The commandant of the Marine Corps paid tribute to a staff sergeant killed by Islamic State rocket fire in Iraq last week, shedding new light on the circumstances surrounding the loss.
Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin, 27, a member of Battalion Landing Team 2/6, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was killed by indirect fire March 19 at a new artillery outpost near Makhmour, Iraq, shortly after he and a small element of Marines had detached from the MEU in order to support the small post.
Speaking at a Marine Corps Association awards dinner near Washington, D.C. Thursday night, Gen. Robert Neller said three other Marines wounded in that same rocket attack were due to arrive back in the United States that evening, headed for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Reflecting on Cardin’s loss, Neller did not prevaricate about a fight that US officials still refuse to describe as a combat operation.
“The loss of a Marine is sad, but I thought about it: He was leading his Marines in combat,” Neller said. “They were in indirect fire and he made sure everybody got in the bunker, and he just didn’t make it in time. Is that sad? That’s sad. But if you’re going to go, you want to go in the fight.”
During a briefing to reporters at the Pentagon on Friday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said the circumstances of Cardin’s death, the second combat death since the coalition fight against Islamic State militants began, does not change the nature of the operation or indicate an increase in the Marines’ ground combat role.
“This is not a fundamental shift in our approach to support the Iraqi forces,” he said. “This happens to be what was the most appropriate tool that the commander assessed needed to be in that particular location.”
In his talk, Neller encouraged Marines to remain sharp, reminding them that the Corps was forward deployed all over the world to remain ready and train for future fights.
“[Cardin’s] death, and the things we see every day, from the attacks in Brussels by those murderous cowards that we’re fighting, that’s part of our world today,” he said. “So whether [The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] continues to use terror to intimidate us and kill innocents, at the same time other adversaries, as they have since we’ve been engaged in the Middle East, are developing their capabilities to challenge us on future battlefields.”
Neller also fired a shot across the bow at another geopolitical threat, hinting that Marine Corps leaders were eager to answer the saber-rattling of Russian president Vladimir Putin with a show of force.
About 1,800 Marines, he said, had recently wrapped up a massive cold-weather exercise in Norway, Operation Cold Response.
“It’s the biggest exercise we’ve done in Norway in some time,” he said. We were working to repopulate our [pre-positioning equipment] in the caves, and the Norwegians were happy to see us and I’m sure our Russian friends were paying attention. Mr. Putin has done us a great favor.”
Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan is the Air National Guard Special Assistant to Maj. Gen. Scott F. Smith, the Director of Training and Readiness, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Arlington, Va. The directorate, encompassing seven divisions and the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation, is responsible for policy, guidance and oversight of Air Force operations.
General Vaughan also serves as the lead for the Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team (AF-PEAT) and co-leads the ad hoc Joint-PEAT, along with Navy Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman.
General Vaughan completed Reserve Officer Training Corps at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received his commission as honor graduate from ANG’s Academy of Military Science. He previously served in leadership roles at the squadron, group, wing and higher headquarters levels in both the mobility and combat air forces. General Vaughan commanded the 156th Airlift Wing, Puerto Rico, and Detachment 1 of the 13th Air Expeditionary Group (formerly the 13th Expeditionary Support Squadron), Antarctica.
During an interview with Airman Magazine, Gen. Vaughan discussed his new post leading the joint investigation of Unexplained Physiological Episodes (UPEs) and his experiences as a mobility and combat airman and safety officer.
Airman Magazine: Please tell us about your new job investigating Unexplained Physiological Episodes.
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: As part of my role working in A3T, I’ve been tasked by the A3 Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly to lead the Physiological Episodes Action Team, also known as the PEAT.
PE stands for physiological episode or event. Essentially it’s any anomaly in the interaction among the aircrew, equipment, and environment that causes adverse physical or cognitive symptoms, which may impede the ability to fly..
What we’ve done across the Air Force and all aircraft, but most recently with the T-6 fleet, is to investigate what causes PEs. In some cases an Unknown PE will immediately reveal to us what happened. Maybe there was some sort of contamination in the cockpit due to an oil leak or some other fumes, so we’re able to identify it as a known physiological event.
In other cases, pilots will experience symptoms, come down and land, report them and we don’t know exactly what the cause is until we investigate further.
Members of the Navy Physiological Episodes Action Team and Air Force PEAT listen to a discussion between Rear Adm. Fredrick R. “Lucky” Luchtman (left) and Air Force Brig. Gen. Edward L. “Hertz” Vaughan (right) as they lay the ground work for the Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team, or J-PEAT.
(Photo by Scot Cregan)
Airman Magazine: Tell me about the PEAT. What is the structure and objective of the team?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: The AF-PEAT is Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team. Now, previously this has been known as the UPE IT or Unexplained Physiological Events Integration Team. We’re working very closely with our Navy partners and they came up with a pretty good name – Physiological Episodes Action Team. In the interest of both jointness and keeping it simple for all the flying community, we’ve aligned names with the Navy.
Of course, that’s not the only thing we’ve learned from the Navy. The Navy’s had some great success in exploring what happens in physiological episodes, what happens to aviators, and we’ve been able to learn a lot from them and they’ve learned from us as well.
Airman Magazine: How does the PEAT operate?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: We have two meetings per week. Every Friday the Air Force PEAT meets. Who is on this action team? The answer is those people who are required for that particular meeting.
We’ll have the topics of the week, sometimes we’re looking at specific incidents with airplanes, specific episodes, and other times we may be investigating new equipment that’s coming out, new procedures, new training or maybe there’s the results of an investigation that we’ll need to review. We have standing members of the team, about half a dozen, that are there at every meeting.
Then we have another kind of a second layer of folks, which gets us up closer to 20 people, who come in as needed. That second layer includes folks from the acquisition community or the 711th Human Performance Wing. We don’t necessarily need to have them come to every meeting, but there’s times we really need somebody from human performance wing present. That’s one meeting.
Then immediately following that meeting, we have, what I call the Joint-PEAT. It’s really an ad hoc Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team with the Navy. It is very much a joint effort in that we work closely together and meet weekly to keep a steady battle rhythm so as things come up during the week, if they’re not an emergency or if it’s not something that we’ve got to address right at that minute, we’ll be able to put it together on Friday. We know that once a week we’re going to have a meeting where we can sit down face-to-face and hash these things out.
My Navy counterpart is Rear Adm. Frederick Luckman, he goes by “Lucky”. My call sign is “Hertz”. We immediately got to a Hertz-Lucky professional friendly demeanor. We go through an awful lot of coffee. He and I meet as often as we can to share data. Like I said, we cannot share the information fast enough.
The Navy is doing a lot of good work. They had a series of issues with physiology not only in the F-18, but T-45s, and they’ve had very good success in their T-6 fleet. They have a T-6 fleet that’s about half the size of the Air Force’s. They have slightly different models, some of theirs are newer models, but the oxygen systems are very similar.
The Navy adopted early on, in response to some of the lessons they learned from other airframes, significant maintenance practices in their T-6 oxygen system that we found very useful. We watched the Navy adopt those, saw the results of it and in those cases we’ve been able to adopt it exactly the same way that they have.
Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan, head of the Air Force Unexplained Physiological Events Integration Team, and Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman, Navy Physiological Episodes Action Team lead, discuss ongoing efforts to minimize the risk of Physiological Episodes.
(U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Scot Cregan)
Airman Magazine: How does the timely resolution of PEs, affect training and readiness?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Looking at the National Defense Strategy, lethality is the primary objective and, for the Air Force, that equates to readiness. Are we ready to fight? You know, the question is readiness for what? Ready to do what? It’s ready to prosecute the war, ready to fight. In some cases, being ready to go out and influence and be that presence where we need to be.
If we’re having equipment struggles, delays in our programs, or we’re having to stand-down aircraft or cancel missions because of physiological episodes that will get in the way of us being ready. It will get in the way of us executing any plans we may have out there. So it’s important for us to get the information back, put the fixes in, get those funded, fielded and executed as quickly as possible. Once we do that, we’re going to enhance readiness and capability as we grow toward the Air Force We Need.
It also eliminates a distraction. Anytime you have aircraft mishaps of any kind, anytime you have a cluster of these PEs, it’s going to create a distraction, not just for the frontline airman, but for their families, and anybody else associated with it. Anybody involved with the operation and maintenance will have a distraction. That distraction takes our eye off the readiness ball. That’s one of the reasons that you’ll see the PEAT, Physiological Episodes Acting Team, embedded right in A3T. A3T’s tasking is training and readiness.
Airman Magazine: What types of symptoms are commonly associated with PEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Symptoms span the spectrum of what can happen to people on airplanes. I’ll caveat this with Air Force aviators receive extensive training in physiology and what may happen to them in tactical aviation. All pilots and other aircrew going through their initial training, experience the hypobaric chamber, we call it the altitude chamber. They get used to what it’s like to operate at high altitudes and what happens during decompression. They also have routine refresher training in all aspects of aviation physiology.
One of the main reasons for doing that training is so that each aviator can learn what their individual symptoms will be. No two people will react the same to an aircraft or environmental stimulus and, in fact, the same person may have different reactions on different days based on fatigue, fitness, nutrition, or other personal factors.
It’s important for each aviator to have a sense of what symptoms they might have, especially the early onset symptoms, so they can take early appropriate action to safely recover the aircraft or get out of the environment that’s causing the problem.
Some of these symptoms can range from things like tingling in the extremities, fingers and toes, headaches or nausea. There are actually cases of folks having euphoria, while other folks may become belligerent. They know if you’re flying along and all of a sudden you just feel a little irritated for no particular reason it may be time to check your oxygen system, look at the environment you’re in or determine if that’s caused by something else. Then take appropriate action to mitigate the risk.
Airman Magazine: You have said that when investigating and mitigating PEs, “We can’t share information fast enough.” Describe what you mean and how that process can be improved?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Sharing the right information and then making sense of the information is very important in dealing with this phenomenon. What we do right now in the Air Force is we listen to the pilots. Pilots will land and give us a debrief – What happened? When did it happen? What types of conditions were going on in the airplane?
You’ll find that in the Air Force fleet, and the Navy fleet as well, most of the aircraft have pretty sophisticated sensors when it comes to their engines and other aircraft systems. When they land that information is downloaded, aggregated, and acted upon. Much of the critical data is available real time and available to the pilot for immediate action. Each aircraft is slightly different as technology improves, but the amount of data that we’re able to download from a given flight is enormous. But hard data on the human weapon system is slim to none.
This gets into right into some of the themes of Secretary of the Air Force has talked about going into artificial intelligence, big data analytics. How do we deal with all this data, make some sense of it and not run down the wrong path to get a wrong conclusion?
I will tell you one area though, where we’re still struggling, not only the Air Force, but also the Navy and our colleagues at NASA, is collecting data from the actual human weapon system.
We want to know things like pulse rate, oxygen content in the blood, cognitive functions, any anomalies with eyesight, but these are very hard things to sense independently without interfering with the aviators while they conduct their mission.
That’s a fascinating area of research that’s happening out at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in conjunction with the Navy Medical Research Unit Dayton. What they’ve started to do, both those labs working together and along with some NASA support, is fielding some prototypes, such as sensors that might go, for example, in the (oxygen) mask or on the pilot’s helmet.
We actually know real-time information about the oxygen system in an airplane. We have sensors on the actual system to know the content of oxygen and other gases that might be presented to the aviator. What we don’t know is what happens in system losses; what happens between the actual oxygen production or the oxygen source and the pilot’s breathing. Furthermore, we don’t know the pilot’s ability to uptake that oxygen. There’s a lot of medical and physiological processes that we need to monitor better.
A technique called Hybrid 3D Printing, developed by AFRL researchers in collaboration with the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, uses additive manufacturing to integrate soft, conductive inks with material substrates to create stretchable electronic devices.
(Wyss Institute photo)
Airman Magazine: What does the end state of this research look like? Are you talking about monitoring physiological responses of pilots during missions in real time?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: That’s absolutely correct. We’d like to get to an end state where the human weapon system is instrumented in such a way that’s noninvasive and nonintrusive. The aviators won’t feel the sensors and it doesn’t interfere with their duties at all, but that that data is available just like you would read all the instruments on an engine. We’re trying to figure out, is that five years from now, two years from now or 20 years from now?
If you think of the human on the loop or in the loop going forward, especially in cyber systems and integrating across all-domain operations, it’s going to be more important than ever to make sure that the human weapon system is keeping up and that we’re able to monitor that.
So we’re looking at sensors that might be wearable. A lot of folks out in the community are familiar with wearable fitness monitors and the chips that go in your shoes if you’re going to run a race to keep track of where you are. One of the challenges we have in aviation is the sensors that might be worn in commercial practice that people might buy at a local store are not suitable for the aviation environment, particularly tactical aviation.
Not only do you have the pressure and temperature anomalies that occur as airplanes travel up and down, but in tactical aviation, fighters, bombers and training aircraft, there’s an awful lot of G-loading. There can be anomalies that go from high altitude to low altitude in very short order and that has a lot of wear and tear on the sensors. Some sensors are embedded in clothing and depend on contact with the skin. For example, in order to prepare themselves for a mission, aviators will strap down tighter than you might in an automobile to keep them safe, but that may also cause bulges in the clothing that interferes with sensory contact. There’s a lot of research yet to be done and a lot of development ahead of us.
I’m looking forward to the Air Force potentially investing more in that research. I’m especially impressed with our ability to work with our joint partners with the Navy and the Army, which is coming on board later this month, in this PEAT effort. They’ve got a lot of exciting things happening in their aerospace medicine field and then NASA has been a partner throughout. You really can’t beat, from an intellectual capacity standpoint, having partners like the 711th Human Performance Wing and NASA. We’ve got the best partners in the world.
Airman Magazine: Are there other interagency or commercial partners in the research and investigation of PEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Absolutely. Some of the companies that produce our aircraft have divisions dedicated to human physiology and enhancing the ability of the human to perform in or on the loop. They provide enhancements such as providing sensors and digital displays. In some cases, even an augmented reality display, which we have in many aircraft, where there’s a lens that comes over one eye and not only can you see your environment, but that lens will produce a heads-up display of images that will help you interpret what you’re seeing on the ground.
Not only do we have industry partners that helping us with this, we also have universities and some international partners. Primarily we’re working through the Navy to access the folks that are doing that work on the outside, but we’re going to start working a little more with our international affairs group here in the Air Force to foster those partnerships.
Airman Magazine: Do you see a time when human sensor capability will be baked in rather than bolted on?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I think we’re going to get to that point. Right now, we’ve got to be sensitive to the fact, that if we start utilizing every sensor that’s available commercially, we run the risk of interfering with the mission and maybe causing a distraction. The last thing we want to do is have sensors be the cause of problems. We want the sensors to help us solve those problems.
We’re looking at ways to prototype these things. Edwards Air Force Base, for example, where we do a lot of research and development flight testing, has been very instrumental in working with the 711th Human Performance Wing and the system program offices for the airplanes, to include the T-6, F-15, F-16 and others, in doing some remarkable testing that gives us great foundational data. That foundational data is important to determine where we do the development going forward. Also, we recently shook hands on an agreement with the Civil Air Patrol to help us collect, assess, and sort through the many commercially available wearable sensors.
Airman Magazine: What’s the benefit to the force of being able to process and utilize PE data faster?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: So for example, right now if we have a physiological event in the aircraft, we typically execute emergency procedures, get to a safe backup source of oxygen if it’s available, descend to an altitude where it’s safe to breathe ambient air and then land as soon as possible at the nearest suitable airfield.
Perhaps what will happen in the future, with sensors on board, you may be able to head off that emergency. Sensors may alert the pilots to the fact that they are entering a phase of flight or a set of activities or an environment, where they’re at higher risk of these kinds of anomalies. By alerting the pilot to that, they may be able to mitigate it or avoid a physiological event.
Furthermore, if there is a situation in flight, the sensors on board that gives them real time readings may enable them to do a better job of assessing what’s going on.
But this is where it gets insidious. With physiological events, one serious possible symptom is an inability to assess the situation.
Now that’s a pretty extreme symptom, but you may have those situations come up. In which case, presenting the data to the pilot as numbers or another traditional data format might not be as useful as, maybe, an alert light. There are some programs out there that cause the oxygen mask to vibrate a little bit. We do this with the control stick in airplanes as well. With such an equipped aircraft if you were to get into a stall, the control stick vibrates, They call it a stick shaker. Applying these proven technologies to other areas are all in prototype and being tested.
Zach Demers, an aerospace engineer, demonstrates the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS) in an F-16 flight simulator at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
(Photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)
Airman Magazine: Weren’t you involved in the adoption of another pilot safety system?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Formerly, I served as the Air National Guard’s national director of safety. Part of our safety portfolio is flight safety and in that we have some advanced fourth and fifth- generation aircraft, but we also have legacy systems out there. Systems that don’t have baked-in ground collision avoidance systems.
We worked very hard with the system program office and the Pilot Physician program in the United States Air Force to bring on board these Auto G-CAS systems (Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System). We have confirmed saves in situations where the pilot may have lost awareness. It doesn’t have to be a physiological event. It can be task saturation or other things that cause the pilot to lose awareness of proximity to the ground. Traditional GCAS systems will alert the pilot, such as an X symbol in the heads-up display, letting them know they’re near the ground and need to pull back on the stick.
In the Auto G-CAS, the aircraft sensors can actually determine the point where the pilot can no longer recover, due to the limits of human reaction time, and the system takes over the jet and recovers it for the pilot. As soon as the aircraft is in a safe regime, it returns the control back to the pilot. And that’s also had a couple of great saves for us.
Airman Magazine: You mentioned the Pilot Physician program, what is that and are they involved in the J-PEAT and investigating of UPEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan:Pilot Physician is a very unique program in the Air Force and its highly specialized. These are individuals are rated aviators of all sorts, but primarily pilots. Then they go to medical school and change their job category. So they’re no longer primarily pilots for the Air Force, they’re now physicians for the Air Force.
They’ve enabled to help us understand what’s going on both operationally and medically and where those two things meet. In other situations, you have pilots who were trying to describe what’s happening to them in the airplane and then you have medical doctors trying to understand that description. There can be things lost in translation between the communities.
The Pilot Physicians speak both aviation and medicine fluently, are able to identify with the pilots and, in many cases, have flown that exact aircraft being investigated.
Lt. Col. Jay Flottmann, pilot physician and 325th Fighter Wing chief of flight safety, explains how a valve in the upper pressure garment and the shape and the size of oxygen delivery hoses and connection points contributed to previously unexplained physiological issues during F-22 flights.
(Photo by Senior Airman Christina Brownlow)
Airman Magazine: Are there specific examples of investigations that benefitted from Pilot Physician experience and expertise?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Lt. Col. James “Bones” Flottman was the Pilot Physician directly involved in the F-22 investigation that we did a few years ago. The F-22 had a series of physiological episodes. He was the one that was able, as an F-22 pilot and a physician, to credibly determine that it was a work of breathing issue.
It was a combination of factors, we don’t need to go into all the specifics right here, but he was able to bridge the gap between pilot practices, things they’ve been taught to do and things they did through experience, and what was happening medically. That resulted in improvements in the whole system – improvements in some of the hardware and improvements in the pilot practices. Not only was he able to help the investigation team solve that, he was able to then go back and credibly relate this to the pilots, restoring faith both in the system, in the Air Force process.
There’s another one that is a friend of mine, retired Col. Peter Mapes. Dr. Pete Mapes is a classic Pilot Physician. He was a B-52 pilot and a fantastic doctor, as are all of them. He and I worked closely together on Auto G-CAS, as well as several key people in engineering and operations. He was really the driving force, along with Lt. Col. Kevin Price, at the Air Force and the OSD level to push that development and production through, especially for the legacy aircraft.
He also had a role in many other aviation safety improvements to include helicopters, specifically wire detection. A lot of helicopters have mishaps because they strike power lines. He was instrumental in getting some of those systems put into helicopters and out into the fleet.
He was also instrumental in improving some of the seat designs and some of the pilot-aircraft interface designs as well. Really too many to mention.
Another great a success story for the Air Force, when it comes to the Pilot Physician program is Col. Kathy Hughes, call sign “Fog”. She’s flown the T-38 and A-10, a great flying background, and has been a wonderful physician for the Air Force. She really explored the use, the application and the design of our G-suits and was able to help the Air Force evolve into a full coverage G-suit. So now the G-suits that our fighter aviators fly are more standardized and more effective than the previous generations of flight suits. Thanks, in large part, to her work. I recently met her at aviation safety conference where she is helping commercial interests design better ejection seats.
That’s just three examples. There’s a whole laundry list.
We also have advising both the Navy and Air Force PEAT, Col. William P. Mueller; call sign “Ferris”. Col. Mueller was an F-4 fighter pilot and now one of the top physicians in aerospace medicine. He’s been absolutely invaluable in helping us understand what’s going on with the physiological episodes. He not only sits on the Air Force PEAT, but he also has a permanent membership sitting on the Navy’s PEAT. So he’s part of that joint interaction and offers a fearless perspective on improving training.
Col. Kathryn Hughes, a pilot-physician and director, Human Systems Integration, 711th Human Performance Wing, sits on the stairs of a centrifuge at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, April 22, 2016.
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I like using the email analogy. So most of us have email. Those that work in an office may have one for work and one for personal use, or maybe even more than that. If you’re like me at all, if you skip checking your emails for even one day, you find yourself in a huge email deficit. Now imagine all the sensors, whether it’s a cyber system, aircraft systems, space system, and each piece of all the data being collected as an email coming to you. Within minutes you would be completely overwhelmed with data. So we’re going to rely on systems to help us sort through the data and present those things that are most important now for decision making.
Those other pieces of information that we might want later for analysis, it will store those and present them at the appropriate time. So that gets after artificial intelligence. We need these systems to work with the human in the loop. We don’t necessarily want it to be standalone. We want it to be integrated with humans and that’s where the real challenge comes in, because as an aviator flying an airplane, the data I want right at that moment to prosecute the fight, may be different than the data a cyber operator working with me in that operation may need at that same moment. Artificial Intelligence or underlying data systems will have to be smart enough to give the data to the operator that’s needed to make the right decision.
I recently spent some time with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. I asked him about this wicked technology problem of applying artificial intelligence on the tactical edge. His advice about leveraging cloud technology to perform advanced operations on big data, where and when needed, has been invaluable.
Airman Magazine: How does recorded data on individual pilots allow you establish baseline physiology and find relationships between PEs that may occur in aircrew from different units and bases?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: We’re already finding benefit from that data, so the 711th Human Performance Wing is working very closely, in this case with the T-6 system program office, and some big data analytic gurus. These folks will take large volumes of data and slice and dice it to find where there might be some differences from what would be considered a baseline or normal.
Then they can dig into those differences and see if there is something to learn. They’re finding a lot of great results that help us improve the systems. Because physiological events involve humans and each human has such a different reaction and an individual person will have a different reaction on a different day, it can be difficult to look at a small sample size and draw any big lessons. We need large sample sizes and that’s where you can start to kind of tease out the pieces of the data that are going to move us forward.
As we worked with the Navy on the Physiological Episode Action Team we have found that pilots in the Air Force and the Navy are more informed than ever. They know people in the tech business and the pilots talk amongst themselves and share information and they’re finding these wearable sensors.
Most of the wearable sensors are not suitable for aviation use. They just can’t provide good data under those conditions, but it’s worth exploring. Talking to Admiral Luckman, we wanted to find a way to get these sensors, and most of them are small things like fitness monitors, that just aren’t allowed in our environment right now, into the cockpit just to see how they survive a flight. The Civil Air Patrol, which flies general aviation aircraft, fly with their smart phones and other types of equipment.
They have a tremendous safety record, but they also have a completely different set of rules than we do. They typically just follow the AIM and the FAA civilian flight rules. Most of those flight rules don’t have any prohibitions on bringing equipment in your pocket or your flight bag.
So recently we sat down with some of the leaders of the Civil Air Patrol to work out a memorandum of understanding whereabouts we’ll get these ideas and sensors to our pilots in the fleet. Some of them will appropriately go through Air Force and Navy channels and may end up being something of a program of record in the long term.
Others that we can’t cross that gap and into the system, we’ll offer those to Civil Air Patrol and, at their option, they can start flying those. It’s not official flight test, but they can at least tell us, does this thing survive a flight up to 10,000 feet and back. And that piece of information might be just enough. That then allows our system program office with the labs to start taking a closer look.
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: So that’s a great question and that’s why I think the development of sensors and better understanding of baseline human physiology is so important.
The RPA environment is just the tip of the iceberg. As we look at humans in the loop or on the loop, human physiology, whether it’s in cyber, RPAs, intel, space, any of the other missions that we’re doing, is a very important consideration.
What we don’t have yet is a tremendous amount of baseline data. What’s physiology supposed to look like in those situations? So when it’s different, how would we know it? That’s some of the work that’s going on right now at the labs is base-lining that data.
I will tell you that while the environment of RPAs is uniquely different than the environment in airplanes, but it’s not always easier. You have a lot of folks that are out there engaged in very serious operations, life and death situations, that they are dealing with for hours on end and then go home every night to their families and to would be a normal environment. Most people have coping mechanisms to deal with that. But that’s one of the areas of research that folks are looking at in the labs – how do we better prepare people to go back and forth between these kinds of environments?
Maj. Bishane, an MQ-9 Reaper pilot, controls an aircraft from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. RPA personnel deal with the stressors of a deployed military service member while trying to maintain the normalcy of a day-to-day life.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
Airman Magazine: Let’s shift gears and talk about your career history. How does leading PEAT differ from your past experiences as a safety officer at a wing or a squadron?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Prior to this, I worked for Secretary Mattis in OSD reserve integration. We basically informed OSD policy relative to the seven different reserve components out there to include the Air National Guard.
Before that, I served as commander of the 156th Airlift Wing. As a wing commander, it is a minute-by-minute duty to make risk decisions and it’s very important to realize the consequences of those decisions and understand that whole risk matrix.
In my current position, I’m not a commander of anything. I’m not really in charge of folks specifically. We have a team, but we come together as required. So this job is more informative. One of our primary roles is to inform commanders. As they give us data, we give them back context so they can make better risk decisions.
It also allows the labs to put a focus on their studies enabling the system program offices to acquire and improve systems to support the mission. So this job is very different in that respect.
I think having been a commander previously helps me understand what these commanders they need to hear and how they want to receive that data so it doesn’t overwhelm them.
Airman Magazine: What is it you would like the pilots and aircrew to know about you, the PEAT and their part in preventing and mitigating PEs?
Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I traveled to Randolph Air Force Base and I had the opportunity to meet with some of the higher headquarters staff. I met with the commander of 19th Air Force and I was very encouraged and reassured with everyone’s openness to really solving this problem as aggressively and quickly as possible, talking about physiological episodes, but also, in a broader sense, the sustainment of the T-6 and sustainment of other airframes for which people might be interested.
I feel good about where that’s going. I also had a real eye-opener when I had an opportunity to meet with some of the T-6 pilots. We met off base. We decided to meet in a restaurant in a casual environment. We wanted that format because I wanted to hear really unfiltered what some of these T-6 pilots, who are some of the most experienced pilots in the Air Force flying that mission, that airframe. I was able to learn a lot. They have great faith in their chain of command and leadership. They have valid and serious concerns about physiological episodes, as does the commander all the way up to the chief of staff and the Secretary.
I think being able to hear their perspective, share with them my firsthand knowledge of meeting with senior level commanders in the Air Force bridged some gaps. I also was able to hear some very specific engineering questions and connect some of those pilots directly with some of the engineers at the system program office and some folks within their own chain of command that they just haven’t connected with yet. Just trying to get those dialogues going, because the solutions that the air Force is putting into place, whether it’s T-6 or any other airframe, are usually phased. Some of them require major investment, money and time-wise, and those take a little longer to accomplish.
So how do you bridge the gap between today and when we get to that promised land if some of those bigger fixes and it comes down to some solid risk management? In the case of the T-6, there’s a whole list of maintenance protocols that we handle and emergency procedures for the pilots that don’t necessarily reduce the number of these events, but they can reduce the severity and certainly mitigate the consequences. That’s what we’re trying to do. We don’t want a situation where any physiological episode goes far enough to lead to a permanent injury or harm of an aviator destruction of property. We want to catch those things as early as possible through these mitigation techniques.
Another thing I got to do when I was at Randolph was shadow the maintainers as they did maintenance on a T-6 that had a physiological episode. In the past, when these things would happen, there wasn’t a specific protocol. They would do their very best to look at the oxygen system, but there wasn’t a protocol on how to do that.
T-6 Texans fly in formation over Laughlin AFB, TX.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)
Over the last year, with the help of a lot of the pilots, doctors, chain of command folks, human performance wing – a big team effort, when the airplane lands after one of those instances it’s an automatic protocol for that oxygen system.
In most cases it’s removed and a new one is put in and the suspect system then gets this thorough going over at the depot level and not only do we fix that, that particular system and return it to service. We’re able to learn a lot and collect data points. In some cases, we don’t find the specific cause in that system and then we look elsewhere – maybe more pilot interviews, talking to the doctors and trying to piece it together.
The protocols that are out there now not only helped mitigate the consequences of these events until we field new equipment, but they also help us in collecting data that will inform better decisions going forward.
When retired U.S. Marine Willis “Bill” Hansen was shipped off to the Vietnam War, he took his sea-bag and a library book…which traveled with him for 52 years.
Hansen joined the Marine Corps in 1964 as an unassigned infantryman and was later attached to a battalion in Okinawa, Japan. Although Hansen deployed to Vietnam as a machine gunner, he was provided the opportunity to work in recon through the length of the war.
He held on to the book The Kimono Mind by Bernard Rudofsky, during his entire 13-month deployment in Vietnam and never got around to returning it to the base library.
In an interview, he states, “When I first got to the island, I wanted to learn a little bit about the culture and where I was staying. So I checked out a book from the library that I figured would give me a little insight into the culture. I intended to return the book, but it slipped my mind.”
Going full circle, Hansen’s son, Lt. Col. Richard Hansen, who used to dress up in his father’s recon uniforms as a child, is now the commander of the same unit in Okinawa that Hansen served under in the Vietnam War.
The coincidence of it all renders a fateful moment. Hansen finally got the chance to return the book when he was invited to the 3rd Reconnaissance Marine Corps birthday ball in Okinawa. He was welcomed by the current staff of the library and relinquished his possession of his literary companion to their shelves (fee-free), where it will stay, until someone else checks it out and flips through its pages, oblivious to its journey through time.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has softened America’s stance on possible talks with North Korea, calling it “unrealistic” to expect the nuclear-armed country to come to the table ready to give up a weapons of mass destruction program that it invested so much in developing. Tillerson said his boss, President Donald Trump, endorses this position.
Tillerson’s remarks Dec. 12 came two weeks after North Korea conducted a test with a missile that could potentially carry a nuclear warhead to the U.S. Eastern Seaboard — a milestone in its decades-long drive to pose an atomic threat to its American adversary that Trump has vowed to prevent, using military force if necessary.
“We are ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk. And we are ready to have the first meeting without preconditions,” Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council think tank.
He said that the North would need to hold off on its weapons testing. This year, the North has conducted more than 20 ballistic missile launches and one nuclear test explosion, its most powerful yet.
“Let’s just meet and we can talk about the weather if you want to. We can talk about whether it’s a square table or a round table if that’s what you are excited about,” Tillerson said. “But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face and then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be willing to work towards.”
Although Tillerson said the goal of U.S. policy remained denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, he added it was “not realistic to say we’re only going to talk if you come to the table ready to give up your program. They’ve too much invested in it. The president is very realistic about that as well.”
Baik Tae-hyun, spokesman of Seoul’s Unification Ministry, said of Tillerson’s comments that Seoul wishes for talks to “happen soon” if they contribute to the goal of finding a peaceful solution for the North Korean nuclear problem.
He said Washington and Seoul both maintain a firm stance that North Korea’s nuclear weapons cannot be tolerated and should be completely discarded in a peaceful way.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement later that day that: “The President’s views on North Korea have not changed.”
“North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea,” she said.
In public, Trump has been less sanguine about the possibilities of diplomacy with Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian government, which faces growing international isolation and sanctions as it pursues nuclear weapons in defiance of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. In October, Trump appeared to undercut Tillerson when he said he was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korea, just as Tillerson said the U.S. had backchannel communications with the North.
Trump, who has traded insults with Kim, kept up his tough talk. As he signed a $700 billion defense authorization bill that includes additional spending on missile defense, he referred to North Korea as a “vile dictatorship.”
“We’re working very diligently on that — building up forces. We’ll see how it all turns out. It’s a very bad situation — a situation that should have been handled long ago by other administrations,” Trump said.
Tillerson did not indicate that North Korea had signaled a new readiness to talk, but said that “they clearly understand that if we’re going to talk, we’ve got to have a period of quiet” in weapons tests.
Tillerson stressed that the U.S. would not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea, as it flouts international norms and might spread weapons technology to non-state groups in ways that other nuclear powers have not.
In a rare admission of discussion of a highly sensitive topic, Tillerson said Washington has discussed with Beijing how North Korea’s nuclear weapons might be secured in case of instability there.
“The most important thing to us would be securing those nuclear weapons that they have already developed and ensuring that nothing falls into the hands of people who we would not want to have it. We’ve had conversations with the Chinese about how that might be done,” Tillerson said.
It appeared to be the first public recognition from an administration official that the U.S. has discussed North Korean contingencies with China, which fought with the North against the U.S. in the 1950-53 Korean War. The Trump administration has held a series of high-level dialogues with Beijing this year, and U.S. and Chinese generals held rare talks in late November about how the two militaries might communicate in a crisis although U.S. officials said the dialogue wasn’t centered on North Korea.
Tillerson said that the U.S. has assured China that in the event that American troops had to cross northward of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, it would retreat back south once stability returned.
“That is our commitment we made to them. Our only objective is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and that is all,” Tillerson said.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Tillerson’s proposal for direct talks with North Korea without preconditions was overdue and a welcome shift in position, but both sides needed to demonstrate restraint.
“For North Korea that means a halt to all nuclear and ballistic missile tests, and for the United States, refraining from military maneuvers and overflights that appear to be practice runs for an attack on the North,” Kimball said. “If such restraint is not forthcoming, we can expect a further escalation of tensions and a growing risk of a catastrophic war.”
Last week, the United States flew a B-1B supersonic bomber over South Korea as part of a massive combined aerial exercise involving more than 200 warplanes. North Korea says such drills are preparations for invasion.
Every child can tell you the name of their school’s crossing guard. At Christ the King Catholic School in Kansas City, KS, 88-year-old Robert James Nill, better known and loved as “Mr. Bob,” was one of the best.
Tuesday, Mr. Bob made the ultimate sacrifice for two of his students when a speeding car careened through the school’s crosswalk. The Washington Post reported that a few minutes before school started at 8 a.m., two boys in grades third and fifth stepped off the curb in front of the school. It was about five minutes before 8 a.m., five minutes until the first bell rang and Nill’s job ushering kids through the crosswalk would be over for the morning. Two young boys, in third and fifth grade, stepped off the curb. Nill motioned for them to step back, said school principal Cathy Fithian. He saw a black sedan speeding toward them and likely sensed it wasn’t stopping or slowing, despite Nill’s handheld stop sign and the school zone’s flashing lights. The two boys came running into Fithian’s office in tears, screaming for Mr. Bob. The principal consoled them and then went outside to find an awful scene as first responders swarmed the intersection, she told The Washington Post on Tuesday night.
“Mr. Bob,” Robert James Nill was the beloved crossing guard at a Kansas City, Kansas school.
Nill was struck by the vehicle and ultimately succumbed to his injuries.
Reports say the driver was likely speeding but did not flee the scene. The driver was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for injuries.
Nill served in the United States Coast Guard and following his service, went on to a career in banking. After retirement, he wanted something to look forward to every morning, to get him out of bed. His family told FOX 4 Kansas City that he felt young at heart and didn’t want to spend his golden years sitting around. “This was something I think he felt like he could help children and help himself feel good about what he was doing,” said Randy Nill, Bob’s nephew.
Being a crossing guard brought him that joy and sense of purpose. By the outpouring of support on social media, it is apparent that his joy and love of life were contagious.
“Bob was such a fixture at my children’s school,” Connie Lynn Worrell commented on Facebook. “We would wave at him every day and in the morning I always made sure to wave at him after dropping off the boys. This is truly heartbreaking. He will be sorely missed.”
The Travis Mills Foundation is renovating a massive and historical spa in Central Maine to serve as a retreat for veterans and their families.
The Maine Chance Lodge Retreat was originally built by cosmetics mogul Elizabeth Arden and served distinguished guests like former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, Judy Garland, and Ava Gardner, according to The Travis Mills Foundation. Soon, it will serve veterans.
The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit founded by Retired Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills who began inspiring other wounded veterans while he was being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after an IED strike amputated all four of his limbs. He and his foundation have continued to help wounded veterans ever since.
Christine Toriello, executive director of the Travis Mills Foundation, told the newspaper Central Maine that when renovations are complete, the resort will have smart home features like voice controls and automated systems to make it simple for disabled veterans to use during their stay.
Mills told the Kennebec Journal that one of the goals of founding the retreat is to help wounded veterans get outdoors. He told Central Maine Cable TV that recreational sports are an important activity he does with his own family, and he hopes that the retreat can give that experience to other veterans. In addition to the main house, the property includes 17 acres of Maine wilderness and horse stables.
Renovation plans call for a crafts room and areas for massage therapy, boating, and other water and adaptive sports, Toriello said. Once it is running at full capacity, the retreat is expected to host 30-45 people per week.
As of August 2019, 25% of the 4.7 million veterans had a service-connected disability (and, given: how difficult it is to pursue a disability rating, how few veterans even know about it as an option and how many feel discouraged or guilty about even applying, we can assume that many more live with conditions that would qualify them for a rating). While the federal government often treats pain with prescription medications, many veterans are now turning to CBD for pain relief.
Cannabis (most commonly known as marijuana or hemp) has three major components: cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids. The two major components of marijuana cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). While THC has a psychoactive effect, doctors and scientists have been able to procure CBD by itself, which is non-psychoactive (in other words, it won’t get you “high”) and has many promising medicinal properties.
As federal and state restrictions on marijuana evolve, more and more people have access to cannabis products. Forbes predicted the CBD market alone to increase to $20 billion by 2024 as people turn to it for its medicinal properties. While there are a lack of human studies due to federal restrictions, animal studies and user testimonials suggest that CBD is a very promising pharmaceutical agent to treat pain, inflammation, seizures and anxiety with very few side effects and low potential for abuse.
How does it work?
According to Harvard Health, as CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid, inflammatory and nociceptive (pain sensing) systems, it exerts pain-relieving effects throughout the body. Users report improvement in physical function, sleep, well-being and improvement in pain or stiffness.
CBD is still an emerging medicine and there are potential side effects such as sleepiness, lightheadedness, and, rarely, liver problems. It’s also difficult to trust whether a product contains the amount of CBD advertised, so it’s always important to test out new products with caution and to speak with a physician before trying new medications.
“CBD should also be part of an overall pain management plan that includes non-medication options (such as exercise) and psychological support,” reminds the Senior Faculty Editor of Harvard Health Publishing, Robert H. Shmerling, MD.
What product is right for me?
CBD comes in many forms including liquid, capsule, edibles and topical. There are many different factors to consider when trying a new product, including flavor, absorption rate, quality and experience. It may also take some trial and error to determine how potent you want your product to be and how you want to imbibe.
You will absorb CBD at a different rate if you ingest it than if you apply it topically to your body. One of the fastest absorption methods is placing a CBD tincture under your tongue but a more effective method to ease chronic pain might be daily use of a CBD massage oil.
The best thing to do is start small. A bath bomb might contain 200mg of CBD — but if you tried to drink that much you might regret the experience. A 5 – 25mg drink is probably a better starting range (and pay attention to serving sizes so you don’t accidentally overdo it).
Finally, if you’re experiencing chronic pain, talk to your doctor about experimenting with CBD. They may not be able to actually advocate for its use, but they can talk to you about risks or conflicts with your current medications.
Amid reports that the US could send anywhere from 5,000 to 120,000 additional troops to the Middle East to confront Iran, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan offered the first public confirmation May 23, 2019, that additional manpower might be needed.
Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday that the Department of Defense was looking at ways to “enhance force protection,” saying that this “may involve sending additional troops,” CNN reported.
Exactly how many troops could be headed that way remains unclear.
The New York Times reported a little over a week ago that the Trump administration was considering sending as many as 120,000 US troops to the Middle East amid rising tensions with Iran. Trump called the report “fake news” the following day but said that if Iran wanted to fight, he would send “a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
On May 22, 2019, Reuters reported that the Pentagon intended to move 5,000 troops into the Middle East to counter Iran. The Associated Press said the number could be as high as 10,000.
Shanahan dismissed these reports May 23, 2019, while declining to say how many more troops might be required. “I woke up this morning and read that we were sending 10,000 troops to the Middle East and read more recently there was 5,000,” he said, according to Voice of America, adding: “There is no 10,000, and there is no 5,000. That’s not accurate.”
The US has already sent the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, a task force of B-52H Stratofortress heavy, long-range bombers, an amphibious assault vessel, and an air-and-missile defense battery to the US Central Command area of responsibility.
These assets were deployed in response to what CENTCOM called “clear indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack US forces in the region.” The exact nature of the threat is unclear, as the Pentagon has yet to publicly explain the threat.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, sustained massive damage from a 70-ton crane falling on it after an accident at a shipyard, Russian media reports.
The Kuznetsov, a Soviet-era ship already known for having serious problems, now has a massive 214 square foot hole in its hull after a power supply issue flooded its dry dock and sent a crane crashing down against it.
Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Kuznetsov, is a floating hell for the crew
“The crane that fell left a hole 4 by 5 meters. But at the same time … these are structures that are repaired easily and quickly,” Alexei Rakhamnov, the head of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, told Russian media.
“Of course when a 70-tonne crane falls on deck, it will cause harm,” Rakhmanov continued, according to the BBC. “But according to our initial information, the damage from the falling crane and from the ship listing when the dock sank is not substantial.”
An amazing underwater graveyard near the Marshall Islands is filled with the eery remains of World War II aircraft, and these photographs from Brandi Mueller give us a closer look.
“They call it the ‘Airplane Graveyard,” Mueller, a scuba instructor, boat captain, and photographer, told the Daily Mail. “They aren’t war graves or planes that crashed. They were planes that were taken out over the reef and pushed off intact after the war ended.”
The U.S. dumped them after the war since it would’ve been too expensive to bring them back home. On the sea floor in the lagoon of Kwajalein Atoll rests approximately 150 planes and parts, which include F4U Corsairs, B-25 Mitchells, F4F Wildcats, and many more, according to Mueller.
“I find diving [to see] the airplanes really exciting,” Mueller told Mashable. “It’s a strange thing to see airplanes underwater. Shipwrecks you expect, but not airplanes.”
Military investigators are trying to piece together the cause of a crash that killed 15 Marines and a sailor in Mississippi in July, but it could be a year or more until any information becomes public.
In the meantime, the Marine Corps’ fleet of KC130T transport planes remains grounded. That plane is similar to the one that crashed near Itta Bena on July 10.
April Phillips, a spokeswoman for the Naval Safety Center, said August 21 that final reports often don’t become public for 12 to 18 months following a crash. Even then, much of the information in the reports is often withheld from public view.
“Ours are done solely to ensure what happened doesn’t happen again,” Phillips said, saying that various military commanders must endorse the report before it’s finished.
Marines and other investigators finished collecting debris August 3, recovering all of the plane’s major components, said Marine Forces Reserve spokeswoman Lt. Stephanie L. Leguizamon. She said last week that there’s still work going on to clean up the crash area.
Naval Safety Center investigators are both reconstructing the wreckage and interviewing witnesses. Their report will ultimately include recommendations to enhance safety.
Victims included nine Marines based at Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh, New York, who flew and crewed the plane, plus six Marines and a Navy Corpsman from an elite Marine Raider battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The passengers were headed for pre-deployment training in Yuma, Arizona. Cargo included at least some ammunition.
Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James has told reporters that whatever went wrong began when the plane was at cruising altitude. Most of the plane pancaked upside down into a field, but part of it, including the cockpit, broke off and landed far from the fuselage and wings. Debris was scattered for miles over fields, woods, and ponds.
Witnesses said they saw the plane descend from high altitude with an engine smoking, with some describing what pilots call a “flat spin,” where a plane twirls around like a boomerang.
Phillips said the plane didn’t have an in-flight data recorder. That, plus the lack of survivors, could make the debris crucial to determining what happened.
“A lot it, in this case, is likely to come from forensic evidence,” she said.
Phillips said the C-130 and its variants have historically been one of the safest planes operated by the Marine Corps. The Navy classifies its most serious incidents as Class A mishaps, involving death, permanent disability, or more than $2 million in damage. Only two in-flight Class A mishaps were recorded before the Mississippi crash, both in 2002. A KC-130R experienced a flash fire and crashed into a mountain in Pakistan while nearing an airfield, killing seven people. A KC130F crash landed shortly after taking off inCalifornia, causing injuries but no deaths.
The New York squadron is the last Marine unit flying the KC-130T version and is scheduled to upgrade to a newer version in 2019. Only the remaining 12 KC-130Ts are affected by the grounding.
Reporting from CNN and The Wall Street Journal indicates that President Donald J. Trump has ordered a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, and U.S. officials are already giving notice to international partners while preparing the logistics of the move.
“Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate. These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign. We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign. The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders.”
U.S. troops have been in Syria for years, mostly operating next to rebel forces and Kurdish units working to tear apart ISIS’s claimed caliphate and then kill what fighters they could find. At the same time, U.S-backed fighters still frequently clashed with pro-government forces.
To a certain degree, this had created a proxy conflict as the U.S. backed rebel units and the conflict and Russia and Iran backed government forces. All sides could agree that ISIS had to be destroyed, but the U.S. had a very different idea from Iran and Russia of what the post-ISIS region should look like.
Under President Barack Obama, there were indicators that the U.S. would help shape the peace, ensuring that Iran didn’t gain a strong foothold in the country and potentially limiting Russia’s control after the war. Syria is very important to Russia as it has historically provided one of the only politically secure allies that Russia has had in the region.
Russia’s largest air base and naval base in the Middle East were in Syria even before the conflict in that country broke out, and Russia sent additional forces there as it attempted to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power despite accusations of human rights abuses and clear evidence that the regime used chemical weapons against its own people.
The U.S. withdrawal will allow Iran, Russia, and Turkey to more heavily influence the peace process, possibly to the detriment of Kurdish forces who had hoped to secure a permanent country in lands they helped protect and liberate from ISIS-control. Kurdish forces have a long history of allying with the U.S., taking part in operations in Iraq and Syria that were closely coordinated with U.S. leaders.
The withdrawal announcement seems to have come as a surprise, even to senior leaders in the U.S. and partnered nations. Senator Lindsey Graham pushed back, saying that ISIS is not defeated and that a withdrawal would be a “huge, Obama-like mistake.”
CNN’s Manu Raju, a senior congressional correspondent, has been making the rounds at the Capitol while tweeting quotes from different leaders. Marco Rubio gave sentiments similar to Graham’s, reportedly calling the decision a great disservice to the country, making the U.S. a less reliable partner.
During my first week in Ranger Battalion, I joined my platoon during a live fire. I wasn’t even allowed real bullets because I was so new. For a portion of the exercise I was on a hill watching the training of another platoon. I was in earshot of an old Ranger first sergeant. The Rangers in training were assaulting a constructed plywood building and were preparing to conduct an explosive breach on the plywood door. The team leader quickly applied the charge with double sided sticky tape and stepped back into the stack, pulling both detonators. “Failed Breach, Failed Breach!” was yelled. It was obvious the detonation cord was faulty.
Before anything else happened, the team leader barreled full speed into the plywood door, obliterating it from the hinges, and providing an entry point into the building. Without any hesitation, all three members of his team followed their leader right into the breach. The training mission went on and was completed successfully. The company commander was scowling about the breach technique but the first sergeant was grinning from ear to ear and bellowed, “That’s some good ole fashioned Rangering right there!” The company commander stopped scowling.
I didn’t know much then, but I knew whatever this Rangering was, I wanted to try it and whatever a Ranger was, I wanted to be it. There’s a big difference between telling your friends, your family, or even your recruiter you want to be a Ranger, and then suddenly seeing a defining act of Rangering in front of you. It was an automatic sensation of knowing that you want to join the pack and you want to be the wolf. Rangers were never sheepdogs, they have always been wolves hunting the herd of treachery and I wanted to hunt.
We all touched down in a C-17 on a faraway land. Many of us landed in the C-17 by soaring over the mountains or screaming into the desert. Rarely did anyone go but once; in fact, many of our brothers are still going. What is special about Rangers is that on each of the thousands of deployment hours is someone who went to war months ago and is back again. A man, a team, a platoon, a battalion fully knowing the hazards of their chosen profession.
Running the gambit, sparking the fight, reliving the horror, noting the beauty, enduring the sacrifice, all this is symbolized by a simple scroll on your right sleeve that may as well be tied to your heart. There was a transformation taking place within me, within us all. Rangering made me hear the sound of valor and see the light of courage. The sound I could hear as I followed the drums of war and the light I could see in the enemy across the street.
Although this Rangering was a lifestyle, it came with the price of vanquishing what boyish innocence remained in my gaze upon the earth. I was now grown in ways that I could not possibly understand. It was magical and despicable what we were capable of. We flew across night skies, landed in fields, slinked over walls, eviscerated doors, and introduced ourselves to those souls who had lost the evening’s lottery in scumbaggery.
Whenever I returned from a mission, danger or not on that night, there was levity in the brotherhood. We had such little time to ourselves for being anything beyond Rangers and do anything beyond Rangering that when we did – it created exuberance for life that could not be contained. There was never a day without Rangers that I did not smile or laugh.
It’s for this reason that now when I look back, though I hated certain parts, though I despised endless training, though I constantly made other plans for outside of the military; I now feel nostalgia for those times with honorable men, I now feel pride in our shared struggle for our piece of war. I miss being John Wayne when everything was black and white. I miss being a note on the album Appetite for Destruction; I miss seeing the whites of the unsuspecting eyes. Goddamn it, a platoon of Rangers could do anything!
The irony is that for all the Regiments glory, it’s not built for you to stay. So for me, and those like me, we fade back to which we came or we populate other military units. A small number stay, but the glory days of war hammer team leading and SpecFour Mafia mayhem, seem to disappear as the burden of leadership widens and the loss of lives grows vast. It was great while it lasted and the irony of that is that we all could have gone back had we really wanted to.
If it was so great, then why didn’t we? Probably because at this point it is better to tell these incredible stories, it’s good to drink this beer with war in the rear view, and it’s okay I never had a last shoot out at the Alamo. Rangering created more brothers than I ever could have wanted, but the pain of burying a brother is still the pain of burying a brother, no matter how many stand behind you. I still have the Ranger Creed. I still have my friends. I still have the sorrows of war; I still hear the sirens of action. And every now and then I can still be the teeth in the night, I can still laugh when things really suck, I can still run in short shorts.
“Rangering” was something I did, but I will always be a Ranger; you just have to look at my soul now instead of my sleeve.