If you’re a true super-serious-ROTC-kid it is an absolute must that you have an energy drink on you at all times. You can’t get your hands on an actual Rip-It yet, but don’t let that stop you from letting people know that you’re in the military.
It doesn’t matter what kind you have: Monster, Red Bull, some random off-brand one you found at Big Lots called like “Pulse” or something—it doesn’t matter, just have one. You’re on a college campus swarming with seas of people zonked out on Adderall, and you simply don’t have that luxury.
You need an equally unhealthy way to spike your energy levels in the early morning. So chase down that convenience store donut with an energy drink during your 8 a.m. You were up at 6 a.m for PT, right? You need 24 ounces of gasoline and sugar.
And that’s exactly what you’ll tell every student within earshot who didn’t ask.
Always using military time
If you truly want to be a super-serious-ROTC kid, then when someone asks you what time it is—answer in military time. No matter what. Class at 4 p.m.? Nope. Class at 1600. Throw in a “0” before the time for bonus points. Even if it’s wrong. Now I know what you’re thinking, “But what if someone asks me for the time, and it’s not after 1200?” Easy. Shoehorn it in, let them know you’re ROTC.
Student: Hey, do you know what time the McDonald’s on campus stops selling egg McMuffins?
Super serious ROTC kid: At 11 a.m… And, in case you’re wondering, they close every night at 2200.
Student: Oh, uh. Okay. Thanks?
Well done. Another pleb slightly confused unnecessarily, super-serious-ROTC-kid.
Okay, so, oddly enough… This one doesn’t use military time.
But every single other super-serious-ROTC-kid has one on their wrist for some reason, so don’t be caught without one of these bad boys. Be sure to get one with a velcro strap so you sound like the shoe rack at a nursing home every time you try to take it off before a test.
Bonus points if you buy the model that is permanently loaded with the function of beeping every 4 (also known as 04) hours, with no way of turning it off. Your classmates will look at you, and they will know. And you will nod and give them a thumbs up.
Wrap around sunglasses
Thor has his hammer. Legolas had his bow and arrow. Super-serious-ROTC-kids have their wrap around sunglasses. An important note with these, however—due to new union regulations, if they are not bleach-white/midnight black Oakleys—they must have a neck lanyard attachment.
Indoors: they must be worn on your face over your eyes. Outside: it’s optional, but if you want bonus points prop them atop your head on your bent billed baseball hat.
Camo tactical backpack
“Woah buddy! Almost didn’t see all your schoolwork there. Your digital camo backpack blends in with all these massive red brick buildings like a chameleon.” That’s the kind of stealth and tactical advantage you will have over all your classmates dressed in loud throwback NBA jerseys and pastel-colored khaki shorts.
Do you need a tactical backpack to carry notebooks and old Lunchables you forgot to throw away? If you want to be a super-serious-ROTC-kid you do.
A super-serious-ROTC-kid must also fill the backpack to the brim. It doesn’t matter with what: bundled up sweatshirts, copies of “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” or literal bricks—just make sure it bulges outward behind you no less than 2 (also known as 02) feet.
A good mustache
Without this—nothing else matters.
Every super-serious-ROTC-kid since the dawn of time has had this. This tight bristled lip tickler is to you what flowing locks of hair were to Samson.
It is not to be confused with the super-serious-police-academy-kid mustache. Those are bulky, rounded, and accompanied by aviator sunglasses.
Note: your hair does not have to be in regs, but if you want it to match the mustache, maintain a nice tight fade.
Congratulations. You’re now a super-serious-ROTC-kid.
A US soldier stationed in South Korea has “tested positive” for COVID-19, the military said in a statement on Wednesday morning.
The 23-year-old unnamed male soldier is in self-quarantine at an off-base residence, the US military added. Health officials are investigating whether others were exposed, as the soldier had visited several US bases in the country, including Camps Walker and Carroll, in the past week.
The incident marks the first time a US service member tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
United States Forces Korea “is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of COVID-19 and remains at risk level ‘high’ for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force,” the military said in a statement.
A 61-year-old widowed US military dependent was previously found to have tested positive in the country on Monday, prompting US forces to raise the risk level to “high.”
The woman visited a post exchange, the military’s shopping center, at Camp Walker in Daegu, where South Korean health officials have cautioned there was a “high possibility that COVID-19 could spread nationwide.”
“We are going to begin to limit all soldier movement,” US Army Col. Michael Tremblay, the garrison commander of Camp Humphreys, said on Tuesday.
South Korea is addressing an influx of confirmed coronavirus cases, which have passed 1,100 in the country. At least 11 people there have died of COVID-19.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday issued a travel advisory warning that people should avoid all nonessential travel to South Korea.
Fake news — or at least global discussion of the phenomenon — continued to flourish in 2017, so much so that Collins Dictionary named the term its Word of the Year.
Defined by Collins as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting,” fake news also reverberated across the Russian media and political landscape in 2017.
From a purported Western plot to “collapse” Russia to a New York restaurant’s alleged campaign honoring President Vladimir Putin with a massive hamburger, some of these reports — including outright hoaxes — were treated with credulity by prominent Russian media outlets, public figures, and audiences alike.
Some of them originated in Russia — which Western governments have accused of deploying fake news and disinformation as part of its foreign policy. (Moscow has repeatedly rejected such criticism, including accusations that it was behind a flood of fake news aimed at influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election.) Others began elsewhere and were then perpetuated by both Russian state-controlled television and privately owned media outlets — and, in some cases, by senior officials.
Here’s a look at some of the fake-news and other dubious reports that resonated across Russia in 2017.
7. ‘Collapsing Russia’
In August, a website confusingly similar in appearance to that of the British newspaper The Guardian published a fake story attributing quotes to a former head of British intelligence about a purported Western plot to dismantle Russia.
The fake interview quoted ex-MI6 head John Scarlett as saying — in clunky English — that Britain and the United States planned to use the pro-Western former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, and a “fictitious quarrel between Ukraine and Russia” in order to bring about Russia’s “re-disintegration.”
“I must admit that the two Georgian and Crimean wars, the most strategic plan of the U.S. and Britain over the past several years for collapsing Russia, ended with failure,” Scarlett was quoted as saying in the fabricated story.
The ruse was quickly debunked, including in an investigation by BuzzFeed, and The Guardian itself noted that it was a “a fake story…on a fake site purporting to be The Guardian.”
Several Russian media outlets picked up the story, however, including the national television network REN-TV. Days after the false report had been debunked, prominent Russian television personality Vladimir Solovyov appeared to give credence to the hoax on his popular political talk show on state TV, though he added the qualifier, “Some say it’s true, some say it’s not.”
6. Putin Burger
On October 7 — Putin’s 65th birthday — Russian state television and news agencies reported that a New York restaurant was serving a special five-patty burger in honor of the man in the Kremlin. The reports were based on a video produced by Ruptly, a news agency owned by the Russian government-backed TV network RT. Ruptly interviewed an employee at Lucy’s Cantina Royale in New York City who said the restaurant had created a burger weighing 1,952 grams — a reference to the year of Putin’s birth — and featured a small leaflet bearing Putin’s image as evidence of the alleged special menu item.
“It’s not only foreign leaders who are wishing Russia’s president a happy birthday, but ordinary citizens as well. What’s more, they’re doing it in extremely original ways,” an anchor for the state-run Rossia-24 network said in a segment–based on the Ruptly report.
But Russian journalist Aleksei Kovalyov, who regularly debunks canards circulating in the Russian media, quickly dug in to the reports about the special burger, which proceeded to fall apart under scrutiny. The restaurant denied honoring Putin with a burger and said “the employees responsible for this hoax have been suspended pending an investigation.” A bartender at the restaurant later said the “Putin burger” was her idea and that she had lost her job. The employee filmed in the Ruptly video was also reportedly fired.
Ruptly later deleted the video, saying in a statement that the story “did not meet [its] editorial standards.”
Kovalyov has long accused state-controlled Russian media of fabricating or twisting news from abroad in order to produce stories for domestic consumption that are aimed at reinforcing Kremlin messaging. “The Putin burger was a particularly egregious example of virtual reality,” he told RFE/RL.
5. Nobel Winner Alexievich ‘Dead’
In May, a Twitter account purporting to be that of French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen tweeted out that Belarusian author and Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich had died. Nyssen had previously headed the Actes Sud publishing house, which her father founded and had published Alexievich’s writing in French, which appeared to lend credibility to the death claim.
Numerous Russian media outlets — including the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta and state news agency RIA Novosti — quickly ran with the report, as did the website of Current Time TV, a project of RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. European outlets also circulated the report, including the French newspaper Le Figaro and popular Portuguese daily Diario de Noticias.
It was, in fact, a hoax. Alexievich, 69, spoke with RFE/RL’s Belarus Service from Seoul, South Korea, with the reports swirling, saying, “Someone’s impatient.”
Shortly after the original tweet, Italian journalist Tommaso Debenedetti — who had previously published fake interviews with famous writers — claimed he was behind the hoax.
4. Another Sketchy MH17 Claim
On October 6, the official television network of the Russian Defense Ministry published a claim from a man it said was a defector from the Ukrainian Air Force. The man, identified as Yury Baturin, claimed that the Ukrainian Air Force had moved a Buk missile system to within firing range of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shortly before it was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
The report by the Zvezda network clearly suggested that Ukraine may have shot down the plane amid its war with Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine, though Baturin did not specifically say that Ukrainian forces fired on MH17 with the Buk. The location in question, Baturin said, was the one previously identified by Russian weapons maker Almaz-Antey: a spot near the Ukrainian village of Zaroshchenske.
The Zaroshchenske claim is one of a range of uncorroborated theories that the Russian government and its proxies have proposed about the downing of MH17, including that it was brought down by a Ukrainian fighter jet.
An international investigation has concluded that the plane was brought down by a Russian-made Buk missile system fired from territory controlled by the separatists near the Ukrainian village of Snizhne. The Dutch Safety Board and the Dutch-led international investigation have both dismissed the Zaroshchenske theory, citing a broad range of evidence that includes forensic tests, eyewitnesses, and an intercepted phone call between separatist fighters.
The Buk system was brought in from Russia and smuggled back shortly after the shoot-down, the international investigation has concluded. Critics have accused Moscow of trying to muddy the waters of the investigation in order to deflect possible culpability from the separatists and itself.
The Zvezda report was picked up by numerous Russian media outlets, including the state-run TASS news agency and state-run television. But the man’s claims have yet to be corroborated by any other media outlets, leaving Zvezda as the only source. And within 24 hours of the original publication, Zvezda deleted — without explanation — its reports based on the interview.
But in early December, Baturin’s story was again published by Zvezda, this time in a slightly different interview format. Zvezda told the Russian news site Meduza that the original report was deleted because it wanted to give a more thorough treatment to his story.
As in the original story, Zvezda and Baturin strongly imply that a Ukrainian Buk shot down MH17 but note that the former Ukrainian soldier was unable to detect the launch of a missile from near Kharkiv, where he claimed to have been stationed at the time. The Ukrainian military confirmed to Meduza that Baturin had served in its air force but quit in 2016 due to “family circumstances.”
3. Syrian War (Video) Games
The Russian Defense Ministry in November accused the United States of cooperating with Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria, alleging that Washington was providing cover to the extremist group as Russian and Syrian government forces were targeting IS fighters.
It was an incendiary claim, one that came shortly after an explosive BBC reportalleging that forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition struck a deal that ultimately allowed hundreds of IS militants to leave the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa. (The coalition did not confirm the deal but conceded that IS fighters may have left the city along with a convoy of civilians.)
But the Russian military’s accusation, which it posted on Facebook and Twitter, included curious images that it described as “irrefutable evidence” of alleged U.S. help for IS militants. The images purported to show an IS convoy heading for the Syrian-Iraqi border.
But it didn’t take long for social-media users and investigative groups to discover that one of the images was actually a still from a 2015 promotional video for a video game called AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron. The other images were taken from videos released by the Iraqi Defense Ministry in 2016 about anti-IS operations near Fallujah, online investigators found.
The fake images triggered a wave of ridicule, with some on social media mocking the ministry with footage from other video games, like the famous 1980s game Frogger.
The Russian military subsequently scrubbed the images and published new photos it claimed were “irrefutable evidence” of its accusation. The ministry concededthat the original photographs were fake and said a civilian employee was facing a probe in connection with the matter.
2. Bin Laden In the White House
The video-game hijinks weren’t the only time a Russian ministry perpetuated a hoax in 2017.
Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s often-caustic spokeswoman, claimed during a political talk show on state TV in November that the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had once visited the White House.
Zakharova made the claim during a discussion about lobbying in the United States and the U.S. investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election and potential collusion between Moscow and Donald Trump’s campaign staff.
“Recall these fantastic, mind-boggling photographs of Bin Laden being hosted in the White House. This is classic lobbying in the true sense of the word,” Zakharova said.
The Saudi-born Bin Laden, who was killed in a 2011 U.S. raid in Pakistan, never visited the White House. Zakharova did not specify during the program which “photographs” she had in mind, though some Russian media outlets speculated she was referring to a photoshopped image appearing to show former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shaking hands with the Al-Qaeda leader.
That image, which has circulated online for years, is a fake. Bin Laden’s head in the photo, which was taken in May 2004, was superimposed over that of musician Shubhashish Mukherjee. The firebrand conservative site Tsargrad.tv cited Zakharova’s claim without noting that Bin Laden had never been to the White House.
Days later, Zakharova took to Facebook to say she didn’t mean to suggest that Bin Laden “personally” had visited the White House but rather “his colleagues, his advisers, so to speak.” She cited what she called her “favorite photograph” of U.S. President Ronald Reagan “hosting a Taliban delegation in the White House.”
The photograph in question, which Zakharova attached to her post, shows Reagan meeting with Afghan rebel leaders to discuss the fight against invading Soviet forces. The United States funded Afghan mujahedin fighting — alongside Bin Laden and other Arab fighters — against the Soviets; but the photograph in question of Reagan and the Afghans was taken in February 1983 — nine years before the Taliban was founded.
In October, a columnist writing for the state-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti published an angry screed decrying what he called “propaganda horror stories” about Russia that are regularly published in the Dutch media. The column, titled Muscovites Eat Rat: Who In Europe Is Writing Fake News About Russia, focused on a short November 2016 article in the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant about a Moscow restaurateur who serves nutria — a large rodent also known as a river rat.
The columnist, Vladimir Kornilov, delivered a highly skewed and, at times, outright false version of the original article to his readers. He incorrectly suggested that the article claimed Muscovites had started eating rat meat because they were “starving” due to Western sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“Nonsense, you say? You are correct. But the thing is, such nonsense about Russia is periodically published in the leading newspapers in the Netherlands — a country that is regularly presented as a leader in global media-freedoms ratings,” Kornilov wrote.
He also called the De Volkskrant article “enormous,” when in fact it clocked in at fewer than 400 words.
Kornilov’s column was picked up by several prominent Russian media outlets.
The original article — one of several published in the Western media at the time about Moscow restaurateur Takhir Kholikberdiyev and his nutria-based delicacies — said nothing about Russians going hungry due to sanctions, though it noted that the punitive measures have prompted restaurants to seek alternative and domestically produced ingredients.
“It remains a mystery why, almost a year after an entirely friendly article was published, a RIA Novosti columnist needed to distort its content,” the opposition-minded Russian news site The Insider wrote.
Kovalyov, the Russian media critic, debunked the false characterizations in the RIA Novosti column in a post on his website, Noodle Remover, with the headline: If The ‘Western Media’ Didn’t Lie, No Problem, We’ll Lie For Them And Then Expose Them!
“You are attributing words to the author of the article that he didn’t write,” Kovalyov wrote, addressing Kornilov, “and on the basis of these inventions are accusing ‘the Western media’ of creating fake news about Russia!”
Today, the Wounded Warrior ProjectBoard of Directors announced the appointment of Michael S. Linnington to the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Wounded Warrior Project. Linnington is joining WWP from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, where he was appointed Director by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in 2015. His 35-year military career included three combat tours and a number of command positions.
Linnington’s appointment follows a CBS News report about WWP that resulted in the firings last March of the previous CEO Steve Nardizzi and COO Al Giordano for misusing funds for extravagant parties and other perks that ate up nearly 50 percent of donated money. (The average overhead for veteran charities is approximately 10-15 percent.)
WWP’s interim CEO, retired Major General Charlie Fletcher, will remain in place until Linnington takes over on July 18. The WWP Board has also announced they planned to add another four members before the end of the year.
“Mike’s extensive military experience and proven leadership credentials make him the perfect candidate to lead WWP,” Anthony Odierno, Chairman of the WWP Board of Directors, said. “Mike understands the unique needs of our nation’s veteran community, is a collaborative team-builder, and is deeply committed to fulfilling our mission of honoring and empowering Wounded Warriors. I am excited for WWP’s path forward under his leadership.”
“I had the privilege of working with General Linnington in his role as Director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, and know him to be a man of honor and integrity,” Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6, said. “The veteran and military family communities — and our entire nation — will benefit from his demonstrated leadership and dedication.”
Linnington’s active duty tours included command of the Third Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is an Airborne, Air Assault, Pathfinder and Ranger qualified officer, and earned the Expert Infantryman’s Badge and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. He is a West Point graduate.
According to their website, “WWP’s purpose is to raise awareness and to enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members, to help injured servicemen and women aid and assist each other, and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs.”
The next advancement in cellular technology, 5G, is expected to be so fast that it’s able to surpass the speed of wired internet now provided by cable companies.
Current 4G technology provides download speeds of about 1 gigabit per second. With 5G technology, download speeds are expected to increase to 20 gigabits per second, said Ellen M. Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.
Lord spoke yesterday at the Atlantic Council here to discuss the Defense Department’s efforts to advance 5G technology in the United States and to ensure that when 5G does make its debut, it’s secure enough to transmit information between U.S. military personnel and its allies without being intercepted by potential adversaries.
U.S. and allies must take lead
That means the U.S. and its allies will need to take the lead in developing this next generation of telecommunications technology, she said.
“When we talk about 5G, everything is going to be moving over it, eventually,” Lord said. “What we need to do is make sure how that information is moving, and how you can get at it, and how you can keep it secure.”
Ellen M. Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.
Lord likened development of the 5G infrastructure and technology to that of a new home. She said new home owners certainly would want to know that whoever built their home, wired it for electricity, installed the communications systems, or installed the doors and windows hadn’t also built in a way for them to sneak back into that house undetected after the new owners had moved in.
“That’s where we are with 5G,” Lord said. “If we are going to run our entire warfighting ecosystem though communications — which is where we are today — we need to make sure that when we send a critical message that others aren’t hearing it. We need to be able to test that.”
On the modern battlefield, and on the battlefield of the foreseeable future, communications is going to play a critical role, Lord said. Information must flow between mounted and dismounted soldiers, from ships at sea and from those under the sea, as well as to space and aircraft.
“In order to get relevant situational understanding, we are trading information back and forth all the time,” she said. “What will happen is, if we do not embrace 5G, and we are just getting going in 4G in a lot of areas, we are going to have a latency or a delay in those conversations that could render everything we have as ineffective.”
U.S. industry and partners must provide advancements
Advancements in 5G must come from U.S. industry and U.S. partners to be trustworthy and reliable, Lord said.
The Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defense.
“Right now there is quite an intensive dialogue going on to understand where in Europe we might partner,” Lord said. “And there has been an enormous amount of discussion about the threat that we see by the Chinese — theft of intellectual property — coming into our networks. We have to collectively decide how we are technically going to secure our networks — how we legislatively have to have protection.”
Lord said a whole-of-government approach is needed to get a handle on 5G. The State, Treasury and Commerce departments and the National Security Council should be involved along with DOD, she said.
“I think you are going to see a huge call to action this year to come together with really what is almost a national industrial policy for 5G, because the stakes are high,” Lord added. “5G from a technology point of view is a huge opportunity, but it’s a huge threat.
“If we don’t embrace it and apply it towards our goals, we could be overcome quickly with technical overmatch,” she continued. “And we can’t allow that to happen. … We have a warfighting imperative. If we cannot communicate as quickly, or quicker than our adversaries, if we cannot have situational understanding as to what is happening on the battlefield, then we are going to be in a position where our national security is threatened.”
On Dec. 8, 2020, U.S. Army Veteran David Harker will celebrate his 75th birthday. He may recognize the accomplishment while on his daily five mile walk, or by taking a drive in his 47-year-old car – a 1973 Corvette he’s owned since it was given to him by classmates when he returned from Vietnam after spending more than five years as a prisoner of war.
A native of Lynchburg, Virginia, Harker is the third of seven children. He was an athlete in high school and received his associate’s degree from Bluefield College before transferring to Virginia Tech in 1966. By 1967, however, his fortunes had changed.
David Harker stands next to the 1973 Corvette he received.
“I was doing my junior year at Virginia Tech and my grades were low, so I had to take a quarter off in 1967 and during that time, because I wasn’t a full-time student, I had to let the government know. They got me,” he said.
When the draft notice came, Harker’s father, an electrical engineer took the news hard.
“My dad was really upset. He had worked for a power company during World War II and so was exempt from the draft,” Harker recalled. “I didn’t think about the possibility of being killed. My dad’s supervisor said he could get me in the National Guard, but I thought that would be shirking my responsibility. I was called on to serve my country and that’s what I was going to do.”
After basic and advanced infantry training, Harker was approached and offered an opportunity to go to Officer Candidate School.
“I was interested in flying helicopters, but they said I’d have to extend for another year or two, so I said, ‘no, I’ll do my two and go home’.”
Heading to Vietnam
The trip to Vietnam brought Harker through Hawaii, and Guam, before landing in Vietnam Nov. 15, 1967. The recollection of arrival is still fresh even 53 years later.
“There were men on the airstrip who had finished their year and were going to take the plane we had arrived on back home. So, they open the door and it was such a rude awakening when the door opened. The oppressive heat – and I’m sure Vietnam Vets will tell you – the country had a smell of its own.”
The soldiers on their way home watched them deplane and Harker heard them say, ‘there’s my replacement.’
“They wished us well,” Harker said.
David Harker stands next to the 1973 Corvette he received.
Although trained on a vehicle-mounted recoilless rifle, Harker was made an infantryman upon arrival in-country and reassigned from the 9th Infantry Division to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Six weeks later, he was a POW.
“I was in the 3rd of the 21st in an area of operations at Que Son,” Harker said. “We operated out of a fire base, with one company pulling security while the other three were out doing search and destroy missions. While out, we’d move about 1,000 meters a day and get resupplied every fourth day with c-rations if the helicopters could get through.”
As a 22 year old, Harker was among the older men in his unit. His commanding officer, Capt. Roland Belcher, told the company while they were enjoying in-country RR at brigade headquarters in Chu Lai, that he was proud of the work they were doing.
“Captain Belcher had been in a province southwest of Saigon where we were providing security for elections,” Harker said. “He said it meant a lot to him that we were able to do that – to make sure those people could go to the polls and not get hurt. I remember that because he died in the rice paddies when we were ambushed.”
Harker’s first sergeant, nicknamed Top, was a 41-year old Veteran of World War II and Korea who had earned a Silver Star before joining the company.
“After the ambush, he was the ranking person and he held us together.”
Harker and his company were on patrol when they broke contact with the enemy in a creek bed. The North Vietnamese unloaded on the unit and killed two men. As the most forward man, Harker was pinned down.
“I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to die.’ Top is behind me telling me to switch to auto and fire. They tried to get behind us and eventually I hear a Vietnamese voice and do a 90 degree and within arm’s reach at the top of this creek bank is an NVA soldier with a pith helmet and Top is there with no helmet. There’s a guy with a rifle telling me to get up. The NVA are stripping everything off us – anything they can use. I tried to bury my M-16 in the creek bed but I think they got it.”
After being taken, Harker was left with a soldier with a sidearm who walked in front of him, leading him away from the creek.
“I thought it was odd he was in front of me and I had been taught that you always try to escape. Next thing I know my hand is over his mouth and I have his arm at his side. I know I have to kill him and do it silently, but his bayonet won’t come out of the scabbard, and by that time my hand has come off his mouth and he’s yelling bloody murder. Before I could get his .45, he stabs me in the side with his bayonet. By that time there are a bunch of rifles pointing at me. I’m surprised they didn’t just shoot me, but they took some commo wire and duck-winged me that night.”
A newspaper clipping from the time shows support from his hometown.
Of the 15 men who entered the rice paddy that evening, only four made it out. More men would join Harker in his prison in the Trung Son Mountain Range where he would spend the first three years of captivity. By Harker’s estimation only about 150 U.S. soldiers were captured in South Vietnam – most of whom were taken during the Tet Offensive.
Harker’s first prison was in Quang Nam Province, a difficult, mountainous country that made food scarce and meant deplorable living conditions for the POWs.
“We buried nine Americans there,” Harker said. “That’s how horrific our living conditions were. We had very little to eat so people died from starvation, infectious diseases – malaria was rampant – dysentery. Between September of 1968 and Jan. 4, 1969, we buried six, including the youngest person we had there, a 19-year-old Marine.
“That first year of adjustment to jungle life was really hard on us. You didn’t know what to do. At first you looked out for yourself, but as time went on, you got more altruistic – you realize, it’s not about me, but about the guy next door and you realize you had to take care of each other. We came together really well in that respect.”
During the Vietnam War only one American doctor was ever taken prisoner. Hal Kushner, who grew up in Danville, Virginia, was injured in a helicopter crash in late November. By Dec. 4, North Vietnamese forces found him and marched him toward the camp where he found, according to a speech he gave in February 2018, “four of the saddest looking American creatures I had ever seen in my life.”
“They wouldn’t let him practice medicine,” Harker said of Kushner. “We couldn’t call him doc, but he was a big source of information and help to us. He led the way and showed us how to nurse and take care of men, and that became our goal – to make people in their last hours and days as comfortable as possible – it was our mission, and he was a big inspiration to us.”
In the mountains the men had to forage for food, mostly the manioc root, also known as kasava root.
“There wasn’t a place to grow food, so most of our calories came from manioc,” Harker said. “We were under a 1-to-1 prisoner-to-guard ratio, and the guards would trade manioc and so we would put baskets on our backs and go back and forth over miles of mountain trails carrying 70-80 pounds of root. It’s amazing to think that we could even do it, but we did what we had to do. The little bit of rice they gave us as a ration wasn’t enough to keep a bird flying, so the roots kept us going.”
The guards of Trung Son didn’t physically abuse their prisoners. They didn’t need to.
“We were separated from civilization in the middle of nowhere and we couldn’t communicate; had no food, and no medical attention – that’s torture enough for an individual. We were interrogated when we were captured,” Harker said, “but we knew the Code of Conduct and so we’d give that information. But they’d have a guy with a lantern and they’re asking for information about your unit, it’s size, and I just kept repeating. They didn’t pursue it much. They wanted to get us away from the battlefield but a few days later they did it again. When you have a rifle and you’re in front of the enemy, it’s different. But if they put a blindfold on you and all you can hear is round being chambered – that’s different too. In the north they beat pilots and used a lot of torture techniques.”
On Feb. 1, 1971 there were a dozen men still alive in the mountains and they were taken in groups of six to begin their march north up the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Harker watched battalions of Vietnamese troops heading south during the 60-day march, as they ground out 10 to 15 miles a day. During the journey an interpreter would give them extra rice.
“He was a military guy who had fought in Laos as a 17-year old in the early 1960s, and he looked out for us. I think he understood the condition – there was a common situation and appreciation among soldiers.”
“We’d get to a camp every day where we got hot white rice – better than we had at the mountain camp. The next morning they’d put a ball of rice on a banana leaf and we’d carry that with us for lunch as we moved. Eventually we were put on a train, in a box car, and taken to Hanoi, to Plantation Garden, an old French plantation with bars in the walls. We were kept in a 15×17 warehouse – six of us on a wooden pallet. Unlike the mountain camp we couldn’t roam around, and the boredom would overtake you and the heat was oppressive, but we had plenty to eat compared to the south. We also had better medical care there as they had a doctor to attend to us.”
In October of 1972 the Vietnamese allowed prisoners to be outside together for the first time since they arrived, and it looked like the war might be over.
“We had a communication system where we’d put a note on the lid of the waste bucket, or use the tap code, and we had to do that because we were only allowed out of our cell for about an hour a day, and never more than one cell was let out at a time. So, when they let everyone out, and then gave us reading material, they knew it was over. Or they thought it was, because before you know it, the doors are all slammed shut again.”
Soon after, Linebacker II started. From Dec. 18-29, 1972, the U.S. Air Force conducted an operation called Linebacker II, a ‘maximum effort’ campaign to destroy targets using B-52 heavy bombers that dropped more than 15,000 tons of ordnance on more than 30 targets.
“B-52s bombed all night long after talks broke down. The SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) shot down a bunch of planes on the third night, after they figured out the flight patterns, and one night they pulled up a deuce and a half and told us to crawl in the back. We thought we were being taken to China.”
Harker would spend his last three months as a prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton.
Half a world away, in Paris, a peace accord was signed January 27, 1973, and soon after Harker and other American POWs heard the news they had longed to hear.
“We were ecstatic,” Harker said. “We’d hear doors open and activity and they came and said, ‘you’re going, and you’re going, and you’re going’ dividing us up into groups that would be repatriated. They gave us western clothing and a travel bag and when they pulled us out of a holding cell wearing our red-striped pajamas we were given the clothes. By noon, nothing had happened. They gave us food and told us the peace agreement was broken – and we were right back down in the depths of despair. But a few days later we got out.
A newspaper clipping shows when David Harker returned home.
“I remember saluting an Air Force general who was sitting with a North Vietnamese officer, and when we saluted, we had been officially repatriated. On the plane home, the pilot told us when we had entered international airspace and there was a great cheer.”
The cheers continued when they landed in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Andrews AFB, Maryland. From Maryland, Harker went to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania where he went through medical treatment and rehabilitation, and he was reunited with his family.
“It was different,” Harker said. “I had brothers who were married, and children had been born, but it was exciting coming home. A private airline flew me and my father back and the local TV station had sent a reporter who interviewed me all the way back. There must have been 10,000 people at the Lynchburg airport when we arrived – I had no idea there would be that welcome and response – my big extended family – the high school band was there. It was a long journey and I was glad to be home and for them to be there for me meant so much. I was led to a blue 1973 Corvette and handed the keys. A group of school mates had gotten together and sold bumper stickers for a dollar each to buy me a car and they handed me the keys and a check for id=”listicle-2647726394″,100.”
Being home with his family, Harker said he learned how much anxiety and frustration and worry his parents went through while he was captive.
“Every POW gets a casualty assistance officer whose job it is to let the family know when they hear something – anything – about their son,” Harker said. “My family never heard anything from their CAO. It wasn’t until 1969, when three prisoners were released that they knew I was alive. My parents found out that a couple of those who were released were at Fort Jackson, and so they went there and got onto base and met with them and heard from them that I was alive. That’s all the knew for five years. So they became involved in the National League of Families who organized and tried to have some involvement with North Vietnam to get information about prisoners and try to make the process more transparent as far as information was concerned.”
Life after war
After he returned from Vietnam, Harker took some time off, but eventually returned to Blacksburg and finished his business degree from Virginia Tech in 1976 and found his way to work as a probation and parole officer. In 1977 he married Linda, his high school sweetheart whom he had dated since 1962.
His family now includes his two children, Megan and husband Mike, and Adam and his wife Anza. David and Linda also enjoy their grandchildren: 13-year old Emily, 11-year old Ethan, and 6-year old Eli, children of Megan; and Adam’s 23-month old daughter Ava.
While Harker is open to discussing his time in Vietnam to serve as an education for younger people, he said it was a part of his life that he’s put behind him.
“Kush and I talk about that all the time – we’re not professional POWs. By the grace of God and the help of other men, we made it out. We all serve our country one way or another. This country is what we love. My life has been a real blessing since then, and the staff at the VA hospital, what they do is marvelous, and I appreciate each one of them. I know they have a heart for those Veterans, or they wouldn’t work there,” Harker said. “I love the Veterans, too, and appreciate their service, and institutions like the VA are a great service to our country.”
In the early 2010s Harker had the Corvette he received in 1973 – the car he and his youngest brother Louie drove across the country after his return – restored. He still drives it today.
“I think of all the love behind it every time I drive it.”
The Marine Corps is hoping industry can make lightweight .50 caliber ammunition that provides machine-gunners with a 30 percent weight savings over existing linked belts of .50 caliber ammo.
Marine Corps Systems Command recently released a request for information to see if commercial companies have the capability to produce lightweight .50 caliber ammo that “will provide a weight savings when compared to the current M33 .50 cartridge in the DODIC A555 linked configuration,” according to the document released on FedBizOpps.gov.
“A belt of 100 Lightweight .50 Caliber cartridges with 101 links shall have a threshold overall weight of 24.6 lbs. or 15 percent weight savings compared to the legacy A555 configuration,” the document states. “A belt of 100 lightweight cartridges with 101 links shall have an objective overall weight savings of more than 20.3 lbs. or 30 percent compared to the legacy A555 configuration.”
Lightweight ammunition is not a new concept. Commercial companies continue to work new methods to lighten one of the heaviest necessities of warfare.
The Chesapeake Cartridge Corporation showed off its new line of nickel ammunition at SHOT Show 2018 in Las Vegas.
The shell casings, made of aluminum-plated nickel alloy, are lighter and stronger that traditional brass casings, Ed Collins, Chesapeake’s director for business development, told Military.com in January 2018.
The company is working toward creating ammunition that’s 50 percent lighter than conventional brass ammo. Currently, the company makes military calibers such as 9mm, 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO, but it plans to make it in additional calibers in the future.
Companies such as PCP Ammunition make polymer-cased ammunition, which offers up to a 30 percent weight savings compared to brass-cased ammo.
Textron Systems makes case-telescoped weapons and ammunition. The ammo concept relies on plastic case rather than a brass one to hold the propellant and the projectile, like a conventional shotgun shell.
Over the past decade, the U.S. Army has invested heavily in Textron’s concept, formerly known as Light Weight Small Arms Technology.
Textron doesn’t currently make .50-caliber, case-telescoped ammunition, but its 5.56mm CT ammo weighs about 37 percent less than standard belted 5.56mm.
Companies have until June 1, 2018, to respond to the RFI, the document states.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
For nearly 10 years, the Army has been on the search for a replacement to the Beretta M9, which has been in the hands of soldiers since 1985.
In a press release, the Army announced they had awarded a $580 million contract to Sig Sauer for the Modular Handgun System, “including handguns, accessories and ammunition.”
1. The military already uses Sig Sauer weapons
The new contract is not the first time Sig Sauer has outfitted members of the armed forces. After losing the Army bid to the Beretta M9 in 1984, the SIG-Sauer P226 was adapted by the Navy SEALs as the MK25 to replace the 9 mm SW M39 pistols. The MK25 was built with corrosion-resistant parts, a necessary requirement when serving a SEAL.
Additionally, though the Army has widely issued the M9 to most soldiers, Military Police and members of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) often use the SIG-Sauer P228, a smaller version of the P226, known for its compact style and designated as the M11.
The Coast Guard adapted the SIG-Sauer P229R DAK after their M9’s bit the dust in 2004. As many Coast Guardsmen carry and use weapons on a daily basis while policing the nation’s borders, the wear and tear on the handgun took a toll quicker than the other branches. Because the USCG falls under the Department of Homeland Security, the branch was able to use non-Geneva compliant JHP ammunition with a non-NATO standard caliber (40SW).
2. The P320 was named ‘Handgun of the Year’ by an NRA magazine
The P320 is rumored to be the handgun the Army will model their version after. One of the biggest complaints by soldiers about the M9 is its grip size, which is a significant problem for small-handed users. The P320 handgun can be ordered with changeable grips, which would accommodate all soldiers and can changed without incident in the field.
The Sig Sauer P320 was recognized in June 2016 as the Handgun of the Year by the National Rifle Association publication ‘American Rifleman.’ If the Army has chosen to model its next signature weapon after the SIG-Sauer P320 handgun, the upgrades, accessories, and features are numerous, and will provide soldiers a much more modern and up-to-date feel than the current M9.
3. Sig Sauer beat out nine other bids for the lucrative contract
The Army is poised to expand its numbers as the incoming presidential administration has indicated a larger military is on the horizon, a good sign for the pistol company. The $580 million contract extends through 2027 and includes the cost of weapons, ammunition, and accessories. The win showed Sig Sauer coming out ahead of other prestigious gun makers, including Glock, Beretta and Smith Wesson.
The Cold War was a great time for NASA and the U.S. Air Force. It seemed like they were able to do pretty much whatever they wanted in the interest of just seeing if they could do it. But the X-15 was much more than just a power play. Even though the Air Force already had the perfect spy plane, capable of flying across the planet at Mach 3, they still decided to up the game just a little further and came away with some important discoveries, discoveries that led to the creation of the Space Shuttle.
Not to mention the world’s speed record for manned, powered flight – Mach 6.7.
The craft had to be drop launched from the wing of a specially modified B-52 Stratofortress but could reach the very edge of space, setting altitude records for winged aircraft. Once dropped from the wing of the “mother ship” the X-15 launched its XLR-99 rocket engine to propel the craft at hypersonic speeds. It was a unique plane because it was designed to operate in an environment where there was less air than other aircraft.
It was the world’s first spaceplane, thus it used rocket thrusters to control its altitude at times. It could switch back and forth between conventional flight controls as needed for exoatmospheric flight as well as landing the craft.
There were three different X-15 airframes. One suffered from a landing accident in 1962 that injured pilot John McKay. As a result of this flight and the damage suffered to the airframe, the fuselage was lengthened, it was given extra drop tanks for fuel beneath the wings and was given an ablative coating to protect its pilot from the heat of hypersonic flight.
A second one was lost in 1967, just minutes after its launch. The craft had taken a video of the horizon at the edge of space and began its descent to the world below. As the craft descended, it entered a hypersonic spin. Even though its pilot, Michael J. Adams, was able to recover the plane at 36,000 feet, it then went into an inverted dive at Mach 4.7. The plane broke up under the stress and Adams was killed.
Pilots who flew the X-15 to its highest altitudes were eventually given astronaut wings by the U.S. Air Force, considering the craft broke the USAF threshold for the edge of space at 50 miles above the surface of the earth. The craft would also make faster and faster hypersonic flights until Oct.3, 1967 when William J. “Pete” Knight took the craft to its maximum speed of 4,520 miles per hour.
Aside from these two achievements, the X-15 also had a number of notable firsts, including being the first restartable, throttle-controlled and man-rated rocket engine. It also tested the first spaceflight stellar navigation system and advanced pressure suits. The X-15 program was a direct ancestor of the modern Space Shuttle program, and without it, many notable achievements would not have happened.
The Pentagon is fast-tracking sensor and command and control technology development to improve defenses against fast-emerging energy hypersonic weapons threats from major rivals, such as Russia or China, U.S. Missile Defense Agency officials said.
Citing particular emphasis upon the area of Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC), Missile Defense Agency Director of Operations Gary Pennett said the Pentagon is working to address “sensor and interceptor capability gaps” exposing potential vulnerability to hypersonic weapons attacks.
“Any software associated with any of those systems might have some capability to track hypersonic systems. This evolving threat demands a globally present and persistent space sensor network to track it from birth to death,” Pennett told reporters during an MDA budget briefing.
While not specifically cited by Pennett, many at the Pentagon are doubtless aware of news reports citing Chinese hypersonic weapons development, to include details of various tests in some instances.
The MDA and Northrop Grumman are already working on command and control upgrades to the existing inventory of Ground-Based Interceptors with a specific focus on using next-gen sensors to exchange time-sensitive data with a kill vehicle targeting an enemy attack in space.
While a Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) travels into space to discern and destroy an ICBM, sensors and communications technology are needed to connect with the interceptor prior to engagement.
While many of the details, sensors, or RF technologies involved are, not surprisingly, unavailable for public discussion, there are a number of substantial cutting-edge improvements emerging quickly, Northrop developers told Warrior Maven.
Artist’s concept rendering of Boeing’s X-51A Waverider. This unmanned, experimental aircraft will be suitable for hypersonic flight. (U.S. Air Force graphic.)
The specifics of U.S.-Chinese hypersonic weapons technical competition are, quite expectedly, not likely to be available, however many U.S. military leaders have consistently raised concerns about China’s focus on the technology. The speed and impact of a hypersonic attack, naturally, places an as-of-yet unprecedented burden upon layered defense systems and sensors engineered to cue countermeasures.
A weapon traveling at hypersonic speeds, naturally, would better enable offensive missile strikes to destroy targets, such as enemy ships, buildings, air defenses, and even drones and fixed-wing or rotary aircraft, depending upon the guidance technology available, Air Force experts have explained.
A key component of this is the fact that weapons traveling at hypersonic speeds would present serious complications for targets hoping to defend against them — they would have only seconds with which to respond or defend against an approaching or incoming attack.
Hypersonic weapons will quite likely be engineered as “kinetic energy” strike weapons, meaning they will not use explosives but rather rely upon sheer speed and the force of impact to destroy targets, a senior weapons developer told Warrior Maven.
For this and other reasons, the U.S. has been fast-tracking development of its own hypersonic weapons; the U.S. has conducted various hypersonic weapons developmental experiments with Australia in recent months.
Air Force weapons developers say the service will likely have some initial hypersonic weapons ready by sometime in the 2020s. A bit further away, in the 2030s, the service could have a hypersonic drone or ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) vehicle, former senior Air Force weapons developers have told Warrior Maven over the course of several previous interviews.
A super high-speed drone or ISR platform would better enable air vehicles to rapidly enter and exit enemy territory and send back relevant imagery without being detected by enemy radar or shot down.
By the 2040s, however, the Air Force could very well have a hypersonic “strike” ISR platform, able to both conduct surveillance and delivery weapons, Air Force weapons developers have told Warrior Maven.
The pursuit of advanced sensor technology able to detect hypersonic weapons attacks emerged as Pennett’s explanation of the $9.9 billion MDA portion of the President’s defense budget.
Citing serious missile threats from North Korea, Iran, and other possible hostile actors, the US Missile Defense Agency is aggressively pursuing a plan to rapidly increase its number of Ground Based Interceptors to 64 by 2023, Pennett said.
U.S. plans to expand homeland missile defenses by adding a new missile field and deploying 20 additional GBIs at Fort Greely, Alaska, he added.
”MDA will ensure the number of fielded GBIs is sustained at 64, while performing GBI upgrades and maintenance by adding two additional silos in Missile Field 1 at Fort Greely and purchasing six additional configuration 2 booster vehicles,” Pennett told reporters.
Specific to North Korea, Pennett cited a fast-growing ICBM threat to the continental United States.
“In July 2017, North Korea launched two Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, on highly lofted trajectories that impacted in the Sea of Japan,” he said.
Pennett also cited North Korea’s November launch of a Hwasong-15 ICBM, which if fired on a lower trajectory could have reached the continental U.S.
“North Korea is developing a cold launch, solid fuel, submarine-launched ballistic missile. Today, North Korea fields hundreds of SCUD and No Dong missiles that can reach our allies and U.S. forces forward deployed in the Republic of Korea and Japan,” Pennett said.
Iran may also soon have an ability to produce and launch an ICBM able to reach the U.S., Pennett said, adding that the country already has ballistic missiles able to hit areas as far away as southeastern Europe.
The budget also emphasizes MDA’s Redesigned Kill Vehicle, Long Range Discrimination Radar, and Sea-Based X-Band radar, among other things.
Germany wants to replace its fleet of 89 Tornado combat jets with a new aircraft that retains the plane’s nuclear capability, but doing so may mean the US gets a say about which aircraft the Luftwaffe ultimately picks, according to Defense News.
As part of a Cold War-era NATO deal, Germany’s Tornados were equipped to carry nuclear weapons in case of a major clash between the alliance and the Soviet Union. That threat waned after the Cold War, as did the number of US nuclear weapons in Germany, but about 20 of the weapons are still there.
Germany is deciding between three US planes — the F-35 and variants of the F-15 and F/A-18 — and a version of the Eurofighter Typhoon being developed by a European consortium.
A German air force Eurofighter Typhoon taxis to the runway at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska before a combat-training mission, June 11, 2012.
(Photo by Tech Sgt. Michael Holzworth)
Berlin wants to replace the Tornado — which has been plagued by technical issues— by the mid-2020s. (Germany’s Typhoons have also had problems.) It is leaning toward the European-made Typhoon, but its desire to maintain that nuclear capability could mean the Trump administration will try to play politics with the purchase.
This spring, Berlin asked Washington whether it would certify the Typhoon to carry nuclear weapons, how long it would take to do so, and how much it would cost.
The certification process can take years. European officials working on the Typhoon have said they were confident it could be nuclear-certified by 2025, but US officials have said the process could take seven to 10 years, according to Reuters.
US officials have said that the F-35 and other aircraft must be certified for nuclear weapons first, and a Pentagon spokesman told Defense News that while Germany’s Tornado replacement was “a sovereign national decision,” the US believes “that a U.S. platform provides the most advanced, operationally capable aircraft to conduct their mission.”
F-35As taxi down the flight line at Volk Field during Northern Lightning, Aug. 22, 2016
(Photo by Senior Airman Stormy Archer)
The Trump administration has pushed European countries to spend more on their own defense, and Trump’s broadsides against NATO have helped inspire European officials to do so. But the Trump administration has also sought to boost exports of US-made weaponry, and US officials have grown concerned about European defense initiatives reducing US defense firms’ access to that market.
Those latter concerns mean the Trump administration could try to nudge Germany toward a US-made aircraft.
But Trump’s contentious dealings with Germany have reinvigorated debate in that country about acquiring its nuclear weapons or developing them with other European countries — ideas that are still anathema for many in Germany, where memories of the destruction and division of World War II and the Cold War linger.
That aversion to nuclear weapons and wariness of Trump may mean Germany will continue doing what it has been doing — paying the financial and political price to keep the nuclear-capable Tornadoes in the air.
“That’s why they will keep flying the Tornados, despite the price tag and despite having asked about a Eurofighter nuclear certification in Washington,” Karl-Heinz Kamp, president of government think tank the Federal Academy for Security Policy, told Defense News.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Results from NASA’s landmark Twins Study, which took place from 2015-2016, were published April 11, 2019, in Science. The integrated paper — encompassing work from 10 research teams — reveals some interesting, surprising and reassuring data about how one human body adapted to — and recovered from — the extreme environment of space.
The Twins Study provides the first integrated biomolecular view into how the human body responds to the spaceflight environment, and serves as a genomic stepping stone to better understand how to maintain crew health during human expeditions to the Moon and Mars.
Retired NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and his identical twin brother Mark, participated in the investigation, conducted by NASA’s Human Research Program. Mark provided a baseline for observation on Earth, and Scott provided a comparable test case during the 340 days he spent in space aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 43, 44, 45 and 46. Scott Kelly became the first American astronaut to spend nearly a year in space.
“The Twins Study has been an important step toward understanding epigenetics and gene expression in human spaceflight,” said J.D. Polk, chief Health and Medical Officer at NASA Headquarters. “Thanks to the twin brothers and a cadre of investigators who worked tirelessly together, the valuable data gathered from the Twins Study has helped inform the need for personalized medicine and its role in keeping astronauts healthy during deep space exploration, as NASA goes forward to the Moon and journeys onward to Mars.”
Key results from the NASA Twins Study include findings related to gene expression changes, immune system response, and telomere dynamics. Other changes noted in the integrated paper include broken chromosomes rearranging themselves in chromosomal inversions, and a change in cognitive function. Many of the findings are consistent with data collected in previous studies, and other research in progress.
The telomeres in Scott’s white blood cells, which are biomarkers of aging at the end of chromosomes, were unexpectedly longer in space then shorter after his return to Earth with average telomere length returning to normal six months later. In contrast, his brother’s telomeres remained stable throughout the entire period. Because telomeres are important for cellular genomic stability, additional studies on telomere dynamics are planned for future one-year missions to see whether results are repeatable for long-duration missions.
A second key finding is that Scott’s immune system responded appropriately in space. For example, the flu vaccine administered in space worked exactly as it does on Earth. A fully functioning immune system during long-duration space missions is critical to protecting astronaut health from opportunistic microbes in the spacecraft environment.
A third significant finding is the variability in gene expression, which reflects how a body reacts to its environment and will help inform how gene expression is related to health risks associated with spaceflight. While in space, researchers observed changes in the expression of Scott’s genes, with the majority returning to normal after six months on Earth. However, a small percentage of genes related to the immune system and DNA repair did not return to baseline after his return to Earth. Further, the results identified key genes to target for use in monitoring the health of future astronauts and potentially developing personalized countermeasures.
“A number of physiological and cellular changes take place during spaceflight,” said Jennifer Fogarty, chief scientist of the Human Research Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We have only scratched the surface of knowledge about the body in space. The Twins Study gave us the first integrated molecular view into genetic changes, and demonstrated how a human body adapts and remains robust and resilient even after spending nearly a year aboard the International Space Station. The data captured from integrated investigations like the NASA Twins Study will be explored for years to come.”
International Space Station.
Part of the record-setting one-year mission, the NASA Twins Study incorporated 10 investigations to advance NASA’s mission and benefit all of humanity. Scott participated in a number of biomedical studies, including research into how the human body adjusts to known hazards, such as weightlessness and space radiation. Meanwhile, Mark participated in parallel studies on Earth to help scientists compare the effects of space on a body down to the cellular level. The findings represent 27 months of data collection.
The Twins Study helped establish a framework of collaborative research that serves as a model for future biomedical research. Principal investigators at NASA and at research universities across the nation initiated an unprecedented sharing of data and discovery. Supported by 84 researchers at 12 locations across eight states, the data from this complex study was channeled into one inclusive study, providing the most comprehensive and integrated molecular view to date of how a human responds to the spaceflight environment. While significant, it is difficult to draw conclusions for all humans or future astronauts from a single test subject in the spaceflight environment.
“To our knowledge, this team of teams has conducted a study unprecedented in its scope across levels of human biology: from molecular analyses of human cells and the microbiome to human physiology to cognition,” said Craig Kundrot, director, Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Application Division at NASA Headquarters. “This paper is the first report of this highly integrated study that began five years ago when the investigators first gathered. We look forward to the publication of additional analyses and follow-up studies with future crew members as we continue to improve our ability to live and work in space and venture forward to the Moon and on to Mars.”
The unique aspects of the Twins Study created the opportunity for innovative genomics research, propelling NASA into an area of space travel research involving a field of study known as “omics,” which integrates multiple biological disciplines. Long-term effects of research, such as the ongoing telomeres investigation, will continue to be studied.
NASA has a rigorous training process to prepare astronauts for their missions, including a thoroughly planned lifestyle and work regime while in space, and an excellent rehabilitation and reconditioning program when they return to Earth. Thanks to these measures and the astronauts who tenaciously accomplish them, the human body remains robust and resilient even after spending a year in space.