Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

In November 2018, the Air Force targeted its personnel at bases in Europe with spear-phishing attacks to test their awareness of online threats.

The tests were coordinated with Air Force leaders in Europe and employed tactics known to be used by adversaries targeting the US and its partners, the Air Force said in a release.

Spear-phishing differs from normal phishing attempts in that it targets specific accounts and attempts to mimic trusted sources.


Spear-phishing is a “persistent threat” to network integrity, Col. Anthony Thomas, head of Air Force Cyber Operations, said in the release.

“Even one user falling for a spear-phishing attempt creates an opening for our adversaries,” Thomas said. “Part of mission resiliency is ensuring our airmen have the proficiency to recognize and thwart adversary actions.”

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

Sailors on watch in the Fleet Operations Center at the headquarters of US Fleet Cyber Command/US 10th Fleet, Dec. 14, 2017.

(US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Samuel Souvannason)

The technique has already been put into real-world use.

Just before Christmas in 2015, Russian hackers allegedly used spear-phishing emails and Microsoft Word documents embedded with malicious code to hit Ukraine with a cyberattack that caused power outages — the first publicly known attack to have such an effect.

In December 2018, the US Department of Justice charged two Chinese nationals with involvement in a decade-long, government-backed effort to hack and steal information from US tech firms and government agencies.

Their group relied on spear-phishing, using an email address that looked legitimate to send messages with documents laden with malicious code.

For their test in November 2018, Air Force cyber-operations officials sent emails from non-Department of Defense addresses to users on the Air Force network, including content in them that looked legitimate.

The emails told recipients to do several different things, according to the release.

One appeared to be sent by an Airman and Family Readiness Center, asking the addressee to update a spreadsheet by clicking a hyperlink. Another email said it was from a legal office and asked the recipient to add information to a hyperlinked document for a jury panel in a court-martial.

“If users followed the hyperlink, then downloaded and enabled macros in the documents, embedded code would be activated,” the release said. “This allowed the threat emulation team access to their computer.”

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

US Cyber Command.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)

Results from the test — which was meant to improve the defenses of the network as a whole and did not gather information on individuals — showed most recipients were not fooled.

“We chose to conduct this threat emulation (test) to gain a deeper understanding of our collective cyber discipline and readiness,” said Maj. Ken Malloy, Air Force Cyber Operations’ primary planning coordinator for the test.

The lessons “will inform data-driven decisions for improving policy, streamlining processes and enhancing threat-based user training to achieve mission assurance and promote the delivery of decisive air power,” Malloy said.

While fending off spear-phishing attacks requires users to be cognizant of untrustworthy links and other suspicious content, other assessments have found US military networks themselves do not have adequate defenses.

A Defense Department Inspector General report released December 2018 found that the Army, the Navy, and the Missile Defense Agency “did not protect networks and systems that process, store, and transmit (missile defense) technical information from unauthorized access and use.”

That could allow attackers to go around US missile-defense capabilities, the report said.

In one case, officials had failed to patch flaws in their system after getting alerts about vulnerabilities — one of which was first found in 1990 and remained unresolved in April 2018.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

7 life lessons we learned from the grunts in ‘Platoon’

With so many war movies out there to choose from, not many come from the direct perspective of a man who personally lived through the hell that was Vietnam.


Critically acclaimed writer-director Oliver Stone (an Army veteran) took audiences into the highly political time in American history where the war efforts of our service men and women were predominantly overlooked as they returned home.

The son of a successful stockbroker, Stone dropped out of Yale in the 60s and joined the Army, becoming one of the first American troops to arrive in Vietnam.

Related: 7 life lessons we learned from watching ‘Full Metal Jacket’

Here’s what he taught us:

1. Respect is only earned, never issued.

Chris Taylor, played by Charlie Sheen, just landed in the “Nam” with a fresh shave and a stainless uniform. Before saying a word to anyone, he was automatically picked apart by war-harden soldiers passing by.

In war and in life, it doesn’t matter how you start the game — it’s how you finish it.

“Welcome to the suck, boot.” (Image via Giphy)

2. You have to keep up

Being in the infantry is one of the toughest and most dangerous jobs ever. You don’t have to be the strongest or the fastest, but you need to pull your own weight…literally.

Move it! Move it!  Move it! (Image via Giphy)

3. Staying positive

In the eyes of a “newbie,” the world can seem and feel like one big sh*t show — especially if you’re burning a barrel of sh*t with diesel fuel.

Finding new ways to approach a bad situation can boost morale — especially when you have a lot of time left in the bush.

Negativity can get you hurt, positivity can get you through it. (Image via Giphy)

4. We’re all the same

Regardless of what your race, religion, or education level — when it comes down to being a soldier in a dangerous combat zone, none of those aspects means a thing.

Preach! (image via Giphy)

5. Never quit

Sgt. Elias, by played Willem Dafoe, was intentionally left behind by Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) with the hope the V.C. would kill him off.

Although Elias struggled to stay in the fight, after taking several AK-47’s rounds, he showed the world he’s truly a warrior.

His back must have been killing him. (Image via Giphy)

6. War changes a man

The bright-eyed bushy-tailed boy that showed up in the beginning isn’t the thousand yard staring man who stands in front of you now.

Kill! (image via Giphy)

Also Read: 7 life lessons we learned from Gunny Highway in ‘Heartbreak Ridge’

7. Brotherhood

When you break into the circle of brotherhood, there’s no better feeling.

Safe travels. (Image via Giphy)To all of our Vietnam war veterans, everyone at We Are The Mighty salutes you.

MIGHTY TRENDING

France’s most wanted man made an unbelievable prison break

A notorious French criminal is on the run after pulling off a brazen escape in a helicopter from a prison near Paris.

According to the Associated Press, Redoine Faid, who is serving 25 years for failed robbery and murder of a police officer, previously escaped another prison in 2013 using explosives hidden in packs of tissues before being rearrested a month later.

Faid pulled off his latest escape at around 11:20 a.m. local time on July 1, 2018, according to the BBC. Three gunmen dressed in balaclavas and armed with assault rifles landed a stolen helicopter in the Reau Prison courtyard. The pilot of the helicopter had been taken hostage from a nearby flying club.


Police later found the helicopter burned in the town of Garges-les-Gonesse, north of Paris. Faid and his accomplices are believed to have ditched the airplane and escaped by car. The pilot was later released with no physical injuries, according to AP.

France’s Justice Ministry Nicole Belloubet said the escape took only “a few minutes.”

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

“It was an extremely well-prepared commando unit that may have used drones to survey the area beforehand,” she said, according to the BBC.

The manhunt is ongoing and an interior ministry official told AFP that nearly 3,000 French police were recruited for the search.

Faid, a 46-year-old gang leader, committed his first bank robbery in 1990, and was arrested in 1998 after three years on the run in Switzerland and Israel, according to local media. He was sentenced to 30 years in jail but was released on parole after ten years. In 2009 he wrote a memoir, and claimed to have given up a life of crime.

But he was arrested in 2011 on suspicion of masterminding a robbery that resulted in the death of a police officer.

According to the BBC, Faid has said his lifestyle was inspired by Hollywood gangster films, including “Scarface.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US bodyguard gives harrowing account of Benghazi attack

A diplomatic security agent testified Sept. 2 that after militants stormed the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, he turned to US Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was hiding in a safe room, and said, “When I die, you need to pick up my gun and keep fighting.”


Agent Scott Wickland was the government’s first witness in a trial of Ahmed Abu Khattala, a Libyan suspected of orchestrating the attack that killed the ambassador and three other Americans. Wickland took the stand and gave a harrowing account of how he tried without success to save the ambassador and Sean Patrick Smith, a State Department information management officer.

The smoke from weapons’ fire and explosions was so thick and black that it blinded the three. They dropped to the floor and crawled on their bellies, gasping for air. Wickland said he was trying to lead them to a bathroom where he could close the door and open a window.

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks
Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

“I was breathing through the last centimeter of air on the ground,” Wickland said. “I’m yelling, ‘Come on. We can make it. We’re going to the bathroom.’ Within 8 meters, they disappeared.”

Wickland kept yelling for them. He was feeling around on the floor through the toxic smoke, which made the lighted room darker than night.

“To this day, I don’t even know where they went. I was right next to them, and then that’s it,” Wickland said. “I had my hand on Ambassador Stevens. I could hear Sean shuffling.”

Twelve jurors and three alternates assembled for the opening day of one of the most significant terrorism prosecutions in recent years. Abu Khattala is being tried in US District Court, a civilian court, at a time when the Trump administration has said terror suspects are better sent to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks
The United States Air Force Band plays the national anthem during the dignified transfer of the remains J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans, Sept. 14, 2012, at Joint Base Andrews, Md. USAF photo by Senior Airman Perry Aston.

During Wickland’s testimony, Abu Khattala hung an arm over his chair and held his chin, covered in a long, grayish white beard. He listened through earphones to an Arabic translation of the proceedings.

The opening testimony was aimed at turning the jury against the defendant, but his name was never mentioned throughout Wickland’s nearly three hours on the stand. He is expected to retake the stand on Oct. 3.

An 18-count indictment against Abu Khattala arises from a burst of violence that began the night of Sept. 11, 2012. Stevens and Smith were killed in the first attack at the US mission. Nearly eight hours later, two more Americans, contract security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, died in a mortar attack on a CIA complex nearby

Abu Khattala, who appeared in court wearing a white shirt and dark pants, has pleaded not guilty to his charges, including murder of an internationally protected person, providing material support to terrorists, and destroying US property while causing death.

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks
Ahmed Abu Khattala after capture. Image from US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Jeffrey Robinson called Abu Khattala a “Libyan patriot” who fought on America’s side in the war against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. He said Abu Khattala didn’t mastermind the attack. The lawyer said the defendant simply went to the attack site because he heard there was a protest and wanted to see what was happening.

“He didn’t shoot anyone. He didn’t set any fires. He did not participate in the attacks,” Robinson said.

Robinson also said Abu Khattala was a deeply religious man who believes in conservative sharia law as outlined in the Quran. He reminded jurors that in America, people are not prosecuted because of their religious beliefs.

The prosecution gave a starkly different portrayal of the defendant. Assistant US Attorney John Crabb said that when Abu Khattala’s hatred of America boiled over, he orchestrated the attacks and then triumphantly strode around the attack site carrying an AK-47.

Crabb said that later, the defendant told someone at his apartment: “I attacked the American Embassy” and would have killed more Americans that night if others had not intervened.

He said Abu Khattala “hates America with a vengeance.”

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks
The United States Air Force Band plays the national anthem during the dignified transfer of the remains J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans, Sept. 14, 2012, at Joint Base Andrews, Md. USAF photo by Senior Airman Perry Aston.

“He killed Ambassador Stevens — a man of peace.”

The trial is expected to last for weeks. Crabb said the prosecution would show the jury videos of the attack site and Abu Khattala’s phone records, which he said showed a spike in activity during the attacks. He said witnesses would include weapons and fire experts and a man named Ali, who was paid $7 million to befriend Abu Khattala and help US forces capture him in Libya.

After he was captured, he was taken to a US Navy ship that transported him to the United States. During the 12-day journey, he was first interrogated by intelligence personnel and then by FBI agents. Crabb said Abu Khattala told FBI agents that America was the “root of all the world’s problems.”

His defense lawyer said Abu Khattala cooperated aboard the ship and he “continued to deny, as he denies today, any participation in planning or masterminding the attack.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

China is monitoring its military’s brainwaves and emotions

Employees’ brain waves are reportedly being monitored in factories, state-owned enterprises, and the military across China.

The technology works by placing wireless sensors in employees’ caps or hats which, combined with artificial intelligence algorithms, spot incidents of workplace rage, anxiety, or sadness.

Employers use this “emotional surveillance technology” by then tweaking workflows, including employee placement and breaks, to increase productivity and profits.


At State Grid Zhejiang Electric Power in the southeast city of Hangzhou, company profits jumped by $315 million since the technology was introduced in 2014, an official told the South China Morning Post.

Cheng Jingzhou, the official who oversees the company’s program, said “there is no doubt about its effect,” and brain data helps the 40,000-strong firm work to higher standards.

According to the SCMP, more than a dozen businesses and China’s military have used a different programme developed by the government-funded brain surveillance project Neuro Cap, based out of Ningbo University.

“They thought we could read their mind. This caused some discomfort and resistance in the beginning,” Jin Jia, a professor of brain science at Ningbo University told the Post.

“After a while they got used to the device… They wore it all day at work.”

Jin also said that employees’ brainwaves can be enough for managers to send them home.

“When the system issues a warning, the manager asks the worker to take a day off or move to a less critical post. Some jobs require high concentration. There is no room for a mistake.”

Another type of sensor, built by technology company Deayea, is reportedly used in the caps of train drivers on the high-speed rail line between Beijing and Shanghai. The sensor can even trigger an alarm if a driver falls asleep.

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks
(Photo by lin zhizhao)

Widespread use of emotion monitoring may mark a new stage in China’s surveillance state, which has largely been focused on facial recognition and increasing internet censorship.

It’s unknown if all employees subjected to the technology are aware they are being monitored, but even if they were China’s privacy laws would be unlikely to help.

The notoriously lax privacy laws, and the country’s large sample population, have helped China leap ahead with its artificial intelligence research.

According to a report by CB Insights, China applied for five times as many AI patents as the US in 2017.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

18 Air Force F-15s square off in a ‘Turkey Shoot’

The 48th Fighter Wing held an inter-fighter squadron “Turkey Shoot,” at RAF Lakenheath, England, on Sept. 26, 2019.

The Turkey Shoot is an operational competition that tests the preparation and performance of fighter pilots, intelligence professionals, aircraft maintainers, and air battle managers.

“The event takes the newest flight leads, instructors and wingmen from each squadron, puts them together into one four-ship formation to represent that squadron, and then hands them a demanding tactical problem to solve,” said Capt. Sam Wozniak, 492nd Fighter Squadron weapons system operator flight lead.


The competition is executed as a Defensive Counter Air mission. Competition planners, known as “White Forces,” set the parameters for each fighter squadron’s “blue air” team.

“The White Forces provided the special instructions, rules of the competition, and a point system matrix,” Wozniak said. “For example, successful target defense equated 20 points and achieving missile kills equated 5 points and the team with the most points at the end wins.”

The scenario pitted four blue air F-15s against 14 “red air” F-15s to defend specified targets.

In preparation, blue players had to determine the desired combat air patrol locations, distance triggers to advancing enemy forces, and inter-flight contacts for each formation to optimize mission success.

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

An F-15C Eagle from the 493rd Fighter Squadron prepares for takeoff in support of an inter-fighter squadron “Turkey Shoot” competition at RAF Lakenheath, England, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhonda Smith)

“From the mass brief, each formation splits off for flight-specific briefs to discuss the execution plan and expectations/responsibilities for each flight member during the fight,” Wozniak said.

In this iteration of the Turkey Shoot, the squadrons had the opportunity to incorporate interoperability tactics to enhance the effectiveness of their pre-coordinated strategy.

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 492nd Fighter Squadron kicks off the Turkey Shoot competition at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhonda Smith)

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 494th Fighter Squadron, takes flight in support of an inter-fighter squadron “Turkey Shoot” competition at RAF Lakenheath, England, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhonda Smith)

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 494th Fighter Squadron, launches in support of an inter-fighter squadron “Turkey Shoot” competition at RAF Lakenheath, England, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhonda Smith)

“Broadly speaking, fighter pilots and fighter weapons systems officers need three things to survive and thrive … readiness, competition, and camaraderie,” said Col. Jason Camilletti, 48th Operations Group commander.

“Turkey shoots advance our wing’s readiness by stressing our newest flight leads and wingmen in a very challenging high-end scenario, and the adrenaline rush of competing to win is the closest thing we can do short of actual combat,” Camilletti said.

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 494th Fighter Squadron, launches in support of an inter-fighter squadron “Turkey Shoot” competition at RAF Lakenheath, England, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhonda Smith)

As US Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa’s premier combat wing, complex exercises such as this ensure the 48th Fighter Wing remains ready to defend sovereign skies and deter any aggressor.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Russia’s new hypersonic missiles already leaked to spies

Russia’s Federal Security Service reportedly suspects that plans for two of Russia’s new, game-changing hypersonic missiles have been leaked to Western spies.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense on July 19, 2018, released new footage of two of its most revolutionary weapons systems: a hypersonic Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” nuclear-capable, anti-surface missile and the Avangard, a maneuverable ballistic missile reentry vehicle specifically made to outfox the US missile defenses arrayed around Europe.

Related video:

The Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, now suspects these systems, each of which cope with the challenges of flight at about 10 times the speed of sound, have been leaked to the West.

“It was established that the leak came from TsNIIMash employees,” a source close to the FSB investigation told Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, as the BBC noted. TsNIIMash is a Russian state-owned defense and space company.

“A lot of heads will roll, and for sure this case won’t end just with a few dismissals,” the source said.

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

A Boeing X-51 hypersonic cruise missile at Edwards Air Force Base in California in 2010.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

The hypersonic arms race

The US, China, and Russia are all locked in a heated arms race to create weapons that can travel many times the speed of sound, defeating today’s missile-defense systems.

China and Russia frequently test their weapons and have even fielded a few systems ahead of the US, but their focus is nuclear, while the US seeks a more technically difficult goal.

With nuclear weapons, like the kind Russia and China want on their hypersonics, accuracy doesn’t matter. But the US wants hypersonics for precision-strike missiles, meaning it has the added challenge of trying to train a missile raging at mach 10 to hit within a few feet of a target.

Given that nuclear weapons represent the highest level of conflict imaginable, believed in most cases to be a world-ending scenario, the US’s vision for precision-guided hypersonic conventional weapons that no missile defenses can block would seem to have more applications. The US’s proposed hypersonics could target specific people and buildings, making them useful for strikes like the recent ones in Syria.

But if Russia’s hypersonic know-how has somehow slipped into Western hands, as the FSB has reportedly indicated, then its comparative advantage could be even weaker.

Featured image: A MiG-31 firing a hypersonic Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” nuclear-capable, anti-surface missile.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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MIGHTY TRENDING

Mattis wants more data on women in combat arms

With so few women in combat arms right now, the services and Defense Department officials really can’t judge how successful the effort has been, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told cadets at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, Sept. 25, 2018.

“It’s a very, very tough issue because it goes from some people’s perspective of what kind of society do we want,” the secretary said. “In the event of trouble, you’re sleeping at night in your family home and you are the dad, mom, whatever. And you hear glass break downstairs. Who grabs a baseball bat and gets between the kids’ door and whoever broke in, and who reaches for the phone to call 911? In other words, it goes to the most almost primitive needs of a society to look out for its most vulnerable.”


At heart, this is the issue DoD faces, Mattis told the cadet who asked him what results he had seen. The question for the department comes down to whether it is a strength or a weakness to have women in the close-quarter infantry fight, Mattis said.

Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta opened the door by removing the ban on women in combat jobs in 2013. In 2015, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter directed the services to open all military occupational specialties to women. Currently, 356 women are combat arms soldiers, and 17 women have graduated from the Army’s Ranger School. The Marine Corps has 113 enlisted women and 29 officers in previously restricted specialties. Specifically in infantry, the Marine Corps has 26 enlisted Marines and one officer who are women.

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

(DOD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

The secretary said he cannot make a determination about the situation because “so few women have signed up along these lines.”

“We don’t even have data at this time that I can answer your question,” he added.

Unit culture

Part of what drives the question is the culture of close-combat units, the retired Marine Corps general said. “I was never under any illusions at what level of respect my Marines would have for me if I couldn’t run with the fastest of them and look like it didn’t bother me [or] if I couldn’t do as many pullups as the strongest of them,” Mattis said. “It was the unfairness of the infantry. How did the infantry get its name? Infant soldier. Young soldier. Very young soldier. They’re cocky, they’re rambunctious, they’re necessarily macho, and it’s the most primitive — I would say even evil — environment. You can’t even explain it.”

The close-combat fight is war at its most basic, and Mattis cited an Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. quote when talking to his fellow Civil War veterans: “We have shared the incommunicable experience of war.”

The nation needs to discuss this issue, the secretary said. “The military has got to have officers who look at this with a great deal of objectivity and at the same time remember our natural inclination to have this open to all,” he said. “But we cannot do something that militarily doesn’t make sense.”

The Army chief of staff and Marine Corps commandant are looking at the issue. “This is a policy that I inherited, and so far the cadre is so small we have no data on it,” he said. “We’re hoping to get data soon. There are a few stalwart young ladies who are charging into this, but they are too few. Clearly the jury is out on it, but what we’re trying to do is give it every opportunity to succeed if it can.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This airman with a PHD now monitors for treaty violations

It’s not often you see those three-letter titles A1C and Ph.D. used to refer to the same person. As a matter of fact, only one-hundredth of one percent of the Air Force’s enlisted force from E-1 through E-9 possess a doctor of philosophy degree, one of 33 enlisted airmen in the Air Force with a doctorate degree.

Yet one woman with a doctorate in chemistry found herself signing on the proverbial dotted line, completing basic training, and is now assigned to the Department of Defense’s sole nuclear treaty monitoring center.


Airman 1st Class Cynthia A. Schroll enlisted in the Air Force in December 2017, though her unique career journey began much earlier, soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I was in my senior year of high school in 2001, and after 9/11 happened, I told my parents I wanted to enlist,” Schroll said. “During the discussion, my mother said something that struck me even using the word ‘please’ and asking me to do something for the first time in my life instead of telling me to. She said, ‘please don’t enlist. I’ve been saving your whole life for you to go to college.’ I knew how much it meant to her and I respect my parents deeply, so I went to college.”

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

Airman 1st Class Cynthia A. Schroll, a radiochemistry technician at the Air Force Radiochemistry Laboratory, Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., pours solution from a test tube as she prepares reagent kits for AFTAC’s precious metals program.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Susan A. Romano)

Schroll attended Morehead State University in Kentucky and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2006. She bypassed the traditional path after her undergraduate studies and went straight into the doctoral program at the University of Cincinnati.

“It’s not uncommon for people looking into science degrees to forego a master’s program and go straight into a doctoral studies,” Schroll explained. “Most universities that offer a Ph.D. will let you obtain a master’s degree if you find yourself struggling with the Ph.D. work load.”

She joked, “someone once told me that the difference between a Ph.D. and a master’s degree is the Ph.D. project has to work in the end, while a master’s student can write up all the ways the project didn’t work!”

Upon completion of her doctorate in analytical chemistry with an emphasis in spectroelectrochemical detection of f-block elements, she went straight into the work force doing environmental sample preparation, product management and worked as a contract research assistant at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. She also taught general chemistry at the University of Cincinnati for two years. It was an enjoyable career, Schroll said, but military service was still on her mind.

“I had everything going for me: a great education, good job, supportive family, everything, yet I was still thinking about enlisting,” she said. “But I had some significant hurdles to overcome. I was overweight and knew that was going to be a factor as to whether I’d qualify or not. I had pets. I had a house and in 2014, I lost my mother to multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. It was devastating to my family and me. I took it quite hard and was lost without her influence.”

Air Force tested its personnel with real cyberattacks

Air Force Basic Training graduation photo of Airman 1st Class Cynthia A. Schroll.

From that tragedy, however, came the realization that she still wanted to serve her country and thought it would be a lasting tribute to her beloved mother.

“I knew deep down from the beginning she didn’t want me to join the service, but through all the grief I was experiencing, I had to find a path that would bring me greater reward,” she explained.

So after several months of careful thought, consideration and a solid work-out program, Schroll paid a visit to her local recruiter to change her title from ‘Doctor’ to ‘Airman.’

“Before I left for basic, I had several lengthy conversations with my sister who served in the Army for almost 10 years and I spoke to several other female friends who had also gone through the experience,” she said. “They all told me about the mind games I should expect from the military training instructors and some of the difficulties that arise when you put 40 women together in small quarters for several weeks at a time. Needless to say, I found basic training quite entertaining!”

During basic, trainees are selected to fill certain jobs and responsibilities given to each flight: dorm chief, element leader, chow runner, and entry controller, just to name a few. Schroll volunteered to be the flight’s academic monitor. When the MTI asked what made her qualified for the job, she nonchalantly mentioned she had taught classes before. The MTI did some digging and learned that Schroll had a Ph.D.

“It all came out from there,” she said. “I tried to downplay it as much as I could, and I offered to help any of my flight mates with their study techniques, because we were all in this together. We had one trainee who had such bad test anxiety and we were all worried she was going to run out of the classroom before she finished the end-of-course exam. When our MTI started reading off our test scores, we collectively held our breath when hers was read and we cheered like mad when it was a passing score. A few of us even cried. By far my proudest moment as the academic monitor was the fact we all passed our exams the first time through.”

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U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Stein, 17th Training Group superintendent, presents the 312th Training Squadron Student of the Month award to Airman 1st Class Cynthia Schroll, 312th TRS trainee, at Brandenburg Hall on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, June 1, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Chapman)

She graduated basic training in February 2018 and was sent to Goodfellow AFB, Texas, to undergo special instruments training. While there, she became friends with a large contingent of Air Force firefighters.

“Our tech school was housed with the airmen who undergo firefighting training, and it was so much fun,” Schroll recalled. “I was selected to be a red rope, the person who oversees dorm activities, and they kept me so grounded. I had so much respect for them that on my last day I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to go to their daily formation so I could shake every single hand and say thanks. I love and respect them all so much.”

During her tenure at Goodfellow, she received a special visitor who requested to meet with her. She was surprised to learn it was a command chief master sergeant who made the trip to speak directly with her.

“I was pretty floored when I found out Chief Master Sgt. Michael Joseph came to the schoolhouse to discuss career options with me,” she said. “He introduced himself as the command chief for the Air Force Technical Applications Center, and said his commander was very interested in having me on his team at Patrick AFB. I can’t put my finger on it, but during my conversation with Chief Joseph, I realized this was my chance to live out my desire to serve, especially in the capacity of a scientist. I thought to myself, ‘These folks who have so much experience would know how best to use my skills,’ so I put my trust in them.”

Joseph was highly impressed when he met with Schroll.

“I heard about A1C Schroll as she was coming through the pipeline since AFTAC has a majority of the 9S100 airmen in the Air Force,” said Joseph. “Every airman has a story, and I wanted to hear hers. Her background was impressive — she had written two books and has a patent to her name, but it was her desire to serve that impressed me the most. With her chemistry background and our operational need for highly-skilled chemists, it seemed like a natural fit for her to come to AFTAC.”

Recruiting personnel who possess highly-technical scientific degrees and experience has been a challenge for the nuclear treaty monitoring center, but AFTAC’s senior enlisted advisor believes they’re seeking out ways to overcome that challenge.

Schroll is assigned to AFTAC’s radiochemistry laboratory working as a radiochemistry technician. She is responsible for preparing reagent kits in the lab’s tech room as well as co-managing the precious metals program.

“I love the responsibility that comes from knowing our chemists are counting on me to prep their reagents properly and in a timely manner,” said Schroll. “If anything goes wrong with the chemistry, the first place that is looked at is the reagent, so I want them to have confidence when they see my initials on the label that they were prepared correctly.”

When asked if she was looking at becoming a commissioned officer someday, Schroll said it’s not out of the question, but it’s not her immediate focus.

“Right now, I’m still brand new to the Air Force, so I am learning as much about it as possible. I’m an airman first class, and with that comes the responsibility of being the best A1C I can be. My focus is on doing the job I am fortunate to have, and doing it as best I can. When I look to the future, I only see broad opportunities. But I’ve never been one to look too far ahead because all too often we make this grand dream or goal, only to forget to focus on the little steps to get there. I’m focusing on the little steps right now.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the origin of the 21-gun salute

If you ever attend a military funeral or memorial ceremony, you may notice a group of men and women proudly holding rifles. Then, at a specific time, they aim their weapons up to the sky and fire, usually causing a slight stir in the crowd, even though everyone was expecting it to happen.

Don’t worry — those rounds are just blanks.

This practice is quite common throughout the world and, as with many traditions, it has a practical origin. Back when ships carried cannons, it was universally understood that immediately after firing, these weapons were rendered ineffective for a period of time — after all, reloading took a while. So, in order to demonstrate peaceful intent, ships would turn their cannons to the sky and discharge, telling those ashore that a ship’s weapons weren’t live.

Nobody knows why ships were designed, at one point, to carry precisely seven cannon. Some theorize that it’s related to the seven phases of the moon, others think it has to do with the biblical week, and some say it’s simply because seven is a lucky freakin’ number.


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President Franklin D. Roosevelt, embarked on Indianapolis, receives a 21-gun salute from Coast Guard Cutter Mojave, during the presidential fleet, 1934.

The cannon in shore batteries (with ample stores of dry, usable gunpowder) would fire three shots in return for every single shot they heard coming from the sea. For all you math geniuses out there, that equals 21 cannon shots. Upon hearing the return fire, ships at sea knew that the harbor was friendly — and the 21-gun salute was born.

It isn’t always 21, though. During a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the POTUS, former presidents, and presidents elect receive the traditional 21-gun salute. Other high-ranking officials, however, like the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and military officers in command over multiple branches, receive a 19-gun salute.

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Members of the honor guard’s rifle team fire off a salute to remember twelve veterans during a burial at sea ceremony held aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).
(Photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Christine Singh)

Although hearing the 21-gun salute typically means you’re mourning the loss of a fellow patriot, know that this is a practice rooted in peace and history. With this salute, the fallen join those who gave us traditions so long ago.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time aliens landed in the Soviet Union for a walk in the park

The Russians have a strange history with the Unidentified Flying Objects. While 99 percent of the UFOs encountered by Russia and the Soviet Union over the years were probably American spy planes, they insist that one of them actually landed and its crew decided to step out and stretch their legs.

And then they shot a bunch of children.


In the late 1980s, The New York Times quoted Soviet police Lt. Sergei A. Matveyev, who swore he saw the spaceship, saying that lanky, three-legged creatures landed in a park in the Russian city of Voronezh on Sept. 27, 1989. Some 300 miles from Moscow, citizens of Voronezh reported a deep red ball, around 10 feet in diameter, landing in a park.

It was not an optical illusion,” he told the Russian TASS News Agency. “It was certainly a body flying in the sky. I thought I must be really tired, but I rubbed my eyes and it didn’t go away.”
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Admit that you were thinking about this meme.

A hatch opened and out stepped a three-eyed creature that stood nine feet tall and was dressed in silver overalls and bronze boots. It left the ship with a companion and a robot. After taking a triangle formation around the robot, the robot came to life. A boy began to scream in terror. That’s when the stuff hit the fan. With a look, the boy was paralyzed.

The aliens disappeared briefly and returned with “what looked like a gun” and shot the boy, who disappeared. He reappeared later, after the spacecraft had departed. Citizens of the town reported multiple sightings of the ship between Sept. 23 and Sept. 27, but when Soviet investigators came to the scene, their only abnormal finding was elevated levels of radioactive Cesium-23.

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As for the children who witnessed the landing in the park, they were all separated. When asked to draw what they saw that day, they all drew “a banana-shaped object that left behind in the sky the sign of the letter X.” The boy who was abducted could remember nothing about the craft.

The local interior minister said that if the craft appeared again, they would dispatch the Red Army to investigate the event. If the aliens had returned in full force to invade the Soviet Union, they would have met the joint capability of the Soviets along with the United States, as President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed at the 1985 Lake Geneva Summit to join forces against any extraterrestrial invader.

Now read: That time the US and Russia agreed to be allies if aliens attacked Earth

MIGHTY MOVIES

Top 10 funniest war movie characters

Well, here it is, the ten funniest war movie characters of all time. Oddballs. Gallows humor. Hard asses. In exact order. Presented as fact. With absolutely no room for improvement. Don’t think so? Take it up with the complaint department below, because now that we think of it, everything is subjective and you probably have a very good idea that was missed by this perfect list.


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Brad Pitt in “Inglorious Bastards”

Hearing an undercover soldier from the deep south try to say “Gorlami” in an Italian accent is absolute comedic bliss. Watching him scalp some Nazis is bliss of another kind. Brad Pitt anchors this list off with this classy badass in the instant classic from the mind of Tarantino.

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Cuba Gooding Jr. in “The Way of War”

Okay, so this one isn’t technically a comedy. But in the same way that a tomato isn’t “technically” a vegetable. If you haven’t seen heard of this movie– you are not alone. In fact, you are very, very crowded. I don’t think JK Simmons has heard of this movie, and he is in it. Watch it if you want to see Cuba Gooding: kill a guy with a shower curtain, call himself “the wolf” for no discernible reason, and threaten to murder the entire family of an innocent shopkeeper who SAVED HIS LIFE. It has a 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is generous.

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Damon Wayans in “Major Payne”

The idea of getting a wounded Marine’s mind off a shoulder wound by breaking his pinky is something only Major Payne could make funny. That and comforting a child with a hell-torn Fallujah version of “The Little Engine that Could.” This movie is silly. This movie is stupid. But so are you if you don’t laugh at it.

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Alan Alda in “M*A*S*H”

Uh oh, this one’s not even a movie–don’t care— there’s no way a list about the funniest war characters was going to leave out M*A*S*H. While there are probably 3-4 characters from M*A*S*H that could make the list (I’ll give you a hint, one wears a dress, and it’s not Margaret Houlihan). However, Alan Alda is so effortlessly sarcastic in this, that he left an impression on all dads in the US born between 1950-1969 with a TV.

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Donald Sutherland in “Kelly’s Heroes”

I don’t think my father would continue to claim me as his own if I didn’t include Kelly’s Heroes on here. Donald Sutherland as “Oddball” is an offbeat performance which really captures the existentialism of conflict. Some men are fighting, some men are repairing a downed vehicle–Oddball is just “drinking wine and eating cheese and catching some rays, ya know?”

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Sam Elliot in “We Were Soldiers”

“Good morning Sgt. Major.” … “How do you know what kind of God damn day it is?” Sam Elliot (a.k.a the voice in those “Coors Banquet Beer” commercials) keeps this entire movie on its feet by his rugged portrayal of the hilariously pissed off Sgt. Major Plumley. Plus his voice sounds like beef jerky tastes.

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Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder”

“I know who I am. I’m a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude.” This line alone about sums up Robert Downey Jr.’s “Tropic Thunder” performance. One of only three other Oscar-nominated performances on this list (almost, Cuba), Robert Downey’s ballsy meta performance is as controversial as it is hilarious.

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Robin Williams in “Good Morning Vietnam”

This one is just a requirement. Like it feels like if it wasn’t on here, there would (rightfully) be an uproar. Not to say that Robin Williams isn’t hysterical in this–he is. In fact, he’s so good that it’s an unexciting pick. It’s like, duh, Good Morning Vietnam is amazing, and Robin Williams is unbelievably funny. And he improvised a lot of it. It should be higher, but this list is subjective, and nothing matters.

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Bill Murray in “Stripes”

This role spawned (or popularized, rather) an entire archetype in comedies–the slack off reluctantly leading a rebellion of misfits. Bill Murray’s portrayal of John Winger is played seemingly with a wink to the audience throughout the whole movie. The character was even adapted by Dan Harmon as the lead in the popular series “Community” and named “Jeff Winger.”

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Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, and Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove”

Everything is up for debate except for this spot. Peter Sellers plays three completely unique and separate characters, and they all have made me spackle my laptop screen with Doritos bits with laughter. The scene where Peter Sellers plays “Dr.Strangelove” an obvious Nazi scientist who is eternally fighting against one arm that is permanently possessed with exaltation for the Third Reich. It is physical comedy at its purest form. Legend has it that this scene is the only thing that has ever made Stanley Kubrick laugh on set–and apparently to tears. Even in the final cut, you can see some background actors bite their lips to stop smiling, and hear stifled laughter.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

6 Air Force pararescuemen who risked it all ‘that others may live’

This article is sponsored by The Last Full Measure, now playing in theatres! Get your tickets here.

Troops headed into combat know that an entire medical chain exists to keep them alive and as healthy as possible for as long as possible if they’re hit. The goal is to get them out of harm’s way within the “Golden Hour,” the first hour after injury, to maximize their odds of survival and recovery. But while medics and corpsmen are the backbone of that chain, the Air Force has teams of specially trained personnel who exist solely to put their lives on the line to save others in the most dire of combat medical crises.


These Air Force pararescue personnel deploy forward with other elite forces and fly into combat to save troops already under fire. They live by the motto, “that others may live.”

Here are six of them that epitomized those words.

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(U.S. Air Force)

1. Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger

William Pitsenbarger was the first enlisted airman to receive the Air Force Cross, later upgraded to the Medal of Honor, and his sacrifice is still the standard to which modern pararescuemen strive to honor with service. Now, his amazing story is finally reaching the masses when The Last Full Measure hits theatres on January 24, 2020.

Check out the trailer below:

The Last Full Measure Official Trailer | Roadside Attractions

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William Pitsenbarger embodied service. He volunteered for service in Vietnam, he volunteered to be lowered into a minefield to save a Vietnamese soldier, and, in April 1966, he volunteered his way into a massive firefight that would claim his life.

When an Army company stumbled into an ambush, the mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire came so quick and thick that the soldiers were soon unable to defend themselves while evacuating their wounded. Pitsenbarger recognized what was happening and got special permission to join them on the ground and prepare the wounded for evacuation. Pitsenbarger got nine of the wounded out on three flights before it became too dangerous for the helicopters to operate.

Still, he stayed on the ground, running ammo to American positions under fire. Sadly, due to at least two gunshot wounds, he was killed. He was credited with directly saving nine lives and with medical aid and battlefield actions that may have helped save dozens more.

His award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, making him the first airman to earn the award.

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(U.S. Air Force)

2. Chief Master Sgt. Duane Hackney

Duane Hackney is arguably the most decorated airman in U.S. history. We can’t go into all of his heroics here, but he served from Vietnam to Desert Storm and amassed an Air Force Cross, a Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts, and 18 Air Medals.

His first Purple Hearts came almost immediately after he arrived in Vietnam. A .30-caliber round struck him in the leg and he got a fellow pararescueman to treat it so he could stay in the fight. He was awarded the Air Force Cross for extracting a downed pilot from a fierce firefight, immediately getting shot out of his helicopter during extraction, and then doubling back to the crashed helicopter to check for survivors before finally evacuating again. He received that award in a ceremony where he also got the Silver Star for bravery during a completely unrelated rocket attack. In short, he’s built one hell of a resume.

Despite surviving a combat tour of Vietnam that started with a Purple Heart and ended with an Air Force Cross, Hackney volunteered to stay for another three years.

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(From left to right) Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham and Staff Sgt. Gabe Brown pose for a photo just weeks before March 4, 2002, where Miller and Cunningham would earn the Air Force Cross and Brown would earn a Silver Star.

(U.S. Air Force)

3. Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller

Pararescue specialist Tech. Sgt. Keary Miller was involved in the Battle of Takur Ghar in Paktia Province, Afghanistan. On March 4, 2002, he was inserting with an Air Force Combat Search and Rescue Team to rescue two service members that had become separated after their helicopter was shot up on the ridge. Miller’s team faced heavy fire while landing and was forced down, crashing onto the mountain.

Miller quickly led the establishment of a hasty defense and then began rendering aid to the wounded. Four of his team were killed almost instantly and five were wounded, but Miller re-distributed ammo to those able to fight and maintained the medical interventions on the wounded for the next 15 hours in bitter cold. He was credited with saving wounded men, allowing the soldiers and airman to keep fighting until rescued, and allowing for the successful recovery of seven sets of U.S. remains.

4. Senior Airman Jason Cunningham

Senior Airman Jason Cunningham was on the same MH-47E helicotper as Tech Sgt. Miller when it was shot down. Cunningham immediately began treating the wounded when they hit the ground and moved injured personnel from the burning helicopter. He was critically wounded while defending patients, but he kept doing everything he could to save others.

He directed the disposition of the wounded and handed their care over to a medic before succumbing to his injuries. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross on Sept. 13, 2002.

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(Video Still by Air Force Senior Airman Stephen Ellis)

5. Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz

On Dec. 10, 2013, pararescue craftsman Master Sgt. Ivan Ruiz was attached to an Army Special Forces and Afghan Commando team for a raid in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. The nighttime operation met enemy contact almost immediately, and Ruiz’s team took out four insurgents. Ruiz moved forward with two others into a courtyard where the others were hit.

Rather than withdraw to cover, Ruiz laid down heavy fire, killing one insurgent and suppressing the others long enough for him to reach the wounded men. Despite heavy machine gun fire, grenades, and accurate rifle fire, Ruiz stayed exposed until other teammates reached him, then he gave lifesaving care to his buddies under fire.

He’s credited with saving their lives and helping to pin down and kill 11 enemy insurgents.

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(U.S. Air Force)

6. Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper

Pararescueman Staff Sgt. Thomas Culpepper was part of a call to rescue three members of an Army Pathfinder team trapped in an IED belt on May 26, 2011. One Pathfinder was severely injured and the other two were trying to keep him alive, but extracting them from what was essentially a minefield would be tricky.

As Culpepper was raising the second soldier to the helicopter, it suddenly lost power and entered free fall. Culpepper kept control of his casualty and the helicopter came to a stop just a few feet from the ground. They escaped the IED belt and made it home — the injured soldier, tragically, did not survive his wounds.

Culpepper later received the Distinguished Service Cross with Valor Device.

This article is sponsored by The Last Full Measure, now playing in theatres! Get your tickets here.