feedback from nearly 200 wear-test participants across surface, aviation, and submarine communities about everything from colors and design, to comfort and options like buttons and hook-and-loop fasteners. The command also received feedback from more than 1,700 sailors in an online survey about colors and design.
An information graphic describing the modernized, two-piece, flame-resistant organizational clothing wear-test design components for sailors.
(U.S. photo illustration by Bobbie A. Camp)
Fleet survey responses indicated that sailors liked the functionality of the Type III but would like to see the design in traditional Navy uniform colors. More than 70 percent of E-6 and junior sailors surveyed liked the navy blue blouse and trouser while a khaki version was the preference for chiefs and officers.
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Flynn, assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), demonstrates the operational de-blousing capability of the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)
“Leaders are listening to the fleet when it comes to this design,” said USFF Fleet Master Chief Rick O’Rawe, a wear-test participant. “We have an obligation to keep our sailors safe in inherently dangerous environments, but we also want to be mindful of their time. This is going to be something that’s safe, easy to maintain, and doesn’t require half-masting of coveralls when it’s hot or having to change clothes every time you leave the ship. Never again should we have to pass the words ‘all hands shift into the uniform for entering port or getting underway.'”
Lt. Jamie Seibel, assigned to U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Command, demonstrates the operational wearability of the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype (khaki variant) aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG-72).
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)
The updated design, which won’t require sailors to sew on components, will be tested by 100 officers and enlisted sailors to see how well it performs from wash-to-wear without ironing, and how it holds up to laundering. The two-piece variant will allow for de-blousing in extreme climates and challenging work environments. An undershirt will continue to be tested with a flame-resistant, moisture-wicking fabric in black.
A sailor assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun (DDG 103) demonstrates the operational wearability of the black Gortex parka and the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype navy blue variant.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)
I have received so much feedback just from wearing the two-piece around the command every day,” said Yeoman 1st Class Kelly Pyron, a wear-test participant assigned to USFF. “The best part is that we’ll be able to transit from the ship and run errands in the two-piece; having one standard underway and in-port across the board will be much more convenient. I am excited to see the wear test moving into the next phase of evaluation.”
Once approved, the new prototype will serve as an alternative to the IFRV coverall for operational commands. The coverall may continue to be the prescribed clothing item for some sailors in applicable work environments.
Pyron expressed, “If a clothing item, that I will not have to buy, can make my life easier while keeping me safe, I’m all for it.”
It was in August 1942 that Private 1st Class Edward Ahrens would cement his place in the halls of Marine bad*sses when he singlehandedly took on an entire group of Japanese soldiers who were trying to flank his unit.
Ahrens, a Marine assigned to Alpha Co. of the 1st Raider Battalion, was in the second assault wave hitting the beaches of Tulagi on Aug. 7, 1942. After pushing off the beach along with Charlie Co., Alpha set up a defensive line that night, according to War History Online.
Then the Japanese fiercely counter-attacked. Fortunately, Alpha Co. had Ahrens protecting its right flank.
“I came across a foxhole occupied by Private First Class Ahrens, a small man of about 140 pounds,” said Maj. Lew Walt, of what he saw the next morning. “He was slumped in one corner of the foxhole covered with blood from head to foot. In the foxhole with him were two dead Japs, a lieutenant and a sergeant. There were eleven more dead Japs on the ground in front of his position. In his hands he clutched the dead officer’s sword.”
Ahrens had successfully thwarted an enemy attack that would have opened a huge gap in the defensive line. As he lay dying, according to Walt, Ahrens whispered to him: “The idiot tried to come over me last night-I guess they didn’t know I was a Marine.”
“Private First Class Ahrens, with utter disregard for his own personal safety, single-handed engaged in hand-to-hand combat a group of the enemy attempting to infiltrate the rear of the battalion.
Although mortally wounded, he succeeded in killing the officer in command of the hostile unit and two other Japanese, thereby breaking up the attack. His great personal valor and indomitable fighting spirit were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the defense of his country.”
The highest rate of fire for a machine gun in service is the M134 Minigun. The weapon was designed in the late 1960s for helicopters and armored vehicles. It fires 7.62 mm calibre rounds at a blistering rate of 6,000 rounds per minute, or 100 rounds per second — about ten times that of an ordinary machine gun, according to the Guinness World Records.
The Metal Storm gun, on the other hand, makes the M134 look like a toy. The prototype gun system was rated at 16,000 rounds per second or 1,000,000 rounds per minute. The gun system was developed by an Australian weapons company by the same name. In 2007, Metal Storm Inc. started delivering its gun systems to the US Navy for surface ships. This video shows how the Metal Storm gun achieves its head spinning firing rate.
The bodies of two old helicopters sit uncovered on Bob Fritzler’s property. They tower over him as he walks by them on his way to his large garage.
He had to use a giant trailer to haul them out to his farm with his truck. He imagined it felt a lot like driving a semi. He doesn’t worry much about what the weather might do to the old birds outside. He’s just using them for parts.
Fritzler’s real treasure sits in that large garage on his land near Keenesburg. He’s working to restore a U.S. Marine Corps Sikorsky H-34 helicopter, which was flown during Operation SHUFLY, a Marine helicopter operation that primarily ferried troops in Vietnam between 1962 and 1965. Fritzler said it was one of the first helicopters built to drop off troops in combat.
Back then, Fritzler said, helicopters were a huge game changer for Marines. Pilots could drop soldiers off anywhere. Before, they relied on ships, which required a coast.
Fritzler, now 82, served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 11 years. He flew the helicopter when he was a pilot. Several other squadrons flew it, too. He hopes to fix it up and eventually put it into the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
Fritzler went to a Marine reunion a couple years ago. There, he met Gerald Hail from Oklahoma who restored old planes back to flyable conditions. Hail invited him out to fly and Fritzler accepted. While out there, Fritzler noticed the H-34.
“I saw bullet hole patches,” Fritzler said. “I knew I could count over 100 bullet holes.”
The bird had aged, with much of the Marine Green paint had worn down to the aluminum. Fritzler’s old squadron number had been painted over with a different squadron’s number, but he still recognized the helicopter as the one he flew.
“I had a real love affair with it,” Fritzler said.
He asked Hail if he could buy it from him so he could restore it. Hail said he’d think about it. About a month later, Hail called Fritzler and told him he’d donate the helicopter if Fritzler would fix it up.
Fritzler’s been working on the restoration project here and there for a couple years. He has experience fixing up machines. He grew up on a farm in Windsor and spent much of his life making farm equipment run again. He thinks that made him fairly handy.
But it’s a lengthy process. It takes time to track down parts that are no longer in production. He bought an old blue and white Marine helicopter for the parts. The previous owner had it certified for commercial use and used it to lift large air conditioning units. Fritzler bought an old Army helicopter, too.
“Both of these (helicopters) are pretty complete,” Fritzler said. Now he just has to figure out which parts the H-34 needs and which ones to take from the others.
He’s not a teenager anymore, either, Fritzler said, so his energy has a limit.
“It didn’t take me long to realize I bit off more than I could chew,” Fritzler said. “I’ve had some help from other guys.”
He works on it for a couple hours a day, sometimes more. He’s mostly working on deconstructing old pieces and finding the new ones to replace them.
Sometimes when Fritzler looks back on his life as a pilot, he wonders if he really did all the things he remembers. It was a long time ago. He did two tours in Vietnam and did some airline flying, too. But his last flight in the cockpit was more than 20 years ago.
“I still love to fly,” he said.
He might not be able to pilot planes anymore, but this may be the next best thing.
Staff Sgt. Timothy Dawson was trying to get some rest before work the next day. The phone rang twice before he answered it. His neighbor, who lives just above his apartment complex on the hill, told him the fire was really close and they were evacuating.
That neighbor was 1st Lt. Mike Constable, a pilot with the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, California. Dawson said he could see Constable and his roommates packing things into their cars.
The Thomas Fire started on Dec. 4, 2017, in Santa Paula, near Thomas Aquinas College. Driven by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 70 mph, the flames screamed across the hillsides toward Ojai and Ventura. Numerous fires leapfrogged across Ventura and Los Angeles Counties the following day.
Chino Valley firefighters watch the oncoming flames of the Thomas Fire from the yard of a home in Montecito, California, Dec. 12, 2017. C-130Js of the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Base in Port Hueneme, carried the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System and dropped fire suppression chemicals onto the fire’s path to slow its advance in support of firefighters on the ground.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins JR.)
“I looked out my window, and could see the sky above the ridge by my home was glowing really orange and red already. My wife and I decided at that point to just grab what we could get and go somewhere safe,” Dawson said.
Dawson’s three-level, 52-unit apartment complex burned to the ground a few hours later.
Ironically, Dawson is a C-130J Hercules crew chief for the 146th AW, one of five wings in the Air Force equipped with the module airborne firefighting system, or MAFFS. This system is loaded onto C-130s and is designed to fight the very thing that took his home, wildfires.
The 146th AW was activated Dec. 5 to fight what became the largest California wildfire by size in the state’s recorded history, covering 281,893 acres. The Thomas Fire is now 100 percent contained.
“We got the word and everybody sprung into action. Our maintenance folk got the airplane ready for us, our aerial port guys went and got the MAFFS units pulled out and loadmasters got the airplanes ready. It was really a well-oiled machine on that day. We got things done really quickly,” said Senior Master Sgt. Phil Poulsen, a loadmaster with the 146th AW.
Most of the airmen stationed at Channel Islands ANGS are from Ventura County or the surrounding area. Approximately 50 people from the 146th AW evacuated their homes during the fire and five airmen lost their homes.
Residents of a 52-unit apartment complex search for belongings, Dec. 13, 2017, after the Thomas Fire roared through their neighborhood. Staff Sgt. Timothy Dawson, a C-130J Hercules aircraft maintenance technician with the 146th Airlift Wing, was also a resident of the apartment complex.
(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)
“I can see the smoke from my house and we know people who live there,” Poulson said. “My daughter went to day care up there and I think I flew over that house. I think it’s gone. So it really hits close to home when you are this close to home.”
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, requested MAFFS aircraft and personnel support through the state’s governor and the Adjutant General of the state’s National Guard. Once activated, CAL FIRE incident commanders assigned to the Thomas Fire, and based at the Ventura Fairgrounds, generate the launch orders for the MAFFS. The aircraft sit ready at Tanker Base Operations, a few miles south of the fairgrounds at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station.
Once requested, the C-130s would join the fight at a designated altitude in the protected flight area, typically 1,500 feet above ground. An aerial supervisor, or air attack, would fly at about 2,000 feet, directing and controlling the aircraft. Lead planes, at 1,000 feet, guide the tankers to their drop points, approximately 150 feet above the ground.”
Once we enter the fire traffic area, we join on the lead plane. He’ll typically give us a show me [puff of smoke] which shows us where he’s intending us to drop,” said Lt. Col. Scott Pemberton, a C-130J pilot with the 146th AW. “We try to be very precise with that because you know it’s a high value asset and you get one shot at it.”
The mission requires the crews to fly the C-130s very close to the fires.
“You’re taking the fight directly to the ground,” Pemberton said. “We are 150 feet above the ground at 120 knots, at the edge of the airplane’s envelope. You’re demanding a lot of yourself and your fellow crewmembers. So that’s why you are typically very highly trained and are very prepared to do this mission.”
The MAFFS can hold 3,000 gallons of retardant, which is released from a nozzle placed in the left rear troop door of the aircraft. It takes approximately 15 minutes to load retardant into the MAFFS, another 15 minutes to reach the Thomas Fire, 10 more to join the lead plane and drop and then another 15 minutes to return to base. With 10 hours of daylight and two planes, the 146th AW drops an average of 60,000 gallons of retardant each day.
Lt. Col. Scott Pemberton, a C-130J pilot with the 146th Airlift Wing, has been with the 146th for 30 years and has lived in the Ventura/Santa Barbara, California community for about 48. He has been flying the modular airborne fire fighting system for approximately 20 years. The 146th was activated Dec.5, 2017, to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state.
(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)
“Many times if you are close to a fire line and you’re doing direct attack you’ll see the guys standing down there,” Pemberton said. “On the second, third or fourth drop you’ll come by and you will see that you have gotten close enough to where they are a different color. But I’ve also seen the whites of their eyes where they’re diving behind their bulldozer because you’re that close, and they know that the retardant is coming.”
Still, the dangers of this mission are not lost on Pemberton.
On July 1, 2012, MAFFS 7, which belonged to the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, crashed while fighting the White Draw Fire in South Dakota’s Black Hills. Four of the six crewmembers aboard died.
“There was a thunderstorm approaching from the north and as they were waiting for the lead to coordinate and get his bearings… The thunderstorm moved closer and closer,” Pemberton said. “They made a first run and I think they got off half of their retardant.”
As they made their second run, they had a wind shear event and a microburst took away their lift and forced them to fly straight ahead into the terrain.
Senior Master Sgt. Phil Poulsen, 146th Airlift Wing loadmaster, checks the level of retardant in the module airborne firefighting system as redardant is loaded, Dec. 9, 2017. The 146th AW is one of five wings in the Air Force equipped with MAFFS. This system is loaded onto C-130s and is designed to fight wildfires.
(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)
“As a result of that incident we completely changed our training. We incorporated a lot of the wind shear escape maneuvers, and we built new seats for the loadmasters in the back and made crashworthy seats for those crewmembers,” Pemberton said.
This training and the 146th AW’s capabilities benefit everyone involved in the wildfire fighting community, too.
The 146th AW plays a big role in extinguishing fires, said Tenner Renz a dozer swamper with the Kern County Fire Department, but it’s something he sees on almost every fire. Whether a 100-acre or a 250,000-acre fire, the guard shows up.
“Some of these guys are crazy. I mean dipping down into some of these canyons, flying through smoke, buzzing treetops,” Renz said. “They have a talent that most people don’t have.”
Having the MAFFS capability means the 146th AW can be federally activated to support firefighting operations around the United States by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. An Air Force liaison group, led on a rotating basis by one of the five MAFFS unit commanders, staffs the center.
A C-130J Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, sprays fire retardant ahead of the leading edge of the Thomas Fire, Dec. 13, 2017. The 146th was activated to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state. The C-130s from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station are capable of spraying fire retardant from a modular airborne firefighting systems loaded in the cargo bay.
(Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)
This wide-ranging operational experience and capability gives CAL FIRE an extra capability when things are at their worst.
“We currently have low humidity, Santa Ana winds, we haven’t had rain in a number of days and we’re in areas that haven’t burned in 50-60 years,” said Dan Sendek, MAFFS liaison officer for CAL FIRE. “You can never have enough equipment for every eventuality. What the guard brings to us is that surge capacity when we’re in a situation where we need everything we can get.”
Six days after he lost his home, Dawson was back at work.
“The routine of going about the mission and getting things done is probably better,” Dawson said. “I needed to get back and get involved in the fire mission. The show must go on. The world doesn’t stop spinning and the guard doesn’t stop flying missions.”
For Dawson, it’s also a chance to combat the fire that took his home and save some of his neighbor’s property.
Tanner Renz, Kern County Fire Department, looks on as a C-130J Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, sprays fire retardant ahead of the leading edge of the Thomas Fire, Dec. 13, 2017. The 146th was activated to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state. The C-130s from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station are capable of spraying fire retardant from a modular airborne firefighting systems loaded in the cargo bay.
Photo by Master SGT. Brian Ferguson)
Dawson and his wife were able to return to their apartment a few days after the fire destroyed it, however, they were not able to search for personal items because the fire was still smoldering.
“Every single tenant in the 52 units was able to get out ahead of the fire. When we went back for the first time it was it was pretty emotionally taxing,” he said. “There were two stories worth of apartments that collapsed into a carport. There’s nothing left that we could really find.
“To me, then and even now, it still feels a little surreal. I know it’s happening to me, but it feels like it’s happening to someone else.”
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
The US has developed a secret missile to kill terrorists in precision strikes without harming civilians nearby, and it has already proven its worth in the field, The Wall Street Journal reported on May 9, 2019, citing more than a dozen current and former US officials.
The R9X is a modified version of the Hellfire missile. Instead of exploding, the weapon uses sheer force to kill its target. “To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky,” The Journal wrote.
What makes the weapon especially deadly is that it carries six long blades that extend outward just before impact, shredding anything in its path. The R9X is nicknamed “The Flying Ginsu,” a reference to a type of high-quality chef’s knife.
The missile, which can tear through cars and buildings, is also called “The Ninja Bomb.”
Development reportedly began in 2011 as an attempt to reduce civilian casualties in the war on terror, especially as extremists regularly used noncombatants as human shields. A conventional missile such as the Hellfire explodes, creating a deadly blast radius and turning objects into lethal shrapnel. That’s why it’s suitable for destroying vehicles or killing a number of enemy combatants who are in close proximity, while the R9X is best for targeting individuals.
The weapon is “for the express purpose of reducing civilian casualties,” one official told reporters.
The US military has used the weapon only a few times, officials told The Journal, revealing that this missile has been used in operations in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. For example, the RX9 was used in January 2019 to kill Jamal al-Badawi, who was accused of masterminding the USS Cole bombing in 2000.
The USS Cole is towed away from the port city of Aden, Yemen, into open sea by the Military Sealift Command ocean-going tug USNS Catawba on Oct. 29, 2000.
(DoD photo by Sgt. Don L. Maes)
While the Obama administration emphasized the need to reduce civilian casualties, the Trump administration appears to have made this less of a priority. In March 2019, President Donald Trump rolled back an Obama-era transparency initiative that required public reports on the number of civilians killed in drone strikes.
Officials told The Journal that highlighting the new missile’s existence, something they argue should have been done a long time ago, shows that the US is committed to reducing civilian casualties.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
I can feel the gaze of the maintenance master chief beating down on the back of my neck from a mile away. At that moment, I exist in the paradox of being micromanaged by the front office while working a set schedule, flying sorties, and doing minimal maintenance.
Night check, on the other hand, is a different kind of ass-backwards; catch a couple of late flights in and fix whatever gripes the officers make up, including classics like:
“It smells like burning toast in the back of the aircraft.”
“The rudder sticks when held in position for too long.”
“The seats are uncomfortable.”
VAW-125 E2C sits on a flight line
A flight rolls in. Unphased, I throw up a salute, welcome the aircrew back, and start my inspection.
Every DET has its ups and downs. Sometimes you’re flying exercises at TOPGUN in the middle of Fallon, Nevada, sometimes you’re drinking double-shot margaritas with a parrot on your shoulder in Key West. This time, it was the latter.
I stroll into the hangar for muster a little disoriented and hungover from exploring the town the night before. Another surprising Navy DET tradition is to drink — and to drink heavily. Detachments are the only time fraternization is brushed under the rug; an E1 sailor and an officer can be seen throwing back a couple shots, calling each other by their first names, but find their military bearing by 0600 the next morning.
Naval Air Station Key West: Where magic happens.
I check the flight schedule and don my gear as I see my name scribbled on the board. My supervisor yells for me as I’m running out the door to catch my flight.
“Listen Kim, the sooner we get this sh*t done, the sooner we’re off — and the sooner we’re off, the sooner we’re at Cowboy Bill’s!”
Blurry, much like the memory of the night.
Photo by Sung Kim
On Wednesdays, the neon lights of Cowboy Bill’s is a beautiful sight for any metaphorically shipwrecked sailor, marooned far from home and looking for good times, cheap drinks, and morally flexible women. There, they honor a time-old tradition, one that’s highly recommended by the saltier vets in the squadron: topless mechanical bull riding. And it’s every bit of Christmas your six-year-old heart could ever dream of.
Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” will exist for as long as strip clubs do.
I’m one flight away from having Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” ring in my ears and I’ve already picked up scent of the drunken regret ahead of me when I get the call over the radio: My pilot discovered a hole in one of the stabilizing rudders. Unlike most complaints, this was an actual gripe that downs an aircraft. And if the aircraft is down, pilots can’t get their hours in.
I mourn the loss of the wonderland filled with inebriated bachelorettes slow-grinding on a mechanical bull that I’d built in my foolish imagination.
A quarter-sized divot in the rudder stands between me and my paradise; a quarter-sized problem that’s about to be fixed with a dollar-sized piece of duct tape. I run into the shop, grab a roll of duct tape, patch the hole, and epoxy the sides so that the integrity of the tape stays flush while in flight. My supervisor signs off on it, calls maintenance control, and we’ve got the green light.
Upon pre-flight inspection, my pilot calls me up to the top of the aircraft. “What is that, Kim? Duct tape?” I panic.
“No sir, it’s high-speed aero-tape sir,” I lie, reflexively. What am I doing? Why wouldn’t he know what duct tape looks like?
He’s puzzled because he’s never heard of it, so he summons my supervisor. He hasn’t heard of it because it doesn’t exist, just like my soon-to-be-over naval career.
“High-speed aero-tape?” My supervisor chuckles. “You’re lucky we’re on DET son, as soon as this b*tch comes back, write that sh*t up for day check. We’re going to Cowboy Bill’s.”
I was bailed out. My supervisor had my back like he always did and confirmed that the hardware store duct tape my lieutenant (with an engineering degree) saw, was, in fact, a fictional, quick temporary fix patch substance called, “High-Speed Aero-Tape.”
But hey, if you can’t fix it with duct tape, it can’t be fixed.
Afghan special forces have freed 61 captives held by the Taliban in an operation in the southern province of Helmand, the military says.
Jawid Saleem, a spokesman for the elite commando units, said the operation was conducted late on Aug. 2, 2018, in the Kajaki district in Helmand, a stronghold of the Taliban.
Saleem said at least two Taliban militants were killed during the rescue mission by Afghan special forces.
The Taliban did not immediately comment on the matter.
The prisoners were transferred to the provincial army headquarters, said Munib Amiri, an army commander.
Those held had been captured for a range of reasons, Saleem said, from cooperating with Afghan security forces to belonging to the local police force.
According to Saleem, the prisoners were held in poor conditions, including a lack of proper food and health care. They were also tortured, Saleem added.
Hundreds of prisoners have been freed from Taliban prisons by Afghan security forces in Helmand Province in recent months.
On May 31, 2018, Afghan special forces freed 103 people held at two sites run by the Taliban in Kajaki district.
According to the latest report by the Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, an independent U.S. federal auditor, the militants control nine of 14 districts in Helmand. Half of the population of the province lives in areas under Taliban control.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Gutierrez is a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) who was awarded the Air Force Cross for heroism during an intense firefight in Afghanistan in 2009.
JTACS are military personnel who direct combat support aircraft like the A-10, calling in air strikes to support ground operations.
Gutierrez was part of a nighttime raid with an Army special forces detachment to capture a high-value Taliban target, a “brutal” man living outside of the city of Herat in Western Afghanistan.
The team was attacked with heavy fire from a numerically superior and battle-hardened enemy force. Gutierrez was shot in the chest, his team leader was shot in the leg, and the ten-man element was pinned down in a building with no escape route.
“We were just getting hammered, getting peppered,” he recalls in a six-minute interview. He talked to his team’s leader who wanted to drop bombs on the enemy targets.
“If you put a bomb on that it’ll kill us all,” he told his leader. “Guys are getting wounded. Our best chance is a 30mm high-angle strafe.”
Gutierrez is having this discussion as bullets pepper the walls behind him, as a medic works on his chest wound, a through-and-through which the medic couldn’t find the entrance wound. He is also still holding off Taliban fighters with his M4 rifle.
“This is danger close, I need your initials,” he told his team lead.
“Less than 10 meters.”
Gutierrez needed the support of an A-10 Thunderbolt II, aka “Warthog,” whose 30mm GAU-8 Cannon rounds are the size of beer bottles, to make a precision strike on the attacking insurgents.
Capt. Ethan Sabin, an A-10 pilot based at Kandahar Airfield, asked a nearby F-16 pilot to mark the target with the laser on his targeting pod.
The A-10 attack was so close, Gutierrez’s right eardrum burst and his left eardrum was severely damaged from the noise. He lost five-and-a-half pints of blood getting away from the combat zone.
After the first A-10 strafing, the medic had to re-inflate Gutierrez’ collapsed lung so he could direct two more strafing runs. For four hours, the team held off the enemy fighters and escaped the battlespace.
To give an idea of the kind of interactions JTACs have with close-air support pilots in the heat of the moment, the video below is a prime example of the extraordinary actions Gutierrez and airmen like him perform on the battlefield every day.