A Sailor assigned to Cryptologic Warfare Activity 66 (CWA 66), based at Ft. George G. Meade, Md., was killed while deployed in Manbij, Syria, Jan. 16, 2019.
Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, was killed while supporting Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and teammates of Chief Petty Officer Kent during this extremely difficult time. She was a rockstar, an outstanding Chief Petty Officer, and leader to many in the Navy Information Warfare Community,” said Cmdr. Joseph Harrison, Commanding Officer, CWA-66.
Personal photo provided by the family of Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent.
Kent, who hailed from upstate New York, enlisted in the Navy Dec. 11, 2003, and graduated from boot camp at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Ill., in February 2004. Her other military assignments included Navy Information Operations Command, Fort Gordon, Ga.; Navy Special Warfare Support Activity 2, Norfolk, Va.; Personnel Resource Development Office, Washington, D.C.; Navy Information Operations Command, Fort Meade, Md.; and Cryptologic Warfare Group 6, Fort Meade, Md. Kent reported to CWA 66 after the command was established on Aug. 10, 2018.
“Chief Kent’s drive, determination and tenacity were infectious. Although she has left us way too soon, she will not be forgotten, and her legacy will live on with us,” said CWA 66 Command Senior Enlisted Leader, Senior Chief Cryptologic Technician (Collections) Denise Vola.
Kent’s awards and decorations include the Joint Service Commendation Medal (2), Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon, and Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon.
NASA astronaut Col. Tyler N. “Nick” Hague waits to be lowered into the pool containing a mockup of the International Space Station at the Johnson Space Flight Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory for Extravehicular Activity training in Houston, Tex., Apr. 27, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
(Editor’s note: The following is a reposting of an Airman magazine story and an episode of BLUE, which aired in 2017 on AFTV, about Air Force astronauts assigned to NASA. Additional information from NASA is added to mark the culmination of a nearly decade-long goal to once again launch American astronauts from U.S. soil via NASA’s Commercial Crew Program with SpaceX and Boeing. On Wednesday, May 27, 2020, Air Force Col. Robert Behnken and retired Marine Col. Douglas Hurley are scheduled to pilot the inaugural, manned mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.)
A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, scheduled to lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:33 p.m. EDT May 27, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida, for an extended stay at the space station for the Demo-2 mission.
As the final flight test for SpaceX, this mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit.
Behnken and Hurley were among the first astronauts to begin working and training on SpaceX’s next-generation human space vehicle and were selected for their extensive test pilot and flight experience, including several missions on the space shuttle.
Behnken will be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the space station. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and has completed two space shuttle flights.
It is a career in space that had its beginnings in the Air Force ROTC program at Washington University in St. Louis.
“The Air Force felt strongly that I should get a physics degree, and so I did that. But I was interested in engineering, and I did a mechanical engineering degree as well,” Behnken said in a 2017 interview with Airman magazine.
“It was a time, in 1992, that the Air Force was not bringing everybody immediately on active duty… I had a pretty long wait, so I applied for graduate school and an educational delay, and the Air Force looked kindly on that. I got that opportunity and picked up a National Science Foundation fellowship in the process, so I had a way to pay for school; the Air Force let me take advantage of that until I had earned my PhD at Caltech.”
Behnken’s first assignment was as a mechanical engineer at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, working on new development programs at the Air Force Research Laboratory. It was there that his commanders, both test pilot school graduates, suggested he plot a similar career course.
“The lieutenant colonel and the colonel said, ‘Hey, you should think about test pilot school,'” Behnken said. “I applied and was accepted, and ended up out at Edwards Air Force Base (California) doing some flight tests on an F-22 when it was very early in its development process before being selected as an astronaut and moving to Houston.”
Behnken flew two Space Shuttle missions; STS-123, in March 2008, and STS-130, in February 2010. He performed three spacewalks during each mission.
His training for the Crew Dragon mission has been unique among recent astronauts.
“Training for these missions is really wrapped into the development process. We’re learning the vehicles as they’re designed and built, and then that will be part of our training material,” Behnken said.
“All of us are Air Force and Navy test pilot school graduates and we’re really participating in a development process so that we can then kind of bring our space flight experience to the designs as they come to the table. If there’s something that needs to be changed, we give them that feedback, and then they figure out what the cost impact is and decide how well they can incorporate our feedback into their design.”
Lifting off from Launch Pad 39A atop a specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon will accelerate its two passengers to approximately 17,000 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station.
Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system and the maneuvering thrusters, among other things. In about 24 hours, Crew Dragon will be in position to rendezvous and dock with the space station. The spacecraft is designed to do this autonomously but astronauts aboard the spacecraft and the station will be diligently monitoring approach and docking and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary.
After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard the station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.
Although the Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, the specific mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement.
Upon conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, depart the space station and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown just off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the crew will be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and return to Cape Canaveral.
The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.
“It’s a pretty exciting job. As a test pilot, the thing that we all hope is that we might get a chance to test a new airplane. We’re getting to test a new spacecraft. We’ll be the first people to fly on this vehicle, so we’re really the space test pilots for a brand-new spaceship, which is pretty cool,” Behnken said.
(Editor’s Note: Originally posted July 24, 2017, this article concentrated on the training of Air Force Col. Tyler Nicklaus “Nick” Hague, as he was the next of the Air Force astronauts scheduled to fly to the International Space Station. His first launch was on Soyuz MS-10, which aborted shortly after take-off on October 11, 2018. His second launch, on March 14, 2019, was successful, taking him and his fellow Soyuz MS-12 crew members to join ISS Expedition 59/60. He would spend just more than 202 days in space and completed nearly 20 hours of extravehicular activities, or space walks, before returning to Earth in October of 2019.)
On the rare instances when Col. Tyler N. “Nick” Hague returns from a day at the office and walks through the door of his own home, the oldest of his two boys occasionally asks, “Daddy, were you in space today?”
Not such a childish question when you consider the actual distance and travel time when Hague finally rides into space aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket in September of 2018.
It will only take him about 12 minutes to arrive in low-Earth orbit from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, only 249 miles above the planet’s surface. In comparison, Hague traveled two miles farther when he was just a boy of 12; a total of 251 miles from his home in Hoxie, Kansas, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he first laid eyes on the place where his journey into space would actually begin – the United States Air Force Academy.
“Growing up in western Kansas, staring up at the sky at night, seeing all those stars, I’ve always wanted to do something involved with space,” said Hague. “I couldn’t find a better program in terms of being able to study astronautical engineering with building actual satellites and doing all that hands on work at an undergraduate level. That just didn’t exist anywhere else at that time and so that was the place I wanted to go.”
He graduated from the academy and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1998 and began a 20-year journey that would bring him to the International Space Station to begin a six-month mission as flight engineer on ISS Expedition 57/58.
During this journey, Hague earned a masters degree in engineering from MIT, worked on advanced spacecraft technologies at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, flight tested at Edwards AFB, California, completed a five-month deployment to Iraq to conduct experimental airborne reconnaissance in 2004, returned to the Air Force Academy to teach astronautics, became an advisor for the U.S. Senate on national defense and foreign policy, served as a congressional appropriations liaison for United States Central Command at the Pentagon and finally as deputy division chief for research and development at the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization before being selected for astronaut training in 2013.
“I applied the first time (to the astronaut training program) in 2003, so it took 10 years and three applications in order to finally get selected,” said Hague. “Twenty years ago could I look at what was going to lie before me and map all of that out that would connect that point to this point? There are all these different opportunities that I would have never been able to line up on my own, but the service in the Air Force has made it possible.”
When he finally received his crew assignment, Hague quickly learned that being an astronaut still means racking up a lot of miles on earth.
In this calendar year of mission training, Hague has logged five flights from Houston to Star City, Russia, where he has spent 33 weeks training on the Russian ISS modules – which make up half of the station – and the Soyuz launch vehicle.
When combined with flights to the European Space Agency training facility in Colon, Germany, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Tsukuba Space Center north of Tokyo for eight more weeks of training on those agency’s modules this year, Hague is closing on 100,000 miles of travel within the Earth’s atmosphere to prepare for the relatively short commute to ISS.
Much of Hague’s time in Star City is spent training for that 12-minute trip aboard Soyuz into space and the corresponding return trip six months later. A training emphasis that fellow Air Force astronaut Col. Michael Hopkins explains exists for a very good reason.
“The majority of your training will be associated with the ride up and the ride home. We have a two-year training flow and as much as a year of your time during that two years will be spent over in Russia and your time in Russia the majority of that time is being spent on the Soyuz vehicle,” said Hopkins, who has already spent six months aboard ISS in 2013-2014. “But just like airplanes, the critical phase of flight is take off and landing. That’s when if anything goes wrong, when you don’t have that much time to deal with it. Aboard the ISS you usually have days if not weeks to assess and correct a problem.”
The overseas travel has two-week breaks when Hague returns to Houston for training on the US systems and for extravehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalks, and an opportunity to sleep in his own bed for a change. This fierce training and travel tempo is one of the drawbacks for astronauts, as well as their spouses and children.
NASA astronaut Robert Behnken, STS-130 mission specialist, takes a break in the mission’s second session of extravehicular activity (EVA) for construction and maintenance on the International Space Station in February of 2010 to allow air scrubbers to remove CO2 that had built up in his space suit. During the five-hour, 54-minute spacewalk, Behnken and astronaut Nicholas Patrick connected two ammonia coolant loops, installed thermal covers around the ammonia hoses, outfitted the Earth-facing port on the Tranquility node for the relocation of its Cupola, and installed handrails and a vent valve on the new module. (Photo/NASA)
“I spend six weeks in Star City, and then come back for a couple weeks, and then I’ll go back for six weeks,” said Hague. “There is a stress on the family, and they miss out on the things that I could be doing with them at home, and on the weekends. I’m TDY a lot, but my family’s making the same kinds of sacrifices that I see service families making day in and day out. I think that, that’s something that everybody that wears a uniform can appreciate.”
However, NASA has embarked on a new collaborative mission with commercial partners SpaceX and Boeing to provide an alternative to Soyuz for manned trips to and from the ISS. Cooperation in the development of new low-orbit launch vehicles by these commercial companies based in the United States will provide the Air Force with more orbital lift options and will also bring astronauts closer to home for training and for longer periods of time.
“It’s important for us to be able to return launch to Florida. You know, from a crew perspective, I can tell you that it makes it a whole lot easier on the crew, because you stop having to send people (to Star City, Russia) for six weeks at a shot over, and over, and over again and reduce the strain on the families,” said Hague.
“It’s also important from a redundancy perspective. Right now it’s Soyuz only, so if something happened with the Soyuz, now we’re looking for a way to get astronauts up there. It’ll provide us that flexibility to continue to fly Soyuz, and fly out of Florida and for the Russians to do the same.”
Once again the Air Force is a lynchpin in the development of a barrier breaking technology as astronaut Col. Robert Behnken is one of four test pilots for the commercial spacecraft and Hopkins is part of the team developing communications, displays and procedures for the new launch vehicles.
“Currently, my major focus is on one of those commercial crewed vehicles. It’s the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. I’m working as one of the CAPCOMs for that program; the communicator who would be talking to the astronauts in the vehicle as they’re going uphill and docking to the station,” said Hopkins. “There’s a lot of new material that we have to learn and figure out what the launch day is going to look like and what docking is going to look like and what the landing is going to look like.”
After one unmanned test of both the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, two-astronaut crews will fly subsequent tests before operational flights will begin taking six astronauts per flight to the ISS. Astronauts, such as Behnken, will not only flight-test the vehicles, but they are deeply involved in the design and development phase of the vehicles that is currently underway.
“The training for these missions is really wrapped into the development process. So we’re learning the vehicles as they’re designed and built, ” said Behnken, veteran of two of the Space Shuttle missions that built the ISS and the only active-duty member of the test crews. “(The test crews are) Air Force and Navy test pilot school graduates, and we’re really participating in a development process so that we can bring our space flight experience to the designs as they come to the table… that should wrap up around mid-2018 for both vehicles, and hopefully if the schedules hold, that’s when we’ll fly in space.”
These astronauts are the most recent in a continuing legacy of Air Force support of NASA and space exploration since the space program’s inception.
A total of eighty-five Air Force astronauts have traveled into space, from three of the first NASA astronauts, the Mercury Seven, Lt. Col. Gus Grissom, Col. Gordon Cooper and Major Deke Slayton, to two of the crew of Apollo 11, the first humans to set foot on the Moon, Col. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Maj. Gen. Michael Collins to Col. Jack Fischer, flight engineer for ISS Expedition 51/52, currently traveling at over 17,000 miles per hour (5 miles per second) for 25,000 miles on each of his 15.5 orbits per day aboard ISS.
Still more, like Hague, are in training for upcoming flights, and numerous Air Force personnel support both manned and unmanned NASA missions.
“The Air Force is supporting the mission on a daily basis,” said Hague. “It’s flight docs assigned here, search and rescue crews that are helping bring us home, we’ve got the range support for launching cargo and soon we’re going to be launching Americans back out of Florida. There’s also guys that are looking at all the radar coming back down from space trying to track space debris and they help us prevent things from flying into the Space Station, so they’re protecting us on a daily basis.”
Of course, participation in the civilian space program reaps great benefits for the Air Force from supporting space exploration and research. “The Air Force gets access to space, and so from an expense standpoint, NASA’s already paid for that, now all you have to do is develop your experiment, and then we can get it onboard,” said Hopkins. “Then you get the astronaut’s time. We don’t go and charge the Air Force for the time of the astronaut on board that’s executing their experiment. You’re getting access to a microgravity laboratory, right? It’s a very unique laboratory, in fact the only one in existence.”
The Soyuz TMA-04M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 carrying Expedition 31 Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The partnership between the Air Force and NASA is a collaborative research relationship that fills gaps in each other’s research and facilities.
According to Dr. Morley Stone, chief technology officer of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, the Air Force benefits from NASA’s experience with human performance in microgravity environments, as NASA benefits from the Air Force’s research in the macrogravity realm of high sustained G-forces.
Both are participating in research on hypersonics, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and materials that can survive extreme environments.
“I would say certainly NASA is up near the top, as probably our most important federal partnership,” said Stone.
Life aboard the ISS is tightly scheduled to accommodate the necessary daily planning conference with ground controllers, two hours of exercise necessary to maintain the astronauts’ bodies in a microgravity environment, performing EVA for scheduled station maintenance or repairs and conducting the experiments sent to ISS by researchers on the ground, military and civilian.
However, on occasion, there are small gaps where astronauts can indulge the kid inside that still looks upon the cosmos in wonder. Behnken had such an opportunity on his second STS mission to install components on the ISS. During an EVA to install the cupola observation window for Earth observation and photography, Behnken and a crewmate exerted themselves to the point that exhaled carbon dioxide was building up inside their suits faster than the air scrubbers could eliminate it.
“My partner and I had both worked harder than the suit could keep up with, and we got the chance to take about a 15-minute break,” said Behnken.
“They told us to “Attach yourself to the space station, and sit there, and look around. And don’t breathe too hard, because we’re trying to catch up with the scrubbing that’s on the suit.
“When you’re outside on a spacewalk, you get a panorama view that just can’t be captured with any of the windows … You get to see sunrises, and sunset, and that angular view of the atmosphere with thunderstorms lightning themselves up,” said Behnken.
“It’s of the whole majesty of the Earth, which is just awesome.”
The Marines and sailors of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit are concluding their 2019 deployment this week, just in time for Thanksgiving.
Departing in waves from the three ships of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, the 11th MEU conducted an amphibious landing aboard Camp Pendleton, California, and aircraft landings at Miramar, California, and Yuma, Arizona.
At each site, Marines and sailors were greeted by family members and welcomed home after seven months away.
During the deployment, the Boxer ARG and 11th MEU spent time in the U.S. 7th Fleet and U.S. 5th Fleet areas of operations, and conducted training in Kuwait, Jordan, Djibouti, Brunei, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
Families and friends of Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), await their loved ones at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Nov. 25, 2019.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jaime Reyes)
“We have traveled a long way and the Marines and sailors of the 11th MEU have risen to every challenge. They have built important partnerships and have been ready to help, ready to respond, and ready to fight if necessary,” said Col. Fridrik Fridriksson, commanding officer of the 11th MEU. “I am incredibly proud of each and every Marine and sailor in the ARG/MEU team.”
11th MEU consists of the command element; the aviation combat element comprised of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced); the ground combat element comprised of Battalion Landing Team 3/5; and the logistics combat element comprised of Combat Logistics Battalion 11.
Boxer ARG is comprised of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS John P Murtha (LPD 26), and Harpers Ferry-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49).
The ARG/MEU departed their home port of San Diego and began their deployment May 1, 2019.
Imagine if a robot could go ahead of troops, by a kilometer or more, to assess a situation and relay information back that would help commanders know what’s ahead and know how to respond?
Army Futures Command isn’t just imagining that- they’re already building it.
“This isn’t about robots or technology, this is about soldiers and this is about commanders on the battlefield, and giving them the decision space and reducing the risk of our men and women when we go into the nastiest places on the planet,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle-Cross Functional Team, told reporters during a virtual discussion about the Robotic Combat Vehicle Soldier Operational Experiment.
A platoon of soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Carson, CO spent much of this summer sending two-person crews out in modified Bradley fighting vehicles to control robotic surrogate vehicles that were built from M113 armored personnel vehicles. The goal of the experiment was to observe the vehicles and to collect and analyze feedback from the soldiers working with them on the feasibility of integrating robots into ground combat formations.
The modified Bradleys are known as Mission Enabling Technologies Demonstrators (MET-Ds) and the modified M113s are known as Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCVs).
The goal of the program is to eventually build a collection of vehicles that can be used to provide reconnaissance capabilities and standoff distance or to replace soldiers in high-risk activities like combined arms breaches and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) reconnaissance.
Coffman emphasized that this summer’s experiment at Ft. Carson was just that, an experiment, and not a test and that there is still much work to be done before soldiers will be able to use robots downrange.
“Right now, it’s difficult for a robot, when it looks at a puddle, to know if it’s the Mariana Trench or two inches deep,” said Maj. Corey Wallace, RCV lead for the Next Generation Vehicle-Cross Functional Team. “The RCV must be able to sense as well as a human. It needs to hear branches breaking around it. It needs to know when it’s on soft sand or an incline. We still need to work on that.”
Jeffrey Langhout, director of the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center, acknowledged that the robots still have a ways to go and noted that there are particular challenges involved in designing a robot vehicle for combat.
“Right now, we don’t have the sensors to tell us if a puddle is something we can drive through. In the auto industry, high-tech cars are operating on pavement and in a generous GPS environment. We are looking at how to operate in a denied environment, where things can go bad quickly,” Langhout said.
Earlier this year, the Army selected two companies, QinetiQ North America and Textron, to build the eventual vehicles. QinetiQ North America will build four prototypes of the Robotic Combat Vehicle-Light and Textron will build four prototypes of the RCV-Medium. Coffman said that the Marine Corps is also using QinetiQ to build an RCV-Light and the two services and working together on the designs.
All in all, Coffman said the experiment was “100% successful.”
“We learned where the technology is now and how we can fight with it in the future,” Coffman said.
And just how far in the future are we talking? Unfortunately, pretty far.
Coffman said a second experiment is planned for Ft. Hood, Texas in the first part of the fiscal year 2022 using the same M113 robot vehicles and Bradley control vehicles in company-size operations. After that, an experiment will be held to test the vehicles in more complex situations. And after that, the Army will decide if robot vehicles are worth further investment.
This is to say that, cool as the robots are, for now, most soldiers and military families will have to be content just imagining them.
Brandon Friedman wants you to know that just because coffee has the reputation of being the military’s beverage of choice, tea isn’t reserved for Brits in silly hats enjoying crumpets. For Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, their wars have centered mostly around having tea. After all, foreign fighters and tribal leaders hold court over tea, not coffee. Friedman thought it was strange that tea isn’t more associated with the military experience. He founded Rakkasan Tea Company with that in mind.
Friedman was commissioned as an Army infantry officer in 2000 and was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division — known as the “Rakkasans,” the old Japanese word for “parachute.” By March, 2002, he and his unit were in an air assault into Afghanistan’s Shah-e-Kot Valley as part of Operation Anaconda. In 2003, he was part of the initial invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and eventually became part of the force that held Tal Afar and Mosul.
By 2004, he was out of the Army and taking his career in a different direction. His now-business partner in Rakkasan Tea was then-Pfc. Terrence “TK” Kamauf, whom Friedman met in his unit. Kamauf was a machine gunner then, but stayed in long after Friedman left. Kamauf went on to become a Green Beret and was in another six or seven years. Now, the two import tea together.
Friedman’s partner in Rakkasan Tea, Terrence “TK” Kamauf (left), in Iraq.
(Courtesy of Brandon Friedman)
But Friedman’s love for the leaf began in Iraq. As many veterans can attest, all business was conducted over tea. It was an introduction to what Friedman calls the “social experience of tea.”
“It’s hard to find that in the U.S. because this is such a coffee country and coffee is really a solitary drink,” He says. “Tea brings people together and we think the U.S. is ready for that. I know we won’t convert everyone, but the veteran community should certainly give tea a serious look.”
Friedman with his platoon of Rakkasans in Iraq.
But where Rakkasan Tea Company gets its tea is central to its ongoing mission. The company imports solely from post-conflict countries as a way to promote peace and economic development.
“As a veteran-owned and veteran-staffed company, we understand what conflict does to communities,” Friedman says. “And we want to get as many veterans into this business as we can. So, we often describe our mission as being one that helps communities recover from war at home AND abroad.”
Rakkasan Tea comes from places like Nepal, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Laos. With the exception of Sri Lanka, these are difficult to find on American shelves. The tea imported from Laos is significant because it comes from one of the areas most devastated by American bombing during the Vietnam War — more ordnance was dropped on Laos than in the entirety of Europe during World War II.
One of Rakkasan Tea Company’s Vietnamese tea pickers.
(Courtesy of Brandon Friedman)
The latest effort in Laos centers on small farms in the mountainous Xiengkhouang Province and on the Bolaven Plateau in southern Champasak Province. The teas come from some of the oldest trees in the world and you won’t find this quality at Starbucks or Whole Foods.
To Friedman, tea is like wine: its character, flavor, and aroma are all greatly influenced by its environment. That might be why he sells tea both by the type of tea and its place of origin.
“Rainfall, altitude, soil content, processing techniques, and more all factor into the taste and quality,” Friedman says. “So when we say we have premium tea grown in Rwanda’s volcanic soil or tea grown on northern Vietnam’s 400-year-old tea trees, that’s of interest to tea enthusiasts. Because it’s really good.”
He wants you to know how good it is and he wants you to be a repeat customer. He obsesses over the returns from his customers. Their feedback really does have an influence on the direction of the company.
“First, I hope we’re living up to the Rakkasan ideal of honor, justice, and commitment,” he says. “But meeting people who enjoy our product is best part of doing this.”
In an empty office space on the 19th floor of a University of Texas System building in Austin, Aug. 24, 2018, the Army unveiled the location for the headquarters of its new Futures Command, which has the monumental task of modernizing the service’s future force.
For the first time, the Army will place a major command within an urban setting instead of on a military base. The goal is to bring itself closer to technology innovators and researchers in one of the nation’s top growing technology cities.
“We needed to immerse ourselves in an environment where innovation occurs, at speeds far faster than our current process allows,” said Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper. “We searched for a location that had the right combination of top-tier academic talent, cutting edge industry and an innovative private sector.”
The Army announced in October 2017 its intent to create a new command that would be responsible for modernization. Initially, some 150 cities were considered as possibilities to house the new command’s headquarters. Eventually, that number was pared down to five, including Austin.
Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper spoke Aug. 24, 2018, in Austin, Texas, during activation of the Army Futures Command.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brandy N. Mejia)
Ultimately, Austin scored the highest among those remaining five cities. Criteria for the final selection included density of industry and academic talent and proximity to private sector innovation. Austin boasts a growing number of professionals in the science and tech industries and hosts academic institutions with thousands of graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career fields.
“Austin’s already a hub of innovation,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. “And [it’s] a business-friendly environment … this will allow our military Department of Defense personnel access to the countless startups and emerging technology entrepreneurs already at work here.”
The Army Futures Command is tasked with, among other things, developing future warfighting concepts, generating innovative solutions through research and development, and building the next generation of combat systems.
Gen. John M. Murray, who served previously as the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G-8, has been named director of the new command.
“Our Futures Command will have a singular focus: to make soldiers and leaders more effective and more lethal today and in the future,” said Murray. “This must be a team (effort). It’s about working together to ensure our soldiers have the capabilities they need when they need them, to deploy, fight and win on the modern battlefield against an incredibly lethal enemy.
Gen. Mike Murray, commander of Army Futures Command, and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley unfurl the Army Futures Command flag during a ceremony, Aug. 24, 2018, in Austin, Texas.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brandy N. Mejia)
“We will bring the best talent we can — inside and outside the capital to address the Army’s most pressing problems,” Murray continued. “And deliver solutions at the speed of relevance — at the speed our soldiers deserve. For too long, we have focused on the cost schedule or performance. We must now focus on value.”
For now, the Army Futures Command will lead eight cross-functional teams that are responsible for furthering the Army’s pursuit of six modernization priorities, including long-range precision fires, a next-generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift platforms, a mobile and expeditionary Army network, air and missile defense capabilities, and soldier lethality.
Army leadership said it will take about a year before Army Futures Command reaches full operational capability. The new command is expected to eventually include about 100 military positions and 400 civilian roles.
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley credited the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona with helping spur development of the new command. “He planted the seed,” Milley said.
The Army’s chief of staff said that the character of war is changing, and that private sector innovations in both robotics and artificial intelligence will eventually find their way onto battlefields in the hands of enemies. Army Futures Command will ensure U.S. soldiers also have the best technology.
“We know there’s a multitude of emerging technologies that are going to have, whether we like it or not, impact on the conduct of military operations,” Milley said. “It is this command … that is going to determine victory or defeat.”
Featured image: Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley spoke Aug. 24, 2018, in Austin, Texas, during activation of the Army Futures Command.
The Polish president has bestowed a high honor on the US Army commander in Europe as Poland marked its Armed Forces Day with a military parade.
President Andrzej Duda bestowed the Commander’s Cross with a Star of the Order of Merit on Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of the US Army in Europe.
Some 1,500 Polish soldiers then paraded in Warsaw, while fighter planes and other aircraft flew in formation above.
Polish President Andrzej Duda. Wikimedia Commons photo by Radosław Czarnecki.
Poland’s marching soldiers were joined by a small unit of US troops, some of the thousands who deployed to Poland this year as part of efforts to reassure European countries concerned about possible Russian aggression.
US Ambassador to Poland Paul Jones said on Twitter that the Americans were proud to march alongside their Polish allies.
Hey, I get it: When you’re preparing for deployment, the last thing you want is a honey-do list from your spouse. You have your own gear to take care of, paperwork to complete, and stuff to pack. Your spouse, on the other hand, will be at home during the months that you’re away. Can’t some of their to-do list wait until you’re gone? After all, they’ll have the whole deployment to take care of it. What’s the rush, right?
Here’s the deal: Just as you must prepare your gear and put your things in order to prepare for your deployment, your spouse has to get the house and the family ready for their own “mission.” It’s pretty much guaranteed that as soon as you walk out the door, something’s going to go wrong: the car will break down, appliances will leak, or the dog will get sick. If you don’t help your spouse prepare for those emergencies, then they won’t be fully equipped to handle their mission. You wouldn’t send troops off to train without first arranging logistics and ammo. In the same way, you have to take care of some logistical details at home before you deploy and leave your spouse as the only adult responsible for the entire household. There are several things you can review with your spouse to make everyone’s deployment go more smoothly.
Don’t skip these mission-essential pre-deployment tasks with your spouse.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Gina Randall)
There’s a reason your CO keeps hounding you to complete your Power of Attorney, Will, and other documents — they’re actually really important! Without a Power of Attorney, your spouse will basically be treated like a second-class citizen on base. They won’t be able to renew or replace an ID card if they lose it while you’re away. They can’t change the lease, buy or sell a vehicle, or handle any banking problems that might arise. If you have children, it’s important that your spouse completes a Family Care Plan so that someone is designated to take care of the kids if your spouse ends up in the hospital from a car accident. Take the time to discuss this paperwork with your spouse so they won’t struggle during unexpected deployment situations.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. April Davis)
2. Comm check
You may not know exactly what communication options you’ll have during deployment, but discuss your expectations with your spouse so you can both get on the same page. How will you handle the time difference? Will you try to call when early in the morning or in the evening? How often will you try to call, message, or video? What’s the protocol if one of you misses a call or doesn’t answer in time? Finally, make sure your spouse knows how to send a Red Cross message. If there’s a family emergency, the Red Cross can contact you even when you don’t have internet access. If your spouse knows how to get to the Red Cross website, it will take the weight off their shoulders during a major emergency.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Leanna Litsch)
3. Discuss car maintenance
Have you ever returned from deployment only to discover that your car has a dead battery and flat tires? Save yourselves the cost and trouble with some simple preventative maintenance. If you’re typically the one responsible for vehicle maintenance, remind your spouse when to do an oil change and how often to get the tires rotated. If your vehicle will sit unused during the deployment, ask your spouse to start the engine and let it idle at least once a week. This will prevent the battery from dying. If they occasionally drive it around the block and park it in a different position, that’ll help prevent flat tires.
4. Review home maintenance
If you’re renting or living on base, just make sure your spouse knows how to contact maintenance or the landlord. If you own your home, things get more complicated. Walk through the house together and discuss areas of regular or seasonal maintenance. Air filters should get changed monthly. Gutters should be cleaned in Fall. Discuss outdoor chores, like lawn maintenance and snow removal. Your spouse should know the location of the breaker box and water shut-off valves, in case the dreaded “Deployment Curse” visits your house.
5. Adjust the household budget
You and your spouse both need to understand how the deployment will affect your family’s income, and then adjust accordingly. If you are making more money during deployment, how will you save or spend the extra? Will it go toward paying down debts? Or will you save up for a post-deployment vacation? Sometimes, deployments reduce the household budget. You might have to pay for food and Internet at your deployed location. Your spouse may decrease their work hours or register for a class. They may have additional costs for childcare or lawn maintenance. It’s better to discuss these changes and your intended budget before deployment so you aren’t both accusing each other of mismanaging money!
6. Write down your passwords
You wouldn’t send your team on a mission without clear instructions and the best equipment, right? Then don’t expect your spouse to manage the bills and your account memberships without passwords! Log into any banking or bill payment website you use, and write down your login name and password. Do the same for your gaming accounts, renewable memberships, etc. It’s likely that something will need to be suspended, renewed, or canceled during your deployment. Writing down the passwords will make it possible for your spouse to do that for you.
Having these pre-deployment conversations now may not be easy or fun, but it’s definitely important to help your spouse feel squared away before deployment. This will reduce deployment stress for both of you, help your deployment communication go smoothly, and get you both prepared for your respective, upcoming missions.
Experiments in forest observation, protein crystal growth, and in-space fuel transfer demonstration are heading to the International Space Station following the launch Dec. 5, 2018, of SpaceX’s 16th mission for NASA under the agency’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.
The company’s Dragon spacecraft lifted off at 1:16 p.m. EST on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It’s carrying more than 5,600 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies that will support the crew, station maintenance and dozens of the more than 250 investigations aboard the space station.
Expedition 57 Commander Alexander Gerst of ESA (European Space Agency) and Flight Engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives two days later. NASA astronaut Anne McClain will monitor telemetry during the spacecraft’s approach.
Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, with installation coverage set to begin at 7:30 a.m.
Science aboard Dragon
The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) will provide high-quality laser ranging observations of the Earth’s forests and topography required to advance the understanding of important carbon and water cycling processes, biodiversity, and habitat. GEDI will be mounted on the Japanese Experiment Module’s Exposed Facility and provide the first high-resolution observations of forest vertical structure at a global scale. These observations will quantify the aboveground carbon stored in vegetation and changes that result from vegetation disturbance and recovery, the potential for forests to sequester carbon in the future, and habitat structure and its influence on habitat quality and biodiversity.
NASA’s new laser instrument, the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation, or GEDI.
A small satellite deployment mechanism, called SlingShot, will ride up in Dragon and then be installed in a Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft prior to its departure from the space station. SlingShot can accommodate as many as 18 CubeSats of any format. After the Cygnus cargo ship departs from station, the spacecraft navigates to an altitude of 280 to 310 miles (an orbit higher than that of the space station) to deploy the satellites.
Robotic Refueling Mission-3 (RRM3) will demonstrate the first transfer and long-term storage of liquid methane, a cryogenic fluid, in microgravity. The ability to replenish and store cryogenic fluids, which can function as a fuel or coolant, will help enable long duration journeys to destinations, such as the Moon and Mars.
Growth of Large, Perfect Protein Crystals for Neutron Crystallography (Perfect Crystals) crystallizes an antioxidant protein found inside the human body to analyze its shape. This research may shed light on how the protein helps protect the human body from ionizing radiation and oxidants created as a byproduct of metabolism. For best results, analysis requires large crystals with minimal imperfections, which are more easily produced in the microgravity environment of the space station.
Dragon is scheduled to depart the station in January 2019 and return to Earth with more than 4,000 pounds of research, hardware and crew supplies.
For more than 18 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,500 research investigations from researchers in 106 countries.
This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.
Christmas away from home is tough, and it doesn’t get any easier with more deployments under your belt. But getting a good card from a loved one or dear friend can help brighten the mood. Here are nine of the best:
Merry Christmas to all of our deployed forces from the entire team at We Are The Mighty.
When aspiring operators are being screened for selection into Delta Force, a collection of the most elite soldiers in the Army, they have to pass a series of rigorous and challenging tests, including a ruck march that they begin with no announced distance, no announced end time, and no encouragement. If they can complete this grueling ruck march, they will face a selection board and possibly join “The Unit.”
If they fall short, they go home.
Delta Force was pitched and built to be an American version of Britain’s Special Air Service by men like Col. Charles A. Beckwith, a Special Forces leader who had previously served as an exchange officer to the 22 SAS. Originally stood up in 1977, Delta was always focused on counter-terrorism.
Unsurprisingly, Beckwith got the nod to lead the unit he had helped pitch. He looked to the SAS itself for methods to winnow out those who might not be resolute at a key moment in battle, and embraced their stress event: a superhuman ruck march.
It wasn’t an insane distance, just 74 kilometers — or 40 miles. That’s certainly further than most soldiers will ever carry a ruck, but not an eye-watering number.
Col. Charles A. Beckwith, the first commander of Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta.
(U.S. Army Special Operations Command)
But SAS candidates conducted this training at the end of what were already-grueling weeks of training. And on the day of the final march, they were woken up early to start it.
But the real mind game was not telling the candidates how far they had to go or how far they had already gone. They were just told to ruck march to a set point that could be miles distant. Then, a cadre member at that point would give them a new point, and this would continue until the candidate had marched the full distance.
Beckwith told his superiors that he needed two years to stand up Delta Force, partially because he felt it was necessary to incorporate this and other elements of SAS selection and training into the pipeline, meaning that he would need to recruit hundreds of candidates to get just a few dozen final operators. President Jimmy Carter wanted a new anti-terrorism unit, and senior Army brass were initially loathe to wait two years to give it to him.
According to his book Delta Force: a memoir by the founder of the military’s most secretive special operations, Beckwith had to fight tooth and nail to get enough candidates and time for training, but he still refused to relax the standards. Beckwith successfully argued that, to make a unit as capable or better than the SAS, the Army would have to fill it with men as tough or better.
This couldn’t just be men great at shooting or land navigation or even ruck marching. It had to be those people who would keep pushing, even when it was clearly time to quit.
To make his argument, he pointed to cases where capable men had failed to take appropriate action because, as Beckwith saw it, their resolve had failed. He pointed to the 1972 Olympics in Munich where great German marksmen failed to take out hostage takers early in the terror attack because they simply didn’t pull the trigger.
Beckwith needed guys who could pull the trigger, he knew that the SAS process delivered that, and he didn’t want to risk a change from the SAS mold that might leave Delta with people too reluctant to get the job done during a fight.
And so, the “Long Walk” was born into Army parlance. This is that final ruck march of selection. It’s 40 miles long, it’s conducted on the last day of training when candidates are already physically and mentally completely exhausted, and the rucksacks weigh 70 pounds.
Oh, and there is an unpublished time limit of 20 hours. And candidates can’t march together, each gets their own points and has to walk them alone. And, like in the SAS version, they don’t actually ever know the full course, only their next point.
Members of Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta guard Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
Finally, while the first classes conducted the Long Walk at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, later iterations had to conduct the exercise in the mountains of West Virginia, adding to the pain and exhaustion.
Even men like future Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who came to the course after the existence and general distance of the Long Walk were known, talked about how mentally challenging the uncertainty would be. He lost 15 pounds in the tough training that led to the march, and then he struggled on the actual event.
In his book, Never Surrender: A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom, Boykin says that he was exhausted by the 8-hour mark. Having started before dawn, he would still have to walk deep into the night with his heavy ruck to be successful, praying that every point was his last.
But the next point wasn’t the last. Nor was the one after that, or the one after that. The cadre assigning the points cannot cheerlead for the candidate, nor can they tell the candidate if they’re doing well or if they’re marching too fast. Either the candidate pushes themself to extreme physical and mental limits and succeeds without help or encouragement, or they don’t.
In Boykin’s class of 109, only about 25 people even made it to the Long Walk, and plenty more washed out during that test. Freezing in the weather and exhausted from the weight, terrain, and distance, Boykin did make it to the end of the course. But, interestingly, even completing the prior training and the Long Walk does not guarantee a slot in Delta. Instead, soldiers still have to pass a selection board, so some people train for months or years, are marched to exhaustion every day for a month during training, have to complete the Long Walk, and then they get turned away by the board, are not admitted, and don’t become capital “O” Operators.
Delta Force has undoubtedly made America more lethal and more flexible when it comes to missions, but there are strict standards that ensure that only the most fit soldiers can compete in this space. And the Long Walk forces everyone but the most tenacious out.
Over the last five years, some 4,200 living veterans were declared dead and had their benefits cut off by the Department of Veterans Affairs. After digging through records, Danny Pummill, the acting undersecretary for benefits at the VA, said the mistake was a function of the way record sharing is done between the Social Security Administration and the VA. When the SSA declared someone dead, the VA would immediately kill their benefits.
Florida Congressman David Jolly had a bone to pick with the VA. Responding to his constituents’ complaints about premature death notices, he headed a Congressional inquiry in 2015. When veterans tried to correct the errors in their mortal status, they found themselves in purgatory between the two agencies. In a written statement, Rep. Jolly remarked on the grave consequences of these kinds of mistakes.
“We simply cannot have men and women who have sacrificed for this country see their rightful benefits wrongfully terminated because the VA mistakenly declares them dead,” Jolly wrote. “It has caused needless hardships for thousands of people who had their benefits terminated and their world turned upside down.”
The VA admitted its mistake to the congressman and then revived the affected veterans’ benefits as of May 2016. The VA also overhauled its death notice procedures. Now, a veteran will be notified of his or her death by mail to the last known address. The veteran will have 30 days to prove he or she is not dead. If the VA doesn’t hear from the veteran or their surviving family members, the benefits will be terminated.