I’ve always wondered how Independence Day came to be known colloquially as “the 4th of July.” No other holiday is ever referred to by the date on which it falls. Despite the ongoing War on Christmas, you never hear anyone saying, “Happy 25th of December!”
Or “Happy Last Thursday In November!”
It’s just weird.
What’s not weird is getting sick of tea and opting to drink coffee to kickstart the whole “experiment in democracy” thing, then celebrating it every July 4th with copious amounts of beer, burgers, and explosives.
If you still have your thumbs, give two of them up to these dank memes. Happy 6th of July!
But it’s gonna be WAY harder this time around, guys.
Morgan Lerette, a former Army intelligence officer who spent 18 months in Iraq, writes about his experience as a Blackwater operative with countless missions in his new book, ‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq.’ His memoir recounts what it is like to be a modern-day Ronin in the sands of Iraq. At a time when U.S. civilian employers discriminated against hiring veterans, he ventured with Blackwater at the age of 23 at the recommendation of a friend. This was the start of a road bathed in prostitutes, gold, blood and the ruthlessness required to be successful in clandestine operations. Yet, balancing weight retains one’s humanity.
“Blackwater was a real turning point in my life, much more than my stints in the military,” said Lerette, now 40. “I wanted to write about the people, my brothers and how we survived.”
We Are The Mighty, with the support of Onward Press and United States Veterans Artists Alliance, bring you this exclusive interview with a warrior who lived the dream most combat Military Occupational Specialties dream of: to be set loose upon the enemies of the west and give no quarter – for money.
WATM: Politicians constantly debate the morality of hiring contractors to protect our interests abroad, regardless that the practice of hiring mercenaries is as old as war itself. How has Blackwater impacted the evolution of warfare?
I think [people] really have to understand the paradigm of where Blackwater came in. The ground combat ended, and the interim government was created in Iraq. As soon as that interim government was created and we gave them sovereignty, it went from a Department of Defense mission to a Department of State mission.
They didn’t have the power to protect their own diplomats as they were running around all over Iraq. So that’s really where Blackwater came in. The war was not planned well as it was. What compounded it was that Blackwater came in and were told they had diplomatic immunity and the rules of engagement were different than the other soldiers. It opened up this gray space where we could operate autonomously.
There was no check and balance in place.
No grownup supervision of what we were doing, when we were doing it, or how we were doing it. I think that’s really when it went bad. If you don’t have the government agency that you are contracted by in the vehicles with you – there is no way for them to supervise. I don’t put the blame on Blackwater entirely or the State Department entirely. They both failed to make sure that people were doing the right thing at the right time.
WATM: Your book is brutally honest about a different kind of deployment than is usually experienced overseas. How did you forge a bond between you and your peers to become brothers?
It is very similar to what you go through in the military. You go in there with a number of people you recently met, who you would not normally come into contact with, and are tasked with protecting an individual and each other. You can’t trust that the Iraqis are going to welcome you with open arms. You can’t expect that the State Department people are going to be able to help you out. You have to trust and count on that person sitting next to you with their body armor and rifle.
The bonding was very similar [in that aspect]. Where it was dissimilar is when you come home from a contract there is no support system. As a unit in the Army or the Air Force, you leave as a unit and come back as a unit. You go to your base and it’s comfortable.
As a contractor it’s really just you.
Your new buddies, people whom you would literally die for and would die for you, are scattered across the nation. It makes it hard to keep that camaraderie, so people start chasing those contracts. They go back for the camaraderie and adrenaline of war. Whereas in the military they tell you when to go.
WATM: Some corporations have propaganda that they will hire veterans but when it comes time to put their money where their mouth is, they do not. How has this barrier for veterans to assimilate into the civilian world affected recruitment to companies like Blackwater?
It definitely helped. When I got into Blackwater in 2004 you had a number of special operations soldiers that have trained for years and years and they never really got to do their job. [For example] you had a guy who trained for [a job] for three years and at the end of it they say ‘okay, that was great, but I still want to [keep doing it.’] That’s where a lot of these guys were: special operations, SEALs, Rangers, Recon Marines and they didn’t get to go to war like they were trained for.
This was their chance to extend that service – to get their war.
Blackwater definitely took advantage that there were people who haven’t seen combat but were trained for it. Even to this day, since I came out with the book ‘Welcome to Blackwater,’ people say to me, ‘Well, how do I join?’
Those companies are saying, ‘This is your chance at war, Iraq has dwindled down to 2,500 troops and Afghanistan the same way. They get there and they sit as a gate guard and they’re frustrated because they really think this is their chance. It’s just not the way it was back then and you don’t have the option of finding that fortune like you used to.
WATM: Current and former members of the military have this idea that Private Military Contracting is the final frontier of combat. Would you encourage or discourage their pursuit of fortune?
Yeah, so, the money dried up a number of years ago. It’s definitely not paying what it did when I was with Blackwater in 2004-05. Not only has the money dried up but so have the missions. It used to be a lot of escorting diplomats around combat zones. Now, the majority of jobs are within site security.
Gate guard, tower guard.
Whereas we were making around $210,000 a year, if you’re a gate guard in Kuwait, you’re going to make around $60,000 a year. I would not encourage anyone to go to the final frontier because the final frontier is no longer available.
WATM: Onward Press is an avenue for warriors to give up the sword and pick up the pen. What was your experience working with them on ‘Welcome to Blackwater’?
Onward press is specifically looking for people who have been in the military community, such as spouses, who want to get their story told and be able to tell that story well. Every veteran has an amazing story and being able to put that on paper, get it done, put it on Amazon and be able to purchase it – it takes professionals to do that.
So, Onward Press bridged that gap for me.
They were able to say ‘yes, you do have a good story, you have a good voice, but here’s how you should be able to frame it. Here’s how you get started, here’s where you need to add stuff, here’s where you need to take out stuff. In order to make sure the story was entertaining, and it flowed and people would actually be interested in it.
It’s an awesome organization but writing your experience is very cathartic. Even if I don’t become a bestseller, it’s almost a way for me to give my story over to paper. It took some of the burden I have carried with me throughout my almost three years in Iraq. To be able to give that over to something else, for that reason, it is very, very cathartic.
WATM: Is there anything you would like to say to our readers and the military community?
There is honor in service. There are a lot of extremely intelligent people that don’t have college degrees that do the same thing as me. I’m not unique or special. What I was, was willing to reach out. I couldn’t get to where I needed to go. That goes all the way back to reaching out to figure out my G.I. Bill, to figure out the VA, to getting my book about Blackwater to a publisher and get published.
Whether you’ve spent three to 30 years in the military, set that pride aside and ask for help. If I hadn’t asked for help there is no way I could have published Welcome to Blackwater.
A lot of these stories about soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines would be lost if we can’t get them documented.
So, reach out. Heck, reach out to me. Go to my website www.welcometoblackwater.com and shoot me an email and I’ll get back to you. I’m always willing to help.
‘Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem in Iraq’ is available now on Amazon.
About Onward Press
Onward Press is the publishing imprint of the United States Veterans Artists Alliance, Inc., a 501-c-3 educational non-profit. www.usvaa.org
Our mission is to publish well-written, compelling books by military veterans, spouses, military brats, and other family members. Also, people who served in other agencies overseas and their family members.
We are interested in great stories well-told, and are not limited to military, veteran or government-service topics. We publish literary novels, non-fiction, memoirs, mystery, true crime, suspense-thrillers, to name just a few.
All books are available as e -books, trade paperbacks, hardcover and audio. We pay royalties to our authors and provide editorial guidance and engaging cover art.Onward Press is open for submissions. Please see Submission Guidelines.
Learn more about Welcome to Blackwater: Mercenaries, Money and Mayhem, here.
Lawmakers in the Senate are slamming the brakes on any future plans to develop new camouflage and utility uniforms.
Buried inside the recently-passed Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 is a provision that would prevent the Defense Department from developing or fielding any new camouflage utilities until one year after the secretary of defense formally notifies the House and Senate Armed Services committees of the intent to do so.
Lawmakers and Defense Department officials have long had a sticky relationship over the issue of camouflage and the many patterns the various military services use. In 2009, Congress attempted to slip a provision into the defense budget that would require the services to adopt a common ground combat uniform. In 2013, lawmakers again inserted language requiring a common pattern. Some military brass pushed back, however; then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos said the Corps planned to stick to its propriety MarPat camo “like a hobo on a ham sandwich.”
Development of new camouflage patterns can be costly–the Washington Post reported that the Army’s “universal” Army combat uniform camouflage cost $2.63 million to develop–and not all are great successes. The Navy has taken heat for its blue Navy Working Uniform Type 1 pattern, which is worn aboard ships, and which critics have said will only work as camouflage if sailors fall overboard.
A 2012 Government Accountability Office report found the Army stood to spend $4 billion over five years as it selected and fielded its next family of camouflage uniforms.
That process is ongoing; the Army is now fielding its Operational Camouflage Pattern, with plans to require its use for all troops by 2019.
The 2017 Senate version of the NDAA must still be reconciled with the House version, which does not include the camouflage provision. That’s expected to happen later this summer.
Luke and Amy Bushatz knew they needed a big change or they weren’t going to make it. So, they packed up their life, two boys and headed west. Their next stop? Alaska.
“In 2015 we realized that to really seek mental health help and recover from this super challenging deployment that Luke went on in 2009 and 2010, where he sustained a mild traumatic brain injury, PTSD and we lost over 20 soldiers…. To do that, we had to get out of the active duty Army,” Amy explained.
While deployed in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger, Luke’s vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device.
He was the only survivor.
They also knew they needed to move somewhere that would allow healing and give Luke the outside space he craved and desperately needed. “We knew when we spent time as a family camping, he felt a relief from all of those things. It was like watching someone take off a backpack… it was really a powerful transformation,” Amy said. On a whim, she suggested Alaska.
Luke researched and found a graduate program in Alaska that fit his goals. With her job at Military.com, where she is now the Executive Editor, Amy knew she could work anywhere. After selling some of their belongings and letting the Army move the rest, they filled their station wagon and hit the road. They planted their feet on Alaskan ground in June of 2016.
Although Luke eagerly dove in seamlessly, Amy shared that it took her some time to adapt. Realizing that Alaska wasn’t going to change, she knew she needed to adjust her own mindset. A competitive person by nature, she utilized that fire to challenge herself to spend time outside.
It changed her life.
(Courtesy of the Bushatz family)
When Amy realized she’d spent 20 consecutive minutes outside for over 1,000 days and it was changing her life, she felt called to share that commitment to the fresh air with others. She started a podcast, blog and co-founded the company Humans Outside, where she challenges everyone to spend 20 minutes outside a day, no matter the weather. She also snaps a picture each day of her outside time on Instagram to inspire others.
Luke also believes that being outside can have a deep positive impact. “Nature can be an escape or you can use it as a tool to refocus and reenergize so that you can then do the hard work of therapy, working on your relationship with others and yourself to be a complete person,” he explained. Luke stressed that going outside won’t solve your problems but can help put you in the headspace to tackle them effectively.
“Getting into the mountains helps him take that breath so that he can have the brain space to sort through stuff,” Amy said. She continued, “For someone who is dealing with a brain injury… Your injury does not look like an injury because you look perfectly healthy. Going outside is one of the major tools that helps us.”
“When you make a big decision to change the focus of your life, the whole paradigm of how you view your life changes. It was really back in 2015 that we made that decision and I was a mess. The decision was to either refocus my life or lose everything,” Luke shared. He continued, “That’s the thing with the outdoors, it helps me retool myself and my relationships.”
In 2017 he went to an event hosted by Remedy Alpine and it was there he found even more peace.
Remedy Alpine is a nonprofit organization that is owned and operated by veterans. Their purpose is to share their deep passion for the outdoors with their veteran community and help them navigate the healing experience that spending time outdoors can bring.
“One of my passions is going outside and taking veterans to the backcountry. I had started a master’s program with the intent of starting my own program. It just happened that God put me, Eric and Dave together. Instead of competing, we said, ‘Hey let’s do this together!” to make this specific program [Remedy Alpine] even bigger and better,” Luke shared.
Dave Joslin and Eric Collier met through the Wounded Warrior Project. They realized that they both had a deep passion for the serving veterans and also for finding healing in the solitude of the backcountry. It was there that Remedy Alpine came to life. They brought Luke on as a co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer in 2017.
(Courtesy of the Bushatz family)
“There is a big difference between solitude and isolation. Isolation is not good for your mental health and does not have good outcomes. Going to the backcountry, on the other hand, increases solitude which is linked to healing. But solitude doesn’t have to be done by yourself,” Amy explained.
Psychology Today says that solitude can in fact improve things like concentration and productivity while rebooting your brain and giving you the opportunity for self-discovery.
“You can find that solitude and find that good healing in the outdoors while overcoming physical challenges in a way that you can’t find at home trapped on your couch,” Amy said. She understands the difficulty of certain seasons impacting motivation, however. January in Alaska comes to mind for her, with its freezing temperatures and minimal daylight. But they still go outside and it makes all the difference in the world in their wellness.
Both Luke and Amy have simple advice on using the outdoors to create deep healing: Just try it. They did and they’ve never looked back.
To learn more about Humans Outside and how you can challenge yourself to spend more time outdoors, click here. Want to know more about Remedy Alpine and how they are helping veterans in Alaska? Check out their website.
The littoral combat ship was intended to replace the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates. However, despite a promising 2010 deployment in the Southern Command area of operations by USS Freedom (LCS 1), the littoral combat ship (LCS) has struggled, mostly due to breakdowns.
That said, one major problem with the littoral combat ship was the fact that it is arguably underarmed. Both the Freedom-class and Independence-class littoral combat ships have an armament suite that consists of a 57mm gun, a number of .50-caliber machine guns, a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, and a pair of MH-60 helicopters. While both ships have test-fired Harpoon and NSM anti-ship missiles, they haven’t been equipped with them.
USS Coronado (LCS 4) fires a RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile in the Philippine Sea.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaleb R. Staples)
Among the systems added to the guided-missile frigate version of the Independence-class would be a Mk41 vertical-launch system that would allow it to fire a wide variety of missiles, including the RIM-174 Standard SM-6 Extended Range Active Missile, the RIM-66 Standard SM-2, the BGM-109 Tomahawk, the RUM-139 Vertical-Launch ASROC, and the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. Anti-ship missiles like the Harpoon and NSM could also be installed on the new frigate, along with anti-submarine torpedoes.
The littoral combat ship PCU Omaha (LCS 12) in the Gulf of Mexico. The vessel has a light armament suite more suited for a Coast Guard cutter.
(U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Austal USA)
The Navy is planning to select one of the five designs as the basis for a 20-ship class in 2020. The ships will have the responsibility of escorting convoys and carrying out a host of other missions that the littoral combat ships lack the firepower to handle.
James Mitchell had a successful 22-year career in the U.S. Air Force — most notably as a top trainer at the Air Force’s survival school — before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
And while he earned some awards and accolades for his service as a SERE leader, it was what he did as a contractor for the CIA after his retirement that truly marks his career.
See, Mitchell is the man who broke al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (often called “KSM”) and other high-ranking members of the terrorist group in the months and years after 9/11.
After the release of his new book about the interrogation program titled “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying To Destroy America,” Mitchell sat down for an interview with Marc Theissen, a Washington Post columnist and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
During the 90-minute discussion, Mitchell both clarified details about the controversial “enhanced interrogation techniques” he used and provided insights into the minds of the terrorists.
First, Mitchell explained the difference between interrogation and what he describes as “how do you do” visits.
“These enhanced interrogations that I was part of really only dealt with about 14 of the top folks. I didn’t have anything to do with the mid-level or low-level folks at all,” Mitchell, who’s a licensed psychologist, said. “And most of these interrogations took place over a period of time of about two weeks. KSM’s took about three weeks. And then after that, there was no enhanced interrogations for KSM — you know, none at all.”
He later added, “[O]ur goal in doing enhanced interrogations was to get them to make some movement, to be willing to engage in the questions instead of rocking and chanting and doing the other sorts of things that they had previously been doing.”
Once they broke, it was all about “cigarettes and beer,” to borrow a quote from Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis.
“We switched to social influence stuff because we know that the real way that you get the cooperation that you want is not by trying to coerce it out of them,” Mitchell said. “It’s by getting them to provide the information in a way that they don’t feel particularly pressured to do it.”
Mitchell made it clear that after the terrorists broke, the nature of his visits were more along the lines of maintenance. During one of those visits, he described how the mastermind of 9/11 revealed that he had personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
“He describes cutting his head off and dismembering him and burying him in a hole. And [we] asked him, was that difficult for you to do, thinking emotionally this had to be hard to do,” Mitchell said. “And he said, ‘Oh, no. I had sharp knives. The toughest part was getting through the neck bone’ — just like that.”
Mitchell also described KSM’s shock at George W. Bush’s response to the 9/11 attacks, revealing that the terror leader thought the U.S. would treat the attack as a law enforcement problem and not go to war over it.
“And then he looks down and he goes, ‘How was I to know that cowboy George Bush would say he wanted us dead or alive and invade Afghanistan to get us?’ And he said it just about like that, like he was befuddled, like he couldn’t imagine it,” Mitchell said.
And Mitchell firmly denies that his EITs were torture.
“If it was torture, they wouldn’t have to pass a law in 2015 outlawing it because torture is already illegal, right?” Mitchell said. “The highest Justice Department in the land wouldn’t have opined five times that it wasn’t torture — one time after I personally waterboarded an assistant attorney general before he made that decision three or four days later, right?”
Mitchell’s book, “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying To Destroy America,” is published by Crown Forum and is available at Amazon.com.
The Army is preparing for the first official flights of two high-tech, next-generation aircraft now being designed with a wide range of abilities to include flying faster, flying farther without needing to refuel, operating in high-hot conditions and having an ability to both reach high speeds and hover like a helicopter.
The new aircraft are part of an Army-led effort, called Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator, aimed at paving the way toward ultimately engineering a new fleet of aircraft for all the services to take flight by 2030.
Construction of two different high-tech, future-oriented demonstrator helicopters is already underway in anticipation of ground testing later this year and initial flight testing next year, Dan Bailey, JMR TD program director, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.
“Things are moving along very well. We are on schedule with exactly what our industry partners have planned,” he said.
While some of the eventual requirements for the new aircraft have yet to be defined, there are some notional characteristics currently being sought after by the program. They include an ability to travel at airplane-like speeds greater than 230 knots, achieve a combat radius of 434 kilometers, use a stronger engine and operate in what’s called “high-hot” conditions of 6,000-feet and 95-degrees Fahrenheit.
“We had set 230 as the speed requirement because we wanted to push the technology. We wanted people to bring new ideas and new configurations to the table,” Bailey said in an interview with Scout Warrior several months ago.
A faster, more manueverable helicopter that can fly farther on one tank of fuel would enable forces in combat to more effectively engage in longer combat operations such as destroying enemy targets or transporting small groups of mobile, lethal ground fighters. The new helicopter will also be designed to use next-generation sensors to find enemies on the move and employ next-generation weapons to attack them, Army officials describe.
The JMR TD technology effort will inform a planned program of record called Future Vertical Lift, or FVL, which will design, build and test a series of next-generation aircraft for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
“FVL is a high priority. We have identified capability gaps. We need technologies and designs that are different than what the current fleet has. It will carry more equipment, perform in high-hot conditions, be more maneuverable within the area of operations and execute missions at longer ranges,” Rich Kretzschmar, project manager for the FVL effort, told Scout Warrior in an interview several months ago.
.The first flights of the demonstrator aircraft, slated for 2017, will include developmental helicopter/aircraft from two industry teams – Bell Helicopter and a Sikorsky-Boeing team.
TWO HELICOPTER DESIGNS
The Bell offering, called the V-280 Valor, seeks to advance tilt-rotor technology, wherein a winged-aircraft with two rotor blades over each wing seeks to achieve airplane speeds and retain an ability to hover and maneuver like a helicopter.
Bell’s V-280 has finished what’s called a system-level design review where Army and Bell developers refine and prepare the design of the air vehicle.
“They have an air vehicle concept demonstrator that they call the third-generation tilt-rotor. Their fuselage was completed and it is being delivered to Bell for the build-up of the aircraft,” Bailey said.
Along with Boeing, Bell makes the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft which is currently praised by military members for its excellent operational performance in recent years. The Osprey has two rotating rotor blades which align vertically when the aircraft is in helicopter mode and then move to a horizontal position when the aircraft enters airplane mode and reaches speeds greater than 280 knots.
The V-280 Valor also has two propellers which rotate from horizontal airplane mode to a vertical position, which allows for helicopter mode. Bell officials have said their new aircraft will be able to reach speeds of 280 knots. Bell and Army officials explain that their V-280 Valor substantially advances tilt-rotor technology.
“What Bell has done is taking its historical V-22 aircraft, and all the demonstrators before that, and applies them to this next-generation tilt-rotor. It is a straight wing versus a V-22 which is not straight. This reduces complexity,” Bailey explained. “They are also building additional flapping into the rotor system and individual controls that should allow for increased low-speed maneuverability.”
The Sikorsky-Boeing demonstrator, called the SB1 Defiant, uses a coaxial rotor system configuration. This is a design structure, referred to as a compound configuration, which relies upon two counter-rotating rotor blades on top of the aircraft and a thrusting mechanism in the rear.
“To make a rotorcraft go fast you have to off-load the rotor lift onto something else or else you run into problems when you try to reduce the speed of that rotor. Typically, you do that with a wing but Sikorsky-Boeing came up with a lift-offset design,” Bailey added.
The pusher-prop on the back of the aircraft is a small propeller behind the counter-rotating rotor heads. It is what can give the aircraft airplane-like speeds. It operates with what’s called positive and negative pitch, allowing the aircraft to lean up or down and move both forwards and backwards, Boeing officials have said.
The JMR TD program and the follow-on FVL effort will also integrate a wide range of next-generation sensors, weapons and avionics, Army officials explained.
Some of these technologies will include a “fly-by-wire” technology allowing for a measure of autonomy or automation so that the helicopter can fly along a particular course by itself in the event that a pilot is injured or incapacitated. This is the kind of technology which could, in the future, allow for unmanned helicopter operations.
Along these lines, the Army is looking for technical solutions or mission equipment which increases a pilot’s cognitive decision-making capability by effectively managing the flow of information from an array of sensors into the cockpit, Army program managers have explained in previous statements on the Army’s website – Army.mil
Army JMR TD development documents describe autonomous capability in terms of the need to develop a Human Machine Interface, HMI, wherein advanced cockpit software and computing technologies are able to autonomously perform a greater range of functions such as on-board navigation, sensing and threat detection, thus lessening the burden placed upon pilots and crew, Army experts have explained.
In particular, cognitive decision-aiding technologies explored for 4th-generation JMR cockpit will develop algorithms able to track, prioritize organize and deliver incoming on- and off-board sensory information by optimizing visual, 3-D audio and tactile informational cues, prior statements on Army.mil have said.
The idea is to manage the volume of information flowing into the aircraft and explore how to best deliver this information without creating sensory overload. Some of this information may be displayed in the cockpit and some of it may be built into a helmet display, Army officials said.
Manned-Unmanned teaming, also discussed by Army developers, constitutes a significant portion of this capability; the state of the art with this capability allows helicopter pilots to not only view video feeds from nearby UAS from the cockpit of the aircraft, but it also gives them an ability to control the UAS flight path and sensor payloads as well. Future iterations of this technology may seek to implement successively greater levels of autonomy, potentially involving scenarios wherein an unmanned helicopter is able to perform these functions working in tandem with nearby UAS.
Integration is key to the Army’s Mission Systems strategy, as the overall approach is aimed at fielding an integrated suite of sensors and countermeasure technologies designed to work in tandem to identify and in some cases deter a wide range of potential incoming threats, from small arms fire to RPGs, shoulder-fired missiles and other types of attacks, Army statements have said.
One such example of these technologies is called Common Infrared Countermeasure, or CIRCM, a light-weight, high-tech laser-jammer engineered to divert incoming missiles by throwing them off course. CIRCM is a lighter-weight, improved version of the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures, known as ATIRCM, system currently deployed on aircraft.
CIRCM, which will be fielded by 2018, represents the state of the art in countermeasure technology, officials said. Future iterations of this kind of capability envisioned for 2030 may or may not be similar to CIRCM, Army developers have said. Future survivability solutions will be designed to push the envelope toward the next-generation of technology, servcie information explains.
The mission equipment for the new aircraft will be tailored to the new emerging designs, service developers said.
Additional countermeasure solutions proposed by industry could include various types of laser technology and Directed Energy applications as well as missile-launch and ground-fire detection systems, Army officials said.
The new helicopter program is also working with its industry partners to develop a new technology which might improve upon the state-of-the-art Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensor, or MTADS, systems currently deployed on helicopters; MTADS sensing and targeting technology provide helicopters thermal imaging infrared cameras as well stabilized electro-optical sensors, laser rangefinders and laser target designators, according to Army statements.
The current, upgraded MTADS currently deployed on aircraft throughout the Army were engineered to accommodate the size, weight and power dimensions of today’s aircraft, dimensions which will likely change with the arrival of a new Air Vehicle built for the new JMR demonstrator aircraft.
JMR Weapons Systems Integration is a critical part of this effort. The JMR aircraft will be engineered to integrate weapons and sensor systems to autonomously detect, designate and track targets, perform targeting operations during high-speed maneuvers, conduct off-axis engagements, track multiple targets simultaneously and optimize fire-control performance such that ballistic weapons can accommodate environmental effects such as wind and temperature, Army documents on the aircraft have stated.
Air-to-Air “tracking” capability is another solution sought by the Army, comprised of advanced software and sensors able to inform pilots of obstacles such as a UAS or nearby aircraft; this technology will likely include Identify Friend or Foe, or IFF, transponders which cue pilots regarding nearby aircraft, Army officials have said.
Technical solutions able to provide another important obstacle avoidance “sensing” capability called Controlled Flight Into Terrain, or CFIT, are also being explored; in this instance, sensors, advanced mapping technology and digital flight controls would be engineered to protect an aircraft from nearby terrain such as trees, mountains, telephone wires and other low-visibility items by providing pilots with sufficient warning of an upcoming obstacle and, in some instances, offering them course-correcting flight options.
Using sensors and other technologies to help pilots navigate through “brown-outs” or other conditions involving what’s called a “Degraded Visual Environment” is a key area of emphasis as well, according to Army officials.
The Army is looking at a range of solutions such as radar, electro-optical equipment, lasers, sensors, software, avionics and communications equipment to see what the right architecture is and how we would integrate all these things together.
PROGRESS THUS FAR
In addition to conducting the first official Army-industry flight of the two demonstrators, the program is working on a Material Development Decision, designed to pave the way for the FVL acquisition program. This effort conducts a thorough examination of all the available technologies and their performance through what is called an “analysis of alternatives.”
A key advantage of a joint FVL program is that it will engender further inter-operability between the services and, for example, allow an Army helicopter to easily be serviced with maintenance at a Marine Corps Forward Operating Base, Bailey explained.
Bell and Sikorsky-Boeing teams are both done with their subsystem critical design review and the components are in fabrication and safety flight testing, Bailey explained.
“Bell has a completed fuselage that is undergoing the nuances of getting landing gear attached to it and holes for wiring. They are complete with their wing build and they are just starting to make it to the engine itself,” Bailey said.
Bell engineers have been mounting the wing to the fuselage.
“It really is starting to look like major components to the aircraft. By May it will likely look like a complete aircraft but it will not have all the subsystems,” he added.
The Sikorsky-Boeing – fuselage is complete as well, Bailey said.
“The transmission, main rotor and hubs have been forged and cast – they are in the process of preparing for final assembly,” he explained.
Both companies we have completed the final design and risk review, which is the government review of their process to say the Army understands the final design and the risks going forward.
“The demonstrators help to inform the feasibility both from the technical and affordability aspects of a future program of record,” Bailey said.
As soon as licensed massage therapist Terry Smith starts to knead veteran James Davis’s neck and shoulders, Davis begins to relax.
“That feels so good,” says Davis, a patient in the Community Living Center (CLC) of the Columbia VA Health Care System.
Smith, a U.S. Army veteran, volunteers her hours at the Columbia VA Medical center. She is known as the massage therapist with the “healing hands.”
“It’s amazing what that sense of touch can do for a person. Especially when they don’t get to experience it much anymore,” Smith said.
One veteran in the CLC, a diagnosed Alzheimer’s patient, kept his hands tightly clenched. As Smith began to massage his hands and wrists, the patient slowly began to release his fingers. Another veteran seemed to be asleep in his wheelchair. As Smith massaged his shoulders, arms, and hands, the patient started to wake up and said that he thought he was dreaming about Smith’s touch.
Smith, a Desert Storm veteran from Mount Vernon, New York, joined the military to travel and see the world. Eventually, she found a career path as a medic in nutritional care at West Point.
“This is the type of treatment that gets to the heart of a person”
(Photo by Jennifer Scales)
“Even though I am from New York, I had no clue about West Point or any other type of military posts or bases that were in my state,” Smith said. “Plus, not knowing a lot about the military before I enlisted made each assignment that I had a new experience for me.”
After a varied post-military career, Smith decided to use the GI Bill to study massage therapy. By 2012, when she obtained her license, she knew she had found her calling.
“I love what I do,” Smith said. “This is the type of treatment that gets to the heart of the person. I can oftentimes feel the stiffness in their muscles when I begin my massage, and it is my goal to work it out.”
Carrie Jett, a Columbia VA recreation therapist, notes that Smith is the facility’s only volunteer massage therapist. “The patients really appreciate what she does, and the word is spreading,” said Jett. “Even those veteran patients here who don’t participate in other therapeutic events eagerly await the day and time of Smith’s arrival to get a massage.”
When asked what makes her massages so special for veterans, Smith replied, “I touch them with the spirit of love.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
With a deafening roar that rattled windows, SpaceX — the rocket company founded by Elon Musk — fired up its new Mars rocket-ship prototype for the first time April 3, 2019.
The roughly 60-foot-tall stainless-steel rocket ship, called the “Starhopper” (previously the “Test Hopper”), is a basic prototype of a much larger vehicle called Starship. When completed, perhaps in the early 2020s, the two-stage launcher may stand perhaps 400 feet tall and be capable of landing its nearly 200-foot-tall spaceship on Mars.
The Starhopper prototype gave a full-throated yet brief one-second roar of its sole Raptor engine at 7:57 p.m. CDT on April 3, 2019, based on Business Insider’s eyewitness account.
“Starhopper completed tethered hop. All systems green,” Musk tweeted shortly after the brief firing here on Brazos Island. SpaceX had planned to test the rocket ship earlier this month but had issues with ice-crystal formation in the engine.
A camera on South Padre Island, which is located about 5 1/2 miles from SpaceX’s launch site, recorded the first fiery “hop” test through the haze:
FIRST STARSHIP RAPTOR STATIC FIRE TEST AT SPACEX BOCA CHICA TEXAS
The sound here on Brazos Island was deafening — so loud that part of a resident’s window blinds was knocked off its frame.
“I was cooking collard greens and my house started rattling. It was like a couple of jet airplanes taking off in your living room,” said Maria Pointer, a retired deck officer who lives with her husband, Ray, about 1.8 miles from SpaceX’s new launchpad.
She said previous tests by SpaceX were loud — comparable to the noise of a jet engine — but “this was magnified to about 10 jet-engine roars,” she said.
First Raptor Static Fire test on StarHopper – April 3, 2019
“It reminds you of when the Blue Angels fly over real low,” she added. “That’s the sound. It rattled everything. This was the full Raptor with all the juice going to it. This was the real thing.”
The lone road to SpaceX
SpaceX has been coordinating with Cameron County law enforcement to close access to Highway 4 — the only road into and out of the remote beach community, which about two dozen people share with SpaceX.
During SpaceX’s tests and road closings, renters and longtime residents are permitted to pass through a soft checkpoint about 15 miles east of Boca Chica Village. For safety reasons — the Starhopper is an experimental vehicle that might explode — no one is allowed to pass through a hard checkpoint about 1 1/2 miles west of the launchpad.
Boca Chica Beach, a popular spot with locals from Brownsville and other areas, is also closed during testing operations. Each day of testing has lasted about eight hours.
SpaceX workers taking Starhopper to a launchpad near Boca Chica Beach, Texas, on March 8, 2019.
On April 3, 2019, multiple residents said the road closings had proved increasingly vexing, given their frequency, extended hours, and tightening security meant to ward off gawkers.
When Cameron County, the state, and other authorities gave SpaceX permission to use the site in 2014, the company agreed to close the road about once a month. Ray Pointer said the road had closings more or less every day for the past week.
Despite the tightened security and compounding inconvenience, Maria Pointer said it was fun to hear and see a bit of history taking place.
“This is the good part about it all,” she said. “It’s exciting.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
With just over 5,000 employees, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is one of the smaller federal law enforcement agencies.
However, that doesn’t mean they don’t deal with their share of vicious individuals, groups, and threats. In fact, the ATF goes after some of the most violent criminals: those who want to shoot others or blow something or someone up. Naturally, being an ATF field agent requires a great deal of mental toughness.
Carlos Baixauli, or “Box” as his friends call him, joined the ATF in 1986. He was recruited after doing undercover work for Florida’s state version of the ATF and for the Miami-Dade Police Department; his 30-year career included working on the Medellín Cartel, headed by the infamous Pablo Escobar.
Baixauli in the field as an ATF agent.
(Photo courtesy of Carlos Baixauli)
His first experience as a new agent was witnessing an atrocity on New Year’s Eve at the Du Pont Plaza in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“The plaza was set on fire by angry union workers,” Baixauli recalled. “They wanted to send a message, and in doing so, killed 98 people and injured over 100 others.”
Baixauli was tasked with walking through the crime scene to investigate.
“People were burned into place,” he said. The scene was like something out of a nightmare. “One thing that’s always stuck with me — they were busting out of a window, and this lady was getting ready to jump. Then a burst of air came out, feeding the fire, and a giant fireball came across, and it was like everyone had been turned into the ruins of Pompeii. They were all ash.”
It didn’t take long for Baixauli to be assigned more undercover operations that put him in harm’s way, dealing with armed home invaders. With home invasions, the crime often goes unreported.
“We started coming up on homes and there would be five or six dead Colombians, Venezuelans, or some other South American nationality in the house,” Baixauli said. “The house was empty. I’m talking big homes, five, six bedrooms. But there was no furniture or accessories. These are homes that the drug cartels would set up in Florida. They are guarded by their thugs, and they are stash houses. They would start delivering drugs from these locations to other locations. The reason they would find the people dead inside is that home invaders would go rip off the dope dealers.”
His undercover role was that of a disgruntled employee of the drug cartel. Baixauli would tell the criminals that he wasn’t making enough money, that there were millions of dollars worth of drugs in these houses, and that he needed his fair share.
“They would talk to me about how they can come and rip the place off,” Baixauli said. “They would take the drugs and the money.”
An ATF Special Response Teams searches an exterior of a building in Baltimore, Md.
According to Baixauli, they were usually either a stash house or a drug house. He would meet with them four to five times before taking them to a house the ATF was in control of already.
“The violent nature of these guys,” he said, “they knew they were going into a gunfight. We were just lucky that we won.”
Sometimes his meetings as an undercover agent resulted in a brush with death.
Later in his career, Baixauli found himself amongst a rough crowd at a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant in South Beach.
“I’m sitting there, and a guy puts a gun into my side. My team is wired up and they’re outside. I had to let them know I’m at gunpoint but they needed to wait for the code word because I needed to talk my way out of the situation I was in,” Baixauli said. “The guy with the gun says, ‘Tell me where the stash house is.'”
Instead, he made a comment about the gun. “Why do you have that .45 in my side? Somebody is going to see it outside or from the bar. We have a good deal going here, and now we aren’t going to make any money.”
Baixauli kept his cool and didn’t even signal that the gun concerned him.
“If you’re going to keep the gun on me, put it in my back,” he said. “Nobody can see it then.”
He recalled the event as if reliving it. “We are moving. My team is listening. They are making a move towards the front door. ‘The cashier is going to see the gun,’ I tell the guy. The whole time I’m giving a play by play to my crew outside. Walking towards the front door, I see the cover team. Soon as I go through the door, this guy comes behind him, and he’s taken down easily.”
Baixauli with .7 million in recovered cash.
(Photo courtesy of Carlos Baixauli)
One way the ATF differentiates from other law enforcement agencies is that they try not use confidential or criminal informants (CIs).
“ATF doesn’t deal with CIs. CI always brings baggage. The best hand-to-hand is between a good guy and a bad guy. If I need a CI to introduce me to a bad guy, and we do a deal with the CI, we throw that deal away. We don’t want to deal with the baggage from the CI. As soon as we could cut the CI out, we would,” Baixauli said.
While he’s been out of the ATF since 2016, Baixauli is still concerned about current threats; he sees groups like MS-13 as a bigger threat to the U.S than even Pablo Escobar’s cartel.
“MS-13 is 10 times worse. Drugs, extortion, brutal murders, prostitution, terrorizing people — and as far as law enforcement is concerned, they are animals who have no feeling for life.” In 2017, it was reported that the group stabbed a victim 100 times, beheaded him, and ripped out his heart.
Despite the danger, Baixauli loved his job with the ATF so much that he can’t remember a day he didn’t look forward to work. “I loved it,” he said. “I just loved it.”
Look, you all know what military working dogs are. Whether you’re here because they’re adorable, because they save lives, because they bite bad guys, or because they bite bad guys and save lives while being adorable, we all have reasons to love these good puppers. And the military protects these warriors, even evacuating them when necessary.
And so that brings us to the above video and photos below. Because, yes, these evacuations can take place on helicopters, and that requires a lot of training. Some of it is standard stuff. The dogs can ride on normal litters and in normal helicopters. But medics aren’t always ready for a canine patient, and the doggos have some special needs.
Military Working Dog Medical Care Training
(U.S. Army courtesy photo)
One of the most important needs particular to the dogs is managing their anxiety. While some humans get uncomfortable on a ride in the whirly bird (the technical name for a helicopter), it’s even worse for dogs who don’t quite understand why they’re suddenly hundreds of feet in the sky while standing on a shaking metal plate.
So the dogs benefit a lot just from helicopter familiarization training. And it’s also a big part of why handlers almost always leave the battlefield with their dogs. Their rifle might be useful on the ground even after their dog is wounded, but handlers have a unique value during the medical evacuation, treatment, and rehabilitation. If a dog is already hurt and scared when it gets on a helicopter, you really want it to have a familiar face comforting it during the flight.
Military Working Dog Medical Care Training
(U.S. Army courtesy photo)
But it’s not just about helping the dogs be more comfortable. It’s also about preparing the flight medics to take care of the dogs’ and handlers’ unique needs. Like in the video at the top. As the Air Force handlers are comforting and restraining the dogs, the helicopter crew is connecting handlers’ restraints because the handlers’ hands are needed for the dogs.
Military Working Dog Medical Care Training
(U.S. Army courtesy photo)
The personnel who take part in these missions, from the handlers to the pilots to the flight crews, all get trained on the differences before they take part in the training and, when possible, before any missions where they might need to evacuate a dog.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Justin Yarborough)
Of course, ultimately, the dogs get care from medical and veterinarian teams. Don’t worry about this good dog. The photo comes from a routine root canal.
But cyber weapons reportedly give Britain the best chance of deterring Russia because the West no longer has small battlefield nuclear weapons.
The Sunday Times reported that the test to “turn out the lights” in Moscow – which will give Britain more time to act in the event of war – happened during the UK’s biggest military exercise for a decade.
5,500 British troops took part in the desert exercise in Oman, where troops also practiced other war games to combat Russia’s ground forces.
British troops practice section attack drills in Oman, 2001.
The £100m (0.5 million) exercise in the Omani desert reportedly involved 200 armoured vehicles, six naval ships, and eight Typhoon warplanes.
Sources told the Sunday Times that in a series of mock battles, the Household Cavalry played the role of an enemy using Russian T-72 tanks.