Cards for Connection is a free resource that puts simple coping skills and VA phone numbers directly into veterans’ hands. Originally created for veterans who had experienced homelessness, the card deck has now been updated with information for all veterans.
As a result, veterans playing a game of cards read positive affirmations, reminders to breathe, and encouragement to make a connection with others.
Developing Cards for Connection
VA received input by veterans and that helped inform the VA staff that works with them.
Some veterans reported great feedback. Many wanted to see phone numbers on the cards, whether to see a doctor, find a safe place to sleep, or ask about VA resources.
Cards for Connection hopes to help Veterans cope with different situations.
“I like the feel of them. I was noticing the texture, it’s nice,” said one veteran.
Another veteran said, “I love this picture. If you’re in a [bad place], and you actually have a picture of something beautiful to look at, that’s something great.”
Veteran feedback will update future versions
VA will collect additional feedback on the cards via anonymous pre-addressed/stamped postcards. It will also collect from focus groups and anonymous staff surveys. VA will use this information to update future versions.
How do I get a deck of Cards for Connection?
There are about 8,000 decks available for any veteran who could benefit from using them. Requests for a deck from veterans can be sent to Katherine.Juhasz@va.gov.
Firefighters battle a fire aboard the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. John J. Mike)
A devastating fire continues to spread throughout the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, a US Navy official revealed in an update Monday, over 24 hours after the ship burst into flames.
Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, told reporters that the fire, which is believed to have originated in the lower vehicle storage area, has damaged the superstructure, collapsed the masts, and spread to the bow.
Sobeck said at the moment it is believed that there are two decks standing between a fire as hot as 1,000 degrees in some places and about 1 million gallons of fuel, but he said that while the risk of the fire reaching the fuel was “absolutely a concern,” the response team would “make sure” the fire does not reach the fuel.
With all the water that has been dumped onto the ship, the Bonhomme Richard is listing on its side. Navy helicopters alone have dumped 415 buckets of water on the ship.
And a total of 57 people, including 34 sailors and 23 civilians, have suffered injuries, such as smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. Five remain in the hospital.
He added: “We’re just going to get right back at it once we get this thing contained and put out.”
On Monday, he reiterated that he remained hopeful.
There are more than 400 sailors battling the blaze aboard the Bonhomme Richard. “We’re doing everything we can,” the admiral said, adding that the Navy responders would “make every effort to save the ship.”
Firefighters battle a fire aboard the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christina Ross)
‘Hell in a very small space’
The ongoing fight aboard the ship is intense. “Shipboard fires are enormously hard to fight,” retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former NATO commander, wrote on Twitter Monday.
“Having been through a couple, I can tell you they are hell in a very small space,” he said. With temperatures as high as they are in some places on the ship, sailors are rotating in and out on 15-minute firefighting shifts.
The specific cause of the fire is unknown and will likely remain unknown until the fire can be extinguished.
The ship was undergoing maintenance at Naval Base San Diego when the fire ignited.
“At least some, if not all of, the major firefighting systems are tagged out for maintenance,” retired US Navy Capt. Earle Yerger, the former commander of the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, told Insider. Sobeck confirmed that the Halon fire-suppression system was not active.
Furthermore, “in the yards, you have multiple cables, wires, and hoses running straight through passageways,” he said. “As a result, you can’t close the fire doors. Once [the fire] got seeded and got going, there is no way to contain it. It was like a chimney all the way up to the island.”
Yerger added that limited manning may have also hindered the crew’s early ability to fight the fire, saying that had the ship been at sea with a full crew, they would have likely had it under control in less than an hour. At the time of the fire, there were only 160 people on the ship.
While Sobeck has expressed optimism the ship could be saved, Yerger said the ship was likely too far gone.
“You’re not going to fix it,” he told Insider, adding that the ship’s future probably involved being towed out and sunk to a “deep point in the ocean.”
“Build a new America-class and call it a day. This ship is 23 years old. You’d be better off to start fresh,” he said, referring to the newer amphibs replacing the Wasp-class vessels. “Just let it go.”
Michael Fumarola didn’t see the rush of ocean as he sped toward the beach and toppled from his surfboard. He face-planted in the wet, goopy sand and gulped the salty water.
Red-faced and gasping for a quick breath, the blind veteran with multiple sclerosis from the Cincinnati VA Medical Center sucked in some San Diego air and couldn’t help but smile.
“That was great!” he yelled.
His instructor, Felipe Rueff, slapped his hands on both sides of his face.
“Atta boy! Do it again?”
Fumarola is one of more than 130 veterans from across the nation in San Diego, California, Sept. 15 to 20, 2019, for VA’s National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic. The annual event, presented with the Wounded Warrior Project, brings amputee, paralyzed, blind, and other veterans to learn adaptive surfing, kayaking, sailing, hand cycling and more.
Michael Fumarola gives a high five after coming in from the surf.
(Photo by John Archiquette)
Empower and develop
“This is one of the highlights of VA’s commitment to veterans,” said Dave Tostenrude, acting director of the Summer Sports Clinic. “This is one of those events that reaches a broader range of vets.
“What we’re looking for are vets looking to make changes in their lives, and we don’t care where they come from or what their issues are, we’re going to work with them, we’re going to empower them and develop a plan to be active at home.”
Dana Cummings, a Marine Corps veteran who only learned to surf after he lost a leg in a car accident, brought his company, AmpSurf, to the clinic to give the veterans one-on-one training.
“Listen,” he told the veterans before they hit the water, “Don’t worry. You’re going to be fine. I tried this before I lost a leg and failed miserably, now I do it all the time. It’s going to be a lot of fun and you’re going to have a great time.”
Cummings went over the basics of surfing, then vets, instructors and volunteers hit the surf.
“Hell, yeah, let’s do it!” said Brandon Starkey, a veteran who lost his leg in a car crash 15 days after coming home from Iraq. “If someone says they can’t do this, I call them a liar, because the only limits we have are the ones we put on ourselves.”
Fumarola was wheeled down to the surf in a special wheelchair with wide wheels, made to run over the wet sand.
“You think you’ll be able to do it?” someone asked.
“I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out,” he laughed. “I’ve never done it. But you gotta do it to find out. Someone doesn’t want to try it, that’s just B.S.”
Bobby Hutchinson says coming to Summer Sports was part of his transformation to get out of the house, despite an amputation.
(Photo by John Archiquette)
First time for everything
A few feet down the beach, Bobby “Hutch” Hutchinson, who lost a leg in Desert Storm, was still able to get up on one knee as he rode the surf to the beach.
“Hey, I’m surfing, or trying to, anyway,” he said. “I got up on one knee, tried to get up and kind of wiped out, but I’m having a blast. There’s a first time for everything and here I am. I told some friends I was doing this and they said I’d better videotape it because they want to make fun of me.”
But for Hutchinson, from the St. Louis VA, it was about more than just a day at the beach.
“It’s about getting out of the house and having something to look forward to,” he said. “It gives you hope, you know? It gives you something to try, something different. It’s always good to try something new and color outside the box.”
It was also emotional for the instructors.
“I’ve been surfing for 47 years and teaching for 11,” Rueff said. “You see these guys drain the water, riding it all the way into the beach, it’s great. There is a healing power to the water. You can’t tell because I’m all wet, but I get really emotional.”
Fumarola said it was an experience he’ll never forget.
“I enjoyed the hell out of it. I learned I can do it. There ain’t nothing I can’t do. Life is great. Love it! Live it!”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
“The Fighting Season,” is a six-part documentary from actor and veteran supporter Ricky Schroder and DirecTV. But it’s not just another war documentary.
The series culls out many of the hard-to-explain details of deployment in Afghanistan — the frustrations and setbacks and small victories. And in so doing, it gets it right.
“The Fighting Season” drops the viewer into the war without injecting any pretense or agendas. The film captures the nuance of asymmetric war, how soldiers suss out the difference between friendly locals and insurgents. It shows how the bad guys build an ambush against a backdrop of relative calm.
The infantry platoon talks about how happy they are that the Afghan National Police didn’t accidentally shoot them when the American platoon approaches the Afghan base in the dark. An American security team is in open disagreement with their colonel about how to complete their mission. The American’s sense of progress takes a major step backward as an Afghan National Police sentry allows a vehicle with an armed passenger right through their checkpoint in Kabul.
And the documentary feels like Afghanistan. It’s gritty and unpolished. The soldiers smoke, dip, and cuss. They forget to wear eye protection.
It feels like being back on the FOB and at the outpost.
“The Fighting Season” will debut on Audience Network Tuesday, May 19 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
In lieu of a traditional advertising campaign, DirecTV is pursuing a social media campaign using the hashtag #TheFightingSeason. For every post with the hashtag, they’ll donate $1 to Operation Gratitude.
Not many people could recognize Carly Schroeder June 27, 2019, at Fort Jackson’s Hilton Field. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed “Lizzy McGuire” and “General Hospital” actress who traded her red carpet heels for combat boots, blended into the crowd of roughly 450 other identically dressed soldiers as they walked across the field during their Basic Combat Training graduation ceremony.
“Army life is very different from Hollywood,” Schroeder said. “There are some similarities, but Army life is very uniform. Everyone is very disciplined and everyone is treated equally.”
No stranger to weapons training and the physicality of stunt work, Schroeder faced a new set of challenges during BCT. She faced marksmanship courses with the Army’s M4 rifle, daily physical fitness workouts, ruck marches, obstacle courses, learning to work with others as a team and a culminating event that tests the abilities and strengths of fellow soldiers to work together to successfully complete a set of missions — The Forge.
“The most difficult thing has to be between the ruck marches and food,” Schroeder said. “Before I came here I was vegan.”
Schroeder lived the vegan lifestyle for quite some time before enlisting, but adapted to a vegetarian diet to take in additional protein during training. While the military has always offered alternate meals to those with dietary needs, it can be challenging to find a wide variety of those foods within the BCT environment.
“It was quite an adjustment,” said Schroeder. “There was only one MRE I could eat, veggie crumbles.”
Spc. Carly Schroeder, center, the actress who traded her red carpet heels for combat boots, embraces her newly made friends during her Basic Combat Training graduation at Fort Jackson June 26, 2019.
(Photo by Ms. Alexandra Shea)
An MRE, or Meal, Ready-to-Eat, are daily rations that contain about a day’s worth of calories in a convenient to carry and store pouch. The MRE mentioned is Menu 11 — Vegetable Crumbles with Pasta in Taco Style Sauce. With a little help from some new friends, she “fare-d” well with field rations.
“My team mates really made sure they had my back and got the veggie crumbles for me every time,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder, like all trainees to pass through BCT, learned not only the basics of making a soldier physically but also social skills that allowed her to adapt and overcome in stressful situations and when finding herself in a foreign environment with new people. These skills empower soldiers to build personal and professional relationships quickly and units to build a cohesiveness that helps ensure successful future missions.
“Basic Combat Training was fun but hard too,” said Pvt. Mylene Sanchez, a fellow unit member. “The ruck marches were really hard, Schroeder really helped me a lot with them. She helped take some of the weight for me.”
Actions such as helping a buddy out with a few pounds during a ruck march exemplify one of the seven Army core values — selfless service. These values are instilled in each soldier from day one of training and they use them to build strong teams.
“Teamwork was the biggest obstacle for everyone to overcome,” said another unit member Spc. Joel Morris. “As long as you push forward and kept trying, it was a breeze.”
Schroeder easily cultivated relationships, even with those who knew of her silver screen time.
A camera crew from a nationally syndicated TV program interviews Spc. Carly Schroeder and some of her newly-made friends during their Basic Combat Training graduation June 27, 2019, at Fort Jackson.
(Photo by Ms. Alexandra Shea)
Schroeder explained how she didn’t talk about her time as an actress and how she wanted to blend in so people wouldn’t treat her differently. Eventually, word spread about her acting career, but her relationships with her team members was already cemented.
“She was an amazing leader,” said Pvt. Cindy Ganesh, another unit member who trained alongside Schroeder. “She took the time to go and help and teach. She was a friend, a real friend.”
Morris said, “she would kick everyone’s butt in combatives.”
As the 10-weeks of training came to an end with the graduation ceremony, the soldiers now face Advanced Individual Training. Some of the soldiers who met in training will continue on with fellow graduates depending on the location of their AIT training and their occupational specialty. Schroeder is a 09S — Commissioned Officer Candidate who will attend 12 weeks of tactical and leadership training at Fort Benning, Georgia before she is officially commissioned.
While the former actress is on her way to the next chapter of her military career, she is not likely to forget soon the friendships she built in BCT.
“They’re not my team members anymore, we became Family” Schroeder said. “We worked through 10 hard weeks together. It was brutal but it’s what we bonded over.”
When NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins arrives at the International Space Station this week, he plans on making one small change to his professional title, which will mark one giant leap for America’s newest military branch.
An Air Force colonel and commander of SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission, which launched into orbit Sunday, Hopkins, 51, is scheduled to transfer to the Space Force in a ceremony aboard the International Space Station. In so doing, Hopkins will become the Space Force’s first astronaut. The in-orbit, interservice transfer is meant to highlight more than 60 years of cooperation between NASA and the Department of Defense, officials say.
“If all goes well, we’re looking to swear [Hopkins] into the Space Force from the International Space Station,” Gen. John Raymond, chief of space operations of the US Space Force, told Space News on Oct. 28.
Aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule named Resilience, Sunday’s launch was the first step of a 27-hour trip to the International Space Station for Hopkins and his three fellow crew members. It also marked the second manned flight for SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which NASA officially certified on Nov. 10 for manned spaceflight missions. After a successful test mission over the summer, Sunday’s launch signals the beginning of regular manned flights aboard the groundbreaking spacecraft, which was developed and built by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technology Corp., the company better known as SpaceX.
The other three crew members on Sunday’s launch were two NASA astronauts, Navy Cmdr. Victor Glover and civilian physicist Shannon Walker, as well as Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
Sunday’s launch marks “the beginning of a new era in human space flight,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer, said during a press conference, adding that the commercial spaceflight company plans on launching seven Dragon capsules over the next 15 months, including three cargo missions.
A Missouri native, Hopkins was selected by NASA as an astronaut in 2009. He has spent 28 years in the Air Force and was reportedly nominated in June to transfer to the Space Force. Hopkins previously flew to the International Space Station in 2013 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, spending 166 days in space.
On May 30, NASA astronauts and US military veterans Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken launched into space aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, which was propelled into orbit by the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.
Known as the Demo-2 test flight, the mission was essentially an in-orbit shakedown of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to fully certify it for operational, manned spaceflights. May’s launch was the first-ever launch of a space crew aboard a commercial spacecraft, and it marked America’s return to active spaceflight operations after a nine-year hiatus following the last space shuttle flight in 2011.
The Space Force, which is the US military’s first new branch in more than 70 years, falls under the purview of the Department of the Air Force — a relationship roughly analogous to that of the Marine Corps’ falling under the Department of the Navy.
When the Space Force was officially created on Dec. 20, 2019, some 16,000 military and civilian personnel from Air Force Space Command were put under the new branch’s authority. However, those personnel officially remained members of the Air Force. The Space Force’s ranks swelled from two to 88 in April when 86 Air Force Academy cadets graduated to become second lieutenants in the upstart military branch. In September, more than 2,400 Air Force personnel were scheduled to begin shifting over to the Space Force.
The force now numbers more than 2,000 men and women. Recently, the first Space Force recruits began basic military training. At full strength the Space Force is expected to have about 16,000 people in its ranks. The Space Force’s personnel are currently spread out among some 175 different facilities worldwide, officials say.
The recent creation of the Space Force reflects a new era of warfare. With America’s adversaries, such as China and Russia, developing their own novel military capacities in space, US military leaders say it’s important to field a military branch solely devoted to waging war in this contested domain.
“Increasingly, free and open access to space is under threat. Though the United States will not be the aggressor in space, we will, we must, build a Space Force to defend our space interests,” Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett said Oct. 28 during a virtual address at Space Symposium 365.
Guess what? In just a few short weeks, you’ll have officially survived 2020. Congratulations! No, really. Congrats. Give yourself a pat on the back, or maybe a bear hug, because just making it through this year in (mostly) one piece is something to be proud of.
When 2020 commenced, I was fired up. I had big plans. Within months, my plans looked like they had been shoved through a wood chipper. Planning anything at all felt impossible. Who knew what grenade 2020 would throw next? Stuck in my house, I felt incredibly alone. Yet, I wasn’t. There were millions of others in the same boat.
Now, it’s been a full year since the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re all still in the middle of the ocean. Whether you’re adapting to working from home, figuring out distance learning, or struggling with unemployment, 2020 has probably found a way to make your life harder.
Some of us are in sturdier boats than others, but at the end of the day we’re all just trying to stay afloat. And that’s okay.
Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or just plain depressed is all too common this year. If you’re worried it’s just you, take a look at these sobering statistics. In June, 40% of U.S. adults said they were struggling with mental health or substance use, while 18.1% are coping with an anxiety disorder.
Mental health in children has worsened as well; 9.7% of U.S. children have been diagnosed with severe major depression. Among those between the ages of 10 and 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death. Not cancer, not heart disease. Suicide. Veterans are also vulnerable; since 2008, the average number of veteran suicides hasn’t dropped below 17 a day.
These ugly numbers send a powerful message: Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s an essential service.
If you’re one of the millions of people who struggled to stay positive this year, this message is for you. Feeling burnt out isn’t a sign of weakness, and when you are burnt out, it’s OKAY to take a break.
This holiday season, don’t worry about what other people want. Focus about what you and your family need.
Seriously. Be kind to yourself. If you put on more holiday pounds than usual, give yourself a break. It’s okay. If you don’t have it in you to plan your annual family photoshoot and send out cards, forget about it. Gather everyone on the couch, hold up your TP and hand sanitizer, and say cheese. If you don’t have time to meticulously wrap presents, shove em’ in a gift bag with some tissue paper. Done. Don’t grind yourself into the ground.
Expectations from family members can also take a toll.
Hosting a Christmas party is now a topic of controversy, and families are divided. Some feel it’s irresponsible. Others feel it’s non-negotiable. The solution? Again, do what’s best for you. The people who love you should respect your choice, and if they don’t, they’re not worth your time anyway. This is a live and let live kind of year.
Self-care comes in many shapes and forms. Do what makes you feel good, whether it’s going for a long walk, taking up a new hobby, or panic baking. If you want to dance like no one is watching, go for it. Literally, no one is watching.
Click here for more ideas on self-care during this crazy and complicated year, and be patient with yourself and those around you.
If you or someone you know is experiencing signs or symptoms of depression or anxiety, don’t tough it out.
The Air Force is now testing new, high-tech sensors, software, electronics and other enemy radar-evading upgrades for its B-2 stealth bomber to preserve its stealth advantages and enable the aircraft to operate more effectively against increasingly capable modern air defenses.
The massive upgrade, designed to improve what’s called the bomber’s Defensive Management System, is described by Air Force developers as “the most extensive modification effort that the B-2 has attempted.”
The Defensive Management System is a technology designed to help the B-2 recognize and elude enemy air defenses, using various antennas, receivers and display processors to detect signals or “signatures” emitting from ground-based anti-aircraft weapons, Air Force Spokesman Capt. Michael Hertzog said in a written statement.
The modernized system, called a B-2 “DMS-M” unit, consists of a replacement of legacy DMS subsystems so that the aircraft can be effective against the newest and most lethal enemy air defenses.
“This system picks up where mission planning ends by integrating a suite of antennas, receivers, and displays that provide real-time situational awareness to aircrew. The DMS-Modernization program addresses shortcomings within the current DMS system,” Hertzog added.
Upgrades consist of improved antennas with advanced digital electronic support measures, or ESMs along with software components designed to integrate new technologies with existing B-2 avionics, according to an Operational Test Evaluation report from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
The idea of the upgrade is, among other things, to inform B-2 crews about the location of enemy air defenses so that they can avoid or maneuver around high-risk areas where the aircraft is more likely to be detected or targeted. The DMS-M is used to detect radar emissions from air defenses and provide B-2 air crews with faster mission planning information – while in-flight.
Air Force officials explain that while many of the details of the upgraded DMS-M unit are not available for security reasons, the improved system does allow the stealthy B-2 to operate more successfully in more high-threat, high-tech environments – referred to by Air Force strategists as highly “contested environments.”
Many experts have explained that 1980s stealth technology is known to be less effective against the best-made current and emerging air defenses – newer, more integrated systems use faster processors, digital networking and a wider-range of detection frequencies.
Upon its inception, the B-2 was engineered to go against and defeat Soviet air-defenses during the Cold War; the idea was to operate above enemy airspace, conduct attack missions and then return without the adversary even knowing the aircraft was there. This mission, designed to destroy enemy air defenses, was designed to open up a safety zone or “air corridor” for other, less stealthy aircraft to conduct attacks.
In order to accomplish this, B-2 stealth technology was designed to elude lower-frequency “surveillance” radar – which can detect the presence of an aircraft – as well as higher-frequency “engagement” radar precise enough to allow air defenses to track, target and destroy attacking aircraft, developers explained.
It is widely believed that modern air defenses such as these are now able to detect many stealth aircraft, therefore complicating the operational equation for bombers such as the B-2, senior Air Force officials have acknowledged.
These newer air defense technologies are exhibited in some of the most advanced Russian-built systems such as the S-300 and S-400. In fact, according to a report from Dave Majumdar in The National Interest and reports in the Russian media, the Russians are now engineering a new, more effective S-500 system able to hit some stealthy targets out to 125 miles or further.
In fact, The National Interest once cited a Russian media report claiming that “stealth” technology was no longer useful or relevant – a claim that is not believed to be true at all, or is at least unambiguously disputed by many experts and developers familiar with stealth technology.
For this reason, many senior Air Force developers have explained that – moving into the future – stealth technology is merely one arrow in a metaphorical “quiver” of offensive attack capabilities used by the B-2.
Nonetheless, Hertzog explained that upgraded B-2 stealth technology will have a much-improved operating ability and “strategic advantage” against a vastly wider range of air defenses.
“With necessary upgrades, the B-2 can perform its mission regardless of location, return to base safely, and permit freedom of movement for follow-on forces, including other long range strike platforms. Modifications such as the DMS-M are necessary to preserve this strategic advantage against 21st century threats,” Hertzog added.
The DMS-M upgrade does not in any way diminish the stealth properties of the aircraft, meaning it does not alter the contours of the fuselage or change the heat signature to a degree that it would make the bomber more susceptible to enemy radar, developers said.
Many advanced air defenses use X-band radar, a high-frequency, short-wavelength signal able to deliver a high-resolution imaging radar such as that for targeting. S-band frequency, which operates from 2 to 4 GHz, is another is also used by many air defenses, among other frequencies.
X-band radar operates from 8 to 12 GHz, Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR, sends forward and electromagnetic “ping” before analyzing the return signal to determine shape, speed, size and location of an enemy threat. SAR paints a rendering of sorts of a given target area. X-band provides both precision tracking as well as horizon scans or searches. Stealth technology, therefore, uses certain contour configurations and radar-absorbing coating materials to confuse or thwart electromagnetic signals from air defenses.
These techniques are, in many cases, engineered to work in tandem with IR (infrared) suppressors used to minimize or remove a “heat” signature detectable by air defenses’ IR radar sensors. Heat coming from the exhaust or engine of an aircraft can provide air defense systems with indication that an aircraft is operating overhead. These stealth technologies are intended to allow a stealth bomber to generate little or no return radar signal, giving air dense operators an incomplete, non-existent or inaccurate representation of an object flying overhead.
Also, the B-2 is slated to fly alongside the services’ emerging B-21 Raider next-generation stealth bomber; this platform, to be ready in the mid-2020s, is said by many Air Force developers to include a new generation of stealth technologies vastly expanding the current operational ranges and abilities of existing stealth bombers. In fact, Air Force leaders have said that the B-21 will be able to hold any target in the world at risk, anytime.
While many senior Air Force officials have made this point in recent years, the ability of the B-21 to strike anywhere in the world, was something emphasized by Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, told Scout Warrior last year in an exclusive interview.
Naturally, many of the details of these stealth innovations are, by design, not available for public discussion – according to Air Force and Northrop Grumman developers.
The DMS-M program achieved a key acquisition milestone last year, authorizing the program to enter what’s called the Engineering Manufacturing and Development (EMD) phase.
“Major efforts during the EMD phase include the system Critical Design Review, completion of hardware and software development efforts, Integrated Test, and Initial Operational Test and Evaluation. Three aircraft will be modified during EMD to support the successful completion of this phase,” Hertzog explained.
The program plans on achieving 2019 Full Rate Production following this phase in 2019.
The total Research Development, Test and Evaluation funding for B-2 DMS-M is $1.837B to develop four units, Hertzog added.
The B-2 is engineered and built by Northrop Grumman; the major subcontractors on the program are BAE (receivers), Ball Aerospace and L-3 Randtron (antennas), and Lockheed Martin (display processors).
Total procurement funding for the B-2 DMS-M program is $832M to procure 16 additional units.
The Air Force currently operates 20 B-2 bombers, with the majority of them based at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. The B-2 can reach altitudes of 50,000 feet and carry 40,000 pounds of payload, including both conventional and nuclear weapons.
The aircraft, which entered service in the 1980s, has flown missions over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. In fact, given its ability to fly as many as 6,000 nautical miles without need to refuel, the B-2 flew from Missouri all the way to an island off the coast of India called Diego Garcia – before launching bombing missions over Afghanistan.
U.S. President Donald Trump expressed optimism on Jan. 10 that a diplomatic opening with North Korea that emerged this week in talks with the South could lead to broader dialogue to quell tensions in the region.
Trump’s upbeat mood after months of escalating threats over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development programs came as the UN Security Council said it welcomes “possibilities for confidence-building and trust-building on the Korean peninsula” that emerged this week.
“We have certainly problems with North Korea,” Trump said at a news conference, but “a lot of good talks are going on right now. A lot of good energy… Hopefully, it will lead to success for the world, not just for our country, but for the world.”
“Who knows where it leads?” he said.
The move toward dialogue began with an agreement between North and South Korea on Jan. 9 to reopen talks between their militaries and welcome a team from the North to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month at the first formal talks between the two sides in more than two years.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office on Jan. 10 said that Trump indicated in a phone conversation that there would be no military action of any kind while the two Koreas continue to hold talks.
The White House said Moon and Trump agreed that, as long as the North refuses to discuss curbing its nuclear development, the global community should continue to exert “maximum pressure” through stiff sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the UN council this year.
But, at the same time, the White House said, “Trump expressed his openness to holding talks between the United States and North Korea at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances.”
Trump has previously scoffed at what he said was the futility of talking with the North.
“You can’t get a product. You are not going to get a product for months.” That’s what Brian Edwards, a medical supplier in California, has been telling dozens of people per day when they call searching for critical medical supplies that, before this year, they took for granted would be in stock.
The Chinese government’s mismanagement of the novel coronavirus not only spread the virus worldwide, it shut down many supply chains that the U.S. and other countries had become accustomed to; indeed, that the U.S. deeply relied upon. As we consider how our post-pandemic country will look, we should be careful to avoid a repeat of these mistakes.
U.S. dependence on Chinese manufacturing was no accident. The Chinese government’s “Made in China 2025” strategy to consolidate manufacturing supply chains and impose itself as the world’s preeminent source of high-value manufactured goods has been well-known for years. While we have neglected to safeguard our industrial base, Beijing was aggressively subsidizing its country’s manufacturing plants and creating supply chains that maximized its economic and geopolitical leverage.
Some of my colleagues and I have worked the White House and the Department of Defense in the last two years to restrict purchases of Chinese-manufactured critical materials for use in U.S. military systems, and the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies have taken the first steps to stop Huawei and related entities from dominating next-generation communications hardware. But the COVID-19 crisis demonstrates that a broader approach is needed.
The U.S. government should develop better, near-real-time insight into supply chains. Occasional reviews of individual supply chains create blind spots that major crises will reach unexpectedly. With the tools that are out there, it should be easier than ever for the government and its critical suppliers to share data to provide resiliency and security.
The government also needs to take the lead in maintaining and expanding critical American supply capabilities. It will be crucial to prevent the pennies-on-the-dollar purchase of distressed American assets during or immediately after the pandemic by firms linked to the Chinese government. This includes many major Chinese firms (such as Huawei). The country that knowingly took steps that allowed the disease to spread worldwide should not be allowed to financially benefit from those decisions.
At the same time, the government should ensure that American businesses get the liquidity and capital they need to maintain and expand critical supply chains within the United States. This can be done through direct investment into manufacturing plants, but it could also be done by making purchase agreements and building national stockpiles of needed supplies. The much-discussed Defense Production Act allows the federal government to both expand and ensure manufacturing capabilities, and the id=”listicle-2645908630″ billion that Congress provided to the DPA program in the CARES Act should be promptly supplemented with the direction that the government identify gaps and fragile sectors of supply chains and build capacity to bulwark them against future crises.
Though the current focus is, deservedly, on China, we should not think that there are no other foreign countries that seek to identify, develop, and exploit critical gaps in U.S. supply chains. Russia has always been a leader in the production of critical defense materials and a known bad actor on the global stage. Indian companies are routinely cited by U.S. authorities for dumping materials in critical and noncritical sectors of the economy. As we have seen recently with everything from thermometers to toilet paper, though, the supply chains that we rely on for our normal lives can be stressed in any number of ways.
A strong national approach to securing our manufacturing base is a necessary step for security and prosperity. The federal government is the only entity both large enough and focused enough to lead this effort. Congress should, therefore, act quickly, as soon as the next stimulus bill, to establish a supply chain monitoring and investment framework that will get America back to work and provide for a cohesive and united future.
The reviews for “Suicide Squad” are in, and they’re a mixed bag, to put it politely. The film disappointed critics, but fans were more forgiving. What’s not in question, however, are military skills on display in the movie. That success is owed to Kevin Vance (of Vance Brown Consulting), a former Navy SEAL and professional military advisor for the film industry.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback there,” says Vance. “In terms of the gear we brought in, we had so much support. SS Precision, Vickers Tactical — the list goes on and on.”
He doesn’t judge what’s “good” and “bad.” That’s not his job. He can, however, understand the decisions made by the studios. Vance believes they tried to make a movie for the fans of the comic, like filmmaker Kevin Smith (who called it “dope“).
“I just know David Ayer and the film he wants to make,” the Navy veteran says. “He’s made so many great films over the years and has such a unique perspective. If he sucker-punches you while he tells his story, so be it. He’s not going to do it simply for effect. He’s going to do it to kind of smack you and wake you up”
Filmmaker David Ayer is a Navy veteran who hired Kevin Vance to train the cast of a previous film, 2014’s “Fury.” That film was about a U.S. Army tank crew in World War II. In the film, the experienced crew looses their bow gunner and gets a reluctant replacement.
“What was fascinating to me was Wardaddy’s (Brad Pitt) job was to really dismantle this young man’s sense of decency,” says Vance. “The resistance to becoming a functioning soldier was going to get everyone killed. The sense of decency is what he to break apart.”
Vance put the entire cast – Brad Pitt, Shia LeBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal – through a rigorous WWII-style basic training, complete with canvas tents, cots, and lanterns to protect from the cold, North Atlantic winds in the open countryside.
“I wasn’t there to train those guys to be soldiers,” the former SEAL recalls. “I was there to put them in a state of mind. I was there to make them fatigued, miserable, cold, hungry, pissed-off. I broke them down physically and mentally to build them back up. They suffered together to create a functioning group inside that tank.”
They did learn to work as a team in a real Sherman tank, Brad Pitt commanding.
“They’re tight because of it now,” Vance says. “They all still talk to one another; they do dinners together. I’m not saying that’s just because of me. That’s guys bonding.”
(Flag) and Will Smith (“Deadshot”) in 2016’s “Suicide Squad.”
“Suicide Squad” was a much different animal in terms of mechanics, actor training, and weapons training. The film was about individuals being individual characters working together. Vance and his fellow military veterans had two weeks and $50,000 in blank ammo to drill the stuntmen and actors to move like operators.
“I was there to get these guys functioning on a level that the audience can truly appreciate, that our peers will appreciate, and then create scenarios where other movies have not performed,” Vance says. “We build this foundation of physical skills then move into this other space which the actor truly needs to perform well – and that’s that mental space.”
To Kevin Vance, that means combat mindset, leadership, and the emotional, psychological, or physical scars a character would have. Vance and his colleagues provide the actors with historical examples and personal examples from their real-world warfighting colleagues so they can take what they want and need for their character.
“Will Smith’s character [Deadshot] is very different from, say Flag [Joel Kinnaman] or Lt. Edwards [Scott Eastwood],” Vance says. “We’re all looking of that life-test. We’re looking to truly challenge ourselves. I didn’t know what that was. I just got very, very lucky when an old book landed on my lap in college when I was 19.”
That book was about scouts and raiders during World War II. It piqued Vance’s interest so much, he read more and more, eventually coming across books about Navy SEALs. One day he met a Vietnam veteran who inspired and educated him. One thing led to another, and Kevin Vance joined the Navy and served as a SEAL from 1994 to 2003. The frustrations of bureaucracy and war led Vance into entertainment.
“We used to have we called the ‘vent book,'” he recalls. “Guys can work out and vent. Guys can use conversation these different ways. So we created this book which turned into, something turned it into something really funny. It’s like how would you fight the war if you were Dirty Harry?”
The SEALs on Vance’s team got really creative with the vent book. Vance know some video game producers with the blessing of his team, decided to pitch the book to see where it led. That turned into Vance and his fellow Team guys writing a “Medal of Honor” game for Electronic Arts.
When I asked Kevin Vance for advice he could give separating military members on working in Hollywood, he was quick to remind me that his case is unique, he’s a “lucky guy,” and that he just came from a 48-hour shift at the local firehouse.
“If you’re getting out of the military, first thing first is to have a plan,” he says. “Don’t make Hollywood your plan A. Hollywood is not a structured environment like the military is, like a fire department is. You’re left to your own devices in a world that is unpredictable and unreliable.”
Vance says success in the film industry is also hinged highly on people skills and mission focus. The military from the garrison to the battlefield is one and the same with movies from set to screen. Veterans could use that same decisive skills set to engage, inform, and aid their own communities.
“I think people are hungry for a challenge,” he says. “Look at things like Mud-Runs, challenges you can pay to get. We ask 19-year-olds, men and women, to be soldiers, to be ambassadors, and spend a significant period of their adult years overseas. The people in our country need help. They need true leaders. We need people who can inspire other people and motivate other people. That’s what this generation of veterans has to offer.”
Air Force pilots attached to deployable squadrons have started dropping real bombs off of their F-35s during training missions, according to a report posted at CNN.com.
“This is significant because we’re building the confidence of our pilots by actually dropping something off the airplane instead of simulating weapon employment,” Lt. Col. George Watkins said in an Air Force statement.
The inert precision guided bombs were dropped from airplanes based at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
The F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, could use whatever good publicity it can manage at this point. The test program has been plagued with failures at every turn, from wrestling with the millions of lines of code needed to make the cockpit suite communicate with the $500,000 helmet the pilot is supposed to wear to having to redesign the tailhook so the airplane will actually catch the wire across the flight deck and stop when trying to land on an aircraft carrier.
The program’s original “initial operational capability” or “IOC” date was in 2012, but that goal was missed due to setbacks. The overall program cost is currently at $400 billion, and that’s expected to go up to more than $1 trillion over the life of the airplane.
F-35 supporters marvel at the fighter’s “fifth generation” capability, which includes radar-evading stealth technology and data sharing between airplanes. Critics say the Joint Strike Fighter is a procurement nightmare that can’t match the A-10 as a close air support asset or the F-16 as a dogfighter.
Major Aaron Darty, 100th Maintenance Squadron operations officer, was presented the Bronze Star Medal at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 1, 2019, for his meritorious achievement while at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
Since Dec. 6, 1941, men and women who served in any capacity in or with the U.S. military, have been awarded the Bronze Star Medal by distinguishing themselves through heroic or meritorious achievement or service in a combat zone.
From March 3, 2018, to March 2, 2019, Darty served as the operations officer and maintenance advisor for the 442nd Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron. During this time, he operated outside of a coalition-controlled airfield, where he endured 29 indirect fire rocket attacks and was exposed to a persistent threat of insider attacks.
Even with all of the challenges, Darty was able to help execute more than 10,000 sorties during his year in Afghanistan, and he also helped set up a UH-60 Black Hawk maintenance training program, which allowed for the host nation members to become more familiar with this technology.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Aaron Darty, 100th Maintenance Squadron operations officer, poses for a photo at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 9, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brandon Esau)
“This was an outstanding opportunity for me and I learned so much about my job as well as myself,” Darty said. “I was able to work alongside great U.S. military members as well as extraordinary Afghan National Army counterparts who all shared the same common goal.”
Before arriving to RAF Mildenhall, Darty finished the 365-day deployment which brought its share of obstacles.
“Communication was the toughest obstacle we faced,” Darty said. “We received training in Dari, which is one of the primary languages in Afghanistan, and we worked alongside some of the bravest interpreters and people I’ve ever met in some of the most hostile conditions, and patience was my guide.”
Learning patience and understanding of other cultures was a major factor in Darty and members of his team being awarded the Bronze Star.
“Some things I was the lead for and some I did on my own, but this award is really for the 40-plus other people in the squadron who did the heavy lifting,” Darty said. “Our team consisted of Romanian, Swedish and U.S. service members from different branches – it was a truly joint, coalition organization.”
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Weme, 100th Maintenance Group commander, presents Maj. Aaron Darty, 100th Maintenance Squadron operations officer, with a Bronze Star Medal during a ceremony held at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 1, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brandon Esau)
Master Sgt. William Smith, 733rd Air Mobility Squadron production superintendent at Kadena Air Base, Japan, worked alongside Darty in Afghanistan and attests to his ability to lead a team with a common goal.
“It was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to work with a person of his caliber in a hostile and foreign environment,” Smith remarked. “Major Darty has an uncanny ability to bring everybody around him up, even in unknown situations. He was always calm in numerous high-stress situations where our number one priority was keeping our people safe and out of harm’s way.
Coming together as a team to execute the mission is, according to Darty, part of his vision for the airmen he works with here.
“My advice to them is always rely on the people next to you,” Darty expressed. “This was something I learned while deployed which I never learned anywhere else. We were our own security and even though we may not be getting shot at everyday here, you have to always trust the person by your side.”