Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees - We Are The Mighty
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Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees

Congressional Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on a bill to make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire its employees, part of an accountability effort touted by President Donald Trump.


The deal being announced May 11 could smooth the way for final passage on an issue that had been largely stalled since the 2014 wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center. As many as 40 veterans died while waiting months for appointments as VA employees created secret waiting lists and other falsehoods to cover up delays.

The Hill deal followed a fresh warning from the VA inspector general’s office of continuing patient safety problems at another facility, the VA medical center in Washington D.C. After warning of serious problems there last month, the IG’s “rapid response” team visited the facility again on Wednesday and found a patient prepped for vascular surgery in an operating room, under anesthesia, whose surgery was postponed because “the surgeon did not have a particular sterile instrument necessary to perform the surgery.”

The team also found “surgical instruments that had color stains of unknown origin in sterile packs,” according to the IG’s letter sent Wednesday to the VA. The IG again urged the department to take immediate action to ensure patients “are not placed at unnecessary risk.”

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Honorable David J. Shulkin, visits the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, April 27. Shulkin, who visited the medical center for the first time, spoke with various providers throughout the facilities to learn about the medical care given at the hospital. (Photo by Megan Garcia, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Command Communications)

The new accountability measure, led by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., softens portions of a bill that had passed the House in March, which Democrats criticized as unfairly harsh on workers. Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, the top Democrat and the Republican chair on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, agreed to back the new bill after modifications that would give VA employees added time to appeal disciplinary actions.

House Veterans Affairs’ Committee Chairman Phil Roe, sponsor of the House measure, said he would support the revisions.

“To fully reform the VA and provide our nation’s veterans with the quality care they were promised and deserve, we must ensure the department can efficiently dismiss employees who are not able or willing to do their jobs,” Rubio told The Associated Press.

It comes after Trump last month signed an executive order to create a VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, with an aim of identifying “barriers” that make it difficult for the VA to fire or reassign bad managers or employees. VA Secretary David Shulkin had urged the Senate to act quickly to pass legislation.

The GOP-controlled House previously approved an accountability bill mostly along party lines. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., argued the House should embrace language instead from a bipartisan bill by Isakson from last year with added due process protections for workers.

The Senate bill to be introduced Thursday adopts several portions of that previous Isakson bill, including a longer appeal process than provided in the House bill — 180 days vs. 45 days, though workers would not be paid during that appeal. VA executives would be held to a tougher standard than rank-and-file employees for discipline. The Senate bill also codifies into law the VA accountability office created under Trump’s order, but with changes to give the head of the office more independent authority and require the office to submit regular updates to Congress.

Conservative groups praised the bill.

“These new measures will disincentivize bad behavior within the VA and further protect those who bravely expose wrongdoing,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director of Concerned Veterans for America, pointing to a “toxic culture” at VA.

The agreement comes in a week in which Senate Democrats are standing apart from Trump on a separate issue affecting veterans, the GOP bill passed by the House to repeal and replace the nation’s health care law. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., warned the House measure would strip away explicit protections to ensure that as many as 8 million veterans who are eligible for VA care but opt to use private insurance would still receive tax credits.

Many veterans use a private insurer if they feel a VA facility is too far away, or if they don’t qualify for fuller VA coverage because they have higher incomes or ailments unrelated to their time in service, said Duckworth, a combat veteran who lost her legs and partial use of her right arm during the Iraq war. A group of GOP senators is working to craft their own health bill.

“Trumpcare threatens to rip health care out of their hands,” Duckworth said at a news briefing this week. “The question left is what will Senate Republicans do?”

Congress has had difficulty coming to agreement on an accountability bill after the Phoenix VA scandal. A 2014 law gave the VA greater power to discipline executives, but the department stopped using that authority after the Obama Justice Department deemed it likely unconstitutional.

Critics have since complained that few employees were fired for various VA malfeasance, including rising cases of opioid drug theft, first reported by the AP.

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The F-35 and the US’s newest carrier are getting ready to dominate the seas

The F-35B Marine variant just completed important developmental tests designed to push the joint strike fighter to its limits aboard the US’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS America.


The F-35B proved it can perform its short takeoffs with a variety of weapons loadouts, some of which can be asymmetrical. These tests had been done on land before, but carrier takeoffs are a different beast.

Also read: The F-35 just proved it can take Russian or Chinese airspace without firing a shot

“There is no way to recreate the conditions that come with being out to sea,” than going out there and testing onboard a carrier, said Gabriella Spehn, an F-35 weapons engineer from the Pax River Integrated Test Force in a Navy statement.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS America and F-35B Lightning II Marine Corps personnel prepare to equip the aircraft with inert 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided test bombs during flight operations. US Navy

But even at sea aboard the America, which can get up to 25 mph, the F-35B performed as expected.

“As we all know, we can’t choose the battle and the location of the battle, so sometimes we have to go into rough seas with heavy swells, heave, roll, pitch, and crosswinds,” said Royal Air Force squadron leader and F-35 test pilot Andy Edgell.

International partners, like Edgell, participated in the testing onboard. While other nations lack the large deck aircraft carriers that the US has, several other nations, like the UK and Japan, operate smaller carriers that await the F-35B.

“The last couple of days we went and purposely found those nasty conditions and put the jets through those places, and the jet handled fantastically well. So now the external weapons testing should be able to give the fleet a clearance to carry weapons with the rough seas and rough conditions,” Edgell said.

“We know the jet can handle it. A fleet clearance will come — then they can go forth and conduct battle in whatever environment.”

However, another first occurred on board. The America’s weapons department assembled over 100 bombs for the F-35B to carry.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
Ordnance is prepared for an F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft on the amphibious assault ship USS America. | US Navy photo

For many of the sailors in the Weapon’s Department of the America, part of a new class of US carriers meant specifically to accommodate the F-35, this was their first chance at actually handling and assembling ordnance.

“Being able to do this feels like we are supporting the overall scope of what the ship is trying to achieve. Without ordnance, to us, this ship isn’t a warship. This is what we do,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Hung Lee.

According to sailors on board, the team went from building one bomb in four hours, to building 16 in three hours.

After a troubled road filled with cost overruns and setbacks, the F-35B finally appears to be nearing readiness.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea really is starting to dismantle a key nuclear site

North Korea has reportedly started dismantling rocket launching and testing facilities that President Donald Trump has said it agreed to in an off-the-books deal, and it’s a major US victory in what have been fraught, slow-moving talks.

Following the Singapore summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the two sides released a joint statement that contained weak and vague language around denuclearization, much to the dismay of North Korea watchers hoping for concrete action.


But in a press conference after the summit, Trump announced two bombshells: The US would halt military drills with South Korea, and North Korea had agreed to dismantle a missile test site.

More than a month since the summit, the US has kept its end of the agreement, but only on July 23, 2018, did the West get any indication that North Korea was holding its end.

Satellite imagery reviewed by 38 North, a website that covers North Korea, suggests North Korea is dismantling key parts of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, where Kim has presided over the launch of rockets meant to put satellites in orbit.

So far, a rail-based site for transporting the rockets and a vertical engine testing stand have been dismantled, 38 North reports.

In absolute terms, this represents only a tiny fraction of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure. But the action there has key components that may give cause for hope.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Sohae Space Center for the testing of a new engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

(KCNA photo)

These sites are vital

North Korea, in past negotiations with the US, has proved extremely lawyerly and adept at finding loopholes in its agreements.

In 2012, when Kim had just taken power, the US under President Barack Obama negotiated a freeze on North Korean missile testing. Later, North Korea announced it would instead launch a rocket intended to carry a satellite into orbit.

Satellite launch vehicles are not missiles. They deliver a satellite into orbit, rather than an explosive payload to a target.

But both satellite launch vehicles and long-range missiles use rocket engines to propel themselves into space, meaning that working on one is much the same as working on the other.

The US, troubled by this obvious betrayal of the spirit of the agreement, then exited the deal.

By removing the rail infrastructure to set up satellite vehicle launches, North Korea may have signaled it won’t look to exploit the same loopholes that have wrecked past deals.

At Sohae, where cranes have been spotted tearing down an engine testing stand, the North Koreans have previously worked to develop engines for their intercontinental ballistic missiles.

ICBMs threaten the US homeland in a way that could fray US alliances in Asia and eventually even unseat the US as a dominant power in the region. As Business Insider previously reported, freezing North Korea’s ICBM program has been a key focus of the Pentagon for years.

Only a small amount of actual work has taken place in dismantling the sites, but the significance of the sites, and their place in Trump and Kim’s budding relationship, gives reason for hope.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and United States President Donald Trump.

(White House photo)

Confidence-building

So far, North Korea has dragged its feet even on simple tasks, like returning some remains of US troops killed in the Korean War, despite promising immediate action.

Since the Singapore summit, satellite imagery has picked up signs that North Korea may actually have advanced its nuclear and missile programs. When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Korea recently, Kim didn’t meet him and instead toured a potato farm.

Kim sent Trump a nice letter in mid-July 2018, but it contained no specifics on the US’s declared goal of denuclearization.

Trump said he negotiated the closing of these facilities with Kim after the joint declaration was signed, but North Korea waited over a month before delivering.

During that time, Trump repeatedly stressed that he believed North Korea would follow through based on his personal read of Kim’s personality.

In that way, North Korea has kept its direct promise to Trump and demonstrated, for perhaps the first time, a real willingness to scale back the key parts of its missile system.

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

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US sends carrier strike group to mix it up in the South China Sea

The US Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 1 recently arrived in the South China Sea to promote freedom of travel on the high seas, as China tightens its grip on the region with its increasingly potent navy.


The strike group includes the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, an entire destroyer squadron, and an additional Arleigh Burke class destroyer.

A US Navy carrier strike group represents one of the most powerful naval units in the world, and China has taken notice.

Related: What it might look like if an American and Chinese carrier went toe-to-toe

“China respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, which countries enjoy under international law, but firmly opposes any country’s attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight,” said Geng Shuang, a spokesman China’s Foreign Ministry, according to CNN.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
An SH-60F Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 15 flies past the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during an air power demonstration. | US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James R. Evans

Indeed, China’s military doctrine even goes as far as permitting a first strike against threats to China’s sovereignty, but the USS Carl Vinson has been operating in the South China Sea for decades.

But the move to promote freedom of navigation in the South China Sea comes as China has all but nailed down the region as firmly within its control. China owns a series of artificial islands, which satellite images show it has militarized with missile launchers and radar outposts.

The US takes no side in the dispute between China and six other nations over who owns what in the region but has repeatedly expressed interest in preserving freedom of navigation in an area with vast oil reserves and about $5 trillion in annual shipping.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
USS Ronald Reagan steams in formation with ships from Carrier Strike Group Five and the Republic of Korea Navy during exercise Invincible Spirit, October 2016. | US Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke

At an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit on Sunday, leaders from the region tried to develop a framework for a code of conduct in the heavily contested South China Sea, but found the process “has become virtually moot and academic,” former Philippines National Security Adviser Roilo Golez told ABS-CBN news

“I expect China to still resist the finalization and approval (of a code of conduct) so that China can further militarize the artificial islands with the placement of offensive medium-range and long-range missiles,” said Golez.

The US deployment to the South China Sea comes just days after Chinese warships withdrew from military drills in the region.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This Marine found a way to turn his MREs into home-cooked meals

Keeping the troops well fed is a big part of how the military works, and Navy veteran and pop-up chef August Dannehl knows this better than most. In the WATM series “Thank You For Your Service” Augie cooks a four-course meal for his fellow vets, and each course is inspired by a veteran story from his or her time in uniform.


In this episode David Burnell remembers the times when he was a Marine, and he learned to enjoy a self-made concoction of mac and cheese using the jalapeño cheese packet and spaghetti noodle pack from the MRE.  Here’s the recipe that chef August cooked together for David:

Habanero Mac and Cheese w/ Truffle, Leek and 3 Cheeses

Inspired by MRE Jalapeño Cheese Packet and Spaghetti Noodles

Ingredients

Salt and Pepper to Taste

1 Tsp. Olive Oil

1/2 Stick Unsalted Butter

1/4 Cup AP Flour

2 Cups Whole Milk

1 Cup Half Half

1 Tsp. Sweet Paprika

1 lb. Conchiglie (or shell pasta)

1 Cup Shredded Gruyère Cheese

1 Cup Shredded English White Cheddar(sharpest available)

1 Cup Shredded Monterey Jack Cheese

2 Tsp. Truffle Puree Preserves (or oil)

1 Large Leek

1 Large Habanero

2 Tbls. of Green Onion (for garnish)

Prepare

Prepare the leek by splitting down lengthwise and soaking in cold water for 20 mins. Then shake out all silt from the leaves, discard the top, dark-green part and chop the rest.

Boil pasta in large saucepan of salted water until not quite al dente, about 2 minutes less than the package instructions. Drain and transfer to large bowl and dress with olive oil.

Seed and stem Habanero then julienne into tiny slices. Place into bowl of hot water and let steep for 1 hr (this removes some of the heat from the chili).

Make the cheese sauce by bringing a large saucepan to medium-high heat and melt 4 Tbs. butter. Add leaks and habanero and sweat for 5 mins.

Add flour and paprika and cook until no visible flour remains, about 2-3 mins. Whisk in milk and half half and large pinch of salt and bring to boil then simmer whisking out any lumps, about 4 minutes.

Add truffle puree and all cheeses and stir until smooth.

Once smooth, add pasta to sauce and mix until incorporated.

Add salt and pepper to taste and let stand 5 minutes before service.

Add pinch of sliced green onions for garnish and serve.

MIGHTY TRENDING

11,000 pounds of hashish seized by US warship

The guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) interdicted a shipment of narcotics aboard a stateless vessel while conducting maritime security operations in the international waters of the Gulf of Aden, Dec. 27, 2018.

Chung-Hoon’s visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team seized over 11,000 pounds of hashish while conducting a flag verification boarding.


“We have been conducting maritime security operations along suspected maritime smuggling routes in order to interdict illicit shipments into Yemen and Somalia,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Brent Jackson, commanding officer of Chung-Hoon. “It’s critical in an effort to curb the ongoing shipments of illicit weapons and narcotics. I am grateful that Chung-Hoon was able to play a small part in an ongoing effort to deter and limit these illicit shipments of contraband.”

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees

USS Chung-Hoon’s visit, board, search and seizure team board a stateless dhow that was transporting 11,000 pounds of illicit drugs in the international waters of the Gulf of Aden.

(US Navy photo)

The vessel was determined to be stateless following a flag verification boarding, conducted in accordance with customary international law. The vessel and its crew were allowed to depart once the narcotics were seized.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees

USS Chung-Hoon’s visit, board, search and seizure team prepare to board a stateless dhow.

(US Navy photo)

Chung-Hoon is one of the many ships currently conducting maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet. Maritime security operations as conducted by the U.S. Navy entail routine patrols to determine pattern of life in the maritime as well as enhance mariner-to-mariner relations. The relationships built as a result allow the U.S. Navy to disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that often funds terrorism and unlawful activities, and also reassures law-abiding mariners in the region.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees

USS Chung-Hoon’s visit, board, search and seizure team board a stateless dhow that was transporting 11,000 pounds of illicit drugs in the international waters of the Gulf of Aden.

(US Navy photo)

Chung-Hoon is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees

Aboard the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Chung-Hoon, U.S. Navy Yeoman 2nd Class Michael Rawles, left, and Intelligence Specialist 3rd Class Zachary Cervantes observe a stateless dhow found to be carrying over 11,000 pounds of illicit drugs.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Logan C. Kellums)


The U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses nearly 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The region is comprised of 20 countries and includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab-al-Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.

This article originally appeared on the United States Navy. Follow @USNavy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. wants the Pakistani military to increase counterterrorism

US leaders are now asking Pakistan to increase its counterterrorism activity and further collaborate with the Dept. of Defense when it comes to attacking Jihadists in their country and advance prospects for increased peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford recently met with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Bajwa in Islamabad to discuss heightened cooperation between their two countries.

“Secretary Pompeo emphasized the important role Pakistan could play in bringing about a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, and conveyed the need for Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace,” State Dept. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a written statement.


The meeting takes place within a broader context of ambiguity characterizing US-Pakistani relations, a connection which encompasses both tensions and successful military-to-military counter-jihadist cooperation.

Within Pakistan, there appears to be two interwoven, yet distinct trajectories; US officials and Pakistani security experts say that the Pakistani military has had substantial success attacking jihadists within their borders. At the same time, many US officials continue to raise some measure of question regarding the level of Pakistani resolve when it comes to counter-jihadist initiatives. Further, some are also raising questions about the actual depth of Pakistan’s alliance with the United States, particularly given the country’s interest in addressing the India-Pakistan conflicts regarding the contested Kashmir region.

Pompeo and Dunford, being aware of President Trump’s stated concern that Pakistan might harbor jihadists, both cited increased military-to-military relationships as central to future progress in the region.

“On the surface, they say they want to cooperate…. So what we are looking for is the actions to back that up ,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staft Gen. Joe Dunford, according to a Pentagon report.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo meets with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sept. 5, 2018.

Former Secretary of State spokesman Jamie Rubin is among those raising concerns about the actual extent of Pakistan’s allegiance to the US-backed counterterrorism operations. In particular, he has posed the question as to whether the newly arriving Pakistani administration, led by recently elected Prime Minister Imran Khan, will pursue pro-American policies.

Multiple counterterrorism and security experts familiar with operations in the region have said that part of the ambiguity or apparent contradictory sensibilities within Pakistan emerges, in large measure, from Pakistani entities operating separately from a military-led government infrastructure.

Rubin made the argument that instances wherein Pakistani entities appear to be sustaining some degree of alliance with Afghan and Pakistani jihadists are due to the country’s highly-prioritized anti-India stance.

Specifically, Pakistani jihadists are, according to many expert estimates, believed to be involved in various counter-Indian initiatives. Also, Rubin maintained that some portion of Pakistanis seek to maintain an ability to have safe harbor in Afghanistan in the event that their country is overrun by Indian forces.

Citing the currently incoming new Pakistani administration, Rubin raised the question as to whether there were enough “pro-Americans” within Pakistani government. He wondered whether there was instability and tension separating Pakistani military leadership and other political ambitions held by some in the country.

Pakistani security officials involved in maintaining counterterrorism support and security within the country say an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis, including government officials, are what he called “moderates.”

“The rhetoric in Pakistan is moderate and not one of an extremist Pakistan. That is in everyone’s interests,” said Ikram Sehgal, Chairman of an international security firm called the Pathfinder Group.

At the same time, Sehgal also cited the importance of Pakistan’s relationship with Iran and other regional neighbors, adding “our best stance is to be neutral and not take sides.”

Meanwhile, US military officials emphasize that the current Trump administration is deeply invested in improving US-Pakistani military and diplomatic cooperation with a particular dual-pronged approach of both seeking peace in Afghanistan and stepping up Pakistani military counterinsurgency attacks against jihadists.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo arrives in Islamabad, Pakistan on Sept. 5, 2018.

Also, operating beneath the shadow of a widely-discussed war in Afghanistan, the Pakistani military has quietly been aggressively attacking jihadi terrorists, Taliban forces and other enemies in the mountainous tri-border region spanning Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, according to Sehgal.

Pakistani military missions, which have for quite some time been existing below the radar of greater international consciousness and focus, have by no means been uncomplicated. Many successes have been met with challenges and an ebb-and-flow often associated with complex counterinsurgency operations against a mix of enemy forces.

Nonetheless, despite the overwhelmingly circulated narrative that jihadist enemies continue to find safe-harbor in Pakistan, jihadi insurgent forces have consistently been attacked and removed from the area by the Pakistani military, Sehgal said.

Operating with weapons, intelligence assistance, and training support from the US military, Pakistani military activity has lowered the number of jihadi fighters in the country from more than 100,000 years ago to roughly 2,000 today.

Along with many Pakistani experts and observers of the tri-border region, Sehgal does acknowledge that the situation in Pakistan is not without some ambiguities and complexities. However, despite an at times fragmented approach and periodic hesitations, Pakistani forces have steadily made substantial progress over the course of the last decade, he claimed.

Pakistani military operations have included raids, door-to-door searches of tribal areas and large-force attacks on jihadi facilities such as underground bunkers and command and control facilities; the attacks have massively reduced the amount of enemy jihadi fighters in the region, Sehgal said.

Sehgal added that, not long ago, Pakistani military forces attacked and destroyed a jihadist facility in the tribal areas previously known to harbor large amounts of insurgents.

“Pakistanis have been carrying out ops on their side of the border. We have not had an easy time as successful as we’ve been. We successfully carried out military operations against jihadi military facilities,” he said. “We have not had a single failure when we attack them directly.”

Also, the Pakistanis are currently fencing the tri-border area to stop the flow of enemy fighters coming in from Afghanistan. Sehgal said the fence will be finished several months from now.

Featured image: Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Bajwa.

This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.

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11 stunning photos from NATO’s multinational war game

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
A crew chief with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH-464) takes off from an airfield as part of Cold Response 16, March 1, 2016 at Værnes Garrison, Norway. Cold Response 16 is a Norwegian invitational previously-scheduled exercise that will involve approximately 15,000 troops from 13 NATO and partner countries. US Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Bryson K. Jones


Norway is currently playing host to a massive multi-national NATO exercise that is meant to enhance the military organization’s collective response capabilities.

Hosted in Norway’s central region, Cold Response is an annual military exercise. This year, the exercise will be comprised of 15,000 personnel from over ten countries. Some of the countries participating are NATO members Canada, France, and non-NATO country Sweden.

The US’s contribution to Cold Response 2016 include tanks, mobile artillery, and special operations units.

You can view photos of the exercise below.

Cold Response is a Norwegian invitational previously-scheduled exercise that will involve approximately 15,000 troops from 13 NATO and partner countries.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Rebecca Floto

The cold weather exercise is designed to enhance partnerships and collective crisis response capabilities.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brianna Gaudi

The operation is being held in Central Norway.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Immanuel Johnson Fmall RSS Icon

Marines with Black Sea Rotational Force maneuver across the Northern Trøndelag region of Norway to get into position for the Final Training Exercise during Cold Response 16.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
US Marine Corps photo by  Cpl. Immanuel Johnson

Swedish forces conducted reconnaissance during Exercise Cold Response 16 at Namsos, Norway, February 29, 2016.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
Swedish forces conducted reconnaissance during Exercise Cold Response 16 at Namsos, Norway, Feb. 29, 2016. CR 16 is a Norwegian invitational previously-scheduled exercise that will involve approximately 15,000 troops from 13 NATO and partner countries. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Rebecca Floto

Swedish forces conducted reconnaissance during Exercise Cold Response 16 at Namsos, Norway.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Rebecca Floto

Norwegian Coastal Ranger Commandos approach shore in an SB90 combat boat in Namsos, Norway, March 1, 2016.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
US Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Michael Freeman

The special operators transported distinguished visitors from shore to Norwegian Navy ships.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
US Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Michael Freeman

Marines from the Combined Arms Company support NATO allies and partners with ground-combat capabilities in the Namsos fjord during Exercise Cold Response 16.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
US Marine Corps photo by Master Sgt. Chad McMeen

A Marine amphibious assault vehicle hits the beach through the Namsos fjord, March 3, to support NATO allies and partners during Exercise Cold Response 16.

Congress wants to make it easier to fire bad VA employees
US Marine Corps photo by Master Sgt. Chad McMeen

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Apollo 11 astronaut and Air Force General Michael Collins passes away at 90

American hero Michael Collins passed away on April 28, 2021 at the age of 90 after a battle with cancer. Along with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Collins was one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who made the legendary trip to the moon in 1969. He also served as an Air Force test pilot and reached the rank of Major General in the Air Force Reserves.

Collins was born on October 31, 1930 in Rome, Italy. He was the son of a U.S. Army officer serving as the U.S. military attaché. As a military child, Collins spent his youth in a number of locations including New York, Texas and Puerto Rico. It was in Puerto Rico that Collins first flew a plane. During a flight aboard a Grumman Widgeon, the pilot allowed Collins to take the controls. Though this ignited Collins’ passion for flight, the start of WWII prevented him from pursuing it.

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West Point Cadet Michael Collins (U.S. Army)

When the U.S. entered WWII, Collins’ family moved to Washington, D.C. where he attended St. Albans School and graduated in 1948. He decided to follow his father and older brother into the service and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. His father and brother were also West Point graduates. Collins graduated in 1952. In his graduating class was fellow future astronaut Ed White who tragically perished in the Apollo 1 disaster.

Collins’ family was famous in the Army. His older brother was already a Colonel, his father had reached the rank of Major General, and his uncle was the Chief of Staff of the Army. To avoid accusations of nepotism, he opted to commission into the newly formed Air Force instead.

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Michael Collins as an Air Force pilot (U.S. Air Force)

Collins received flight training in Mississippi and Texas and learned to fly jets. He was a natural pilot with little fear of failure. After earning his wings in 1953, he was selected for day-fighter training at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada where he learned to fly the F-86 Sabre. Although 11 pilots were killed in accidents during the 22-week course, Collins was unfazed.

After training, Collins was stationed at George Air Force Base, California until 1954. He moved to Chambley-Bussières Air Base in France where he won first place in a 1956 gunnery competition. He met his future wife, Patricia Mary Finnegan, in an officer’s club. A trained social worker, Finnegan joined the Air Force service club to see more of the world. Their wedding was delayed by Collins’ redeployment to West Germany during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. However, they were married the next year in 1957. Their first daughter, future All My Children actress Kate Collins, was born in 1959. The Collins’ had a second daughter, Ann, in 1961 and a son, Michael, in 1963.

In 1957, Collins returned to the states to attend the aircraft maintenance officer course at Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois. In his autobiography, Collins described the course as “dismal” and boring. He preferred to fly planes rather than maintain them. Afterward, he commanded a Mobile Training Detachment and a Field Training Detachment training mechanics on servicing new aircraft and teaching students to fly them.

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ARPS Class III graduates (L-R) Front row: Ed Givens, Tommie Benefield, Charlie Bassett, Greg Neubeck & Mike Collins. Back row: Al Atwell, Neil Garland, Jim Roman, Al Uhalt and Joe Engle. Missing: Ernst Volgenau (U.S. Air Force)

Eager to get back into the cockpit, Collins applied to the Air Force Experimental Flight Test Pilot School. He was accepted to Class 60C in 1960. His classmates included fellow future Apollo astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Irwinn and Tom Stafford. The test pilot school put Collins at the controls of the T-28 Trojan, F-86 Sabre, B-57 Canberra, T-33 Shooting Star and F-104 Starfighter. Notably, Collins quit smoking in 1962 after a suffering bad hangover. The next day, he flew four hours as the co-pilot of a B-52 Stratofortess. Going through the initial stages of nicotine withdrawal, Collins described the flight as the worst four hours of his life.

Following the historic Mercury Atlas 6 flight of John Glenn in 1962, Collins was inspired to become an astronaut. However, NASA rejected his first application. Undeterred, Collins flew for the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School. He later applied and was accepted to the Air Force’s postgraduate course on the basics of spaceflight. He was joined by future astronauts Charles Bassett, Edward Givens, and Joe Engle.

In June 1963, Collins applied to the astronaut program again and was accepted. After basic training, Collins received his first choice in specialization: pressure suits and extravehicular activities. In June 1965, he was received his first crew assignment as the backup pilot on Gemini 7. Following the system of NASA crew rotation, this slated Collins as the primary pilot for Gemini 10.

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Gemini 10 prime crew portrait (NASA)

Along with John Young, Collins lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 0520 on July 18, 1966. Gemini 10 took them to a new altitude record of 475 miles above the Earth. Collins later said that he felt like a Roman god riding the skies in his chariot. On Gemini 10, Collins also became the first person to perform two spacewalks on the same mission. At 0406 on July 21, Young and Collins splashed into the Atlantic and were safely recovered by the USS Guadalcanal.

After Gemini 10, Collins was reassigned to the Apollo program. He was slated as the backup pilot on Apollo 2 along with Frank Borman and Tom Stafford. However, Collins’ future in Apollo was put on hold when he began experiencing leg problems in 1968. He was diagnosed with cervical disc herniation and had to have two vertebrae surgically fused. Originally slotted as the primary pilot for Apollo 9, Collins was replaced by Jim Lovell while he recovered.

Following the success of Apollo 8, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were announced as the crew of Apollo 11. While training for the mission, Collins compiled a book of different scenarios and schemes during the lunar module rendezvous. The book ended up being 117 pages.

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Collins goes through the checklist in the command module simulator (NASA)

Collins also created the mission patch for Apollo 11. Backup commander Jim Lovell mentioned the idea of eagles which inspired Collins. He found a painting in a National Geographic book, traced it, and added the lunar surface and the Earth. The idea of the olive branch was pitched by a computer expert at the simulators.

At 0932 on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted off. Collins docked the Command Module Columbia with the Lunar Module Eagle without issue and the combined spacecraft continued on to the Moon. Apollo 11 orbited the Moon thirty times before Aldrin and Armstrong entered the Eagle and prepared for their descent to the lunar surface. At 1744 UTC, Eagle separated from Columbia, leaving Collins alone in the command module.

While Aldrin and Armstrong performed their mission on the Moon, Collins orbited solo. During each orbit, he was out of radio contact with the Earth for 48 minutes. During that time, he became the most solitary human being alive. Despite that, Collins did not feel scared or alone. He later recalled that he felt, “awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation.”

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The Apollo 11 mission patch designed by Collins (NASA)

Collins orbited the Moon a further 30 times in the command module. After spending so much time in the spacecraft, he decided to leave his mark in the lower equipment bay. There, he wrote, “Spacecraft 107 – alias Apollo 11 – alias Columbia. The best ship to come down the line. God Bless Her. Michael Collins, CMP.”

At 1754 UTC on July 21, Eagle lifted off from the Moon and rejoined Columbia for the trip back to Earth. Columbia splashed into the Pacific at 1650 UTC on July 24. The crew was safely recovered by USS Hornet. As the first humans to go to the Moon, Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong became worldwide celebrities. They embarked on a 38-day world tour of 22 foreign countries.

Satisfied with his legendary space flight, Collins retired from NASA after Apollo 11. He was urged by President Nixon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. However, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Cambodia, and the Kent State shootings, sent waves of protests and unrest across the country. Collins did not enjoy the job and requested to become the Director of the National Air and Space Museum. Nixon approved and Collins changed jobs in 1971.

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The Apollo 11 crew (L-R) Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin (NASA)

Along with Senator and former Air Force Major General Barry Goldwater, Collins lobbied Congress to fund the building of the National Air and Space Museum. In 1972, Congress approved a budget of $40 million. With a smaller budget than what Collins had hoped for, he also had a short suspense to meet. The museum was scheduled to open on July 4, 1976 for the country’s bicentennial. Not one to back away from a challenge, Collins got to work hiring staff, overseeing the creation of exhibits, and monitoring construction. Not only was the museum completed under budget, but it opened three days ahead of schedule on July 1, 1976.

Still a member of the Air Force Reserve, Collins reached the rank of Major General in 1976 and retired in 1982. He served as the museum’s director until 1978 when he became undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1985, he started his own consulting firm. He has also wrote books on spaceflight, including a children’s book on his experiences. Collins enjoyed painting watercolors of the Florida Evergreens or aircraft that he flew. He lived with his wife in Marco Island, Florida and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.

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Collins’ Command Module Columbia at the National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian Institute)

Following Collins’ passing, NASA released a statement. “NASA mourns the loss of this accomplished pilot and astronaut, a friend of all who seek to push the envelope of human potential,” the release said. “Whether his work was behind the scenes or on full view, his legacy will always be as one of the leaders who took America’s first steps into the cosmos. And his spirit will go with us as we venture toward farther horizons.” Michael Collins will forever be remembered as an American hero and a champion for humanity on its quest into space.

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Collins meets with President Trump in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing (The White House)
Articles

Hundreds of enlisted airmen line up to fly drones

The Air Force has narrowed down hundreds of airmen in the running to become enlisted drone pilots to enter the next phase of the program.


The Air Force Personnel Center on Wednesday said 305 active-duty enlisted airmen were identified for an upcoming selection board tasked with picking the next enlisted group to attend remotely piloted aircraft training.

Also read: 5th generation fighters prove that tech is king

Officials didn’t disclose how many of those airmen will then be selected for formal training, set to begin in 2017. But they’re seeing a surge of interest.

The center received more than 800 applicants during this cycle. For comparison, the program normally gets around 200 applicants. Because of the boost, the center is processing potential candidates in groups.

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RQ-4 Global Hawk | Northrop Grumman photo via AF.mil

The Air Force last year announced it would begin training enlisted airmen to operate the unarmedRQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft. Officials in September touted that the Enlisted Pilot Initial Class, or EPIC, would begin on Oct. 12 with four of 12 total students training alongside 20 recently commissioned officers.

The formal training process spans an entire year.

“We have an incredibly talented pool of enlisted Airmen, and we’re confident that this rigorous selection process will yield excellent enlisted aircrew who will continue to provide combatant commanders with the ISR they need to win today’s fight,” Senior Master Sgt. Rebecca Guthrie, career enlisted aviator assignments manager at AFPC said in a release.

Candidates selected in Phase 2 “will need to get the required medical screening and commander’s recommendation and submit completed application packages to AFPC no later than Dec. 16,” the release said. If warranted, medical waivers will be due by Jan. 27, 2017.

The enlisted RPA pilot selection board will meet Feb. 6 – 9, with results expected by the end of that month, officials said.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Heroic US Army soldier saves life of drowning man

While on a typical morning run in Smithfield, Virginia, a soldier witnesses a small boat capsize in the local Pagan River, then hears yelling and screaming coming from the area. As he looks around trying to pinpoint the sound, he takes off into a sprint to the end of the bridge, and with no hesitation he dives into the water.

He proceeds to swim 75 meters when he comes across a man struggling to stay afloat gripping onto the side of the boat. The men successfully turned the boat upright, but couldn’t get the excess water out and in a split decision U.S. Army Maj. Timothy Decker, operations officer for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, had to make the decision on how he would save 82 year-old George Gray.


“Once we couldn’t get the boat drained, I decided to have him hold on to it like a flotation device as I swam and pulled him and the boat,” Decker said. “After about a minute of trying that I realized we wasn’t making any progress to get closer to the shore line.”

Decker attempted to swim back to the same location he dove in, until he realized he was swimming against the current and was in the same spot he started just moments ago.

“I quickly changed directions and started swimming perpendicular to the current,” Decker said. “I was extremely exhausted, but I could see we were making progress, so I just pushed ahead. It took us five to seven minutes to reach a dock.”

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U.S. Army Maj. Timothy Decker, operations officer for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, poses for a picture with George Gray in Smithfield, Va., Nov. 5, 2019.

(Photo by Bert Blanchette)

Throughout the whole process Decker explained how Gray maintained his composure and remained calm throughout the incident.

“It was pretty instantaneous from when he stepped foot on to the dock; he broke down in tears and gave me a big hug,” Decker said. “It was a very humbling experience.”

Shortly after, the police and ambulance were waiting to ensure both men were safe.

“I think anyone would have done what I did if they were in that situation,” Decker said. “I’m just happy I was there to help.”

Because of his actions on Oct. 5, 2019, when Decker saved Gray from drowning, Smithfield Police Department awarded him with the city’s Life Saving Award.

The Life Saving Award is issued to anyone whose actions saved the life of a fellow citizen in an emergency.

“I’m just thankful to be alive,” Gray said. “I was hanging on to the boat and I had on a really heavy coat and if it wasn’t for this gentlemen [Decker] I wouldn’t be here today.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Social-distancing hobbies that will help decrease your stress level

2020 sure hasn’t been the most relaxing year, now has it? If you’re anything like me then you’re over everything.

You don’t even want to scroll social media anymore because it makes your blood pressure rise. I have always been able to fall down the Instagram rabbit hole into trashy reality TV star drama to zone out for a bit, but now even that isn’t possible because they are on hiatus due to quarantine too! So, what am I doing to try and rid myself of some of the negative energy surrounding me these days? How do I disconnect after hearing the newest updates on what it will be like to teach for the 2020-2021 school year? Well, sometimes whiskey. But more recently I’ve been looking into healthier ways to deal with my stress and try to zone out for a bit.


First up is yoga. 

Now, I am hardly the lithe yogi you see in the movies. I used to laugh at the idea of doing yoga to relax. Mainly because I would get so in my own head about not being bendy enough to traditional-looking enough to be in a yoga class. But now I find that it is actually a great way to get out of my head. While I’m still glad no one can see me doing downward dog from the comfort of my living room, I like the soothing music, the calm tone of the yoga instructors, and the 30 minuets a day I carve out for just my own well-being. If you aren’t sure where to start with a yoga routine head to YouTube, one of my favorites is MadFit. She is just very encouraging and calming, even laughing at herself when she falls out of a pose.

I have a friend that turns to meditation when the stress levels are getting too high. 

He told me a quote once that stuck with me. “Meditate 20 minutes every day. And if you don’t have the time, then do 40.” It took me a moment to realize what he was saying. It means that you NEED to make time for the things that will help you be healthy, physically and mentally. While I am not big on meditation myself, I can find a few moments to do some deep breathing when yet another news update rolls across my screen.

You can also turn into your grandma to relax. 

Don’t laugh! There has been a huge upswing in 20- 30-year old’s learning to crochet and knit these days! Maybe yarn crafts aren’t your thing, but you get creative in some other way. Painting, writing, coloring curse words in an adult coloring book. Any of those things help you focus on the task at hand and get you out of your head and your problems for a while. I know that when I wasn’t focused on the scarves I was knitting on deployment (I’ve been an 80 year old woman in a 30 year old body for a long time), I’d end up having to take the whole thing apart and start over. While I never quite mastered anything bigger than a baby blanket, just having something to keep my hands busy that wasn’t my cell phone seemed to calm me.

There is also the option to go get some fresh air. 

Going on a hike or a bike ride or even just walking the dog are all socially-distanced approved activities still. Get out of the house and get your sweat on. Remind yourself from a beautiful mountain top that there is more to this world than the four walls you may feel trapped in these days. Daily I take my dog on a walk that should take us about 10 minutes. However, he likes to stop and smell EVERYTHING. His pace forces me to slow down and enjoy the feeling of the sun on my face. If you live somewhere coastal, you can drive on down to the water and let the sound of the waves calm you the same way. Just get out of the house. Stretch your legs. Breathe deeply and return home refreshed.

Are these things too tame for you? 

Because not everyone is looking to get their Zen on, and I understand that. If that’s the case, see if you can’t swap the yoga videos for some kickboxing instead. And maybe instead of wandering the beach you can see if your local shooting range is practicing safe social distancing standards. I’ll admit that as much as I love relaxing with a good book, there is a serious adrenaline rush that makes me calm down just as much when I have torn apart a target or two on the range. Plus, it makes me feel better knowing my aim isn’t getting rusty…

So, whatever it is that makes you feel a little less frazzled, make time for it. Make it a priority the same way you do your job, your family, your faith. You schedule everything else that is important to you, why not schedule in some time to make sure your mental health can be kept on track with some relaxation too?

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Only a handful of the Air Force’s B-1 bombers are ready to deploy

Despite high demand, there are only a handful of B-1B Lancer bombers available to take off at a moment’s notice.

The head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), Air Force Gen. John Hyten, told Senate Armed Services Committee members the service has only six bombers that are ready to deploy.

“We have B-1B bombers; this is the workhorse of the Air Force today,” Hyten said during his tense confirmation hearing to become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


“Right now, of all of our B-1 bombers, we have six of them that are fully mission capable: five split between Ellsworth Air Force Base [South Dakota] and Dyess Air Force Base [Texas], one is a test aircraft, 15 B-1s are in depot,” he said. “The remaining 39 of 44 B-1s at Ellsworth and at Dyess are down for a variety of discrepancies and inspections.”

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A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, Air Force Central Command, takes off from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, during Joint Air Defense Exercise 19-01, Feb. 19, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)

Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) officials told Task Purpose on July 31, 2019, there are seven fully mission capable bombers.

Hyten said the B-1 has borne the brunt of constant deployment cycles.

“We saw issues in the B-1 because we’re just beating the heck out of them, deploying them, deploying them. And so we had to pull back a little bit and get after fixing those issues. And the depots can do that if they have stable funding,” he said.

Gen. Tim Ray, commander of AFGSC, agreed that demand has outstripped available aircraft.

During a speech at the Deterrence Symposium in Nebraska on July 31, 2019, Ray spoke about “setting the pace” for deterrence, saying that sometimes the demand for resources wins out.

Earlier in 2019, Ray said the Air Force overcommitted its only supersonic heavy payload bomber to operations in the Middle East over the last decade, causing it to deteriorate more quickly than expected.

“We overextended the B-1s in [U.S. Central Command],” he told reporters during a breakfast with reporters April 17, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Ray said that’s why he recalled the aircraft to the U.S. to receive upgrades and maintenance to prepare for the next high-end fight.

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A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber and F-15E Strike Eagle fly in formation during Joint Air Defense Exercise 19-01, Feb. 19, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Clayton Cupit)

“Normally, you would commit — [with] any bomber or any modern combat aircraft — about 40 percent of the airplanes in your possession as a force, [not including those] in depot,” he explained. “We were probably approaching the 65 to 70 percent commit rate [for] well over a decade. So the wear and tear on the crews, the maintainers, and certainly the airplane, that was my cause for asking for us to get out of the CENTCOM fight.”

Last year, B-1s returned to the Middle East for the first time in nearly two-and-a-half years to take over strike missions from the B-52 Stratofortress. The last rotation of bombers from Dyess returned home March 11, 2019, according to Air Force Magazine.

By the end of March 2019, Ray had ordered a stand-down, marking the second fleetwide pause in about a year.

AFGSC officials said that, during a routine inspection of at least one aircraft, airmen found a rigged “drogue chute” incorrectly installed in the ejection seat egress system, a problem that might affect the rest of the fleet. Ray said his immediate concern was for the aircrews’ safety.

The aircraft resumed flights April 23, 2019.

The command again grounded the fleet over safety concerns last year over a problem also related to the Lancer’s ejection seats. Officials ordered a stand-down June 7, 2018, which lasted three weeks while the fleet was inspected.

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A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber and F-15E Strike Eagles fly in formation during Joint Air Defense Exercise 19-01, Feb. 19, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Clayton Cupit)

That pause was the direct result of an emergency landing made by a Dyess-based B-1 on May 1, 2018, at Midland Airport in Texas.

Then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson confirmed speculation that the B-1 had to make an emergency landing after an ejection seat didn’t blow during an earlier in-flight problem.

Lawmakers took note this summer: The House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee in its markup of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act requested that the Air Force offer a plan for how it will address the B-1’s problems. Committee members were aware that the B-1’s availability rates were in the single digits, according to Air Force Times.

The B-1’s mission-capable rate — the ability to fly at any given time to conduct operations — is 51.75%, according to fiscal 2018 estimates, Air Force Times recently reported. By comparison, its bomber cousins, the B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress, have mission-capable rates of 60.7% and 69.3%, respectively.

The Air Force has 62 Lancers in its fleet. It plans to retire the bombers in 2036.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

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