The Department of Defense announced on Aug. 13, 2018, it will extend eligibility for Military OneSource benefits from the current 180 days to 365 days after separation or retirement from military service to ensure all service members and families have access to comprehensive support as they transition to civilian life. This change goes into effect Aug. 13, 2018, in accordance with the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019.
Military OneSource provides information, resources and support for active-duty, National Guard and reserve service members, their families and survivors. Provided at no cost, Military OneSource gives exclusive access to programs, tools, and benefits designed to help ensure service members and their families are mission-ready and able to thrive in both their military and post-military lives.
“Each person is unique, and so is each military-to-civilian transition,” said. A.T. Johnston, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy. “We want all of Military OneSource’s resources to be there when someone needs them — whether it is a day, a week or many months after their transition to civilian life.”
(U.S. Army photo by Edward N. Johnson)
As a DOD program, Military OneSource offers a wide range of services designed exclusively for the military community. Services include help with relocation, tax support, financial planning, health and wellness coaching, as well as confidential non-medical counseling and specialty consultations for spouse employment, education, adoption, elder care, special needs, and much more.
“Military OneSource is powered by people with extensive knowledge and training in meeting the needs of our military community, many of whom have also served or lived in military families,” explained Lee Kelley, program director of the Non-medical Counseling Program Office within military community and family policy. “We’re dedicated to providing expert, proven, and practical support and information to our service members and their families to help them achieve their goals and live their best military life.”
Military OneSource services are accessible 24/7, service members and family members can call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or go to www.militaryonesource.mil. To explore additional benefits that may be available through the Department of Veterans Affairs, go to https://explore.va.gov/.
A Russian Mig-29K assigned to the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier splashed down in the Mediterranean Ocean soon after takeoff during a planned mission to Syria. The pilot ejected and was recovered by a helicopter.
According to U.S. officials who spoke to Fox News, three Russian fighters took off from the ramp of the Kuznetsov to conduct missions in Syria, but one of them turned around. It attempted to land but crashed in the ocean instead.
But the Russian product display in the Mediterranean is filled with old gear and compromises. The MiG-29K is the carrier variant of the Fulcrum and is generally considered to be a capable but lackluster aircraft.
Those short takeoff and in-flight refueling capabilities are vital for Russian carrier-based fighters, since the only Russian carrier is the Kuznetsov which has no catapults. Planes have to take off under their own power with a limited load of fuel and ordnance.
This limits the planes’ range, forcing Russia to keep the carrier close to Syria’s shores for its pilots to have a chance at hitting anything.
This stands in stark contrast to Russia’s big, flashy military display of 2015. Their navy fired 26 Kalibr cruise missiles from ships in the Caspian Sea at targets in Syria and sent the footage around the world. Even that display wasn’t perfect. Four missiles fell short and crashed into Iran, killing cows.
The Army plans to issue a new World War II-style uniform starting the summer of 2020, as senior leaders look to sharpen the professional appearance of soldiers and inspire others to join them.
The Army Greens uniform, a version of the uniform once worn by the Greatest Generation, will now be worn by today’s generation as they lead the service into the future.
“As I go around and talk to soldiers… they’re very excited about it,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey. “They’re excited for the same reasons why we wanted to do this. This uniform is very much still in the minds of many Americans.”
The Army Service Uniform will revert to a dress uniform for more formal events, while the Operational Camouflage Pattern uniform will still be used as a duty uniform.
The Army does not plan to get rid of the ASU or have soldiers wear the Army Greens uniform in the motor pool, Dailey said Nov. 19, 2018, during a media roundtable at the Pentagon.
“The intent is to not replace the duty uniform,” he said. “You’re still going to have a time and place to wear the duty uniform every day.”
A pair of soldier demonstrators wear prototypes of the Army Greens uniform.
(US Army photo by Ron Lee)
Ultimately, it will be up to the unit commander what soldiers will wear.
“It’s going to be a commander’s call,” said Brig. Gen. Anthony Potts, who is in charge of PEO Soldier, the lead developer of the uniform. “Each commander out there will have the opportunity to determine what the uniform is going to be.”
The Greens uniform, Potts said, will provide a better option to soldiers who work in an office or in public areas.
“What we found is that the ASU itself doesn’t really dress down well to a service uniform with a white shirt and stripes on the pants,” the general said Friday in a separate interview.
In the summer of 2020, fielding is expected to start with soldiers arriving to their first duty assignments. The uniform will also be available for soldiers to purchase at that time. The mandatory wear date for all soldiers is set for 2028.
The new uniform will be cost-neutral for enlisted soldiers, who will be able to purchase it with their clothing allowance.
Before any of that, the Greens uniform will begin a limited user evaluation within 90 days to help finalize the design of the uniform.
The first uniforms will go out to about 200 soldiers, mainly recruiters, who interact with the public on a daily basis.
“Every time you design a new uniform, the devil is in the details,” Potts said.
PEO Soldier teams will then go out and conduct surveys and analysis with those wearing the uniform.
“What that does is that helps us fix or correct any of the design patterns that need to be corrected,” he said, “or any potential quality problems you might see with some of the first runs of new materials.”
PEO Soldier worked with design teams at the Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center to modernize the WWII-era uniform. Some of the updates make the uniform more durable and comfortable, he said.
“There will be differences,” Potts said. “Differences in materials, slight differences in design, but keeping the authentic feel of that time period and that original uniform.”
The Army Uniform Board, part of the Army G-4 office, also sought and addressed feedback from the service’s first all-female uniform board.
One approved change the female board recommended was the slacks and low-quarter dress shoes instead of the skirt and pumps for female soldiers.
“It was a more comfortable uniform for them during the day,” Potts said of what he had heard from female demonstrators who have worn the uniform. “And they really felt like it was a very sharp uniform that they were proud to wear.”
While the uniform is issued with an all-weather coat, there will be optional jackets for soldiers to purchase and wear.
An Eisenhower or “Ike” waist-length jacket will be available as well as a green-colored tanker jacket and a leather bomber jacket.
Options for headgear will include the garrison cap and the beret, both of which will be issued. Soldiers will also have the option to purchase a service cap.
For soldiers who do wear the uniform, they will help honor those who came before them.
“This nation came together during World War II and fought and won a great war,” Dailey said. “And that’s what the secretary and the chief want to do, is capitalize on that Greatest Generation, because there’s another great generation that is serving today and that’s the soldiers who serve in the United States Army.”
The USS North Carolina was what they called a “fast” battleship, designed for long range shooting matches with other ships of war. She was faster than any other ship in the U.S. fleet when she was built.
“I was 17 when I came aboard this thing,” says James Bowen, a World War II veteran and USS North Carolina sailor. “I saw that thing and said ‘Nothing can hurt me on that thing.’ So I think of this as my second mother.”
“It brings back a lot of memories, if you walk around the ventilators,” says Louis Popovich, another USS North Carolina veteran. “It’s amazing how you can be reminded of an area by breathing some of the air.”
By the end of WWII, submarine warfare and aircraft carriers made the more expensive heavy gun warships like North Carolina all but obsolete. The last use of a battleship in combat was in Desert Storm, but by then they were firing Tomahawk missiles. Slowly over the next 50 years, the battleships of WWII were decommissioned one by one.
The North Carolina was opened to the public in 1963 and is now moored at Wilmington, N.C, where those interested in hearing more stories from the men who fought aboard her can visit.
While the ship will be there for the foreseeable future, the veterans’ firsthand stories will not. An estimated 430 WWII veterans die every day and by 2036, they will all be gone — but not forgotten.
U.S. Army leaders say the next war will be fought in mega-cities, but the service has embarked on an ambitious effort to prepare most of its combat brigades to fight, not inside, but beneath them.
Late 2017, the Army launched an accelerated effort that funnels some $572 million into training and equipping 26 of its 31 active combat brigades to fight in large-scale subterranean facilities that exist beneath dense urban areas around the world.
For this new type of warfare, infantry units will need to know how to effectively navigate, communicate, breach heavy obstacles, and attack enemy forces in underground mazes ranging from confined corridors to tunnels as wide as residential streets. Soldiers will need new equipment and training to operate in conditions such as complete darkness, bad air, and lack of cover from enemy fire in areas that challenge standard Army communications equipment.
Senior leaders have mentioned small parts of the effort in public speeches, but Army officials at Fort Benning, Georgia’s Maneuver Center of Excellence — the organization leading the subterranean effort — have been reluctant to discuss the scale of the endeavor.
(U.S. Army photo by John Lytle)
“We did recognize, in a megacity that has underground facilities — sewers and subways and some of the things we would encounter … we have to look at ourselves and say ‘ok, how does our current set of equipment and our tactics stack up?'” Col. Townley Hedrick, commandant of the Infantry School at the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, told Military.com in an interview. “What are the aspects of megacities that we have paid the least attention to lately, and every megacity has got sewers and subways and stuff that you can encounter, so let’s brush it up a little bit.”
Left unmentioned were the recent studies the Army has undertaken to shore up this effort. The Army completed a four-month review in 2017 of its outdated approach to underground combat, and published a new training manual dedicated to this environment.
“This training circular is published to provide urgently needed guidance to plan and execute training for units operating in subterranean environments, according to TC 3-20.50 “Small Unit Training in Subterranean Environments,” published in November 2017. “Though prepared through an ‘urgent’ development process, it is authorized for immediate implementation.”
A New Priority
The Army has always been aware that it might have to clear and secure underground facilities such as sewers and subway systems beneath densely-populated cities. In the past, tactics and procedures were covered in manuals on urban combat such as FM 90-10-1, “An Infantryman’s Guide to Combat in Built-up Areas,” dated 1993.
Before the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mission for taking large, underground military complexes was given to tier-one special operations units such as Army Delta Force and the Navy‘s SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.
But the Pentagon’s new focus on preparing to fight peer militaries such as North Korea, Russia and China changed all that.
An assessment last year estimates that there are about 10,000 large-scale underground military facilities around the world that are intended to serve as subterranean cities, an Army source, who is not cleared to talk to the press, told Military.com.
The Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group — an outfit often tasked with looking ahead to identify future threats — told U.S. military leaders that special operations forces will not be able to deal with the subterranean problem alone and that large numbers of conventional forces must be trained and equipped to fight underground, the source said.
The endeavor became an urgent priority because more than 4,800 of these underground facilities are located in North Korea, the source said.
Relations now seem to be warming between Washington and Pyongyang after the recent meeting between U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But in addition to its underground nuclear missile facilities, North Korea has the capability to move thousands of troops through deep tunnels beneath the border into South Korea, according to the Army’s new subterranean manual.
“North Korea could accommodate the transfer of 30,000 heavily armed troops per hour,” the manual states. “North Korea had planned to construct five southern exits and the tunnel was designed for both conventional warfare and guerrilla infiltration. Among other things, North Korea built a regimental airbase into a granite mountain.”
For its part, Russia inherited a vast underground facilities program from the Soviet Union, designed to ensure the survival of government leadership and military command and control in wartime, the manual states. Underground bunkers, tunnels, secret subway lines, and other facilities still beneath Moscow, other major Russian cities, and the sites of major military commands.
More recently, U.S. and coalition forces operating in Iraq and Syria have had to deal with fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria operating in tunnel systems.
Learning to Fight Underground
To prepare combat units, the Army has activated mobile teams to train the leadership of 26 brigade combat teams on how prepare units for underground warfare and plan and execute large-scale combat operations in the subterranean environment.
The 3rd BCT, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado is next in line for the training.
Army officials confirmed to Military.com that there is an approved plan to dedicate $572 million to the effort. That works out to $22 million for each BCT, according to an Army spokeswoman who did not want to be named for this article. The Army did not say where the money is coming from or when it will be given to units.
Army leaders launched the subterranean effort in 2017, tasking the AWG with developing a training program. The unit spent October-January at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, developing the tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTPs, units will need to fight in this environment.
“Everything that you can do above ground, you can do below ground; there are just tactics and techniques that are particular,” the source said, adding that tactics used in a subterranean space are much like those used in clearing buildings.
(U.S. Army photo by Erick Warren)
“The principles are exactly the same, but now do it without light, now do it in a confined space … now try to breach a door using a thermal cutting torch when you don’t have air.”
Three training teams focus on heavy breaching, TTPs and planning and a third to train the brigade leadership on intelligence priorities and how to prepare for brigade-size operations in subterranean facilities.
“The whole brigade will be learning the operation,” the source said.
Army combat units train in mock-up towns known as military operations in urban terrain, or MOUT, sites. These training centers often have sewers to deal with rain water, but are too small to use for realistic training, the source said.
The Defense Department has a half-dozen locations that feature subterranean networks. They’re located at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Story, Virginia; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Camp Atterbury-Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Indiana; Tunnel Warfare Center, China Lake, California and Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona, according to the new subterranean training manual.
Rather sending infrastructure to these locations, units will build specially designed, modular subterranean trainers, created by the AWG in 2014. The completed maze-like structure is fashioned from 15 to 20 shipping containers, or conexes, and sits above ground.
Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, talked about these new training structures at the Association of the United States Army’s LANPAC 2018 symposium in Hawaii.
“I was just at the Asymmetric Warfare Group recently; they had built a model subterranean training center that now the Army is in the process of exporting to the combat training centers and home stations,” Townsend said.
“I was thinking to myself before I went and saw it, ‘how are we going to be able to afford to build all these underground training facilities?’ Well, they took me into one that wasn’t underground at all. It actually looked like you went underground at the entrance, but the facility was actually built above ground.But you couldn’t tell that once you went inside of it.”
Shipping containers are commonplace around the Army, so units won’t have to buy special materials to build the trainers, Hedrick said.
“Every post has old, empty conexes … and those are easily used to simulate working underground,” Hedrick said.
Training is only part of the subterranean operations effort. A good portion of the $22 million going to each BCT will be needed buy special equipment so combat units can operate safety underground.
“You can’t go more than one floor deep underground without losing comms with everybody who is up on the surface,” Townsend said. “Our capabilities need some work.”
The Army is looking at the handheld MPU-5 smart radio, made by Persistent Systems LLC, which features a new technology and relies on a “mobile ad hoc network” that will allow units to talk to each other and to the surface as well.
“It sends out a signal that combines with the one next to it, and the one next to it … it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” the source said.
Off the shelf, MPU-5s coast approximately $10,000 each.
Toxic air, or a drop in oxygen, are other challenges soldiers will be likely to face operating deep underground. The Army is evaluating off-the-shelf self-contained breathing equipment for units to purchase.
“Protective masks without a self-contained breathing apparatus provide no protection against the absence of oxygen,” the subterranean manual states. “Having breathing apparatus equipment available is the primary protection element against the absence of oxygen, in the presence of hazardous gases, or in the event of a cave-in.”
Soldiers can find themselves exposed to smoke, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, methane natural gas underground, according to the manual.
Breathing gear is expensive; some apparatus cost as much as $13,000 apiece, the source said.
Underground tunnels and facilities are often lighted, but when the lights go out, soldiers will be in total darkness. The Army announced in February 2018 that it has money in its fiscal 2019 budget to buy dual-tubed, binocular-style night vision goggles to give soldiers greater depth perception than offered by the current single-tubed Enhanced Night Vision Goggles and AN/PVS 14s.
The Enhanced Night Vision Goggle B uses a traditional infrared image intensifier similar to the PVS-14 along with a thermal camera. The system fuses the IR with the thermal capability into one display. The Army is considering equipping units trained in subterranean ops with ENVG Bs, the source said.
Units will also need special, hand-carried ballistic shields, at least two per squad, since tunnels provide little to no cover from enemy fire.
Weapon suppressors are useful to cut down on noise that’s significantly amplified in confined spaces, the manual states.
Some of the heavy equipment such as torches and large power saws needed for breaching are available in brigade engineer units, Hedrick said.
“We definitely did put some effort into trying to identify a list of normal equipment that may not work and what equipment that we might have to look at procuring,” Hedrick said.
Jason Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for new American Security, was skeptical about the scale of the program.
Dempsey, a former Army infantry officer with two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, told Military.com that such training “wasn’t relevant” to fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He questions spending such a large amount of money training and equipping so many of the Army’s combat brigades in a type of combat that they might never need.
“I can totally understand taking every brigade in Korea, Alaska, some of the Hawaii units — any units on tap for first response for something going on in Korea,” said Dempsey, who served in the combat units such as the 75th Ranger Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division.
“Conceptually I don’t knock it. The only reason I would question it is if it comes with a giant bill and new buys of a bunch of specialized gear. … It’s a whole new business line for folks whose business tapered off after Afghanistan.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Military service often requires duty in noisy environments that can cause hearing loss and it doesn’t just happen during combat operations at deployed locations far from home station.
From flight line operations to firearms qualification ranges, aircraft maintenance back shops, vehicle repair shops, civil engineering shops, or even Air Force Research laboratories where innovative and agile technologies are born, noise brings the potential of hearing loss if proper personal protective hearing equipment is not available or utilized.
“In fact, Veterans Administration records show that auditory conditions such as hearing loss and tinnitus are the number one and number two most prevalent disability claim in the VA,” said Dr. Tanisha Hammill, research coordination branch lead at the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence in San Antonio. “In terms of number of claims, this is the most prevalent injury among our veterans, so there is an obvious need to focus on reducing those injuries among our service members,” she said.
In 2009, the Congressionally-mandated HCE was stood up to combat hearing and balance disorders. As part of the HCE, the Collaborative Auditory & Vestibular Research Network, or CAVRN was formed to bring together researchers with an auditory research focus to discuss current research efforts across the DoD and VA enterprises, providing unique opportunities for collaboration, Hammill said.
Annual CAVRN meetings are held at federal facilities and are hosted by member organizations, and in 2018, the annual meeting was held April 24-26 and was hosted by the 711th Human Performance Wing’s Airman Systems Directorate, Warfighter Interface Division, Battlespace Acoustics Branch; the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, and the Naval Medical Research Unit – Dayton.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark Koeniger, 711th HPW commander, welcomed the CAVRN meeting attendees and cited numerous opportunities for collaboration with the 711 HPW.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Richard Eldridge)
“As you go forward, the Human Performance Wing wants to be part of what you all do to help Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines maintain their hearing so that hopefully in the future, hearing loss ceases to be the number one disability.
“The Air Force Chief of Staff’s focus areas converge on a singular vision – to create healthy squadrons full of resilient and credible warfighters primed to excel in multi-domain warfare,” he told them. “Certainly, nobody can do their job, or at least they would have a very difficult time doing their job if they couldn’t hear well.”
Hearing is a critical sense and is required for all service members to effectively communicate within dynamic and often chaotic environments.
“The ability to hear and communicate is critical to the safety of each warrior and their unit, and is central to command and control, and mission accomplishment,” Hammill said.
The CAVRN aims to foster knowledge sharing and facilitate greater communication, coordination, awareness, and transparency between community members.
“The CAVRN promotes collaboration, translation, and best practices that influence auditory-vestibular readiness, care, and quality of life for warfighters and veterans,” added Hammill.
Hammill stated that as she toured the 711 HPW, she thought about all the tremendous crossover opportunities between auditory research and so many other disciplines within human performance. “We are a very interdisciplinary team and that’s a big part of our growth – to discover and reach out to these other teams who are somehow focused on auditory or balance disorders,” she said.
“When you bring these folks together, they end up having very meaningful conversations, they are able to incorporate perspectives of their colleagues, who are subject matter experts across the DoD and VA and incorporate their perspectives and really make smarter projects and make more multiservice projects.”
Hammill explained that the CAVRN is built on a translational model, including bench scientists, clinician scientists, funding program managers, and public health experts, adding, “The whole scope from idea to application to practice, all in the same room so they can plan everything out together right up front.”
“This is a complex issue. Losing your hearing is not a part of doing business in military service and there are a lot of smart people working diligently to come up with better solutions to protect their hearing, both from a personal protective equipment stance, but also efforts in noise reductions and efforts in communication enhancement while making sure they’re able to do their job and have a reasonable quality of life after service,” Hammill said.
This article originally appeared on Health.mil. Follow @MilitaryHealth on Twitter.
Kings Mountain High School teacher Hailey Spearman was made an honorary recruiter for the Shelby Army Recruiting Center at a ceremony on Fort Jackson, S.C. on April 22.
Spearman attended a Future Soldier event with her local Shelby recruiter, Staff Sgt. Casey Raza, and some of her students who have joined the U.S. Army this school year. They received first-hand experience of what Army basic training entails.
Spearman teaches English Language Arts and coaches the women’s track and field team at KMHS.
Lt. Col. Robert Garbarino, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Columbia Commander, said both teacher and recruiter work together to help students find their options for life after high school.
“Ms. Spearman is a model for what a community advocate does for our recruiting efforts,” Garbarino said.
He deputized her by giving her his Army Recruiting Badge in front of over 250 Future Soldiers and their guests. He also presented her with a plaque to thank her for her efforts to promote awareness on Army opportunities. Garbarino said he was pleased to recognize Spearman after hearing how she goes the extra mile for her students.
Raza said that Spearman has been instrumental to the process.
“I wanted to reach as many students as possible to show them all of their options,” Raza said. “She allowed me to give presentations during her English classes and to students who are on her track team.”
Spearman said Raza puts the needs of each student first.
“She has a way of building positive relationships with students and therefore, our students look up to her and respect her opinions concerning the Army,” Spearman said.
Service members are trusted to defend the nation, surely they can be trusted when boarding a plane.
This is the thinking of the Transportation Security Administration, which is pushing to ensure that service members and DOD civilians know they can use the TSA Precheck program.
“Service members are already enrolled in TSA Precheck, but many do not know they are,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a recent interview. Pekoske, a retired Coast Guard vice admiral, wants all those eligible to use this free program.
All service members of all components of the armed forces and students at the armed forces’ service academies are automatically enrolled in TSA Precheck. Their DOD ID numbers — a 10-digit number that should be on the back of your Common Access Card — serve as their Known Traveler Numbers.
Again, there is no cost for military members or civilians. For the general public that enrolls in the program, the cost is .
Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, makes remarks during a Veterans Day ceremony at Transportation Security Administration headquarters in Arlington, Va., Nov. 10, 2014. The event highlighted TSA’s new initiatives which include efforts to hire more veterans and to make travel easier for service members and veterans.
“This is a real benefit for being a member of the armed forces, and it is good for us from a security perspective,” Petoske said.
To obtain their positions, service members and DOD civilians undergo background checks, and most have security clearances. They are trusted to carry weapons in defense of the United States or to safeguard America’s secrets. So the TSA decided that there was no need for them to take off their shoes and belts at a checkpoint to get on an aircraft.
“If you go on any airline website, when you are making flight reservations, there is a box for the KTN and that is where they put their DOD number in,” he said. “Once you put the number in — especially if you are a regular flier on that airline — every time you make a reservation, or a reservation is made by the DOD travel service for you, they will automatically pick up that number.”
“The effort makes sense from an agency perspective and it is also a way to say thanks to members of the military and the civilian members of DOD and the Department of Homeland Security who sacrifice so much,” the administrator said. “It’s a really good program and it provides a direct benefit to those who keep us free.”
Growing trust between the local community and U.S. service members, and fostering good relationships with the government in the area surrounding a new base increases the chance of local support for airmen deployed there in an effort to bring stability to the region.
The U.S. Army’s 411th Civil Affairs Battalion are experts in nurturing relationships in host countries. Partnering with local community groups and base groups, civil affairs specialists have donated food, supplies, built classrooms and built solar powered wells in the communities surrounding Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger. They also trained technicians on how to maintain the solar panels.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez and his platoon patrol the sandy streets of Djibouti, the hot East African sun scorches their path with temperatures upwards of 115 degrees. Passing through impoverished villages, Rodriguez began to notice a devastating trend — most of the children are barefooted.
It was during his visit to an orphanage that, Rodriquez immediately thought of his own two daughters and made it his personal mission to do something about the shoeless orphans.
“While on patrol, every few weeks we passed a local orphanage where children gather for their meals,” Rodriguez said. “Children aged 5-8 sleep along the walls outside and wake up to shower in the orphanage. They eat cups of peanut butter for protein with crackers. Since there is no refrigeration, that is the most protein they are able to get. That’s their lunch — crackers. So I thought you know what? This would be a great mission for my church back home.”
While on emergency leave due to his father’s passing, Rodriguez pushed past his grief to talk to students and coordinate a sandal drive with the school that his daughters attend, Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in Laredo, Texas. Their Catholic school is part of the parish that Rodriguez and his family belong to.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, stands with several of the children in Djibouti. Rodriguez gifted 500 sandals to barefoot orphans and children during their deployment.
(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)
“I am very active in my daughter’s school and I wanted to get my daughters involved and proactive in something in Africa as well,” Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, said. “I talked to the principal, who said she would talk to Father Wojciech, the priest in charge of his church in Laredo. The school sent out flyers thru the National Junior Honor Society asking parents to donate one pair of sandals.”
On Veteran’s day, Rodriguez who is completing his fourth deployment, visited his daughter’s school to talk about his service in the military and the children in Djibouti.
“I described how the weather was there, how hot it was and asked them to imagine standing outside, barefooted in Laredo,” Rodriguez said. “My daughters and their classmates are at that age where they are learning to help others and how to ask for help as well. I want them to learn a sense of compassion.”
From September to December, his daughter’s school collected six boxes filled with roughly 500 sandals of varying sizes. After the sandals were collected, the students raised money to send the two by three-foot shipping boxes to Djibouti for Rodriguez and his unit to deliver to the children.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, hands out sandals to barefoot orphans and children with his platoon during their deployment, February 2019 in Djibouti.
(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)
“This is the first time that we have done something so big that reaches out of the country,” Cynthia Sanchez, math and science teacher at Blessed Sacrament School. “It’s a trickle-down effect, from parents, and at school they are learning how to help others so that they can teach their own kids.”
Normally, the school participated in blanket, canned food and sweater drives, and periodically will make trips to feed the homeless.
“They feel good and warm inside about helping others with no incentives but because they want to give it,” said Sanchez. “We weren’t expecting that amount. A lot of parents and kids wanted to do their part and National Junior honor Society members went outside of the school into their communities to get donations.”
Anxiously waiting for the packages to arrive, Rodriguez received the sandals in February.
In order to distribute the sandals in the community, Rodriguez coordinated with the local orphanage and the village elder for approval.
After he received approval, Rodriguez and his platoon set out to deliver the sandals to the children of the community.
“When we handed out the sandals the children were so surprised,” Rodriguez said. “Their happiness turned into overwhelming joy, to trying to be next, I made sure they all were good. It got chaotic at times but these children had nothing but what they were wearing and most were barefooted.”
Rodriguez, who kept close contact with his daughter’s school immediately alerted the school, via e-mail, that he had handed out the sandals to the children.
Children from Djibouti pose for a photo after receiving sandals from Texas Army National Guard Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez and his platoon, February 2019 in Djibouti.
(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)
In response, Anacecy Chavez, a Blessed Sacrament School teacher wrote:
“When I read this my heart jumped. You are a super hero for me and many others for serving our country and helping those around you.”
The Director of the orphanage, Caritas Djibouti, also thanked Rodriguez and his daughter’s school for their donation.
“We had the good surprise a few days ago to receive, through Mr. Rodriguez, a nice and generous donation of shoes for the street children here at Caritas,” said Francesco Martialis, director of Caritas Djibouti. “It was such a generous support which will be usefully used for sure! And also many thanks for the Church support that we feel, from here Djibouti, an isolated place, through your donation. It is precious to us.”
Rodriguez, who has been a soldier on the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force for 18 years, is no stranger to getting involved into the community. Task force members routinely support local law enforcement agencies and community-based organizations in an effort to detect, interdict and deter illicit drug activity.
In addition to being an involved member of his church, Rodriguez said that his experience as a task force member enhanced his ability to build relationships on an international level, communicate and coordinate with partners in order to make the drive a success.
Although Rodriguez’s tour is coming to a close, he has continued to solidify the connections of his church at home with the local Djibouti church — which coincidentally are both named Blessed Sacrament.
Rodriguez spoke to the Bishop of the Djibouti Catholic Church about maintaining contact in the case that they may be able to provide more donations for the children.
“It is great to hear that our young youth are striving to be humanitarians as that is something this world is missing more of,” Rodriguez said. “It gives me great pride to know that the sacrifices we make as soldiers to protect our country is giving our youth the opportunity to grow into caring, responsible and giving citizens of our communities.”
A new documentary, “National Bird,” exposes the secret drone war being carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere from the ground level of the strike and from the perspective of three military operators who used to pull the trigger.
“When you watch someone in those dying moments, what their reaction is, how they’re reacting and what they’re doing,” Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, says in the film. “It’s so primitive. It’s really raw, stripped down, death.”
Though unmanned systems have been used for many years to carry out surveillance, it wasn’t until after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks — on February 4, 2002 — that a drone was armed and used for targeted killing. That 2002 strike apparently killed three civilians mistaken for Osama bin Laden and his confidantes, a theme that went on to play out again and again.
Armed drones have operated since in Afghanistan and many other countries in which the U.S. is not at war, including Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. They have been used to strike militants and terror leaders over the years — a program accelerated under the Obama administration — but it has come at a deadly cost, with thousands of innocent civilians killed, to include hundreds of children.
“I can say the drone program is wrong because I don’t know how many people I’ve killed,” Linebaugh says.
Linebaugh and two others, introduced only by their first names Daniel and Lisa, tell equally compelling stories from their time in the military’s drone program. The film gives them a chance to shine a light on what is a highly secretive program, which officials often describe as offering near-surgical precision against terrorists that may someday do harm to U.S. interests.
Instead, the three offer pointed critiques to that narrative, sharing poignant details of deaths they witnessed through their sophisticated cameras and sensors. The most disturbing thing about being involved with the drone program, Daniel said, was the lack of clarity about whom he killed and whether they were civilians.
“There’s no way of knowing,” he says.
Though the testimony of the three operators is compelling, the documentary’s most important moments come from a visit to Afghanistan, where the documentary showcases a family that was wrongly targeted by a strike. It was on February 21, 2010, when three vehicles carrying more than two-dozen civilians were hit by an Air Force drone crew.
“That’s when we heard the sound of a plane but we couldn’t see it,” one victim says.
Filmmaker Sonia Kennebeck mixes witness statements with a reenactment of overhead imagery and voices reading from the transcript prior to the strike. A later investigation found that the operators of the Predator drone offered “inaccurate and unprofessional” reporting of what they saw.
During the incident, the drone operators reported seeing “at least five dudes so far.” Eventually, they reported 21 “military-age males,” no females, and two possible children, which they said were approximately 12 years old.
“Twelve, 13 years old with a weapon is just as dangerous,” one drone operator says. The operators never got positive identification of the people below having weapons.
That’s because the group consisted only of innocent men, women, and children, according to the documentary. Twenty-three Afghan civilians were killed, including two children aged seven and four.
“We thought they would stop when they saw women, but they just kept bombing us,” the mother of the children says.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of U.S. forces in the country, apologized for the strike. Four officers involved were disciplined.
The documentary cuts through the defense of drones as a “surgical” weapon that only kills the bad guys. As many reports have made clear, the US often doesn’t know exactly who it is killing in a drone strike, instead hazarding an “imperfect guess,” according to The New York Times, which is sometimes based merely on a location or suspicious behavior.
That imperfect guess has often resulted in the death of innocent locals — or, as was the case in 2015, the death of two men, an American, and an Italian, who were being held hostage by militants.
As Daniel points out in the documentary, the presence of drones on the battlefield has only emboldened commanders, who no longer have to risk military personnel in raids and can fire a missile instead. That viewpoint only seems to be growing, as the technology gets better and drones continue to proliferate around the world.
The drone may continue to be the “national bird” of the U.S. military for a long time, but perhaps the documentary can start a conversation around their use and whether they create more terrorists, as has been argued, than they are able to take out.
“Not everybody is a freakin’ terrorist. We need to just get out of that mindset,” says Lisa, a former Air Force technical sergeant, in the documentary. “Imagine if this was happening to us. Imagine if our children were walking outside of their door and it was a sunny day, and they were afraid because they didn’t know if today was the day that something was going to fall out of the sky and kill someone close to them. How would we feel?”
Since the Cold War, the US and Russia have drawn up plans on how to best wage nuclear war against each other — but while large population centers with huge cultural impact may seem like obvious choices, a smarter nuclear attack would focus on countering the enemy’s nuclear forces.
So while people in New York City or Los Angeles may see themselves as being in the center of the world, in terms of nuclear-target priorities, they’re not as important as places in states like North Dakota or Montana.
This map shows the essential points Russia would have to attack to wipe out the US’s nuclear forces, according to Schwartz:
Skye Gould/Business Insider
This map represents targets for an all-out attack on the US’s fixed nuclear infrastructure, weapons, and command and control centers — but even a massive strike like this wouldn’t guarantee anything.
“It’s exceedingly unlikely that such an attack would be fully successful,” Schwartz told Business Insider. “There’s an enormous amount of variables in pulling off an attack like this flawlessly, and it would have to be flawless. If even a handful of weapons escape, the stuff you missed will be coming back at you.”
Even if every single US intercontinental ballistic missile silo, stockpiled nuclear weapon, and nuclear-capable bomber were flattened, US nuclear submarines could — and would — retaliate.
According to Schwartz, at any given time, the US has four to five nuclear-armed submarines “on hard alert, in their patrol areas, awaiting orders for launch.” Even high-ranking officials in the US military don’t know where the silent submarines are, and there’s no way Russia could chase them all down before they fired back, which Schwartz said could be done in as little as five to 15 minutes.
But even a strike on a relatively sparsely populated area could lead to death and destruction across the US, depending on how the wind blew. That’s because of fallout.
The US has strategically positioned the bulk of its nuclear forces, which double as nuclear targets, far from population centers. But if you happen to live next to an ICBM silo, fear not.
There’s a “0.0 percent chance” that Russia could hope to survive an act of nuclear aggression against the US, according to Schwartz.
So while we all live under a nuclear “sword of Damocles,” Schwartz said, people in big cities like New York and Los Angeles most likely shouldn’t worry about being struck by a nuclear weapon.