The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking new steps to use technology to improve access to health care for veterans across the country, including in rural areas.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin says the initiatives include using video technology and diagnostic tools to conduct medical exams. Shulkin says veterans will also be able to use mobile devices to schedule, reschedule, or cancel appointments with a VA doctor.
Shulkin says the new programs will make it possible to provide medical care to veterans wherever they are, whether they’re in their homes or are traveling.
The new programs are in addition to existing “telehealth” programs that Shulkin says provided care to more than 700,000 veterans last year.
The skies above the United States and its allies aren’t just an intelligence battleground anymore, they’re also a big business arena. Some of the world’s top aircraft designers are looking to get their designs airborne with America’s most top secret missions.
Today, Sweden’s air forces are flying nondescript, ulta-secret spy missions in what appear to be the swankiest luxury aircraft on the market. In April 2021, Sweden flew a pair of luxury airplanes off the coast of Russia, where Russian military signals and radar were highly active.
It looked like a luxury private jet that could have belonged to any corporate officer from anywhere in the world. The converted Gulfstream IV was nothing of the sort; it was filled with the latest and greatest in signals intelligence collection equipment.
This isn’t the first time Sweden has employed its sleek fleet of Gulfstream spy planes over the past few years. They’ve been seen flying around Syria and the Mediterranean Sea. Sweden isn’t alone in employing them – other governments are bringing a demand for converted luxury aircraft.
According to Reuters, the market for selling special mission business jets to intelligence agencies is worth more than $3 billion worldwide. Using converted luxury aircraft is apparently a lower-cost alternative to converting larger passenger planes or military aircraft.
One defense and military analyst believes the shift is coming from the advanced listening and intelligence systems. As they get smaller and more powerful, the size of the aircraft needed to house them also gets smaller.
These special missions can vary from passive radar detection, communications interception, and early-warning systems. Countries from South Korea to France to the Israel Defense Forces are looking for more inexpensive ways to continue these missions using advanced equipment and smaller planes.
A private corporate jet can cost anywhere from $20 million to $60 million, the Reuters report says. Conversion to a spy plane with the latest technology could run state actors upwards of another $200 million.
The new demand for smaller aircraft is a boon to the private aviation industry, according to industry executives, who saw a drop off in demand from the civilian sector. A focus on military conversion means the companies will be more dedicated to that sector.
Although using luxury private aircraft as spy planes is a tradition that dates back to the Cold War, the breakthroughs in signals intelligence technology mean that smaller planes can be as effective as larger ones in singular “special mission” roles. The only threat to this new, emerging marketplace for corporate aircraft: special mission drones.
Unmanned aerial vehicles can be a slightly cheaper alternative for some countries looking for so-called “special mission aircraft,” but they aren’t that much cheaper. The Northrop Grumman Global Hawk UAV will still run about $130 million.
But converted executive aircraft are a good investment. The U.S. military purchased a number of Grumman Gulfstream I planes in the early 1960s, converting many to long-range command and control aircraft. They remained in service until 2001.
The US Army is considering various systems to better shield tanks and armored vehicles from RPGs, antitank missiles, and other enemy fire.
But the latest version of the RPG, a staple in the arsenals of Russia and other forces, may already be a step ahead of the active-protection systems the US may soon adopt.
The Pentagon has purchased active-protection systems to test out on Abrams tanks and Bradley and Stryker armored vehicles, and may even mount them on lighter vehicles, like the successor to the Humvee, according to a report from Scout Warrior.
“The Army is looking at a range of domestically produced and allied international solutions from companies participating in the Army’s Modular Active Protection Systems (MAPS) program,” an Army official told Scout Warrior.
The Army intends to outfit Abrams tanks with the Israeli-made Trophy APS and Bradley vehicles with the Iron Fist system, which is also Israeli-made. It plans to put the US-made Iron Curtain system on Stryker vehicles. (The Army leased several of the Trophy systems last spring, working with the Marine Corps to test them.)
“The one that is farthest along in terms of installing it is … Trophy on Abrams,” Lt. Gen. John Murray, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement. “We’re getting some pretty … good results. It adds to the protection level of the tank.”
The US’s look to APS comes as other countries adopt the technology.
Israeli’s Merkava comes standard with the Trophy, as does Russia’s new T-14 Armata. Both Israel’s and Russia’s tanks, as well as the UK’s Challenger 2, are considered by US officials to be close to or at parity with the US’s mainstay, the Abrams tank. (Though some officials don’t consider the Armata fielded.)
As militaries have adopted active-protection systems and other means to up-armor tanks, arms makers have looked for new antitank weaponry to counter them. Whenever US vehicles equipped with APS join similarly outfitted vehicles in the field, they will face a new challenge from an old foe, the RPG.
The most recent variant, the RPG-30, unveiled in 2008, has a 105 mm tandem high explosive antitank round, and features a second, smaller-caliber projectile meant to bait the active-protection systems that have become common on armored vehicles in recent years.
A tandem HEAT round carries two explosive charges. One neutralizes a vehicle’s reactive armor (which uses explosions to counter incoming projectiles), and the other is designed to penetrate the armor of the vehicle itself.
“The novelty of the Russian rocket launcher is that two rockets are fired at the target at the same time. One is a so-called ‘agent provocateur’ 42 mm in caliber, followed a bit later by a primary 105-mm tandem warhead rocket,” Vladimir Porkhachyov, the director general of arms manufacturer NPO Bazalt, told Russian state news agency Tass of the RPG-30 in September 2015.
The RPG-30 reportedly cleared testing and went into active service with the Russian military sometime between 2012 and 2013. At that point, according to a 2015 report by Russian state-owned outlet Sputnik, the Pentagon put it on its list of “asymmetrical threats to the US armed forces.”
The effectiveness of the RPG-30 against active-protection systems, and whether those systems need be upgraded to adapt to the RPG-30 and similar munitions, remains to be seen. But the RPG — though limited by the size of its warhead — has long been potent on the battlefield, even against modern tanks.
The previous model, the RPG-29, was introduced in 1991 and is still in service with the Russian armed forces. It fires a 105 mm tandem HEAT round and can also fire a thermobaric fuel-air round against bunkers and buildings.
Russian RPG-29s were used by Hezbollah in the mid-2000s, deployed against Israeli tanks and personnel during the 2006 Lebanon War.
According to a Haaretz reportfrom the time, Hezbollah antitank teams using RPG-29s managed on some occasions to get through the armor of Israel’s advanced Merkava tanks.
In other cases, Hezbollah fighters used the RPG-29 to fire on buildings containing Israeli troops, penetrating the walls.
“The majority of Israel Defense Forces ground troops casualties, both infantry and armored, were the result of special antitank units of Hezbollah,” which used other antitank missiles as well, according to the Haaretz report, published in the final days of the conflict and citing intelligence sources.
Those RPG-29s were reportedly supplied to Hezbollah by the Syrian military, which got them from Russia. Moscow disputed those origins, however, with some suggesting they were exported from former Communist bloc countries after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In August 2006, a RPG-29 was used successfully against a British Challenger 2 tank in southern Iraq.
During operations in Al Amarah, an RPG-29 rocket defeated the reactive armor installed on the Challenger, penetrating the driver’s cabin and blowing off half of one soldier’s foot and wounding several other troops.
UK military officials were accused of a cover-up in 2007, after it emerged that they hadn’t reported the August 2006 incident.
Two years later, during fighting in Baghdad’s Sadr City — a Shiite neighborhood in the Iraqi capital — a US M1 Abrams tank was damaged by an RPG-29. (The US has long avoided reactive armor systems but accepted them in recent years as a cheap, easy way to up-armor vulnerable parts of the Abrams, particularly against RPGs.)
During fighting in Iraq, RPG-29s penetrated the armor on the Abrams tanks twice and the Challenger once, according to The National Interest. Other Abrams tanks in Iraq were knocked out by antitank missiles, like the Russian-made AT-14 Kornet.
The threat goes beyond tanks. Seven of eight US Army helicopters shot down in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009 were brought down by RPGs.
RPGs remain in service around the world, filling the arsenals of both state and non-state actors, according to the Small Arms Survey. The weapon and parts for it have popped in arms bazaars in Libya in recent years.
The RPG-7, the RPG-29’s predecessor, would be or would likely be used by forces in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Central, South, and East Asia.
Regular and irregular forces in Latin America also have RPGs, and the weapons have made their way into the hands of criminal groups in the region. The Jalisco New Generation cartel reportedly used one to down a Mexican military helicopter in early 2015.
For the past few years, DARPA has been working on a system called ARGUS-IR, or Autonomous Real-Team Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Infrared, which can take video over an area that is so super high resolution — 1.8 gigapixels — it would take a fleet of 100 Predator drones to produce the same images.
A PBS documentary last year explored the program, which uses hundreds of cell phone cameras linked together into a sophisticated rig. Mounted underneath an RQ-4 Global Hawk for example, ARGUS could loiter over an area at 17,500 feet and capture images as small as six inches square on the ground, effectively being able to tell the color of the shirt you are wearing.
It’s pretty incredible — and somewhat scary — stuff.
Current infrared systems either have a narrow field of view, slow frame rates or are low resolution. DARPA’s Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Infrared (ARGUS-IR) program will break this paradigm by producing a wide-field-of-view IR imaging system with frame rates and resolution that are compatible with the tracking of dismounted personnel at night. ARGUS-IR will provide at least 130 independently steerable video streams to enable real-time tracking of individual targets throughout the field of view. The ARGUS-IR system will also provide continuous updates of the entire field of view for enhanced situational awareness.
In July, the Air Force made the first step toward making ARGUS a reality with the implementation of the Gorgon Stare Increment 2 pod on the MQ-9 Reaper.
Here’s the view from an ARGUS system from 17,500 feet. It can capture a very wide area.
When an operator wants to zoom in, the system places boxes over cars, people, and other objects and tracks them in real time.
Now check out the PBS Nova documentary on the project:
Today marks 230 years that the Coast Guard has been serving the United States. The Coast Guard supplies a unique and valuable service to our country and is the only military organization within the Department of Homeland Security. To help celebrate its 230th birthday, let’s take a look at some fun facts about the Coast Guard that you might not know.
1. Writers, take heart.
Alex Haley, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Roots,” was the Coast Guard’s first journalist. After graduating high school at age 15, Haley enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1939 at the age of just 18 as a Mess Attendant Third Class, one of the only two ratings available to Black service members at the time. During his long patrols, Haley started writing letters to his friends and family – sometimes as many as 40 a week!
2. Swimmers, brush up on your freestyle.
Becoming a Coast Guard rescue swimmer is exceptionally difficult. In fact, more than half the people who try out for this assignment fail. Fitness standards for rescue swimmers include being able to function for thirty minutes in heavy seas. Swimmers must be able to think, perform challenging tasks and react, all while either being submerged, holding their breath or being tossed around by high waves.
3. Flags for all occasions.
The Coast Guard has two official flags – the CG Standard and the CG Ensign. The Ensign is flown by cutters and shore units, while the Standard flag is used at ceremonies. The Standard is used to represent the Coast Guard, but the Ensign flag is something altogether different. Since law enforcement is one of the Coast Guard’s core missions, the ensign flag is the visible symbol of law enforcement authority and is recognized globally.
4. Coast Guard deploys. No, really.
Service members of the Coast Guard have served valiantly in 17 wars and conflicts in US history. The CG was America’s first afloat armed force. It predates the Navy by several years and is older than most other federal government organizations. The Coast Guard’s motto, Semper Paratus (Always Ready), is proven time and again in its readiness to deploy.
5. Protecting the US is just a small part
In addition to protecting the United States’ coastlines, Coast Guard service members serve all over the world. You can find CG ships as far north as the Arctic, as far south as Antarctica and everywhere in between.
6. The Coast Guard isn’t very big
With roughly 40,000 active duty service members, the Coast Guard is just a little larger than the NYPD. Compared with over 554,000 in the Army and roughly 200,000 in the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard is definitely much smaller. What the branch doesn’t have in personnel, it makes up for in might. Since its service members have acting law enforcement authority, their mission goes a long way to keeping America’s coastlines safe.
7. Coast Guard families don’t have the same resources
Resources available to other military families like Military One Source and MyCAA are inaccessible to CG families. In most situations, these DoD resources aren’t inclusive to members of the Coast Guard. Instead, CG personnel and families receive support through the Coast Guard Office of Work-Life, as well as the CG SUPRT organization.
8. It’s not easy to join
The Coast Guard is one of the most difficult branches of the military to get into because it accepts such a low number of recruits. In addition to having to undergo a credit check and a security clearance, you should probably also have a college degree in hand. The branch requires a minimum of 54 points on the ASVAB, and if you have a shellfish allergy, you’re eliminated from applying! Basic training takes place at just one location, Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, in Cape May, New Jersey. It’s a good idea to know how to swim before joining, and if you’re selected, you should be comfortable jumping off a five-foot platform into a pool, swimming for 100 meters and then treading water for five minutes.
So there you have it! It turns out that the Coast Guard is one of the most elite branches of our military. As part of DHS, its service members help keep America’s 95,000 miles of shoreline safe. Maybe in time, DoD resources will open up to these valuable service personnel and their families. Until then, happy birthday, Coast Guard!
U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Hopkins is leading an international crew of astronauts on a six-month mission to the International Space Station following a successful launch on the first NASA-certified commercial human spacecraft system in history.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission lifted off at 7:27 p.m. EST Sunday from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard their Crew Dragon spacecraft propelled by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocketNASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), into orbit to begin a six-month science mission aboard the space station.
Selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009, Hopkins spent 166 days in space as a long-duration crew member of Expeditions 37 and 38 and completed two spacewalks totaling 12 hours and 58 minutes. Before joining NASA, Hopkins was a flight test engineer with the U.S. Air Force. As commander, Hopkins is responsible for all phases of flight, from launch to re-entry. He also will serve as an Expedition 64 flight engineer aboard the station.
Bookended by planning meetings with ground controllers, a day aboard ISS is packed with work from start to finish, said Hopkins during a 2017 interview with Airman magazine.
“It is usually going to involve three things; some type of maintenance, whether it’s a preplanned or something broke and you have to fix it; science, which is the primary reason for the space station, and exercise. We usually have at least two hours of exercise on our schedule every day. That’s really the next 12 hours.”
The Crew 1 mission is the first of six crewed missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
“I think that the development of these commercial vehicles isn’t involving just NASA. There’s a there’s a lot of good synergy that happens in programs like this. The Air Force is a part of and benefits from that effort”, Hopkins said.
“It’s not just the development of the new cap capsules per se, but it’s also the rockets that go along with that. Those same rockets can potentially be utilized by the Air Force for putting their payloads or platforms up in space. I think that’s one of the things that makes it very exciting, particularly for myself and some of the other Air Force astronauts. You’re not only supporting NASA but you’re also supporting your parent organization; in our case, the Air Force.”
The Crew 1 mission has several firsts, including: the first flight of the NASA-certified commercial system designed for crew transportation, which moves the system from development into regular flights; the first international crew of four to launch on an American commercial spacecraft; the first time the space station’s long duration expedition crew size will increase from six to seven crew members, which will add to the crew time available for research; and the first time the Federal Aviation Administration has licensed a human orbital spaceflight launch.
Hopkins, Glover, Walker, and Noguchi will join the Expedition 64 crew of Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, both of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA.
The crew will conduct science and maintenance during a six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory and will return in spring 2021. It is scheduled to be the longest human space mission launched from the United States. The Crew Dragon spacecraft is capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days, as a NASA requirement.
Crew Dragon also is delivering more than 500 pounds of cargo, new science hardware and experiments inside, including Food Physiology, a study of the effects of an optimized diet on crew health and, Genes in Space-7, a student-designed experiment that aims to better understand how spaceflight affects brain function, enabling scientists to keep astronauts healthy as they prepare for long-duration missions in low-Earth orbit and beyond.
Among the science and research investigations the crew will support during its six-month mission are a study using chips with tissue that mimics the structure and function of human organs to understand the role of microgravity on human health and diseases and translate those findings to improve human health on Earth, growing radishes in different types of light and soils as part of ongoing efforts to produce food in space, and testing a new system to remove heat from NASA’s next generation spacesuit, the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU).
During their stay on the orbiting laboratory, Crew-1 astronauts expect to see a range of un-crewed spacecraft including the next generation of SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft, the Northrop Grumman Cygnus, and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner on its un-crewed flight test to the station. They also will conduct a variety of spacewalks and welcome crews of the Russian Soyuz vehicle and the next SpaceX Crew Dragon in 2021.
What little free time astronauts have aboard ISS is spent checking email, talking with family, or taking a view that only a relative handful of humans have seen in person.
“You’re 250 miles above the earth, and you’re getting to see it in a way that very few of us get to see – live and in person”, Hopkins said. “Your see the images and those are very representative, it looks very real, but when you see it with your own eyes, it’s stunning.
“Sometimes with your free time you just go hang out by the window. Even at nighttime. When it’s dark out, you wouldn’t think there’s that much to see, but then you’d be going over Africa, and there’d be this huge storm front over the continent, and you get to see these lightning storms from above. You see this flash of light going here and there and just dancing across the whole continent. Amazing. It never gets old.”
See and read more about U.S. Air Force astronauts HERE.
While many Westerners associate Islamic State propaganda with violence and beheadings, the terror group also likes to showcase its deceptively “softer” side to those within its territory in the Middle East, as a Vocativ analysis showed this week.
And given that their target audience is disaffected Sunnis living in war-torn Iraq and Syria, the plan is working.
Videotaped beheadings and action-packed fighting scenes might be effective recruitment tools for young people who are thinking about traveling to Syria to fight with the militants, but the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh) knows that winning hearts and minds is just as important to its longevity.
Vocativ notes that “in the areas it already controls or is fighting to take over, almost half of what [ISIS] broadcasts has a positive theme to it. ‘Come to the Islamic State,’ is the message. ‘There is fun here, and food, and services.'”
ISIS markets itself as an Islamic utopia that can provide happiness and stability its residents. In addition to enforcing a strict interpretation of Sharia law, ISIS sets up schools and consumer protection bureaus in the areas of Iraq and Syria it holds.
And apparently, ISIS also operates a mall and amusement park near Mosul, Iraq:
The above propaganda video shows children playing and residents talking about how much better life is now that ISIS has moved in and taken control of Mosul.
The video makes no mention of the headless bodies that can also be seen in the streets of ISIS’ self-proclaimed “caliphate,” an aspirational Islamic empire that aims to unite the world’s Muslims under a single religious and political entity.
With its civil services and positive propaganda, ISIS seeks to build a sense of community within its caliphate. And given that many ISIS members are from disaffected Sunni communities, the group has a natural advantage over Westerners in uniform trying to win hearts and minds.
Recruiting with camaraderie
ISIS also uses positive propaganda, along with more brutal propaganda, to bring in foreign fighters replenish their ranks on the battlefield.
In an extensive analysis of ISIS propaganda for the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam Foundation, Charlie Winter noted that the idea of belonging is “one of Islamic State’s most powerful draws to new recruits,” especially Westerners who are thinking of traveling to the caliphate.
“Through their regular publication of, for example, videos and photographic reports depicting istirāḥat al-mujāhidīn — fighters relaxing with tea and singing with each other — the propagandists emphasise the idea of brotherhood in the ‘caliphate,'” Winter wrote.
“The carefully branded camaraderie that one is absorbed into upon arrival in Islamic State-held territories is, as the propagandists would have their audiences believe, almost overwhelming.”
ISIS “recognize[s] that offers of friendship, security and a sense of belonging are powerful draws for its supporters abroad,” Winter wrote.
But ISIS doesn’t just want to attract fighters who are willing to die on the battlefield for their cause. They also see women and families as crucial to their long-term quest for dominance and control of territory.
In their recent book “ISIS: The State of Terror,” Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger noted that ISIS leadership says “hijrah (or emigration) to the land of Islam is obligatory” for all Muslims. They recruit doctors, administrators, engineers, scholars, and women who could marry future martyrs and bear their children.
“They’re the first terrorist group that aren’t interested in [just] fighters, they want families to come,” Patrick Skinner, director of special projects at The Soufan Group, told Vocativ. “They need women and children, they believe they have a state, they now need a future. A lot of people are going there just to live in the caliphate.”
The propaganda depicting bucolic settings and a fully functioning society is obviously false.
ISIS’ caliphate is extremely violent, and militants loot homes, tax residents heavily, and behead opponents. Some who have decamped for ISIS territory have desperately sought to return to their home countries after realizing that the reality on the ground is vastly different from the propaganda they saw online.
Nevertheless, ISIS is still seeing foreigners stream into their territory (many through the Turkish border), and the US is trying to come up with ways to counter the propaganda and come up with an effective counter-narrative.
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” — United States Constitution
On July 28, 1868, the 14th Amendment to the U-S Constitution was adopted, finally guaranteeing citizenship to Black Americans.
The 1865 Union victory in the Civil War may have won over 4 million enslaved Africans their freedom, but the path to equality and the process of rebuilding the South was wrought with obstacles.
The period known as Radical Reconstruction saw the passing of the 14th Amendment, which stated that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States,” and was meant to grant every citizen “equal protection of the laws.”
Segregation, racial discrimination, and white supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan would inhibit true equality for another century, when Black people would raise their voices in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, demanding the political, economic, and social equality they deserve.
With some recent upgrades to medals for heroism during the War on Terror, perhaps it is time to take a closer look at some awards from Desert Storm. During that conflict, no Medals of Honor or Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded, but there were two Navy Crosses and two Air Force Crosses.
Without further ado, here are six people whose awards may warrant an upgrade:
1.William F. Andrews
Awards to upgrade: Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Force Cross
Then a captain flying the F-16, Andrews received three awards for valor during Desert Storm. Two of them were the Distinguished Flying Cross, one was the Air Force Cross.
The DFC awarded for his actions on Jan. 23, 1991, looks like it should be upgraded – Andrews pressed his attack through heavy fire to put ordnance on the target.
The other medal warranting an upgrade should be the Air Force Cross for his actions on Feb. 27, 1991. After ejecting from his damaged F-16, Andrews was injured upon landing. Despite his injuries, Andrews chose to remain in the open and warned fellow pilots of threats until he was captured by Saddam Hussein’s forces.
2. Richard A. Cody
Award to upgrade: Distinguished Flying Cross
The pilot of an AH-64 Apache helicopter from the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade fires AGM-114 Hellfire missiles during the combined arms live fire training exercise for Saber Strike 16 at the Estonian Defense Forces central training area near Tapa, Estonia on June 20, 2016. (Minnesota National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Amy M. Lovgren)
Then a lieutenant colonel commanding an attack helicopter battalion, Richard Cody drew the tough task of leading Task Force Normandy to forcibly open a gap in Iraqi radar coverage. It was a very high-stakes mission – if Cody failed, Saddam’s regime would have plenty of time to give Coalition pilots warning. Task Force Normandy succeeded, and the Coalition lost only one aircraft on the opening night.
3. Randy S. Wenzel
Award to upgrade: Distinguished Flying Cross
At the time, Wenzel was a major, and took part in a massive strike on Jan. 18, 1991. Wenzel pressed his attack despite heavy fire from enemy surface-to-air missiles, putting his bombs on the Habbiniyah artillery mission. According to his citation, the successful strike “severely reduced” the ability of Saddam’s regime to produce replacement artillery pieces.
4. Richard Balwanz
Award to upgrade: Silver Star
Over a decade before the events that would be described in the book and movie Lone Survivor, Richard Balwanz faced the same situation Michael Murphy did. He made the same decision. As the Daily Caller notes, Balwanz brought his entire team back.
As an interesting trivia note, William Andrews received his second Distinguished Flying Cross flying support for Balwanz’s unit.
5. Keith Dewayne Andrews
Award to upgrade: Silver Star
Andrews was with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), part of the “left hook” that flanked the Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait, when he received the Silver Star for rescuing five troops who were pinned down by two Iraqi machine gun positions. According to his citation, Andrews made his way through a minefield to take out the first position with a hand grenade. Then, like Brian Chontosh did during Iraqi Freedom, he grabbed an enemy weapon and took out the second position.
Pure badass stuff.
6. Thomas J. Trask
Award to upgrade: Silver Star
While he is a three-star general today, Thomas J. Trask was a captain when he received the Silver Star as a MH-53J Pave Low pilot. While it is not exactly unarmed (GlobalSecurity.org notes it has three .50-caliber machine guns or 7.62mm miniguns), it’s not exactly the best option if you face off against enemy SAMs or AAA. Yet Trask went within 30 miles of Baghdad to rescue a downed pilot.
As the nation mourns the passing of one its finest patriots, current and former members of the Marine Band remember President George H. W. Bush as a man whose love of music and uncommon graciousness elevated the unique relationship between the Chief Executive and “The President’s Own.”
“Although President Bush served as our Commander-in-Chief before my time in ‘The President’s Own,’ the close relationship he developed with the Marine Band is well-known,” Music Adviser to the White House and Marine Band Col. Jason K. Fettig said. “We have been fortunate to have had wonderful moments with every president we serve, but President and Mrs. Bush’s gratitude for our Marines and for the special music we provide in The People’s House was especially warm and always engaging. He never missed an opportunity to connect with those around him and thank them for their contributions, and the men and women in the band who got to know President Bush both during his administration and in the many years beyond will always remember his ever-present appreciation and admiration for all those who served our nation alongside him.”
Col. John R. Bourgeois, USMC (Ret.), Marine Band Director from 1979-96, recalled memories of President Bush with great ease. “Of all the presidents I served, he was the most conversive and was the kindest man in the world,” he said. He recounted how the president would make a point to bring the guest of honor from each state dinner over to Bourgeois and the Marine Chamber Orchestra to make introductions. “It was very much like being a part of the family,” Bourgeois said. It was during President Bush’s administration, in February 1990, when Bourgeois led the Marine Band on an historic 18-day concert tour of the former Soviet Union as part of the first ever U.S.-U.S.S.R. Armed Forces band exchange. “The president was integral to making that tour happen and while we were there we saw the end of the Soviet Union,” he said.
“The President’s Own” remembers and honors George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States of America.
(Official White House Photo)
On a more light-hearted note, Bourgeois recollected an event on Dec. 7, 1992, when the Marine Band performed Hail to the Chief at a White House holiday reception for the president’s staff. At the end of the fanfare, an unlikely gentleman made his way through the crowd and took the podium: comedian Dana Carvey, known for his uncanny impression of the president. But it was the annual Gridiron Club dinner where Bourgeois witnessed President Bush in a truly nostalgic moment. It was March 1993 and Gridiron president, Los Angeles Times bureau chief Jack Nelson, sat at the center of the head table with newly-inaugurated President Bill Clinton on one side of him and former President George H. W. Bush on the other. As Bourgeois led the Marine Band to the dais for The Star-Spangled Banner, he saw both Clinton and Bush lean over to whisper to Nelson. Nelson later told Bourgeois that President Bush commented that there are many things he won’t miss about being president but the Marine Band isn’t one of them.
Few members of the Marine Band can boast of a better first performance at the White House than former Marine Band pianist Master Gunnery Sgt. Robert Boguslaw, USMC (Ret.). Although he had performed at the White House before May 14, 1992, this was the first time he performed solo in the private residence. As he played a medley of Broadway show tunes from “Carousel” and “Oklahoma,” President Bush and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev stood in the well of his piano where he overheard the two leaders discuss perestroika and the fall of the Berlin Wall. “President Bush was always a gentleman and always came over to shake my hand and thank me,” he said.
Inaugural Parade of George H.W. Bush.
(George H.W. Bush Presidential Library)
Master Gunnery Sgt. Peter Wilson, violinist and current string section commander, joined the Marine Chamber Orchestra in 1990, halfway through President Bush’s term. What impressed him about the president was that he always made a point to go out of his way to acknowledge and thank the musicians for their participation at assorted events, even if it meant shaking off his handlers to seek out the orchestra. It was during President Bush’s tenure that Wilson and several other musicians founded the Free Country ensemble and one of their early performances was at President Bush’s daughter Dorothy Bush’s wedding to Robert P. Koch at Camp David on June 27, 1992. In addition to Free Country, the Marine Band provided a brass quintet in the chapel for the ceremony and a dance band for cocktail hour. After the event, as the musicians packed up their instruments to leave, President and Barbara Bush found them to shake each of their hands, ask their names, and thank them for their music. Wilson said from that day forward, President Bush remembered his name and called him Pete each time he saw him at the White House. “He had an amazing ability with names and people,” Wilson said.
At a congressional picnic Wilson was singing with Free Country and he recalled President Bush seemed to appear from out of nowhere and shook hands with each of the musicians as they performed. Wilson considers it a point of pride that he was able to greet Bush and not lose a beat during the fast-moving lyrics of Billy Joel’s “Travelin’ Prayer.” It was another event, however, that Wilson can never forget. The Marine Chamber Orchestra was performing at the White House on Jan. 16, 1991 and President and Mrs. Bush were greeting visitors in a receiving line. Wilson noticed then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell walk up to the president in his green service uniform to pull him away. Bush didn’t come back to the event. When Wilson returned to Marine Barracks Washington, the news on the television in the lounge was reporting the first bombing attacks on Baghdad and the beginning of Operation Desert Storm.
President Bush is accosted by a gorilla carrying mylar balloons in celebration of the President’s 65th birthday, South Lawn of the White House, June 12, 1989.
“We all recall how very kind and appreciative he was of everything the band did at the White House,” said Former Executive Assistant to the Director Capt. Frank Byrne, USMC (Ret.). “Mrs. Bush was also wonderful. I do especially recall the two Desert Storm victory parades, one in New York City and one in Washington. I marched and played in both. In NYC the crowds were so big that we hardly had room to get the band through the streets at certain points. There was ticker tape, but also all kinds of paper, including big stacks of continuous feed letter sized paper that were a challenge to get through. President Bush and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf were in the reviewing stand and were so happy and proud. It’s not often the band gets to do a big street parade in good, not freezing, weather and it was a thrill to participate.”
“I remember several occasions at the White House that President Bush, upon seeing members of the Marine Band, would pause his entourage just long enough to personally thank the members of the Marine Band and relay how much he, the First Lady and the staff appreciate our musical contribution,” said former bassoon player Master Sgt. Dyane Wright, USMC (Ret.). “He stated that the music by members of the U.S. Marine Band is what they enjoyed the most about their White House events.”
“I will always remember President and Mrs. Bush as being unfailingly gracious, kindhearted and appreciative toward the members of the Marine Band,” recalled Former Director Col. Timothy W. Foley, USMC (Ret.).
The late Marine Band pianist Master Gunnery Sgt. Charles Corrado, USMC (Ret.), served ten presidents from 1958-2003. His wife Martha reflected on “Charlie’s” many, many encounters with President Bush and recalled in particular when the president requested Corrado to perform at his residence at Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 10, 1991, while he and Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu of Japan prepared for the upcoming Economic Summit of the Industrialized Nations in London. “I was jealous that he got to go!” she said. “He played in the sunroom while the meetings took place and the family was very appreciative of him being there.”
George H.W. Bush poses with Marine Band Drum Major MSgt Gary Peterson at the annual Alfalfa Club Dinner.
Former principal cello Master Gunnery Sgt. Marcio Botelho, USMC (Ret.), remembered an equally memorable performance for President Bush: “It was my first year in the band and sometime between April and June I was at home when I got a call from work. The question was, ‘How quickly can you get to the Barracks? Because we have to go to the White House.’ I came in right away and we immediately departed to the White House. Only three of us went, since we were the only available musicians: concertmaster Master Sgt. Bruce Myers, violinist Gunnery Sgt. Jim Diehl, and myself. President Bush was having a working lunch with Lothar de Maizière, the newly-elected prime minister of the old GDR (East Germany) and the White House staff had discovered that the PM had been a musician. At the time we were told he had been a cellist. Anyway, we rushed in to the house, put our cases in the mezzanine level holding room and went up to the state floor. President Bush and the PM had dined in the state dining room and we set up in the Blue Room. No sooner had we set up, the president and his guest walked in and took a seat about six feet from us. Bruce called out a tune: Haydn’s London Trio No. 3, 1st movement. We played it, they thanked us, we returned to the barracks. Possibly the shortest performance I ever played at the White House.” Botelho was also quoted in a Dec. 1989-Jan. 1990 issue of the Marine Band’s newsletter Notes saying, “It’s surprising because even though we are performing background music, people often make it a point to compliment us. In fact, at all of the state dinners the President and Mrs. Bush have greeted us and thanked us at the end.”
President George H.W. Bush escorts Queen Elizabeth II of England during a State Dinner at the White House on May 14, 1991.
(Official White House Photo)
In 2011, the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library requested a Marine Band uniform for a new exhibit featuring a baby grand piano from the Bush’s collection. Then-Drum Major Master Gunnery Sgt. William L. Browne, USMC (Ret.) prepared the uniform and personally fitted the mannequin that would wear it. After Browne took the uniform to the tailor for alterations and cleaning, he carefully packed it in his carry-on luggage and traveled to College Station in December 2011 to ensure that it was installed correctly. He arrived to find the mannequin sitting at the piano with permanently bent legs that presented some technical challenges. He assisted curator Susanne Cox in putting the mannequin in place on the bench at the piano and made last minute adjustments to the fit and appearance. One thing he couldn’t adjust, however, was the length of the mannequin’s hair. “I know how hard it is to give a mannequin a haircut so I made an exception just this once,” he said with a wry smile. Browne was honored to participate in this exhibit for the senior former President Bush. “Every time I’ve seen him at an event, he and Mrs. Bush always made a point to come over to thank the band,” he said. “At my very first presidential event as Drum Major in 2008, President Bush stopped me in the hallway to say how much he appreciated the band and how good it was to hear us.”
The Marine Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Col. Fettig, will perform one last time for President Bush at his funeral service at 11 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Selections include Gustav Holst’s Nocturne from A Moorside Suite, Kevin Siegfried’s arrangement of “Lay Me Low” from Shaker Songs, Aaron Copland’s Our Town, Paul Christiansen’s arrangement of “My Song in the Night,” John Williams’ Hymn to the Fallen, and Samuel Augustus Ward’s “America, the Beautiful.”
Yes, #notallPOGs and all that. But seriously Persons Other than Grunts, the range rules aren’t that crazy. First, learn to safely handle your weapon. Second, learn to fire your weapon. And third, get off the range without embarrassing yourself.
Unfortunately, these 6 things manage to pop up every time POGs go to the range en masse:
1. Targets that look like they were hit with birdshot
“Are you changing your sight picture?”
“Shut up. Yes, you are.”
2. Truly baffling weapons malfunctions
The Army’s acronym for fixing weapon problems, O-SPORTS, is only effective against actual weapons malfunctions. It does little for operators who load their magazines upside down or don’t realize they can run out of ammunition.
3. So. many. safety. violations.
See how this guy lowers his weapon when some schoolchildren move in front of him? And he doesn’t have to be told to not point his weapon at something he doesn’t want to shoot? Yeah, it’s not very complicated, POGs. All weapons should be pointed up and downrange when they’re not being aimed at targets. Stop flagging each other on the range.
4. MRE Alternatives
When infantry goes to the field, they bring MREs and possibly even sleeping systems and tents to stay out there for a few days. Some POGs will at least bring MREs while others … others make arrangements with a gut truck or ice cream van.
5. “Easter basket” helmets and other uniform violations
Helmet chin straps dangling like the soldier is in a John Wayne movie, troops carrying helmets by the chin strap like it’s an Easter Basket, mirrored sunglasses, armor lacking rank insignia or name tapes, the potentially catastrophic uniform violations are everywhere. It’s all a sergeant major’s nightmare.
6. “Clean” weapons that will never be accepted by an armorer
POGs will always declare their weapon clean after 30 minutes and then be surprised when the armorer turns them away to re-clean before they can turn in. Have you cleaned the star chamber with pipe cleaners and cotton swabs until you went mildly crazy? Then it’s not clean yet.
President Donald Trump’s flurry of tweets to kick off the new year lasted into the late evening Jan. 2, as he launched another fiery message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,'” Trump tweeted. “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I, too, have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Kim, in a televised speech on Jan. 1, had spoken of a “nuclear button” that was “always on my desk.”
“This is reality, not a threat,” Kim said. “This year we should focus on mass producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment. These weapons will be used only if our security is threatened.”
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
Though Trump touted a “nuclear button,” a physical button that a US president can push to initiate a nuclear strike does not appear to exist. Instead, a briefcase — referred to as the “football” — carries authentication codes and is carried by a military aide wherever the president goes.
Trump’s threat comes amid another warning from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who on Jan. 2 seemed dismissive of proposed high-level talks between South Korea and North Korea.
“We won’t take any of the talks seriously if they don’t do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea,” Haley said during a press conference. “We consider this to be a very reckless regime, we don’t think we need a Band-Aid, and we don’t think we need to smile and take a picture.”
Though current U.S. officials have panned negotiations between North Korea and South Korea, former U.S. officials — including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — and many analysts appear to have accepted North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and have approved the call for negotiations.
“I can well envision a scenario where they would juxtapose a missile test and as well agree to talk with the South Koreans, which I think would be a good thing,” Clapper said. “It would do a lot, I think, to relax some of the tensions. I think negotiation is the only way ahead here — to me, there is no other realistic option.”
Veterans Month is a great time for newly transitioning service members or longtime veterans to be reminded that VA hires former service members not only because it’s the right idea but because it’s the smart idea. Here are five skills to highlight when applying for healthcare careers at VA.
Great leaders know how to step back and be team players. Remind an interviewer or recruiter that veterans understand the level of communication, trust, and responsibility needed to work effectively as a team. Veterans bring a sense of camaraderie to VA careers and the mission to serve and care for fellow veterans.
The U.S. military develops some of the most sophisticated technologies in the world. Veterans may be the first to adopt many of these innovations, well before they make it to the civilian market. Let interviewers know that veterans bring a high degree of technical skill and education to increasingly complex systems, a valuable asset when navigating cutting-edge healthcare technologies, building information systems that deliver benefits to veterans and creating novel solutions to address challenges in the largest healthcare system in the country.
Military members operate under some of the most stressful conditions imaginable. The military trains people to handle and cope with stress, a skill that translates to VA’s busy healthcare environment. VA’s crew of former basic medical technicians, combat medic specialists, basic hospital corpsmen or basic health services technicians use skills learned in service to care for fellow veterans as Intermediate Care Technicians, for instance. Former military personnel are ideal colleagues for busy days when things don’t go as planned.
4. Problem solving
Work in the military is often dynamic and unpredictable. Highlight for job interviewers the military-tested ability to think quickly in changing circumstances, create solutions to surmount obstacles and safely complete the mission.
During service, military members formed working relationships and friendships with fellow U.S. service members from many different backgrounds. In fact, the veteran population is even more diverse than the U.S. population as a whole. veterans should highlight ability to speak another language or anything that helps connect with veteran patients in a special way that might set them apart from other candidates.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.