6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

I was both excited and anxious the day I got my orders to Minot Air Force Base. I requested to be sent to a nuclear missile base because of the challenges and opportunities the mission presented. Every day, Airmen at Minot and its sister nuclear missile bases operate, maintain, and secure weapons that have an immediate and direct impact on US strategic policy. The thought of leading those Airmen was awesome but also daunting. In the weeks leading up to my first day in Minot, I was concerned with whether I had what it took to be the right leader in my unit. Unsure of what to do, I simply decided that I would approach everything with optimism and enthusiasm.


In time, I found (miraculously) my plan to simply throw my energy and passion into the job actually worked. I had a great relationship with my commander, my airmen appreciated my effort (or at least found their lieutenant’s attitudes novel/humorous), and I worked well with my peers to accomplish the mission. As a reward for my efforts, I was given an extremely unique opportunity that was the highlight of my time at Minot; the nuclear weapons convoy mission.

It was a major change of pace for me. I had my own unique vehicle fleet, command and control systems, specialized weapons, and an entire flight of hand-picked airmen. I also had to take responsibility for my own mission tasking and planning, work independently, and ensure the dozens of different agencies involved in every convoy were working in harmony with each other. But by far the biggest change for me was that I suddenly found myself with a significant degree of authority and responsibility to accomplish a mission that had very real consequences on US strategic policy.

What I humbly share here are the lessons I learned from long, cold days on the road, ensuring the safe and secure transport of the world’s most destructive weapons. They were hard-won lessons delivered to me in the form of long nights, strange situations, and a desire to do right by the most talented and motivated airmen in the Air Force. I hope these lessons help the next round of lieutenant’s taking up the watch in the great, wide north.

1-Calm Down

Perhaps my biggest lesson, which was taught to me time after time, was the most important thing I could do in any sort of situation was remain calm. Your troops will reflect your attitude. If you panic, they will panic and start making poor decisions. Their panic will be mirrored and then amplified down the chain. But if you remain cool and calm, your troops will try to emulate your attitude even if they are upset internally. When you talk over the radio, speak clearly and calmly. When you give orders, act naturally and with confidence.

Low emotional neuroticism is what you should seek within yourself. This trait does not mean that you have to be an unfeeling robot as that would be just as bad as being an emotionally reactive person. You should figure out what your “trigger moments” are and then seek to balance your emotions in front of your troops. Remember, don’t sweat the small stuff.

2-Learn to Let Go of Control

Many will find this ironic, but one of the keys to successfully moving a nuclear weapon is to actually let go of control. Not control of the weapon of course, but rather control of the programs and processes that surround the mission. I quickly discovered a nuclear weapons convoy had way too many moving pieces to effectively manage on my own. As a result, I had to rely heavily on my NCOs to manage these moving pieces on my behalf. I did this by providing a clear, guiding intent for their programs and squads, and then giving them as much freedom and power as I could to let them achieve that intent.

While it seems like common sense leadership advice to trust your NCOs, it is still very hard to let go of things that you know you will have to answer for if they go wrong. But trust me, it will work out. We have the most talented airmen in the world and they will find great solutions to the unit’s problems, even if it is not the solution you envisioned.

3-Don’t Let Yourself Get Tribal

As stated before, moving a nuclear weapon across North Dakota requires the coordination of dozens of different units and agencies. It is truly a whole-base effort and a fantastic example of the bigger Air Force in action. This kind of mission requires that the various participants act selflessly to become a “team of teams.”

While unit morale and espirit-de-corps are must haves in any military unit, it should never come at the expense of cooperation with other friendly forces or devolve into petty rivalries. Unfortunately, too often leaders tend to destroy the larger picture under the delusion that we they looking out for our tribe. I had an obligation to build relationships with partner units, learn their processes, and make the whole-base effort happen in order for the nuclear convoy mission to succeed. If you always think in terms of “them” versus “us”, you will find it’s only “us” in the fight and no “them” will be coming to save you.

4-Give Your Leadership the Information They Need

Because of the nature of the position, I frequently found myself in meetings and discussions that other lieutenants were not normally allowed to participate in. I was also the subject matter expert for a very high visibility mission, and thus officers and commanders who were much more senior to me looked to me for my honest opinions on issues that affected the convoy. When questions about the risks involved in a particular mission came up, the heads in the room would turn to me to help determine the outcome (a feeling that I never got used to).

When you do find yourself in a situation where senior leaders want your viewpoint, be respectful and honest. It is your responsibility to provide your leadership with truthful answers and to do so in a way that is not antagonistic. At the same time, you must also be willing to accept your leadership’s decisions based on the information you provide. Trust goes both ways. My leadership trusted me to lead the convoy mission and I trusted them to make decisions on those missions that would keep me and my Airmen safe.

5-Embrace Failure and Avoid Fear

I once read in a history class that a popular saying in the old Strategic Air Command was “to err is human, to forgive is not SAC policy.” While that may sound clever and certainly carries the bravado of General Curtis LeMay with it (the founder of SAC and the modern nuclear Air Force), I can tell you that zero forgiveness makes for an abysmal unit culture.

If you refuse to accept failure while learning from it, you will create a unit culture where members are afraid to come forward, speak up, or sound the alarm to major problems. Your troops will hide things from you, and that type of behavior is what gets people hurt or killed. Show your airmen, through both action and words, honest mistakes are forgiven and embraced as a learning opportunity.

6-Have Fun

During my entire time at Minot, I made it a point to find the bright side of things and enjoy my job. Like any duty station or mission series, Minot had its fair share of challenges. There is no way to sugarcoat the experience of having to walk out into sub-freezing temperatures and still get the work done. Yet when these situations happened, I looked to others to keep a good attitude and make the best of the situation. I was always able to find a reason to laugh or smile(even if icicles started to gather on my face).

You too can find success with something as simple as finding a reason to smile more often or to laugh at stupid, silly things. Staying calm in front of your airmen can have a similar effect to having a happy attitude and can be contagious in a unit.

I am grateful to the proud Defenders of the 91st Missile Security Operations Squadron who were patient with me as I worked to develop the mission, the airmen, and myself. In the face of -20 degree temperatures and a demanding nuclear mission, they chose to follow me in giving their all towards building a lethal, combat-ready team.

Andrew is an Air Force Security Forces officer currently assigned to Buckley Garrison, US Space Force, Colorado. He oversees base security operations for the installation. He loves taking road trips with his wife and dog, snowboarding beautiful mountains, and enjoying great Colorado beer.

Articles

6 employees fired from US embassy in Afghanistan for drug violations

The State Department has fired six employees at the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan for allegedly using or possessing prohibited drugs, a particularly troubling infraction given the years-long U.S. effort to eradicate opium production in the country.


A senior State Department official said those who were embassy employees were fired and others who were contractors were released from their contracts.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota
The Taliban and other antigovernment groups participate in and profit from the opiate trade, which is a key source of revenue for the Taliban inside Afghanistan. Pictured here, a Marine posts security while members of the Afghan Narcotics Interdiction Unit search a compound during Operation Speargun in Urmuz, Afghanistan, March 26, 2012.

The official declined to say what led to the investigation, but the Wall Street Journal reported it was launched after a person was wandering about in a state of confusion.

A State Department official told Voice of America News on March 30 the fired workers “were found to have been using or in possession of prohibited substances.”

Opium production in Afghanistan is a major source of income for the Taliban and other insurgents.

Afghanistan is the source of more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin. Despite global efforts to stem the flow of narcotics, the United Nations says production reached near record levels in 2016.

The United States has spent more than $8 billion on drug interdiction in Afghanistan since the start of war against the Taliban in 2001.

MIGHTY TRENDING

What happens when lightning tears a giant hole in the tail of a B-52

On Dec. 19, 2017, B-52 Stratorfortress (60-0051), with the 93rd Bomb Squadron/307th BW AFRC was about to land at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, when the crew heard something that sounded like a thud coming from the outside of the bomber. The aircraft landed safely, but once on the ground the crew discovered that the sound they heard was actually a lightning strike that tore a person-sized gash completely through the tail of the aircraft.


“Close encounters” between civil and military aircraft and lightnings occur every now and then around the globe.

In the 1980s, some F-16 Fighting Falcon jets were lost after being struck by lightinings. In one case, the lightning ignited the vapors in the empty centerline tank, which exploded causing extended damage to the aircraft’s hydraulic system.

Since lightning strikes are quite rare (1 event each year on average) these are seldom a real risk to military or civil aviation.

Also read: How the 65-year old B-52 Stratofortress just keeps getting better with age

Furthermore, planes are shielded by a so-called Faraday Cage made by a conducting material, that blocks out external static electrical fields: charges redistribute on the conducting material and don’t affect the cage’s interior.

All commercial and mil planes have to meet several safety lightining-related requirements to get the airworthiness certifications required in the U.S. and Europe. For instance, they must be able to withstand a lightning strike without suffering significant airframe damage, without any possibility of accidental fuel ignition in the tanks and preserving the avionics and systems failures induced by the electromagnetic field created by the electrical charges of the lightning.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota
The old tail from aircraft 60-051, a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing, bears a gaping hole from lightning damage incurred at the end of a routine training mission. The tail could not be repaired and had to be replaced. Changing an entire tail on the B-52 is an uncommon and difficult task, but maintainers from the 307th Maintenance Squadron were able to accomplish the feat in about 10 hours of work time. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

After assessing the damage, it was determined that the tail was damaged beyond repair and would have to be replaced: a large-scale, and uncommon, repair.

The B-52 is equipped with a lightning arrester designed to mitigate damage from lightning strikes, but this one was too strong even for the jet’s safeguards. “We see a handful of strikes every year, but out of all the maintainers we have, no one had seen lightning damage that bad,” said Lt. Col. George P. Cole, III, 307th Maintenance Squadron commander in a public release.

“I’ve been with the unit for fifteen years and this is the first time we have had to change a tail,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Nelson, 307th MXS flight maintenance superintendent. “We only had one other maintainer on our team that has ever changed one.”

Related: This is how the B-52 rained fire in Vietnam

According to the U.S. Air Force, Master Sgt. Eric Allison, 307th MXS B-52 aircraft mechanic, was the only maintainer on the eight person team with experience replacing a tail prior to the lighting strike. “It’s challenging because you have to position the tail just right and it is a two-thousand pound piece of metal,” he said. “It is like lining up the hinges when replacing a door,” said Tech. Sgt. David Emberton, 307th MXS B-52 aircraft mechanic. “You have to line it up correctly and the whole time it is twisting and flexing.”

Another possible obstacle was finding a replacement but instead of ordering it from the 309th AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group), the maintainers from the 307th Maintenance Squadron found that one tail was available from a retired jet.

More: Wing commander praises crew of wrecked B-52 for averting a larger catastrophe

“Having that tail on hand saved us a great deal of time because ordering it from AMARG would have taken months,” Nelson said.

So, the 307th MXS completed the works and made the B-52 available for flight operations in just a couple of weeks. Sporting a different tail reclaimed from another decommissioned B-52, still able to take to air again.

By the way, the Stratofortress has already proved it can fly with damages to the tail: actually, even with a detached vertical stabilizer, as happened 54 years ago, when a B-52H involved in a test flight lost its tail at about 14,000 feet over New Mexico. Six hours later, the civilian test pilot Chuck Fisher and his three-man crew managed to perform the first and only Stratofortress’s tailless landing.

MIGHTY CULTURE

102-year-old WWII Navy WAVES vet would ‘do it again’

When the Navy called on women to volunteer for shore service during World War II to free up men for duty at sea, 102-year-old Melva Dolan Simon was among the first to raise her hand and take the oath.

“I went in so sailors could board ships and go do what they were supposed to be doing,” said Simon. She recalled her military service as “something different” in an era when women traditionally stayed home while men went off to war. “I helped sailors get on their way.”

Simon was 25 years old in October 1942 and working as an office secretary at the former Hurst High School in Norvelt — a small Pennsylvania town named for Eleanor Roosevelt — when she joined the Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES.


Simon was the first woman in her hometown of Bridgeport, Pa., to join the WAVES, according to a yellowed clipping of a 1942 newspaper article. She was also among the first in the nation to join the service. It was just three months earlier, on July 30, 1942, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed the law establishing the corps.

“I had a good job with the school, but I felt I would be doing more for my country by being in the service,” said Simon.

The seventh of 12 children, Simon said she chose the Navy because several of her brothers were already serving in the Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

WWII Navy WAVES Veteran Melva Dolan Simon’s service memorabilia includes her rank and insignia, photos and official documents.

“They were all enlisted, and I thought, well, what’s wrong with joining the Navy?” said Simon. “I decided I wanted to go, and I was accepted.”

Simon attended WAVES Naval Station Training at Oklahoma AM College (now Oklahoma State University) in Stillwater, Okla. Each class of 1,250 yeoman learned military discipline, march and drill, and naval history over a six to eight-week training period.

“That’s where we learned the basics of the Navy,” said Simon. “We were trained to march, we studied hard, and they drilled into us how important what we were doing was.”

After completing basic, many of the WAVES trainees spent another 12 weeks at the college for advanced training in secretarial duties.

From Oklahoma, Simon was assigned to active duty at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, which during World War II employed 40,000, built 53 warships and repaired another 1,218. She and her fellow yeomen earned anywhere from to 5 in basic pay per month, depending on their rank, plus food and quarters allowance, unless provided by the Navy.

Simon lived on the all-female fourth floor of the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia. WAVES personnel were under strict orders not to visit any other floors of the hotel – an order Simon said she followed.

“I didn’t go on the other floors,” said Simon, sternly. “It was none of my business.”

Simon’s military responsibilities included taking dictation from the officer in charge, performing clerical duties and driving officers around the base.

“They gave me a driver’s license for the Navy, and I would drive these officers, sometimes just very short distances,” Simon said, smiling as she motioned from her seat at a dining room table to the far side of her kitchen. “I thought that was interesting because it would have done them some good if they’d just walked.”

Simon wrote letters home to her family at first, then sent her parents money to have a home phone installed. Simon said that home phones were a luxury at the time. Before they installed the phone, her family used a telephone at a nearby store to call her.

“I sent them money every payday to keep the phone bill paid,” Simon said. “It was much easier to call than to sit down and write, especially since I was writing all day at the office.”

The phone also allowed her future husband, Joseph “Joe” Simon, to keep in touch with her. The two had met at the high school where Joe Simon worked as an agriculture teacher, and he’d visit with her when she was home on leave. They married in July 1945, just a few weeks before Melva Simon received an honorable discharge from the Navy in August 1945.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

WAVES standing in formation.

(DoD photo)

The couple purchased a 22-acre farm in 1947 in Mt. Pleasant Township, Pa., where they supplemented Joe’s teacher’s salary by growing and selling sweet corn.

“It sold like hot fire because it was good sweet corn,” Melva Simon said. “Then Joe planted apple trees, and that’s what we decided to do.”

The couple started an apple orchard — Simon’s Apple Orchard — that remains family-run today. The orchard opens its doors to customers every fall, offering everything from pure sweet cider still made using the Simons’ original recipe to bags of fresh McIntosh, Stayman, Rome, Jonathan, red and yellow delicious, and other apple varieties.

At the VA

Melva Simon worked the orchard alongside her husband, then took over when he died in 2004 at the age of 88. Still spry at 102, she drove tractors, harvested apples, made cider and worked the counter at a small shop on the property until just a few years ago.

Blessed with a lifetime of good health, Melva Simon only recently discovered she is eligible for health care benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. With the help of her daughter, Melvajo Bennett, the World War II veteran has, since August, received care through VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s Westmoreland County VA Outpatient Clinic.

“It didn’t dawn on her to go to the VA because she’s always had such good health and never really had to see the doctor,” said Bennett. “But they’ve been wonderful with how they are treating her.”

Asked for the secret to good health and a long life, Melva Simon gave a simple answer.

“There is no secret,” she said. “All it takes is simple living. I eat simple food. I don’t drink, and I don’t smoke.”

As for her military service, Melva Simon said she’d do it all over again.

“That was all I ever wanted to do, was to do something for the government and the country,” she said. “I’d do it again.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This unlucky general was forced to surrender to Washington and Napoleon

British Gen. Charles O’Hara was, by most reports, a dedicated and brave officer. He began his military career at the age of 12 as an ensign and then fought in the Seven Years War, attacked through a raging river while under fire in the Revolutionary War, and continued leading his men forward after being struck in both the chest and thigh during a battle with Nathaniel Greene.


6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

British Gen. Charles O’Hara had a distinguished career punctuated by multiple surrenders and some time in jail.

Which made things sort of awkward when it came time for him to surrender British forces to groups of ragtag revolutionaries.

Twice.

While the surrender at Yorktown is generally referred to as Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendering to Gen. George Washington, Cornwallis actually claimed illness, preventing him from conducting the surrender personally. Instead, he sent O’Hara, a brigadier general at this point, in his stead.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

It’s titled ‘The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown,’ but then-Brig. Gen. Charles O’Hara actually conducted this surrender.

O’Hara initially tried to surrender to a French general who promptly pointed out that he wasn’t in command. O’Hara would have to give his sword to that guy over there, Gen. George Washington, a farmer and colonial who had been deemed too country for a British officer commission.

So, O’Hara presented Cornwallis’s sword to Washington. Accounts differ at this point as to exactly what happened.

In most accounts, Washington did not even let O’Hara reach him, directing the man instead to present the sword to Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, who had been forced to surrender in May, 1780, in Charleston.

Whatever the case, O’Hara got out of it alright. He was promoted to major general as he began his trip back to Britain, so it appeared that he wasn’t blamed for the failure in the colonies and his reputation as a rising star remained intact. As a major general, he was later named military governor of Gibraltar.

But then he got promoted to lieutenant general and was appointed military governor of Toulon — and that was a huge problem.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

The British and Spanish arrival at Toulon was nearly unopposed, but still a little chaotic.

See, Toulon was an important French city, housing nearly half of the French fleet, but the French Republic wasn’t super popular there. Many of the (rich) people who lived there wanted a return to royal rule, and so they allowed an Anglo-Spanish fleet to take the city nearly unopposed and everyone’s old friend, O’Hara, was soon named the governor.

The French Republic, unsurprisingly, wanted neither a return of the monarchy nor to give up such an most important city and port.

O’Hara still could have come out of this well. He was a brave warrior with plenty of troops, artillery, and a massive fleet at his back. He held the city. He was a hero once again. He could’ve been on easy street for the rest of his career. General. Governor. Pimp.

But there was one problem across the trenches from him: a young artillery officer named Napoleon.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

Napoleon was young, relatively inexperienced, but still skilled as all hell.

Napoleon was not yet famous, but this battle would lay the major groundwork. The French siege at Toulon initially floundered, despite Napoleon offering very sound artillery advice and strategies. Two commanders were relieved before a third arrived, heard a couple ideas from Napoleon, and said, “well, get on with your bad self, then.”

Napoleon took command of additional forces and gave the suggestions that would form the major plans. The battle started to shift with the French taking many of the outlying forts and redoubts.

O’Hara, always bold, saw too many French guns in redoubts around his city and decided to personally lead an attack against them.

On Nov. 28, 1793, he and 3,000 men marched out of the city under the cover of artillery fire at 4 a.m. and were able to surprise the French positions at Hauteur des Arenes near Toulon. The French Republicans retreated quickly and messily. O’Hara, instead of focusing on spiking the guns, reducing the position, and returning to the city, decided to give chase.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

But Napoleon was always watching… waiting…

O’Hara was fighting his way toward the French division commander when Napoleon and a few other officers charged into his flank with hundreds of men. O’Hara’s force broke and began a hasty retreat back to the city, struggling to stay ahead of Napoleon.

Unfortunately for O’Hara, always one to lead from the front, he had no chance of getting back around the French and was forced to surrender. He was taken prisoner and sent to Paris for confinement.

The British general spent two years in a French prison before returning to England. He would survive seven more years, long enough to see Washington serve as America’s first president and Napoleon become the First Consul of the French Consulate.

Probably sour grapes for the general who fought ably against both of them, but not quite well enough to defeat either.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The UK is sending another warship to the Persian Gulf

The UK is deploying an additional frigate and a support ship to the Persian Gulf region, although the UK Ministry of Defence said the deployments were not related to increasing tensions in Iran.

The Type 45 frigate HMS Duncan is in transit to the region, as the UK announced it would also deploy Type 23 frigate HMS Kent and support ship RFA Wave Knight. The moves were reported first by Times of London reporter Lucy Fisher and confirmed by MoD.

British frigate HMS Montrose successfully stopped Iranian gunboats from seizing a tanker on July 10, 2019.


The MoD issued a release confirming that the ships would be deployed as part of Operation KIPION, its “commitment to promoting peace and stability as well as ensuring the safe flow of trade, and countering narcotics and piracy.”

“RFA WAVE KNIGHT’s role is to deliver food, fuel, water and other essential supplies to [Royal Navy] and Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) ships,” according to the release. The MoD states that the HMS Kent will take over for the HMS Duncan, a warship currently deploying to the Gulf to “maintain a continuous maritime security presence” in the region.

The news caps off over a month of high tensions between Iran, the US and its allies.

Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that a UAE-based tanker has gone missing in the Strait of Hormuz.

The 190-foot, Panama-flagged Riah oil tanker entered Iranian waters and stopped transmitting location data more than two days ago, according to the AP. Capt. Rajnith Raja from data firm Refinitiv told the AP that losing the signal from the Riah was “a red flag.”

The Riah was last heard from in Iranian waters, near Qeshm Island, the AP reported, citing a US defense official. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the US designated as a terrorist organization earlier this year, has a base on the island.

Escalating tensions: Iran calls on United Kingdom to release oil tanker

www.youtube.com

The US official told the AP that the US “has suspicions” that the Riah is in Iranian hands.

On July 4, 2019, the government of Gibraltar, a British territory, seized an Iranian tanker it said was carrying oil to Syria through the Straits of Gibraltar; Iran vowed retaliation, and attempted to block a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz a week later. Britain sent a second warship to the region to replace the HMS Montrose, which had been patrolling the British tanker and prevented the seizure.

Britain has agreed to release the Iranian tanker under the condition that it will not transit to Syria.

In June 2019, Japanese and Norweigian tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman; the US blamed Iran for the attacks, but Iran has denied responsibility.

The US has proposed a plan for a coalition of allies to patrol Iranian and Yemeni waters as incidents in the Gulf increase.

“We’re engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said July 2019.

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Sea Mines Are Cheap and Low-Tech, but They Could Stop World Trade in Its Tracks

When you stop and think about it for any length of time, it seems a miracle that the global economy spins on as well as it does. As the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19 has shown, any decent disruption to the global supply chain causes ripples from tourism to iPhone supply that cost billions. Nevertheless, there’s a level of resilience in the global economy, and even though predictions are sounding dire, there isn’t quite panic in the streets yet. So, if you really wanted to cause global havoc and cause your enemies to suffer, what would it cost? Billions? Trillions? Or maybe just the price of a second-hand car? Enter the sea mine.


More than 90% of global trade occurs by sea. This makes strategic maritime chokepoints, such as the Strait of Hormuz and Bab el Mandeb in the Middle East, some of the most strategically important patches of water on earth. Close one or two of those down for any length of time, and we’ve got a serious problem on our hands. This fact is not lost on most major players—hence the military patrols, diplomatic negotiations and international conventions in place to try to mitigate risks to these vulnerable spots.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

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You’d think it would take something pretty expensive and sophisticated to circumvent these controls, but no. A sea mine is cheap, easy to use, and highly effective at blockading chokepoints. The simplest types of sea mines—variations on the classic spiky ball bobbing in the water—cost only a few thousand dollars but can stop shipping in its tracks.

Iran famously mined the Gulf during the Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s for that very reason, and appeared to be repeating similar tactics last year in both mine and torpedo attacks on tankers traversing the Strait of Hormuz as the sabre-rattling with the US heated up. The Houthis in Yemen are doing their own mining in the Red Sea, ostensibly to protect their ports from Saudi attack. However, in recent weeks, an Egyptian fishing boat in the Red Sea reportedly struck a Houthi mine, killing three of its six crew, and there are reports of Houthi-laid mines drifting off from their original sites and heading who knows where.

The effectiveness of sea mines as a strategic tool lies not just in their immediate threat to an individual ship, but in the time and cost that must go into clearing waters suspected of harbouring mines. Such operations, even in a relatively limited area, can take weeks, months or even years. Australian operations to support mine clearance in Kuwait after the first Gulf War in 1991, for example, stretched for almost five months, searched two square kilometres and dealt with 60 mines. For comparison, the Bab el Mandeb chokepoint is 29 kilometres across at its narrowest point and stretches down some 500 kilometres of Yemeni coastline. And the Houthis may have access to hundreds or even thousands of mines.

The Strait of Hormuz is a slightly roomier 39 kilometres across, but with exponentially higher volumes of oil and gas trade squeezing through its narrow waters. If the sea lines of communication of the Middle East were shut for any length of time, the results for the global supply chain could be catastrophic. To put it in perspective, the Kuwaiti mine-clearance operation of a couple of square kilometres took months; Australia’s current strategic oil reserves, which are heavily dependent on Middle Eastern supply via Singapore, would last around 28 days. Even if Australia reached internationally mandated minimum fuel reserves of 90 days, that’s still well short of the time the Kuwait operation took.

There isn’t even a lot of legal limitation on employing sea mines. Unlike with land mines, there are no treaties in place to ban the use of sea mines, or even a clear definition what counts as one. Given the ubiquity and longevity of mines, there’s plausible deniability in laying a few Soviet-era sea mines here and there.

But how likely is it really that someone will employ sea mines to stop the world? If you’re a state reliant on the global supply chain for your own existence, the answer is: not very. Moored or floating mines in the Strait of Hormuz would do as much (or more) damage to Iran’s economy and geopolitical standing as they would to anyone else’s, and Iran’s leadership is well aware of that. Most non-state actors that have access to such mines are hesitant to use them offensively for similar reasons.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

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But what about someone with nothing to lose, poor impulse control or a dangerous combination of both? An officer of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or a Houthi leader with a halfway-decent sense of strategy and self-preservation would probably baulk at more aggressive use of sea mines in high-profile locations. But IRGC Quds Force leader and key regional networker Qassem Soleimani is dead, US President Donald Trump is surrounded by advisers intent on backing Iran into a corner, and Iran’s Houthi partners are on the offensive and have a history of using cheap weaponry to great effect.

This isn’t the time to be watching the strategist who stockpiles a thousand mines; this is the time to be watching the zealot who only wants one.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

Articles

The military pay raise for 2017 might be a bit underwhelming

The U.S. military has a reputation for being overworked and underpaid.


But we all knew that going in.

The virtue of service and pride of wearing the uniform makes up for much of the disparity in pay compared to the civilian market. Still, it’s nice to get that bump in our paychecks every year.

Yet, the pay increase for 2017 won’t be so big. In an August 2016 letter to Congress, President Obama announced a 1.6 percent raise for the armed forces, consistent with the budget he sent to The Hill earlier in the year.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota
(White House photo)

Across-the-board pay increases for other federal employees will be 1 percent.

“These decisions will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well-qualified Federal workforce,” Obama said in his letter to Congress.

Pay raises for the military peaked in 1983 when President Reagan instituted a 14.3 percent pay raise. Since then, the increase hovered steadily between 3 and 5 percent, with an average of 4.2 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota
Military pay raises since 1977.

According to Military.com’s Brendan McGarry, the Senate backs the President’s proposed numbers, but the House of Representatives was looking for a 2.1 percent raise.

When Congress agrees on how much it will be, the military pay raise will go into effect on January 1, 2017.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Nazis developed a ‘wonder weapon’ that the Allies couldn’t stop and changed the face of future wars

On the morning of September 8, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the southeastern outskirts of recently liberated Paris. The blast killed six people and wounded 36 more. Nearly eight hours later, two more explosions occurred in London, killing three people and wounding 17.

One of the explosions in London left a crater 30 feet wide and 8 feet deep. The site was closed to the public, and censors barred journalists from reporting on it. The blast was blamed on a faulty gas main and quickly hushed up.


Hundreds of explosions in the following weeks forced the British to admit the truth. The Germans had launched a horrifying new type of weapon at France and England: the V-2, the first guided ballistic missile in history.

For almost a year, more than 3,000 V-2s would be launched at civilian and military targets in Belgium, Britain, France, and the Netherlands.

A vengeance weapon

Development of the V-2 started in 1934. The German Wehrmacht had a keen interest in rockets, and some of Germany’s best engineers were tasked by the military to create this new “Wunderwaffe” or “wonder weapon.”

The missile had its first successful test flight in October 1942. Traveling over 118 miles and reaching an altitude of 277,200 feet, or 52.5 miles, it was the first rocket to reach the edge of space.

The project was repeatedly downgraded and upgraded during the war, but in 1943 it became one of the largest weapons projects of the Third Reich.

Hitler, angry at the destruction Allied bombing was causing in Germany, wanted to strike Allied cities in revenge. The missile became the second in Hitler’s series of “Vergeltungswaffen,” or “vengeance weapons,” and was designated V-2.

About 6,000 V-2 rockets were built. They were intended to be launched from hardened complexes similar to modern missile silos, but Allied bombing and advances on the ground forced the Germans to rely on mobile launch platforms.

V-2s were much more complex and larger than their predecessor, the V-1. They were about 46 feet tall and were equipped with a 2,000-pound amatol warhead at the tip. They also had a range of 200 miles.

After launch, the missile rose over 50 miles into the air and reached a speed of over 3,000 mph, enabling most to reach their targets in just five minutes. V-2s were so fast that they could hit their targets at up to 1,790 mph.

A program of death and destruction

Their speed and operational ceiling made them impossible to intercept, and Allied attempts to jam the V-2’s guidance system were useless, as the missile did not use radio guidance. (Its guidance system was an innovation in its own right; gyroscopes and an analog computer in it constantly tracked and adjusted its course to a preprogrammed destination.)

Up to 100 V-2s were launched each day, and they wreaked havoc on Allied cities. Over 2,700 people were killed by the missiles in Britain alone.

One V-2 struck a packed cinema in the Belgian port city of Antwerp, killing 567 people, including 296 Allied soldiers — the deadliest strike from a single piece of aerial ordnance in the European theater.

There is no complete official toll, but it is estimated that V-2 attacks killed anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000 people. Together, V-1 and V-2 attacks caused over 30,000 civilian casualties and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

That number does not include the deaths of 10,000 to 20,000 people who were used as slave labor in V-2 construction at the underground Mittelwerk factory and various concentration camps.

Desperate to stop the strikes, the Allies launched Operation Crossbow — a series of operations and bombing campaigns aimed at destroying the V-weapon program. The Allies were aware of the V-2 as early as 1943 and even managed to obtain V-2 parts with the assistance of the Polish Home Army.

A lasting legacy

In the end, the V-2, like many of Nazi Germany’s so-called wonder weapons, was too little, too late. Though the civilian body count was high, it was smaller than that caused by other weapons.

Moreover, V-2s did almost no significant damage to military targets, and by 1944 the Allied war machine was just too large for Germany to fight off.

The Wehrmacht spent so much money and resources on the V-2 for such minimal military gain that Freeman Dyson, a Royal Air Force analyst during the war, later likened it to “a policy of unilateral disarmament.”

But the V-2 left a lasting legacy. Combined with the advent of nuclear weapons, it proved that the most important weapons of the future would be ballistic missiles.

The Soviets and the Western Allies scrambled to collect as much of the V-2 program as possible when the war ended, and some of the earliest ballistic missiles on both sides of the Cold War were essentially copies of the V-2.

Many scientists from the V-2 program, including its leader, Wernher von Braun, were also directly involved in the US space program, ultimately helping NASA land on the moon in 1969.

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

Featured

The history and design behind the legendary A-10

We’ve all seen the memes. The A-10 Thunderbolt II, better known as the Warthog, has become the internet’s favorite warplane thanks in large part to its signature ‘BRRRT’ sound that it makes when it fires its massive 30mm gun. It’s highly doubtful that the engineers at Fairchild Republic that designed the A-10 could have anticipated the legendary status that the aircraft they designed would achieve, let alone that it would still be flying, 50 years in the future. After all, while the A-10 was designed to take a beating, it was also designed to be cheap and easy to maintain.


6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

One of the best A-10 memes

There’s no question that the German Panzer tanks were the most thoroughly engineered and well-built tanks of WWII. However, this attention to detail would be their downfall. Because American and Soviet tanks like the M4 Sherman and T-34 were much simpler and cheaper to produce, the allied forces were able to flood the fields of Europe with armor and overwhelm the numerically inferior German tanks. In addition to this, the allies controlled the skies overhead which made German armor easy pickings for ground attack aircraft like the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. The lessons learned through the evolution of warfare would be applied to the P-47s spiritual successor a few decades later in the Cold War.

Following the end of WWII and the creation of the Iron Curtain, the Western allies of NATO embarked on a massive military buildup in order to meet the potential threat of the Warsaw Pact forces. If the Cold War were to heat up, the biggest battleground where these two sides would meet would be the Fulda Gap. Located between the Hesse-Thuringian border and Frankfurt am Main, the Fulda Gap contains two corridors of lowlands that the Soviets would have had to push their armored forces through in order to reach and cross the strategically vital Rhine River. As a result, allied armor was built up heavily in this region. The anticipated battle also influenced weapons doctrine and development at the time.

In order to win a fight on the ground, you had to win the fight in the air. This concept was proven in WWII. While ground forces went toe-to-toe with the enemy, air forces flew behind enemy lines in order to strike logistical targets like supply convoys, factories, roads, and bridges. From this, the doctrine of AirLand Battle was born. It emphasized close coordination between land forces acting as an aggressively maneuvering defense and air forces attacking rear-echelon forces feeding the enemy’s front-line forces. Picture divisions of M60 ‘Patton’ Main Battle Tanks trying to hold off the onslaught of Soviet T-54 and T-54s coming through the Fulda Gap while B-52 Stratofortress bombers flew overhead to destroy the Soviet supply lines feeding their tanks. Without going too in depth, this is AirLand Battle in a nutshell.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

Admit it, you played with these; we all did

Another lesson learned from WWII was that tanks were more effective when they worked in concert with close air support. Combined attacks by Sherman tanks and aircraft like the aforementioned P-47 spelled certain doom for German tanks. In order to carry this concept into the Cold War, the United States developed aircraft to fill the CAS role. While the Army was given the AH-64 Apache to kill tanks from the air, the Air Force was given the A-10 Lightning II.

Built by the same company that built the P-47 Thunderbolt (Republic Aviation was acquired by Fairchild Aircraft in 1965 to create Fairchild Republic), the Lightning II was the Fairchild Republic submission to the Air Force’s 1966 A-X aircraft program to acquire a low-cost attack aircraft. In 1970, the Air Force issued a more detailed request for proposals to the program including the mandate that the aircraft be equipped with a 30mm rotary cannon. On January 18, 1973, after a series of tests and trials, the Air Force announced that Fairchild Republic’s submission was selected and would enter production as the A-10. The new aircraft would be equipped with the GAU-8 30mm cannon which would be built by General Electric who won their own government contract in June of the same year.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

The source of the ‘BRRRT’

The A-10 was designed to engage enemy armor in close proximity to friendly forces from very low altitude. In order to deliver precision fires and avoid hitting friendly forces, the A-10 was designed to be slow but tough. Its most important component, the pilot, is protected underneath by a titanium tub capable of withstanding armor-piercing and high-explosive rounds up to 23mm in caliber. The canopy, while not as strong, is made of ballistic glass and is capable of resisting small-arms as well as shrapnel from AA fire and missiles to a certain degree. The fuel tanks are separated from the fuselage to reduce the likelihood of damage. The fuel system is also self-sealing and lined with a reticulated polyurethane foam both inside and outside. In the event that all four main tanks are depleted, the A-10 is equipped with two self-sealing sump tanks that contain enough fuel for 230 miles of flight.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

The A-10 will do much more than bite your legs off

The tail of the A-10 bears a striking resemblance to WWII-era level bombers. This unusual design increases stability, like it did for those bombers, making the A-10 a very stable gun platform. This attribute is critical for a CAS aircraft. The tail also helps to mask the heat signature of the top-mounted engines. Though its twin GE TF34 turbofan engines produce just over 41 kN of thrust each (compared to the F-15 Eagle’s original Pratt Whitney F100 engines which produced over 100 kN of thrust each), the aircraft is capable of flight with just one engine. Similarly, the hydraulic flight systems are both double-redundant and are equipped with a manual backup system if both hydraulic systems fail. In all, the A-10 can fly with one engine, one half of the tail, one elevator, and half of a wing missing.

Here’s the part you’ve all been waiting for: the A-10’s massive gun. Yes, the GAU-8/A Avenger is bigger than a VW Beetle. Yes, it fires 3,900 rounds per minute (although it was originally designed to fire at either 2,100 or 4,200 rounds per minute as dictated by the pilot). Yes, it goes ‘BRRRT’ when it shoots. As mentioned previously, the A-10 was designed around its gun. Although the gun itself is mounted slightly to the port side of the aircraft, the gun actually fires centerline because the barrel firing location is on the starboard side at 9 o’clock. This is critical since the gun is powerful enough to affect the aircraft’s orientation if it mounted off-center. In fact, the Avenger produces 44.5 kN of rearward thrust when it fires. In theory, the A-10 could stall itself by firing its gun. However, because its rate of fire is so high, pilots usually fire in 1-2 second bursts. Its ammunition is also very special. Made of depleted uranium which is nearly twice as dense as lead and nearly three times as dense as iron, the A-10s 30x173mm rounds are designed to punch through enemy armor like a hot knife through butter. Depleted uranium also sharpens as it penetrates armor whereas tungsten, which is slightly denser, tends to dull on impact. As an added benefit, depleted uranium is cheap and readily available as a byproduct of uranium enrichment. The A-10 can carry up to 1,350 30mm rounds, the casings of which are cycled back into the ammunition drum to prevent them from striking the aircraft or getting sucked into the engines.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

This is basically how DoD acquisitions works

When it comes to design, it doesn’t get much simpler than the A-10. Designed to operate from forward bases with little to no logistical or maintenance support, many of the A-10s components are interchangeable between its port and starboard side, including the engines, main landing gear, and vertical stabilizers. The wing design, sturdy landing gear, and low-pressure tires allow for short takeoffs and landings from even the most rudimentary forward landing strips. Similarly, the high engine placement helps to keep foreign object debris from entering them while operating from semi-prepared runways. The skin of the aircraft is not load-bearing and can be replaced easily in the field. Additionally, whereas most military aircraft require external power sources from ground crews in order to start their engines, the A-10 is equipped with an auxiliary power unit. This allows it to start itself and, again, operate from forward airfields with little to no support. In all, the A-10 is extremely cheap to fly, costing just ,944 per hour of operation. For comparison, the F-16 costs ,278 while the F-35 costs a whopping ,455.

The A-10 is a Cold War aircraft designed to cut through lines of Soviet tanks. Instead, it found renewed purpose in the War on Terror. Its effectiveness on the battlefield made it a favorite of both its pilots and the ground troops that it supported. When Congress threatened to put it on the chopping block, A-10 fans quickly took to the internet to voice their support for the ‘Hog’. Today, just about everyone knows about the A-10. At the very least, they know the sound it makes—’BRRRT’.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Army couple spreads joy through music

As the holidays are upon us, finding happiness in the midst of a pandemic has been challenging. One Army couple is using music to heal, connect and bring joy to veterans and military families around the world. 

When retired Army Sergeant 1st Class Jose Pomales enlisted at 17 years old in 1997, it wasn’t to become a member of the Army Field Band. Although he was an accomplished piano player growing up in Puerto Rico, he became a combat medic. He would serve as one during and after the attacks on the World Trade Center, deploying multiple times. In 2005, to the surprise of many, Jose made the decision to leave his MOS and return to his first passion: music.

“When you join after high school, you are just a kid. You sort of grow up in the Army. I had to grow up fast,” Jose explained. “Changing into music, everyone looked at me like ‘Why are you doing that?’ I saw a pianist playing with the [Army Field Band] and that was it.” Once Jose realized that he could apply to be part of the music program, he dove in – ready to make a difference in another way. He was able to deploy with the Army Field Band all over the world, bringing music to troops and boosting morale.  

For Army Staff Sergeant Megan Pomales, music was always for her. A “choir kid” growing up and avid piano player, she knew she wanted to continue with it. But she also felt a calling to serve, joining the Army Reserves after graduating college in 2008. “I was working for Universal Music Group in New York for a record label… But when I saw the road it would really take for me to dedicate my life to music in the record label industry, it just wasn’t for me,” Megan said. 

Megan also took a leap of faith, diving into active duty with the Army by serving in their music program. In 2011, she found herself at Fort Bragg in the Army Ground Forces Band as a vocalist and keyboard player. Later on, she made her way to Fort Eustis in Virginia where she met Jose. “I walked in and saw him and was like, ‘What is happening…’ – I avoided him like the plague,” she said with a laugh. 

It wasn’t long before the two soldiers became good friends and began dating, eventually marrying. Although they both have a very different background before joining the Army, their passion and belief in the power of music connected them right away. “I know I am very privileged with my position in the Army because I know Jose sees things from a very different world view with his combat medic experience,” Megan said. 

Jose retired from the Army in 2018 and Megan began singing the lead with the Six String Soldiers in 2019. Although the Army Field band is known for doing traveling shows and their well-received holiday shows, COVID-19 has greatly changed the way they deliver music. This year, they wanted to go the extra mile to bring holiday cheer. Megan received a message from a fellow soldier and producer sharing that he wanted her to sing ‘Christmas 1914’ for the 2020 Holiday Show. “He sent it to me as a YouTube video and I listened to it and was completely undone,” Megan shared. 

Written by Catherine Rushton in 2004, the song is an emotional and haunting walk down the experiences of ground troops fighting during World War I. In 1914 the Pope suggested a truce for Christmas. Taking the suggestion to heart, the Germans and allied troops entered into an unofficial cease fire. Tales were told of Christmas carols being sung and words of goodwill echoing through the night. The lyrics of the song tell a story of the beauty of Christmas and the reality of war that followed the celebration: For three days we played football, three nights we drank and sang, ‘til it came time to say farewell. Then we went to ground; each side fired three rounds. And just like that we all were back in hell. 

German and British troops playing soccer during pause in World War I

Never again would a war fully pause, but the memory of it lives on.

Not only did Megan take on the historic lyrics for the Sound The Bells show, but the Army also granted approval to record a music video to accompany the powerful song. Set in a church built before World War I, it was a fitting setting. Megan admits it was an emotional song to sing and there were definitely times it was difficult for her not to show it. It is her hope that the spirit of the song will hit home and remind people of possibilities, especially as the world continues to battle the pandemic. 

Jose and Megan share a deep love of purpose and giving that they are able to bring to fellow soldiers, veterans and military families through music. Knowing that they can create a connection, smile or bring peace as they serve their country is the reward of a lifetime. 

Happy Holidays! We Are The Mighty has proudly produced a holiday musical with the US Army Field Band, titled Sound the Bells. This excellent family entertainment will air multiple times on FOX BUSINESS and FOX NATION from 12/23 to 12/26.

Articles

California may give legal aid to deported vets

California may start giving legal help to veterans who have been deported.


The state Assembly passed a bill May 8 to provide legal representation for people who were honorably discharged from the military but have since been deported.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher says her bill is intended to help deported veterans return to the country. The San Diego Democrat says the bill would help them reunite with their families and access health services and other benefits.

“It’s time we bring our deported vets back,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “California can lead the way by trying to bring them home.”

The American Civil Liberties Union says it has found dozens of cases where veterans have been deported.

Many deported veterans would have been eligible to become naturalized citizens but were not properly informed about the process, Gonzalez Fletcher said.

Funding for the bill will be subject to availability of money in the state budget.

The bill directs the state to contract with a nonprofit legal services organization. AB386 passed the Assembly without any dissenting votes and now goes to the Senate.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This WWII Army veteran just celebrated his 102nd birthday

The McCurtain County VA Clinic and members of the local community gathered in Idabel, Oklahoma to celebrate World War II veteran Sydney Hunnicutt’s 102nd birthday.

“We truly care about the veterans in our community and we just want to make a difference,” said Lisa Morphew, registered nurse and clinic manager. “We love our veterans and want to show them that we’re here to help, whatever their needs are.”

VA clinic staff presented birthday cards and Jonathan Plasencia, associate director for the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System, presented a gift bag to Hunnicutt on behalf of VA Voluntary Service.


Twelve of Hunnicutt’s family members were able to attend the party including several who were visiting from California. Dorothy Cash, Hunnicutt’s daughter, said she was grateful to the clinic and community who helped make the day special for her father.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

Jonathan Plasencia shakes Sydney Hunnicutt’s hand.

“It means the world to us,” said Cash.

During World War II, Hunnicutt was drafted into the U.S. Army and deployed to the Philippines with the 63rd Infantry Regiment, 6th Infantry Division. During the Battle of Luzon, Hunnicutt fought the Japanese and was shot in his left hand. He lost two fingers and was later awarded a Purple Heart.

“It’s an honor to be here today to celebrate a member of the Greatest Generation,” said Plasencia, who drove from the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee to celebrate Hunnicutt’s milestone. “Veterans have many options for their health care and when they place their trust in VA, that is a privilege we do not take lightly.”

“It couldn’t have been better,” said Hunnicutt, who turns 102 on July 13, 2019.

6 lessons I learned moving nuclear weapons through North Dakota

Clinic staff join Sydney Hunnicutt for his 102nd birthday celebration.

Hunnicutt has been a patient at the clinic since it opened in 2017, and Dr. Jose Gomez has served as his primary care physician.

“He is so happy,” said Cash. “Dr. Gomez has been the best.”

Dr. Gomez said it’s been a privilege to provide care for Hunnicutt.

“I want to thank him for his courage and for putting his life on the line for us to be able to have the freedoms that we have,” he said. “It’s an honor just to shake his hand.”

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

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