Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families

In the era of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, training was frequent and necessary in order to maintain the level of combat readiness required to sustain and prevail in battle. While times have changed, our Operational Tempo (Optempo) has not.


The number of troops needed in combat zones has decreased significantly. The amount of funds needed to maintain those combat zones has decreased as well. Funds have been redirected to modernize equipment, further training and have helped our forces remain relevant and vigilant. But what is this current wartime Optempo and Personnel Tempo (Perstempo) doing to our troops and our families?

How much is it really costing us?

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families

Their lives

Since 2001, more than 6,000 U.S. service members and DOD civilians have lost their lives. Of that, over 5,000 were KIA. Even more staggering is the number of wounded in action (WIA) since then. At least 50,000 service members have been wounded in action (DOD 2019). Since the wars began in 2001, the United States has spent 0.4 billion dollars on medical care and disability benefits.

This is only the beginning of medical care for wounded troops.

According to Costs of War, the financial costs of medical care usually peaks 30 to 40 years after the initial conflict (Bilmes, et al. 2015). In a study, it shows that although veteran suicide rates have recently decreased in numbers, the rate of suicide of military members versus civilians is still substantially higher, and ever-increasing. Furthermore, the number of veterans who use VHA versus those who don’t also, have a higher rate of suicide (DVA 2018). The toll this is taking on military families is creating unsalvageable relationships, emotional distress for children, and, ultimately, lives that are forever lost.

Their families

At the start of the war in 2001, Perstempo policies have been disregarded by many. According to the GAO:

DOD has maintained the waiver of statutory Perstempo thresholds since 2001, and officials have cited the effect of the high pace of operations and training on service members; however, DOD has not taken action to focus attention on the management of Perstempo thresholds within the services and department-wide (GAO 2018).

Is there a lack of genuine concern for family stability and well-being? Understanding the expectation of family interaction would decrease during wartime, once the service member has completed their deployment, reintegration, and revitalization of the home and family must take place. Families have been neglected and left without the proper resources to cultivate a healthy family environment. The concern for service member readiness has been an on-going issue in recent years. Studies have been conducted, and programs implemented, but is that enough?

Marital issues have often been associated with Perstempo, such as length of partner separation, infidelity during separation, and other challenges encompassed in a military marriage. The stress on the family of a service member is immeasurable; oftentimes, even discounted in comparison to the stress the service member endures. Support or resources for military spouses seeking separation or divorce are nearly nonexistent. They have been conditioned to believe that the well being of their soldiers comes before their own.

Military spouses sacrifice their academic achievements and employment opportunities in support of their service member’s careers. As the budget cuts roll out for the fiscal year, more much-needed family programs are becoming extinct. Programs that provide support for spousal employment, childcare, and leisure activities are being defunded, which can destabilize already struggling families.

Child and domestic abuse are an ever-growing concern within a community that is known for its patriotism and heroism. The families suffer in silence. Surviving recurrent deployments, solo parenting, housing issues, and the lack of program funding, the plight of the military family continues to decrease soldier readiness and morale.

Their mental well-being

The rate of PTSD and mental health diagnoses is on the rise for both service members and their families. However, services providing support and medical care for these issues have declined. The effect of time away from children has taken a toll on military children.

Neglect, abuse, and mental health issues are being ignored due to a lack of care. Some military installations cannot provide adequate mental health care because of their remote locations, and the costs to contract providers are often more than the proposed budgets allow. Because of this, the family’s needs go unmet.

With orders coming down the wire, Command Teams are obligated to carry out relentless training exercises, and soldiers are feeling the burn. Everyone is exhausted, each soldier doing the job of three, and families are becoming isolated. They lack sleep and proper nutrition, putting them at greater risk of making mistakes during training that may cost them their lives, but the soldiers march on.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families

The way forward

Repairing family units are necessary for the success of soldier readiness. Programs and support for families should not be cut. Revisions of budget direction may be necessary in order to tailor programs in a way that both benefits the government and the well-being of the service member and their families.

Allow soldiers to receive mental health care without fear of retaliation or loss of career. Provide structured support programs for spouses that go beyond counseling. Long term care is necessary for service members and families upon redeployment. Taking a true interest in supporting our military members and families should be the priority for our Department of Defense. We are fighting wars but not fighting for our families. Cultivate strength by improving the quality of life for everyone.

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These letters home give a peek at life in Vietnam War

Letters are a very personal and specific method of communicating, filled with all the details about feelings and moments that would get left out of official reports and summaries. That’s why they’re so loved by historians.


Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
Military police escort a captured Viet Cong fighter during the Tet Offensive.
(U.S. Army Don Hirst)

In these letters from the U.S. Army Heritage Education Center, a man identified as “Cofty” writes to his family about his experiences fighting in the jungles and front lines of Vietnam.

The first letter comes from Feb. 2, 1968, near the start of the Tet Offensive. The author and his unit were part of forces sent to counter the North Vietnamese attacks which had slammed into major U.S. posts at Long Binh and Bien Hoa. Saigon was also already under attack.

Though the writer couldn’t know it at the time, his unit was quite successful in driving the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces back, and attacks on Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would cease the same day he wrote this letter.

(The author mistakenly put that his unit moved out on the 31st of December. The post-it notation on the letter is to amend “December” to “January.” The letter was written on February 2, 1968.)

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
U.S. Army Heritage Education Center

The attack on the prisoner of war camp resulted in about 26 North Vietnamese dead and no U.S. or South Vietnamese casualties. There were at least two platoons involved in the fighting there, an infantry platoon and a cavalry platoon. It seems that the author was likely part of the cavalry platoon as, in an earlier letter available below, he refers to his squadron and his troop. Troops and squadrons are unit types predominantly used in cavalry organizations.

(A cavalry troop is roughly the same size as an infantry company, and a cavalry squadron is roughly the same size as an infantry battalion.)

While Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would be relatively safe within hours of this letter being completed, attacks would continue across the front for months, including in Saigon where an embassy was partially overrun and then re-secured.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
Marines push through the alleys of Hue City in February 1968, attempting to retake areas seized by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces during the Tet Offensive.
(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. W. F. Dickman)

North Vietnamese forces launched approximately 120 attacks during the surprise offensive, greatly overstretching their forces and creating a situation where U.S. and South Vietnamese forces could quickly counterattack and retake the ground.

The offensive resulted in a large military defeat for the North Vietnamese, but early successes by the communist forces broke American morale at home, and the NVA achieved a major strategic victory despite their severe losses.

The other letter from this young soldier is dated January 19, a few weeks before the Tet Offensive began. It provides a little more “day-in-the-life” as the author details what search and destroy missions were, where his unit was located, and how hard it was to fight in the jungles near Cambodia.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
U.S. Army Heritage Education Center
Articles

This pilot landed his F-15 with only one wing

The F-15 is an amazing aircraft that was designed to go head-to-head with the Soviet’s MiG-25 and was the top dog for years, most notably during Desert Storm where American and Saudi Eagles took it to the Iraqis in a big way.


The F-15 has endured because its design was years ahead of its time, and a great data point behind that fact is the time Israeli pilot Zivi Nedivi landed his jet with only one wing. Nedivi had one of his wings sheared off in a midair collision with an A-4 Skyhawk during a training event. Nedivi’s Eagle went into a rapid roll by the crash and he told his navigator to prepare the eject.

Nedivi turned on his afterburners in an attempt to stabilize the jet. The move worked. After his aircraft stabilized, he decided to attempt to land at a base 10 miles away. Because of the fuel coming from the damaged fuselage, neither he nor his wingman knew that the F-15 was missing a wing.

Hear the rest of this amazing story from Nedivi himself in this video:

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is NASA’s plan for a US Moon Base

As NASA sets its sights on returning to the Moon, and preparing for Mars, the agency is developing new opportunities in lunar orbit to provide the foundation for human exploration deeper into the solar system.

For months, the agency has been studying an orbital outpost concept in the vicinity of the Moon with U.S. industry and the International Space Station partners. As part of the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, NASA is planning to build the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in the 2020s.


The platform will consist of at least a power and propulsion element and habitation, logistics and airlock capabilities. While specific technical and mission capabilities as well as partnership opportunities are under consideration, NASA plans to launch elements of the gateway on the agency’s Space Launch System or commercial rockets for assembly in space.

“The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will give us a strategic presence in cislunar space. It will drive our activity with commercial and international partners and help us explore the Moon and its resources,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We will ultimately translate that experience toward human missions to Mars.”

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
The next generation of NASA’s Space Launch System will be 364 feet tall in the crew configuration, will deliver a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity and feature a powerful exploration upper stage.
(Artist concept)

The power and propulsion element will be the initial component of the gateway, and is targeted to launch in 2022. Using advanced high-power solar electric propulsion, the element will maintain the gateway’s position and can move the gateway between lunar orbits over its lifetime to maximize science and exploration operations. As part of the agency’s public-private partnership work under Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, five companies are completing four-month studies on affordable ways to develop the power and propulsion element. NASA will leverage capabilities and plans of commercial satellite companies to build the next generation of all electric spacecraft.

The power and propulsion element will also provide high-rate and reliable communications for the gateway including space-to-Earth and space-to-lunar uplinks and downlinks, spacecraft-to-spacecraft crosslinks, and support for spacewalk communications. Finally, it also can accommodate an optical communications demonstration – using lasers to transfer large data packages at faster rates than traditional radio frequency systems.

Habitation capabilities launching in 2023 will further enhance our abilities for science, exploration, and partner (commercial and international) use. The gateway’s habitation capabilities will be informed by NextSTEP partnerships, and also by studies with the International Space Station partners. With this capability, crew aboard the gateway could live and work in deep space for up to 30 to 60 days at a time.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
A full moon witnessed fromu00a0orbit.
(NASA)

Crew will also participate in a variety of deep space exploration and commercial activities in the vicinity of the Moon, including possible missions to the lunar surface. NASA also wants to leverage the gateway for scientific investigations near and on the Moon. The agency recently completed a call for abstracts from the global science community, and is hosting a workshop in late February 2018, to discuss the unique scientific research the gateway could enable. NASA anticipates the gateway will also support the technology maturation and development of operating concepts needed for missions beyond the Earth and Moon system.

Adding an airlock to the gateway in the future will enable crew to conduct spacewalks, enable science activities and accommodate docking of future elements. NASA is also planning to launch at least one logistics module to the gateway, which will enable cargo resupply deliveries, additional scientific research and technology demonstrations and commercial use.

Following the commercial model the agency pioneered in low-Earth orbit for space station resupply, NASA plans to resupply the gateway through commercial cargo missions. Visiting cargo spacecraft could remotely dock to the gateway between crewed missions.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
During Exploration Mission-1, Orion will venture thousands of miles beyond the moon during an approximately three week mission.
(Artist concept)

Drawing on the interests and capabilities of industry and international partners, NASA will develop progressively complex robotic missions to the surface of the Moon with scientific and exploration objectives in advance of a human return. NASA’s exploration missions and partnerships will also support the missions that will take humans farther into the solar system than ever before.

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft are the backbone of the agency’s future in deep space. Momentum continues toward the first integrated launch of the system around the Moon in fiscal year 2020 and a mission with crew by 2023. The agency is also looking at a number of possible public/private partnerships in areas including in-space manufacturing and technologies to extract and process resources from the Moon and Mars, known as in-situ resource utilization.

May 2, 2018 – Update

As reflected in NASA’s Exploration Campaign, the next step in human spaceflight is the establishment of U.S. preeminence in cislunar space through the operations and the deployment of a U.S.-led Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. Together with the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, the gateway is central to advancing and sustaining human space exploration goals, and is the unifying single stepping off point in our architecture for human cislunar operations, lunar surface access and missions to Mars. The gateway is necessary to achieving the ambitious exploration campaign goals set forth by Space Policy Directive 1. Through partnerships both domestic and international, NASA will bring innovation and new approaches to the advancement of these U.S. human spaceflight goals.

NASA published a memorandum outlining the agency’s plans to collaboratively build the gateway. Learn more:

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway Partnerships Memo

For more information about NASA’s deep space exploration plans, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/journeytomars

This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The best Cyber Monday discounts every veteran needs

Cyber Monday might not be as fun this year, since we’ve all been shopping online all year, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some seriously steep discounts available on everything from new gear to new tech. Tackle your holiday shopping list or just treat yourself to something new with this list of discounts every veteran needs. 

Clothing and Apparel

Cozy up with new jeans, sweaters or socks to keep you warm through the long winter. Or, treat yourself to a new gym outfit so you don’t feel too guilty about that second slice of pie. Round out your shopping spree with a new pair of sneakers or dream big and buy a pair of heels for when the world reopens. 

7 for All Mankind: up to 40% off sitewide 

Amazon: Up to 30% off women’s seasonal trends, sunglasses and Sperry boots 

Gymshark: Take up to 50% off select collections

Happy Socks: 60% off select styles 

Zappos: up to 50% off sneakers, backpacks, and winter apparel

Fitness and Wellness

New Year, New You deserves new gear! Grab a subscription to Audible and get the latest books delivered right to your device. Crush your at home workout goals with a set of weighted bangles. Step up your steps with a new Fitbit. Then, when you’re ready to relax, snuggle in with a weighted blanket while your new air purifier makes the air crisp and clean. 

Audible Plus: 38% off first 6 months

Bala Weighted Bangle Set, $8 off

Fitbit sale: up to $50 off 

Dyson Pure Hot + Cold Air Purifier, up to 30% off at Bed Bath and Beyond 

Gravity Weighted Blanket, $30 off select styles 

Theragun Mini Therapy Massager, 10% off 

Tech 

Cyber Monday is all about the tech deals, and with good reason. This year, retailers are offering everything from steep discounts on gaming consoles to laptops. Work from Home just got a whole lot better with a brand new device. Speaking of devices, Verizon is offering crazy good deals on Monday on all of their phones and tables. Check out their website for full details. 

Alexa devices: all Alexa devices now from $9 at Amazon

Chromebooks: deals from $129

Dell: laptop deals from $349

Galaxy S20/Note 20 sale: up to $250 off 

HP sale: up to 65% off all laptops 

Lenovo: ThinkPad sale from $799

Microsoft: up to $900 off Surface, Xbox, more

Mixbook: 50% off all photo books via “REVHLDY20”

Newegg: up to 50% off gaming, mobos, storage, more

Samsung QLED TVs: up to $3,000 off all models

Walmart: big-screen TVs, laptops, more from $278

Just because you’ve been shopping from your couch since March doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Cyber Monday in style.

MIGHTY TRENDING

In a world of vet-owned coffee, Rakkasan Tea has a mission of its own

Brandon Friedman wants you to know that just because coffee has the reputation of being the military’s beverage of choice, tea isn’t reserved for Brits in silly hats enjoying crumpets. For Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, their wars have centered mostly around having tea. After all, foreign fighters and tribal leaders hold court over tea, not coffee. Friedman thought it was strange that tea isn’t more associated with the military experience. He founded Rakkasan Tea Company with that in mind.

Friedman was commissioned as an Army infantry officer in 2000 and was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division — known as the “Rakkasans,” the old Japanese word for “parachute.” By March, 2002, he and his unit were in an air assault into Afghanistan’s Shah-e-Kot Valley as part of Operation Anaconda. In 2003, he was part of the initial invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and eventually became part of the force that held Tal Afar and Mosul.


By 2004, he was out of the Army and taking his career in a different direction. His now-business partner in Rakkasan Tea was then-Pfc. Terrence “TK” Kamauf, whom Friedman met in his unit. Kamauf was a machine gunner then, but stayed in long after Friedman left. Kamauf went on to become a Green Beret and was in another six or seven years. Now, the two import tea together.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families

Friedman’s partner in Rakkasan Tea, Terrence “TK” Kamauf (left), in Iraq.

(Courtesy of Brandon Friedman)

But Friedman’s love for the leaf began in Iraq. As many veterans can attest, all business was conducted over tea. It was an introduction to what Friedman calls the “social experience of tea.”

“It’s hard to find that in the U.S. because this is such a coffee country and coffee is really a solitary drink,” He says. “Tea brings people together and we think the U.S. is ready for that. I know we won’t convert everyone, but the veteran community should certainly give tea a serious look.”

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families

Friedman with his platoon of Rakkasans in Iraq.

But where Rakkasan Tea Company gets its tea is central to its ongoing mission. The company imports solely from post-conflict countries as a way to promote peace and economic development.

“As a veteran-owned and veteran-staffed company, we understand what conflict does to communities,” Friedman says. “And we want to get as many veterans into this business as we can. So, we often describe our mission as being one that helps communities recover from war at home AND abroad.”

Rakkasan Tea comes from places like Nepal, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Laos. With the exception of Sri Lanka, these are difficult to find on American shelves. The tea imported from Laos is significant because it comes from one of the areas most devastated by American bombing during the Vietnam War — more ordnance was dropped on Laos than in the entirety of Europe during World War II.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families

One of Rakkasan Tea Company’s Vietnamese tea pickers.

(Courtesy of Brandon Friedman)

The latest effort in Laos centers on small farms in the mountainous Xiengkhouang Province and on the Bolaven Plateau in southern Champasak Province. The teas come from some of the oldest trees in the world and you won’t find this quality at Starbucks or Whole Foods.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families

To Friedman, tea is like wine: its character, flavor, and aroma are all greatly influenced by its environment. That might be why he sells tea both by the type of tea and its place of origin.

“Rainfall, altitude, soil content, processing techniques, and more all factor into the taste and quality,” Friedman says. “So when we say we have premium tea grown in Rwanda’s volcanic soil or tea grown on northern Vietnam’s 400-year-old tea trees, that’s of interest to tea enthusiasts. Because it’s really good.”

He wants you to know how good it is and he wants you to be a repeat customer. He obsesses over the returns from his customers. Their feedback really does have an influence on the direction of the company.

“First, I hope we’re living up to the Rakkasan ideal of honor, justice, and commitment,” he says. “But meeting people who enjoy our product is best part of doing this.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

How to watch Army-Navy Game spirit videos from around the world

Anyone who’s followed the Army-Navy Game for the last few years knows that spirit videos have become an integral tradition in days leading up to the game. While one or two might get traction in the news media, the truth is that military members everywhere make spirit videos to support their service academy. And now there’s a go-to place to upload and watch them.


Some spirit videos are more famous than others, like Rylan Tuohey’s Pro-Navy “Helm Yeah” and “We Give A Ship” videos. Then-West Point Cadet Austin Lachance responded in time for 2017’s Army-Navy Game with the extremely well-produced spirit video masterpiece, “Lead From the Front.”

But they don’t have to be contenders for the GI Film Festival to be good. Now, thanks to DVIDS, they all have a forum.

Even if it’s just a group of First Lieutenants, Army alums all, deciding on who should get to watch the game with them or an entire Stryker Brigade Combat Team poking fun at “Helm Yeah” and getting sick of all the winning, spirit videos are now very much a part of the greater traditions surrounding the annual contest.

Army and Navy units stationed all over the world may not be able to make the big game, but they can still be a part of the fun, making and uploading videos to DVIDSHub, the military’s multimedia imagery database. It’s a collection of photos, video, and other multimedia gathered by members of the U.S. military, made available to the public on DVIDSHub.net. It’s a searchable collection of official and unofficial multimedia collected every day by military members everywhere.

Going to DVIDSHub and doing a video search of “#ArmyNavy2018” will reveal all of this year’s spirit videos so far. The collection is dominated by Army units slamming Navy Athletics over and over. Special Forces, tankers, and even doctors and nurses at Fort Irwin all have their own takes on the GO ARMY BEAT NAVY theme.

Some are modeled to be commercials for the game. Others are just showing what they do every day and announcing their support to the guys who will take the field in Philadelphia on Saturday, Dec. 8. The 3rd Cavalry Sapper Troop, currently deployed to Iraq, just showcased a cardboard Navy ship sealed with Duct Tape, rigged to explode.

Of course, you can still find fantastic videos from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard on DVIDS. The site is a public affairs site, meant to make all the imagery captured by U.S. troops in the course of their duties available to the American taxpayer. If a military event is unclassified and was captured by a military journalist, chances are good you can find it on DVIDS.

But Army-Navy Game spirit videos are a good break from the continuous mission. Show your spirit appropriately and never blow up a Navy effigy without trained Army explosives experts or artillery fire mules on site.

Articles

6 times enlisted troops can rip on officers and get away with it (maybe)

It’s no secret in the military that everyone guns to rip on each other for one reason or another. Rank plays a huge part on how and when you can talk smack and get away with. Sergeants verbally disciplining their juniors in the wide open commonly happens on military bases regardless of who’s watching.


Outside of boot camp, getting ripped on happens with fellow service members you don’t even know — and lower enlisted personnel are prime targets.

So now let’s turn the tables for a change. Getting a chance to rip on an officer and get away with it is an extremely rare. So take notes and keep an eye out for one of these juicy opportunities for a little payback.

1. During PT

The military is highly competitive, so when you manage to beat your commanding officer in a push-up contest — it’s time to gloat.

“Can you do this, sir?” (image via Giphy)

2. Shooting Range

Being an excellent shot is one thing, having a tighter grouping than your commanding officer — priceless.

span class=”mce_SELRES_start” data-mce-type=”bookmark” style=”display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;”/span(images via GIPHY)

3. At Medical

In the field, Army medics and Navy Corpsmen have the power to call the shots when it comes to taking care of their patients. Regardless of the rank the”Doc” has on their sleeve or collar, it’s their time to shine and order how things go down (but you need to earn that power).

(images via Giphy)

4. Infantry Tactics

Most infantry line officers are just starting out and are going to make mistakes — and that’s when the experienced enlisted troops can step forward and publicly correct an officer on how the mission should go.

Be slightly more professional when you address them, though. (images via Giphy)

5. Crypto

Many officers like to believe they know everything about everything — they don’t.

Crypto rollover is when the codes on your communication system are adjusted so the bad guys can’t hack them. Although it’s easy for the E-4 and below comm guys to handle the task, many officers don’t know the first thing about it even though some try very hard.

It’s okay sir, maybe you’ll get it next time. (images via Giphy)

6. Buying dumb sh*t after deployment

After months and months of saving up their money, officers — like enlisted — spend their earnings on things that don’t make sense either. They’re only human.

When you blow your money on something you don’t need, stand by for some sh*t talking.

Until the money runs low. (images via Giphy)

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Widow goes extra mile to carry on husband’s legacy

Maj. Philip D. Ambard was killed in 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan. A decade after the death of her husband, a Gold Star wife continues to go the distance to carry her airman’s memory around the globe.

Air Force Maj. Phil Ambard deployed to Afghanistan to serve on a NATO team training the Afghan Air Force when he was killed during a shooting at Kabul International Airport, according to the Air Force. He was 44. His widow, Linda Ambard, describes him as a husband and father who exuded kindness and fun. She refers to him as the “Disneyland parent.” 

Linda said she didn’t mind being the rule maker, knowing that Phil’s childhood shaped so much of who he was. Phil was a French-Venezuelan immigrant who didn’t even know English when he arrived on American soil at the age of 12. A self-taught linguist, he would go on to learn 10 languages and, in 2003, started a career at the Air Force Academy’s Department of Foreign Languages. 

A fellow professor described Phil’s impact on his student.

“You would always see a line of cadets at his office,” Lt. Col. LeAnn Derby said in an interview with the Air Force shortly after Phil’s death. “It was easy to see the impact he had on them.”

Growing up in Venezuela was a tumultuous experience for Phil, Linda says, but it also inspired him to always prioritize his family and value all people in his adult life. 

“One thing that I learned from my husband was to really love my country, warts and all,” Linda said with a smile. 

But he almost wasn’t her husband. Phil asked Linda out more than a dozen times before she said yes. 

“I didn’t want anything to do with him because he was almost six years younger than me,” she said. “We became friends through the course of him asking the first 19 times and it became a joke. Then one day he said, ‘This is the last time I am going to ask you out if you say no.’” 

Four months later they eloped. 

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
Air Force Maj. Phil Ambard and his wife, Linda.

“He was the kindest and most humble person I knew … He saw the invisible people. You know, the people who come and do the cleaning at your workplace? He would practice any of his 10 languages to figure out which one they spoke,” Linda said. “He’d find out about their families or sodas and snacks they liked, then he’d show up with them. He felt like you could change people more by being kind and meeting them where they were.”

Phil enlisted in the Air Force to not only serve but also to earn his citizenship. He would go on to become an officer and teacher. Despite the security of his position teaching at the Air Force Academy, he volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan in 2011. 

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families

One of the hardest parts about the day he lost his life was that he knew his assassin, Linda explained. The Afghan soldier who ambushed those airmen was someone Phil considered a friend. They often lunched together and conversed in different languages. Phil’s death changed everything for his family and there was more trauma to come. 

Air Force Maj. Phil Ambard and his wife, Linda.

Read: Family of Fallen soldier encourages others to “Live like John”

“Two years after he was killed, I was at the Boston Marathon when all hell broke loose,” Linda said. “I was one stop away from the finish line and I was smiling; it was a good day. I was running to honor and remember Phil. They had chosen me to do that. Then the first boom hit … I became terrified and it lives on in my nightmare and it overlaps with Phil. But it woke something up in me. I can’t let terrorism have anything else from me … I have to fight to thrive, and by doing that I am honoring Phil.”

Linda went on to earn a master’s degree in military resiliency counseling and began using her voice. 

“The military is very good at recognizing the funerals … but they aren’t so good at what comes next,” she explained. “The cost keeps going. It doesn’t go away just because it’s been 10 years.” 

Linda shared that trauma severely impacts those who experience it and can continue to wreak devastation on lives. It’s with this in mind that she continues to counsel, train, and educate, hoping to change and improve the lives of other military families.  

A decade later, Linda is still running marathons to honor Phil on every continent except Antarctica — but that’s coming in March 2022. She also found love again and is engaged to be married. One lesson she’d like people to take away from her story is to love more deeply and take the time to show it because we never know how much we have left. 

The Unquiet Professional is honoring Spc. John A. Pelham, Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick D. Feeks, and Maj. Philip D. Ambard for their 2021 Virtual Memorial Mile.
To register for the #TUPMile, click here and visit TUP’s Facebook Page for more information. While there, learn more about their stories and lives. And don’t forget to tag #TUPMile and #MotivatedByTheirLives in your mile.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Combat veterans use ancient epics to cope with war

The trials of Odysseus are really not that different from the struggles of those learning to readjust after wars of today, modern veterans are finding.


A small group of military veterans has been meeting weekly in a classroom at the University of Vermont to discuss The Iliad and The Odyssey for college credit — and to give meaning to their own experiences, equating the close-order discipline of men who fought with spears, swords, and shields to that of men and women who do battle these days with laser-guided munitions.

Homer isn’t just for student veterans. Discussion groups are also being offered at veterans centers in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The Maine Humanities Council has sponsored sessions for veterans incarcerated at Maine’s Kennebec County jail, as well as for other veterans.

Also read: 4 myths about veterans you can dispel at work right now

For many in the UVM class, Homer’s 2,800-year-old verses seem all too familiar: the siege of Troy, the difficult quest of Odysseus to return home after 10 years at war, his anguish at watching friends die, and his problems readjusting to civilian life.

Stephanie Wobby, 26, a former Army medic originally from Sacramento, California, is a combat veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and is one of two women in the UVM course; she has been to traditional post-traumatic stress therapy sessions, but said, “this is far more effective for me.”

“It still resonates, coming home from war, even if it was however many years ago,” said Wobby, a junior majoring in chemistry. “It’s the same.”

In a recent class, Dan Wright, 26, an Afghanistan veteran and UVM junior, wore a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Down with my Demons” while the group discussed The Iliad.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
Odysseus departs from the Land of the Phaeacians. (Painting by Claude Lorrain)

“It was talking about being scared to die and, like, when you are on the field, you don’t think about it,” said Wright, 26, of Halifax, Vermont. He said he was involved in near-daily firefights during a nine-month combat tour in Afghanistan in 2012.

Enrollment in the class taught by John Franklin, an associate professor of classics, is limited to veterans; the current class includes veterans from wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. There are no papers or tests, and the grade is based entirely on class participation and an understanding of the material.

More: Irreverent Warriors combat PTSD with comedy and community

The people who work with the veterans at UVM felt it was a tragedy when they heard last week that a former Army rifleman expelled from a program to treat veterans with PTSD took three women hostage in California and fatally shot them. With Homer, they are working to avoid the idea of the damaged veteran, said David Carlson, the coordinator of student veterans’ services at UVM and a Marine veteran of Iraq in 2005 and 2006 who sits in on the classes.

“From my end, all it does is make me think the work we do with veterans every day is that much more important,” Carlson said.

Homer-for-veterans is the brainchild of Dartmouth College classics professor Roberta Stewart, who is now hoping for a grant that will allow her to expand the idea nationwide.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
an episode from the ancient Greek epic poem the Odyssey. (Artwork by Arnold Böcklin)

Stewart read some blog posts by U.S. service members fighting in Iraq in 2003. She recognized their graphic descriptions of war and the difficulties many faced readjusting to life after combat and reached out to one veteran who appeared to be having a hard time.

“I said to him, ‘Homer can help you. Homer knows,'” Stewart said.

Stewart never heard back from the veteran she told about Homer, but the light bulb stayed on. A decade ago, she wrote to the Department for Veterans Affairs hospital in White River Junction, Vermont, suggesting the idea. Officials were skeptical at first, but she eventually won and started her first group.

Related: This psychedelic drug could be approved to treat PTSD

Navy Cmdr. Amy Hunt, the operational support officer for the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego, hopes to set up programs for still-serving Navy Seals and overseas support personnel.

“Using Homer, because of the distance involved and also it’s great storytelling, is a way to break into those experiences,” Hunt said.

In its different guises at the locations where classes and discussions have been offered, veterans from World War II to those just home from Afghanistan have seen themselves in the struggles described by Homer.

“It was no different then, the soldiers coming home war from war and dealing with these issues than it is now,” said Norman “Ziggy” Lawrence, of Albion, Maine, a Vietnam-era veteran who now leads some of the discussion with jailed Maine veterans. “It opens that avenue so that they can speak to issues that they are having.”

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ISIS attacked US forces in Syria in a complex and coordinated attack

U.S. forces in southern Syria came under attack by Islamic State militants around midnight local time on April 8, joining with local partner forces to repel the assault in an hours-long fight that required multiple airstrikes and left three U.S.-backed Syrian fighters dead.


U.S. special-operations advisers were on the ground near the al-Tanf border crossing when a force of 20 to 30 fighters with the Islamic State, the terrorist group also known as ISIS or ISIL, attacked in what a U.S. Central Command spokesman called a “complex and coordinated” attempt to take the base from the coalition.

Also read: Here’s how the U.S. hit that Syrian airbase

“U.S. and coalition forces were on the ground in the area as they normally are, and participated in repulsing the attack,” said Air Force Col. John J. Thomas, a spokesman for Central Command, according to the Associated Press.

“There was close-air support that was provided, there was ground support that was provided, and there was med-evac that was supported by the coalition,” Thomas added. No Americans were killed or wounded.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
Marines train for attacks like this. (Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joseph A. Prado)

“Clearly it was planned,” Thomas told reporters at the Pentagon. “The coalition and our partner forces had the resources to repulse that attack. A lot of them wound up being killed and the garrison remains controlled by the people in control before being attacked.”

“Ultimately the attackers were killed, defeated, or chased off,” Thomas said.

U.S. forces at al-Tanf, on Syria’s southern border with Jordan and Iraq, had initially withdrawn to avoid potential retaliatory action after the U.S. strike on an Assad regime airfield in western Syria.

The attack came from ISIS fighters disguised as U.S.-backed rebels, carrying M-16 rifles and using vehicles captured from U.S.-supported rebel groups. They struck first with a car bomb at the base entrance, which allowed some of the attackers to infiltrate the base. Many of the ISIS fighters were wearing suicide vests.

“Around 20 ISIS fighters attacked the base, and suicide bombers blew up the main gate, and clashes took place inside the base,” Tlass al-Salama, the commander of the Osoud al Sharqiya Army, part of the U.S.-backed moderate rebel alliance, told The Wall Street Journal.

Salama’s force sent reinforcements to the base, but they came under attack from other ISIS fighters.

Related: Mattis warns Syria against using chemical weapons again

U.S. special-operations forces and their Syrian partners who had moved out of the base quickly returned, and they initially repelled the attack on the ground in a firefight that lasted about three hours.

Coalition pilots also carried out multiple airstrikes amid the fighting, destroying ISIS vehicles and killing many of the terrorist group’s fighters.

“It was a serious fight,” a U.S. military official said April 10. “Whether or not it was a one-off, we will have to see.”

U.S. special-operations forces had been training vetted Syrian opposition troops at al-Tanf for more than a year. The Syrian opposition fighters in question were operating against ISIS in southern Syria and working with Jordan to maintain border security.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
A fighter with the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces sits atop a vehicle before a battle. (Photo from SDF via Facebook)

The pullback from al-Tanf to safeguard against reprisals was just one step the coalition took in the aftermath of the U.S. strike on Shayrat airfield, which was believed to be the launching point for a chemical weapons attack on a Syrian village April 4.

The coalition also reduced the number of air missions it flew, out of concern Syrian or Russian forces would attempt to shoot down U.S. aircraft. The U.S. presence in Syria has increased in recent months, as Marines and other units arrive to aid U.S.-backed fighters.

ISIS may become more active in southern Syria as U.S.-backed forces close in on Raqqa, the terrorist group’s self-proclaimed capital located in northeast Syria. Top ISIS leaders have reportedly fled the city in recent months.

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That time AI won a flawless victory against a human fighter pilot in a DARPA dogfight

DARPA’s AlphaDogfight trials have officially come to a close with Heron Systems’ incredible artificial intelligence pilot system defeating not only its industry competitors, but going on to secure 5 straight victories against a highly trained U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot, without the human pilot scoring a single hit.


Eight teams were selected to create artificial intelligence (AI) “agents” that would be capable of simulating a real dogfight between fighters, referred to as within-visual-range air combat maneuvering, more formally. The first two rounds of this competition saw these virtual pilots engage with one another in simulated combat environments in November and again in January. This third round of AI dogfighting included similar competitions, with the four finalist firms squaring off in a round robin. The event then culminated with the hands-down victor, Heron Systems, taking on a real human fighter pilot in another simulated fight.

And Heron really brought the heat, with its artificial intelligence system ultimately securing the AI championship by defeating Lockheed Martin’s AI system.

Heron consistently proved to have the most accurate targeting apparatus of any AI agent, as it engaged opponents with laser-accurate gun strikes often in the first merge of the fight.

“It’s got to keep that opponent in that one degree cone to win the game,” Ben Bell, Heron’s Senior Machine Learning Engineer, told Sandboxx News.

“You saw that a lot with Lockheed, we’re both nose on, we’re both creating damage, but when their nose is off by that one degree, that’s where we were able to win a lot of these engagements.”

That superior aiming capability was on particular display when squaring off against the U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot representing humanity in this battle for what some consider to be the future of aviation. While the pilot’s name was not released due to OPSEC concerns, DARPA did provide his callsign: Banger. They also explained that Banger was not just a working fighter pilot, he’s a graduate of the Air Force’s Weapons Instructor Course, which could loosely be described as the Air Force’s “Top Gun” school, for the movie buffs out there. The real Top Gun, of course, is a Navy school called the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families

Heron’s AI system racked up the first four wins against Banger in quick succession, leveraging its incredibly precise aiming to whittle Banger’s aircraft “life” down in a series of looping merges. In the fifth and final bout, Banger changed approaches, sweeping his aircraft out away from Heron’s F-16 and creating separation with high-G turns.

However, the new tactics only seemed to delay the inevitable, with Heron managing to kill Banger’s F-16 once again, without the human pilot managing to get a single shot on target.

Heron’s AI pilot was widely described as “aggressive” by DARPA staff and the Air Force pilots on hand throughout the competition. Under control of Heron’s AI, the virtual F-16 would practically play chicken with its opposition — something the human pilots were quick to point out would be a violation of training regulations in a real simulated dogfight. Of course, in an actual dogfight, there are no such limitations… but Heron’s aggression may still have been turned up just a bit too high to serve as a reasonable wingman.

“It’s important to realize that a BFM (Basic Fighter Maneuvers) engagement can occur in any direction and any altitude. We’ll often begin with a basic starting parameter to develop a site picture to reference, but a real engagement doesn’t have those cuffs,” Major Justin “Hasard” Lee, an F-35 Pilot instructor and former F-16 pilot, tells Sandboxx News.
“The enemy always has a vote, meaning they always reserve the right to do something you’re not expecting. When that occurs you have to find a creative solution to counter the unexpected problem. “

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
F-16 Fighting Falcon (DoD Image)

According to Bell, their AI agent placed an equal emphasis on damaging the opponent and minimizing its own risk.

“If the agent sees a 51% chance of scoring a kill as it heads into a neutral merge, it’s going to take it,” Bell explained.

Of course, aside from some really exciting video game playing, this entire exercise had official purposes too. DARPA is not only seeking to improve drone aircraft systems, they’re also looking to increase the level of trust between human pilots and AI systems. In the future, these same sorts of artificial pilots will likely be flying alongside humans, and other similar systems will fly along with them in the cockpit of their own aircraft.

By outsourcing some tasks to a highly capable AI, pilots can focus more of their bandwidth on situational awareness and the task at hand. We’ve already seen this approach lead to data fusion capabilities in advanced platforms like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which automates simple tasks and provides the data to the pilot by way of helmet mounted and heads up displays.

Bell explained that the current AI agent used to secure this victory could be adjusted to prioritize its own safety to a higher degree, which might make pilots a bit more comfortable with its approach to combat. He also pointed out, however, that just because something’s scary to human pilots, doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families
A U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat of Fighter Squadron 213 (VF-213) “Black Lions” flown by CDR Greg “Mullet” Gerard and LTJG Don “Coach” Husten engages a General Dynamics F-16N Viper aggressor aircraft flown by Lieutenant Commander George “Elwood” Dom during training at the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar, California. (US Navy Photo)

“Trust comes from being able to execute a mission with a high degree of success. There’s some point where you have to say you know that it works and in all the ways we tested it, it was superior to its opponent.”

He went on to clarify, however, that there will certainly be “some give and take” between their engineers and real pilots moving forward.

When asked about Heron’s ace in the hole, its incredibly accurate targeting system, Bell made sure to point out that the way in which this competition was executed was to the human pilot’s disadvantage. Banger was flying in a simulated environment using a VR headset, which doesn’t equate that well to a real fight in the real sky, and gives their computer pilot instant awareness of its surroundings.

Op tempo is killing our troops… and their families

However, that VR environment may have also worked in Banger’s favor, as his final bout against Heron’s AI saw him executing a number of 9G maneuvers that would have taken a significant toll on a human pilot. Heron’s system, on the other hand, would not be physically affected by executing these maneuvers in a real aircraft.

“Dogfighting, or Basic Fighter Maneuvers as we call it, is an incredibly complex and dynamic environment. The most difficult part is perceiving what the adversary is doing,” Lee explains.
“You’re looking for minute changes in their lift-vector which foreshadows their next move. That’s why it’s important to have good vision (which can be corrected with glasses or surgery).”

While going undefeated against a highly trained human pilot is a great feather for Heron System’s cap, this doesn’t mean the end of human fighter pilots is near. DARPA’s goal isn’t to replace humans in the skies, but rather to supplement them with capable drone assets and an auto-pilot system that could conceivably make human pilots far more capable, by freeing up their mental bandwidth in a fight.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

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An essential list of fall virtual events VA job seekers should attend

Fall brings changing leaves, shortening days and cooler temperatures. At VA, it also means a slew of conferences and conventions.

Normally, you’d find us all over the country at various professional health care conferences. While in-person events are currently off the table, there are still plenty of chances to catch us at virtual career events.


Check out the list of online events below that we’ll be attending or hosting this fall. You can sign up for one to learn more about VA, what it’s like to work here and how you can find your perfect VA job.

  1. VA Virtual Open House: At noon ET every Wednesday through Oct. 28, you can sign up to talk to a VA recruiter at our virtual open house. Learn more about open positions, how to apply and the many benefits of a VA career. During the 10-minute chat, you’ll also have a chance to ask the recruiter any other questions you might have about working at VA.
  2. Talk About It Tuesday: Looking for more information about what it’s like to work at VA? Hear about it straight from VHA Marketing Specialist Mike Owens. Every Tuesday on LinkedIn, Owens talks about his experiences at VA and gives advice to job seekers. Topics he’s covered include common application mistakes, VA work culture and advice for transitioning military personnel. Once a month, he also sits down with a VA expert for a longer question-and-answer session. Grab some lunch and come join us next Tuesday at noon ET for another episode, or check out our archive of past videos anytime.
  3. VHA Innovation Experience (iEX): Returning virtually this October, our third annual iEX gives you a chance to discover how VA is using innovation, partnership and technology to change and save Veteran lives. From Oct. 27-29, you can attend talks and demos, watch the VHA Shark Tank competition, attend discussion panels and virtual exhibits, and listen to keynote addresses from health care industry leaders. Register for iEX here.
  4. Other virtual events: You can also catch us at a number of virtual events held by external partners this fall. If you live in the St. Louis area or are interested in working there, we’ll be exhibiting at a PracticeMatch virtual career fair from 4-7 p.m. CT on Oct. 29. We’ll also be at:

Work at VA

We’d love to connect with you at one of these virtual events and help you learn more about a VA career.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

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