US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS - We Are The Mighty
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US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS

President Barack Obama announced that 250 more special forces troops would be sent to Syria to bolster U.S. efforts in the fight against ISIS. Their specific mission is not clear, but in neighboring Iraq, ground forces have provided fire support to Iraqi troops fighting to retake Mosul and have acted as advisors to Iraqi and Kurdish forces.


US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS

Meanwhile, the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command has conducted raids against ISIS in Syria, killing or capturing leaders of the terror group. In recent days, U.S. special operators were captured on video by France’s media outlet France24, as U.S. troops directed A-10 Thunderbolt strikes in support of Syrian Democratic Forces fighting to take the village of Shadadi from ISIS.

Shadadi is a border town that once served as the crossing point for ISIS fighter heading into neighboring Iraq. It was captured recently by Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units and Syrian Democratic Forces. The recapture took less than a week.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS

The video keep the men’s identities secret, but shows the gear used against ISIS in the battle for the town. The small group of operators are seen carrying Remington’s Modular Sniper Rifle, an M-32 semiautomatic grenade launcher, and equipment that allows for them to call in airstrikes, acording to Twitter’s Abraxas Spa, who describes their feed as an “all-source analyst.”

 

One operator is using the Mk. 4 scope on a tripod while another is marking objects with the LA-16 laser marker. The LA-16 will guide bombs to targets on the ground using the handheld laser.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS

The operators are also using a ROVER, Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver, which allows for troops on the ground to see a video feed of what aircraft overhead see. The Tactical ROVER-p can provide real-time imagery to a tablet.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS

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This Afghan man served 3 years as a translator for the military — now he’s a US Marine

While some children grow up with aspirations to become scientists, professional athletes, or actors, Mohammad Nadir’s goal was to become a United States Marine, stemming from an early childhood amid a strong military presence.


As the sixth of ten siblings, Nadir grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he constantly lived among uniformed personnel.

“My mom would tell me stories about the military when I was younger, my father was a cop with the Afghan police . . . and many people welcomed the Americans, even during times of strife,” Nadir explained.

Intrigued by the lifestyle, Nadir’s curiosity for the military grew after he graduated high school and discovered several private companies hiring Afghan locals.

“They were hiring Afghan locals to work as interpreters for the International Security Assistance Force,” said Nadir. “This was my chance to be around the military.”

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USMC photo by Sgt. Jessica Quezada

Under the impression Nadir would be safe, his family wished him well as he left to the Sangin District of Helmand province, Afghanistan, in October 2011, where he spent the next three years working with multiple operational units and serving as a key influencer to the community.

“I told my family it was a nice job and would be safe, but they didn’t know it was nothing like that. . . It was the worst place,” said Nadir.

Although translators play a crucial role for the U.S. military, many Afghan-born employees are branded a traitor by the Taliban and other groups for working with the U.S.

“We were the ears and eyes of ISAF,” Nadir recalls. “I was serving my country and also the United States. I felt great. But you could see the distance between the locals and the U.S. personnel.”

Nadir recalls the apprehensive nature of locals whenever Americans traveled to a new area in their country.

“They’d initially be scared and then realize we were here for good reasons. We would explain everything in their language and made them understand,” said Nadir. “We brought them closer together.”

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USMC photo by Sgt. Jessica Quezada

Nadir’s responsibilities lied heavily with bridging the language and cultural gaps between locals and U.S. service members who needed the community to understand their presence.

Educating the Afghan police about improvised explosive devices and operational safety were other key tasks Nadir appreciated doing to heighten overall protection of Americans and Afghans in the area.

“It was something I really liked doing and I felt good when I got a chance to work with the Afghan police,” Nadir commented.

As an interpreter, Nadir also had the opportunity to apply for a Special Immigrant Visa, which helps provide protection for translators and their families to migrate to the U.S. after their service.

Through this program, Nadir took his first steps on American soil on Nov 10, 2014, the Marine Corps’ much-celebrated birthday, and set forth on his journey to become a United States Marine.

“I told my family I was going to come to America and become a Marine, so I did,” said Nadir.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USMC photo by Sgt. Jessica Quezada

Nadir traveled to Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he stayed with Marine Corps Maj. Mark Nicholson, a former administration adviser for the Afghan National Police Advisory Team with Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan.

“We met him at the airport and brought him to our home,” said Nicholson. “Nadir helped us out when we needed him. He had been in some pretty dangerous situations, but was as good as they got. Interpreters put themselves in a lot of danger, more than we do.”

Nicholson built a strong bond with Nadir and other interpreters as he supervised a majority of the administrative tasks handled for these employees. The type of relationship between the interpreters and U.S. service members require a lot of trust and reliability.

“Nadir is a really smart guy,” said Nicholson. “We relied on interpreters for our safety and knowledge of the culture. I trusted him with my life.”

Nadir found work soon thereafter to help support his family back home. He also took lessons to help improve his English fluency and prepare for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

“My English was terrible, so I had to study,” Nadir joked. “I moved to Anaheim, Calif., with a friend and that’s when I met a Marine recruiter, Sgt. William Soukthavong.”

Nadir enlisted in February 2017 and recently graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego on May 26, 2017.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USMC photo by Sgt. Jessica Quezada

“I watched the movie Full Metal Jacket, but when I arrived it was totally different,” said Nadir. “Receiving company was so easy, then we met our actual drill instructors and they ‘destroyed our house.’ I thought, ‘Oh my god, I wasn’t expecting that!’ It was very different and I believe mentally it was easier for me since I’ve been in stressful situations. I tried my best and worked as hard as I could.”

He added that living in the rugged environment of Afghanistan with the mountainsides helped him physically as well, a “I was good at the hikes,” said Nadir, a quality truly needed for the demanding terrain recruits endure at boot camp.

Looking back at the 13 weeks spent at recruit training, Nadir says it was tough but his memories of Marines in his home of Afghanistan are the inspiration for him moving forward for training as an infantryman.

“When I saw the Marines fighting I knew I wanted to do that,” said Nadir. “They are the brute force for a military and I respect them a lot for what I saw those Marines do in Afghanistan.”

Nadir has lived a life of service and becoming a Marine has given him another opportunity to serve, one which he has undoubtedly earned.

“I love Nadir like a brother,” said Nicholson. “I’m very excited that he is now a U.S. Marine.”

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Fort Bragg troops play key role in liberation of Mosul

When more than 1,700 paratroopers left Fort Bragg for Iraq late last year, they knew that the fight to free Mosul would be one of their top priorities.


It was a question of when, not if, the major city in northern Iraq would be liberated from the Islamic State, officials said.

On July 10, Iraqi leaders officially declared ISIS defeated in Mosul. But Col. J. Patrick Work, who commands the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, said the work isn’t over.

In the roughly seven months since the 2nd Brigade deployed, the unit’s numbers have swelled to more than 2,100 paratroopers deployed to Iraq.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Col. J Patrick Work (left). (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)

It is the largest contingent among the thousands of Fort Bragg soldiers serving as part of an international coalition to defeat ISIS. That coalition is led by Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg.

On July 10, Work said the Falcon Brigade can be proud of its efforts to defeat ISIS through advising and assisting its Iraqi partners.

A few years ago, officials said the Iraqi army was largely defeated — broken, dispirited, and pushed to the gates of Baghdad. Today, it is celebrating a major victory.

“Our mission, the reason we matter, is to help the Iraqi Security Forces win,” Work said. “The fight continues, but they have dominated ISIS in Mosul. The key now is establishing a durable security that enables governance to extend its reach.”

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
U.S. Army Col. J Patrick Work greets residents in a recently-liberated neighborhood in west Mosul, Iraq, July 2, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

While Iraqi forces have been at the forefront of the victory, American paratroopers have played no small role in the success.

“It’s been hard, violent work every day,” Work said of fighting in Mosul. “The Iraqi Security Forces have fought doggedly to take terrain from ISIS and liberate the people of Mosul. ISIS had years to prepare its defense, and it gave nothing away. Our partners took it from them, and we’ve been helping them attack. At the same time, we are extraordinarily proud of our partners. They assume the lion’s share of the physical risk, but we attack a common enemy together. Their success is our success.”

When the brigade’s soldiers arrived in Iraq, the battle to defeat ISIS was still raging in east Mosul, Work said.

Now, that part of the city is thriving “despite being just over five months removed from intense ground combat.”

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Erik Salo, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve and assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, observes a sniper course led by Iraqi Federal Police partners near Mosul, Iraq, June 7, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Heidi McClintock)

Work said the brigade’s paratroopers gave invaluable support to their Iraqi counterparts, advising and assisting ground commanders and providing artillery fires, intelligence, and logistical support.

As the fight moved to west Mosul, the paratroopers moved with their Iraqi counterparts, inching closer to the embattled city.

“We helped decimate a formidable ISIS mortar and artillery force in west Mosul,” Work said. “We helped destroy ISIS infantry, logistics, and suicide car bombs so that our partners could continue to attack on the hard days. We were with the commanders calling the shots, delivering fires that helped them dominate, and we always put them first. Every day and every night.”

Townsend congratulated Iraqi forces on July 10 for their “historic victory against an evil enemy.”

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ethan Hutchinson)

“The Iraqis prevailed in the most extended and brutal combat I have ever witnessed,” he said.

As commander of Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve, Townsend is the top general overseeing the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. He’s one of several hundred 18th Airborne Corps soldiers who form the core of the anti-ISIS headquarters.

Several other Fort Bragg units, including the 1st Special Forces Command, are also deployed in support of the campaign.

Townsend spoke to members of the media via a video feed from Baghdad.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Fort Bragg paratroopers in action. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Steven Galimore)

He said ISIS has now lost its capital in Iraq and its largest population center held anywhere in the world. That’s a decisive blow to ISIS and something for Iraqis to celebrate.

Townsend said forces also are making progress against ISIS in Syria, where partner forces working with American and coalition troops have surrounded ISIS’s capital of Raqqa.

The general said ISIS would fight hard to keep that city, much as it did in Mosul.

“Make no mistake, it is a losing cause,” he said.

Townsend said Iraqi forces have a plan in the works to continue to pursue ISIS in other parts of the country. He said he doesn’t anticipate any decrease in US troops in Iraq following the liberation of Mosul.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Iraqi security force members and Coalition advisors share information. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

American forces, including those from Fort Bragg, are expected to play a key role in those efforts.

While the city of Mosul is now firmly under the control of Iraqi forces, Work said, no one will be celebrating too long.

“A lot of hard work remains. The Iraqi Security Forces will continue to attack the remnants of ISIS, search for caches, and free the people of west Mosul,” he said. “The transition for the Iraqis to consolidate their gains is critical now. It requires detailed intelligence, organization, and logistics. Our paratroopers will continue to give our best advice, help our partners attack ISIS, and keep enabling their operations.”

The 2nd Brigade deployed seven battalions to aid in the anti-ISIS fight. Most of the soldiers are involved in providing security or advising their Iraqi counterparts.

But, Work said, all soldiers contributed to the efforts and successes of the unit.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Troops from 82nd Airborne Division speak with Iraqi Federal Police members in Mosul, Iraq, June 29, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Rachel Diehm)

“All seven of our battalion teams have been tremendous. 37th Engineer Battalion has run a major staging base that is the hub of all logistics for a very decentralized coalition adviser network,” he said. “407th Brigade Support Battalion assists the Iraqis with advancing their own logistics while also sustaining and maintaining our adviser teams. Finally, the 2nd Battalion of the 319th Field Artillery devastated ISIS’s once-formidable mortar and artillery battery.”

Work also said the brigade has relied on junior soldiers to step up and fill important roles in the fight.

“We have a junior intelligence analyst, Spc. Cassandra Ainsworth, who is brilliant. We rely heavily on her thinking, on her analysis, and synthesis when we are making major recommendations to Iraqi generals,” he said. “We also have a junior signal soldier, Spc. Malik Turner, whom I count on daily to keep us connected securely in very austere environments. He is exceptional.”

Work said the brigade was the “right team at the right time” to help in Iraq.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
US Army 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Rachel Diehm)

“There is a lot of hard work ahead, but the Falcons — some of the best trained, best equipped, and best led paratroopers in the world — helped the Iraqis win in Mosul,” he said.

With the city liberated, Work said, the soldiers’ attention will turn to securing those gains, improving the Iraqi forces, and taking the fight to ISIS forces in other parts of the country.

“The first priority is helping the Iraqis sink in their hold on west Mosul, helping them set conditions that allow the government to start delivering services and political goods,” he said. “Mosul is also a major battle in a much broader campaign to eliminate ISIS, and the fight continues. We will continue to give our best military advice, but the government of Iraq will decide the next objective. Whatever they decide, we are confident that we will continue to help them attack our common enemy.”

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The Air Force may offer a ‘fly only’ option to keep more pilots in its jets

The Air Force’s pilot shortage has leaders worried not only about filling gaps in the immediate future, but also how the military and civilian airlines may suffer without fine-tuned aviators in decades to come.


As a result, Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, if given permission, may start a small group tryout for pilots testing a new program in which aviators stay at their home-duty stations longer, thus increasing their longevity and likelihood to stay in service, the head of the command told Military.com in an exclusive interview.

“Should we go with a ‘fly-only’ track?” Gen. Carlton Everhart II said in an interview July 26.

Everhart said he envisions something like this: “You stay with me for 20 years, and I let you fly. You … could maybe [make] lieutenant colonel, but you may not make higher than that.”

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II, left, Air Mobility Command commander, shakes hands with Chief Master Sgt. Chris Hofrichter, 514th Maintenance Operations Squadron. USAF photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen

“Then, [we] allow you to stay at your home station for three to four years instead of two to three, so you can get some longevity,” he continued. “Then, it’s not just [flying airlift cargo or tanker planes]. You could go to [Air Education and Training Command] and help out there for three to four years to help bring on new pilots.”

“To sweeten the deal, as you come into your career, maybe in the last four years, we allow you on a ‘dream sheet’ to put your top three choices, try to get you moved to there so you can establish your family and where you want to retire,” he said.

Everhart said the ‘fly-only’ effort would still encompass wing, squadron, and group duties and deployments but — bottom line — “it’s longevity.”

The same aviator retention bonuses would also apply, he said.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey

“The idea being explored is seeking airmen volunteers for a professional ‘fly-only’ aviator track comprised of anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the AMC flying force,” said Col. Chris Karns, spokesman for the command, in an email. “This small group of airmen would be linked to flying jobs throughout a career.”

AMC has nearly 49,000 active-duty members and civilians; 42,000 Air Reserve component military; and 35,000 Air National Guard members, according to the command.

RELATED: The Air Force is running out of pilots

The mobility Air Forces has roughly 8,500 total force pilots. Throughout the Air Force, active-duty mobility pilots total 5,125, Karns said. Active-duty pilots assigned to AMC installations total 2,866.

How airmen will be selected for the ‘fly-only’ program is still being determined, the officials said, as well as how many will be involved.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Charles Rivezzo

Everhart said his teams are looking at the program to establish more fixed methodology behind the effort, but would like to “look at it in the next three to four months” to begin a trial run.

“There’s certain things we have to do to code these folks … and I’ve introduced the notion and got a tentative nod from [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen David Goldfein],” he said. “I think there’s merit there, but I’ve just got to work all the way through it, then do the small group tryout and see where we go.”

“I’m not taking anything off the table because I need them with me, I need them to fly with me,” he said.

The Issues Wearing Out Pilots

Goldfein and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson have said the service was 1,544 pilots short by fiscal 2016, which includes 1,211 total force fighter pilots — with the deficit expected to grow.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USAF photo by Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen

Everhart said the Air Force stands potentially to lose 1,600 pilots who are eligible to separate from the service in the next four years.

He has been working with an AMC aviation retention task force for the past few months, trying to come up with recommendations as a result of airman feedback.

That feedback includes: Flying has become secondary to administrative duties; airmen desire more stability for themselves and their families; they lack support personnel; and they fear the impact of service politics on their career paths.

Airman feedback has resulted in one concrete move — the removal of additional duties, a common complaint.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USAF photo by Lt. Col. Robert Couse-Baker

In August, the service began removing miscellaneous responsibilities known as “additional duties” typically assigned to airmen at the unit level. It has since cut 29 of 61 additional duties identified under Air Force Instruction 38-206, “Additional Duty Management.”

Some duties were reassigned to commander support staffs, and civilians will be hired to take on some other duties in coming months.

ALSO READ: 23 terms only fighter pilots understand

Other areas are also getting scrutiny: Officials are looking at accession and promotion rates, giving commanders more freedom to think of creative solutions, and working with US Transportation Command to look at deployment requirements, Everhart said.

“We’re working hand-in-hand with headquarters Air Force A3 … so we don’t get in crossways with each other, and can we, as solution sets, put these across the entire broad perspective of the Air Force,” he said, referring to Lt. Gen. Mark C. Nowland, head of operations, plans and requirements.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USAF photo by Senior Airman Christopher Callaway

He’s also in communication with Lt. Gen. Gina M. Grosso, the Air Force’s chief of manpower, personnel, and services, and the Air Force Personnel Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, he said.

Lessons learned from these discussions and trial programs could then be applied to the fighter pilot community, Everhart said, but that’s still a ways out.

But the Air Force is not the only organization in crisis.

Working With Civilian Airlines

Boeing Co., the US’ largest aerospace company, on July 26 said it predicts that in the next 20 years, North American airline companies will need 117,000 new pilots to keep up with commercial demands, CNN reported.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USMC photo by Sgt. Keonaona Paulo

Everhart said this incentivizes both sides to work together.

Last May, the Air Force met with representatives from civilian airline corporations such as American Airlines and United; academic institutions such as Embry Riddle University, an aeronautical university; civil reserve airfleet institutions such as FedEx; and Rand Corp., a nonprofit institution that provides research and analysis studies on public policy.

The groups established working areas, Karns said, that need critical attention, such as exploring ways to make a career in aviation more desirable; finding ways to reduce the cost of earning a civilian aviation certification — for example, a debt relief program; looking at enhanced data analysis to establish a baseline for what is actually required to meet national pilot need; exploring potential alternate pathways to becoming a pilot — possibly by accelerating timelines; and improving the effectiveness of “shared resources” of pilots who fly for both the military and commercial airlines.

“We’ve got another airline meeting coming up in September,” Everhart said, in which leaders will discuss the secondary phases for these working areas.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USAF photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen

“We need to instill in the hearts of our American public what … aviation is all about,” he said.

Rotating Air Force Assets

AMC already employs a rotational system to keep its aircraft sustainable longer.

“In an effort to extend the life service of various mobility fleets and enhance aircraft availability, we’re looking to work with the Guard and Reserve to rotate aircraft more regularly and consistently to avoid disproportionate wear-and-tear on systems,” Karns said. “What has been known as enterprise fleet management is adjusting to what is called ‘Total Force effort to sustain and modernize the fleet.’ ”

The system rotates aircraft from the three components more often in order to “shrink … and no longer have that airlift gap,” Capt. Theresa Izell, a maintenance officer, said in March during an AMC media day at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Rito Smith

Could that system be applied to the pilot gap — moving pilots flying various platforms throughout, or qualifying pilots to fly more platforms?

“I think you’ve got something there,” Everhart said. “I think we already do that with cross training. We do some cross training for airframes as far as pilots flying tankers versus cargo, but I have to explore that more. I haven’t looked at it from the human dynamic prospect — and I think that’s something to pull back [on]. I love it.”

Love for Country

Everhart reiterated that time in service always comes back to the willingness to serve.

In June, the Air Force unveiled a new tiered Aviation Bonus Program, an expansion of Aviator Retention Pay that puts into place the cap authorized for the incentive under the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA.

Should they choose to stay, fighter and drone pilots, for example, are slated to receive the highest maximum bonus of $35,000 a year, while special operations combat systems officers would receive the least at $10,000. Officers have until Oct. 1 to decide whether they want to extend their service.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Alystria Maurer

The number of pilots taking the aviator retention bonus for AMC has also slightly declined, Karns said. In 2015, the “take-rate” of pilots choosing the bonus and choosing to re-up into the Air Force was 56 percent; in 2016, that number dropped to 48 percent, Karns said.

While bonuses matter, Everhart reiterated it’s not always about the money.

“They stay in the military because what’s in their heart, and their service to America. They really believe [in] an American fighting force. That’s why they stay,” he said.

“The bonus? Sure, that’s sweet. But that’s not why I stayed,” Everhart said. “I stayed because it’s service to the nation. And that’s what I’m finding out across the board” from other pilots.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Navy just picked its new anti-ship missile

The United States Navy has made it official: The Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (often called NSM) is its new choice for taking out enemy ships at distance. The decision, announced last week, means that both the Littoral Combat Ship and the Navy’s new frigate will pack a powerful, anti-ship punch.

This isn’t the first time Kongsberg has won a deal from the United States Navy. In 1986, the Navy turned to that company’s Penguin anti-ship missile to arm its SH-60/MH-60 Seahawk helicopters. That same missile is also used on Norwegian missile boats, coastal batteries, and F-16 Fighting Falcons.


US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS

The AGM-119 Penguin missile, which gave SH-60 and MH-60 helicopters a potent anti-ship punch, was built by Kongsberg and used by the U.S. Navy.

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Lisa Aman)

For some time now, there was a competition underway between the NSM, an extended-range Harpoon, and a surface-launched version of the AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile — the makers of which were vying for a contract with the Navy. All three had some good selling points: The NSM is a smaller, compact missile that fits better on smaller ships, while the extended-range Harpoon is a natural evolution from the RGM-84s currently launched by most surface ships. The LRASM has the longest range (over 500 miles) and packs the biggest punch (a 1,000-pound warhead). In the end, however, it seems the NSM has won out.

The NSM uses infrared guidance to home in on its target, has a range of over 100 nautical miles, and packs a 265-pound warhead. The system can not only be fired from surface ships. With a total weight of 770 pounds, it’s light enough to be carried by the Navy’s MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS

This model of a MH-60 Seahawk at the SeaAirSpace 2017 expo shows it carrying Kongsberg NSMs.

(Photo by Harold C. Hutchison)

The current contract for the NSM is valued at just under .5 million, but that could increase to just under 0 million as littoral combat ships and future frigates are also armed with this missile.

Check out the video below to see a test firing of this new missile.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuMU-lc8DZw

www.youtube.com

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The Air Force can forget about buying more of the world’s most advanced fighter

No other aircraft or air defense system in the world can touch it.


Stealthy, fast, incomparably lethal, the F-22 Raptor is without a doubt the deadliest and most advanced fighter jet ever built. And the Air Force, after a lengthy congressional-backed review, will not be getting any new Raptors to supplement its undersized fleet.

The Raptor, built by Lockheed Martin, was originally created as a follow-on to the F-15 Eagle, the previous mainstay of the Air Force’s fighter fleet. Taking in the strengths of the Eagle and improving vastly with new capabilities such as thrust vectoring for supermaneuverability built into a platform optimized for stealth, the Raptor was everything fighter pilots hoped for and dreamed of.

It would be able to fly the air superiority mission like no other, while also being able to carry out air-to-ground strikes with ease.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Afterburners lit while an F-22 of the 95th Fighter Squadron takes off from Tyndall AFB. (Photo from USAF)

Initially, the Air Force planned on buying over 750 units to replace its massive Eagle fleet. Over time, that number was drawn down significantly, thanks to evolving missions and changing threat scenarios. By 2009, Congress voted to cap the Raptor’s overall production run at 187, severely below the minimum figure of 381 units the Air Force projected it would need to fulfill the air superiority mission.

According to Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, the sheer costs alone makes restarting the Raptor production line, defunct since 2012, completely unfeasible. Revamping manufacturing spaces in addition to rebuilding and redesigning jigs and the tooling necessary to build further Raptors would cost anywhere between $7 to $10 billion, and that’s only the tally on the infrastructure required. Estimates on each Raptor’s flyaway price rang up a whopping $200 million per unit cost, a $60 million jump over the aircraft’s unit cost when its production run ended. The study on bringing the F-22 line back to life was ordered by Congress in April 2016.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
F-22 Raptors parked at Rickenbacker ANGB in Ohio during Hurricane Matthew (USAF)

Though not wholly unexpected, the recommendation to not pursue a restart of the Raptor line will reduce the Air Force’s options in retaining dominance in its air superiority mission. Earlier this year, the service let on that the F-15C/D Eagle will more than likely face an early demise by the mid-2020s, thanks to an expensive fuselage refurbishment deemed impractical by its brass.

Eagles have long served the Air Force as its dedicated air supremacy fighter, excelling in the mission in the 1990s where it first tasted combat in the Persian Gulf, and later in the Balkans. The Eagle fleet was originally to be overhauled and kept in service until the early 2040s, when it would be replaced by a new 6th generation fighter.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
An F-22 Raptor on the flightline at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania, last year (Photo from USAF)

Instead, the Air Force will move on with its plan to refurbish and extend the lives of its F-16 Fighting Falcons, multirole fighters which can also fly the air superiority mission with a considerable degree of success. Critics, however, argue that the F-16 is unequal to the aircraft it seeks to supplant. Smaller, shorter-range, and limited in terms of the amount of munitions it is able to carry, the Fighting Falcon has still served the Air Force and Air National Guard faithfully since the late 1970s and beyond.

A possible byproduct of this news could be the Air Force’s push to develop its 6th generation fighter on an accelerated timeline, bringing it into service earlier than expected. This would minimize the reliance the service would have to place on its aging F-16s, while bringing online a fighter built to work in tandem with incoming next-generation assets like the F-35 Lightning II. This would also potentially reduce the burden placed on the F-22 to shoulder more of the Eagle’s prior workload once it is retired, keeping the small Raptor fleet viable and in service longer.

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US intel officials report that Russian leaders think US wants to topple Putin

Kremlin leaders believe the United States wants regime change in Russia, a worry that is feeding rising tensions between the two former Cold War foes, a US defense intelligence report says.


The Defense Intelligence Agency report, which was released on June 28, says Moscow has a “deep and abiding distrust of US efforts to promote democracy around the world and what it perceives as a US campaign to impose a single set of global values.”

Despite Russia’s largely successful military modernization since the Cold War, the report says “Moscow worries that US attempts to dictate a set of acceptable international norms threatens the foundations of Kremlin power by giving license for foreign meddling in Russia’s internal affairs.”

“The Kremlin is convinced the United States is laying the groundwork for regime change in Russia, a conviction further reinforced by the events in Ukraine,” the report says, noting that President Vladimir Putin’s government has accused the United States of engineering the popular uprising that ousted Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovich, in February 2014.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Russia responded by illegally annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014 and by supporting a separatist war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,000 people since it began in April that year. Moscow’s actions in Ukraine led to rapidly deteriorating relations with the United States and its NATO allies, which imposed sanctions on Russia in retaliation.

While the report does not forecast a new, global ideological struggle akin to the Cold War, it cautions that Moscow “intends to use its military to promote stability on its own terms.”

The 116-page intelligence document, titled Russia Military Power: Building A Military To Support Great Power Aspirations, offers a comprehensive assessment of Russian military power, saying the Kremlin has methodically and successfully rebuilt Russia’s army, navy, and air force since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Russian military today is on the rise — not as the same Soviet force that faced the West in the Cold War, dependent on large units with heavy equipment,” the report says. It describes Russia’s new military “as a smaller, more mobile, balanced force rapidly becoming capable of conducting the full range of modern warfare.”

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Spetsnaz. Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin

Speaking on June 28 at a graduation ceremony for military and police academy graduates in Moscow, Putin said that the Russian Army has become “significantly stronger” in recent years.

“Officers have become more professional. This was proven in the operations against terrorists in Syria,” he said. “We are intending to be growing further the potential of our army and fleet, provide balanced and effective ground for development of all kinds of military units based on long-term plans and programs, improve the quality and intensity of military education.”

“Only modern, powerful, and mobile armed forces can provide sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country and protect us and our allies from any potential aggressor, from pressure, and blackmailing from the side of those who don’t like a strong, independent, and sovereign Russia,” Putin said.

The DIA report portrays Russia’s intervention in Syria since 2015 as largely successful at “changing the entire dynamic of the conflict, bolstering [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s] regime, and ensuring that no resolution to the conflict is possible without Moscow’s agreement.”

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (right). Photo from Moscow Kremlin.

Besides boosting Assad’s fortunes in his six-year civil war against Syrian rebels, the report says the Syria intervention was intended to eliminate Islamic extremist elements that originated on the former Soviet Union’s territory to prevent them from returning home and threatening Russia.

As Russia continues to modernize and encounter military success, “within the next decade, an even more confident and capable Russia could emerge,” the intelligence agency’s director, Marine Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, said in the report’s preface.

The report was prepared before the election of President Donald Trump and reflects the Pentagon’s view of the global security picture shifting after nearly two decades of heavy American focus on countering terrorism and fighting small-scale wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With its focus on the modernized Russian army and Russian insecurities about US intentions, the report is sure to fuel debate over how to deal with Putin in Congress.

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Sebastian Junger’s new book “Tribe” is nothing short of a lesson for all Americans

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Sebastian Junger embedded with Army troops at Combat Outpost Restrepo In Eastern Afghanistan. (Photo: Vanity Fair)


Sebastian Junger spent nearly twenty years writing about dangerous professions, most notably those surrounding war and other conflicts. Although he retired from war reporting after longtime collaborator Tim Hetherington was killed during the Libyan Civil War, he has a lot of experiences on which to reflect. In his new book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, he contextualizes a life spent close to death and danger and provides lessons for modern societies that have struggled with the fact that technological improvements and material wealth haven’t necessarily made their populations happier.

Tribe is the 54-year-old Junger’s own homecoming of sorts. He was a Vanity Fair contributor when he spent time in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, which was also his first collaboration with photographer Tim Hetherington. That collaboration led to three films based on the pair’s time in the valley: “Restrepo,” “Korengal,” and “The Last Patrol,” as well as Junger’s book, War. After Hetherington was killed in Misrata, Libya in 2011, Junger produced “Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington” for HBO documentary films.

Junger’s lifetime of covering conflict led him to write Tribe, the theme of which is how modern society has isolated individuals and marginalized the value of groups – a phenomenon to which returning warfighters can relate. Junger notes there are positive effects of war on mental health and long-term resilience, using examples of war trauma from Sri Lanka to Israel and Liberia to Cote d’Ivoire to illustrate the effects of war. He explains the utility of the “shared public meaning” and why it’s crucial for warriors to return to a society that understands them. He argues that “honoring” veterans at sporting events, letting uniformed service people board planes first, and formulaic phrases like “thank you for your service” only serve to deepen the divide between the military and civilians by highlighting the fact that some serve and some don’t.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Junger’s main discussion about combat veterans is that they require three things: a society that is egalitarian and gives them the chance to succeed, to not be seen as victims, and to feel as necessary and productive as they were on the battlefield. According to his findings, the U.S. ranks very low on all of these because there’s no cultural perception of any shared responsibility. The shared responsibility of the whole for the one is what Tribe is all about.

The book isn’t about just veterans or victims of conflict. The recurrence and spread of individualism have an effect on all of us. Junger delves into the history of the native tribes of the United States to illustrate his points: tribal societies were more socially progressive and conscious of the suffering of its members, especially those who went to war. Collective societies tended to be happier units because they cultivated collectivized happiness. Everyone in a tribe has a role to play, and everyone feels useful.

Sebastian Junger’s newest book isn’t about veterans, but Tribe is full of lessons all veterans should heed when seeking their tribes. More broadly, Tribe’s lessons should be heeded by the entire nation, especially during this election season that seems to be more divisive with each step in the process of finding those who would lead us in bringing us all together.

For more information on Sebastian Junger and “Tribe” visit www.sebastianjunger.com.

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Kim Jong Un takes weird photo, internet has a field day

A photograph taken in North Korea’s Ryanggang Province last week shows the country’s leader Kim Jong Un giving what appears to be an impromptu ballroom dancing lesson to assorted onlookers. As is their custom, the good people of Reddit’s Photoshop Battles snatched up the image and began working their irreverent magic.


US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
The guy second from the left is just hoping no one notices his hat blew off.

Also Read: Allahu Quackbar: The internet is trolling ISIS by photoshopping them as rubber ducks

Here are some highlights:

Supreme Leader solves energy crisis!

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Reddit user davepollotart

Lil Kim (banana for scale).

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Reddit user Winston_The_Ogre

That’s some serious hover-hand.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Reddit user artunitinc

I don’t think he’s holding that right…

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Reddit user akh

Muzzle discipline!

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Reddit user juanes3020

Always knew he was full of hot air.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Reddit user wee_froggy

He never even shows up to rehearsal!

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Reddit user TAOLIK

It’s always awkward when there’s an odd number of people in class.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Reddit user WetCoastLife

Bye everybody!

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Reddit user Joal0503

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how early World War II cluster bombs worked

The Joint Direct Attack Munition gets a lot of attention for its ability to strike within 30 feet of a target, no matter what the weather is like. But with all that attention, other bombs get short shrift it seems. Take, for instance, the cluster bomb.


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The German SD2 bore a resemblance to a butterfly, getting the nickname “Butterfly bomb.”

(U.S. Army)

JDAMs can’t do everything

The truth is that cluster bombs can do things that JDAMs simply can’t. In fact, the bombs are so useful that, this past December, Secretary of Defense James Mattis decided to reverse the Obama Administration’s plan to ditch these valuable weapons. Despite recent controversy and efforts to ban their use, systems like these have been around for decades.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS

The CBU-103 is a modern cluster bomb, able to hit within 85 feet of its aimpoint with 202 BLU-97 submunitions from 10 miles away.

(U.S. Air Force)

Germany’s lethal “butterflies”

Cluster bombs first saw widespread use by both sides in World War II. The Germans used a version called the “Butterfly bomb,” also known as the SD2, which carried a number of “bomblets,” or four-and-a-half-pound submunitions. One attack in 1943 on British cities used over 3,000 of these bombs — some were set to go off immediately, others had a delayed detonation.

The system proved effective, so the United States made copies of that bomb: the M28 (100lbs) and the M29 (500lbs). The Americans added a proximity fuse to some of the bomblets, making them even more devastating to troops caught in the open.

www.youtube.com

Modern cluster bombs are more lethal

Today, modern cluster bombs, like the CBU-97, make attack planes like the F-15E Strike Eagle or strategic bombers like the B-1B Lancer capable of wiping out dozens of tanks in a single pass. Other cluster bombs opt to replace the boom with the ability to knock out a country’s electrical grid.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why Houthi rebels are kicking the crap out of the world’s best tank

The M1A2 Abrams is arguably one of the best (if not the best) tank systems in the world today. It’s the main battle tank of the United States, along with several of its allies — including Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom deployed a number of the tanks in its intervention against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia is not having the success they expected to have.


It’s been three long years for the Saudi military and the coalition it’s leading to take on Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. Almost as soon as the Saudi “intervention” (aka “invasion”) of Yemen began, the Kingdom started asking U.S.-based contractor General Dynamics for upgrades to the tank. They also ordered replacements.

A quick YouTube search will show you why.

Houthi rebels posted a lot of these videos showing the M1A2 getting wrecked by simple anti-tank weapons. In the videos above, that weapon is Tosun anti-tank guided missiles, an Iranian-built variant of a the Soviet 9M113 Konkurs ATGM, which uses a trailing wire system to guide the projectile.

At just 32 pounds, this Iranian ATGM can hit a Saudi M1A2 from two miles away. The current M1A2 defense system can’t really defend against this simple kind of attack. Reactive armor can help and there are M1 upgrades that could possibly further help, but complete, reliable 360-degree protection doesn’t exist in this family of tanks.

But don’t think because it’s not working out for the Saudis, the same fate would await American tank crews.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS

For starters, Americans won’t just abandon their tank and bolt at the first sign of trouble.

The thing is that there’s nothing wrong with the tanks themselves. They could stand the upgrade package given to U.S. M1 tanks, maybe some of that depleted uranium armor, or maybe a tank protection system like the one Israel developed for its tankers. The problem Saudi Arabia has with its tanks is how they’re being used.

In the above videos, you could see tanks being destroyed that were completely alone. They were left out in the open with no infantry support. The minimal amount of 360 protection a crew can give themselves is to actually look around. We may never know what the crew was doing in there but what they weren’t doing was being aware of their surroundings.

So of course some Houthis are going to come up and shoot them with an anti-tank missile.

Maybe leaving your bright red Igloo cooler on the side of it isn’t a great idea either. Just throwing that out there.

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This is the first time American troops led the march in Paris on Bastille Day

PARIS, France – The U.S. led the way down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées for the Military Parade on Bastille Day as the country of honor in commemoration of the centennial of U.S. entry into World War I (WWI) here July 14, 2017.


This marked the first time ever the U.S. was selected as the country of honor – a tradition that highlights a symbolic gesture of friendship from the French government.

“It’s about the partnership – a strong partnership that was forged in war many years ago and endures today,” said Commander of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti. “France is one of our oldest and closest allies, and so the significance of being the county of honor in their parade today underscores the strength of that partnership – and that we must work to continue to strengthen that partnership.”

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Almost 200 U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen assigned to units in Europe and the 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas, stand in ranks during a rehearsal for the Military Parade on Bastille Day to be held July 14, 2017. This year, the U.S. led the parade as the country of honor in commemoration of the centennial of U.S. entry into World War I – as well as the long-standing partnership between France and the U.S. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Michael McNabb/Released)

Altogether, almost 200 U.S. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen from units in Europe and the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, marched down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde in support of the military parade that serves as a tribute to the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.

“I’m honored and privileged to be here commemorating such a historic event and celebrating the alliance between France and the United States,” said Air Force Senior Airman Jorge Diehl, assigned to the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. “I think it shows a great deal of appreciation and trust for them to allow us to lead the parade. It’s taken a long time to build that trust.”

French President Emmanuel Macron officiated the parade attended by U.S. President Donald Trump and numerous French and U.S. senior military and civilian leaders – including Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David Goldfein, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

In all, this year’s parade included more than 3,700 participants and flyovers by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds; two F-22 Raptors; nine French Alpha Jets streaming blue, white and red contrails; and two French C-135s.

For the commander of U.S. troops, Army Maj. Jared Nichols, assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, the honor of participating was made even more special by the fact his great-grandfather served on the Western Front in France during WWI.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
U.S. Soldiers from1st Infantry Division meet a French service member during a break in rehearsal for the Military Parade on Bastille Day to be held in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Michael McNabb/Released)

“My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was a private first class in the American expeditionary force; his name was Rupert Foust,” said Nichols. “He served as a medic in the 8th evacuation hospital, primarily dealing with clearing casualties off the battlefield and providing first aid. To be here to commemorate our entrance in a war to support [France] and the rest of the Allies and then also celebrate the French nation and their independence as well, is a great experience.”

It was an experience that wasn’t lost on Navy Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class John Holley, assigned to Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 37, Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia. He believes the friendships forged here will be life-long.

“We’ve built a lot of camaraderie so far,” said Holley. “We’ve done a lot of exchanging of patches and telling of stories. We were able to learn why we were here, the history and the importance of it.”

Historically, the 1st Infantry Division was the U.S. Army’s first division – and was formed in June 1917 to serve in WWI. In 2017, as in 1917, the U.S. stands ready with its European Allies and partners to face emerging threats and an increasingly dynamic regional security environment.

“During the centennial of U.S. entry into WWI, we commemorate America’s sons and daughters who defended peace – many of them descendants of European immigrants who came to America seeking freedom, opportunity and a better life,” said Scaparrotti. “I just want to salute the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guard that keep Europe whole, free and at peace.”

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The VA might actually be getting its act together

Trying to emerge from scandals that shook the agency to its core, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting to overhaul what officials admit was sometimes pretty bad customer service.


Quietly, since 2015, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs has built a national Veterans Experience Office.

The office’s first steps have been rolling out over 100 community veterans committees nationwide and retraining employees to be less rigid and more customer-focused.

The VA even hired professional writers to redraft the language of 1,200 official letter templates to make them more reader friendly.

“(We) had somehow gotten away from the primary mission of organizing the enterprise through the eyes of the customer,” said Joy White, who leads the office’s Pacific district, which includes California and the West Coast.

“(We did) things that made sense to us, made it easy for us as the VA,” White said. “But, in all of that, we lost the voice of the customer.”

The task at hand: How to change the culture of a massive federal agency that provides everything from medical care to monthly disability checks to funerals.

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Or her widow, Mr. President. Or her widow. (Photo: Veterans Affairs)

Some might wonder if — with what’s a famously dense bureaucracy — it can be done. Even new VA Secretary David Shulkin has said it’s a struggle to fire bad apples, including employees who watch porn on the job.

The new Veterans Experience Office’s budget this fiscal year is $55.4 million, up from $49 million last year, “to lead the My VA transformation,” according to a budget document. About 150 jobs now fall under this office’s umbrella.

Two years in, the nation’s veterans organizations are still taking a wait-and-see position.

“We’re not sure how much the VEO has improved the VA to date, but we are encouraged by this initiative and hope to see it succeed,” said Joe Plenzler, American Legion spokesman. “Any effort to improve dialogue between veterans and VA employees and administrators is time and money well spent.”

One vocal critic of the VA said the office has potential but not if it tries to just “paper over” structural issues facing the veterans agency.

“Doing things that are more feel-good measures, but actually don’t address some of the core problems of the VA, could distract from what’s needed to be done,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director at Concerned Veterans for America.

“That’s the danger I see, potentially, with this office. But I want to say there’s a lot of opportunity here. If this office is managed well and insists that they are here to improve the outcomes for veterans — and not just ‘the experience’ — they could be successful.”

Also read: The VA is set to lower copays for prescriptions

The “veterans experience” campaign started under former VA Secretary Bob McDonald, the retired Proctor Gamble chief executive brought in by President Barack Obama in mid-2014 following a national scandal over wait times for VA medical care.

McDonald installed a “chief veterans experience officer” in early 2015.

The office reports directly to the VA secretary — now Shulkin, a doctor and health-care executive who is the first non-veteran to lead the agency.

Whether he will continue the “experience” campaign is an open question.

However, in April he named Lynda Davis, a former Army officer and Pentagon civilian executive with experience in personnel and suicide prevention, to head the office. She replaces a former McDonald’s executive, Tom Allin, who held the job for about two years.

US special operators accidentally show off the gear used against ISIS
Talihina Veterans Center (Oklahona Department of Veterans Affairs)

Some of the hiring was for “human-centered design” teams. These teams, which include people from Stanford’s prestigious D School, are supposed to re-engineer VA routines that aren’t working.

They produced a “journey map” showing what VA patients experience.

It identifies “pain points” along the way, such as cancelled appointments. It also calls out “moments that matter,” such as the check-in process and whether it’s hard or easy to park.

Two early goals were to establish one consumer-oriented website and one toll-free telephone number for all VA divisions. The result was vets.gov and 1 (844) My-VA311.

The VA is now looking for inspiration from national brands famous for good service. Starbucks, Marriott, and Walgreens are on the list.

“We get the experience that we design. Historically, we haven’t put an emphasis as an organization on customer service. There was no program of record that said ‘this how we do customer service,'” White told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“You walk into a Starbucks anywhere in the country, there is something that looks and feels very familiar wherever you go.”

Also read: Starbucks donated free coffee to every US service member in Afghanistan

One change the Veterans Experience Office has led: hiring for customer-service skills, instead of just looking for people qualified for a position.

“We weren’t hiring for attitude,” said White, who said her office identified questions to insert in the VA’s interview process to draw out whether an applicant had customer service aptitude.

In a changing health-care industry, this is a bandwagon that the VA is belatedly jumping on.

Other hospital organizations have rebooted their customer experience in the past decade in response to a shift in Medicare reimbursement policy that now rewards for patient satisfaction, experts said. The power of social media is also a factor.

The Cleveland Clinic was the first major academic medical center to appoint a chief experience officer in 2007. Across the country, hospitals have built grand entrances, opened restaurants intended to draw non-patients and put flowers by bedsides.

“My sense of it is that we live in the age of the empowered consumer,” said John Romley, an economist at the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer center for health policy.

“VA customers maybe have less choice in the matter, but at the same time, there’s a great deal of sensitivity in the broader population about how we treat these people in the VA system.”

The VA’s new customer service motto — Own the Moment — sounds a bit like a commercial TV jingle.

Training is rolling out across the country, including at the La Jolla VA hospital.

The premise: Each VA employee should “own” their time with a customer, the veteran, and do their best to ensure the person gets the help he or she needs.

That contrasts to the like-it-or-lump-it experience that veterans have sometimes complained about in the past.

“We’re moving away from a rules-based organization to a more of what we call a values, principle-based organization,” said Allan Castellanos, the VA employee teaching the La Jolla seminar.

“I call it more like integrated ethics, like doing the right thing for the right reason,” he said.

The employees were shown a video of VA workers going the extra mile to welcome an uncertain new veteran into a clinic.

In another, VA workers allowed the family of a dying veteran to bring his horse onto hospital grounds.

The VA is trying to emerge from bunker mentality after back-to-back national embarrassments.

First, in 2013, the backlog of disability claims rose to mountainous proportions, bringing down the wrath of Congress and the public.

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We just wanna see more vets smiling. (Photo: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

Then, in 2014, news reports revealed that VA medical workers were keeping secret lists of patients waiting for appointments to make wait-time data appear satisfactory.

All of this occurred as the VA struggled to handle a flood of new veterans coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

A few of the ideas being pursued by the Veterans Experience Office have origins in San Diego.

Officials acknowledge that what they are calling Community Veterans Experience Boards — the 152 community boards they eventually want to create nationally — came from San Diego’s longstanding example.

San Diego veterans leaders meet monthly with VA officials here in both closed-door and public sessions.

Additionally, the tragic suicide of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jeremy Sears appears to have helped spur a campaign to redraft VA correspondence to make it more user friendly.

Sears shot himself at an Oceanside gun range in 2014 after being rejected for VA disability benefits despite the cumulative effects of several combat tours.

Veterans advocates suggested that the VA rejection letter could have offered advice on where to go for counseling and other assistance, instead of just a “no.”

“That was one of the ‘pain points’ that was identified,” White said, referring to the veteran’s “journey mapping” that her office did. “There was a lot of legalese, when in fact we just want it to be simple and clean.”

They started with the Veterans Benefit Administration’s correspondence and are working their way toward the Veterans Health Administration’s appointment cards.

Veterans Experience Office officials first told the Union-Tribune that they could provide examples of the rewritten letter formats, but later said they weren’t ready yet.

The Veterans Experience Office, headquartered in Washington, now has split the country into five districts and dispatched “relationship managers” to each.

The Veterans Experience Office is now trying to finesse those moments that matter to veterans. In 2017, officials expect to roll out a veterans real-time feedback tool in 10 locations. They also plan to release a patient experience “program of record.”

“Our goal is to build trust with veterans, their family members, and survivors,” White said. “How do we do that? By bringing their voices to everything we do.”

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