You had choices when you showed up at the recruiting offices at your local strip mall. If you didn’t pick USAF you missed out, and here are 9 reasons why:
1. We call each other by our first names and don’t get hung up on rank. (It helps us prepare for not working as a grocery store bagger when we separate.)
2. Because Chuck Norris.
3. The Air Force coined the term “counterspace operations” because it couldn’t be contained to just this planet.
4. The Air Force has the best and the most expensive toys. This is why the Air Force budget is the largest. You’ve only seen the B-2 because we wanted you to see the B-2. The other ones are the //redacted//, the //redacted//, and best of all the //redacted//.
5. The Air Force ages gracefully. (The SR-71 Blackbird is still the coolest thing ever made for the US military.)
6. Iron Man and the War Machine are stationed at Nellis Air Force Base.
7. The enlisted have the same or better operational survival rate than the officers.
8. No service delivers more freedom in one serving.
As DARPA and other military research organizations create crazy new technologies for the battlefield, the military will have to start training service members to start using and maintaining these capabilities. Here are five jobs that the military doesn’t need today but will tomorrow.
1. Beekeepers and trainers
The military began training bees to detect explosives and defeat IEDs, but they will also be useful for finding mines when the U.S. is fighting other nation states. Bee keepers will work in anti-mine and counter-IED teams to identify probable buried explosives. Since the bees’ training wears off after after a certain period, trainers will stay on forward operating bases to re-certify colonies. The bees move around the battlefield on their own, so these troops will rarely leave their bases.
The military already has cyber defenders and has discussed the possibility of some of those troops conducting limited counter-attacks to network incursions. This won’t be enough for long. Future enemies will have robust networks and drones. Maneuver commanders will need intelligence that can be stolen from enemy networks and will need enemy drones taken out as part of a planned assault.
They won’t need network defenders for this, they’ll need network attackers. These troops will likely stay on a well-defended base, possibly in theater for faster connection to the enemy’s network.
3. Forward drone controller
Every U.S. military branch has dedicated drone pilots with the Air Force’s being the most famous. But as drones become more intelligent, a second branch of drone operators will be needed. Rather than piloting the machines, they will input simple commands for the drone to move to a point or patrol a designated area.
These service members will go forward with patrols and control semi-autonomous drones in support of a platoon leader’s commands. There will be both walking and flying drones capable of ferrying supplies, surveilling key terrain on a battlefield, or carrying indirect fire radar or sensors to detect enemy muzzle flashes.
4. Robotic systems maintainer
With the military getting robotic pack mules, robotic hummingbirds, and robotic people, they’re going to need dedicated mechanics to service the equipment in the field. Robotics systems maintainers will mostly replace whole parts and send damaged pieces to vendors for repair. They’ll likely operate like vehicle and generator mechanics do now: small teams will deploy to outposts when required while most maintainers will stay on forward operating bases or larger installations.
5. Powered armor maintainer
Currently, damaged body armor is simply replaced from stocks in supply. For expensive and complicated suits like the TALOS, this won’t be a viable option. Powered armor maintainers will operate like computer/detection systems repairers, working in a secure location to replace and repair damaged components. Powered armor maintainers may even be able to focus on the mechanical parts of the system while allowing computer/detection systems repairers, who already maintain a wide variety of electronic systems, handle any software or electronic issues.
Bonus: Jetpack qualifier
While it won’t be a separate job, certain units will field new DARPA jetpacks to allow soldiers to quickly move on the battlefield or for scouts to break contact if discovered on a mission. Going to jetpack school will be a privilege new recruits could enlist for or re-enlisting soldiers could choose. Like airborne or air assault schools, some graduates would go on to serve in units where they actually need to know jetpack warfare while others would just attend training for the cool skill badge and promotion points.
The 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade deployed in March 2018 to Afghanistan to carry out the inaugural mission for the newly-created SFAB concept. The brigade returned in November 2018, and leaders say their experience there has proven successful what the Army hoped to accomplish with the new kind of training unit.
Army Brig. Gen. Scott Jackson, 1st SFAB commander, spoke May 8, 2019, at the Pentagon as part of an Army Current Operations Engagement Tour. He said the Army’s concept for the new unit — one earmarked exclusively for advise and assist missions — was spot on.
During their nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, Jackson said the 800-person brigade ran 58 advisory teams and partnered with more than 30 Afghan battalions, 15 brigades, multiple regional training centers, a corps headquarters and a capital division headquarters.
“That’s nearly half of the Afghan National Army,” he said. “I believe we could only accomplish our mission and reach these milestones and validate the effectiveness of an SFAB because the Army got it right — the Army issued us the right equipment, and provided us the right training to be successful. But most importantly, we selected the people for this mission . . . the key to our success is the talented, adaptable, and experienced volunteers who served in this brigade.”
Jackson outlined two key lessons learned from the unit’s time in Afghanistan. First, they learned their ability to affect change within those they advise and assist was greater than they thought.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Velez, center, an advisor with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 3rd Squadron, interacts with Afghan Command Sgt. Maj. Abdul Rahman Rangakhil, left, the senior enlisted leader of 1st Kandak, 4th Brigade, 203rd Corps, during a routine fly-to-advise mission at Forward Operating Base Altimur, Afghanistan, Sept. 19, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“As our Afghan partners began to understand the value of 1st SFAB advisors, they asked us for more,” Jackson said. “So our teams partnered with more and more Afghan units as the deployment progressed.”
Another lesson, he said, was that persistent presence with partners pays off.
“Units with persistent partners made more progress in planning and conducting offensive operations and in integrating organic Afghan enablers like field artillery and the Afghan air force than unpersistent partnered units,” Jackson said.
Those lessons and others were passed to the follow-on unit, the 2nd SFAB, as well as to the Security Force Assistance Command.
Another observation: the Afghan military is doing just fine. They’re in charge of their own operations. And while U.S. presence can provide guidance when needed — and it is asked for — the Afghans were proving successful at doing their own security missions without U.S. soldiers running alongside them. It turns out that just having an SFAB advise and assist presence has emboldened Afghan security to success.
“We saw enormous offensive maneuver generated, and not just at the brigade level,” said Army Lt. Col. Brain Ducote, commander of the 1st Battalion, 1st SFAB. “They weren’t overdependent. They were able to execute offensive operations themselves. It was a huge confidence builder when we were sometimes just present. Even if we didn’t support them, just us being there gave them the confidence to execute on independent offensive operations.”
Confidence is contagious
Ducote said that the confidence moved from brigade level down to battalion, or “kandak” level. Commanders there also began running their own offensive operations, he said.
“They believe in themselves,” the lieutenant colonel said. “The Afghan army has tremendous freedom of maneuver and access to areas where they want to go. If they put their mind to it and they say we’re going to move to this area to clear it . . . they are good at it. And they can do it. Would they, given the choice, want advisors with them? Absolutely. Why not? But let there be no mistake: the Afghans are in the lead, and the Afghans can do this.”
Advisors with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 3rd Squadron and their 3rd Infantry Division security element exit UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters during a routine fly-to-advise mission at Forward Operating Base Altimur, Afghanistan, Sept. 19, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
Ducote said Afghan success is evident by their expansion of the footprint they protect, such as in Kunar and Kapisa provinces, for instance.
“[There are] all sorts of provinces where they expanded their footprint and influence,” he said. “And the people absolutely support their security forces.”
Also a critical takeaway from Afghanistan and an indicator of the value of the SFAB mission there is the authenticity of relationships between SFAB advisors and Afghans.
Building real relationships
During their nine months in theater, the 1st SFAB lost two soldiers to insider threats. Army Capt. Gerard T. Spinney, team leader for 1st Battalion, 1st SFAB, said that what happened after the attacks revealed the strength and sincerity of the relationship between Afghan leadership and SFAB leadership.
Army Cpl. Joseph Maciel was working for Spinney in Tarin Kowt District, Afghanistan. He was killed there by an Afghan soldier in July 2018 — a “green on blue” threat.
“His sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Spinney said. “But we still had to continue advising afterward. That day, my partner, a kandak commander . . . wanted to come see me.”
Spinney said the Afghan soldier who had killed Maciel didn’t belong to this commander — but that commander still wanted to meet with him.
Afghan soldiers listen to a map reading class taught by Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Davis, an advisor with 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, Sept. 18, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“He was very adamant coming to see me,” Spinney said. “He was angry. He was embarrassed. He was determined to rid [his own] unit of anything like this. And it was sincere. During the deployment he lost many soldiers. I had to sit with him and almost echo the same sympathies. I think the relationship got stronger.”
“You have to be there with them, good times and bad times, successes and failures,” the captain said. “That’s how you build trust, that’s how you show you care. He was there for us that day. Our relationship survived. And I’d say from that point on he wanted to make us feel safer. From that point on we saw differences in security . . . they took care of us because they wanted us there.”
Jackson said that insider threat might have derailed the 1st SFAB mission. In fact, he said, he suspects that was the intent of the enemy that carried out those threats. But it didn’t happen that way, he said.
“It didn’t derail the mission,” Jackson said. “Despite a brief pause maybe, as we reassessed what happened and what we needed to do both on the Afghan side and the American side, in the end our relationship was stronger.”
The SFAB concept was first proposed by Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley. And since then, Jackson said, the Army has put a lot of effort into ensuring the success of the SFAB mission. That includes, among other things, training, people and gear.
Ducote said the equipment provided to 1st SFAB was critical to its success in Afghanistan.
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Davis, an advisor with 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, teaches a map reading class to Afghan soldiers Sept. 18, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
“These teams are operating at distance, in austere environments,” Ducote said. “In some cases without electricity. We need the right equipment to be able to extend the trust that we give to them, and the trust that we extend to them. We want that to be manifested through the right equipment — communications specifically.”
He said the gear that proved essential to SFAB success included medical, communications and vehicles — and all were adequately provided for by the Army.
“The Army got it right what they gave us,” Ducote said. “We were able to do that mission, at distance.”
Back home now for six months, Jackson said the brigade is back to repairing equipment, replacing teammates and conducting individual and small-unit training to prepare for its next mission. He said their goal is to provide the Army a unit ready for the next deployment, though orders for that next mission have not yet come down.
The advise and assist mission is one the Army has done for years, but it’s something the Army had previously done in an ad hoc fashion. Brigade combat teams, for instance, had in the past been tasked to send some of their own overseas as part of security transition teams or security force assistance teams to conduct training missions with foreign militaries. Sometimes, however, the manner in which these teams were created may not have consistently facilitated the highest quality of preparation.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Velez, an advisor with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade’s 3rd Squadron, flies in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter on his way to Forward Operating Base Altimur, Afghanistan, Sept. 19, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
The SFAB units, on the other hand, are exclusively designated to conduct advise and assist missions overseas. And they are extensively trained to conduct those missions before they go. Additionally, the new SFABs mean regular BCTs will no longer need to conduct advise and assist missions.
The Army plans to have one National Guard and five active-duty SFABs. The 1st SFAB stood up at Fort Benning, Georgia, in early 2018. The 2nd SFAB is based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but is now deployed to Afghanistan. The 3rd SFAB, based at Fort Hood, Texas, is now gearing up for its own first deployment. The 4th SFAB, based at Fort Carson, Colorado, is standing up, as is the 54th SFAB, a National Guard unit that will be spread across six states. The 5th SFAB, to be based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, is still being planned.
“As subsequent SFABs come online, it creates a huge capacity for the rest of the combatant commands in the world,” Jackson said. “I would be confident to say that there are assessments ongoing to see where else you could apply SFABs besides Afghanistan.”
If North Vietnamese bombers were coming to strike a remote CIA radar station and helicopter landing zone filled with Air Force volunteers, there are certain weapon platforms that would be expected to respond. Maybe some fighters or some air defenders on the ground.
But probably no one would expect a couple of CIA operatives in a helicopter to chase down the bombers and shoot one down using an AK-47.
So, guess what happened on Jan. 12, 1968?
The North Vietnamese sent four AN-2 Colt biplanes to bomb Site 85, a radar station in the mountains of Laos used partially as a staging base for rescue and special operations helicopters. The station’s primary role was to guide bombers headed into missions against Hanoi, Vietnam.
On Jan. 12, Ted Moore was flying a UH-1D Huey helicopter owned by “Air America,” a CIA front company, to Site 85. When he and his crewman arrived at the site, he saw two of the biplanes circling the station as the other two conducted bombing runs.
Moore began chasing one of the bombers that was actively taking part in the attack. His crewman, Glenn Woods, grabbed an AK-47 and began firing it at the cockpit of the fleeing bomber.
All four of the bombers bugged out, and Moore and Woods kept chasing and firing on the bombers.
After about 20 minutes of chase, the first bomber crashed just inside of the North Vietnam border and a second one crashed into a ridge just a few minutes later. The other two bombers escaped without incident. A CIA ground team later searched the wrecks and found bullet holes in both.
The two Americans were credited with the only plane kill by a helicopter in the war. An artist named Keith Woodcock later painted the scene in “Lima Site 85.”
The remote radar station operated for another two months before a ground assault by North Vietnamese commandos was able to force its way to the summit. The site was overrun in the greatest single ground loss of U.S. airmen in the war.
Platoon sergeants aren’t just managers and leaders, they’re also mentors — proxy parents even.
But they’re (in)famously gruff about it. After all, they didn’t father any of these kids, and they didn’t pick them either. And their primary job isn’t to turn them into beautiful snowflakes but honed weapons.
So, below are 5 classic fairy tales as recited by cigar-chomping and dip-spewing platoon sergeants:
1. Red Riding Hood Learns to Secure Her Logistics Chain
So, this little girl was getting ready for a trip to her grandma’s house. Red Riding Hood started by doing a map recon and checking with the intel bubbas to see what was going on along her route. After she heard about the increase in wolf-related activity in the area, she requested additional assets like a drone for overwatch and more ammunition for the mass-casualty producing weapons systems.
When a wolf attempted to hit her basket carriers and then fled, she had her drone operator follow the wolf to the cave. Red and her squad conducted a dynamic entry into the cave and eliminated the threat. Now, they conduct regular presence patrols to deter future wolves from operating in their area of operations.
2. Goldilocks and the Three Tangos
Goldilocks was moving tactically through the forest when she spotted a large wooden structure with a single point of ingress/egress. Since she wasn’t an idiot, she didn’t just burst inside to try out the beds. Instead, she practiced tactical patience and established an observation post.
After tracking patterns of life for a few days, she was certain that the structure housed three bears of various sizes. In her head, she rehearsed the battle dozens of times before engaging. When the dust settled from the firefight, she found herself in possession of a defendable combat outpost deep in the woods.
3. Hansel and Gretel Learn About SERE
When two privates were led by their evil stepmother to play deep in the woods, they brought a compass and map. The stepmother then attempted to abandon them in the forest. Since they knew their stride counts and checked their azimuth often, the kids were able to quickly move back to their home.
Near the house, the kids prepared a number of traps normally used to hunt game for food. These traps were positioned on areas the stepmother was known to frequent and the kids waited. When she trapped herself in a snare near the river, the kids bundled her up and sent her to a black site hidden under a candy cottage. The HUMINT guys got valuable information about witch operations and everyone else lived happily ever after.
4. Jack Gives the Army Instant Cover and Concealment
Jack was a pretty forgettable little science nerd in his high school but he went on to join DARPA and invented some techno-wizardry-magical device that allowed soldiers to plant a single bean and create a towering observation post from which to cover the surrounding battlefield.
So soldiers began tossing these things all over the place to create forests overnight. Then, they’d slip into one of the beanstalks to get eyes on roads and other important battlefield objectives. The height of the stalks ensured them a clear line of sight for miles and since they could be grown overnight, troops could plant their own cover and concealment ahead of major operations.
5. The Three Little Pigs Use Concentrated Combat Power
Three little pigs were preparing for an imminent invasion by a big, bad wolf when one proposed that each pig should fall back to their own home, the senior pig got pissed. “What are you, some kind of dumb boot!?” he asked. “We should concentrate our forces in the most defensible territory we have.”
That pig led his brothers to his house made of brick where they took shelter behind the thick walls. When the wolf arrived, the oldest pig engaged him from a second-floor window while his brothers maneuvered behind the enemy. Then, the pigs established fire superiority and cut the wolf down.
If you have your own platoon sergeant fairytale, share it with us on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #PltSgtFairyTales.
Tension and confusion gripped a train platform in Russia’s far-eastern city of Vladivostok on April 23, 2019, when North Korean Kim Jong Un’s bullet-proof armored train pulled in for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Both Putin and Kim are known for making grand entrances and power moves like showing up late to meetings with world leaders. But Kim on April 23, 2019, appeared delayed due to a gaffe.
Kim arrived via train, as is his family’s custom and perhaps a clever way to avoid admitting his country has few working aircraft — but something was amiss.
When Kim’s train pulled into the station, it slightly overshot a red carpet laid out in advance for his big stepping-out moment.
While Kim maintains a horrific human rights record at home, he has been increasingly courted by world leaders looking to curb his country’s growing nuclear capabilities.
Apparently, Kim’s security detail found it unacceptable that he should walk on anything besides the red carpet, and had to stand there awkwardly holding a ramp while the train repositioned.
The meeting between Putin and Kim represents just the fourth official summit with a world leader for Kim. Putin, however, has met with most national leaders across Asia.
Russia and North Korea have historical ties of friendship, though the relations became strained during North Korea’s long nuclear breakout.
Upon arrival, Kim appeared to shake off any embarrassment from the train gaffe and quickly spoke to Russian media, a rare step from a leader who previously only spoke through North Korean state outlets.
Kim’s visit to Russia comes at a time when US-North Korean talks have stalled over a basic misunderstanding over the pacing of denuclearization steps and sanctions easing.
North Korea recently publicized the testing of a “tactical” weapon, potentially as a warning to the US that if talks collapse, missile launches and “fire and fury” could again become the norm.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Brig. Gen. James F. Glynn, commanding general of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and the Eastern Recruiting Region, swears young men and women into the Marine Corps during the pre-game show of TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, Dec. 31, 2018, at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. Glynn was invited by the Jacksonville Sports Council to be the guest-of-honor during the game. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Mike Hernandez)
The MARSOC (Marine Forces Special Operations Command) Communication Strategy and Operations office has confirmed that current MARSOC Commanding General, Major General Daniel Yoo, will be retiring and relinquishing his command and during a ceremony currently scheduled for June 26, 2020. MajGen Yoo assumed command of MARSOC, headquartered at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, on August 10, 2018.
The Marine Corps Manpower & Reserve Affairs office confirmed with SOFREP that, at this time, incoming MARSOC commanding officer, Major General James Glynn, is scheduled to move in from his current post as Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and Eastern Recruiting Region. According to Glynn’s official bio, he “served at Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC)—first as the Military Assistant to the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and then as the Director of the Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communication. A native of Albany, New York, his service as a Marine began in 1989 after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering.”
Major General James Glynn. Official USMC photo.
Excluding any potential COVID-19-related delays or a last-minute change of plans by Headquarters Marine Corps, the timing of Yoo’s departure is in line with the historical two-year period that commanders spend in charge of the Marine Corps’ elite Special Operations component. However, in Yoo’s case the timing is leading many to question his public silence over supporting three of his own Marine Raiders whom he ordered to be sent to a general court martial for multiple charges related to the death of a defense contractor in Erbil, Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) on New Year’s Eve, 2018.
Video evidence would surface, confirming that the defense contractor (Rick Rodriguez) was highly intoxicated and clearly the aggressor in the situation and that Gunnery Sergeant Joshua Negron, Gunnery Sergeant Daniel Draher, and Chief Petty Officer Eric Gilmet did not use excessive force when defending themselves.
Major General Daniel Yoo. Official USMC photo.
Yoo attended the funeral of Rick Rodriguez, but up to this point he has not once spoken a word of support for his men in spite of the fact that video proves they are innocent. Command silence on matters like this fuels speculation that the accused are guilty and mischaracterizes them of committing a drunken murder, yet Marine Corps and MARSOC leadership still choose to remain silent.
MajGen Glynn will soon be assuming the role of convening authority for the upcoming court-martial involving the MARSOC 3. As the new MARSOC Commanding General, Glynn will have the authority to review the MARSOC 3 case and determine whether to make changes to any aspect of it – including the ability to dismiss the charges. There is still time for him to take a fresh look at this case and do the right thing for his men. Marine Corps offices contacted by SOFREP have indicated that MajGen Glynn does not wish to provide comment at this time.
John Lee Dumas is a former Army officer and Iraq War veteran. One day, he was driving his car, in his normal morning routine when the last podcast on his iPod ended. He realized in that moment the car was like the prison of his life. Luckily, he also realized what would be his escape from that prison.
“I saw podcasting as an opportunity where an amateur like myself could make connections, learn a lot, and improve my public speaking and interview skills along the way,” he said in an interview with Forbes. “I always saw the value in podcasting as it was a form of media that could be consumed while doing something else like driving a car, exercising, folding laundry.”
His show, Entrepreneur On Fire, is a show for the aspiring business owner, serial entrepreneur, or side-entrepreneur. To date, there are more than a thousand episodes of EOF, each featuring an inspirational interview with a budding business founder.
Dumas’s business relies on two streams of income which generate over seven figures in annual revenue, his Podcast Sponsorships and Podcasters’ Paradise. He even posts those figures on his website, EoFire.com. Part of this success is due to his epic production schedule. His show,puts out a new podcast every single day.
“After eight years as an Army officer, I learned at an early age the benefit of ‘batching’ your work,” Dumas says. “In order to run a 7-day a week podcast without getting burned out, I schedule eight interviews every Tuesday. This allows me to put my game face on for one day a week and execute 8 interviews at the highest level I am capable of. This batching ensures that I make the most efficient use of my ‘studio time’ so I can focus on other areas of my business the remaining six days in the week.”
Dumas is also the author of a how-to podcasting book, Podcast Launch, which give a 15-step tutorial in launching one’s own successful podcast, in his own words, using his own theories on growing an audience and monetizing it. He is currently working on a new book, The Freedom Journal: Accomplish Your Goal in 100 Days, a day-by-day companion to setting goals and planning how to reach them.
“My audience has grown to know, like, and trust the fact that every day, a fresh episode of EntrepreneurOnFire awaits. Another is that every day, my guest shares their interview that just went live with their audience, driving massive numbers of people to EntrepreneurOnFire who have never heard of the show before, and a certain proportion of which will subscribe and become listeners. With this happening seven days a week, the snowball effect is amazing.”
Alex K. asks: Is it true that sommeliers can’t tell the difference between expensive and cheap wines?
Having a seasoned tongue that can detect the subtle differences between different kinds of adult grape juice is a sure sign of class. In fact, the go-to Hollywood trope for showing that a character is refined is to give them a penchant for expensive wines. Even Hannibal Lecter, one of the most terrifying and cultured characters in film history, had a soft spot for chianti. But the question at hand today is can even the professional wine connoisseurs actually tell the difference between a Chateau Cheval Blanc 1943 and a Bota Box Chardonnay?
To begin with, it’s important to understand what a person has to go through to acquire the label of wine expert, otherwise known as a sommelier. It turns out this varies considerably from absolutely no official required training at all (the label is technically originally a job title) to an extreme amount as in the case of Master Sommeliers, of which there have been less than 300 people who have managed to achieve that certification in the little over a half a century that title has been granted, making it one of the most exclusive professional certifications in the world.
As to the former vastly more common distinction of “sommelier”, some who achieve this certification are simply wine enthusiasts wanting to take their hobby to the next level. Others are those working in the restaurant service industry who may have even got that title via working there way up from a simple waiter at a wine bar and learning on the job.
That said, as sommelier Dustin Wilson notes, “…by forcing oneself to study hard for a long period of time, certification offers young sommeliers the opportunity to gain the context they need to understand wine much faster than they would if they simply relied on the dining room floor as their classroom.”
This brings us to more formal certification. How rigorous a given course for certification is varies from institution to institution offering such, but in general sommeliers must be able to identify with reasonable accuracy random types of wine by taste, sight, and smell, answer various questions about wine making, the various regions of the world that are major wine producers, and what makes wines from them different than wines produced elsewhere. They must also have extensive knowledge of very specific food pairings, as well as demonstrate little things like the best technique for how to open a bottle of wine and pour — while simple for those working in the industry, nonetheless often trips up the hobbyist attempting to get that certification.
On that note, while actual formal training to get such a certification may only take dozens of hours, leading up to passing a given program’s tests a person generally needs extensive experience with all things wine, whether as a long time hobby or experience within the industry.
As you might have gathered from this, all sommeliers are not created equal. Some may be immensely knowledgeable and skilled at judging various wines, while others might be littler better than your wine enthusiast cousin Jill.
This brings us to the elite of the elite — Master Sommeliers. These are the Yoda’s of the wine world, and no coincidence the average salary for one eclipses that of mere mortal sommeliers. For your reference, a run of the mill lowly just starting out sommelier might make as little as in the ,000 a year range, whereas someone who has passed the tests to become an Advanced Sommelier earns around ,000 a year on average. The Master Sommeliers, on the other hand, typically make about 0,000 per year and can usually be found working at some of the world’s finest restaurants.
The testing to become a Master Sommelier is vastly more rigorous, and those invited to test (and it is invite only), must have first passed the Introductory Exam, then the Certified Exam, and then the Advanced Sommelier Exam. Those who pursue this course also tend to already have extensive backgrounds in the culinary arts and typically have many years of experience working as a sommelier at some wine serving establishment.
Once they’ve distinguished themselves enough in the field, they may then be invited to takes the tests to become a Master Sommelier. From here, they are given three years to pass three tests, including a practical restaurant service section, a verbal examination covering all things wine related to incredible depth, from history to grape cultivation in various regions, to various wine making methods; finally, the most difficult test of all is the taste test. In this, they are given six random wines chosen from the thousands produced around world. In 25 minutes, they must correctly identify not just what region of the world each one came from, but also the exact year the grapes used were harvested.
Each candidate is allowed to take each test up to six times in the three year span, but even then, as you might expect from so few having ever achieved this certification, many fail despite already being considered advanced wine experts before even attempting the tests.
Now, given all this, surely the elite wine professionals must be able to tell the difference between random expensive and a random cheap wines, right? Well, yes, the elite of the elite absolutely can. But also, no, they can’t at all actually.
So what’s going on here?
There are several factors that go into this. First, there’s the business side with a variety of factors that go into what makes something an “expensive” or “cheap” wine that go far beyond taste. Making such distinctions smaller than ever, wine making has become huge business on a scale and with scientific vigor never leveled at the industry before — all in an effort to create the best wines for as cheaply as possible.
As journalist and sommelier Bianca Bosker notes, “One of the things that I did was to go into this wine conglomerate [Treasury Wine Estates] that produces millions of bottles of wine per year… People are there developing wine the way flavor scientists develop the new Oreo or Doritos flavor.”
Noteworthy here is that the scientists extensively use sommeliers to help tweak their mass produced wines to be as high quality as possible even to the experts. They further add a variety of things to the wine, not unlike adding ingredients to any beverage, to tweak just about every facet of it until they come up with an end product that they think will maximally appeal to consumers.
As a result, even disregarding business elements effecting price beyond taste, the gap between inexpensive wines and the finest has closed considerably in recent decades, and there are more variety of wines to enjoy today than there ever have been before, all making it an effort in futility for even a Master Sommelier to be able to consistently identify one wine as one that was probably ultra expensive vs. more of a middle of the road variety of the same type of wine.
Partially as a result, while studies using the general public tend to show most can identify the difference between the cheapest of wines at a couple dollars a bottle and, say, a or bottle, as soon as you start to go much above that, we mere mortals tend to be able to differentiate the two with about the same accuracy you’d expect in predicting the results of a coin flip.
That said it turns out there is actually a slight and very interesting correlation. In one study with over 6,000 taste tasters, comprising about 12% sommeliers and the rest the general public, trying to determine if people like expensive wines more than cheap ones, it turned out that:
[W]e find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less. For individuals with wine training, however, we find indications of a positive relationship between price and enjoyment…. Our results indicate that both the prices of wines and wine recommendations by experts may be poor guides for non-expert wine consumers.
Thus, similar to music or really any field, those who are experts do seem to tend to enjoy the finer, more complex, versions of the craft, such as a symphony, vs the general public who prefer listening to the latest from Taylor Swift. Or as one music professor the co-author of this piece once had was fond of stating with respect to pop music vs. things like a symphony, “Cotton candy tastes great, but you can only eat so much of it before you get sick of it and start craving a high quality steak dinner.”
Now, at this point you might be thinking, “Well, sure, it’s easy to be fooled by the business side of things when talking price, but what about all those studies that show wine experts can’t even tell white wine from red in blind taste tests?”
It turns out there is a lot more going on with that than the clickbait headlines tend to indicate, and should be obvious from the fact that Master Sommeliers are able to pass the test they do in the first place, which would be impossible if their skills were really as bad as that. As Wheezy Waiter wisely points out in his aptly titled song “A Headline’s Not an Article” — a headline is not an article.
You see, as ever, our monkey brain’s are gonna monkey brain. We humans are just really, really easy to trick, especially when it comes to our senses. Ever eaten something minty and then drank a room temperature glass of water? Congratulations, you’ve just tricked your body into thinking you’re drinking ice cold water because menthol binds with cold-sensitive receptors that make these much more sensitive than normal, so they trigger more easily and you feel a cold sensation, even though everything is the same temperature as before.
So everything from what you ate or drank before to scents in the environment you’re currently in, to even your level of fatigue can influence the way you perceive the taste of something.
On top of physical things like that, there’s your expectations, which can be absurdly easily influenced, especially when it comes to taste.
So let’s now talk about wine. Contained within the grape juice are many dozens of esters and aldehydes, sugars, minerals, organic acids, etc. etc. This cocktail all derives from the grapes (whose contents are in turn effected by a variety of factors), processes of the yeast as it works its magic, and what the wine is processed and stored in during its journey from plant to your belly. This all creates the colors, smells, and taste which combined to form the flavor your perceive when you ingest the wine. To give you a small idea of the scope of things here, consider that over 400 compounds that influence the scent alone have been identified in wine.
On that note, temperature by itself can make a huge difference to taste, among other reasons, because of how this can effect the boiling point and thus smell and, in turn, taste, of some of these compounds in the wine. As wine enthusiast David Derbyshire notes, “Serve a New World chardonnay too cold and you’ll only taste the overpowering oak. Serve a red too warm and the heady boozy qualities will be overpowering.”
As for the wine experts, while they may have honed their skills with sometimes thousands of hours of study into all things wine, they still have the same monkey brain as the rest of us. Case in point, we have wine expert and journalist Katie Kelly Bell, who was traveling with a fellow group of wine connoisseurs. While at Waters Vineyards in Washington State, the owner poured everyone two glasses of white wine and asked them to identify what type they were. Bell sums up:
We swirled, we sniffed, we wrinkled our brows in contemplation. Some of us nodding with assurance. I took notes, finding the first white to be more floral and elegant than the second. Drawing on my years and years (there have been too many) of tasting, studying and observation, I swiftly concluded that the first wine was an unoaked Chardonnay and the second was a Sauvignon Blanc, easy peasy. Much to my mortification I was dead wrong, as was everyone else in the room. The proprietor chuckled and informed his room… that the wines were actually the same wine; one was just warmer than the other. He wasn’t intentionally shaming us (not one person got it right); he was pointedly demonstrating the power of just one element in the wine tasting experience: temperature.
Now consider a test conducted at the suggestion of winery owner Robert Hodgson at the California State Fair wine competition. Essentially, the panels of 65-70 expert judges were given a huge variety of wines to rank as per usual. But what they were not told was that they were actually given each of the wines three times and from the same exact bottle.
After running this same experiment four consecutive years, what Hodgson found was that, to quote the paper published on the experiment, Only “about 10 percent of the judges were able to replicate their score within a single medal group.” In fact, he even found about 10% of the judges were so far off that they switched a Bronze rating to a Gold for the exact same wine from the exact same bottle.
In another study conducted by Hodgson, An Analysis of the Concordance Among 13 U.S. Wine Competitions, it was found that in the vast majority of cases, receiving a Gold medal at one wine competition had virtually no correlation to not just being ranked similarly at another competition, but in many cases that same wine scoring below average at other competitions.
As to what’s going on here, Hodgson sums up, “…there are individual expert tasters with exceptional abilities sitting alone who have a good sense, but when you sit 100 wines in front of them the task is beyond human ability.”
In yet another test, this one by Frenchman Frédéric Brochet in 2001, he found that simply changing the label of the same bottle of wine from an expensive well thought of type to a cheap one resulted in the 57 taste testers almost universally changed their tune on not just how they liked it, but various attributes about it.
In another experiment, Brochet also gave a similar panel a glass of white wine and a glass of red wine and gave them a list of common words used to describe white and red wines and told them to assign them appropriately to the two wines in front of them. It turns out the red wine was actually the same as the white wine except dyed red, and only a small percentage of the testers were able to accurately identify that both wines tasted the same in the descriptive words they chose to identify each wine. And, yes, contrary to what is almost universally stated, not all of the taste testers got it wrong.
Nevertheless, most did. While you may try to argue that perhaps the results ended up being different because the dye had an effect on the flavor, beyond that it was purported to be flavorless dye, we can at least be reasonably sure it didn’t drastically alter the taste to “jammy”, “spicy”, and “intense”, among other common terms wine professionals use to talk about red wines.
That said, important to note here is that while Brochet’s studies are often cited as definitively showing how bad wine experts are at judging wines, in this case that they can’t even tell the difference between red and white wines, that’s not what that study actually showed at all. Blindfold even amateur wine drinkers and legitimately give them a white and a red wine and they are going to likely do extremely well at telling the difference, as anyone whose drunk wine pretty much ever can attest. Rather, this test simply showed how easily our perception of things is influenced by suggestion.
Just as importantly here, what literally every single source we could find not only leaves out when reporting this story, but in the vast majority of cases falsely states, is the actual qualifications of those being tested by Brochet. It turns out, the people he was using as taste testers were not experts at all, simply undergraduate students studying oenology (wine and wine making). While certainly probably more knowledgeable than your average person on the street, nobody would call an undergraduate mathematics major just learning the ropes a “math expert”, nor would their skills be indicative of what their professors who have vastly more experience and are actual experts are capable of doing.
Thus, how expert any of these students were at the point in their education when given these tests isn’t clear. What would be far more interesting and indicative is to give that same exact test to the world’s Master Sommeliers and see how they did. Presumably because they still have monkey brains like the rest of us, they would still perform poorly, but nobody yet has run that test that we could fine.
However they would do in such a scenario, what is undeniable is that study after study shows that our perception and expectation vastly influences our experiences, not just in wine tasting, but pretty much every facet of life.
As the Master Sommeliers demonstrate by passing the taste test they are subjected to in the first place, with enough time and study, there are actually people who are exceptionally good at identifying and judging attributes of wines in the right circumstances. But overwhelm there sense with 100 wines or change their expectations about what they are tasting and their perceptions will change significantly, seemingly, making them little better than a random person off the street at telling anything definitive about the wine.
And then when adding not just telling attributes about the wine, but also whether it is inexpensive to purchase or expensive, the whole thing is an effort in futility.
In the end, a hand crafted table might cost a lot more than one that is mass produced. But if they are made from more or less the same materials and the company mass producing them hasn’t chosen to cut any corners, the mass produced and often vastly cheaper table will in a lot of cases actually be objectively better, and certainly more consistently so, thanks to machined and automated precision. But that doesn’t stop people from appreciating and enjoying their hand crafted table more than the same basic table purchased from Ikea.
As with everything, you like what you like. Wine tasting is subjective and what about a given type appeals to you is really all that matters. If knowing you paid 0 for that glass enhances your experience, then great. For others buying several bottles of Two-Buck Chuck so they can enjoy many glasses with a large group of friends at a party may make that one all the more enjoyable. For others, the experience of attending wine events where various fancy wines are sampled and discussed more than makes them worth the extra cost and the trip. For yet others, even when sipping alone at home, the cheap wine that has had sugars added to make it a little sweeter might be their preferred cup of tea. As the old adage goes, “The only thing that matters with regard to a wine is whether or not you like it.”
Whatever your preferences, just don’t be a snob about it. Whether a wine connoisseur or not, I think we can all agree wine snobs are right up there with Grammar Nazis in two groups nobody at any expertise level likes, probably not even themselves.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Five years after a proof-of-concept mission, the MQ-9 Reaper drone has developed into a key asset in California’s fight against wildfires, including the Carr and Mendocino Complex Fires, which are currently burning in Northern California.
“It’s a technology I never thought I’d see,” said Jeremy Salizzoni, a fire technical specialist with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection who was embedded with the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Attack Wing at March Air Reserve Base, California, during 2013’s devastating Rim Fire.
More than 250,000 acres burned in August 2013 as the Rim Fire raged in Tuolumne County, California. At the time, it was the state’s third largest wildfire on record. More than 100 structures were lost in the blaze, which took nine weeks to fully contain.
An aircrew from the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Attack Wing flies an MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft during a mission to support state agencies fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California, Aug. 4, 2018. The aircrew conducted fire perimeter scans and spot checks on the blaze, which encompasses the Ranch and River fires.
(California Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Crystal Housman)
Eleven days after the Rim Fire started, the wing launched a first-of-its kind mission to overfly the fire with an MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted reconnaissance aircraft and beam back real-time video footage of the fire to Salizzoni and wing intelligence analysts working in an operations facility at March.
Through the Predator’s footage, Salizzoni, who was used to driving for hours through rugged terrain to access overlook points and put eyes on the leading edge of a fire, could see any area of the fire he wanted, in real time and without ever leaving the operations facility.
The remotely piloted aircraft’s thermal imaging camera provided a view of the fire unlike anything he’d ever seen. Traditional aerial assets are important, but encounter limitations due to smoke, fuel, altitude and field of view, he said.
“It was such a dramatic change from anything I’d seen in my career,” Salizzoni said. “It was like being blind and then having vision in the blink of an eye.”
He and his colleagues knew they had a new tool in their firefighting toolbox.
“We saw things over the course of that fire that you couldn’t have made up,” Salizzoni said. “I don’t think there’s a better intel resource at our disposal right now.”
During its eight-day emergency activation for the Rim Fire, the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing — the unit’s name at the time — logged more than 150 hours of fire support and was credited with helping firefighters expedite containment.
MQ-9 Reaper RPA
In the five years since, the 163rd Attack Wing has changed its name and the kind of airplane it flies, but one thing hasn’t changed: the wing’s dedication to domestic disaster response missions right here at home.
RPAs are no longer just trying to prove their worth, said Air Force Maj. Mike Baird, the senior intelligence officer at the 163rd Attack Wing. The wing’s MQ-9 Reaper RPAs — a big-brother to the recently-retired Predators — are an in-demand incident awareness and assessment asset preferred by California’s civil authorities when disaster strikes.
The wing has supported more than 20 wildfires since 2013, but it takes more than just airplanes, Baird said. Keeping California safe takes a wing-wide effort.
“What we’ve been doing behind the scenes from maintenance and communications to refining our deployment and personnel processes has led up to our ability to provide an unprecedented level of MQ-9 support,” Baird said.
The wing provided real-time full motion video support over a number of fires in 2017, including California’s most destructive fire on record and also its largest fire to date. More than 5,600 structures were damaged and 22 lives were lost during the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma County in October. Two months later, in December, the Thomas Fire ravaged Ventura and Santa Barbara counties to become the state’s largest fire on record with more than 280,000 acres burned.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class James Thompson)
Innovation on the Fly
The wing works to refine its techniques and procedures, and works to expand the detailed real-time incident awareness and assessment data it provides to incident commanders. Innovation on the fly is the name of the game.
An investment by James G. Clark, director of Air Force innovation, and Air Force Col. Chris McDonald from the disruptive innovation division in Clark’s office, helped the wing’s Hap Arnold Innovation Center develop a specialized network to push and pull data from RPAs and other data-generating assets from civilian and military organizations.
The network’s customizable data sets — coupled with the RPAs’ real-time thermal imagery — provide incident commanders and first responders a common operating picture they can access from anywhere, anytime.
RPAs proved “an opportunity for people to make tactical and objective based decisions on real time information,” Salizzoni said.
As the Rim Fire nears its fifth anniversary, RPAs are once again in the sky, flying through smoke to deliver data and protect Californians as wildfires ravage the state.
By July 31, the 163rd was on its fifth fire of the summer.
Throughout July, the wing flew nearly 350 hours to support civil authorities working the County, Klamathon, Ferguson, Carr, Mendocino Complex and Eel fires, and is credited with helping to protect thousands of structures in the process. The MQ-9 provided near real-time full motion video and frequent fire-line updates to decision makers determining where to build up future containment lines.
It’s a marathon pace, but the wing’s airmen up for it, said Air Force 1st Lt. Frank Cruz, officer in charge of the 163rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, whose unit provides direct support for the MQ-9’s around-the-clock fire operations to aid civil authorities.
“Everyone is 100 percent on board,” Cruz said. “They’re all-in.”
For Veteran and VA employee Martin Allen, the Burn Pit Registry has been both an inspiration and a way to help other Veterans. For six months, he has been charged with eliminating the backlog of Veterans waiting for confirmation of their eligibility to join the Burn Pit Registry through a manual check of their deployment history.
“It wasn’t until I became familiar with the registry and saw other Veterans who served in the same deployment areas as myself and served during the same time that I realized I was eligible for participation in the registry,” said Allen. “I had heard of the registry but didn’t think much of it because I thought it was primarily for the Veterans serving after 9/11.”
Allen is a Navy and Air Force Veteran who deployed to the Persian Gulf on a naval ship in 1990. He admits the shortened, everyday name of “Burn Pit Registry” reinforced the erroneous idea that the Burn Pit Registry wasn’t for Gulf War Veterans like him. The full name of the registry is the “Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.”
“Once I found out that I could join, I really wanted to be a part of the registry so I could understand the Veteran participant experience,” said Allen. “Joining the registry has been really helpful. Not only do I help Veterans with their eligibility checks, I sometimes walk them step-by-step through the process of signing up.”
Many Veterans who deployed after 1990 can join the registry. The registry is a way for these Veterans to document their concerns about exposures to burn pits and other airborne hazards. For Post-9/11 Veterans, joining the registry is easier than ever. The registry is linked to more current and complete DoD deployment records. This enhancement reduces or eliminates possible delays in joining the registry resulting from the performance of manual checks of deployment histories for Pre-9/11 Veterans by VA to confirm a Veterans’ eligibility to join the registry.
The Burn Pit Registry is also a way for Veterans to be evaluated for any concerns that they might have related to exposures. Despite the opportunity of a free medical evaluation after completing the registry questionnaire, less than four percent of registry participants have been evaluated by a provider. The reasons for the low uptake are unclear, but may indicate Veterans are waiting to be contacted by VA.
“Don’t wait. Once Veterans have submitted their questionnaire, they can immediately schedule a medical evaluation for the registry,” said Allen. “This evaluation is different than a compensation and pension exam for disability claims. Veterans shouldn’t confuse the two.”
Participants who wish to have an exam should contact a local Environmental Health Coordinator to schedule an appointment. These coordinators will guide registry participants through the next steps and work with VA’s environmental health clinicians to address any exposure-related health concerns.
In many ways, the initial in-person registry evaluation is similar to any encounter between a clinician and a Veteran. The evaluation is tailored to each Veteran. To help you prepare for your visit, use these tips:
• Bring a copy of your completed Registry Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) to your visit;
• Have your questions written down;
• Tell your provider and team why you are in the clinic;
• Be prepared to discuss:
◦ Important deployment history and exposures of concern
◦ Important symptoms and health history
◦ Current symptoms-intensity, duration, onset, what makes them better or worse
◦ How the symptoms interfere with daily life
◦ Established health conditions, including onset and work up to date
◦ Concerns about the possible causes
◦ Other factors that may affect the management plan or overall health or mental health concerns such as tobacco, alcohol, or other substance use and family history
The .50 caliber M2 machine gun was designed in 1918, near the end of World War I by John Browning.
Production began in 1921 and the weapon was designed so a single receiver could be turned into seven different variants by adding jackets, barrels or other components.
Roughly 94 years after the first production run of M2 machine guns came off the assembly line, the 324th weapon produced made it to Anniston Army Depot for overhaul and upgrade.
In more than 90 years of existence, the receiver with serial number 324 has never been overhauled.
“Looking at the receiver, for its age, it looks good as new and it gauges better than most of the other weapons,” said John Clark, a small arms repair leader.
Despite the fact that the weapon still meets most specifications, it may be destined for the scrap yard.
Modifications made to the weapon in the field mean part of the receiver would have to be removed through welding and replaced with new metal, a process which usually means the receiver is scrap.
“I’d rather put this one on display than send it to the scrap yard,” said Clark, adding the weapon’s age makes it appealing as a historical artifact.
Currently, the 389th M2 is on display in the Small Arms Repair Facility. There is an approval process the older weapon would have to go through in order to be similarly displayed. Clark and Jeff Bonner, the Weapons Division chief, are researching and beginning that process.
In 2011, the depot began converting the Army’s inventory of M2 flexible machine guns to a new variant.
The M2A1, has a fixed headspace, or distance between the face of the bolt and the base of the cartridge case, and timing, the weapon’s adjustment which allows firing when the recoil is in the correct positon.
In the past, every time a Soldier changed the barrel on the M2, the timing and headspace had to be changed as well. If that wasn’t done properly, the weapon could blow apart. The fixed headspace and timing eliminates this risk to Soldiers.
“It only takes 30 seconds to change out the barrel on the M2A1 and you’re back in business. The M2 Flex version could take three to five minutes, depending upon your situation,” said Jeff Bonner, weapons division chief.
Bonner said this is the first major change to the M2 weapon system since the machine gun was first fielded.
Since the overhaul and upgrade work began in fiscal year 2011, the depot has brought more than 14,000 of these .50 caliber machine guns to better than new, and upgraded, condition.
Once the weapon is rebuilt, it has to be readied to be fired, repeatedly, without jamming or suffering other mechanical difficulties.
To assist with this process, a machine known as the exerciser is used to ensure the new parts work well with the old.
After all, the older parts of the weapon could be nearly 90 years old.
The exerciser simulates charging the weapon, or preparing it to be fired, 700 times.
Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs chose a contractor to run its Choice Card program who was previously fired for allegedly defrauding the government after working on a similar contract with the Department of Defense.
The contractor, TriWest, now takes so long to schedule appointments with private healthcare providers that many veterans could shorten wait times by opting for traditional VA care, whose delays Choice was intended to allow veterans to escape.
Choice Card links vets with private doctors, but VA seemingly tried to sabotage the program, fearing it jeopardizes its budget.
TriWest contracts to administer parts of Tricare, the active military’s healthcare system, since 1996. TriWest paid $10 million in September, 2011, to settle charges that it defrauded the government by negotiating low prices with doctors but not passing the resulting savings on to taxpayers.
“Those who overbill Tricare threaten to undermine the health care provided to our men and women in uniform,” Tony West, assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, said of the legal settlement at the time.
But the standards seem to be lower for care owed to those who formerly wore the uniform of the U.S. military, because VA gave TriWest a contract in September, 2013, to run its Community Care program, a precursor to Choice Card that allowed veterans to use private doctors in some circumstances.
Inspector general reports said that program was run poorly, pointing the blame both at TriWest and the way VA set up their work. Meanwhile, Congress created the Choice Card program to enable any veteran delayed more than 30 days for VA care, or who didn’t live close to a VA facility, to seek private health care services.
VA managers and leaders of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union, which represents most of the department’s employees opposed it, fearing that fewer veterans in the government system would mean smaller budgets and fewer civil service jobs.
When VA leaders claimed budget shortfalls threatened closure of hospitals, they asked Congress to let them re-purpose $3.3 billion originally authorized for the Choice Card program.
When the bill became law anyway, VA gave the Choice Card contract to TriWest and HealthNet, another company that worked on Community Care.
A VA spokesperson said that “in order to enact [Choice] within 90 days, VA held an industry day to try to partner with industry to operate the program. Unfortunately, given the timeline set to roll out the program, VA’s only option was to modify a previously existing national community care contract, which was never intended to handle the scope” of the Choice Card model.
Official data obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation shows that more vets are now waiting months for private care because contractors take so long to schedule appointments.
Consequently, VA bureaucrats and their union will likely get the result they sought: veterans going back into the government healthcare system despite its delays.
Private care doctors aren’t happy with the Choice Card initiative either, because the companies, which also manage payments, have been so slow to pay, causing many private care physicians to refuse veterans, leading to the same result.
A knowledgeable VA source told TheDCNF that after a patient does finally see a private doctor, TriWest takes up to 75 days to get the medical results of that appointment back into the VA system. That makes followup care impossible.
Darin Selnick, an Air Force veteran and former VA official under George W. Bush who now runs Concerned Veterans For America’s Fixing Veterans Health Care Taskforce, said that “TriWest and HealthNet may not have been the best choices,” but much of the failure is because VA “didn’t want it to work.”
Officials at VA “didn’t like the idea of patients going outside,” because “what does any organization want to do? It wants to get more money, more people, more power, it wants to grow,” Selnick added.
Scheduling delays happen because the system has a middleman, Selnick said. What other health care plan has “a system where you have to call a 1-800 number and they set up an appointment for you” with a provider that they select?,” he asked.
Half of all veterans are on Medicare anyway, so the VA should simply pay a small supplement to Medicare providers, instead of creating multiple administrative layers of VA bureaucrats and contractors in between veterans and healthcare workers, Selnick noted, which would purportedly save billions of tax dollars annually.
Those close to the issue believe “the chief problem with Choice is that we’ve had to rely on VA to implement it, and the department is just not very good at implementing things,” a spokesman for the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, which designed the Choice Card program, told TheDCNF
The committee never requested a third-party administrator to schedule appointments, the spokesman noted.
Companies involved in the Choice program defend their record. “Overall, TriWest is processing 90% of clean claims from providers within 30 days,” the company explained, adding that it got “exceptional” and “very good” performance ratings for its Tricare work, and saved the military money, but voluntarily entered a settlement on the assumption that more savings were possible.
Hiring people with prior records of failure is a pattern at VA. When hospital directors come under criticism for poor management, VA executives routinely remove them, then reinstate them at another hospital where the poor performance continues.
Only weeks after the Chicago VA fired Deloris Judd from the federal workforce for patient abuse and dishonesty, the Phoenix VA hired her to work on the Choice Card program.