Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag - We Are The Mighty
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Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag

Air Force Airman 1st Class Nathan Kosters, the youngest F-35 crew chief in the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, was born in 1996. “The Macarena” somehow was No. 1 on the charts, “Independence Day” topped the box office, and the F-16 Fighting Falcon had already been flying for 22 years.


Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
Air Force Airman 1st Class Nathan Kosters, a crew chief with the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, prepares to launch an F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 7, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

The 20-year-old native of Byron Center, Michigan, and his fellow F-35A Lightning II maintainers generated combat sorties with America’s youngest jet at Red Flag.

The Jan. 23-to-Feb. 10 iteration of Air Force’s premier air combat exercise included both U.S. and allied nations’ combat air forces, providing aircrews the experience of multiple, intensive air combat sorties in the safety of a training environment.

“It’s pretty amazing. It’s like a family atmosphere,” Kosters said. “We’re extremely busy, working long hours, but everyone pulls together and makes sure the mission is successful.”

Inspired by His Father

Growing up, he learned hard work from his father, a carpenter. He learned how to get up early and work until the job was done. The two worked side by side, he said, even throughout his father’s cancer treatments. “He is an inspiration to me — never giving up,” Kosters said. “Working was a great opportunity to be close to him.”

Kosters joined the Air Force a little over a year ago after graduating from high school and working in construction for awhile, because he wanted to leave the Midwest, get an education and see the world, he said. He got high scores on his entrance test, and the F-35 maintenance world, hungry for new talent, put him in the pipeline.

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
The F-35’s first flight was in December 2006, when Kosters was just ten years old. (Photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen. (Cropped))

“I didn’t really know anything about the F-35,” Kosters said. “I knew it was the newest jet, and I heard all the negative press about it. My dad and I started reading up on it. He probably knew more about it than I did.”

After technical training and hands-on experience, Kosters said, he is happy he is where he is.

“It’s cool, working with the latest technology, he added. “I don’t want to make it sound like maintenance is easy. It’s just advanced. It’s great to be able to plug in a laptop and talk to the aircraft.”

Valuable Experience

Based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the 34th Fighter Squadron and Aircraft Maintenance Unit are the first combat-coded F-35A units in the Air Force. They were created by bringing together a team of experienced pilots and maintainers from across the Air Force’s F-35 test and training units. Kosters was one of the first pipeline maintainers to join the 34th AMU straight from basic training and tech school, and Red Flag is valuable experience for that greener group.

“At home, our young maintenance airmen are practicing and learning every day. Here, we’re able to put that training into a realistic scenario and watch them succeed and learn how to overcome challenges,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert Soto, lead production superintendent for the 34th AMU.

“It’s not glorious,” Kosters said. “You’re not working 9 to 5. Your uniform is not going to stay nice and clean. But, next to being a pilot, I feel like I have the best job there is. It’s gratifying to see those jets take off.”

Kosters said he and his fellow maintainers take pride as they hear from pilots how their aircraft are performing in the fight.

“It’s had its doubters in the world, but it’s nice to prove people wrong with all eyes on us, especially here,” Kosters said. “The first couple missions, it was the F-35 versus everyone else, and our guys were showing them that the F-35 is a superior plane. We’re like varsity.”

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These were the terrifying dangers of being a ‘Tunnel Rat’ in Vietnam

If fighting the well-defended Viet Cong on their home turf wasn’t dangerous enough, imagine having to crawl your way through a series of extremely tight and narrow underground tunnels to capture or kill them.


Armed with only a flashlight, a single pistol, or maybe just a knife, a “Tunnel Rat” didn’t have much in the way of defense.

“The most dangerous part would be psyching up to get into the tunnel,” Carl Cory says, a former 25th Infantry Div Tunnel Rat. “That was the part that was most frightening because you didn’t what you were getting into.”

Related: This video shows the ingenuity behind the Viet Cong tunnel systems

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Sgt. Ronald H. Payne, a Tunnel Rat, bravely searches a tunnel’s entrance during Vietnam War. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

In 1946, the Viet Minh were the Viet Cong resistance fighters who began digging the tunnels and bunkers to combat the French, whom they would eventually defeat.

By the time the Vietnam War broke out, the Viet Cong had over 100-miles of tunnels with which to spring deadly ambushes on American and South Vietnamese forces before vanishing.

The numerous spider holes (as the tunnel entrances were sometimes called) were conveniently located and well camouflaged — nearly impossible to detect.

Also Read: American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

It was the duty of the brave Tunnel Rat to slide alone into the tunnel’s entrance then search for the enemy and other valuable intelligence. Due to the intense and dangerous nature of the job, many Tunnel Rats became so emotionally desensitized that entering a spider hole was just another day at the office — no big deal.

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
Sgt. Ronald A. Payne searches a Vietnamese tunnel armed with only a flashlight and a pistol. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

With danger lurking around every corner, the Tunnel Rat not only had to dodge the various savage booby traps set by the Viet Cong, but typically only carried 6-7 rounds of ammunition with him even though the tunnels were commonly used to house up to a few dozen enemy combatants.

With all those physical dangers to consider, the courageous troop still needed to maintain a clear and precise mental state of mind and not let the fear get the best of him.

After completing a search, many American and South Vietnamese units would rig the tunnels with C-4 explosives or bring in the always productive flamethrowers to flush out or kill any remaining hostiles.

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The story of the most important Cold War spy most people have never heard of

One of the most significant US intelligence operations in modern history took place in the heart of Soviet Moscow, during one of the most dangerous stretches of the Cold War.


From 1979 to 1985, a span that includes President Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” speech, the 1983 US-Soviet war scare, the deaths of three Soviet General Secretaries, the shooting-down of KAL 007, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA was receiving high-value intelligence from a source deeply embedded in an important Soviet military laboratory.

Over a period of several years and 21 meetings with CIA case officers in Moscow, Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer overseeing a radar development lab at a Soviet state-run defense institute, passed the US information and schematics the revealed the next generation of Soviet radar systems.

Tolkachev struggled to convince the CIA he was trustwory: He spent two years attempting to contact US intelligence officers and diplomats, semi-randomly approaching cars with diplomatic license plates with a US embassy prefix.

When the CIA finally decided to trust him, Tolkachev transformed the US’s understanding of Soviet radar capabilities, something that informed the next decade of US military and strategic development.

Prior to his cooperation with the CIA, US intelligence didn’t know that Soviet fighters had “look-down, shoot-down” radars that could detect targets flying beneath the aircraft. Thanks to Tolkachev, the US could engineer its fighter aircraft — and its nuclear-capable cruise missiles — to take advantage of the latest improvements in Soviet detection and to exploit gaps in the enemy’s radar systems.

The Soviets had no idea that the US was so aware of the state of their technology. Tolkachev helped tip the US-Soviet military balance in Washington’s favor. He’s also part of the reason why, since the end of the Cold War, a Soviet-built plane has never shot down a US fighter aircraft in combat.

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
Photo: U.S. Navy

Pulitzer Prize-winning author David E. Hoffman’s newly published book “The Billion Dollar Spy” is the definitive account of the Tolkachev operation. It’s an extraordinary glimpse into how espionage works in reality, evoking the complex relationship between case officers and their sources, as well as the extraordinary methods that CIA agents use to exchange information right under the enemy’s nose.

It’s also about how espionage can go wrong: In 1985, a disgruntled ex-CIA trainee named Edward Lee Howard defected to the Soviet Union after the agency fired him over a series of failed polygraph tests. Howard was supposed to serve as Tolkachev’s case officer. Instead, he handed him to the KGB.

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Adolf Tolkachev in KGB custody. Photo: CIA

Business Insider recently spoke with Hoffman, who won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for The Dead Hand, an acclaimed history of the final decade of the Cold War arms race.

Hoffman talked about some of the lessons of the Tolkachev case. Successful espionage, he said, is like a “moonshot,” an enormous effort that only works when cascades of unpredictable variables are meticulously kept in check.

And as Hoffman notes, his book is a unique glimpse into how such an incredibly complex undertaking unfolds on a day to day basis.

“You can read a lot of literature about espionage but rarely do you get to coast along on the granular details of a real operation,” Hoffman says, in reference to the over 900 CIA cables relating to the Tolkachev case that he was able to access. “That’s what I had.”

The archive, along with the scores of interviews Hoffman conducted in researching the book, yielded unexpected insights into the realities of spycraft: “I was really surprised by both the sort of quest for perfectionism” among the agents who handled the Tolkachev case, says Hoffman, “but also by the enormous number of things that can and did go wrong.”

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

BI: Your book the story of a CIA triumph: They run this source in the heart of Moscow for 5 or 6 years and get this bonanza of intelligence. But it’s also a story of organizational failure — about how this asset was eventually betrayed from within the CIA’s own ranks.

Is there a message in these two interrelated stories about the nature of intelligence collection and the challenges that US intelligence agencies face?

David E. Hoffman: On the first point, I think the big message, which is still very valid today, is the absolutely irreplaceable value of human source intelligence.

We live in an era when people are romanced by technology, the CIA included. Between what you scoop up from people’s emails and what satellites can see and signals intelligence, there always seems to be a new technological way to get various kinds of intelligence.

But this book reminded me that there is one category of espionage that is irreplaceable, and that is looking a guy in the eye and finding out what the hell is going on that isn’t in the technology — that can’t be captured by satellites. Satellites cannot see into the minds of people. They can’t even see into a file cabinet.

Even in the cyber age, it seems to me that you still have to get that particular human source, that spy that will do what nobody else will do: to let you sort of bridge the air gap, plug in the USB thumb drive if that’s necessary, to tell you something that nobody has written down …

Tolkachev was that kind of human source, an absolutely sterling example of someone who could bring stuff that you couldn’t get any other way.

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
Photo: Wikipedia/NVO

The second point is, you called it institutional dysfunction but I think there’s a larger factor here which is counterintelligence …

[Intelligence] cannot simply be a matter of collection. You also have to have defenses against being penetrated by the other guys.

We live in a world where the forces of offense and defense are in perpetual motion. Counterintelligence is part of that. And counterintelligence is what really failed here.

I think it was also institutional dysfunction in the way they treated Howard. That wasn’t a counterintelligence problem so much it was a sort of incompetence: They fired a guy, they said get lost, and he was vengeful.

But I also think that — maybe not particularly in this case but just generally — the CIA did not value counterintelligence highly enough for a long time. Really the events that followed Tolkachev — [Aldrich] Ames [see here], [Robert] Hanssen [see here], that whole period of the 1985-86 losses [see here] — were a failure of counterintelligence …

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
Aldrich Ames spied for the Russian for nine years before being arrested on February 24, 1994.

There were really some big vulnerabilities there. In the end Tolkachev was exposed and betrayed by a disgruntled, vengeful fired trainee. But there were other losses soon to follow that were caused by essentially not having strong enough counterintelligence in place.

BI: It’s interesting how much the success of the operation had to do with these agents understanding Tolkachev’s state of mind based on these very short meetings that would be spaced months and months apart.

And from that they would have to build out some kind of sense of who this guy was. From the looks of it they did so fairly successfully for awhile.

DEH: That’s my toughest question. Espionage at its real core is psychology. You’re a case officer, you’re running an agent — what is in the soul of that man? What’s in his heart, what motivates him?

These are all questions that you have to try to answer for headquarters but also for yourself, in trying to play on his desires and understand them. Sometimes it can be a real test of will as you saw in this particular narrative. This psychological business can be very difficult …

A couple of times early in the operation Tolkachev revealed his deep antipathy towards the Soviet system. He said I’m a dissident at heart, he describes how fed up he is with the way things were in the Soviet Union.

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Joseph Stalin. Photo: YouTube/ITN

He gives only a very very skimpy factual account of his wife’s parents travails, but I was able to research them in Moscow and discovered that his wife grew up without her parents. Her mother was executed and her father was imprisoned for many years during Stalin’s purges. And Tolkachev was bitter about that.

He also came of age in the time when [Nobel-prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn] and [Nobel Peace Prize-winning physicist and activist Andrei Sakharov] were also sort of coming of age as dissidents.

All of that rumbled around behind these impassive eyes. It’s not as if he handed over a book saying, I’m a dissident and here’s my complaint. Instead he handed over secret plans and said, I’m a dissident and I want to destroy the Soviet Union.

This psychological war and test of nerves of constantly trying to read a guy is really the most unpredictable and most difficult part of espionage. In this case, I’m not sure it was always successful.

The case officers did grasp that Tolkachev was determined. He expressed this sort of incredible determination, banging on the car doors and windows for 2 years to get noticed.

And when he’s working for the CIA he gives them his own espionage plan that takes years and multiple stages that he had mapped out. He’s a very, very determined guy. But what’s driving that isn’t always clear to the case officers.

BI: How does Tolkachev’s story fit in to the larger story of the end of the Cold War arms race?

I don’t think you could make the extravagant claim that he ended the Cold War or that he ended the arms race. But that’s not to minimize what Tolkachev did do. One of the things I discovered was how uncertain we were about Soviet air defenses in that period at the end of the Cold War …

There was always a funny thing going on with the Soviet Union. They had a lot of resources and were a very large country and the state and the military industrial complex was a big part of it. They always built a lot of hardware.

In fact they had a huge number of air-defense fighters and bases positioned all around their borders. [Air defense] wasn’t such a big deal for us but for them, the enemy was at their doorstop, right in Europe. They also had the world’s longest land borders. They had a lot to defend.

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
Thanks to Tolkachev, the US knew all about the radar capabilities of the Soviet-built MiG-29, the advanced interceptor introduced in the mid-1980s. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to Tolkachev, the US knew all about the radar capabilities of the Soviet-built MiG-29, the advanced interceptor introduced in the mid-1980s.

The US saw all the deployments but there was also evidence that Soviet training was poor, that the personnel who manned all these things were not up to it, [and] that there was a goofy system where pilots were told exactly what to do by ground controllers and had very little autonomy.

The intelligence about whether the Soviets had look-down shoot-down radar was very uncertain. Some people said no, they don’t have it, some said yeah. And here’s were Tolkachev stepped into the breach.

Within a few years of his work, we knew exactly what they had and what they were working on. Tolkachev was also bringing us not only what ws happening now but what would be happening 10 years from now. A

nd if you think about it in real time, if you were in the Air Force and thinking about how you were going to deal with Soviet air defenses, getting a glimpse of their research and development 10 years ahead was invaluable …

There was also a fine line between [air defenses] and the nuclear issue. There were two aspects to strategic nuclear weapons that depended on air defenses and the kind of stuff Tolkachev brought us.

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
A Tomahawk cruise missile launches from the stern vertical launch system of the USS Shiloh (CG 67) to attack selected air defense targets south of the 33rd parallel in Iraq on on Sept. 3, 1996, as part of Operation Desert Strike.

One was obviously bombers. In the early days of the Cold War [the US had] a high altitude strategy. B-52s would fly at a very high altitude and bomb from 50,000 or so feet.

Then we made a switch and we decided that the Soviets’ real vulnerability was at low altitudes. And it’s true. They did not have good radars at low altitude …

The strategic cruise missile scared the living daylights out of the Kremlin, because they knew they could fly right under their radars.

BI: Much of this book consists of reconstructions of scenes that were top-secret for many years but that you put together through researching the cable traffic and conducting interviews.

What do you see as the biggest challenge of writing about these dark spaces in American national security?

There are all kinds of missing jigsaw pieces in these narratives that we think we know, say, about terrorism, or about WMD. One of the things you find out if you’re one of those people who go with a pick and shovel at history and try to unearth rocks and tell stories is that pieces are missing — tiny little pieces, and also important things.

In this story there were a bunch of gaps that I had to report. I had enough to tell the story, but you never feel at the end that you know the whole story …

I still think there are big parts of what Tolkachev meant that are still in use and that are legitimately still classified. Even though this case is three decades old, it’s quite likely that some of that stuff is still considered pretty valuable intelligence.

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense. Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

popular

This is why World War I-era British spies used semen as invisible ink

The first head of Britain’s secret service — which would one day be called MI6 — carried a swordstick, drove a personal tank, and would sometimes stab his wooden leg with a pen just to see how people reacted.


If that wasn’t enough to make him eccentric, his department also discovered that semen makes an excellent invisible ink.

 

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
It’s probably best not to ask why. Or how.

 

No one actually knows which British agent was the one who came up with the idea, but the book “Six: The Real James Bonds 1909-1939” notes that his fellow spies made so much fun of him that he had to be transferred to another office.

His name was — no joke — Captain Sir Mansfield Cumming and his agents lived by the motto, “Every man his own stylo.”

The truth was, British spies were searching for the perfect invisible ink during World War I and thought natural fluids were the ideal. The major issue with using semen to write letters? The smell eventually becomes very distinctive.

Cumming ruled that agents abroad using this method of secret messaging ensure their ink was fresh for every letter.

 

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
Gloves, fellas?

 

The book details an agent in Copenhagen, a Maj. Richard Holme, who apparently kept a ready supply on hand.

“…his letters stank to high heaven and we had to tell him that a fresh operation was necessary for each letter.”

In “Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies: The Story of Invisible Ink,” Kristie Macrakis writes that Cumming began inquiring about the use of bodily fluids as invisible ink as early as 1915 and told Walter Kirke, Deputy Head of Military Intelligence that he thought the best invisible ink was indeed semen.

 

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
A sex joke that was a little too on the nose even for the Bond series, apparently (MGM)

 

Semen does not react to the iodine vapor test, a method that then turned all known invisible inks brown. This was particularly attractive to the spy agency, but unfortunately (for spies — not for those concerned with hotel cleanliness) heat develops semen ink and it appears in ultraviolet light.

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Did the phone call for fire scene in ‘Heartbreak Ridge’ really happen?

While typically rooted in true events, war films often take “creative liberties” in the portrayal of military members and their exploits. Heartbreak Ridge is no exception, but there’s one famously far-fetched scene in the cult classic that may have actually happened.

The 1986 film depicts the efforts of Medal of Honor recipient and thoroughly crusty Gunnery Sgt. Tom Highway (Clint Eastwood) as he whips a group of undisciplined Marines into combat shape just in time for the 1983 invasion of Grenada. While Heartbreak Ridge is known for its over-the-top depictions, the scene where Gunny Highway finds himself in a jail cell for bar fighting and urinating on a police cruiser might be the most accurate depiction of a battle-hardened Marine staff NCO in history.

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Gunny Highway stands trial for urinating on a police cruiser. Screenshot from Heartbreak Ridge. (Warner Bros.)

In the film’s depiction of Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, there is no shortage of hip firing from the highly trained Recon Marines, who use almost no structure or tactical maneuvering. And at a climactic point in the battle, the pinned-down Marines use a house phone and credit card to make a collect call back to Fort Bragg to request air support. 

As unlikely as that last one seems, it may have actually happened. 

Operation Urgent Fury is infamous for the innumerable blunders and SNAFUs that occurred before and during the operation. The US military of the early ’80s was a largely untested force that was undergoing a large-scale downsizing and restructuring (stop me if this sounds eerily familiar). 

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
Gunnery Sgt. Highway whipping young Marines into shape. Screenshot from Heartbreak Ridge. (Warner Bros.)

President Ronald Reagan sent an initial force of 2,000 troops to rescue the nearly 1,000 Americans in Grenada at the time and settle the turmoil there, but the Pentagon ultimately had to send in roughly 4,000 additional military members to complete the operation. Short notice, bad planning and intel, and poor interservice communication plagued the operation.

US forces ultimately succeeded, and that was due, in no short part, to the boots on the ground doing what they do best — adapting and overcoming. Many stories are told from this operation, but none encapsulate the event and also the versatility of the American warrior quite as well as the legend of the American who called for indirect fire from a pay phone. 

As the tale goes, US service members were pinned down by enemy fire and were in dire need of artillery to gain the upper hand. Communication to any kind of support was cut off, spurring one quick-thinking soldier to action. The soldier allegedly took out his credit card and utilized the nearest pay phone to call Fort Bragg. The call was relayed through several channels and the necessary artillery was provided — saving the soldiers and winning the day.

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag
War movie or Discover card ad? Mario Van Peebles as Cpl. Stitch Jones. Screenshot from Heartbreak Ridge. (Warner Bros.)

To date, there are a couple of different versions of this legend. One involves a Navy SEAL making the call from a governor’s mansion for air support from an AC-130. However, Marines claimed the fire came from a naval destroyer positioned just off the island. Another involves a member of the 82nd Airborne actually using a pay phone to call his wife back at Fort Bragg who then relayed the message to his command. 

We may never know what really went down, but the legend of the phone call for fire inspired screenwriter and Vietnam veteran James Carabatsos to incorporate the impromptu call in his script for Heartbreak Ridge

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle. 

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

Feature image: Warner Bros.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the Army’s new ‘360 Invictus’ attack helicopter

Bell has unveiled its proposed single-rotor design for the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), a cutting-edge helicopter that may be optionally manned.

The ‘360 Invictus’ helicopter will be loaded with a 20 mm cannon and integrated munitions launcher able to carry Hellfire missiles or rockets. It will be able to adapt for future weapons integration in order to fight in urban environments, according to Bell.

Bell showcased its design to reporters at its facilities in Arlington, Virginia on Oct. 1, 2019.


“The Army realized that they absolutely do need a smaller aircraft that’s … able to operate in urban canyons as well as out in mixed terrain,” said Jeffrey Schloesser, executive vice president for strategic pursuits at Bell.

Youngest maintainer launches youngest jet at Red Flag

Bell ‘360 Invictus’ rendering.

(Bell)

Schloesser said the 360 Invictus has high-cruise speeds, long-range capabilities and advanced maneuverability, all intended to help it dominate a future battlespace.

“We have a solution that can accomplish those missions, but it’s also the lowest-risk, and therefore probably the lowest-cost aircraft, to be able to accomplish [that],” Schloesser said.

Keith Flail, vice president of advanced vertical lift systems, said the agile helicopter’s first flight is expected in the fall of 2022. It should be able to fly at speeds greater than 180 knots true airspeed, or more than 200 miles per hour; the aircraft will also have a supplemental power unit that can boost the aircraft’s speed in flight.

Loosely based on Bell’s 525 Relentless rotor system, the fly-by-wire computer flight control helicopter will be made in partnership with Collins Aerospace which will deliver a new avionics hardware and software suite. “[Collins] also has the ability to integrate capabilities with the MOSA, or modular open system architecture, onto the aircraft,” Flail said.

Some observers at Oct. 1, 2019’s event remarked how the streamlined, lightweight fuselage design of the 360 Invictus resembled the body of a shark, particularly the vertical canted ducted tail rotor, designed for optimized lift and propulsion.

“As we’re in the wind tunnel, as we’re looking at performance, as we’re looking at drag, everything on the aircraft, we’re very confident that we have a good story on … that design target,” Flail said.

In April 2019, the Army awarded Bell, a subsidiary of Textron, the contract to begin prototype and design work; but the company must compete against four other firms before the service downselects its options to move forward with its future helicopter.

They are: AVX Aircraft Co. partnered with L3Harris Technologies; Boeing Co.; Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky; and Karem Aircraft.

Currently, the Army is developing FARA and the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) along with other airframes as part of its larger Future Vertical Lift initiative, or FVL.

FVL, the Army’s third modernization priority, is intended to field a new generation of helicopters before 2030.

Flail said that Bell will have a full-scale model of its FARA design, which fits inside a C-17 Globemaster III for transport as well as a 40-foot CONEX box, at the annual Association of the U.S. Army show later this month.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

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Will this AR-15 weapon light live up to all the hype?

A gear porn bulletin from WATM friends The Mad Duo at Breach-Bang-Clear.


Remember. At the risk of sounding orgulous, we must remind you – this is just an advisement, a public service if you will, letting you know these things exist and might be of interest. It’s no more a review, endorsement or denunciation than it is an episiotomy.

Grunts: Orgulous.

We’ll warn you in advance—we don’t know too much about this WML (Weapon Mounted Light) from Firefield (@firefieldtm). The PR company that notified us about it doesn’t do the best job of explaining things, or of providing decent imagery (at least, not the correct imagery, though that doesn’t necessarily have nuthin’ to do with the quality of the ole’ lumens) but we’ll tell you what we do know.

Given how they describe it, and the pitiful number of lumens it pushes out, it’s going to be hard not to make fun of it…though we shall endeavor to persevere.

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The Firefield Charge AR weapon light looks a heck of a lot like the PEQ-4, which is tacticool AF. (Photo from Firefield)

BLUF: This is a gear porn bulletin, provided as a public service to you epistemophiliacs out there by the Mad Duo. It’s not a review, nor is it an endorsement. Neither is it approbation or denunciation.

Grunts: Epistemophilia

The Charge AR works off a single CR2 battery, pushing 180 lumens of “blinding light” for up to 3.5 hours, activated by either a push-button or pressure pad. You’re gonna want one because, “Low-light shooting situations call for an easily accessible flashlight accessory. Whether in a home defense, tactical or hunting situation, clear line of sight and quick target acquisition are extremely important.”

Plus, it kinda looks like an AN/PEQ 4.

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Firefield says the Charger AR can mount to a rifle’s side rail so it doesn’t interfere with the forward sight. (Photo from Firefield)

As you can read, Firefield has the dramatic prose down pat! Not surprising. After all, their gear is Forged in victory. “Transform fear to power, panic to excitement and chaos to glory with Firefield.”

*Cue Wilhelm Scream here.

The Charge AR is 2.2 ounces and manufactured of aluminum, with an anodized matte black finish. It’s compatible with both Weaver and Picatinny rails (a distinction they felt important to make) and designed to throw light offset from the rail to allow use unimpeded by an AR front sight post.

The MSRP on the Charge AR is $35.99 on the Fire-field website, which is good news for everyone saving their dollar bills for the dancing moms.

You can probably find it online for even less if you look.

The direct link to the Charge AR is here:

FEATURES

  • Powered by 1 single CR2 battery
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Push button or pressure pad operation
  • Low profile design

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Battery life (hours) – Light-3.5
  • Battery Type – CR2
  • Body Material – Aluminium
  • Bulb Type – LED
  • Height (in/mm) – 1.1/28
  • IP Rating (waterproof) – IP55-water resistant
  • LED Output – 180 lumens
  • Length (in/mm) – 2.2/56
  • Maximum Recoil – 800g’s
  • Mount Type – Weaver/Picatinny
  • Operating temperature, F/C – -17° to 48° / 0° to 120°
  • Shockproof – Yes
  • Weight (oz) – 2.2
  • Width (in/mm) – 1.65/42

Note—if you were wondering, Pic rails and Weaver rails are damn near the same thing. Pic rails are MIL-STD-1913; their grooves are to be .206-inches wide and should have a center-to-center width of .394-inches to be considered in spec.

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The Ranger the Taliban called ‘the giant’

Alejandro Villanueva is a former West Point lineman and Army Ranger who got his first start at tackle on Sunday as the Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. He took on the high-pressure role of protecting the “blind side” of backup quarterback Landry Jones, who’s in due to starter Ben Roethlisberger’s injury.


But Villanueva knows a thing or two about pressure, like, the life-or-death kind that soldiers face during wartime on a daily basis. And for him one night in particular stands out among many pressure-filled missions he carried out over the course of four tours in Afghanistan.

As reported by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Villanueva was serving as a 2nd lieutenant in Afghanistan. Stationed in the Kandahar Province, he was the rifle platoon leader of the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team. A firefight had broken out between the Taliban and Afghan civilians, and, in trying to protect them, Lt. Villanueva had unknowingly led his troops into an ambush. The Taliban was waiting in the dark for Villanueva, the 6-foot-9 man known as “The Giant,” and opened fire, wounding three soldiers. Two of them survived, but Pfc. Dietrich, 20, bled out through the hole in his back moments after Lt. Villanueva had carried him from the fray and loaded him onto a helicopter.

Less than a month after Pfc. Dietrich died, Staff Sgt. Simon was shot three times, and Lt. Villanueva’s was the last face he remembered as he was loaded onto the helicopter. Staff Sgt. Simon nearly died twice, and Lt. Villanueva was given his dog tags and asked to prepare a memorial speech for his parents. But Staff Sgt. Simon lived, and he planned to watch his friend play against the Chiefs, his favorite team, from the stands of Arrowhead Stadium.

“It’s going to be crazy,” said Mr. Simon, now retired from the military.

And, along with knowing pressure, these war veterans know crazy.

Related: This why the national anthem is played before sporting events

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‘House of Cards’ is looking for veterans

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If you’re a veteran living in the Washington, DC area, the hit Netflix series House of Cards wants you. Filming on the fourth season starts this July and they’re looking for extras. The show wants to cast men and women who actually served.

There’s always a chance they’ll give someone a line which would get you into the actors union which could lead to a huge action movie career. Or you could at least be visible in a couple of shots, allowing you to show the episodes to your friends and family and talk about what it was like to work with Kevin Spacey.

Check out the details from Project Casting below. They’re very concerned that applicant follow instructions to the letter, but that should be easy for anyone who served and got an honorable discharge, right?

Also, when showbiz folks say “play either right before or right after the July 4th weekend,” they mean “film either right before or right after the July 4th weekend.”

How to apply:

MILITARY VETERAN (age 28–40, male AND female) – Preferably someone who actually toured overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan. This will play either right before or right after the July 4th weekend. Please have a flexible schedule.

TO APPLY please email: mhc.drama@gmail.com WITH

1. Height

2. Weight

3. Age

4. Waist and Jacket/dress sizes

5. Three (3) Selfies. Selfies, not headshots. Must be recent!

6. What military experience you have

Paid-Up SAG members, please email sag.mhc@gmail.com.

Subject Line: VETERAN

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MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the Navy SEAL Google hired as its security chief

As corporate America recruits veterans who have led men and women under fire, Google has skimmed the cream of the crop to manage its global security.


Veteran Chris Rackow heads the team that protects the company’s 80,000 employees, its offices and property, in more than 150 cities across almost 60 countries. Google tapped Rackow’s experience just over a year ago, recognizing the value the former warrior would bring to the search powerhouse. He had spent years in two of the most elite military and paramilitary organizations in the world: the U.S. Navy SEALs and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team.

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A group of U.S. Navy SEALs clear a room during a no-light live-fire drill near San Diego. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Stevenson)

Rackow’s leadership illustrates how corporate America has caught on to the resource created by veterans of U.S. foreign interventions. An ability to manage complex, risky, and dynamic problems, especially in the rapidly changing technology industry, carries a premium.

Google brought Rackow on board in September 2016 as vice president of global security. He is one of many veterans at Google, which does not disclose the number it hires, but says they’re employed in every job category, including software engineering, sales, finance, and security.

Related: Fortune 500 CEOs who served in the military

“One of the highest values of veterans is leadership just because it is such a core element within the military, from junior-enlisted all the way up to senior officers,” Rackow said. “Everybody’s expected to exert some type of leadership, and that is baked into recruits from day one all the way through.”

“It’s a quality that I have seen to be slackening across the business world,” Rackow said. “That’s, I think, where veterans really can play a huge part – coming in and providing positive, respectful, and dignified leadership for organizations, especially multinationals.”

Rackow’s military career started in 1988 when he joined the SEALs, a Navy special forces unit known for its punishing selection program and high-stakes covert missions. He was a SEAL for nearly 23 years. He also spent 13 years in the FBI, for five years as a member of the Hostage Rescue Team, a counter-terrorism unit operating at home and abroad, and, like the SEALs, famed for its harsh induction and commando-style operations.

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Members of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team spring into action. (Photo courtesy of FBI)

Now he works in an industry where the weapons of battle are code and silicon chips.

“I know I’m not the smartest guy in the room,” Rackow said. “In fact, I’m probably at the very low end of the totem pole based on the amazing skills we have here at Google.”

And for veterans, the corporate world has some significant differences from the armed services.

“The government and the military really are quite homogeneous. It really is not as truly diverse as a company is, and especially a global company,” he said.

“You really are presented with 360 degrees of various belief systems and ideas and concepts. That’s probably just the unique challenge for veterans, is to understand … the larger landscape that they need to be able to understand and learn how to operate within.”

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Google employees participate in Pride 2016 in London. As a company, Google promotes, exhibits, and supports diversity. (Photo by Katy Blackwood, cropped for viewing)

Still, his service gave him deep expertise in areas where the skills needed for military operations overlap with those required in a global technology firm — teamwork, for example.

“A team is really a group that understands that we are sacrificing a small part of our individuality, but we’re coming together for a common good, a common goal,” Rackow said. “Whether you call it a common goal or you call it a mission, it’s all the same thing.”

“True leadership really means there’s no one model, and oftentimes within a team, let’s say of 10 people, you might have to exercise 10 different leadership styles … without it looking as if you’re catering to individual needs,” he said.

Along with his background in warfare, Rackow brought into the tech industry a solid civilian education – thanks to realizing during his time with the FBI that he was getting intellectually out-gunned.

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Graduations aren’t just for basic. Getting a degree helps propel vets into higher positions post-service. (DoD Photo by Sgt. Chad Menegay)

“I was coming to the conclusion that I was going after people that were way smarter than I was, and I needed to go back to school,” he said.

He spent two years getting two degrees simultaneously: an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and a master’s in global management from Arizona State’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, the latter teaching him “how to be successful across different cultures and belief systems.”

See Also: 20 private security contractors that hire vets with the skills

Rackow, married with a teenage daughter, has bounced around the world for decades, mostly in the Middle East and the western Pacific. Now, working at Google and living in Half Moon Bay, he’s not so far from where he spent his formative years. Born in Los Angeles, he lived in Lake Tahoe from kindergarten through fourth grade.

When he was in fifth grade his family moved to San Diego. “I grew up pretty much a California water kid. I was always out in the water, surfing, sailing, diving. Surfing stuck with me – I go out when it’s appropriate for my age,” he said. “I’m not charging anything big anymore. But I love to go out and stand-up paddleboard, or go out and surf.”

He considers his hiring by Google “a stroke of luck” that started with a call from one of the company’s recruiters.

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Kerry-Ann Moore, left, an advisor from the Jacksonville Military Affairs and Veterans Department, shakes hands with Army Capt. Jessie Felix during a military job fair in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, May 2, 2015. (DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.)

“It was of great interest to see if I could actually come and work and provide value here, and especially after doing the research on what Google believes and what they think they can do for the planet in general, I looked at it as another service-based environment,” he said.

Google supports veterans through grants to an education group and scholarships. It also hosts a veterans’ network among employees and resume-writing workshops pairing Google employees with veterans entering the civilian workforce, Rackow noted.

Though a commando for most of his career, he had prefaced his service with a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy.

“I’m an engineer at heart,” he said. “But as my counselor in college told me, I probably should never practice engineering.”

Articles

The VA is set to lower copays for prescriptions

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Col. Teresa Bisnett, Department of Defense – Veterans Affairs Joint Venture Hospital and 673rd Medical Group commander, and Maj. Suzanne Green, 673rd Medical Group Emergency Department Flight commander on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, speak with Robert McDonald, secretary of Veterans Affairs, as part of a tour around DoD/VA Joint Venture Hospital


The Department of Veterans Affairs says that it is “amending its regulation” on the copays that veterans pay for medications they receive that are not for service related conditions.

Currently, veterans pay $8 and $9 for a 30-day (or less) supply of prescriptions.

The VA says that the new system will “keep outpatient medication costs low for Veterans.”

Dr. David J. Shulkin, the VA Undersecretary for Health, said “Reducing their out-of-pocket costs encourages greater adherence to priscribed outpatient medications and reduces the risk of fragmented care that results when multiple pharmacies are used.”

The new system tossed out the old way of determining costs, which was based on the Medical Consumer Price Index.

Three classes of outpatient medications have been designed to help curb the costs.

  • Tier 1 is for preferred generics, and will cost veterans $5 for a 30-day or less supply.
  • Tier 2 is for non-preferred generics, which includes over the counter medications, and will cost veterans $8 for a 30-day or less supply.
  • Tier 3 is for brand name medications, and will cost veterans $11 for a 30-day or less supply.

The new system will go into effect February 27th, 2017, and only apply to medications that are not for service connected issues.

Veterans who are former Prisoners of War, catastrophically disabled, or are covered by other exceptions will not have to pay copays.

Veterans who fall into Priority Groups 2-8 will have a $700 cap on copays, at which point the copays do not apply. To find out which Priority Group you fall into, check out the VA’s list of Priority Groups in their Health Benefits tab (here).

According to 38 U.S.C. 1722A(a), the VA is compelled to require veterans to pay a minimum copay of $2 for every 30-day (or less) supply of medications which are prescribed for non-service related disabilities or connections, unless there is an exemption for the veteran. 38 U.S.C. 1722A(b) gives the VA the authority to set the copay amount higher and to put caps on the amount veterans pay.

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That time a Marine had a live RPG stuck in his leg

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Winder Perez was fighting in Afghanistan in January 2012 when he was shot with a rocket-propelled grenade that pierced his leg and remained stuck there without detonating.


A medical evacuation crew ignored regulations against moving unexploded ordnance, picked him up, and flew him to medical care where an explosives technician removed the RPG so a Navy medical officer could operate on him.

Specialist Mark Edens was the first member of the MEDEVAC crew to see the Marine. The flight had originally been briefed that they were receiving an injured little girl as a patient, but they arrived to find the lance corporal with a large wound and an approximately 2-foot long rocket protruding from his leg.

When Army pilot Capt. Kevin Doo was told about the embedded RPG, he asked his entire crew to vote on whether to evacuate the patient. They unanimously voted yes despite the dangers.

“There was no doubt to anyone that we were going to take this Marine and get him the medical attention needed to save his life,” Doo told Army journalists. “When dealing with this — not knowing that any moment could be your last — 18 inches from the patient’s legs was about 360 gallons of aviation fuel.”

“After Lance Cpl. Perez was loaded on the Black Hawk, it was a total of 11.2 minutes of flight time where every minute felt like an hour,” Doo added. “During that time, we were on the radio coordinating with our escorts, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, and medical personnel who were going to treat Perez.”

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Army Staff Sgt. Ben Summerfield attempts to remove a rocket-propelled grenade from Lance Cpl. Winder Perez as Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Gennari keeps Perez’s airway stable. (Photo: US Navy)

When the helicopter landed, Perez was met by Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Gennari, the head of the surgical company at Forward Operating Base Edinburgh, and Army EOD Staff Sgt. Ben Summerfield. Summerfield quickly tugged the RPG free of Perez and Gennari worked to stabilize the patient.

Gennari later said that the Perez’s wounds were so severe that he would’ve died without the quick MEDEVAC. Edens, Doo, and the rest of the Army MEDEVAC team then transported Perez to Camp Bastion where he began the long road to recovery.

(H/t to the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs who wrote about this incident in May 2012.)

Articles

SAS soldiers wear the ‘Punisher’ skull after they get their first kill

The British evacuation at Dunkirk during WWII was a turning point for the island nation. Unable to go on the offensive against the Germans with their conventional Army, the British turned to more unconventional methods. “Enterprises must be prepared, with specially-trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down these coasts [of occupied Europe],” stated Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a minute to General Ismay, “first of all on the butcher and bolt policy…leaving a trail of German corpses behind them.” This butcher and bolt policy was carried out by British Commandos, forerunners of the modern Royal Marine Commandos, Special Boat Service and Special Air Service.

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Dealing with Nazis apparently turns you metal as f**k (Imperial War Museum)

The elite soldiers of the SAS are well-known in popular culture thanks to their daring exploits and their depiction in media. SAS soldiers famously ended the Iranian Embassy Siege in London in 1980 and have operated in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries during the War on Terror. They have been depicted in video games like Call of Duty and movies like 6 Days. Even the rom-com Love Actually referred to the SAS as, “ruthless, trained kilers,” and so they are.

More so than regular Army units, the SAS is expected to kill, and kill well. Embracing this mission, members of the SAS have taken to donning a Punisher skull badge after their first kill in combat. This affinity for the Punisher skull was allegedly adopted from the U.S. Navy SEALs who wore the symbol extensively whilst operating alongside the SAS in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though the practice is not dissimilar from fighter pilots painting the flag of the enemy on their aircraft after making an air-to-air kill, it came under scrutiny from Army officials.

Chris Kyle donning the cap with the iconic skull

In 2019, it was revealed that Army officials banned the wearing of the Punisher skull. The move was driven by the claim that the symbol was too similar to the Death’s Head symbol worn by Nazi SS soldiers. This order was reportedly issued after a visit to the SAS Regiment’s Herefordshire base by Army chiefs. Unsurprisingly, the change was not received well by the SAS. One source within the regiment noted that the “order to remove it has gone down really badly.” They elaborated on what the symbol means to a soldier when he earns it. “It’s in recognition for the work he has done – it’s not a celebration of taking a life but more to do with putting himself in a position where his own life has been put at risk.”

The order received plenty of backlash since its issuance. Former Sergeant and Military Cross (the third-highest British Military Award) recipient Trevor Coult called the move, “politically correct nonsense and ludicrous.” Enough dissension was raised that the Army reversed the decision in May 2021. The reversal also comes with a new Director Special Forces who said that he has no problem with troops wearing the badge. He reportedly wore the Punisher skull himself while operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. The MoD did not comment on the reversal.

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(MoD)

The return of the Punisher skull was welcomed by the SAS. “When the badge was initially banned, there were many in the regiment who thought that the unit was going to fall victim to political correctness. But fortunately, someone has seen sense,” a source said. “The special forces are often sent on very dangerous missions which often involve killing people – that is a fact of life.” The SAS continues to undertake highly classified and extremely dangerous operations around the world.

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Frank Castle approves (Lions Gate/ Marvel)
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