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.

Articles

The 6 most-secret units in military history

Secrecy is one of the best currencies in war, so it’s sometimes best for commanders to keep their best assets hidden from the enemy and the public. While the military has admitted that most of the units on this list existed at some point, a lot of their missions were classified for decades before being disclosed to the public. For the units that are still operating, America still only gets glimpses into their activities.


1. Task Force 88/Task Force Black

They may or may not be the same group and they may or may not still be in operation. Task Force Black and Task Force 88 are names floating around the media for the unit that conducted raids against terror organizations in Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of the wars. The unit was commonly described as being a joint U.S.-U.K. force made up of the best that SEAL Team 6, Delta Force, and the British SAS had to offer. Controversy erupted when they were blamed for a cross-border raid into Syria. There is speculation that Task Force Black may be back in operation to destroy ISIS, if it ever stopped.

2. 6493rd Test Squadron/6594th Test Group

Photo: US Air Force

These Air Force units existed from 1958 to 1986 and were tasked with catching “falling stars.” They would fly out of Hawaii and catch film canisters falling from America’s first spy satellites. The satellites, part of the Corona program, orbited the Earth and took photos of Soviet Russia. Then, the satellites would drop their film canisters over the Pacific ocean where these Airmen would try to snatch the canisters out of the air.

The recovery process was surprisingly low-tech. A plane with a large hook beneath its tail would try to catch the canister’s parachute as it fell. When the planes failed to make the grab or the weather was too bad to attempt it, Coast Guard rescue swimmers in the unit would fish the film out of the water. The unit boasted a perfect record with more than 40,000 recoveries in 27 years. When its airmen weren’t snatching film from the air, the unit supported rescue missions near Hawaii. It was credited with 60 saves.

3. Delta Force/Combat Applications Group/Army Compartmented Elements

Photo: Department of Defense

Like many of the units on the list, Delta has gone through a few name changes over the years. Formation of an elite counter-terrorism unit had been proposed multiple times in the 1970s and Delta Force is widely believed to have been formed in late 1977. Its operational history got off to a horrible start with the failed Operation Eagle Claw in 1980. Since then, Delta has distinguished itself in combat from the invasion of Panama to the Gulf War to hunting Osama Bin Laden in the Tora Bora Mountains. Since the unit is still operational, many of their missions remain classified.

4. SEAL Team 6/DEVGRU

Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eddie Harrison

SEAL Team 6 specializes in counter terrorism, special reconnaissance, hostage rescue and close protection missions. Since 9/11, their budget and responsibilities have expanded to where they are now thought to have over 1,800 members, including some women who serve in intelligence roles. Perhaps most famous for both killing Osama Bin Laden and rescuing Captain Phillips from Somali pirates, it has been conducting combat operations since 1981.

READ MORE: 5 key differences between Delta Force and SEAL Team 6

5. 7781 Army Unit/39th Special Forces Operational Detachment

Photo: Bob Charest

Operating in Berlin from 1956 to 1984, this team of green berets went through a few names during their history. They worked to keep West Berlin safe from communist incursions but also prepared to foment resistance if the city was taken over. Trained in classic spy craft skills, they were equipped with Bond-like gadgets such as cigarette-lighter guns and C-4 filled coal.

Master Sgt. Bob Charest, a retired former member of the unit, wrote for WATM about the unit.

6. The OSS

Photo: US Office of Strategic Services

The Office of Strategic Services was formed in 1942 with the very broad mission of collecting and analyzing strategic information and conducting “special operations not assigned to other agencies.” Since few agencies had special operators in World War II, this gave the OSS a lot of room to run. Under Col. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the tiny agency conducted raids, smuggled weapons and spies, supported resistance groups in Axis territory, and collected intelligence. The OSS even employed the first “sea, air, and land” commando in U.S. history.

NOW: The secret Air Force program that his an even more secret program

OR: This is the FBI’s dream team of elite counterterrorism operators

Articles

The Army is using this FPS video game to help design its weapons of the future

The Army is currently seeking soldiers to provide feedback through online gameplay in order to contribute to the development of the future force.


Operation Overmatch is a gaming environment within the Early Synthetic Prototyping effort. Its purpose is to connect soldiers to inform concept and capability developers, scientists and engineers across the Army.

(Photo from U.S. Army)

“What we want is two-way communication, and what better medium to use than video games,” said Army Lt. Col. Brian Vogt, ESP project lead with U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Army Capabilities Integration Center.

Through a collaborative effort between TRADOC, U.S. Army Research and Development Command and Army Game Studio, Operation Overmatch was created to encourage soldier innovation through crowd-sourcing ideas within a synthetic environment.

“Soldiers have the advantage of understanding how equipment, doctrine and organization will be used in the field — the strengths and weaknesses,” said Michael Barnett, chief engineer at the Army Game Studio and project lead for Operation Overmatch. “And they have immediate ideas about what to use, what to change and what to abandon — how to adapt quickly.”

Within Operation Overmatch, soldiers will be able to play eight versus eight against other soldiers, where they will fight advanced enemies with emerging capabilities in realistic scenarios.

Players will also be able to experiment with weapons, vehicles, tactics and team organization. Game analytics and soldier feedback will be collected and used to evaluate new ideas and to inform areas for further study.

Currently, the game is in early development, Vogt said.

A screenshot of the Army’s video game Operation Overmatch. (US Army photo)

One of the benefits of collecting feedback through the gaming environment within ESP is the ability to explore hundreds — if not thousands — of variations, or prototypes, of vehicles and weapons at a fraction of what it would cost to build the capability at full scale, Vogt explained. A vehicle or weapons system that might take years of engineering to physically build can be changed or adapted within minutes in the game.

“In a game environment, we can change the parameters or the abilities of a vehicle by keystrokes,” he said. “We can change the engine in a game environment and it could accelerate faster, consume more fuel or carry more fuel. All these things are options within the game — we just select it, and that capability will be available for use. Of course, Army engineers will determine if the change is plausible before we put it in the scenarios.”

The game currently models a few future vehicles to include variants of manned armored vehicles, robotic vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles. The scenarios are centered on manned/unmanned teaming at the squad and platoon level in an urban environment. Through game play, soldiers will provide insights about platform capabilities and employment.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Say hello to America’s newest 40mm grenade machine gun

The 40mm grenade has become a very valuable asset for a small infantry unit. Each fire team of four grunts usually has at least one 40mm grenade launcher. These grenades can pack a punch, too.


According to the Federation of American Scientists, a M433 high-explosive, dual-purpose grenade can punch through about two inches of steel and inflict casualties to a distance of roughly 17 feet.

Often, these grenades were used on single-shot systems like the M79 or the M203. But soon, automatic grenade launchers were developed. One that became iconic was the Mk-19 automatic grenade launcher. With a range of 1,500 yards, it could fire a grenade a second, and it weighs nearly 73 pounds. The Mk-19 is in service with 23 countries.

A US Army soldier with an MK-19 grenade launcher. | Photo by Sgt. Benjamin Parsons

That said, it is getting long in the tooth. It entered service in 1967, so it’s been around for 50 years. That means that it’s about time to think about a replacement. According to General Dynamics that replacement may be available.

The Mk-47 Mod 0 40mm Advanced Grenade Launcher fires the same grenades as the Mk-19, but it also comes with a lot of advances to make it deadlier. One that the grunts will like is the weight: it comes in at just under 40 pounds – 32 pounds less than the Mk 19. The system also adds a new video sight that adds laser ranger-finding and night vision, allowing for better target acquisition.

Marines with 2d Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment field-test the MK47 40 mm Advanced Lightweight Grenade Machine Gun at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The new weapon system may one day replace the MK-19. (Photo courtesy of General Dynamics)

Perhaps the deadliest accessory for the Mk-47 is the Mk-285 grenade. This is airburst ammunition, much like the 25mm rounds fired by the XM25 Punisher. How does it know when to airburst? It’s programmed with data from the advanced sight.

This new automatic grenade launcher may prove to be more popular than the new Carl that Saab released among American troops and their allies. The bad guys probably won’t like it very much, but who really cares what they think?

MIGHTY TRENDING

New Army program certifies soldiers as firefighters

Soldiers leaving military service have a lot to prepare for as they transition from active duty to the civilian workforce. Thanks to the Soldier for Life-Transition Assistance Program, this transition can set soldiers up for success through the sometimes tricky process of translating military service and military occupational specialties to civilian workforce skills, resume writing and opportunities to participate in vocational certificate programs.

One program available at Fort Jackson offers service members a chance to trade their Army Combat Uniform for fire retardant bunker gear, equipment regularly used by firefighters to protect them from the intense heat from fires. The program is called Troops to Firefighters, and one Fort Jackson soldier has taken full advantage of what the program has to offer.


“Going through the Soldier for Life program here at Fort Jackson, I had a leader who was looking for information for his wife and he said ‘Hey man, they have a firefighter program here and they pay for it,'” said Staff Sgt. James Hall, Company A, 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment. “So I did it.”

Chief Curtis Maffett, vice president of Training Troops to Firefighters speaks to the class during the 911 dispatch operators program, designed to assist veterans, transitioning service members, and family members in becoming nationally certified firefighters and 911 emergency dispatch operators.

(Photo by Ms. LaTrice Langston)

Hall has served on active duty for more than 20 years and is set to retire in August 2019. He, like all separating soldiers, attended a mandatory separation brief where he learned about the Troops to Firefighter program. He said he never thought about becoming a firefighter before the briefing, but he submitted a packet to enroll in the program, and a few weeks later he received the news that he had been accepted.

“I’d been leaning towards becoming an electrician; that’s what my Family business is,” Hall said. “But I really fell in love with firefighting after going to the fire academy.”

With the support of his unit’s chain of command, Hall was placed on permissive temporary duty to attend the South Carolina Fire Academy. After a grueling eight weeks, Hall graduated and returned to his regular duties with his company.

“I thought it was definitely physically challenging,” Hall said. “It’s not the easiest job, but it’s very rewarding.”

Hall said his military training as an infantryman helped prepared him for the physical demands a firefighter faces daily. The weight of the bunker gear is similar to the combat load of body armor and ammunition. He also explained how military structure is equally similar to a firehouse, including the camaraderie and style of training found within most military units.

“I think James is a very good fit to go into the fire service,” said Pete Hines, assistant chief of the Fort Jackson Fire Department. “He is intelligent. He can think. I wish he could stay [here at Fort Jackson].”

Members of the Fort Jackson Fire Department pose in front of two of their fire engines.

(Photo by Ms. Elyssa Vondra)

Hall graduated the fire academy in March 2019 but remains on active duty until he starts his terminal leave at the end of May 2019. With the support of his commander and Hines, Hall was able to keep his newly acquired skills sharp by spending a few days out of the week working for the Fort Jackson Fire Department. There, Hall’s duty day is like the other firefighters. He helps to maintain his personal protective equipment, the fire vehicles, the firehouse and respond to fire calls. Hall was also afforded opportunities to attend additional fire training classes to expand his firefighting certifications that will make him more attractive to prospective fire departments in Texas when Hall moves his Family back home in May 2019.

Hall’s successful completion of the program and his volunteer service with the fire department will allow him to begin seeking employment with a local fire department as soon as he is settled in Texas. Hall said he believes the transition will be a smooth one thanks to the program, support from his Family and support from his chain of command.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the Fort Jackson Fire Department, (the program) and my unit,” Hall said. “Any of these programs that are available, I say take advantage of them while they are here.”

The Troops to Firefighter program is one of many offered to transitioning soldiers. Other programs include lineman, trucking, piping, solar energy and more. To find more information about these programs, contact the Soldier For Life – Transition Assistance Program office at www.sfl-tap.army.mil or 1-800-325-4715.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

What ‘Game of Thrones’ – and Nagasaki – taught us about war

Warning: Contains spoilers from the series finale of Game of Thrones

In the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen unleashed her weapon of mass destruction dragon on the army of her enemy — as well as thousands of civilians in King’s Landing. She deliberately and extensively burned thousands of innocent women, children, and elderly civilians alive.

In the series finale, she justified her actions by saying that Cersei Lannister had intended to use those innocent lives as a shield. Instead, Daenerys Stormborn turned that shield to ash.

And then…all was well in the realm?


A few people closest to Daenerys decided not that she must be held accountable for her actions, but that she must actually be put down for them — so Jon Snow murdered her. We could spend a lot of time discussing the merits to bringing a war criminal to trial, but let’s just accept that Jon felt the only way he could truly end Dany’s war was to literally stab her in the heart after telling her he’d be loyal and kissing her and how could you do that to Khaleesi Jon she needed a therapist.

And then…it really was done.

Everyone left standing was so weary of bloodshed that they calmly gathered together, laid down their arms, and invented a new form of government.

Which, honestly, is the only way men actually end their wars (maybe not the new government part — although…sometimes that works too — and actually while we’re here can we re-examine Plato’s philosopher king theory it could be cool maybe?).

“Democracy is nothing more than mob rule.”

In war, we butcher the enemy until someone can’t take it anymore. It is unimaginable to comprehend the casualties from conflicts like the World Wars (in World War I alone, the estimate is around 40 million civilian and military personnel injured or killed — 40 million). In World War II, the estimate is double.

Millions and millions (and millions) of people were dying horrific deaths and yet the fighting continued.

The United States dropped an atomic bomb on a city of innocents and yet the fighting continued.

It wasn’t until the U.S. dropped a second bomb that Japan finally surrendered.

Also read: Was this ‘Game of Thrones’ episode a metaphor for the Iraq War?

Eventually, men do lose their taste for war, which is the only way it can truly end. Unfortunately, humanity’s collective threshold for egregious harm, torture, and suffering is so high that it takes something like two atomic bombs — or a metaphorical dragon — to put an end to it all.

Which could explain why, after 17+ years, the United States is still fiddle f***ing around in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a mercy that no one is going nuclear in those AORs, but unfortunately, our own wheel keeps turning, delivering death by a thousand cuts.

Anyway, congratulations to Bran Stark.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US met with the Taliban for peace talks in Doha

Perhaps unthinkable as early as just a year ago, diplomats from the United States met with representatives of the Afghan Taliban to discuss terms for ending the 17-year long conflict in Afghanistan. It all began when Afghan government under Ashraf Ghani and Taliban senior leadership agreed to a ceasefire for the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan. When it actually happened, not only did Afghans across the country rejoice, it legitimized the prospect of a permanent end to the fighting.

Of course, violence didn’t cease entirely for the most important holiday in Islam. Fighters under the flag of the Islamic State continued pressing attacks from the ISIS stronghold in Nangarhar Province, killing 30.


Related: The ISIS vs Taliban war in Afghanistan is heating up

Elsewhere in the country, however, Afghans were able to breathe a much-welcomed sigh of relief for the first time in over a decade, even if it was only temporary. Fighters from both sides even joined each other in some areas to celebrate the holiday, sharing a salat prayer or jelabi sweets. For a few days, their automatic rifle fire was directed into the air, instead of at each other. After the holiday, the fighters reluctantly returned to the routine of war they have endured for 17 years.

The joint celebrations made it apparent that many in Afghanistan are ready to see an end to all fighting in the country and that some kind of agreement could be reached between the opposing sides — including the U.S.-supported Ghani government. Now, the U.S. State Department confirmed that Alice Wells, a senior official for U.S. relations in Afghanistan, traveled to Doha to meet with the Taliban.

Taliban officials were excited at the meeting, telling journalists it yielded “very positive signals,” in their eyes. Representatives of the Afghan government were not present at the talks. It was Ashraf Ghani’s central government in Afghanistan that first offered the Eid ceasefire agreement.

The two sides agreed to meet again in the very near future.

The biggest wrench in recent peace works is the rise of a relatively new force arising in Afghanistan, one the United States and the Taliban seem to deem a greater threat than one another: ISIS.

As a newcomer to the fighting in the country, ISIS is not as capable, having neither the technical and numerical superiority of the United States nor a force of battle-hardened Afghans who have been fighting for decades, some as far back as the 1979 Soviet invasion. The terror organization also does not have the entrenched backing of rural Afghans like the Taliban does in many areas.

The difference between this U.S.-Taliban meeting is that previous American administrations demanded that any peace talks be held between the Taliban and the Afghan government, whereas the Taliban would only agree to talk to the United States — and the biggest demand for peace in the country is that all foreign forces withdraw.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Watch Marines rescue downed aircrew in training

Marines in the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response Africa are prepared to rescue American civilians and fellow service members in the massive continent where they operate. And they recently went on an exercise focusing on saving downed aircrews, a mission known as tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel that often requires Marines entering enemy-held territory and providing medical aid.


The mission is simple enough to understand. When an aircrew crashes to earth, the personnel could be spread out, injured, and in imminent danger of an enemy patrol or other force finding them with their pants down. So the SP-MAGTF flies in, conducts search and rescue, renders medical aid, and extracts everyone.

But that simple mission comes with a lot of complications. There’s obviously the problem of enemy forces, since they get a vote on what happens. But aircraft shoot downs and crashes are naturally chaotic events, so the personnel the Marines are looking for could easily be spread out over miles of debris-strewn ground.

And there’s always the chance, though slim, that the enemy will try to get a mole into U.S. forces by having them impersonate a crew member or passenger, so the Marines have to verify everyone’s identity while also caring for the injured, some likely catastrophically.

And extraction is no picnic either. The Marines will have to carry out the litter wounded and possibly guide the ambulatory. They’ll often have to select and prepare their own landing zone and then secure it to keep out baddies. Only when all the wounded are aboard and safe can they collapse their perimeter and withdraw.

That’s why the Marines spend so much time and energy training for this and other emergencies. On game day, there won’t be much time to prepare, and their performance will determine life and death for themselves and potentially dozens of others.

Articles

7 life events inappropriately described using military lingo

Military service members are famous for their special lingo, everything from branch-specific slang to the sometimes stilted and official language of operation orders.


That carefully selected and drafted language ensures that everyone in a complex operation knows what is expected of them and allows mission commanders to report sometimes emotional events to their superiors in a straightforward manner.

But there’s a reason that Hallmark doesn’t write its cards in military style for a reason. There’s just something wrong with describing the birth of a first-born child like it’s an amphibious operation.

Anyway, here are seven life events inappropriately described with military lingo:

1. First engagement

A U.S. Marine proposes to his girlfriend during a surprise that hopefully led to an ongoing and happy marriage. (Photo: Sgt Angel Galvan)

“Task force established a long-term partnership with local forces that is expected to result in greater intelligence and great successes resulting from partnered operations.”

2. Breaking off the first engagement

“It turns out that partnered forces are back-stabbing, conniving, liars. The task force has resumed solo operations.”

3. Marriage

Again, this is a joke article but we really hope all the marriages are ongoing and happy. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Cpt. Angela Webb)

“Partnered operations with local forces have displayed promising results. The new alliance with the host nation will result in success. Hopefully.”

4. Buying a first home

(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Eric Glassey)

“The squad has established a secure firebase. Intent is to constantly improve the position while disrupting enemy operations in the local area. Most importantly, we must interrupt Steve’s constant requests that we barbecue together. God that guy’s annoying.”

5. Birth of the first child

*Angels play harmonious music* (Photo: Pixabay/photo-graphe)

“Task force welcomed a new member at 0300, a most inopportune time for our partnered force. Initial reports indicate that the new member is healthy and prepared to begin training.”

6. Birth of all other children

(Photo: Gilberto Santa Rosa CC BY 2.0)

“Timeline for Operation GREEN ACRES has been further delayed as a new member of the task force necessitates 18 years of full operations before sufficient resources are available for departure from theater.”

7. Retirement

(Photo: Lsuff CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Task force operators have withdrawn from the area of operations and begun enduring R and R missions in the gulf area as part of Operation GREEN ACRES. Primary targets include tuna and red snapper.”

MIGHTY MOVIES

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

Recently, we delved into the 5 best military movies of the 1990s, so it only seemed right that we give the 1980’s the same treatment, especially now that most of us are stuck in our houses without much else to do than take a trip down cinema’s memory lane.

Whenever you’re compiling a list of movies like this, it’s inevitable that you’ll miss some really good picks. In a decade like the 1980s, when there was a laundry list of great films depicting military service or a time of war, the chances that you’ll miss a doozy becomes that much more significant. After all, how do you choose between Clint Eastwood’s “Heartbreak Ridge,” and Robin Williams’ “Good Morning Vietnam?” Easy, I didn’t include either — and I’m sure that’ll ruffle some feathers.


That’s what’s so great about film and analyzing its value or impact. A movie that means the world to you may not have had any impact at all on the next guy. It’s value to you isn’t diminished by his opinion and it doesn’t have to be. Everybody can have their own favorites.

So with the understanding that this list won’t be exhaustive and will probably make some folks mad — here’s my list of the best military movies of the 1980s.

(Tristar Pictures)

Iron Eagle

Right out of the gate, including this movie on the list requires a disclaimer: In order to be a good military movie, you don’t need to be realistic. “Iron Eagle” is a lot of things, but realistic isn’t one of them.

For those who haven’t seen it, “Iron Eagle” is the story of a young man named Doug Masters who aspires to be a pilot like his father, U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Col. Ted Masters. When Col. Masters is shot down over the fictional Arab nation of Bilya, Doug enlists the help of another fighter pilot, Colonel “Chappy” Sinclair. The two hatch a scheme to steal two F-16 Fighting Falcons and somehow fly them all the way to the Middle East, take on an entire Air Force, land on an enemy airstrip, and fly Doug’s dad home.

This movie is about as realistic as my chances of being elected president in 2020, but that doesn’t matter. This silly romp is a blast to watch, especially if you enjoy ironically watching ridiculous movies.

(MGM)

Red Dawn

While it maybe a bit slow paced compared to high budget action movies of today, “Red Dawn” earns its spot on this list thanks to solid acting from its young cast (some of whom went on to successful careers in Hollywood) and its semi-serious approach to depicting an America that’s not only at war… but losing it.

“Red Dawn” can certainly be categorized as pro-American propaganda, but if you ask me, that just makes it all the more fun. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia remains one of America’s primary diplomatic opponents on the world’s stage, making it that much easier to revel in the Wolverine’s efforts to take back their town from the combined Cuban and Soviet occupational forces.

If you can watch this movie and not scream “Wolverines” at the top of your lungs, you’re a better movie-goer than I am.

(20th Century Fox)

Predator

What do you get when you take two future governors, a Hollywood script writer, and Apollo Creed and stick them in the jungle with a bunch of guns? You get what is perhaps the greatest piece of action satire of all time.

You might be surprised to hear me refer to “Predator” as a satire film, but when you take a step back and really look at the framework of this movie, you’ll realize that it is a pretty clever deconstruction of the big-budget action movies of the 80’s. It’s got all the same ingredients of an 80’s thrill ride, but delivered in a way that takes the wind right out our action hero’s sails. After using traditional action movie tactics to easily wipe out a village of bad guys, Dutch’s vaguely special operations crew are then faced with a far worthier opponent: a monster that doesn’t yield to the tropes of action movie heroes.

What follows is a rapid transition from action movie to slasher flick, and a movie that doesn’t just hold up over time, but offers an insightful critique of movie culture in general.

(Paramount Pictures)

Top Gun

While “Top Gun” may take the number two spot on this list, it’s ranked number one in terms of recruiting. “Top Gun” offered many Americans their first glimpse into the world of Naval aviation, and in particular, the Navy’s very real Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program.

With a long awaited sequel slated to drop later this year, Top Gun’s appeal clearly stands the test of time, even if Maverick is admittedly a pretty bad pilot that has no place in the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat. This movie led to a boon in Navy recruiting, with some recruiters setting up tables right outside cinema doors to engage with excited young aspiring pilots while their blood pressure was still high.

Once again, “Top Gun” proved that you don’t have to be realistic to be great. Here’s hoping the new one can do the same.

(20th Century Fox)

Aliens

After the massive hit that was “Alien,” the much anticipated sequel somehow managed to add a platoon of Space Marines and still retain the chilling vibe the “Alien” universe is known for. Now, this movie may not take place in a fictional Arab nation or involve existing military branches, but who doesn’t love a story about Space Marines fighting alien monsters?

This movie might be the least “military” of the lot, but it’s also the most fun to re-watch again and again, which earns it a whole lot of extra credit in my book. For Marines like me, we may not want to associate with the cowardly yelps of Bill Paxton’s Pvt. Hudson, but let’s all be honest with ourselves… a few yelps are warranted when you’re being hunted by a slimy space monster with acid for blood.

That does it for my list of the best military movies of the 1980s, so the question is: what’s on your list?

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Alleged Benghazi plotter convicted for terrorism, not murder

A Libyan militant was convicted Nov. 28 of terrorism charges stemming from the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. But a federal jury found him not guilty of murder, the most serious charge associated with the rampage he was accused of orchestrating.


The attack became instant political fodder in the 2012 presidential campaign, with Republicans accusing the Obama administration of intentionally misleading the public and stonewalling congressional investigators, though officials denied any wrongdoing. Some were particularly critical of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the conflict, which dogged her during her presidential campaign.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. (Image under Public Domain)

But the seven-week trial of Ahmed Abu Khattala was largely free of political intrigue.

Jurors convicted Khattala on four counts, including providing material support for terrorism and destroying property and placing lives in jeopardy at the U.S. compound, but acquitted him on 14 others. Even with the mixed verdict, Khattala, 46, still faces the possibility of life imprisonment for his conviction on a federal firearms charge.

Prosecutors accused Khattala of directing the attack aimed at killing personnel and plundering maps, documents and other property from the U.S. mission in Benghazi. But defense attorneys said their evidence against him was shoddy.

Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the first attack at the U.S. mission, along with Sean Patrick Smith, a State Department information management officer. Nearly eight hours later, at a CIA complex nearby, two more Americans, contract security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, died in a mortar attack.

The United States Air Force Band plays the national anthem during the dignified transfer of the remains J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans, Sept. 14, 2012, at Joint Base Andrews, Md. (USAF photo by Senior Airman Perry Aston.)

“Today, a small measure of justice was meted out,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in a message to CIA employees. Of Khattala he added: “It took intelligence to find him, soldiers to assist in capturing him, law enforcement to interview him, and a legal team to put him away. Khattala’s sentencing is to follow; but no term in prison will bring our people back.”

Prosecutors acknowledged they lacked evidence to show Khattala personally fired any gunshots, but argued he orchestrated the violence out of his hatred for U.S. freedoms and his suspicion that Americans were operating a spy base in Benghazi. They said Khattala led a group of militia “hitmen” who could be seen on surveillance footage toting weapons and a gas can the night of the attack. Their case relied heavily on the testimony of informants, including one who was paid $7 million to befriend Khattala, help the government gather information on him, and arrange his capture.

Related: US bodyguard gives harrowing account of Benghazi attack

Defense attorneys sought to discount the informants as liars who were paid for their stories. Federal public defender Michelle Peterson said in closing arguments that prosecutors were playing to jurors’ emotions to make up for shoddy evidence, including blurry surveillance video and cellphone records she described as inconclusive. Khattala is a deeply religious man who believes in conservative sharia law as outlined in the Quran, which “is not the same thing as terrorism,” Peterson said.

But prosecutors argued the evidence was enough to convict Khattala on all counts.

“He was there to kill Americans, and that is exactly what he and his men did,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael C. DiLorenzo told jurors.

A man rallies in front of a burning vehicle in Benghazi, Libya (Image via website of Congressman Mike Bost)

The trial, which opened Oct. 2, was one of the most significant terrorism prosecutions in recent years in a U.S. civilian court, even though the Trump administration had argued such suspects are better sent to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The mixed verdict could revive that debate, even as newly captured terror suspects — including a second man charged in the Benghazi attacks — are instead brought to federal court.

Supporters of the military commission system argue valuable intelligence is lost when suspected terrorists are afforded protections of the American legal system. But prosecutors said Khattala, who was interrogated at length during 13 days aboard a Navy transport ship headed to the U.S., provided information about other members of the Islamic extremist militia group blamed for the Benghazi attack. Among the men he pegged was Mustafa al-Imam, who was captured last month and awaits trial in the same federal courthouse in Washington.

Jonathan Hafetz, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who has handled terrorism cases, said the Khattala trial showed federal courts are capable of handling terror cases, even with his acquittal of murder charges.

“No court system can pretend to protect due process if it only achieves the resolution the government wants in every case,” he said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The crazy way US, NATO forces saved an Italian car-wreck victim

An Italian woman was in a severe car collision in Niger and staff at the local hospital realized they couldn’t treat the woman properly with the equipment they had on hand. What followed was an 18-hour odyssey that relied on medical staff from six countries and U.S. Special Operations Command Forward, a pop-up blood bank, and a doctor translating medical jargon between four languages.


It all started when an Italian woman and her male passenger were driving near Nigerien Air Base 101 in Niamey, capital of Niger. The ensuing wreck injured them both. Nigerien ambulance services moved them to the local hospital where doctors made the call that the woman needed to go to a more advanced facility.

The hospital said the woman had a liver bleed, a life-threatening condition that requires surgery. The case was referred to Italian military doctors nearby who asked the American surgeons of SOCFWD — North And West Africa for help. The ground surgical team quickly discovered that the liver bleed wasn’t the only problem.

Three doctors, U.S. Air Force Capts. Melanie Gates, left, Nick McKenzie, and Richard Thorsted, all with Special Operations Command Forward — Northwest Africa ground surgical team, gather for a photo at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niamey, Niger, on June 21, 2018. The doctors were all involved in an emergency surgery which successfully saved the life of an injured Italian woman.

(U.S. Air Force)

“Upon reviewing the CT scans, there was also evidence of free air in the abdomen, concerning for a small bowel injury,” U.S. Air Force Capt. Melanie Gates, GST emergency medical physician, told an Air Force journalist. “When the patient arrived, her skin was white and she was in serious pain with minimal responsiveness. Her vitals were much worse than previously reported.”

“First thoughts upon seeing patient … she wasn’t doing well,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Richard Thorsted, GST anesthesiologist. “She arrived to us in critical condition with a high fever.”

Italian military members, left (sand-colored uniforms), Special Operations Command Forward Northwest Africa ground surgical team members, middle (in civilian clothes), and members from the 768th EABS, right (in multi camo-patterned uniforms) gather for a photo at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niamey, Niger, on June 4, 2018. A multinational team of medical practitioners on the base saved the life of an Italian civilian injured outside by patching together a team of doctors and other medical personnel from six nations and multiple military branches.

(U.S. Air Force)

The doctors initiated two important actions as they prepared to conduct the surgery; coordination for an airlift to take the patient to Senegal once the surgery was finished, and the collection of A-positive blood to keep the patient going during surgery and airlift.

Both requests would require more work and luck than expected.

First, the major stakeholders needed to ensure the aeromedical evacuation took place included French personnel who controlled a lot of the coordination in the area, Senegalese personnel who would receive the patient into their care, Germans who would conduct the evacuation if civilian personnel could not, Americans who were performing the first surgery, and Nigerians who had originally secured the patient and whose country was hosting her first surgery.

Luckily, Italian military doctor Valantina Di Nitto spoke at least three languages and was able to pass critical patient information and medical plans of action between all the stakeholders. She created a road map for medical care, from the surgery in Niger to Senegal and, eventually, to Italy.

At the same time, base personnel needed to immediately procure five units of A-positive blood. Unfortunately, the medical personnel who knew how to draw the blood weren’t yet familiar with the equipment available on the base.

Lt. Col. Justin Tingey, 768th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron flight doctor, and Master Sgt. Melissa Cessna, 768th EABS independent duty medical technician, pose for a photo at Nigerien Air Base 101, Niamey, Niger, on June 21, 2018. The team recently set up a walking blood bank to enable life-saving surgery to an Italian woman who nearly died in a car accident outside the base. The patient is now in good condition and recovering in Italy.

(U.S. Air Force)

In a weird coincidence, U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Bryan Killings did know how to use the equipment, and he was passing through the base en route to another destination. He got a text message from his bosses while at dinner.

“My leadership told me they had a patient coming through and they needed me to assist them,” Killings said. “They said they needed A-positive blood.”

Killings rushed to the walking blood bank and trained Army and Air Force personnel on how to use the equipment, then assisted in the collection of blood from five donors.

In the operating theater, a team of Air Force doctors took the blood and got to work. The three doctors, Air Force Capts. Melanie Gates, Nick McKenzie, and Richard Thorsted, were all recent graduates of medical school.

Luckily, after completing their residency programs, all three had undergone special military training before heading to Africa that included clinical scenarios in austere conditions.

“Our training kicked in. We all knew our roles and worked well together,” Gates told Tech Sgt. Nick Wilson. “I believe our training was crucial for our development as a team and ability to handle situations like this.”

In the end, the amalgamation of civilian and military medical personnel pulled it off, and the patient is recovering Naples, Italy. She is currently in good condition.

(H/t to Tech Sgt. Nick Wilson who wrote a three-part series on this story for the Air Force. To learn more, you can read his full articles here, here, and here.)

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Coast Guard is begging for a new icebreaker

The Homeland Security Department’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 requests $2 billion to recapitalize the Coast Guard’s surface fleet — notably $750 million to design and build the US’s “first new heavy polar icebreaker in over 40 years,” according to details released on Feb. 12, 2018 as part of President Donald Trump’s budget request.


The Coast Guard’s total request for the next fiscal year is a little over $11.65 billion — an increase of 8.4%, or $979 million, over the amount requested for fiscal year 2018.

The budget request includes several big-ticket projects for the Coast Guard, including $15 million to support the Service Life Extension Project for the Polar Star, the service’s only operational heavy polar icebreaker.

Related: The Coast Guard wants heavy firepower on their new icebreakers

The Polar Star entered service in the mid-1970s and was refurbished in 2012 and is now well past its 30-year service life — “literally on life support,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft has said. Its sister ship, Polar Sea, is no longer in service and now provides parts to keep the Star running.

The crew of the motor vessel Ocean Giant lines up with the US Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star to be escorted to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station, Jan. 25, 2017. (US Coast Guard/Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)

Zukunft, who assumed command of the Coast Guard in 2014, has been a driving force behind efforts to acquire a new icebreaker and has said he eventually wants to add three heavy and three medium icebreakers. In fall 2017, the Coast Guard and the Navy issued a joint draft request for proposal to build the next heavy polar icebreaker with an option for two more.

“When I came into this job, we thought: ‘Well, hey, we can wait a while before we address icebreakers. Maybe we can wait another four or five years.’ Well, if we wait another four or five years, as difficult as it is to find an appropriation today, it’s not going to get easier any time in the future, at least when I look into my crystal ball,” Zukunft told Business Insider at the end of 2017.

The $750 million proposed in the 2019 budget “provides detail, design, long lead time materials, construction, program management office support, feasibility studies and maintaining the indicative design, cybersecurity planning, project resident office initiation, and Navy reimbursable technical support.” The money will support efforts to “maintain scheduled delivery … in 2023.”

The Polar Star on McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, Jan. 7, 2016. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.)

In addition to money apportioned to icebreaker sustainment and development, the 2019 budget would direct $400 million to start construction of a second offshore patrol cutter and provide long-lead-time materials for a third.

The offshore patrol cutter is meant to replace the service’s medium-endurance cutters, which operate on the high seas and in coastal approaches.

Another $240 million is designated for four fast-response cutters. FRCs are meant to replace the service’s 110-foot patrol boats and improve the Coast Guard’s ability to carry out search-and-rescue, border-security, drug-interdiction, and disaster-response operations.

The four new FRCs will bring the service to 52 of the program’s planned 58 ships.

Also read: The Coast Guard warns that Russia is moving in on the Arctic

An additional $5 million is apportioned to support the service’s waterways-commerce cutter, a program that may replace the aging fleet of inland tenders and barges that operate on US inland waterways, assisting the movement of $4.6 trillion in economic activity that makes use of US ports and waterways every year, according to the budget document.

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, with 75,000 horsepower and its 13,500-ton weight, is guided by its crew to break through Antarctic ice en route to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station, Jan. 15, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)

While the budget requests highlight several programs involving the Coast Guard’s surface assets, the replacement of the icebreaker fleet has been a high-profile goal for some time. The aging Polar Star is the only ship the service has to support year-round access to Antarctic and Arctic regions — the latter of which has seen increasing activity as polar ice recedes, opening new channels for commerce and natural-resource exploration.

Operations by other countries in the region — particularly Russia, which already has a large icebreaker fleet — have been a particular point of concern for US policymakers.

“The Russians made it a strategic priority,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in late 2017. “Even the Chinese are building icebreaking tankers.”

Check out: The Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker took a frigid beating

Some experts have said the Russian icebreaker fleet is less of a concern than its resurgent navy, and Coast Guard officials, including Zukunft, have highlighted the service’s positive interactions with its Russian counterparts. But the commandant also sounded a note of caution about US policy toward the northern latitudes going forward.

“We do need to make an investment in terms of our surface capability to exert sovereignty in the Arctic,” Zukunft told Business Insider. “I think if you look across our entire military strategy, homage is paid to strength, and not so much if you are a nation of paper lions but you don’t have the teeth to back it up. And that’s an area where we’re lacking the teeth.”