What do you take to the shooting range? The most thought generally goes into firearm and ammunition selection, and the contents of your range bag will include most of the other essentials: eye protection, ear protection, and various tools. But in addition to the gun and the projectile, it’s worth taking a few extra minutes to think about what you’re shooting at. While it’s easy to let targets be a part of the “range bag” — a standard piece of equipment that you need but don’t put much thought into — they should be considered for each range session based on your goals.
Targets are important, especially when it comes to defensive handgun training. The target you utilize in this type of training is going to be one of your best learning tools. Not only are they fun and mentally engaging, they also present a great opportunity to incorporate real-world scenarios. Although there are many target companies out there, RE Factor Tactical makes some of the best targets. They have a variety of real-world training targets that have long been used in the professional tactical realm and are available to civilians as well.
The author used RE Factor Tactical Active Shooter Targets during a recent handgun training course.
(Photo by Karen Hunter/Coffee or Die.)
RE Factor offers a great collection of what I consider to be serious training-based targets. These include standards such as the FBI target, FLETC II target, and a Homeland Defense target, as well as some unique targets that have been designed in collaboration with other companies in the firearms and training world.
I put several RE Factor targets to the test during a recent handgun class, and they worked well. From an instructor’s perspective, I appreciated the type of paper that they were printed on. It may sound simple, but many paper targets almost disintegrate like tissue paper in the rain. These help up against the elements, but the paper wasn’t so super thick to make storing and hanging them a pain.
The primary target we used was the Active Shooter Target. This target has a picture of an armed and nefarious individual used for self-defense and close-quarters training. The target has vital zone boxes to help shooters visualize key locations of effective shot placement. I’m partial to this target as it encourages the students to focus on vital shooting points. This target also provides a different mindset as you’re looking at a person to shoot versus a bullseye. Over the weekend class, I incorporated several RE Factor targets and found each one highly beneficial.
Defense Target II, with additional stickers for customization.
(Photos courtesy of RE Factor Tactical.)
Another target that stood out to me was the Defense Target II. This target is designed to give shooters an enhanced training experience by offering stickers for customization. The Defense Target II features an individual that can transform from an FBI agent to an office active shooter to a business no-shoot with the simple change of customized stickers. This allows one target to be used in multiple scenarios. Available sticker areas include the left hand, right hand, hip, and chest. Each sticker perfectly matches up with the target’s hands, chest area, or hip to create a new target scenario that appears natural to the shooter.
There are several benefits of altering aspects of the target while maintaining the same main visual element. Instructors can rapidly change the scenarios, and students are forced to look at different places on the target before deciding whether or not the target is a threat. This is a fantastic tool for scenario training. By modifying the target after a class has run a drill, the students don’t become complacent.
A-Zone Splatter Target.
(Photo courtesy of RE Factor Tactical.)
For less defensive-minded shooting, I like the A-Zone Splatter Target. This design allows users to analyze shot placement with vivid orange and black splatter for improving shooting abilities. It is designed for military, law enforcement, International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC), and everyday shooters. As an instructor who looks at these targets not only by their content or image, but also by their application, I appreciate how quick and easy it is to evaluate the shots. When we don’t have to break between strings to have students go downrange and check targets, it keeps the class rolling. Logistically, it is a winner.
While targets may not seem as important as the firearm or ammunition you take to the range, proper training targets are absolutely necessary to becoming a well-trained shooter. The targets produced by veteran-led RE Factor Tactical are being utilized by those at the tip of the spear — it’s absolutely worth your time to check them out.
Navy SEAL Explains Why They Are Different From Every Other SOF Unit
For years, conservatives have assailed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. They said private enterprise would mean better, easier-to-access health care for veterans. President Donald Trump embraced that position, enthusiastically moving to expand the private sector’s role.
Here’s what has actually happened in the four years since the government began sending more veterans to private care: longer waits for appointments and, a new analysis of VA claims data by ProPublica and PolitiFact shows, higher costs for taxpayers.
Since 2014, 1.9 million former service members have received private medical care through a program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to give veterans a way around long wait times in the VA. But their average waits using the Choice Program were still longer than allowed by law, according to examinations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. The watchdogs also found widespread blunders, such as booking a veteran in Idaho with a doctor in New York and telling a Florida veteran to see a specialist in California. Once, the VA referred a veteran to the Choice Program to see a urologist, but instead he got an appointment with a neurologist.
The winners have been two private companies hired to run the program, which began under the Obama administration and is poised to grow significantly under Trump. ProPublica and PolitiFact obtained VA data showing how much the agency has paid in medical claims and administrative fees for the Choice program. Since 2014, the two companies have been paid nearly billion for overhead, including profit. That’s about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses — a rate that would exceed the federal cap that governs how much most insurance plans can spend on administration in the private sector.
According to the agency’s inspector general, the VA was paying the contractors at least 5 every time it authorized private care for a veteran. The fee was so high because the VA hurriedly launched the Choice Program as a short-term response to a crisis. Four years later, the fee never subsided — it went up to as much as 8 per referral.
“This is what happens when people try and privatize the VA,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans committee, said in a statement responding to these findings. “The VA has an obligation to taxpayers to spend its limited resources on caring for veterans, not paying excessive fees to a government contractor. When VA does need the help of a middleman, it needs to do a better job of holding contractors accountable for missing the mark.”
The Affordable Care Act prohibits large group insurance plans from spending more than 15 percent of their revenue on administration, including marketing and profit. The private sector standard is 10 percent to 12 percent, according to Andrew Naugle, who advises health insurers on administrative operations as a consultant at Milliman, one of the world’s largest actuarial firms. Overhead is even lower in the Defense Department’s Tricare health benefits program: only 8 percent in 2017.
Even excluding the costs of setting up the new program, the Choice contractors’ overhead still amounts to 21 percent of revenue.
“That’s just unacceptable,” Rick Weidman, the policy director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in response to the figures. “There are people constantly banging on the VA, but this was the private sector that made a total muck of it.”
A spokesman for the VA, Curt Cashour, declined to provide an interview with key officials and declined to answer a detailed list of written questions.
One of the contractors, Health Net, stopped working on the program in September 2018. Health Net didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The other contractor, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, said it has worked closely with the VA to improve the program and has made major investments of its own. “We believe supporting VA in ensuring the delivery of quality care to our nation’s veterans is a moral responsibility, even while others have avoided making these investments or have withdrawn from the market,” the company said in a statement.
TriWest did not dispute ProPublica and PolitiFact’s estimated overhead rate, which used total costs, but suggested an alternate calculation, using an average cost, that yielded a rate of 13 percent to 15 percent. The company defended the 5-plus fee by saying it covers “highly manual” services such as scheduling appointments and coordinating medical files. Such functions are not typically part of the contracts for other programs, such as the military’s Tricare. But Tricare’s contractors perform other duties, such as adjudicating claims and monitoring quality, that Health Net and TriWest do not. In a recent study comparing the programs, researchers from the Rand Corporation concluded that the role of the Choice Program’s contractors is “much narrower than in the private sector or in Tricare.”
Before the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net performed essentially the same functions for about a sixth of the price, according to the VA inspector general. TriWest declined to break down how much of the fee goes to each service it provides.
Because of what the GAO called the contractors’ “inadequate” performance, the VA increasingly took over doing the Choice Program’s referrals and claims itself.
In many cases, the contractors’ 5-plus processing fee for every referral was bigger than the doctor’s bill for services rendered, the analysis of agency data showed. In the three months ending Jan. 31, 2018, the Choice Program made 49,144 referrals for primary care totaling .9 million in medical costs, for an average cost per referral of 1.16. A few other types of care also cost less on average than the handling fee: chiropractic care (6.32 per referral) and optometry (9.25). There were certainly other instances where the medical services cost much more than the handling fee: TriWest said its average cost per referral was about ,100 in the past six months.
Beyond what the contractors were entitled to, audits by the VA inspector general found that they overcharged the government by 0 million from November 2014 to March 2017. Both companies are now under federal investigation arising from these overpayments. Health Net’s parent company, Centene, disclosed a Justice Department civil investigation into “excessive, duplicative or otherwise improper claims.” A federal grand jury in Arizona is investigating TriWest for “wire fraud and misused government funds,” according to a court decision on a subpoena connected to the case. Both companies said they are cooperating with the inquiries.
Despite the criminal investigation into TriWest’s management of the Choice Program, the Trump administration recently expanded the company’s contract without competitive bidding. Now, TriWest stands to collect even more fees as the administration prepares to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to send more veterans to private doctors.
(US Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)
Senate veterans committee chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he expects VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the agency’s plans for the future of private care when he testifies at a hearing on Dec. 19, 2018. A spokeswoman for the outgoing chairman of the House veterans committee, Phil Roe, R-Tenn., didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“The last thing we need is to have funding for VA’s core mission get wasted,” Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat who will become the House panel’s chairman in January 2019, said in a statement. “I will make sure Congress conducts comprehensive oversight to ensure that our veterans receive the care they deserve while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Many of the Choice Program’s defects trace back to its hasty launch.
In 2014, the Republican chairman of the House veterans committee alleged that 40 veterans died waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The inspector general eventually concluded that no deaths were attributable to the delays. But it was true that officials at the Phoenix VA were covering up long wait times, and critics seized on this scandal to demand that veterans get access to private medical care.
One of the loudest voices demanding changes was John McCain’s. “Make no mistake: This is an emergency,” the Arizona senator, who died in August 2018, said at the time. McCain struck a compromise with Democrats to open up private care for veterans who lived at least 40 miles from a VA facility or would have to wait at least 30 days to get an appointment.
In the heat of the scandal, Congress gave the VA only 90 days to launch Choice. The VA reached out to 57 companies about administering the new program, but the companies said they couldn’t get the program off the ground in just three months, according to contracting records. So the VA tacked the Choice Program onto existing contracts with Health Net and TriWest to run a much smaller program for buying private care. “There is simply insufficient time to solicit, evaluate, negotiate and award competitive contracts and then allow for some form of ramp-up time for a new contractor,” the VA said in a formal justification for bypassing competitive bidding.
But that was a shaky foundation on which to build a much larger program, since those earlier contracts were themselves flawed. In a 2016 report, the VA inspector general said officials hadn’t followed the rules “to ensure services acquired are based on need and at fair and reasonable prices.” The report criticized the VA for awarding higher rates than one of the vendors proposed.
The new contract with the VA was a lifeline for TriWest. Its president and CEO, David J. McIntyre Jr., was a senior aide to McCain in the mid-1990s before starting the company, based in Phoenix, to handle health benefits for the military’s Tricare program. In 2013, TriWest lost its Tricare contract and was on the verge of shutting down. Thanks to the VA contract, TriWest went from laying off more than a thousand employees to hiring hundreds.
Senator John McCain.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
McIntyre’s annual compensation, according to federal contracting disclosures, is .36 million. He declined to be interviewed. In a statement, TriWest noted that the original contract, for the much smaller private care program, had been competitively awarded.
The VA paid TriWest and Health Net 0 million upfront to set up the new Choice program, according to the inspector general’s audit. But that was dwarfed by the fees that the contractors would collect. Previously, the VA paid the companies between and 3 for every referral, according to the inspector general. But for the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net raised their fee to between 5 and 0 to do essentially the same work on a larger scale, the inspector general said.
The price hike was a direct result of the time pressure, according to Greg Giddens, a former VA contracting executive who dealt with the Choice Program. “If we had two years to stand up the program, we would have been at a different price structure,” he said.
Even though the whole point of the Choice Program was to avoid 30-day waits in the VA, a convoluted process made it hard for veterans to see private doctors any faster. Getting care through the Choice Program took longer than 30 days 41 percent of the time, according to the inspector general’s estimate. The GAO found that in 2016 using the Choice Program could take as long as 70 days, with an average of 50 days.
Sometimes the contractors failed to make appointments at all. Over a three-month period in 2018, Health Net sent back between 9 percent and 13 percent of its referrals, according to agency data. TriWest failed to make appointments on 5 percent to 8 percent of referrals, the data shows.
Many veterans had frustrating experiences with the contractors.
Richard Camacho in Los Angeles said he got a call from TriWest to make an appointment for a sleep test, but he then received a letter from TriWest with different dates. He had to call the doctor to confirm when he was supposed to show up. When he got there, the doctor had received no information about what the appointment was for, Camacho said.
John Moen, a Vietnam veteran in Plano, Texas, tried to use the Choice Program for physical therapy in 2018 rather than travel to Dallas, where the VA had a six-week wait. But it took 10 weeks for him to get an appointment with a private provider.
“The Choice Program for me has completely failed to meet my needs,” Moen said.
Curtis Thompson, of Kirkland, Washington, said he’s been told the Choice Program had a 30-day wait just to process referrals, never mind to book an appointment. “Bottom line: Wait for the nearly 60 days to see the rheumatologist at the VA rather than opt for an unknown delay through Veterans Choice,” he said.
(Flickr photo by Rob Bixby)
After Thompson used the Choice Program in 2018 for a sinus surgery that the VA couldn’t perform within 30 days, the private provider came after him to collect payment, according to documentation he provided.
Thousands of veterans have had to contend with bill collectors and credit bureaus because the contractors failed to pay providers on time, according to the inspector general. Doctors have been frustrated with the Choice Program, too. The inspector general found that 15 providers in North Carolina stopped accepting patients from the VA because Health Net wasn’t paying them on time.
The VA shares the blame, since it fell behind in paying the contractors, the inspector general said. TriWest claimed the VA at one point owed the company 0 million. According to the inspector general, the VA’s pile of unpaid claims peaked at almost 180,000 in 2016 and was virtually eliminated by the end of the year.
The VA tried to tackle the backlog of unpaid doctors, but it had a problem: The agency didn’t know who was performing the services arranged by the contractors. That’s because Health Net and TriWest controlled the provider networks, and the medical claims they submit to the VA do not include any provider information.
The contractors’ role as middlemen created the opportunity for payment errors, according to the inspector general’s audit. The inspector general found 77,700 cases where the contractors billed the VA for more than they paid providers and pocketed the difference, totaling about million. The inspector general also identified .9 million in duplicate payments and .5 million in other errors.
TriWest said it has worked with the VA to correct the payment errors and set aside money to pay back. The company said it’s waiting for the VA to provide a way to refund the confirmed overpayments. “We remain ready to complete the necessary reconciliations as soon as that process is formally approved,” TriWest said.
The grand jury proceedings involving TriWest are secret, but the investigation became public because prosecutors sought to obtain the identities of anonymous commenters on the jobs website Glassdoor.com who accused TriWest of “mak[ing] money unethically off of veterans/VA.” Glassdoor fought the subpoena but lost, in November 2017. The court’s opinion doesn’t name TriWest, but it describes the subject of the investigation as “a government contractor that administers veterans’ healthcare programs” and quotes the Glassdoor reviews about TriWest. The federal prosecutor’s office in Arizona declined to comment.
“TriWest has cooperated with many government inquiries regarding VA’s community care programs and will continue to do so,” the company said in its statement. “TriWest must respect the government’s right to keep those inquiries confidential until such time as the government decides to conclude the inquiry or take any actions or adjust VA programs as deemed appropriate.”
The VA tried to make the Choice Program run more smoothly and efficiently. Because the contractors were failing to find participating doctors to treat veterans, the VA in mid-2015 launched a full-court press to sign up private providers directly, according to the inspector general. In some states, the VA also took over scheduling from the contractors.
“We were making adjustments on the fly trying to get it to work,” said David Shulkin, who led the VA’s health division starting in 2015. “There needed to be a more holistic solution.”
Officials decided in 2016 to design new contracts that would change the fee structure and reabsorb some of the services that the VA had outsourced to Health Net and TriWest. The department secretary at the time, Bob McDonald, concluded the VA needed to handle its own customer service, since the agency’s reputation was suffering from TriWest’s and Health Net’s mistakes. Reclaiming those functions would have the side effect of reducing overhead.
“Tell me a great customer service company in the world that outsources its customer service,” McDonald, who previously ran Procter Gamble, said in an interview. “I wanted to have the administrative functions within our medical centers so we took control of the care of the veterans. That would have brought that fee down or eliminated it entirely.”
The new contracts, called the Community Care Network, also aimed to reduce overhead by paying the contractors based on the number of veterans they served per month, rather than a flat fee for every referral. To prevent payment errors like the ones the inspector general found, the new contracts sought to increase information-sharing between the VA and the contractors. The VA opened bidding for the new Community Care Network contracts in December 2016.
But until those new contracts were in place, the VA was still stuck paying Health Net and TriWest at least 5 for every referral. So VA officials came up with a workaround: they could cut out the middleman and refer veterans to private providers directly. Claims going through the contractors declined by 47 percent from May to December in 2017.
TriWest’s CEO, McIntyre, objected to this workaround and blamed the VA for hurting his bottom line.
In a Feb. 26, 2018, email with the subject line “Heads Up… Likely Massive and Regrettable Train Wreck Coming!” McIntyre warned Shulkin, then the department secretary, that “long unresolved matters with VA and current behavior patterns will result in a projected million loss in 2019. This is on top of the losses that we have amassed over the last couple years.”
Officials were puzzled that, despite all the VA was paying TriWest, McIntyre was claiming he couldn’t make ends meet, according to agency emails provided to ProPublica and PolitiFact. McIntyre explained that he wanted the VA to waive penalties for claims that lacked adequate documentation and to pay TriWest an administrative fee on canceled referrals and no-show appointments, even though the VA read the contract to require a fee only on completed claims. In a March 2018 letter to key lawmakers, McIntyre said the VA’s practice of bypassing the contractors and referring patients directly to providers “has resulted in a significant drop in the volume of work and is causing the company irreparable financial harm.”
McIntyre claimed the VA owed TriWest million and warned of a “negative impact on VA and veterans that will follow” if the agency didn’t pay. Any disruptions at TriWest, he said, would rebound onto the VA, “given how much we are relied on by VA at the moment and the very public nature of this work.”
But when the VA asked to see TriWest’s financial records to substantiate McIntyre’s claims, the numbers didn’t add up, according to agency emails.
McIntyre’s distress escalated in March 2018, as the Choice Program was running out of money and lawmakers were locked in tense negotiations over its future. McIntyre began sending daily emails to the VA officials in charge of the Choice Program seeking updates and warning of impending disaster. “I don’t think the storm could get more difficult or challenging,” he wrote in one of the messages. “However, I know that I am not alone nor that the impact will be confined to us.”
McIntyre lobbied for a bill to permanently replace Choice with a new program consolidating all of the VA’s methods of buying private care. TriWest even offered to pay veterans organizations to run ads supporting the legislation, according to emails discussing the proposal. Congress overwhelmingly passed the law (named after McCain) in May 2018.
“In the campaign, I also promised that we would fight for Veterans Choice,” Trump said at the signing ceremony in June 2018. “And before I knew that much about it, it just seemed to be common sense. It seemed like if they’re waiting on line for nine days and they can’t see a doctor, why aren’t they going outside to see a doctor and take care of themselves, and we pay the bill? It’s less expensive for us, it works out much better, and it’s immediate care.”
The new permanent program for buying private care will take effect in June 2019. The VA’s new and improved Community Care Network contracts were supposed to be in place by then. But the agency repeatedly missed deadlines for these new contracts and has yet to award them.
The VA has said it’s aiming to pick the contractors for the new program in January and February 2019. Yet even if the VA meets this latest deadline, the contracts include a one-year ramp-up period, so they won’t be ready to start in June 2019.
That means TriWest will by default become the sole contractor for the new program. The VA declined to renew Health Net’s contract when it expired in September 2018. The VA was planning to deal directly with private providers in the regions that Health Net had covered. But the VA changed course and announced that TriWest would take over Health Net’s half of the country. The agency said TriWest would be the sole contractor for the entire Choice Program until it awards the Community Care Network contracts.
“There’s still not a clear timeline moving forward,” said Giddens, the former VA contracting executive. “They need to move forward with the next program. The longer they stay with the current one, and now that it’s down to TriWest, that’s not the best model.”
Meanwhile, TriWest will continue receiving a fee for every referral. And the number of referrals is poised to grow as the administration plans to shift more veterans to the private sector.
This story was produced in collaboration with PolitiFact.
This article originally appeared on ProPublica. Follow @ProPublica on Twitter.
A general assumption is that in order to lose weight, gain muscle, or get in better physical shape, you have to work more and work harder. While it’s true that the body must be put under stress in varying degrees for muscles to grow, what is sometimes overlooked is the importance of not working — the recovery process.
Anytime you deadlift, squat, bench press, or exceed the normal limits of daily activity, your muscles experience micro-tears. In response, your body releases inflammatory molecules called cytokines that activate the immune system to repair the muscle. Your body triggers delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) — that dull achy feeling you may experience 24 to 48 hours after the activity.
DOMS are local mechanical constraints. It’s your body telling you to stop using the muscle group and to start recovering the affected area.
(Photo courtesy of Katie Whelan.)
When deciding which recovery techniques to use, various factors must be considered, such as age, gender, physical fitness level, and the activity that was performed.
There are a growing number of techniques being used by athletes; however, proper sleep, nutrition, and hydration are key.
Sleep is a vital aspect of muscle repair and growth. While you sleep, your body goes into full repair mode. As you enter the N3 stage of non-REM sleep, your pituitary gland releases human growth hormone, which stimulates muscle growth and repair. Not only does sleep replenish the muscles, but it also recharges the brain — allowing for productive workouts the following day.
Exercise causes the depletion of glycogen stores and the breakdown of muscle protein. Consuming both carbohydrates and proteins within 30 minutes of your workout can improve recovery. Carbohydrates refuel your body, allowing you to restore lost energy sources, while proteins help repair and build new muscle cells. It is recommended that you consume .14 to .23 grams of protein per pound of body weight and .5 to .7 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight.
Proper hydration is imperative both during and after your workouts. During strenuous exercise, your body sweats to maintain temperature, causing fluid loss within your body. You can find your sweat rate by weighing yourself before and after exercise — then replenish your body by drink 80 to 100 percent of that loss.
Additional recovery techniques can be used in conjunction with the basics.
By reducing the weight and volume, weightlifting becomes active recovery.
(Photo courtesy of Katie Whelan.)
Active recovery is a way to flush out the by-products produced by exercise. To do this, choose an activity and lower the intensity to just above your resting heart rate. Some examples include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, yoga, and weightlifting at lower weights and volumes.
Hydrotherapy — such as cold water immersion (CWI), hot water immersion (HWI), and contrast water therapy (CWT) — is a common technique used by many athletes. Studies have shown that CWI is significantly better than others in reducing soreness and maintaining performance levels.
The easiest way to reap the benefits is to fill your tub with ice, run some cold water, and immerse your body for six to eight minutes. Ice baths can be painful at first, but they get easier with time.
U.S. Army 2nd Lt Chris Gabayan, left, and Air Force 2nd Lt. Rhett Spongberg talk about how they each pushed each other to conquer the course while they recover in an ice bath after the 2019 Alpha Warrior Inter-Service Battle at Retama Park, Selma, Texas, Sept. 14, 2019.
(Photo by Debbie Aragon/U.S. Air Force.)
The fascia is a thin connective tissue that covers our muscles. The purpose of myofascial relief is to break down the built-up adhesions and decrease muscle aches and stiffness.
If you’ve entered a gym in the last five years, chances are you’ve seen a foam roller — one of the most basic techniques to reduce muscle stiffness. In addition to foam rollers, sports massage and lacrosse balls have also been known to provide short-term increased range of motion and reduce soreness.
It’s easy to muster up an hour of motivation. Just turn up the music, scoop some pre-workout, and chalk up your hands. What’s not so glamorous is the time spent outside the gym — the 23 hours between training sessions. But it’s that time in between that determines your long-term results. Work hard — but recover harder.
Retired Marine infantry officer Joe L’Etoile remembers when training money for his unit was so short “every man got four blanks; then we made butta-butta-bang noises” and “threw dirt clods for grenades.”
Now, L’Etoile is director of the Defense Department’s Close Combat Lethality Task Force and leading an effort to manage $2.5 billion worth of DoD investments into weapons, unmanned systems, body armor, training, and promising new technology for a group that has typically ranked the lowest on the U.S. military’s priority list: the grunts.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Orrin G. Farmer)
But the task force’s mission isn’t just about funding high-tech new equipment for Army, Marine, and special operations close-combat forces. It is also digging into deeply entrenched policies and making changes to improve unit cohesion, leadership, and even the methods used for selecting individuals who serve in close-combat formations.
Launched in February, the new joint task force is a top priority of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine Corps infantry officer himself. With this level of potent support, L’Etoile is able to navigate through the bureaucratic strongholds of the Pentagon that traditionally favor large weapons programs, such as Air Force fighters and Navy ships.
“This is a mechanism that resides at the OSD level, so it’s fairly quick; we are fairly nimble,” L’Etoile told Military.com on July 25. “And because this is the secretary’s priority … the bureaucracies respond well because the message is the secretary’s.”
Before he’s done, L’Etoile said, the task force will “reinvent the way the squad is perceived within the department.”
“I would like to see the squad viewed as a weapons platform and treated as such that its constituent parts matter,” he said. “We would never put an aircraft onto the flight line that didn’t have all of its parts, but a [Marine] squad that only has 10 out of 13? Yeah. Deploy it. Put it into combat. We need to take a look at what that costs us. And fundamentally, I believe down at my molecular level, we can do better.”
United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jess Lewis)
Improving the Squad
Mattis’ Feb. 8 memo to the service secretaries, Joint Chiefs of Staff and all combatant commands announcing the task force sent a shockwave through the force, stating “personnel policies, advances in training methods, and equipment have not kept pace with changes in available technology, human factors, science, and talent management best practices.”
To L’Etoile, the task force is not out to fix what he describes as the U.S. military’s “phenomenal” infantry and direct-action forces.
“Our charter is really just to take it to the next level,” he said. “In terms of priorities, the material solution is not my number-one concern.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller)
For starters, the task force is looking at ways to identify Marines and soldiers who possess the characteristics and qualities that will make an infantry squad more efficient in the deadly art of close combat.
The concept is murky, but “we are investing in some leading-edge science to get at the question of what are the attributes to be successful in close combat and how do you screen for those attributes?” L’Etoile said. “How do you incentivize individuals with those attributes to come on board to the close-combat team, to stick their hand in the air for an infantry MOS?”
Col. Joey Polanco, the Army service lead at the task force, said it is evaluating several screening programs, some that rely on “big data and analytics to see if this individual would be a better fit for, say, infantry or close-combat formations.”
Polanco, an infantry officer who has served in the 82nd Airborne and 10th Mountain divisions, said the task force is also looking at ways to incentivize these individuals to “want to continue to stay infantry.”
L’Etoile said the task force is committed to changing policy to help fix a “wicked problem” in the Marine Corps of relying too heavily on corporals instead of sergeants to lead infantry squads.
“In the Marine Corps, there are plenty of squads that are being led by corporals instead of sergeants, and there are plenty of squads being led by lance corporals instead of corporals,” he said. “I led infantry units in combat. There is a difference when a squad is led by a lance corporal — no matter how stout his heart and back — and a sergeant leading them.”
Every Marine must be ready to take on leadership roles, but filling key leader jobs with junior enlisted personnel instead of sergeants degrades unit cohesion, L’Etoile said.
“When four guys are best buddies and they went to boot camp together and they go drinking beer together on the weekends … and then one day the squad leader rotates and it’s ‘Hey Johnson, you are now the squad leader,’ the human dynamics of that person becoming an effective leader with folks that were his peers is difficult to overcome,” he said.
It’s equally important to stabilize the squad’s leadership so that “the squad leader doesn’t show up three months before a deployment but is there in enough time to get that cohesion with his unit, his fire team leaders and his squad members,” L’Etoile said. “Having the appropriate grade, age-experience level and training is really, really important.”
The Army is compiling data to see if that issue is a persistent problem in its squads.
“When we get the data back, we will have a better idea of how do we increase the cohesion of an Army squad, and I think what you are going to find is, it needs its own solution, if there in fact is a problem,” L’Etoile said.
(U.S. Marine Corps photos by Cpl. Demetrius Morgan)
No Budget, But Deep Pockets
Just weeks after the first U.S. combat forces went into Afghanistan in late 2001, the Army, Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Command began modernizing and upgrading individual and squad weapons and gear.
Since then, equipment officials have labored to field lighter body armor, more efficient load-bearing gear and new weapons to make infantry and special operations forces more lethal.
But the reality is, there is only so much money budgeted toward individual kit and weapons when other service priorities, such as armored vehicles and rotary-wing aircraft, need modernizing as well.
The task force has the freedom to look at where the DoD is “investing its research dollars and render an opinion on whether those dollars are being well spent,” L’Etoile said. “I have no money; I don’t want money. I don’t want to spend the next two years managing a budget. That takes a lot of time and energy.”
“But I am very interested in where money goes. So, for instance, if there is a particular close-combat capability that I believe represents a substantive increase in survivability, lethality — you name it — for a close-combat formation, and I see that is not being funded at a meaningful level, step one is to ask why,” he continued. “Let’s get informed on the issue … and then if it makes sense, go advocate for additional funding for that capability.”
The task force currently has reprogramming or new funding requests worth up to .5 billion for high-tech equipment and training efforts that L’Etoile would not describe in detail.
“I have a number of things that are teed up … it’s premature for me to say,” he said. “In broad categories, we have active requests for additional funding in sensing; think robots and [unmanned aerial systems]. We have requests for additional funding of munitions for training and additional tactical capabilities [and] additional funding for training adversaries, so you get a sparring partner as well as a heavy bag.”
The task force is requesting additional money for advanced night-vision equipment and synthetic-training technologies. L’Etoile also confirmed that it helped fund the Army’s 0 million effort to train and equip the majority of its active brigade combat teams to fight in large, subterranean complexeslike those that exist in North Korea.
“We can go to the department and say, ‘This is of such importance that I think the department should shine a light on it and invest in it,’ ” he said.
Endorsing Futuristic Kit
One example of this is the task force’s interest in an Army program to equip its infantry units with a heads-up display designed to provide soldiers with a digital weapon-sight reticle, as well as tactical data about the immediate battlefield environment.
“The big thing is the Heads-Up Display 3.0. I would tell you that is one of the biggest things we are pushing,” Polanco said. “It’s focused primarily on helping us improve lethality, situational awareness, as well as our mobility.”
The Army is currently working on HUD 1.0, which involves a thermal weapon sight mounted on the soldier’s weapon that can wirelessly transmit the sight reticle into the new dual-tubed Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III B.
The system can also display waypoints and share information with other soldiers in the field, Army officials said.
The HUD 3.0 will draw on the synthetic training environment — one of the Army’s key priorities for modernizing training — and allow soldiers to train and rehearse in a virtual training environment, as well as take into combat.
The service has already had soldiers test the HUD 1.0 version and provide feedback.
“If you look at the increased lethality just by taking that thermal reticle off of the weapon and putting it up into their eye, the testing has been off the chart,” Brig. Gen. Christopher Donahue, director of the Army’s Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team, said at the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium earlier this year.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. John Tran)
The Army tried for years in the 1990s to accomplish this with its Land Warrior program, but it could be done only by running bulky cables from the weapon sight to the helmet-mounted display eyepiece. Soldiers found it too awkward and a snag hazard, so the effort was eventually shelved.
“Whatever we want to project up into that reticle — that tube — it’s pretty easy,” Donahue said. “It’s just a matter of how you get it and how much data. We don’t want too much information in there either … we’ve got to figure that out.”
The initial prototypes of the HUD 3.0 are scheduled to be ready in 18 months, he added.
“It is really a state-of-the art capability that allows you to train as you fight from a synthetic training environment standpoint to a live environment,” Polanco said, adding that the task force has submitted a request to the DoD to find funding for the HUD 3.0.
“One of the things we have been able to do as a task force is we have endorsed and advocated strongly for this capability. … It’s going forward as a separate item that we are looking for funding on,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest challenge before the task force is how to ensure all these efforts to make the squad more lethal will not be undone when Mattis is no longer in office.
“We ask ourselves every time we step up to the plate to take on one of these challenges, how do we make it enduring?” L’Etoile said.
“How do we ensure that the progress we make is not unwound when the priorities shift? So it’s important when you take these things on that you are mindful that there ought to be an accompanying policy because … they can’t just get unwound overnight,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
If North Vietnamese bombers were coming to strike a remote CIA radar station and helicopter landing zone filled with Air Force volunteers, there are certain weapon platforms that would be expected to respond. Maybe some fighters or some air defenders on the ground.
But probably no one would expect a couple of CIA operatives in a helicopter to chase down the bombers and shoot one down using an AK-47.
So, guess what happened on Jan. 12, 1968?
The North Vietnamese sent four AN-2 Colt biplanes to bomb Site 85, a radar station in the mountains of Laos used partially as a staging base for rescue and special operations helicopters. The station’s primary role was to guide bombers headed into missions against Hanoi, Vietnam.
On Jan. 12, Ted Moore was flying a UH-1D Huey helicopter owned by “Air America,” a CIA front company, to Site 85. When he and his crewman arrived at the site, he saw two of the biplanes circling the station as the other two conducted bombing runs.
Moore began chasing one of the bombers that was actively taking part in the attack. His crewman, Glenn Woods, grabbed an AK-47 and began firing it at the cockpit of the fleeing bomber.
All four of the bombers bugged out, and Moore and Woods kept chasing and firing on the bombers.
After about 20 minutes of chase, the first bomber crashed just inside of the North Vietnam border and a second one crashed into a ridge just a few minutes later. The other two bombers escaped without incident. A CIA ground team later searched the wrecks and found bullet holes in both.
The two Americans were credited with the only plane kill by a helicopter in the war. An artist named Keith Woodcock later painted the scene in “Lima Site 85.”
The remote radar station operated for another two months before a ground assault by North Vietnamese commandos was able to force its way to the summit. The site was overrun in the greatest single ground loss of U.S. airmen in the war.
Marines never change. We’re simple creatures. Whether it’s in the air, on the land, at sea, or in the outer reaches of space, we’re going to find a way to restrict everyone’s liberty by doing what we do best: getting drunk and fighting things.
Any place we go, you’ll know we were there. Not just because of the trail of destruction and bodies we leave in our wake, but because we’ve found a way to distinguish ourselves by looking and acting like the most primitive humans to ever exist in the modern era.
This type of thing will not change in space, no matter how far we go. Here are a few things that Marines will still do, even if we’re in the Andromeda system:
1. Get married to an alien stripper in their first month
Once we establish colonies on other planets, you know there will be tons of alien strip clubs and tattoo parlors set up just outside the gates of any military installation — and you know where they’ll get their business? The Space Force Marines. One of the FNGs is bound to fall in love with an alien stripper and marry it within a month of arriving on station.
It’ll become a competition to see who can hit someone on a planet’s surface from orbit.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
2. Throw space rocks at each other
When Marines get bored of waiting, they end up finding rocks to throw at each other. No, I’m not kidding. This is a popular pastime among Marines.
This won’t change, even if they’re in space. If anything, the lowered gravity will only make this more enjoyable.
We might even try to eat it.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
3. Find dangerous alien creatures to interact with
If you’ve ever been in a desert with Marines, then you know we’ve got some uncanny ability to find rattlesnakes and scorpions to play with. Here’s what would happen in the Space Force: Marines arrive on a new planet and find some kind of acid-spitting alien creature and decide it would be a good idea to pick it up and keep it as a pet.
Pro-tip: Don’t touch anything you aren’t familiar with.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
4. Eat strange, alien plants
There’s always that one Southern guy in your platoon who, while in a jungle, will just rip moss off trees and drink the water from it — or they’ll see some leafy plant and chew on it when they run out of tobacco.
Chances are, they’ll do the same on some distant planet.
The Mars rover already did it, but it lacked a human touch.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the Pentagon — led by the Army — is looking for a new handgun to replace the 1980s-era Beretta M9.
The latest from the program office is that the Army is still in “source selection,” which means program managers are still trying to decide which companies will be finalists for a pistol that’s supposed to fit a wide range of troops, be convertible between a compact, subcompact, and full-size combat pistol, and be more accurate and maintenance-free than the existing M9.
While the specs for the so-called XM17 Modular Handgun System program have been on the streets for some time, the Army has just released an outline of how that pistol should be carried when attached to a trooper’s hip or anywhere else on his or her body.
According to a solicitation distributed to industry, the Army is looking for a holster that can be attached to a variety of items, including body armor, a utility belt or a trooper’s waistband, can work with a suppressed pistol or without, can fit a handgun with a laser sight and keep the handgun secure during combat operations.
In short, the Army’s looking for a holster that can do just about everything.
“Compact variant users may need to carry their handguns in an overt/tactical method in the course of their duties and it would be necessary for the full-size holster to accommodate the compact variant,” the Army notice says. “In the event a new handgun is needed, the existing holster will need to holster or adapt to holster the new weapon to ensure soldiers have a holster system available for use.”
Program officials suggest what they’ve dubbed the “Army Modular Tactical Holster system” could use a single attachment point and hold different shells to fit different-sized pistols or ones designed to for accessories like suppressors or flashlights. Shooting with pistol suppressors often requires pistols to be fitted with slightly longer barrels and higher sights in order for the shooter to properly zero in on his target, and a flashlight adds significant bulk to the slide.
Interestingly, the Army called for a retention system that did not have to be “activated” by the soldier like some holsters used by law enforcement where a lever is flipped over the handgun’s hammer or slide.
“Soldiers require the ability to draw handguns from holsters and re-holster with one hand reliably when transitioning from another weapon system, or when presented with a lethal force engagement with little or no warning when only armed with a handgun,” the notice says. “This requires that Soldiers be capable of drawing the weapon quickly with one fluid motion, attain a proper firing grip from the holster, engage enemy targets, holster the weapon and potentially repeat the process during the same engagement or in successive engagements. … Soldiers must be able to conduct draw and re-holster with one hand and without looking or glancing away from their near-target environment.”
All of this is to avoid the problem experienced with the popular Blackhawk! Serpa holster that many claim contributes to negligent discharges.
“No retention buttons, switches, levers, etc. will use the soldier’s trigger finger to release the handgun,” the Army says.
The Army also wants the AMTH to work both outside and inside the waistband for concealed carry environments.
That’s surely an ambitious list of specs for a do-all holster. And to top it off, the Army wants the base holster (without any accessory shells or attachments) to cost less than $100.
And industry has until early October to tell the Army what it’s got that can meet the AMTH’s lofty goals.
US troops deployed to the US-Mexico border will remain there until at least the end of September 2019, the Pentagon revealed in an emailed statement Jan. 14, 2019.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who took over for former Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the beginning of 2019 has approved Department of Defense assistance to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through Sept. 30, 2019.
The decision was made in response to a DHS request submitted in late December 2018.
The initial deployment, which began in October 2018 as “Operation Faithful Patriot” (since renamed “border support”), was expected to end on Dec. 15, 2018. The mission had previously been extended until the end of January 2019.
U.S. Marines with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, walk along the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Point of Entry in Winterhaven, California, Nov.30, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ethan Valetski)
Thousands of active-duty troops, nearly six thousand at the operation’s peak, were sent to positions in California, Texas, and Arizona to harden points of entry, laying miles and miles of concertina wire. The number of troops at the southern border, where thousands of Central American migrants wait in hopes of entering the US, has dropped significantly since the operation began.
The Department of Defense is transitioning the support provided from securing ports of entry to mobile surveillance and detection activities, according to the Pentagon’s emailed statement. Troops will offer aviation support, among other services.
Shanahan has also given his approval for deployed troops to put up another 115 miles of razor wire between ports of entry to limit illegal crossings, according to ABC News.
U.S. Marines with 7th Engineer Support Battalion, Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, secure concertina and barbed wire near the California-Mexico border at the Andrade Port of Entry in California, Nov. 29, 2018.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Asia J. Sorenson)
The extension of the border mission was expected after a recent Cabinet meeting. “We’re doing additional planning to strengthen the support that we’re providing to Kirstjen and her team,” Shanahan said, making a reference to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Military.com reported early January 2019.
“We’ve been very, very closely coupled with Kirstjen,” he added. “The collaboration has been seamless.”
The cost of the Trump administration’s border mission, condemned by critics as a political stunt, is expected to rise to 2 million by the end of this month, CNN reported recently.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Boeing Australia has built the first of three Loyal Wingman aircraft, which will serve as the foundation for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System being developed for the global defense market. The aircraft are designed to fly alongside existing platforms and use artificial intelligence to conduct teaming missions. (Boeing photo)
The Royal Australian Air Force has its first Boeing-built drone-jet hybrid prototype, which will use artificial intelligence to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions to supply fighter pilots with more information during a conflict.
The company delivered its first “loyal wingman” prototype to Australia this week; it is expected to be used in tandem with fourth- and fifth-generation fighters on the battlefield, officials said in a release.
It’s also the first aircraft “to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years,” Boeing said, adding that it’s the company’s “largest investment in an unmanned aircraft outside of the United States.”
“This is a truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defence innovation,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “The Loyal Wingman will be pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our Air Force needs to protect our nation and its allies into the future.”
The delivery in Sydney is the first of three for Australia’s Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program, officials said.
The aircraft, which Boeing is co-developing with the government of Australia, was unveiled at the Avalon Airshow last year. Australia is investing roughly million into the program, CNN reported.
The jet is 38 feet long and can fly more than 2,000 nautical miles, according to its fact sheet.
It uses artificial intelligence “to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft, the fact sheet states. The first prototype was constructed using digital engineering concepts, allowing developers to simulate parts via computer models, according to the company.
“We are proud to take this significant step forward with the Royal Australian Air Force and show the potential for smart unmanned teaming to serve as a force multiplier,” said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Autonomous Systems for Boeing Defense, Space Security.
“We look forward to getting the aircraft into flight testing and proving out the unmanned teaming concept,” Robertson said. The drone-jet will now begin ground testing, followed by a first flight later this year.
“We see global allies with those same mission needs, which is why this program is so important to advancing the development of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System,” she said.
The concept is similar to an ongoing U.S. military effort.
In January, the Air Force conducted test flights of the XQ-58A Valkyrie drone at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, taking the unmanned aerial vehicle, made by Kratos Defense, to higher altitudes than previous tests.
The drone is part of the Air Force’s Low-Cost Attritable Strike Demonstration program, an effort to develop unmanned attack aircraft, which are intended to be reusable but cheap enough that they can be destroyed without significant cost.
The U.S. Navy issued a warning to China’s Navy over Instagram this week, telling China that it doesn’t want to “play laser tag” with the U.S. Navy with their destroyer-based laser weapons.
Last month, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy destroyer pointed a military grade laser weapon at a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon, which is an aircraft designed specifically for various types of sea-based warfare, including anti-submarine operations. According to Defense Department reports, the P-8A was flying approximately 380 miles west of Guam when it encountered a Chinese destroyer believed to have been the Hohhot, among the latest and most advanced destroyers in China’s fleet.
The destroyer reportedly shined a laser weapon at the P-8A, though the laser caused no injuries or immediately recognizable damage. The aircraft is being inspected further for issues. Despite the low level of threat the laser posed, the U.S. Navy has been taking this attack quite seriously, recognizing it as a test, both of their weapon’s efficacy and of the American response.
While the Navy’s warning on Instagram seems almost playful, the U.S. Navy isn’t messing around when it comes to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, nor are they kidding about their laser weapons. The U.S. currently has a number of laser weapons under development, and just recently deployed one aboard the USS Dewey aimed at “dazzling” or blinding and confusing drones.
This isn’t the first time the U.S. has had reports of being engaged with Chinese lasers, nor is it the first time these two naval powers have found themselves in a staring contest over China’s claims of sovereignty throughout the region. The United States and the international community recognize China’s claimed ownership of the South China Sea as illegal, but China’s Navy has been rapidly expanding to enforce their claims in recent years.
China’s claims over the South China Sea are shown in red.
With neither China nor the U.S. backing down in the Pacific, and laser weapons becoming more commonplace by the day, it seems entirely likely that this won’t be the last round of laser tag between our two navies.
North Korea and the United States don’t have a lot in common. What they do share is a need for gathering intelligence — typically about each other. While the United States’ intelligence agencies might have a difficult time penetrating the North’s rigid class system and meticulous tracking of its citizens, the Hermit Kingdom can exploit the open societies of the West to plant its operatives – and it does.
Kim Hyon-hui was one of those operatives. The daughter of a high-level North Korean diplomat during the Cold War, she trained rigorously in the North as an intelligence operative. She went on a number of missions, including the infamous 1987 bombing of Korean Airlines flight 858, which was personally ordered by President Kim Il-Sung to frighten teams from attending the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Much of her training would not surprise anyone, but some of it might.
Japanese national Yaeko Taguchi was kidnapped after dropping her kids off at school at age 22. She’s been training spies ever since.
There’s a special school for North Korea’s spy agents, located outside the capital city of Pyongyang. There, they learn the usual spy stuff we’ve all come to expect from watching movies and television: explosives, martial arts, and scuba diving. What’s most unusual is not just that this school also teaches its agents Japanese, but who teaches it to them.
For the longest time, North Korea denied ever having abducted Japanese citizens for any reason. But a number of defectors, including the captured spy, Kim Hyon-hui, described learning Japanese from a native speaker, Yaeko Taguchi. North Korea has been accused of abducting a number of Japanese citizens to put them to work for similar reasons. The North’s disdain for Japan dates back to World War II, owing to the atrocities committed on Koreans by Japanese troops. North Koreans like Japan as much as they like the United States. Maybe less.
It may or may not surprise you to learn that North Korean grocery stores are very much unlike any Western grocery stores. Most of the time, North Koreans don’t actually go to supermarkets, no matter how much food is available to them. North Korean doesn’t have supermarkets as we know them.
The idea of using plastic instead of hard currency was a huge surprise to Kim. She had to be trained not just to use a credit card, but how credit cards work in general, considering much of the technology used to create this system of payment wasn’t available to North Korea back then (and still isn’t, but that’s by choice).
It somehow took practice to dance like this.
The nightlife of North Korea seems like something from the pre-sexual revolution 1960s. While beer and soju are widely consumed in Pyongyang, even in the capital there are no obvious bars or nightclubs. Many North Koreans spend their evenings with their families at the dinner table or by going to concerts and family fun parks, small carnivals that stay in the same place all the time. To go to a European disco and party like a Westerner required training.
A deafening explosion followed the commands as a 155mm artillery round exited the tube of an M777A2 during Operation Swift, Iraq, Dec. 22, 2018.
Troopers from the Field Artillery Squadron “Steel,” 3rd Cavalry Regiment “Brave Rifles,” conducted a gun raid to provide supporting fires for Operation Swift — a series of artillery and airstrikes against ISIS targets in the Makhmour Mountains.
Operation Swift was the first artillery raid conducted in support of Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve, and demonstrated the Coalition’s capability to provide dynamic fires in support of the Iraqi Security Forces.
U.S. Army Soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment execute nighttime fire missions with an M777A2 howitzer during a gun raid mission with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in Iraq, Dec. 22, 2018.
(Photo by Sgt. Edward Bates)
“Doing the first artillery raid, having never air assaulted a howitzer in theater, was a great experience,” said 1st Lt. Aaron Palumbo, platoon leader. “It taught us just how light we could personally pack and helped us identify the feasibility of transporting a Howitzer with rotary-wing assets,” said Palumbo.
High explosive charges echoed across Camp Swift night and day as the fire direction center meticulously choreographed the fire missions with airstrikes on multiple ISIS weapons caches and hiding spots throughout the mountains.
“It felt as if we were moving mountains before the mission,” said Palumbo. “Now, we have identified friction points and know how to execute future missions with increased lethality.”
The barrages of artillery fire were intended to destroy resources of ISIS fighters and send a message that no enemy location was safe from the lethality of the entire coalition force.
U.S. Army Soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment load and elevate an M777A2 howitzer during nighttime fire missions for a gun raid mission with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in Iraq, Dec. 22, 2018.
(Photo by Sgt. Edward Bates)
“It was interesting being part of the first artillery raid, and doing an artillery mission in combat like we would during home station training,” said Spc. Deavon Shafer, ammunition team chief.
During the onset of Operation Swift, Steel troopers both observed coalition aircraft dropping ordnance on known ISIS positions, and reinforced those fires with their own M777A2 howitzer that was air assaulted into position.
The artillery raid was a proof of concept to pass onto future artillery units in theater and a demonstration of the partnership between the ISF and Brave Rifles Troopers in the fight to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS in Iraq.
When not firing, they trained with the 3rd Federal Police Division soldiers at Camp Swift on the unique weapons systems of both units and conducted artillery training with soldiers of the 12th Brigade, 3rd Iraqi FEDPOL Artillery Battalion.
A trooper with the Field Artillery Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, connects a sling leg from an M777A2 howitzer to a CH-47 Chinook before executing a gun raid mission with Ira-qi Security Forces in Iraq, Dec. 16, 2018.
(Photo by Sgt. Edward Bates)
“The training felt the same as training we do internally — we learned something new,” said Spc. Kevin Mahan, M777A2 gunner.
Operation Swift was the first of its kind in theater and will not be the last.
“Task Force Steel executed the artillery raid in conjunction with fixed wing airstrikes to mass joint fires in the Makhmour Mountains and continue the physical and psychological degradation of ISIS,” said Maj. Simon Welte, squadron executive officer. “Our operational tempo remains high against ISIS and this raid serves as another example to our ISF and Kurdish Security Force partners that we are committed to the lasting defeat of ISIS in Iraq.”
Brave Rifles Troopers are deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, working by, with and through the Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition partners to bring about the lasting defeat of ISIS. Brave Rifles Troopers will eventually be replaced by soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team “Bastogne,” 101st Airborne Division, and the Steel Sqdn. has paved the way for future missions.
Bastogne soldiers will continue to provide support to the ISF and deliver massed fires utilizing a variety of firepower to defeat ISIS’s combat power and ideology.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
It was 1994 when my Delta Troop and I were training in the desert in preparation to deploy to the Mid-Eastern theater where there was much misbehaving going on. We spent a particular day primarily calling in anti-armor attacks from MH-60 Blackhawk (Hawkers) helicopters toting the venerable and extraordinarily deadly Hellfire missile.
We rotated ourselves onto a hilltop as Forward Observers choosing targets and directing the helo strikes. We used a Vietnam-era LASER designator called the MULE. The MULE “painted” the target with a LASER that the helo-mounted Hellfire could track all the way to the target.
ANPAQ-3 Modular Universal Laser Equipment (MULE)
Some men laughed at the MULE, but theirs was a shallow laugh as none of us could find fault with the noble seeker, and “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I intentionally picked armor targets as far away as possible, some 8,000 meters and beyond, to challenge the Hellfire capabilities. The challenge was always accepted, and the missiles never missed.
In addition to calling in fire from aircraft, we also launched Hellfires from our six-wheel drive Austrian-made assault vehicles using an improvised launch pedestal welded by our mechanics. Success was enjoyed as well with that highly mobile platform.
Vehicle-mounted Hellfire launch; we often joked that we got sleepy waiting for the Hellfire to reach its distant targets
Toward late afternoon our troop leadership introduced us to an Air Force lieutenant colonel who heard there was a group of Delta men training nearby and just had to come show off his latest Research and Development endeavor — a remote control pilotless aircraft. None of us really cared about him, or his drone but rank still had its privileges so ok…
He stood proudly amongst us and beamed as he bragged on his miniature airplane. He held his Ground Control Unit in his hands explaining that his drone was at the moment several kilometers to our southwest and that it had a ,000 instrument payload that included a pilot’s Situational Awareness (SA) camera focused ahead of the aircraft.
It was a gasoline-powered, propeller-driven drone with a wingspan of about 12′. Just as interest waned, he brought the drone in tight and had it scream a few feet over our heads. That was actually pretty cool, and questions started coming out for the colonel: how fast, how high, what duration, how many pounds payload… all measure of questions about the drone’s capabilities.
This tragic friendly fire incident destroyed this Abrams tank with a Hellfire
“Sir, what’s the learning curve like on piloting that craft?” came my question.
“I’ll tell you what,” the colonel began as he stepped toward me. “I’ll let you see for yourself; give her a spin!” and he reached the ground control unit with its long whip antenna toward me. I immediately recoiled, not wanting to fool with all this expensive enigma.
“Fly it, a$hole!” the brothers started in on me.
“Yeah, get you some-o-that, chicken $hit!”
“Fly the damn plane, jacka$!”
And so it went, with the colonel thrusting the unit in my hands. All flight controls were there; all health inputs for the drone were displayed: speed, altitude, heading, fuel level, and others that I didn’t recognize. In the center of the unit was a screen displaying the done’s SA camera video feed.
It was very basic. All that was readily recognizable was black for the ground, and white for the sky. The black was toward the bottom of the screen with the majority of the screen white. There was a crosshair that cut across the screen representing an artificial horizon. I had seen similar instruments in the cockpit of an airplane, but as for flying these drones, I was fresh out of any experience whatsoever!
The true horizon on the screen was, of course, the line where the black (ground) met with the white (sky). The true horizon then should be under the aircraft’s artificial horizon for safe, unobstructed flight. To keep level flight like the colonel told me, all I had to do was keep the two horizon lines parallel… and not breathe.
A representative artificial horizon from an aircraft cockpit. Here, brown represents ground and blue represents sky; where the two meet is the true horizon. The yellow horizontal line represents the aircraft’s artificial horizon as it appears with the aircraft parked on the ground.
“Just keep that baby flat and stable; just hold with what you got,” directed the colonel who then stepped back, turned and addressed the men in regard to how any plain-ol’ idiot could fly the thing, just not in those exact words. He really was proud of and loved his job so.
As he babbled to the boys, I imagined somehow that the amount of black seemed to be expanding into the white somewhat… and then I was sure that the black was indeed encroaching more on the white, headed up toward that artificial horizon line… “Hey, Sir…”
“Just keep her flat and stable,” the colonel yawned as he yapped to the yokels. Now the black rose up above the drone’s artificial horizon on the screen. It was time to hit the ejection lever!
“Sir I think you better see this!” I insisted as I stepped up and thrust the control unit in his face.
“Juuuust keep’r flaaaaa… DOH!!”
With that, the colonel snatched the unit from my hands and yanked back on the joystick with Ren and Stimpy bulging eyes. When the colonel had passed off the controls to me, there was flat terrain below. Unfortunately, while he was delivering his dissertation, the drone approached a hill mass that was taller than the drone was high. The video screen blipped out.
“OH MY GOD YOU’VE… YOU’VE… FLOWN IT INTO A MOUNTAIN!”
You see, that right there… that is why I did NOT want any part of the colonel’s toy. That thing was not such a piece of cake to operate as the man would have us believe. Let’s face it, all I was doing was standing with a box in my hand — I was not operating it at all!
A typical modern control unit for a drone; note the SA video feed screen and joy sticks
I was fire-spittin’ mad thinking about that ,000.00 waste. The boys were howling like banshees now which salted the wound. I knew as well as the next man you can’t bleed in the presence of sharks. Visions of myself in the squadron cartoon book filled my head. This event had certainly been most fitting fodder… ah, but as it is with photography, so it is with being the cartoonist: the photographer never has to be in the pictures.
The colonel could see I was mad as hell as he quickly called out:
“Ok, ok… it was absolutely not his fault, not his fault at all… he was just doing exactly what I told him to. It was entirely my fault!” That was true and gracious of him, but I was mad. I was mad at him, at myself, at that stupid airplane… and especially at that Goddamned mountain!
It was two days later my troop leader pulled up in a jeep and approached me carrying… a stick? He reached it out toward me and said:
“Hey, that drone colonel made it out to the crash site and wanted you to have this.”
I held in my hand a two-bladed wooden propeller about 18-inches long. I’m pretty sure that Colonel meant no dig or sarcasm by the gesture, but now I was mad at the world again, and didn’t like his little gift, not one little bit. I walked up to a trash dumpster near our tents. With a swoop of my arm, I cracked that propeller in two on the corner of the dumpster and flung the halves inside.
So twenty-six years ago we scoffed at the colonel’s drone. What was it good for? What was the application? He was some boyish dude out playing with his toy. Little did we know at the time what an impact that research would have on the world, eh? Today the likes of drones are all but taking over in their application in our everyday lives.
Just yesterday my 13-year-old son and I went out to a nearby field to fly a remote Radio Controlled (RC) hobby airplane. After many successful laps my son reached the control my way and asked: