Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer

On his first visit to the tense but eerily quiet frontier between North and South Korea as US Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis conveyed the message he hopes will win the day: Diplomacy is the answer to ending the nuclear crisis with the North, not war.


He made the point over and over – at the Panmunjom “truce village” where North literally meets South; at a military observation post inside the Demilitarized Zone, and in off-the-cuff comments to US and South Korean troops.

“We’re doing everything we can to solve this diplomatically — everything we can,” he told the troops after alighting from a Black Hawk helicopter that had ferried him to and from the border some 25 miles north of central Seoul.

“Ultimately, our diplomats have to be backed up by strong soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines,” he added, “so they speak from a position of strength, of combined strength, of alliance strength, shoulder to shoulder.”

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korean Minister of Defense Song Young-moo visit the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea during a visit to the Joint Security Area in South Korea, Oct. 27, 2017. DoD photo by US Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith.

At Panmunjom, where the armistice ending the Korean war was signed in July 1953, Mattis quoted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as saying, “Our goal is not war.” The aim, he said, is to compel the North to completely and irreversibly eliminate a nuclear weapons program that has accelerated since President Donald Trump took office.

Despite unanimous condemnation by the UN Security Council of the North’s missile launches and nuclear tests, “provocations continue,” Mattis said.

As Mattis arrived at Panmunjom alongside South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo, a small group of apparent tourists watched from the balcony of a building on North Korea’s side of the line that marks the inter-Korean border. Uniformed North Korean guards watched silently as Mattis and Song stood just yards away.

Atop Observation Post Ouellette, where he could see deep into North Korea and hear their broadcast taunts of the South, Mattis listened to Song recount some of the history of the 1950-53 Korean war in which thousands of Americans and perhaps more than a million Koreans died in a conflict that remains officially unsettled.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korean Minister of Defense Song Young-moo visit the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea during a visit to the Joint Security Area in South Korea, Oct. 27, 2017. DoD photo by US Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith.

“It reminds us that we fought together in very difficult times, and we stick together today,” Mattis said inside a Demilitarized Zone of craggy terrain, millions of landmines, and ghost-like reminders of the war.

The US has about 28,500 troops based in South Korea and has maintained a military presence there since the Korean War ended.

Also Read: This is why Mattis isn’t losing sleep over threats from North Korea

Mattis’s counterpart, Song, gave the former four-star Marine general the lay of the land, noting that the North has 342 long-range artillery pieces aimed at Seoul, among other weapons. That’s a threat that cannot be defended against, Song said, so Washington and Seoul must come up with “new offensive concepts” to be able to eliminate the artillery before it can be used, should war break out.

Mattis called the North “an oppressive regime that shackles its people, denying their freedom, their welfare, and their human dignity in pursuit of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery in order to threaten others with catastrophe.”

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korean Minister of Defense Song Young-moo visit the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea during a visit to the Joint Security Area in South Korea, Oct. 27, 2017. DoD photo by US Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith.

He noted that earlier this week in the Philippines, he and Song joined Southeast Asian defense ministers in committing to a diplomatic solution to the North Korea problem, even though Pyongyang and its young leader, Kim Jong Un, show no interest in negotiations.

Two other developments Oct. 26 showed the US intention to continue building diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang. The Trump administration imposed sanctions on 10 North Korean officials and organizations over human rights abuses and censorship, including a diplomat in China accused of forcing North Korean asylum seekers home.

Meanwhile, a rare military exercise involving three of the US Navy’s aircraft carrier strike groups was being planned for next month in the Asia Pacific, a US official said. The likely exercise would happen around the time that Trump travels to the region, including to Seoul.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korean Minister of Defense Song Young-moo visit the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea during a visit to the Joint Security Area in South Korea, Oct. 27, 2017. DoD photo by US Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith.

The three Navy carriers and the ships that accompany them are currently thousands of miles apart in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. But they are moving through the region and could be closer together in weeks.

Trump entered office declaring his commitment to solving the North Korea problem, asserting that he would succeed where his predecessors had failed. His administration has sought to increase pressure on Pyongyang through UN Security Council sanctions and other diplomatic efforts, but the North hasn’t budged from its goal of building a full-fledged nuclear arsenal, including missiles capable of striking the US mainland.

On Oct. 28, Mattis will be joined by Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in annual consultations with South Korean defense officials. They are expected to admonish North Korea, vow to strengthen allied defenses, and discuss prospects for eventually giving South Korea wartime control of its own forces.

Articles

The VA might actually be getting its act together

Trying to emerge from scandals that shook the agency to its core, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting to overhaul what officials admit was sometimes pretty bad customer service.


Quietly, since 2015, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs has built a national Veterans Experience Office.

The office’s first steps have been rolling out over 100 community veterans committees nationwide and retraining employees to be less rigid and more customer-focused.

The VA even hired professional writers to redraft the language of 1,200 official letter templates to make them more reader friendly.

“(We) had somehow gotten away from the primary mission of organizing the enterprise through the eyes of the customer,” said Joy White, who leads the office’s Pacific district, which includes California and the West Coast.

“(We did) things that made sense to us, made it easy for us as the VA,” White said. “But, in all of that, we lost the voice of the customer.”

The task at hand: How to change the culture of a massive federal agency that provides everything from medical care to monthly disability checks to funerals.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Or her widow, Mr. President. Or her widow. (Photo: Veterans Affairs)

Some might wonder if — with what’s a famously dense bureaucracy — it can be done. Even new VA Secretary David Shulkin has said it’s a struggle to fire bad apples, including employees who watch porn on the job.

The new Veterans Experience Office’s budget this fiscal year is $55.4 million, up from $49 million last year, “to lead the My VA transformation,” according to a budget document. About 150 jobs now fall under this office’s umbrella.

Two years in, the nation’s veterans organizations are still taking a wait-and-see position.

“We’re not sure how much the VEO has improved the VA to date, but we are encouraged by this initiative and hope to see it succeed,” said Joe Plenzler, American Legion spokesman. “Any effort to improve dialogue between veterans and VA employees and administrators is time and money well spent.”

One vocal critic of the VA said the office has potential but not if it tries to just “paper over” structural issues facing the veterans agency.

“Doing things that are more feel-good measures, but actually don’t address some of the core problems of the VA, could distract from what’s needed to be done,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director at Concerned Veterans for America.

“That’s the danger I see, potentially, with this office. But I want to say there’s a lot of opportunity here. If this office is managed well and insists that they are here to improve the outcomes for veterans — and not just ‘the experience’ — they could be successful.”

Also read: The VA is set to lower copays for prescriptions

The “veterans experience” campaign started under former VA Secretary Bob McDonald, the retired Proctor Gamble chief executive brought in by President Barack Obama in mid-2014 following a national scandal over wait times for VA medical care.

McDonald installed a “chief veterans experience officer” in early 2015.

The office reports directly to the VA secretary — now Shulkin, a doctor and health-care executive who is the first non-veteran to lead the agency.

Whether he will continue the “experience” campaign is an open question.

However, in April he named Lynda Davis, a former Army officer and Pentagon civilian executive with experience in personnel and suicide prevention, to head the office. She replaces a former McDonald’s executive, Tom Allin, who held the job for about two years.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Talihina Veterans Center (Oklahona Department of Veterans Affairs)

Some of the hiring was for “human-centered design” teams. These teams, which include people from Stanford’s prestigious D School, are supposed to re-engineer VA routines that aren’t working.

They produced a “journey map” showing what VA patients experience.

It identifies “pain points” along the way, such as cancelled appointments. It also calls out “moments that matter,” such as the check-in process and whether it’s hard or easy to park.

Two early goals were to establish one consumer-oriented website and one toll-free telephone number for all VA divisions. The result was vets.gov and 1 (844) My-VA311.

The VA is now looking for inspiration from national brands famous for good service. Starbucks, Marriott, and Walgreens are on the list.

“We get the experience that we design. Historically, we haven’t put an emphasis as an organization on customer service. There was no program of record that said ‘this how we do customer service,'” White told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“You walk into a Starbucks anywhere in the country, there is something that looks and feels very familiar wherever you go.”

Also read: Starbucks donated free coffee to every US service member in Afghanistan

One change the Veterans Experience Office has led: hiring for customer-service skills, instead of just looking for people qualified for a position.

“We weren’t hiring for attitude,” said White, who said her office identified questions to insert in the VA’s interview process to draw out whether an applicant had customer service aptitude.

In a changing health-care industry, this is a bandwagon that the VA is belatedly jumping on.

Other hospital organizations have rebooted their customer experience in the past decade in response to a shift in Medicare reimbursement policy that now rewards for patient satisfaction, experts said. The power of social media is also a factor.

The Cleveland Clinic was the first major academic medical center to appoint a chief experience officer in 2007. Across the country, hospitals have built grand entrances, opened restaurants intended to draw non-patients and put flowers by bedsides.

“My sense of it is that we live in the age of the empowered consumer,” said John Romley, an economist at the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer center for health policy.

“VA customers maybe have less choice in the matter, but at the same time, there’s a great deal of sensitivity in the broader population about how we treat these people in the VA system.”

The VA’s new customer service motto — Own the Moment — sounds a bit like a commercial TV jingle.

Training is rolling out across the country, including at the La Jolla VA hospital.

The premise: Each VA employee should “own” their time with a customer, the veteran, and do their best to ensure the person gets the help he or she needs.

That contrasts to the like-it-or-lump-it experience that veterans have sometimes complained about in the past.

“We’re moving away from a rules-based organization to a more of what we call a values, principle-based organization,” said Allan Castellanos, the VA employee teaching the La Jolla seminar.

“I call it more like integrated ethics, like doing the right thing for the right reason,” he said.

The employees were shown a video of VA workers going the extra mile to welcome an uncertain new veteran into a clinic.

In another, VA workers allowed the family of a dying veteran to bring his horse onto hospital grounds.

The VA is trying to emerge from bunker mentality after back-to-back national embarrassments.

First, in 2013, the backlog of disability claims rose to mountainous proportions, bringing down the wrath of Congress and the public.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
We just wanna see more vets smiling. (Photo: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

Then, in 2014, news reports revealed that VA medical workers were keeping secret lists of patients waiting for appointments to make wait-time data appear satisfactory.

All of this occurred as the VA struggled to handle a flood of new veterans coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

A few of the ideas being pursued by the Veterans Experience Office have origins in San Diego.

Officials acknowledge that what they are calling Community Veterans Experience Boards — the 152 community boards they eventually want to create nationally — came from San Diego’s longstanding example.

San Diego veterans leaders meet monthly with VA officials here in both closed-door and public sessions.

Additionally, the tragic suicide of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jeremy Sears appears to have helped spur a campaign to redraft VA correspondence to make it more user friendly.

Sears shot himself at an Oceanside gun range in 2014 after being rejected for VA disability benefits despite the cumulative effects of several combat tours.

Veterans advocates suggested that the VA rejection letter could have offered advice on where to go for counseling and other assistance, instead of just a “no.”

“That was one of the ‘pain points’ that was identified,” White said, referring to the veteran’s “journey mapping” that her office did. “There was a lot of legalese, when in fact we just want it to be simple and clean.”

They started with the Veterans Benefit Administration’s correspondence and are working their way toward the Veterans Health Administration’s appointment cards.

Veterans Experience Office officials first told the Union-Tribune that they could provide examples of the rewritten letter formats, but later said they weren’t ready yet.

The Veterans Experience Office, headquartered in Washington, now has split the country into five districts and dispatched “relationship managers” to each.

The Veterans Experience Office is now trying to finesse those moments that matter to veterans. In 2017, officials expect to roll out a veterans real-time feedback tool in 10 locations. They also plan to release a patient experience “program of record.”

“Our goal is to build trust with veterans, their family members, and survivors,” White said. “How do we do that? By bringing their voices to everything we do.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Marine awarded for lifesaving actions on vacation

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Diego Marmalejo, an air traffic controller with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan, went on vacation with a fellow Marine to Bali, Indonesia during July of 2018.

While in Bali, Marmalejo used ingenuity and skills that he learned through Marine Corps training to perform first aid, and he saved two lives — which earned him the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. He was awarded the medal at MCAS Iwakuni, Sept. 21, 2018.

“We spent 10 days in Bali just hanging out there,” said Marmalejo. “So, for the most part, we were just at the beach, hanging out and having a good time relaxing.”


Marmalejo’s vacation took a different turn on the second to last night of his stay on the island. While traveling to a beach in the area where he was staying, he came upon a traffic accident.

“I ran to the accident, and I basically forgot about everybody else,” said Marmalejo. “I was just focused on the accident.You enter a state of panic, at least from what I remember.”

Upon reaching the accident, Marmalejo quickly assessed the situation and surveyed that there were two injured civilians.

“The female was screaming at the time, and she was bleeding out from her leg,” said Marmalejo. “The male was unresponsive so on the surface it appeared that the female needed a lot more medical attention. That was my initial thought. I went to work on her at first.”

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer

U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jason P. Kaufmann, left, commanding officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, presents Cpl. Diego Marmalejo, an air traffic controller with HHS, with a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Sept. 21, 2018.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Akeel Austin)

By assessing the situation and applying lifesaving skills that he learned during basic training and a combat lifesaver course, his Marine instinct was to search for something to use as a tourniquet.

“I was asking for a belt because that was the first thing that came to mind for a makeshift tourniquet,” said Marmalejo. “Nobody was wearing a belt because everyone was wearing board shorts so I used a shirt that I found on the street. I basically ripped up the shirt and just like we learned in boot camp, I tied it two inches above the wound.”

Marines are taught to write the time that a tourniquet is applied on the victim as a means to communicate with first responders. If tourniquets are left on for too long, they can cause more harm than good. Marmalejo did not have a writing utensil so he adapted to the situation and wrote the time with the victim’s blood on her leg.

After administering first aid to the wounded woman, Marmalejo moved on to the injured man who was fading in and out of consciousness with a possible head injury.

“I just looked around for nearby things and found a mug that I put underneath his head, and that’s honestly the best thing I could do,” said Marmalejo.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Diego Marmalejo, left, an air traffic controller with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, is awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Sept. 21, 2018.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Akeel Austin)

Marmalejo went on to ensure that the two victims were able to find proper medical treatment and stayed with them overnight until 5 a.m. when he returned to the hostel where he was staying. At the hostel he met back up with Sgt. Derrick Usry, an air traffic controller with HHS who was also in Bali and was separated from him the night before.

“When I first saw Marmalejo I was worried, seeing him walk into our room with blood on his shoes,” said Usry. “He explained what happened, and he seemed fine. He was worried less about his emotions and more about the people he helped save.”

Marmalejo went back to the hospital later that day to make sure the victims were alright. In the days after the accident, he kept in contact with the victims’ families and received updates on the woman’s recovery.

Usry, who works with Marmalejo, said that he is proud to work alongside him and his actions were nothing short of extraordinary.

“Cpl. Marmalejo has outstanding character and is constantly looking out for others, even if it means putting aside his self-interests,” said Usry.

Marmalejo is still working at MCAS Iwakuni as an air traffic controller, and he currently serves on the HHS color guard.

This article originally appeared on the United States Marine Corps. Follow @USMC on Twitter.

Humor

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of March 9th

This week was a good week for memes. And by “a good week,” I mean I’ve seen more than 1,000 variations of the same SpongeBob meme.


Don’t worry, everybody, we’ll try not to use one… No promises.

13. We all know that one platoon sergeant that just loves watching their Joes complain.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
…or every platoon sergeant ever. (Meme via Army as F*ck)

12. Don’t worry, Airmen. We all totally believe that it was hard for you to get through Basic Military Training.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
For Marines, that’s normal. (Meme via Air Force Nation)

11. “Cellphone training” is actually just teaching young boots what they’ll be doing for 95% of their time as a Lance Corporal.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Totally. (Meme via Navy Memes)

10. Remember, that blue disk means free hugs are available.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Why else would it be baby blue? (Meme via Awesome Sh*t My Drill Sergeant Says)

9. Everything sounds more impressive if you use the proper nomenclature instead of explaining what it is.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Not to kill the joke, but it’s the radio antenna…  (Meme via Do You Even Comm, Bro?)

8. Why would someone who’s spent their entire adult life in the military lie about what it’s like in the real world?

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
It’s a retention conspiracy. Stay woke. (Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

7. Plot twist: Submariners have been repainting it every month.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

6. Troops walk into the retention office with Christmas lists and walk out with, “Sure! I’ll just take Korea and a $20 cup.”

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
100 years of Rick and Morty memes! (Meme via Military Memes)

5. What it feels like being an RTO and you prove the drop test works.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
WOOOOOOOO!!!!! (Meme via Private News Network)

4. There are only three types on-post: the married, the coworkers, and the daughter of someone who outranks you. All three are trouble.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Just drive thirty minutes away to somewhere chicks actually dig the uniform. (Meme via Pop Smoke)

3. If you think about it, cats are perfect troops. They attack their enemies on sight, they don’t need attention, and they’re adept at sh*tting in holes.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
10/10. Would give cat treats. (Meme via Pop Smoke)

2. I would have thought they just sent them to 7th Fleet…

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
But that’s none of my concern… *sips tea* (Comic via Scuttlebutt)

1. It’s funny because of all the meanings.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
‘Wasted’ as in drunk, right, censors? (Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)

*Bonus* I lied!

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
The meme is too damn dank not to use… (Meme via Awesome Sh*t My Drill Sergeant Says)

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why the US Army has some of the best divers in the world

Believe it or not, America’s primary land combatant force has some of the best combat divers in the world. It may seem odd that the Army, tasked with “providing prompt, sustained, land dominance, across the full range of military operations and the spectrum of conflict” would have world-class divers. But the Army’s swimmers are kept plenty busy.


Mission of Army Divers

www.youtube.com

The Army has two major classifications of divers: engineering and special operations. The engineering dive detachments make up the bulk of Army dive formations. Their primary mission is to conduct underwater engineering and disaster response.

Basically, these soldiers are responsible for making bridges safe, ensuring ports and harbors are stable and clear of dangerous debris, and clearing waterways like rivers. But they can also be sent to disaster response areas where they could conduct all of the above missions as well as search and rescue to save people in distress. They also provide emergency treatment for civilian divers suffering from decompression treatment.

That may not sound all that grueling. After all, welders don’t have to be super buff, why would an underwater welder have to be some elite soldier?

Well, divers are doing construction tasks like welding, cutting, bolting, and more, but they’re doing it while water presses against their bodies, they’re carrying 30 pounds or more of tanks and compressed air, and they may have to constantly paddle to stay in position for their work.

And that’s ignoring the mental fortitude needed to conduct dangerous operations underwater as cloudy water obscures vision, rushing water pushes against you, and the shadows of animals like gators or sharks pass over your body.

It’s because of all that strain that Army divers have a reputation for being jacked (not that the other services’ divers are any less fit, we’re just talking about the soldiers right now).

Army dives are typically made with teams of at least four or five divers, depending on the equipment being used. But dive detachments have 25 personnel, allowing them to support operations at three locations at once if so ordered. Each of the three dive squads in a detachment has six people at full manning, and there are seven more people assigned to the headquarters.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer

Pfc. Stephen Olinger checks his oxygen levels prior to an exercise during Army Engineer Diver Phase II training at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Fla., Nov. 28, 2018.

(U.S. Army Joe Lacdan)

A single squad can be deployed within 48 hours of a mission notice, or the entire detachment can move out within seven days if they receive logistics and security support from a larger unit. These short-notice missions can often be assessing damage to key infrastructure after a hurricane or earthquake or search and recovery after a disaster. But the detachment can be tasked with anti-terrorism swims, underwater demolition and construction, or salvage as well.

As we hinted above, though, the Army has Special Forces divers as well. But these divers have a more limited set of missions. They primarily are tasked with conducting reconnaissance on target areas or entering or exiting an area of operations via the water. They can conduct some demolition raids and security missions as well.

Their list of missions includes mobility and counter-mobility, physical security, and more. Each Special Forces battalion has three combat diving teams.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Disabled veterans can now get free lifetime access to national parks

It’s never too soon to start planning an epic spring or summer vacation. For disabled veterans living stateside, 2020 could be the best year yet for outdoor recreation. This is because the National Parks Service offers disabled veterans an amazing deal on their next visit. From Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to Dry Tortugas National Park and the Mt. Zion and the Smokey Mountains in between, they’re all at our fingertips – and it’s now totally free.


More than 330 million people visit America’s most beautiful parks every year, and the parks are about to see a huge influx from American veterans due to this partnership between the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. Disabled veterans can get free access with an Access Pass on their cars, granting free access to anyone in that vehicle. On top of access, the access pass gives holders a discount on expanded amenity fees at many National Parks sites, which can include campsite fees, swimming, boat launches, and group tours.

All a veteran has to do to be one of those who enter the parks for free is submit proper documentation of his or her service-connected disability, along with proof of identification and a processing fee. A Veterans Administration letter of service connection is enough to satisfy this requirement, and the passes can even be ordered online.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer

This could be you.

(Emily Ogden/National Parks Service)

On top of the disability award letter from the VA, qualified veterans can also use a VA summary of benefits, or proof of SSDI income to prove their disability status. Once proof of residency is also established, and the processing fee is paid, all the veteran has to do is wait. Their new lifetime access pass will arrive 3-5 weeks after sending the application. If online payments aren’t available to the veteran, the passes can also be acquired by paper mail or by stopping into an access pass-issuing facility. The documentation is still required, but getting the pass is a breeze.

The National Parks Service really is full of amazing natural wonders, which make this lifetime pass one of the biggest benefits of having served. The NPS is full of places you’ve always heard about, but likely have never seen: Big Bend, Arches, Denali, Sequoia, Crater Lake, Petrified Forest, Glacier Bay, Hot Springs, and so much more. Summer vacations will never be the same.

Articles

Stopgap budget adds new visas for Afghan allies

A last minute budget to fund the federal government through the rest of 2017 includes money to help as many as 2,500 Afghans who helped U.S. forces during the war there emigrate to America.


The so-called “Special Immigrant Visa” program allows Afghans who have supported the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and face threats as a result of their service to apply for refuge in the United States, supporters say.

Advocates who’ve pushed for more visas say Afghans who helped U.S. forces are under near constant threat by Taliban and ISIS sympathizers in that war torn country and the SIV program is critical to saving lives.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
After more than six years, Robert Ham finally welcomed friend and former interpreter Saifullah Haqmal to San Antonio, Feb. 16. Ham, now an Army Reserve staff sergeant with the 311th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) in Los Angeles, worked with his congressional representatives and the State Department to bring the Haqmal family to the United States. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Robert Ham/released)

“The increased number of visas is a great relief for our Afghan allies who risked their lives alongside us,” says retired Marine Lt. Col. Scott Cooper, who’s the director of Veterans for American Ideals.

“Many of our service members are alive and were able to come home because of these brave wartime partners,” he told WATM.

The SIV program has been under constant threat, as some lawmakers — including now Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions who was previously the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee — argued the waivers could have allowed potential terrorists into the U.S.

But advocates said the SIV applicants are some of the most thoroughly vetted immigrants allowed into the country and have already proven themselves loyal in battle.

Since the SIV program began in 2013, more than 43,000 allies from Iraq and Afghanistan — along with their families — have been resettled in the U.S.

The State Department reportedly shut down the program for lack of funding earlier this year at a time the Afghan allies faced increasing threats from a resurgent Taliban and the so-called ISIS-affiliated Khorisan Group.

Advocates claim there are still about 30,000 Afghan and Iraqi citizens whose lives are at risk for helping U.S. forces. The new money means the program can be started back up immediately, Cooper said.

Some lawmakers applauded the new money for the SIV program, calling it a “lifesaving development.”

“Allowing this program to lapse would send the message to our allies in Afghanistan that the United States has abandoned them,” said New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

“Going forward, it’s critical that Congress overcome obstruction to this program and regularly replenish the number of visas available to avoid future brinkmanship. The lives of Afghan interpreters and support staff literally hang in the balance.”

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

Garbage collection in Syria is crucial to fighting ISIS

Just a few years ago, I was a diplomat working on the Turkish-Syrian border. My job was managing the U.S. government team responsible for delivering aid to Syrian towns and cities loyal to the Syrian opposition.

These were towns that had turned against President Bashar al-Assad when the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East and Assad ordered his army to shoot peaceful civilians protesting against him.


Now I’m retired from the Foreign Service and teaching international relations at the University of Washington in Seattle, where my students struggle to understand why the U.S. never seems to learn from past mistakes in the conduct of our foreign affairs.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer

University of Washington in Seattle.

Given recent decisions and announcements by President Trump about withdrawing much of our aid and our troops from northern Syria while the civil war continues and the Islamic State Group, or “IS,” still threatens, it’s a timely question.

Stability and local services

To understand what’s at stake in Syria, it’s helpful to look at Iraq.

More than 15 years after the U.S. invaded Iraq and eight years after the U.S. said it was leaving the country, Iraq is unstable. Five thousand U.S. soldiers remain in Iraq today, tasked with shoring up the still struggling Iraqi armed forces.

One of the reasons for the instability is the U.S. decision in 2003 to dismiss nearly all leaders of the Iraqi civil service when it toppled dictator Saddam Hussein because they were members of Hussein’s Baath Party.

With much of the civil service gone, local services like water and electricity fell apart and essential public employees fled. That left a perfect vacuum for extremist groups like IS to exploit by taking control of essentially ungoverned territory. The U.S. continues to pay the price for this avoidable decision today.

If the U.S. cuts off support for communities inside Syria that oppose Bashar al-Assad and fly the Syrian Opposition flag, and withdraws American troops from the fight against IS – as President Trump has announced – we will be making the same mistake again. We’ll be creating a vacuum our enemies can exploit.

Keeping local officials on the job

The U.S. has supported these communities since 2012. I directed the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government aid from 2012 until 2016, as head of the team known as the Syria Transition Assistance Response Team.

Syrian refugees will never go back home if their towns can’t offer the basic services they enjoyed before the war.

Our simple strategy was that when peace returns to Syria, key local officials would still be on the job, ready to reconnect their communities to the national systems that provided services before the war.

Thus would begin the long, difficult process of reuniting Syria.

The money and supplies my team and I delivered helped keep important local officials on the job so they wouldn’t give up and flee their country to seek refuge in Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan, like millions of others before them. These were experienced civilians who could keep the water and power on, manage the sewers and clean the streets.

We helped them with small stipends – a portion of their former salary – because the Syrian government had stopped paying them. And we provided equipment they needed to do their jobs: garbage trucks, generators, water tanks and fire trucks. We helped teachers, doctors and local police with small stipends, supplies and equipment, too.

Nothing was more satisfying for me than seeing videos of a new garbage truck that we sent from Turkey removing piles of garbage from the streets of Saraqib or one of the new ambulances we provided tending to innocent civilians injured in the latest barrel bombing in Aleppo.

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International aid paid for the rehabilitation of an unreliable electricity grid in a town near Aleppo, Syria in 2015.

(Syria Recovery Trust Fund, Author provided)

It’s in everyone’s interest to keep civil service workers on the job, paid something and equipped. That will help put Syria back together again someday and deny ungoverned space for IS and other extremist groups. The last thing the U.S. and countries in the region need is for Syria to disintegrate into warring regions, like Iraq and Libya today.

International aid

Other countries joined the effort to rebuild Syria, notably the U.K., the Netherlands and Denmark. Still more countries are contributing to an international fund based in Jordan that helps the same communities; my team cooperated closely with this effort.

Stopping this funding means jeopardizing Syria’s future at the worst possible time, just as the conflict appears to be coming to an end. I believe that reuniting the country should be the priority now.

Syria’s neighbors, especially Turkey, long supported the U.S. approach because it kept Syrians in Syria, diminishing the flood of refugees to Turkey.

Of course, the Syrian government and its supporters, Russia and Iran, opposed our aid. The assistance we gave sustained communities that the government and its allies continue to bomb into submission and surrender, particularly in Idlib province.

But the aid President Trump cut, sometimes called stabilization assistance, goes to local civilian officials, working to help the sick and wounded and keep children in school.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer

Larry Bartlett, senior adviser for the Syria Transition Assistance Response Team meets with members of the Civil Administration of Manbij, Syria, in August 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Izabella Sullivan)

An opening for IS

Similarly, withdrawing U.S. troops sent to Syria to eliminate IS – when our own count suggests at least 1,000 IS fighters remain there – may serve short term political ends, but will likely come back to haunt the U.S. and Syria’s neighbors.

President Trump may worry about the price tag for rebuilding Syria, once the war ends. He is right to be concerned. The cost will be enormous and arguably the U.S. should not spend a dime.

The old adage – you broke it, you fix it – applies to the Syria conflict. I believe we should let Syria, Russia and Iran pay the billions it will take to fix what they broke – the infrastructure of bombed-out cities and towns.

The modest U.S. investment in local communities that the White House cut off – 0 million, not billions – could have helped prevent the collapse of communities in the future.

So, what do I tell my students in Seattle?

I remind them that they are our future leaders. I tell them that if we are not to repeat the mistakes of my generation, they should study and learn from history, and avoid short-term fixes to disentangle the U.S. from future foreign interventions.

“Silver bullets” don’t work – and usually force us to return later, at a greater cost.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Air Force unveils the X-60A, its hypersonic research vehicle

The Air Force has designated the GOLauncher1 hypersonic flight research vehicle as X-60A. The vehicle is being developed by Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. under contract to the Air Force Research Laboratory, Aerospace Systems Directorate, High Speed Systems Division.

It is an air-dropped liquid rocket, specifically designed for hypersonic flight research to mature technologies including scramjet propulsion, high temperature materials, and autonomous control.


“The X-60A is like a flying wind tunnel to capture data that complements our current ground test capability,” said Col. Colin Tucker, Military Deputy, office of the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology, and engineering. “We’ve long needed this type of test vehicle to better understand how materials and other technologies behave while flying at more than 5 times the speed of sound. It enables faster development of both our current hypersonic weapon rapid prototypes and evolving future systems.”

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(Generation Orbit Launch Services)

AFRL’s motivation for the X-60A program is to increase the frequency of flight testing while lowering the cost of maturing hypersonic technologies in relevant flight conditions. While hypersonic ground test facilities are vital in technology development, those technologies must also be tested with actual hypersonic flight conditions.

Utilizing new space commercial development, licensing, and operations practices, X-60A is envisioned to provide the Air Force, other U.S. Government agencies, and industry with a platform to more rapidly mature technologies.

The X-60A rocket vehicle propulsion system is the Hadley liquid rocket engine, which utilizes liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions between Mach 5 and Mach 8.

This is the first Air Force Small Business Innovative Research program to receive an experimental “X” designation.

Featured image: An artist’s sketch of an X-60A launch.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last Union combat veteran of the Civil War lived to see the Cold War

In 1949, six men gathered in Indianapolis for the last meeting of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans organization. At its peak, it boasted 400,000 members with thousands of posts nationwide. By 1949, however, only 16 remained. And only six were able to make the trek to Indianapolis. One of those was 108-year-old James Hard, a veteran of the battles of First Bull Run, Antietam, and Chancellorsville.

In the next four years, all but one of those would have died, and with them, the firsthand memory of Civil War combat.


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The battle standard of James Hard’s Civil War infantry unit.

The only one of the six to outlive Hard would be Albert Woolson, the last known member of the Union Army and the last undisputed surviving member on any side of the Civil War. But Woolson never saw action as a member of a heavy artillery unit from Minnesota. Hard was the last surviving Union combat veteran of the Civil War.

Between 1900 and into World War II, the surviving number of American Civil War veterans began to dwindle at an exponential rate, much like what the U.S. is seeing with its World War II veterans today. The Grand Army of the Republic held marches, and a yearly meeting called the Encampment to celebrate those veterans who served and to make sure they held on to their hard-won rights.

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A 1912 Grand Army of the Republic parade marching through downtown Los Angeles.

James Hard was born in Rochester, New York around 1843. He lied about his age in 1861 to be able to join the Union Army. He joined the 37th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, also known as the Irish Rifles, in May 1861 and his service record verified his claim.

His unit was stationed around Washington, DC until Gen. Irvin McDowell used the 37th as a reserve unit in the battle of First Bull Run. McDowell had never led troops in combat and was soundly beaten. Its biggest loss came at Chancellorsville in 1863 when it lost more than 200 men to night fighting and a surprise attack during a flawed, unorganized retreat. A young James Hard was present for all of it.

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The last of America’s Union Army, gathered in an Indianapolis ballroom in 1949.

By the time the First World War came around GAR membership was still very strong, its encampment still bringing in numbers just shy of a half a million or so. By the time the United States entered World War II, however, the Civil War veterans time had passed, and with their memory went so many of their numbers. In 1942, just over 500 Civil War veterans were on the rolls of the Grand Army of the Republic.

At the outset of the Cold War and the Atomic Age, only 16 remained. They were too frail to walk in any parades and had to be accompanied to Indianapolis by their Veterans Administration nurses. They drove through the parade route in vehicles, machines that were a very new invention to them.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Cockpit voice recording captures pilots’ attempts to save Lion Air 737 Max plane

The pilots of the doomed Lion Air flight that crashed into the Java Sea October 2018 frantically searched the aircraft’s manual to try to find a way to keep the plane under control before the crash, cockpit voice recordings show.

The first officer reported a “flight control problem” two minutes into the flight, and the captain then asked him to check a handbook that contained procedures for abnormal events, the recordings showed, according to a report from Reuters.

The Boeing 737 Max 8 plane then spent nine minutes pushing its nose down, with the first officer unable to control the plane, as the captain desperately searched the handbook for a solution.


The plane then crashed into the sea, killing all 189 people on board.

Three sources discussed the contents of the plane’s cockpit voice recorder with Reuters, in the first time that such information, which is part of an ongoing investigation into the crash, has been made public.

The investigation has taken on new significance after an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed on March 10, 2019, killing all 157 people on board.

Lion Air Cockpit Voice Recorder Reveals Pilots’ Frantic Search For Fix | TODAY

www.youtube.com

The French air-accident investigation agency BEA said the two crashes showed “clear similarities,” and Boeing is introducing a software upgrade to its new anti-stall system that has come under scrutiny after the two crashes.

The preliminary report into the Lion Air crash mentioned the Boeing system as well as other factors, including the airline’s maintenance.

A source told Reuters that someone mentioned the plane’s airspeed on the cockpit voice recording, and a second source said one of the plane’s indicators showed a problem on the captain’s display but not the first officer’s.

The preliminary report showed that the plane’s computer kept pushing the nose of the plane down using the trim system, which is a system that usually adjusts the aircraft to keep it on course.

A source told Reuters that the trim system was not mentioned in the recording, just the airspeed and altitude of the plane. “They didn’t seem to know the trim was moving down,” the source said.

A crew that flew the same plane the evening before had the same problem with the plane’s nose but ran through three checklists to solve the problem, the preliminary report showed.

The plane was treated on the ground, and the report says the previous crew believed the issue was resolved.

Bloomberg reported on March 19, 2019, that an off-duty pilot riding in the cockpit of that flight fixed a malfunction that allowed the plane to land safely.

Following the Ethiopian Airlines crash, many countries have grounded the 737 Max, including China, which has a higher number of the aircraft than any other nation. The US was the most recent country to ground the plane.

Boeing declined to comment to Reuters because of the ongoing investigation.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Army wants to see ‘explosive power’ in new physical fitness test

The general overseeing fitness for the U.S. Army hopes to see the proposed Army Combat Readiness Test approved next spring and, in time, become the service’s standard physical fitness test of record that all soldiers must pass.


The service is in the middle of the Army Combat Readiness Test, or ACRT, pilot, exposing soldiers to the six-event fitness test designed to better prepare them for the rigors of combat than the current three-event Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT.

The ACRT was developed, at the request of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, to better prepare soldiers for the physical challenges of the service’s Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills — the list of key skills all soldiers are taught to survive in combat.

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“As we look at physical fitness, we now know in order to be physically fit in support of the Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills — what we know we need to do for combat readiness — we have to be physically fit across five fitness domains,” said Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, who oversees the ARCT as commanding general of the U.S. Army Center of Initial Military Training.

Only two of those domains — cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance — are supported by the current APFT, which consist of push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run, Frost said.

“There are three domains of physical fitness that are not addressed by that test but are nonetheless necessary … and those are muscular strength, explosive power, and speed and agility,” he said.

‘We Aren’t Where We Want to Be’

“We have world-class equipment … but do we have world-class soldiers that are world-class athletes at world-class level fitness? The answer is probably not one that we would want, meaning if you look at a lot of indicators from an individual physical readiness fitness standpoint, we aren’t where we want to be,” Frost said.

In 2016, the Army had 43,000 soldiers who were non-deployable, he said, adding that in fiscal terms, that equates to a loss of about $3 billion.

“Another staggering figure,” Frost said, is that about 78,000 soldiers were above a body-mass index of 30 percent.

“Musculoskeletal injuries about 500,000 a year; 10 million limited-duty days per year — that’s nearly $1 billion,” Frost said.

“To put it in fiscal terms is fine, but more importantly it is the lack of readiness due to some sort of physical fitness or readiness aspect — whether it’s injury, whether it’s being overweight or whether it is being non-deployable for a medical reason,” he said.

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Sgt. Jared Bruce, a combat engineer from the 36th Engineer Brigade, flips a tire as part of the Soldier Readiness Test during the 2017 Forces Command Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 20. | U.S. Army photo by Spc. Hubert D. Delany III

The ACRT is made up of six events:

Strength Deadlift:

This muscular strength test mimics movements required to safely and effectively lift heavy loads from the ground, then jump, bound and tolerate landing. The exercise is a strong predictor of a soldier’s ability to lift and carry a casualty on a litter and to lift and move personnel and equipment.

Standing Power Throw:

Soldiers toss a 10-pound ball backward as far as possible to test muscular explosive power that may be needed to lift themselves or a fellow soldier over an obstacle or to move rapidly across uneven terrain.

T-Push-Up:

In this event, soldiers start in the prone position and do a traditional push-up but, when at the down position, they move their arms outward and then back in to do another push-up. It is a test of soldier’s ability to push an opponent away during man-to-man contact, push a vehicle when it is stuck, and push up from cover or off the ground during evade and maneuver.

Sprint/Drag/Carry:

As they dash 25 meters five times up and down a lane, soldiers will perform sprints, drag a sled weighing 90 pounds, and then hand-carry two 40-pound kettle bell weights. This can simulate pulling a battle buddy out of harm’s way, moving quickly to take cover, or carrying ammunition to a fighting position or vehicle.

Leg Tuck:

Similar to a pull-up, soldiers lift their legs up and down to touch their knees or thighs to their elbows as many times as they can. This exercise strengthens the core muscles since it doubles the amount of force required compared to a traditional sit-up.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Sgt. Michael Smith, a multichannel transmission systems operator from the 58th Signal Company, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), drags a simulated casualty as part of the Soldier Readiness Test during the 2017 Forces Command Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 20 | U.S. Army photo by Spc. Hubert D. Delany III

Two-Mile Run:

This is the same running event as on the current APFT. In the ACRT, run scores are expected to be a bit slower due to all the other strenuous activity.

Part of the ACRT pilot, which is expected to continue into 2018, is working out how leaders will administer the six-event tests.

“Part of the challenge is if we are going to do six events, there is a scope and scale challenge to this — you can’t take a week to test a battalion,” Frost said. “You have got to be able to move a company through at the same pace you move a company through to do the APFT.”

There is also the challenge of figuring out the correct sequence to the events, he said.

“We have been able to test 50 soldiers in 75 minutes using 10 lanes, so this is doable; it’s executable with the right equipment,” Frost said.

The plan, he said, is to present the data collected so far in the pilot to Milley “in the next couple of months” and hopefully get a decision to move forward.

If approved, program officials will finalize the test protocol and other details before going back to Milley sometime next spring for final approval to start rolling the ACRT out in 2019 so soldiers can start training for it, Frost said.

“There has got to be a transition period,” Frost said. “You have to give them time to ramp up to it.”

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Noncommissioned officers and Soldiers take a break to recover after completing the Soldier Readiness Test during the 2017 Forces Command Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 20. | U.S. Army photo by Spc Liem Huynh

Soldier Performance Training Centers

As a simultaneous effort, he said, the Army will launch a pilot program next year to develop “soldier performance training centers,” which feature the right equipment and resources to help soldiers prepare for the ACRT.

The plan is to put these centers in gyms at three installations and staff them with experts such as trainers, physical therapists and nutrition counselors. Eventually, centers would be established all over the Army, Frost said.

The centers will also need equipment for soldiers to train for the ACRT — pull-up bars, sleds for dragging weight, deadlift bars, weights and medicine balls.

A battalion set of this equipment to create 10 test lanes retails for about $12,000, but the Army will likely be able to get equipment for less, Frost said.

“If we buy this at scale, it will be much, much, much less, and a lot of this equipment is already out there so we have to kind of inventory what we have and then figure out what the need is,” he said.

“And that doesn’t mean every battalion is going to get it,” Frost said. “You may have a brigade set and every battalion is not going to take the ACRT on the same day, so there are a lot of things we can look at.”

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
Cpl. Mark Combs, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist from 52nd Ordnance Group, participates in the obstacle avoidance challenge as part of the Soldier Readiness Test during the 2017 Forces Command Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg, N.C., Aug. 20. | U.S. Army photo by Spc Liem Huynh

Transition Period

But there has to be a transition period before the ACRT can replace the APFT as the test of record, Frost said.

“Whether it is one year or two years, you train on one test — the other test is a test of record; maybe there is a transition period where both of them can be a test of record,” he said. “And eventually, you fade the APFT out — kind of like you did the gray PT uniform — and then the ACRT is the enduring test of record.”

There also has to be time for the Army to figure out the policy, legal and administrative factors involved with instituting a new test of record since there will be punitive and administrative measures that occur for soldiers who are not able to pass it.

“We are going to need feedback from the field, but my gut tells me before it becomes the test of record, it’s probably two years — so one year to train for it. Another year, maybe it could be a test of record maybe as an option with the APFT,” Frost said. “Then at the end of two years, the APFT is faded away, and the ACRT is the only test of record.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

That time Army Night Stalkers stole an advanced Russian helicopter

Back in the 1980s, when it still existed, the Soviet Union maintained a number of “friendly” relationships with a variety of African and Asian nations, mostly for the purposes of selling military hardware to counter the West.


One such nation was Libya, which opted to arm and equip its military with a variety of Soviet products, including MiG and Sukhoi fighters for its air force.

At the time, the USSR was also in the process of shopping around its Mil Mi-25 Hind-D, the export variant of the Mi-24 Hind helicopter. The Hind was a fairly unique vehicle at the time, as it was built from the ground up as a heavily-armed attack gunship with the ability to accommodate a maximum of eight fully-armed soldiers in an extremely cramped bay directly behind the cockpit. The Hind could therefore deliver special forces teams to the battlefield and remain in the area of operations for air support, or function solely as a very well-armed gunship, akin to the role the two-seater AH-1 Cobra played for American ground forces during the Vietnam conflict.

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The abandoned Hind.

In contrast, the U.S. primarily used helicopters like the UH-1 Huey to deliver (and extract) troops from the battlefield, and they were moderately armed at best (in comparison to the Hind) with door-mounted machine guns serving as defensive weaponry more so than in the offensive role.

Now, around the time of the Hind’s introduction into service in the late 70s, the Central Intelligence Agency, along with British intelligence services, sought to learn more about this big Soviet helicopter. Interest heightened when word broke that Ethiopia pressed an export Hind into combat successfully. The Hind then quickly made an appearance in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union’s controversial involvement there, operating to great effect against mujaheddin fighters towards the beginning of the conflict.

Western intelligence needed to get a better look at the Hind and its heavily-armored airframe, especially for the purposes of determining whether or not an American equivalent needed to be designed, built, and fielded as a counter to the Hind’s capabilities.

An opportunity for such a look finally presented itself in the form of the discovery of a Libyan Mi-25 left behind in Chadian territory in 1987.

Historically, Libya and Chad weren’t exactly on the best of terms. Their strained relationship was mostly the result of repeated attempts from Libyan-backed rebel groups to usurp the Chadian government. Constant Libyan attempts to occupy sovereign territory belonging to the Republic of Chad didn’t do much to help their situation either.

Also Read: This deadly Russian attack helicopter is known as ‘the flying tank’

When Chadian troops were finally able to fully expel Libyan forces from their borders in 1987, the retreating Libyans abandoned a considerable amount military hardware that would have otherwise bogged down and hindered their egress. Among the treasure trove of armored vehicles, guns, and light artillery stranded in the desert was a Hind-D in relatively good condition, parked on an old airfield ramp at Ouadi Doum.

The CIA, after confirming that such a helicopter did indeed exist at that particular location, quickly set its sights on recovering the helicopter, or at least as much of it as possible, before the Libyans knew about their missing gunship.

All this would have to be done through a covert operation. After negotiating with (and eventually gaining permission from) the Chadian government through diplomatic channels, the CIA enlisted the Department of Defense’s help, and both began planning the extraction of the abandoned helicopter to American-controlled facilities, where it would be taken apart and analyzed in details.

There’s a saying in the military that goes along the lines of: “Gear adrift is a gift”. Christmas was about to come very early for a bunch of CIA analysts and military technical experts.

Mount Hope III was the name bestowed upon the operation. The very first order of business was wrangling up a group of pilots skilled (and crazy) enough to perform the mission to perfection.

Who better to ask than the aviators of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Group, the legendary Night Stalkers?

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A crew member from the C/4-160th SOAR (Night Stalkers) collects a rappel rope used by the Airmen of the 142nd Fighter Wing, 125th Special Tactics Squadron in Alternate Insertion Extraction training from a UH-60 Blackhawk, March 19, 2017, Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore. US Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel.

The preparation phase, creatively code-named Mount Hope II, began in April of 1987 in New Mexico. The dry, desert conditions would add a layer of realism to the training. CH-47 Chinooks from the 160th’s Echo Company were modified to bear the weight of the Hind-D, judged to be somewhere in the ballpark range of 17,000 to 18,000 pounds.

Chinooks are already able to sling-load different pieces of military equipment, including the Humvee utility vehicle. But there’s a huge difference between a four-wheeled Humvee and an oversized Mil-25. Load-bearing hooks needed to be reinforced, the engines and transmissions needed to be checked and tuned, and the relatively ideal placement of the carcass of the Hind underneath the Chinook needed to be determined.

Practice commenced in dark, low-light conditions. Six large blivets of water weighing roughly the same as the Hind were strapped to the underside of a Chinook. The Night Stalkers flying the Chinook were then supposed to fly to a “Forward Support Base” (or FSB for short) after stopping twice to refuel.

Also Read: The definitive guide to US special ops

The first dry run went off without a hitch, so the next test was to strap an actual airframe similar to that of the Hind in terms of size and weight and perform the test run once again under the same conditions. The Night Stalkers once again proved themselves and their aircraft and in good time, Mount Hope II was completed, meeting or exceeding the expectations of the CIA and Department of Defense’s overseeing officers.

They were now ready for the real thing.

On May 21, the order to execute Mount Hope III was handed down from the Oval Office, and the Night Stalkers immediately geared up, loading two Chinooks aboard a C-5 Galaxy heavy airlift jet, departing for Germany first, and later on to the Ndjamena airfield in southern Chad.

The Army was to temporarily deploy an ADVON (advanced echelon) scouting and reconnaissance team to the location for around two weeks to keep an eye out for enemy forces, who weren’t all that far away from the airfield.

The French government added their support to the mission by sending over a contingent of soldiers to cover the operation on the ground and a set of Mirage F.1 fighter jets to provide top cover for all aircraft involved. A C-130 Hercules tactical airlifter would land at one of the Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) to provide fuel for the Chinooks on their way back to the FSB during the mission.

After arriving at Ndjamena on June 10, Night Stalker pilots and crew unloaded their Chinooks from the gargantuan Galaxy.

Mattis visits Korean DMZ and stresses diplomacy as tensions simmer
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeff Sherman)

On June 11th, they proceeded with the mission as they had previously planned. The mission would see the Night Stalkers fly over 500 nautical miles under the cover of darkness, and would then pick up the abandoned Hind right at daybreak. An advance team (Chalk 1) flew to Ouadi Doum to ensure that the site was relatively secured for the incoming Chalk 2 Chinook and to prep the Hind for removal.

As I mentioned earlier, a large element of Libyan military forces were still highly active in the area, even after most had been expelled from Chad’s borders during the previous year’s conflict.

The slightest hint of military action nearby would have likely sparked a firefight and a subsequent international incident if it was discovered that the United States was actively trying to remove Libyan military hardware from the desert, even though the Hind was abandoned in Chadian sovereign territory.

The ADVON team had reported back with a detailed threat analysis, highlighting the fact that the Libyans were definitely still in the region.

Chalk 1, having been inserted at Ouadi Doum, cleared the location and quickly rigged the Hind for extraction while the Chalk 2 Chinook hovered close above, allowing for the team to sling-load the airframe to the waiting helicopter. Chalk 2 then left the area to return to Ndjamena. After covering Chalk 2’s extraction, Chalk 1 loaded up and got the hell out of Dodge.

The Libyans were totally clueless of what was happening just miles away from their positions.

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A Chinook helicopter unloading from a C-5 Galaxy. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Chalk 2 stopped twice to refuel, at one point on a French Foreign Legion airfield, rendezvousing with the Air Force C-130s at each location.

However, not long after stopping at FARP 2, the mission hit a slight snag in the form of an unanticipated 3000 ft sand storm. The Chinook bearing the weight of the Hind was now only 45 minutes out of home base.

Hauling ass, Chalk 2 reached Ndjamena just ahead of the storm, flying through near-zero visibility and setting down with little time to spare. Waiting a little over 20 minutes in their helicopters for the storm to move onward, the Night Stalkers finally loaded their aircraft and their newly-acquired prize into the Galaxy they arrived in, and within 36 hours were back on American soil.

After 67 hours in-country, the mission was completed; an unmitigated success. Mount Hope III was also the very first major operation where the Night Stalkers used their CH-47s.

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