In 1935, Billy Mitchell, former U.S. Army brigadier general and airpower advocate, testified before Congress that Alaska was the most strategic place in the world. From there, he said, U.S. Army aircraft could reach any capital in the northern hemisphere within nine hours.
Much of that flight time was over unoccupied polar ice, as only the most intrepid of explorers ventured high above the Arctic Circle.
As technology improved, the coming decades led to increased civilian and military activity over, under and on the Arctic ice sheet.
Today, however, it is environmental changes that are leading to increased activity above the Arctic Circle.
Citing a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Arctic Report Card, a Department of Defense report to Congress in June, 2019, stated, “The Arctic’s environment continues to change, including diminished sea ice coverage, declining snow cover and melting ice sheets. Temperatures across the Arctic region are increasing more than twice as fast as the global average…”
The result has been the opening of sea lanes year-round, increasing both Russian and Chinese civilian and military presence near U.S. borders and the borders of its allies.
As an Arctic presence enables global reach for whomever has this strategic access, Russia has been reopening, fortifying and building new military bases in the region.
While Russia’s presence in the region has been increasing, melting permafrost beneath some of the U.S. Air Force’s most remote satellite tracking and communications facilities threatens its capability to observe and respond to threats.
The accompanying video explores how the Air Force is addressing the challenge of maintaining a strategic advantage in the Arctic, as this northernmost arena for the great power competition becomes more and more accessible.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
Leaked audio recordings said to be of Russian mercenaries in Syria capture expressions of lament and humiliation over a battle in early February 2018 involving US forces and Russian nationals.
Published by Polygraph.info — a fact-checking website produced by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, news organizations that receive funding from the US government — the audio recordings paint a picture of Russian mercenaries essentially sent to die in an ill-conceived advance on a US-held position in Syria. Polygraph says the audio recordings are from a source close to the Kremlin.
The Pentagon has described the attack as “unprovoked” and started by forces loyal to the Syrian government that crossed over the Euphrates River, which functions as a border between US-backed troops and Russian-backed ones.
The Pentagon says that about 500 men began to fire on the position and that the US responded with air power and artillery strikes. The audio from Polygraph seems to confirm that while giving some insight into the feelings of the defeated forces.
Also apparent in the audio is displeasure with how Russia has responded to the situation. Initially, Russia denied that its citizens took part in the clash. Later, a representative said five may have died. Last week, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the fight left “several dozen wounded” and that some had died.
The audio recordings, in which voices can be heard saying 200 people died “right away,” appear to back up reports from Reuters, Bloomberg, and the Pentagon that roughly 100 — if not more — Russians died in the fight. Reuters has cited sources as saying the advance’s purpose was to test the US’s response.
Russia is thought to use military contractors in Syria rather than its military — experts speculate it’s to maintain deniability for acts of war and conceal the true cost of fighting from the Russian people. The Washington Post reported last week that US intelligence reports with intercepted communications showed that a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin told a senior Syrian official he “secured permission” from the Kremlin before the advance on the US forces.
The accounts in the audio also align with reports of how the battle went down, depicting an unprepared column of troops meeting an overwhelming air response before helicopter gunships strafed the remaining ones.
Here are the translated transcripts from Polygraph:
“The reports that are on TV about … well, you know, about Syria and the 25 people that are wounded there from the Syrian f— army and — well … to make it short, we’ve had our asses f— kicked. So one squadron f— lost 200 people … right away, another one lost 10 people … and I don’t know about the third squadron, but it got torn up pretty badly, too … So three squadrons took a beating … The Yankees attacked … first they blasted the f— out of us by artillery, and then they took four helicopters up and pushed us in a f— merry-go-round with heavy caliber machine guns … They were all shelling the holy f— out of it, and our guys didn’t have anything besides the assault rifles … nothing at all, not even mentioning shoulder-fired SAMs or anything like that … So they tore us to pieces for sure, put us through hell, and the Yankees knew for sure that the Russians were coming, that it was us, f— Russians … Our guys were going to commandeer an oil refinery, and the Yankees were holding it … We got our f— asses beat rough, my men called me … They’re there drinking now … many have gone missing … it’s a total f— up, it sucks, another takedown … Everybody, you know, treats us like pieces of s— … They beat our asses like we were little pieces of s— … but our f— government will go in reverse now, and nobody will respond or anything, and nobody will punish anyone for this … So these are our casualties.”
“Out of all vehicles, only one tank survived and one BRDM [armored reconnaissance vehicle] after the attack, all other BRDMs and tanks were destroyed in the first minutes of the fight, right away.”
“Just had a call with a guy — so they basically formed a convoy, but did not get to their f— positions by some 300 meters. One unit moved forward, the convoy remained in place, about 300 meters from the others. The others raised the American f— flag, and their artillery started f— ours really hard. Then their f— choppers flew in and started f— everybody. Ours just running around. Just got a call from a pal, so there are about 215 f— killed. They simply rolled ours out f— hard. Made their point. What the f— ours were hoping for in there?! That they will f— run away themselves? Hoped to f— scare them away? Lots of people f— so bad [they] can’t be f— ID’d. There was no foot soldiers [on the American side]; they simply f— our convoy with artillery.”
A new report compiled by U.S. Senate researchers warns that Russia has been emboldened by its efforts to interfere in U.S. and European elections, and calls for a stronger U.S. response to deter Moscow.
The report, released Jan. 10 by staff members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, listed a series of policy recommendations to counter what it called “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nearly two-decade-long assault on democratic institutions, universal values, and the rule of law across Europe and in his own country.”
The document highlighted various efforts by European governments to counter what researchers called Kremlin policies.
For the United States, the report calls for establishing a single government body to coordinate the U.S. response to Kremlin operations, publicizing assets and wealth held by Kremlin officials and politically connected businessmen in the West, and formalizing various Russia-related sanctions programs into a single designation: “State Hybrid Threat Actor.”
Other recommendations include working more closely with U.S. allies in Europe on a joint approach to deterring Russia and cyberthreats, pressing social-media companies like Facebook and Twitter to be more transparent in political advertising, and reducing European imports of Russian natural gas and oil.
But the report also strongly criticizes President Donald Trump’s administration, saying its response has emboldened Moscow.
“Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president,” it says.
The White House did not respond to requests for reaction to the report.
In the past, Trump officials have given mixed messages about how to deal with Russia, with Trump himself espousing more conciliatory policies, while others backing stronger responses, including financial sanctions and more U.S. military weaponry for European allies.
The Republican-controlled Congress, meanwhile, has pushed forward with Russia-related legislation, largely in response to the U.S. intelligence agencies’ finding that Moscow actively meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
In August, lawmakers passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act overwhelmingly and the measure was reluctantly signed into law by Trump.
Russia has repeatedly denied any effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
On Jan. 8, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov rejected assertions by CIA chief Mike Pompeo that Moscow planned to meddle in the November 2018 elections that will determine whether the Republicans retain control over both houses of Congress.
The report was authored by staffers working for Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and commissioned by the panel’s lead Democrat, Ben Cardin, an outspoken critic of the Kremlin.
Asked at a briefing on Jan. 9 why Republican committee staffers or members were not involved in the report, staffers insisted that Republicans would be supportive its findings and recommendations.
This post was sponsored by Kensington Books. The author’s comments below on the novels are his own.
It’s a new year and one of the many resolutions people tend to make is to ‘read more!’ What should you be reading?
With all the choices of books and genres out there finding the right book or series can be a challenge. If you or your loved ones are into military fiction or thrillers, the team here at We Are The Mighty have your back with three very solid book recommendations which we’re sure you will enjoy.
First up is Nathan’s Run by prolific author and New York Time’s bestseller John Gilstrap. Nathan’s Run is John’s first published work which launched a successful career spanning twenty books. John is best known for his ‘Johnathan Graves’ series, a ten book series about a former Delta operative running an independent hostage rescue firm, which has garnered praise from other authors and reviewers alike. He clearly knows how to spin a good tale.
Nathan’s Run is a retelling of the ‘Fugitive’ tale, except the fugitive in this case is a scared but resourceful twelve-year-old boy who is pursued by an overly ambitious District Attorney, law enforcement officers who believe Nathan is a murderer, a villainous mob enforcer, and a weary and emotionally wounded Detective playing a hunch. The book starts off ‘small’ but the story soon blossoms into a nation-wide obsession as the stakes get higher every hour Nathan remains at large.
The author has a unique background as a fire-fighter and safety inspector, not military or law enforcement, but he has a knack for finding the right mix of detail and storytelling to create a book which was quite cinematic. It didn’t take me long to become emotionally invested and start rooting for Nathan. I wager those willing to give the novel a chance will be pulling for him as well.
Next is Northern Thunder by Anderson Harp. Northern Thunder is the first book of a newer series – currently three books – featuring Will Parker, a small-town Georgia prosecutor and former Marine special operations veteran. There is trouble in North Korea, and Will’s background and ‘specific skills’ makes him uniquely suited to go into North Korea in a high stakes covert mission. Complications ensue and what should be a straight-forward mission turns in a deadly struggle for survival.
Northern Thunder has a ‘Dirty Dozen’ kind of vibe to it as a good portion of the book is taken up with descriptions of Will and his team’s training for the mission, interspaced with peripheral dramas that ultimately feed into the central storyline. The book is filled with intricate details of military gear, jargon and culture, and survival skills informed by Anderson’s long history in the Marine Corps honing his craft. Ultimately this book is highly recommended for those who like their military fiction detailed and tradecraft heavy.
The final recommendation is Active Measures by Marc Cameron, the eighth book of his long running Jericho Quinn series. Marc is a former United States Marshal and a New York Times bestselling author, penning the popular Jack Ryan series set in the extended Tom Clancy universe.
The Jericho Quinn series, despite the military background of its central character, is more espionage and spy craft than special operations raids. The latest book sees Quinn and his companions in Havana, Cuba trying to stop a madman with a nuclear missile. The Jericho Quinn books feature a host of real-life bad folks ranging from Russians to Cartel guys going full Bond villain, with increasingly intricate and dastardly plots to destroy the United States and/or do evil. Active Measures can be read as a stand-alone, but there is a lot of fan service written to satisfy long time readers of the series. If your reader likes this book, they can always go back to the beginning to find the origins of this interesting cast of characters.
Have a safe and joyful holiday season and keep reading!
This post was sponsored by Kensington Books. The author’s comments above on the novels are his own.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on a $3.9 billion emergency spending package to fill a shortfall in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ program of private-sector care, seeking to avert a disruption to medical care for thousands of veterans.
The deal includes additional money for core VA health programs, as well. Veterans’ groups insisted this money be included.
The compromise plan sets aside $2.1 billion over six months to continue funding the Choice program, which provides federally paid medical care outside the VA and is a priority of President Donald Trump. VA Secretary David Shulkin has warned that without legislative action, Choice would run out of money by mid-August, causing delays in health care.
The proposal also would devote $1.8 billion to authorize 28 leases for new VA medical facilities and establish programs to make it easier to hire health specialists. That cost would be paid for by trimming pensions for some Medicaid-eligible veterans and collecting fees for housing loans.
VA Secretary David Shulkin. Photo courtesy of VA.
A House vote was planned July 28, before members were to begin a five-week recess. The Senate is finishing up business for two more weeks and would also need to approve the measure.
Major veterans’ groups had opposed the original House plan as an unacceptable step toward privatization, leading Democrats to block that bill on July 24. That plan would have trimmed VA benefits to pay for Choice without additional investments in VA infrastructure.
Put in place after a 2014 wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA hospital, the Choice program allows veterans to receive care from outside doctors if they must wait 30 days or more for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility.
Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told a hearing on July 27 that the six-month funding plan was urgently needed and would give Congress more time to debate broader issues over the future of the VA. He was joined by Rep. Tim Walz, the panel’s top Democrat.
Sens. Johnny Isakson, R- Ga., (left) and Jon Tester, D-Mont (right)
“We are glad that veterans will continue to have access to care without interruption and that the VA will be able to improve the delivery of care by addressing critical infrastructure and medical staffing needs,” Sens. Johnny Isakson, R- Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement.
Shulkin praised the agreement and urged the House to act swiftly. The legislation “will greatly benefit veterans,” he said.
Still, while the agreement may avert a shutdown to Choice, the early disputes over funding may signal bigger political fights to come.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump had criticized the VA for long wait times and mismanagement, saying he would give veterans more options in seeing outside providers. At an event July 25 in Ohio, Trump said he would triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice” as part of an upcoming VA overhaul.
His comments followed a warning by the leader of the Veterans of Foreign Wars against any Trump administration effort to “privatize” the VA. Speaking July 24 at its national convention in New Orleans, outgoing VFW National Commander Brian Duffy criticized the initial House plan as violating Trump’s campaign promise to VFW that it “would remain a public system, because it is a public trust.”
Shulkin announced the budget shortfall last month, citing unexpected demand from veterans for private care and poor budget planning. To slow spending, the department last month instructed VA medical centers to limit the number of veterans it sent to private doctors.
“This situation underscores exactly why Congress needs to pass broader and more permanent Choice reforms. Even after they finish scrambling to fund this flawed program, too many veterans will still be trapped in a failing system and will be unable to seek care outside the VA when they want to or need to,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America.
Currently, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are in the private sector, up from fewer than 20 percent in 2014, as the VA’s more than 1,200 health facilities struggle to meet growing demands for medical care.
The VA has an annual budget of nearly $167 billion.
Nazi subs prowled the Gulf of Mexico during World War II.
Herbert G. Claudius was in command of the patrol ship USS PC-566 in 1942. His mission and that of his crew was to monitor the Louisiana coast and its territorial waters for signs of any Nazi u-boat activity. On July 30, 1942, they got their chance, sinking a submarine that was preying on American shipping. For this, he was awarded the Legion of Merit with a Combat V device. The medal was issued in 2014, 72 years after the action.
At the time, Claudius was relieved of command for the same action.
USS PC-566 was a submarine chaser patrol boat, much like the one seen here.
In all, Hitler sent around 22 or more u-boats into the Gulf of Mexico at the outset of World War II, and they were successful. The submarines prowling the coasts of Texas and Florida picked off an estimated 50 ships during the war. They were wreaking absolute havoc on American shipping, and the United States Navy was only able to sink one of them. That’s the u-boat taken down by Claudius’ USS PC-566 and her crew.
On July 30, 1942, the passenger liner SS Robert E. Lee was torpedoed and sank by U-166 45 miles south of the Mississippi River Delta. Upon entering the area, Claudius and his crew spotted U-166’s periscope and dropped depth charges into the water until an oil slick bubbled up to the surface – proof positive they hit their target, possibly destroying the boat.
When Claudius reported the action to the Navy, the Navy was skeptical because the crew of PC-566 had not yet received anti-submarine training and admonished the crew of the patrol boat for poorly executing the attack. Their skipper was relieved of his command and sent to anti-submarine school instead of receiving the Legion of Merit he so richly deserved. After reviewing the evidence presented to the Navy by Ballard and by oil companies who also found the wreck, the Navy reversed course, just 72 years too late.
In a 2014 ceremony, Claudius’ son, also named Herbert G. Claudius, received his father’s Legion of Merit from then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert at the Pentagon. The elder Claudius, who died in 1981 after 33 years of Naval service, “would have felt vindicated.”
Tell her she can’t, she’ll tell you, “Just watch me.”
U.S. Army veteran Twila Adams won the prestigious Spirit of the Games Award at this year’s National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Louisville, Kentucky. The award is given to one wheelchair athlete out of hundreds across the nation, Great Britain and Puerto Rico who exemplifies the heart and soul of the Games through leadership, encouragement and a never-give-up attitude.
But that spirit is not just on display at the Games. Adams’ positive attitude only got stronger since the 1994 car accident that put her in a chair.
“My parents raised me to believe the impossible, and that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. Don’t tell me I can’t. Don’t tell me I won’t. Tell me what’s next and what I have to do, because I’m still here,” she said.
Adams, who gets care at the Salisbury and the Charlie Norwood Augusta VA Medical Centers, served 11 years in the Army, with tours in Korea, Turkey and a deployment to Desert Storm, until road marches and bad knees caught up with her.
But three years after leaving the Army, another vehicle ran a red light as she was turning right.
“I swerved and missed her and just bumped another car. I wasn’t even going fast, but I could only move my mouth and eyes. I knew then there was something wrong.
“I heard the doctors telling my parents that I’m paralyzed from the neck down. The prognosis didn’t look good. Doctors kept telling my parents what I couldn’t do, and kept telling me what I couldn’t do.
“I looked at my doctor and said, “I want you to wear a nice tie next time you come in so we have something to talk about and stop telling me what I can’t do and let me work on this.
“I asked all of the people who wanted to visit me to stop visiting. They sit and look at you. Nobody wanted to move my arms and legs. They’re all afraid they are going to hurt me. They’re afraid if they lift my arm, it’s going to flop around.”
The doctor lifted her leg.
She kept it there.
“That’s a spasm,” he said.
“Do you want to do it again?” she asked.
He lifted her leg again. She held it up and moved her foot around.
The woman who doctors said would most likely be paralyzed from the neck down worked hard on her therapy. She can now walk briefly.
“I’m considered a ‘walking quad,’ she said. “I can ambulate. I can kind of wobble and drag my foot. Like most quads, I can’t feel a lot, but do have chronic pain from the neck down, and intense burning and pain in my hands, legs and feet.”
Yet look at any photos of Adams at the Wheelchair Games and there is either a look of fierce determination or a radiant smile.
“I’m not the hard-charging sergeant I was in the Army. I’m in a new body. I respect my body.”
Discovering the Wheelchair Games in 2002 was a turning point for her.
“I remember going to my spinal cord injury exam and the rec therapist asked me if wanted to go.
“And do what?” Adams asked her.
“You can play 9-ball,” the therapist said.
“From my scooter?!?”
“Yes, and you can play table tennis.”
She did more than that.
“I showed up at that first one and got to the opening ceremony and was blown away. I watched other people compete, doing air rifle, and archery with their teeth. I was amazed. I said, ‘Oh my goodness, my life is about to blow up. I’m about to die having fun.’
“Oh my goodness gracious, life is good. Without my injury, I never would have known about this stuff. I used to say my accident happened to me. By the time I was introduced to the Wheelchair Games, I was asked to go trap shooting. I play billiards in Tampa. At the Wheelchair Games, I do shot put, discus, javelin, air rifle, air pistol, bowling, boccia ball, power lifting. Now I say this did not happen to me, it happened for me. It changed my life.”
When she’s back home, she’s busy playing adaptive tennis at least two hours a day, several days a week.
“I was told I would need a power chair since I’m a quad. I don’t need a power chair,” she said. “I use my own, sports chair. Then I found out about an international adaptive tennis tournament. I was told I can’t go because I couldn’t compete at that level. I said, ‘Well, I’m going.’
“I went and got my butt whupped. But my second match was a doubles. I told my partner, “You get the backhand, I’ll get the forehand,’ and we won the tiebreaker.”
That story makes her recreation therapist, Valerie McNary, laugh out loud.
“She came up to me and said, ‘Val, everybody keeps telling me I can’t do it, but Val, I’m going to do it.’
“That’s typical of her,” McNary said. “She doesn’t care. It’s not about the winning. She doesn’t have to win. She wants to live and see other people living their lives. She’s not typical in any fashion or form. Most people don’t have the attitude she had right away. She’s already my spirit of the game every day. She is that spirit every, single day and doesn’t need the title.”
Jen Purser, from the Paralyzed Veterans of America Wheelchair Games leadership team, said Adams “truly embodies the spirit of what the Wheelchair Games are all about — camaraderie, support and perseverance.
“We were thrilled to see her win this year’s award,” Purser said.
But Adams said even with the right attitude, there are days she is like anyone else. It’s not all puppy dog kisses and unicorns.
“You know, we’re all flesh. Rains on me the same as anyone else,” she said. “I get depressed. I get those emotions, but I make a choice. I can say something to myself and motivate something in myself and this will go away.
“Exercise changes my emotions, better than sitting around and watching the news all day. I tell people, ‘Just get up, open the blinds and go outside and see what’s going on. Feel the sun on your skin. Go out and just let the breeze blow on you, and radiate over you, and you will feel good.”
But those Wheelchair Games — that, she said, is real balm for her soul.
“I’m like a kid in the candy store, every year, happy to be alive and hugging necks — even the grumpy ones. It’s about me having that one time a year to connect with people who know what I’m going through. They’re just like me. And if we can inspire the novices and share a little bit of hope, then my injury is not in vain.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Each year, like clockwork, hurricane season strikes America’s southeastern states. Right now, another hurricane is knocking on the East Coast’s door and, coincidentally, many installations of the Armed Forces stand in the way of the storm’s projected path. While most people are busy either evacuating or hunkering down, the troops from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and everywhere between aren’t simply waiting out the storm — they’re rushing into it.
And the action isn’t reserved exclusively for each state’s National Guard. Natural disasters, like Hurricane Florence, make for some of the few times when active duty troops from every branch directly help their community. They’re springing into action now, helping locals prepare, and they’ll be around afterward, helping the affected recover.
A simple meal and a smile goes a long way for people afraid of what’s coming.
(National Guard photo by Spc. Hamiel Irizarry)
It all begins with making proper preparations. Troops begin by stockpiling whatever resources may be useful for civilians, including blankets, MREs, and gasoline, to name a few. Then, they get out there and provide the locals with the essentials.
It may seem like a simple gesture, but being wrapped in a warm, dry military blanket and receiving a hot meal helps repair morale and lets those affected by the disaster know that everything is going to be okay.
If there’s one thing soldiers know how to do, it’s fill sandbags…
(Georgia Army National Guard photo by Capt. William Carraway)
Next, manpower is put towards barricading specific locations that either serve as excellent shelters or hold significance to the community. This process often involves having troops fill countless sandbags to keep flood waters from reaching the people behind them.
But the Air Force and NOAA are responsible for one of the most important — and dangerous — tasks. They’re called “Hurricane Hunters.” Their mission is to fly directly into the hurricane to monitor weather patterns and determine the storm’s course from the inside.
Meanwhile, the Navy and Coast Guard use their vessels to have hospitals and emergency centers on standby for the moment the hurricane makes landfall.
It’s one of the most beautiful and selfless things most troops will do stateside. BZ, guys. You’re making this country proud.
(Louisiana National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Rebekah Malone)
As much as lower enlisted troops may bemoan the process, they’re typically evacuated at the last possible moment. This ensures everything is in proper order and it gives civilians a head-start, allowing them to get out of town without being blocked in by clutter created by large military vehicles.
The troops who haven’t evacuated will shelter in place until the storm passes. Then, the rebuilding process begins…
The Air Force today takes a ribbing from the other services for being soft, so it’s easy to forget that historically their mission has been one of the most dangerous. This was on display in World War II when Allied aircrews were tasked with bombing Nazi-occupied Germany and Imperial Japan.
In this clip, a World War II Royal Air Force veteran discusses what it was like flying bombers to Berlin through a wall of flak so thick that, as he describes it, it sounded like driving a car through a hailstorm. He also tells of the mission where their bomber was chased down by German fighters and forced to crash land.
The 80th Flying Training Wing is moving at the speed of innovation and is bound to only get faster as visionaries incorporate the latest in mixed realities to boost undergraduate pilot training.
Lt. Col. Jason Turner, 80th FTW Strategic Initiatives director, said the implementation of virtual and augmented realities is creating a portfolio of tools that allows instructor and student pilots alike to enhance the learning experience within the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program, the world’s only internationally manned and operated combat pilot training program.
Through the use of 360-degree cameras, skilled pilots and actual images from flights over north Texas and southern Oklahoma, the program is able to build instructional content to train students on items such as local aerial procedures and ground operations.
In short, it’s creating a realistic flying environment in a controlled setting that enables students to learn and make mistakes in a safe setting.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Reserve Officer Training Corps Cadets Preston Tower, left, Alexander Knapp and Ian Palmer fly three T-38C Talons in formation in a mixed reality environment during a flying training session with the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Feb. 1, 2019.
(U.S. Air Force photo by John Ingle)
“The solution essentially gives them the ability to visualize some of the things that they’ll experience airborne so that once they do get airborne, they’re able to take those reference pictures that they saw in mixed reality and apply them to their training in the air, hopefully making their air time training more valuable,” he said.
Maj. Steve Briones, the 80th FTW’s director of Wing Innovation, has played an integral role in leading the innovative charge to marry traditional simulator training and real flight time with fast-advancing technologies such as virtual and augmented realities. He said it has taken about six months to go from concept to two functional “Innovation Labs” available to ENJJPT instructors and students.
Virtual reality creates an experience where a person is immersed in a virtual world, whereas an augmented reality incorporates digital elements to a live view of an environment.
“It’s the future of learning in the Air Force,” Briones said. “It’s just being able to take different methods of delivering content or just making the learning content accessible in different ways.”
Briones said the innovative training tools will not replace traditional simulators as they provide a physical, hands-on platform to practice instrument familiarity and emergency procedures. However, the newest set up does allow for visuals that can’t be replicated in a simulator such as formation flying because they are able to link individual training stations.
The technology brings pilot training methodologies together in a new and adaptive way, he said, that is a cloud-based and student-focused in such a way that airmen in the ENJJPT program can access courseware wherever they are and whenever they want to.
“If you asked folks six months ago when we were just thinking about this if this was possible, they would’ve been like, ‘No way. There’s no way,'” he said. “So, I think it allows us to think critically about how we’re training and how we can make ourselves better.”
A group of Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were in the 10-station lab Feb. 1, 2019, trying out the technology as part of a visit to the 80th FTW. Turner said the trio taking a virtual flight had spent about 30 minutes on the mixed reality trainers, but they were already showing a skill ENJJPT students learn over the course of the 55-week program: formation flying.
“They’re still learning. They’re still developing,” Turner said of the potential for student pilots as seen by the MIT students. “But this also gives them a place to practice where mistakes don’t cost them their safety.”
There is, admittedly, some hesitancy with the new technology as there is very little performance data in the program at this time to fall back on. Turner said part of that is because the technology has not been specifically introduced into the ENJJPT syllabus.
What they’ve done, he said, is encourage students to try out the equipment to change their mindset in regards to effectiveness of the training and the sense of reality it brings. What they’ve seen is when one student sees the capabilities, they bring others to the experience, who in turn bring more.
Turner said ENJJPT Class 20-04 will start a small-group trial at the end of February 2019, which will include deliberately implementing these technologies into their training. They will also soon have the ability to toggle between T-6A Texan II and T-38C Talon training modules.
“While that virtual reality or mixed reality won’t replace actual flight time, it’s intended to augment it to make that time more valuable,” he said. “That’s when students will officially be coming here as part of their training experience.”
Turner and Briones both lauded the public-private partnership with industry leaders to create a training environment that compliments existing platforms. The technology, they said, is exceeding expectations and they are seeing how it will continue to enhance the ENJJPT training curriculum.
Three US Army noncommissioned officers in the White House Communications Agency were reportedly reassigned after they allegedly had improper contact with foreign women during President Donald Trump’s trip to Vietnam, The Washington Post reported Nov. 21.
The three soldiers reportedly broke curfew while Trump visited the country, one of several stops he made during his 12-day tour of Asia, earlier this month.
“We are aware of the incident, and it is currently under investigation,” Defense Department spokesman Mark Wright said in The Post.
The White House Communications Agency is a multi-branch military unit “dedicated to providing … vital information services and communications support to the president and his staff,” according to the US Defense Information Systems Agency.
The news comes on the heels of similar allegations of misconduct from a White House Communications Agency detail assigned to Vice President Mike Pence during his trip to Panama in August.
Two soldiers and two Airmen on Pence’s communications team were reportedly caught on camera bringing women back to their hotel, a secure area, NBC News reported at the time. Pence was reportedly still in the US when the incident occurred.
Two brothers who formerly owned a Pennsylvania defense contractor and their former chief financial officer have pleaded guilty in a $6 million scheme to overcharge the U.S. Defense Department for Humvee window kits.
The Butler-based contractor, Ibis Tek LLC, removed the former co-owners, Thomas Buckner, 68, of Gibsonia, and John Buckner, 66, of Lyndora, in January along with former CFO Harry Kramer, 52, of Pittsburgh.
The three pleaded guilty on May 31st in Pittsburgh to charges of major fraud against the government and income tax evasion for filing returns that didn’t include the illegal income, and other irregularities. The Buckners will be sentenced Oct. 10 and each faces a likely prison sentence of 41 to 51 months, while Kramer will be sentenced Oct. 18 and faces a likely sentence of 24 to 30 months, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nelson Cohen told the judge.
“Ibis Tek was not and will not be charged” in the scheme, Cohen said. The company released a statement when the criminal charges were announced in March, saying, “Our company was cleared in the related investigation which dates back to activities eight years ago and we, the over 250 employees of the new Ibis Tek, continue forward on our mission, which is to proudly serve the warfighter and our various government customers.”
The Buckners have agreed to repay more than $6 million to the government, and have already repaid nearly $900,000 in income tax losses, according to their attorneys who spoke in court, but declined comment after May 31st’s proceedings. Thomas Buckner has agreed to forfeit $5,085,709 to cover his share of the losses and has already paid $1 million of that debt, defense attorney Alexander Lindsay Jr. said. John Buckner will repay the government $1 million.
Additionally, Thomas Buckner has already repaid more than $423,000 in federal income tax losses, and John Buckner has repaid nearly $457,000, their attorneys said.
The target of the fraud was the Warren, Michigan-based U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, or TACOM, an arm of the Defense Department which procures military vehicles from contractors.
The brothers scammed the government by purchasing emergency escape window kits for $20 each from a Chinese firm, but selling them to TACOM through a shell company they created called Alloy America, Cohen said. Alloy America was located at Ibis Tek’s address and “served little purpose other than to commit this fraud,” Cohen said. Kramer kept the books for Ibis Tek and Alloy America, Cohen said.
The Buckners and Kramer not only passed on the bogus $70-per-frame cost to TACOM, they also sold scrap aluminum relating to the manufacture of the frames, but kept the money. The Buckners and Kramer were supposed to credit the scrap revenue to TACOM as a way of helping the government agency control costs, Cohen said.
Kramer was charged because he helped the Buckners by filing false tax returns that understated Ibis Tek’s income in 2009 and 2010. The Buckner brothers’ personal tax returns for those years also understated their income because they owned the company 50-50 at the time, Cohen said.
Ibis Tek was sold in February to investors who say the new company had nothing to do with the scam.
It’s not like ISIS didn’t know the attack on Mosul was coming. After all, Mosul is one of the last major cities in Iraq that the group holds. So the radical Islamic fighters prepared for the battle that is now raging on the outskirts of Mosul by doing a few things, including destroying the runways at the vital Qayyarah West Airbase, Iraq.
Qayyarah West sits within Iraq’s Ninawa Province to the south of Mosul and is an obvious logistics base for an attack on the city.
The C-130, one of the military’s most versatile cargo planes, needs at least 3,000 feet of safe runway to make an assault landing. Even then, the short runway lowers the available total weight with which aircraft can land or takeoff.
So the Air Force needed to take a base with no usable runways and get it ready to take in tons of cargo in a short period. A team of engineers from the Air Force flew to the base to attempt the task. They undid two years of ISIS destruction in only three weeks.
The Air Force deployed a small team to assess the damage, then sent the full team to begin repairs. Over the three-week period, the airmen judged which parts of the runway were unsafe for operations, cut out those sections of asphalt, and then fixed just those spots.
“We show up, clear the debris out, get all the junk and everything out of there,” Air Force Staff Sgt. Tyler Charles told a military journalist. “Then we dig down, if we have to, until we hit hard surface ground.”
Once the engineers found hard surface, they ensured everything was level and firm, then rebuilt the section of runway from the ground up. And the airmen completed their work just in time. The first C-130s arrived on Oct. 21, less than a week after the Iraqi Army began their offensive to retake Mosul.
The repaired runway provides a more robust logistical capability for the invasion, allowing more ammunition and other supplies to fly in. And Qayyarah West has served the coalition in other ways as well, such as housing the American Paladins providing artillery support to the Iraqi advance.