The rivalry between branches can best be described as a sibling rivalry. We’re always making fun of each other whenever we can, calling the Air Force the Chair Force, the Coast Guard a bunch of puddle pirates — the list goes on. One thing that branches can’t seem to figure out, though, is a good, slightly insulting nickname for Marines.
It seems like the other branches tried to find some kind of insult for Marines but, instead, we’ve turned those monikers into sources of pride. We like being called names like Jarhead. It’s kind of cool, really. You’re saying our hair regulations are so disciplined it’s stupid? Maybe it’s your attitude toward discipline that has us always on the delivery side of insults. Think about it.
But one thing that’s sorta caught on and is becoming popular is calling Marines, “Crayon-Eaters.”
Well, here’s why that nickname just won’t hold water:
Snipers know why there’s some truth there…
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Krista James)
1. First off, it’s just kind of… weak
Maybe we’re just too dumb to understand the insult here but, quite frankly, it sucks. It’s lame.
If you were to call your friend a “Crayon-Eater” in any other situation, they’d just shrug and say, “okay,” with a condescending tone. It’s no better than a Kindergarten insult. You might as well say, “you poop your pants!” At least then there’s some truth for some Marines.
“You think crayon-eater is funny?!”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Aaron Bolser)
2. It’s ironic
The whole point of the joke is to say that Marines are stupid. Got it. But you know what’s stupid? The joke itself. It’s ironic how dumb the joke is. Instead of making Marines look dumb, you actually just display the inability to create a layered, intelligent insult. “Crayon-eater” is so bland and overplayed that it loses any impact it might have.
We’re not afraid to take shots at each other because it’s all part of the brotherhood.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony Guas)
3. Marines have better insults for each other
The things Marines say to one another on a daily basis are way worse — it’s stuff so bad that we can’t even mention it on this website. They’re things that would make your average civilian’s stomach turn and cause airmen everywhere to puke all over their computer desks.
The worst part is that the joke isn’t even close to being offensive. Of course, some of you may read this and say, “this guy is just offended,” and the answer is no — and that’s the problem. You think something as lame as “crayon-eater” is going to offend a member of a tribe whose trainees are taught to yell, “kill!” during training?
Didn’t think so.
They’re laughing at you, not with you.
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Emmanuel Ramos)
If you want to keep using the joke, go right ahead. Just remember, when a Marine laughs in your face because your joke isn’t doing what you thought it would — we tried to warn you.
For 25 years, the F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornet family has been the backbone of carrier aviation for the United States Navy. These planes have also seen some success in the export market, making the F/A-18 a classic that’ll be around for decades to come. However, if Congress had its way in the 1970s, this plane likely wouldn’t have existed.
In the wake of the Vietnam War, the United States was looking to develop fighters that would make quick work of Soviet designs. Although U.S. planes were scoring kills more often than they were being shot down, the ratio wasn’t favorable enough. So, the Lightweight Fighter program was born.
Congress, in its infinite wisdom, told the Navy and Air Force that both would buy the winner of this developmental competition. The Air Force liked the eventual winner, which became the classic F-16, but the Navy favored the runner-up: the YF-17 Cobra. Luckily, the Navy didn’t fold to the whims of Congress.
The two contenders in the Lightweight Fighter fly-off, the YF-16 Falcon (which became the classic F-16) and the YF-17 Cobra.
The YF-17 Cobra had two engines, as opposed to the one of the YF-16. For carrier pilots, who have a lot of ocean to fly over, this was extremely appealing. With two engines, you have a backup in case one goes bad. In a single engine-plane, failure means it’s time to pull the loud handle and eject.
The Cobra also had awesome performance: A top speed of Mach 2, four pylons on the wings for air-to-air or air-to-ground weaponry, a centerline pylon for bombs or an external fuel tank, a 20mm M61 cannon, and the ability to carry two AIM-9 Sidewinders on the wingtips. Not only was this a faster plane than the Hornet, it also had a longer maximum unrefueled range of 2,800 miles.
The YF-17, though, served as the basis for the classic F/A-18 Hornet.
(USMC photo by LCPL John McGarity)
The lower cost of operation, greater range, and high performance struck a chord with the Navy. They teamed up with Northrop and McDonnell-Douglas, the makers of the YF-17, to refine the design and turn it into the multirole fighter they really wanted. This fighter was the F/A-18 Hornet.
Learn more about the forerunner to one of the Navy’s very best fighters the video below!
Robin Olds was not known for obeying the spirit of Air Force regulations. From the start of his military career, he didn’t always do things by the book. He was West Point graduate whose time at the Academy was hastened so he and his class could catch the last half of World War II.
This legendary fighter pilot was actually almost a bomber pilot, told by an instructor he called “Military Bill” that he was too big for a fighter. But he flew bombers like fighters and performed illegal maneuvers whenever possible. Eventually so many reports of his ability came in that “Military Bill” was overruled and Olds was back in a fighter. Even when the Army’s top brass declared that West Pointers were to be squadron commanders only, Olds and a buddy went down to the personnel section of their outfit and asked the old, grey-haired sergeant in charge to send them to England, and it worked.
Olds’ entire career was results-oriented. Everything from planning Operation Bolo in Vietnam to being Commandant of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He turned an underperforming unit around with bold leadership and his distinctive out-of-regs mustache that he open admitted was a “middle finger I couldn’t raise in PR photographs.”
He spoke with authenticity and authority on all things military and aviation, so it makes sense that when Brig. Gen. Terryl Schwalier was a major, writing a paper for the Air Command and Staff College called “The Tactical Flight Commander — Developing Warriors,” he asked then-retired Brig. Gen. Robin Olds for his insights on the role of flight commander. In return, Schwalier received a five-page diagnosis on the institutional problems with the modern Air Force. Olds went on to describe how a commander can find fulfillment and still exemplify leadership, even in the current Air Force climate:
30 Nov 1981
Dear Major Schwalier,
Your question, or better request, is provocative, to say the least. I have thought much since receiving your Oct 21 letter, and the more I consider your topic, the more difficult it becomes to frame a reasonable or even useful response. I’ll try to boil down my thoughts, hoping something useful may distill.
First, let me get some negatives in perspective. In my view, current Air Force philosophy and practice have all but eliminated any meaningful role playable by an officer placed in a so-called position of command. Authority has evaporated, sucked up to the rarified heights of “they,” who are somehow felt to exist in the echelons above. For your information, “they” do not exist. Neither is there any “he” fulfilling that role. Authority is expressed through the medium of committee consensus, leadership has become a watered down adherence to the principles of camp counsellorship, with a 90% emphasis on avoiding any action that may in any way be questioned by any one of hundreds of piss ants on the administrative ladder above. In fact, leadership (and I use that term with contempt) has become a process of looking busy as hell while doing nothing, avoiding personal commitment, and above all, making no decision without prior approval.
Historical example: as a 22 year old Major, commanding a squadron in 1945, I was responsible for and empowered to: pay the troops; feed them; house them; train them; clothe them; promote; demote; reward; punish; maintain their personnel files, etc. When I retired as a BG in 1973, I possessed not one of those authorities or responsibilities. Get the drift?
And you ask the importance of a flight commander. I am tempted to say NONE. But that is not true, for in spite of the system, in spite of the executive and administrative castration, a man instinctively looks to a system of military authority in a military situation or system. If that authority is waffled or watered, he still looks to those appointed to the military echelons to do their best under the circumstances. A man (a nation for that matter) wants, demands, leadership. So today’s flight leader/commander leads and commands by example, by appeal to basic instinct, and by light footed avoidance of error, like walking a tightrope. He has responsibility, for sure. But he does not have authority, or freedom of discretion/interpretation. Unfortunately, in some units he really isn’t given much voice. Yet he functions, and if he is successful (perhaps a better word is “effective”) it is greatly to his credit for having done so under the prevailing circumstances.
Another thought. All else to the contrary, two basic demands are faced by the Flight Commander. One is PEACE, the other is WAR. It has been my experience, in the fighter business I hasten to add, that the man who may excel under the one is not necessarily worth a damn under the other. Many examples come to mind. I do not (and did not) condemn one man or the other, rather I accepted the challenge of recognizing the difference and choosing accordingly.
I hope some of this makes sense.
P.S. For your information, there is no such thing as HQ, USAF. The highest echelon is a faceless entity, composed of thousands of diverse individuals loosely arranged by a system of interlocking committees and headed by an individual technically labeled the “Chief of Staff.” Note he is not called the Commander. By law, he cannot be. By nature he is forced to be the consummate bureaucrat, fighting for the all mighty dollar, serving as a buffer between Sec Def / Congress and the people and mission of his service – a demanding, demeaning role playable by very few.
This letter was first released on the John Q. Public blog, whose author is a former USAF officer. He noted that Olds retired in 1973 and the letter was written in 1981. He acknowledged that much of what Olds was talking about was cleared away by the time Operation Desert Storm rolled around. But protracted war in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world has caused much of the recurring problems of “Top heaviness, micromanagement, loss of combat focus, misprioritization” to return to the Air Force. This is the age where USAF leadership testifies to Congress about morale being “pretty darn good,” while the Air Force suffers from a crushing ops tempo and mistrust of leadership (note the occasion in 2011 where the USAF invited officers to apply for voluntary separation, revoked the offer, then gave them the boot anyway… or the occasion in 2014 where the same thing happened).
It’s nice to know it wasn’t always this way… and that it can be fixed.
In 2001, DreamWorks and HBO Films released one of the most critically acclaimed miniseries. Band of Brothers follows a group of well-trained Army Paratroopers as they go from grueling training to being thrust into the hell that is World War II. The story chronicles the unique bond of the brave men of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
Spielberg proved his ability to faithfully capture the intensities and personalities of World War II in his 1998 blockbuster, Saving Private Ryan. This time around, Spielberg took the executive producer’s chair.
Although many people are familiar with this amazing piece of film, there are a few facts about the classic miniseries that even the most die-hard fans don’t know.
The actors went through a tough, 10-week boot camp
To get the actors to appear like real paratroopers, the producers turned to decorated Marine veteran Capt. Dale Dye to get the on-screen talent up-to-speed on World War II-era infantry tactics. Capt. Dye was on a mission to not only educate the talented cast on how to maneuver and communicate, but to expose the actors to the real exhaustion that paratroopers endured in combat.
This way, the actors would get an emotional understanding. When it was time to film a tough scene, they had their own personal references to draw from, making their reactions organic and realistic.
Since the miniseries covers multiple characters from different countries, the costume designers had to come up with 2,000 authentic German and American combat uniforms — including approximately 500 pairs of era-appropriate jump boots.
In order to get the details just right, the costume designers spent countless hours researching materials, manufacturing techniques, and design choices.
Tom Hanks watches as dozens of extras fall in line and head to the set
The massive production took a total of three years and cost over 0 million. The scenes were shot primarily on a 1,100 acre back lot located in Hatfield, England. 12 acres of land were continuously modified in order to work for 11 different on-screen locales.
“It’s about five things bigger than what we had on Saving Private Ryan,” executive producer Tom Hanks reported.
Nearly every fan of film has seen 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. Aside from the powerful performances from talented actors, the audience enjoyed incredibly lifelike explosions and gunshots. By the time the crew had finished filming the third episode of Band of Brothers, they’d already surpassed the number of explosions and squibs used in entirety of Saving Private Ryan.
While setting to film TheBattle of the Bulge,the production department constructed a massive forest inside an airport hangar. To make the scene feelrealistic, they neededvegetation. So,the production turned to the special effect department whobuilt nearly250 hollowed-out trees,made from fiberglass, hemp, and latex.
When a tree exploded on set, most of the debris fell on top of the actors,helping them deliver an authenticon-screen performance.
The U.S. Army Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, is consistently rated by soldiers as a place that you don’t want to go. Hot temperatures, high humidity and a geographically isolated location make it so that soldiers posted there can’t wait to PCS and soldiers training there can’t wait to leave.
It must be said, though, that JRTC does offer world-class training for warfighters from the riflemen on the frontline to the commanders maneuvering them from their TOCs. JRTC also allows international partners to come and train with U.S. forces to foster partnerships and future interoperability. British soldiers are a common sight in the backwoods of central Louisiana, however, they generally come as a single company. For their own large-scale training, the Brits go to Kenya.
The British Army Training Unit Kenya is a permanent training support unit based mainly in Nanyuki, roughly 200 km north of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Consisting of about 100 permanent staff and a short-tour cohort of an additional 280 personnel, BATUK provides demanding and realistic training exercises for units preparing to deploy.
The UK Ministry of Defence maintains a Defence Cooperation Agreement with the Kenyan government that allows up to six British infantry battalions of 10,000-12,000 personnel to carry out four-week long exercises in Kenya every year. The training takes place at Archer’s Post Training Area in Samburu County and Dol Dol Training Area in Laikipia County. BATUK also currently maintains two barracks in Nairobi that serve as a rear area base and depot.
Similar to JRTC, British soldiers stationed in Nairobi serve as OCTs and OPFOR for the units that rotate in for training. BATUK even provides domestic housing so that soldiers can bring their families during their posting.
The local environment is arid and can be difficult to navigate, making it an excellent training ground for units preparing to deploy to combat zones. To optimize training, small towns have been constructed to facilitate MOUT training and hundreds of locals are hired to serve as role players.
(UK Ministry of Defence)
In Kenya, British forces train using both the Tactical Engagement Simulation system (British MILES gear) and live fire. As a result, like at JRTC, soldiers have to be on the lookout for native wildlife that wanders into the training area. However, whereas JRTC hosts animals like turkeys and deer, soldiers training at Archer’s Point or Dol Dol have the occasional elephant or giraffe sighting.
In return for the use of Kenyan land, three squadrons from the Corps of Royal Engineers are assigned to BATUK and carry out civil engineering projects throughout Kenya, while two medical companies provide primary healthcare assistance to the civilian community. Britain also offers training opportunities in the UK to the Kenya Defence Forces and supports its fight against Al Shabaab with British deployments to Somalia.
With a renewal of the defence agreement in September 2015, British troops will continue to conduct valuable training in Kenya through BATUK.
Deadly tensions between India and Pakistan are boiling over in Kashmir, a disputed territory at the northern border of each country.
A regional conflict is worrisome enough, but climate scientists warn that if either country launches just a portion of its nuclear weapons, the situation might escalate into a global environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.
On Feb. 14, 2019, a suicide bomber killed at least 40 Indian troops in a convoy traveling through Kashmir. A militant group based in Pakistan called Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack. India responded by launching airstrikes against its neighbor — the first in roughly 50 years — and Pakistan has said it shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured one of the pilots.
“This is the premier nuclear flashpoint in the world,” Ben Rhodes, a political commentator, said on Feb. 27, 2019’s episode of the “Pod Save the World” podcast.
For that reason, climate scientists have modeled how an exchange of nuclear weapons between the two countries — what is technically called a limited regional nuclear war — might affect the world.
Though the explosions would be local, the ramifications would be global, that research concluded. The ozone layer could be crippled and Earth’s climate may cool for years, triggering crop and fishery losses that would result in what the researchers called a “global nuclear famine.”
“The danger of nuclear winter has been under-understood — poorly understood — by both policymakers and the public,” Michael Mills, a researcher at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Business Insider. “It has reached a point where we found that nuclear weapons are largely unusable because of the global impacts.”
But the most frightening effect is intense heat that can ignite structures for miles around. Those fires, if they occur in industrial areas or densely populated cities, can lead to a frightening phenomenon called a firestorm.
“These firestorms release many times the energy stored in nuclear weapons themselves,” Mills said. “They basically create their own weather and pull things into them, burning all of it.”
Mills helped model the outcome of an India-Pakistan nuclear war in a 2014 study. In that scenario, each country exchanges 50 weapons, less than half of its arsenal. Each of those weapons is capable of triggering a Hiroshima-size explosion, or about 15 kilotons’ worth of TNT.
The model suggested those explosions would release about 5 million tons of smoke into the air, triggering a decades-long nuclear winter.
The effects of this nuclear conflict would eliminate 20% to 50% of the ozone layer over populated areas. Surface temperatures would become colder than they’ve been for at least 1,000 years.
Photograph of a mock-up of the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945.
Still, the number of weapons used is more important than strength, according to the calculations in this study.
How firestorms would wreck the climate
Most of the smoke in the scenario the researchers considered would come from firestorms that would tear through buildings, vehicles, fuel depots, vegetation, and more. This smoke would rise through the troposphere (the atmospheric zone closest to the ground), and particles would then be deposited in a higher layer called the stratosphere. From there, tiny black-carbon aerosols could spread around the globe.
“The lifetime of a smoke particle in the stratosphere is about five years. In the troposphere, the lifetime is one week,” Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who worked on the study, told Business Insider. “So in the stratosphere, the lifetime of smoke particles is much longer, which gives it 50 times the impact.”
The fine soot would cause the stratosphere, normally below freezing, to be dozens of degrees warmer than usual for five years. It would take two decades for conditions to return to normal.
This would cause ozone loss “on a scale never observed,” the study said. That ozone damage would consequently allow harmful amounts of ultraviolet radiation from the sun to reach the ground, hurting crops and humans, harming ocean plankton, and affecting vulnerable species all over the planet.
But it gets worse: Earth’s ecosystems would also be threatened by suddenly colder temperatures.
Change in surface temperature (K) for (a) June to August and (b) December to February. Values are five- year seasonal averages.
The fine black soot in the stratosphere would prevent some sun from reaching the ground. The researchers calculated that average temperatures around the world would drop by about 1.5 degrees Celsius over the five years following the nuclear blasts.
In populated areas of North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, changes could be more extreme (as illustrated in the graphic above). Winters there would be about 2.5 degrees colder and summers between 1 and 4 degrees colder, reducing critical growing seasons by 10 to 40 days. Expanded sea ice would also prolong the cooling process, since ice reflects sunlight away.
“It’d be cold and dark and dry on the ground, and that’d affect plants,” Robock said. “This is something everybody should be concerned about because of the potential global effects.”
The change in ocean temperatures could devastate sea life and fisheries that much of the world relies on for food. Such sudden blows to the food supply and the “ensuing panic” could cause “a global nuclear famine,” according to the study’s authors.
Temperatures wouldn’t return to normal for more than 25 years.
Pakistani Missiles on display in Karachi, Pakistan.
The effects might be much worse than previously thought
“You’d think the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies would fund this research, but they didn’t and had no interest,” he said.
Since his earlier modeling work, Robock said, the potential effects of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan have gotten worse. That’s because India and Pakistan now have more nuclear weapons, and their cities have grown.
“It’s about five times worse than what we’ve previously calculated,” he said.
Because of his intimate knowledge of the potential consequences, Robock advocates the reduction of nuclear arsenals around the world. He said he thinks Russia and the US — which has nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons — are in a unique position to lead the way.
“Why don’t the US and Russia each get down to 200? That’s a first step,” Robock said.
“If President Trump wants the Nobel Peace Prize, he should get rid of land-based missiles, which are on hair-trigger alert, because we don’t need them,” he added. “That’s how he’ll get a peace prize — not by saying we have more than anyone else.”
Kevin Loria and Alex Lockie contributed to this article.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps may finally be traveling to space.
The agency said Tuesday that it has assigned the 49-year-old rookie astronaut to Boeing’s Starliner-1 mission, slated to launch sometime in 2021.
The mission is actually the second that NASA picked Epps to fly. But she never made the first one, a Russian Soyuz flight that lifted off in June 2018, because the agency abruptly bumped her from the crew about five months ahead of launch.
“I don’t know where the decision came from and how it was made, in detail, or at what level,” Epps said during a conference in 2018 conference, but noted it was not medically related. “There were Russians, several of them, who defended me in the sense that it’s not safe to really remove someone from a crew that has trained together for years.”
NASA told Business Insider in a statement that a “number of factors are considered when making flight assignments,” adding that “decisions are personnel matters for which NASA doesn’t provide information.”
Despite the disappointing turn of events, Epps kept her composure over the years.
“Sometimes things don’t go the way that you planned,” she told “Business Insider Today” in 2019. “But I’m still in the astronaut corps.”
With her fresh assignment, Epps is once again poised to make history. The mission is to scheduled to be the first operational flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which should follow an uncrewed launch (possibly later this year) and a crewed flight test in 2021.
Epps will live and work aboard the space station for half a year
NASA selected Epps, an aerospace engineer, to be an astronaut in 2009. Prior to that, she worked at Ford Motor Company as a research scientist before moving on to the Central Intelligence Agency, where she was as a technical intelligence officer for more than seven years, according to her biography.
The Starliner-1 mission’s destination is the International Space Station, a facility that orbits 250 miles above Earth, and which people have inhabited continuously for 20 years. During her new upcoming mission, Epps will live and work aboard the 0 billion, football field-size laboratory for about six months.
Epps has not yet flown to space. She will join fellow spaceflight rookie Josh Cassada and veteran Sunita Williams. Williams, the Starliner-1 mission’s commander, has worked with Boeing and SpaceX over the past six years on the design and functionality of their new spaceships through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
“I can’t wait for her to join our crew,” Williams said in a video she tweeted on Tuesday.
Cassada tweeted a humorous video congratulating Epps, who grew up in Michigan, on her crew assignment.
“Just a couple of things I think we need to get sorted out. I know we both claim Michigan, I’m not going to arm-wrestle you for it — I’ve seen you in the gym. So maybe we can split it?” Cassada said. “The only other thing we need to get sorted out is, on the Starliner, I call shotgun.”
Starliner launched and landed on its first uncrewed mission, called Orbital Flight Test, in December 2019. However, the spacecraft experienced two “high visibility close calls” that might have resulted in the loss of the spacecraft, NASA said earlier this year.
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is seen after it landed in White Sands, New Mexico, on December 22, 2019. Bill Ingalls/NASA
Boeing is now fixing its software, systems, and procedures to rectify the problems, and — at a cost of 0 million to the company — plans to refly the mission later this year. Assuming there are no further issues, veteran astronaut Mike Fincke, retired astronaut Chris Ferguson, and rookie astronaut Nicole Mann will fly the first experimental crewed flight in 2021.
NASA appears unfazed by a small air leak aboard the ISS, which a three-person crew is currently helping root out and repair.
Had NASA allowed Epps to fly on the 2018 Soyuz mission, she would have been the first Black astronaut to live and work aboard the ISS for an extended amount of time. However, that honor will likely go to Victor Glover, who’s slated to fly NASA’s next commercial mission with people, called Crew-1. (SpaceX successfullylaunched and returned its first astronaut crew on an experimental flight earlier this year.)
Similar to Starliner-1, the Crew-1 mission will be SpaceX’s first operational flight of its commercial spaceship, called Crew Dragon. That mission is slated to fly to the space station as soon as October 23, and Glover will launch with fellow astronauts Shannon Walker and Mike Hopkins, as well as JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
The Starliner-1 mission could prove especially important to Epps’ career, in that she is one of 16 active female astronauts in NASA’s corps who may return humans to the moon. Jim Bridenstine, the agency’s administrator, has repeatedly said NASA’s Artemis program will fly the first woman and the next man to the lunar surface in 2024.
“Business Insider Today” asked Epps about that possibility during a 2019 interview.
“It’s mind-blowing to think about being the first [woman] to step on this object that you see in the night sky,” she said. “I would hope that my mission would inspire the next generation of women, of all engineers and all scientists to kind of propel us forward, even beyond Mars.”
The shrinking of the U.S. State Department and the sidelining of its diplomatic corps, the backbone of American foreign policy, were major themes during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first year at Foggy Bottom.
The State Department’s civilian workforce fell more than 6% between September 2016 and September 2017, which includes the first eight months of the Trump administration. The number of employees in administrative and legal positions fell 5.4%.
Within the foreign affairs occupation series, the number of employees fell 11.9%, from 2,580 in December 2016 to 2,273 in September 2017, according to Government Executive. Foreign affairs employees were more than 40% of the 836 civilian workers who left between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30.
Highly experienced members of the State Department have been a disproportionate percentage of those departures. Between December 2016 and September 2017, 16.2% of employees with 25 or more years of experience left. The number of employees in the foreign-affairs occupation series with at least 25 years of experienced shrunk 13.1% over the same period.
The department’s foreign service ranks, which includes diplomats and support staff, fell 1.2% in Tillerson’s first year, but the number of foreign service officers — those responsible for political, diplomatic, and economic relations — fell by about 2%, with 166 leaving.
Tillerson — whose planned reorganization the State Department has been criticized by legislators — kept a hiring freeze in place for most of his first year on the job. He eased it at the end of December for eligible family members and announced the expansion of the Expanded Professional Associates Program, which provided bureaus with greater placement flexibility.
But the trickle of new employees entering the State Department doesn’t compensate for the steady flow of departures, according to former diplomats.
Amb. Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, said in December 2017 that the Foreign Service’s “leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed.” When Obama left office, the State Department had five career ambassadors, but with the departure of Tom Shannon, a 34-year State Department veteran, earlier this month, just one remains.
“You’re throwing out the people at the top, so you’re losing expertise,” Ron Neumann, a retired 37-year State Department veteran, told Government Executive this month. “If you don’t bring in people at the bottom … you’re setting up a long-term problem.”
“Other countries are represented by people who have a deep background in the issue,” Neumann said, “and you’re like the high-school kid trying to pretend you’re in college.”
The atrophying of the State Department comes as China beefs up its own diplomatic corps, overhauling its Foreign Ministry to empower its diplomats, according to Bloomberg.
Chinese President Xi Jinping got the revamp underway in January 2017.
A reform committee led by Xi called on the Foreign Ministry to “forge a politically resolute, professionally exquisite, strictly disciplined foreign affairs corps,” and in October 2017, Xi appointed China’s top diplomat to the country’s powerful Politburo, making him the first former Foreign Ministry official in 20 years to reach that level.
The reforms will give Chinese ambassadors more control over their portfolios and strengthen the country’s diplomats as they manage multiple trade deals, supervise infrastructure projects, and oversee numerous foreign loans — all of which are elements of Xi’s efforts to exercise more clout abroad and become a more prominent player in international affairs.
“I can imagine these changes would be really good for the morale for the Chinese diplomats at the foreign ministry at a time when the morale of the diplomats in the U.S. foreign service is at an all-time low,” Susan Shirk, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia, told Bloomberg.
Budget plans recently announced by the White House are likely to do little to improve the mood among those remaining at the State Department.
The budget would expand funding for the military but impose an $8.8 billion reduction for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development during the current and next fiscal years — the biggest reduction since the 1990s.
Lawmakers have a few weeks to find additional sources of funding, but the proposed cuts have already drawn rebukes from current and former members of the military, among others.
More than 1,200 veterans representing every branch of the military sent a letter to House and Senate leaders on February 12, saying that “strategic investments in the State Department and USAID will be essential if we are to solidify our hard-fought gains and prevent other bad actors from filling the void” around the world.
That letter came one day after 151 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals sent a letter to House and Senate leaders opposing cuts to the international affairs budget, to which the Trump administration proposed an almost 30% budget cut in 2017.
“We call on you to ensure our nation also has the civilian resources necessary to protect our national security, compete against our adversaries, and create opportunities around the world,” the letter says. “We must not undercut our nation’s ability to lead around the world in such turbulent times.”
Vining’s full list of military accolades, including his DD-214, career timeline, and pictures of him serving, are included in his Together We Served profile.
Most noticeably, Vining was a 1st SFOD-D — Delta Force — operator during his three decade Army career. Under the “Reflections on SGM Vining’s US Army Service” section he comments about his decision to join Delta Force:
In 1978, I decided I wanted something more challenging, so I volunteered to join a new unit that was forming up at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They wanted people with an EOD background. The unit was 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta (Airborne). I spent the next 21 years in Delta and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), except for a year in a EOD unit in Alaska. In 1988, I transferred from EOD to Infantry. I figured I stood a better chance making Sergeant Major in Infantry, which worked out for me.
Like most who served, he also had unforgettable buddies. When asked to recount a particular incident from his service that may or may not have been funny at the time — but still makes him laugh — he said:
It would be SFC Donald L. “Don” Briere. At times he reminded me of the cartoon character Wiley Coyote. We were in New Zealand in 1980 on a joint-country special operations exercise. We were on a recon mission to scout out a target site. It was just Don and I on the recon team. We had a tall steep muddy embankment that we needed to negotiate. I looked at it and thought, no way. Don thought we could do it. As he moved across it, you could see his hands and feet sliding down. He clawed up and slid down some more. Finally he slid all the way down the slope into the water. I was rolling with laughter and said, “You want me to follow you?” I found another way around the obstacle.
Vining continues to be involved with the military and veteran community, he’s a member of several organizations, including the VFW, National EOD Association, and others, according to his profile.
After exploring his incredible career, Vining is someone we’d definitely love to have a drink with.
On Aug. 6, 1941, P. Siomes, a German priest, was sitting in his room when the sunny, summer day outside was suddenly lit by an even brighter light that blinded him just before an explosion of sound and heat slammed into the building he was in.
The next month, he gave a full recounting of the hours and days following the bombing in a statement to the U.S. Army.
Author’s note: This article is based on a statement from P. Siomes, a German priest who was in the outskirts of Hiroshima when the bomb dropped. His English is great, but not perfect, but we’ve decided to be as honest to his original text as possible when transcribing. This leaves a few minor grammar and spelling errors, but we do not believe it hinders comprehension. His full statement is available here.
Siomes was part of the Society of Jesus, headquartered in a church at the edge of Hiroshima, and he remembers it being about 8:14 when the city center suddenly filled with a bright, yellow light. He described it as being like the magnesium flash from a camera, but sustained. Over the next ten seconds, he felt an increase in heat, heard what sounded like a small and distant explosion, and was halfway to his door when his window suddenly exploded inward.
He was later glad to have made it away from the window, because he later found that his wall was filled with large shards of glass from the explosion that would’ve been embedded in him instead of the wall.
Siomes had believed that the damage to the building was from a bomb that burst overhead, assuming that the light was an unconnected phenomenon. But when he went outside to check the damage, all the worst damage was on the side of the building facing the city, and there was no bomb crater in sight.
But looking out into the city, he could see the extent of the damage. Houses were burning closer to town, and nearby woods were already becoming a large inferno. As the men at the facility, mostly monks and priests, begin helping fight the flames, a storm started, and rain began to fall.
Yes, the skies were clear before the bombs dropped, but a sudden rainfall is actually one of the very weird side effects of a nuclear blast. This would help fight the fires, but it also carries tons of irradiated dust, debris, and ash back to earth and helps it cling to the skin of survivors, but Siomes didn’t know this in 1945.
He and his fellow Christians began assisting the wounded in addition to fighting the fires. One of the priests “had studied medicine” before he took his vows, and the priests gave as much medical support as they could.
Father Noktor who, before taking holy orders, had studied medicine, ministers to the injured, but our bandages and drugs are soon gone. We must be content with cleansing the wounds. More and more of the injured come to us. The least injured drag the more seriously wounded.
And the damages to the city and surrounding area weren’t limited to just the immediate effects of the bomb. High winds damaged infrastructure and knocked over trees and buildings for hours after the initial blast. Siomes believed that this may have been caused by the fires pulling in more air, and research after the war backed him up.
Finally, we reach the entrance of the park. A large proportion of the populace has taken refuge there, but even the trees of the park are on fire in several places. Paths and bridges are blocked by the trunks of fallen trees and are almost impassable. We are told that a high wind, which may have resulted from the heat of the burning city, had uprooted the large trees.
Later on, Siomes would see some of this chaos himself. He went into the city with others to search out some of the missing priests, and they were able to find their quarry. But as they tried to make it back out ahead of the fire, they kept finding wounded trapped under debris, and attempted to rescue them, but then had to move on as the fires got close.
Eventually, they’d take refuge in Asano Park and, as the fires got close:
A very violent whirlwind now begins to uproot large trees, and lifts them high into the air. As it reaches the water, a water spout forms which is approximately 100 meters high.
This infrastructure damage made it harder for survivors to organize themselves and render aid, which was catastrophic as new emergencies kept popping up. Worse, planners had never envisioned losing an entire city in one fell swoop, and they had concentrated key supplies in a few caches near the city center, all destroyed by the bomb and fires.
For Siomes, the priests, and the monks, this all meant that their aid would necessarily be limited. It took more than a day for them simply to find out where all of their own survivors were. Some of them even had the exotic new injuries that only nuclear bombs can create.
One of the priests had been serving in the city when the bomb hit, and while he was processing the sudden burst of light, his hand was already blistering from what would later be identified as radiation. It was the equivalent of an instant, severe sunburn.
Father Kopp is bleeding about the head and neck, and he has a large burn on the right palm. He was standing in front of the nunnery ready to go home. All of a sudden, he became aware of the light, felt the wave of heat and a large blister formed on his hand.
Father Kopp was lucky; he had actually been near the epicenter of the blast but was well protected by the structure which held firm.
As the hours turned into days, the survivors kept tending the wounded and eating what they could find. Bodies lined the rivers and streets, and only skeletons remained of most of the buildings. Survivors had to drag the bodies or carry them on available carts out of the city, gather wood, and then cremate them in the valleys.
Rumors and stories began to rise, especially among the fifty or so refugees that were housed at what remained of the church, about what exactly had happened.
Some were likely propaganda or ill-informed attempts to explain what had happened:
As much as six kilometers from the center of the explosion, all houses were damaged and many collapses and caught fire. Even fifteen kilometers away, windows were broken. It was rumored that the enemy fliers had first spread an explosive and incendiary material over the city and then had created the explosion and ignition.
Some of the rumors were reports of how different victims suffered from the bombs:
Many of the wounded also died because they had been weakened by under-nourishment and consequently the strength to recover. Those who had normal strength and who received good care slowly healed the burns which had been associated with the bomb. There were also cases, however, whose prognosis seemed good who died suddenly. There were also some who had only small external wounds who died within a week or later, after an inflamation of the pharyax and oral cavity had taken place.
A paragraph later, Siomes recalls:
Only several cases are known to me personally where individuals who did not have external burns died later. Father Kleinserge and Father Cisslik, who near the center of the explosion, but who did not suffer burns became quite weak some fourteen days after the explosion.Up to this time small incised wounds had healed normally, but thereafter the wounds which were still unhealed became worse and are to date (in September) still incompletely healed.
But the biggest surprise probably comes at the end of the document where Siomes shares debates between he and his peers about the morality of the bomb.
He doesn’t come to a final decision, but he does note:
None of us in those days heard a single outburst against the Americans on the part of the Japanese, nor was there any evidence of a vengeful spirit…We have discussed among ourselves the ethics of the use of the bomb. Some consider it in the same category as poison gas and were against its use on a civil population. Other were of the view that in total war, as carried on in Japan, there was no difference between civilians and soldier and that the bomb itself was an effective force tending to end the bloodshed, warning Japan to surrender and thus avoid total destruction.
It’s an argument that continues today, but apparently consumed some of the immediate attention of survivors in the hours and days following its first use.
Boeing Co. will make the wings on the remaining A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft that are slated to receive an upgrade, the Defense Department announced August 2019.
The company on Aug. 21, 2019, received an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract worth a maximum of $999 million for A-10 wing replacements.
“This contract provides for up to 112 new A-10 wing assemblies and up to 15 wing kits,” the award stipulates.
Boeing, which is teaming up with Korean Aerospace Industries for the effort, said the service has ordered an initial 27 wing sets and will manage the production of up to 112 sets and spare kits.
Only 109 A-10s still need to be re-winged, and the contract will include up to three spares, according to service spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.
Three A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft from the 74th and 75th Fighter Squadrons fly in formation during a flight training session.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Wiseman)
“Our established supply base, experience with the A-10 structures, and our in-depth knowledge of the U.S. Air Force’s requirements will help us deliver high-quality wings to meet the customer’s critical need,” Pam Valdez, vice president of Air Force services for Boeing Global Services, said in a statement.
The wing replacement work will be performed at multiple U.S. subcontractor locations as well as one subcontractor location in South Korea; the work is scheduled to be completed in August 2030, according to the contract announcement.
The Air Force will allocate 9.6 million in procurement funds from past fiscal budgets for the effort, known as the “A-10-Thunderbolt II Advanced-Wing Continuation Kit,” or “ATTACK” program, the DoD said.
The Air Force had initially set aside 7 million for the effort, but the DoD has re-evaluated that estimate, Stefanek told Military.com on Aug. 21, 2019.
The news comes after the recent completion of Boeing’s first re-winging contract, awarded to the aerospace company in 2007.
An A-10 Thunderbolt II, assigned to the 74th Fighter Squadron, Moody Air Force Base, GA, returns to mission after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker, 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, over the skies of Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, May 8, 2011.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. William Greer)
As part of the id=”listicle-2639994851″.1 billion “Enhanced Wing Assembly” contract, the Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, earlier this month completed work on the last A-10 slated to receive the upgrade. The project began in 2011.
The Air Force in 2018 said it had begun searching for a new company to rebuild wings for the A-10, affectionately known as the Warthog, after the service ended its arrangement with Boeing. Nevertheless, the company has received the second contract.
Officials have not committed to re-winging the entire fleet.
“We re-evaluate every year depending on how many aircraft we will need; the length of the contract goes through 2030 so it gives us options as we go forward,” Stefanek said.
The planes, which entered service in 1976 and have deployed to the Middle East, Europe and the Pacific, have played an outsized role in the air campaign that began in 2014 against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, helping provide close-air support for Iraqi and U.S. partner forces on the ground.
The A-10 has also been instrumental in air operations in Afghanistan.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
When August O’Niell, a member of an elite special forces group, woke up from routine surgery, it only took one look at his mother’s face to tell something went horribly wrong.
She was with the doctor. “Are you awake? Are you able to talk now?” the doctor asked. “I have woken you up halfway through the surgery. There was so much scar tissue …”
O’Niell had already endured 19 grueling surgeries in the three-and-a-half years since a rifle round mangled his leg while he was on deployment in Afghanistan. He woke up hoping this 20th surgery would finally allow him to have a functional knee. But he quickly learned his left leg would never fully function again.
The entire left side was mostly scar tissue. The skin, tendons and muscle were all adhered straight to the bone in one solid layer. Given the extent of the damage, a knee replacement was going to give him less than 14 degrees of movement.
“You will be in less pain, and I can put it in there if you tell me that’s what you want,” the doctor told him. “But I didn’t feel right putting that in there without telling you that it wasn’t going to be what we thought it was going to be at first.”
“There’s so much scar tissue in there, it’ll be impossible for you to have a functional knee.”
O’Niell was an Air Force pararescueman, a para-jumper or “PJ,” as they are known in the service. He was the elite of the elite, in charge of rescuing the most drastically injured troops, and even top special operators, in dire circumstances. He loved being a PJ, and wanted nothing more than to be back in the field, jumping out of helicopters and saving wounded comrades. The diagnosis he now faced was tough, but without missing a beat, he made up his mind.
“Don’t worry about it, I’m gonna have it amputated,” he said.
Dumbfounded, the doctor asked if he was sure. O’Niell was sure. After 20 surgeries and years of unsuccessful treatment, he was done with experiments.
He allowed himself what he called a “ten minute boo-hoo session.” It wasn’t so much about losing the leg, as it was learning this particular surgery was a fail. He had been looking forward to some relief from the constant pain of his injury.
But none of that mattered now. It was time to move on. He had seen troops with major amputations make remarkable progress on prosthetics in a little as six months while he was in rehab, and here he was after more than three years barely hopping along on crutches. He thought of the amputees he had seen running on prosthetic legs and had a moment of inspiration, and it occurred to him that if he could run again, he could be a PJ again.
That was all the motivation he needed to greenlight the removal of his leg.
A Faucet Of Blood
It happened when O’Niell was halfway through his deployment to Afghanistan on July 15, 2011. The U.S. had begun drawing down forces two days before, but the notoriously violent Sangin Valley was as deadly as ever. O’Niell and his team got a call that a group of Marines were under fire. Two were injured, one critically, after taking a shot in the chest. O’Niell’s team was headed back to base after working all day, but immediately turned around to rescue the injured Marines.
The PJs came onto the scene in two Pavehawk helicopters, one leading the other. They circled in shifts. One would provide watch and draw the enemy’s attention, while the other went into the zone to rescue the wounded.
As O’Neill’s helicopter was about to take a turn going in for the wounded, his team got word that another Marine had been hit. O’Niell was lead medic for the operation, and told his team leader to let the team in the helicopter behind them go into the zone, since it had three PJ medics on board, while they provided cover.
“So it’s better patient care, you know, one medic per patient,” O’Niell told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
O’Niell’s helicopter then flew over the zone, dropped smoke grenades and popped back up so the second helicopter knew where to land. The tactic has the dual purpose of attracting enemy fire, and was successful in doing so.
“It works like a charm,” O’Neill said. “We came up over the smoke and popped up and we caught all that fire. They started shooting up at our bird, and one of the rounds, when they shot up, bounced off the door where I was sitting in the left door. [It] bounced off the doorway and then went through both of my legs.”
O’Niell initially he thought a flare had bounced off the door and hit his knee. He looked over the edge of the chopper, and then the pain hit him.
“Ah, they shot me!” he yelled while grabbing the top of the Pavehawk to pull himself back. He saw a hole in the side of the leg of his pants where the bullet had entered. “It just looked like someone had turned a faucet on, it was pouring blood,” he said.
His team leader instinctively jumped towards him, putting one of O’Niell’s tourniquets on his legs. He was in critical condition, forcing the helicopter to return home. Fortunately, a second PJ team was deployed with Apache helicopters in tow when O’Niell returned. They were able to extract the Marines and take out the enemy forces in the area.
O’Niell was well known to the medical staff at the base. He and his fellow PJs would often help out with the injured between shifts in order to keep their medical skills sharp. The hospital pulled a surgeon to try to save O’Neill’s leg. He was woken up after the doctors fixed an artery, and informed he would be moved to Bagram air base.
“Not until I get my re-enlisting paperwork,” O’Niell said.
“Now that’s the type of dude we need!” a nearby officer said excitedly. O’Niell was told it was an Army general. The paperwork was there waiting for him when he got to Bagram. His brother, an Air Force officer who is now also a PJ, swore him back in while he was in Landstuhl, Germany for another round of surgeries.
O’Niell wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he joined the Air Force in 2005, but he was certain he didn’t want to be behind a desk. The Air Force occasionally gets chided as the “Chair Force” by the other services, and O’Niell knew he wanted to be doing something active. He became interested in the pararescue and combat controller jobs. A recruiter warned him that either would be tough, but assured him he wouldn’t see much of a desk.
The medical aspect of the PJs also appealed to O’Niell. His father, a retired Air Force major, had encouraged him to stay in college and become a doctor. He figured the PJs would keep him from a desk job and make his father happy.
“I just went with it,” O’Niell explained. “I joined it not really knowing anything about it except for we jump out of planes and do cool guy stuff.”
Most people have never heard of the PJs, even inside the special operations community. It’s a remarkably small force whose work is often overlooked.
They’re are a remarkable combination of expert shooters, skydivers and medics. A PJ can shoot with the top Marines, save lives like the best Navy medical corpsmen and jump out of planes like an Army Ranger. They even do their fair share of diving. This remarkable combination is why becoming a PJ is one of the hardest things you can do in the military.
“You need to be able to deal with all situations between the top of Mount Everest and 130 feet below the ocean — and in all environments, all weather conditions, all light conditions,” Nic McKinley, a former PJ, told TheDCNF. “And you need to be able to deal with them in a way that mitigates risk to the extent that you will live through those missions, because, you know, there is nobody to go get the PJs if the PJ’s gonna patrol.”
Training for the group, known as “The Pipeline,” has one of the highest attrition rates of any program in the armed forces. O’Niell started training in a class of 110. Nine would make it through. For McKinley, that was a big draw factor.
“I’m a big data guy,” he told TheDCNF. “I really like the numbers and the facts, and I don’t like your opinion.”
On the basis of data, McKinley found the PJs to be the toughest. “You know, they can get into arguments about why, or any of the subjective stuff, but the objective data shows that it’s harder,” he told TheDCNF.
Special operators often debate about who is the toughest, but one thing is clear: when the SEALs, Green Berets and Marines need saving in the worst conditions, they call the PJs.
The training puts a massive strain on your mental strength.
“You can’t just have a high level physical performance and ride on that, you also have to be able to think at a high level,” McKinley said. “Pararescue teams expect you to be able to do everything, and if you can’t do it at a high level, you need to go succeed elsewhere.”
The entire process takes between two and three years. After basic training, a would-be PJ starts “The Pipeline” with an indoctrination course at Lackland Air Force Base, which consists of ten weeks of intense physical training including obstacle courses, running and swimming.
“That’s where they test your mental and physical limits … push every button they can,” O’Niell told TheDCNF.
No aspect of indoctrination training so utterly punishes the mental toughness of a PJ than “The Pool.” Technically known as “water confidence training,” the Pool is known for chewing up even the most elite athletes in the program.
Would-be PJs are expected to swim laps under water, tie complex knots at the pool bottom, bob up and down with hands and ankles tied (an exercise known as “drown proofing”) and wrestle underwater with an instructor while not being allowed to fight back, according to former PJ Matt White. His solution? Just don’t breathe.
“When your fingers go number tying a knot, you can panic,” he wrote in a piece for Task and Purpose. “Or you can relax. When an instructor pushes you to the bottom of the pool and stands on your head, what can you do? You can quit. Or you can relax.”
PJs who survive indoctrination go on to a combat diver course in Panama City, Florida for six weeks, then to survival school in Spokane, Washington. Next they pay a visit to Army Airborne School, where they learn to jump out of planes, before heading to either Army or Navy free-fall skydiving school, located in Yuma, Arizona and San Diego, California respectively.
Once a PJ candidate is a honed warrior they attend 37 weeks of various medical courses. Trainees are expected to get their national paramedic certification within two months of medical training, a task which normally takes six months.
The Pararescue Recovery Specialist Course puts everything a PJ trainee has learned together in a 24-week course which includes shooting, jumping and full mock mission profiles. Upon completion, a PJ is given a maroon beret and assigned a team. A PJ is then expected to to do on the job training with his team to become mission qualified.
O’Niell deployed to Afghanistan with about 20 people rotating in six man teams. He recalled flying approximately eight missions per shift, all of them being worst case scenarios. He acknowledged that war is terrible, but said he loved Afghanistan because he got to do his job.
“It’s very satisfying when you have a guy [that] easily ten minutes later … would’ve been just dead, and you were able to get him, get pain meds onboard, get blood onboard, and see this guy who wasn’t even responding all of a sudden start blinking up at you and you’re like: ‘Hey man, you’re going to be good,'” said O’Niell. “And then you go and check with the hospital, they’re like ‘Yea, he’s on his way home,’ and it’s just awesome.”
When asked how many people he’s saved, O’Niell said he never kept count.
Road To Recovery
His job cost him a leg and years of pain and surgeries, but O’Niell is laser focused on returning to the fray. There was not a hint of regret or doubt in his voice when he recalled his harrowing experience to TheDCNF. He detailed his injury like the challenges presented by one of his missions, by focusing on solutions to problems.
Step one of O’Niell’s road back to the PJ teams was to get acquainted with his new prosthetic leg. Fortunately, the Center for the Intrepid fitted him with one of the most advanced models available.
“It’s an Ottobock X3, and it’s awesome,” he said.
The leg is completely waterproof, and comes with an app that lets O’Niell switch between four modes suited for various kinds of situations. He detailed it like a piece of high-tech military equipment.
“I’ve got a boxing mode, which basically doesn’t allow the knee bend more than 14 degrees, that way I can throw a punch and don’t have to worry about the knee buckling. And I can, you know, bob and weave on it,” O’Niell said. “I’ve got a running mode, I’ve got the basic walking mode which is just the everyday mode, and I’ve got a jump mode, which keeps the knee from bending past ninety degrees while I’m jumping so that way I can fly flat dumb and happy, as we say, and not worry about backsliding.”
His injury was not the least bit apparent when I met him for the first time in an Air Force office in Manhattan, except for the presence of his service dog, Kai. O’Niell walked through the door and shook hands much like he probably did before the injury.
Most amputees usually require approximately six weeks of walking on their new prosthetics before they take them home. But O’Niell was taking his home in only two. He noted that’s because most amputees have trouble trusting the devices to hold their weight.
“I attribute it to the fact that I’ve trusted my life on much sketchier pieces of equipment,” O’Niell joked. Falling to his knees due to a prosthetic is nothing when you’re used to jumping from planes with parachutes made by the lowest bidder.
O’Niell’s sense of relief after the amputation and prosthetic was practically immediate. Even before the prosthetic was fitted, he recalled his fellow PJs looking at him strangely after the amputation when they found him moving around his thigh. He hadn’t been able to move the leg for years before, so this was a victory.
“The pain I was living with was awful,” he said. “I don’t take pain meds so it became a normal way of life, just living with pain all the time and it’s miserable. It’s miserable. So yeah, it was definitely awesome waking up and immediately not feeling that pain.”
The next step to getting back to the job he loved was requalification. By November 2016, O’Niell had qualified in calisthenics, swimming, parachuting, ropes, alternative insertion, diving and was close to reaching the requisite run time. He has been working on mission profiles as well, in order to learn how to adjust to his new leg.
O’Niell’s fellow PJs have been extremely supportive during his recovery. They’ve kept him up to date on any new tech or kit that has been incorporated since his injury, and asked him when he is coming back to the teams. He even had training plan offers from five or six team chiefs. He noted he’s unsure about their motivations, but nevertheless, he remains focused on his goal.
Fellow injured airmen have also been a source of strength and friendship. Thanks to the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, O’Niell has developed a close-knit group of friends who refer to themselves as “The Order of the Pineapple.” He noted the origin of the name is a long story, but that not a day goes by that they don’t talk to each other.
Additionally, his service dog Kai has served a crucial role in his recovery. K9 Soldiers in New Jersey gave him the German Shepherd on Veteran’s Day 2013, and he has relied on him ever since.
“Mentally, I was in a real crappy place when I started reaching out to get him, and then after getting him, he’s just made my outlook almost one-eighty,” explained O’Niell. “I’m inherently a really happy person anyway, so when I’m depressed, I’m very depressed … because a lot of things have happened to make me very depressed.”
Kai can sense when O’Niell is depressed or angry, and will come put his head on his lap or go for a walk with him, immediately putting O’Niell in a better mood. He also helps with bracing and stability and will block people from invading his personal space. Kai also can do smaller tasks, like getting O’Niell his phone and keys when he doesn’t have the prosthetic attached.
“He’s not a retriever and he absolutely hates doing it, but he will do it,” joked O’Niell.
Kai goes to work with O’Niell, and has become a big hit with the other PJs. He inspired a team in Alaska to buy their own dog so they can keep up morale abroad. O’Niell hopes to bring Kai on his next deployment. The German Shepherd won’t be tagging along on missions, but he would be waiting for him when he gets home.
The First Of His Kind
Other special operations forces have rejoined their units after an amputation, including members of the Army Special Forces, Marine Special Operations Command and Navy SEALs. Advances in medical science and prosthetics have allowed many troops to return to duty after amputations. More than 16 percent of amputees had returned to combat in the early 2000s, up from 2.3 percent in the 1980s. But O’Niell would be a first for the PJs and the Air Force.
He has every intention of getting back in, and he doesn’t plan to leave any time soon. He reenlisted in the beginning of 2015, and plans to do at least another five years after his contract runs out.
“The majority of people who want an amputation, they aren’t very crazy like I am, so they’re just kind of like ‘Yeah, I’m done,’ and rightfully so,” he said.
O’Niell’s remarkable story has also come with a great deal of unexpected fame. He has competed in both the Warrior Games and Invictus Games, the latter of which earned him a profile in ESPN. He also led the Atlanta Falcons onto the field during the Super Bowl, carrying an American flag as he ran in front of thousands on his prosthetic. And Paramount Pictures bought a pitch on O’Niell’s story in March, so a feature film could be in the works.
O’Niell told TheDCNF he’s “excited” for the press coverage to end, but he’s also pleased his story brings attention to PJs. “I don’t mind doing this type of stuff because it highlights the career field and that’s awesome,” he said.
For now, he is continuing strength training and Pararescue qualification training at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Florida, where he is expected to join a team sometime next year if all goes well.
has been sent to begin requalifications so he can join a team at Hurlburt Field AFB, hopefully sometime next year. Assessments with the teams have been positive, and aside from some issues with stress fractures, he has no complaints.
O’Niell hopes to be back to jumping out of planes and saving lives as early as the end of 2017.
In the roughly seven months since the 2nd Brigade deployed, the unit’s numbers have swelled to more than 2,100 paratroopers deployed to Iraq.
It is the largest contingent among the thousands of Fort Bragg soldiers serving as part of an international coalition to defeat ISIS. That coalition is led by Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg.
On July 10, Work said the Falcon Brigade can be proud of its efforts to defeat ISIS through advising and assisting its Iraqi partners.
A few years ago, officials said the Iraqi army was largely defeated — broken, dispirited, and pushed to the gates of Baghdad. Today, it is celebrating a major victory.
“Our mission, the reason we matter, is to help the Iraqi Security Forces win,” Work said. “The fight continues, but they have dominated ISIS in Mosul. The key now is establishing a durable security that enables governance to extend its reach.”
While Iraqi forces have been at the forefront of the victory, American paratroopers have played no small role in the success.
“It’s been hard, violent work every day,” Work said of fighting in Mosul. “The Iraqi Security Forces have fought doggedly to take terrain from ISIS and liberate the people of Mosul. ISIS had years to prepare its defense, and it gave nothing away. Our partners took it from them, and we’ve been helping them attack. At the same time, we are extraordinarily proud of our partners. They assume the lion’s share of the physical risk, but we attack a common enemy together. Their success is our success.”
When the brigade’s soldiers arrived in Iraq, the battle to defeat ISIS was still raging in east Mosul, Work said.
Now, that part of the city is thriving “despite being just over five months removed from intense ground combat.”
Work said the brigade’s paratroopers gave invaluable support to their Iraqi counterparts, advising and assisting ground commanders and providing artillery fires, intelligence, and logistical support.
As the fight moved to west Mosul, the paratroopers moved with their Iraqi counterparts, inching closer to the embattled city.
“We helped decimate a formidable ISIS mortar and artillery force in west Mosul,” Work said. “We helped destroy ISIS infantry, logistics, and suicide car bombs so that our partners could continue to attack on the hard days. We were with the commanders calling the shots, delivering fires that helped them dominate, and we always put them first. Every day and every night.”
Townsend congratulated Iraqi forces on July 10 for their “historic victory against an evil enemy.”
“The Iraqis prevailed in the most extended and brutal combat I have ever witnessed,” he said.
As commander of Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve, Townsend is the top general overseeing the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. He’s one of several hundred 18th Airborne Corps soldiers who form the core of the anti-ISIS headquarters.
Several other Fort Bragg units, including the 1st Special Forces Command, are also deployed in support of the campaign.
Townsend spoke to members of the media via a video feed from Baghdad.
He said ISIS has now lost its capital in Iraq and its largest population center held anywhere in the world. That’s a decisive blow to ISIS and something for Iraqis to celebrate.
Townsend said forces also are making progress against ISIS in Syria, where partner forces working with American and coalition troops have surrounded ISIS’s capital of Raqqa.
The general said ISIS would fight hard to keep that city, much as it did in Mosul.
“Make no mistake, it is a losing cause,” he said.
Townsend said Iraqi forces have a plan in the works to continue to pursue ISIS in other parts of the country. He said he doesn’t anticipate any decrease in US troops in Iraq following the liberation of Mosul.
American forces, including those from Fort Bragg, are expected to play a key role in those efforts.
While the city of Mosul is now firmly under the control of Iraqi forces, Work said, no one will be celebrating too long.
“A lot of hard work remains. The Iraqi Security Forces will continue to attack the remnants of ISIS, search for caches, and free the people of west Mosul,” he said. “The transition for the Iraqis to consolidate their gains is critical now. It requires detailed intelligence, organization, and logistics. Our paratroopers will continue to give our best advice, help our partners attack ISIS, and keep enabling their operations.”
The 2nd Brigade deployed seven battalions to aid in the anti-ISIS fight. Most of the soldiers are involved in providing security or advising their Iraqi counterparts.
But, Work said, all soldiers contributed to the efforts and successes of the unit.
“All seven of our battalion teams have been tremendous. 37th Engineer Battalion has run a major staging base that is the hub of all logistics for a very decentralized coalition adviser network,” he said. “407th Brigade Support Battalion assists the Iraqis with advancing their own logistics while also sustaining and maintaining our adviser teams. Finally, the 2nd Battalion of the 319th Field Artillery devastated ISIS’s once-formidable mortar and artillery battery.”
Work also said the brigade has relied on junior soldiers to step up and fill important roles in the fight.
“We have a junior intelligence analyst, Spc. Cassandra Ainsworth, who is brilliant. We rely heavily on her thinking, on her analysis, and synthesis when we are making major recommendations to Iraqi generals,” he said. “We also have a junior signal soldier, Spc. Malik Turner, whom I count on daily to keep us connected securely in very austere environments. He is exceptional.”
Work said the brigade was the “right team at the right time” to help in Iraq.
“There is a lot of hard work ahead, but the Falcons — some of the best trained, best equipped, and best led paratroopers in the world — helped the Iraqis win in Mosul,” he said.
With the city liberated, Work said, the soldiers’ attention will turn to securing those gains, improving the Iraqi forces, and taking the fight to ISIS forces in other parts of the country.
“The first priority is helping the Iraqis sink in their hold on west Mosul, helping them set conditions that allow the government to start delivering services and political goods,” he said. “Mosul is also a major battle in a much broader campaign to eliminate ISIS, and the fight continues. We will continue to give our best military advice, but the government of Iraq will decide the next objective. Whatever they decide, we are confident that we will continue to help them attack our common enemy.”