Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal - We Are The Mighty
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Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

A petition lobbying the White House to reinstate the official Navy rating titles removed in late September gained more than 100,000 signatures on We the People, a website created by the Obama administration to allow large groups of Americans to directly request changes to public policy.


Petitions that cross the threshold are guaranteed an official response from the administration, but activists are not guaranteed that it will be a “yes” response.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

Ratings were essentially job titles in the Navy and they were incorporated into the method of address for most enlisted leaders. Some of the ratings, like those for gunner’s or boatswain’s mates, have remained the same since the Continental Navy instituted them over 240 years ago. Other rates, such as special warfare boat operator, are newer.

Navy officials say that they removed the rating structure to allow sailors to more easily cross-train between jobs or switch career tracks entirely. This increased flexibility in job choices would also, according to comments given to the Navy Times, make it easier for sailors to get specific duty stations.

But the move was deeply unpopular with sailors. The petition to bring that dissatisfaction to the attention of the White House gained 102,614 signatures. The petition description highlights the tradition and history of the rating system.

For 241 Years Navy personnel have been identified by their Job specialty, known as a “Rating.” The oldest rates such as Boatswain Mates, and Gunners Mate predate the founding of this country. Being known by your job title was a sense of pride. A sign of accomplishment. The Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations just senselessly erased this tradition.

While the White House promises an official response to successful petitions, it does so by putting the petition in front of the proper policy makers. According to the program’s “about” section:

With We the People, you can easily create a petition online, share it, and collect signatures. If you gather 100,000 signature in 30 days, we’ll review your petition, make sure it gets in front of the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.

In this case, that could mean that the petition would land on the desk of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus or someone on his staff. But Mabus and his staff were the ones who made the decision to get rid of Navy ratings in the first place.

The petition could encourage senior Navy leadership to take sailor feedback more seriously moving forward and possibly even find a plan that accomplishes the leadership’s goals while preserving Navy tradition.

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Meanwhile south of the border, there’s a lot of air-to-air action going on

Let’s be honest – the War on Terror hasn’t seen a lot of air-to-air combat.


In fact, since the start of the millennium, the U.S. military has a grand total of two air-to-air kills — both were UAVs, and one was an Air Force MQ-9 Reaper that went rogue.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal
Peruvian Air Force AT-29 Tucano. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

But the real air-to-air action is taking place south of the border. In Central and South America, the Air Combat Information Group noted at least five planes have been shot out of the sky. In a June, 2016 report, WarIsBoring.com claimed that Venezuela had shot down 30 drug flights in 2015 alone.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal
An A-37 with the Illinois Air National Guard. Similar planes have scored air-to-air kills over South America – targeting drug smugglers. (DOD photo)

That’s right, folks – the A-37 and AT-27 have over twice the kill total that the U.S. Air Force has notched since Desert Storm. Here’s a video showing one of the shoot downs in South America.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Meet the Marine Corps’ first female Amtrac officer

There’s a saying in the Marine Corps assault amphibious vehicle community: “You ain’t tracks, you ain’t s—.”


It was in part that sense of bonding and pride that drew 2nd Lt. Mariah Klenke to the career field.

Tuesday morning, the 24-year-old became the first female officer to graduate from the Marines’ Assault Amphibian Officer course and the first to earn the military occupational specialty of 1803, qualifying her to command a platoon of AAVs, or Amtracks.

Klenke, whose hometown is St. Rose, Illinois, had to complete a series of physical requirements in addition to the 12-week course: She had to prove she could do a 115-pound clean-and-press and a 150-pound deadlift; she had to lift a MK-19 machine gun, weighing nearly 78 pounds, above her head; and she had to complete a 50-yard “buddy drag” with a 215-pound dummy to simulate a wounded comrade.

That buddy drag proved to be the most physically demanding element of the whole course, said Klenke, who played a variety of team sports while at Illinois’ Highland High School, and went to college on a soccer scholarship. She would graduate from the University of Tennessee at Martin with an accounting degree.

Klenke decided at The Basic School that she was interested in pursuing AAVs as a career field.

“Tracks keep the Marine Corps amphibious; I really like that part about them,” she said. “And it gives you the ability to work with the infantry and be in the battle if there ever was a battle.”

What she didn’t realize at the time was that there had never been a female officer in the field.

Since all ground combat jobs opened to women for the first time in 2016, the Marine Corps has welcomed its first female artillery and tanks officers.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal
Mariah Klenke poses in front of an American flag in this undated Facebook photo.

In late September, the first female Marine graduated the infantry officer’s course in a much-anticipated milestone.

There have also been two enlisted female Marines to complete required training and enter the AAV community. But until now, a female officer has not attempted the AAV officers’ course.

“Whenever my captain told me that was the MOS I was getting, he said, ‘You’re 1803 and you’re going to be the first female officer.’ I was kind of surprised and [it was] a little nerve-wracking being the first female, and it puts more pressure on yourself there,” Klenke said.

But, she added, she had no second thoughts. With her competitive sports background, she began to prepare mentally to face the challenge.

The assault amphibian officers course itself proved to be small, with only seven students in total, she said.

Other students would joke about her being the first woman in the course, but Klenke said the atmosphere was friendly, and she never felt singled out or ostracized because she was a woman.

“We were all good friends in the class, so it was just friendly jokes about everything,” she said.

She got a taste of the close bonds the tracks community shares during one of the most mentally challenging elements of the course: a week at Camp Pendleton staging AAV missions from the shoreline to inland objectives.

“We were doing three to four missions a day. It involved a lot of planning, and then operating too,” she said. “We were working on a couple of hours of sleep a night.”

The training made her more confident that she had chosen the right field, she said.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal
Mariah Klenke. (Facebook)

“You get the sense that it’s a very close-knit community and anybody will do anything for you, everyone works hard out there,” Klenke said. “Frankly, the Marines in the MOS, they’re very hard-working and they’ll have your back if they need to.”

For the AAV course, graduation is a quiet ceremony where certificates are distributed. In fewer than 48 hours, Klenke expects to be at her new unit: 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, at Camp Pendleton.

And she can’t wait.

“After a year of training, I’m finally just excited to get my platoon and start working for them, training them,” she said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why your next battle buddy might be a robot armed with a railgun

It’s December and many are doing their holiday shopping or making a wishlist of gifts they’d like to receive.


During the Future Ground Combat Vehicle Summit in Levonia, Michigan early in December, Army acquisition professionals and program managers had their own wishlists that included an assortment of robots and ground combat vehicles meant to protect Soldiers and give pause to potential adversaries.

Robots

Brian McVeigh, project manager for Force Protection, was big on robots.

Over 7,000 were fielded in just the last decade, he noted. The challenge now is to move the most effective ones into programs of record.

Among these, he said, is the M-160 Robotic Mine Flail, which efficiently clears land mines using rotating chains that flail the ground. It is also rugged enough to be protected against mine explosion fragments.

The M-160 made it into a program of record this year before the holidays, and a number are already involved in route-clearance missions in Afghanistan.

By 2025, dismounted Soldiers will conduct foot patrols alongside robots called Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport, or SMET, vehicles that carry rucksacks and other equipment that will lighten the Soldier load, McVeigh said.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal
By 2025, the Army sees ground troops conducting foot patrols in urban terrain with robots, called Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport vehicles. Overhead, unmanned aircraft will also serve as spotters to warn troops so they can engage the enemy on their own terms, according to the the Army’s new strategy on robotic and autonomous systems. (U.S. Army graphic)

In order to get these to the warfighter sooner rather than later, the Army is procuring them through an Other Transactional Agreement, or OTA, he said.

The OTA got the program rolling fast, with requirements out in April and a down-select six months later in November, he said. Four contracts were awarded for 20 vehicles each, which will be tested by Soldiers in two brigades until the end of next year. Low-rate initial production is expected to follow with a production contract in place.

The requirements were limited to give manufacturers more flexibility in the trade-space, he said. The only firm requirements were that SMET be able to haul 1,000 pounds off-road, cover 60 miles in 72 hours and cost $100,000 or less each.

The OTA was used because Army leaders prioritized getting the weight off the backs of dismounted Soldiers, he noted.

Common Robotic System (Heavy) is designed to disarm or disable unexploded ordnance using a highly dexterous arm remotely controlled by a Soldier. The Army just published requests for information from industry for the wireless-range manipulator arm, McVeigh said.

Feedback from industry on CRS-H has been good, he said. It is expected that by next summer, draft performance specifications will be issued, and it is hoped that fielding can begin as early as 2020. This system is also going the OTA route.

The Enhanced Robotics Payload is another explosives ordnance disposal robot. A request for proposal has been released, McVeigh. And in October, a contract was awarded to Endeavor Robotics for another EOD robot, the Man-Transportable Robotics System Increment II.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal
Army Reserve Sgt. Santiago Zapata, 2nd Platoon, 323rd Engineering Clearance Company, operates the Talon tracked military robot by using a ground remote on a route clearance mission while at the Combat Support Training Exercise at Fort McCoy, Wis., June 19, 2015. (DoD photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton)

Ground combat vehicles

David Dopp, program manager for Mobile Protected Firepower Vehicle, Ground Combat Systems, said a request for proposal was released in late November for MPF.

The MPF he envisions can be described as a light tank. It will be light in the sense that it will weigh less than half as much as an Abrams tank, which will allow two to fit inside a C-17 aircraft. That means its armor will be less than an Abrams.

The MPF will also sport a gun in the 105mm to 120mm range, similar to the ones on early versions of the Abrams, Dopp said.

It is expected that the MPF will provide infantry brigade combat teams with a long-range, direct-fire capability for forcible entry and breaching operations, he noted, so it is not by any stretch a tank replacement.

There will not be a lot of requirements other than MPF being light and powerful, he said. Army leaders are eager to quickly get it into the hands of Soldiers for testing.

A contract could be awarded by early FY19 with low-rate initial production to follow, he said.

Also Read: Marines get a tank-killer upgrade just in time for Christmas

Maj. Gen. John Charlton, commander, Army Test and Evaluation Command, said that although the Next Generation Combat Vehicle fielding isn’t expected until 2035, a lot of the components that may find their way onto the NGCV in one shape or another are being currently tested around the Army.

Two such systems that will likely inform development of NGCV, he said, are the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station-Javelin and the Stryker Remote Weapons Station.

CROWS-J allows the warfighter to remotely engage targets with precision fire from the Javelin while on the move, he said. Stryker RWS is a 30mm cannon on an unmanned turret. Both systems keep the gunner inside the vehicle, in a less exposed area than the turret.

Electro-magnetic interference testing is now underway on the sensors and software, he said.

There are some challenges to overcome in putting this technology on the NGCV, he said, describing a few.

Although the gunner is tucked inside the vehicle, rounds must still be loaded and reloaded in the gun, which means being exposed to enemy fire and working in cramped conditions, he said.

Getting everything working correctly will require a lot of software development, he said. This is probably the most difficult challenge.

And finally, situational awareness could be lost with the crew fully buttoned up inside the vehicle, he said. This could be particularly bad in urban terrain where Soldiers cannot get good visuals of what’s around and above them.

The situational awareness issue could be addressed through adding sensors and cameras so the crew doesn’t feel so completely closed in, he noted.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal
A prototype illustration for The Next Generation Combat vehicle. (U.S. Army graphic)

Other future weapons

Charlton said several promising weapons are in the science and technology and testing stages.

Engineers are now designing extended-range cannons that can be mounted on the Paladin and will fire much greater distances than current artillery, he said, noting that the distances are impressive but classified.

The cannons could find their way on the NGCV, he said.

The challenges are now designing a breech in the gun system that can handle the enormous pressures and getting the APS software and sensors developed. Also, the crew might be adversely affected by the enormous pressures, so some sort of dampening mechanism would be needed.

Another weapon that will eventually make its way to the battlefield is the high-energy laser, Charlton said.

The Army and Air Force are now out at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico using them to knock out air-to-ground and surface-to-air missiles, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles, he said.

A 300-kilowatt laser will be built and tested in the near future, he added.

“We want to ensure the lanes are clear when firing the laser,” he said. “We don’t want to take out one of our own satellites, so it will need to be equipped with an avoidance detection system.”

Lastly, Charlton said that an electromagnetic rail gun will be developed soon, but he’s not sure if it will find its way onto the NGCV. “But it will be on the battlefield in some shape or form,” he said.

The rail gun will shoot small, dense projectiles to distances of 30 kilometers at several times the speed of sound using electromagnetic pulses, he said. That will require some serious power, so initially it might have to be loaded on a large cargo truck.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal
An M109A6 Paladin with Bravo Battery, 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment (Pacesetters), 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division waits for darkness before the night live-fire portion of the table six gunnery certification. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. John W. Strickland)

Joint development

Dr. Dale Ormond, principal deputy, Research Directorate, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, said his office is working to ensure all of the laboratories across the Department of Defense are talking to each other, helping each other and avoiding duplication of effort.

The areas he’s particularly excited about are artificial intelligence paired with autonomy. Machines programmed for artificial learning will be able to collaborate much better with Soldiers and give commanders more options on the battlefield, he said.

Other promising areas are hypersonic weapons, he said, like the rail guns and lasers that the Army is working on.

He said he also expects to see a lot of developments in the space and cyberspace domains, as well as being able to operate in GPS-denied environments.

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35 technical errors in ‘Rules of Engagement’

“Rules of Engagement” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones showed audiences intense military courtroom drama and the unbreakable bond that develops between two Marines in combat.


But it didn’t get everything right. While WATM has picked apart everything from “The Hurt Locker” to “Top Gun,” we figured it was worth digging into the technical errors here as well. There’s plenty this film accurately depicts. These are 35 times where they got it wrong.

Also read: 9 military movie scenes where Hollywood got it totally wrong

1:47 Why does Childers have a smoke grenade right on the shoulder he fires from? You might want to put that on your non-firing side. You can actually see him struggle a bit when he tries to put his rifle into his shoulder.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

4:30 After Hodges’ platoon hears enemy fire on Childers’ position, they just stand around in the middle of a swamp. It might be a good idea to get down behind some cover or turn outward to investigate.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

(Before we hit the next ones, let’s explain proper radio procedures. When calling up another unit over the radio, the procedure is “You, this is me, here’s what I want to say, over.” Like: “Bravo 6, this is Bravo 2, what’s your position? Over.”)

4:32 Radio operator says, “Delta two, what’s your SITREP over?” Then he says “Delta One, Delta Two, SITREP, over.” In the first transmission, he’s implying he’s Delta One, and asking Delta Two for a report. Then in the next, he calls them Delta One, and he says he’s Delta Two.

4:40 He gets a response back from the other radio operator which explains that Childers’ platoon is Delta Two, and Hodges’ is Delta One: “Two, one, contact, over.” This response also deserves the Capt. Obvious award. The other platoon might want to know where the other platoon is so they can help.

4:48 What’s the deal with this NVA soldier behind no cover in the middle of a firefight, not aimed in, just sitting there? That is up until the last moment when he decides to aim at the Americans and then he gets immediately shot.

5:30 The other platoon has literally not moved from their original position. Cover and/or concealment aren’t really a concern. Then of course, 10 seconds later the NVA starts shooting.

6:22 Hodges picks up the radio, calls no one in particular, then says “Other side of the tree line. I’m in the water unable to withdraw.” There are a lot of trees out there, brah. Can you give us a better description so we can help you?

6:28 He continues: “Unable to withdraw! I’m calling in a fire mission on this position.” Who the hell is he talking to? And how is artillery going to drop when they don’t have a grid, distance, direction, or anything other than “hey I’m by this tree line and there’s water.”

6:35 “Hurry up and drop that f—king arty!” he says, to no one in particular, to whom he’s given no information on where it should be dropped. In fairness, he’s under a bit of stress.

7:11 When Childers kills the Vietnamese radio operator with his 1911 .45 caliber pistol, it makes the same sound an M1 Garand makes when it’s out of ammo. This makes no sense.

9:38 Col. Hodges apparently is like, “screw this. I’m not getting a haircut anymore.”

9:49 Hodges puts on his garrison cap like he’s a private just learning how to wear it at boot camp. Not an officer with 32 years of service.

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10:20 Hodges’ marksmanship badges are out toward the sides. They are supposed to be centered over the pocket with only 3/4-inch space between them.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

10:37 Pretty much everyone has this problem.

11:12 Col. Childers also hates Marine Corps haircuts.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

11:47 Childers retells the story of Marine Lt. Presley O’Banion, which is pretty close to Lt. Presley O’Bannon.

14:30 The 24th MEU is on the USS Wake Island. However, the USS Wake Island (CVE-65) was a World War II escort carrier commissioned in 1943 and decommissioned in 1946.

15:09 The Wake Island’s captain wears a hat that says USS Wake Island (LHA-7). LHA-7, which is the newly-commissioned USS Tripoli, didn’t exist at the time of this movie.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

15:16 Col. Childers has a subdued American flag on his shoulder. This is an Army thing. Marines don’t ever wear this (although it’s possible a MEU commander could say otherwise).

15:45 I know this would kill the rest of the movie and courtroom drama, but why is the MEU Commander, a colonel, going on a TRAP (tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel) mission? There’s a captain in charge of the mission who is more than capable.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

18:17 The two Marine CH-46 helicopters just turned into Army CH-47 helicopters.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

19:19 After hearing the command of “lock and load” in the helicopter, the Marine closest to the camera hits his magazine first on his helmet, then jams it into his weapon, thus perpetuating the myth to future troops that this move is ever acceptable or even necessary.

22:10 Col. Childers is wearing his silver rank centered on his flak jacket under his neck. This isn’t where it is placed, and officers and enlisted alike wear black-colored rank when in the field. Unless they enjoy being shot by snipers. Then by all means, keep it there.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

22:22 The Marine Security Guards on the roof are wielding Mossberg 590 Combat shotguns to defend the embassy. What?

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27:16 So he’s an ambassador and he likely doesn’t have any clue, but he ends up giving the worst salute ever. And it makes us laugh every time.

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29:00 After Capt. Lee and Col. Childers have their disagreement over whether there are weapons in the crowd, Capt. Lee finally relents and orders his men: “Engage! Engage! Open fire!”

They then proceed to all jump out from behind cover, take a knee, and spray and pray all over the place into the crowd. This is seconds after snipers were shooting at them from across the way.

29:05 That light machine-gun you think is an M249 SAW is actually a Korean-made Daewoo K3 light machine gun.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

29:42 Col. Childers displays great leadership by example by standing up exposed and yelling to his men, “There may still be snipers out there. Stay down!”

38:57 The general says “we’ve got a trial in two weeks” to Maj. Biggs, although previously, at 36:20, Gen. Perry tells Childers that the court-martial convenes in 8 days.

45:42 Hey, let’s have a meeting to discuss our legal case in a gym where a bunch of Marines are wrestling.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

1:35:50 As evening colors begins, a bunch of people are not standing at the position of attention, to include the Marines who are part of the color detail.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

1:38:42 When asked about his citation for the Navy Cross, Col. Childers just repeats back what is the typical ending of the award, which tells nothing more of why he received it: “for conspicuous gallantry in the face of great personal danger, reflecting great credit upon himself, the United States Marine Corps and the Naval Service.”

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

1:58:56 Earlier in the movie, Col. Hodges asks Maj. Biggs what the life expectancy was for a second lieutenant dropped into a hot landing zone in Vietnam in 1968. Biggs guesses two weeks, then at end of the movie he says one week, to which Hodges finally reveals the answer of “sixteen minutes.” Based on Vietnam casualty data, this statistic is not even mathematically possible.

1:59:21 It’s Camp Lejeune. It has big fences around it. So why is there a huge crowd of reporters standing right outside a military courtroom?

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2:00:05 Col. Childers goes and walks right between a formation and the platoon sergeant. Thanks a lot, sir!

It gets way worse…

CHECK OUT: ‘The Marine’, which packs a record number of technical errors into the first five minutes

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the first successful carrier raid

In July 1918, militaries were experimenting with aircraft carriers, especially the American and British navies. But, as far as any of the Central Powers knew, carrier operations were an experiment that had borne only limited fruit. No carrier raids had significantly damaged targets ashore. And that was true until July 19, when a flight of Sopwith Camels took off from the HMS Furious and attacked German Zeppelin facilities at Tondern, Denmark.


Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

The British carrier HMS Furious with its split deck.

(Imperial War Museums)

America was the first country to experiment with aircraft carriers after civilian pilot Eugene Ely flew a plane off the USS Birmingham, a modified cruiser, in 1911. But as World War I broke out, the naval power of Britain decided that it wanted to build its own carrier operations, allowing it to float airfields along the coasts of wartime Europe and other continents.

This required a lot of experimentation, and British aviators died while establishing best practices for taking off, landing, and running the decks of carriers. One of the ship experiments was the HMS Furious, a ship originally laid down as a light battlecruiser. It was partially converted during construction into a semi-aircraft carrier that still had an 18-inch gun, then converted the rest of the way into a carrier.

After its full conversion, the Furious had a landing-on deck and a flying-off deck split by the ship’s superstructure. This, combined with the ship’s exhaust that flowed over the decks, made landing tricky.

The Furious and other carriers and sea-based planes had scored victories against enemies at sea. But in 1918, the Royal Navy decided it was time to try the Furious in a raid on land.

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Sopwtih Camels prepare to take off from the HMS Furious to attack German Zeppelin sheds in July 1918.

(Imperial War Museums)

On July 19, 1918, two flights of Sopwith Camels launched from the decks with bombs. There were three aircraft in the first wave, and four in the second wave. Even these takeoffs were tricky in the early days, and the second wave of aircraft suffered three losses as it was just getting going. One plane’s engine failed at takeoff, one crashed, and one made a forced landing in Denmark.

But the first wave was still strong, and the fourth bomber in the second wave was still ready and willing to get the job done.

So they proceeded to Tondern where German Zeppelin sheds housed the airships and crews that bombed London and British troops, and conducted reconnaissance over Allied powers. These airships were real weapons of terror against Britain and its subjects, and the military wanted them gone.

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal

Building housing German Zeppelins burns at Tondern in July 1918.

(Public domain)

Hitting Tondern was especially valuable as it was a convenient place from which to attack London. So the four remaining pilots flew over German defenses and attacked the Zeppelins there, successfully hitting two sheds which burst into flames.

Luckily, each of those housed an airship at the time, and the flames consumed them both. They were L.54 and L.60. The Zeppelin L.54 had conducted numerous reconnaissance missions and dropped over 12,000 pounds in two bombing missions over England. The Zeppelin L.60 had dropped almost 7,000 pounds of bombs on England in one mission.

While the destruction of two Zeppelins, especially ones that had already bombed England and so loomed in the British imagination, was valuable on its own, the real victory for England came in making exposed bases much less valuable.

The Western-most bases had been the best for bombing England, especially Tondern which was protected from land-based bombers by its position on the peninsula, but they were now highly vulnerable to more carrier raids. And the HMS Furious wasn’t Britain’s only carrier out there.

Germany was forced to pull its Zeppelins back to better protected bases, and it maintained Tondern as an emergency base, only there to recover Zeppelins that couldn’t make it all the way back home after a mission.

Germany lost another airship to a navy-based fighter in August, this time in a crazy aerial attack after Royal Air Force Flight sub-lieutenant Stuart Culley launched from a barge and flew his plane to the maximum altitude he could reach that day, a little over 18,000 feet, and shot down a Zeppelin with incendiary rounds.

This wasn’t the first or only time a fighter had caught a Zeppelin in the air, but it was one of the highest fights that had succeeded against a Zeppelin, and it meant that sea-based fighters had taken out three Zeppelins in less than a month, and all three losses had taken place in facilities or at an altitude where Germany thought they were safe.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Afghan forces lose key base after failing to resupply

The Afghan Army prioritized transporting captured ISIS fighters to Kabul over re-supplying one of its bases in the northern Faryab province that the Taliban had been besieging for weeks, according to a New York Times report.

The Taliban overran the base on Aug. 13, 2018.

Despite peace talks planned for September 2018 with the US State Department, the Taliban has racked up a string of victories in August 2018 against ISIS and the Afghan military.


In early August 2018, more than 200 ISIS fighters surrendered to the Afghan government after suffering a brutal defeat to the Taliban in the northern Jawzjan province.

Then, the Taliban launched several assaults on cities and Afghan military bases across multiple provinces. The most deadly assault was launched on the strategic city of Ghazni, about 50 miles from Kabul, where more than 100 Afghan security forces were killed along with at least 20 civilians.

Despite contradictory reports from the ground and US and Afghan authorities over the weekend, the fighting in Ghazni appears by Aug. 15, 2018, to have been quelled, with Operation Resolute Support saying on Aug. 14, 2018, that US aircraft had killed more than 200 Taliban fighters from the air.

But there was no help for the approximately 100 Afghan soldiers and border officers at a remote base in the northern Faryab province called Chinese Camp, which about 1,000 Taliban fighters had been attacking for three weeks before mounting heavier attacks in concert with the other assaults it launched across the country, the Times previously reported.

“Since 20 days we are asking for help and no one is listening,” one Afghan officer at Chinese Camp, Capt. Sayid Azam, told the Times over the phone. “Every night fighting, every night the enemy are attacking us from three sides with rockets. We don’t know what to do.”

Azam was killed on Aug. 12, 2018, the Times reported.

Before his death, Azam was apparently irate over the Afghan Army’s decision to use three helicopters to transport the ISIS captives from Jawzjan province to Kabul instead of re-supplying his base, the Times reported.

Azam said that one Army helicopter brought Chinese Camp “three sacks of rice” on Aug. 3, 2018, one day after the ISIS captives were taken to Kabul.

“Can you imagine? For 100 men?” he added.

Afghan politicians had also been taking military helicopters for their own use instead of re-supplying Chinese Camp, which angered Azam as well, the Times reported.

The Times reported that it was difficult to glean if the ISIS captives were being treated as “Prisoners or Honored Guests of the Afghan Government.”

“We lost everything to Daesh, and now the government sends helicopters for them from Kabul and brings them here and gives them rice and meat and mineral water, and provides them with security, and we are not even able to find food,” a resident of Jawzjan province, Abdul Hamid, told the Times in early August 2018.

Chinese Camp finally folded to the Taliban on Aug. 13, 2018, after dozens of Afghan soldiers and border officers were killed and several more surrendered to the Taliban.

The Afghan Defense Ministry, Resolute Support and Pentagon didn’t immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

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

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Starbucks Donated Free Coffee To Every US Service Member In Afghanistan

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Photo Credit: Starbucks


Starbucks hooked up the joes in Afghanistan with a ton of free coffee over the December holiday season, though security precautions prevented the gesture from being disclosed until now.

Also Read: This Dying Vietnam Veteran Is Giving Away Everything He Owns To Charity 

Along with the USO, the company delivered 32,000 three-pack servings of its ready-brew coffee to Bagram Airfield, where it could then be further distributed to the approximately 9,800 service members stationed throughout the country.

“Getting a cup of coffee is something your average American takes for granted. But for our troops a cup of coffee is a special taste of home,” Alan Reyes, USO Senior Vice President of Operations, said in a statement. “Imagine a soldier coming off an arduous patrol or hostile fire, and then seeing that Starbucks logo – it takes their minds out of the war zone, even for a few minutes.”

The coffee giant is providing much more than just free coffee for U.S. troops. In March 2014, the company donated $30 million for research into post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, and promised to hire 10,000 veterans or their spouses over the next five years.

“This is not charity, this is not pity. This is the right thing to do for them and for us,” Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, told NPR’s Marketplace.

Schultz recently wrote a book with Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran that highlights the courage and sacrifices of Post 9/11 troops entitled “For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice.”

NOW: 27 Incredible Photos Of Life On A US Navy Submarine 

OR: Take the quiz: What Color Flight Deck Jersey Are You? 

MIGHTY TRENDING

China warns US to ‘tread lightly’ after US warships patrolled Taiwan Strait

China’s leaders are increasingly on edge as US Navy warships have begun transiting the tense Taiwan Strait on a regular basis.

The US Navy sent a guided-missile destroyer and a fleet oiler through the strait Jan. 24, 2019, the third time in four months the US has sent warships through the closely-watched waterway.

“We urge the US to tread lightly,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded Jan. 25, 2019. She compared the Taiwan Strait to a family home with a yard divided by a road, stressing that while it is reasonable for pedestrians to pass through, it is a different scenario if someone is there to make trouble by engaging in “provocative behavior” and “threatening the safety” of the family.


She noted that China has already raised the issue with the US, adding that China has asked the US to approach Taiwan cautiously so as to avoid damaging US-China relations.

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The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald.

China displeasure stems from not only from concerns that US military activity around the island will empower Taiwan’s pro-independence forces but also frustration with the US Navy’s refusal to ask permission before transiting the international strait between China and Taiwan, a democratic island it views as a rogue province.

The US has long insisted it doesn’t need permission. “We don’t need China’s permission to go through the Taiwan Strait, it is international waters. We will exercise our free right of passage whenever and wherever we choose, as we have done repeatedly in the past, and will do in the future,” retired Adm. Timothy Keating, former head of US Pacific Command (now Indo-Pacific Command), explained in 2007, when the US Navy sailed the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk through the strait.

Beijing, however, considers these transits to be purposeful provocations.

“The purpose of US warships is to flex their geopolitical muscle,” the nationalist Global Times, a hawkish Chinese state-affiliated tabloid, wrote in an editorial Jan. 25, 2019, asserting, “China will find the US action irritating, but such actions can never deter China.

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The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.

“The US Navy “should refrain from staging military provocation in China’s coastal areas,” the paper argued, suggesting that failure to do so could result in a clash.

US Pacific Fleet said that Jan. 24, 2019’s passage demonstrated “the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” as well as US determination to “fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.” The US uses similar rhetoric to characterize its freedom-of-navigation operations and bomber overflights.

The US insists that it is simply re-reinforcing the rules of the road, so to speak, as they pertain to activities in international waters, and Navy leadership has made it clear that the US will continue to transit the Taiwan Strait.

“We see the Taiwan Straits as international waters, and that’s why we do the transits through the straits,” Adm. John Richardson, chief of US naval operations, said recently, adding that the Navy is “just exercising the right to pass through those waters in accordance with international law.”

The admiral suggested that the US could send a carrier through those waters if it wanted to, something the Navy hasn’t done in more than a decade.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

The troublesome history of Zimbabwe’s dead dictator

If you were surprised to see some of the tearful farewells from those worst affected by the lifelong policies of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, you aren’t alone. Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years after helping free the country from British colonial rule. Mugabe was very much the central figure in then-Rhodesia’s struggle for freedom.

The African world rejoiced at his success, and then watched him plunge the country into every economic and human rights disaster there is.


At the end of the 1970s, African colonialism was taking its dying breaths. Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, was one of the last remnants of the African colonial era, where the minority white population ruled over the majority black population with an iron fist. The struggle to correct this resulted in the 15-year Rhodesian Bush War that saw thousands of Zimbabweans die at the hands of Rhodesian armed forces. The central figure to emerge from that struggle was Robert Mugabe, a charismatic freedom fighter and former college professor who idolized Mohandas Gandhi who started his firebrand career giving speeches in his home country.

After spending years in prison for sedition in Rhodesia, he left for neighboring Mozambique to join the militant wing of the struggle for freedom, the Zimbabwe African National Union. After the leaders of ZANU were assassinated by the Rhodesian government, Mugabe quickly rose to the top of its ranks. Rhodesia soon realized the writing on the wall, as Mugabe and other groups sent more insurgents into Rhodesia faster than the Rhodesians could kill or capture them. In the election that followed the political stalemate, Mugabe was victorious and became Prime Minister in 1980.

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Mugabe with Joshua Nkomo at the Constitutional Conference on the future of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia at Lancaster House in London.

He renamed the country Zimbabwe and the capital Harare. He also expanded educational opportunities to most of the population. In 1987, he and his ZANU-PF party amended the Zimbabwean constitution and installed himself as Executive President, a new position he made for himself while his one-party dominated the Parliament. Mugabe became just one more African strongman. Mugabe betrayed his own revolution.

Although he was an educated man, he was not fit to rule an entire country on his own. After sending military forces into the countryside to root out dissent, Zimbabwe found itself deeply in debt and a mineral sector in virtual collapse. The value of its currency began to drop, and Mugabe began to exploit the ethnic differences in his country to stay in power, a textbook dictatorship move. The wealthy and educated began to flee the country, and by 2000 the economy was in freefall. Hyperinflation became synonymous with the Zimbabwean dollar. He created a repressive police state in order to stay in power, while stripping the rights of everyone, not just white farmers.

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Mugabe died in Singapore on Sept. 6, 2019. He was 95. He will still be buried in the country he fought to loot for 37 years.

Even after the total collapse of the Zimbabwean economy, widespread corruption, and Mugabe’s brutal suppression of all opposition, Mugabe remained in power. He and his inner circle of cronies stole the revenues from the country’s mineral wealth while stealing elections and killing the opposition. Finally, after 30-plus years of brutality, Western powers slapped sanctions on him, the country, and anyone caught doing business with Zimbabwe. Yet only after he began to groom his second wife, Grace, to take his position after he died, did Zimbabweans organize his ouster. When he died, he was still working to undermine the government in Harare that had succeeded him.

So while Robert Mugabe was an undisputed liberating force for so many black Rhodesians-turned-Zimbabweans, along with those affected by the subsequent anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements that came after his success, he was also responsible for 37 years of pillaging the country he fought to liberate.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Intense bombing brings Syrian rebels to the bargaining table

Rebels in besieged areas of southwestern Syria say they are returning to negotiations with Russia over a possible pullout after an intensive bombing campaign by Russian and Syrian forces.

The move by rebel forces on July 5, 2018, comes after a brief suspension of the Moscow-brokered negotiations that have produced agreements already to return more than 30 towns to government control in the strategic zone of southern Syria bordering both Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

A brief collapse of the talks on July 4, 2018, ushered in a blitz of Russian and Syrian air strikes, barrel bombs, and missiles, following a pattern Russia and Syria have pursued repeatedly to regain control over rebel territory.


The bombing barrage sent an estimated 320,000 civilians fleeing the area in what appeared to be one of the fastest displacements in Syria’s seven-year civil war, prompting an international outcry and meetings at the United Nations.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s goal is to recapture Syria’s entire southwest, one of the last rebel strongholds in the country.

Within 24 hours of the resumed bombing, rebels said they wanted to return to negotiations, with the talks focusing on their pullout from the territory they still control in Daraa’s western countryside and the southern half of the provincial capital.

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Daraa is considered to be the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Assad that triggered the devastating war, which has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions.

Hussein Abazeed, spokesman for the south’s joint rebel command, accused Russia of pursuing a “scorched-earth policy” to force rebels back to the negotiating table.

As rebels agreed to renewed talks, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported a halt to both Russian and Syrian government air strikes over the south.

Rebels say Russia has insisted that opposition factions hand over their heavy weapons all at once, while rebels want to relinquish their arms in several phases.

Moscow also reportedly has refused rebel requests for safe passage to opposition-held territory in other parts of Syria, as was granted to rebels who agreed to pull out of Eastern Ghouta and Aleppo.

During the renewed fighting, regime forces retook control of a security checkpoint on the Jordanian border for the first time in more than three years, the monitoring group said.

Rebels then handed some 275 square kilometers of territory near the border to government forces without a fight, said observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

Nearly 150 civilians have died since the government assault in the south began two weeks ago, according to the observatory.

Many of the area’s 320,000 displaced people have been fleeing south to the borders with Jordan and the Golan Heights, the UN says.

But both Israel and Jordan have kept their borders closed, despite mounting calls to let Syrians escape to safety.

The International Rescue Committee said displaced families are struggling to cope with 45-degree heat, scorpions, and snakes in the open desert area.

Rebel territory in southern Syria was included in a cease-fire zone created last year in a deal between Washington, Amman, and Moscow, but that did little to halt the government’s assault.

Near the start of the government’s offensive, Washington indicated it would respond to violations of the cease-fire deal, but it has not done so yet and rebels said it had told them to expect no American military help.

The onslaught has sparked calls for restraint and an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council on July 5, 2018. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that an “estimated 750,000 lives are in danger.”

But Russia blocked the council from adopting a statement on the issue. A diplomat said on condition of anonymity there had been a fruitless push to persuade Moscow to accept a pause in fighting to distribute humanitarian aid.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the fate of the Marine who was caught urinating on enemy corpses

A military appeals court has overturned the conviction of a former Marine Corps scout sniper involved in desecrating the bodies of enemy fighters in Afghanistan in 2011, finding that the actions of the service’s top officer at the time tainted the case.


The decision, by the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, was handed down Nov. 8, five years after the original conviction.

In December 2012, Staff Sgt. Joseph Chamblin was sentenced to 30 days’ confinement, docked in pay, and demoted to sergeant for participating in an incident in which multiple Marine snipers attached to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, urinated on enemy corpses and then posted a video of the act to YouTube.

When the video got public attention, the incident made global headlines, creating a black eye for the Corps and prompting many prominent American leaders to denounce the snipers’ actions.

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The scandal would continue to make headlines in the years following, after a Marine attorney, Maj. James Weirick, came forward to allege that the then-commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Jim Amos, had attempted to interfere with the cases to ensure harsh punishments for the Marines involved. Evidence of this alleged interference mounted.

A 2012 affidavit from then-Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, appointed by Amos as the oversight authority for the sniper cases, states that Amos told him the Marines involved needed to be “crushed” and discharged from the Corps.

Waldhauser, now the four-star commander of U.S. Africa Command, also alleged that Amos asked him whether he would give all the snipers general courts-martial, the highest form of criminal trial. When Waldhauser responded he would not, Amos allegedly told him he could make someone else the convening authority for the cases.

Two days later, Amos did just that, appointing then-Lt. Gen. Richard Mills to take over. He told Waldhauser he had “crossed the line” in their previous conversation and was removing Waldhauser to fix that problem.

Weirick and another attorney, Col. Jesse Gruter, who both worked for Mills when he took over the sniper cases, alleged in affidavits that Amos and his attorney, Robert Hogue, continued to exert influence over the sniper cases.

Read Also: It’s not a scandal; it’s sexual harassment — Marines investigated after sharing nude photos without consent

In February 2012, Hogue requested that photos and videos of the sniper incident be classified as secret, a move that Weirick and Gruter saw as improper and designed to disadvantage legal defense teams for the snipers facing charges.

When Gruter complained about the alleged improper classification, he claims Amos’ top lawyer, Maj. Gen. Vaughn Ary, tried to get him removed from Mills’ legal team.

In spring 2012, Amos took to the road with a presentation he called the “Heritage Brief,” a discussion with Marines intended to promote discipline and good behavior. The brief contained a photo of the sniper incident with the headline, “What Does America Think of Her Marines Today?”

Since the sniper cases were still being adjudicated, the brief raised concerns about unlawful command influence, a situation in which actions of a senior officer prejudice a legal case.

Around the same time, Amos met with Mills and asked him which Marines he planned to prosecute. Shortly thereafter, Lt. Gen. John Paxton, then-commander of II Marine Expeditionary Force, from which all the snipers were based, sent a memo to Amos with “updates and recommendations” about the sniper prosecutions.

Since the commandant was supposed to be completely hands-off regarding the legal proceedings, this memo also raised red flags for Gruter.

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The 35th commandant of the Marine Corps, General James F. Amos (center), visits the 1st Marine Corps District Headquarters, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, in Garden City, NY, on October 29, 2013. (USMC photo by Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans)

Even though Chamblin pleaded guilty and got a relatively light sentence under a pretrial agreement, the appeals court found evidence of unlawful command influence that was never cured or eradicated in the case.

“The highest-ranking officer in the Marine Corps told [Waldhauser] that the appellant and his co-accused should be ‘crushed,'” the court wrote. “This is an unusually flagrant example of UCI. We find that UCI this direct, and occurring at this level, is highly corrosive to public trust in this proceeding.”

Gruter, who recused himself from the sniper cases over his belief that the government was withholding evidence of Amos’ actions constituting unlawful influence, said in an affidavit that he would have advised a number of remedial measures to remove any taint from the cases after Amos removed Waldhauser and replaced him with Mills as the oversight authority.

“A member of the public, aware of these facts and this assessment from the [oversight authority’s staff judge advocate], would lose confidence in the fair processing of this case,” the court found.

Likewise, the court found, Amos’ use of the sniper cases in his Heritage Brief would erode public confidence in the the fairness of prosecution proceedings.

Read Now: That time a Marine was decorated for throwing an enemy off a cliff

Because so much time has passed since Chamblin was convicted, the court decided that dismissal of charges, rather than retrial, was the only fair remedy.

“We … find that public confidence in military justice requires dismissal with prejudice in this case,” the court found.

Allegations of unlawful command influence would continue to color Amos’ tenure until he retired in 2015.

Multiple oversight agencies, including the Defense Department Inspector General, investigated the allegations and cleared him of wrongdoing.

But at least one previous conviction has been overturned on appeal as a result of his Heritage Brief: the case of Staff Sgt. Steve Howell, who was convicted of rape and sexual assault in 2012 but had his conviction and 18-year sentence overturned in 2014 because of the appearance of unlawful influence in the case.

Chamblin, who left the Marine Corps shortly after his conviction, published a book in 2015 called “Into Infamy: A Sniper’s War.”

Now the White House has to respond to a petition calling for Navy ratings reversal
A U.S. Marine from Scout Sniper Platoon, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fires a semi-automatic sniper system at a marksmanship training event. Chamblin’s book tells the story of his journey through courts martial from the perspective of a sniper. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Timothy Childers/Released)

Reached for comment by Military.com, he declined to discuss the case before the government decides whether to appeal the ruling. It can do so anytime within 30 days from the date of the decision.

In all, eight Marines were punished in the fallout from the sniper scandal. Several received administrative punishments. Staff Sgt. Edward Deptola and Sgt. Rob Richards, like Chamblin, pleaded guilty and received demotions at special court-martial proceedings. It’s not clear if Richards’ and Deptola’s cases are also under appeal.

Richards, who was severely wounded in 2010 and had been nominated for a Bronze Star for valor on the 2011 Afghanistan deployment, died in 2014 at the age of 28. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Weirick would ultimately be fired from his position after sending an email regarding the cases to Peter Delorier, one of Amos’ attorneys. Delorier perceived the strongly worded missive as threatening.

“It is a positive step that the court exposed the illegal and unethical conduct of Jim Amos and Vaughn Ary, but their reprehensible conduct also deprived the other Marine snipers of a fair hearing,” Weirick told Military.com in a statement. “Those cases must also be vacated to ensure justice and help restore public confidence in the military justice system.”

Featured Image: Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos, addresses drill instructors at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., May 29, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Bethanie C. Sahms/Released)

Articles

Here’s a look inside America’s amazing blast-proof super-fortress

According to legend, Colorado’s Cheyenne Mountain is a sleeping dragon that many years ago saved the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. In the Native American story, the Great Spirit punished the people by sending a massive flood, but after they repented, it sent a dragon to drink the water away. The dragon, engorged by the massive amount of water, fell asleep, was petrified and then became the mountain.


Unlike the dragon of legend, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex has never slept during 50 years of operations. Since being declared fully operational in April 1966, the installation has played a vital role in the Department of Defense during both peacetime and wartime.

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Cheyenne Mountain is about 9,500 feet tall, and the tunnel entrance sits about 2,000 feet from the top. | U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee

Though the complex may have changed names during the past five decades, its mission has never strayed from defending the U.S. and its allies. Today, it is known as Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, with a primary role of collecting information from satellites and ground-based sensors throughout the world and disseminating the data to North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Strategic Command — a process Steven Rose, Cheyenne Mountain AFS deputy director, compares to the work done by the stem of the human brain.

“Those sensors are your nerves out there sensing that information,” Rose said, “but the nerves all come back to one spot in the human body, together in the brain stem, entangled in a coherent piece. We are the brain stem that’s pulling it all together, correlating it, making sense of it, and passing it up to the brain — whether it’s the commander at NORAD, NORTHCOM or STRATCOM — for someone to make a decision on what that means. That is the most critical part of the nervous system and the most vulnerable. Cheyenne Mountain provides that shield around that single place where all of that correlation and data comes into.”

 

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U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee

In the 1950s, the DOD decided to build the installation as a command and control center defense against long-range Soviet bombers. As the “brain stem,” it would be one of the first installations on the enemy’s target list, so it was built to withstand a direct nuclear attack.

Cheyenne Mountain’s 15 buildings rest on more than 1,300 springs, 18 inches from the mountain’s rock walls, so they could move independently in the event of a nuclear blast and the inherent seismic event. In addition, an EMP, being a natural component of a nuclear blast, was already considered in Cheyenne Mountain’s original design and construction features, Rose said.

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U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee

“Back then, it was just part of the effect of a nuclear blast that we were designed for at Cheyenne Mountain,” he added. “If you fast forward 50 years from our construction, the EMP threat has become more important to today’s society because of the investment that has been made into electronics. Just by sheer coincidence, since we were designed in the 50s and 60s for a nuclear blast and its EMP component, we are sitting here today as the number one rated EMP protected facility. The uniqueness of the mountain is that the entire installation is surrounded by granite, which is a natural EMP shield.”

The station, built 7,000 feet above sea level, opened as the NORAD Combat Operations Center. When NORAD and the newly stood up NORTHCOM moved their main command center to Peterson Air Force Base in 2008, many believed Cheyenne Mountain had closed. Today, Cheyenne Mountain hosts an alternate command center for NORAD and is landlord to more than a dozen DOD agencies, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“When I bring official visitors up here, not only are they surprised that we’re still open,” said Colonel Gary Cornn, Cheyenne Mountain AFS Installation Commander. “Many are impressed by the original construction, the blasting of the tunnels, how the buildings are constructed inside, and some of the things we show them, such as the survivability and capability we have in the blast valves, the springs, the way we do our air in the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) filtering and the huge blast doors. It’s funny to see senior officers and civilians become sort of amazed like little kids again.”

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Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee

The threats and sources have drastically changed from when the station opened at the height of the Cold War, but the station’s iconic 25-ton steel doors remain the same, ready to seal the mountain in 40 seconds to protect it from any threat. The underground city beneath 2,000 feet of granite still provides the protection to keep the station relevant as it begins its next half-century as “America’s Fortress.”

Longtime Cheyenne Mountain employees like Rose and Russell Mullins, the 721st Communications Squadron deputy director, call themselves “mountain men.” Mullins’ time in the mountain goes back to the Cold War era, about halfway through its history to 1984.

Although the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal was the main focus, today’s Airmen conduct essentially the same mission: detect and track incoming threats to the United States; however, the points of origin for those threats have multiplied and are not as clearly defined.

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Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee

“The tension in here wasn’t high from what might happen,” Mullins said. “The tension was high to be sure you could always detect (a missile launch). We didn’t dwell on the fact that the Soviet Union was the big enemy. We dwelled on the fact that we could detect anything they could throw at us.

“There was a little bit of stress back then, but that hasn’t changed. I would say the stress now is just as great as during the Cold War, but the stress today is the great unknown.”

The 9/11 attacks added another mission to NORAD and the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate – the monitoring of the U.S. and Canadian interior air space. They stand ready to assist the Federal Aviation Administration and Navigation Canada to respond to threats from the air within the continental U.S. and Canada.

Airplane icons blot out most of the national map on the NORAD/NORTHCOM Battle Cab Traffic Situation Display in the alternate command center. To the right another screen shows the Washington, D.C., area, called the Special Flight Restrictions Area, which was also added after 9/11.

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Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee

Whenever a crisis would affect NORAD’s vulnerability or ability to operate, the commander would move his command center and advisors to the Battle Cab, said Lt. Col. Tim Schwamb, the Cheyenne Mountain AFS branch chief for NORAD/NORTHCOM.

“I would say that on any given day, the operations center would be a center of controlled chaos; where many different things may be happening at once,” Schwamb said. “We’re all trying to ensure that we’re taking care of whatever threat may be presenting itself in as short an amount of time as possible.

“I would describe it as the nerve center of our homeland defense operations. This is where the best minds in NORAD and U.S. Northern Command are, so that we can see, predict, and counter any threats that would happen to the homeland and North American region. It’s really a room full of systems that we monitor throughout the day, 24-hours a day, seven-days a week, that give us the information to help us accomplish the mission.”

Protecting America’s Fortress is a responsibility that falls to a group of firefighters and security forces members, but fighting fires and guarding such a valuable asset in a mountain presents challenges quite different from any other Air Force base, said Matthew Backeberg, a 721st Civil Engineer Squadron supervisor firefighter. Firefighters train on high-angle rescues because of the mountain’s unique environment, but even the most common fire can be especially challenging.

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Photos by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee

“Cheyenne Mountain is unique in that we have super challenges as far as ventilation, smoke and occupancy,” Backeberg said. “In a normal building, you pull the fire alarm, and the people are able to leave. Inside the mountain, if you pull the fire alarm, the people are depending on me to tell them a safer route to get out.

“If a fire happens inside (the mountain), we pretty much have to take care of it,” Backeberg added. “We’re dependent on our counterparts in the CE world to help us ventilate the facility, keep the fire going in the direction we want it to go, and allow the occupants of the building to get to a safe location – outside the half mile long tunnel.”

Although Cheyenne Mountain, the site of movies and television series such as “WarGames,” “Interstellar,” “Stargate SG-1” and “Terminator,” attracts occasional trespassers and protesters, security forces members more often chase away photographers, said Senior Airman Ricardo Pierre Collie, a 721st Security Forces Squadron member.

“The biggest part of security forces’ day is spent responding to alarms and getting accustomed to not seeing the sun on a 12-hour shift when working inside the mountain,” Collie said.

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Photos by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee

Security forces must also be ready to respond at a moment’s notice because, when charged with protecting an installation like Cheyenne Mountain AFS, the reaction time is even more crucial. Airmen like Collie feel their responsibly to protect America’s Fortress remains as vital today as it was during the Cold War.

“The important day at Cheyenne Mountain wasn’t the day we opened in 1966,” Rose said. “The next important date isn’t in April 2016 (the installation’s 50-year anniversary), it’s about all those days in between. The Airmen who come here to Cheyenne Mountain every day will be watching your skies and shores in (the nation’s) defense.”

As Cheyenne Mountain AFS enters its next 50 years, the dragon remains awake and alert to all threats against the U.S.

 

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