Top officers look into in-flight issues plaguing pilots - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Top officers look into in-flight issues plaguing pilots

Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan is the Air National Guard Special Assistant to Maj. Gen. Scott F. Smith, the Director of Training and Readiness, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Arlington, Va. The directorate, encompassing seven divisions and the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation, is responsible for policy, guidance and oversight of Air Force operations.

General Vaughan also serves as the lead for the Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team (AF-PEAT) and co-leads the ad hoc Joint-PEAT, along with Navy Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman.


General Vaughan completed Reserve Officer Training Corps at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received his commission as honor graduate from ANG’s Academy of Military Science. He previously served in leadership roles at the squadron, group, wing and higher headquarters levels in both the mobility and combat air forces. General Vaughan commanded the 156th Airlift Wing, Puerto Rico, and Detachment 1 of the 13th Air Expeditionary Group (formerly the 13th Expeditionary Support Squadron), Antarctica.

During an interview with Airman Magazine, Gen. Vaughan discussed his new post leading the joint investigation of Unexplained Physiological Episodes (UPEs) and his experiences as a mobility and combat airman and safety officer.

Interview Topic Navigator

1. What is the PEAT?
2. Physiological Episode Symptoms
3. Physiological Data
4. Pilot Physicians
5. Big Data
6. RPA and Cyber Communities
7. Message to airmen

Airman Magazine: Please tell us about your new job investigating Unexplained Physiological Episodes.

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: As part of my role working in A3T, I’ve been tasked by the A3 Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly to lead the Physiological Episodes Action Team, also known as the PEAT.

PE stands for physiological episode or event. Essentially it’s any anomaly in the interaction among the aircrew, equipment, and environment that causes adverse physical or cognitive symptoms, which may impede the ability to fly..

What we’ve done across the Air Force and all aircraft, but most recently with the T-6 fleet, is to investigate what causes PEs. In some cases an Unknown PE will immediately reveal to us what happened. Maybe there was some sort of contamination in the cockpit due to an oil leak or some other fumes, so we’re able to identify it as a known physiological event.

In other cases, pilots will experience symptoms, come down and land, report them and we don’t know exactly what the cause is until we investigate further.

Members of the Navy Physiological Episodes Action Team and Air Force PEAT listen to a discussion between Rear Adm. Fredrick R. “Lucky” Luchtman (left) and Air Force Brig. Gen. Edward L. “Hertz” Vaughan (right) as they lay the ground work for the Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team, or J-PEAT.

(Photo by Scot Cregan)

Airman Magazine: Tell me about the PEAT. What is the structure and objective of the team?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: The AF-PEAT is Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team. Now, previously this has been known as the UPE IT or Unexplained Physiological Events Integration Team.
We’re working very closely with our Navy partners and they came up with a pretty good name – Physiological Episodes Action Team. In the interest of both jointness and keeping it simple for all the flying community, we’ve aligned names with the Navy.

Of course, that’s not the only thing we’ve learned from the Navy. The Navy’s had some great success in exploring what happens in physiological episodes, what happens to aviators, and we’ve been able to learn a lot from them and they’ve learned from us as well.

Airman Magazine: How does the PEAT operate?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: We have two meetings per week. Every Friday the Air Force PEAT meets. Who is on this action team? The answer is those people who are required for that particular meeting.

We’ll have the topics of the week, sometimes we’re looking at specific incidents with airplanes, specific episodes, and other times we may be investigating new equipment that’s coming out, new procedures, new training or maybe there’s the results of an investigation that we’ll need to review. We have standing members of the team, about half a dozen, that are there at every meeting.

Then we have another kind of a second layer of folks, which gets us up closer to 20 people, who come in as needed. That second layer includes folks from the acquisition community or the 711th Human Performance Wing. We don’t necessarily need to have them come to every meeting, but there’s times we really need somebody from human performance wing present. That’s one meeting.

Then immediately following that meeting, we have, what I call the Joint-PEAT. It’s really an ad hoc Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team with the Navy. It is very much a joint effort in that we work closely together and meet weekly to keep a steady battle rhythm so as things come up during the week, if they’re not an emergency or if it’s not something that we’ve got to address right at that minute, we’ll be able to put it together on Friday. We know that once a week we’re going to have a meeting where we can sit down face-to-face and hash these things out.

My Navy counterpart is Rear Adm. Frederick Luckman, he goes by “Lucky”. My call sign is “Hertz”. We immediately got to a Hertz-Lucky professional friendly demeanor. We go through an awful lot of coffee. He and I meet as often as we can to share data. Like I said, we cannot share the information fast enough.

The Navy is doing a lot of good work. They had a series of issues with physiology not only in the F-18, but T-45s, and they’ve had very good success in their T-6 fleet. They have a T-6 fleet that’s about half the size of the Air Force’s. They have slightly different models, some of theirs are newer models, but the oxygen systems are very similar.

The Navy adopted early on, in response to some of the lessons they learned from other airframes, significant maintenance practices in their T-6 oxygen system that we found very useful. We watched the Navy adopt those, saw the results of it and in those cases we’ve been able to adopt it exactly the same way that they have.

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Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan, head of the Air Force Unexplained Physiological Events Integration Team, and Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman, Navy Physiological Episodes Action Team lead, discuss ongoing efforts to minimize the risk of Physiological Episodes.

(U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Scot Cregan)

Airman Magazine: How does the timely resolution of PEs, affect training and readiness?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Looking at the National Defense Strategy, lethality is the primary objective and, for the Air Force, that equates to readiness. Are we ready to fight? You know, the question is readiness for what? Ready to do what? It’s ready to prosecute the war, ready to fight. In some cases, being ready to go out and influence and be that presence where we need to be.

If we’re having equipment struggles, delays in our programs, or we’re having to stand-down aircraft or cancel missions because of physiological episodes that will get in the way of us being ready. It will get in the way of us executing any plans we may have out there. So it’s important for us to get the information back, put the fixes in, get those funded, fielded and executed as quickly as possible. Once we do that, we’re going to enhance readiness and capability as we grow toward the Air Force We Need.

It also eliminates a distraction. Anytime you have aircraft mishaps of any kind, anytime you have a cluster of these PEs, it’s going to create a distraction, not just for the frontline airman, but for their families, and anybody else associated with it. Anybody involved with the operation and maintenance will have a distraction. That distraction takes our eye off the readiness ball. That’s one of the reasons that you’ll see the PEAT, Physiological Episodes Acting Team, embedded right in A3T. A3T’s tasking is training and readiness.

Airman Magazine: What types of symptoms are commonly associated with PEs?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Symptoms span the spectrum of what can happen to people on airplanes. I’ll caveat this with Air Force aviators receive extensive training in physiology and what may happen to them in tactical aviation. All pilots and other aircrew going through their initial training, experience the hypobaric chamber, we call it the altitude chamber. They get used to what it’s like to operate at high altitudes and what happens during decompression. They also have routine refresher training in all aspects of aviation physiology.

One of the main reasons for doing that training is so that each aviator can learn what their individual symptoms will be. No two people will react the same to an aircraft or environmental stimulus and, in fact, the same person may have different reactions on different days based on fatigue, fitness, nutrition, or other personal factors.

It’s important for each aviator to have a sense of what symptoms they might have, especially the early onset symptoms, so they can take early appropriate action to safely recover the aircraft or get out of the environment that’s causing the problem.

Some of these symptoms can range from things like tingling in the extremities, fingers and toes, headaches or nausea. There are actually cases of folks having euphoria, while other folks may become belligerent. They know if you’re flying along and all of a sudden you just feel a little irritated for no particular reason it may be time to check your oxygen system, look at the environment you’re in or determine if that’s caused by something else. Then take appropriate action to mitigate the risk.

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Airman Magazine: You have said that when investigating and mitigating PEs, “We can’t share information fast enough.” Describe what you mean and how that process can be improved?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Sharing the right information and then making sense of the information is very important in dealing with this phenomenon. What we do right now in the Air Force is we listen to the pilots. Pilots will land and give us a debrief – What happened? When did it happen? What types of conditions were going on in the airplane?

You’ll find that in the Air Force fleet, and the Navy fleet as well, most of the aircraft have pretty sophisticated sensors when it comes to their engines and other aircraft systems. When they land that information is downloaded, aggregated, and acted upon. Much of the critical data is available real time and available to the pilot for immediate action. Each aircraft is slightly different as technology improves, but the amount of data that we’re able to download from a given flight is enormous. But hard data on the human weapon system is slim to none.

This gets into right into some of the themes of Secretary of the Air Force has talked about going into artificial intelligence, big data analytics. How do we deal with all this data, make some sense of it and not run down the wrong path to get a wrong conclusion?

I will tell you one area though, where we’re still struggling, not only the Air Force, but also the Navy and our colleagues at NASA, is collecting data from the actual human weapon system.

We want to know things like pulse rate, oxygen content in the blood, cognitive functions, any anomalies with eyesight, but these are very hard things to sense independently without interfering with the aviators while they conduct their mission.

That’s a fascinating area of research that’s happening out at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in conjunction with the Navy Medical Research Unit Dayton. What they’ve started to do, both those labs working together and along with some NASA support, is fielding some prototypes, such as sensors that might go, for example, in the (oxygen) mask or on the pilot’s helmet.

We actually know real-time information about the oxygen system in an airplane. We have sensors on the actual system to know the content of oxygen and other gases that might be presented to the aviator. What we don’t know is what happens in system losses; what happens between the actual oxygen production or the oxygen source and the pilot’s breathing. Furthermore, we don’t know the pilot’s ability to uptake that oxygen. There’s a lot of medical and physiological processes that we need to monitor better.

A technique called Hybrid 3D Printing, developed by AFRL researchers in collaboration with the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, uses additive manufacturing to integrate soft, conductive inks with material substrates to create stretchable electronic devices.

(Wyss Institute photo)

Airman Magazine: What does the end state of this research look like? Are you talking about monitoring physiological responses of pilots during missions in real time?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: That’s absolutely correct. We’d like to get to an end state where the human weapon system is instrumented in such a way that’s noninvasive and nonintrusive. The aviators won’t feel the sensors and it doesn’t interfere with their duties at all, but that that data is available just like you would read all the instruments on an engine. We’re trying to figure out, is that five years from now, two years from now or 20 years from now?

If you think of the human on the loop or in the loop going forward, especially in cyber systems and integrating across all-domain operations, it’s going to be more important than ever to make sure that the human weapon system is keeping up and that we’re able to monitor that.

So we’re looking at sensors that might be wearable. A lot of folks out in the community are familiar with wearable fitness monitors and the chips that go in your shoes if you’re going to run a race to keep track of where you are. One of the challenges we have in aviation is the sensors that might be worn in commercial practice that people might buy at a local store are not suitable for the aviation environment, particularly tactical aviation.

Not only do you have the pressure and temperature anomalies that occur as airplanes travel up and down, but in tactical aviation, fighters, bombers and training aircraft, there’s an awful lot of G-loading. There can be anomalies that go from high altitude to low altitude in very short order and that has a lot of wear and tear on the sensors.
Some sensors are embedded in clothing and depend on contact with the skin. For example, in order to prepare themselves for a mission, aviators will strap down tighter than you might in an automobile to keep them safe, but that may also cause bulges in the clothing that interferes with sensory contact. There’s a lot of research yet to be done and a lot of development ahead of us.

I’m looking forward to the Air Force potentially investing more in that research. I’m especially impressed with our ability to work with our joint partners with the Navy and the Army, which is coming on board later this month, in this PEAT effort. They’ve got a lot of exciting things happening in their aerospace medicine field and then NASA has been a partner throughout. You really can’t beat, from an intellectual capacity standpoint, having partners like the 711th Human Performance Wing and NASA. We’ve got the best partners in the world.

Airman Magazine: Are there other interagency or commercial partners in the research and investigation of PEs?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Absolutely. Some of the companies that produce our aircraft have divisions dedicated to human physiology and enhancing the ability of the human to perform in or on the loop. They provide enhancements such as providing sensors and digital displays. In some cases, even an augmented reality display, which we have in many aircraft, where there’s a lens that comes over one eye and not only can you see your environment, but that lens will produce a heads-up display of images that will help you interpret what you’re seeing on the ground.

Not only do we have industry partners that helping us with this, we also have universities and some international partners. Primarily we’re working through the Navy to access the folks that are doing that work on the outside, but we’re going to start working a little more with our international affairs group here in the Air Force to foster those partnerships.

Airman Magazine: Do you see a time when human sensor capability will be baked in rather than bolted on?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I think we’re going to get to that point. Right now, we’ve got to be sensitive to the fact, that if we start utilizing every sensor that’s available commercially, we run the risk of interfering with the mission and maybe causing a distraction. The last thing we want to do is have sensors be the cause of problems. We want the sensors to help us solve those problems.

We’re looking at ways to prototype these things. Edwards Air Force Base, for example, where we do a lot of research and development flight testing, has been very instrumental in working with the 711th Human Performance Wing and the system program offices for the airplanes, to include the T-6, F-15, F-16 and others, in doing some remarkable testing that gives us great foundational data. That foundational data is important to determine where we do the development going forward. Also, we recently shook hands on an agreement with the Civil Air Patrol to help us collect, assess, and sort through the many commercially available wearable sensors.

Airman Magazine: What’s the benefit to the force of being able to process and utilize PE data faster?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: So for example, right now if we have a physiological event in the aircraft, we typically execute emergency procedures, get to a safe backup source of oxygen if it’s available, descend to an altitude where it’s safe to breathe ambient air and then land as soon as possible at the nearest suitable airfield.

Perhaps what will happen in the future, with sensors on board, you may be able to head off that emergency. Sensors may alert the pilots to the fact that they are entering a phase of flight or a set of activities or an environment, where they’re at higher risk of these kinds of anomalies. By alerting the pilot to that, they may be able to mitigate it or avoid a physiological event.

Furthermore, if there is a situation in flight, the sensors on board that gives them real time readings may enable them to do a better job of assessing what’s going on.

But this is where it gets insidious. With physiological events, one serious possible symptom is an inability to assess the situation.

Now that’s a pretty extreme symptom, but you may have those situations come up. In which case, presenting the data to the pilot as numbers or another traditional data format might not be as useful as, maybe, an alert light. There are some programs out there that cause the oxygen mask to vibrate a little bit. We do this with the control stick in airplanes as well. With such an equipped aircraft if you were to get into a stall, the control stick vibrates, They call it a stick shaker. Applying these proven technologies to other areas are all in prototype and being tested.

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Zach Demers, an aerospace engineer, demonstrates the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS) in an F-16 flight simulator at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Airman Magazine: Weren’t you involved in the adoption of another pilot safety system?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Formerly, I served as the Air National Guard’s national director of safety. Part of our safety portfolio is flight safety and in that we have some advanced fourth and fifth- generation aircraft, but we also have legacy systems out there. Systems that don’t have baked-in ground collision avoidance systems.

We worked very hard with the system program office and the Pilot Physician program in the United States Air Force to bring on board these Auto G-CAS systems (Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System). We have confirmed saves in situations where the pilot may have lost awareness. It doesn’t have to be a physiological event. It can be task saturation or other things that cause the pilot to lose awareness of proximity to the ground. Traditional GCAS systems will alert the pilot, such as an X symbol in the heads-up display, letting them know they’re near the ground and need to pull back on the stick.

In the Auto G-CAS, the aircraft sensors can actually determine the point where the pilot can no longer recover, due to the limits of human reaction time, and the system takes over the jet and recovers it for the pilot. As soon as the aircraft is in a safe regime, it returns the control back to the pilot. And that’s also had a couple of great saves for us.

Airman Magazine: You mentioned the Pilot Physician program, what is that and are they involved in the J-PEAT and investigating of UPEs?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Pilot Physician is a very unique program in the Air Force and its highly specialized. These are individuals are rated aviators of all sorts, but primarily pilots. Then they go to medical school and change their job category. So they’re no longer primarily pilots for the Air Force, they’re now physicians for the Air Force.

They’ve enabled to help us understand what’s going on both operationally and medically and where those two things meet. In other situations, you have pilots who were trying to describe what’s happening to them in the airplane and then you have medical doctors trying to understand that description. There can be things lost in translation between the communities.

The Pilot Physicians speak both aviation and medicine fluently, are able to identify with the pilots and, in many cases, have flown that exact aircraft being investigated.

Lt. Col. Jay Flottmann, pilot physician and 325th Fighter Wing chief of flight safety, explains how a valve in the upper pressure garment and the shape and the size of oxygen delivery hoses and connection points contributed to previously unexplained physiological issues during F-22 flights.

(Photo by Senior Airman Christina Brownlow)

Airman Magazine: Are there specific examples of investigations that benefitted from Pilot Physician experience and expertise?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Lt. Col. James “Bones” Flottman was the Pilot Physician directly involved in the F-22 investigation that we did a few years ago. The F-22 had a series of physiological episodes. He was the one that was able, as an F-22 pilot and a physician, to credibly determine that it was a work of breathing issue.

It was a combination of factors, we don’t need to go into all the specifics right here, but he was able to bridge the gap between pilot practices, things they’ve been taught to do and things they did through experience, and what was happening medically. That resulted in improvements in the whole system – improvements in some of the hardware and improvements in the pilot practices. Not only was he able to help the investigation team solve that, he was able to then go back and credibly relate this to the pilots, restoring faith both in the system, in the Air Force process.

There’s another one that is a friend of mine, retired Col. Peter Mapes. Dr. Pete Mapes is a classic Pilot Physician. He was a B-52 pilot and a fantastic doctor, as are all of them. He and I worked closely together on Auto G-CAS, as well as several key people in engineering and operations. He was really the driving force, along with Lt. Col. Kevin Price, at the Air Force and the OSD level to push that development and production through, especially for the legacy aircraft.

He also had a role in many other aviation safety improvements to include helicopters, specifically wire detection. A lot of helicopters have mishaps because they strike power lines. He was instrumental in getting some of those systems put into helicopters and out into the fleet.

He was also instrumental in improving some of the seat designs and some of the pilot-aircraft interface designs as well. Really too many to mention.

Another great a success story for the Air Force, when it comes to the Pilot Physician program is Col. Kathy Hughes, call sign “Fog”. She’s flown the T-38 and A-10, a great flying background, and has been a wonderful physician for the Air Force. She really explored the use, the application and the design of our G-suits and was able to help the Air Force evolve into a full coverage G-suit. So now the G-suits that our fighter aviators fly are more standardized and more effective than the previous generations of flight suits. Thanks, in large part, to her work. I recently met her at aviation safety conference where she is helping commercial interests design better ejection seats.

That’s just three examples. There’s a whole laundry list.

We also have advising both the Navy and Air Force PEAT, Col. William P. Mueller; call sign “Ferris”. Col. Mueller was an F-4 fighter pilot and now one of the top physicians in aerospace medicine. He’s been absolutely invaluable in helping us understand what’s going on with the physiological episodes. He not only sits on the Air Force PEAT, but he also has a permanent membership sitting on the Navy’s PEAT. So he’s part of that joint interaction and offers a fearless perspective on improving training.

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Col. Kathryn Hughes, a pilot-physician and director, Human Systems Integration, 711th Human Performance Wing, sits on the stairs of a centrifuge at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, April 22, 2016.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Airman Magazine: Could research into making Big Data more easily utilized by the warfighter have an application in investigating and mitigating PEs?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I like using the email analogy. So most of us have email. Those that work in an office may have one for work and one for personal use, or maybe even more than that. If you’re like me at all, if you skip checking your emails for even one day, you find yourself in a huge email deficit. Now imagine all the sensors, whether it’s a cyber system, aircraft systems, space system, and each piece of all the data being collected as an email coming to you. Within minutes you would be completely overwhelmed with data. So we’re going to rely on systems to help us sort through the data and present those things that are most important now for decision making.

Those other pieces of information that we might want later for analysis, it will store those and present them at the appropriate time. So that gets after artificial intelligence. We need these systems to work with the human in the loop. We don’t necessarily want it to be standalone. We want it to be integrated with humans and that’s where the real challenge comes in, because as an aviator flying an airplane, the data I want right at that moment to prosecute the fight, may be different than the data a cyber operator working with me in that operation may need at that same moment. Artificial Intelligence or underlying data systems will have to be smart enough to give the data to the operator that’s needed to make the right decision.

I recently spent some time with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. I asked him about this wicked technology problem of applying artificial intelligence on the tactical edge. His advice about leveraging cloud technology to perform advanced operations on big data, where and when needed, has been invaluable.

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Airman Magazine: How does recorded data on individual pilots allow you establish baseline physiology and find relationships between PEs that may occur in aircrew from different units and bases?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: We’re already finding benefit from that data, so the 711th Human Performance Wing is working very closely, in this case with the T-6 system program office, and some big data analytic gurus. These folks will take large volumes of data and slice and dice it to find where there might be some differences from what would be considered a baseline or normal.

Then they can dig into those differences and see if there is something to learn. They’re finding a lot of great results that help us improve the systems. Because physiological events involve humans and each human has such a different reaction and an individual person will have a different reaction on a different day, it can be difficult to look at a small sample size and draw any big lessons. We need large sample sizes and that’s where you can start to kind of tease out the pieces of the data that are going to move us forward.

As we worked with the Navy on the Physiological Episode Action Team we have found that pilots in the Air Force and the Navy are more informed than ever. They know people in the tech business and the pilots talk amongst themselves and share information and they’re finding these wearable sensors.

Most of the wearable sensors are not suitable for aviation use. They just can’t provide good data under those conditions, but it’s worth exploring. Talking to Admiral Luckman, we wanted to find a way to get these sensors, and most of them are small things like fitness monitors, that just aren’t allowed in our environment right now, into the cockpit just to see how they survive a flight. The Civil Air Patrol, which flies general aviation aircraft, fly with their smart phones and other types of equipment.

They have a tremendous safety record, but they also have a completely different set of rules than we do. They typically just follow the AIM and the FAA civilian flight rules. Most of those flight rules don’t have any prohibitions on bringing equipment in your pocket or your flight bag.

So recently we sat down with some of the leaders of the Civil Air Patrol to work out a memorandum of understanding whereabouts we’ll get these ideas and sensors to our pilots in the fleet. Some of them will appropriately go through Air Force and Navy channels and may end up being something of a program of record in the long term.

Others that we can’t cross that gap and into the system, we’ll offer those to Civil Air Patrol and, at their option, they can start flying those. It’s not official flight test, but they can at least tell us, does this thing survive a flight up to 10,000 feet and back. And that piece of information might be just enough. That then allows our system program office with the labs to start taking a closer look.

Airman Magazine: This may seem like an odd question, but do PEs occur within the RPA or cyber communities where the ops tempo is so extreme?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: So that’s a great question and that’s why I think the development of sensors and better understanding of baseline human physiology is so important.

The RPA environment is just the tip of the iceberg. As we look at humans in the loop or on the loop, human physiology, whether it’s in cyber, RPAs, intel, space, any of the other missions that we’re doing, is a very important consideration.

What we don’t have yet is a tremendous amount of baseline data. What’s physiology supposed to look like in those situations? So when it’s different, how would we know it? That’s some of the work that’s going on right now at the labs is base-lining that data.

I will tell you that while the environment of RPAs is uniquely different than the environment in airplanes, but it’s not always easier. You have a lot of folks that are out there engaged in very serious operations, life and death situations, that they are dealing with for hours on end and then go home every night to their families and to would be a normal environment. Most people have coping mechanisms to deal with that. But that’s one of the areas of research that folks are looking at in the labs – how do we better prepare people to go back and forth between these kinds of environments?

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Maj. Bishane, an MQ-9 Reaper pilot, controls an aircraft from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. RPA personnel deal with the stressors of a deployed military service member while trying to maintain the normalcy of a day-to-day life.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)

Airman Magazine: Let’s shift gears and talk about your career history. How does leading PEAT differ from your past experiences as a safety officer at a wing or a squadron?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Prior to this, I worked for Secretary Mattis in OSD reserve integration. We basically informed OSD policy relative to the seven different reserve components out there to include the Air National Guard.

Before that, I served as commander of the 156th Airlift Wing. As a wing commander, it is a minute-by-minute duty to make risk decisions and it’s very important to realize the consequences of those decisions and understand that whole risk matrix.

In my current position, I’m not a commander of anything. I’m not really in charge of folks specifically. We have a team, but we come together as required. So this job is more informative. One of our primary roles is to inform commanders. As they give us data, we give them back context so they can make better risk decisions.

It also allows the labs to put a focus on their studies enabling the system program offices to acquire and improve systems to support the mission. So this job is very different in that respect.

I think having been a commander previously helps me understand what these commanders they need to hear and how they want to receive that data so it doesn’t overwhelm them.

Airman Magazine: What is it you would like the pilots and aircrew to know about you, the PEAT and their part in preventing and mitigating PEs?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I traveled to Randolph Air Force Base and I had the opportunity to meet with some of the higher headquarters staff. I met with the commander of 19th Air Force and I was very encouraged and reassured with everyone’s openness to really solving this problem as aggressively and quickly as possible, talking about physiological episodes, but also, in a broader sense, the sustainment of the T-6 and sustainment of other airframes for which people might be interested.

I feel good about where that’s going. I also had a real eye-opener when I had an opportunity to meet with some of the T-6 pilots. We met off base. We decided to meet in a restaurant in a casual environment. We wanted that format because I wanted to hear really unfiltered what some of these T-6 pilots, who are some of the most experienced pilots in the Air Force flying that mission, that airframe. I was able to learn a lot. They have great faith in their chain of command and leadership. They have valid and serious concerns about physiological episodes, as does the commander all the way up to the chief of staff and the Secretary.

I think being able to hear their perspective, share with them my firsthand knowledge of meeting with senior level commanders in the Air Force bridged some gaps. I also was able to hear some very specific engineering questions and connect some of those pilots directly with some of the engineers at the system program office and some folks within their own chain of command that they just haven’t connected with yet. Just trying to get those dialogues going, because the solutions that the air Force is putting into place, whether it’s T-6 or any other airframe, are usually phased. Some of them require major investment, money and time-wise, and those take a little longer to accomplish.

So how do you bridge the gap between today and when we get to that promised land if some of those bigger fixes and it comes down to some solid risk management? In the case of the T-6, there’s a whole list of maintenance protocols that we handle and emergency procedures for the pilots that don’t necessarily reduce the number of these events, but they can reduce the severity and certainly mitigate the consequences. That’s what we’re trying to do. We don’t want a situation where any physiological episode goes far enough to lead to a permanent injury or harm of an aviator destruction of property. We want to catch those things as early as possible through these mitigation techniques.

Another thing I got to do when I was at Randolph was shadow the maintainers as they did maintenance on a T-6 that had a physiological episode. In the past, when these things would happen, there wasn’t a specific protocol. They would do their very best to look at the oxygen system, but there wasn’t a protocol on how to do that.

T-6 Texans fly in formation over Laughlin AFB, TX.

(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)

Over the last year, with the help of a lot of the pilots, doctors, chain of command folks, human performance wing – a big team effort, when the airplane lands after one of those instances it’s an automatic protocol for that oxygen system.

In most cases it’s removed and a new one is put in and the suspect system then gets this thorough going over at the depot level and not only do we fix that, that particular system and return it to service. We’re able to learn a lot and collect data points. In some cases, we don’t find the specific cause in that system and then we look elsewhere – maybe more pilot interviews, talking to the doctors and trying to piece it together.

The protocols that are out there now not only helped mitigate the consequences of these events until we field new equipment, but they also help us in collecting data that will inform better decisions going forward.

(Top)

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

David Shulkin, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, showed up to what he thought would be a routine Senate oversight hearing in January 2018, only to discover it was an ambush.


Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., was the sole holdout among members of the veterans affairs committee on a bill that would shape the future of the agency. The bipartisan bill had the support of 26 service groups representing millions of veterans. But Moran was pushing a rival piece of legislation, and it had the support of a White House aide who wields significant clout on veterans policy. Neither proposal could advance as long as there was any doubt about which President Donald Trump wanted to sign.

Moran blamed Shulkin for the impasse. “In every instance, you led me to believe that you and I were on the same page,” Moran said at the hearing. “Our inability to reach an agreement is in significant part related to your ability to speak out of both sides of your mouth: double talk.”

There were gasps in the hearing room. It was an astounding rebuke for a Trump appointee to receive from a Republican senator, especially for Shulkin, who was confirmed by the Senate unanimously.

Clearly ruffled, Shulkin hesitated before answering. “I think it is grossly unfair to make the characterizations you have made of me, and I’m disappointed that you would do that,” he said. “What I am trying to do is give you my best advice about how this works.”

Moran dug in. “I chose my words intentionally,” he said. “I think you tell me one thing and you tell others something else. And that’s incompatible with our ability to reach an agreement and to work together.” Moran then left the hearing for another appointment.

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS, center) with Kansans serving in Afghanistan, April 2011

The exchange exposed tensions that had been brewing for months behind closed doors. A battle for the future of the VA has been raging between the White House and veterans groups, with Shulkin caught in the middle. The conflict erupted into national headlines as a result of a seemingly unrelated development: the release of a lacerating report on Shulkin that found “serious derelictions” in a taxpayer-funded European business trip in which he and his wife enjoyed free tickets to Wimbledon and more.

The underlying disagreement at the VA has a different flavor than the overhauls at a number of federal agencies. Unlike some Trump appointees, who took the reins of agencies with track records of opposing the very mission of the organization, Shulkin is a technocratic Obama holdover. He not only participated in the past administration, but defends the VA’s much-maligned health care system. He seeks to keep the organization at the center of veterans’ health care. (An adviser to Shulkin said the White House isn’t permitting him to do interviews.)

But others in the administration want a much more drastic change: They seek to privatize vets’ health care. From perches in Congress, the White House, and the VA itself, they have battled Shulkin. In some instances, his own subordinates have openly defied him.

Related: VA watchdog is reviewing Shulkin’s 10-day trip to Europe where he attended Wimbledon, went on cruise

Multiple publications have explored the turmoil and conflict at the VA in the wake of the inspector general report. Yet a closer examination shows the roots of the fight stretch back to the presidential campaign and reveals how far the entropy of the Trump administration has spread. Much has been written on the “chaos presidency.” Every day seems to bring exposés of White House backstabbing and blood feuds. The fight over the VA shows not only that this problem afflicts federal agencies, too, but that friction and contradiction were inevitable: Trump appointed a VA secretary who wants to preserve the fundamental structure of government-provided health care; the president also installed a handful of senior aides who are committed to a dramatically different philosophy.

The blistering report may yet cost Shulkin his job. But the attention on his travel-related misbehavior is distracting from a much more significant issue: The administration’s infighting is imperiling a major legislative deal that could shape the future of the VA.

Taking better care of veterans was a constant refrain at Trump’s presidential campaign rallies. In the speech announcing his candidacy, he said, “We need a leader that can bring back our jobs, can bring back our manufacturing, can bring back our military, can take care of our vets. Our vets have been abandoned.” Ex-military people overwhelmingly supported him on Election Day and in office.

Trump’s original policy proposals on veterans health, unveiled in October 2015, largely consisted of tweaks to the current system. They called for increasing funding for mental health and helping vets find jobs; providing more women’s health services; modernizing infrastructure and setting up satellite clinics in rural areas.

The ideas drew derisive responses from the Koch brothers-backed group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). Pete Hegseth, its then-CEO, called the proposal “painfully thin” and “unserious.”

Trump then took a sharp turn toward CVA’s positions after clinching the Republican nomination. In a July 2016 speech in Virginia Beach, he embraced a very different vision for the VA, emphasizing private-sector alternatives. “Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics,” Trump said, “whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center.”

Trump’s new 10-point plan for veterans policy resembled the CVA’s priorities. In fact, six of the proposals drew directly on CVA ideas. Three of them aimed to make it easier to fire employees; a fourth advocated the creation of a reform commission; and two involved privatizing VA medical care.

Trump’s new direction, according to a campaign aide, was influenced by Jeff Miller, then the chairman of the House veterans committee. Miller, who retired from Congress in January 2017, was a close ally of CVA and a scathing critic of Obama’s VA.

Miller became one of the first congressmen to endorse Trump, in April 2016. He did so a few weeks after attending a meeting of the campaign’s national security advisers. (That meeting, and the photo Trump tweeted of it, would become famous because of the presence of George Papadopoulos, who is cooperating with investigators after pleading guilty to lying about Russian contacts. Miller is wearing the light gray jacket in the front right. Now a lobbyist with the law firm McDermott Will Emery, he didn’t reply to requests for comment.) Miller became Trump’s point man on veterans policy, the campaign aide said.

Miller and CVA portrayed the VA as the embodiment of “bureaucratic ineptitude and appalling dysfunction.” They were able to cite an ample supply of embarrassing scandals.

The scandals may come as less of a surprise than the fact that the VA actually enjoys widespread support among veterans. Most who use its health care report a positive experience. For example, 92 percent of veterans in a poll conducted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars reported that they would rather improve the VA system than dismantle it. Independent assessments have found that VA health care outperforms comparable private facilities. “The politicization of health care in the VA is frankly really unfair,” said Nancy Schlichting, the retired CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, who chaired an independent commission to study the VA under the Obama administration. “Noise gets out there based on very specific instances, but this is a very large system. If any health system in this country had the scrutiny the VA has, they’d have stories too.”

One piece of extreme noise was a scandal in 2014, which strengthened Miller and CVA’s hand and created crucial momentum toward privatization. In an April 2014 hearing, Miller revealed that officials at the VA hospital in Phoenix were effectively fudging records to cover up long delays in providing medical care to patients. He alleged that 40 veterans died while waiting to be seen. A week later, CVA organized a protest in Phoenix of 150 veterans demanding answers.

More: This is what happened when the VA tried to slash money for homeless veterans

Miller’s dramatic claims did not hold up. A comprehensive IG investigation would eventually find 28 delays that were clinically significant; and though six of those patients died, the IG did not conclude that the delays caused those deaths. Later still, an independent assessment found that long waits were not widespread: More than 90 percent of existing patients got appointments within two weeks of their initial request.

But such statistics were lost in the furor. “Nobody stood up and said, ‘Wait a minute, time out, are we destroying this national resource because a small group of people made a mistake?'” a former senior congressional staffer said. “Even those who considered themselves to be friends of the VA were silent. It was a surreal period. The way it grew tentacles has had consequences nobody would have predicted.”

In the heat of the scandal, Miller and CVA pushed for a new program called Choice. It would allow veterans who have to wait more than 30 days for a doctor’s appointment or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to get private-sector care. The VA has bought some private medical care for decades, but Choice represented a significant expansion, and Democrats were wary that it would open the door to privatizing VA health care on a much broader scale.

Still, the Phoenix scandal had made it hard for the Democrats to resist. The Choice bill passed with bipartisan support and President Obama signed it into law in August 2014.

Former President Barack Obama. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By 2016, then-candidate Trump was demanding further changes. “The VA scandals that have occurred on this administration’s watch are widespread and inexcusable,” he said in the Virginia Beach speech. “Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics, whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center. We must extend this right to all veterans.”

Trump’s contacts with CVA and its allies deepened during the transition. He met Hegseth, who left CVA to become a Fox News commentator, in Trump Tower. Trump picked Darin Selnick for the “landing team” that would supervise the transition at the VA. Selnick had directed CVA’s policy task force, which in 2015 recommended splitting the VA’s payer and provider functions and spinning off the latter into a government nonprofit corporation. Such an operation, organized along the lines of Amtrak, would be able to receive federal funding but also raise other revenue.

Trump’s consideration of Hegseth and Miller to lead the VA ran into fierce resistance from veterans groups, powerful institutions whose clout is boosted by the emotional power that comes with members’ having risked their lives for their country. At a meeting with the Trump transition in December 2016, officials from the major veterans groups held a firm line against privatizing the VA and any secretary intent on it.

Trump finally settled on Shulkin, 58, who ran the VA health system under Obama. Shulkin is a former chief of private hospital systems and a doctor — an internist, he still occasionally treats patients at the VA — who comes across more as a medical geek than the chief of a massive organization.

Trump heaps praise on Shulkin in public appearances and meets with him regularly in private. He was one of the first cabinet secretaries Trump consulted about the impact of the government shutdown on Jan. 21, 2018. They met at Camp David in December 2017 and lunched at the White House on Feb. 8, 2018. “You’re doing a great job,” Trump told Shulkin at a Jan. 9 signing ceremony for an executive order on veterans mental health services, handing Shulkin the executive pen. “We appreciate you.”

Also read: A new petition could help veterans with service animals

Trump may like Shulkin, but that didn’t stop his administration from appointing officials who opposed his philosophy. One of them, Jake Leinenkugel, a Marine Corps veteran and retired Wisconsin brewery owner, became the White House’s eyes and ears inside the agency. He works in an office next to Shulkin’s, but his title is senior White House adviser. Leinenkugel, 65, said he came out of retirement to take the position because he was “excited about taking POTUS’s agenda and advancing it.” As he put it, “I’m here to help veterans.”

He and Shulkin got along fine for a few months. But then, in May 2017, the two men clashed, as Shulkin accused Leinenkugel of undermining him. Shulkin wanted to nominate the VA’s acting under secretary for health, Poonam Alaigh, to take the position permanently, according to two people familiar with his thinking. But, the VA secretary charged, Leinenkugel told the White House to drop Alaigh. Shulkin confronted Leinenkugel, who denied any sabotage, according to an email Leinenkugel subsequently wrote. Alaigh stepped down in October and the position remains unfilled.

Shulkin has even been at odds with his own press secretary, Curt Cashour, who came from Miller’s House committee staff. January 2018, Shulkin assigned an official to send a letter to a veterans group that said the agency would update its motto, to be inclusive of servicewomen. (Adapted from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, the original reads, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The new version would read: “To care for those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors.”)

Cashour told The Washington Post the motto wouldn’t change. A few days later, the secretary’s strategic plan went out using the updated, gender-neutral motto. Cashour then denied the change a second time, telling the Post that was “not VA’s position.” A new document with the Lincoln quote restored subsequently appeared on the VA’s website. Shulkin was stunned at being disobeyed by his own spokesman, two people briefed on the incident said. (Cashour denied defying the VA secretary. “The premise of your inquiry is false,” he told ProPublica. Cashour said Shulkin never approved the letter regarding the updated motto and authorized the restoration of the original one.)

Then there was Selnick, who became the administration’s most effective proponent for privatization. He joined the VA as a “senior advisor to the secretary.” Though he reported to Shulkin, he quickly began developing his own policy proposals and conducted his own dealings with lawmakers, according to people with knowledge of the situation. In mid-2017 Shulkin pushed him out — sort of.

Selnick left the VA offices and took up roost in the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. There he started hosting VA-related policy meetings without informing Shulkin, according to people briefed on the meetings. At one such meeting of the “Veterans Policy Coordinating Committee,” Selnick floated merging the Choice program with military’s Tricare insurance plan, according to documents from the meeting obtained by ProPublica.

Former House Veterans Affairs chairman Rep. Jeff Miller.

Veterans groups were furious. At a Nov. 17, 2017  meeting, Selnick boasted that Trump wouldn’t sign anything without Selnick’s endorsement, according to a person present. Shulkin would later tell a confidant that moving Selnick out of the VA was his “biggest mistake” because he did even more damage from the White House. (Selnick did not reply to a request for comment. A White House spokesman said some VA officials were aware of the policy meetings that Selnick hosted. The spokesman said Selnick does not brief the president or the chief of staff.)

Selnick, 57, is a retired Air Force captain from California who worked in the VA under the George W. Bush administration. At CVA, he not only ran the policy task force, he testified before Congress and appeared on TV. In 2015, House Speaker John Boehner appointed Selnick to the Commission on Care, an independent body created by a Congressional act to study the VA and make recommendations.

Selnick impressed his fellow commissioners with his preparation but sometimes irked them with what they viewed as his assumption that he was in charge, people who worked with him on the commission said. Selnick often brought up his experience at the VA. But some commissioners scoffed behind his back because his position, in charge of faith-based initiatives, had little relevance to health care. Whatever his credentials, Selnick had audacious ambitions: He wanted to reconceive the VA’s fundamental approach to medical care.

Selnick wanted to open up the VA so any veteran could see any doctor, an approach that would transform its role into something resembling an insurance company, albeit one with no restrictions on providers. Other commissioners worried that would cost the government more, impose fees and deductibles on veterans and serve them worse. “He was probably the most vocal of all of the members,” said David Gorman, the retired executive director of Disabled American Veterans who also served on the commission, “in a good and a bad way.”

The bad part, in the view of Nancy Schlichting, the chairwoman, emerged when Selnick tried to “hijack” the commission. Selnick and a minority of commissioners secretly drafted their own proposal, which went further than CVA’s. (The group included executives of large health systems that stood to gain more patients.) They wrote that the “the current VA health care system is seriously broken” with “no efficient path to repair it.” They proposed closing facilities, letting all veterans choose private care, and transitioning the rest to private care over two decades.

Related: Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than three million calls

The draft was written in a way that seemed to speak for the commission as a whole, with phrases like “the Commission recommends.” The commission staff suggested labeling it a “straw man report,” implying it was meant to provoke discussion. Still, veterans organizations were angry, and Schlichting had to publicly disavow the draft. “Darin Selnick has never run a health system in his life and doesn’t understand the complexity of it,” Schlichting told ProPublica.

For his part, Shulkin publicly staked out his vision in a March 17, 2016 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. In it, he defended the VA’s quality of care and proposed reimagining the VA as an integrated system composed of its own core facilities, a network of vetted private-sector providers, and a third layer of private care for veterans in remote places. Shulkin also edited a book published last year trumpeting the VA’s successes, called “Best Care Everywhere.”

Almost four years after the Phoenix scandal, the emergency measure letting some veterans get care outside the VA is still limping along with temporary extensions, not to mention payment glitches and confusion about its rules. Key legislators grew tired of renewing emergency funding and wanted to find a long-term solution. In the House, negotiations broke down after Democrats boycotted a listening session featuring CVA. So fall 2017, focus turned to the Senate.

A quote from Abraham Lincoln on a sign at the Department of Veterans Affairs Building in Washington, DC. (Flickr)

The crux of the debate was the extent to which the VA should rely on private care. The chairman and ranking member on the Senate veterans committee, respectively, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Jon Tester of Montana, drafted a bill to consolidate all of the VA’s programs that pay for private care and let doctors and patients decide where veterans would get care. The VA would buy private care when that makes the most sense but would still coordinate all veterans care in an integrated, comprehensive way. The bill garnered the support of 26 veterans organizations and every committee member except Moran.

Moran represents the Koch brothers’ home state; employees of Koch Industries are the second-largest source of campaign contributions in his career, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. With the support of CVA, Moran wanted to establish clear criteria making veterans eligible for private-sector care, like the 30 days/40 miles standard in the Choice program. It might sound like a subtle distinction, but it means the difference between keeping all veterans within the VA system versus ceding the direction of patient care to the private sector. When the committee rejected his amendment, Moran proposed his own bill and signed up Sen. John McCain as a co-sponsor.

Moran’s bill initially called for all veterans to be able to choose private care. When a McCain aide shared it with a lobbyist for the American Legion, the lobbyist was so enraged by what he viewed as a bid to undermine the VA that he torched a copy of the bill and sent the McCain aide a photo of the charred draft. (An American Legion spokesman declined to comment.) With the American Legion’s input, McCain’s and Moran’s staffs toned down the bill to the point that they got letters of support from the group, along with Amvets and CVA. But American Legion and Amvets were still working to get consensus on the Isakson-Tester bill.

Still, the Moran-McCain bill had a few key allies: Selnick and Leinenkugel. They had gained sway in part because of a White House vacuum. The president himself has been largely absent on veterans policy and there’s no senior point person. The portfolio has at times belonged to Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner and Omarosa Manigault, according to veterans groups and congressional officials. (A White House spokesman said those officials played a role in “veterans issues,” but not “veterans policy.” The latter, the spokesman said, is overseen by Selnick on the Domestic Policy Council.)

That has given Selnick and Leinenkugel wide latitude to shape White House positions on issues that don’t rise to Trump’s level. “Darin [Selnick] is pretty much in the ascendancy,” said Michael Blecker, the executive director of Swords to Plowshares, a San Francisco-based charity serving veterans.

As long as Moran had a competing claim to the Trump administration’s support, the Isakson-Tester bill was stuck. Republicans wouldn’t risk a floor vote on a bill the president might not sign. Shulkin supported the Isakson-Tester bill but he knew his rivals inside the White House were pushing for Moran’s proposal. So Shulkin hedged, awkwardly praising both bills. “We still don’t know which bill he wants,” Joe Chenelly, executive director of Amvets, said. “If the White House wants something different, then we need to know how to reconcile that.”

Amid the impasse, the Choice program was out of money again and needed an extension as part of the end-of-year spending deal. Tester vowed to make it the last one he’d agree to. He called on Shulkin to break the stalemate by publicly endorsing his and Isakson’s bill. “I would love to have the VA come out forcefully for this bill,” he said on the Senate floor in late December. “I think it would help get it passed.”

In a private meeting, Isakson and Tester chided Shulkin for withholding support for their bill, according to three people briefed on the meeting. Shulkin told them he was doing the best he could, but he had to fend off a competing agenda from the White House.

Unbeknown to Shulkin, there was already talk in the White House of easing him out. On Dec. 4, 2017, Leinenkugel wrote a memo, which ProPublica obtained, summarizing his disillusionment with Shulkin as well as with Shulkin’s deputy, Thomas Bowman, and chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson. (“I was asked to tell the truth and I gave it,” said Leinenkugel of his memo; he declined to say who requested it.)

More reading: A new petition could help veterans with service animals

Leinenkugel accused Bowman of disloyalty and opposing the “dynamic new Choice options requested by POTUS agenda.” The memo recommended that Bowman be fired — and replaced by Leinenkugel himself. It also asserted that Wright Simpson “was proud to tell me she is a Democrat who completely trusts the secretary and it’s her job to protect him.” Leinenkugel accused her of delaying the placement of Trump’s political appointees. Leinenkugel recommended replacing her, too.

As for Shulkin, Leinenkugel’s memo advocated he be “put on notice to leave after major legislation and key POTUS VA initiatives [are] in place.”

After the clash between Moran and Shulkin at the January hearing, Isakson said the White House would provide feedback on his bill to help the committee chart a way forward. “The president basically is pushing to get a unanimous vote out of committee,” said Rick Weidman, the top lobbyist for Vietnam Veterans of America. “The only reason why we didn’t get it before was there is one mid-level guy on the Domestic Policy Council who threw a monkey wrench into it by confusing people about what the administration’s position is.” That person, Weidman said, is Selnick.

The White House’s feedback on the Isakson-Tester bill, a copy of which was obtained by ProPublica, was the closest the administration has come to a unified position on veterans health care. It incorporated input from the VA and the Office of Management and Budget. Selnick told veterans groups he wrote the memo, leaving some miffed that Selnick seemingly had the final word instead of Shulkin. (A White House spokesman said Selnick was not the only author.)

Selnick requested changes that might look like minor tweaks but would have dramatic policy consequences. “It’s these very small differences in details that the public would never notice that change the character of the thing entirely,” said Phillip Longman, whose 2007 book, “Best Care Anywhere,” argued that the VA works better than private health care. (The title of the book Shulkin edited, “Best Care Everywhere,” was a nod at Longman’s book.)

Most important, the White House wanted clear criteria that make veterans eligible for private care. That was the main feature of Moran’s bill and the sticking point in the negotiations. The administration also asked to preserve a piece of the Choice program by grandfathering in veterans living more than 40 miles away from a VA facility. CVA praised the White House for nudging the bill in Moran’s direction. “We applaud President Trump for taking a firm stand in favor of more health care choice for veterans at the VA,” the group’s director, Daniel Caldwell, said in a statement dated Jan. 24, 2018.

The White House feedback also called for removing provisions that would regulate providers, such as requiring them to meet quality standards and limiting opioid prescriptions. And the administration objected to provisions in the bill that would require it to fill critical vacancies at the VA and report back to Congress.

Selnick got what he asked for, but it still might not be enough. Isakson and Tester agreed to most of the changes. But in a White House meeting with veterans groups on Feb. 5, 2018, Selnick continued to insist on open choice, suggesting that’s what Trump wants. Selnick visited Moran’s staff, a person with knowledge of the meeting said, and Moran indicated he wouldn’t support the modified version of the Isakson-Tester bill. (A White House spokesman said Isakson and Tester did not accept all the changes and negotiations continue. He denied that Selnick pushed for open choice.) Moran’s spokesman didn’t answer emailed questions by press time.)

The tensions spilled out publicly again on Feb. 8, 2018, when the Washington Post reported that the White House wanted to oust Bowman, Shulkin’s deputy. The article said the purpose was to chastise Shulkin for “freewheeling” — working with senators who don’t share the administration’s position. Isakson’s spokeswoman called it a “shameful attempt” to derail the negotiations. Isakson resolved to move ahead without Moran, the spokeswoman said, but it’s not clear when the bill will get time on the Senate floor (the Senate focused on immigration this week and then will take a recess). Moran could still place a “hold” on the bill or round up other senators to oppose it.

Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Shulkin determined that Selnick and Leinenkugel had to go, according to four people familiar with the secretary’s thinking. But Shulkin doesn’t appear to have the authority to fire them since they work for the White House. Plus, the attacks from the right were already taking a toll on Shulkin’s standing. “If leaders at Trump’s VA don’t support REAL CHOICE — why won’t they resign?” former CVA chief Hegseth tweeted on Feb. 13, 2018 tagging Shulkin in the post.

Veterans advocates responded by defending Shulkin against attacks they viewed as originating with Selnick and Leinenkugel. “They thought they could coopt David,” said Weidman, the lobbyist for Vietnam Veterans of America. “When he couldn’t be coopted, they decided to go after his character.”

The biggest blow came on Feb. 14, 2018 when the VA’s Inspector General released its report on Shulkin’s trip to Europe in April 2017. It concluded that Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets, misused a subordinate as a “personal travel concierge,” lied to reporters, and that his chief of staff doctored an email in such a way that would justify paying travel expenses for Shulkin’s wife.

Shulkin disputed the IG’s findings, but he again ran into trouble getting his message out from his own press office. A statement insisting he had “done nothing wrong” disappeared from the VA’s website, and Cashour replaced it with one saying “we look forward to reviewing the report and its recommendations in more detail before determining an appropriate response.” Cashour said the White House directed him to take down Shulkin’s statement and approved the new one.

Shulkin told Politico the IG report was spurred by internal opponents. “They are really killing me,” he said. By Feb. 16, 2018, his chief of staff had told colleagues Friday she would retire, USA Today reported.

The condemnation after the IG report was swift and widespread. House veterans committee member Mike Coffman, R-Colo., called on Shulkin to resign. Democrats, though generally sympathetic to Shulkin, couldn’t resist lumping the imbroglio in with other travel-expense tempests across Trump’s cabinet (involving Tom Price, Ryan Zinke, Scott Pruitt, and Steven Mnuchin). The chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate veterans committees said they were “disappointed” and want Shulkin to address the allegations, but acknowledged the politics at work and the stakes in a joint statement: “We need to continue progress we have made and not allow distractions to get in the way.”

The next day, Shulkin appeared before another routine oversight hearing, in this instance on the House side. He told the representatives he would reimburse the government for his wife’s travel and accept the IG’s recommendations. Shulkin thanked the chairman and ranking member for urging their colleagues not to let the scandal commandeer the hearing. “I do regret the decisions that have been made that have taken the focus off that important work,” he said.

Turning to the VA’s budget, Shulkin resumed his tightrope walk. He praised the VA’s services while acknowledging the need for some veterans to be treated outside the government’s system. By the time he left the hearing, two hours later, the Trump administration’s position on veterans health privatization remained a mystery.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why US tanks are rolling across Germany for the first time in 15 years

The US military and its NATO partners have been looking to reassert their presence in Europe in the wake of Russian action in Crimea.

NATO has deployed multinational units to Eastern Europe, and the US Army has been looking to boost its armor for more rotational deployments. Armored units on the continent are also expanding their training repertoire.


Soldiers from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, from the 1st Infantry Division, arrived in Europe in September 2017, with roughly 3,300 personnel, 87 tanks, 125 Bradley fighting vehicles, and 18 Paladin self-propelled howitzers for a nine-month rotation at locations in Poland, Germany, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria.

When they disembarked in Gdansk, Poland, it would be “the first time two armored brigades transition within the European theater sending a full complement of soldiers and equipment into Germany and Poland in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve,” Eastern Europe operations command spokesman US Army Master Sgt. Brent Williams said at the time.

A M1 Abrams tank from 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, during a tactical road march from Grafenwoehr Training Area to Hohenfels, Germany, April 23, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dustin D. Biven)

The unit’s rotation is also concluding with something of a first. Between April 22 and April 25, 2018, the 2nd ABCT carried out a tactical road march with over 700 vehicles on public roads between the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas in southeast Germany — the first time the exercise has been done at the brigade level in 15 years, according to the Army.

“The 7th Army Training Command, who conducts the exercise, decided to leverage the two training areas in Bavaria to connect multiple locations and units to create a more realistic training environment in Europe,” said Capt. Orlandon Howard, 2nd ABCT public-affairs officer.

The exercise was part of the Combined Resolve multinational exercise, which is taking place between April 9 and May 12, 2018, and includes personnel from 13 countries. The exercise is designed to give rotational brigades a graded culminating event in realistic and complex training environment before they return to the US.

After a maneuver live-fire drill, the brigade was ordered to conduct the march to Hohenfels, where it would start preparing for the 10-day, force-on-force portion of the exercise.

The road march required only limited recovery operations and avoided major damage to roads and towns along the route, which the release noted was a significant accomplishment in light of the size of some of the vehicles involved.

Germans stand next to US soldiers as they watch the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, on German roads from the Grafenwoehr Training Area to Hohenfels, Germany, April 22, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kathleen V. Polanco)

Soldiers from the 2nd ABCT were joined by the Polish army’s 12th Mechanized Division, and a number of local residents stopped to watch the procession.

A German family waved at the soldiers while a German man held a US flag across his body. Others wore shirts or hats with US Army printed on them or with unit patches. One local man, Ralf Rosenecker, and several of his friends set up a display of three remote-controlled tanks with US flags, according to an Army release.

“Rosenecker said he was excited to see so many tanks because it had been over 15 years since such a large tactical road march was conducted on German roads,” the Army release said.

The US deployed hundreds of tanks, trucks, and other military equipment, accompanied by about 4,000 troops, to Europe at the beginning of 2017. The deployment, part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, was meant to reassure US allies in the face of what many of them perceived as Russian aggression.

At the time, NATO said the planned deployments — which included US troops to Poland and Germany, Canada, and the UK sending 1,000 troops each to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — were strictly defensive, through Russia rebuked what it saw as a armed buildup by Western countries in Eastern Europe

Vehicles assigned to 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, conduct a tactical road march from Grafenwoehr Training Area to Hohenfels, Germany, April 22, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sharon Matthias)

Rotational forces have continued to cycle through Europe, carrying out training exercises with partner forces there.

NATO itself is also looking at ways to increase its readiness and streamline its operations in Europe. NATO movements on the continent have been hindered by differing conflicting regulations and customs rules, differing road standards, and outdated infrastructure across member states.

In January 2018, a convoy of US Paladins traveling from Poland to exercises in southern Germany was briefly stranded, after German border police stopped the Polish contractors transporting them for violating transportation rules.

In March 2018, NATO announced its new logistics command — is meant to ensure the quick movement of troops and material across Europe in the event of conflict — will be based in the southern German city of Ulm.

The EU has also said it is devising a plan for military personnel and equipment to move quickly across Europe in a crisis, avoiding border delays and bridges and roads too weak to handle military vehicles.

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

Ten Questions with Rod Lurie, Director of Operation Enduring Freedom film ‘The Outpost’

Rod Lurie is a West Point graduate and former Air Defense Artillery officer in the US Army. After his time in service he worked as an entertainment reporter and film critic. He then transitioned into film making by writing and directing his first feature film Deterrence, which is a political thriller. Rod also directed The Contender, The Last Castle, Nothing but the Truth, and Straw Dogs. Most recently, he directed The Outpost, the story of the 53 U.S. soldiers who battled a force of roughly 400 enemy insurgents in north-eastern Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.


James Mardsen, Hunter Lurie, Kate Bosworth, Rod, and Paige Lurie during the filming of Straw Dogs (2011)

Tell me about your family and your life growing up?

Currently I live in Studio City with my wife Kyra who is a New York Times bestselling novelist. I have one stepson Isaac and a daughter named Paige where we have a family dog named POTUS. My son Hunter passed away two years ago today. The Outpost is dedicated to him where since he died so young his passing to me relates to the young soldiers who died at the Battle of Kamdesh.

My family growing up consisted of my father, mother and three brothers. At age five, my family moved from Israel to Connecticut and then to Hawaii. My father is a military veteran of Israel and he worked as a political cartoonist, which includes illustrations for LIFE magazine where he is “the most widely syndicated political cartoonist in the world”, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. My mother Tamar is still the most successful real estate agent in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Rod at West Point during his plebe (first) year.

What is the most distinct memory of your mother and your father?

My father focused on two things for me: creativity and sticking up for myself and our Jewish heritage. He is a wildly creative person and he told us to never stop creating where he reminded us about how God had created in the Bible. My mother was a voracious athlete where she encouraged me and my sibling to really push ourselves athletically. She is truly kind, and she raised us with empathy as well.

A picture of Caleb Landry Jones as Medal of Honor recipient Specialist Ty Carter in The Outpost.

What challenges did you face at school and in the community?

The challenge for any Jewish person in that era and in that part of the world was anti-Semitism. We had immigrated from Israel where, of course, we never faced that within our own communities.

Rod Lurie interviewing acting and film legend Paul Newman.

What values were stressed at home?

Creativity, Righteousness and Athleticism. We had a strong sense of morality in our home where ethics are what society expects and morals are what we expect of ourselves.

Rod at his West Point Graduation in 1984.

What drew you to film and media while growing up?

Growing up I saw a movie on a little TV named Ben-Hur. I couldn’t believe my eyes because I did not even know movies were made where my understanding was that they were just kind of there. I was so thrilled with film I decided my goal was to be somehow involved. Because of my lack of knowledge of the film making process I was most impressed with film critics. Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael were my idols where I wrote to them and they wrote me back. In the end, no motivation was greater than for me than to be a filmmaker. One of my beliefs is that you shouldn’t go to film school where you should go to study what you want to make movies about. The USMA is a place of leadership, which is what I want to make films on. My dream one day is to make a movie about West Point where I made a deal with Universal to make such a movie on the academy titled Heart of a Soldier with Paul Walker and Jessica Alba. Unfortunately, the film fell apart once the Iraq War broke out.

Scott Eastwood as Medal of Honor recipient SSGT Clint Romesha in The Outpost

What made you want to attend West Point and is the best lesson you learned while there at the academy?

My political awareness from an early age because of my father’s political cartoonist work influenced me to go to West Point where it seemed like a natural fit for me. The best thing I learned from West Point; when you think you have exhausted everything you have you really have only used 10% of your capabilities. This was said to me before I went in to SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) school.

Orlando Bloom, Cory Hardrict, Jacob Scipio, Bobby Lockwood, Alexander Arnold, Scott Eastwood, Caleb Landry Jones, James Jagger, Celina Sinden, Jack Kesy, Taylor John Smith, and Milo Gibson in The Outpost.

What did you enjoy most about your service as an Army officer?

What I enjoyed most about my time in service were the friendships and comradery of the people I served with. The best friendships I have had in my life were from West Point and from the service where nothing will ever top that. Another enjoyable part about my time in the Army came from the confidence generated in the team-based atmosphere. Many people think the most stressful time of a cadet is when you are going through Beast Barracks when in reality the toughest time is when you are taking your exams. I am on my own when taking those tests. When going through things with your fellow troops you are going through it together. There is something about the concept of if we all work together, then we can succeed. It creates a quiet calmness.

Rod as a cadet at West Point.

What leadership lessons in life and from the service that have helped you the most in your career in Hollywood?

Problem solving and Teamwork. The film was an exceedingly difficult movie to put together because of budget and time constraints. On The Outpost, as the boss and being a military veteran we had some actors that were veterans where I insisted on having them for a couple of reasons. One is that for all of us who have worn the uniform we can always say I have been in a tougher scrape than this. No matter what we come across we know we can solve this problem. Another part of having veterans as part of the production was realism where I had several vets that were also Technical Advisors. Because of the calm problem-solving skills and real-life team-based experiences, we functioned as military veterans; smoothly and without panic. We stayed grounded and focused unlike how it may have been on other sets where anxiety and fear set in due to such tight restrictions.

Taylor John Smith as Distinguished Service Cross recipient First Lieutenant Andrew Bunderman and Orlando Bloom as Bronze Star recipient First Lieutenant Benjamin D. Keating in The Outpost.

What did you enjoy most about filming The Outpost?

There is a great satisfaction in knowing that we are doing good on this film. There are many families that lost their loved ones in the Battle of Kamdesh which were sons, brothers, and fathers. The fact that we can give to these people and families, not just closure, but a promise that their loved ones will have their names repeated and spoken forevermore is very satisfying. When my son died, I realized the obligation we had to these families. The friendships and comradery on set were amazing because of this shared mission. The crew all got so close on the film because of its importance, especially since it was something we were going through together in a tough situation.

Scott Eastwood as SSGT Clint Romesha in The Outpost.

What is the main message you want people to remember about The Outpost?

My goal is to get people to daily remember the military currently serving abroad. The service members need to be remembered where I believe that people just don’t think ever about the soldiers that are serving overseas right now. In previous wars like WWII, Korea, and Vietnam they were on our minds and now we don’t give it a second thought. In WWII, every soldier also had the same mission; we are going to stop Hitler. Today the answer is most likely mixed with why we are there in the Middle East, which makes their service even tougher. It is just not cool that soldiers currently in the fight today are forgotten. People must understand what these soldiers went through and that their sacrifices matter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Senator says it’s time to move military families from South Korea

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Dec.3 that he believes it’s time to start moving the families of American military personnel out of South Korea as North Korea pushes the U.S. closer to a military conflict.


Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he will also urge the Pentagon not to send any more dependents to South Korea.

“It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea. South Korea should be an unaccompanied tour,” the South Carolina Republican said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” ”So, I want them to stop sending dependents, and I think it’s now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea.”

Soldiers from 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division/ROK-U.S Division and their guests stand for the opening ceremony at the Saint Barbara’s Day Ball, Feb. 12, at the Lotte Hotel, Seoul. (Photo by Cpl. Jaewoo Oh)

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from the North.

Last week, North Korea shattered 2½ months of relative quiet by firing off an intercontinental ballistic missile that some observers say showed the reclusive country’s ability to strike the U.S. East Coast. It was North Korea’s most powerful weapons test yet.

Also Read: What happens next in the North Korea missile situation

The launch was a message of defiance to President Donald Trump’s administration, which, a week earlier, had restored North Korea to a U.S. list of terror sponsors. It also hurt nascent diplomatic efforts and raised fears of a pre-emptive U.S. strike. Threats traded by Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have further stoked fears of war.

Graham expressed confidence in the Trump administration’s ability to manage the growing conflict with North Korea.

“He’s got the best national security team of anybody I have seen since I have been in Washington,” said Graham, who has served in Congress since 1995.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina addresses the National Guard Association of the United States 138th General Conference, Baltimore, Md., Sept. 11, 2016. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill)

The Trump administration has vowed to deny North Korea the capability of striking the U.S. homeland with a nuclear-tipped missile.

“Denial means pre-emptive war as a last resort. The pre-emption is becoming more likely as their technology matures,” Graham told CBS. “I think we’re really running out of time. The Chinese are trying, but ineffectively. If there’s an underground nuclear test, then you need to get ready for a very serious response by the United States.”

Trump has said he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping about Pyongyang’s “provocative actions,” and he vowed that additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea. China is North Korea’s only significant ally, but it has grown increasingly frustrated over the North’s nuclear and missile tests that have brought a threat of war and chaos to China’s northeastern border.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Failing Forward

Senior U.S. Air Force leaders are embracing and promoting the concept that if their Airmen are not failing, then they are, more than likely, not moving forward.

They believe pushing the envelope is necessary to keep the U.S. Air Force dominant and the occasional failure should be viewed by supervisors not as a negative, but as part of a greater positive.


In this series, we hear senior Air Force leaders give examples of how taking calculated risks and failing throughout their careers taught them valuable lessons, propelled them to future success and made them better leaders.

Failing Forward: Dr. Richard J. Joseph

vimeo.com

DR. RICHARD JOSEPH, AIR FORCE CHIEF SCIENTIST

Dr. Richard J. Joseph, Air Force chief scientist, believes failure is a necessary component and result of the scientific method. The failures of ideas and theories, when tested through experimentation and prototyping, inform, and are often the root of, future successes.

However, he also believes that project failures are often rooted in past successes of large technological bureaucracies. Large organizations with far-reaching strategic plans often stifle the creativity, experimentation and risk acceptance necessary to achieve game-changing technological advances.

Dr. Richard J. Joseph, Chief Scientist of the U.S. Air Force, looks through virtual reality goggles at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Nov. 29, 2018. The harness training was a requirement before flying on a B-52 Stratofortress with the 20th Bomb Squadron. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // SENIOR AIRMAN PHILIP BRYANT)

Joseph serves as the chief scientific adviser to the chief of staff and secretary of the Air Force, and provides assessments on a wide range of scientific and technical issues affecting the Air Force mission. He has more than 40 years of experience as a physicist, directed energy researcher, senior program manager, national security advisor and executive.

Failing Forward: Dr. Will Roper

vimeo.com

DR. WILL ROPER, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE FOR ACQUISITION, TECHNOLOGY AND LOGISTICS

As the Air Force’s Service Acquisition Executive, Dr. Will Roper oversees Air Force research, development and acquisition activities with a combined annual budget in excess of billion for more than 465 acquisition programs.

He promotes the concept of “Fail Fast, Fail Forward” as a foundational culture shift necessary to keep the U.S. Air Force dominant.

This philosophy is manifested in his promotion of rapid prototyping and funding innovative ideas through Air Force Pitch Day and AFWERX’s Spark Tank.

Roper believes that by spending money to develop fledgling technologies and ideas quickly, and then prototyping them rapidly, flaws are found much earlier in the development process.

Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, speaks to a crowd of small businesses, venture capitalists, and Airmen during the Inaugural Air Force Pitch Day in Manhattan, New York, March 7, 2019. Air Force Pitch Day is designed as a fast-track program to put companies on one-page contracts and same-day awards with the swipe of a government credit card. The Air Force is partnering with small businesses to help further national security in air, space and cyberspace. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // TECH SGT. ANTHONY NELSON JR.)

This method avoids committing to the huge cost of the much longer traditional system and weapons development and acquisition where flaws are only found years and hundreds of millions of dollars later. Then the Air Force is stuck with that flawed system for decades.

However, in order for “Fail Fast, Fail Forward” to work, Roper believes the Air Force must adjust its attitude towards risk.

He points out that his own success actually points to a persistent flaw in the Air Force’s tolerance for risk – people are only rewarded for taking a risk that pays off. Roper insists that to foster an innovative culture, people must be rewarded for taking a good risk in the first place.

“Why are the people who succeed the only people we cite when we talk about risk taking as a virtue?” Roper said. “I’m trying to be very mindful with Air Force program managers and people taking risk that they get their evaluation and validation for me at the point that they take the risk.”

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

President Ford’s clumsiness is now enshrined forever

Gerald Ford had a reputation for being clumsy.


As we learned during our tour of the new USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, the former president’s clumsiness almost cost him his life as a young sailor.

During World War II, Ford served as a navigation officer on the USS Monterey.

Related: These photos show what our veteran presidents looked like in uniform

At one point, a large wave almost washed Ford overboard the Monterey, but his foot got caught on a drain, preventing him from going over, US Navy spokesman Corey Todd Jones told Business Insider.

Lt. Cmdr. Gerald R. Ford. (Gerald Ford Presidential Library and Museum.)

There’s now a statue immortalizing that moment in the hangar bay of the USS Ford, which even features the drain that saved his life.

The statue, however, is removed when the ship is deployed.

One of the president’s most famous falls came on a rainy day in December 1975. Ford was walking down the stairs of Air Force One when he slipped and fell down the remaining steps.

Also read: Search gerald ford That time Gerald Ford promoted George Washington to six-star general

Unfortunately for Ford, who was actually a decorated college football player, that wasn’t the only stumble he made as president.

He also once tripped going up the stairs of Air Force One, and reportedly fell while skiing.

Chevy Chase routinely mocked him on Saturday Night Live, and there was even apparently a running joke at the time that Ford’s vice-president was just a banana peel away from the presidency.

Here’s the infamous slip:

MIGHTY CULTURE

Airman awarded Bronze Star for meritorious achievement in Afghanistan

Major Aaron Darty, 100th Maintenance Squadron operations officer, was presented the Bronze Star Medal at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 1, 2019, for his meritorious achievement while at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

Since Dec. 6, 1941, men and women who served in any capacity in or with the U.S. military, have been awarded the Bronze Star Medal by distinguishing themselves through heroic or meritorious achievement or service in a combat zone.

From March 3, 2018, to March 2, 2019, Darty served as the operations officer and maintenance advisor for the 442nd Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron. During this time, he operated outside of a coalition-controlled airfield, where he endured 29 indirect fire rocket attacks and was exposed to a persistent threat of insider attacks.


Even with all of the challenges, Darty was able to help execute more than 10,000 sorties during his year in Afghanistan, and he also helped set up a UH-60 Black Hawk maintenance training program, which allowed for the host nation members to become more familiar with this technology.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Aaron Darty, 100th Maintenance Squadron operations officer, poses for a photo at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 9, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brandon Esau)

“This was an outstanding opportunity for me and I learned so much about my job as well as myself,” Darty said. “I was able to work alongside great U.S. military members as well as extraordinary Afghan National Army counterparts who all shared the same common goal.”

Before arriving to RAF Mildenhall, Darty finished the 365-day deployment which brought its share of obstacles.

“Communication was the toughest obstacle we faced,” Darty said. “We received training in Dari, which is one of the primary languages in Afghanistan, and we worked alongside some of the bravest interpreters and people I’ve ever met in some of the most hostile conditions, and patience was my guide.”

Learning patience and understanding of other cultures was a major factor in Darty and members of his team being awarded the Bronze Star.

“Some things I was the lead for and some I did on my own, but this award is really for the 40-plus other people in the squadron who did the heavy lifting,” Darty said. “Our team consisted of Romanian, Swedish and U.S. service members from different branches – it was a truly joint, coalition organization.”

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Weme, 100th Maintenance Group commander, presents Maj. Aaron Darty, 100th Maintenance Squadron operations officer, with a Bronze Star Medal during a ceremony held at RAF Mildenhall, England, July 1, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brandon Esau)

Master Sgt. William Smith, 733rd Air Mobility Squadron production superintendent at Kadena Air Base, Japan, worked alongside Darty in Afghanistan and attests to his ability to lead a team with a common goal.

“It was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to work with a person of his caliber in a hostile and foreign environment,” Smith remarked. “Major Darty has an uncanny ability to bring everybody around him up, even in unknown situations. He was always calm in numerous high-stress situations where our number one priority was keeping our people safe and out of harm’s way.

Coming together as a team to execute the mission is, according to Darty, part of his vision for the airmen he works with here.

“My advice to them is always rely on the people next to you,” Darty expressed. “This was something I learned while deployed which I never learned anywhere else. We were our own security and even though we may not be getting shot at everyday here, you have to always trust the person by your side.”

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA study shows video games can help with mental health issues

A recent study with a small sample of veterans trying to recover from mental health issues found that video games can help in overcoming such problems as PTSD and substance abuse disorders.

The researchers concluded that although the impact of video games may vary based on the user, clinicians may wish to discuss video game play with their patients to help them “optimize their use of games to support recovery.”

“Gameplay may promote a mindfulness-like psychological [escape] but can also provide users with benefits of confidence, social connection, personal growth, and opportunities for employment or even leadership,” the researchers wrote. “These benefits are accessible to people with disabilities for whom traditional treatments, leisure activities, or social interactions may be challenged by circumstances or limitations. Games could be implemented in large populations very inexpensively, thus acting as potentially very cost-effective recovery supports or mental health treatments.”


Some of the participants, the researchers also note, described using video games to “distract from overwhelming symptoms, including suicidal thoughts and drug or alcohol use.”

The study included 20 veterans — 15 men and five women — who ranged in age from 25 to 62. Sixteen of the 20 vets reported they had PTSD or trauma-related symptoms. Most of the participants said they had more than one current mental or behavioral health diagnosis, with PTSD and depression being the most common combination. Three people had more than one type of trauma, such as combat — or training-related trauma, military sexual trauma, or childhood sexual abuse.

Dr. Michelle Colder Carras, a public health researcher, led the study, which appeared in November 2018 in the journal Social Science Medicine. With extensive research experience in video game play and in mental health recovery, she interviewed the veterans on the value of the games. (She shares that she’s also played video games herself and has recovered from her own mental health problem.)

In the study, the video game genres included sports, puzzles, gambling, role-player action, fantasy settings, and shooter games. But Colder Carras emphasizes that the genre or specific game isn’t what necessarily helped with recovery. The benefits, she says, stemmed more from the connections the veterans made with other video game players; the distractions they created for themselves by playing the games and removing their focus, for example, from alcohol or drugs; and the meaning they derived from the games.

“Meaning derived from game narratives and characters, exciting or calming gameplay, and opportunities to connect, talk, and lead others were credited as benefits of gaming,” the researchers write. “Responses often related closely to military or veteran experiences. At times, excessive use of games led to life problems or feeling addicted, but some veterans with disabilities felt the advantages of extreme play outweighed these problems.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Tiger used in Fury was captured after being disabled by the most improbable shots

Out of nowhere, a shot cuts through the last Sherman tank in the column, blowing its turret off. The three remaining Shermans reverse from the road as another shot whizzes into the dirt, narrowly missing them. Backed into a wood line, the Shermans spot their ambusher – a German Tiger I tank. With no way out, the Shermans return fire and charge the Tiger. The shots from the Shermans bounce off of the Tiger’s 100mm frontal armor with no effect.


Undeterred, the Tiger fires an 88mm shell straight through the front of a second Sherman. Continuing their charge toward the Tiger, a third Sherman is hit, its turret blown off of its hull. The last surviving Sherman finally gets around the Tiger and traverses its gun to aim at the weaker armor at the rear of the tank. Only after taking two shots through its vulnerable engine compartment does the deadly Tiger grind to a halt. With their tank ablaze, the surviving German crew members abandon the Tiger and are cut down by Sherman’s hull-mounted .30-cal machine gun.

This scene from Sony Pictures’ Fury has been viewed by millions of people online. Produced with the help of The Tank Museum in Bovington, UK, the scene features the only operating Tiger I tank in the world today.

Officially called the Panzerkampfwagen VI, Tiger I, Sd.Kfz. 181, the Tiger tank was heavily armored and equipped with the deadly 88mm gun. Paired with a well-disciplined crew, the Tiger was a menace to the allied armies during WWII. However, it was prone to track failures and mechanical breakdowns. The Tiger’s operational range was also restricted by its high fuel consumption.

Built in February 1943, Tiger 131 was issued to the German 504th Heavy Tank Battalion and was shipped to Tunisia in March 1943 to reinforce the German defense of North Africa. As the allies prepared a major push toward Tunis, German forces launched a spoiling attack in April. On April 24, the British 2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters, a line infantry regiment, took a location known as Point 174. The Germans immediately counter attacked with armor, including Tiger 131.

During the counter attack, British tanks of the 142nd Regiment Royal Armoured Corps and 48th Royal Tank Regiment arrived to reinforce the Foresters. German and British tank shells streaked past each other as the two sides vied for control. During the exchange, Tiger 131 was hit by three 6-pounder solid shot shells from British Churchill tanks.

A British Churchill Mk IV tank like the ones used at Point 174. (Credit: Imperial War Museum)

The first shot hit the Tiger’s barrel and ricocheted into its turret ring. The shell jammed the turret’s traverse, destroyed the radio, and wounded the driver and radio operator. The second shell disabled the gun’s elevation device when it hit the turret lifting lug. The third shot hit the loader’s hatch and deflected shrapnel fragments into the turret. Unable to aim their main gun and continue the fight, the crew of Tiger 131 abandoned their tank.

Tiger 131 with its damaged loader’s hatch. (Credit: Imperial War Museum)

After repelling the German counter attack, British forces discovered Tiger 131 on the battlefield and were surprised to find it intact and drivable—the first Tiger to be captured in such a state. Using parts from destroyed Tigers, British engineers repaired Tiger 131 to be inspected and evaluated. The tank was displayed in Tunis where it was shown to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and King George VI. In October 1943, Tiger 131 was sent to England and displayed around the country as a trophy to boost morale and fundraise before it was turned over to the School of Tank Technology. There, it was thoroughly inspected and assessed in order to aid future British tank design and evaluate its weaknesses to be exploited by allied troops on the front.

King George VI inspects Tiger 131 in Tunis. (Credit: Imperial War Museum)

On September 25, 1951, Tiger 131 was transferred from the British Ministry of Supply to The Tank Museum in Bovington, UK, where it was put on display. In 1990, the tank was given a complete restoration by museum staff and the Army Base Repair Organisation, an executive agency of the UK’s Ministry of Defence. In 2003, Tiger 131 returned to the museum in a fully functional state, making it the only working Tiger tank in the world. After further work and a repainting in period colors, the restoration was completed in 2012.

Because of its rarity, Tiger 131 has been the subject of many books, toys, and models. As previously stated, the tank gained further fame after it was used in the 2014 film Fury. It has also been featured in the popular online tank game World of Tanks. The Tank Museum keeps Tiger 131 well-maintained, taking it out for a “Tiger Day” exhibition at least once a year for the public to see it in motion.

Tiger 131 on display. (Credit: The Tank Museum)

The Tiger tank inspired confidence in its crew and fear in its enemies. Today, Tiger 131 serves not as a weapon of war, but as a well-preserved piece of history for people to see and learn from. The stewards of this history at The Tank Museum take great pride in their work and hope to continue to share it with the world for many decades to come.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The art of a killer cartoon: The CO can’t hit the broad side of a barn.

Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is now a master photographer, cartoonist, and storyteller.

Being the unit’s cartoonist is an incredible responsibility. For one, you have to decide what will live on in the annals of history and two, you have to find stories that are funny. A gift that has come to me throughout my life. Yes but a gift… or a curse?

I was approached on so, so many occasions by a chuckling brother to the effect: “Geo! ha ha ha, hey listen, ha ha ha, how ’bout you do a cartoon of Bob spilling his juice in the chow hall and all the guys are saying, like: ‘awww man… you spilled your juice!” ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”

The inherent humor in Bob spilling his juice is debatable at best, but let’s say for the sake of argument that it’s there. The narrative of the man’s snappy comeback… not so funny. I had two choices in the matter strictly from my perspective:


1. Let the man down gently: “Man, I’m really sorry, but that scenario just doesn’t pass the acid test, my brother. Look, it has nothing to do with you personally; it’s really just a business decision, a very difficult business decision. I got mad love for you my brother, but I have a reputation to maintain here in the Unit. I’m sorry, but my hands are tied.”

2. Freakish exaggerations are the very core of the power of the cartoon. I can take the pallid tale of Bob spilling of his juice coupled with the vapid remarks from the men and wildly exaggerate the whole scenario to make it so ridiculous as to be funny.

I can show a dozen men being washed out of the chow hall door by a flood of red liquid (Bob’s juice), with men donned in various levels of gear associated with waterborne operations and perhaps one man yelling: “Hey, do we get paid dive credit this month for this?!?

Not really funny? I feel you, dawg. There isn’t a set “formula” for hilarity, but two variables that help are mistakes and commanding officers. The poor Commanding Officer of our squadron had been out on the flat range one day with a new assault rifle in an effort to adjust his gun sites for accuracy. In some cases, new gun sites can be wildly off the bull’s eye.

(Outdoor shooting flat range where the distance to the target is Known Distance, or KD)

His first mistake, well… his ONLY mistake, was to guest himself onto a range where the boys were already conducting *Blaze Ops. There are always those occasional line-walkers that feel the urge to stroll the target line to see how those around them fair in accuracy. Well, a brother noted that the boss’ cupboard was bare; he had slick paper with no bullet impacts on it. The launch sequence was initiated; the man couldn’t get to me fast enough to tell me all about how the boss himself had flown all of his rounds off his target:

“Ha, ha ha… Geo, you could show — ha, ha, ha, — the boss with a clean target — ha, ha, ha, — and the guys could all be saying, like, ‘Hey there boss… it looks like you missed your target!’ — ha, ha, ha!”

“Yeah, man… that’s a total riot — I’ll get right to work on that.”

Hence the morass (morass is what you use when you don’t have enough ass). I didn’t think it was necessarily funny that the boss had rounds off paper, but if anyone else had done that his chops would have been busted. I couldn’t let the boss off the hook so easily. I ginned up ideas that came to mind.

What is generally said to a person who launches with poor accuracy whether it a gun or a rock or a baseball? One of my more obscure phrases is: “He couldn’t hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle,” said during WWII of the inaccurate pilot of a dive bomber.

(American SBD Dauntless dive bomber. It was this same bomber that sank all fourJapanese aircraft carriers during the pivotal battle of Midway.)

Ok then: “He couldn’t hit the side of a barn.” That nicely anchored the theme: Everyone’s target is the usual half man-sized cardboard target on a plank, with the boss’ target being an entire barn facing sideways… silo and hay loft… the nine yards. Then I added a Range Safety Officer in the parapet calling out the disposition of the bullet strikes to the men at the firing line.

It was a done deal. All that was left was to jones over that future moment when the boss and I would inevitably pass each other in the hall, just he and I… awkward!

MIGHTY HISTORY

The British Museum will return these war trophies to Afghanistan

Over the years, the British have taken a good many significant artifacts back to England with them. To its credit, the British Empire did an excellent job of preserving those relics. Still, plundering any country’s cultural treasures is kind of an a-hole thing to do. But there is one set of priceless antiquities that the British can feel good about rescuing and returning.

This one isn’t their fault.


One of the most troublesome incidents of the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years was the theft and complete loss of priceless cultural treasures from the distant fields and local museums around these two countries. Many of the things looted in the chaos of these two conflicts may never be seen again. Not so for nine sculpted heads from the Fourth Century AD. These were intercepted at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2002 on a flight from Pakistan. The British Museum took control of the sculptures and restored them – but how did they get there?

It’s because the Taliban are the a-holes in this situation.

They usually are the a-holes in any situation.

These statue heads would have been atop artworks in the Buddhist temples of the ancient kingdom of Gandhāra some 1,500 years ago. The kingdom of Gandhāra straddled parts of what is today India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan at the time. As for what happened to the temples and the statues, the Taliban blew them up with dynamite. The terror group’s biggest destructive act was the use of anti-tank mines on Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Temples, which destroyed the beautiful pre-Islamic statues along the temple walls. The heads that were found in London were probably smuggled through Pakistan and on their way to the black market.

After their discovery, the British Museum was called in to document and catalog the priceless ancient sculptures. The heads will be on display in the museum for a short time, but will then be returned to the people of Afghanistan.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US improves anti-ship weaponry as China’s naval power grows

As China’s naval power grows, the US military is stepping up its ability to sink enemy ships, firing missiles from land and at sea.

The Army and the Marines are both looking at striking ships from shore batteries at extended ranges, while the Navy is arming its submarines with ship-killer missiles for the first time in many years.

Determined to deploy these capabilities quickly, the Marines have launched a rapid program to develop long-range anti-ship missiles from mobile shore-based launchers.


“The Marine Corps has been looking for a shore-based capability to meet [US Indo-Pacific Command’s] demands,” a Lockheed Martin representative told Breaking Defense at the Surface Navy Association conference in Washington, DC.

“The Army is looking at this too but probably on a different timeline,” he added. “The Marine Corps wants to get after this pretty quickly.” He further commented that the Marines are looking at developing mobile launchers “that can shoot and move very rapidly.”

The Marines experimented with strikes against land targets using ship-based High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) aboard the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Essex in October 2017. At that time, military leaders were discussing bringing this capability to bear against enemy combatants at sea.

The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) transits the Pacific Ocean.

During the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises in 2018, Army soldiers fired multiple rockets from the rocket artillery platform at the ex-USS Racine during a combined arms sinking exercise.

The Army is reportedly preparing to carry out another missile test, one in which MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System missiles will be fired from HIMARS launchers on Okinawa. The Chinese navy regularly sails ships, including its flagship aircraft carrier, through nearby waters.

During the sinking exercise in summer 2018, Gen. Robert Brown, the commander of US Army Pacific at Fort Shafter in Hawaii, suggested that ground forces could use these capabilities to establish “unsinkable aircraft carriers” to facilitate US Navy and Air Force operations.

China uses threatening, long-range missiles to keep US forces at arms length. Were a conflict to break out, the US would likely use long-range weapons like these at its military outposts along the first island chain — a defensive line that runs south from Japan to Taiwan and then the Philippines — to limit Chinese mobility.

The Navy is reportedly arming its attack submarines with upgraded versions of the Harpoon anti-ship missile, according to Breaking Defense.

The focus on anti-ship capabilities at sea and ashore advances a strategic concept outlined by the head of INDOPACOM.

“As naval forces drive our enemies into the littorals, army forces can strike them. Conversely, when the army drives our enemies out to sea, naval firepower can do the same,” Adm. Phil Davidson said after 2018’s sinking exercise.

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