New JFK carrier 50% complete with massive chunk added - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

New JFK carrier 50% complete with massive chunk added

The midway point on construction of the Navy’s next aircraft carrier, the John F. Kennedy, CVN 79, was reached at the end of August 2018, when the latest superlift was dropped into place, shipbuilder Huntington Ignalls said in a release.

The modular-construction approach the shipbuilder is using involves joining smaller sections into larger chunks, called superlifts, which are outfitted with wiring, piping, ventilation, and other components, before being hoisted into place on the Kennedy.


The latest superlift makes up the aft section of the ship between the hangar bay and the flight deck. It is one of the heaviest that will be used, composed of 19 smaller sections and weighed 997 standard tons — roughly as much as 25 semi trucks. It is 80 feet long, about 110 feet wide, and four decks in height.

Below, you can see Huntington’s Newport News Shipbuilding division haul the massive superlift into place with the shipyard’s 1,157-ton gantry crane.

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Workers installed an array of equipment, including pumps, pipes, lighting, and ventilation, into the latest superlift before it was lifted onto the ship.

The modular approach has allowed the shipbuilder to reach this point in construction 14 months earlier than it was reached on the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s first-in-class Ford-class carrier, the company said.

“Performing higher levels of pre-outfitting represents a significant improvement in aircraft carrier construction, allowing us to build larger structures than ever before and providing greater cost savings,” Lucas Hicks, the company’s vice president for the Kennedy program, said in the release.

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A superlift is dropped into place on the aft section of the Navy’s next aircraft carrier, the John F. Kennedy, August 2018.

(Huntington Ignalls)

Huntington Ignalls started construction on the Kennedy in February 2011 with the “first cut of steel” ceremony. The ship’s keel was laid in August 2015, and the carrier hit the 50%-constructed mark in June 2017.

The shipbuilder said in early 2018 that the Kennedy reached 70% and 75% structural completion, which “has to do with superlifts and the number of structures erected to build the ship,” Duane Bourne, media-relations manager for Huntington Ignalls, said in an email.

With the nearly 1,000-ton superlift added at the end of August 2018, work on the Kennedy — structural or otherwise — is now halfway done.

The ship is now scheduled to move from dry dock to an outfitting berth by the last quarter of 2019, which would be three months ahead of schedule. Hicks said in April 2018 that the Kennedy was to be christened and launched in November 2019 and delivered to the Navy in June 2022.

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USS Gerald R. Ford underway on its own power for the first time in Newport News, Virginia, April 8, 2017.

(US Department of Defense photo)

The Kennedy includes many of the new features installed on the Ford, like the Electromagnetic Launch System and Advanced Arresting Gear, both of which assist with launching and recovering aircraft. (One notable feature not included on the Ford: urinals.)

The Ford was delivered to the Navy in June 2017 — two years later than planned — and commissioned that year. The ship came at a cost of about .9 billion, which was 23% more than estimated. The Ford has faced a number of issues and is still undergoing post-commissioning work before it can be ready for a combat deployment.

The Navy and Huntington Ignalls have said lessons from the construction of the Ford will be applied to future carriers — though the Government Accountability Office said in summer 2017 that the .4 billion budget for the Kennedy was unreliable and didn’t take into account what happened during the Ford’s construction. The Pentagon partially agreed with that assessment.

The Kennedy is the second of four Ford-class carriers the Navy plans to buy. Work has already started on the next Ford-class carrier, the Enterprise, with the “first cut of steel” ceremony taking place in August 2017.

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

Articles

My Attempt To Capture Afghanistan Wound Up Capturing America Instead

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Oregon National Guardsmen in Afghanistan, 2008. (Photo: Gary Mortensen)


Afghanistan. Distant, foreboding, little understood.

Known as the “Graveyard of Empires” the carcasses of countless soviet war machines rust away in mute testimony to the futility of that savage war. The more I read about Afghanistan the less I seemed to know. Watching the news was even more confusing and it appeared America had entered this same graveyard and that we were now fighting elusive ghosts otherwise known as the Taliban.

I remember watching the newscasts in the 1990’s of the Taliban as they rose like a cancer throughout the country, oppressing women, killing those who opposed them and imposing their radical version of Islam on all. Nothing made a deeper impression on me than the public destruction of the massive Banyam Buddhas and the wholesale  “cleansing” of Afghanistan’s precious ancient history. Then came 9/11.

In 2010, then our 9th year of the war, I was still struggling with understanding why we were there, who we were fighting and maybe most importantly who were we helping? I got it in my mind that I wanted to make a sort of “combat travel film” that didn’t just following brave men in combat but one that also helped to explain more about the land and the people. Digital technology now makes every soldier a potential documentarian and it was under these auspices that I started to look for a story. It didn’t take long and it would change my life.

Enter Team Cobra

A Sergeant friend of mine told me about a group of all-volunteers from the Oregon National Guard who, in 2008, wanted to deploy to Afghanistan to “impart change” by helping the local population and training the Afghan National Army.  They would return a year later as one of the most decorated units in Oregon National Guard history. While I didn’t at the time know the particulars, I knew I had to tell their story.

Of the 17 men that deployed, I interviewed 6 of them. I had between 2 and 4 hours of initial interview footage from each man. With each interview their stories started to intertwine and after the interview process my real work began. I listened to these stories on my headphones over and over again. Their journey to Afghanistan was over, but mine was just beginning. I watched countless video clips and looked at thousands of photos, each one representing a puzzle piece.  Weeks turned to months. The sound of the newspaper being delivered in our driveway served as a reminder that I might have missed another night’s sleep. I was learning about Afghanistan, about the diversity of the people, about courage, about honor and about loss.

Watch Gary Mortensen’s ‘Shepherds of Helmand’ on The Mighty TV here.

 

Earlier that year I had lost my mom to a long and protracted battle with cancer. My father followed a few weeks afterwards. In my own sorrow I consumed myself with telling the story of Team Cobra. They too knew loss. One of their leaders, Bruno DeSolenni had died in an IED attack and the impact on these men would be profound and everlasting.

Each night as I worked on the film I felt closer to these guys, even though they had only met me months earlier for a few hours. But that didn’t matter, I felt a huge responsibility to tell their story in a way that would honor them.  I was nervous to show the final cut to them because I wanted to tell the story right. They were gracious and thankful and said to my relief that it was faithful.

When the film finally debuted almost a year later everyone of the soldiers were there for the premiere. They stood on the stage after the screening and answered questions. It was after this that I really got to know them, not just as soldiers but as people.

In my attempt to make a film about Afghanistan, I ended up making a film about America. It’s seems so easy to accept the popular indictment that we have lost it as a country. But I would submit that all around us are exceptional people. I am proud to say I know six of them. They are simply some of the finest people I have ever met and I know that if I was ever in need I could call any of them and they would be there for me. Not because I’m special, it’s because that’s just what they do. They went to Afghanistan to help, some of have gone back, one didn’t come back and  some of them are there today.

I am honored to call Jerry Glesmann, Paul Dyer, Marking Browning, Dave Hagen, Dominic Oto and Steve Cooper my friends. They helped me more than they will every know.

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Gary Mortensen is an award-winning documentary film director, President of Stoller Family Estate (a premiere Oregon winery), and is active in helping to preserve and share the stories of our veterans. See more at www.veteranslegacies.com.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How US troops could get climbing powers like Spider-Man

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is more apt to describe their new climbing technology to be more like geckos than Spider-Man. Despite being less awesome, DARPA’s comparison is much more accurate – but only because Spider-Man isn’t real and geckos are. Still, the tech would allow troops to scale surfaces like glass walls in full kit with no extra noise.

Sound too good to be true? It’s called the Z-Man project, and it has already been tested.


American troops never know where they could end up until they’re prepping to go. Even then they don’t really know what kinds of obstacles they’ll encounter during the missions – or more importantly, how they’ll overcome those obstacles. The how is part of DARPA’s job. Its mission is to develop technology that creates transformational change across industries in order to give American troops an edge on the battlefields of tomorrow. For the last couple of years, it’s been notoriously adept at making our superhero dreams become a reality. Now they’ve gone and done it again: this time it’s Spider-Man.

Which is a really good choice, not only because of the urban environments U.S. troops frequently encounter but because all branches encounter unending problems when working in a foreign environment and could rely on the flexibility provided by the kinds of powers Spider-Man has. The first test was the development of polymer microstructures that would allow wearers to scale any surface.

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Intermolecular forces between its toes and a surface means the gecko easily attaches to and from any surface.

Geckos have hundreds of stalk-like setae that are around 100 microns in length and 2 microns in radius all over their feet. From individual setae, a bundle of hundreds of terminal tips called spatulae, approximately 200 nanometers in diameter at their widest, branch out and contact the climbing surface. A Gecko can hold itself up with one toe, making it the animal world’s expert on climbing. Until now.

DARPA demonstrated the power of the new climbing system on a glass wall. A 218-pound man ascended a 25-foot tall wall with an additional carrying load of 25 pounds. He had no other climbing equipment than the gecko-inspired climbing gear. The climber used paddles with the gecko tech to ascend the structure.

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A DARPA engineer scales a wall using the new Z-Man technology.

(DARPA)

“Like many of the capabilities that the Department of Defense pursues, we saw with vertical climbing that nature had long since evolved the means to efficiently achieve it,” said Dr. Matt Goodman, the DARPA program manager for Z-Man. “The challenge to our performer team was to understand the biology and physics in play when geckos climb and then reverse-engineer those dynamics into an artificial system for use by humans.”

popular

A Green Beret was the inspiration for Col. Kurtz in ‘Apocalypse Now’

The Army’s Special Forces command came down to one man during the Vietnam War. His job performance earned him the nod from screenwriter John Milius, who turned retired Army Colonel Robert Rheault’s legacy into something more enduring than he ever imagined. He was immortalized forever by actor Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.

Unlike Col. Kurtz, however, there was nothing insane or dark about Col. Rheault.


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Rheault shortly after the end of the “Green Beret Case.”

Robert Rheault grew up in a privileged New England family, went to West Point and later studied in Paris, at the Sorbonne. The young Army officer picked up a Silver Star for service in Korea, but it was his time in Vietnam that would change his career forever, devastating the man who only ever wanted the Army life.

In Vietnam, Col. Rheault commanded all of the United States Special Forces. Taking command of the 5th Special Forces Group in July, 1969, it was only three weeks before the darkest incident of his career would put him in the middle of one of the war’s most controversial events – the “Green Beret Case.”

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Rheault was an accomplished soldier, a paratrooper, Silver Star Recipient and Korean War veteran by the time he arrived in Vietnam.

The United States had been in Vietnam in force since 1965. By 1969, there were more than a half million U.S. troops in theater. Special Forces A-Teams were operating in 80 or more isolated areas throughout Vietnam. Given their mission and skills sets, the intelligence gathered by Special Forces soldiers was the most solid in the entire war, and the U.S. military estimated that SF components were able to identify, track, and eliminate entire Viet Cong units in their area of responsibility.

At the time, Special Forces operators were in the middle of a project called GAMMA, a similar intelligence-gathering operation targeting the North Vietnamese in Cambodia – and the project was the biggest secret of the war until that point. After SF troops identified NVA or VC units in “neutral” Cambodia, B-52 bombers would illegally hit those Communist targets in defiance of UN conventions.

Rheault commanded a force of Green Berets and South Vietnamese commandos who would lead raids into the neighboring countries to gather intelligence and take out key Communist infiltration, transportation, or storage sites – whatever would cause the most harm to the enemy. Sites they couldn’t take care of themselves were left to the CIA and the U.S. Air Force. The Colonel oversaw five of these “collection teams” and its 98 codenamed agents. It was the most successful intelligence net of the war.

But something kept happening to the Special Forces’ most valuable intelligence assets. They kept ending up dead or disappearing entirely. They began to suspect a double agent in their midst. That’s when a Special Forces team raided a Communist camp in Cambodia. Among the intel they picked up was a roll of film that included a photo of a South Vietnamese GAMMA agent, Thai Khac Chuyen.

He was not long for this world.

After ten days of interrogations and lie detector tests, Chuyen was found to have lied about compromising the GAMMA program. To make matters worse, the double agent might also have been working for the South Vietnamese government. This meant that if the triple agent was released to them, he could possibly walk free, a prospect unacceptable to the Americans. After conferring with the CIA, they decided to handle Chuyen in the way that most double- or triple-agents meet their end. He disappeared.

Chuyen’s American handler, Sgt. Alvin Smith, was not a member of Special Forces, but rather an Army intelligence specialist assigned to the project. It turns out that Smith did not follow protocol when onboarding Chuyen. Smith failed to administer a polygraph test that might have revealed why Chuyen spoke such fluent English, that the agent was from North Vietnam and had family there, and had worked for many other U.S. outfits and left them all in incredible turmoil.

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Col. Rheault returns to the U.S. with his wife in 1969.

Smith began to fear for his own safety, having failed the Special Forces and compromising one of the best intelligence networks of the entire war. So he fled, taking refuge with the CIA office in the area and spilling the beans about what really happened to the triple-agent Chuyen. Rheault and seven other officers were arrested for premeditated murder and jailed at Long Binh.

Rheault actually knew about it and lied about the cover story (that Chuyen was sent on a mission and disappeared) to protect the men who served under him. But Rheault took no part in the planning or execution of Chuyen’s murder. Still, he lied to Gen. Creighton Abrams who already had a distaste for the Special Forces. So, when the officers’ courts-martial began, the Army was looking to throw the book at all of them.

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Abrams was well-known for hating paratroopers and Special Forces.

The event made national news and soldiers under Rheault’s command were flabbergasted. The colonel had done nothing wrong, and they knew it. Moreover, there was no one more qualified for his position in the entire country, as he was one of very few officers qualified to wear the coveted green beret. But the CIA wouldn’t testify against the soldiers, and by September, 1969, it wouldn’t matter. The Secretary of the Army, Stanley Resor, dropped the charges against the men after succumbing to pressure from President Nixon and American public opinion.

By then, the damage was done. All eight of the officers’ careers were ruined, and Rheault accepted an early retirement. The fallout didn’t stop there. The publicity associated with what became known as the “Green Beret Case” prompted RAND Corporation analyst Daniel Ellsberg to leak the “Pentagon Papers” to the American Press.

MIGHTY GAMING

These legendary squadrons are being featured by Ace Combat for its 25th Anniversary

First released in 1995 as Air Combat, the Ace Combat franchise has taken gamers to the skies at the speed of sound for over two and a half decades. As of July 2020, the franchise has sold over 16 million copies, making it one of Bandai Namco’s most successful franchises, among legends like Tekken and Pac-Man. The arcade-style flight simulator puts gamers in the cockpit of real-life aircraft, along with a few fictional ones, to engage in high-speed aerial combat.


Coming a long way from its humble and pixelated origins on the original Playstation, Ace Combat now provides players with the most immersive experience yet using the power of Playstation VR. Though the planes recreated in the virtual world are highly detailed thanks to licensing and support from the real-world manufacturers, the paint schemes and designs available to players to customize their aircraft in Ace Combat 7 are all fictional—until now.

To celebrate 25 years of Ace Combat, the liveries of two iconic squadrons have been added to the game. On August 20, 2020, a new package of aircraft skins and emblems was released containing different variations of the US aircraft national insignia and the liveries of Strike Fighter Squadron 103 (VFA-103), the “Jolly Rogers,” and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232 (VMFA-232), the “Red Devils.” Previously featured in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon and Ace Combat Infinity, the “Red Devils” livery is only available on the F/A-18F Super Hornet while the “Jolly Rogers” livery is available on both the F-14D Tomcat and the F/A-18F Super Hornet.

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“‘Jolly Roger’ logo and aircraft paint pattern used with permission of the United States Department of Defense” (Bandai Namco)

Based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar under the command of Marine Air Group 11, the “Red Devils” are the oldest and most decorated fighter squadron in the Corps. The squadron can trace its lineage back to VF-3M, which was commissioned at Naval Air Station San Diego on September 1, 1925. The “Red Devils” went through seven redesignations and eight different aircraft until they were temporarily decommissioned on November 16, 1945.

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“‘Red Devil'” logo and aircraft paint pattern used with permission of the United States Department of Defense.” (Bandai Namco)

The squadron was reactivated on June 3, 1945 with its current designation. VMFA-232 did not deploy to Korea but saw heavy combat in Vietnam. In September 1973, the “Red Devils” became the last Marine squadron to leave the Vietnam War. Today the squadron flies the F/A-18 Hornet in support of the Global War on Terror. Their livery is erroneously applied to the F/A-18F Super Hornet as it is the only Hornet variant in Ace Combat 7.

The “Jolly Rogers” have a more complex lineage. Currently, the skull and crossbones insignia flies with VFA-103. However, the squadron adopted the insignia from VF-84 who adopted it from VF-61. VF-61 was originally established as VF-17 on January 1, 1943 at NAS Norfolk. The squadron’s commander, Lt. Cdr. John T. “Tommy” Blackburn, wanted the insignia to have a piratical theme that matched to mirror the Corsair name of their F4U fighters; and thus, the skull and crossbones was born. Over the course of two combat tours, the squadron was credited with 313 aerial victories and produced 23 aces, making it the most successful US Navy squadron of WWII. The “Jolly Rogers” were redesignated twice after the war before they were disestablished on April 15, 1959.

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(Bandai Namco)

In 1959, VF-84’s commander, who had previously flown with the VF-61, requested to change his squadron’s name and insignia to that of the “Jolly Rogers.” His request was approved on April 1, 1960 and the skull and crossbones was revived. The planes of VF-84 proudly flew the insignia until the squadron was disestablished on October 1, 1995. It was then that the insignia’s current bearers, VFA-103, adopted the “Jolly Rogers” name and insignia. Though the “Jolly Rogers” insignia and livery was never applied to the F-14D like it is in Ace Combat 7 (VFA-104 did not fly this variant), the squadron does currently fly the F/A-18F that bears the livery in the game.

Whether you’re an enthusiast or a past or current member of the “Red Devils” or “Jolly Rogers,” Ace Combat’s addition of their liveries is a fitting celebration for its 25th Anniversary. Did we mention that the aircraft skins are free? Simply install the latest game update and you’ll have them. Good hunting.

MIGHTY FIT

What supplements in the Exchange are worth your money? Part 1

Some hucksters will have you believe that in order for you to get the best results from your training you need to be taking some combination of pills and powders daily.

That’s not true. There are very few supplements that are worth the plastic tubs that they’re stored in. I’m here to tell you which supplements are worth it and which aren’t.


In order to keep things relatively uncomplicated, the supplements that I talk about here are only those that you don’t require to survive. The vitamins and minerals that we require for life are just that, necessary to survive. Obviously, if you are deficient in one of those, you should be supplementing or changing your diet around.

NO!

What I’m talking about are those supplements that are completely unnecessary for human life that you’re potentially spending greater than 10% of your monthly income on… I’m talking to you Cpl Jones.

I went to bodybuilding.com and searched their top 50 most selling supplements. I’m sure this list is very similar to the sales in your closest Exchange on base, so I’ll just use it as a proxy. Out of those top 50 selling supplements, all fall into the following categories:

  • Protein powder
  • Pre Workout
  • BCAAs
  • Creatine
  • Post-workout
  • Weight loss AKA Fat burner
  • Multivitamin
  • Intra Workout
  • Testosterone ‘support’
  • Omega 3
  • Pump stimulator
  • Mass gainer
How Much Protein To Build Muscle? The TRUTH !

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Protein powder

I don’t fully accept that protein powder is a supplement…because it’s a macronutrient. You need protein. If you aren’t getting enough in your diet from foods, It’s perfectly acceptable to buy and use some form of protein powder.

When should you have it? Literally whenever. There is no significantly important anabolic window. If you are eating somewhere in the ballpark of .8-1.3 grams of protein per lb of body weight per day, then you’re fine. For more on nutrition timing, check this out.

NOW, not all protein powders are created the same. There are generally three factors that you should keep in perspective when you go to buy some protein powder. Here they are in order of importance:

  1. Leucine Content: If a protein powder has less than 11% leucine or if it doesn’t list the exact proportions of amino acids, it’s sh!t protein with useless fillers. You don’t get an adequate muscle protein synthesis response with any dose of protein that has less than 2.5 grams of leucine in it. 11% leucine puts you at just over 2.5g of leucine for a typical serving scoop of powder of 25 grams of protein. This may seem more complicated than it actually is… read more on it here or shoot me an email at michael@composurefitness.com, and I’ll gladly explain it to you in detail.
  2. Ingredients: If you’re supplementing with additional protein, then supplement with protein, not a ‘proprietary blend.’ If there are other ingredients in your preferred brand, the chances are that they are simply trying to distract you from the fact that there’s an inadequate amount of leucine per serving.
  3. Sourcing: This one is simply based on your preferences. If you’re vegan or dairy doesn’t sit well in your stomach, then you’ll want to avoid proteins like whey and casein. Typically worthwhile vegan proteins will be a blend in order to get you the required amount of leucine. That being said if it doesn’t tell you what the blend is or again how much leucine there is per serving then it’s bullshit hippie nonsense made by someone just trying to take advantage of you or that’s too stupid to understand how protein supplementation works; either way, they don’t deserve your money.
How I make my own Pre-Workout to be both more effective and save $$$$$

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Pre-workout

This category is pretty large, mostly I’m talking about those dumb supplements with names like Gnar Pump, NitraFlex, Pre-Kaged, NeuroCore, and Pump Mode. Chances are that if it has a dumb name, it’s a waste of your money.

You’ll see, though, my umbrella recommendation is pretty consistent. If the supplement you’re considering contains any trademarked or patented blend/mix of supplements instead of individually listing the supplements, don’t buy it.

There are plenty of pre-workout supplements that have been shown to help increase performance. Recommendations are varied depending on what type of training session you are walking into and what the rest of your diet looks like.

Caffeine taken with theanine are pretty much always a safe idea to supplement with 30 minutes prior to training. That is my blanket recommendation for pre-workout. I failed to find any pre-workouts on the top 50 purchased supplements on bodybuilding.com that contained solely caffeine and theanine. They pretty much all have nonsense and bullsh!t in them.

If you’re a constant experiment, which you are, and you want to find out what actually impacts your performance, which you do, how can you figure that out if you’re taking a supplement that has 60 ingredients? There’s no way to know what’s working, what’s fluff, and what’s contributing to the tingling side-effect.

If you’ve already Pavlov’s-dogged yourself into needing that tingling sensation in order to get a good workout have no fear, it’s not something dangerous.

  • It’s probably beta-alanine that your favorite blend uses to achieve that feeling, which isn’t harmful and can actually aid in physical efforts over a minute.
Or it’s niacin, which although harmless at low levels, can lead to insulin resistance from prolonged exposure.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CREATINE (Ft. Eric Helms)

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Creatine

Creatine is probably the most highly researched supplement in existence. Yes, it does work, but what it does is probably not what you think it does.

Creatine doesn’t make you stronger or more muscular. It helps increase your power output, which in turn can make you stronger and more muscular.

It’s cheap and effective. If you want to invest in one supplement that will help you in your strength/muscle/health journey, this is the one.

If you want a full rundown on how creatine works exactly, send me an email at michael@composurefitness.com

and I’ll write a future article on the topic.

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In part 2 I’ll cover BCAAs, Post Workout Supplements, Intra Workout Supplements, and Multivitamins. That’s when things get interesting.

As I mentioned multiple times throughout this article, if you have any questions or alternative opinions on my take on these types of supplements, do not hesitate to email me at michael@composurefitness.com.

As always, when it comes to nutrition, your number one solution to any dietary need or hack should be to alter your diet of real foods to get adequate quantities and proportions of macro and micronutrients. Only after you have that dialed-in like I very explicitly outline in The Ultimate Composure Nutrition Guide should you bother walking down the supplement aisle.

If you made it this far in the article, you clearly care about your health and fitness. Why then have you not joined the Mighty Fit FB group? If you are in the group post in there which category of sports supplements that I covered in this article that you are the most disappointed by.
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MIGHTY MOVIES

The 5 best benefits of being an MP

It seems likes nobody (outside of cops themselves) likes cops. That sentiment translates to the military community as well and, speaking from personal experience, no one likes MPs but MPs.


Obviously, that isn’t completely true, but as a beret-wearing Security Forces member, it can feel that way more often than not. It’s not all hate and disdain, though.

Being a cop does have its perks and the distinction comes with a certain sense of pride. There are some things that are just plain ol’ cool about being a cop.

Related: 5 of the top excuses MPs hear during traffic stops

5. Cops look out for other cops

There’s a widespread belief that MPs will look the other way for other MPs in certain situations. Now, I am in no way saying that there should be unfair advantages given when it comes to the law. That being said, there is no denying that this practice exists in various ways.

MPs hold one another to a standard that is often a few pegs above the written, established standard. So, a lot of times the “looking out” comes in the form of keeping other MP to task and up to snuff when the human element rears its head. Sometimes, “looking out” means offering just a ride home — it depends on the variables.

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We always have one another’s back. (Photo by Suggest.com)

4. People want to be cool with you… when they don’t hate you

Everyone wants to be cool with MPs. It means they’ll probably get through the gate on personal recognition a little more frequently and, if they have an encounter with an MP, it’ll likely be pleasant.

This rapport is typically built through politeness, a few well-timed store runs, and some glazed pastries.

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Little Suzie knows what’s up! Befriend cops! (Photo by TMPA).

3. Face of the base

These days, we hear a lot of references to the ‘tip of the spear.‘ The expression is typically reserved for those special few among us who are truly and undeniably badass.

As a Military Policeman, not only are you the first face to greet every single visitor and vehicle to enter the base, you are, by definition, the tip of that extremely local spear. Not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but hey, that is a pretty big deal.

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That’s the smile waiting on you at the gate. (Photo by Senior Airman Debbie Lockhart)

2. Rapid maturity

Having an authority that supersedes rank can be a lot to handle. With young MPs, you typically get one of two types:

Type A is someone who has walked with a big stick for most of their life and now they have some actual weight behind their actions. They are likely to push the limits of their authority a bit further than most until they learn better.

Type B is someone who is timid and unsure of how to impose their authority the right away. They’re more likely to tiptoe towards competence with fewer mistakes along the slower road.

Both of these guys are going to have to make their way through the gauntlet fast if they hope to survive through their enlistments.

Also Read: 5 of the sneakiest ways people try to fool the front gate MPs

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Gotta grow up real fast, Billy. (Photo by Sleeptastic Solutions)

1. Blue bond

The fraternal bond that exists throughout the law enforcement career field is thick. The blue bond never wears off, not even after retirement.

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Thin Blue Line (Photo by Wikimedia Commons).

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Pentagon urges US to lead in 5G technology

The next advancement in cellular technology, 5G, is expected to be so fast that it’s able to surpass the speed of wired internet now provided by cable companies.

Current 4G technology provides download speeds of about 1 gigabit per second. With 5G technology, download speeds are expected to increase to 20 gigabits per second, said Ellen M. Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Lord spoke yesterday at the Atlantic Council here to discuss the Defense Department’s efforts to advance 5G technology in the United States and to ensure that when 5G does make its debut, it’s secure enough to transmit information between U.S. military personnel and its allies without being intercepted by potential adversaries.


U.S. and allies must take lead

That means the U.S. and its allies will need to take the lead in developing this next generation of telecommunications technology, she said.

“When we talk about 5G, everything is going to be moving over it, eventually,” Lord said. “What we need to do is make sure how that information is moving, and how you can get at it, and how you can keep it secure.”

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Ellen M. Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.

Lord likened development of the 5G infrastructure and technology to that of a new home. She said new home owners certainly would want to know that whoever built their home, wired it for electricity, installed the communications systems, or installed the doors and windows hadn’t also built in a way for them to sneak back into that house undetected after the new owners had moved in.

“That’s where we are with 5G,” Lord said. “If we are going to run our entire warfighting ecosystem though communications — which is where we are today — we need to make sure that when we send a critical message that others aren’t hearing it. We need to be able to test that.”

On the modern battlefield, and on the battlefield of the foreseeable future, communications is going to play a critical role, Lord said. Information must flow between mounted and dismounted soldiers, from ships at sea and from those under the sea, as well as to space and aircraft.

“In order to get relevant situational understanding, we are trading information back and forth all the time,” she said. “What will happen is, if we do not embrace 5G, and we are just getting going in 4G in a lot of areas, we are going to have a latency or a delay in those conversations that could render everything we have as ineffective.”

U.S. industry and partners must provide advancements

Advancements in 5G must come from U.S. industry and U.S. partners to be trustworthy and reliable, Lord said.

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The Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defense.

“Right now there is quite an intensive dialogue going on to understand where in Europe we might partner,” Lord said. “And there has been an enormous amount of discussion about the threat that we see by the Chinese — theft of intellectual property — coming into our networks. We have to collectively decide how we are technically going to secure our networks — how we legislatively have to have protection.”

Lord said a whole-of-government approach is needed to get a handle on 5G. The State, Treasury and Commerce departments and the National Security Council should be involved along with DOD, she said.

“I think you are going to see a huge call to action this year to come together with really what is almost a national industrial policy for 5G, because the stakes are high,” Lord added. “5G from a technology point of view is a huge opportunity, but it’s a huge threat.

“If we don’t embrace it and apply it towards our goals, we could be overcome quickly with technical overmatch,” she continued. “And we can’t allow that to happen. … We have a warfighting imperative. If we cannot communicate as quickly, or quicker than our adversaries, if we cannot have situational understanding as to what is happening on the battlefield, then we are going to be in a position where our national security is threatened.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Air Force and Navy are getting more high-tech missile decoys

The U.S. Air Force recently awarded a $96-million contract to Raytheon to produce more Miniature Air-Launched Decoys, missiles that can be launched from jets or dropped out of the back of C-130s to simulate the signatures of most U.S. and allied aircraft, spoofing enemy air defenses.


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Two Miniature Air-Launched Decoy missiles sit in a munitions storage area on Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, March 21, 2012. The missiles can dress themselves up like nearly any U.S. or allied aircraft and can fly pre-programmed routes.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Micaiah Anthony)

The missiles, which Raytheon calls “MALD® decoy,” can fly 500 nautical miles along pre-programmed routes, simulating missions that strike aircraft would fly. Modern variants of the missile can even receive new flight programming mid-flight, allowing pilots to target and jam “pop-up” air defenses.

To air defense operators on the ground, it looks like a flight of strike aircraft are coming in. So, they fire off their missiles and, ultimately, they kill nothing because their missiles are targeting the Air Force-equivalent of wooden ducks floating in a pond.

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Meanwhile, real strike aircraft flying behind the decoys are able to see exactly where the surface-to-air missiles and radar emissions are coming from, and they can use anti-ship and anti-radiation missiles to destroy those defenses.

The Raytheon missiles are the MALD-J variant, which jams enemy radars and early-warning systems without degrading the illusions that make the decoy system so potent. This leaves air defenders unable see anything except for brief glimpses of enemy aircraft signatures — which might be real planes, but could also easily be MALDs.

The missile is a result of a DARPA program dating back to 1995 that resulted in the ADM-160A. The Air Force took over the program and tested the ADM-160B and, later, the MALD.

The Air Force began fielding the missile in 2009 and they might have been launched during attacks against Syria while emitting the signatures of Tomahawk cruise missiles, but that’s largely conjecture. In fact, it’s not actually clear that the MALD can simulate the Tomahawk missile at all.

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Two Miniature Air-Launched Decoy missiles wait to be loaded onto a B-52H Stratofortress at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, Ma 14, 2012. The B-52H crew can communicate with the missiles in flight and change the flight patterns to engage newly discovered enemy air defenses.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

Meanwhile, the Navy commissioned the MALD-N, a networked version of the missile, for their use.

Whether or not the missiles were employed in Syria, they represent a great tool for defeating advanced enemy air defenses, like the S300 and S400 from Russia or the HQ-9 and HQ-19 systems from China. While the missile systems and their radars are capable, possibly of even detecting stealthy aircraft like the B-1s and B-2s, they can’t afford to fire their missiles and expose their radars for every MALD that flies by.

At the same time, they also can’t afford to ignore radar signatures emitted by MALDs. They have little chance of figuring out which ones are decoys and which ones are real planes before the bombs drop.

Sorry, guys. American forces are such teases.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Private Care Program allegedly enriched companies and hurt vets

For years, conservatives have assailed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a dysfunctional bureaucracy. They said private enterprise would mean better, easier-to-access health care for veterans. President Donald Trump embraced that position, enthusiastically moving to expand the private sector’s role.

Here’s what has actually happened in the four years since the government began sending more veterans to private care: longer waits for appointments and, a new analysis of VA claims data by ProPublica and PolitiFact shows, higher costs for taxpayers.


Since 2014, 1.9 million former service members have received private medical care through a program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to give veterans a way around long wait times in the VA. But their average waits using the Choice Program were still longer than allowed by law, according to examinations by the VA inspector general and the Government Accountability Office. The watchdogs also found widespread blunders, such as booking a veteran in Idaho with a doctor in New York and telling a Florida veteran to see a specialist in California. Once, the VA referred a veteran to the Choice Program to see a urologist, but instead he got an appointment with a neurologist.

The winners have been two private companies hired to run the program, which began under the Obama administration and is poised to grow significantly under Trump. ProPublica and PolitiFact obtained VA data showing how much the agency has paid in medical claims and administrative fees for the Choice program. Since 2014, the two companies have been paid nearly billion for overhead, including profit. That’s about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses — a rate that would exceed the federal cap that governs how much most insurance plans can spend on administration in the private sector.

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(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

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(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

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(Lucas Waldron/ProPublica)

According to the agency’s inspector general, the VA was paying the contractors at least 5 every time it authorized private care for a veteran. The fee was so high because the VA hurriedly launched the Choice Program as a short-term response to a crisis. Four years later, the fee never subsided — it went up to as much as 8 per referral.

“This is what happens when people try and privatize the VA,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the Senate veterans committee, said in a statement responding to these findings. “The VA has an obligation to taxpayers to spend its limited resources on caring for veterans, not paying excessive fees to a government contractor. When VA does need the help of a middleman, it needs to do a better job of holding contractors accountable for missing the mark.”

The Affordable Care Act prohibits large group insurance plans from spending more than 15 percent of their revenue on administration, including marketing and profit. The private sector standard is 10 percent to 12 percent, according to Andrew Naugle, who advises health insurers on administrative operations as a consultant at Milliman, one of the world’s largest actuarial firms. Overhead is even lower in the Defense Department’s Tricare health benefits program: only 8 percent in 2017.

Even excluding the costs of setting up the new program, the Choice contractors’ overhead still amounts to 21 percent of revenue.

“That’s just unacceptable,” Rick Weidman, the policy director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in response to the figures. “There are people constantly banging on the VA, but this was the private sector that made a total muck of it.”

Trump’s promises to veterans were a central message of his campaign. But his plans to shift their health care to the private sector put him on a collision course with veterans groups, whose members generally support the VA’s medical system and don’t want to see it privatized. The controversy around privatization, and the outsize influence of three Trump associates at Mar-a-Lago, has sown turmoil at the VA, endangering critical services from paying student stipends to preventing suicidesand upgrading electronic medical records.

A spokesman for the VA, Curt Cashour, declined to provide an interview with key officials and declined to answer a detailed list of written questions.

One of the contractors, Health Net, stopped working on the program in September 2018. Health Net didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The other contractor, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, said it has worked closely with the VA to improve the program and has made major investments of its own. “We believe supporting VA in ensuring the delivery of quality care to our nation’s veterans is a moral responsibility, even while others have avoided making these investments or have withdrawn from the market,” the company said in a statement.

TriWest did not dispute ProPublica and PolitiFact’s estimated overhead rate, which used total costs, but suggested an alternate calculation, using an average cost, that yielded a rate of 13 percent to 15 percent. The company defended the 5-plus fee by saying it covers “highly manual” services such as scheduling appointments and coordinating medical files. Such functions are not typically part of the contracts for other programs, such as the military’s Tricare. But Tricare’s contractors perform other duties, such as adjudicating claims and monitoring quality, that Health Net and TriWest do not. In a recent study comparing the programs, researchers from the Rand Corporation concluded that the role of the Choice Program’s contractors is “much narrower than in the private sector or in Tricare.”

Before the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net performed essentially the same functions for about a sixth of the price, according to the VA inspector general. TriWest declined to break down how much of the fee goes to each service it provides.

Because of what the GAO called the contractors’ “inadequate” performance, the VA increasingly took over doing the Choice Program’s referrals and claims itself.

In many cases, the contractors’ 5-plus processing fee for every referral was bigger than the doctor’s bill for services rendered, the analysis of agency data showed. In the three months ending Jan. 31, 2018, the Choice Program made 49,144 referrals for primary care totaling .9 million in medical costs, for an average cost per referral of 1.16. A few other types of care also cost less on average than the handling fee: chiropractic care (6.32 per referral) and optometry (9.25). There were certainly other instances where the medical services cost much more than the handling fee: TriWest said its average cost per referral was about ,100 in the past six months.

Beyond what the contractors were entitled to, audits by the VA inspector general found that they overcharged the government by 0 million from November 2014 to March 2017. Both companies are now under federal investigation arising from these overpayments. Health Net’s parent company, Centene, disclosed a Justice Department civil investigation into “excessive, duplicative or otherwise improper claims.” A federal grand jury in Arizona is investigating TriWest for “wire fraud and misused government funds,” according to a court decision on a subpoena connected to the case. Both companies said they are cooperating with the inquiries.

Despite the criminal investigation into TriWest’s management of the Choice Program, the Trump administration recently expanded the company’s contract without competitive bidding. Now, TriWest stands to collect even more fees as the administration prepares to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to send more veterans to private doctors.

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(US Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Senate veterans committee chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he expects VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the agency’s plans for the future of private care when he testifies at a hearing on Dec. 19, 2018. A spokeswoman for the outgoing chairman of the House veterans committee, Phil Roe, R-Tenn., didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“The last thing we need is to have funding for VA’s core mission get wasted,” Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat who will become the House panel’s chairman in January 2019, said in a statement. “I will make sure Congress conducts comprehensive oversight to ensure that our veterans receive the care they deserve while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Many of the Choice Program’s defects trace back to its hasty launch.

In 2014, the Republican chairman of the House veterans committee alleged that 40 veterans died waiting for care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The inspector general eventually concluded that no deaths were attributable to the delays. But it was true that officials at the Phoenix VA were covering up long wait times, and critics seized on this scandal to demand that veterans get access to private medical care.

One of the loudest voices demanding changes was John McCain’s. “Make no mistake: This is an emergency,” the Arizona senator, who died in August 2018, said at the time. McCain struck a compromise with Democrats to open up private care for veterans who lived at least 40 miles from a VA facility or would have to wait at least 30 days to get an appointment.

In the heat of the scandal, Congress gave the VA only 90 days to launch Choice. The VA reached out to 57 companies about administering the new program, but the companies said they couldn’t get the program off the ground in just three months, according to contracting records. So the VA tacked the Choice Program onto existing contracts with Health Net and TriWest to run a much smaller program for buying private care. “There is simply insufficient time to solicit, evaluate, negotiate and award competitive contracts and then allow for some form of ramp-up time for a new contractor,” the VA said in a formal justification for bypassing competitive bidding.

But that was a shaky foundation on which to build a much larger program, since those earlier contracts were themselves flawed. In a 2016 report, the VA inspector general said officials hadn’t followed the rules “to ensure services acquired are based on need and at fair and reasonable prices.” The report criticized the VA for awarding higher rates than one of the vendors proposed.

The new contract with the VA was a lifeline for TriWest. Its president and CEO, David J. McIntyre Jr., was a senior aide to McCain in the mid-1990s before starting the company, based in Phoenix, to handle health benefits for the military’s Tricare program. In 2013, TriWest lost its Tricare contract and was on the verge of shutting down. Thanks to the VA contract, TriWest went from laying off more than a thousand employees to hiring hundreds.

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Senator John McCain.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

McIntyre’s annual compensation, according to federal contracting disclosures, is .36 million. He declined to be interviewed. In a statement, TriWest noted that the original contract, for the much smaller private care program, had been competitively awarded.

The VA paid TriWest and Health Net 0 million upfront to set up the new Choice program, according to the inspector general’s audit. But that was dwarfed by the fees that the contractors would collect. Previously, the VA paid the companies between and 3 for every referral, according to the inspector general. But for the Choice Program, TriWest and Health Net raised their fee to between 5 and 0 to do essentially the same work on a larger scale, the inspector general said.

The price hike was a direct result of the time pressure, according to Greg Giddens, a former VA contracting executive who dealt with the Choice Program. “If we had two years to stand up the program, we would have been at a different price structure,” he said.

Even though the whole point of the Choice Program was to avoid 30-day waits in the VA, a convoluted process made it hard for veterans to see private doctors any faster. Getting care through the Choice Program took longer than 30 days 41 percent of the time, according to the inspector general’s estimate. The GAO found that in 2016 using the Choice Program could take as long as 70 days, with an average of 50 days.

Sometimes the contractors failed to make appointments at all. Over a three-month period in 2018, Health Net sent back between 9 percent and 13 percent of its referrals, according to agency data. TriWest failed to make appointments on 5 percent to 8 percent of referrals, the data shows.

Many veterans had frustrating experiences with the contractors.

Richard Camacho in Los Angeles said he got a call from TriWest to make an appointment for a sleep test, but he then received a letter from TriWest with different dates. He had to call the doctor to confirm when he was supposed to show up. When he got there, the doctor had received no information about what the appointment was for, Camacho said.

John Moen, a Vietnam veteran in Plano, Texas, tried to use the Choice Program for physical therapy in 2018 rather than travel to Dallas, where the VA had a six-week wait. But it took 10 weeks for him to get an appointment with a private provider.

“The Choice Program for me has completely failed to meet my needs,” Moen said.

Curtis Thompson, of Kirkland, Washington, said he’s been told the Choice Program had a 30-day wait just to process referrals, never mind to book an appointment. “Bottom line: Wait for the nearly 60 days to see the rheumatologist at the VA rather than opt for an unknown delay through Veterans Choice,” he said.

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(Flickr photo by Rob Bixby)

After Thompson used the Choice Program in 2018 for a sinus surgery that the VA couldn’t perform within 30 days, the private provider came after him to collect payment, according to documentation he provided.

Thousands of veterans have had to contend with bill collectors and credit bureaus because the contractors failed to pay providers on time, according to the inspector general. Doctors have been frustrated with the Choice Program, too. The inspector general found that 15 providers in North Carolina stopped accepting patients from the VA because Health Net wasn’t paying them on time.

The VA shares the blame, since it fell behind in paying the contractors, the inspector general said. TriWest claimed the VA at one point owed the company 0 million. According to the inspector general, the VA’s pile of unpaid claims peaked at almost 180,000 in 2016 and was virtually eliminated by the end of the year.

The VA tried to tackle the backlog of unpaid doctors, but it had a problem: The agency didn’t know who was performing the services arranged by the contractors. That’s because Health Net and TriWest controlled the provider networks, and the medical claims they submit to the VA do not include any provider information.

The contractors’ role as middlemen created the opportunity for payment errors, according to the inspector general’s audit. The inspector general found 77,700 cases where the contractors billed the VA for more than they paid providers and pocketed the difference, totaling about million. The inspector general also identified .9 million in duplicate payments and .5 million in other errors.

TriWest said it has worked with the VA to correct the payment errors and set aside money to pay back. The company said it’s waiting for the VA to provide a way to refund the confirmed overpayments. “We remain ready to complete the necessary reconciliations as soon as that process is formally approved,” TriWest said.

The grand jury proceedings involving TriWest are secret, but the investigation became public because prosecutors sought to obtain the identities of anonymous commenters on the jobs website Glassdoor.com who accused TriWest of “mak[ing] money unethically off of veterans/VA.” Glassdoor fought the subpoena but lost, in November 2017. The court’s opinion doesn’t name TriWest, but it describes the subject of the investigation as “a government contractor that administers veterans’ healthcare programs” and quotes the Glassdoor reviews about TriWest. The federal prosecutor’s office in Arizona declined to comment.

“TriWest has cooperated with many government inquiries regarding VA’s community care programs and will continue to do so,” the company said in its statement. “TriWest must respect the government’s right to keep those inquiries confidential until such time as the government decides to conclude the inquiry or take any actions or adjust VA programs as deemed appropriate.”

The VA tried to make the Choice Program run more smoothly and efficiently. Because the contractors were failing to find participating doctors to treat veterans, the VA in mid-2015 launched a full-court press to sign up private providers directly, according to the inspector general. In some states, the VA also took over scheduling from the contractors.

“We were making adjustments on the fly trying to get it to work,” said David Shulkin, who led the VA’s health division starting in 2015. “There needed to be a more holistic solution.”

Officials decided in 2016 to design new contracts that would change the fee structure and reabsorb some of the services that the VA had outsourced to Health Net and TriWest. The department secretary at the time, Bob McDonald, concluded the VA needed to handle its own customer service, since the agency’s reputation was suffering from TriWest’s and Health Net’s mistakes. Reclaiming those functions would have the side effect of reducing overhead.

“Tell me a great customer service company in the world that outsources its customer service,” McDonald, who previously ran Procter Gamble, said in an interview. “I wanted to have the administrative functions within our medical centers so we took control of the care of the veterans. That would have brought that fee down or eliminated it entirely.”

The new contracts, called the Community Care Network, also aimed to reduce overhead by paying the contractors based on the number of veterans they served per month, rather than a flat fee for every referral. To prevent payment errors like the ones the inspector general found, the new contracts sought to increase information-sharing between the VA and the contractors. The VA opened bidding for the new Community Care Network contracts in December 2016.

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David Shulkin.

But until those new contracts were in place, the VA was still stuck paying Health Net and TriWest at least 5 for every referral. So VA officials came up with a workaround: they could cut out the middleman and refer veterans to private providers directly. Claims going through the contractors declined by 47 percent from May to December in 2017.

TriWest’s CEO, McIntyre, objected to this workaround and blamed the VA for hurting his bottom line.

In a Feb. 26, 2018, email with the subject line “Heads Up… Likely Massive and Regrettable Train Wreck Coming!” McIntyre warned Shulkin, then the department secretary, that “long unresolved matters with VA and current behavior patterns will result in a projected million loss in 2019. This is on top of the losses that we have amassed over the last couple years.”

Officials were puzzled that, despite all the VA was paying TriWest, McIntyre was claiming he couldn’t make ends meet, according to agency emails provided to ProPublica and PolitiFact. McIntyre explained that he wanted the VA to waive penalties for claims that lacked adequate documentation and to pay TriWest an administrative fee on canceled referrals and no-show appointments, even though the VA read the contract to require a fee only on completed claims. In a March 2018 letter to key lawmakers, McIntyre said the VA’s practice of bypassing the contractors and referring patients directly to providers “has resulted in a significant drop in the volume of work and is causing the company irreparable financial harm.”

McIntyre claimed the VA owed TriWest million and warned of a “negative impact on VA and veterans that will follow” if the agency didn’t pay. Any disruptions at TriWest, he said, would rebound onto the VA, “given how much we are relied on by VA at the moment and the very public nature of this work.”

But when the VA asked to see TriWest’s financial records to substantiate McIntyre’s claims, the numbers didn’t add up, according to agency emails.

McIntyre’s distress escalated in March 2018, as the Choice Program was running out of money and lawmakers were locked in tense negotiations over its future. McIntyre began sending daily emails to the VA officials in charge of the Choice Program seeking updates and warning of impending disaster. “I don’t think the storm could get more difficult or challenging,” he wrote in one of the messages. “However, I know that I am not alone nor that the impact will be confined to us.”

McIntyre lobbied for a bill to permanently replace Choice with a new program consolidating all of the VA’s methods of buying private care. TriWest even offered to pay veterans organizations to run ads supporting the legislation, according to emails discussing the proposal. Congress overwhelmingly passed the law (named after McCain) in May 2018.

“In the campaign, I also promised that we would fight for Veterans Choice,” Trump said at the signing ceremony in June 2018. “And before I knew that much about it, it just seemed to be common sense. It seemed like if they’re waiting on line for nine days and they can’t see a doctor, why aren’t they going outside to see a doctor and take care of themselves, and we pay the bill? It’s less expensive for us, it works out much better, and it’s immediate care.”

The new permanent program for buying private care will take effect in June 2019. The VA’s new and improved Community Care Network contracts were supposed to be in place by then. But the agency repeatedly missed deadlines for these new contracts and has yet to award them.

The VA has said it’s aiming to pick the contractors for the new program in January and February 2019. Yet even if the VA meets this latest deadline, the contracts include a one-year ramp-up period, so they won’t be ready to start in June 2019.

That means TriWest will by default become the sole contractor for the new program. The VA declined to renew Health Net’s contract when it expired in September 2018. The VA was planning to deal directly with private providers in the regions that Health Net had covered. But the VA changed course and announced that TriWest would take over Health Net’s half of the country. The agency said TriWest would be the sole contractor for the entire Choice Program until it awards the Community Care Network contracts.

“There’s still not a clear timeline moving forward,” said Giddens, the former VA contracting executive. “They need to move forward with the next program. The longer they stay with the current one, and now that it’s down to TriWest, that’s not the best model.”

Meanwhile, TriWest will continue receiving a fee for every referral. And the number of referrals is poised to grow as the administration plans to shift more veterans to the private sector.

This story was produced in collaboration with PolitiFact.

This article originally appeared on ProPublica. Follow @ProPublica on Twitter.

MIGHTY MONEY

The Pentagon is expanding a program that helps vets heal with art and writing

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National Endowment for the Arts Chairperson Jane Chu announces its expansion of sites within the Creative Forces Military Healing Arts Network at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md., Oct. 21, 2016. (DoD photo by Amaani Lyle)


Walter Reed National Medical Center announced this week a plan to expand a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Defense Department that focuses on creative art therapy for service members, veterans, and family members.

The “Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network” focuses on art therapy such as writing, painting, and singing to help service members address and deal with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

It’s currently offered at Walter Reed in Maryland and Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are notoriously complex conditions to treat,” the NEA chairman Jane Chu said, noting that day long workshops don’t dig deep enough into the issues surrounding PTS and TBI.

Understanding that, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence decided to add a therapeutic writing program to its already existing creative art therapy program. That program now incorporates visual arts and music therapy.

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Masks, decorated by service members, sit on display as part of the Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md., Oct. 21, 2016. (National Endowment for the Arts courtesy photo)

The program, which received an additional $1.98 million funding in fiscal year 2016, has plans to expand to Marine Corps Bases Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune; Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska; and Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.

The NEA and DoD have enough funding to open those and five other sites around the country in 2017, the Pentagon says.

Readiness, diversity, location, population density and leadership were all taken into consideration when determining where to open expansion clinics, Chu said. Leadership is “critical to the success of our work together,” Chu explained, adding that the expansion will also work with a network of community based nonprofit organizations.

The goal with the expansion, according to Chu, is to develop a web of resources and tools to help local organizations and communities as they work with the military community among them.

Chu reports that, through the program, veterans are better able to manage stress.

“We’re seeing such transformational results in our service members and our expansion plans have come as a result of them saying that they want this program to be closer to their communities as they make a transition back into civilian life,” Chu explained. “This is a way to help service members and veterans … understand the dignity that they already have and so much deserve.”

MIGHTY SPORTS

This bilateral amputee is a force to be reckoned with

Dave Nichols has been a bilateral amputee for nearly half a century. He’s fluid in his walk, with full range of motion in his knees, although his legs were blown off below the knee in a landmine explosion during his tour in Vietnam in 1970.

At the same time, the Army veteran feels it is unfair for him to tell other amputees how to live their lives, especially if he doesn’t fully understand their physical and emotional challenges. But if he did give advice to a fellow disabled vet, he would say there are many adaptive programs they can take advantage of to stay active.

“After years of being like this, I look at my disability more like a job,” Nichols says. “I take the emotional aspect out of it. You want to do the best job you can. It’s a job with no vacation. It’s about being innovative. It’s about adapting to equipment or keeping yourself in shape, making sure you work out.


“The biggest thing is the living room couch. If you don’t get off the couch, you’re done. Once you get out and about, you find that people will look at you as just another person. They’re going to look at you as somebody out there doing your best. People sometimes are afraid to approach you. But with a little nonverbal communication, you keep a smile on your face. Don’t walk around like you don’t want to talk to anybody.”

Nichols has been incredibly active. He’s been an avid golfer, a skier and ski instructor, and a boxing coach who has sparred. He recently took up pickleball, which includes elements of tennis, table tennis, and badminton.

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A year-round special events competitor, Nichols at VA’s Summer Sports Clinic.

He’s looking forward to participating in the VA 2019 National Veterans Golden Age Games, June 5-10, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska. At 69 years old, he’ll be competing in golf, pickleball, badminton, and the javelin throw. He’s taken part in the Golden Age Games for nearly a decade and has won medals in golf and javelin.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Nichols says. “I like to compete. But more than anything, I like the social interaction. I want to get out there and do my very best. Being an amputee motivates me a little bit. But if I don’t win, I’m not upset. At my age, I’m just lucky I’m out there doing it.”

In 1970, Army private first-class Nichols was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade as it cleared out an enemy base camp in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam when enemy fighters detonated a landmine. The explosion left Nichols with what he describes as an “out-of-body experience.”

“One second, you’re walking and talking to infantrymen and you feel confident,” explains Nichols, who received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service. “The next thing, you’re on the ground without any feet. You feel like, `What now?’ It’s like you have to create a whole new image of yourself. You don’t know who you are anymore.”

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Nichols in Vietnam.

Nichols spent nine months in the hospital. Having suffered no nerve or muscle damage in his knees in the explosion, he was able to retain a lot of his balance and the ability to climb ramps and stairs.

“I’ve been walking with prosthetics now for 48 years,” he says. “I’m ambulatory. I don’t have a wheelchair or anything like that.”

Today, Nichols is in great shape at 5 feet 9 inches, and 150 pounds. A resident of Stone Ridge, New York, he golfs in the Eastern Amputee Golf Association. He’s up to about a 14 handicap, after once being between an eight and nine. He chalks up the decline to not playing much recently because of his involvement with other sports like skiing.

He skis in Windham, New York, and teaches people with disabilities how to ski.

With a wife, three kids, and three grandchildren, he finds that life has been good to him.

“There are days when I get up and go, `It’s going to be a rough day,'” he says. “But normally everything is fine. I’m going all day. I’ve been very fortunate because my disability is manageable.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The F-15 is taking a page out of the Su-27 book (for once)

The F-15 Eagle rightfully boasts of one of the most successful runs in air-to-air combat of all time. In fact, the F-15 Eagle is undefeated when the air-to-air combat has been for real, with over 100 kills. But believe it or not, it has lacked something — something that its arch-rival, the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker, has had from day one.


According to a release from Lockheed Martin, the Air Force has announced Lockheed’s Legion Pod has been selected for use on the F-15C Eagles the service has on hand, starting in 2018. This pod will give the Eagle an infra-red search and track system, or IRST.

New JFK carrier 50% complete with massive chunk added
A pair of Russian Air Force Su-27 Flanker aircraft. (DOD photo)

When the F-15 was designed, it was given an awesome radar. That radar helped the Eagle guide AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-120 AMRAAM radar-guided missiles. But the Su-27 not only had a radar for its AA-10 “Alamo” and AA-12 “Adder” missiles, it also had an IRST, which gave it a technological edge in air-to-air combat.

Radar, while it has long range, is a system that can itself be detected. When a radar “paints” a combat aircraft, the crew will find out because most combat aircraft have what is known as a radar warning receiver, or RWR. In essence, when the radar locks on to the target, the RWR screams bloody murder, telling the pilot, “Hey, someone’s trying to blow you out of the sky. DO SOMETHING!”

New JFK carrier 50% complete with massive chunk added
The Legion pod mounted on a F-16 Fighting Falcon multi-role fighter. (Lockheed Martin Fort Worth Texas Photo by Alexander H Groves)

IRSTs get around this by tracking on the heat from an aircraft. It works a lot like a forward-looking infrared, but it specializes in the air-to-air arena as opposed to the air-to-ground arena. Furthermore, it can feed data to an infra-red guided missile, like the AIM-9 Sidewinder or AA-11 Archer. Those cannot be picked up by a RWR, and thus, they give a pilot much less warning when targeted.

Lockheed notes that 130 Legion pods will be purchased. The first of the pods is expected to be delivered in 2018.

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