America’s longest-serving bomber recently demonstrated the ability to lay down a devastating minefield at sea without putting itself and its crew in harm’s way, a game-changing capability should the US suddenly find itself in conflict with another naval power.
A US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress heavy long-range bomber out of Andersen Air Force Base on Guam dropped what appear to be new 2,000-pound derivatives of the Quickstrike-ER (extended range) sea mine during the Valiant Shield exercises in the Pacific, The Drive first reported Sept. 19, 2018, noting that the mine is powerful enough to bring down even the largest of naval vessels.
The weapons used during the drills were, in fact, new one-ton Quickstrike-ER naval mines, Lt. Cmdr. Darin Russell, the Valiant Shield Joint Information Bureau director, confirmed to Business Insider, and the test Sept. 17, 2018, was the first tactical test of the previously-unseen configuration. Valiant Shield is an exercise designed to strengthen interoperability and communication between the service branches, making it an ideal opportunity to test an asset like the Quickstrike mine, which is deployed from the air for use at sea.
The B-52 carried a total of four Quickstrike mines into testing and fired three, Russell revealed, identifying the fourth one as a spare. He indicated that the testing was successful.
The iconic bomber can lay down an entire minefield in a single pass without putting itself in the firing range of certain enemy anti-aircraft systems. The mines, general purpose bombs modified to serve as sea mines, are launched from great distances and typically deployed to relatively shallow waters where they could be used to render strategic waterways and ports impassable or inaccessible, as well as prevent amphibious assaults.
Using aircraft to lay mines is a concept that dates back to World War II, but at that time it was difficult to create adequate minefields with any real accuracy at high-altitudes. During Vietnam and the Gulf War, mines were dropped into position from lower altitudes with reduce airspeeds, putting aircrews at risk.
The first tactical test of a precision, standoff air-dropped mine occured during an iteration of the Valiant Shield exercise in September 2014, when a B-52H dropped a Quickstrike-ER, a sea mine variation of the 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition Extended Range (JDAM-ER). Known as Flounders, these mines can be put down by aircraft operating more than 40 miles away, an ability made possible by the extended range wing kit, the Diplomat introduced in 2017.
In 2016, the weapon was test-fired from an F/A-18 during that year’s iteration of Valiant Shield.
There is another short-range variant called the Skipjack which packs more explosive punch. The 2,000-pound Quickstrike-J can be deployed by any aircraft capable of carrying a JDAM. While it was first tested on a B-52, testing has continued with B-1 bombers and F/A-18 fighters, according to Defense One.
Whereas the older generation Quickstrike mines required aircraft to fly at lower altitudes and lower speeds over the target area, putting US aircraft in danger, the newer generation systems can be deployed by planes flying at the same tactical airspeeds and altitudes as those required for the JDAMs.
A 2,000-pound variant of the Quickstrike-ER offers the same explosive power of the Slipjack combined with the range of the Flounder. While the mine is being tested on the B-52, the weapon could presumably be deployed on any aicraft able to carry a JDAM, including the stealth B-2 Spirit bomber. US air assets could penetrate strategic areas and seal off shipping lanes and blockade ports with fewer mines.
American B-52 crews have actually practiced dropping older versions of the Quickstrike mines in Russia’s backyard, most recently in 2015 during the Baltops exercises in the Baltic Sea.
The ability to lay powerful mines from a distance would likely come in handy in a number of flashpoint areas, such as the contested South China Sea, where China is fortifying man-made islands. In recent months, US Air Force B-52s have made regular flights through the region, sending an unmistakable message to a rival.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A Coast Guard member became the second woman in its history to receive the Silver Lifesaving Medal.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Victoria Vanderhaden, a boatswain’s mate at Coast Guard Sector Mobile, received the medal for saving two swimmers off the coast of Long Island Sound, New York.
Vanderhaden received the medal in July. Photo courtesy of Facebook.
“It was 2018 and I had just moved to New York and was trying to hit every beach in the area. I hadn’t been to Fire Island yet but heard the sunset there was amazing. I have the surf report app on my phone and it said it was going to be six feet. There were people and beach deer everywhere. … But I saw two guys pretty far out in the water and it was like a washing machine out there [with the waves],” Vanderhaden said.
She says she slowly grew more alarmed as she watched and heard someone on the shore yelling “ayúdenme.” Although she couldn’t understand the Spanish word, Vanderhaden sensed something was wrong. Turning to the couple next to her, she asked if they knew what that word meant. They did: Help me.
Turning to the couple next to her, she asked if they knew what that word meant. They did: Help me.
Vanderhaden immediately headed to the water, instructing people to call the police and the nearby Coast Guard station. She took off her shoes, sweater and started swimming. The rip current was so strong, it pulled her to the first man pretty quickly. Since the other man in the water was in more trouble being further out, she let the first know she’d be back for him and to try to stay afloat.
“When I got to the next guy, he was freaking out and climbing on me a lot. I was propping him up on my knee, holding him and telling him it was going to be okay. I don’t even know if he could understand me. Finally, he calmed down and I started swimming with him, pulling and pushing him. Then, we got to the second guy and that’s when things got hard,” Vanderhaden said.
When she reached the second man in the water, he began grabbing at her in obvious terror. Managing him while also keeping the other man and herself above water was a struggle. It took about 10 minutes just to calm them down.
“I started pushing one and pulling the other. I couldn’t see the beach because it had gotten dark and the waves were so high. We finally made it to shore and then the guys were hugging me and thanking me,” Vanderhaden said.
She found out later they were in the water almost 45 minutes.
Once she finished giving her statement to the police, she called her senior chief who was the OIC of her assigned duty station. Vanderhaden just briefly told them she had to talk to police but didn’t go into detail of what happened.
The police thought she was assigned to Coast Guard Station Fire Island but she was actually part of Coast Guard Station Eatons Neck. For about a week, they couldn’t figure out who she was and the sector jokingly started referring to her as the “Ghost Coastie.” It wasn’t until her mom happened to overhear some of the story that the dots finally got connected back to Vanderhaden.
“It was about a week before anyone knew it was me,” Vanderhaden said with a laugh.
Roughly two years later, she received the Silver Lifesaving Medal, with the presenting officer being a familiar face: her father. Vanderhaden’s father, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason M. Vanderhaden, is the top senior enlisted leader for the Coast Guard. Her brother currently serves too.
“For me, the other military branches making fun of us is one thing but I feel people [the public] think we are just police officers on the water. But it’s so much more than that,” she said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Victoria Vanderhaden with her parents. Courtesy photo.
Vanderhaden’s father has served since 1988, making the culture of the Coast Guard all she’s ever known. She was asked if she thinks she would have jumped in to rescue the men if she hadn’t been a coastie.
“That’s a difficult question, because I don’t know anything but the Coast Guard. In my world and for all of people I live with and work around — all of us would do the same thing,” she said.
Then she added a recent conversation she had with a retired Coast Guard master chief who told her that some people think and some people do. He then said, the people who join the Coast Guard do.
After enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1947, Ernest Brace thought he was going to be a simple radio technician in a calmer, postwar world. None of those things happened. He was sent to flight school for the Corps instead and was sent to Korea, where he became a dive bomber. After flying more than 100 missions, he left the military for the civilian sector, only to be shot down while running arms – over Vietnam.
He would be held captive in Hanoi for almost eight years, making him the longest-held American POW in the entire war.
Adm. Noel Gayler, right, greeted Ernest Brace in March 1973 on his release as a prisoner of war.
By the time he earned his flight wings as a mustang military officer, the United States was committed to the war in Korea. Marine Attack Squadron 121 and Ernest Brace were sent there to fight in 1952. Brace would be there for almost the rest of the war. He flew more than 100 fighter missions over Korea in that time, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for taking incredible surface fire while raiding a power plant. He crashed into the Sea of Japan, but was rescued by the Navy.
Having enlisted at age 15, Brace was only 22 when his time in Korea ended. He was sent stateside in Maryland to train when he abruptly ended his own military career. He was accused of trying to fake his own death by crashing a trainer aircraft into a cornfield. Brace allegedly wanted his wife to collect his life insurance payout. When his flight uniform and other articles were found, he turned himself in. He was soon court-martialed and out of the military. But good men the military could trust were hard to find in the middle of the Cold War, so Ernest Brace wasn’t grounded for long.
Brace after returning from captivity in Vietnam.
Brace began flying planes for Bird Son, a company that supported government operations in Thailand, as well as USAID operations in the region. Most importantly, Bird was a contract operator for the Central Intelligence Agency at the time. In May 1965, Brace was the pilot of a PC-6 Porter civilian aircraft that took small arms fire while on the ground in Laos. Unable to take off, he was captured by the Pathet Lao and handed over to the North Vietnamese. After being tortured and held in stress positions for years on end, he finally found himself in the notorious Hanoi Hilton prison. He had attempted escape numerous times but was recaptured every time. After attempting suicide, Brace was sent to Hanoi with the other high-value POWs. His neighbor in the cells got him through by teaching him the POWs’ tap code.
Though he never saw his neighbor’s face, they were crucial to each others’ sanity and survival. It wasn’t until the two men met after their release in May 1973 that Ernest Brace met Lt. Cmdr. John McCain face-to-face for the first time. Their first meeting was at the White House.
Just desserts for a man whose service to his country never ended.
During his captivity, Brace’s wife had accepted that he was dead and had since remarried. So when he met a nurse in San Diego Naval Medical Center and fell in love, he could marry her after his recovery. They were married the rest of his life and had three kids of their own. Brace lived to the age of 83, dying in 2014.
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — If the 13 years of running Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has taken an emotional and physical toll on founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, he doesn’t show it. Watching him in action at the Democratic National Convention this week in Philadelphia is a study in determination and attention to detail. No bypassing staffer is too junior to be engaged, and no veterans issue is too trivial to be addressed.
“If you had asked me 13 years ago that if this far in the future it would still be this hard, I would have said you were full of it,” Rieckhoff says. “Everything is still too hard, from getting candidates to say the right thing to reforming the VA.”
He’s also concerned that philanthropic organizations haven’t responded to a national health problem that he compares to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
“This is like going to the convention in 1982 and people are kind of peripherally talking about AIDS when their friends are dying,” he says. “So if we accept that 20 vets are dying a day as a base point, we’re going to walk out of these conventions and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and these other billionaire philanthropic leaders are not going to be focused on veterans issues.”
Rieckhoff spreads the blame for the lack of progress on veterans’ issues — heath care and beyond — across several camps, starting with the commander-in-chief.
“President Obama has failed to provide the country a national strategy, and as a response, you’ve gotten fragmentation,” he says. And, by his reckoning, that fragmentation has taken myriad forms, including divisions among the veteran community itself.
“Too often VSO are having tribal fights when we really should recognize that we’re all really in deep shit because our demographics are our destiny and our demographics are bad,” Rieckhoff warns.
He goes on to explain that the veteran community is about to experience a “tectonic shift” numbers-wise because the World War II generation is all but gone and the Vietnam War generation is dying fast.
“We’re going to go from 12 percent in the population to, at some point, under five percent,” he explains.
In the face of this reality, Rieckhoff says that veteran service organizations and, more broadly, veterans themselves need to unify.
“My big takeaway in the wake of these two conventions is we have to find ways to be united and focused and we have to find ways to multiply our impact,” he says. “If veterans alone are carrying water for veterans’ issues we will lose. We’re just too small. There aren’t enough of us.”
That’s not to say that he doesn’t think veterans have individual impact potential; in fact, Rieckhoff is quick to point out that vets are in a unique position nationwide right now.
“If you’re a veteran and you walk into a Starbucks or a classroom and announce your status you’re going to get 2 minutes of ‘rock star’ respect where people will listen to you for a little while before they jump into their corners for Bernie or Trump or whoever,” he says. “But you have that opening that opportunity to try and be a leader and bring people together. That’s what veterans need to be doing right now. We can bring the temperature down. We can do it through credibility and patriotism and through our example.”
At the same time, Rieckhoff warns vets against being used as props.
“As a community, we have to be really wary about being used. If they want to throw you up on stage with someone, make sure that you’re getting out of it what you need because they’re going to get what they need,” he says. “It’s kind of like when you join the military, right? Uncle Sam’s going to get what he needs out of you. Make sure you get what you need out of Uncle Sam.”
The discussion pivots to the political sphere, and Rieckhoff is at once unflinching and bipartisan in his take on what’s in play for the military community.
“The conventions have been fascinating to watch,” he says. “I think what’s happened in the last four years is both parties realize that veterans make good populism. Last week you had Joni Ernst and a wall of veterans, this week you’ll have Seth Moulton and a wall of veterans. They know – Trump especially – that there is a huge populist undertone to everything veterans.”
But Rieckhoff fears the community may be squandering its time in the spotlight.
“We have lacked a real sharp edge of activism,” he says. “If this was 1968, vet protestors would be in the convention.”
He introduces a broader theme, saying, “It’s a very complicated psycho-social situation we’re in where our community has been asked to sacrifice over and over again, but the public has reasoned that those in the military are self-selected as people who are willing to sacrifice over and over again. You can send us on 12 tours and we’re not going to make that much of a stink.
“The bigger issue is the lack of precedent for the lack of involvement in our country in a time of war. There’s no precedent in American history for this much war with this small group of people for this long.”
That societal reality has yielded some things of concern, not the least of which, according to Rieckhoff, is the fact that there are very few veterans in positions of real power.
“None of the candidates in either party is a veteran,” he points out. “Neither chairman of the VA on either the House or Senate side was a veteran. Jeff Miller and Bernie Sanders can’t run around talking about how wonderful they were when they presided over the largest VA scandal in American history.
“Bernie Sanders used the scandal to pass the omnibus and Jeff Miller is running around with Trump, using his time on HVAC for that. That’s politics, I get that. But At the end of the day veterans are still screwed.”
Rieckhoff likens the situation to “asking a plumber to fix your television.”
He uses what’s going on at the VA as an example, saying, “Bob McDonald is an army of one right now. He’s getting his legs cut out from under him by the Republican congress and Democratic leadership won’t touch him, so he’s almost out of time. He’s a good man who’s tried, but likely he’ll be out. The probability is we’ll get a new VA secretary who’ll get nominated in February or March, confirmed in March or April, and maybe he gets to work in June. So, six months into 2017, we’ll have the vision of a new VA secretary.”
Rieckhoff wants veteran leaders “who are still on the sidelines” to engage.
“There should be a coordinated and independent effort to recognize that these are trying times politically and we need to have a new call for these folks to serve,” he says. “You had the ‘Fighting Dems” in ’06 and I told Rahm Emanuel that ‘you have a political jump ball here,’ and he didn’t see it.
“The Fighting Dems wasn’t started by the party; it was started by that crew – Patrick Murphy and Tammy Duckworth and Joe Sestak. That was the first iteration. Four years later the Republicans had their own round, but there was never really a coordinated campaign by either party to recruit veterans. There was a coordinated campaign to push out veterans and to celebrate veterans, but there’s not actually a farm team.”
Rieckhoff goes further, actually recommending a ticket that a large percentage of veterans would support right out of the gate.
“If [former NYC mayor] Mike Bloomberg and [retired Admiral and former CJCS] Mike Mullen started their own party tomorrow, a third of our membership would go with them . . . probably a third of the country would go with them,” he opines.
Rieckhoff sums the landscape up as “crazier,” and, again, he believes that presents a unique opportunity for the military/veteran community.
“We’re some of the only people who can go to both conventions and understand both sides,” he says. “That’s the powerful position for us whether it’s gun control, immigration, Islamophobia, gay rights, marijuana, or whatever. We can be a unique bridge builder between both sides. The Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements are great examples. The veterans community is on both sides of those.”
For all of the impact potential veterans might have, Rieckhoff is also mindful of negative stereotypes that exist among the civilian populations, something he blames in large part to “media laziness.”
“The only description the media had of the Dallas shooter was that he was African-American, and he was a veteran,” he points out. “Why? Because they have to file a story quickly and those were the only two things they could verify. That accelerated media cycle perpetuates lazy reporting. And when you have a vet who fits the stereotype they run with it.”
Rieckhoff exhales and contemplates the requirement to constantly attend to the pubic’s perception of vets, and that reminds him of the accomplishments of the community and, specifically, the legacy of IAVA.
“When IAVA started in 2004 the veterans landscape was a desert,” he remembers. “Now it’s a metropolis. We are very proud of the fact that a lot of people who come through the IAVA team have gone on to do really cool stuff.”
A quick review of the current roles of IAVA alums bears this out. Vet leaders like Abdul Henderson (now on the Congressional Black Caucus), Bill Rausch (now at Got Your 6), Tom Taratino (Twitter), Matt Miller (Trump campaign), and Todd Bowers (Uber) all spent time on the IAVA staff.
“We built IAVA to be a launching pad,” Rieckhoff says. “I’d rather have Tom Taratino at Twitter changing the culture than have him at the House VA Committee talking to a bunch of other veterans for the ninetieth time.”
But in spite of the challenges, Rieckhoff is bullish on the future of the veteran community.
“In 10 years, disproportionally CEOs are going to be veterans, candidates are going to be veterans, entrepreneurs are going to be veterans,” he says. “And that’s going to be exciting to watch.”
To keep the many men and machines in fighting shape during the World War II invasion of France, logistics technicians sure had their work cut out for them. Bomb, bullets, planes and tanks were top priorities, so there was little room for luxury items that’d keep the troops in good spirits while fighting Nazis.
And when a British brewery donated gallons of beer for troops on the front, there was no way to get it to the men by conventional means.
Enter Britain’s Royal Air Force.
In the early days after the Normandy invasion of June 1944, British and American troops noticed an acute shortage of adult beverages — namely beer. Many British soldiers complained about watery cider being the only drink available in recently liberated French towns. Luckily for them, the Royal Air Force was on the tap (pun intended) to solve the problem.
With no room for cargo on their small fighter planes, RAF pilots arrived at a novel solution – using drop tanks to transport suds instead of fuel.
The drop tanks of a Spitfire each carried 45 gallons of gas, meaning a plane could transport 90 gallons of extra liquid. When carrying fuel, the tanks were used and then discarded.
For the purposes of ferrying beer, ground crews set about steam cleaning the tanks for their special deliveries. These flights became known as “flying pubs” by the troops they served. A few British breweries, such as Heneger and Constable, donated free beer for the RAF to take to the front. Other units had to pool their funds and buy the beer.
As the desire for refreshment increased in Normandy, the RAF began employing the Hawker Typhoon which could carry even more than the Spitfire. Unfortunately, the Typhoon was often mistaken by inexperienced American pilots as the German Focke-Wulf 190.
According to one British captain, the beer deliveries were attacked twice in one day by U.S. P-47 Thunderbolts. The Typhoon had to jettison its tanks into the English Channel to take evasive action, costing the troops on the ground dearly.
The drop tanks also had a serious disadvantage. While they could carry large amounts of beer, the initial runs still tasted of fuel. Even after the tanks had been used several times and lost their fuel taste, they still imparted a metallic flavor to the beer.
To counter this problem, ground crews developed Modification XXX, a change made to the wing pylons of Spitfire Mk. IXs that allowed them to carry actual kegs of beer.
These kegs, often called ‘beer bombs,’ were standard wooden kegs with a specially-designed nose cone and attachments for transport under the wing of the Spitfire. Though they carried less beer, it arrived tasting like it just came out of the tap at the pub, chilled by the altitude of the flight over the channel.
To ensure their compatriots remained satisfied, pilots would often return to England for rudimentary maintenance issues or other administrative needs in order to grab another round. As the need for beer increased, all replacement Spitfires and Typhoons being shipped to airfields in France carried ‘beer bombs’ in their bomb racks to the joy of the thirsty crews manning the airfields.
When the Americans learned of what the British were doing they joined in, even bringing over ice cream for the GIs as well.
As the practice gained popularity, Britain’s Custom and Excise Ministry caught wind and tried to shut it down. Thankfully by that time, there were more organized official shipments of beer making it to the troops. However, the enterprising pilots kept up their flights with semi-official permission from higher-ups, they just kept it a better secret.
In 1775, the Royal Navy sent a fleet to Falmouth, Maine, the site of modern-day Portland, and rained heated shells down on it for eight hours, burning nearly the entire town to the ground — but also pouring tinder onto the burgeoning flames of American rebellion.
The idea was to cow the rebels into submission, but it was basically a Revolutionary Pearl Harbor.
An American ship resists a British boarding party during the War of 1812. Naval engagements like this were common in the Revolutionary War as American raiding parties stole British ships or British forces tried to enforce tax laws against American merchants.
(U.S. Coast Guard archives)
The struggle leading up to the burning of Falmouth began with the rebels and smugglers in the colonies blowing off British taxes. A 26-ship fleet was sent to back up the revenue collectors, but they had over 1,000 miles of coastline to patrol, and their efforts were largely unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. George Washington and his 16,000-man army had the 6,000 British troops under Lt. Gen. Thomas Gage pinned up near Boston. The British were getting frustrated as rebel colonialists repeatedly embarrassed one of the most powerful militaries in the world.
Amidst all this tension and simmering violence, rebels in Falmouth captured multiple British merchant ships as well as the commander of one of the ships of that 26-ship fleet sent against them, Lt. Henry Mowat, in May, 1775. He was held for ransom for a few days, but returned to his ship after town leaders pressured the rebel leader.
So, when the British senior command sent orders to the fleet to conduct whatever operations were necessary to quell the rebellion, Vice Adm. Samuel Graves ordered the elimination of whatever rebellious sea port towns that the Royal Navy could reach. Multiple towns were selected, including ones where residents had kidnapped or killed British officers.
Mowat returned to the town of Falmouth with four ships sporting over 20 cannons and ordered the town to evacuate before he destroyed it. The town petitioned for mercy, and Mowat conceded to delay the attack as long as all arms and powder, including artillery and gun carriages, were turned over and the residents swore an oath of loyalty.
Falmouth quietly turned over a few muskets, but then everyone just evacuated quietly. No one was giving an oath to the Mad King. At 9 a.m. on October 18, Mowat ordered the final evacuation. At sometime before 10 a.m., he ordered the flotilla to open fire, even though people were still visibly making their way out of town.
Heated shot was a great weapon in the age of wooden ships and buildings. Cannon crews would get their ammo from ovens where the shots were heated for hours, allowing them to stay red hot even when skipping across the water and flying through the air.
For the next eight hours, the ships heated cannonballs in their ovens, got them red hot, and sent them into the wooden buildings of the town. Whenever a neighborhood of the town failed to catch fire, the ships landed marines and had them get the job done up close.
A group of armed town residents attempted to put out some of the flames, and the winds were on their side, but the construction of the town made it nearly impossible. The town consisted of hundreds of wooden buildings, most of them packed tightly together. Fire spread from building to building, slowly but steadily.
In the end, over 400 buildings were destroyed, many of them homes or places of business. 1,000 people were left homeless and destitute.
Colonial leaders, even many of those formerly loyal to the crown, were pissed. State legislatures and the provincial congress ordered aid, mostly corn and other foodstuffs, sent to the families now forced to weather the Maine cold without shelter.
“In a word,” one reverend wrote, “about three quarters of the town was consumed and between two and three hundred families who twenty four hours before enjoyed in tranquility their commodious habitations, were now in many instances destitute of a hut for themselves and families; and as a tedious winter was approaching they had before them a most gloomy and distressing prospect.”
Revenue Cutter Service personnel prepare to defend their wreck against British attack during the War of 1812. In 1776, many seaport towns had built quick defenses like these to prevent themselves suffering the fate of Falmouth, Maine.
(Coast Guard archives)
The political backlash against the attack was real and immediate. Damage was estimated at 50,000 British pounds — converted to modern U.S. dollars, that’s nearly million. Royal subjects in Britain were outraged and those living in America were livid.
Even France, which was closely watching the progress of the rebellion in their rival’s colonies, was shocked.
But the greatest consequences came when former residents of Falmouth, their family members, and other outraged colonial citizens began turning up for duty in colonial militias. Other seaport towns immediately beefed up their defenses, making an attempt against another town nearly impossible to conduct without losses.
By the start of 1776, it was clear that the American rebellion had grown from an effort by an angry minority to throw off a perceived yoke to a growing revolution that would eventually hamstring the British Empire.
Falmouth, for its part, eventually re-built and re-grew into modern Portland, Maine. This was actually the third time the town had to re-build after a major fire, and it would happen a fourth time in the 1800s. The town seal now features a phoenix, for obvious reasons.
On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz or “The Rock” closed its doors forever. Although modern society may know its name because of famous residents like Al Capone and James “Whitey” Bulgar, there is a rich history beyond that. Long before the daring escapes of mobsters, it was actually used by the United States Military as a fortified defense. It would also become the Army’s first long-term prison.
Discovered in 1775 and mapped by Spanish explorers, Alcatraz wouldn’t come under the ownership of the United States until after the end of the Mexican-American war in 1848. Two years later an Army and Navy joint commission recommended that it be a part of a triangle of defense for the bay of San Francisco. It was then that President Fillmore signed an executive order reserving it for public purposes. That purpose was a military prison.
Captain Joseph Stewart and Company H of the U.S. Artillery took command over Alcatraz. It would go on to house Army personnel who had violated rules and regulations. Two years after the Civil War began, a confederate ship was seized and its entire crew imprisoned on Alcatraz. As prisoners continued coming, more prison structures were built.
Prison construction continued, eventually covering up the original coastal fortification that was built in the 19th century. Alcatraz was officially designated as the Pacific Branch military prison in 1907 and was renamed “Pacific Branch, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks” in 1915. It was considered the place soldiers would go for punishment and to undergo “retraining.”
Army prisoners would go on to build almost all of the buildings on the island. The last soldiers departed Alcatraz in 1933 when it became the property of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It would undergo some modernization and improvements before it opened its doors in 1934. A few months later, Al Capone would help make Alcatraz forever infamous.
The new federal prison became home to America’s criminal population that was deemed too difficult or dangerous to be anywhere else. It would house a total of 1576 men and there were 14 known attempts at escape. Alcatraz officially closed its doors on March 21, 1963, after it was decided it was just too costly to maintain.
Today, over a million tourists visit Alcatraz every year walking the halls and grounds of one of the most infamous prisons in history, many not knowing it was built by soldiers.
The Veterans Affairs Department’s watchdog said Oct. 3 it is reviewing Secretary David Shulkin’s 10-day trip to Europe with his wife that mixed business meetings with sightseeing.
Shulkin disclosed last week he traveled to Denmark and England to discuss veterans’ health issues. Travel records released by VA show four days of the trip were spent on personal activities, including attending a Wimbledon tennis match and a cruise on the Thames River. The VA said Shulkin traveled on a commercial airline, and that his wife’s airfare and meals were paid for by the government as part of “temporary duty” expenses.
A spokesman for VA inspector general Michael Missal described the review as “preliminary.”
Shulkin is one of several Cabinet members who have faced questions about travel after Tom Price resigned as health chief.
Curt Cashour, a VA spokesman, said the travel activities had been approved as part of an ethics review.
“The secretary welcomes the IG looking into his travel, and a good place to start would be VA’s website where VA posted his full foreign travel itineraries, along with any travel on government or private aircraft,” Cashour said.
The site lists Shulkin’s travel itineraries but does not detail costs to the government.
In 1935, Billy Mitchell, former U.S. Army brigadier general and airpower advocate, testified before Congress that Alaska was the most strategic place in the world. From there, he said, U.S. Army aircraft could reach any capital in the northern hemisphere within nine hours.
Much of that flight time was over unoccupied polar ice, as only the most intrepid of explorers ventured high above the Arctic Circle.
As technology improved, the coming decades led to increased civilian and military activity over, under and on the Arctic ice sheet.
Today, however, it is environmental changes that are leading to increased activity above the Arctic Circle.
Citing a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Arctic Report Card, a Department of Defense report to Congress in June, 2019, stated, “The Arctic’s environment continues to change, including diminished sea ice coverage, declining snow cover and melting ice sheets. Temperatures across the Arctic region are increasing more than twice as fast as the global average…”
The result has been the opening of sea lanes year-round, increasing both Russian and Chinese civilian and military presence near U.S. borders and the borders of its allies.
As an Arctic presence enables global reach for whomever has this strategic access, Russia has been reopening, fortifying and building new military bases in the region.
While Russia’s presence in the region has been increasing, melting permafrost beneath some of the U.S. Air Force’s most remote satellite tracking and communications facilities threatens its capability to observe and respond to threats.
The accompanying video explores how the Air Force is addressing the challenge of maintaining a strategic advantage in the Arctic, as this northernmost arena for the great power competition becomes more and more accessible.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
Good news for U.S. Air Force retirees: The service has expanded plans to not only welcome back retired pilots into active-duty staff positions, but also combat system officers and air battle managers.
To help alleviate its manning shortage, the service is encouraging retirees from the 11X, 12X and 13B Air Force Specialty Codes to apply for the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty Program, it announced May 23, 2018.
It could take in as many as 1,000 former airmen.
“Officers who return to active duty under VRRAD will fill rated staff and active flying staff, test, training and operational positions where rated officer expertise is required,” said VRRAD Rated Liaison Maj. Elizabeth Jarding of the Air Force’s Personnel Center.
“We can match VRRAD participants to stateside or overseas requirements where they’ll fill critical billets that would otherwise remain vacant due to the shortage of rated officers,” Jarding said in a service release.
Airmen who are currently in rated positions in those specialties but have already put in their retirement orders will also be welcome to extend their service in the VRRAD program, the release said.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brett Clashman)
The program expansion comes as the Air Force faces a growing deficit of 2,000 pilots, or roughly 10 percent of the total pilot force.
Previously, the VRRAD program — one of many efforts the service is making to ease the shortage — accepted only the 11X career field and remained limited in scope, said Air Force Personnel Center spokesman Mike Dickerson.
“The program was limited by law to a maximum of 25 participants and for a maximum 12-month tour, which limited officers to serving in non-flying staff positions,” Dickerson told Military.com on May 23, 2018.
Active-duty tour lengths have now increased to a minimum of 24 months and a maximum of 48 months, he said. VRRAD participants will deploy only if they volunteer, unless they are assigned to a combat-coded unit, the release said.
“Many who inquired expressed interest in the stability afforded by a longer tour. In addition, longer tours also afforded the potential to utilize these officers in flying as well as non-flying positions, providing more time to requalify and be effectively utilized in various airframes,” Dickerson said in an email.
To date, the 2017 VRRAD program has approved 10 officers, and five have returned to active duty, he said.
“We anticipate that will continue with the expanded authorities,” Dickerson said, adding the officers currently in the program could expand their tour lengths.
Some of the criteria for the expanded VRRAD program have changed: Eligibility applies to rated officers who received an active-duty retirement within the last five years or those in the window to retire within 12 months of their VRRAD date of application, the personnel center said.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Samuel King Jr.)
Airmen must have previously served in the ranks of captain, major or lieutenant colonel, and must be under age 50. Those who are 50 and older may be considered on a case-by-case basis. Previously, the criteria applied to those age 60 and younger in those ranks.
“Applicants must be medically qualified for active duty and have served in a rated staff position within 15 years or been qualified in an Air Force aircraft within 10 years of application for flying positions,” the release said.
Officers who retired for physical disability reasons are not eligible to apply.
The personnel center will accept applications for VRRAD until Dec. 31, 2018, or until all openings are filled, the release said. Those who return to active duty will not be eligible for the service’s aviation bonus nor promotion consideration.
In 2017, the Air Force asked for expanded authorities for its retention shortfalls. As a result, in October 2018, President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13223, which allowed the service to recall up to 1,000 former pilots.
For most Americans, Kazakhstan evokes images of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character, driving across America, uttering timeless quotes about his wife, his neighbor Ursultan, or those a**holes in Uzbekistan. Those interested in military history might want to look beyond Borat’s neon green bikini – it was a Kazakh who hoisted the Soviet flag over the Reichstag during World War II after all and until it was absorbed into the Soviet Union, Kazakh tribes remained largely undefeated in military history.
In 1969, a burial mound was discovered near Issyk in what was then the Kazakh SSR of the Soviet Union. The mound contained an ancient skeleton along with warrior’s gear and funeral treasures belonging to a long-dead Scythian soldier, estimated to be buried around the 5th Century BCE. Based on the funerary treasures, the skeleton was considered to be that of a noble, a prince or princess. Among those treasures was what has come to be called the “Golden Man” amongst Kazakhs – a suit of ornate armor made of more than 4,000 pieces of gold.
The suit is so ornate and valuable, the Kazakh government will only show replicas of the Golden Man in museums. The original is said to be housed in the main vault of the National Bank of Kazakhstan in Almaty.
The Prince is from a tribe of ancient Scythian warriors called the “Saka” who lived in the lands north of what is today Iran. While the ancient historians called all tribes living in the Asian steppe Scythian, the ancient Persians referred to those Scythian tribes at their northern border as the Saka. These nomadic peoples likely fought against Alexander the Great as his forces moved west. They also engaged Cyrus the Great’s Persian forces, killing him in battle around 530 BCE.
The Scythian tribes of this time were not dominated by men, and like their modern-day Soviet Kazakh armies, women would fight alongside their men. It was their Empress Tomyris who led the army that killed Cyrus. Descendants of these same tribes would resist incursions from early Russian, Chinese, and Roman armies.
So while it’s very possible the “Golden Man” wasn’t a man at all, the ancient, cataphract-style armor – armor used by nomadic-style cavalry units – is a beautiful historical work of art. The gold works depict snow leopards, deer, goats, horses, and majestic birds. These are all depicted on the likely ceremonial armor and form a clear basis for the modern style of tribal jewelry-making in the Central Asian country.
As for the bones of the ancient warrior, they were reinterred using the customs of the Scythian warriors of the time. The people of this area are still so very close to their tribal origins that they all know from which of the three tribes of Kazakhstan they descend.
Imagine the worst happens. The person you have loved, your service member spouse, dies. Maybe you have been married for ten years. Or maybe you have been married for fifty years. But you navigated the craziness of military life together only to be told you need to forfeit your Survivor Benefit Plan, the money meant to help you survive this time. This was a part of your deceased service member’s well-planned safety net for you, and the government has yanked it away at your most fragile moment.
It’s called the Widow’s Tax. But it’s not a tax.
Learn more about it here. The date on the article: 2016. But you’ll find articles and editorials on this topic for many years. No one has solved the problem beyond slapping band-aids on it.
No one is getting rich off of the government here. We’re talking widows and widowers whose lives could be greatly impacted by losing the up-to-$15,000 a year in payments they should be (but aren’t) receiving. And the widows and widowers behind trying to correct this error, they are only asking that we change it from now forward. They are not asking to get the hundreds of thousands of dollars back that some of them are owed. You read right: widows and widowers fighting for money that is owed to them.
Why hasn’t this problem been solved?
There are about 64,000 surviving spouses who are impacted by the Widow’s Tax. It’s a relatively small group, and that makes solving the offset harder because it can be easily dismissed.
These military spouses didn’t come from a generation of hashtags. They didn’t have the Internet to organize as a group for some time. They were in a Widow’s Fog when it came to sign papers. And, when they learned about this offset, they probably thought it would be quickly remedied because: why would anyone think two programs that are entirely not related would require forfeiting monies for an annuity they paid into for years? It certainly wasn’t mentioned when their spouse paid into it.
According to the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), a strong supporter of repealing the SBP-DIC offset: No other federal surviving spouse is required to forfeit his or her federal annuity because military service caused his or her sponsor’s death. Additionally, the offset does not apply to surviving military children. Only to the spouse.
Oddly, it also does not apply to widows or widowers who remarry on or after the age of 57.
In fact, the whole situation is odd and why it hasn’t been fixed, that’s the oddest part of all.
These military spouses have been waiting long enough. Now we must all get behind them. #repealwidowstax
This is the call to action!
Call Senators and ask them to cosponsor SA2411 an amendment to the Defense Budget Bill for 2019 with language identical to S.339. This amendment has the same language as S.339. This would eliminate the Widow’s Tax, which is the only insurance one purchases and then is legally prohibited from collecting. This impacts all active duty line of duty deaths and disabled military retirees who purchased SBP, whose SBP is reduced dollar for dollar by DIC, indemnity compensation paid by the VA as a small reparation and to indemnify or hold harmless the government for causing the death.