Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

When Toni Gross stood at the entrance of the Dover Fisher House for Families of the Fallen, she had no idea what to expect.

The previous hours were a blur, filled with grief and disbelief. It was July 2011, and she and her husband and daughter learned that Army Cpl. Frank Gross, their only son and brother, had been killed by an IED while serving in Afghanistan.


He was 25. And just like that, a mere few weeks into deployment, he was gone.

“We were just numb,” Toni Gross said.

The day after learning of Frank’s death, the Grosses traveled from Oldsmar, Florida to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, expecting to stay at “some place like a Hampton Inn” for the dignified transfer of Frank’s body. But instead, just across the street from the runway, they spent 24 hours at the Dover Fisher House for Families of the Fallen — a house created by Fisher House Foundation specifically for loved ones of those who have fallen through combat.

“It was a wonderfully comforting experience, and everything we could possibly think of— all of our needs, food, everything — was taken care of,” Toni Gross said. “We were able to spend time focusing on why we were there: grieving the loss of our son.”

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

That’s exactly what the chairman and CEO of Fisher House wants to hear. Ken Fisher is a third-generation leader of one of America’s most successful family-owned real estate development and management companies, but he is also expressly passionate about honoring veterans while assisting their families.

The foundation offers several programs to support military families through critical times, like the Hero Miles program and a scholarship program for military children, spouses, and children of fallen and disabled veterans. In 2019 alone, more than 32,000 families were served, according to its website.

There are 87 Fisher Houses located on 25 military installations and 38 VA medical centers, with several more in the works. Run by the Fisher House Foundation, Inc., each Fisher House provides free lodging for military families whose loved ones are receiving medical treatment nearby.

The Fisher House at Dover, however, is special for many reasons, Fisher says, because “it was built to honor the ultimate sacrifices of those who wear the uniform.”

Those who stay there aren’t waiting for a recovery but a goodbye to their airman, soldier, Marine, sailor or Coastie.

“I think the Fisher House at Dover does more than just provide lodging,” Fisher said. “It’s important that these families who have made the ultimate sacrifice understand that there are Americans that are very grateful.”

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

The Fisher House at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. Photo Roland Balik.

Built in just a few months in 2010, the Fisher House at Dover is equipped with nine guest suites that have seen approximately 3,700 guests since its opening. The average length of stay is 24 to 48 hours, with a typical family consists of six to 10 members.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michelle Johnson watches over each one. As house manager, it’s her job to make sure each guest has every need — and every want —taken care of.

One family with small children, for example, stayed at the house over Halloween. Staff members purchased costumes and took them trick-or-treating. Another time, they cooked a traditional holiday dinner for a family receiving their loved one’s body over Christmas.

“[These families] are experiencing a very difficult point in their lives, and grieving comes in different ways, so we make sure the Fisher House staff members takes care of those families,” Johnson said. “Giving them the care that they need and providing them with any comfort required.”

Toni Gross’ experience with staff members made such an impact that she now volunteers regularly at a Fisher House in Florida. Similarly, Ken Fisher, whose 87-year-old father served in the Korean War, calls the houses his “passion.”

“The House at Dover is particularly relevant as we approach Memorial Day, even while we’re in the grip of a pandemic,” he said. “In the end, we can never ever forget what has been done, what has been given to us, this freedom. That what we hold most dear above everything else — that came at a cost.”

And for families who have experienced that cost, like Toni Gross, it is “comforting” to have a place of refuge during such a difficult time.

“My family and I are grateful to the Fisher House Foundation for our stay at Dover Air Force Base. While it was a solemn time, it was comforting to know that the staff there all understood why we were there and were able to accommodate us during our darkest hours,” Gross said.

Visit https://fisherhouse.org/programs/houses/house-locations/delaware-fisher-house-for-families-of-the-fallen/ to learn more about Fisher House programs and services.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Recalled from the Mekong Delta to set a world record in the Olympics

Melvin Pender was a 25-year-old soldier headed to the 82nd Airborne Division when he first tied on some running shoes to race, but it quickly became clear that he would become a legend in the sport. He was fast. So fast, in fact, that the Army would twice recall him from active duty to train for the Olympics.


Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

A helicopter deposits troops in the Mekong River Delta of Vietnam.

(U.S. Air Force)

The first recall came in 1964 for the Tokyo Olympics, where Pender placed sixth. After the games, he went to officer’s candidate school. A few years later, Pender was sent to the Mekong Delta of Vietnam as a platoon leader.

The fighting was fierce, with rounds tearing through the underbrush to crash into the bodies of American soldiers. One day was particularly bad for Pender and his men.

“You couldn’t see the enemy; they were shooting at us from the jungles,” Pender told his friend Keith Sims during an interview. “And, uh, I had one of my kids killed. This young man died in my arms.”
Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

U.S. Army soldiers take a break during a patrol in Vietnam.

(Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. Collection, Texas Tech University)

Later that same day, Pender was told that he had to go home. The Army needed him to run in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, this time as part of a four-man relay team. Pender tried to stay, but was told it wasn’t optional.

“And I told my men, I says, ‘I’m going back for you. I’m going to win this gold medal for you guys,'” Pender told Sims.

But the 1968 Olympics were roiling with the same racial tensions that were consuming America as black athletes protested racial violence in the states.

When we got to Mexico, we start getting threats from the president of the Olympic Committee, saying if we demonstrated in the Olympics, ‘I’m going to send all you boys home.’

How are you, how are you going to call someone ‘boy’? I mean, here I just got out of combat, seeing people die defending my country, and you’re going to call me a boy? They don’t make boys like me.

www.youtube.com

While Pender opposed the restrictions that were being placed on black athletes at the games, he acceded to orders from a colonel to not take part in any protests.

He focused on the games and the promise he had made to his men to win a gold medal for them.

“To be on the relay team, it was my time to shine,” he said. “I ran my heart out. We ended up winning the race at a world record time of 38.2 seconds.

The world record in the event has been beat numerous times since, but only by fractions of a second each time. Pender’s team’s 38.2 second run is still less than two seconds from the current world record of 36.84 set by a Jamaican team (You can see the race on YouTube here).

www.youtube.com

Despite Pender keeping his head down at the games, he did end up tangentially connected to protests. His roommate was John Carlos, one of the athletes who famously gave the Black Power salute on the podium during the U.S. Anthem, something that the athletes and Pender maintain was about asserting black humanity, not disrespecting the anthem. Pender told Sims:

You know, when Carlos came back to the room, I could see the hurt in his eyes and he just said, ‘I did what I had to do, Mel.’ And that’s when I told him, I said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’

They was not trying to disgrace the national anthem of America. What was happening was wrong. They were trying to show the world. ‘Hey, we are human beings. We are human.’ That changed my life.

Carlos and another demonstrator were stripped of their medals. Pender, meanwhile, went back to Vietnam after the games and received a Bronze Medal for his service. He rose to the rank of captain and served as the first black track and field coach at West Point before retiring with 21 years of service in the military.

Pender lives in the Atlanta area with his wife and recently told the Atlanta Journal Constitution the he still believes America “is the greatest country in the world,” a sentiment he shares with during motivational talks at high schools and other venues.

Most of the quotes in this article came from a recent StoryCorps interview between Keith Sims and Dr. Melvin Pender. A two-minute excerpt from that interview is available here.

MIGHTY HISTORY

12 rarely seen photos from the Vietnam War

It was one of America’s longest-running wars. U.S. involvement began in 1954 with a few hundred troops advising national and then Democratic forces in a civil war. U.S. involvement grew and, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy authorized a massive increase in troop deployments to the country. 58,000 Americans would die before the U.S. left the conflict in 1973 and South Vietnam fell in 1975.

Here are 12 photos from the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center that you won’t see in most textbooks and history papers:


Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

(U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

(U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

(U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

(U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

(U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

(U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

(U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

(U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

(U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

(U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

(U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

(U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center)

MIGHTY CULTURE

MightyScopes for the week of February 27th

Hey Noadamus, how did you get so wise? Were you always so enlightened? If I study at the feet of the master, can I hope to become as wise as you one day? Should I take up a musical instrument? What sort of stocks should I day trade in?

You ask a lot of damn questions. What are you, Congress?


Enough of that noise; let’s jump into what’s important here: your future.

Pisces

Life is even better than you can imagine and the best part is that it’s only getting better. But alas, nothing is simply all good or all bad, and this time of growth and prosperity will wane. Don’t waste it, because what goes up must also come down. Even though you might have some struggles today, they are minor and tomorrow looks better and brighter.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

Maybe do this privately. In front of your mirror. Not on the corner at rush hour.

Aries

It is rather difficult to picture how things could get better than they are right now, and if that is your viewpoint then it will be true, but if you can open your mind to the possibility of even greater improvement, you will experience it. Just try not to rub your perfect life in everyone’s face — that’s just rude.

Taurus

You should practice finding peace in chaos because you are about to experience a sh*tload of it. I mean, so much effin’ chaos and discord that it will challenge your deepest well of calm. Best course of action? Remember there are things outside of your control and let them go. The only thing you can control are your choices.

So, you can choose to develop an even deeper well of calm or choose to erupt when angered or annoyed by the almost-unlimited stressors in your life. This week, regardless of what you choose, you will be incredibly successful either way. So, choose wisely.

Gemini

You know what I like about you? When you have something to say, you always say it. Hell, even when you don’t have something to say, you say that, too. You should really try not saying something, and instead, try listening. In fact, you should try to speak less overall this week, you may find yourself revealing things which are completely inappropriate. This is not just a possible embarrassment, but an incredibly damaging event which could ruin your career. If you wouldn’t say it in front of your grandmother or the chaplain, don’t say it at all this week.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

We get it. You’re sad. Move on.

Cancer

You may find yourself filled with nostalgia for a person or situation from your past. You may even fool yourself into believing that you want this person or situation back in your life, but you need ask yourself this very important question: Do you truly want this back in your life because you miss it from your life or is your current situation not going the way you hoped and are wishing for better times gone by? You may find yourself rethinking the wisdom of returning to someone or something which you have already let go.

Leo

What is a captain without the crew? A star without fans? If the captain neglects the crew, he or she may find himself walking the plank. And a star without fans is a star no more. While you may believe yourself completely independent of others, this is a falsehood to the extreme. Don’t forget about the little people, you depend on them far more than they depend on you. Be extra kind to folks this week, you’ll thank me for it later.

Virgo

My Virgo brothers and sisters, just because you are stressed doesn’t mean you should tear yourself apart for every tiny little flaw. You’re only human. Allow yourself some grace and try talking nicely to yourself once in a while. Financial problems at home cause conflicts with your career. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want the unit EO rep to overhear because this week, everyone will be repeating any dirt you speak aloud.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

We’re all just as sick of your indecision as you are.

Libra

OMG. It’s hard to be so tall, and attractive, and successful, and, on top of that, you have two incredible opportunities to select from and you can’t decide. You know if you pick one the other option is not possible. Please stop trying to make everyone feel sorry for your dilemma. It’s beneath you. Just shut the F up and make a decision already.

Scorpio

I’m not one to judge people for their deviant behavior, but recently you have been a tad bit out of control. Instead of snowballing, this current pattern of behavior into something worse, you can pull the breaks and save yourself from doing something that will leave a serious lasting mark. Have you ever seen that movie where that dude doesn’t touch himself or anyone else below the belt for 40 days? Try it, but let’s start small and aim for a week. You can do it, I believe in you.

Sagittarius

Seriously, do your effin’ laundry, Private. Just because you fall in a pile of sh*t and think you smell like roses, doesn’t mean you really do. In fact, it means you’re covered in crap. So this week, clean yourself up, hit the laundromat, and try drinking something other than booze. Like, I don’t know, water maybe? Just a thought.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

Yeah, we see you on your way to ruin everyone else’s lives.

Capricorn

It’s hard to be you, seeing how things should be done and wondering why you have yet to be promoted to Sergeant Major of the Universe so you could implement your plans, but such is life here on earth. Your genius will continue to be unrecognized this week, but you will probably continue to be a terrible human to everyone you meet as the chaos of life overwhelms you. So take a deep breath and try not to such a prick; things will improve, at some point. Okay, that last part about things improving is a lie, but… I got nothing, good luck with that.

Aquarius

Wow, I want to lie say I’m not impressed, but the bylaws of the intrawebs and my contract with the big guy forbids it. So, good job skating through the nonsense of your life relativity unscathed. It is impressive, inspiring even. However, just because your lack of planning and your tendency to wing it has been successful in the recent past, this doesn’t mean that method will hold up this week. Even your luck has limits – don’t test ’em, not this week, at least.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The youngest Special Forces captain in Vietnam was a war hero

The Vietnam war gave us a lot of things: Zippos, M16s and the list goes on. Before it popped off, there hadn’t been a war like it; it was highly televised, deeply protested and involved heavy use of special operations units. From this war came tons of stories of heroism and courage in the face of extreme danger. One such story that stands out from the rest is that of U.S. Army Captain William Albracht.

Albracht graduated from Alleman Catholic High School in Illinois in 1966 and found himself in Vietnam just three years later. He wasn’t just a Green Beret captain, he was the youngest Green Beret captain in the entire country. He took command of a hilltop outpost known as Firebase Kate with a total of 27 American Soldiers and 156 Montagnard militiamen. This is where Captain Albracht earned his place in history and solidified his status as an American badass.

This is the story of the youngest Green Beret captain in Vietnam:


Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
Landing Zone Kate in 1969.
(Storytellers International)

Firebase Kate

Landing Zone Kate, also referred to as Firebase White, was built in 1969 on a hilltop northwest of Quang Dug Province in Southern Vietnam. It was near the Cambodian border. It was also the first command for Captain Albracht, who was just 21 at the time.

The young captain saw the hilltop location as problematic, primarily because the North Vietnamese Army controlled the nearby road and could freely fire from Cambodia. To make matters worse, supplying the base was also a very tricky.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
Army Special Forces and Rangers in Vietnam. (U.S. Army)

Supplies & discipline

Since the NVA controlled the road, supplies and personnel for LZ Kate could only be delivered via helicopter. Despite each delivery being protected by a wide range of aircraft, Captain Albracht felt it wasn’t enough support for their location.

On top of that, Sergeant Daniel Pierelli arrived ahead of Captain Albracht to find the troops located there playing volleyball and lounging around instead of preparing to defend the place. He and Captain Albracht made sure to address this before increasing patrols in an effort to gain more intelligence on the NVA. Unfortunately, fate had other plans.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
Army artillerymen in Vietnam.
(Storytellers International)

Siege at LZ Kate

On the morning of October 29th, the NVA launched the first assault on the Firebase, outnumbering the defenders 40 to 1. For the next few days, the men there sustained heavy casualties from small-arms gunfire, mortars, rockets, and artillery.

The wounded included Captain Albracht, who sustained a shrapnel wound in his arm on October 29th while he directed a medevac helicopter. He was given the opportunity to leave, but instead decided to stay at Kate and continue to lead his men.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
Members of Mike force on the left and a member of the Montagnard militia on the right.

A great escape

Supplies dwindled fast, and the situation wasn’t getting any better. Eventually, on November 1st, Captain Albracht realized Kate could not be saved and decided they needed to escape. They destroyed their gun tubes, artillery ammo, and anything that could be considered intelligence before slipping away.

He, along with around 150 men, eventually arrived at another Special Forces camp, only losing one American soldier in the jungle. In the early hours of November 2nd, they linked up with SF Mike Force, their closest allies. To do so, Captain Albracht had to cross an open field three times, putting himself at risk of being spotted by the enemy, to ensure the safety of his men.

Due to his heroics, the men safely escaped.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
Captain William Albracht in 2016.
(Photo by Kevin E. Schmidt)

Captain William Albracht

For his service and actions during the war, he earned three Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, and five Bronze Stars. After the war, he continued serving his country in the Secret Service, guarding five presidents during his time. He then went on to manage security for the Ford Motor Company.

He returned home to Illinois in 2005 and, in 2012, he ran for Senator for Illinois’ 36th district. He co-wrote the book, Abandoned in Hell: The Fight for Vietnam’s Firebase Kate, and his story is featured in a documentary entitled Escape from Firebase Kate.

Captain Albracht is still alive today.

MIGHTY TRENDING

India’s anti-missile launch just worsened problematic space-trash

On March 27, 2019, India launched a missile toward space, struck an Earth-orbiting satellite, and destroyed the spacecraft.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a televised address shortly after the launch to declare the anti-satellite, or ASAT, test a success. He praised the maneuver, called “Mission Shakti,” as “an unprecedented achievement” that registers India as “a space power.” Modi also clarified that the satellite was one of India’s own, according to Reuters.

“Our scientists shot down a live satellite. They achieved it in just three minutes,” he said during the broadcast, adding: “Until now, only US, Russia, and China could claim the title. India is the fourth country to achieve this feat.”


While Modi and his supporters may hail the event as an epic achievement, India’s ASAT test represents an escalation toward space warfare and also heightens the risk that humanity could lose access to crucial regions of the space around Earth.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.


That’s because destroying the satellite created debris that’s now floating in space. Those pieces have the potential to collide with, damage, and possibly destroy other spacecraft.

The threat that debris poses isn’t just limited to expensive satellites. Right now, six crew members are living on board the International Space Station (ISS) roughly 250 miles above Earth. That’s about 65 miles higher than the 185-mile altitude of India’s now obliterated satellite, but there is nonetheless a chance some debris could reach higher orbits and threaten the space station.

Two astronauts are scheduled to conduct a spacewalk on March 29, 2019, (it was going to be the first all-female spacewalk, but that’s no longer the case) to make upgrades to the orbiting laboratory’s batteries. Spokespeople at NASA did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s requests for information about the risk posed by this new debris field.

Regardless of what happens next, tracking the debris is essential.

“The Department of Defense is aware of the Indian ASAT launch,” a spokesperson for the US Air Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron, which tracks and catalogs objects in space, told Business Insider in an email. “US Strategic Command’s Joint Force Space Component Command is actively tracking and monitoring the situation.”

The potential risk to the ISS and other satellites only scratches the surface of larger worries associated with destroying spacecraft, either intentionally or accidentally.

Space debris begets more space debris

Any collision in space creates a cloud of debris, with each piece moving at about 17,500 mph. That’s roughly the speed required to keep a satellite in low-Earth orbit and more than 10 times as fast as a bullet shot from a gun.

At such velocities, even a stray paint chip can disable a satellite. Jack Bacon, a scientist at NASA, told Wired in 2010 that a strike by a softball-sized sphere of aluminum would be akin to detonating 7 kilograms of TNT explosives.

This is worrisome for a global society increasingly reliant on space-based infrastructure to make calls, get online, find the most efficient route home via GPS, and more.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

A space-debris hit to the space shuttle Endeavour’s radiator found after one of its missions. The entry hole is about 0.25 inches wide, and the exit hole is twice as large.

(NASA)

The ultimate fear is a space-access nightmare called a “Kessler syndrome” event, named after Donald J. Kessler, who first described such an event in 1978 while he was a NASA astrophysicist. In such a situation, one collision in space would create a cloud of debris that leads to other collisions, which in turn would generate even more debris, leading to a runaway effect called a “collision cascade.”

So much high-speed space junk could surround Earth, Kessler calculated, that it might make it too risky for anyone to attempt launching spacecraft until most of the garbage slowed down in the outer fringes of our planet’s atmosphere, fell toward the ground, and burned up.

“The orbital-debris problem is a classic tragedy of the commons problem, but on a global scale,” Kessler said in a 2012 mini-documentary.

Given the thousands of satellites in space today, a collision cascade could play out over hundreds of years and get increasingly worse over time, perhaps indefinitely, unless technologies are developed to vaporize or deorbit space junk.

A launch in the wrong direction

An ASAT test that China conducted in January 2007 showed how much of a headache the debris from these shoot downs can become.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

An illustration of the space-debris cloud created by China’s 2007 anti-satellite test.

(CSSI)

As with India’s test, China launched a missile armed with a “kinetic kill vehicle” on top. The kill vehicle — essentially a giant bullet-like slug — pulverized a 1,650-pound weather satellite, in the process creating a cloud of more than 2,300 trackable chunks of debris the size of golf balls or larger. It also left behind 35,000 pieces larger than a fingernail and perhaps 150,000 bits smaller than that, according to the Center for Space Standards and Innovation (CSSI) and BBC.

The CSSI called the test “the largest debris-generating event in history, far surpassing the previous record set in 1996.”

Years later, satellite operators and NASA are still dodging the fallout with their spacecraft.

Even without missiles, plenty of space debris is created regularly. Each launch of a rocket deposits some trash up there, and older satellites that have no deorbiting systems or aren’t “parked” in a safe orbit can collide with other satellites.

Such a crash happened on Feb. 10, 2009: A deactivated Russian communications satellite slammed into a US communications satellite at a combined speed of about 26,000 mph. The collision created thousands of pieces of new debris, many of which are still in orbit.

There are more productive ways to use rockets

To be clear, India’s Mission Shakti test likely was not as dangerous as these other debris-creating events.

At an altitude of about 185 miles, it was roughly 350 miles closer to Earth than China’s 2007 test or the US-Russian satellite crash of 2009. That means the pieces will fall out of orbit at a faster rate. The satellite India destroyed, likely Microsat-R, was relatively small compared with other spacecraft, though not insignificantly: It weighed about 1,540 pounds, according to Ars Technica.

Modi did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on the ASAT test’s debris field, but according to Reuters, India “ensured there was no debris in space and the remnants would ‘decay and fall back on to the earth within weeks.'” In that sense, the test may be more similar to a US Navy shoot down of a satellite in 2008.

However, the forces involved a space-based crash can accelerate debris into higher and different orbits. So obliterating any satellite is not a step in the right direction. Nor is creating a capability that could one day, either intentionally or accidentally, spark a Kessler syndrome event.

Much like the idea of deterrence with nuclear weapons — “if you attack me, I’ll attack you with more devastating force” — deterrence with anti-satellite weapons is extremely risky. With either, an accident or miscalculation could lead to devastating and lasting problems that would harm the entire world for generations.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

Image made from models used to track debris in Earth orbit.

At an altitude of about 185 miles, it was roughly 350 miles closer to Earth than China’s 2007 test or the US-Russian satellite crash of 2009. That means the pieces will fall out of orbit at a faster rate. The satellite India destroyed, likely Microsat-R, was relatively small compared with other spacecraft, though not insignificantly: It weighed about 1,540 pounds, according to Ars Technica.

Modi did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on the ASAT test’s debris field, but according to Reuters, India “ensured there was no debris in space and the remnants would ‘decay and fall back on to the earth within weeks.'” In that sense, the test may be more similar to a US Navy shoot down of a satellite in 2008.

As a global society, it’d behoove us not to cheer the achievement of a weapons capability that edges the world closer to a frightening brink. Instead, we should rebuke such tests and instead demand from our leaders peaceful cooperation in space, including the development of means to control our already spiraling space-debris problem.

“If we don’t change the way we operate in space,” Kessler said in 2012, we are facing down an “exponentially increasing amount of debris, until all objects are reduced to a cloud of orbiting fragments.”

Rather than individual countries investing in missile-based weaponry, perhaps we should call on our leaders to spend that human and financial capital on our world’s most dire and pressing problems — or even work toward returning people to the moon and rocketing the first crews to Mars.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

The basic civilian’s guide to NCOs vs. Officers

Enlisted people always talk about their officers. Every officer is constantly scrutinized by their subordinates — from how they talk to how they present themselves to how well they lead. This is, generally, a good thing but, sometimes, it can go bad. Many enlisted feel as though there’s a huge disconnect between themselves and the officers residing somewhere up the chain of command. But there is an important buffer between them: the non-commissioned officer, or NCO.


The NCO is the go-between for the two groups, especially non-rates (E-3 and below). If we take the name by its literal meaning, then every E-4 and above is, technically, an NCO because the President of the United States has not commissioned them.

 

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
A newly-commissioned Marine officer.

To be ‘commissioned’ means the officer received his status from the President himself. To even be a candidate for officership, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree — unless you’ve received a battlefield commission, which is rare (this exception has only been used a handful of times).

Why is there such an emphasis on education? Officers handle a lot of advanced roles and “bigger picture” planning, among other things. This makes a foundation in education extremely important.

Enlisted, conversely, can join the military straight from high school using a diploma or a GED. Being commissioned as an officer gives young, new lieutenants a degree of status over a young, new airmen, privates, or seamen — but not the NCO. NCOs have years of service and have developed a focused, on-the-job expertise in their field. More than that, however, they know their people, the junior ranks who will be doing the bulk of the tactical work on the ground. In truth, a good NCO is an invaluable asset to any an officer.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
That (right) is Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate, Navy SEAL retired, Rudy Boesch. The Stripes on top are his rank, the stripes on his sleeve represent his 45 years of service. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Charles Oki)

Once upon a time, having a bachelor’s degree created a concrete distinction between enlisted and officers. Now, however, times have changed and many people come to the military with post-secondary education. This leads some enlisted to believe the commissioned-enlisted divide is a sham — or, in extreme cases, enlisted use this as an argument against authority. Regardless of how many degrees are among the ranks, higher education is an essential element to becoming an officer in any branch — it just won’t earn you any automatic respect from enlisted, so don’t lean on it.

When it comes to command, officers command other commissioned officers of lesser rank. The NCO cannot command a commissioned officer unless that officer is under the care of the NCO for training, such as at The Basic School of the U.S. Marines Corps.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
Saluting isn’t about making someone submit. It’s a custom of respect. For example, no matter what rank, military personnel salute a Medal of Honor recipient.

While some NCOs question whether an officer corps is necessary, there has always been a divide between enlisted and officers, and there will always be. The reason for this is simple: there may be a time where an officer has to send one of his men into the jaws of death. They can’t be shy about doing it when the situation calls.

But trust is important. NCOs grow as leaders, both in age and time in service. They learn tactical control of the battlefield, and they know when an officer looks at the enlisted as a way to climb the political ladder, or worse: as cannon fodder.

The officers outrank the NCOs: They make more money and they get more fringe benefits. But the NCO is the true backbone of the military, carrying out the officer’s orders in the most efficient way possible. The two need each other and that’s what makes a military operation so effective.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The ‘Cajun Navy’ are Louisiana’s homegrown heroes

Louisiana is no stranger to natural disasters. Long before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the levees in New Orleans, the area we know as Louisiana today has endured many, many catastrophes. Since 2000 alone, the state has been hit by 28 tropical storms and cyclones.

The people of Louisiana stopped sitting around to hope someone would come to rescue them from the rooftops some day. A group of private boat owners formed their own rescue flotilla to help in search and rescue efforts. They’re called the “Cajun Navy.”


Since 1965, these storms have caused more than $116 billion in damages to Louisiana, at the cost of countless lives. The earliest recorded deadly storms date back to 1856, where storms devastated the islands of Louisiana’s coast and reformed its landscapes forever.

Today, Louisiana is particularly vulnerable to storms and some places are more vulnerable to others. In New Orleans, for example, the city is protected from the water by a system of levees and pumps that remove rainwater that otherwise would not drain on its own. Low lying areas of the state are prone to flooding, which will only get worse as climate change exacerbates the issue by rising seas levels on the coast. Heavy rainstorms in the state have increased precipitation levels by 27 percent in the last 50 years, sending excess rainwater into the Mississippi River and the river delta.

You get the idea. Louisiana is prone to flooding. So when it happens, the Cajun Navy comes to the rescue.

Formed in the days following the devastation of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, the Cajun Navy has reactivated following major storms and tropical depressions ever since. They rescued thousands of people in the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, the Hidalgo County flood, Hurricane Florence, Tropical Storm Gordon, and Hurricane Michael.

The Cajun Navy is an informal group of boat owners, whether they’re using oar-powered kayaks, flat-bottomed fishing boats or their dad’s bass boat, these private citizens form in the flooded areas to help whomever they can.

Their mission:

1. Rescue
Our first plan of action in any disaster is to complete our rescue missions and save lives. This means going out on the front lines while disaster is still striking and saving all the lives we can.

2. Relieve
Our second plan of action is to bring relief to those who have been affected by tragedy. That means making sure everyone has clean water, fresh clothing, hot meals, and everything they need to feel comfortable and safe.

3. Rebuild
Our third plan of action is to help people rebuild their lives after a disaster. From demolition, clean up, organizing and distribution of supplies, we want to make sure every family has a place to call home again.

Ben Theriot of Prairieville, Louisiana was assisted in 2018 by the Cajun Navy. The next year, he was out in his own boat with the Cajun Navy. They set up a mobile command post in a privately-owned RV and communicated via walkie-talkie-type app. They coordinated rescue calls to citizens trapped in and on their houses, moderating communications and prioritizing rescues.

All as Hurricane Harvey blew around them.

Any time high waters threaten the lives of the people of Louisiana and there are lines of cars driving to make their way out of the dangerous areas, you can be sure to see a line of trucks trailing boats trying to make their way in. All with Louisiana license plates.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The top Marine officer thinks the Corps needs to be more unpredictable and that it needs the ‘Lightning carrier’ to do it

The Marine Corps wants to overhaul its force to prepare to be more dispersed and more flexible to deter and, if need be, take on China’s growing military in the Pacific.


“China has moved out to sea, and they have long-range weapons and a lot of them,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said on February 11 at an Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition event on Capitol Hill.

“Those two things have changed the game,” Berger added. “Take those away, in other words, we could keep operating with dominance everywhere we wanted to, as we have. We cannot do that. We can’t get stuck in old things. We are being challenged everywhere.”

Since taking over last summer, Berger has called for a shift from a force suited for fighting insurgencies to one that can square off with China across the Pacific.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e4c54544b661b470b3283bc%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=503&h=44502e73071734d515b31bc4c889451fdb4be541963362d31c9d4e26f5eb2ca8&size=980x&c=1525747764 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e4c54544b661b470b3283bc%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D503%26h%3D44502e73071734d515b31bc4c889451fdb4be541963362d31c9d4e26f5eb2ca8%26size%3D980x%26c%3D1525747764%22%7D” expand=1]

Thirteen US Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aboard the USS America.

US Navy/MCS 3rd Class Chad Swysgood

What Berger has outlined is a lighter, more mobile force that can operate in small units on Pacific islands. But the amphibious force that will support those units is not where it needs to be, Berger said last week.

That may mean the Corps needs new ships in the future, but he said it also needed to make better use of its current assets, which is where the “Lightning carrier” — an amphibious assault ship decked out with 16 to 20 F-35B stealth fighters — comes in.

“I’m in favor of things like the Lightning-carrier concept because I believe we need to tactically and operationally be … unpredictable,” Berger said. “We’ve been sending out every [Amphibious Ready Group] and [Marine Expeditionary Unit] looking mirror-image for 20 years. We need to change that.”

“You would like to see one of those big decks one time go out with two squadrons of F-35s and next time fully loaded with MV-22s and another MEU with a 50-50 combo. Now that’s how you become unpredictable. How do you defend against that?” Berger added.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5ca365c0c6cc5036d30f3492%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=1013&h=ee009ee6d5b8ca91c463ceca574235b62df2a6efe7cdb7c472d82484e92cab99&size=980x&c=3994818978 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5ca365c0c6cc5036d30f3492%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D1013%26h%3Dee009ee6d5b8ca91c463ceca574235b62df2a6efe7cdb7c472d82484e92cab99%26size%3D980x%26c%3D3994818978%22%7D” expand=1]

The USS Wasp with a heavy F-35 configuration.

US Navy/USS Wasp/Facebook

‘A force multiplier’

The Lightning carrier’s nontraditional configuration is “a force multiplier,” the Corps said in its 2017 aviation plan.

In his commandant’s planning guidance issued in July, Berger said the Corps would “consider employment models of the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG)/MEU other than the traditional three-ship model” and that he saw “potential in the ‘Lightning Carrier’ concept” based on Wasp-class landing-helicopter-dock ships and the newer America-class amphibious assault ships.

The USS Wasp exercised in the South China Sea in spring with 10 F-35Bs aboard, more than it would normally carry.

In October, the USS America sailed into the eastern Pacific with 13 F-35Bs embarked — a first for the America that “signaled the birth of the most lethal, aviation-capable amphibious assault ship to date,” the Corps said.

The Lightning-carrier configuration gives the Marine Air-Ground Task Force aviation element “more of a strike mindset with 12 or more jets that give the fleet or MAGTF commander the ability to better influence the enemy at range,” Lt. Col. John Dirk, a Marine attack-squadron commander aboard the America, said at the time.

In October, then-Navy Secretary Richard Spencer touted the concept as a way to augment the fleet at a time when the Navy is pondering the future of its own carriers.

“You might see us do that in the near future,” Spencer said. “We might just launch it out once, just to try it out, put it in a couple of exercises and know that we have it up our sleeve.”

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5cb0dc6afd5dbf48f82d4084%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=711&h=0e8bf6e3fad647c0ea5198e75a73a7afba0483b0853a107dfcc031d47a6f3ab4&size=980x&c=649854291 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5cb0dc6afd5dbf48f82d4084%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D711%26h%3D0e8bf6e3fad647c0ea5198e75a73a7afba0483b0853a107dfcc031d47a6f3ab4%26size%3D980x%26c%3D649854291%22%7D” expand=1]

The USS Wasp in the South China Sea.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker

More ships, more deterrence

Even with the Lightning carrier, more needs to be done, Berger said on Capitol Hill.

“I think our … amphibious fleet has great capability. It is not enough for 2030. It’s not enough for 2025,” he said.

“We need the big decks, absolutely. We need the LPD-17. That is the mothership, the quarterback in the middle,” Berger said, referring to the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, the “functional replacement” for more than 41 other amphibious ships. Eleven are in active service, and the Navy plans to buy one in 2021.

“We need a light amphibious force ship, a lot of them, that we don’t have today,” Berger added.

When asked by Military.com, Berger declined to say how many Marines and aircraft those light amphibious ships could carry or whether they would be in the Navy’s new force-structure assessment, which is still being finalized. The Corps is also conducting its own force redesign, which Berger said would be released within the next month.

Berger also said he thought there was a role for the littoral combat ship, four of which the Navy plans to decommission in 2021, and the Navy’s future frigate.

“We cannot put anything on the side right now, not with your adversary building to north of 400” ships, he said, referring to Chinese naval expansion.

“The ships that we have, we need to increase the survivability of them, increase the command-and-control capability of them, arm them where we need to,” Berger added.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5cb0de86775bc74835243865%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=629&h=c4304a6972070c78161cdd676b615e5eea4fbbdfb7b038a7fe0bcf7d0b803ee4&size=980x&c=60929203 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5cb0de86775bc74835243865%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D629%26h%3Dc4304a6972070c78161cdd676b615e5eea4fbbdfb7b038a7fe0bcf7d0b803ee4%26size%3D980x%26c%3D60929203%22%7D” expand=1]

The USS Wasp.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker

Berger and Rep. Mike Gallagher, who also spoke at the Capitol Hill event, both emphasized deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region, and both said that would depend on forces that are stationed forward and dispersed.

The Pentagon is “struggling to figure out how do we do deterrence by denial in Indo-Pacom. How do we deny potential adversaries their objectives in the first place, rather than rolling them back after the fact? That hinges on having forward forces,” said Gallagher, a former Marine officer and a member of the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower subcommittee.

The challenge is “to develop an entirely new logistics footprint, which includes new ships to support, resupply, and maneuver Marines around the first island chain, littorals, and in a high-threat environment, where speed and mobility serves as the primary defense,” Gallagher said.

That may require new classes of ships, added Gallagher, who told industry representatives in the room that “new classes of ships do not have to mean less work, and in the case of the future amphibious fleet — because I believe we need more potentially smaller amphibious vessels — it might actually mean more work.”

In his remarks, Berger called deterrence “the underpinning of our strategy.”

“I believe that because whatever the cost of deterrence is,” Berger said, “is going to be lower than the cost of a fight, in terms of ships and planes and bodies. So we need to pay the price for deterrence. I’m 100% there.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Everybody involved in that dino puppet reenlistment video just got fired

In the worst military overreaction since the Faber College ROTC pledge pin incident of 1962, the Tennessee National Guard’s adjutant general announced April 18, 2018, that everyone involved in a recent viral video of a kooky reenlistment ceremony would have their careers wrecked, because that’s how you honor our military traditions, dammit.


The controversy revolved around an Air National Guard master sergeant in the Volunteer State who took her oath of reenlistment with a tyrannosaurus rex hand puppet mouthing her words. The internet being the internet, video of the ceremony got around, and some watchers decided it just wasn’t in keeping with the highest traditions of service… unlike all that readily available online imagery of service members reenlisting as imperial stormtroopers; at gunpoint; underwater; in gas chambers; in GameStops; or with rigged-up explosions behind them.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

Unlike all those clearly well-intentioned, lighthearted reenlistments, this sinister dino-puppet thing “goes against our very foundation,” according to the Air National Guard’s commanding general. That grave assessment led to this not-at-all bonkers Facebook post from Maj. Gen. Terry M. Haston, the Tennessee Guard’s top cheese, announcing that the master sergeant with the puppet, the colonel who administered the oath to her, and the NCO who acted as cameraman are all fucked, absolutely and utterly fucked (emphasis added):

I am absolutely embarrassed that a senior officer and a senior NCO took such liberties with a time-honored military tradition. The Tennessee National Guard holds the Oath of Enlistment in the highest esteem because that oath signifies every service member’s commitment to defend our state, nation and the freedoms we all enjoy. Not taking this oath solemnly and with the utmost respect is firmly against the traditions and sanctity of our military family and will not be tolerated…
Over the past few days, the leadership of the Tennessee National Guard has conducted a thorough investigation of the event with the following results:
The Colonel (O-6) administering the oath was immediately retired at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (O-5).
The Senior NCO taking the oath has been removed from her full-time position with the Tennessee Joint Public Affairs Office and other administrative actions are underway.
The Senior NCO who recorded the event has been removed from his position as a unit First Sergeant and has received an official reprimand, but will be retained in the Tennessee Air National Guard…

Let’s get this straight: A colonel was reduced in rank and sent packing, a senior enlisted leader who was reupping is now being drummed out, and the dude with the camera lost his billet and career momentum. Because of a dinosaur hand puppet.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Private doctors are now a longer wait than for VA care

The Veterans Choice Program for private health care is in such bad shape that the bill backed by President Donald Trump to fix it will be difficult to implement even if done right, according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.

The Choice program was aimed at reducing wait times through increased access to private health care, but the GAO’s performance audit conducted from April 2016 through May 2018 found that, in many cases, veterans would have been better off making appointments at VA facilities.


“Timeliness of appointments is an essential component of quality health care,” the report released June 4, 2018, said, but poor management and bookkeeping under the Choice program can result in veterans waiting up to 70 days to see a private doctor.

In 2016, the average wait for a private appointment was 51 days, the GAO said, although the VA eligibility rules made private care an option when the veteran had to wait 30 days to see a VA doctor.

“Delays in care have been shown to negatively affect patients’ morbidity, mortality, and quality of life,” the report said, and the “VA lacks assurance that veterans are receiving care from community providers in a timely manner.”

At a White House ceremony June 6, 2018, Trump is expected to sign the VA Mission Act, which provides $4.2 billion to overhaul and expand the Choice program for private care while consolidating its seven existing care options into one.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
President Donald Trump
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The GAO report warned that staff shortages, bureaucratic roadblocks and poor communication between the VA and private doctors under the existing Choice program make a quick fix unlikely.

“To the extent that these factors persist under the consolidated community care program that VA plans to establish, they will continue to adversely affect veterans’ access to care,” the GAO said.

Citing the problems with Choice detailed in the report, the GAO said, “Ignoring these lessons learned and the challenges that have arisen under the Choice Program as [VA officials] design the future consolidated program would only increase VA’s risk for not being able to ensure that all veterans will receive timely access to care in the community.”

VA pledges action to correct problems

The blizzard of acronyms used by the GAO in its report, and by the VA in its response, illustrates the difficulty the individual veteran has in navigating the system.

The GAO called for better coordination among the VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the VA medical centers (VACMs), the VHA’s Office of Community Care (OCC), third-party administrators (TPAs), the Computerized Patient Record Systems (CPRS), the Community Care Network (CCN) and private doctors themselves, who often complain of late payments.

In its response to the GAO report, the VA concurred with four of the five recommendations for improving the transition from the Choice program to the VA Mission Act but disagreed with the GAO on urgent care.

The GAO found that “VAMCs and TPAs do not always categorize Choice Program referrals and authorizations in accordance with the contractual definition for urgent care.”

The GAO said that a referral to private care is to be marked “urgent” when a VHA doctor determined that it was essential and “if delayed would likely result in unacceptable morbidity or pain.” However, the GAO found that some referrals originally marked as routine were changed to urgent to speed up the slow appointment process.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

Even that conclusion was difficult to reach because of the VA’s lack of reliable records and data, the GAO said. “Without complete, reliable data, VHA cannot determine whether the Choice Program has helped to achieve the goal of alleviating veterans’ wait times for care,” the GAO said.

In its response to the report, the VA said that the GAO’s recommendation on urgent care “is no longer needed because VHA has resolved the issue with the new CCN (Community Care Network) contract.”

Under the new contract, VHA staff will have responsibility for scheduling community care appointments with providers, as opposed to the old system in which administrators routed referrals to the TPAs (third-party administrators), the VA said.

In the transition from Choice to the VA Mission Act, the VA will also set up a new referral and authorizations system that will be called “Health Share Referral Manager (HSRM).”

The VA said that HSRM will “measure the time it takes to review and accept consults, prepare referrals and schedule veterans community appointments.”

The VA in flux

The VA Mission Act has been estimated to cost as much as $55 billion over five years. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has said that funding sources have yet to be identified, but he was confident they would be found.

When Trump signs the bill June 6, 2018, as one of the major achievements of his administration, he will not have a VA secretary looking over his shoulder.

Robert Wilkie, who had been the Pentagon’s undersecretary for personnel and readiness, was named acting secretary after Trump ousted former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin in March 2018.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
Robert Wilkie, acting United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
(United States Department of Veterans Affairs photo)

However, Wilkie stepped down as acting secretary to get around a law that made it questionable whether an acting secretary could succeed to the permanent post.

Trump has said that he intends to nominate Wilkie to the permanent job, but the Senate has yet to set a date for his confirmation hearing. In the meantime, Peter O’Rourke, who had been the VA chief of staff, has become acting secretary temporarily.

Its major proponents have acknowledged that the VA Mission Act and the overhaul of Choice will be difficult to implement.

At a panel discussion last month sponsored by the Concerned Veterans for America, which lobbied hard for the expansion of private care, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said that putting the VA Mission Act into effect will sorely test the VA.

“Let me tell you, it is a painful thing to do,” Roe said. “This is a massive undertaking. It could be very disruptive to the VA. It’s humongous.”

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

Articles

US defenses get pressured by North Korean missile advances

North Korea’s newly demonstrated missile muscle puts Alaska within range of potential attack and stresses the Pentagon’s missile defenses like never before. Even more worrisome, it may be only a matter of time before North Korea makes an even longer-range ICBM with a nuclear warhead, putting all of the United States at risk.


The Pentagon has spent tens of billions to develop what it calls a limited defense against missiles capable of reaching US soil. The system has never faced combat or been fully tested. The system succeeded May 30 in its first attempted intercept of a mock ICBM, but it hasn’t faced more realistic conditions.

Although Russia and China have long been capable of targeting the US with a nuclear weapon, North Korea is seen as the bigger, more troubling threat. Its opaque, unpredictable government often confounds US intelligence assessments. And North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has openly threatened to strike the US, while showing no interest in nuclear or missile negotiations.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

“We should be worried,” said Philip E. Coyle III, a former head of the Pentagon’s test and evaluation office. North Korea’s latest success, he said, “shows that time is not on our side.”

US officials believe North Korea is still short of being able to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to fit atop an intercontinental missile. And it’s unclear whether it has developed the technology and expertise to sufficiently shield such a warhead from the extreme heat experienced when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere en route to a target.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said July 5, “We’ve still not seen a number of things that would indicate a full-up threat,” including a demonstrated ability to mate a nuclear warhead to an ICBM. “But clearly they are working on it. Clearly they seek to do it. This is an aggressive research and development program on their part.”

Davis said the US defensive system is limited but effective.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
The THAAD missile system. | Lockheed Martin photo

“We do have confidence in it,” he said. “That’s why we’ve developed it.”

The Trump administration, like its recent predecessors, has put its money on finding a diplomatic path to halting and reversing North Korea’s nuclear program. While the Pentagon has highly developed plans if military force is ordered, the approach is seen as untenable because it would put millions of South Korean civilians at risk.

But diplomacy has failed so far. That’s why US missile defenses may soon come into play.

The Pentagon has a total of 36 missile interceptors in underground silos on military bases in Alaska and California, due to increase to 44 by year’s end. These interceptors can be launched upon notice of a missile headed toward the United States. An interceptor soars toward its target based on tracking data from radars and other electronic sensors, and is supposed to destroy the target by sheer force of impact outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Sometimes likened to hitting a bullet with a bullet, the collision is meant to incinerate the targeted warhead, neutralizing its nuclear explosive power.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
A long-range ground-based interceptor launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. DoD photo by Senior Airman Robert J. Volio

This so-called hit-to-kill technology has been in development for decades. For all its advances, the Pentagon is not satisfied that the current defensive system is adequate for North Korea’s accelerating missile advances.

“The pace of the threat is advancing faster than I think was considered when we did the first ballistic missile defense review back in 2010,” Rob Soofer, who is helping review missile defenses, told a Senate Armed Service subcommittee last month. Beyond what US officials have said publicly about the North Korean nuclear threat, he said the classified picture “is even more dire.” Soofer didn’t provide details.

The escalating danger has led the administration to consider alternative concepts for missile defense, including what is known as “boost phase” defense. This approach involves destroying a hostile missile shortly after its launch, before the warhead separates from the missile body and decoys can be deployed. One proposed tactic would be to develop a drone capable of long-endurance flight and armed with a solid-state laser to destroy or disable a missile in flight.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen
USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

These and other possible new approaches would add to budget strains already felt in the missile defense program.

President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would cut $340 million from missile defense programs intended to deter a potential strike by North Korea, Iran or other countries. The Republican-led Congress has taken the first steps in rejecting the reduction. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R- Texas, the House Armed Services Committee chairman, declared last month that he was “astonished” Trump would propose trimming missile defense.

Thornberry’s committee voted last week to provide about $12.5 billion for missile defense in the 2018 fiscal year that begins in October, nearly $2.5 billion more than Trump’s request. The Senate Armed Services Committee also called for millions more than Trump requested. The full House and Senate are expected to consider the committees’ legislation, and the boost in missile defense money, later this month.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Cavalry redlegs slam ISIS with artillery fire

“Standby. FIRE!”

A deafening explosion followed the commands as a 155mm artillery round exited the tube of an M777A2 during Operation Swift, Iraq, Dec. 22, 2018.

Troopers from the Field Artillery Squadron “Steel,” 3rd Cavalry Regiment “Brave Rifles,” conducted a gun raid to provide supporting fires for Operation Swift — a series of artillery and airstrikes against ISIS targets in the Makhmour Mountains.


Operation Swift was the first artillery raid conducted in support of Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve, and demonstrated the Coalition’s capability to provide dynamic fires in support of the Iraqi Security Forces.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

U.S. Army Soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment execute nighttime fire missions with an M777A2 howitzer during a gun raid mission with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in Iraq, Dec. 22, 2018.

(Photo by Sgt. Edward Bates)

“Doing the first artillery raid, having never air assaulted a howitzer in theater, was a great experience,” said 1st Lt. Aaron Palumbo, platoon leader. “It taught us just how light we could personally pack and helped us identify the feasibility of transporting a Howitzer with rotary-wing assets,” said Palumbo.

High explosive charges echoed across Camp Swift night and day as the fire direction center meticulously choreographed the fire missions with airstrikes on multiple ISIS weapons caches and hiding spots throughout the mountains.

“It felt as if we were moving mountains before the mission,” said Palumbo. “Now, we have identified friction points and know how to execute future missions with increased lethality.”

The barrages of artillery fire were intended to destroy resources of ISIS fighters and send a message that no enemy location was safe from the lethality of the entire coalition force.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

U.S. Army Soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment load and elevate an M777A2 howitzer during nighttime fire missions for a gun raid mission with Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in Iraq, Dec. 22, 2018.

(Photo by Sgt. Edward Bates)

“It was interesting being part of the first artillery raid, and doing an artillery mission in combat like we would during home station training,” said Spc. Deavon Shafer, ammunition team chief.

During the onset of Operation Swift, Steel troopers both observed coalition aircraft dropping ordnance on known ISIS positions, and reinforced those fires with their own M777A2 howitzer that was air assaulted into position.

The artillery raid was a proof of concept to pass onto future artillery units in theater and a demonstration of the partnership between the ISF and Brave Rifles Troopers in the fight to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS in Iraq.

When not firing, they trained with the 3rd Federal Police Division soldiers at Camp Swift on the unique weapons systems of both units and conducted artillery training with soldiers of the 12th Brigade, 3rd Iraqi FEDPOL Artillery Battalion.

Dover Fisher House marks decade of providing refuge for families of the fallen

A trooper with the Field Artillery Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, connects a sling leg from an M777A2 howitzer to a CH-47 Chinook before executing a gun raid mission with Ira-qi Security Forces in Iraq, Dec. 16, 2018.

(Photo by Sgt. Edward Bates)

“The training felt the same as training we do internally — we learned something new,” said Spc. Kevin Mahan, M777A2 gunner.

Operation Swift was the first of its kind in theater and will not be the last.

“Task Force Steel executed the artillery raid in conjunction with fixed wing airstrikes to mass joint fires in the Makhmour Mountains and continue the physical and psychological degradation of ISIS,” said Maj. Simon Welte, squadron executive officer. “Our operational tempo remains high against ISIS and this raid serves as another example to our ISF and Kurdish Security Force partners that we are committed to the lasting defeat of ISIS in Iraq.”

Brave Rifles Troopers are deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, working by, with and through the Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition partners to bring about the lasting defeat of ISIS. Brave Rifles Troopers will eventually be replaced by soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team “Bastogne,” 101st Airborne Division, and the Steel Sqdn. has paved the way for future missions.

Bastogne soldiers will continue to provide support to the ISF and deliver massed fires utilizing a variety of firepower to defeat ISIS’s combat power and ideology.

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

Do Not Sell My Personal Information