For me, Memorial Day has always been about more than just picnics and barbecues. I have five members of my family buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The earliest served in the Spanish American War, and all the way to World War II. It’s important that their service be honored and remembered — especially on Memorial Day.
In early May 2011, I was looking for some way to give back to my country. I worked as a flower grower in Ecuador and I had an idea. Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day. After the Civil War, people would go to cemeteries and decorate gravesites with flowers.
I met with two other Ecuador-based American flower growers, and together we were able to coordinate a massive donation of fresh flowers. I called up the administration at Arlington National Cemetery and said, ‘We’ve got 10,000 roses for you, for Memorial Day.'” And they happily accepted the offer.
Memorial Day Flowers Foundation at Fort Logan National Cemetery.
And that was how the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation had its start. Scouts and other volunteers place a flower in front of each headstone. Volunteers quietly read every headstone and note the dates and circumstances. This moment of reflection and remembrance is important. It’s a very personal tribute.
What began at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in 2011 with 10,000 roses, has expanded to dozens of cemeteries around the country. Last year, the foundation distributed 400,000 flowers at 41 cemeteries and other Memorial Day observances around the country.
That expansion would not have been possible without volunteers and broad-based partnerships and support. These days, the foundation sources flowers from 80 to 90 farms, including farms in California, Colombia, Ecuador, and Ethiopia.
Since 2013, we have worked with local groups to organize floral tributes for Memorial Day at National Cemeteries and Veterans Cemeteries across the U.S.
Our growth would not have been possible without the guidance and involvement of the National Cemetery Administration. Cemetery directors find our efforts provide a way for the general public to connect with their mission to honor our late veterans and instill an appreciation for the sacrifices they make.
Memorial Day Flowers Foundation volunteers prepare roses at the Houston National Cemetery.
We also distribute bouquets of flowers to gold star families attending the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar over Memorial Day Weekend, organized by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
In 2019, more than 100 cemeteries are participating in the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation’s efforts around the country.
The numbers amaze me every time I look at them. Now we talk about tens of thousands of flowers. We still have a long way to go, before every veteran’s gravesite is recognized on Memorial Day, but we are well on our way to reaching that goal.
I also know the difference just one flower can make. One year, as we gave out flowers on Memorial Day, I handed a rose to an older woman. She thanked me and said, “His father brought me roses the day he was born.” Then she invited me to walk with her to visit her son’s gravesite. And as we stood there together in the hot sun and she told me her son’s story, I knew one flower could mean everything to one person
Placing a flower for Memorial Day to honor a fallen service member or veteran is a quiet tribute; a heartfelt reminder of just what flowers can mean to people — and what it means to honor the sacrifices of U.S. military members and their families. It brings together people from all walks of life to honor those who have served our country and it helps all of us learn more about our history.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
JPMorgan, the financial services giant, has invested $4.2 million into three organizations that will loan money to veteran-owned small businesses.
The company announced Monday the multi-million dollar contribution, which will benefit three community development financial institutions, including Carolina Small Business Development Fund, PeopleFund, and Main Street Launch. Such lenders seek to loan money to make a profit and fulfill mission-focused goals.
The investment is part of the company’s broader Small Business Forward initiative to invest $75 million over the next three years in businesses owned by folks from underserved backgrounds, according to a release on the news.
“Veterans make excellent business owners, so it makes perfect sense for us to help connect them with the access to capital they need to succeed,” said Andrew Kresse, CEO of business banking at the firm. “We’re pleased to work with outstanding partners who serve the veteran business community, and in turn, help strengthen the communities in which we all live and work.”
The bank recently found in its Chase Business Leaders Outlook study that veteran-owned businesses beat their peers on a number of metrics. For instance:
In the next 12 months, more veteran-owned businesses expect to increase: profits, capital expenditures, and credit needs compared to non-veteran peers;
Veteran-owned businesses also have stronger employment projections–more plan to increase employees/compensation compared to non-veteran peers;
Veteran-run small businesses reported plans to hire more employees and report stronger optimism.
The contribution is a “philanthropic investment,” according to a press representative. As such, JPMorgan will not directly benefit monetarily from the loans, but it expects a return from the broader impact the loans will have on society.
The company also said Monday it renewed its partnership with Bunker Labs, an organization that provides veteran entrepreneurs with education and financial resources.
Military working dogs are an essential part of many missions — even sensitive ones, like the raid on the compound of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Oct. 26, 2019. They’re so important, in fact, that they occasionally hold ranks themselves, although it’s merely formal and not official, and they’re always ranked one higher than their handlers.
That “seniority” honors the dog’s role and reminds the handler to be lenient when it has a bad day.
The dog who chased after Baghdadi, leading to his death by suicide, has become a celebrity — even though the dog’s name remains classified. A photo of the dog led to confirmation of its breed (a Belgian Malinois), but little else is known about the good boy (or girl). Disclosing the dog’s name and rank could lead to information about the dog’s affiliation with Delta Force, a classified unit, The Washington Post reports. That unit is still in the field, and revealing the dog’s name could put its handler at risk, although the dog’s possible name and sex have been reported, by Newsweek and the Washington Post, respectively.
Read more to learn more about military working dogs.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. William Chrisman, a combat tracking dog trainer, and Cpl. Ludjo, a military working dog, both with Third Law Enforcement Battalion, Third Marine Information Group, play tug of war at Camp Wilson, Marine Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, Oct. 16, 2019.
(Sgt. Stormy Mendez / US Marine Corps)
The bond between a military working dog and its handler is vitally important to completing missions.
A handler needs to be able to read shifts and subtleties in their canine partner’s behavior to gather information about their targets or environments, and even how the dog is feeling.
For example, if the dog doesn’t feel like working, or has deficiencies with some tasks, the handler needs to be able to pick up on this and give the dog the tools, training, and motivation it needs to complete the task.
U.S. Marine Corps military working dog Allie waits inside a Humvee to go on a mission while being held by her handler, Lance Cpl. Ronnie Ramcharan at the Central Training Center, Okinawa, Japan on Aug. 25, 2019.
(Lance Cpl. Andrew R. Bray / US Marine Corps)
While the military working dog’s rank is a formality — not an official rank like human troops have — it’s meant to encourage handlers to treat their dogs with love and respect.
Handlers have to be able to communicate what their canine partners are “telling” them, and to know without a doubt that the dog will listen to him or her.
“There’s no doubt about my dog: Number one, he will protect me. Number two, he will find a bomb,” Sgt. 1st Class Regina Johnson told the Army in 2011.
Airman 1st Class Daniel Martinez, 355th Security Forces military working dog handler, participates in a simulated narcotic/bomb detection exercise with Darius, an MWD assigned to the 355 SFS, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, Sept. 23, 2019.
(Airman 1st Class Kristine Legate / US Air Force)
Military working dogs whose units allow them to hold ranks are non-commissioned officers (NCOs).
By and large, military working dogs are treated as regular US troops would be.
Unfortunately, there was one period where military working dogs were left behind in a combat zone — in South Vietnam, during US troops’ hasty withdrawal there.
Prior to 2000, military working dogs were also euthanized after their service was finished. Military working dogs can now be adopted to civilians once their service is finished.
A U.S. Army soldier with the 10th Special Forces Group and his military working dog jump off the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment during water training over the Gulf of Mexico as part of exercise Emerald Warrior 2011 in this U.S. military handout image from March 1, 2011.
(Manuel J. Martinez/U.S. Air Force)
Cairo the dog, also a Belgian Malinois, earned accolades from former President Barack Obama for his role in killing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Cairo secured the perimeter of bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, and, should the al Qaeda leader have proven difficult to find, Cairo would be sent in after him.
Upon hearing that Cairo was involved in the raid, former President Barack Obama said, “I want to meet that dog,” according to an account in The New Yorker.
“If you want to meet the dog, Mr. President, I advise you to bring treats,” one member of the SEAL team jokingly advised the president.
(Department of Defense)
Military working dogs and their partners both require extensive training to keep up with the demands of their job.
Dogs and their trainers go through a 93-day training program to cement their skills and gain practice as a team in real-world scenarios, according to the Army.
Only about 50% of the dogs the military procures to become military working dogs are actually suitable for the job.
Cpl. Ramon Valenci, a dog handler with 1st Law Enforcement Battalion, assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, orders his military working dog, Red, to search for improvised explosive devices during Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 2-17, aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jan. 19, 2017.
(Aaron S. Patterson / US Marine Corps)
100th Military Police Detachment, Military Working Dog (MWD) Money, conducts basic obedience drills, June 25, 2019, Panzer Kaserne, Germany. The MWDs and their handlers are trained to provide narcotics and explosives detection keeping the bases safe from threats.
(Photo by Yvonne Najera)
Callie, a search and rescue dog for the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, rides in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter as part of her familiarization training at the Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort, Ky., Nov. 29, 2018.
(Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton / US Air National Guard)
Timo, 23d Security Forces Squadron (SFS) Military Working Dog (MWD), bites Joe Dukes, Lowndes County Sheriffs Office SWAT team lead, during a MWD capabilities demonstration, March 21, 2019, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Timo is trained to attack on or off leash with or without command.
(Senior Airman Janiqua P. Robinson / US Air Force)
The U.S. military has a reputation for being overworked and underpaid.
But we all knew that going in.
The virtue of service and pride of wearing the uniform makes up for much of the disparity in pay compared to the civilian market. Still, it’s nice to get that bump in our paychecks every year.
Yet, the pay increase for 2017 won’t be so big. In an August 2016 letter to Congress, President Obama announced a 1.6 percent raise for the armed forces, consistent with the budget he sent to The Hill earlier in the year.
Across-the-board pay increases for other federal employees will be 1 percent.
“These decisions will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well-qualified Federal workforce,” Obama said in his letter to Congress.
Pay raises for the military peaked in 1983 when President Reagan instituted a 14.3 percent pay raise. Since then, the increase hovered steadily between 3 and 5 percent, with an average of 4.2 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service.
While the selection of retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense drew a lot of attention, there are some other nominations at the Pentagon that are waiting in the wings — the service secretaries.
There is a Secretary of the Army, a Secretary of the Navy (who also is responsible for the Marine Corps, and depending on the situation, the Coast Guard), and a Secretary of the Air Force.
According to a report by the Washington Post, retired Army Col. James Hickey, is the front-runner to be Secretary of the Army. Hickey is best known as the commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which executed Operation “Red Dawn,” the mission that lead to the capture of Saddam Hussein.
For the last two years, Hickey, who served multiple tours in Iraq, has been the senior advisor to the Senate Armed Services Committee. His awards include the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device and Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Defense Superior Service Medal.
Hickey’s main competition for Army secretary is Van Hipp, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican party who has served in a number of positions in the Pentagon.
According to his LinkedIn.com profile, Hipp has been chairman of American Defense International, Inc. since 1995.
There are two U.S. congressmen being considered for SECNAV, including Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes, the current chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.
Forbes, who was defeated for a ninth term in the House of Representatives in the 2016 Republican primary by Scott Taylor, a retired Navy SEAL who served in Iraq and who founded the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, Inc., faces competition from Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps officer, according to his House web page.
Hunter, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, succeeded his father, Duncan L. Hunter, a Vietnam veteran who served 14 terms in the House of Representatives.
Oklahoma Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine is considered a likely possibility to serve as Secretary of the Air Force.
According to his campaign website, Bridenstine is a former naval aviator who flew the F/A-18 Hornet and E-2 Hawkeye in his naval service, then transitioned to the Oklahoma Air National Guard, where he flies the MC-12, an aircraft that specializes in the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
Bridenstine was first elected to the House in 2012.
Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team started arriving in Europe this week for a nine-month rotation as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
The 2nd ABCT’s rotation is the fifth one by an armored brigade in support of Atlantic Resolve, which started in 2014 to show US commitment to Europe’s defense after Russia’s interference in Ukraine.
But the unit is the first “in recent memory” to use the port of Vlissingen in the Netherlands, where soldiers, Army civilians, and local workers started unloading the first of three shipments of equipment early on Oct. 11, 2019.
A 2nd ABCT soldier directs an M1A2 Abrams tank as vehicles are offloaded at the Port of Vlissingen, Netherlands, Oct. 11, 2019.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)
Armored units deployed for Atlantic Resolve rotations are typically stationed in Germany or elsewhere in Eastern Europe and have in the past arrived at ports closer to their bases.
But the 2nd ABCT’s arrival at Vlissingen — like that of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team at the nearby port of Antwerp last spring — is part of an Army effort to practice navigating Europe’s bureaucratic and geographic terrain.
NATO has been trying to operate out of more ports in Europe since around 2015, according to Ben Hodges, who led the US Army in Europe between 2014 and 2017.
There was a need to “to reestablish capabilities in all these ports” and “to demonstrate that we could come [into Europe] at a variety of different places,” Hodges, who is a retired lieutenant general, told Business Insider in 2018.
Vlissingen is the “first main juncture point” for the 2nd ABCT’s current deployment, and its troops and gear will arrive at ports in Poland, Latvia, Belgium, Greece, and Romania throughout October, the Army said in a release.
First Lt. Quanzel Caston, a unit movement officer with the 2nd ABCT, examines M1A2 Abrams tanks at the Port of Vlissingen, Netherlands, Oct. 11, 2019.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)
In total, the unit will deploy about 3,500 soldiers, 85 tanks, 120 Bradley fighting vehicles, 15 Paladin self-propelled howitzers, 500 tracked vehicles, 1,200 wheeled vehicles and pieces of equipment, and 300 trailers.
Massing forces across the Atlantic Resolve area of operation “displays the US Army’s readiness, cross-border military mobility and speed of assembly,” the release said.
The Army’s 598th Transportation Brigade will move the 2nd ABCT’s gear a variety of ways, including by “low-barge, rail-head, line-haul and convoy operations.”
It’s the first time the Army has used a low-barge inland cargo ship to transport tracked armored vehicles across Europe for Atlantic Resolve.
“The significance of using the low-barge is it enhances readiness in the European region by introducing another method of movement to the Atlantic Resolve mission,” said Cpl. Dustin Jobe, noncommissioned officer in charge of lifting provisions for the 647th Expeditionary Terminal Operations Element.
Sgt. Julian Blodgett, a senior mechanic with the 2nd ABCT directs an M1A2 Abrams tank for loading on a low-barge cargo ship at the Port of Vlissingen, Netherlands, Oct. 12, 2019.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)
‘Better than it was’
The US Army in Europe shrank after the Cold War. Since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014, however, the Army has beefed up its presence with exercises along NATO’s eastern flank and back-to-back rotations of armored units.
But returning to Europe in force has highlighted NATO’s problems getting around the continent, where customs rules and regulations, insufficient infrastructure, and shortages of transports for heavy vehicles inhibit movement.
These obstacles would present issues for any peacetime mobilization effort and led NATO to conclude in a 2017 internal report that its ability to rapidly deploy around Europe had “atrophied since the end of the Cold War.”
A local contractor attaches lift chains to an M1A2 Abrams tank for lowering into a low-barge ship at the Port of Vlissingen, Netherlands, Oct. 12, 2019.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)
European countries, working through the European Union and NATO, have sought to reduce or eliminate the hurdles.
A new NATO command based in Germany now oversees the movement of alliance forces in Europe, and the EU has set up Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO, to address security issues by “integrating and strengthening defence cooperation within the EU framework.”
The logistical skills of the US and its NATO allies will face their biggest test yet next year, during Defender 2020 in Europe — the US Army’s largest exercise in Europe in 25 years. It will range across 10 countries and involve 37,000 troops from at least 18 countries.
The point of Defender 2020 “is to practice the reinforcement of US forces in Europe for the purposes of collective defense of the alliance,” Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the head of US Army Europe, said on Monday during a panel hosted by Defense One at the Association of the US Army’s annual conference in Washington, DC.
A 2nd ABCT M1A2 Abram tank is raised over the pier at Vlissingen to be lowered onto a low-barge ship for transportation to another location in Europe, Oct. 12, 2019.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)
“That’s something that requires practice, because you’re moving large forces great distances through complicated infrastructure and across a variety of different national lines,” Cavoli added.
“We call this strategic readiness, the ability to strategically deploy and to project a force,” he said. “It’s a significant concatenation of small things that have to go right in order to do this well.”
Asked about Europe’s railways, which vary in rail size and have differing regulations, Cavoli said there were procedural and infrastructural issues that had to be addressed.
“Procedurally, we’ve made a great deal of progress across the alliance. Some countries, they’ve relaxed some of their restrictions, shortening the notification times required,” Cavoli said. “We, as an alliance, have gotten much more practice scheduling and moving and loading rail, and we’re able to move very, very quickly across great distances.”
US Army Reserve Cpl. Dustin Jobe watches a 2nd ABCT M1A2 Abram tank as it’s raised over the pier to be lowered onto a low-barge ship for transport elsewhere in Europe, at Vlissingen, Netherlands Oct. 12, 2019.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)
But infrastructural problems remain, Cavoli said, pointing specifically to a difference in rail gauge between Poland and Lithuania. But Lithuania plans to buy dual-gauge rail cars for heavy equipment, Cavoli added.
“In addition to that, across the alliance, there’ve been some challenges with bridge classification, with the strength of rail heads … can it take a tank driving off a train there?” Cavoli said. “The EU has really stepped in using prioritized … shopping lists, prioritized by NATO, and it has been investing throughout the alliance in mobility infrastructure.”
Cavoli said recent exercises had exposed challenges to mobility but had also prompted NATO members “to get after those challenges. So I think we’re in a fairly good place right now.”
Asked to assign the alliance a letter grade for mobility, Cavoli demurred, saying only that it’s “better than it was previously.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When her duty day is over, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Owen often wonders if she did enough to help identify fallen service members.
As the noncommissioned officer in charge of the morgue at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which is tasked to account for more than 82,000 Americans missing from past conflicts, she analyzes human remains and personal effects in hopes to close a cold case.
“At the end of the day, I have to be able to look in the mirror and say I’ve done my best,” she said. “And when I get up in the morning, I say I’m going to do better, because these families have been waiting years and years.”
Owens is one of about 100 service members and civilians who work at the agency’s laboratories here and at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Each year, the labs identify the remains of around 200 Americans that are then reunited with families.
On Aug. 1, more than 50 cases containing remains believed to be those of American service members were provided to DPAA by North Korea.
The remains are now undergoing further analysis and identification at the labs.
The painstaking work, which can take months to years to complete, is Owen’s passion. Whenever a positive identification comes in, she said, it is as if the service member’s name is given back.
An honor guard provided by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command conducts an honorable carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Aug. 1, 2018. Carry teams will move 55 flag-draped transfer cases, containing what are believed to be the remains of American service members lost in the Korean War, to the DPAA laboratory at JBPH-H for identification.
(Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)
‘These Are All Heroes’
“What drives me the most is that these are heroes,” she said, looking across a lab holding hundreds of unknown remains. “These are all heroes [who] have a name and a family.”
Each year, DPAA conducts up to 80 investigation and recovery team missions throughout the world to pinpoint last known locations of missing Americans and to attempt to excavate their remains.
“The work is complex, the work is difficult, and it takes that dedication, that passion … to be able to perform this solemn obligation that we make to the nation and to the families,” said Kelly McKeague, the agency’s director.
The joint agency, which employs many service members and veterans, has agreements with nearly 50 nations that assist in its missions, he added.
Most of the missing fell at World War II battle sites in the Pacific region. There are also almost 7,700 service members unaccounted for from the Korean War, with the majority believed to be in North Korea.
DPAA teams were allowed to conduct missions in North Korea from 1996 to 2005, but operations were halted as diplomatic relations deteriorated in the region. Agency officials hope these missions could soon start up again.
Before he became the agency’s lab director, John Byrd had the opportunity to help recover Americans who fought in North Korea at the Battle of Unsan. The 1950 battle pitted Chinese forces against American and South Korean troops.
When remains are identified by his staff it is always a testament to good field and lab work that solved the decades-old case, Byrd said.
“It’s extremely gratifying,” he said, “and it kind of keeps you grounded where you know why you’re here and why you’re doing this work.”
Army Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Owen, a morgue noncommissioned officer for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, examines a personal effect that may have belonged to a fallen service member in a laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 12, 2018.
(Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
A majority of DPAA cases involve some type of DNA testing. Samples are taken from the remains and sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Lab in Delaware.
To help this process, family members who have a missing loved one are encouraged to provide a DNA sample that will serve as a comparison.
If no reference samples are on file, a battalion of professional genealogists working for service casualty offices will try to locate family members.
Many times their starting point is the service member’s home address from the 1940s, if they served in World War II. This makes it extremely difficult to track down a living family member as the years pass on.
“It’s one of the greatest challenges of all. How do you find close family members of a missing serviceman from 1944?” Byrd asked. “It’s not easy. Some [cases] we run into dead-ends and we can’t find anybody.”
The Defense Department has kept dental records of troops dating back to World War I that can be used to help in the identification process.
In 2005, the agency also discovered another method that has proved successful. Many troops who served in early conflicts had to get chest X-rays as part of a tuberculosis screening when they first signed up.
Like the dental records, these radiographs were stored in a warehouse by the DoD. DPAA later obtained thousands of copies of them. Lab personnel use them as a comparison tool, since the shape of each person’s chest is different.
“The process of comparing this induction chest x-ray to an x-ray we take from the remains is analogous to doing fingerprint comparison,” Byrd said. “It’s a very similar kind of mindset that you take when you look at the two side-by-side; you’re looking for commonalities and differences.”
When a service member is identified, family members often come to the lab so they can participate in escorting the remains back home, he said. For those who work at the lab, those family member visits make the months or years of work seem worthwhile.
“When you have a family member come in and the staff who actually worked on the case get to meet them, they get to see the tangible results of their hard work,” Byrd said. “It’s definitely a boost to their morale.”
Members of the 647th Force Support Squadron search and recovery team tag and mark simulated remains during the search and recovery team’s training event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Oct. 27, 2017. The search and recovery team is tasked with recovering human remains from accident sites.
(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman)
In the Field
Before that sort of closure can start for families, recovery teams spend weeks at a time doing the grunt work of excavating sites.
Army Capt. Brandon Lucas, who serves as a team leader, recalled his team digging nearly 20 feet into the ground in Laos in search of an F-4 Phantom fighter pilot who vanished during the Vietnam War.
While no remains were found on that mission, they were still able to confidently close the site and shift efforts elsewhere.
Then there was another mission in Slovenia, where the tail gunner of a bomber aircraft from World War II went missing.
When his plane crashed, the gunner was the only one in his aircrew killed. Residents later buried him next to a church.
As Lucas’ team arrived at the site, the townspeople still knew about the crash and the gunner. Residents regularly visited his team, often bringing Lucas and the others food and drinks. An elderly woman even told him that for decades she would clean the grave site once a week.
When his team recovered the remains, a somber tone spread through the community.
“A lot of them actually shed tears when we found the remains,” Lucas said. “It was special to them and it was special to me.”
The poignant moment, along with others he has experienced during missions, galvanized the meaning of the mission for him.
“I’m potentially bringing back a fallen comrade,” Lucas said. “I would want to know that if it was me lost out there somebody is trying to recover me and give my family closure.”
Recovery missions also extend out into the sea, where many service members have disappeared as a result of aircraft crashes or ships sunk.
While she served as commander of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, Army Maj. Gen. Susan A. Davidson was an advocate for her unit to support the solemn mission.
The unit regularly supplies DPAA with highly-trained Army divers from the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment, who often work on the sea floor with no visibility and use a suction hose to remove loose sediment from recovery sites.
On a barge, team members then sift through the sediment for the remains or personal effects of those missing.
When divers returned to Hawaii, she encouraged them to share their experiences and what they got out of the mission with others in the unit.
“They come back a different person and they have a different respect for our Army and for what we do,” Davidson said.
Back at the lab, Owen and others strive to identity those heroes who have been found.
“I feel that I am part of something so much bigger that I can contribute to,” she said.
For decades, snipers have been a dominating instrument of warfare striking fear in the heart of their enemies — scoring record kill shots from distances up to two miles away.
With Hollywood tapping into the sniper lifestyle with such films as “American Sniper” and the “Sniper” franchise, many young troops get a misconception of what it’s like to be one.
So we asked a few veteran snipers what would they want young troops to know before embarking on the intense journey to become a sniper. Here’s what they said:
1. It’s not like in the movies
Hollywood often showcases a sniper as a single-man force tracking down that perfect location to take that most concealed shot possible.
In modern day, scout sniper teams typically consist of 4-8 man teams consisting of a shooter, spotter, radioman, and additional troops to provide security.
2. Shooting is only a fraction of what a sniper does
A sniper needs to properly plan the mission, insert and quietly maneuver to a well-concealed firing location, stalk his prey, complete the math calculation before firing his weapon accordingly, then safely egress out.
A mission could last days.
3. Have mental conditioning
Being sniper isn’t just about being an excellent marksman — although that’s important. But when you’re in an operational status, a sniper has to overcome many mental constraints like lack of sleep and sometimes limited rations. The teams typically only leave the wire with what supplies they can carry — and that’s it.
The teams are usually outnumbered by the enemy and must maintain discipline throughout the mission. If the sniper has a mental breakdown in the field, the mission could be lost.
4. Patience is a virtue
Making a mistake because the sniper is in a hurry is unacceptable and can get him killed. A sniper’s hyperactive moment could result in death.
5. The selection
Completing sniper indoctrination doesn’t guarantee a spot in the platoon. Sniper teams look for the guy who is not only capable of firing that perfect shot but has an outgoing personality. Once a troop is selected, they will go on to the next phase of intense sniper training.
6. It’s constant training and learning
Battlefield tactics change and evolve based on the environment the shooter is facing. That said, a sniper team must be able to adapt and overcome any situation that presents itself.
If the wind keeps up or the sniper is forced to relocate, he will more than likely have to reconfigure his sight alignment within moments.
7. It’s not a way out of the infantry
Young troops tend to believe that going through the sniper pipeline is an easy way out of the grunt lifestyle. To outsiders, life in the scout sniper platoons can appear more glamorous because of the modernized gear they train with and operate.
The truth is, that’s just additional heavy gear they must haul during their missions.
Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the United States Seventh Fleet, has been relieved of his command by Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the Pacific Fleet. The firing comes within days of a collision between the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and a civilian tanker east of the Straits of Malacca that left 10 sailors missing.
According to a brief Navy release, Aucoin was relieved by Swift due to “a loss of confidence in his ability to command.” The release went on to say that Aucoin’s planned successor, Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, will assume command immediately. Sawyer was confirmed to the rank of vice admiral and appointed commander of the Seventh Fleet on June 5 of this year, according to the Congressional Record.
According to an official biography, Vice Adm. Aucoin’s Navy career included service in five aviation squadrons, command of the aircraft carrier USS Kittyhawk (CV 63), and over 150 combat missions. His awards include the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat Distinguishing Device.
Rear Adm. Sawyer, who will replace Aucoin, is a career submariner whose service included command of USS La Jolla (SSN 701) and Submarine Squadron 15. Prior to taking command of the 7th Fleet, Sawyer served as deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet.
Obviously, having to eject from a multi-million dollar aircraft of any kind is the last thing on a pilot’s bucket list (and is dangerous enough to actually be the last thing on the pilot’s bucket list). The truth is that, as in any military job function, things don’t always go as planned, even for the men and women fighting at a few thousand feet above the Earth.
The technology surrounding the ejection of any pilot is really incredible. After more than a century in the making, ejections can be made at supersonic speeds and at altitudes where there is little oxygen in the air. The canopy blows open, the air rushes in, and in one-tenth of a second, the pilot(s) are on their way to safety. The tech has come a long way since and the chances of a successful ejection are up from 50% in the 1940s. A lot happened in the meantime. Here are 11 things you may not have known before.
1. The first successful ejection was in 1910 and was initiated by bungee cord.
In 1916, one of the inventors of a type of parachute also invented an ejection seat powered by compressed air.
2. The German Luftwaffe perfected the ejection seat during WWII. The first combat ejection was in 1942.
The Focke-Wulf FW190 Würger testing ejection seat
Two German companies, Heinkel and SAAB (of the automobile fame) were working on their own types of ejection seats. The pilot of the first ejection bailed out because his control surfaces iced over.
3. Some aircraft, like the supersonic F-111, used pods to eject the crews. The B-58 Hustler tested its ejection system by ejecting bears.
Because parachutes need time to open, early zero-zero (zero altitude, zero airspeed) ejection seats used a kind of cannon to shoot the pilot out once they cleared the canopy. This put incredible forces on the pilot.
5. Before zero-zero seats, safe ejections required minimum altitudes and airspeeds.
Modern zero-zero technology uses small rockets to propel the seat upward and a small explosive to open the parachute canopy, cutting the time needed for the chute to open and saving the forces on the pilot.
6. The most common reason ejections fail is aviators wait too long to eject.
A recent study found the survival rate for ejection was as high as 92%, but the remaining 8% is usually because the pilot waited until the last second to eject.
7. Seats in planes like the B-1 Bomber eject at different angles so they don’t collide.
A two-ship of B-1B Lancers assigned to the 28th Bomb Squadron, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, release chaff and flares while maneuvering over New Mexico during a training mission Feb. 24, 2010. Dyess celebrates the 25th anniversary of the first B-1B bomber arriving at the base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald)
The B-1B Lancer has a crew of four and their seats are designed so that the seats are positioned at different angles and different intervals to avoid mid-air collisions. The B-1A used a capsule for the crew.
8. Depending on altitude and airspeed, the seats accelerate upward between 12 and 20 Gs.
That’s just the upward thrust. Pilots have ejected in speeds exceeding 800 miles per hour (the speed of sound is 767.2 mph) and from altitudes as high as 57,000 feet.
9. Ejection seat manufacturer Martin-Baker gives a certificate, tie, and patch to aviators who join the “Martin-Baker Fan Club” by successfully ejecting.
The first pilot was a Royal Air Force airman who ejected over what was then Rhodesia in January 1957. Since then, over 5800 registered members have joined.
10. The interval between ejections in a two-seat plane like the F-14 Tomcat is about half a second.
The RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) goes first, then the pilot (Goose then Maverick, but in real life, Goose would probably survive.)
11. Ejection seats have saved more than 7,000 people.
Not Goose, of course. (Should have followed F-14 NATOPS boldface procedures. RIP, shipmate . . .)
During the second battle of Fallujah, then-Marine Pfc. Christopher Adlesperger singlehandedly cleared part of a house filled with insurgents in a heroic action that was recommended for the nation’s highest military award.
Upon entering an insurgent-infested house in Fallujah on Nov. 10, 2004, Adlesperger pushed forward despite the death of his point man and the wounding of two others. Adlesperger, wounded in the face by grenade fragments, then single-handedly cleared a stairway and a rooftop, throwing grenades and shooting at insurgents while under blistering fire.
After listening to feedback from the field, a few changes to the Air Force Basic Military Training curriculum will transform trainees into more combat-ready airmen.
The changes, which began Sept. 4, 2018, are entirely focused on readiness and lethality, airmanship, fitness, and warrior ethos.
“The future of BMT focuses on creating disciplined, warrior-airmen who are ready to support our joint partners in conflicts around the globe,” said Col. Jason Corrothers, former 737th Training Group and BMT commander who spearheaded the modifications. “These changes to refine the basic training experience are about increasing our readiness and lethality while simultaneously instilling airmanship and core values from the very beginning.”
Restoring readiness is one of the Air Force’s top priorities. The changes address readiness through a revamped expeditionary skills and weapons training curriculum, said Lt. Col. Jose Surita, 326th Training Squadron commander, who has overseen the development of the revamped curriculum.
Basic Expeditionary Airmen Skills Training which previously took place in week five of training, is resequenced to the final training week as the culminating event of BMT. Air Force recruits will also experience a beefed up Self-Aid/Buddy Care regimen, called the Tactical Combat Casualty Course.
“We need highly trained and ready airmen,” Surita said. “Readiness is the central theme across the BMT curriculum as we deliver trained and committed airmen capable of delivering 21st century airpower.”
There is also an increased focus on weapons handling and familiarization, said Surita.
Air Force Basic Military Training trainees prepare for a log climb and rope walk obstacle during the Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
Airmen’s Week, which was focused on a values-based “Airmanship 100” curriculum, was taught the week after trainees completed basic training. Airmen’s Week lessons, which are not being changed, are now incorporated throughout 8.5 weeks of BMT.
This change gives end-to-end ownership of the training to the military training instructor corps, delivering a continuous immersion that accelerates “mind to heart” adoption of the Air Force core values and warrior ethos principles
“Our airmen need to be technically capable, but they also need to be motivated,” said Master Sgt. Robert Kaufman, military training instructor. “Airmanship 100 lessons focus on their resilience and challenge recruits to commit to holding each other accountable to our core values.”
An Air Force Basic Military Training trainee attacks a dummy during an obstacle during the Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
With an emphasis on improving human performance, BMT will also see a bump up in the overall number of fitness sessions, increasing from 31 to 44 periods throughout training. Workouts will be a balanced mix of cardio, strength, and interval training.
“Physical fitness is a critical component of readiness,” said Master Sgt. Andrea Jefferson, military training instructor. “By increasing the number of physical training sessions, we build fitness habits that will help recruits perform both in the military environment, and in their personal lives.”
BMT curriculum changes also includes a purpose built heritage program that introduces recruits to Air Force heroes, and weaves heritage and warrior ethos throughout training.
An Air Force Basic Military Training Instructor watch an Air Force Basic Military Training (AFBMT) graduation.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
“We will be introducing warrior identity, as well as Air Force history and heroes, every week throughout training,” said Master Sgt. Richard Bonsra, military training instructor. “Those topics will then be reinforced during all training events, such as naming physical training sessions after a fallen airman to cement the experience.”
Future changes to how heritage and warrior ethos are ingrained into BMT will include naming obstacles on the “Creating Leaders, Airmen, Warriors” Course after Air Force heroes, said Bonsra.
Air Force Basic Military Training Instructors train drill and ceremony movements at Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Bennie J. Davis III)
“Over the last 70 years, we have become the most dominant Air Force the world has ever known, but there is no doubt we must be, and can be better in the future,” said Chief Master Sgt. Lee Hoover, 737th TRG superintendent, “The next generation of airmen will take us there, so it’s critical we start them on the right foot. These changes ensure we move in that direction.”
Headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, the 737th TRG is the Air Force’s largest training group, comprised of nine squadrons and more than 900 permanent-party personnel. BMT, with an average daily load of 7,000 trainees, graduated more than 37,314 airmen in fiscal year 2017 and BMT instructors are postured to increase that number to more than 40,200 graduates in fiscal year 2019.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
As if civilian fashion statements couldn’t be any more incomprehensible, Urban Outfitters has planted its own ludicrous flag into the fashion world with their newest accessory: a $30 highlighter-yellow, reflective belt. You know, the exact same type used by troops all over the world since the early ’90s.
At first, this news might confuse and frustrate you — it’s not stolen valor, but it’s definitely appropriation. Then, it’ll dawn on you: the fools who buy this belt are literally spending $30 on a product that you can buy for $8 at the PX. So, in a way, who can blame Urban Outfitters? Who wouldn’t want to pick up a few and sell them, making a cool $20 profit each?
Hell, we all have tough boxes full of a bunch of old uniform parts that hipsters would pay out the ass to own. The Afghanistan dust just adds character. It’s like the “distressed” or “worn-out” look that’s apparently a thing. Well, try these on for size:
Enjoy it! You won’t be wearing that thing until you retire.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ashlee Lolkus)
Everyone loves their boonie cap when they get issued one. Then, when they deploy, they quickly realize that they’re in a unit that doesn’t allow them to wear it. Occasionally, you’ll see some other soldier wearing it at one of the bigger, POGgier air bases, but that’s still not you.
Troops only really get the chance to wear them when they’re out of the service and decorate it with whatever kind of pins they can attribute to their military career. Hipsters love decorating their junk with more junk.
The leather shells can withstand countless air assault missions and not rip. The inserts can barely keep the wind out.
Hipsters go apesh*t over worthless things that seem (and are) cheaply made. There’s nothing more worthless and cheaply made than a 2nd Lt with a map those lime-green inserts that are supposed to be worn inside of actually-useful leather gloves.
In fact, those inserts are so garbage that soldiers will often find a different pair of gloves that are “in regulation” just to avoid having to wear anything that requires these things. To make matters worse, no one ever buys them, but we all have at least five spares that magically appeared on our CIF gear lists.
Feels like I’m wearing nothing at all. Nothing at all. Nothing at all. Nothing at all. Nothing at all…
Hipsters love wearing things ironically. There’s nothing veterans wear more ironically than the ranger panties that leave barely anything to the imagination.
Ranger panties are perfect for everything! You can run in them. You can sleep in them. You can go to the beach in them. You can slack off on the couch and watch Netflix because you’ve become fat and lazy since you got your DD-214 in them. You can even go hiking in them!
Thankfully, the two socks in each pair change color at about the same rate.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Brian A. Barbour)
Green knee-high socks
As mentioned above, the magnitude of one’s hipsteriness is defined by how “rustic” their clothing looks. That’s why they’ll dress like lumberjacks despite having never touched an axe.
That means they’re chomping at the bit for any piece of clothing that starts to wear out after a single day! Luckily for all you hipsters out there, these green socks turn puke yellow after just one wear. Now that’s efficiency!
“Oh, god. Is Lieutenant Carl still trying to do the whole Batman thing?” — “Yeah, just ignore him and it’ll stop…”
(U.S. Marine Corps)
Mess dress cape
Hipsters must go overboard with everything they wear — otherwise, they won’t get enough attention. It doesn’t matter if it’s the dead of summer, they’ll still wear a cardigan with a loud scarf. They keep beanies securely affixed to their heads until they’ve grown enough hair to sport a man bun.
Why not add the most over-the-top piece of an officer’s uniform? You know, that cape they’ve all secretly purchased but won’t dare wearing to the unit ball?
Obviously a picture of them in the bag. The internet couldn’t handle the raw sexual energy that these things exude when worn by a model.
Those sexy AF military-issued skivvies
For some reason, hipsters always seem to dress like it’s laundry day. For the troops, laundry day is the only time that anyone would ever dare to put on these bad boys.
I mean, who doesn’t want to prove their manliness by having their genitals rubbed up against sandpaper all day?
Except this guy. He managed to pull the look off. But you are not this guy, so you can’t.
(Tennessee State Archives)
I’d love to make some funny, sort of ironic joke about hipsters wanting to wear the BCGs — but that’s almost exactly the type of glasses that they actually wear, whether they need prescription lenses or not.
When troops who wear glasses get to their first unit, they immediately toss their up-armored eyewear and carry on wearing whatever else. Barely anyone in the history of these damned glasses has looked good in them — but for some reason, hipsters think they cracked the code.