After months of delay, the Trump administration is finalizing plans to revamp the nation’s military command for defensive and offensive cyber operations in hopes of intensifying America’s ability to wage cyber war against the Islamic State group and other foes, according to US officials.
Under the plans, US Cyber Command would eventually be split off from the intelligence-focused National Security Agency.
Details are still being worked out, but officials say they expect a decision and announcement in the coming weeks. The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter so requested anonymity.
The goal, they said, is to give US Cyber Command more autonomy, freeing it from any constraints that stem from working alongside the NSA, which is responsible for monitoring and collecting telephone, internet, and other intelligence data from around the world — a responsibility that can sometimes clash with military operations against enemy forces.
Making cyber an independent military command will put the fight in digital space on the same footing as more traditional realms of battle on land, in the air, at sea, and in space.
The move reflects the escalating threat of cyberattacks and intrusions from other nation states, terrorist groups, and hackers, and comes as the US faces ever-widening fears about Russian hacking following Moscow’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 American election.
Experts said the command will need time to find its footing.
“Right now I think it’s inevitable, but it’s on a very slow glide path,” said Jim Lewis, a cybersecurity expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But, he added, “A new entity is not going to be able to duplicate NSA’s capabilities.”
The NSA, for example, has 300 of the country’s leading mathematicians “and a gigantic super computer,” Lewis said. “Things like this are hard to duplicate.”
He added, however, that over time, the US has increasingly used cyber as a tactical weapon, bolstering the argument for separating it from the NSA.
The two highly secretive organizations, based at Fort Meade, Maryland, have been under the same four-star commander since Cyber Command’s creation in 2009.
But the Defense Department has been agitating for a separation, perceiving the NSA and intelligence community as resistant to more aggressive cyber warfare, particularly after the Islamic State’s transformation in recent years from an obscure insurgent force into an organization holding significant territory across Iraq and Syria and with a worldwide recruiting network.
While the military wanted to attack IS networks, intelligence objectives prioritized gathering information from them, according to US officials familiar with the debate. They weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly and requested anonymity.
Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter sent a plan to President Barack Obama last year to make Cyber Command an independent military headquarters and break it away from the NSA, believing that the agency’s desire to collect intelligence was at times preventing the military from eliminating IS’ ability to raise money, inspire attacks, and command its widely dispersed network of fighters.
Carter, at the time, also pushed for the ouster of Adm. Mike Rogers, who still heads both bodies. The Pentagon, he warned, was losing the war in the cyber domain, focusing on cyberthreats from nations such as Iran, Russia, and China, rather than on countering the communications and propaganda campaigns of internet-savvy insurgents.
Officials also grew alarmed by the growing number of cyberattacks against the US government, including several serious, high-level Defense Department breaches that occurred under Rogers’ watch.
“NSA is truly an intelligence-collection organization,” said Lauren Fish, a research associate with the Center for a New American Security. “It should be collecting information, writing reports on it. Cyber Command is meant to be an organization that uses tools to have military operational effect.”
After President Donald Trump’s inauguration, officials said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis endorsed much of the plan. But debate over details has dragged on for months.
It’s unclear how fast the Cyber Command will break off on its own. Some officials believe the new command isn’t battle-ready, given its current reliance on the NSA’s expertise, staff, and equipment. That effort will require the department to continue to attract and retain cyber experts.
Cyber Command was created in 2009 by the Obama administration to address threats of cyber espionage and other attacks. It was set up as a sub-unit under US Strategic Command to coordinate the Pentagon’s ability to conduct cyber warfare and to defend its own networks, including those that are used by combat forces in battle.
Officials originally said the new cyber effort would likely involve hundreds, rather than thousands, of new employees.
Since then, the command has grown to more than 700 military and civilian employees. The military services also have their own cyber units, with a goal of having 133 fully operational teams with as many as 6,200 personnel.
Its proposed budget for next year is $647 million. Rogers told Congress in May that represents a 16 percent increase over this year’s budget to cover costs associated with building the cyber force, fighting IS, and becoming an independent command.
Under the new plan being forwarded by the Pentagon to the White House, officials said Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville would be nominated to lead Cyber Command. Leadership of the NSA could be turned over to a civilian.
Mayville is currently the director of the military’s joint staff and has extensive experience as a combat-hardened commander. He deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, leading the 173rd Airborne Brigade when it made its assault into Iraq in March 2003 and later heading coalition operations in eastern Afghanistan.
Reporter James Foley was no stranger to battle zone coverage. This first-hand look at a Taliban ambush against U.S. soldiers shows how he was willing to put himself in harm’s way to capture the story.
Infantrymen from the 101st Brigade were under constant attack and lost seven troops to IEDs, suicide attacks, and firefights.
Much of the U.S.’s military attention was focused on Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold in the southwest part of the country (Afghanistan), according the PBS video below. But, in Kunar Province in the northeast, the firefights were just as fierce.
The video picks up with Private Justin Greer, age 19, getting shot in the head while manning the turret-mounted grenade launcher.
James Foley was a freelance reporter for GlobalPost, Agence France-Presse and other news organizations. He was murdered by the terrorist group ISIS in August 2014.
The Thai boys saved from a flooded cave endured dives in zero visibility lasting up to half an hour. In places, they were put into harnesses and high-lined across rocky caverns, said a leader of the U.S. contingent involved in the operation, calling it a “once in a lifetime rescue.”
Derek Anderson, a 32-year-old rescue specialist with the U.S. Air Force based in Okinawa, Japan, said the dozen boys, ranging in age from 11 to 16, and their coach, who were trapped for more than two weeks before being rescued, were “incredibly resilient.”
“What was really important was the coach and the boys all came together and discussed staying strong, having the will to live, having the will to survive,” Anderson told The Associated Press in an interview on July 11, 2018.
The scale of the challenge confronting rescuers from Thailand, Britain, Australia and other countries only truly dawned on the U.S. team after it arrived at the cave in the early hours of June 28, 2018, as rain poured down on the region in northern Thailand. The Thai government had requested U.S. assistance.
“The cave was dry when we arrived, and within an hour and half it had already filled up by 2 to 3 feet and we were being pushed out,” said Anderson, the son of missionaries, who was born in Syracuse, New York, and grew up in Ecuador.
“That was just in the very beginning of the cave and at that point we realized this problem is going to be much more complex than we thought,” he said.
Thailand’s decision to dive the boys out despite their weak condition and lack of diving experience was made when a window of opportunity was provided by relatively mild weather. A massive operation to pump water out also meant air pockets were created at crucial points of the cave, making a rescue possible.
Falling oxygen levels, risk of sickness and the imminent prospect of more rain flooding the cave complex for months meant “the long-term survivability of the boys in the cave was becoming a less and less feasible option,” Anderson said.
Divers practiced their rescue techniques in a swimming pool with local children about the same height and weight as the members of the Wild Boars soccer team trapped in the cave.
The aim, Anderson said, was to make each of the boys “tightly packaged” so divers could keep control of them and adjust their air supply as needed. The process lasted hours for each boy, and involved them getting through long passageways barely bigger than an adult body.
Buoyancy compensators that establish neutral buoyancy underwater, hooded wetsuits, bungee cords and special face masks were carried by divers to the cramped patch of dry elevated ground where the boys were huddled.
The positive pressure masks were “really crucial,” Anderson said. Their use meant that even if a boy panicked — perhaps because of getting snagged in a narrow passage — and got water inside his mask, the pressure would expel it.
The complicated operation to bring the boys out of the cave began on July 8, 2018, when four were extracted. Four more were brought out on July 9, 2018, and the operation ended July 10, 2018, with the rescue of the last four boys and their 25-year-old coach.
The 18-day ordeal riveted much of the world — from the awful news that the 13 were missing, to the first flickering video of the huddle of anxious yet smiling boys when they were found by a pair of British divers nearly 10 days later.
The group had entered the sprawling Tham Luang cave to go exploring after soccer practice on June 23, 2018, but monsoon rains filled the tight passageways, blocking their escape, and pushing them deeper inside in search of a refuge.
Initial attempts to locate the boys were twice unsuccessful because the force of cold hypothermia-inducing floodwaters rushing into narrow passages made them unpassable. Even as conditions improved, and divers began laying life-saving rope guidelines through the cave, it was perilous.
“In this type of cave diving, you have to lay line, rope, that’s your lifeline. You have to ensure when you go in you have a way out,” Anderson said. “They were making progress, but it was very little progress and they were exhausting themselves spending maybe five or six hours and covering 40 or 50 meters (yards).”
There were about a hundred people inside the cave for each rescue operation, Anderson said, and each boy was handled by dozens of people as their perilous movement through a total of nine chambers unfolded.
In some phases they were guided by two divers. In some narrow passages they were connected to only one diver. In caverns with air pockets they were “floated” through with the support of four rescuers. Some sections were completely dry but treacherously rocky or deep.
“We had to set up rope systems and high-lines to be able to safely put them in a harness and bring them across large open areas so they wouldn’t have to go all the way down,” Anderson said.
Cylinders placed at locations throughout the cave for replenishing the boys’ air supply were “jammed” with 80 percent oxygen instead of regular air because “that would plus up their oxygen saturation levels and that would be really good for them, their mental state,” he said.
“The world just needs to know that what was accomplished was a once in a lifetime rescue that I think has never been done before,” Anderson said. “We were extremely fortunate that the outcome was the way it was. It’s important to realize how complex and how many pieces of this puzzle had to come together.”
“If you lose your cool in an environment like that, there is a lot of bad repercussions,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
North Korea is reportedly preparing missiles and rockets by the hundreds to parade around Pyongyang the day before the South Korean Winter Olympics kicks off in an attempt “to scare the hell out of the Americans.”
“Hundreds of missiles and rockets” will be on display, according to CNN’s Will Ripley. Ripley reports this will include “many dozens” of Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missiles, the type North Korea most recently tested that experts assess could hit the entire continental US with a large nuclear warhead.
South Korean media reports that launchers that stretch 250 meters and 50 meters have already been spotted at Mirim Airport in Pyongyang.
Ripley, who frequently travels to North Korea, cited diplomatic sources “with deep knowledge of North Korea’s intentions” as saying they would show off the missiles to “scare the hell out of” US citizens as the two countries’ leaders exchange nuclear threats.
But as is often the case with North Korea, the bark may be worse than the bite. Ripley notes that foreign media has been banned from the parade, meaning only North Korean imagery will come out of the event.
This gives North Korea ample opportunity to doctor the images, as they often do. North Korea’s dozens of ICBMs may be faked, made of different materials, and almost certainly not coupled with actual nuclear warheads.
North Korea has made considerable efforts to capitalize on the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as a propaganda coup, going as far as to rewrite their own history as the pretense for moving its usual military parade from April to February, when Pyongyang is bitterly cold.
Ripley reports that North Korea may conduct additional missile tests in the near future. If they do, the country runs a higher-than-ever-before risk of incurring the US’s military wrath, as talk of strikes on North Korea has reportedly reached a fever pitch in Trump’s inner circle.
From Guam in the Pacific to Puerto Rico in the Atlantic, from north of the Arctic Circle to south of the equator, the U.S. Coast Guard patrols and protects the world’s largest exclusive economic zone, covering nine time zones.
It is one of the five military branches, a member of the intelligence community, a first-responder and humanitarian service, and a law-enforcement and regulatory agency that defends more than 100,000 miles of U.S. coastline and inland waterways.
On an average day, the Coast Guard’s more than 56,000 personnel — operating on 243 Cutters, 201 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, and more than 1,600 boats — carry out 45 search-and-rescue cases, save 10 lives, seize 874 pounds of cocaine, perform 24 security boardings, screen 360 merchant vessels, do 105 maritime inspections, and assist the movement of $8.7 billion worth of goods and commodities in and around the U.S.
Below, you can see photos from a year in the life of the Coast Guard — where no day is ordinary:
27. The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships on Jan. 16.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)
26. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Bacone from Maritime Safety and Security Team New York conducts a security sweep with his canine, Ruthie, during a Jan. 19 dinner cruise in Washington, D.C.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew S. Masaschi)
25. A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew forward-deployed in Cold Bay, Alaska, surveys the area around the fishing vessel Predator prior to hoisting three people off near Akutan Harbor on Feb. 13.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
24. U.S. Coast Guard ice-rescue team members training on Lake Champlain at Coast Guard Station Burlington on Feb. 17.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarah Mattison)
23. Boomer, the mascot of Coast Guard Station Crisfield, Maryland, sitting on the deck of a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium on Feb. 28. Boomer was rescued from a shelter and reported to Station Crisfield as the mascot in Dec. 2013.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jasmine Mieszala)
22. A small boat crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter Dauntless prepares to get underway to pick up Mexican navy sailors for a partnership meeting in the Gulf of Mexico on March 11.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Dustin R. Williams)
21. Coast Guard crew members prepare for a live-fire exercise during a Firearms Training and Evaluation-Pistol course at the Dexter Small Arms Firing Range at Coast Guard Base Honolulu on March 28.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle)
20. Coast Guard Cutter Munro passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on its way into the Bay Area on April 6.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Stanton)
19. Sgt. 1st Class Chris Richards of the Connecticut National Guard along with U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Benjamin Jewell and Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Hayden of the Coast Guard Cutter Oak prepare a sling that will be used to hoist a 12,000-pound beached buoy, near Chatham, Massachusetts on May 9. The buoy broke free of its mooring off the coast of Maine during a winter storm and eventually washed ashore near Chatham.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi)
18. The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Oak scrapes mussels off a buoy and shovels them back into the ocean off the Massachusetts coast on May 10.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi)
17. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton unloads about 18.5 tons of cocaine — worth $498 million — seized in 20 separate incidents in international waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, at Port Everglades, Florida on May 18.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
16. A family poses with Jane Coastie at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City on May 29.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes)
15. Petty Officer 2nd Class Lyman Dickinson, an aviation survival technician at Coast Guard Sector San Diego, is lowered into the water from an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during a joint search-and-rescue exercise with the Mexican navy off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico on June 7.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Joel Guzman)
14. Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard members watch a member of the U.S. Coast Guard demonstrate a maneuver during a maritime law-enforcement training session for Exercise Tradewinds 2017 in Bridgetown, Barbados on June 7.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Marine Seaman Michael Turner)
13. Steven Celestine, a member of the Commonwealth of Dominica Coast Guard, practices law-enforcement techniques during Exercise Tradewinds 2017 at the Barbados Coast Guard Base in Bridgetown, Barbados on June 9.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake)
12. Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Rogers, from Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team San Diego 91109, shows Naval Sea Cadets the MSST’s armory during a tour of the MSST facilities on June 22.
11. Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory Stepien, a boatswain’s mate at Coast Guard Station Eastport, navigates the northern coast of Maine in 29-foot rescue boat on July 26.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi)
10. Petty Officer 1st Class Kim Nguyen, a health-service specialist aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, gives IV training to a joint Coast Guard-Navy dive team and Healy crew members while underway off the coast of Alaska on July 27.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Meredith Manning)
9. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle sailed into some foggy weather in Casco Bay during its arrival in Portland, Maine on Aug. 4. The arrival coincided with Coast Guard’s 227th birthday.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve Strohmaier)
8. Overhead view of Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina on Aug. 11. The ALC is staffed by about 1,350 Coast Guard members and civilians who maintain aircraft from 25 different Coast Guard air stations.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist David Lau)
7. Coast Guard members offload MH-65 Dolphin helicopters from an Air Force C-17 aircraft at Coast Guard Air Station Miami in Opa Locka, Florida on Sept. 11.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
6. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Elm restores aids to navigation buoys in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Sept. 27.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Taylor Elliott)
5. Petty Officer 3rd Class Anderson Ernst uses a line-throwing gun to help pass the tow line to 65-foot fishing trawler Black Beauty, off the coast of New Hampshire on Nov. 11.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
4. Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian Rodriguez, an aviation survival technician at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, and Sung Jun Lee, from the Korean coast guard, hoist Oscar the dummy during a vertical-surface and self-rappelling exercise at Makapu’u Lighthouse, Oahu on Nov. 16.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle)
3. Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Hale, an aviation survival technician at Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, demonstrates a rescue procedure to representatives from the People’s Republic of China and the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command during the US/China Disaster Management Exchange held at Camp Rilea in Warrenton, Oregon on Nov. 16.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read)
2. Crew members from Coast Guard Station Sand Key, Florida, take part in survival swim training on Dec. 8.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse)
1. Coast Guard Lt. Jodie Knox, Sector Lake Michigan, and Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Wood, Pacific Strike Team, monitor the lifting of the Sailing Vessel Citadel near Red Hook, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands on Dec. 15.
The fight continues in the Middle Euphrates River Valley to wrest the last 2 percent of land once controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria from the grasp of the terror group, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said in Washington.
“That fighting is on-going and as we forecasted, it’s been a tough fight and we are winning,” the secretary told reporters.
The secretary said Syrian leaders have to be well aware of the U.S. position on the regime using chemical weapons. He stressed “there is zero evidence” that any opposition groups possess chemical weapons or the technology to employ those weapons.
The U.S. goal in Syria remains to end the tragedy that would have ended years ago, if Russia and Iran had not intervened, Mattis said. “We want to support the Geneva process — the U.N.-mandated process. … In that scope what we want to do is make certain that ISIS does not come back and upset everything again.”
The U.S. and allies are training local security forces inside Syria. The United States is working with Turkey to launch joint patrols in Manbij. “I think we are close on that; it’s complex,” Mattis said. “Once we get those patrols going along the line of contact and we take out the rest of the [ISIS] caliphate, our goal would be to set up local security elements that prevent the return of ISIS while at the same time diplomatically supporting … the Geneva process.”
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon, Sept. 24, 2018.
(DoD photo by Jim Garamone)
The secretary said Russia’s vetoes of United Nations resolutions early in the process with Syria, “kept the U.N. marginalized at a time when it might have been able to stop what unfolded. Iran then sent in their proxy forces.”
Iranians are in Syria. Iran is propping up the Assad regime with forces, money, weapons, and proxies. “Part of this overarching problem is we have to address Iran,” Mattis said. “Everywhere you go in the Middle East, where there is instability, you find Iran.”
Iran has a role to play in the peace process, the secretary said. And that “is to stop fomenting trouble,” he added.
Mattis condemned the terrorist attack inside Iran. “We condemn terrorist bombings anywhere they occur,” he said. “It’s ludicrous to allege that we had anything to do with it, and we stands with the Iranian people, but not the Iranian regime that has practiced this very sort of thing through proxies and all for too many years.”
And, the secretary praised the U.S. military response to Hurricane Florence.
“We rate ourselves as having done a good job so far,” he said. “The tactics were to surround it on the seaward side and the landward side, and keep people out of the area forecasted to be hit. So we had troops who were ready to go and follow the storm in from both directions, and we met all the requests from the Federal Emergency Management Agency … in a timely manner. We still have troops committed to it, but clearly it is winding down.”
Military equipment, to include deep water vehicles, boats and more, remain available if needed, he said.
The secretary announced he will travel to France and Belgium to take part in NATO’s Defense Ministerial Meeting.
(Editor’s Note – The following is an updated repost of a story on the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine Epidemiology Reference Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, which was originally published on March 27, 2018. It contains new information on the lab’s mission during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine’s epidemiology laboratory is the Air Force’s sole clinical reference laboratory, and as such, is testing and processing samples of COVID-19 sent from military treatment facilities around the world.
The lab was authorized by the Defense Health Agency to test samples from Department of Defense beneficiaries for COVID-19 in early March, and received its test kit from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention shortly after.
“The USAFSAM Epi Lab is currently working long hours, testing and processing samples of COVID-19 that are coming in from MTFs globally,” said Col. Theresa Goodman, USAFSAM commander. “If you ask anyone on this team how they’re doing, they’ll tell you they’re fine–that they’re just doing their jobs. But I couldn’t be more proud of them right now — their selfless and tireless dedication to this mission. COVID-19 testing is our primary mission right now and the members of the Epi Lab are my front line to this fight.”
USAFSAM’s epidemiology laboratory, nested in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing, has a long history of testing and identifying various infectious respiratory diseases, including those that occur on a regular basis like influenza, and the ones similar to COVID-19 that become a public health issue, spreading globally. Because of this, the team works closely with the CDC and other agencies.
Col. Theresa Goodman
“We have been in operation for approximately 30 years, and therefore involved with many other infectious disease outbreaks, for example SARS,” said Col. Dana Dane, USAFSAM Public Health Department chair.
This laboratory is only authorized to test samples coming in from DoD beneficiaries, but those outside this demographic have the support of their state public health departments for testing purposes. USAFSAM is working closely with public health professionals across the DoD, as well as with the CDC as the situation evolves. Per CDC guidelines, reference laboratories are no longer required to submit samples to the CDC for further testing and final confirmation. If the tests do show as positive, the USAFSAM Epi Lab marks the sample “confirmed positive.”
USAFSAM’s laboratory is not participating in vaccine development. It also is not the type of laboratory where people go to get blood drawn, nasal swabs, etc., like a CompuNet or clinic at a doctor’s office or in a hospital. USAFSAM’s clinical reference lab is set up to receive these samples from military treatment facilities. They run the tests on those samples and log the data.
“We’re all sensitive to those around the world who are grieving losses due to this awful virus as well as to others who are just downright scared. Our hearts go out to you,” said Goodman. “But just know that our epidemiology laboratory here in USAFSAM is waiting at the door 24/7 for any and all samples that come in from our DoD family.
Goodman also stated that the team is lockstep with public health personnel around the world as well as with our partners at the CDC.
“We truly are all in this together,” she said. “Fighting this virus will take all of us doing our part–from those staying at home washing their hands a little more often and checking on neighbors to USAFSAM’s public health team testing samples and getting the data where it needs to go.”
THE DISEASE DETECTIVES (ORIGINAL POST – MARCH 27, 2018 )
After slowly using a blade to cut through thick tape, a technician in a protective gown and glasses opens the flaps of a cardboard box revealing a polystyrene container. As her gloved hands cautiously remove the lid, a wisp of vapor rolls slowly over the edge of the box, clinging to its surface as it descends onto the tabletop.
The technician gingerly reaches through the fog and removes a plastic bag filled with clear vials from the container. This process is repeated over a hundred times each morning as carts filled with boxes of clinical patient specimens arrive at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine’s Epidemiology Laboratory Service at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Created in 1990, the Epi Lab, as it is referred to at USAFSAM, focuses on clinical diagnostic, public health testing and force health screening, performing 5,000 to 8,000 tests six days a week (or about 2.1 million tests a year) for clinics and hospitals treating active duty service members, reservists and National Guard members and their dependents and beneficiaries.
The data collected from these tests not only enables the analysis of disease within the joint force, but is shared with civilian public health agencies contributing to the tracking of diseases, such as influenza and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as supporting disease prevention efforts, such as the formulation of vaccines.
While the lab receives most of its medical samples from Air Force bases around the world, it also tests specimens sent by Navy and Army hospitals and clinics, totaling more than 200 military medical facilities around the globe.
The Epi Lab’s workload is a result of its efficiency and economics, according to Elizabeth Macias, Ph.D., a clinical microbiologist, and director of the Epi Lab.
Elizabeth Macias, Ph.D., is a clinical microbiologist, and director of the Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the Epi Lab, at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. The lab, which receives between 5,000 and 8,000 samples, six days a week, for analysis, routinely reports results to Department of Defense hospitals and clinics around the world within 48 hours of a sample being shipped to the lab.
“A lot of the testing is very specialized, and in some cases can be very expensive. Many of our Air Force clinics and laboratories are small and don’t have the personnel to do that kind of thing or the funding to get all the specialized instruments that we have,” Macias said. “Our personnel are comprised of military, government civilians and contractor civilians, so we have the expertise and the personnel to handle the workload.”
Nearly 30 people work throughout the morning, removing samples packed in dry ice from their boxes, ensuring the patient information on the specimen tubes and paperwork match the orders on the computer system and then re-labeling them for the lab’s computer system before sending the samples to the appropriate testing departments.
“The laboratory consists of three branches; Customer Support, Immunodiagnostics and Microbiology. Immunodiagnostics and Microbiology perform testing, such as immune status and screening for STDs, like Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), gonorrhea, syphilis and hepatitis and some other serology assays,” said Tech. Sgt. Maryann Caso, noncommissioned officer in charge of the immunodiagnostic section of the Epi Lab.
Just over a year ago, the Epi Lab adopted fourth-generation HIV testing, which enables the lab to detect an HIV infection two weeks sooner after a patient is exposed. This newer technology allows patients to receive treatment and counseling sooner.
There is a constant flow of samples requiring STD screening and immune status testing, as these are gathered as part of the in-processing screening for each new service member. The tests help screen for potentially infectious diseases as well as establish a baseline of antibody types and levels for each new recruit to precisely target which vaccines they need.
“For example, all the new recruits are tested for measles, mumps, and rubella. So if they have antibodies to those diseases then they’re not vaccinated again. This saves the Department of Defense because they don’t waste manpower and money to vaccinate somebody that is already protected against those diseases,” Macias said.
The lab has become more efficient and safer for laboratory technicians after the installation of an automated testing system last year.
Laboratory technicians unpack and log in blood serum, fecal, urine or respiratory samples which arrive from U.S. Air Force hospitals and clinics around the world, as well as some other Department of Defense facilities Jan. 30, 2018. The Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the Epi Lab, at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, receives 100-150 boxes a day, six days a week. The lab, which tests between 5,000 and 8,000 samples daily, is a Department of Defense reference laboratory offering clinical diagnostic, public health, and force health screening and testing.
“The samples come in now and are put on an automated line. It will actually uncap the sample, spin it down, aliquot it (divide the sample into smaller portions for multiple tests) and sort it to whatever section and analyzer it needs for a particular test,” Caso said.
“Before, our techs had to manually uncap the tubes, aliquot the samples and sort them. When you have thousands of samples that you have to uncap and then recap by hand, you get repetitive-motion injuries to the wrist – such as carpal tunnel. The whole idea is to have automated processes and to eliminate or mitigate pre-analytical errors, such as specimen contamination.”
Once tested, the results are automatically returned to the submitting hospital or clinic via computer, unless the system notifies a technician to intervene and manually certify the test result.
“Specimens are collected at hospitals and clinics around the world and sent to us,” Macias said. “We receive the boxes within 24 hours and most of the results are completed within 24 hours… So, generally, we get those results back to the submitting clinic within 48 hours from when they are shipped to us, so the docs can then treat their patients appropriately and with a good turnaround time.”
In addition to the immunology testing that is performed in the lab, the Microbiology branch performs testing on bacterial cultures, examines fecal samples for parasites that cause intestinal disease, and performs influenza testing.
The Air Force began an influenza surveillance program in 1976 to collect data about disease and its spread in response to an outbreak of what was called “Bootcamp Flu.” In the close quarters of basic training, the virus spread through many barracks, according to Donald Minnich, technical supervisor for the Virology and manual testing section at the Epi Lab.
Donald Minnich, technical supervisor for the manual testing section, oversees the influenza surveillance program at the Epidemiology Laboratory Service, also known as the Epi Lab, at the 711th Human Performance Wing’s United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and Public Health at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio.The lab identifies and sequences the genome of influenza samples received from U.S. Air Force hospitals and clinics around the world, as well as other Department of Defense facilities. The data collected on active flu strains contributes about 25 percent of the total data used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to formulate its yearly influenza vaccine.
To combat illness, recruits needed to be regularly monitored, giving birth to Operation Gargle, in which recruits gargled with a solution and spit it back into a specimen cup which was then tested for influenza and other respiratory pathogens.
The Air Force program is now part of the Defense Health Agency’s Global, Laboratory-Based Respiratory Pathogen program which grows, sequences and collects data on influenza, parainfluenza, adenovirus and the Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV.
The flu surveillance program at the Epi Lab has approximately 95 submitting laboratories scattered across the continental United States and the globe, from deployed areas to Europe, Japan and Guam.
In a typical flu season, the surveillance program receives between 5,000 and 6,000 specimens. This year, the Epi Lab has received 5,000 specimens in just the first few months of the flu season, according to Minnich.
Carrying troops into combat, or at least close enough that they can walk to it, was a fairly basic art for thousands of years. Horses or boats did the job until motorized vehicles started to be used in large numbers in the beginning of the 20th century.
During World War II, airborne and glider troops made mass assaults with thousands of troops possible at long ranges. While this was a huge leap forward, airborne operations came with some major liabilities. As seen during the D-Day landings, the accuracy of these drops was lacking, and troops could end up far from their intended drop zones. Just as importantly, parachutes and gliders were both one-way trips, and troops were largely on their own until their leg counterparts could catch up.
Helicopters promised to change all that. Which helicopter was officially “first” is subject to some dispute, but vertical flight was largely a novelty for many years. Toward the end of World War II, some primitive rotary-wing aircraft saw limited action in the Pacific doing rescue missions, but they were far from a decisive arm.
After World War II, the Marine Corps first saw the utility of helicopters in an air assault role. As the service contemplated how amphibious assaults would remain viable in the Atomic Age, it concluded that the ability to cover much greater distances would be necessary. The Corps stood up Marine Helicopter Squadron One, HMX-1, and experimented with employing helicopters in amphibious warfare, developing the first doctrine on the subject.
The Korean War launched the helicopter from infancy to adolescence. The Marine Corps performed the first mass resupply via helicopter on Sept. 13, 1951. Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 161 (HMR-161) used HRS-1 helicopters to deliver 74 Marines and more than 18,000 pounds of supplies to an area known as the Punchbowl. A week later, they performed the first combat troop lift, delivering 224 Marines to a hilltop in the area.
It took nearly two more years for the Army to perform its first helicopter assault, but true to form, it was bigger than the Marines’. On July 13, 1953, Army H-19 helicopters of the 1st Transportation Helicopter Battalion lifted more than 800 Republic of Korea troops.
The Kennedy administration’s focus on “brushfire wars” and shift to a doctrine of “flexible response” contrasted with Eisenhower’s “massive retaliation” and gave birth to what the Army would call “air assault.” Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara insisted on increasing the tactical mobility of the US Army. Under Lt. Gen. Hamilton Howse, the Army conducted a series of experiments at Fort Bragg in the early 1960s, leading to the formation of the 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning, which soon became the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
The “1st Air Cav” became one of the most storied units of the Vietnam War, which became known as the “helicopter war.” Given the terrain and the enemy insurgency in that conflict, helicopters — usually the UH-1 “Huey” — gave US forces a tactical advantage. Large insertions of troops into “hot” landing zones would become a trademark of the conflict, and ultimately, more than 5,000 of the roughly 12,000 helicopters used during that war were lost.
After Vietnam, the Marines returned to their traditional focus on amphibious assault and using helicopters accordingly. The Army returned to focusing on Europe and deterring the Soviet bloc. Helicopters, now mostly the UH-60 Black Hawk instead of the Huey, formed the most mobile element first in “Active Defense” and later in “AirLand Battle.”
Fortunately, Europe never needed American helicopter assaults to save it, but 1991 gave those aircraft a chance to shine. The 101st Air Assault Division mounted a brigade-sized lift to envelop the northern flank of Iraqi troops defending Kuwait as part of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s famous “left hook” attack. The operation validated the utility of helicopter-borne forces in maneuver warfare, as opposed to the counterinsurgency role they served in Vietnam.
In almost a “back to the future” moment, after 9/11, helicopters once again became the preferred tool to maneuver quickly against enemy insurgents, first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. While generally on a smaller scale than the largest assaults of the Vietnam era, tactical movement by helicopter has been essential throughout what became known as the Global War on Terror.
Modern helicopter insertions look different from those in Vietnam. Insertions into hot landing zones are rare, and losses are less common. This can be attributed to improvements in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) technology, as well as tactics. While there have been some failures, such as Operation Anaconda, by and large, helicopters have been key to major successes, including the raid that killed Usama bin Laden in 2011.
As the military exits Iraq and Afghanistan and shifts toward potential threats in the Pacific, the role of the helicopter will undoubtedly change once again. The mobility helicopters provided in the geographical constraints of Vietnam and Afghanistan seems limited in comparison with the vastness of the Pacific.
Vietnam-era Hueys could fly around 120 knots for about 275 miles. The Black Hawks that succeeded them in the US Army can reach 150 and about 300 miles in a basic configuration. A big leap in performance will be necessary if rotary-wing aircraft are to remain a part of future war plans.
The Marine Corps, with its amphibious mission, had to face this problem much sooner. The Marines invested in the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, which cruises nearly twice as fast and flies twice as far as traditional helicopters. The Marines first deployed the Osprey in 2007 and replaced the last of its CH-46 helicopters with it in 2017.
The Army will have to invest in a similar capability to prepare for the type of conflict envisioned in the National Defense Strategy. It is moving ahead with the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program, which aims to produce an aircraft with the necessary speed and range to fight in tomorrow’s battlefields. Both Bell and a joint Sikorsky-Boeing team are competing, but whichever wins, it’s a certainty that air assault will continue to have a long future.
The US Navy on Sept. 23 will christen the USS Tripoli (LHA-7), its latest America-class amphibious assault ship that will pack Osprey helicopters, F-35 fighters, and thousands of Marines for rapid deployment from sea to shore.
Lynne Mabus, the wife of former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, will break the ceremonial bottle of wine across the bow of the 844-foot warship during a ceremony at Huntington Ingalls Industries in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
Once it hits the fleet around 2018, the Tripoli will join the USS America (LHA-6) on the high seas, with the pair of ships packing unique capabilities among the expected total 11 ships of this class. Besides their power-plant and technology upgrades, the Tripoli and America will not have a well deck for launching small boats filled with Marines to the shore.
Instead, the ships are “optimized for aviation capability” — giving them larger hangar decks to store more aircraft, enhanced aircraft-maintenance facilities, more storage for onboard jet fuel, and more high-tech intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.
“The idea is rapid mobility air assault,” Capt. Michael Baze told US Naval Institute News. “So the thinking with me and my Marines right now is, lighter companies, people that can move quickly via the (MV-22) Osprey and the (CH-53Es).”
The Tripoli will also be the first LHA “fully ready to integrate the entire future air combat element of the Marine Corps,” including the F-35B, capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings.
With its aviation-focused capability to deploy Marines, the Tripoli and America allow more standoff from potential hotspot areas.
“I don’t have to worry about force protection for my ship as much because I don’t have to get two and three miles off the beach to deploy my Marines” on small boats, Baze said. “The truth is, I’m over 100 miles right now — we could deploy the Marines from here.”
This will be the third Navy ship to bear the name Tripoli, which commemorates the 1805 Battle of Derna, in which US Marines defeated the Barbary pirates in Libya. The victory is also memorialized in the “Marines’ Hymn” with the line “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.”
The Tripoli will be able to hit a speed of about 20 knots, with an approximate displacement of 45,000 tons.
Few know mission command better than retired Gen. Carter F. Ham. In the time between his enlistment as an infantryman in 1973 and his retirement as a geographic combatant commander in 2013, Ham experienced the Army from a variety of perspectives, including as the commander of U.S. Army Europe and as the director for operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As the current president and chief executive officer of the Association of the U.S. Army, Ham continues to make a difference on behalf of the men and women who serve. Here are his insights on mission command as the Army looks to the future.
Q: After having a career that spanned four decades, what does mission command mean to you?
A: When I think of mission command, it is getting the right process by which leaders make decisions to employ their forces from the strategic to tactical levels. It is freedom to act within intent and established parameters, and it’s achieving the right blend of initiative and control.
I’ve thought about this a lot as the Army sometimes has a tendency to rebrand old ideas with new names. The term “mission command” started gaining momentum over “command and control” in the late 2000s, particularly when Gen. Martin Dempsey was at Training and Doctrine Command. A lot of talk within the profession suggested this really wasn’t anything new but, rather, what the Army had always done in terms of mission-type orders and building trust.
General Carter F. Ham.
My sense was that it wasn’t quite the same. The cohort of senior Army officers at the time, myself included, grew up mostly in the Cold War era with very clearly defined boundaries, rear areas, adjacent units, and the like. When that era changed and the Army found itself in highly irregular warfare, leaders recognized command and control wasn’t adequate for the new environment.
The command piece was okay, but the control piece was overly regulated given the circumstances in which the Army was anticipated to operate. It was time for a change, and I think mission command was exactly the right focus. With varying degrees at varying levels, and certainly as circumstances change, we must enable leaders to operate with empowered, disciplined initiative and higher degrees of flexibility.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as commander of U.S. Africa Command?
A: Most Americans think of Africa as a single place; it’s not. It is huge; at the very least, Africa is 54 countries with vast geographic differences, linguistic challenges, and economic, cultural, and ethnic diversity. It’s an exceedingly complex area of operations.
When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told me he intended to recommend the president nominate me for [commanding general of] the Africa Command, I had two feelings simultaneously. First was pure exhilaration: “Holy smokes, you’re going to be a combatant commander! You get your picture hung on the entryway of the Pentagon!”
But instantaneously, the second feeling hit: “You don’t know anything about Africa.” At the time, it was not a part of the world any of us in the military thought much about.
Carter F. Ham as lieutenant colonel commanding U.S. forces in Camp Able Sentry, Macedonia, speaking to Admiral William Owens in 1995.
I was going from a very Europe-centric career — frankly a very comfortable setting for me because I had relationships with many of the senior leaders — to exceeding discomfort in Africa. It was intellectually stimulating, but I just didn’t have that foundational understanding of the area of operations as I did in Europe.
For me, this was mission command in practice at the upper operational and strategic levels. Despite the dispersed nature of U.S. forces, the requirement to work with host-nation forces, and the diversity of missions — ranging from very precise targeted activities and hostage rescue to maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and veterinary teams helping with herds of animals — there was still an expectation from the Secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the other service chiefs. They were empowering me to make decisions in this vast and complex area of responsibility.
You can’t do that with a highly structured, highly controlling style of leadership. I had to catch myself sometimes, and my senior enlisted leaders would often remind me, “General, they don’t need you to tell them how many times to turn the screwdriver; they need your intent.”
If you can describe your intent, subordinate leaders will accomplish the mission.
Q: How does mission command need to evolve to maximize readiness for the future operational environment?
A: There is recognition that the Army has to refocus after 15-plus years of irregular warfare and counter-insurgency operations. Gen. [Mark] Milley has it right; we have to get back to preparing for combat operations across all domains against a very capable, state-based adversary. It’s a much more complex environment in which to operate.
The first half of my career was highly structured and very clearly focused on a state-based adversary, the Soviet Union. It was a very dangerous, but also very predictable, period. We knew their doctrine and organizational structure; they knew ours. We knew their equipment and capabilities; they knew ours. Our war plans were incredibly detailed: we knew exactly where we were going to fight and exactly where almost every soldier was going to go in the defense of Western Europe. Control was dominant.
That is not the environment in which the Army will operate in the future. We have to develop leaders who can thrive in the ambiguity that is certain to exist in future combat. Leaders must know how to exercise mission command and make proper decisions without linkages to their higher and adjacent units, or when communications are degraded. That, I think, is the great challenge the Army faces today.
Carter F. Ham speaking to reporters during a press briefing at the Pentagon in October 2005.
Q: Can you discuss the importance of mission command for sustainment formations?
A: I’m not a logistician, but I learned the importance of sustainers early. When I was a division operations officer, I had some great mentoring from my division commander. The simple message was, “The brigades, they’re going to win the fight; you don’t need to spend time mapping things out for them. Your job is to set the conditions for those brigades to operate, and the biggest piece of that is sustainment.”
In the Cold War, sustainment was a complex operation; it’s tenfold more complex today. There are no longer safe rear areas, secure supply routes, or the ability to move “iron mountains” of supplies to the point of need at a moment’s notice.
In my era, sustainment was mostly a math problem: how do you move stuff from point A to point B? Today’s sustainment challenge is much more of an art than it is a science. How will sustainers make sure that dispersed, often separated, units have what they need to fight and win on the future battlefield?
The science is certainly still there; you still have to make sure fuel, water, chow, and ammunition are at the right place at the right time. But now, more than ever, sustainers have to be inside the heads of maneuver commanders, understanding what they want to achieve. That’s where it becomes more of an art, and I think that’s where mission command enters into the realm for sustainment leaders.
Q: How important is training?
A: I’m old enough to have been in the Army before there were combat training centers, and it’s night and day. I was an opposing force guy at the National Training Center in the mid- to late-1980s, and you could see the Army get better. Repetition matters. Complexity matters. The difficulty created in the training base matters.
We want Army leaders to be more challenged in their training than they will be in combat. That’s tough to achieve these days, particularly given multi-domain operations. How do you create that cyber, electronic warfare, or geographic complexity leaders will have to deal with? The more we invest in the rigors of our training, the better off we will be. That certainly applies to the sustainment force.
There are tremendous opportunities in the Synthetic Training Environment that allow for repetition and increased difficulty without great expense. At some point you still have to put Army units in the dirt to train, but it’s the most expensive way to do so. There’s so much you can do prior to that point so that units enter that phase at a much higher level. For all of our forces, the Synthetic Training Environment will yield a stronger Army that is able to train at levels we can’t imagine today.
General Carter F. Ham being sworn into office as the Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe by Cairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen on Aug. 28, 2008.
Q: Where does integration with our allies and coalition partners fit into mission command?
A: In our guiding documents, including the National Military Strategy and Army vision, we’ve established a recognition that the Army will always operate with allies and partners. The scale will vary from time to time, but we’re always going to do so in some form. As fast as the Army is changing, we have to be careful we don’t leave our allies and partners out of our modernization efforts.
We also have to become increasingly comfortable with the idea of U.S. maneuver forces being sustained by forces of another country and vice versa. This became almost normal for us when our force presence in Iraq and Afghanistan was very high. Now that force levels are significantly lower, junior leaders have less opportunity to interact with our allies and partners. We have to find a way to replicate those kinds of activities in the training base.
Again, I think it is more art than science. Part of the art is making sure each of the partners has responsibility for support, for sustaining, and for direction in a coalition-type operation. That doesn’t happen by accident. Through the exercise of mission command, we want to create leaders who are comfortable in multinational environments.
Q: How are we doing as an Army when it comes to soldier resilience?
A: When I came home from Iraq, I think like many soldiers, I felt incomplete. I felt I had left soldiers behind; I came home and those I had served with were still there. I came to the Pentagon, the five-sided puzzle palace, and my work just didn’t feel very fulfilling. I had this tremendous longing to go back.
As a one-star general at the time, I don’t pretend I was on patrol facing hard combat every day like a squad leader or platoon sergeant. That’s an extraordinary kind of stress I frankly didn’t see on a daily basis. I think for leaders the effect is a little different; it’s a different kind of stress. Particularly for commanders, when you lose soldiers in combat — soldiers who are wounded or killed executing orders you issued — that stays with you.
When I came home, it was my wife who said, “Hey listen, you’ve changed.” That was important. It was recognition that a normal person can’t be exposed to combat and be unchanged. A lot of soldiers go through combat and deal with it very effectively. They’re resilient, they deal with it openly and confront it, and they continue to move forward. But there’s a spectrum, and on the other end are soldiers who have post-traumatic stress or, in more severe cases, traumatic brain injury. I was one of those who needed a little bit of help; mine came from an Army chaplain.
I’ll confess I was outed publicly. It wasn’t me coming forward; it was someone else talking about it. But as a general officer, my sense was [that] many other soldiers were having the same challenges readjusting to a nondeployed environment. If coming forward publicly would encourage one other soldier to get help and to say, “I’m having a tough time,” to his or her spouse, a chaplain, a social worker, a commander, a first sergeant, to somebody — then my speaking out was worthwhile.
I think the Army is once again leading the nation in matters like this. The senior leadership — the Secretary, Chief of Staff, and Sergeant Major of the Army — are coming forward and saying, “Hey, it is strength to step forward and say I need a little bit of help.”
Carter F. Ham listens to a soldier’s comments during a visit to the headquarters of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Reserve.
(Photo by Master Sgt. Mark Bell)
That’s what the Army needs. We need soldiers who can take a blow, whether physical or psychological, recover, and be stronger in continuing their mission.
There’s still a lot of work to be done; we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the stigma is gone. We have to keep it as a frontline Army effort and continue to say, “This can make you stronger; and when you’re stronger, our Army is stronger.” But I’m really proud of our efforts thus far.
Q: You’re one of only a few to rise from private to four-star general. What advice do you have for soldiers today?
A: First, recognize I didn’t go from private to four-star overnight; there were just a few intervening steps along the way. When I was enlisted, I rose to the exalted position of being our battalion command sergeant major’s driver. He was, to me, the model of the noncommissioned officer: mission-focused, hard on soldiers, and always fair. He made me a better soldier. And after all these years, it comes back to one question, “Why do you serve?”
We get so busy sometimes that we forget this. We talk a lot about what we do; we talk less about what we’re for. Whenever I have the opportunity to talk to young leaders, both enlisted and officers, I ask them to think about the oath they took. It is the bond that ties us together, the shared commitment each one of us made to serve the nation.
In my mind, it’s what makes the Army such a unique organization. I have lots of experience as a joint officer, and I truly value the other services. We have the best Marine Corps, the best Navy, and the best Air Force. But of all the services, I think the Army is uniquely of the people. We’re the biggest and most diverse. I think it’s worthwhile to sit back and say, “What is this Army for, and why is it that more than one million women and men have raised their right hand and said I’m willing to do this?”
Every now and then, take time to think about it. Don’t get consumed by it, but take pause and remember why you chose to serve this nation. I found when I did, it caused me to reflect as a professional soldier and “re-green” myself. For any Army leader — enlisted, officer, or civilian — it’s a worthy endeavor to remember why.
Arpi Dilanian is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4’s Logistics Initiatives Group. She holds a bachelor’s degree from American University and a master’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Matthew Howard is a strategic analyst in the Army G-4’s Logistics Initiatives Group. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgetown University.
This article was published in the January-March 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.
Toni Craig, Larisa Roderick and Paul LaRue. These are the names of people who cared enough to preserve the legacy of Veterans interred in unmarked graves by obtaining headstones or markers from VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA).
An unmarked gravesite has no permanent headstone or any way to identify the decedent buried in the grave.
Toni Craig visits her cousin Harry Martin’s grave.
For Craig, a special education world history teacher in Martinsville, Va., her quest was to obtain a marker for her cousin, Pfc. Harry Pemberton Martin, a Marine and Purple Heart recipient from the Vietnam War. He laid in an unmarked grave for 52-years.
Craig started her research in November 2019 with an obituary that her mother gave her. That search included working the Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs in Danville, which allowed her to obtain all the necessary documentation to receive a flat marker. Martin now lays at Meadow Christian Church Cemetery in Martinsville.
“Harry is a hero to my family because he did not have to go to Vietnam. He served his time in the Navy, but decided to join the Marines after,” she said. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service, but to us his heart was and still is golden.”
LaRue’s students laying a headstone.
This action (of preserving the legacy of Veterans who lay in unmarked gravesites) happens all across the country. A June 2019 story on clickorlando.com shows how concerned resident Larisa Roderick secured 61 headstones for Union Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II Veterans buried at Mt. Peace Cemetery in St. Cloud, Fla.
Retired Ohio high school teacher, Paul LaRue, involved his students to secure and install more than 70 headstones in five cemeteries since 2002. More than half were for African American Civil War Veterans. Those include Beach Grove, the historic African American cemetery, in Cincinnati, for World War I Veterans. The other is Washington City Cemetery in Washington Court House, Ohio, where African American Civil War Veterans lay.
“This unique preservation project began in our local city cemetery after a student asked, ‘Don’t these men deserve better?'” LaRue said.
The researchers only needed proper documentation to prove a Veteran’s service in order to obtain a headstone or marker through NCA. Each of them worked with local officials, the National Archives and Records Administration, and state and federal Veterans departments.
Requesting a headstone or marker
Anyone can request a burial headstone or marker if the service of the Veteran ended prior to April 6, 1917. Veterans who died prior to November 1, 1990, and whose graves are marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker in a private cemetery are not eligible to receive a second headstone or marker from NCA. However, a medallion is available to all decedents in this category who served on or after April 6, 1917. The medallion can be affixed to the existing headstone to show the Veteran’s branch of service.
By May 8, 1945, V-E Day, the 9th Armored Division gained a wealth of combat experience in a relatively short amount of time. Though untested, the division would distinguish itself during the Battle of the Bulge, buying precious time for Allied units to regroup and disrupting the precise German timetable. Due to their ability to seemingly show up all along the line of advance and thwart German efforts, the 9th was bestowed the nickname the “Phantom Division.” The 9th then participated in the drive to push the Germans back and through determination and a little bit of luck, managed to open up the first bridgehead across the Rhine. The sheer tenacity of the 9th Armored Division shortened the Allies’ war in the European Theatre.
The Battle of the Bulge
The 9th Armored entered the line shortly before the Battle of the Bulge and conducted patrols in what was deemed a quiet sector. On 16 December 1944, it became one of the units that bore the brunt of the German onslaught. The 9th received their baptism by fire fighting the Germans smashing through the Ardennes Forest. The division’s three combat commands – similar in structure to modern brigades – were spread across the front lines and found themselves defending some of the most important sectors.
There are widely considered to be two crucial fights during the battle that proved to be turning points: the siege of Bastogne in the south and the Battle of Elsenborn Ridge. The 9th Armored’s Combat Command B (CCB) was deployed to St. Vith, Belgium in the vicinity of Elsenborn Ridge, Combat Command Reserve (CCR) was around Bastogne when the Germans attacked while Combat Command A (CCA) was in Luxembourg.
Combat Command A faced off against the Wehrmacht Seventh Army in the vicinity of Echternach, Luxembourg. It was the task of the Seventh Army to secure the southern flank of the entire German operation. However, CCA held their sector of the front against relentless attacks denying the Germans of their goals. During the fighting CCA’s 60th Armored Infantry Battalion had been surrounded, Stars and Stripes reported:
Nobody told the doughs of the 60th Armd. Inf. Bn. to pull out, so they stayed and fought until word finally got through to them. A few days later they showed up in German helmets and with blankets draped over their shoulders, their rifles slung with bayonets fixed. They walked through German lines that way… They kept right on going until they reached the U.S. lines. After that, they fought some more.
After being relieved by elements of the 6th Armored Division, Combat Command A was immediately pressed into the drive to relieve the beleaguered defenders of Bastogne.
Combat Command B was deployed further north near St. Vith, Belgium having planned to support the 2nd Infantry Division in an upcoming offensive action. When the Germans attacked the 2nd Infantry Division alongside the rookie 99th Infantry Division blunted the advance at Elsenborn Ridge while CCB drove south to help secure the vital crossroads at St. Vith with the remnants of the 7th Armored Division, 28th Infantry Division, and the 106th Infantry Division which had lost two-thirds of its fighting strength. With things going poorly to the north further German units poured south to St. Vith but the units of CCB put up a stubborn resistance. Finally, on 23 December, after delaying the Germans for 6 days CCB withdrew from St. Vith. However, during the fighting the BBC had reported that “the brightest spot along the western front is at St. Vith.” To which an American soldier replied “if this is a bright spot what the hell is going everywhere else?” But the actions of the 9th had severely disrupted the German plans.
While the 9th Armored’s other two commands were fighting elsewhere Combat Command Reserve was fighting a delaying action at Bastogne. CCR was tasked with blocking German forces advancing on Bastogne at all costs and did so for nearly 48 hours before falling back onto Bastogne itself. The Reserve Command’s delaying action gave the 101st Airborne Division time to reach Bastogne and establish a defense. Once Bastogne was surrounded the survivors of CCR fell under the command of Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division where they were formed into a provisional “fire brigade” known as Task Force SNAFU. This mobile reserve acted as a rapid response force to threatened areas of the line. As history has shown the battle at Bastogne proved to be pivotal and if it weren’t for 9th Armored’s Reserve Command the battle might not have even taken place. For their actions during the battle, Combat Command Reserve was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Had the Germans been successful in any of the areas in which the 9th Armored Division was operating, the Allies could have incurred significantly more casualties or even prolonged the war. As the units of the 9th were relieved they were pulled off the line and sent to the rear to recuperate and rearm for the upcoming counter-offensive. The American forces pushed the Germans back and drove toward the Rhine and an entrance into the German heartland while the Phantom Division waited for its opportunity to rejoin the fight. That opportunity came on 28 February 1945.
Seizing the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen
On that day, the 9th Armored Division began its own attack toward the Rhine making good progress against the German opposition. In the days follow American units reached bridge after bridge on the Rhine just in time to see the Germans blow the bridge they were hoping to capture. As luck would have it, one American unit – the 9th – arrived to find one still intact, the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. The lead elements of CCB reached Remagen to find the Germans retreating. Tanks and infantry were ordered to move quickly but quietly through the town. However, multiple sources reported the bridge was scheduled for demolition at 1600, and when word reached the Commanding Officer of CCB it was already 1515 – they had 45 minutes to take the bridge. He immediately informed the commander of the assault forces and told them to get to the bridge as quickly as possible to which the commander replied: “Sir, I’m already there.”
Though they were at the bridge, it was still in the hands of the Germans who were determined not to let the Americans take it intact. Upon seeing the Americans, German engineers set off an explosion in the roadway hoping to slow the American advance. They also opened up with everything they had from the opposite bank. By the time the Americans were ready it was 1550, they had 10 minutes to save the bridge. The lead elements of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion began the assault and charge onto the bridge. Just as they did the Germans set of an explosion at the far side of the bridge; a final failed attempt at demolishing the bridge. The blast momentarily stunned the infantrymen but they quickly regained their senses and again set up across the bridge followed closely by combat engineers who climbed under the bridge set about cutting the wires to the explosives. The soldiers pressed on not knowing if the bridge would be blown up underneath them at any moment. They captured the German machine gun positions in the towers overlooking the bridge, then Sgt. Alexander Drabik led his squad in a mad dash for the far side of the bridge, dodging German fire and returning some of their own as they went. Sgt. Drabik and his squad arrived unscathed and were the first Americans across the Rhine – the 9th had grasped the slightest of holds.
As more men arrived they began clearing the Germans defending the far side of the bridge. They stormed the towers and captured the machine gun crew before throwing their guns in the river. They climbed up the cliffs to take out snipers and they endured mortar and artillery barrages but they were holding on. At night fall only a reinforced company, about 120 men, held the far side of the bridge but by midnight the engineers had cleared the armor to begin crossing.
Initially, before reports of the bridges capture had reached higher headquarters, CCB, 9th Armored Division had been order to continue south to link up with other forces. Brigadier General Hoge, CO CCB made the fateful decision to disobey those orders and reinforce his small contingent that had already crossed the bridge. Finally, as word began to spread Gen. Omar Bradley ordered other units diverted to Remagen to cross the bridge and get into Germany. Though the 9th Armored had captured the bridge at Remagen that was not part of the initial plan and in fact there were other plans underway in other areas designed to cross the Rhine. When Eisenhower’s dinner was interrupted by the news he told his guests “that was Brad. He’s got a bridge across the Rhine. And he apologized for it, said it was badly located at Remagen.”
Meanwhile, the American build up continued as units from all around, particularly anti-aircraft battalions, moved to the area to defend the bridgehead. No sooner was this done than the Germans began throwing everything they had at destroying the bridge. Counterattacks were made, air raids were launched, and sappers even attempted an infiltration downstream to blow the bridge but the Americans held and the bridge stood. The men of the 9th even erected a sign saying “Cross the Rhine with dry feet courtesy of the 9th Armored Division.” Finally, on March 17th after continual pounding the bridge collapsed but not before it had allowed 5 divisions to cross the Rhine and gave time for two pontoon bridges to be built nearby.
The actions of the men of the 9th Armored at Remagen contributed immeasurably to shortening the war in Europe. It took the Allies four months to cross the Roer River and the Germans were expecting to be able to rest and refit before putting up a staunch defense of the Rhine. The 9th’s breakthrough caused a lot of confusion and meant the Germans could no longer conduct a prolonged defense. It also allowed Eisenhower to alter his plans for ending the war. He praised the troops for seizing the opportunity, while others, such as General Patton, took the opportunity to gloat that they had beaten Montgomery across the Rhine. If not for the 9th Armored Division’s decisive actions and tenacity during the Battle of the Bulge and in capturing the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, it is likely the war in Europe would have continued past May 1945 and cost many more Allied soldiers their lives.