“The brave die never, though they sleep in dust: Their courage nerves a thousand living men.” – Minot J. Savage
On Saturday December 19th Staff Sergeant Matthew James Whalen suffered a massive stroke from which doctors determined he would not recover. The family decided to remove the 35-year-old four-combat-tour veteran from life support once they knew that his organs could save the lives of others.
Later, they would find out that two recipients were veterans.
This video posted by friend Sean Hatton shows Honor Guard and former service members standing at attention in the halls of Plaza Fort Worth Medical Center as Whalen was wheeled past them en-route to his last heroic act. The emotional clip has been viewed over 10 million times and shared close to a quarter-million times.
Whalen is survived by his wife, Hannah and three children: Logan, Mattix, and Sadie. A GoFundMe page was set up by friends to help provide for them, and pay for Matt’s hospital bills. To date, over $78,000 has been raised. In an update to donors, Brandon Bledsoe, the campaign’s originator wrote: “You have done God’s work, you have shown compassion to the reaches that only the best of humanity can achieve. You have helped a family in need, whether you knew them or not.”
Boeing just announced that the U.S. Navy awarded the company a more than $12 million contract for “non-recurring design and development engineering for an engineering change proposal” to transition the Blue Angels from Hornets to Super Hornets. This prospect is exciting for aviation aficionados and air show fans nationwide — not to mention the Blue Angels pilots themselves — so how soon will the change happen?
To find out WATM spoke with Navy Capt. David Kindley, the Naval Air System Command’s program manager for both Hornets and Super Hornets. Not only is Kindley the man in charge of supporting the Navy’s Hornet and Super Hornet fleets with engineering updates and maintenance improvements, during his Navy flying career he amassed almost 3,400 flight hours in both the old and new versions of the airplane.
Kindley started the conversation by making it clear that the contract “is by no means the transition taking place. We don’t have a specific date. It could take years.”
However, he explained that the genesis of the current effort was a desire from Radm. Del Bull, the Chief of Naval Air Training (the Blue Angels’ parent command), to “move the transition to the left,” as Kindley put it.
“There’s a perception in the fleet that NAVAIR moves too slowly,” Kindley said. “We see this as an opportunity to show we can go faster.”
The first challenge for the program office and relevant fleet commands is to identify 11 Super Hornets (including a couple of two-seat F/A-18Fs) that can be turned into Blue Angel assets. (The Blue Angels only take 7 airplanes — not including “Fat Albert,” the C-130 they use to ferry parts and support personnel — on the road with them, but they have 11 in their possession.) Boeing isn’t manufacturing new Super Hornets specifically for the demonstration team, so the Navy will have to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” as the old saying goes, to make it happen.
“Super Hornets are a precious commodity,” Kindley said. “This transition is competing with the fact that the fleet is desperate for them.”
Kindley explained that the early version of the Super Hornet didn’t incorporate the advanced mission software used by fleet squadrons, and therefore those jets are only good for training new pilots on basic handling and not the full warfighting capability of the airplane. That makes them good candidates for use by the Blue Angels who don’t need drop bombs and shoot missiles while they’re flying their air show routine.
Kindley isn’t concerned about the basics of transitioning a squadron from “legacy” Hornets to Super Hornets. “We do this all the time,” he said. “This isn’t hard.”
But he allows that the Blue Angels aren’t just another Navy squadron, and he sums up their specific challenges to NAVAIR as “springs, smoke, and paint.”
“Springs” refers to the mechanical device that Blue Angels jets have attached to the control stick that creates 7 pounds of forward pressure, which allows pilots more positive control and allows them to fly smoother. However, there’s an air conditioning duct in the Super Hornet cockpit that doesn’t exist in the regular Hornet right where the spring should attach, so the engineers have to figure out a workaround.
During the show, Blue Angels jets do something other fleet jets don’t do under normal circumstances: They trail smoke. That dramatic effect is created when special chemicals mix with the air behind the plane. Creating that effect is the “smoke” part of Kindley’s concerns.
The real estate required to make smoke is realized by taking the gun out of the nose and replacing it with a tank. After conducting the initial engineering investigation, NAVAIR engineers discovered two things: The subcontractor’s production line for making the tanks is shut down, and it doesn’t matter anyway because the old tank won’t correctly fit into the Super Hornet’s nose, so they have to have new ones made.
And then there’s the paint. “Painting an airplane isn’t hard,” Kindley said. “But un-painting an airplane can be really hard.”
What he means is as Boeing strips a Super Hornet to bare metal, corrosion could be discovered. That sort of discovery demands that the contractor reach back out to NAVAIR with a “request for engineering investigation.” That potential makes it hard to scope a contract because there’s no way to know exactly how much corrosion an airplane might have until the paint comes off. And, of even greater concern to Kindley, it’s tough to predict how much time the entire process of repainting 11 jets might take.
And when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of transitioning the Blue Angels to new jets, time will matter a lot. The team’s show season ends each year in early November. The pilots, maintainers, and other support personnel have a few weeks off over the holidays, and then they start training for the next season the follow February, operating out of NAF El Centro in California’s Imperial Valley about an hour east of San Diego. That means whatever refresher training pilots and maintainers need has to occur before the show routine training starts — basically, the time between Thanksgiving and Valentines Day.
While the justification for all of this effort is that Super Hornets are easier to maintain and cheaper to fly than legacy Hornets, anyone who’s flown both types, like Kindley, knows that the Super Hornet has a lot more thrust available. That performance improvement alone should make for a more dynamic Blue Angels show in the future with faster climbs and tighter high-G turns.
But before they push the current show’s envelope, Blue Angels pilots wanted to see how the Super Hornet performed doing the current routine. Last year the team’s commanding officer, Capt. Tom Frosch, and the opposing solo pilot, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss (who was killed in a mishap while launching on a practice sortie out of Nashville two months ago), successfully flew their parts of the routine using a Super Hornet simulator.
“The Super Hornet was designed to fly inverted for twice as long as the legacy Hornet can,” Kindley explained. “There was only one move — “the double Farvel” — that we were concerned about, but we found we won’t have to modify the airplane at all.”
Kindley would also like to see the crowd-pleasing “high alpha pass,” where the lead and opposing solo planes fly down the show line at very slow speed while cocked up at an extreme angle, flown even slower and more cocked up.
“The Super Hornet flies slower better than any airplane I’ve ever seen,” Kindley said. The legacy Hornet flies with about 60 knots of forward airspeed at 25 alpha (the angle between the line of the fuselage and the direction of the airplane’s travel); the Super Hornet can fly even slower at 60 alpha. But, Kindley warns, the engines on a Super Hornet are spread farther apart than a legacy Hornet and so flying in a maximum alpha regime close to the ground could cause a controllability problem if a Super Hornet pilot loses an engine.
Kindley also described the legacy Hornet’s flight control response as “crisper,” meaning the airplane took fewer control inputs to get exactly where the pilot wanted it — obviously an important detail considering how close together the Blue Angels fly in the diamond formation — but he said that would be a training issue for the team and not something that required NAVAIR engineers to rewrite the Super Hornet’s flight control laws.
Overall, Kindley characterized the Blue Angels approach to modifying the show with Super Hornets as “walk before you run.”
“I don’t speak for them, but I imagine they’d start by flying the current routine and then, once they got comfortable, seeing how the show could be adjusted to accommodate the Super Hornet’s performance,” he said.
When asked by WATM what the current Blue Angels pilots thought about the potential for Super Hornets, Lt. Joe Hontz, the team’s public affairs officer, said in an email, “We know there are discussions about the possibility of an upgrade down the road. Until a decision is made, we will continue to fly a safe demonstration on the reliable F/A-18 Hornet, which has been a strong platform for the team since 1986.”
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte followed through on numerous threats to end his country’s Visiting Forces Agreement with the US on Tuesday, notifying Washington of his intent to withdraw, triggering a 180-day countdown.
On Friday, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said he thought the two sides could reach a political resolution, but recent history suggests the pact’s demise could be an opportunity for China in a strategically valuable region.
Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has repeatedly criticized the US and US officials. The US, which ruled the Philippines as a colony in the first half of the 20th century, remains close with the Philippines and is very popular there — as is Duterte, who had 87% approval in December.
But the Philippine president nevertheless decided to end the VFA, with his spokesman saying it was “time we rely on ourselves” and that the country “will strengthen our own defenses and not rely on any other country.”
While President Donald Trump said he didn’t “really mind,” the US Embassy in the Philippines said it would “carefully consider how best to move forward,” and Defense Secretary Mark Esper said it was “a move in the wrong direction.”
Asked on Friday about the decision, McCarthy touted US-Philippine ties.
Washington and Manila have “a long history” of working “very hard together” and of “very strong” military-to-military relations, McCarthy told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. “We have about 175 days to work through this diplomatically. I think we can drive forward to an end state that will work out for all of us politically.”
The US and the Philippines are also bound by the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, but ending the VFA would undercut those and the legal standing US forces have when in the Philippines.
The latter effect would endanger hundreds of military exercises and other military cooperation. US Special Forces troops have been stationed in the Philippines to help fight ISIS-linked militants, and the US military has trained there with other countries in the region. The Philippines has also hosted US troops deployed as part of Pacific Pathways, which is meant to allow US and forces in the region to build stronger partnerships and readiness.
Asked about the effect of the VFA withdrawal on US basing and training, McCarthy said Friday that “conversations are underway” particularly among the White House and State Department.
“The VFA, by changing that would change basically the freedoms that you have to do the training,” McCarthy said, “but this is a very close ally, and we would work through that, but it’s basically [changing] the protocols of how you would work together if it actually goes through.”
There a number of reasons the VFA may ultimately survive. Philippine military and security forces value the relationship, under which they receive military assistance, training, education, and weapons.
Philippine officials have suggested a need to review the VFA “to address matters of sovereignty” but have stopped short of advocating withdrawal. Duterte’s foreign secretary also indicated on Tuesday that the announcement should be seen as a jumping-off point for such negotiations, saying “other reactions have been idiotic.”
But it’s not the first time the Philippines has pulled out of this kind of deal. In 1991, it did not renew a mutual basing agreement, leading to the closure of Naval Base Subic Bay, the largest US base in the Pacific, and the withdrawal of US forces.
Manila “quickly discovered that after it did that it was rendered largely defenseless with its limited military capabilities, and China actually started taking very bold actions in the South China Sea, including the occupation of the Mischief Reef,” Prashanth Parameswaran, a senior editor at The Diplomat, said on The Diplomat podcast.
“We’re now left in a situation where we’re not just hypothetically talking about what might happen,” Parameswaran added. “We actually have a historical record about what happens when the alliance goes through periods like this.”
Duterte has won concessions on other issues by pushing on Washington, Parameswaran said, calling a similar outcome this time the “optimistic scenario,” but in light of the impulsiveness of both Duterte and Trump, there remains “an element of risk.”
Agreements like the VFA take time to negotiate and ratify — after ending the basing agreement in 1991, the two countries weren’t able to establish the VFA until 1998 — and other countries in the region, like Australia and Japan, can’t replace US military assistance to the Philippines, leaving Manila weaker in the face of Chinese ambitions.
“That is the big, worrying scenario about Day 181,” Parameswaran said, “because the Philippine military, it’s building up in terms of its capabilities, but it’s still one of the weakest militaries in the Asia-Pacific, and that’s going to be laid bare on Day 181 if this doesn’t get sorted out.”
The M1 Abrams tank has a reputation for being very hard to kill.
According to Tom Clancy’s book “Armored Cav,” in one instance an Abrams got stuck in the mud during Operation Desert Storm and was attacked by three T-72s tanks.
The Iraqi rounds bounced off – including one fired from less than 500 yards away. After the crew evacuated, a platoon of Abrams tanks then fired a bunch of rounds with one detonating the on-board ammo.
The blow-out panels worked and it turned out that the only damage was that the gun’s sights were just out of alignment. The tank was back in service with a new turret very quickly. The old turret went back to be studied.
An Abrams tank doesn’t get much tougher to kill than that, right? You’d be wrong, especially when the Army equips it with an active defense system. According to a report by DefenseTech.org, three systems are in contention, with the Trophy Active Protection System by Rafael being the front-runner.
Army Maj. Gen. David Bassett, who is in charge of the Army’s programs in the area of ground combat systems, said that he was hoping to make a quick decision on an active protection syste, for the Abrams.
“I’m not interested in developing, I’m interested in delivering,” he said, noting that the Army is looking to upgrade the bulks of its inventory of armored vehicles. Only the M113 armored personnel carriers are being replaced by the BAE Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle.
The Trophy system works by using four radar antennas and fire-control radars to track incoming rockets, missiles, and rounds. When a threat is detected, one of two launchers on the sides of the Abrams would then fire a shotgun-type blast to kill the threat. Similar systems are on the Israeli Merkava 4 main battle tank and Russia’s T-14 Armata main battle tank.
T-14 Armata (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Some reports claim that Russia has developed a weapon capable of beating an active-defense system like Trophy. The RPG-30 reportedly used a smaller rocket in front of its main rocket to try to trigger the system.
But still, the Trophy can attack rockets and grenades at a distance, before the warhead even reaches the Abrams’ skin.
A former medic with the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) that heroically fought his way up a mountain to render aid to his Special Forces teammates and their Afghan commando counterparts will receive the Medal of Honor.
The White House announced Sept. 21, 2018, that former Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer II went above and beyond the call of duty April 6, 2008, while assigned to Special Operations Task Force – 33 in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. He will receive the highest military award for valor at a White House ceremony, Oct. 1, 2018.
In April 2008, Shurer was assigned to support Special Forces operators working to take out high-value targets of the Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin in Shok Valley.
As the team navigated through the valley, a firefight quickly erupted, and a series of insurgent sniper fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms and machine gun fire forced the unit into a defensive fighting position.
Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II graphic.
Around that time, Shurer received word that their forward assault element was also pinned down at another location, and the forward team had sustained multiple casualties.
With disregard for his safety, Shurer moved quickly through a hail of bullets toward the base of the mountain to reach the pinned-down forward element. While on the move, Shurer stopped to treat a wounded teammate’s neck injury caused by shrapnel from a recent RPG blast.
Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer II.
After providing aid, Shurer spent the next hour fighting across several hundred meters and killing multiple insurgents. Eventually, Shurer arrived to support the pinned down element and immediately rendered aid to four critically wounded U.S. units and 10 injured commandos until teammates arrived.
Soon after their arrival, Shurer and his team sergeant were shot at the same time. The medic ran 15 meters through a barrage of gunfire to help his sergeant. Despite a bullet hitting his helmet and a gunshot wound to his arm, Shurer pulled his teammate to cover and rendered care.
Medal of Honor.
(US Army photo.)
Moments later, Shurer moved back through heavy gunfire to help sustain another teammate that suffered a traumatic amputation to his right leg.
For the next several hours, Shurer helped keep the large insurgent force at bay while simultaneously providing care to his wounded teammates. Shurer’s actions helped save the lives of all wounded casualties under his care.
Shurer also helped evacuate three critically wounded, non-ambulatory, teammates down a near-vertical 60-foot cliff, all while avoiding rounds of enemy gunfire and falling debris caused by numerous air strikes.
Further, Shurer found a run of nylon webbing and used it to lower casualties while he physically shielded them from falling debris.
Shurer’s Medal of Honor was upgraded from a Silver Star upon review.
As we all know by now, the F-117 Nighthawk was America’s first combat-capable stealth aircraft. According to an Air Force fact sheet, it entered service in 1983, and was retired in 2008. It had a very effective career, serving in Operations Just Cause, Desert Storm, Allied Force, and Iraqi Freedom.
But one reason the F-117 was effective was because the Americans managed to keep it secret for the first five years it was in operation. As a result, many figured America’s stealth fighter would be named the F-19 – and in two techno-thrillers, the F-19 had major roles.
It was best-known as the F-19 Ghostrider in Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising.” In that novel, the planes carry out a daring raid to destroy Soviet Il-76 “Mainstay” radar planes, enabling NATO to secure air superiority in the early stages of the war. One F-19 crew later takes out a Soviet theater commander.
Clancy’s F-19 was very different from the F-117. It had a crew of two, and was capable of breaking Mach 1. It also carried weapons externally, including Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and had a radar. While some sources, like Combat Aircraft Since 1945, credited the F-117 Nighthawk with the ability to carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder, most sources claim that the F-117 has no air-to-air capability.
The other appearance of the F-19 was in Dale Brown’s “Silver Tower.” This time, it had the right name, Nighthawk, but it also had a crew of two. Brown didn’t go into the detail of his F-19 that Clancy did in Red Storm Rising. Brown’s F-19s had one notable success, where they bluffed their way in to attack a Soviet base in Iran during Silver Tower. Both planes were shot down and their crews killed.
After the F-117’s public reveal, the speculative F-19s were largely forgotten. But the “F-19” speculation helped keep the F-117 secret – and that secrecy was critical to the battlefield success of America’s first stealth fighter.
U.S. authorities have moved to seize a French painting that was taken by Nazi forces from a Ukrainian museum near the end of World War II.
Manhattan federal prosecutors said in a statement on March 21, 2019, that the painting — called An Amorous Couple, by Pierre Louis Goudreaux — was stolen from the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of the Arts in Kyiv around 1943.
U.S. officials said the painting had been missing for years, held by a London private collector and then in Massachusetts. It resurfaced in 2013 when it was listed on a website for an unnamed New York auction house.
The FBI determined it was bought from a Missouri auction house in 1993 by a New York dealer who had consigned it to the auction house.
The Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of the Arts in Kyiv.
The prosecutors said they were seeking a court order to seize the painting and return it to the Kyiv museum.
In recent years, U.S. officials have stepped up efforts to locate art seized from Ukraine by Nazi forces and return it to Ukraine.
In December 2018, U.S. authorities moved to claim a 107-year-old painting of Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible that was stolen from a Ukrainian art museum during World War II.
That painting by Mikhail Panin, called The Secret Departure Of Ivan The Terrible Before The Oprichnina, was part of the permanent collection of a museum in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro before the war.
The U.S. military has considered training with DroneDefender, a point-and-shoot, electromagnetic, rifle-shaped weapon that disrupts communications of a remote-controlled drone and its operator.
The system provides a safer and more accurate alternative than other methods, such as shooting drones with a rifle. “Pull the trigger and it falls out of the sky,” said Capt. Michael Torre, an electronic warfare officer for the 29th Infantry Division.
“It reminds me of playing Duck Hunt. It’s like using a video game controller with a real-world application,” he added.
DroneDefender can target a drones’ control signal. The drone controller can be a hand-held device operated by a person or a command module attached to the drone itself.
Staff Sgt. Richard Recupero, a cyberspace electromagnetic activities noncommissioned officer with the 29th Infantry Division, shared his expertise in disrupting drone operations when discussing enemy devices currently in the Middle East.
“You know it’s working because the system is no longer responding appropriately to the operator and doing something the operator doesn’t expect it to do,” Torre said, describing multiple visual disruption indicators.
“From the time I pulled the trigger, it was almost instantaneous,” Torre added.
Operation Spartan Shield subordinate units such as the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, have also gone through the training as part of an effort to provide commanders with increased force protection options.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on April 11, 2018, and warned the country against airstrikes in Syria.
The Kremlin released a statement verifying the call, and said Putin “emphasized the importance of respecting Syria’s sovereignty” and called on the Israeli Prime Minister to “refrain” taking action to that could “further destabilize the situation in the country and threaten its security.”
The two leaders discussed the recent aerial attack on military airbase in Homs, Syria, which reportedly killed at least 14 people. Russia has accused Israel of leading the strike, an allegation that Israel has neither confirmed nor denied.
Israeli officials confirmed the phone call, reported Haaretz, adding that Netanyahu said Israel would act to prevent Iran’s military presence in Syria. News of the phone call came as Netanyahu delivered a speech for Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Hashoa) in which he brazenly threatened Iran not to “test Israel’s resolve.”
On April 11, 2018, Netanyahu reportedly told his security officials in a closed-door meeting that he believes the US will order a military strike against Syria in retaliation for a suspected gas attack on April 7, 2018, that killed dozens of civilians.
Russia has aligned itself with Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad, and his government forces, and Israel is trying to curb Iran’s growing influence in Syria, and prevent Iranian fighters from attacking Israel’s border.
Netanyahu and Putin have maintained positive relations in the last few years, and have discussed preventing a military confrontation between their armies in Syria. But the recent call between the two leaders likely signals a growing divide in their approach to the regional conflict.
Three KC-10 Extenders flew from Hawaii and Wake Island Airfield to refuel five C-17 Globemaster IIIs carrying over 300 coalition paratroopers across the Pacific Ocean July 13.
Having received the gas they needed, the C-17s continued to Australia to successfully conduct Exercise Ultimate Reach, a strategic airdrop mission. The airdrop displayed US capabilities throughout the region, reassured allies, and improved combat readiness between joint and coalition personnel.
The aerial refueling also supported Exercise Talisman Saber, a month-long training exercise in Australia between US, Canadian, and Australian forces that began once paratroopers landed Down Under. The training focused on improving interoperability and relations between the three allies.
The KC-10s seamlessly refueled various aircraft over the Pacific Ocean supporting Talisman Saber. Some of those aircraft include Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets and Air Force KC-10s, among others.
“This is the bread and butter of what we do in the KC-10 world,” said Lt. Col. Stew Welch, the 9th Air Refueling Squadron commander and the Ultimate Reach tanker mission commander. “We’re practicing mobility, air refueling, and interoperability. This is practice for how we go to war.”
Though participation in such a large and complex exercise may seem like a unique occurrence for the aircraft and their aircrews, in actuality, this is done every day, all over the world.
For members of the 6th and the 9th ARSs at Travis Air Force Base, California, the global mission of the KC-10 is evident each time they step onto the tanker. For the rest of the world, it was on full display at Talisman Saber.
Ultimate Reach was the most prominent piece of the KC-10’s efforts during Talisman Saber. Despite that demand, the crews continued a full schedule of refueling sorties after landing in Australia, allowing other participating aircraft to complete their missions.
While its primary mission is aerial refueling, the KC-10 can also carry up to 75 passengers and nearly 170,000 pounds of cargo. This enables the aircraft to airlift personnel and equipment while refueling supporting aircraft along the way. Though it can go 4,400 miles on its own without refueling, its versatility allows it to mid-air refuel from other KC-10s and extend its range.
“With that endurance ability, we can go up first and come home last and give as much gas as everybody else,” said Maj. Peter Mallow, a 6th ARS pilot. “That’s our role is to go up and bat first and then bat last.”
The tanker’s combined six fuel tanks carry more than 356,000 pounds of fuel in-flight, allowing it to complete missions like Ultimate Reach where over 4,000 pounds of fuel was offloaded in a short time to the five waiting C-17s. The amount is almost twice as much as the KC-135 Stratotanker.
“KC-10s are critical to delivering fuel to our partners,” said Welch. “Not only can we get gas, but we have a huge cargo compartment capability as well. KC-10’s can bring everything mobility represents to the table.”
“The KC-10 is essential to the Air Force because we can transport any piece of cargo, equipment, and personnel to anywhere in the world… any continent, any country,” said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Cook, a 6th ARS instructor boom operator. “We’re able to refuel those jets who have to go answer the mission whatever it may be, or (engage in) humanitarian response.”
Additionally, the tanker’s ability to switch between using an advanced aerial refueling boom or a hose and drogue centerline refueling system allows it to refuel a variety of US and allied military aircraft interchangeably, as it demonstrated during Talisman Saber.
“KC-10s were able to provide force-extending air refueling,” said Mallow. “We were able to provide the capability to the C-17s that other platforms can’t. Because we can carry so much gas, we have more flexibility simply because we can provide the same amount of gas over multiple receivers. That inherently is the KC-10’s duty.”
“When we refueled the C-17s, it helped them get to their location and drop those paratroopers so the world can see them flying out of the aircraft and see those angels coming down,” said Cook. “It’s a good feeling, knowing the KC-10 is a part of that.”
Ultimate Reach and Talisman Saber highlighted the KC-10 fleet as a fighting force, demonstrating the aircraft’s unique warfighting capabilities over a wide-array of locations, receivers, and flying patterns.
“Not only does this kind of exercise demonstrate what we can do, it demonstrates how we do it,” said Welch. “Our own interoperability — not just with the Air Force and the Army but with our coalition partners as well — sends a great message to our allies and those who are not our allies that we can get troops on the ground where and when we please.”
The tankers’ performance during the exercise proved its unwavering support to combatant commanders and allies. It showed versatility in meeting unique mission requirements and reassured people around the world that the Air Force will always have a presence in the sky.
“Maybe one of those kids seeing a paratrooper come down will take an interest and maybe become the next Technical Sergeant Cook,” mused Cook.
The government’s main auditor wants each of armed service branches to prove how military bands accomplish the stated objectives of inspiring patriotism and raising morale.
Military bands have declined over recent years during funding drawdowns and some attacks from fiscal hawks, but a few of the services have actually increased spending on bands while band rosters shrink, according to the Government Accountability Office.
“The military services have not developed objectives and measures to assess how their bands are addressing the bands’ missions, such as inspiring patriotism and enhancing the morale of troops,” the GAO wrote in a report released August 10.
Military bands have a long and distinct tradition in the US that the GAO admits is difficult to quantify. They are part of the military’s outreach to communities, playing in parades and for patriotic holidays and events. Several recruiters reported an increase in queries about joining the military after a band played for a school.
Bands have a civic function in performing at presidential events, and a diplomatic function in playing for foreign leaders, both in the US and abroad. The Navy told the GAO that bands can also be “an initial step towards improving relationships with foreign nations.”
All those approaches to proving the value and effectiveness of military bands “do not include measurable objectives nor exhibit several of the important attributes performance measures should include,” the GAO said.
The services the GAO contacted for its report stressed the difficulty of creating metrics to measure increased patriotism and troop morale from military bands, but the GAO says that through surveys and focus groups, the military could quantify how military bands achieve their mission.
All that would take resources, the band leaders told the GAO, which is part of why military bands are under fire in the first place.
The Pentagon spends about $437 million a year on the 137 bands throughout the five military branches. Even though that’s a fraction of the military’s $1.11 trillion budget, some in Congress think that money would be better spent elsewhere.
Most of a bands operating cost goes to travel, and the remainder goes to buying top quality instruments. The Air Force found a $75,000 Gagliano cello last fall that it determined was the only acceptable instrument for musical missions.
“After playing over 50 similar instruments, this is the only one that meets the rigorous demands required by USAF band,” the Air Force said in the contract solicitation. “This world-class instrument is an ideal choice for members of The USAF Band and the demanding standards required for our daily mission preparation and execution.”
Military bands have declined in size in every service since 2012, which has mostly led to reduced cost. Overall, the Air Force and the Navy, however, spent more on bands in 2016 than in previous years.
“The Navy and Air Force reported that their total operating costs for bands over this period increased by $4.1 million and $1.6 million” respectively, the GAO reported. Band costs for the Marine Corps, Army, and National Guard decreased during the same period by less than a million for each service.
The Navy attributed the $4.1 million increase to inadequate band funding between 2012 and 2014, and one-time costs like a $749,000 renovation on the band offices in 2016. The Air Force said that local commands are now responsible for their funding, “so bands may have had unique circumstances that led to increases in costs over time.”
Military bands will face more scrutiny for years to come. The defense spending budget for the remaining 2017 fiscal year asked the secretary of defense to “ensure that only the critical functions of military bands are supported while minimizing impacts on funding for essential readiness, military personnel, modernization, and research and development activities,” Military Times reports.
The GAO noted that as it conducted the review, Pentagon officials met with military bands and officials to “establish standard metrics to collect on events performed by bands.”
Hundreds of heroes have emerged through the ranks of all service branches with remarkable stories of courage and selflessness.
And while some stories are well known, the ones we talk about in this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast are seldom told. You’d think these stories are made up, like the tale of airman “Snuffy,” or propaganda ploys to recruit more troops. Either way, every service member should know about these Air Force legends and their badassery.
Here’s a brief description of our heroes for reference:
1. Col. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., the Tuskegee airman who almost shot Muammar Qaddafi. Chappie was already a legend before calling out Qaddafi in 1968, having served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
2. Sgt. Maynard “Snuffy” Smith, the original airman Snuffy. Despite being an undisciplined slacker avoided by everyone, Snuffy rose to the challenge in the face of certain death to save his crew.
3. Douglas W. Morrell, the combat cameraman who lived the entire history of the Air Force.
5. Eddie Rickenbacker, the race car driver-turned airman who broke all of the Air Force’s records.
6. Charlie Brown, the B-17 Flying Fortress pilot who was spared by German ace fighter pilot Oberleutnant Franz Stigler. These two rivals became close friends after meeting in 1990.
For over 20 years, American warfighters have worn the Joint Services Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST) on the battlefield and during training for their CBRN protection. But its days are numbered. Brought into service in the 1990’s and now nearing the end of its shelf life, the JSLIST will be replaced by the Uniform Integrated Protective Ensemble, Increment 2 (UIPE II) in the very near future. What will UIPE II look like? That’s not certain at the moment, but there are some new technologies and advancements that are likely to have an impact:
Better materials – Anyone who has worn the JSLIST remembers the black powder residue that coated your skin and uniform after taking it off. That’s because it had layers of activated charcoal that consisted mostly of carbon. Nowadays, carbon beads are all the rage and can provide adequate protection at a lighter weight.
Lamination of materials – A recent breakthrough in research proved that removing the air gap between layers of materials can lower the thermal burden on the soldier by a large margin. Picture this…future CBRN suits will most likely be layers of materials. So if you have an outer shell, a carbon bead layer, an aerosol barrier, and a comfort liner sewn together in one suit, the thin layers of air in between those materials will heat up. But laminating them together squeezes out all the air and ends up making the soldier cooler. And not just a little, but a lot. That’s huge.
Undergarments – Using the same concept as lamination, undergarments can keep the warfighter cooler than an overgarment by removing the air next to the skin. Research has shown that wearing an undergarment as close to the skin as possible reduces the heat stress. It will take some getting used to, but the UIPE increment 1 suit consists of an undergarment under the duty uniform and is being fielded now.
Conformal fit – Once again, getting rid of all that air brings the temperature down, so a closer fitting uniform with less material reduces the thermal burden on the warfighter while also reducing the potential for snagging on surfaces as he does his mission.
Better seams and closures – Contamination doesn’t get through a suit unless it has a path and those paths are almost always along seams and closures. Seams and closures are frequently the weakest points that allow particles to get through, but several advancements will counter that.
Omniphobic coatings – Have you ever seen that video of ketchup rolling off a dress shirt? Well, it’s out there and it works. Now think of how effective that concept can be for chemical agents. If 50% of the agent sheds off the uniform and falls to the ground before it has a chance to soak into the suit, that’s half the contamination that can reach the trooper. Omniphobic coatings are still in their early stages of development, but they could be game changers when matured.
Composite materials – Just because you can make a suit out of one material doesn’t mean you should. Future suits will have different materials in different areas, like stretchy woven fabrics in the torso (where body armor is) and knit materials that offer less stretch but more protection in the arms and legs.
Overall lower thermal burden – Here’s where the money is. Almost all of these factors contribute to the one big advantage everyone who’s ever worn MOPP 4 wants to hear – less heat stress – which equates to warfighters being able to stay in the suit and do their jobs longer with a lower chance of being a heat casualty. Break out the champagne.
Flame resistance – Because catching on fire sucks. Most uniforms these days have flame resistant coatings or fabrics, but therein lies the challenge. When you add up all the other technologies, the big question is how do you do it all? How do you coat a suit with omniphobics and flame resistance while also laminating composite materials, making it conformal fitting and lowering the thermal burden while also providing an adequate level of CBRN protection, which is the most important aspect of all? Really smart people are working on that.
A family of suits – Common sense tells us one size does not fit all. The DoD has a history of procuring one suit for everyone, like the JSLIST is now fielded to all warfighters. But slowly that has been changing. Everyone has a different job to do while wearing CBRN suits. Some warfighters need a low level of protection for a short period of time while others need more protection for longer periods. A family of suits instead of one is the answer.
MOPP 4 sucks. It’s just a basic tenet of warfighting. We embrace the suck and drive on, but with the progress CBRN suits have made recently, we won’t have to embrace quite as much suck as before.