C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor's point of need - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

C-ARTS ushers in a new standard in mobile, interactive training, designed to meet the instructional needs and expectations of tech savvy Sailors, accustomed to learning through hands-on classes that exploit augmented, virtual, and mixed reality learning tools.


The C-ARTS facility is located on the waterfront at NNS and also nearby Newport News Shipbuilding for Sailors assigned to PCU John F. Kennedy. Since December, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) has been conducting multiple underway test and training evolutions, as part of an 18-month phase of operations known as Post-Delivery Test and Trials (PDT&T), scheduled to continue through mid-2021. The crew on this first-in-class aircraft carrier are certifying fuel and on-board combat systems as well as exercising the flight deck, launching and arresting aircraft as part of critical aircraft compatibility testing. In preparation for these complex tasks, many Sailors have attended unique training courses, conducted at the C-ARTS facility.

“As the first new aircraft carrier design in more than 40 years, Gerald R. Ford is integrating advanced warfighting technologies essential for air dominance in an era of great power competition,” said Downey. “Sailors can’t wait to receive training on these systems. C-ARTS provides the capability to bring high-velocity instruction to crews at the Sailor’s point of need.”

When the Carrier-Advanced Reconfigurable Training System launched its first course in 2018, C-ARTS instructors guided technicians through the complexities of fiber optic cable repair. Since then, more than 500 Sailors have completed 17 courses logging more than 5,700 total classroom hours.

Interior Communications Specialist 1st Class Jessica Diaz, assigned to CNAL and the first billeted instructor assigned to the Ford Center of Excellence, participated in the C-ARTS ceremony demonstrating her training proficiency of the high-velocity learning opportunity for Sailors assigned to Ford-class aircraft carriers.

“As the lead instructor I am responsible for building curriculum that is both hands-on and interactive while utilizing the augmented, virtual, and mixed reality learning tools,” said Diaz. “The training is currently tailored to the 29 new systems including the Advanced Weapons Elevators, Machinery Control Monitoring System, and Plasma Arc Waste Destruction System found on the Ford Class Carrier but there is unlimited potential to be used fleet wide.”

The 1,000-sq-ft reconfigurable classrooms offer “high-velocity” learning—integral to the Sailor 2025 concept of providing ready relevant learning at the sailor’s point of need. C-ARTS provides innovative tools for delivering the right training at the right time in the right way to crews in modern, spacious spaces—all in the shadow of the ships on which sailors serve.

As the Command Master Chief assigned to the future USS John F. Kennedy, Wright brings a credible amount of experience to the table. Having served on board the Enterprise, Nimitz, and Ford class aircraft carriers he is witnessing the warrior ethos today’s Sailors display.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

“Technology is a vehicle that Sailors continue to benefit from,” said Wright. “I am happy to serve on a Ford-class aircraft carriers knowing that through C-ARTS we have brought the training to the Sailors on the waterfront. This form of high velocity learning will allow us to fulfill the vision of the Sailor 2025 concept in building warriors who serve at sea.”

The training site consists of two stand-alone, 53-foot trailers, which may operate either in pairs—with one unit providing an electronic classroom and the other a maintenance lab—or independently. Adjustable classroom configurations can accommodate 16 students, each training on two 24-inch touch screen monitors, with instructors teaching a single class or two classes of eight students. In the lab, eight students perform tasks from portable workbenches using 24-inch touch-screen monitors.

Delivering training at the Sailor’s point of need helps to mitigate impacts to Sailors’ work/life balance. In the case of the C-ARTS facility at Naval Station Norfolk, CVN 78 Sailors can walk 1,200 ft. from pier 11, where the CVN 78 is berthed. Two other units are also located at Newport News Shipbuilding, walking distance to Pier 3, where the John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) is under construction. A fifth 1,000-sq-ft classroom unit is planned to join the C-ARTS location at NS Norfolk in Spring 2021..

This article originally appeared on All Hands Magazine. Follow @AllHandsMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

SMA conducts battle challenge at annual AUSA meeting

Surrounded by a small group of soldiers all dressed in physical training gear, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey kicked off the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition with a Battle Challenge event.

“Our soldiers need to be ready,” Dailey said. “Ready to do the basic skills necessary to fight and win on the battlefield. Soldiers need to have the physical … and technical skills to do their job, fight and win.”


Soldiers who participated in this year’s Best Warrior competition were among the first to run the Battle Challenge at AUSA. The winners of the Best Warrior competition will be announced at the Sergeant Major of the Army’s awards luncheon.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

Surrounded by a small group of soldiers all dressed in physical training gear, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey kicked off the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition with a Battle Challenge event in Washington D.C., Oct. 8, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Devon L. Suits)

“PT is the most important thing you do every day. PT is a primary and fundamental thing soldiers do to fight. That is our job — fight and win our nation’s wars,” Dailey said. “AUSA put this together for us, and we couldn’t be happier.”

During the Battle Challenge, soldiers raced against the clock to be the fastest to complete a series of nine different soldier tasks. There is no prize for the winner — just bragging rights knowing that they bested some of the Army’s fiercest competitors.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

Soldiers participate in a Battle Challenge event at the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington D.C., Oct. 8, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. P.J. Siquig)

“The Battle Challenge was fun,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Machado, a platoon sergeant with the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and one of the Best Warrior competitors.

“During Best Warrior, we were working with some amazing competitors and the battle challenge capped off the event,” he added. “(AUSA) is a lot of fun and great opportunity to see all the things going on (in the Army), and in industry.”

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

Soldiers participate in a Battle Challenge event at the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington D.C., Oct. 8, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. P.J. Siquig)

AUSA’s annual meeting is the largest land power exposition and professional development forum in North America, according to event officials. With the theme, “Ready today — more lethal tomorrow,” AUSA is driven to deliver the Army’s message through informative presentations from Army senior leaders about the state of the force.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

Soldiers participate in a Battle Challenge event at the 2018 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington D.C., Oct. 8, 2018.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. P.J. Siquig)

The event also hosts more than 700 exhibitors, giving the estimated 300,000-plus attendees a hands-on opportunity to interact with some of the latest technologies from the Army and industry partners. Further, AUSA provides attendees with a variety of networking opportunities and panel discussions that define the Army’s role in supporting military and national security initiatives.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Private Care Program allegedly enriched companies and hurt vets

For years, conservatives have assailed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. They said private enterprise would mean better, easier-to-access health care for veterans. President Donald Trump embraced that position, enthusiastically moving to expand the private sector’s role.

Here’s what has actually happened in the four years since the government began sending more veterans to private care: longer waits for appointments and, a new analysis of VA claims data by ProPublica and PolitiFact shows, higher costs for taxpayers.


Since 2014, 1.9 million former service members have received private medical care through a program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to give veterans a way around long wait times in the VA. But their average waits using the Choice Program were still longer than allowed by law, according to examinations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. The watchdogs also found widespread blunders, such as booking a veteran in Idaho with a doctor in New York and telling a Florida veteran to see a specialist in California. Once, the VA referred a veteran to the Choice Program to see a urologist, but instead he got an appointment with a neurologist.

The winners have been two private companies hired to run the program, which began under the Obama administration and is poised to grow significantly under Trump. ProPublica and PolitiFact obtained VA data showing how much the agency has paid in medical claims and administrative fees for the Choice program. Since 2014, the two companies have been paid nearly billion for overhead, including profit. That’s about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses — a rate that would exceed the federal cap that governs how much most insurance plans can spend on administration in the private sector.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

According to the agency’s inspector general, the VA was paying the contractors at least 5 every time it authorized private care for a veteran. The fee was so high because the VA hurriedly launched the Choice Program as a short-term response to a crisis. Four years later, the fee never subsided — it went up to as much as 8 per referral.

“This is what happens when people try and privatize the VA,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans committee, said in a statement responding to these findings. “The VA has an obligation to taxpayers to spend its limited resources on caring for veterans, not paying excessive fees to a government contractor. When VA does need the help of a middleman, it needs to do a better job of holding contractors accountable for missing the mark.”

The Affordable Care Act prohibits large group insurance plans from spending more than 15 percent of their revenue on administration, including marketing and profit. The private sector standard is 10 percent to 12 percent, according to Andrew Naugle, who advises health insurers on administrative operations as a consultant at Milliman, one of the world’s largest actuarial firms. Overhead is even lower in the Defense Department’s Tricare health benefits program: only 8 percent in 2017.

Even excluding the costs of setting up the new program, the Choice contractors’ overhead still amounts to 21 percent of revenue.

“That’s just unacceptable,” Rick Weidman, the policy director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in response to the figures. “There are people constantly banging on the VA, but this was the private sector that made a total muck of it.”

Trump’s promises to veterans were a central message of his campaign. But his plans to shift their health care to the private sector put him on a collision course with veterans groups, whose members generally support the VA’s medical system and don’t want to see it privatized. The controversy around privatization, and the outsize influence of three Trump associates at Mar-a-Lago, has sown turmoil at the VA, endangering critical services from paying student stipends to preventing suicidesand upgrading electronic medical records.

A spokesman for the VA, Curt Cashour, declined to provide an interview with key officials and declined to answer a detailed list of written questions.

One of the contractors, Health Net, stopped working on the program in September 2018. Health Net didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The other contractor, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, said it has worked closely with the VA to improve the program and has made major investments of its own. “We believe supporting VA in ensuring the delivery of quality care to our nation’s veterans is a moral responsibility, even while others have avoided making these investments or have withdrawn from the market,” the company said in a statement.

TriWest did not dispute ProPublica and PolitiFact’s estimated overhead rate, which used total costs, but suggested an alternate calculation, using an average cost, that yielded a rate of 13 percent to 15 percent. The company defended the 5-plus fee by saying it covers “highly manual” services such as scheduling appointments and coordinating medical files. Such functions are not typically part of the contracts for other programs, such as the military’s Tricare. But Tricare’s contractors perform other duties, such as adjudicating claims and monitoring quality, that Health Net and TriWest do not. In a recent study comparing the programs, researchers from the Rand Corporation concluded that the role of the Choice Program’s contractors is “much narrower than in the private sector or in Tricare.”

Before the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net performed essentially the same functions for about a sixth of the price, according to the VA inspector general. TriWest declined to break down how much of the fee goes to each service it provides.

Because of what the GAO called the contractors’ “inadequate” performance, the VA increasingly took over doing the Choice Program’s referrals and claims itself.

In many cases, the contractors’ 5-plus processing fee for every referral was bigger than the doctor’s bill for services rendered, the analysis of agency data showed. In the three months ending Jan. 31, 2018, the Choice Program made 49,144 referrals for primary care totaling .9 million in medical costs, for an average cost per referral of 1.16. A few other types of care also cost less on average than the handling fee: chiropractic care (6.32 per referral) and optometry (9.25). There were certainly other instances where the medical services cost much more than the handling fee: TriWest said its average cost per referral was about ,100 in the past six months.

Beyond what the contractors were entitled to, audits by the VA inspector general found that they overcharged the government by 0 million from November 2014 to March 2017. Both companies are now under federal investigation arising from these overpayments. Health Net’s parent company, Centene, disclosed a Justice Department civil investigation into “excessive, duplicative or otherwise improper claims.” A federal grand jury in Arizona is investigating TriWest for “wire fraud and misused government funds,” according to a court decision on a subpoena connected to the case. Both companies said they are cooperating with the inquiries.

Despite the criminal investigation into TriWest’s management of the Choice Program, the Trump administration recently expanded the company’s contract without competitive bidding. Now, TriWest stands to collect even more fees as the administration prepares to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to send more veterans to private doctors.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
(US Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Senate veterans committee chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he expects VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the agency’s plans for the future of private care when he testifies at a hearing on Dec. 19, 2018. A spokeswoman for the outgoing chairman of the House veterans committee, Phil Roe, R-Tenn., didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“The last thing we need is to have funding for VA’s core mission get wasted,” Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat who will become the House panel’s chairman in January 2019, said in a statement. “I will make sure Congress conducts comprehensive oversight to ensure that our veterans receive the care they deserve while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Many of the Choice Program’s defects trace back to its hasty launch.

In 2014, the Republican chairman of the House veterans committee alleged that 40 veterans died waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The inspector general eventually concluded that no deaths were attributable to the delays. But it was true that officials at the Phoenix VA were covering up long wait times, and critics seized on this scandal to demand that veterans get access to private medical care.

One of the loudest voices demanding changes was John McCain’s. “Make no mistake: This is an emergency,” the Arizona senator, who died in August 2018, said at the time. McCain struck a compromise with Democrats to open up private care for veterans who lived at least 40 miles from a VA facility or would have to wait at least 30 days to get an appointment.

In the heat of the scandal, Congress gave the VA only 90 days to launch Choice. The VA reached out to 57 companies about administering the new program, but the companies said they couldn’t get the program off the ground in just three months, according to contracting records. So the VA tacked the Choice Program onto existing contracts with Health Net and TriWest to run a much smaller program for buying private care. “There is simply insufficient time to solicit, evaluate, negotiate and award competitive contracts and then allow for some form of ramp-up time for a new contractor,” the VA said in a formal justification for bypassing competitive bidding.

But that was a shaky foundation on which to build a much larger program, since those earlier contracts were themselves flawed. In a 2016 report, the VA inspector general said officials hadn’t followed the rules “to ensure services acquired are based on need and at fair and reasonable prices.” The report criticized the VA for awarding higher rates than one of the vendors proposed.

The new contract with the VA was a lifeline for TriWest. Its president and CEO, David J. McIntyre Jr., was a senior aide to McCain in the mid-1990s before starting the company, based in Phoenix, to handle health benefits for the military’s Tricare program. In 2013, TriWest lost its Tricare contract and was on the verge of shutting down. Thanks to the VA contract, TriWest went from laying off more than a thousand employees to hiring hundreds.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

Senator John McCain.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

McIntyre’s annual compensation, according to federal contracting disclosures, is .36 million. He declined to be interviewed. In a statement, TriWest noted that the original contract, for the much smaller private care program, had been competitively awarded.

The VA paid TriWest and Health Net 0 million upfront to set up the new Choice program, according to the inspector general’s audit. But that was dwarfed by the fees that the contractors would collect. Previously, the VA paid the companies between and 3 for every referral, according to the inspector general. But for the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net raised their fee to between 5 and 0 to do essentially the same work on a larger scale, the inspector general said.

The price hike was a direct result of the time pressure, according to Greg Giddens, a former VA contracting executive who dealt with the Choice Program. “If we had two years to stand up the program, we would have been at a different price structure,” he said.

Even though the whole point of the Choice Program was to avoid 30-day waits in the VA, a convoluted process made it hard for veterans to see private doctors any faster. Getting care through the Choice Program took longer than 30 days 41 percent of the time, according to the inspector general’s estimate. The GAO found that in 2016 using the Choice Program could take as long as 70 days, with an average of 50 days.

Sometimes the contractors failed to make appointments at all. Over a three-month period in 2018, Health Net sent back between 9 percent and 13 percent of its referrals, according to agency data. TriWest failed to make appointments on 5 percent to 8 percent of referrals, the data shows.

Many veterans had frustrating experiences with the contractors.

Richard Camacho in Los Angeles said he got a call from TriWest to make an appointment for a sleep test, but he then received a letter from TriWest with different dates. He had to call the doctor to confirm when he was supposed to show up. When he got there, the doctor had received no information about what the appointment was for, Camacho said.

John Moen, a Vietnam veteran in Plano, Texas, tried to use the Choice Program for physical therapy in 2018 rather than travel to Dallas, where the VA had a six-week wait. But it took 10 weeks for him to get an appointment with a private provider.

“The Choice Program for me has completely failed to meet my needs,” Moen said.

Curtis Thompson, of Kirkland, Washington, said he’s been told the Choice Program had a 30-day wait just to process referrals, never mind to book an appointment. “Bottom line: Wait for the nearly 60 days to see the rheumatologist at the VA rather than opt for an unknown delay through Veterans Choice,” he said.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

(Flickr photo by Rob Bixby)

After Thompson used the Choice Program in 2018 for a sinus surgery that the VA couldn’t perform within 30 days, the private provider came after him to collect payment, according to documentation he provided.

Thousands of veterans have had to contend with bill collectors and credit bureaus because the contractors failed to pay providers on time, according to the inspector general. Doctors have been frustrated with the Choice Program, too. The inspector general found that 15 providers in North Carolina stopped accepting patients from the VA because Health Net wasn’t paying them on time.

The VA shares the blame, since it fell behind in paying the contractors, the inspector general said. TriWest claimed the VA at one point owed the company 0 million. According to the inspector general, the VA’s pile of unpaid claims peaked at almost 180,000 in 2016 and was virtually eliminated by the end of the year.

The VA tried to tackle the backlog of unpaid doctors, but it had a problem: The agency didn’t know who was performing the services arranged by the contractors. That’s because Health Net and TriWest controlled the provider networks, and the medical claims they submit to the VA do not include any provider information.

The contractors’ role as middlemen created the opportunity for payment errors, according to the inspector general’s audit. The inspector general found 77,700 cases where the contractors billed the VA for more than they paid providers and pocketed the difference, totaling about million. The inspector general also identified .9 million in duplicate payments and .5 million in other errors.

TriWest said it has worked with the VA to correct the payment errors and set aside money to pay back. The company said it’s waiting for the VA to provide a way to refund the confirmed overpayments. “We remain ready to complete the necessary reconciliations as soon as that process is formally approved,” TriWest said.

The grand jury proceedings involving TriWest are secret, but the investigation became public because prosecutors sought to obtain the identities of anonymous commenters on the jobs website Glassdoor.com who accused TriWest of “mak[ing] money unethically off of veterans/VA.” Glassdoor fought the subpoena but lost, in November 2017. The court’s opinion doesn’t name TriWest, but it describes the subject of the investigation as “a government contractor that administers veterans’ healthcare programs” and quotes the Glassdoor reviews about TriWest. The federal prosecutor’s office in Arizona declined to comment.

“TriWest has cooperated with many government inquiries regarding VA’s community care programs and will continue to do so,” the company said in its statement. “TriWest must respect the government’s right to keep those inquiries confidential until such time as the government decides to conclude the inquiry or take any actions or adjust VA programs as deemed appropriate.”

The VA tried to make the Choice Program run more smoothly and efficiently. Because the contractors were failing to find participating doctors to treat veterans, the VA in mid-2015 launched a full-court press to sign up private providers directly, according to the inspector general. In some states, the VA also took over scheduling from the contractors.

“We were making adjustments on the fly trying to get it to work,” said David Shulkin, who led the VA’s health division starting in 2015. “There needed to be a more holistic solution.”

Officials decided in 2016 to design new contracts that would change the fee structure and reabsorb some of the services that the VA had outsourced to Health Net and TriWest. The department secretary at the time, Bob McDonald, concluded the VA needed to handle its own customer service, since the agency’s reputation was suffering from TriWest’s and Health Net’s mistakes. Reclaiming those functions would have the side effect of reducing overhead.

“Tell me a great customer service company in the world that outsources its customer service,” McDonald, who previously ran Procter Gamble, said in an interview. “I wanted to have the administrative functions within our medical centers so we took control of the care of the veterans. That would have brought that fee down or eliminated it entirely.”

The new contracts, called the Community Care Network, also aimed to reduce overhead by paying the contractors based on the number of veterans they served per month, rather than a flat fee for every referral. To prevent payment errors like the ones the inspector general found, the new contracts sought to increase information-sharing between the VA and the contractors. The VA opened bidding for the new Community Care Network contracts in December 2016.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

David Shulkin.

But until those new contracts were in place, the VA was still stuck paying Health Net and TriWest at least 5 for every referral. So VA officials came up with a workaround: they could cut out the middleman and refer veterans to private providers directly. Claims going through the contractors declined by 47 percent from May to December in 2017.

TriWest’s CEO, McIntyre, objected to this workaround and blamed the VA for hurting his bottom line.

In a Feb. 26, 2018, email with the subject line “Heads Up… Likely Massive and Regrettable Train Wreck Coming!” McIntyre warned Shulkin, then the department secretary, that “long unresolved matters with VA and current behavior patterns will result in a projected million loss in 2019. This is on top of the losses that we have amassed over the last couple years.”

Officials were puzzled that, despite all the VA was paying TriWest, McIntyre was claiming he couldn’t make ends meet, according to agency emails provided to ProPublica and PolitiFact. McIntyre explained that he wanted the VA to waive penalties for claims that lacked adequate documentation and to pay TriWest an administrative fee on canceled referrals and no-show appointments, even though the VA read the contract to require a fee only on completed claims. In a March 2018 letter to key lawmakers, McIntyre said the VA’s practice of bypassing the contractors and referring patients directly to providers “has resulted in a significant drop in the volume of work and is causing the company irreparable financial harm.”

McIntyre claimed the VA owed TriWest million and warned of a “negative impact on VA and veterans that will follow” if the agency didn’t pay. Any disruptions at TriWest, he said, would rebound onto the VA, “given how much we are relied on by VA at the moment and the very public nature of this work.”

But when the VA asked to see TriWest’s financial records to substantiate McIntyre’s claims, the numbers didn’t add up, according to agency emails.

McIntyre’s distress escalated in March 2018, as the Choice Program was running out of money and lawmakers were locked in tense negotiations over its future. McIntyre began sending daily emails to the VA officials in charge of the Choice Program seeking updates and warning of impending disaster. “I don’t think the storm could get more difficult or challenging,” he wrote in one of the messages. “However, I know that I am not alone nor that the impact will be confined to us.”

McIntyre lobbied for a bill to permanently replace Choice with a new program consolidating all of the VA’s methods of buying private care. TriWest even offered to pay veterans organizations to run ads supporting the legislation, according to emails discussing the proposal. Congress overwhelmingly passed the law (named after McCain) in May 2018.

“In the campaign, I also promised that we would fight for Veterans Choice,” Trump said at the signing ceremony in June 2018. “And before I knew that much about it, it just seemed to be common sense. It seemed like if they’re waiting on line for nine days and they can’t see a doctor, why aren’t they going outside to see a doctor and take care of themselves, and we pay the bill? It’s less expensive for us, it works out much better, and it’s immediate care.”

The new permanent program for buying private care will take effect in June 2019. The VA’s new and improved Community Care Network contracts were supposed to be in place by then. But the agency repeatedly missed deadlines for these new contracts and has yet to award them.

The VA has said it’s aiming to pick the contractors for the new program in January and February 2019. Yet even if the VA meets this latest deadline, the contracts include a one-year ramp-up period, so they won’t be ready to start in June 2019.

That means TriWest will by default become the sole contractor for the new program. The VA declined to renew Health Net’s contract when it expired in September 2018. The VA was planning to deal directly with private providers in the regions that Health Net had covered. But the VA changed course and announced that TriWest would take over Health Net’s half of the country. The agency said TriWest would be the sole contractor for the entire Choice Program until it awards the Community Care Network contracts.

“There’s still not a clear timeline moving forward,” said Giddens, the former VA contracting executive. “They need to move forward with the next program. The longer they stay with the current one, and now that it’s down to TriWest, that’s not the best model.”

Meanwhile, TriWest will continue receiving a fee for every referral. And the number of referrals is poised to grow as the administration plans to shift more veterans to the private sector.

This story was produced in collaboration with PolitiFact.

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

Intel

The interesting backstories to each of Gen. Jim Mattis’ nicknames

There has never been a United States Secretary of Defense that has been so universally beloved. Retired Gen. Jim Mattis was confirmed last year by a landslide vote of 98 in favor and 1 opposed, despite being on a waiver to circumvent the seven-years-since-retirement requirement to be appointed Secretary of Defense.


Long before he rose to the highest position in the Armed Forces, second only to the President, he earned several monikers, each from a different aspect of his ability to lead.

4. “Mad Dog” Mattis

For the record: He is not a fan of the name, “Mad Dog” Mattis. So, you probably don’t want to go saying it to a man that has admitted that the max effective range on his knife hand is hundreds of miles. It dates back to a 2004 Los Angeles Times article saying that U.S. troops in Fallujah called him “Mad Dog” behind his back and that it was “high praise” in Marine culture.

The “Mad Dog” label stuck following a series of intimidating quotes, such as, “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet” and “a good soldier follows orders, but a true warrior wears his enemy’s skin like a poncho.” At Gen. Mattis’s confirmation hearing, former Maine Senator and the Secretary of Defense from 1997 to 2001, William Cohen, joked that it’s a misnomer and the nickname “Braveheart” would have been much more accurate.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

3. “Warrior Monk”

The most accurate of his nicknames has to be “The Warrior Monk.” Another beautiful Mattisism is, “the most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”

Gen. Mattis is well known for his intelligence, extensive book collection, and giving his troops required reading lists that range from cultural studies to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. For his complete reading list, broken down by rank and region of deployment, click here.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
One has to wonder about his take on fictional war novels, like Dune, Starship Troopers, and Ender’s Game. (DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

2. “CHAOS”

His preferred nickname is the call sign he used as a Colonel, “Chaos.” He joked at a conference that he’d like to tell people that it was for some dignified reason, but it’s not.

When he was a regimental commander at Twentynine Palms, he was leaving the S-3 office and noticed the words “CHAOS” written on the whiteboard. He asked someone what it meant and got, “Oh, you don’t need to know about that…” which, of course, only piqued his interest more. Finally, they broke it to him that it meant, “Colonel Has An Outstanding Solution.” It was a joke at his expense that he took in stride, so he wore it as a badge of honor.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
If anything, Gen. Mattis knows how to take a joke in stride. (Image via Instagram)

1. “Patron Saint of Chaos”

Secretary of Defense Mattis’ legendary status among the troops has earned him the title, “Saint Mattis of Quantico. Patron Saint of Chaos.”

The meme has spread far and wide from Terminal Lance to t-shirts to the sidebar of the USMC subreddit to even being posted by the MARSOC official Facebook page.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
(Image via OAF Nation)

So, if you’ll join us in a quick reading,

Hail Mattis, full of hate. Our troops stand with thee. Blessed art though among enlisted. And blessed is the fruit of thy knife hand. Holy Mattis, father of War. Pray for us heathen, Now and at the hour of combat. Amen.
MIGHTY CULTURE

Binge-watch this: Netflix turns average citizens into top-notch British spies

Who doesn’t love to watch the latest James Bond movie and fantasize what it must be like to use high-tech gadgets, sneak into secret bases and be the ultimate agent with a “license to kill?” A recent Netflix binge-watching “Churchill’s Secret Agents” a reenactment of British Special Operations Executive (SOE) training from World War II showed us that this secret network was way cooler than we ever thought.


C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

Founded in July 1940 when England faced the very real possibility of invasion by Nazi Germany, Henry Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare and brainchild of the new force, envisioned highly-skilled spooks able to hide among local populations and inflict damage from behind enemy lines. Specializing in unconventional warfare which until then was not a common tactic of modern armies, SOE was tasked with sabotage, espionage and reconnaissance missions to disrupt the influence and spread of Nazi Germany and her allies. Long before the foundation of Special Forces, these daring men and women helped turn the tide of the war at a time when victory was far from certain.

The success of a secret agent relied heavily on your ability to appear completely harmless. Small but mighty was not, but totally should have been, the official body type slogan. In the series, not only were pocket-sized people accepted but preferred to their beefcake counterparts.

Taking into consideration the scenarios of an SOE agent, trying to bluff your way past Nazi guards as a woman in a floral dress seems far easier than that of an able-bodied man of fighting age. Few armies outside of the Soviets put women on the front lines and so the average German Soldier would not have detected any threat.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

The show’s cast was composed of an eclectic mix who tackled operational tests quite differently, as would any drafted agent of the SOE. Grandmother Debbey Clitheroe was an unlikely front runner, but through the assessments overcame fears to become a favorite in the eyes of the instructors. Her best cover was the unlikelihood that she could ever be a threat.

Other top-ranking contestants hailed from ordinary fields like “math graduate” or “researcher” showing us that there was plenty more to espionage than close-hand combat and looking great in a tux.

Real agents relied on trustworthiness and a subtle way of doing things to build their networks. Accounts of spy networks during World War II are fascinating reads, including characters from all walks of life. There was, quite likely, a butcher, baker and candlestick maker somewhere in the mix, all pulling weight for the effort.

Double taps and shooting from the hip were highly unlikely to ever be taught at any gun course or any field manual in 1940. Unchivalrous but effective was what gave a single agent the advantage on a run-in with a pair or group of soldiers.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

SOE’s impact on the war effort was immense, especially leading up to and during the Allied Invasion of Normandy. The Allies had been planning to invade France as early as 1942 and British Agents, along with their American counterparts in the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA), were airdropped into occupied France to lay the groundwork for a successful campaign. The first SOE agents made their way into France in 1941 and quickly linked up with the French Resistance. From blowing up strategic railway tracks reinforcing the Normandy region with German troops to cutting telephone lines key to Germany communication efforts, SOE and their French allies caused chaos in the lead up to “D-Day.” SOE’s handiwork behind enemy lines was critical in ensuring the Allied spearhead into France did not fail.

The ingeniousness of what was taught and invented for SOE operatives became material to inspire films like James Bond. Everything from exploding pens to rat bombs were unconventional tools for unconventional warfare.

Although SOE’s usefulness was questioned as the war came to a close and the organization would be disbanded, the battlefield contributions of the agents would have an enormous impact on England, and the West’s perspective in the post-war world.

The need for an unconventional force capable of operating behind enemy lines quickly became a necessity as the Cold War highlighted the frequency of smaller wars rather than massive, highly detailed battlefields seen during World War II.

The lineage of today’s Special Forces and their tactics and procedures can be traced back to the framework laid by the SOE agents operating in occupied Europe. The men and women of SOE made enormous sacrifices by going where few dared to go to rid the world of tyranny by any means necessary.

Raise your hand if you’ll be applying for the next season.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Communist China started building its third carrier

With a second carrier already launched and currently being prepared for entry into the People’s Liberation Army Navy, it’s clear that Communist China isn’t resting on its laurels. In fact, China has already started building the first in a new class of aircraft carriers.


According to a report by the South China Morning Post, the first Type 002 carrier, which so far is being called CV-18, was started last year in Shanghai. This is China’s first indigenously-designed class of aircraft carriers. The Type 001 class, which consists of the Liaoning and the larger Shandong, is based on the Russian Navy’s Admiral Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
The Liaoning. (JMSDF photo)

GlobalSecurity.org notes that this carrier is intended to be a counterpart to retired, conventionally-fueled aircraft carriers. The last such carrier in United States Navy service was USS Kittyhawk (CV 63), which was decommissioned in 2009. It will be equipped with catapults to launch aircraft as opposed to the ski-jump used on the Liaoning and Shandong.

CV-18, at 85,000 tons, is reportedly able to hold up to 85 aircraft. This puts it close to the aircraft capacity of the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarriers that currently form the main striking power of the United States Navy. The Chinese Communists plan to build a second Type 002 carrier.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to participate Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2010 exercises. RIMPAC is a biennial, multinational exercise designed to strengthen regional partnerships and improve multinational interoperability. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shawn D. Torgerson)

While the oldest Nimitz-class carrier, USS Nimitz (CVN 68), turns 43 years old this year, it operates not only fighters and helicopters, but also airborne, early-warning aircraft and electronic-warfare planes. GlobalSecurity.org notes that China, at the present time, has neither a carrier-borne airborne radar plane nor an electronic warfare plane in service.

The Chinese also are planning to build two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, known as the Type 003. These vessels would potentially be able to match the Gerald R. Ford-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and would displace 110,000 tons. The first Type 003 is slated to enter service by 2028.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
USS Gerald R. Ford underway, propelled by two A1B reactors. (US Navy photo)

By that time, the United States Navy will have three Ford-class carriers in service, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), and USS Enterprise (CVN 80). A fourth carrier, known only as CVN 81, will be in service in 2030. That said, China will be able to give the Navy a tough fight.

Articles

The Pentagon has changed how it will lay off civilian workers

Performance will be the primary factor in the future if the Defense Department has to resort to a civilian reduction in force, DoD officials said today.


The department revamped the rules for the reduction-in-force process as a result of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016.

That law requires the department to establish procedures to provide that, in any reduction in force of civilian positions in the competitive or excepted service, the determination of which employees shall be separated from employment shall be made primarily on basis of performance.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
(from left) Officers Jacob Hughett and Adam Cruea, both with the 88th Security Forces Squadron, stand ready to answer any emergency or call for help, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Sept. 12, 2016. Both officers work as GS level employees and are part of a civilian contingent within the 88th SFS. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Al Bright)

A reduction in force, or RIF, as it is known, is the term used when the government lays off employees. The RIF procedures determine whether an employee keeps his or her present position, whether the employee has a right to a different position or whether the employee must be let go.

In the past, tenure was the primary factor when making RIF calculations. Now, an employee’s performance rating of record will carry the greatest weight followed by tenure group, performance average score, veterans’ preference and DoD service computation date-RIF.

“The DoD civilian workforce is one of the department’s most important assets,” said Julie Blanks, acting assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy. “However, there are times when the department must make difficult decisions that impact our civilians, and in doing so, it is imperative these decisions result in our continued ability to seamlessly execute our national security mission. When circumstances necessitate a RIF, the department must ensure we are retaining our highest performing employees.”

The changes will apply to almost all of DoD’s 750,000 civilian employees. This change in the RIF process only applies to DoD. The government-wide provisions that rank four retention factors by tenure of employment; veterans’ preference; length of service; and performance remain in place for other federal agencies.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
(U.S. Navy photo by Mark Burrell)

Under the new system, if an agency is forced to employ a RIF, employees will be placed on a retention register based on periods of assessed performance of 12 months or more or less than 12 months. The idea is to give an equitable comparison for employees whose performance has been assessed over a comparable period of time.

The first retention factor is rating of record. The rating of record is the average drawn from the two most recent performance appraisals received by the employee within the four-year period preceding the cutoff date for the RIF.

The second factor is tenure group. There are three tenure groups, with group III being temporary or term employees, these employees will be ranked at the bottom of the retention register below groups I and II.

Tenure group I and II employees are those serving on permanent appointments. Tenure group I includes employees who are not on probation and whose appointments are not career-conditional.

Tenure group II employees are those hired into permanent appointments in a career-conditional or probationary status. In general, tenure group II employees must have three years of creditable service and meet all other stated conditions of their probationary period in order to attain Tenure group I status. Tenure group I will be ranked above employees in tenure group II within each rating of record group.

The third factor is an employee’s average score. In general, an employee’s average score for one performance appraisal is derived by dividing the sum of the employee’s performance element ratings by the number of performance elements. For purposes of RIF, average score is the average of the average scores drawn from the two most recent performance appraisals received by the employee within the four year period preceding the “cutoff date” for the RIF.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
Under new rules, the Pentagon will evaluate job performance first before letting civilian employees go as part of any downsizing. (DoD photo)

Veterans’ preference is the fourth factor. “Veterans are a key part of the civilian workforce, representing a highly skilled, extremely well-qualified cadre of employees,” Blanks said. “The department firmly believes that highly performing veterans in the civilian workforce will not be disadvantaged by the new RIF policy.”

The final factor is the DoD service computation date-RIF, with those serving the longest having the edge.

DoD officials stress that a RIF is always the last resort for the department. They will do everything they can to mitigate the size of reductions, including the use of voluntary early retirement authority or voluntary separation incentive payments. Agencies will also use hiring freezes, termination of temporary appointments, and any other pre-RIF placement options.

The new DoD RIF policy and procedures are consistent with the implementation of the DoD Performance Management and Appraisal Program. This program standardizes the civilian performance appraisal system throughout the department.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How the Air Force helps save homes and fight wildfires

Staff Sgt. Timothy Dawson was trying to get some rest before work the next day. The phone rang twice before he answered it. His neighbor, who lives just above his apartment complex on the hill, told him the fire was really close and they were evacuating.


That neighbor was 1st Lt. Mike Constable, a pilot with the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, California. Dawson said he could see Constable and his roommates packing things into their cars.

The Thomas Fire started on Dec. 4, 2017 in Santa Paula, near Thomas Aquinas College. Driven by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 70 mph, the flames screamed across the hillsides toward Ojai and Ventura. Numerous fires leapfrogged across Ventura and Los Angeles Counties the following day.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
Chino Valley firefighters watch the oncoming flames of the Thomas Fire from the yard of a home in Montecito, California, Dec. 12, 2017. C-130Js of the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Base in Port Hueneme, carried the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System and dropped fire suppression chemicals onto the fire’s path to slow its advance in support of firefighters on the ground. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

Dawson’s three-level, 52-unit apartment complex burned to the ground a few hours later.

Ironically, Dawson is a C-130J Hercules crew chief for the 146th AW, one of five wings in the Air Force equipped with the module airborne firefighting system, or MAFFS. This system is loaded onto C-130s and is designed to fight the very thing that took his home, wildfires.

The 146th AW was activated Dec. 5 to fight what became the largest California wildfire by size in the state’s recorded history, covering 281,893 acres. The Thomas Fire is now 100 percent contained.

 

“We got the word and everybody sprung into action. Our maintenance folk got the airplane ready for us, our aerial port guys went and got the MAFFS units pulled out and loadmasters got the airplanes ready. It was really a well-oiled machine on that day. We got things done really quickly,” said Senior Master Sgt. Phil Poulsen, a loadmaster with the 146th AW.

Most of the Airmen stationed at Channel Islands ANGS are from Ventura County or the surrounding area. Approximately 50 people from the 146th AW evacuated their homes during the fire and five Airmen lost their homes.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
Residents of a 52-unit apartment complex search for belongings, Dec. 13, 2017, after the Thomas Fire roared through their neighborhood. Staff Sgt. Timothy Dawson, a C-130J Hercules aircraft maintenance technician with the 146th Airlift Wing, was also a resident of the apartment complex. The 146 Airlift Wing was activated Dec.5, 2017, to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

“I can see the smoke from my house and we know people who live there,” Poulson said. “My daughter went to daycare up there and I think I flew over that house. I think it’s gone. So it really hits close to home when you are this close to home.”

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, requested MAFFS aircraft and personnel support through the state’s governor and the Adjutant General of the state’s National Guard. Once activated, CAL FIRE incident commanders assigned to the Thomas Fire, and based at the Ventura Fairgrounds, generate the launch orders for the MAFFS. The aircraft sit ready at Tanker Base Operations, a few miles south of the fairgrounds at Channel Islands Air National Guard Station.

Once requested, the C-130s would join the fight at a designated altitude in the protected flight area, typically 1,500 feet above ground. An aerial supervisor, or air attack, would fly at about 2,000 feet, directing and controlling the aircraft. Lead planes, at 1,000 feet, guide the tankers to their drop points, approximately 150 feet above the ground.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
Technicians perform repairs on a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) in the cargo bay of a C-130J of the 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands Air National Guard Base in Port Hueneme, California, Dec. 9, 2017. The MAFFS units, which are owned by the U.S. Forestry Service, can be loaded and made ready for operations in about three hours. A mixture of water and fire-retardant chemicals is deployed through a nozzle attached to an orange door the replaces the paratroop door on the C-130J. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

“Once we enter the fire traffic area, we join on the lead plane. He’ll typically give us a show me [puff of smoke] which shows us where he’s intending us to drop,” said Lt. Col. Scott Pemberton, a C-130J pilot with the 146th AW. “We try to be very precise with that because you know it’s a high value asset and you get one shot at it.”

The mission requires the crews to fly the C-130s very close to the fires.

“You’re taking the fight directly to the ground,” Pemberton said. “We are 150 feet above the ground at 120 knots, at the edge of the airplane’s envelope. You’re demanding a lot of yourself and your fellow crewmembers. So that’s why you are typically very highly trained and are very prepared to do this mission.”

The MAFFS can hold 3,000 gallons of retardant, which is released from a nozzle placed in the left rear troop door of the aircraft. It takes approximately 15 minutes to load retardant into the MAFFS, another 15 minutes to reach the Thomas Fire, 10 more to join the lead plane and drop and then another 15 minutes to return to base. With 10 hours of daylight and two planes, the 146th AW drops an average of 60,000 gallons of retardant each day.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
Lt. Col. Scott Pemberton, a C-130J pilot with the 146th Airlift Wing, has been with the 146th for 30 years and has lived in the Ventura/Santa Barbara, California community for about 48. He has been flying the modular airborne fire fighting system for approximately 20 years. The 146th was activated Dec.5, 2017, to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

“Many times if you are close to a fire line and you’re doing direct attack you’ll see the guys standing down there,” Pemberton said. “On the second, third or fourth drop you’ll come by and you will see that you have gotten close enough to where they are a different color. But I’ve also seen the whites of their eyes where they’re diving behind their bulldozer because you’re that close, and they know that the retardant is coming.”

Still, the dangers of this mission are not lost on Pemberton.

On July 1, 2012, MAFFS 7, which belonged to the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing based at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, crashed while fighting the White Draw Fire in South Dakota’s Black Hills. Four of the six crewmembers aboard died.

“There was a thunderstorm approaching from the north and as they were waiting for the lead to coordinate and get his bearings… The thunderstorm moved closer and closer,” Pemberton said. “They made a first run and I think they got off half of their retardant.”

As they made their second run, they had a wind shear event and a microburst took away their lift and forced them to fly straight ahead into the terrain.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
Senior Master Sgt. Phil Poulsen, 146th Airlift Wing loadmaster, checks the level of retardant in the module airborne firefighting system as redardant is loaded, Dec. 9, 2017. The 146th AW is one of five wings in the Air Force equipped with MAFFS. This system is loaded onto C-130s and is designed to fight wildfires. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

“As a result of that incident, we completely changed our training. We incorporated a lot of the wind shear escape maneuvers, and we built new seats for the loadmasters in the back and made crashworthy seats for those crewmembers,” Pemberton said.

This training and the 146th AW’s capabilities benefit everyone involved in the wildfire fighting community, too.

The 146th AW plays a big role in extinguishing fires, said Tenner Renz a dozer swamper with the Kern County Fire Department, but it’s something he sees on almost every fire. Whether a 100-acre or a 250,000-acre fire, the guard shows up.

“Some of these guys are crazy. I mean dipping down into some of these canyons, flying through smoke, buzzing treetops,” Renz said. “They have a talent that most people don’t have.”

Having the MAFFS capability means the 146th AW can be federally activated to support firefighting operations around the United States by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. An Air Force liaison group, led on a rotating basis by one of the five MAFFS unit commanders, staffs the center.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
A C-130J Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, sprays fire retardant ahead of the leading edge of the Thomas Fire, Dec. 13, 2017. The 146th was activated to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state. The C-130s from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station are capable of spraying fire retardant from a modular airborne firefighting systems loaded in the cargo bay. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

This wide-ranging operational experience and capability gives CAL FIRE an extra capability when things are at their worst.

“We currently have low humidity, Santa Ana winds, we haven’t had rain in a number of days and we’re in areas that haven’t burned in 50-60 years,” said Dan Sendek, MAFFS liaison officer for CAL FIRE. “You can never have enough equipment for every eventuality. What the guard brings to us is that surge capacity when we’re in a situation where we need everything we can get.”

Six days after he lost his home, Dawson was back at work.

Also Read: Here’s how the Guard is helping mudslide victims after fires

“The routine of going about the mission and getting things done is probably better,” Dawson said. “I needed to get back and get involved in the fire mission. The show must go on. The world doesn’t stop spinning and the guard doesn’t stop flying missions.”

For Dawson, it’s also a chance to combat the fire that took his home and save some of his neighbor’s property.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
Tanner Renz, Kern County Fire Department, looks on as a C-130J Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, sprays fire retardant ahead of the leading edge of the Thomas Fire, Dec. 13, 2017. The 146th was activated to support CAL FIRE with wildfire suppression efforts within the state. The C-130s from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station are capable of spraying fire retardant from a modular airborne firefighting systems loaded in the cargo bay. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Dawson and his wife were able to return to their apartment a few days after the fire destroyed it, however, they were not able to search for personal items because the fire was still smoldering.

“Every single tenant in the 52 units was able to get out ahead of the fire. When we went back for the first time it was it was pretty emotionally taxing,” he said. “There were two stories worth of apartments that collapsed into a carport. There’s nothing left that we could really find.

“To me, then and even now, it still feels a little surreal. I know it’s happening to me, but it feels like it’s happening to someone else.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why the US military needs to seriously rethink ‘recruiter goals’

Each year, the United States Armed Forces projects the amount of troops that will exit the service and how many new bodies it needs to fill the gaps in formation. This number is distributed accordingly between the branches and then broken down further for each recruiting station, depending on the location, size of the local population, and typical enlistment rates of each area.

This is, at a very basic level, how recruiter quotas work. If the country is at war, the need for more able-bodied recruits rises to meet the demand. When a war is winding down, as we’re seeing today, you would reasonably expect there to be less pressure on recruiters to send Uncle Sam troops — but there’s not. Not by a long shot.


C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

“Come show off at the pull-up bars for the low, low price of taking a business card!”

(Dept. of the Army photo by Ronald A. Reeves)

The most obvious fault with “recruiter goals,” or the quota policy, is that it makes fulfilling the quota the single most important responsibility of the recruiter. So, recruiters will go out and put their best foot forward in the name of their branch in hopes that it’ll inspire someone to enlist — despite all of the other things they need to be doing.

Recruiters generally love going to county fairs or air shows and having loads of civilians flock to their booth — otherwise, they wouldn’t be recruiters. These events give civilians, some of whom may have never interacted with a service member, a friendly one-on-one that could — maybe, just maybe — inspire them to one day serve their country.

At the end of the day, that’s all recruiters can ultimately do to bring in recruits, sow the seeds of military service. Recruiters can’t put a gun to anyone’s head to make them sign on the dotted line and they have to respect a person’s decision to turn down Uncle Sam’s offer.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

By all means, we should commend and praise the recruiters who go above and beyond — but the hammer that’s dropped is unjustly cruel.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Butterfield)

Still, recruiters are expected to enlist a certain amount of recruits into military service — despite the fact that it’s outside the scope of their responsibilities to direct herds of civilians to their offices. They still have to handle all the day-to-day operations of the recruiting station, the plethora of paperwork required by each new recruit, limiting the stress of and mentoring potential recruits, teaching delayed-entry recruits, and acting like a chauffeur between the recruiting depot and MEPS. You could be the most attentive recruiter the military has ever seen, constantly doing everything in your power to best prepare the recruit for military life, but the only metric that matters in the eyes of Big Recruiting is that one, big number.

To make matters worse, the pool of eligible recruits is dwindling as the criteria for service keeps getting stricter.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

My honest opinion? Scrap the negative consequences for not meeting quota but institute minor, but enjoyable benefits that would encourage recruiters to try harder — like a half a day of leave added to their LES for each recruit they bring in or whatever seems more applicable.

(Photo by Dan Desmet, New York District Public Affairs)

All this being said, the quota isn’t entirely without merit. It lets the higher-ups know, at a glance, that a recruiter is keeping their word to the Pentagon. Some might even say that it motivates recruiters to get out there and keep hustling bodies into their office. But the quota has caused much more undue stress than it should.

To put it as bluntly as possible, recruiters are killing themselves for not reaching an arbitrary number, set outside of their control. Recruiters are forced to work longer hours and weekends (up to 15 hours per day, seven days per week in some cases) when crunch time comes. Recently, recruiters were almost denied holiday time — not as in block leave, but spending Christmas morning with their families — because they didn’t meet numbers.

This is nothing new and the stress military recruiters face has been front and center of national discussion for ages now.

The fact is, there’s no simple solution because the numbers still need to be met — but just because it’s not a simple problem doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to fix it. Perhaps we should shift the focus on strengthening the recruits that willingly walk in the door, or we should bring more troops into recruiting stations to lighten the load of the already-overworked recruiters. Something, anything, needs to be done.

It is completely understandable that the military needs new recruits. Check roger. But we cannot sit idly by without addressing the major stressor that causes recruiters to commit suicide at three times the rate of the rest of the Army — which already has a suicide rating twice of the general population.

Articles

Army kills contract for shoulder-fired airburst weapon

U.S. Army‘s senior leadership has ended an agreement with Orbital ATK Inc. that spanned two decades over the XM25 25mm airburst weapon, a move that could put the troubled weapon system’s future into jeopardy.


The service’s XM25 Counter-Defilade Target Engagement System is a semi-automatic, shoulder-fired weapon that fires 25mm high-explosive, air-bursting ammunition.

Nicknamed “the Punisher” and designed by Orbital ATK and Heckler Koch, XM25 has long been the Army’s attempt to field a “leap-ahead” weapon designed to give infantry units a decisive edge against enemies hiding behind cover.

The XM25 has stirred excitement in the infantry community, but the complex system has also been plagued by program delays that have made it a target of Pentagon auditors.

Related: This sniper rifle company is trying to lighten the M240 medium machine gun

The latest trouble for the program came when the Army canceled its contract with Orbital ATK just one month ago.

“On April 5, 2017, the Army terminated the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) contract with the prime contractor (Orbital-ATK) after it failed to deliver the 20 weapons as specified by the terms of the contract,” an Army spokesman told Military.com in a May 5 email.

“Despite extensive negotiation efforts, the contractor failed to provide an acceptable alternate resolution to the Government.”

The announcement follows reports that Orbital ATK filed a lawsuit in February against Heckler Koch in the Minnesota U.S. District Court seeking damages in excess of $27 million, according to a report by Reuters.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
The XM25 fires a programmable airburst 25mm smart round. It consists of the weapons system with a target acquisition control system mounted on top. | US Army photo

In the complaint, Orbital said it was seeking damages for breach of contract over the XM25 semi-automatic weapon system, which Orbital and Heckler Koch started developing more than 20 years ago.

Orbital said in the filing that Heckler Koch had failed to deliver 20 additional prototypes of the XM25 weapon systems, as contracted, and that its failure to do so meant the Army had raised the possibility of terminating its contract with Orbital, Reuters reported.

Heckler Koch has rejected all claims in the suit, according to the news agency.

Military.com reached out to both Orbital ATK and Heckler Koch for comment but did not receive a response by press time.

It’s unclear what the future is for XM25, but Army weapons officials appeared unsure of its status this week at the National Defense Industrial Association’s 2017 Armaments Systems Forum.

Following a presentation from the Army’s Project Manager Soldier Weapons, an audience member asked why the XM25 did not appear on any of the briefing slides covering the Army’s near-term, mid-term and far-term small arms programs.

Lt. Col. Steven Power, who runs Product Manager Individual Weapons, said, “The XM25 is still managed by my office” and then gave a long pause before adding, “I can’t speak right now about the status of that program.”

Power said, “I have been informed that it is not really my place to provide information ahead of other stakeholders.”

Col. Brian Stehle, head of Program Manager Soldier Weapons, said, “There is a requirement within the Army to have an air-burst, direct-fire capability within our formation. The Army is reassessing the actual requirement itself, and we are pursuing material solutions.”

The service has considered taking the XM25’s fire-control system and joining it to a weapon that shoots a 40mm air-burst grenade, a technology Army ammunition experts are developing, according to service sources who are not cleared to speak to the press.

The XM25 is an offshoot of the Objective Individual Combat Weapon program the Army began in the mid-1990s to increase the effectiveness of soldier firepower.

It features a target acquisition/fire control system that allows soldiers to identify a target, determine the range, and program the ammunition to explode above or near targets out to 600 meters.

But the stand-alone weapon has suffered from a barrage of criticism from both auditors as well as from military units.

In September 2016, the Defense Department’s Inspector General’s Office released a follow-on report to a March 2014 audit and concluded Army officials “could have managed the schedule, affordability, and quantity requirements of the XM25 program more effectively.”

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
US Army photo

The service has repeatedly delayed the weapon’s initial production decision and failed to justify a basis of issue plan, the document states.

“Specifically, Army officials removed procurement funding from the XM25 budget, which extended the engineering and manufacturing development phase by 2 years,” it states. “Additionally, Army officials contributed to the initial production decision delay by placing a hold on the XM25 capability production document.”

But while the IG said the service’s decision to extend the development effort and XM25 research caused costs to climb between February 2013 and March 2016, it failed to specify actual dollar amounts.

Indeed, the report was heavily redacted, with blacked-out figures for not only cost increases but also quantities, including how many XM25s the Army intends to field as part of its basis of issue plan.

Problems with the program started Feb. 2, 2013, when the XM25 malfunctioned during its second round of operational testing in Afghanistan, inflicting minor injuries on a soldier.

The Army halted the operational testing when the XM25 experienced a double feed and an unintentional primer ignition of one of the 25mm high-explosive rounds, Army officials said at the time.

The warhead did not detonate because of safety mechanisms on the weapon. The service removed all prototypes from theater to determine the problem’s cause.

The XM25 had completed one 14-month battlefield assessment and was in the early stages of a second assessment when the double feed and primer ignition occurred during a live-fire training exercise.

According to PM Individual Weapon officials, the XM25 has not had any similar malfunctions since changes were incorporated into the weapon and ammunition, the audit states.

In March 2013, elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment refused to take the XM25 with them for a raid on a fortified enemy compound in Afghanistan, sources familiar with the incident said.

After an initial assessment, Ranger units found the 14-pound XM25 too heavy and cumbersome for the battlefield. They were also concerned that the limited basic load of 25mm rounds was not enough to justify taking an M4A1 carbine out of the mission, sources said.

Articles

Miami VA uses virtual reality to treat PTSD

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
VAntage Point Contributor


The invisible scars of combat can make reintegration to civilian life a challenging transition for some combat Veterans, especially for those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For South Florida Veterans, a new technology combined with traditional treatments may hold the secret for a successful post-military life.

Mental health providers at the Miami VA Healthcare System are now offering a virtual reality (VR) treatment option for Veterans with PTSD. Combining VR with traditional treatments, such as prolonged exposure therapy, providers can help Veterans change how they perceive and respond to the symptoms of PTSD, which typically cause depression, isolation and anxiety.

“Avoidance, hyper vigilance and re-experiencing are symptoms of PTSD that result from memories of trauma,” said Dr. Pamela Slone-Fama, Miami VA posttraumatic stress clinical team staff psychologist. “By using a recovery model approach, prolonged exposure therapy and virtual reality, most of our patients who complete this treatment don’t experience the same level of stress and intensity when faced with painful memories. Prolonged exposure therapy is what makes this approach to PTSD recovery so effective.”

In conventional prolonged exposure therapy, patients are gradually exposed to events they avoid because of trauma, and providers directly control the stimuli – which can be adjusted based on patients’ responses and individual needs. One of the benefits of using VR in PTSD treatment is providers can control the virtual combat landscapes, sounds and even smells.

What happens during PTSD VR sessions?

Before the first VR session, providers talk with their patients about the benefits of using exposure therapy and VR to treat PTSD. If patients choose to participate, VR sessions begin during the third visit. Before beginning the session, patients are connected to the VR machine – which consists of a headset with video goggles, plastic M-4 rifle, remote to control a virtual humvee and a chair.

“Patients begin the session by recounting their traumatic memories in the present tense, while we document responses, anxiety levels and memories,” Dr. Slone-Fama said. “As patients are recounting, we can see what they are seeing on our screens and try to simulate the landscapes, sounds and smells they are describing.”

While repeatedly recounting their memories, patients also describe how they are feeling. Depending on how far along a patient is in his/her treatment, sessions can run anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes. Even though the VR session is an important piece of the therapy, the post session also has an important role in the recovery process.

“After VR sessions, we work with the patient on processing what just happened,” Dr. Slone-Fama said. “This part of the therapy helps patients understand the events that happened to them and allows them to process the entire memory. VR sessions can be intense, so before wrapping up we always make sure the patients are ok to leave. Safety is always important.”

Common Misconceptions about PTSD

While PTSD can be a serious condition, its symptoms are what cause Veterans to develop low self-esteem and unhealthy, unrealistic beliefs about themselves, according to Dr. Camille Gonzalez, Miami VA posttraumatic stress clinical team staff psychologist. She said Veterans living with PTSD frequently blame themselves for the trauma and feel hopeless.

“It’s common for Veterans with PTSD to feel as though they are permanently damaged,” Dr. Gonzalez said. “We try to help Veterans understand it’s not their fault they experienced these events. Once they realize PTSD is a result of something that happened to them, the recovery process can begin. Even though Veterans will always remember what happened to them, therapy can help them decrease the negative impacts of those memories.”

How to get help

Veterans living with PTSD don’t have to suffer alone. Veterans with PTSD can find help and support through the National Center for PTSD and their local VA health care facility.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the real-life version of Chuck Norris’s dune buggy from ‘The Delta Force’

Let’s face it, folks, we loved the 1986 movie “The Delta Force.”


And while a big part of the reason was the awesomeness that is Air Force veteran Chuck Norris, let’s face it, the motorcycles and dune buggies that packed a ton of firepower were pretty badass too.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
Chuck Norris and his motorcycle. He’d probably have preferred the vehicles from Polaris Defense. (Youtube Screenshot)

That said, those motorcycles and dune buggies from 1986 are a little outclassed today. Polaris Defense has three vehicles that America’s special operators can use to take out the bad guys – and move fast after doing it.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
Polaris Defense Sportsman MV 850. (Polaris Defense photo)

Two of these vehicles, the MRZR-D4 and the MV850 can be carried by the V-22 Osprey. The former is capable of holding four operators, and can also tow a trailer. Its fuel tank can carry just under ten gallons of diesel fuel. The latter looks a lot like the ATVs used by hunters, and it carries one operator and can carry a total of 850 pounds.

But the real game-changer of these vehicles is the DAGOR. While it’s too big for the V-22, two of these vehicles can be carried by a CH-47 Chinook. It can carry over 3,000 pounds of cargo and personnel. One load shown by a display model at the AirSpaceCyber expo at National Harbor, Maryland had three litters in the rear while also carrying a M2 heavy machine gun and five operators.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need
Polaris MRZR-4D carrying troops ready for action. (Polaris Defense photo)

While these vehicles look simply awesome, you can forget about getting them. On the page that offers you a chance to get a quote on these vehicles, you are required to confirm that you are “an authorized government purchaser, government supplier, educational institution, non-profit organization, or representing a government agency” and not seeking to buy one of them “for personal use.”

So, no chance of getting a present-day version of the Chuck Norris dune buggy from “The Delta Force” any time soon.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia threatens countries that host U.S. missiles

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that, if the United States deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will have to target the countries hosting them.

The Oct. 24, 2018 statement follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he intends to withdraw from a 1987 nuclear arms control pact over alleged Russian violations.

Putin spoke on Oct. 24, 2018, four days after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty over alleged Russian violations.


The INF treaty prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing, producing, or deploying ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of between 500 kilometers and 5,500 kilometers.

Nearly 2,700 missiles were eliminated by the Soviet Union and the United States — most of the latter in Europe — under the treaty.

Trump and White House national security adviser John Bolton, who met with Putin and other top officials in Moscow on Oct. 22-23, 2018, cited U.S. concerns about what NATO allies say is a Russian missile that violates the pact and about weapons development by China, which is not a party to the treaty.

C-ARTS: High-velocity training at sailor’s point of need

Russian President Vladimir Putin and White House national security adviser John Bolton.

Putin said he hoped the United States wouldn’t follow up by positioning intermediate-range missiles in Europe.

“If they are deployed in Europe, we will naturally have to respond in kind,” Putin said at a news conference after talks with visiting Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

“The European nations that would agree to that should understand that they would expose their territory to the threat of a possible retaliatory strike. These are obvious things.”

He continued: “I don’t understand why we should put Europe in such serious danger.”

“I see no reason for that,” Putin said. “I would like to repeat that it’s not our choice. We don’t want it.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Oct. 24, 2018, that European members of the military alliance are unlikely to deploy new nuclear weapons on their soil in response to the alleged violations of the INF treaty.

“We will, of course, assess the implications for NATO allies, for our security of the new Russian missiles and the Russian behavior,” Stoltenberg said. “But I don’t foresee that [NATO] allies will station more nuclear weapons in Europe as a response to the new Russian missile.

Putin rejected Trump’s claim that Russia has violated the INF treaty, adding that he hoped to discuss the issue with Trump in Paris when they both attend Nov. 11, 2018 events marking the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I.

“We are ready to work together with our American partners without any hysteria,” he said. “The important thing is what decisions will come next.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information