The U.S. Space Force will allow the Defense Department to deliver space capabilities and results faster, better, and ahead of adversaries, Pentagon officials said March 1, 2019.
Officials spoke with reporters on background in advance of the announcement that DOD delivered a proposal for establishing the sixth branch of the armed forces to Congress. The proposal calls for the U.S. Space Force to lodge in the Department of the Air Force.
“What underpins the entire discussion is the importance of space to life here on Earth,” an official said. “Space truly is vital to our way of life and our way of war, and that has really been increasing over time.”
The Space Force will allow the department to face down the threats of great power competition in space, officials said.
Today, the United States has the best space capabilities in the world, they noted, but they added that this is not an entitlement. “Our adversaries have recognized that, and they recognize what space brings to the United States and our military,” an official said. “As a result, they are integrating space into their forces, and they are developing weapon systems to take away our advantages in a crisis or conflict.”
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dalton Williams)
Space has changed the character of war. “Space is not just a support function, it is a warfighting domain in and of its own right where we really need to be prepared to compete, deter and win,” he said.
The Space Force is a strategic step forward that will bring greater focus to people, doctrine, and capability needed to wage a war in space, officials said.
If Congress approves the proposal, the new service will grow incrementally over the next five fiscal years. Planners already are discussing the culture of the organization and what people they would like to see populate it. “We’re going to try to establish a unique culture — the special training, the care for promotions, development of doctrine,” another official said.
Pending passage, DOD will begin transferring personnel from the Air Force to the new service in fiscal year 2021 — most of the personnel in the U.S. Space Force will come from the Air Force. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps personnel will be affected in later years. Civilian employees will come to the new service under the auspices of the Department of the Air Force, just as civilian employees of the U.S. Marine Corps work for the Department of the Navy.
(Photo by Ryan Keith)
Building a culture
On the military side, the service will look for individuals who will build the culture of the new service. “We want people to be recruited into the Space Force as similar to the way the Marine Corps recruits Marines,” a senior official said. “We don’t recruit [Marines] into the Navy — they go after the specific kind of people with a vision that is necessary to build that culture.”
It will take some time for Space Force service members to build that culture. “When you grow up in your service, you are a part of a culture and that is your mindset and focus,” a senior military officer said. “The Air Force includes space, but the personnel still grow up in an Air Force culture today. I would argue that if you ‘grow up’ in a Space Force where you are solely focused on the space domain, your ability to think clearly and focus on that domain will get after the problem set much more effectively.”
The force will look for people with a technical background to apply toward warfighting. “We need people who, at their core, understand what warfighting is and how to do those things that bring together that capabilities from across all services to pursue strategic objectives as part of the joint force,” another officer said.
If Congress approves, the U.S. Space Force will have about 15,000 people — the smallest U.S. armed force. “It is a small, but mighty group,” a senior official said. “As we look forward to the importance of space to our country and national security, it is really elevating it.”
In this latest episode of Vets Get Real, WATM talks to a group of veterans about the ups and downs of dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the important lessons they learned from transitioning out of the military.
And be sure to keep an eye out for other episodes of Vets Get Real where WATM hosts discussions with vets on topics ranging from relationships to recruiters.
Editor’s note: If you have questions that you’d like to see Vets Get Real about, please leave a comment below.
Troops to Teachers, a Department of Defense funded program, has been working to help service members transition to careers in education since 1993. The program is part of the Defense-Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, or “DANTES,” which assists service members in acquiring degrees or certifications (or both), during and after their obligated service.
Through DANTES, service members can apply for scholarships, grants, loans, and tuition assistance, as well as get help understanding their VA education benefits.
Eligible DANTES users who utilize the Troops to Teachers program may qualify for additional funding — up to a $5,000 stipend or a $10,000 bonus.
Stipends may be used to pay for certifications, classes, or teaching license fees. Bonuses are awarded to those who’ve already completed their education and received certification and licensure; they are designed to be an incentive for teaching in high need or certain eligible schools.
“High need schools”, according to TTT, are schools in areas where 50 percent of the elementary or middle school or 40 percent of the high school receives free or reduced lunch. “Eligible” schools will have at least 30 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunch, have an Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 13 percent or more, or be a Bureau of Indian Affairs funded school.
Service members awarded stipends or bonuses must either agree to teach full time in an eligible or high need school for three years, or must commit an additional three years to the military.
The Troops to Teachers program has several goals:
Reduce veteran unemployment.
Improve American education by providing motivated, experienced, and dedicated personnel for the nation’s classrooms.
Increase the number of male and minority teachers in today’s classrooms.
Address teacher shortage issues in K-12 schools that serve low-income families and in the critical subjects – math, science, special education, foreign language, and career-technical education.
TTT actively recruits service members from its program to teach in Native American “school[s] residing on or near a designated reservation, nation, village, Rancheria, pueblo, or community with a high population of indigenous students.”
In addition to financial assistance and job placement, TTT offers support to its participants through counseling and mentorship programs.
To date, TTT has awarded over $325,000 in stipends, nearly $2.5 million in bonuses, and helped place over 20,000 veterans into jobs.
A senior Air Force commander revealed that airmen flying drones over ISIS-controlled areas in Syria and Iraq are directing close air support strikes supporting allied troops on the ground using unmanned aircraft.
Flying primarily out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, the pilots use pairs of MQ-9 Reaper drones where one designates the targets and the other drops ordnance on it, said Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the head of Air Combat Command — a mission he calls “urban CAS.”
“What we’re finding is some of what we can do multi-ship with the MQ-9 is really paying dividends just because of the attributes of those airplanes with the sensor suite combined with the weapons load and the ability to buddy and do things together,” Carlisle said during a Feb. 24 breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington D.C. “We’re finding that as we’re able to practice this more sometimes we can bring them together and pair them off.”
Usually, Air Force Joint Tactical Air Controllers, Combat Controllers or Tactical Control Party airmen paint targets and walk aircraft into a strike, including Reapers. But in terror battlefields like ISIS-held Syrian cities or hotbeds in Iraq, the risk to American boots on the ground is too great to deploy terminal controllers, officials say.
Carlisle added that American unmanned planes are closely linked with ground forces fighting ISIS militants in the battle for Mosul, “doing great work with that persistent attack and reconnaissance.”
“And their interaction with the land component is increasing in the Mosul fight,” he added, hinting that even attack helicopters are now able to link into feeds from Reaper drones.
And there’s more Carlisle wants to do with his MQ-9 fleet.
With recent bonuses of up to $175,000 paid to Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle pilots, the service now has the breathing room to do more with its Reaper fleet than just surveillance or precision strikes with one drone, Carlisle said.
“Some of that [growth] is bearing fruit in that we’re getting a little bit of an opportunity to do some training and get to some other missions,” Carlisle said. “So we’re learning a lot about the MQ-9 and what it can do for us.”
Sheik Abdul Hasib is a stout Pakistani who chose to fight under the flag of ISIS in eastern Afghanistan. The area he chose as his redoubt is the border with Pakistan, not too far from where Osama bin Laden and the Arab-speaking jihadis chose to build caves and fight the Soviets in the ’80s. Now seeking to tax poppy growers in the Nangahar province and establish ISIS Khurahsan, the long-haired Pakistani Orakzai tribal fighters have been streaming over four mountain passes from the Khyber and Orakzai regions in Parchinar since 2015. Since then, they’ve terrorized the locals, beheading children and elders alike, and launched a number of violent attacks in Afghanistan.
The Afghan anti-terrorist force began in Kabul and expanded to other major urban areas. Unlike the military, they’re trained by the world’s most elite counter-terrorism units to work in intense scenarios in which hundreds of civilians may be at risk. Photo from Recoilweb.com
ISIS established a foothold in the Pakistan tribal areas in mid-2014 with the fracturing of the “little T” Taliban that was made up of former Pakistan-based Taliban fighters. Leaderless, they flowed northward into Afghanistan in 2015 when around 70 ISIS trainers travelled from Syria to school them in tactics, public relations, and ambushes. Led by Abdul Rauf Khadem, a former bin Laden confidant, ISIS began paying three times the Afghan government salary, and twice that of the Taliban. They launched their new sub brand, ISIS-Khurasan, with brutal videos of hapless villagers being blown up and other filmed executions. Islamic religion tradition insists that horse-mounted jihadis carrying the Black Flags of Khurasan will signal the retaking of the Holy Land and the end of Christianity. Not surprisingly, ISIS PR cameramen filmed chubby Pakistanis jogging and jerking along on Afghan nags carrying black flags in their videos.
The cash and the PR campaign worked. In September 2015, the UN estimated ISIS penetrated 25 out of the 34 provinces.
The Crisis Response Unit is legendary in Afghanistan. They’re never seen in public and stay on their base until a crisis occurs, and then they deploy in minutes directly into a hostage situation. Photo from Recoilweb.com
When I met with Resolute Support commander General “Mick” Nicholson in December, he made it clear that although the NATO side of the war was treading water, the counter-terrorism fight wasn’t hindered by a lack of funding or increasing intensity. While the USA waited patiently for the election to end, General Nicholson made his move.
On April 13, 2017, the sky lit up above Achin and the ground shook through eastern Afghanistan as US special operations forces dropped a 12,000-pound MOAB munition that detonated above the exact area ISIS selected as their headquarters.
Nicholson’s air strike had maximum effect. The USA turned the ISIS fighter’s concealment and isolation into their damnation. About 90 fighters were killed instantly by the pressure wave and collapsing buildings.
Although the rank and file of ISIS K were decimated, the work of actually finishing the job was left to US ground operators and Afghans. Ten days later, at 10:30 p.m., 50 US Army Rangers and 40 Afghan commandos went in on the location of Sheik Hasib, gunning him down about a mile away from where the bomb went off in Mohmand Valley. As in all special operation ground missions, drones, AC 130s, F16s, and Apaches provided constant top cover and ISR support. Down below, air controllers coordinated the troops moving forward, calling out targets and hostiles for Afghan commandos. ISIS in the east was snuffed out like a candle.
(Photo from Recoilweb.com)
The top leadership and 35 members of ISIS were finally removed because they had crossed the line. They had carried out a devastating March 2017 attack on a 400-bed military hospital in Kabul in which ISIS personnel disguised as medical staff killed scores of people. Enough was enough.
Although MOAB was a global headline grabber and there’s every indication that America is getting back into the fight, much of the dirty work of killing terrorists face to face has been left to the Afghans. It’s for this reason that I visited a little-known counter-terrorism unit high above the hills of Kabul.
It’s Friday, the day off in Afghanistan, but Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Raqib Mubariz, the head of Afghanistan’s elite’s counter-terrorism team, has invited me over. He’s clean-shaven, tall, and eager to meet me. He runs the Afghan Crisis Response Unit 222, or CRU 222 for short. He’s unapologetic about his team. His and his men’s job is to kill terrorists in Kabul. Fast.
It’s a brutally simple idea taught to them originally by the SAS and carried forward in their training by American, and now Norwegian, commandos. When suicide bombers try to take hostages en masse, the unit’s mission is to get in and kill them without restraint. In their brutal experience, the faster they kill terrorists the lower the casualties.
Their spotless base sits on the old site of Camp Gibson, overlooking the outskirts of Kabul.
Kabul is the fifth fastest growing city in the world. Under the Taliban in 2001 the population was barely 1.5 million; today almost 4 million people call Kabul home. Photo from Recoilweb.com
Mubariz walks me around the camp and explains the unit has three groups, one active, one in training, and one in reserve. On operations they have a 60-man protection unit and three operations groups. They work 15 days on and 15 days off, and they’re set up to respond to a crisis quickly; their goal is to be out the door within five minutes of a call.
He expresses pride that his men can “assess a situation, form a plan, and have all the belligerents dead within minutes. Instead of the hours it used to take, now we can be ready in three minutes.”
To underline the seriousness and intensity of their task, he estimates that last year 97 of his 7,000-person, nationwide staff were killed. The high-casualty rate doesn’t faze his enthusiasm for the task.
The training for the anti-terrorist squad lasts four months with a dropout rate of 10 to 15 percent of the class. “We get better training than the commandos, but we work together,” Raqib tells me, talking about another Afghan special mission unit that operates in the rural areas of the country. “We recruit from all over the country.”
I want to understand how this unit ended the March 2017 hospital attack, the most brutal terrorist act after the recent bomb attack at Camp Shahin. He offers to have his men perform a demonstration.
The men roll up to a practice building in armored Humvees, dismount, and take a knee; they lay out a protective circle and deploy snipers. They set up a command and control center, gather intel, and agree on an entry plan. Then, the teams deploy and breach, clearing each room until they reach the top.
(Photo from Recoilweb.com)
The men are fast, aggressive, and their actions appear well rehearsed. But this is an empty building with a journalist sticking a camera in their faces, not a burning building with martyrs killing their way to a 72-virgin afterlife.
The 222 benefits from the knowledge passed on by foreign military advisors. Norwegians from the Marinejegerkommandoen were also on hand supervising and offering training guidance. The Norwegians declined to be officially interviewed, but 222’s opinion of them is effusive. “We love it when they taught us how to shoot off the back of motorcycles in the dark,” one commando laughs.
To understand 222’s tactical response to the Kabul hospital attack, I met with the officer (unnamed at his request) that led the hospital attack.
The soft-spoken colonel describes the siege. “It was Wednesday, March 8, 8:45 in the morning. The first car bomb went off at 9 a.m. at the rear of the hospital. By 9:45 a.m. we were stuck in all kinds of traffic. We travel in armored Humvees, five men to a vehicle. We had to hit cars to get out them out the way. We were waved around to a different entrance from the normal entrance when the second car bomb went off.”
The remnants of a vehicle bomb during the March 8, 2017, ISIS attack on the Sardar Daud Khan Military Hospital in Kabul. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
The eight-story pink Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital is in the Wazir Akbar Khan District of Kabul and is the largest military hospital in Afghanistan. Named after the last prime minister before the Soviets landed, the staff provides medical care to members of the Afghan military and their families. There are also two floors filled with wounded Taliban fighters along with a VIP wing; in addition, there are soldiers housed here who are wounded so seriously they can’t be sent home.
“It was complicated when we arrived on scene because we had more than 1,000 doctors, patients, and visitors.” The colonel says there were 400 beds in an eight-floor building and an unknown number of terrorists wearing suicide vests with grenades, knives, and rifles inside. “I was just thinking how we can protect civilians before we can kill the terrorists.”
The men ISIS sent to cause mayhem weren’t just suicide bombers, but fourth-generation suicide fighters called inghimasis, or “those who plunge” into battle. The four attackers were let into the hospital by an employee, the colonel tells us. They put on white lab coats and began to shoot indiscriminately, using knives to kill bedridden victims to conserve ammunition.
“Once the Afghan Army commandos arrived, I stopped everyone and explained how we can work together. We have British SAS tactics; the Afghan Special Forces uses American [tactics]. We have different training and tactics, and we could kill each other.”
The units deconflicted by leap-frogging each other as they cleared the buildings seven floors, floor by floor.
“We are clearing each room, but ultimately we run to the shooting,” says the colonel. “The problem was most of the victims were being stabbed with knives and [the attackers] were dressed in lab coats like many of the hostages. On the second floor we killed the third man; we shot him, and he blew up. Again we ran to the shooting. In various rooms, there were people hiding. The gunman had killed one or two people in each room.”
The responders killed another shooter on the fourth floor as he was hiding behind a bed. “We found another terrorist on the fifth floor. We shot him, and he blew up.”
Like many Afghans, and out of respect for the dead, he won’t describe the specifics of the dozens of victims. Most of the people had been killed with knives. Later I find out from one of the men who was there that a pregnant women, the wife of a military officer, screamed, “You can’t kill me!” He looks down and describes the brutality, “They cut out her child and then killed her.”
(Photo from Recoilweb.com)
Finally, there were 65 hostages on the top floor being held by the last gunman.
“I had heard shooting from the rooftop, and I requested an air drop,” says the Colonel. “The Mi-17 will carry 15 troops and can land on the roof where people were fleeing. Some were on the window ledges outside. [Our] snipers were using the windows, but there weren’t clear shots in the confusion. There is a green house on the top floor, and we went up and found the hostages.”
“We were using CS grenades and wearing gas masks,” he says. “It’s hard to see through the mask when you’re running and the smoke. So I aimed for his center of his vest and he exploded, killing some of the hostages.” When I ask him why he didn’t take a head a shot he looks up and just gives me a pained look.
“I think we were done by 14:00. We then had to coordinate the removal of the dead and wounded, and order ambulances since all the staff had fled.”
At the end, over 60 people were dead and roughly as many were wounded.
The attackers were trained in Pakistan and were reportedly told to kill as many people as possible before detonating their suicide vests. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
UNDERSTANDING THE ENEMY
Colonel Mir Ebaidullah Mirzada from Kapisa province explains how ISIS recruits and trains for these attacks. “I was in military school in high school, then I joined CID police. I spent 31 years in the intelligence service,” he says. His job now is to make sense of these attacks and understand the enemy. That enemy, he says, is increasingly more foreign.
The history of the CRU also coincides with violent attacks launched from Pakistan.
“There was a series of attacks in Kabul in 2005. At that time there was no special unit. They sent police, members of the Afghan National Directorate of Security and the Army, and there were a lot of civilian casualties. It was then they decided to create the CRU. National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar established a division of special police when he was interior minister.”
The work of CRU 222 is not without sacrifice. In 2016, 97 members of the Afghan national anti-terrorism group were killed. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
The first unit was 222. They started with 100 members; now they have around 7,000. Ebedullah was one of the originals. “We started with Hungarian and Bulgarian AKs, Russian PiKas (PKM), and Iranian RPGs. We swapped to Russian AKs [after] seven years with a gift of 20,000 AKs, and now, thanks to the US Embassy, we’re using M4s.
The men of the 222 still have to tape their flashlights to the barrel and make do with Chinese knockoff gear. They favor the bright green laundry bag camo pattern sprayed on their gear. It used to take three hours for the unit to jock up, and now it takes them less than five minutes to get out of their compound. Still, a Colonel gets by on $600 a month, and some of the men aren’t fully kitted. But they don’t complain. He pulls out the dossier on the attack on the hospital attack.
More than 70 percent of Kabul’s population lives in illegal settlements like these hillside homes built without permits or proper sanitation. These migrants include thousands of former jihadis returning from Pakistan. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
“The attackers were from Pakistan, two from Tajikistan, and two were Afghan. The people know that Pakistan is behind this.” He takes pains to read the next sentence carefully.
“They trained for four months by Major Ahmad from ISI Punjab, in Mansehra near the military base at Rawalpindi. This information comes from the ‘other side,'” he noted with a smile. Manserhra is only 13 miles north of where bin Laden was found and killed in Abbottabad.
Recruiting is done from the madrasas, free religious schools sponsored by Sunni donors from the Gulf area.
(Photo from Recoilweb.com)
Mirzada lays out the training process. “They pass three steps to come. The first step is for ISI people who operated under the guise of being scholars who train young people. They identify those who respond to extreme ideology.”
Despite the steady stream of violent attacks, the people of Kabul go on with their daily lives. In 16 years the country has experienced dramatic growth and education. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
“In the madrasa they’re separated, and when they say, ‘I want to be a martyr,’ they’re ready. Then the preparation work stops. They blindfold them and take them to a military base. There they’re trained about three months on weapons, explosives, and what destiny awaits them in paradise. Before the plan [takes] place they set up companies to provide fake IDs, transportation, and lodging. They transport them to Kabul without weapons.”
Typically, he says, they’re between 14 and 25 years old, mostly from poor families. Their family gets paid 400,000 Pakistani rupees, just under $4,000 US, after they’ve reached the end of their path to martyrdom.
“The handlers train them again to get used to the area where they speak Pashto,” Mirzada says. “There are also people who know Farsi. Once they learn the area, then they ship in the weapons. There are also people who are responsible to make the film. Even when they rush and fight, they’re always filming. Before they attack they film a speech and they get injections to make them brave.”
The elite reputation of CRU 222 attracts hundreds of young Afghan recruits; 15 percent will drop out during training. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)
One witness in the media insists he heard one of the men talking to “Mullah Sahib,” which sounds like Mullah Hasib, the head of the ISIS cell in Nangahar. The man gunned down after the MOAB was dropped by US forces. Mirzada closes the file.
When and if another hostage situation occurs, CRU 222 sits waiting for the call, stopwatch at the ready.
It’s the most famous aircraft in the world, a highly-visible symbol of the United States wherever it travels.
Known as Air Force One, and popularly nicknamed ‘the Flying White House’, this massive jumbo jet, decked out in a special blue, white and silver livery, ferries U.S. presidents, their families, members of the press and various staffers and Secret Service protective agents across the globe on official trips to foreign and domestic destinations.
While Air Force One itself is incredibly famous, it turns out that not a heck of a lot about this unique aircraft seems to be known in public circles. So the next time you find yourself at a party and you feel like impressing a few folks with Air Force One facts they probably didn’t know, today’s your lucky day! Here are 6 things about the President’s personal aircraft that you more than likely didn’t know:
1. “Air Force One” is technically a callsign and not the aircraft’s actual designation.
“Air Force One” is the callsign attached to any USAF aircraft the president is physically present on. The famous Boeing 747 decked out in the presidential scheme is officially designated “VC-25.” The Air Force One callsign originated in 1953 after air traffic controllers mistakenly put an aircraft carrying President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the same airspace as a civilian airliner over New York City, after confusing the presidential transport’s name and code for a commercial flight.
Ever since, every military vehicle carrying America’s head honcho is temporarily relabeled with the name of the service the vehicle belongs to, followed by “One” (e.g. Marine One).
2. Each VC-25 has its own medical suite aboard the aircraft.
You read that correctly; whenever the president is aboard, Air Force One carries a qualified military surgeon/physician along for the ride. A small medical center aboard the aircraft, fully stocked and equipped, can be converted into an operating room should the need arise. While no sitting president has had to avail of the on-board doctor’s abilities and talents, it’s still helpful to always have one nearby, just in case.
3. Both VC-25s are equipped with extensive countermeasures and defensive systems.
On any given day, the threats to the president’s life number in the hundreds, though the Secret Service does everything it can to make sure the risks are largely negligible.
The Air Force also does its part by outfitting each VC-25 with the very best in defensive systems available at the moment. It’s unknown what exactly these systems consist of, but it could be safely assumed that the VC-25 comes standard with missile jammers, flare dispensers and more. On top of that, each Air Force One flight carries a small army of well-armed Secret Service agents and Air Force security specialists to provide security for the President and the aircraft on the ground.
4. It is one of the most expensive aircraft the US Air Force has ever operated.
Not only is the VC-25 one of the largest jets flown by the USAF, it’s also one of the most expensive the service has ever flown in its entire history. At an operating cost of approximately $200,000 per hour, Air Force One flights dwarf the expenses incurred by every other military-crewed and flown aircraft like the E-4B Nightwatch, the C-5 Galaxy and the B-2 Spirit. The security measures, passenger support (for members of the press, Secret Service and White House Staff), and communications systems operations all come together to account for this sky high figure.
5. The President can seamlessly interface with the military and government while airborne.
Each VC-25 possesses a highly integrated communications suite, staffed by a team of Air Force communication systems operators. These CSOs constantly monitor the aircraft’s satellite data-links, intranets and phone lines, ensuring that all incoming and outgoing calls on each flight are secured and highly encrypted.
In the event of national emergencies, the President can interact with military units from the aircraft, or direct the government and stay appraised of the situation at hand, thanks to the communications center and its CSOs.
6. It always parks with its left side facing the crowds gathered to see its arrivals.
Though it seems almost arbitrary, Air Force One does indeed park with its left side facing onlookers crowding behind the security cordon at airports. While the exact reasons for this are unknown, as both sides of the aircraft seem identical, it could be reasonably assumed that this is done for security purposes and practicality.
Positioning the big jet in such a way masks the President’s office from sight on the right side, while it also enables the use of air stairs built into the aircraft on the left side should an external stair unit be unavailable. Air Force One never parks at an airport terminal, nor does it accept a jet bridge connection.
VA’s goal is to give eligible Veterans who need same-day urgent care for minor illnesses or injuries as many avenues as possible at the right time, right place and right provider.
VA is transitioning its urgent care network managers on Sept. 1, 2020, from TriWest Healthcare Alliance (TriWest) to Optum Public Sector Solutions, Inc. (Optum), which is part of UnitedHealth Group, Inc.
The changes will take place in Community Care Network (CCN) Regions 2 and 3.
VA’s goal is for the transition to be seamless for Veterans. However, the change will result in new urgent care providers being added to its contracted networks while others may be removed.
Minor illnesses at in-network non-VA urgent care providers
Veterans have the option for urgentcare treatment of minor injuries and illnesses such as colds, sore throats and minor skin infections at in-network, non-VA, urgent care providers. In addition, Veterans can receive same-day, urgent care treatment at VA medical centers.
Veterans who need urgent care may have the option to use telehealth (phone- or video-based visits) instead of in-person visits at VA or in-network community clinics. Telehealth allows Veterans to conveniently access health care at home while reducing their exposure to COVID-19.
“VA is committed to providing the safest and highest quality health care to Veterans, whether they are receiving their care within VA or in the community,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Community Care, Dr. Kameron Matthews.
Veterans required to pay for out-of-network providers
VA can only pay for urgent care if the provider is part of VA’s contracted network. Veterans who go to an out-of-network urgent care provider must pay the full cost of care.
The change in network management will also affect pharmacies. Veterans who require urgent careprescriptions of 14 days or less can find an authorized in-network provider or contact their local VA medical facility to identify a VA network pharmacy to avoid paying out-of-pocket costs.
States where changes will impact Veterans
The change will impact Veterans in the following locations: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Veterans in these states or U.S. territories who need urgent care should use VA’s facility locator or contact their local VA medical facility for help identifying in-network urgent care providers.
Through this unified system, VA continues to deliver care for Veterans at VA and in the community.
The U.S. Air Force will reduce exterior lighting at a Hawaii facility to help protect endangered and threatened seabirds there.
The Air Force agreed to reduce lighting at a mountaintop radar facility on the island of Kauai, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. After the announcement, the Center for Biological Diversity said it no longer intends to sue the Air Force.
The nonprofit conservation group says the threatened Newell’s shearwater and Hawaiian petrel are attracted to bright lights at night, which can cause crashes onto the ground and sometimes death.
The center believes lights at the Kokee Air Force Station caused more than 130 birds to fall out of the air in 2015, including Hawaiian petrels, endangered band-rumped storm petrels and Newell’s shearwaters. Most of them died, the center said.
The Kokee Air Force Station was founded in 1961 to detect and track all aircraft operating near Hawaii.
The Air Force also said in June 2016 that it had agreed to turn off outside lights from April through December, when birds are going to and from colonies.
But the Center for Biological Diversity threatened legal action at the end of June 2016, saying the Air Force was violating the Endangered Species Act by not updating its formal consultation about seabirds with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The center said the Air Force reinitiated the consultation and agreed to ongoing protective measures in response.
The Air Force is “committed to protecting the threatened and endangered bird species that frequent the area around Mt. Kokee Air Force Station,” Col. Frank Flores wrote in an email to The Star-Advertiser.
Flores is the commander of the Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center, which provides oversight for Kokee Station.
“We have collaborated closely with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services over the years on this issue. We take environmental stewardship very seriously and will continue to partner with USFWS to protect these species,” Flores wrote.
A few years ago a team of journalists from Syracuse University traveled to rural Washington state to tell the stories of hundreds of veterans living there, some off-the-grid, away from the country for which they fought.
The project includes the story of Chad Olsen, a Marine who killed his wife and himself in 2009, and the stories of those who knew him. It features the stories of Ryn Rollins and Adam Howerton, who (at the time) were 18 and enlisting in the Army. The project also shows how one Marine veteran who struggles with post-traumatic stress and returning to everyday life after three tours in Iraq.
The project also follows “trip-wire veterans,” a small group of vets who escaped their lives into the wilds of American back country because they were unable to face their war memories and were provided little help when they returned. The term “trip-wire” comes from the Vietnam War, where the Viet Cong would booby trap trails used by U.S. servicemen to injure and maim troops outside their bases.
The term was first coined in the early 1980’s, when around 85 people were documented living in the Washington wilds. It was not known then how many were out there. One former trip-wire vet was Mike McWatters. He lived in New York’s Adirondack Mountains for two years after seeing heavy combat in Vietnam. In 1983, he started work to reach out to these veterans to encourage them to seek treatment.
“I know one vet who went into the woods naked,” McWatters said. “He came out in full leather clothing, having gained 40 pounds, carrying weapons he’d made.”
When these veterans were first discovered, the media often inaccurately portrayed them as criminals and drunks or worse. In June, 1988, Dan Rather and CBS News interviewed six “Vietnam veterans” who admitted to killing civilians or seeing friends killed in action, and had since become homeless, suicidal drug users after the war. Later investigations showed none of it was true.
The reality is not so black and white. The project hit important topics beyond PTSD – women, race (specifically Native Americans) and the wives and children veterans leave behind, all from the rural town of Republic, Washington.
This team did more than just tell tales of the people living there. They provided thoroughly researched background information on veteran suicide, the steps to getting a VA disability claim, and an infographic on U.S. wars from 1900 (current as of 2010) and those who fought them.
A corroded blade that came loose on a Marine CorpsKC-130T transport aircraft at 20,000 feet above Mississippi caused the deaths of 15 Marines and one Navy corpsman in 2017, according to a Marine Corps accident investigation released Dec. 6, 2018.
The propeller blade — improperly maintained by Air Force maintenance crews in 2011 and later overlooked by the Navy, according to officials — set off a series of cascading events that would cut the aircraft into three pieces before it fell to the ground on July 10, 2017, in a LeFlore County field, officials wrote in the investigation.
“Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex failed to remove existing and detectable corrosion pitting and [intergranular cracking] on [Propeller 2, Blade 4] in 2011, which ultimately resulted in its inflight liberation,” investigators wrote. “This blade liberation was the root cause of the mishap.”
The aircraft, which belonged to Marine Aerial Refueling Squadron 452, out of Newburgh, New York, had been tasked with transporting six Marines and a sailor belonging to Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command from Cherry Point, North Carolina, to Yuma, Arizona, for team-level pre-deployment training.
Seven service members were from MARSOC’s 2nd Marine Raider Battalion; nine Marine aircrew belonged to the squadron, VMGR-452. All 16 troops aboard the aircraft perished in the crash.
Sgt. Maj. Randall Anderson, the sergeant major assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452, calls roll during a memorial service at Stewart Air National Guard Base, Newburgh, New York, Aug. 27, 2017. Nine Marines assigned to VMGR-452 were among the 16 dead following a KC-130T Super Hercules crash.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Julio A. Olivencia Jr.)
“I found that the deaths of Maj. Cain M. Goyette, Capt. Sean E. Elliott, Gunnery Sgt. Mark A. Hopkins, Gunnery Sgt. Brendan C. Johnson, Staff Sgt. Robert H. Cox, Staff Sgt. William J. Kundrat, Staff Sgt. Joshua M. Snowden, Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan M. Lohrey, Sgt. Chad E. Jenson, Sgt. Talon R. Leach, Sgt. Julian M. Kevianne, Sgt. Owen J. Lennon, Sgt. Joseph J. Murray, Sgt. Dietrich A. Schmieman, Cpl. Daniel I. Baldassare and Cpl. Collin J. Schaaff occurred in the line of duty and not due to their misconduct,” an investigator said.
“Neither the aircrew nor anybody aboard the KC-130T could have prevented or altered the ultimate outcome after such a failure,” officials said.
The crew had come over in two KC-130Ts from Stewart Air National Guard Base, New York. The two planes swapped missions, investigators said, “due to difficulties with cargo and embarkation” with one of the aircraft.
The destination of the flight, call sign “Yanky 72,” was Naval Air Facility El Centro, California.
The KC-130T carried thousands of pounds in cargo, including “two internal slingable unit 90-inch (ISU-90) containers, one Polaris Defense all-terrain utility vehicle (MRZR), and one 463L pallet of ammunition,” officials said. Also on board were 968 lithium-ion batteries, 22 cans of spray paint, one compressed oxygen cylinder, personal baggage and military kits, weighing about 2,800 pounds.
Propeller Two, including the corroded Blade Four, or P2B4, on the aircraft had flown 1,316.2 hours since its last major overhaul in September 2011, according to the documents. The aircraft had last flown missions May 24 through July 6, 2018, accumulating more than 73.3 hours within those two weeks.
The aircraft entered service in 1993. The propeller in question was made by UTC Aerospace Systems.
On the day of the accident, after it had detached from the rotating propeller, P2B4 sliced through the port side of the main fuselage, the 73-page investigation said.
The blade cut into the aircraft and then “passed unobstructed through the [mishap aircraft’s] interior, and did not exit the airframe but rather impacted the interior starboard side of the cargo compartment where it remained until cargo compartment separation,” it said. Its impact cut into the starboard interior support beam.
The violent force shook through the plane, causing the third propeller engine to separate from the aircraft. It bounced back into the aircraft, striking the right side of the fuselage and forcing a portion of one of the fuselage’s longerons to buckle. Its impact also caused significant damage to the starboard horizontal stabilizer, causing “the stabilizer to separate from the aircraft,” the investigation said.
A KC-130T Hercules in flight.
(Photo by James M. Cox)
Soon after, the aircraft’s cockpit, center fuselage and rear fuselage would all break apart mid-air during its rapid descent.
The pilots and crew involved in the cataclysmic event likely experienced immediate disorientation and shock, rendering them immobile, officials said.
Investigators said an average of 5 percent of blades processed in the past nine years by Warner Robins (WR-ALC) were Navy or Marine Corps blades. The maintenance paperwork for the 2011 work on P2B4 no longer exists because, per Air Force regulations, work control documents are destroyed after a period of two years, the investigation noted.
During the quality control and quality assurance process, where items are inspected and approved or rejected based on their conditions, investigators said Warner Robins used ineffective practices and bypassed critical maintenance procedures.
Some of the other blades and propellers also were considered unsatisfactory, investigators said.
According to the report, the aircraft also missed an inspection in the spring. A 56-day conditional inspection is required when, within 56 days, the engine has not been run or the propeller has not been manually rotated “at least three consecutive times” on the aircraft, or a propeller has not “been flowed on a test stand at an intermediate level maintenance activity.” Investigators said there was no supported evidence that a checkup was conducted.
The Navy also neglected to impose a check-and-balance system on the WR-ALC’s work, investigators stated.
“Negligent practices, poor procedural compliance, lack of adherence to publications, an ineffective QC/QA program at WR-ALC, and insufficient oversight by the [U.S. Navy], resulted in deficient blades being released to the fleet for use on Navy and Marine Corps aircraft from before 2011 up until the recent blade overhaul suspension at WR-ALC occurring on Sept. 2, 2017,” officials said.
A Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) liaison stationed at WR-ALC also did not check on the maintenance being done, according to Military Times and Defense News. Leaders at the base had “no record” of the liaison ever checking procedures, the report said.
Since the accident, multiple agencies — including the Navy; Air Force; respective commands; UTC Aerospace, maker of the propeller; and officials from Lockheed Martin, the aircraft’s manufacturer — have convened to streamline practices and procedures to prevent any more similar catastrophic events, the documents said.
Investigators recommended the joint team’s primary objective be to create a “uniform approach” to overhauling procedures for both Air Force and Navy C-130T blades.
“WR-ALC plans to upgrade and improve their … process[es],” which will include the use of additional robotics, automation, and a wider scope of what’s inspected, the investigation said.
That includes more refined paperwork filings into “one consolidated electronic document identifying all defects and corrective actions,” it said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Russia must scrap its Novator 9M729 missile systems and launchers or reduce their range to comply with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and prevent a U.S. withdrawal from the Cold War-era pact, U.S. officials say.
Andrea Thompson, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told reporters on a teleconference call on Dec. 6, 2018, that the weapons system has a range that is not in compliance with the 1987 INF pact.
She added that Moscow must “rid the system, rid the launcher, or change the system so it doesn’t exceed the range” to bring Russia back “to full and verifiable compliance.”
“The ball’s in Russia’s court. We can’t do that for them. They have to take the initiative,” she added.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced in October 2018 that Washington would abandon the INF, citing alleged Russian violation and concerns that the bilateral treaty binds Washington to restrictions while leaving nuclear-armed countries that are not signatories, such as China, free to develop and deploy the missiles.
U.S. officials have said Russia’s deployment of the 9M729, also known as the SSC-8, breaches the ban on ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.
On Dec. 4, 2018, the United States said it would suspend its obligations under the treaty if Moscow did not return to compliance within two months.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the decision after NATO allies meeting in Brussels “strongly” supported U.S. accusations that Russia violated the terms of the INF.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
“During this 60 days, we will still not test or produce or deploy any systems, and we’ll see what happens during this 60-day period,” Pompeo said.
Russian officials have repeatedly dismissed such demands, and President Vladimir Putin gave no indication that Moscow plans to abandon the 9M729, which it claims does not violate the treaty.
Russia has alleged that some elements of U.S. missile-defense systems in Europe were in violation of the treaty, which Washington denies.
The U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Jon Huntsman, who was on the briefing call with Thompson, insisted that a U.S. withdrawal from the INF did not mean “we are walking away from arms control.”
“We are doing this to preserve the viability and integrity of arms control agreements more broadly,” he said.
“We remain committed to arms control, but we need a reliable partner and do not have one in Russia on INF, or for that matter on other treaties that it’s violating.”
He said “one can only surmise” that Moscow is attempting to “somehow seek an advantage” with the missile — “a little bit like violations we’re seeing with other treaties, whether it’s the Open Skies Treaty or whether it’s the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.
While Russia has deployed a number of Mach 2 bombers — like the Tu-22 Blinder and Tu-22M Backfire — these were not the fastest bombers that ever flew.
That title goes to the the North American XB-70 Valkyrie.
You haven’t heard much about the Valkyrie – and part of that is because it never got past the prototype stage. According to various fact sheets from the National Museum of the Air Force, the plane was to be able to cruise at Mach 3, have a top speed of Mach 3.1, and it had a range of 4,288 miles. All that despite being almost 200 feet long with a wingspan of 105 feet, and having a maximum takeoff weight of over 534,000 pounds.
That performance was gained by six J93 engines from General Electric, providing 180,000 pounds of thrust.
The XB-70s had no provision for armament, but the production version of this bomber was slated to be able to haul 50,000 pounds of bombs – either conventional or nuclear. Imagine that plane being around today, delivering JDAMs or other smart weapons.
With the performance and a weapons load like that, buying this plane to supplement the B-52 should have been a no-brainer, right? Well, not quite.
The fact was that the Valkyrie was caught by the development of two new technologies — the surface-to-air missile and the intercontinental ballistic missile. The former made high-speed, high-altitude runs much more dangerous (although it should be noted that the SR-71 Blackbird operated very well in that profile). The latter offered a more rapid strike capability than the XB-70 and was cheaper.
Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that as a result of the new technologies, the XB-70 was reduced by the Eisenhower Administration to a research and development project in December 1959. The B-70 was reinstated for production during the 1960 presidential campaign in an attempt to deflect criticism from John F. Kennedy. But Kennedy eventually threw it back to the lab.
Despite a public-relations effort by top Air Force brass, the B-70 remained an RD program with only two airframes built. A 1966 collision during a flight intended to generate photos to promote General Electric’s engines destroyed one of them. The surviving airframe is displayed at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
Take a look at this video from Curious Droid on the XB-70.
A National Guard soldier who was home for the holidays died while saving people from the massive apartment fire in the Bronx borough in New York City on Dec. 28, according to several newsreports.
Emmanuel Mensah, a 28-year-old who immigrated from Ghana five years ago, returned to his apartment for the first time after joining the Army a year ago, according to The New York Times. He was among the 12 people killed in the blaze that consumed an apartment building near the corner of East 187th Street and Prospect Avenue.
Mensah lived with friends of his father — a married couple and their four children. He got that family out of the burning building safely before pulling four more people from the fire, said Twum Bredu, his uncle who lived next door. Witnesses cited in the Times’ report say Mensah disappeared after going back into the building to look for more victims.
NewYork Army National Guard Pvt 1st Class Emmanuel Mensah who died during a fire in an apartment buiilding in the Bronx, New York City on Dec. 28, 2017. (Photo courtesy New York Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion )
“He brought four people out,” Bredu told The Times. “When he went to bring a fifth person out, the fire caught up with him.”
Mensah is believed to have died of smoke inhalation, authorities said.
Mensah had just begun his military career, based on photos which indicate he held the rank of a private first class.
“I thought maybe he was coming back,” said his father, Kwabena Mensah, according to CBS News. “Unfortunately, it turns out the other way.”
Kwabena, who reportedly searched for his son at nearby hospitals, said he was not surprised by his son’s final act.
“That’s what I think, because it was in his nature,” Kwabena said. “He wanted to help people out.”
Four children were among the 12 people who died in the fire, which is suspected to have occurred a few minutes before 7 p.m., after a 3-year-old boy played with burners on a stove inside an apartment on the first floor, New York Fire Department’s commissioner, Daniel Nigro, said during a news conference.