Now that 2016 is coming to a close, we wanted to recap the year with the most shared articles. From the deaths of notable veterans to the weapon that shoots 1 million rounds per minute, here are the posts that flew around your social media feeds:
Raising the First Flag on Iwo Jima by SSgt. Louis R. Lowery, USMC, is the most widely circulated photograph of the first flag flown on Mt. Suribachi.Marine Corps Maj. John Keith Wells, who as a first lieutenant led the platoon that helped take Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima and which raised the first American flag from the mountain’s summit, died in February.
He was awarded the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart for his actions on Iwo Jima after he continued leading his men up the mountain despite grievous wounds.
What would happen if the militaries of the entire rest of the world attacked the U.S. all at once? Not just our enemies, but our traditional allies like France and Britain as well? We’d stomp them. Here’s how.
This weapon features rounds stacked inside dozens of barrels and electric charges can fire all the rounds stored in the weapon at once or in multiple volleys. At its maximum fire rate, this equates to 1 million rounds per minute.
Most general officers struggle with the deaths caused by their decisions in war, but all that came home like it never had before for Army Gen. Martin Dempsey when he met the then-four-year-old Lizzy Yaggy, the daughter of a Marine aviator lost in a plane crash.
The two became close friends and Dempsey even asked Yaggy to introduce him at his retirement ceremony.
As the world struggled with the rapid and surprising rise of the Islamic State, an old airplane was quietly pressed back into combat service, the OV-10 Bronco.
These small planes served in combat from Vietnam to Desert Storm with the U.S. Marines before they were retired in 1995. But the plane flew over 100 sorties against ISIS, including 120 combat missions.
A note from a 1955 Ballantine Book remarked about how one author – a former serviceman – arrived in their New York offices with his Stars and Stripes drawings and a story of a “brilliant military career, where he rose through the ranks to become a PFC.”
That newly-minted civilian was Shel Silverstein. And he did rise through the ranks to become one of the most celebrated American writers.
A quick perusal of the books on his website will show a body of work that uses all his many talents.
For decades, Silverstein entertained and delighted children with poetry like “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and stories like “Giraffe and a Half.” His children’s book “The Giving Tree” is widely considered one of the best, though to some divisive, of its genre.
But there is at least one book missing from that list.
It was during his time in the military that Silverstein began to draw cartoons, at times finding himself at odds with military censors. He later wrote enough cartoons to make a compendium of his best works.
“Drop Your Socks” was published in 1955 to the delight and entertainment of the new peacetime Army and the old war veterans alike.
The young artist was attending the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts when he was drafted into the Army in 1953. According to his biography in “Stars and Stripes,” the Army “without realizing its error, assigned him to the Pacific Stars and Stripes, read by thousands of Army men in Japan and Korea.”
But Shel Silverstein didn’t join the Army of WWII or Korea. It was a new Army, one not at war, but supposedly at the ready to fight for peace. Silverstein never knew the Army that “fought the wars with live ammo and read V-mail and liberated towns and kissed French girls and caught bouquets and wore baggy pants and a six-day growth of beard.”
Shel Silverstein’s Army was made up of “ordinary guys” who “dragged through two years [the amount of time a peacetime draftee normally spent in the service] cleaning grease traps, bugging out of details, and forgetting their general orders.”
As he wrote in the book’s introduction, “there’s no war now, no casualties, no rationing, and no immediate danger … people’s attitudes are bound to change.”
But legendary military cartoonist Bill Mauldin, in writing the book’s introduction said, “the thing about real military humor is that when a soldier says something funny, he is mainly trying to ventilate his innards … he expresses himself in a wisecrack because if he said it straight, he’d simply bust down.”
“Motives and methods of warfare change from generation to generation,” Mauldin continues. “But soldiering stays pretty much the same messy proposition. … I suspect Shel Silverstein would have amused the cootie-pickingest Roman centurion.”
For the more than 19 million veterans currently living in the United States, where you live can be essential to your access to healthcare, good employment, and a strong quality of life.
WalletHub recently conducted a report of the best US cities for veterans, analyzing 20 key indicators of livability, affordability, and veteran-friendliness. The study then provided rankings — out of 100 — for each category.
Employment rankings took into account the number of veteran-owned businesses per veteran population and opportunities for job growth, as well as the availability of jobs that utilize military-learned skills. Economy rankings considered factors such as the median veteran income and veteran homelessness rates, while quality of life was determined by analyzing veteran population, restaurants with military discounts, and more.
The study found that Tampa, Florida, triumphed as the best major US city for veterans, earning a total score of 72.44 out of a possible 100. Boston, Massachusetts, despite ranking at No. 68 overall, earned the highest ranking for veteran employment.
Keep reading to find out the top 25 best US cities for veterans.
Following the damage to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, caused by Hurricane Michael, the Air Force is recommending that Congress use supplemental funding for rebuilding the base to prepare to receive the F-35 Lightning II fighter at the north Florida installation.
The Air Force has done a preliminary evaluation to confirm Tyndall AFB can accommodate up to three F-35 squadrons. The operational F-22 Raptors formerly at Tyndall AFB can also be accommodated at other operational bases increasing squadron size from 21 to 24 assigned aircraft.
If this decision is approved and supplemental funds to rebuild the base are appropriated, F-35s could be based at Tyndall AFB beginning in 2023. Basing already announced in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin will not be affected by this decision.
“We have recommended that the best path forward to increase readiness and use money wisely is to consolidate the operational F-22s formerly at Tyndall in Alaska, Hawaii, and Virginia, and make the decision now to put the next three squadrons of F-35s beyond those for which we have already made decisions at Tyndall,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.
“We are talking with Congressional leaders about this plan and will need their help with the supplemental funding needed to restore the base,” she added.
A 325th Fighter Wing F-22A Raptor taxis off the runway at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 20, 2018. The first Raptors arrived to their temporary home at Eglin from Tyndall Air Force Base. This move is part of mission shift by the Air Force as Hurricane Michael recovery efforts continue at Tyndall.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
On Oct. 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael tore through the gulf coast causing catastrophic damage to the region and damaging 95 percent of the buildings at Tyndall AFB. The base’s hangars and flight operations buildings suffered some of the greatest damage from the storm passing directly overhead.
Before the storm, Tyndall AFB was home to the 325th Fighter Wing — comprised of two F-22 squadrons. One was operational and one was training. The base also hosts the 1st Air Force, the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.
More than 2,000 personnel have since returned to the base and the Air Force intends to keep the testing, air operations center, and civil engineer missions at Tyndall AFB. The recommendation announced today only affects the operational fighter flying mission at the base.
On Oct. 25, 2018, Vice President Mike Pence assessed the damage to the base and reassured Florida’s panhandle community of the base’s importance to the nation.
“We will rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base,” Pence said.
Tyndall AFB’s access to 130,000 square miles of airspace over the Gulf of Mexico is very valuable for military training.
“We have been given a chance to use this current challenge as an opportunity to further improve our lethality and readiness in support of the National Defense Strategy,” said Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein.
A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II from Eglin Air Force Base takes off during Checkered Flag 17-1 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 8, 2016.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alex Fox Echols III)
The move would provide benefits across the service’s fifth generation fighter operations. Basing F-35s at Tyndall AFB in the wake of hurricane damage allows the Air Force to use recovery funds to re-build the base in a tailored way to accommodate the unique needs of the F-35.
The Air Force will conduct a formal process to determine the best location for the F-22 training squadron currently displaced to Eglin AFB, Florida.
The consolidation will drive efficiencies which Air Force officials expect to increase the F-22’s readiness rate and address key recommendations from a recent Government Accountability Office report that identified small unit size as one of the challenges with F-22 readiness.
“The F-35 is a game-changer with its unprecedented combination of lethality, survivability, and adaptability,” Goldfein said. “Bringing this new mission to Tyndall ensures that the U.S Air Force is ready to dominate in any conflict.”
The Air Force will comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulatory and planning processes.
John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, a former US senator, and former Marine aviator who saw combat in World War II and Korea, has died at 95.
Glenn is known for a number of accolades throughout his life of service, from the military to the astronaut program and eventually, into politics. So it’s worth looking back on his entry into politics, when he first ran for office against an incumbent named Howard Metzenbaum.
In 1974, Glenn’s military record offered an opening for criticism by his opponent, who was mindful of Americans’ anti-war fervor during the Vietnam War. Metzenbaum began calling him “Col. Glenn” to highlight his time in the Marine Corps, and later told him that he “had never met a payroll,” which Glenn perceived as being told that his military record and service with NASA didn’t qualify as “having held a job.”
His response during the debate was remarkable, and at the end of it, he received more than 20 seconds of sustained applause, according to PBS. Here’s what he said:
“I spent 23 years in the United States Marine Corps. I lived through two wars. I flew 149 missions. I was in the space program. It wasn’t my checkbook, it was my life that was on the line.
You go with me as I did out to a veterans’ hospital and look those men with their mangled bodies in the eye and tell them that they didn’t hold a job. You go with me to any Gold Star mother and you look her in the eye and you tell her that her son did not hold a job. You go to Arlington National Cemetery — where I have more friends than I’d like to remember — and you think about this nation, and you tell me that those people didn’t have a job.
I tell you, Howard Metzenbaum, you should be on your knees every day of your life thanking God that there were some men, some men, who held a job. And they required a dedication to purpose, a love of country, and a dedication to duty that was more important than life itself.
And their self-sacrifice is what has made this nation possible.
I have held a job, Howard.”
Glenn went on to defeat Metzenbaum in the primary and win the general election. He served in the Senate from 1974 to 1999. His speech was also used to motivate a group of US Marines before they went into combat in Marjah, Afghanistan in 2010.
With up to 90% of its territory lost, ISIS appears effectively defeated as a conventional foe. But while the black flag of ISIS is being lowered, another may soon take its place — the white flag of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.
A new report in the Wall Street Journal details HTS’ rise as it consolidates power in northwest Syria. Led by a former Al-Qaeda militant, HTS is mostly based in Syria’s Idlib Governorate and has taken advantage of the US-led coalition’s focus on ISIS in the East, as well as the Syrian government and Russia’s focus on other parts of the country.
HTS came into existence when Jabhat Fath al Sham, previously known as the Al Nusrah Front and Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria until its re-branding in July of 2016, announced a merger with four other islamist groups operating in Syria.
Combined with the other groups, HTS — or the Assembly for Liberation of the Levant — was created.
The reason for its existence, according to its propaganda, is “to unite our banners and to preserve the fruits and the jihad” of the revolution against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, so that it can “be the seed of unifying the capacities and strength of this revolution.”
The group’s leader, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, has said that he wants his followers to engage in “a war of ideas, a war of minds, a war of wills, a war of perseverance,” according to the Wall Street Journal, and that he will conquer Damascus — Syria’s capital — and implement Sharia law.
The group announced in February 2018, that it had defeated the remnants of ISIS militants in Idlib, and a month later said that they had taken control of up to 25 villages in Aleppo and Idlib provinces.
It has created a religious police force in its territory, similar to ISIS’ Hisbah. They enforce Sharia law, control services like electricity and water, and collect taxes from citizens.
The group has also been fighting forces from the Syrian government in Homs, Hama, and Aleppo. But while the terror group continues to grow and solidify its control, the Syrian government and US-led coalition have their attention elsewhere.
“The area seems to be out of focus for Western powers,” Hassan Hassan, an analyst with the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, told the Wall Street Journal. “The jihadis are having a honeymoon there.
“This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
One of the events held was the Chevron Shootout. The shootout is where past champions of the tournament are paired with champions from the world of sports to compete in a team putting competition at the Pebble Beach Putting Green with winnings going to the player’s charity of choice.
Other athletes included Steve Young, Matt Ryan, Larry Fitzgerald, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker. Slater was paired with D.A. Point and won the Shootout, donating his winnings to his charity of choice: Wounded Warrior Project.
Of the ,000 prize his team won, he gets to donate half to that cause.
Slater later posted on Facebook posting pics of the event.
As you can see in the comments, veterans loved the love Slater gave to the veteran community. Mahola, Mr. Slater.
Editor’s note: With news of the Air Force potentially awarding the contract for the next-generation bomber and Congressional Republicans reaching an agreement with the White House on the defense budget, WATM presents a short primer by our friend Winslow Wheeler on how the Pentagon tends to complicate how much things actually cost.
On Wednesday March 25, 2009, an F-22 crashed near Edwards Air Force Base in California. Sadly, the pilot was killed. The news articles surrounding this event contained some strange assertions about the cost of the crashed airplane. Based on the price asserted in the Air Force’s “fact” sheet on the F-22 that was linked to a Pentagon news release on the crash, the press articles on the crash cited the cost per aircraft at $143 million.
It was incomplete, to put it charitably, but the media passed it on nevertheless. The extant “Selected Acquisition Report” (SAR) from the Defense Department is the definitive DOD data available to the public on the costs for the F-22. The SAR showed a “Current Estimate” for the F-22 program in “Then-Year” dollars of $64.540 billion. That $64.5 billion was for 184 aircraft.
Do the arithmetic: $64.540/184 = $350.1. Total program unit price for one F-22 calculates to $350 million per copy. So, where does the $143 million unit cost come from? Many will recognize that as the “flyaway” cost: the amount we pay today, just for the ongoing production costs of an F-22. (Note, however, the “flyaway” cost does not include the pilot, fuel and other consumables needed to fly the aircraft away.)
The SAR cost includes not just procurement costs, but research and development (RD) and some military construction, as well. At about the same time as the crash, a massive lobbying effort had started to buy more F-22s, to reverse Secretary of Defense Robert Gates impending announcement (in April 2009) that he wanted no more. F-22 advocates were asserting the aircraft could be had for this bargain $143 million unit price. That was, they argued, the “cost to go” for buying new models, which would not include the RD and other initially high production costs already sunk into the program.
Congressional appropriations bills and their accompanying reports are not user-friendly documents, but having plowed through them for decades, I know many of the places and methods that Appropriations Committee staff like to use to hide and obscure what Congress and the Pentagon are actually spending. Let’s check through the 2009 congressional appropriations for the F-22. Most – but not all – of the required information is contained in HR 2638, which contained the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2009.
In the “Joint Explanatory Statement” accompanying the bill, the House and Senate appropriators specified that $2.907 billion was to be appropriated for 20 F-22s in 2009. The math comes to just about what the Air Force said, $145 million per copy. So, what’s the problem?
Flipping down to the section on “modification of aircraft” we find another $327 million for the F-22 program. Switching over to the Research and Development section, we find another $607 million for the F-22 under the title “Operational System Development.” Some will know it is typical for DOD to provide “advance procurement” money in previous appropriations bills to support the subsequent year’s purchase.
In the case of the 2009 buy of 20 F-22’s, the previous 2008 appropriations act provided “advance procurement” for “long lead” F-22 items to enable the 2009 buy. The amount was $427 million. Here’s the math: $2.907 + $.327 + $.607 + $.427 = $4.268 billion for 20 aircraft. That’s $213 million each.
Do not think these data represent an exceptional year. If you check any of the annual buys of F-22s, you will find the same pattern: in addition to the annual “procurement” amount, there is additional “modification,” RD” and advance procurement.
A few weeks later, F-22 advocate Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R–Ga., attempted to amend the 2010 DOD “authorization” bill coming out of the Senate Armed Services Committee to buy seven more F-22s for $1.75 billion, or $250 million each. The Chambliss effort, almost certainly worked out in close association with Lockheed Martin – a major F-22 plant is in Marietta, Ga. – surely sought to pay Lockheed the full amount to procure more aircraft: not $143 million each, but $250 million.
Clearly, Chambliss and Lockheed knew about some additional F-22 costs not included in my estimate of $213 million. The pathology of low-balling a weapon’s costs goes far beyond the F-22 example cited here; it is a basic tenet of bureaucratic behavior; it helps a program acquire support by top DOD management and Congress.
Understatement of cost does not occur in isolation in the Pentagon; it is accompanied by an overstatement of the performance the program will bring, and the schedule articulated will be unrealistically optimistic. Once the hook is set in the form of an approved program in the Pentagon (based on optimistic numbers) and an annual funding stream for it from Congress (based on local jobs and campaign contributions), the reality of actual cost, schedule and performance will come too late to generate anything but a few pesky newspaper articles.
About the author: Winslow T. Wheeler focuses on the defense budget, why some weapons work and others don’t, congressional oversight, and the politics of Pentagon spending. Before joining the Center for Defense Information in 2002, he worked on Capitol Hill for four U.S. Senators from both political parties and for the Government Accountability Office. At GAO and the Senate, Wheeler focused on Pentagon budget issues, weapons testing, the performance of U.S. systems in actual combat, and the U.S. strategic “triad” of nuclear weapons.
The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing Thursday on whether to confirm Gen. James Mattis as the next defense secretary, and plenty of interesting bits came out of the roughly three-hour session.
The retired four-star general gave frank and concise answers on everything from cybersecurity policy to what he expects will be the biggest threats to the United States.
Shortly afterward, he was approved for a waiver for the requirement of having a seven-year gap between being active-duty in the military and serving in the civilian role at the Pentagon.
When asked whether the US can confront the terror group in its capital of Raqqa, Mattis said he believed the US could, but he added that the anti-ISIS strategy needed to be reviewed and “energized on a more aggressive timeline.”
He told members that “we have to deliver a very hard blow against ISIS in the Middle East so there is no sense of invulnerability or invincibility there.” For the US, according to Mattis, that means attacking ISIS’ main areas of strength so they cannot pop up elsewhere.
He mentioned Russia as the biggest threat
Despite President-elect Trump’s restraint on calling out Russian aggression and cyberwarfare, Mattis didn’t pull punches in his assessment of Moscow.
“Since Yalta, we have a long list of times that we’ve tried to engage positively with Russia,” Mattis said. “We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard.” He praised NATO and its effectiveness, and added that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “trying to break” that alliance.
In some areas Russia and the US can work together, but in many others, Mattis said, Putin remained a strategic competitor or an outright adversary.
“I have very modest expectations about areas of cooperation with Mr. Putin,” he said.
Mattis says he wouldn’t roll back the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or the change on women in combat roles
In the past, Mattis has not really been a fan of women being integrated into combat roles, such as infantry. He was asked about this repeatedly — at times having his speeches quoted to him — and asked whether he would reverse the 2013 policy change.
“I’ve never come into any job with an agenda, a pre-formed agenda of changing anything,” he said. “I assume the people before me deserve respect for the decisions they’ve made.”
That answer did not satisfy Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), however, and she continued to press him. In the end, Mattis told her: “I have no plan to oppose women in any aspect of our military. In 2003, I had hundreds of Marines who happened to be women serving in my 23,000 person division … I put them right on the front lines with everyone else.”
He was also asked about protections for LGBTQ service members, and he had a very blunt answer to that. “Frankly, senator, I’ve never cared about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with.”
He says the Iran deal isn’t perfect, but it should remain intact
Mattis called the Iran deal an “imperfect” one, but still supported the US keeping its end of the bargain. The answer was a break from the President-elect, who has promised to “rip up” the deal with Tehran.
“I think it is an imperfect arms control agreement — it’s not a friendship treaty,” Mattis said. “But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.”
Later, he said, “It’s not a deal I would have signed.”
Mattis says cyberwar is a big problem that still has no clear doctrine in place
Mattis was asked interesting questions on cyberwarfare, which were especially pertinent in the wake of Russian hacks of Democratic party officials and their affect on the presidential election. Unfortunately, he said he did not believe the US has anything resembling a sophisticated cyber doctrine.
In other words, there is no strategy in place for the US to respond to cyber attacks, like there is for other physical examples, such as a nuclear strike or an attack on a NATO ally.
Mattis said there needs to be a comprehensive plan developed to address this shortfall, because “cyber cuts across everything we do today.”
He added: “Because of the cyber domain, it’s not something the military can do in isolation.”
Iran says it has informed the UN nuclear agency that it has launched the process of increasing its capacity to enrich uranium in case the 2015 agreement that curbed its nuclear program collapses.
Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, said on June 5, 2018, that a letter was handed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna to inform it of the decision.
But he also said Iran will continue adhering to the 2015 nuclear deal and that the country’s nuclear activities will remain within the limits set by the accord.
In May 2018, President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal that set strict limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
Photo by Gage Skidmore
The other signatories to the accord — Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany — said they remain committed to the deal. Iran for now also is honoring the agreement.
“If conditions allow, maybe tomorrow night at [the Natanz enrichment plant], we can announce the opening of the center for production of new centrifuges,” Salehi said, quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency.
This “does not mean that we will start assembling the centrifuges,” he insisted.
Salehi said the move was in line with instructions from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ordered preparations for the resumption of unlimited uranium enrichment should the nuclear deal — known by the acronym JCPOA — fall apart.
“If the JCPOA collapses…and if we decide to assemble new centrifuges, we will assemble new-generation…centrifuges. However, for the time being, we move within the framework of the JCPOA,” Salehi said.
During a visit to Paris, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Iranian plan to increase its nuclear-enrichment capacity was aimed at producing nuclear weapons to be used against Israel, its archrival.
“We are not surprised [by Iran’s announcement],” he said in a video statement. “We will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.”
Tehran insists its nuclear program is for civilian use.
The nuclear agreement allows Iran to continue 3.67 percent uranium enrichment, far below the roughly 90 percent threshold of weapons-grade.
Total Force crews delivered the first two KC-46A Pegasus aircraft to McConnell Air Force Base.
The 22nd Air Refueling Wing and 931st ARW marshalled in the newest addition to the Air Force’s strategic arsenal.
“This day will go down in history as a win for Team McConnell and the Air Force as a whole,” said Col. Josh Olson, 22nd ARW commander. “With this aircraft, McConnell will touch the entire planet.”
Since being selected as the first main operating base in 2014, McConnell airmen have been preparing to ensure their readiness to receive the Air Force’s newest aircraft.
Contractors constructed three new KC-46 maintenance hangars, technical training dormitories, an air traffic control tower, fuselage trainer and many other facilities specifically for the Pegasus’ arrival. These projects brought 7 million to the local economy by employing Kansas workers and using local resources.
Aircrew members simulated KC-46 flights, boom operators practiced cargo loading and the 22nd Maintenance Group created a training timeline for the enterprise.
A KC-46A Pegasus flies over the Keeper of the Plains Jan. 25, 2019, in Wichita, Kansas.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Thompson)
Working with aircraft manufacturer Boeing, McConnell maintenance airmen have been developing new technical orders for three years. They streamlined processes and got hands-on exposure to the jet in Seattle.
“Some of us have been involved in this program for years and it has given us time to become experts as far as the technical data goes,” said Staff Sgt. Brannon Burch, 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron KC-46 flying crew chief. “Knowing it is one thing, but having hands-on experience on our flightline is what we all crave. We’re just happy the wait’s over and we finally get to get our hands dirty on the Pegasus — it’s almost surreal.”
The KC-46 team at McConnell AFB is comprised of Airmen with a variety of backgrounds from other aircraft who bring different aspects of expertise to the multifaceted new tanker.
“Every airman who was transferred to the KC-46 team was hand-selected specifically to bring this airplane to the fight,” said Lt. Col. Wesley Spurlock, 344th Air Refueling Squadron commander. “They are versatile maintainers, pilots and boom operators who are prepared for any learning curve that comes with a new aircraft.”
The active duty 344th ARS and Air Force Reserve 924th ARS, will be the first units in the military to operationally fly the KC-46.
A KC-46A Pegasus
(Photo by Airman Michaela Slanchik)
“This airplane has a wide variety of capabilities that we haven’t seen here before,” said Spurlock. “We’re going to get our hands on it, then expand on those abilities and see how we can employ them operationally.”
Once airmen in the Total Force squadrons have perfected their craft on the new aircraft, they will pave the way for the entire KC-46 enterprise and other bases receiving the aircraft in the future by developing tactics, techniques and procedures to share with those units.
“I have never been a part of a unit that is more excited about the mission before them and the legacy they’re going to leave,” said Spurlock.
Today, the waiting ends and integration begins for the next generation of air mobility that will be a linchpin of national defense, global humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations for decades to come.
“For those of us who have spent years watching this process happen, it’s enormously humbling to finally see it come to a close,” said Col. Phil Heseltine, 931st ARW commander. “We are grateful to everyone who is joining us as we fulfill the potential of this amazing new aircraft.
“We are honoring the rich culture that we have been gifted by those who came before us,” said Heseltine. “That culture continues today. For example, the forward fuselage section of the KC-46 is built by Spirit AeroSystems right here in Wichita. This aircraft literally came home today.”
With the KC-46 on the ground at McConnell AFB, the Air Force will begin the next phases of familiarization and initial operations testing and evaluation.
A deal between the United States and the Taliban is expected to be signed on February 29 provided a “reduction in violence'” due to enter into force at midnight proves successful, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on February 21.
The United States and the Taliban have been engaged in talks to facilitate a political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan and reduce the U.S. presence in the region, Pompeo said in a statement.
“In recent weeks, in consultation with the Government of National Unity, U.S. negotiators in Doha have come to an understanding with the Taliban on a significant and nationwide reduction in violence across Afghanistan,” Pompeo said.
“Upon a successful implementation of this understanding, signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward. We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29,” Pompeo said, adding that intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon thereafter, with the final aim of delivering “a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire and the future political road map for Afghanistan.”
In a written statement, the Taliban confirmed the planned signing of a deal on February 29 “in front of international observers” and said that “the groundwork for intra-Afghan talks will be resolved,” although it did not mention when such talks would start.
The Taliban had previously refused to speak directly to the Afghan government, which it labeled a U.S. puppet.
Earlier on February 21, a senior Afghan official and several Taliban leaders said that the week-long “reduction in violence” will begin at midnight local time on February 22.
“We hope it is extended for a longer time and opens the way for a cease-fire and intra-Afghan talks,” Javed Faisal, Afghanistan’s National Security Council spokesman, was quoted as saying.
The talks between U.S. and Taliban representatives began in Qatar in 2018.
Afghan government troops will keep up normal military operations against other militants, such as the Islamic State (IS) group, during the reduction in violence period, Faisal said.
He added that Afghan troops will also retaliate to the smallest violation of the understanding by the Taliban.
“Local government and security officials have been instructed by the president [Ashraf Ghani)] himself on how to follow the regulations agreed upon for the period [reduced violence],” Faisal said.
One Taliban leader based in Qatar’s capital, Doha, told Reuters that the week-long lull could not be called a “cease-fire.”
“Every party has the right of self-defense but there would be no attacks on each other’s positions in these seven days,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Both NATO and Russia hailed the announcement.
“It will be an important event for the peace process in Afghanistan,” Moscow’s Afghanistan envoy, Zamir Kabulov, told the state news agency RIA Novosti, adding that he would attend the signing ceremony if invited.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the agreement opened a possible route to sustainable peace in Afghanistan.
“I welcome today’s announcement that an understanding has been reached on a significant reduction in violence across Afghanistan,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.
NATO has a 16,000-strong mission in Afghanistan to train, support, and advise local forces.