Retired Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills went out on a foot patrol on April 10, 2012. It was his third tour in Afghanistan. He woke up on his 25th birthday to find that he’d stepped on on improvised explosive device, or IED, and that he’d suddenly become a quadruple amputee.
David Vobora was an NFL athlete who’d been dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant” after being the last draft pick of the season in 2008. While playing for the Seattle Seahawks, Vobora blew out his shoulder. It would ultimately force him to retire from the NFL at just 25 years old.
In the intervening years, Mills and Vobora forged an unlikely friendship.
“I had 25 good years with my arms and legs, and now I got the rest of my life to still keep living and pushing forward,” Mills said during an interview on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” yesterday.
“Something was missing,” Vobora, who is now a personal trainer, said. He noted that his work with professional athletes and wealthy clients was failing to fill a void in his life.
When Vobora met Mills, “I just knew I had to work with him.”
Mills talks about his predicament with lots of humor. When thanked for his heroism, Mills somewhat shrugs and replies, “I didn’t do more than anyone else. I just had a bad day at work, you know; a case of the Mondays.”
His wife, with whom he is expecting their second child, is equally humorous. “I’m in it for the handicapped parking,” Mills quotes her as having said shortly after his leg had to be amputated.
The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro not only earned their pay recently but they also once again proved themselves worthy of their boat’s namesake. After struggling to catch up to a narco-sub filled with 17,000 pounds of cocaine, the crew hopped aboard the partially-submerged craft, opened the hatch, and apprehended the crew as the boats all sped along at the water line.
If for some reason you didn’t actually think the Coast Guard was cool, just watch this Coastie bang on a cartel submarine like they personally violated his property.
“You get a raise, and you get a raise, and you get a raise. You all get a raise!” That’s what Oprah Congress is telling its military and civilian Department of Defense counterparts this month, according to military.com.
The summary for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 throws a bit of shade toward President Obama, stating:
Unlike the President’s request, the NDAA:
Provides the full 2.1% pay raise for our Troops, as required by law
Stops the drawdown and actually increases the end strength of our Armed Forces
Increases ground and aviation training to address shortfalls that have contributed to accidents across the Services
Provides Operation and Maintenance support for a larger force, including increased depot maintenance, facilities sustainment and modernization, and ship maintenance
Replenishes depleted munitions inventories
Begins a turnaround in ship procurement with advanced funding for submarines and amphibious ships.
Effective January 1, 2017, members of the military and Department of Defense employees will see a slightly more than 2 percent pay hike. Additionally, threats to bachelors allowance for housing, (or BAH, were thwarted and the current BAH rates will stay put.
The NDAA provides funding for Israel’s missile defenses, plans to “deter” Russian “aggression in Europe,” prevents women from being required to enroll in the selective service, orders the Pentagon to reform commissaries and healthcare, and requires changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay is part of the U.S. military’s Special and Incentive pay system and is intended to help the services address their manning needs by motivating service members to volunteer for specific jobs that generally otherwise pay them more in the civilian sector.
Each hazardous duty incentive pay amount is in addition to base pay and other entitlements.
Title 37 U.S. Code, chapter 5, subchapter 1, outlines several types of S&I pay, and sections 301a and 310 specifically address Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay and Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger pay, respectively.
HDIP is payable to both enlisted and officers of all the service branches unless specified.
Section 301 (a) addresses the following S&I:
1. Flying Duty (crew members)
Who: Flight crew who are not aviators and regularly fly.
How much: $110 – $250 per month, determined by rank
2. Flying Duty (non crew members)
Who: Anyone on flying duty who isn’t crew, but still performs duties related to flight.
How much: $150 per month
3. Parachute Duty
Who: The crazies who jump out of perfectly good planes.
How much: $150 per month, except for High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) jumps at $225 per month
Who: Navy personnel who are part of a team that conducts VBSS in support of Maritime Interdiction Operations — basically modern-day American pirates on the good guys team.
How much: $150 per month. Commence to booty jokes.
Section 310 Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay
Who: Those who are subject to hostile fire, explosions of hostile mines; on duty at/ deployed to areas where their status as a service member could put them at risk of threats of physical harm as a result of civil unrest, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
Firefighters from the 151st Civil Engineer Squadron extinguish a simulated airplane fire June 7, 2016, at the Salt Lake City Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighters Training Center. The state-of-the-art facility is equipped with a simulator, which allows for interior and exterior training and includes a multitude of various fire scenarios.
An A-10C Thunderbolt II assigned to the 75th Fighter Squadron performs a low-angle strafe during the Hawgsmoke competition at Barry M. Goldwater Range, Ariz., June 2, 2016. The two-day competition included team and individual scoring of strafing, high-altitude dive-bombing, Maverick missile precision and team tactics.
U.S. Army Soldiers, assigned 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, carry equipment through a pond during the team obstacle course at the French Jungle Warfare School near Yemen, Gabon, June 9, 2016.
A U.S. Army Soldier, assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, provides security during Decisive Action Rotation 16-06 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., May 16, 2016.
DILI, Timor Leste (June 8, 2016) Crew members assigned to the Blackjacks of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21 move an MH-60S helicopter into the hangar aboard hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19). Deployed in support of Pacific Partnership 2016, Mercy is on its first stop of the 2016 mission. Pacific Partnership has a longstanding history with Timor Leste, having first visited in 2006, and four subsequent times since. Medical, engineering and various other personnel embarked aboard Mercy will work side-by-side with partner nation counterparts, exchanging ideas, building best practices and relationships to ensure preparedness should disaster strike.
PACIFIC OCEAN (JUNE 4, 2016) An F/A-18E from the Flying Eagles of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA-122) launches from the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) flight deck during night flight operations (left) while an EA-18G Growler from the Vikings of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ-129) taxis onto a catapult (right). The ship is underway conducting command assessment of readiness and training (CART) II off the coast of Southern California.
Marines with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division conduct military operations on urban terrain during a field exercise (FEX) at Camp Pendleton, California, May 24, 2016. FEX is designed to sharpen the battalion’s combat capabilities.
Marines with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division advance down range during the Eager Lion 16 final exercise in Al Quweyrah, Jordan, May 24, 2016. Eager Lion is a recurring exercise between partner nations designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships, increase interoperability, and enhance regional security and stability.
Flight Mechanics serve a dual role in the aircraft. First, they help the pilots monitor performance and flight instruments. Their knowledge of the aircraft and technical expertise make them invaluable resources for identifying and troubleshooting aircraft malfunctions. Second, they are responsible for operating the helicopter’s hoist. This entails both physically manipulating the hoist as well as providing conning commands to the pilot at the controls.
The pilots at Air Station Savannah come from a myriad of backgrounds. For some, this is their first operational aviation tour. Others have completed multiple tours around the country in places like Kodiak, AK and Puerto Rico. We also have a large number of Direct Commission Aviators who transferred over to the Coast Guard from other services such as the Army and Marines.
The United States and Iran have traded warnings over U.S. efforts to block Iran’s oil exports, with Tehran suggesting that it could retaliate by blocking oil tankers from leaving the Persian Gulf.
The exchange began on July 4, 2018 when Iranian President Hassan Rohani, while visiting with Austria’s leader in Vienna, hinted that Tehran will block shipments of oil from neighboring Persian Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Iraq in response to the U.S. sanctions plan.
“The Americans say they want to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero…. It shows they have not thought about its consequences,” Rohani said.
That comment prompted a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander to praise Rohani and say the elite military group is ready to carry out his policy.
“I kiss your hand for expressing such wise and timely comments, and I am at your service to implement any policy that serves the Islamic republic,” Major General Qassem Soleimani said in a letter to Rohani published by state news agency IRNA.
Major General Qasem Soleimani
Rohani was responding to a U.S. warning that Washington has told countries around the world that they must halt all imports of Iranian oil when U.S. sanctions against Iran go into effect on November 4, 2018, or face the possibility of U.S. financial penalties.
Rohani did not elaborate on his remarks, but Iranian officials have in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway at the tip of the Persian Gulf through which a large share of the world’s oil shipments pass, in retaliation for any hostile U.S. action against Iran.
The Pentagon responded to the Iranian rhetoric with a vow to keep the critical waterway open.
Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command, told the Associated Press on July 4, 2018, that the U.S. Navy and regional allies “stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows.”
Rohani while in Vienna called the U.S. effort to block Iran’s critical oil exports — which are the economy’s main driver and source of revenues — along with other looming U.S. sanctions “crime and aggression,” and he called on European leaders to resist them.
President Hassan Rohani
Rohani warned that European leaders must “guarantee” that Iran continues to enjoy the benefits of its nuclear deal with world powers — including the freeing up of Iranian oil exports after global sanctions were lifted in 2016 — or Iran may walk away from the deal like the United States did in May 2018.
The leaders of Germany, Britain, and France — the three European signatories to the nuclear deal — have vowed to keep honoring the deal, but they have said that the looming U.S. sanctions make it difficult for them to give Tehran guarantees.
The United States also is pressuring Japan and other major buyers of Iranian crude oil in Asia to stop such imports.
But Kyodo news agency reported on July 4, 2018, that Tokyo has informed Washington that it cannot further cut or halt crude imports from Iran without harming Japan’s economy.
At the same time, Kyodo reported that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has abandoned his plans to visit Iran this summer in light of Washington’s sanctions push against Iran.
U.S. Navy SEALs — the elite Special Operations group with a name that has earned its reputation around the world. If people know the name of one elite unit, it’s probably the Navy SEALs.
U.S. Army Rangers — as old as American history itself, they have presented themselves as masters of both conventional and unconventional warfare time and time again. During the Global War on Terror (GWOT), they have evolved into a precision special operations force (SOF) and gained extensive combat experience, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Both are intensely involved in the GWOT, and both have had resounding successes and serious losses. As modern warfare continues to evolve, which one of these SOF units has delivered more impact in the War on Terror?
Navy SEALs train at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
(Photo by John Scorza, courtesy of U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command)
When discussing the U.S. Navy SEALs, it’s important to distinguish between the SEAL Teams and SEAL Team Six. SEAL Team Six (sometimes referred to as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU) belongs to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and is tasked with executing a broad scope of special missions that often have a direct impact on the United States’ foreign policy and national security strategy. Most notably, they were responsible for killing Usama Bin Laden in 2011.
The other SEAL teams are under the purview of the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC) and conduct special operations, often against terrorists and insurgents. This can be confusing since the vast majority of U.S. troops in foreign engagements from Afghanistan to Syria are fighting “terrorists,” but SEAL Team Six specializes in it.
Navy SEALs conduct operations in Afghanistan alongside Afghan partners.
(U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command)
In short, SEAL Team Six is conducting complex missions like hostage rescue; high-level, low-visibility reconnaissance; and direct-action raids against high-value targets (more in the vein of Delta Force, their Army counterpart). The other SEAL Teams have a different overall mission, though overlap does exist. The clear-stated mission on paper is to conduct maritime-based missions, but that is certainly not the end of it. Special operations units are versatile, and today’s SEALs are often training friendly foreign forces, conducting direct-action raids in and outside of large American engagements, or performing their legacy mission of carrying out maritime missions.
SEALs are currently conducting operations in war zones around the world; not all of the teams are relegated to Afghanistan and Syria. They have recently worked in the Philippines, Djibouti, Central America, and South America, to name a few places. They are not necessarily running direct-action raids in all these places. For example, conducting FID (Foreign Internal Defense) with a host nation could mean accompanying local groups on missions, or it could simply mean training them on basic infantry tactics and calling it a day.
A Navy SEAL conducts training with a SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV).
(U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command)
Rangers, on the other hand, are more specific when it comes to geography. You’re not going to run into a Ranger platoon in the middle of Ethiopia, and Rangers aren’t going to be the ones tasked with hostage rescue missions off the Ivory Coast. For the most part, they go to places where there is a large American presence (or where the military wants there to be one), where the fighting is heavy and the missions are frequent, and they can roll up their sleeves and get busy. They are a precision strike force, but they are precise amid large military efforts.
While Rangers also conduct FID missions, especially in Afghanistan, their purpose revolves around kill/capture missions on a day-to-day basis.
Rangers from the 75th Ranger Regiment prepare to conduct an airfield seizure.
(75th Ranger Regiment)
Seizing an airfield is to Rangers as a maritime raid is to the SEALs. The 75th Ranger Regiment is known for its ability to take an airfield from enemy control, though this hasn’t actually been conducted for years. Most of the time, Rangers are conducting kill or capture raids in Afghanistan. In fact, they were credited with killing or capturing over 1,900 terrorists during a recent deployment to Afghanistan. They have had a presence in Syria as well.
As terrorism and insurgent-type tactics have been more common among the enemies of the United States (in contrast to conventional military tactics), the need for special operations units has skyrocketed. Rangers, SEALs, and other elite groups have found themselves bearing that weight, evolving rapidly, and fulfilling the needs of a constantly changing battlefield.
A Ranger from the 75th Ranger Regiment conducts close quarters combat training.
(75th Ranger Regiment)
These units are required to have a breadth of skillsets, intensive training, and a specific state of body and mind — however, that doesn’t mean that every deployment is rife with firefights and explosions. Many Ranger deployments to Afghanistan have ended with no shots fired; many SEALs will deploy to countries around the world without conducting any raids.
So, who has the greatest impact on the GWOT?
Rangers often use helicopters to get to their objective.
(75th Ranger Regiment)
Many of these conversations — Rangers versus SEALs versus MARSOC versus PJs versus Green Berets — devolve into a “which one is better” conversation. However, each has their task and function, and asking whether one is better than the other is like asking if a cardiac surgeon is “better” than a neurosurgeon — it depends on if you need heart surgery or brain surgery. The better informed find themselves asking: “Who is better at a maritime interdiction?” “Who can take this airport?” “Who has a presence in this area?” These are the practical questions that warrant practical answers, and those are the ones that matter on the practical battlefield.
This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.
The Veterans Affairs Make the Connection team is looking for veterans who want to share their stories about seeking support for mental health challenges and take part in a national mental health campaign.
The same obstacles that may, at first, seem insurmountable to an individual are much less daunting when faced by a team. More than 500 veterans and military family members have already stepped up to be that team for their brothers and sisters by sharing their stories in videos on MakeTheConnection.net, a mental health website from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Make the Connection helps veterans and their loved ones realize that reaching out for support and seeking mental health treatment is a sign of strength, and thousands of veterans have found help to overcome their challenges.
The Make the Connection team will be conducting more on-camera interviews in Los Angeles on Friday, Feb. 23, and Saturday, Feb. 24, and is looking for veterans who want to share their stories about seeking help and overcoming mental health and other challenges. Veterans who participate in the video shoot will receive a stipend to offset their expenses for time and travel. When the videos are posted on the Make the Connection website, only the first names of participants are used.
Since its launch six years ago, the Make the Connection campaign has spread positive stories about veteran mental health via Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Veterans featured on the website and in social media have served across all branches of service in every U.S. conflict, from WWII to today. They also represent the full diversity of the military community. Each veteran has coped with conditions, such as addiction, anxiety, depression, serious mental illness, PTSD, and the effects of military sexual trauma and traumatic brain injury.
Veterans who want to tell their stories to help fellow veterans like them can email their name, phone number, and email address to email@example.com or call our outreach team directly at 1-323-813-1426.
Eighteen B-52 bombers took off from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington on October 10, 1969, each loaded with nuclear weapons. Although the bombers were headed toward Moscow, the goal was to influence outcomes around Hanoi. The bombers’ mission was to proceed directly to the Soviet Union in order to convince the Soviets that America at the hands of President Nixon was willing to resort to nuclear war to win in Vietnam.
A critical component of Nixon’s foreign policy was to make the leaders of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc think he was insane — like really insane — and he wanted the Communist leaders of the world to believe that he was ready to start World War III to prevent communist expansion.
“I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war,” Nixon told his Chief of Staff. “We’ll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button’ and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”
Tough talk against a guy who went on the record willing to lose 10 Vietnamese for every invader.
In 1968, Nixon campaigned on ending the war in Vietnam, but well into his first year in office, the North Vietnamese vowed to sit at the bargaining table in Paris “until the chairs rot.” Nixon wanted the Soviet leadership, widely seen as the puppeteers of North Vietnam’s leaders, to force the Vietnamese regime to conclude a peace agreement. The true intent of the plan was so secret, not even Gen. Bruce K. Holloway, commander of the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command knew the mission’s true purpose. The facts about the operation, called Giant Lance, were not made public until a 2000 Freedom of Information Act request revealed it.
The bombers flew along Soviet airspace for three days as other nuclear forces around the world — destroyers, cruisers, and aircraft carriers in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Gulf of Aden, and Sea of Japan — all executed secret maneuvers that were designed to be detectable by the Kremlin. In response Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin met with Nixon to discuss the raised state of alert of U.S. forces.
The Madman Theory worked in that respect. Dobrynin warned the Soviet leadership that “Nixon is unable to control himself even in a conversation with a foreign ambassador,” about Nixon’s “growing emotionalism” and his “lack of balance.” Nixon would order an end to Giant Lance suddenly on October 30.
The plan didn’t end the war in Vietnam, however. It was the president’s belief his Madman Theory did lead to agreeable terms for the SALT I (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) and his anti-ballistic missile treaties with the Soviet Union in 1972. That same year Nixon would drive the North Vietnamese back to the bargaining table each time they tried to leave through a series of bombing campaigns on North Vietnamese targets with operations Linebacker and Linebacker II.
The world’s fastest manned planes are nothing short of engineering marvels.
Capable of flitting through the air at multiple times the speed of sound, these planes take the pilot to the fringe of science fiction.
Although a number of these aircraft have since been retired, they continue to be the fastest manned aircraft in history.
The designs and advances achieved with these planes have also left an immense impact upon the development of the planes that succeeded them.
Here’s a look at the world’s nine fastest manned aircraft ever flown.
F-4 Phantom II
Maximum speed: 1,472 mph
Maximum range:1,615 miles
First flight: May 27, 1958
The supersonic F-4 Phantom II jet was originally developed just for the US Navy and officially entered into service in 1960. In the mid-1960s, the interceptor was adopted by the US Marine Corps and the US Air Force.
The F-4 carries more than 18,000 pounds of weapons, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, and various bombs. The primary fighter jet during the Vietnam War, the Phantom II was gradually replaced by the F-15 and the F-18 Hornet.
Convair F-106 Delta Dart
Maximum speed: 1,525 mph
Maximum range:1,800 miles
First flight: December 25, 1956
First introduced into service in 1959, the Convair F-106 was designed to intercept and destroy Soviet bombers during the Cold War. The Delta Dart carried sophisticated radar, infrared missiles, and a nuclear-tipped rocket, according to the Aerospace Museum of California.
The F-106 still holds the world record as the fastest single-engine fighter at 1,525 mph. The F-106 is considered one of the most challenging fighter jets to operate because of its heavy cockpit workload.
Mikoyan MiG-31 Foxhound
Maximum speed: 1,860 mph
Maximum range:2,050 miles
First flight: September 16, 1975
First introduced into service on May 6, 1981, the Soviet MiG-31 remains one of the fastest combat jets ever designed. Built as an interceptor aircraft, the Foxhound continues to serve in the Russian and Kazakh air forces.
Despite its age, Russia plans to keep the aircraft in service until 2030.
Maximum speed: 1,883 mph
Maximum range: 913 miles
First flight: July 10, 1959
The Ye-152 was first introduced in 1959 and was an operational interceptor derived from the Mikoyan Ye-150. The Ye-152 is best known for paving the way for the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat.
Maximum speed: 2,056 mph
Maximum range: 4,288 miles
First flight: September 21, 1964
The XB-70 was a prototype of the never-completed US B-70 nuclear-capable strategic bomber. The bomber was intended to bomb targets while traveling at over Mach 3 at high altitudes.
Soviet missile defenses and the expansion of the role of intercontinental ballistic missile systems ultimately led to the abandonment of the B-70 program. The only two completed XB-70 prototypes were then used as test vehicles for high-speed flight.
Bell X-2 “Starbuster”
Maximum speed: 2,094 mph
First flight: September 18, 1955
The Bell X-2, which only flew for a brief span between November 1955 and September 1956, was a research aircraft jointly constructed by the Bell Aircraft Corporation, the US Air Force, and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The plane was developed to test flight between Mach 2 and 3.
On September 27, 1956, the X-2 reached its recorded maximum speed of 2,094 mph. During the flight, however, test pilot Milburn G. Apt died. He was the first man to break Mach 3.
The Soviet MiG-25, which was first introduced in 1970, was built as a supersonic interceptor and reconnaissance aircraft. Due to the aircraft’s large wings, the US assumed it was a highly maneuverable fighter. Instead, the Foxbat needed the large wings due to its weight.
The MiG-25’s maximum speed of Mach 3.2 is not sustainable without causing engine damage. Its top sustainable speed is 1,920 mph (Mach 2.83).
Maximum speed: 2,200 mph
Maximum range:3,682 miles
First flight: December 22, 1964
The SR-71, designed by Lockheed Martin, was a marvel of a plane. It flew at altitudes of over 80,000 feet at speeds greater than 2,000 mph. The plane, engineered for surveillance, flew for more than 30 years and was capable of outrunning antiaircraft missiles lobbed at it.
For perspective, on its retirement flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., the SR-71 flew coast to coast in only 67 minutes.
Maximum speed: 4,520 mph
First flight: June 8, 1959
The world’s fastest manned aircraft is the rocket-powered X-15. The X-15 flew for the first time on June 8, 1959, after successfully deployed at 45,000 feet from another aircraft. A few years later, on October 3, 1967, the X-15 pulverized all flight-speed records with a stunning 4,520 mph, or Mach 6.72, speed.
Three X-15s were made and flew a total of 199 flights before the $300 million program was retired.
You’ve seen those photos from the Civil War era of generals loaded with facial hair. We’re talking mustaches that make the one legendary fighter pilot Robin Olds wore look puny and beards that were awesome AF.
For many decades, though, the beards have been verboten. This is because of World War I – or more specifically, the use of chemical weapons during World War I. The gas mask became a crucial piece of kit, and if you had a beard, the gas mask wouldn’t seal properly. This is not a good thing when the enemy uses anything from mustard to VX. In fact, to quote Egon Spengler, “It would be bad.”
According to the Army Times, though, that could be changing. One of the reasons is to accommodate some religions, notably Sikhs, who are forbidden to cut their hair. But another reason is the popularity achieved by special operations troops who have put the hurt on terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
And it’s not only “operator chic” that drives some to adopt the whiskered look. These days it seems if you’re a man under 35 and you don’t have tats and some facial shag, you just ain’t cool.
“Authorizing the wear of beards in the Army, in addition to approved religious accommodations policy, is a topic that soldiers have inquired about recently across the force,” Sgt. Major of the Army Dan Dailey said in a statement to the Army Times. “As of now, there are no plans to change the policy. Army leaders and researchers are currently reviewing the wear of beards by soldiers in the Army. Any potential change in policy will be made with careful consideration to the professionalism, standards, discipline, readiness and safety of all of our soldiers.”
The big hurdle, though, remains the fit of gas masks. The Army tested not only the current respirator, the M50 Joint Service General Purpose Mask, but also the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology and the gear worn by the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives specialists in the Army.
“The baseline folks passed,” Lamar Garrett, of the Army Research Laboratory said. “Everyone else degraded in some form or another.”
“If we really wanted to do some serious analysis, we could look at what was the degradation of an individual with a beard that’s an inch-and-a-half, two inches, etc.,” Garrett added.
The Army Times note that the special operations troops have a specialized gas mask that does seal with beards, but the cost is very high – and the budget doesn’t have room for that to be sent to all soldiers.
At this time, the Soldier Research Development Engineering Center is doing more research into not only beards, but other forms of religious headgear and large amounts of hair. This first round of testing will go through June.
The Army in April will begin sending hand-picked female soldiers through its physically demanding Ranger school, where some may earn the Ranger tab as part of an overall military assessment of the fitness of women for the combat arms.
About 60 female soldiers will take part alongside male soldiers in the program that begins April 20 – Ranger Course 06-15, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Benjamin Garrett said in a statement.
“Those who meet the standards and graduate from the course will receive a certificate and be awarded the Ranger tab,” he said.
About half the volunteers – 20 noncommissioned officers and 11 officers – will serve as observers and advisors. Females who successfully complete the course will not be awarded associated Ranger skill identifiers because the law does not currently allow it. The additional skill identifier is added to a soldier’s military occupational specialty.
“The decision to change that or not … will be made by the Secretary of Defense no later than Jan. 1, 2016 when he determines if women will be permitted to become infantry soldiers and serve in other closed military occupational specialties,” the Army said in September.
The historic trial pilot program and assessment comes amid increasing demand in recent years to open up to women all military specialties, including infantry. Army leadership is open to the idea, but insists there will be no lowering of standards.
“We’re just going to let the statistics speak for themselves as we go through this,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said during a virtual town hall meeting with soldiers earlier this month. “The main thing I’m focused on is the standards remain the same. In order to earn that tab, you have to do all the things necessary to earn that tab. We want to try a pilot to let women have the opportunity to do that.”
The training is physically grueling, with soldiers required to pass a fitness test that includes 49 push-ups within 2 minutes, 59 sit-ups, a 5 mile run within 40 minutes and six chin-ups. Additionally, would-be Rangers must be able to remove their gear in water and then swim 15 meters in their uniform and boots.
Army statistics show that only about 45 percent of those attending Ranger school graduate, and about 60 percent of those who wash out do so in the first four days.
How female students will fare remains to be seen, but past studies have indicated they are likely more often to sustain injuries associated with combat training and combat than their male counterparts.
The problem is simply body size and mechanics, according to Department of Veterans Affairs’ doctors who have dealt with and studied injuries, including the kind most often sustained by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan – musculoskeletal.
These are incurred simply by carrying heavy loads during long patrols over rugged country, while getting down from a vehicle or simply falling.
“I don’t think there is a way now to say exactly what the experience will be, but I expect as more and more women go into these physically demanding roles, we may see an increase in [these] injuries,” Dr. Sally Haskell, deputy chief consultant for women’s health services and director of comprehensive women’s health at the Veterans Affairs Department told Military.com a year ago.
The VA’s national director of physical medicine and rehabilitation said in April 2013 that he “was certain the majority of women doing this [combat arms specialty] won’t be physically able to do it as long as the men. It’s a matter of body size and body mechanics.”
One study found that between 2004 and 2007 about a third of medical evacuations from the Iraq and Afghan theaters were due to musculoskeletal, connective tissue and spinal injuries, Dr. David Cifu told Military.com.
Troops may carry 80 pounds or more of gear in theater. Cifu said women carrying the same loads as men will be more at risk of these kinds of injuries.
The pilot Ranger School program has been made open to enlisted women from grades E-4 up to Warrant Officer 02. Additionally, the Army drew on female volunteers in grades E-6 to E-8, Warrant Officer 2 and 3, and first lieutenant through major to serve as observers and advisors.
All the volunteers will be required to take the Army National Guard Ranger Training and Assessment Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, before the assessment course, the Army said when it announced the program in September.
The course observers will be required to pass a fitness test, land navigation, a combat water survival assessment, an operations order test, 12-mile road march with 35-pound rucksack, and review boards. As observers they must be able to keep up to the Ranger School students and instructors, the announcement said.