The U.S. Army’s new UH-60V Black Hawk helicopter featuring a digital cockpit has made its first flight, a company announced.
The chopper, basically a UH-60L upgraded with the new Integrated Avionics Suite, flew for the first time on Jan. 19 in Huntsville, Alabama, according to a release Monday from Northrop Grumman Corp. The base is home to the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command.
The utility rotorcraft is made by Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Sikorsky unit, but Northrop won a contract in 2014 to upgrade between 700 and 900 L models of the aircraft with the new cockpit design, which replaces older analogue gauges with digital electronic instrument displays. The technology is already included in UH-60M production models.
“This UH-60V first flight accomplishment reaffirms our open, safe and secure cockpit solutions that will enable the most advanced capabilities for warfighters,” Ike Song, vice president of mission solutions at Northrop, said in a statement.
The Falls Church, Virginia-based company won the Army deal over such competitors as Lockheed Martin, Elbit Systems and Rockwell Collins, according to an Aviation Week report at the time.
The new system is nearly identical to the UH-60M interface, according to Northrop. The technology is designed to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency’s Global Air Traffic Management requirements for military and civilian airspace around the world, the company said.
The Army a decade ago began receiving UH-60M variants featuring the new digital cockpits. The M model is the most advanced variant of the helicopter and remains in production.
A notebook written in English that may have belonged to an ISIS fighter was reportedly found in a jail in Raqqa, according to the National, which exclusively obtained the notebook from an unnamed source.
The notebook reportedly details the inner workings of the militant group, including their future plans, military shortcomings, and issues foreign fighters faced within the group.
According to pictures of the purported notebook provided by the National, the pages appear to be written in English by one author who used American spelling of words and numbers. A second author wrote in French, and Arabic was used in some of the text as well.
The author details ISIS’s core strategies for maintaining control in the region.
On one page, the author describes how to prevent defectors from leaving ISIS territory: “We should push civilians who want to flee to our centers of gravity in Mosul and Raqqa.” The author added: “The enemy might try to break our control over an area and allow civilians to escape.”
The notebook describes a solution, written in large letters “THE BIG SOLUTION” which explains that ISIS should not use “conventional military power against a much stronger foe,” and suggests the group focus on “insurgency” until their “political situation allows for a more conventional approach.”
Another page compares several types of guns and their cost in dollars using hand drawn pictures.
The author also discusses expanding efforts to other countries, including Saudi Arabia. A page reportedly questions: “How to make Saudi like Syria? Can we get people to hate Their [sic] rulers?”
The author continues: “Mecca and Medina are a priority for the [caliphate] to actually influence world Muslims. But to get there we need to destabilize Al-Saud. Direct action against Al-Saud from Iraq will likely fail militarily and attract US ground troops so the best way to do this is internally, with the support for Yemen and Iraq.”
The writings also appear to show that ISIS fighters kept up with international news, and often monitored global political cycles.
The author offers suggestions on how to pull “the USA to another major war to exhaust its economy.” The writer also extensively followed the US presidential elections, and said key decisions would depend on US political action.
“The US decisions are very important, and they depend on the Presidential elections.”
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
“However, if democrats lose, a Republican administration would be more likely to bring US boots on the ground, and cooperation with Iran will likely stop,” the author reportedly wrote.
The journal also reportedly layed out a strategy for confronting the US on the battlefield: “Fighting the USA might be more dangerous militarily, but it will grant IS respect in muslim [sic] eyes.”
The notebook also reveals the innermost thoughts of what appears to have been a foreign ISIS fighter. At the bottom of a page detailing “important” military issues “to study,” the author asks himself: “Who am I? What should I do? Why am I here? How did I reach this place?”
According to the report, the author bemoans several limitations within the group, including lack of training time to militant fighters and notes there were “problems created by different languages.”
Associate Professor at the Naval War College Monterey, Dr. Craig Whiteside, told the National that there were notable similarities between the strategies laid out in the book and the strategies taught in western military training.
“The author has studied topics we study in a war college, such as the differences between policy and strategy.”
“If this is a foreign fighter, not studying their own country for military facilities but instead learning about Iraq and Syria, the goal is to encourage them to stay,” he added.
Figures from October 2017 show more than 40,000 fighters from more than 110 countries flocked to Syria and Iraq after its establishment in 2014. Reports indicate that roughly 129 US nationals joined the caliphate. Of those foreign fighters, at least 5,600 citizens or residents from 33 countries who have returned home.
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency plans to demonstrate an ability to launch and recover small drones from an Air Force C-130 aircraft as part of its continued development of the Gremlins program — a technical effort designed to deploy groups of small drones carrying 60-pound sensor payloads up to ranges of 300 nautical miles.
The program is expected to culminate in an air launch and recovery demonstration in 2019.
The drones are intended to perform a range of missions, such as testing enemy air defenses and conducting ISR missions for an hour on station before returning to an Air Force C-130, developers said. A key concept of the program is extending the mission range of aircraft, while allowing manned crews to operate at safer distances.
Gremlins moves beyond existing state-of-the-art programs able, which are able to launch, but not recover, swarms of mini-drones. The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, an initiative aimed at harnessing near-term emerging technologies for operational use, demonstrated an ability to launch small drones from the flare dispenser of an F-16. While able to blanket areas with ISR and perform significant mission-enhancing functions, they are expendable and not available for re-use.
“For decades, U.S. military air operations have relied on increasingly capable multi-function manned aircraft to execute critical combat and non-combat missions. Adversaries’ abilities to detect and engage those aircraft from longer ranges have improved over time as well,” said DARPA in a statement.
Gremlins could well be described as a technological leap in manned-unmanned teaming beyond state-of-the-art technology, as it enables drones to launch, perform missions and then return to a host aircraft. As algorithms for increased levels of autonomy advance, aircraft will be able to control drones from the cockpit with a pilot in a command and control role, service experts have explained.
At the moment, Army helicopters can used “manned-unmanned” teaming to control the flight path and sensor payload of nearby drones, and the Air Force Chief Scientist Dr. Gregory Zacharias has told Warrior that F-35 and F-22 fighter jets may soon have the technical ability to navigate multiple drones from the air. The idea is to use unmanned aircraft to perform ISR missions, delivery weapons or test high-risk air defenses or enemy formations without putting pilots in harm’s way. This day is fast approaching, given the pace of current progress developing algorithms enabling higher levels of autonomy, Zacharias has explained.
As of earlier this year, DARPA has continued its contract with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Dynetics to move Gremlins into the next phase of development, an effort which involves testing and a Preliminary Design Review.
The Gremlins’ expected lifetime of about 20 uses provides significant cost advantages over expendable systems by reducing payload and airframe costs and by having lower mission and maintenance costs than conventional platforms, a General Atomics statement said.
“We see the potential for using this technology on our own Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper® to offer our customers new mission capabilities,” David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI, said in a written statement.
Three pilots from the 328th Air Refueling Squadron at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, N.Y., flew over Western New York to honor frontline workers during the Covid-19 crisis, May 12, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/A1C Kelsey Martinez)
Nearly 200 pilots have chosen to stay in the U.S. Air Force as major airlines operate in a limited capacity during the COVID-19 outbreak, sharply reducing the number of commercial flights around the world.
While the service is still gathering data, “171 pilots have been approved to stay past their original retirement or separation dates” since March, Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Malinda Singleton said in an email Thursday. She did not provide a breakdown of the types of pilots — fighter, bomber, airlift, etc. — who have extended their duty.
The service is also preparing for the possibility that furloughed airline pilots will submit requests to return to active duty in the Air Force come Oct. 1, the spokeswoman said. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, passed in late March, airline jobs have been safe as companies are prohibited from cutting their workforces until that date. However, experts foresee a dramatic reduction in airline jobs when the restriction is lifted.
“At this time, it is too early to tell what those impacts may be as the CARES Act prohibited layoffs and furloughs in the airlines until Oct. 1,” Singleton said. “We are keeping a close watch on the situation; recognizing the challenges the airline industry is facing, we are providing options for rated officers to remain on active duty who otherwise had plans to depart.”
Airline hiring efforts had been the biggest factor driving problems in pilot retention and production in the services, officials said in recent years. Commercial airlines became the military’s main competitor during a nationwide pilot shortage.
“We tend to see those [service members who] may be getting out, or those [who] have recently gotten out, want to return to service inside of our Air Force,” Gen. Brad Webb told reporters during a phone call from the Pentagon. “I expect that we will see some of that to a degree, which will help mitigate [the pilot shortage].”
The Pentagon office in charge of outfitting America’s secret warriors is asking industry for new technologies that will allow commandos to target and track bad guys through goggles or a head’s up display in their weapon sights, see colors at night and fly small surveillance drones that are nearly undetectable.
The new technologies sound like something from science fiction, but the spec ops gear buyers want to see what industry has in the works that could get to troops behind enemy lines in places like Syria, Iraq and Libya.
According to an official industry solicitation, U.S. Special Operations Command will hold a so-called “Military Utility Assessment” at Camp Blanding, Florida, in mid-November to see what capabilities are out there to enhance special operators’ ability to see the enemy in adverse conditions, surveil bad guy positions at great distances and tag and track targets without detection.
Current night vision equipment either enhances available light like stars or the moon or uses thermal imaging to see heat. Both technologies can be digitally modified to present the images in limited color, but the detail is usually poor.
The special operations community wants to see if there are options out there that help commandos identify objects and people in the dark with better resolution.
The command is looking for night optics “that aid in target discrimination, mobility, combat identification, identify friend or foe, or situational awareness via a natural appearing manner.”
“The need is from clear sky no moon to daylight conditions,” USSOCOM says. “A capability that allows true color at higher illumination and switch or transition to black and white at the lowest illumination is of interest.”
The special operators will consider systems that either attach to existing goggles, scopes or optics or entire new night vision equipment that can replace them. The key is keeping down the weight and increasing battery life, the command says.
SOCOM also wants to see if there are options out there for passive targeting scopes that will allow commandos to move a cursor to their target and share that data with other assaulters and snipers. They even want to be able to call in air strikes using the embedded targeting capability.
Clearly, unmanned aerial vehicles have become an important part of warfighting these days, and SOCOM wants to see how it can take advantage of the bleeding edge of technology for unmanned systems. The command has asked industry if it can field drones that are unseen and unheard above a target and can see details like vehicle license plates or the types of bombs loaded on a parked plane.
The special operators want “technologies that can be programmed to orbit or perch and stare at an area or object of interest,” it said. “Technology should be visually and acoustically undetectable by persons or systems resident at an observed area or object of interest, while providing users VNIIRS 9 or better video quality in real time.”
SOCOM is asking for technology proposals that are either on the drawing board or have prototypes ready for field testing.
The U.S. Navy’s Fleet Week has kicked off with a parade of ships, including patrol, destroyer and assault vessels that pulled into New York Harbor.
The U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hamilton military base held a salute to the ships on May 24. The USS Kearsarge amphibious assault ship carried out a seven-gun salute to Fort Hamilton, which replied with a 15-gun salute.
“New York has always had a close relationship with the military,” U.S. Coast Guard Anthony Giovinco, U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran and chief of staff and secretary of the United Military Veterans of Kings County Memorial Day Parade, said in a statement. “The sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are treated very well here. This is a tradition that is important to me. It brings back fond memories of the years I spent in the military.”
The USS Kearsarge was accompanied by vessels including the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Lassen; the Ticonderoga-class cruisers USS Monterey and USS San Jacinto; and Canada’s Kingston-class coastal defense vessel HMCS Glace Bay, among others.
“Fleet Week New York is a way for the general public to view and experience the maritime sea services while allowing us to show our appreciation for our Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen,” U.S. Army Spc. Tanner Butler, who is assigned to Fort Hamilton, said. “I feel, that since 9/11, it is really important for the people of New York to experience these things and to remember that our fellow Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen are there for us.”
New York City residents can inspect the vessels while service members are allowed to roam the city and enjoy perks such as free subway rides and baseball tickets. About 4,000 sailors,Marines and Coast Guardsmen are anticipated to participate this year. There will be a special screening of the 1986 film Top Gun in New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air Space Museum.
“Fleet Week New York, now in its 29th year, is the city’s time-honored celebration of the sea service,” the Navy said in a statement. “It is an unparalleled opportunity for the citizens of New York and the surrounding tri-state area to meet sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, as well as witness firsthand the latest capabilities of today’s maritime services. The weeklong celebration has been held nearly every year since 1984.”
In 2013, the Navy canceled Fleet Week due to spending cuts amid a sequester. The event would have cost the Navy an estimated $10 million, while the New York City metropolitan area lost an estimated $20 million in revenue.
McSally, the first female fighter pilot and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, told the crowd at the CSIS event about her experiences as an A-10 pilot laying down close air support for US troops during the 2000s.
“It’s an amazing airplane to fly, but it’s really cool to shoot the gun,” said McSally. “The folklore as A-10 pilots that we pass around is that we built the gun, and told the engineers ‘figure out how to fly this gun.'”
In practice, the A-10’s gun is actually more precise than even the newest, most accurate GPS or laser-guided bombs, which can often cost up to a million dollars each.
“In Afghanistan … we used mostly the gun,” said McSally, “It’s a very precise weapon and it allows for minimizing collateral damage and fratricide because the weapon’s footprint is so tight. We can roll in and precisely go after the target while it keeps Americans safe.”
On Aug. 15, 1944, a massive flotilla carrying approximately 200,000 heavily armed invaders surged from the Atlantic Ocean into Southern France. The men of the 6th Army Group were there to kill Nazis and chew bubblegum, and they were all out of bubblegum. It’s the invasion you’ve never heard of but should have.
The invasion of Southern France was originally planned as part of D-Day, but was pushed back due to a shortage of landing craft and slow progress of forces moving up Italy. By the time the allied armies were ready to make their landings, some leaders were pushing to change the plan.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wanted to use the resources and manpower dedicated to Operation Dragoon, as the invasion was called, to instead push harder through Italy or to land in the Balkans.
An Italian operation could have knocked the country out of the war faster. The Balkan operation would have robbed Germany of needed oil while also limiting the amount of territory that was gained by the Red Army, putting the other Allied powers in a better position against the Soviets after the war.
But Allied commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was adamant that Operation Dragoon should be launched to draw away German forces battling the Allied troops marching east from Normandy. Operation Dragoon would also deliver Marseille and Toulon, large port cities that could facilitate reinforcements and supplies for the push to Berlin, to the allies.
Army Group G began preparations to retreat in the first day of fighting.
By Aug. 17, Hitler had authorized the retreat and the U.S. 6th Army Group and the German Army Group G engaged in a chase across miles of southern France. As most of the American and British soldiers in the invasion pushed north to chase the Germans, a number of French troops swung west to liberate the ports at Marseilles and Toulon.
The Allied push north stayed on the offensive, liberating town after town. The American forces eventually met up with Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army in early Sep. 1944. The German Army Group G did escape with many of their men.
Allied casualties in the fighting approached 20,000 but the Allied forces captured 100,000 German troops while killing and wounding a number of others.
When most ships are decommissioned, they eventually will head to the scrapyard. Mostly, their fate is to become razor blades.
Others become artificial reefs, providing a tourist attraction for divers and a home for fish. But some vessels escape these fates for a more noble end: They are sunk as targets.
And that’s not new.
Back in the early 1920s, the United States used old battleships as targets to test how well air-dropped bombs could sink ships. In fact, since the end of World War II, ships have been sunk as targets – often to test how well current or new weapons work, or to provide crews with training that is quite realistic in using their anti-surface warfare systems.
The 1946 Operation Crossroads was perhaps one of the most dramatic examples. In two tests, the Navy detonated atomic bombs amongst a fleet of obsolete ships, including the Japanese battleship Nagato, the German cruiser Prinz Eugen, and the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV 3). A total of 14 ships sank outright, while the Prinz Eugen sank five months later.
Perhaps the largest ship to be sunk as a target was the aircraft carrier USS America (CV 66). This ship displaced almost 85,000 tons when fully loaded, and had a 31-year career, including service in the Vietnam War, Operation El Dorado Canyon, and Desert Storm.
On May 14, 2005, the America was sunk after the testing by controlled scuttling, which included remote systems monitoring the effects of underwater explosions that took place over four weeks.
The video below shows the sinking of a pair of Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates and a Newport-class landing ship. Often smaller systems will be used before they unleash the really powerful missiles – and last, but not least, the torpedoes.
Pugh was working as a commercial airplane mechanic in Kuwait, but was fired in December 2014. The next month, authorities say he purchased a one-way ticket to Istanbul through Cairo, where Pugh refused to let Turkish authorities search his laptop. The Turks sent him packing back to Egypt. Once back in Egypt, security officers found a number of damaged electronics. The Egyptians deported Pugh back to the United States.
Once there, Pugh told an undercover law enforcement agent he was indeed trying to join the terrorist group. Prosecutors say his laptop had Islamist propaganda videos on it, along with a letter to a woman he married in Egypt in 2014, where he vowed to “defend the ISIS.”
The FBI says Pugh converted to Islam in 1998 while living and working Texas. Former co-workers say he became radicalized, openly sympathizing with Osama bin Laden.
He was indicted by a grand jury in Brooklyn on two charges, including attempting to provide material support to a terror organization. Twenty-three Americans have been charged for trying to fight for ISIS. Pugh pled not guilty.
The US military dispatched several powerful strategic military assets to the Korean Peninsula Aug. 31 in a “show of force.”
Two Air Force B-1B Lancers from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and four Marine Corp F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters from US Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan drilled alongside four South Korean F-15 fighters, practicing bombing North Korea’s core facilities, according to US Pacific Command.
The B-1 carries the largest conventional payload of any Air Force bomber, and the F-35 is one of America’s top stealth fighters.
“North Korea’s actions are a threat to our allies, partners, and homeland, and their destabilizing actions will be met accordingly,” General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, Commander, US Pacific Air Forces, said in a statement. “This complex mission clearly demonstrates our solidarity with our allies and underscores the broadening cooperation to defend against this common regional threat. Our forward-deployed force will be the first to the fight, ready to deliver a lethal response at a moment’s notice if our nation calls.”
The display of allied military power comes just days after North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea/Sea of Japan and fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan, raising alarms. North Korea called the second launch a “meaningful prelude to containing Guam,” a reference to its early warnings of possible strikes around the Pacific territory.
The US has sent B-1B bombers ripping across the peninsula before, typically after major provocations by the North. While these aircraft are no longer nuclear-capable, as the necessary components were removed years ago, North Korea often refers to these aircraft as “nuclear strategic bombers,” and they make North Korea extremely uncomfortable.
The North perceives Guam as a forward base for a preemptive/preventative strike on its territory, so for Pyongyang, bomber overflights are disconcerting. North Korea actually cited the B-1B Lancer flights over the Peninsula as one of the reasons it plans to fire missiles around Guam in its own display of power. North Korea revealed earlier this month it is considering launching a salvo of four Hwasong-12 IRBMs into waters around Guam to send a message to President Donald Trump.
The Trump administration has been pursuing a policy of “maximum pressure and engagement,” which involves using economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table for a diplomatic solution. Trump, however, said Aug. 30 that “talking is not the answer” with North Korea, while stressing that “all options are on the table.”
Secretary of State James Mattis later said, “We’re never out of diplomatic solutions.”
US policy is unclear as the Trump administration confronts a problem that has puzzled presidents for decades and is now more complex and dangerous than ever, given that two decades of failed North Korea policy have allowed the reclusive regime to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to distant targets in South Korea, Japan, and even the continental US.
The 1911 pistol has been around for over 100 years. It is beloved by many for its ergonomics, accuracy and heavy-hitting .45 caliber round. In fact, some versions are still in service with the Marine Corps as the M45.
When something’s been around for so long, it’s also a safe bet that people are tinkering with its design. You can find 1911s in various calibers aside from its original .45 ACO, including 9mm NATO, 10mm Auto, and .22 long rifle.
In an article at PopularMechanics.com, Ian McCollum of ForgottenWeapons.com noted that during World War II, the Office of Strategic Services wanted something that could allow commandos and other secret agents to kill sentries quietly and at a distance.
This is actually very important because if the sentry sees you and sounds the alarm, he’s won. It doesn’t matter if he’s hit the alarm with his dying effort. That alarm could even be him dying very noisily.
The key to this was a two-part system that could be added to just about any M1911 pistol that was called “Bigot.” The rear portion was inserted through the ejection port. It had to be set up right to allow the M1911’s slide to close. Then, the piston would be screwed in. After that, a variety of darts – or even mini grenades – could be inserted for use in silently dispatching a sentry of the two-legged or four-legged variety. The darts and grenades would be fired by a .25 ACP blank.
Tests with a quickly-made reproduction were kind of iffy (only one-third of the darts broke a glass target eight feet away). It’s probably why the Bigot never saw any real action.
Still, if Buffy needed a little extra edge to dust some vamps or if 007 wants a gadget that makes for great cinematic eye candy, it’s probably a good choice. Watch the video below to hear Ian relate what we know about this nifty-looking piece!
This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.
Phil Ruddock had trouble adjusting when he returned home to rural Louisiana, disabled by a traumatic brain injury he received during an Air Force tour of duty during Desert Storm. He had all the classic symptoms of PTSD: “I drank all the time, I couldn’t get along with anyone, I kept checking every room in the house to make sure it was clear every time I came home, I got up and checked the locks on the doors and windows too many times to count, I was always depressed and pissed at the world, and I never slept. I drove my family so crazy that they wanted to leave,” he says with a country twang. “I still do some of those things,” he adds, “but it’s getting better.”
Sit. Stay. Lie down. They’re the words that helped him through his recovery.
Ruddock’s now assisting other veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan the same way he survived his night terrors and flashbacks — with service dogs. His nonprofit Brothers and Sisters in Arms is a boot camp of sorts based out of central Louisiana, where he’s teaching veterans to train their own service dogs, all adopted from shelters. The repetitive learning of commands works like physical therapy for disabled vets and gives them something to work towards. Once they’ve completed the program, they gain a loyal companion and a sense of accomplishment, “a pride that you can’t imagine,” Ruddock says.
“When a soldier is deployed or on base, they feel secure because they have all the other soldiers there watching their back. But when they are out of the military, when their spouse goes to work, their kids go to school and they’re left alone, they have nobody watching their back,” Ruddock says. “It makes them very anxious, paranoid. A dog turns out to be their battle buddy and watches their back. It never leaves them, it never judges them, it never asks questions that they don’t want to answer. It gives them unconditional love,” Ruddock explains.
A program connecting veterans and rescue dogs may sound cutesy, almost saccharine, but for Ruddock, it’s serious — vital even. He asks the veterans to list Brothers and Sisters in Arms as the primary contact associated with the animal’s microchip, rather than the owner’s home phone. “The suicide rate for veterans is 22 per day,” Ruddock says, about 8,000 every year. “If that dog would show up at a shelter and they ran the microchip, chances are that veteran is not going to answer his phone.”
Ruddock started the nonprofit in November 2012 after his personal experience with an abandoned pit bull. Following a nervous breakdown, he lost his job as lead clerk at the local VA outpatient clinic. His spent his days walled alone up on his remote property, until a friend arrived with a pit bull for him to train. “She was as beat up and as messed up as I was,” he remembers of his white-faced, brown-eared dog, Mia. “She kind of rescued me.” The dog sat in the passenger seat of his truck on rides into a nearby village and eventually gave him confidence to travel farther.
Within the past couple months, Ruddock logged more than 20,000 miles in his sojourns across the Sugar State, from Slidell, a town across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans that butts up against Mississippi, all the way out west to Fort Polk, an Army installation near the Texas border. Last year, he certified 31 service dogs, which are specially licensed after 120 hours in public, and 15 companion dogs.
At the pound, Ruddock seeks out the calmest dogs. “We look for dogs with a good disposition. We don’t want the ones that jump and bark and get with the other dogs,” he says. He generally avoids puppies — too much added stress — and certain breeds like German shepherds that can become overprotective if they’re not socialized regularly, but otherwise he’ll take every breed from a 20-pound Jack Russell terrier to a 200-pound mastiff.
Training sessions run one hour a week for roughly eight weeks, though he’s come to expect a few absences. “A veteran may have problems one day. Some demons may come up and he may not be able to show up. It may take a little longer,” he says.
Besides the essentials — what Ruddock calls good citizenship for canines (think: table manners for children) — the service dogs learn three main commands that are unique for handlers who still carry wounds from the battlefield. The dog learns to “block,” inserting itself into the space between the owner and somebody else so that a person keeps their distance. “Cover” sends the pup to its owner’s back or side, facing away as a kind of lookout that allows a vet to relax at, say, a counter or cash register. The last is “grounded.” If the soldier faints or has a nightmare, the dog lays on top of the owner and licks his face, prompting a welcome (if wet) return to reality.
Brothers and Sisters in Arms is different from many other groups that provide service dogs. For one, Ruddock doesn’t charge for his services or the animal. His operation is funded entirely by donations; the bill from other groups can run as high as $25,000. (“These guys get out of the military, and they’re just above poverty level. They can’t afford that,” he says.) His classes are all one-on-one, making it easier for vets who can be skittish around crowds, nervous about competition and failure. And every instructor is a former soldier, because, as Ruddock says, “There’s no better therapy than a veteran talking to another veteran.”
Ruddock wants to see the program expand across Louisiana. He’s already processing five to 10 applications a week, and he’s starting to get referrals from VA psychiatrists who can’t officially recommend a service dog but still send warriors his way. “It’s not about the fame or fortune. It’s about that feeling you get when you help somebody. The warm fuzzies, the goosebumps, whatever you want to call it,” he says of his motivations. “It’s about doing what’s right.”
It’s for the men and women, his brothers and sisters, that Ruddock keeps trekking across the bayous, working with soldiers, like the young man he met last month. “You can tell he’s had it rough,” Ruddock says. “He couldn’t even stand the sound of a loud car going by. He kept moving around and shaking. He couldn’t look you in the eye. He constantly looked down, and if he did catch your eye, it was a white stare like he could see right through you.” The man expressed no emotion, until Ruddock brought out a puppy. As if he was emerging from a daze, the man started petting the dog. He smiled, and Ruddock knew another soldier was safe.