Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez and his platoon patrol the sandy streets of Djibouti, the hot East African sun scorches their path with temperatures upwards of 115 degrees. Passing through impoverished villages, Rodriguez began to notice a devastating trend — most of the children are barefooted.
It was during his visit to an orphanage that, Rodriquez immediately thought of his own two daughters and made it his personal mission to do something about the shoeless orphans.
“While on patrol, every few weeks we passed a local orphanage where children gather for their meals,” Rodriguez said. “Children aged 5-8 sleep along the walls outside and wake up to shower in the orphanage. They eat cups of peanut butter for protein with crackers. Since there is no refrigeration, that is the most protein they are able to get. That’s their lunch — crackers. So I thought you know what? This would be a great mission for my church back home.”
While on emergency leave due to his father’s passing, Rodriguez pushed past his grief to talk to students and coordinate a sandal drive with the school that his daughters attend, Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in Laredo, Texas. Their Catholic school is part of the parish that Rodriguez and his family belong to.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, stands with several of the children in Djibouti. Rodriguez gifted 500 sandals to barefoot orphans and children during their deployment.
(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)
“I am very active in my daughter’s school and I wanted to get my daughters involved and proactive in something in Africa as well,” Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, said. “I talked to the principal, who said she would talk to Father Wojciech, the priest in charge of his church in Laredo. The school sent out flyers thru the National Junior Honor Society asking parents to donate one pair of sandals.”
On Veteran’s day, Rodriguez who is completing his fourth deployment, visited his daughter’s school to talk about his service in the military and the children in Djibouti.
“I described how the weather was there, how hot it was and asked them to imagine standing outside, barefooted in Laredo,” Rodriguez said. “My daughters and their classmates are at that age where they are learning to help others and how to ask for help as well. I want them to learn a sense of compassion.”
From September to December, his daughter’s school collected six boxes filled with roughly 500 sandals of varying sizes. After the sandals were collected, the students raised money to send the two by three-foot shipping boxes to Djibouti for Rodriguez and his unit to deliver to the children.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez, a platoon sergeant for the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 36th Infantry Division of the Texas Army National Guard, hands out sandals to barefoot orphans and children with his platoon during their deployment, February 2019 in Djibouti.
(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)
“This is the first time that we have done something so big that reaches out of the country,” Cynthia Sanchez, math and science teacher at Blessed Sacrament School. “It’s a trickle-down effect, from parents, and at school they are learning how to help others so that they can teach their own kids.”
Normally, the school participated in blanket, canned food and sweater drives, and periodically will make trips to feed the homeless.
“They feel good and warm inside about helping others with no incentives but because they want to give it,” said Sanchez. “We weren’t expecting that amount. A lot of parents and kids wanted to do their part and National Junior honor Society members went outside of the school into their communities to get donations.”
Anxiously waiting for the packages to arrive, Rodriguez received the sandals in February.
In order to distribute the sandals in the community, Rodriguez coordinated with the local orphanage and the village elder for approval.
After he received approval, Rodriguez and his platoon set out to deliver the sandals to the children of the community.
“When we handed out the sandals the children were so surprised,” Rodriguez said. “Their happiness turned into overwhelming joy, to trying to be next, I made sure they all were good. It got chaotic at times but these children had nothing but what they were wearing and most were barefooted.”
Rodriguez, who kept close contact with his daughter’s school immediately alerted the school, via e-mail, that he had handed out the sandals to the children.
Children from Djibouti pose for a photo after receiving sandals from Texas Army National Guard Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rodriguez and his platoon, February 2019 in Djibouti.
(Photo by Capt. Nadine Wiley De Moura)
In response, Anacecy Chavez, a Blessed Sacrament School teacher wrote:
“When I read this my heart jumped. You are a super hero for me and many others for serving our country and helping those around you.”
The Director of the orphanage, Caritas Djibouti, also thanked Rodriguez and his daughter’s school for their donation.
“We had the good surprise a few days ago to receive, through Mr. Rodriguez, a nice and generous donation of shoes for the street children here at Caritas,” said Francesco Martialis, director of Caritas Djibouti. “It was such a generous support which will be usefully used for sure! And also many thanks for the Church support that we feel, from here Djibouti, an isolated place, through your donation. It is precious to us.”
Rodriguez, who has been a soldier on the Texas National Guard Joint Counterdrug Task Force for 18 years, is no stranger to getting involved into the community. Task force members routinely support local law enforcement agencies and community-based organizations in an effort to detect, interdict and deter illicit drug activity.
In addition to being an involved member of his church, Rodriguez said that his experience as a task force member enhanced his ability to build relationships on an international level, communicate and coordinate with partners in order to make the drive a success.
Although Rodriguez’s tour is coming to a close, he has continued to solidify the connections of his church at home with the local Djibouti church — which coincidentally are both named Blessed Sacrament.
Rodriguez spoke to the Bishop of the Djibouti Catholic Church about maintaining contact in the case that they may be able to provide more donations for the children.
“It is great to hear that our young youth are striving to be humanitarians as that is something this world is missing more of,” Rodriguez said. “It gives me great pride to know that the sacrifices we make as soldiers to protect our country is giving our youth the opportunity to grow into caring, responsible and giving citizens of our communities.”
While the Coast Guard is not slowing down in its most important national security operations as the U.S. enters its fifth week of a government shutdown, some activities have been halted or curtailed, and many newly minted Coasties find themselves stuck at recruit training, without funding to head to their first duty stations.
Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a Coast Guard spokesman, told Military.com that recruits whose new units are not well suited to support them during the shutdown or lack the means to return home in the interim “will remain attached to the Training Center [in Cape May, New Jersey] for the duration of the lapse.”
“There have been no immediate operational impacts related to recruit training; however, it is difficult to project the impact that the lapse in appropriations will have on mission readiness months or years from now,” he said Jan. 23, 2019.
There are currently 395 recruits in training. Seventy-six new Coasties graduated Jan. 18, 2019, he said.
Those who have the option to return home may receive a stipend from the government even as the shutdown continues.
Coast Guard cutter Bertholf on a counterdrug patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, March 11, 2018.
(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Trees)
“While the partial government shutdown prevents our ability to provide advance payment of reimbursable transfer expenses, it does not prevent us from issuing plane tickets for recruits to travel directly to units with the capacity to support them during the shutdown,” McBride said.
Often, recruits have the opportunity to return home for leave before reporting to their first assigned unit.
“In these cases, we have been able to coordinate temporary hometown recruiting assignments that allow graduates to make their desired trip home for leave, assist the workforce recruiting effort and temporarily defer execution of their permanent transfer and associated costs,” McBride said. “For those who choose this option, there may be out-of-pocket costs, if the cost of a ticket home exceeds the cost allowance of government transportation to their new unit.”
The Coast Guard will continue to monitor the situation but said that it does not plan on letting recruits leave Cape May without an approved transfer plan with appropriately allocated resources.
Elsewhere in the Coast Guard, the shutdown is also taking a toll on operations.
Boardings for safety checks, the issuance or renewals of merchant documentation and licensing, fisheries enforcement patrols and routine maintenance of aids to navigation have been delayed or downsized, McBride said.
Other modified operations include administrative functions, training, and maintenance for surface and aviation fleets, he said in an email.
“The Coast Guard will continue operations required by law that provide for national security or that protect life and property,” he said, including monitoring coast lines, ports, harbors and inland waterways, as well as maritime intercept and environmental defense operations.
Family and friends reunite with crew members on Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf’s flight deck upon the cutter’s after a 90-day deployment, Sept. 4, 2018.
(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)
“They still have to go out and do their job and focus on the mission when sometimes it’s a very unforgiving environment,” he said in an interview with Military.com on Jan. 23, 2019. He retired from the position in 2018.
“I wouldn’t presume to think that anybody wouldn’t give it 100 percent,” Cantrell said, adding that the current situation does “weigh on people.”
Members of the Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, missed their first paychecks Jan. 15, 2019. If the shutdown continues, they will miss their second at the end of the month.
While shutdowns have occurred before, support services for members and families “will have to expand if it goes any longer,” Cantrell said.
Coasties have been relying on donations, loans and even food pantries to sustain their families as they take on necessary duties such as search-and-rescue operations.
“It’s one thing to sit back and go, ‘Wow, why would I want to do that?’ Because they don’t have the option to say, ‘Well, I’m just going to go home.’ They’ve been deemed essential,” Cantrell said, adding that morale is “probably low” in places around the country.
(Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzo-Simmons)
Cantrell said he is hopeful the next generation of service members’ desire to serve will outweigh the current problems.
“People know it’s not the Coast Guard that’s doing this. And I’m 100 percent sure [leaders] have prepped the battlespace for those recruits to know what’s going on in the service. And they do a really good job… at the Training Center … [to get them] excited about the Coast Guard,” he said.
While frustrations remain, Cantrell said he thinks it’s unlikely there will be a significant or long-term national security impact, given the service has seen fluctuating or dwindling budgets before and was still able to press on.
But “it’s a bitter pill to swallow even as a retiree, and I just can’t imagine the young folks out there worrying about things that they shouldn’t have to worry about,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
After years of exposing problems at the Phoenix VA and fighting off retaliation, noted whistleblower Brandon Coleman has accepted a position at the new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.
“The same agency that tried to destroy my career is now bringing me on to help fix this,” Coleman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “That’s pretty humbling. And I don’t take it lightly. And I’m gonna give 120 percent like I do all the time.”
Coleman announced his new position at the Whistleblower Summit in Washington, DC last week.
Coleman’s endeavor into whistleblowing first started when he came forward in December 2014 to report the problem of neglected suicidal veterans walking out of the emergency room at the Phoenix VA and subsequently experienced a whirlwind of retaliation. After making a media appearance, management almost immediately plotted to terminate him and repeatedly rifled through his medical records as a method of intimidation.
Citing supposed workplace violence, Phoenix VA management successfully pushed Coleman out on paid leave for a total of 461 days, during which time his reputation blossomed as a public whistleblower fighting retaliation and wrongdoing. He later settled a lawsuit with the VA and returned to work, but this time at a VA facility elsewhere in Arizona. His whistleblowing career culminated in his testimony before the Senate and recent presence on the stage with President Donald Trump during the signing of the executive order to bring more accountability and whistleblower protection to the VA.
The very office created by the executive order is the office Coleman will soon be working for.
While the new office is still in the beginning stages, Coleman is hopeful that it can be used as an instrument to reform the VA.
For Coleman, one of the best indications that the office has a good shot at pushing reform through is that many of the employees have come from outside of the VA.
“My impression from the new division is that these are all employees brought in from other agencies — most of them I’ve met have been with the VA less than 6 months, and I really like that, cause they all want to fix this mess and that’s what my goal is, too, to fix this and to better care for our vets and protect whistleblowers, so what happened to me stops happening,” Coleman said.
“In a perfect world there would be no Brandon Colemans — what happened to me would never happen again. That’s my goal, to help them fix this. I told them I was willing to clean toilets, take out the garbage. I didn’t care. As a former Marine I just wanted to be a part of this,” Coleman added.
For now, Coleman is slowly transitioning out of his current role helping veterans with substance abuse disorders, at which point he will likely take over a role in whistleblower education, as he’s developed solid relationships with groups like the Project on Government Oversight, Government Accountability Project, the Office of Special Counsel and Concerned Veterans for America.
It’s peak hurricane season, as Hurricane Dorian has been reminding us.
But Dorian isn’t the only strong storm swirling: Four cyclones churned over the oceans this week. On Sep. 4, 2019, they lined up for a satellite camera.
The GOES 16 satellite, operated by that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with help from NASA, captured the above image of the Western Hemisphere on Sep. 4, 2019. It shows Hurricane Juliette, Tropical Storm Fernand, Hurricane Dorian, and Tropical Storm Gabrielle lined up across the globe.
At the time the photo was taken, Juliette in the East Pacific and Dorian in the Atlantic were Category 2 hurricanes. Fernand and Gabrielle were tropical storms with sustained wind speeds 45 mph and 50 mph, respectively.
Labeled image of the chain of tropical cyclones lined up across the Western Hemisphere on Sep. 4, 2019.
The image shows 2 hurricanes and 2 tropical storms
Dorian made a record-tying landfall in the northwestern Bahamas on Sep.1, 2019, as a Category 5 hurricane with 185-mph sustained winds. It ground to a halt on Sep. 2, 2019, flooding islands with a wall of water up to 23 feet high, ripping buildings apart with wind gusts as strong as 220 mph, and killing at least 23 people.
In the NOAA image, Dorian can be seen traveling north along Florida’s east coast, towards Georgia and the Carolinas. Since then, it has brought heavy rains and flash floods, lashed the southeastern US coast with powerful winds, caused tornadoes, and even caused bricks of cocaine to wash up on a beach. One man was reported dead in North Carolina after falling off a ladder while preparing for the storm.
Tropical Storm Fernand, meanwhile had just made landfall over northeastern Mexico at the time of this satellite image. The storm caused heavy rainfall, with a threat of flash flooding and mudslides, but it has since dissipated.
Hurricane Juliette has stuck to the open ocean in the East Pacific, and is expected to weaken over the next few days.
Tropical Storm Gabrielle has wandered harmlessly through the open Atlantic, and on Sep. 5, 2019, was “struggling to maintain thunderstorms near its center,” the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported.
Hurricane Dorian moves slowly past Grand Bahama Island on Sep. 2, 2019.
An above-average hurricane season in the Atlantic
NOAA recently revised its forecast for this year’s Atlantic hurricane season — it now projects a 45% chance that this year will see above-average activity. That could mean five to nine hurricanes in the Atlantic, with two to four of those expected storms becoming major hurricanes (defined as Category 3 or above, with winds greater than 110 miles per hour).
On average, the Atlantic sees six hurricanes in a season, with three developing into major hurricanes (defined as Category 3 or above). Hurricane season peaks in August through October, with especially high activity around September 10. The season ends November 30.
Hurricane category numbers don’t necessarily indicate the full destructive power of a storm, however, as they’re based solely on wind speeds. In Hurricane Dorian’s case, the storm has traveled slowly, so its effects have been prolonged.
Slower, wetter storms like this are becoming more common as the planet warms. Over the past 70 years or so, the speed of hurricanes and tropical storms has slowed about 10% on average, a 2018 study found.
Dorian is now the fifth hurricane to reach Category 5 over the past four hurricane seasons in the North Atlantic. In the last 95 years, there have been only 35 Category 5 hurricanes in the North Atlantic, so this frequency of strong storms is far above average.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
The seventh annual Gathering of Warriors Veterans Summit hosted by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Native Wellness Institute, and VA Office of Tribal Government Relations, held July 11-12, 2019, brought together hundreds of individuals from different communities at the Uyxat Powwow Grounds in Grande Ronde, Oregon.
The event honored those who served and gave veterans, families, and community members the opportunity to connect with one another and learn about veteran-related resources and programs.
Guest speaker Johnathan Courtney, Army combat veteran, shared his story of healing and how he struggled to find himself when he came home from the Iraq War. He said that if it wasn’t for the help of his wife Emily, he wouldn’t be where he is today. With her help and support he was able to connect with caring providers within VA and a support network with community organizations.
“It starts with vets helping vets and family care,” said Courtney, now Chairman of the Health and Wellness Committee for the State of Oregon Veterans of Foreign Wars and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. He hopes that by sharing his story of healing with fellow veterans that it will encourage them or someone they know to reach out for help if they need it and learn about resources available. “Many veterans don’t reach out for support and we are trying to change that here,” he said.
Veterans of all eras were recognized and honored for their service to the nation during the opening ceremony on July 11, 2019.
Other guest speakers, representing different tribes and organizations, shared their stories of healing over the two-day period, including Gold Star families who were given a special honor at the event. Gold Star families are relatives of service members who have fallen during a conflict.
VA staff members participated in a panel discussion to help answer questions and share information about VA services. VA Portland Health Care System panelist members included Sarah Suniga, Women Veterans Program Manager, Ph.D., and Valdez Bravo, Administrative Director for Primary Care Division. Other panelist members included Kurtis Harris, Assistant Coach Public Contact Team for the VA Portland Regional Office; Jeffrey Applegate, Assistant Director of Willamette National Cemetery; and Kelly Fitzpatrick, Oregon State Department of Veterans Affairs Director.
Additionally, VA Portland Health Care System staff from the My HealtheVet Program and Suicide Prevention team tabled at the event.
The seventh annual Gathering of Warriors Veterans Summit hosted by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Native Wellness Institute, and VA Office of Tribal Government Relations held July 11-12, 2019 brought together hundreds of individuals from different communities at the Uyxat Powwow Grounds in Grande Ronde, Oregon.
“It’s a great honor to connect with veterans in this community,” said Terry Bentley, Tribal Government Relations Specialist for VA Office of Tribal Relations and member of the Karuk Tribe of California. Bentley has participated in this event since it first started seven years ago. She said she feels privileged to partner with tribal and community organizations to make it all come together and encourages anyone who served in the military or who knows someone who served in the military to participate next year.
“This event is about helping our veterans and encouraging them to come forward to see what’s available,” said Reyn Leno, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, member of Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and past chairman of the Oregon Department of Veteran’s Affairs Advisory Committee. “Even if we help just one veteran during this event I think that in itself is a success.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
One Soldier said that a film crew brought the oryx there to shoot a movie many years ago and simply left them out in the desert. Another Soldier said that he heard that an African king had gifted them to the US. But in reality, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish introduced 95 oryx to the area in the 1950s for large game hunters. Thousands now populate the region.
But, being an non-indigenous species, the National Park Service is concerned about how the animals are affecting the local ecosystem, especially the nearby White Sands National Park. At one point, being a curious fellow, I crept up to the animal to get a better shot — but it wasn’t having any of that. It stomped its hoof and took a couple charging steps towards me, which sent me running in the other direction, much to the Soldiers’ amusement. Nor was the oryx scared of the Paladin. Even after the howitzer fired, sending a massive shockwave throughout the surrounding area, I saw it still hanging around.
Eventually, it meandered away, slowly fading into the sprawling desert landscape — and we never saw it again.
Basic Training — often called boot camp — introduces new service members to military life and customs. Boot camp “accelerates” a citizen’s transformation to a soldier, sailor, airman or marine.
A Colorado-based company, Techstars Accelerator, created Patriot Boot Camp (PBC) to help service members transition out of the military. More importantly, PBC helps transitioning service members and entrepreneurial veterans turn their business ideas into tech start-ups.
The 15th installment of Patriot Boot Camp was held in Lehi, Utah on Aug. 23-25, 2019. Veterans, active duty service members, and military spouses with business ideas or existing businesses gathered for three days to learn from industry leaders. The event was hosted MX Data, and sponsored by MetLife Foundation, USAA, and Jared Polis Foundation.
The PBC connected the event’s attendees to a community of over fifty mentors — many of whom traveled from across the nation to make entrepreneurship tangible. A testament to the dedication and belief in this program was that the mentors all volunteered their time, at their own expense, to provide one-on-one mentoring.
Patriot Boot Camp founder Taylor McLemore address the veteran entrepreneurs.
More than 850 veterans have gone through the program, and they have hired over 1,600 employees and raised 0 million in venture capital while generating millions in revenue.
By the numbers
Jobs created: 1,600+
Hours of mentorship: 2,500+
Alumni entrepreneurs: 850+
Entrepreneurs attending PBC Utah: Coming from 23 states, one from Austria
Capital raised by alumni: 0 million
Diversity: 50% service-connected, disabled Veteran-owned business
Female founders: 23%
According to an article in TechCrunch, PBC graduates show “…that startups aren’t the sort of crazy risk that they first appear. Indeed, after what many of these men and women have just been through, it may not be all that daunting of a next mission after all.”
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) will be decommissioned on Feb. 3, marking the next step on her journey to the “Ship-Submarine Recycling Program” – what a 2012 National Review article dubbed a sanitized way of saying “the scrapyard.”
Her predecessor, the Yorktown-class carrier with the hull number CV 6, also was a victim of this alleged crime against naval history.
According to a report from the Virginian-Pilot, this sendoff will be a relatively private one, with about 100 people present. The 2012 “inactivation” ceremony saw over 12,000 people attend, according to a Navy release. At that ceremony, it was announced that CVN 80 would be the ninth U.S. Navy vessel to carry the name Enterprise. A CNN report this past April notes that construction of the new Enterprise, a Gerald R. Ford-class carrier, will begin in 2018.
According to the Navy’s command history of the Enterprise (so long that it took nine entries in the Navy’s online Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships), the ship saw her first action during the Cuban Missile Crisis – less than a year after she was commissioned. She then did Operation Sea Orbit in 1964, a cruise that circumnavigated the globe.
In 1965, the ship carried out the first of six combat deployments to the Vietnam War, carrying two squadrons of F-4 Phantoms, four squadrons of A-4 Skyhawks and assorted support planes.
The F-35 program has hit another snag, this time not an expensive production mishap or overrun, but the strength of the dollar itself.
At Lockheed Martin’s 2017 Media Day, Jeff Babione, general manager of the F-35 program, laid out the “blueprint for affordability,” or the defense giant’s plan to bring down the cost of the Joint Strike Fighter to below $85 million in the coming batches.
But therein lies a problem.
With about half of the F-35s Lockheed Martin intends to build in the next five years heading out to foreign countries, even in house belt-tightening and big initial investments to help ramp up to economies of scale can’t offset the strong dollar.
Asked by a Wall Street Journal reporter if the dollar’s high exchange rate with foreign currencies is a problem for the most expensive weapons system in the history of the world, Babione said, “I think it is.”
“We’ve had some of our customers come up and raise the concern that this may potentially hurt their buys,” said Babione, who noted that some elements of production cannot move outside of the country to help mitigate costs for foreign buyers.
“We have some 1,700 suppliers in seven countries around the world. Many of the countries that are buying the F-35 produce parts for the F-35,” said Babione. But still, Babione concluded that currency exchange rates not withstanding, the best tactic is just to get the F-35’s price down, period.
A pilot takes the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft up for its first night flight near Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Jan. 18, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo)
“What I think I can do is drive the price down so whatever the exchange rate is, it’s affordable,” Babione said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan told reporters that Lockheed Martin’s blueprint for affordability was “just ok,” and suggested revisiting the supply chain instead of simply seeking bigger upfront investments, as Defense News notes.
The Apache is the big brother in the sky that grunts love to see, hear, and feel flying above them. Its racks of Hellfire missiles are designed to destroy heavy tanks and light bunkers with ease, its rockets can eviscerate enemy formations, and its chain gun is perfect for mopping up any “squirters.”
The Stinger missile was originally designed as a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile. Operators aim the weapon, and it detects the infrared energy of the target. When the missile is fired, it homes in on that signature for the kill.
Apaches currently cannot carry a dedicated air-to-air weapon unless the operators buy an upgrade kit. Even then, the missiles have to be mounted on the outer wingtips instead of on actual weapons pylons.
But missile maker Raytheon and Apache maker Boeing reached an agreement in May to incorporate the attachments for the air-to-air Stinger missile into all new Apaches starting in 2018, Jane’s reports.
The new build will also move the mounting location for Stinger missiles from the outer wingtips to the dedicated weapons pylons.
It will then be much easier for Apaches to engage enemy air assets, something that attack helicopters are surprisingly good at. During the military’s Joint Countering Attack Helicopter exercises in 1978, helicopters with air-to-air weapons racked up a 5:1 kill ratio against jets.
Even if Boeing adds Stinger missile mounts to Apaches, that doesn’t guarantee the Army will buy them. The service is still fighting a long battle about whether it will keep any Apaches in the National Guard due to shortfalls of the aircraft for active duty missions.
So, there’s a very real chance that the Army would rather keep all of its Apaches supporting ground troops rather than re-tasking some to provide anti-air coverage — no matter how cool it would be to see an Apache shoot down an enemy jet.
If a conflict in U.S. history ever came with baggage, it has to be the Vietnam War. Although the service and actions of the millions of Americans who fought in Southeast Asia have been slowly recognized, the unpopularity of the war at the time, and for many years after, left a scar in American society. This unpopularity also meant that extraordinary men and units, such as the Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), have fallen through the cracks of America’s consciousness, and are only known to a few old comrades, their families, and a handful of military history enthusiasts.
The innocuous-sounding MACV-SOG is such an organization, although its obscurity also has to do with its highly secretive nature.
SOG operators pulled off some of the most impressive special operations of the entire war; including some that seemed to defy logic itself. As successive U.S. administrations claimed that no American troops were outside South Vietnam, several hundreds of special operations troops fought against all odds, and against an enemy who always enjoyed a numerical advantage that sometimes exceeded a ratio of 1:1000.
The most secret unit you’ve never heard of
Activated in 1964, MACV-SOG was a covert joint special operations organization that conducted cross-border operations in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and North Vietnam.
Composed of Army Special Forces operators, Navy SEALs, Recon Marines, and Air Commandos, SOG also worked closely with the Intelligence Community, often running missions at the request of the CIA.
During its eight-year secret war (1964-1972), SOG conducted some of the most daring special operations in U.S. history and planted the seed for the creation of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
SOG’s main battleground and focus was the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, a complex stretching for hundreds of miles above and below ground, from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam, which the North Vietnamese and Vietcong used to fuel their fight in the south.
What was peculiar about SOG operations was the fact that they happened where U.S. troops weren’t supposed to be. Successive U.S. administrations had insisted that no American troops were operating outside South Vietnam.
SOG commandos, thus, wore no name tags, rank, or any other insignia that might identify them as Americans. Even their weapons had no serial numbers.
Duty in SOG was voluntary and strictly confidential. SOG troops weren’t allowed to disclose their location, missions, or any other details surrounding their covert outfit and they couldn’t take photographs—like all good commandos. However, SOG broke that rule frequently, as the numerous pictures from the time suggest. But as far as the general public was concerned, they were each just another American soldier fighting Communism in Vietnam.
SOG was commanded by an Army colonel, called “Chief SOG,” reflecting the predominance of Green Berets in the organization, and divided into three geographical sections: Command and Control North (CCN), Command and Control Central (CCC), and Command and Control South (CCS).
Service in the unit was highly selective. Not only did it recruit solely from special operations units, but the inherent risk required that everyone had to be a volunteer. Approximately 3.2 million Americans served in Vietnam. Of that number, about 20,000 were Green Berets, of those, only 2,000 served in SOG, with just 400 to 600 running recon and direct action operations.
Service at SOG came with an unspoken agreement that you’d receive either a Purple Heart or body bag. SOG had a casualty rate of 100 percent—everyone who served in SOG was either wounded, most multiple times, or killed.
Our “Little People“
What enabled SOG operations was a steady supply of loyal and fierce local fighters who passionately hated the North Vietnamese—and sometimes each other. These local warfighters worked with the American commandos as mercenaries. The “Little People,” as the Americans affectionally called them, proved their worth on the field, against impossible odds time and again.
These local partner forces included Montagnards, South Vietnamese, and Chinese Nungs, among other tribes and ethnicities. Indeed, local mercenaries made up most of SOG recon teams and Hatchet Forces (more on them later). For example, most recon teams would run cross-border operations with between two and four Americans and four to nine local mercenaries. Locals had an uncanny ability—some SOG operators would say a sixth sense—to detect danger. This ability made them perfect point men during recon operations.
Usually, when launching a cross-border recon operation, SOG teams would enter a pre-mission “quarantine,” much like modern-day Army Special Forces operational detachments do before deploying. During this quarantine period, they would eat the same food as the North Vietnamese, that is mostly rice and fish, so they—and their human waste—could smell like the enemy while in the jungle.
Today, where pre-workout and energy drinks are borderline mandatory, even on active operations, such measures might sound extravagant. But in a moonless night, in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, surrounded by thousands of North Vietnamese trackers and troops, something as trivial-seeming as your smell could mean the difference between a SOG team getting wiped out or making it home.
The local troops, having a great understanding of the operational environment, were crucial in the survival of many SOG recon teams. When the war ended, some of them, such as the legendary “Cowboy,” managed to escape to the West and come to the U.S.
Death-defying special operations
SOG specialized mainly in strategic reconnaissance, direct-action, sabotage, and combat search-and-rescue.
Although SOG’s primary mission-set was strategic reconnaissance through its recon teams, it also specialized in direct-action operations, such as raids and ambushes. For these larger operations, there were different outfits within SOG.
The “Hatchet Forces” specialized in raids and ambushes, but also acted as a quick-reaction force for recon teams. Usually, Hatchet Forces were platoon-size and composed of five Americans and 30 indigenous troops. Sometimes, several Hatchet Forces would combine to create a company-size element, called either “Havoc” or “Hornet,” that could be very effective against known enemy logistical hubs or headquarters.
In addition to the Hatchet Forces, there were also the “SLAM” companies, standing for Search, Locate, Annihilate, Monitor/Mission, which were full-sized SOG companies with a few dozen Americans in leadership roles and a few hundred indigenous mercenaries who SOG had recruited.
The first SOG recon teams were called “Spike Teams” (ST), for example, ST Idaho, with the term “Recon Teams” (RT), for instance, RT Ohio, becoming more popular later in the war. Usually, SOG commandos named teams after U.S. States, but they also used other titles, such as “Bushmaster,” “Adder,” and “Viper.” The number of active recon teams fluctuated throughout the war, reflecting casualties and increasing demand. For example, at one point, CCC ran almost 30 recon teams.
Some notable SOG missions include Operation Tailwind, a Hatchet Force operation in Thailand and one of the most successful missions in SOG’s history; the Thanksgiving operation, when SOG operator John Stryker Meyer’s six-man team encountered and evaded 30,000 North Vietnamese; the Christmas mission, when Meyer’s team went into Laos to destroy a fuel pipeline but almost got burned alive by North Vietnamese trackers who lit the jungle on fire; Operation Thundercloud, in which SOG recruited and trained captured North Vietnamese troops and sent them to recon operations across the border dressed like their former comrades; and Recon Team Alabama’s October 1968 mission that accounted fora whopping 9,000 North Vietnamese killed or wounded in action.
What stands out about SOG is how much responsibility was placed on its young operators. Legendary SOG operator John Stryker Meyer, for example, was running recon as a One-Zero (team leader) at the age of 22 and just an E-4. And rules of engagement were quite different, with less bureaucracy impeding the guys on the ground.
“The Bright Light missions [combat search-and-rescue] would seldom be deployed under today’s Rules of Engagement,” Meyer told Sandboxx News.
“And, today, they call can’t believe lowly E-4s were directing air strikes, total control on the ground, and experienced troops had final say on teams, regardless of rank. Experience over rank.”
Although techniques, tactics, and procedures were generally the same among the three SOG subcommands, SOG teams adjusted their approaches according to their geographical area. Laos, for example, has more mountains and jungle than Cambodia, which is flatter and more open.
Saviors from above: SOG’s Air Commandos
Pivotal to the success and effectiveness of MACV-SOG operations across the border were several aircraft squadrons from across the services and also South Vietnam.
The Air Force’s 20th Special Operations Squadron was dubbed the “Green Hornets.” They flew the Sikorsky CH-3C and CH-3E and Bell UH-1F/P Huey. First Lieutenant James P. Fleming, a Green Hornet pilot, earned the Medal of Honor for saving a SOG recon team from certain death in 1968.
The Green Hornets’ Hueys came packed with an assortment of weapons, including M-60 machine guns, GAU-2B/A miniguns, and 2.75-inch rocket pods. If ammo ran out, door gunners would lob grenades or shoot their individual rifles.
In addition to the Green Hornets, the South Vietnamese Air Force 219th Squadron, which flew H-34 Kingbees, was a dedicated supporter of SOG operations. These South Vietnamese pilots and crews were truly fearless, always coming to the rescue of compromised recon teams regardless of the danger. Captain Nguyen Van Tuong, a legendary pilot, stands out for his coolness and steady hand under fire.
Other notable rotary-wing units that supported SOG missions were the USMC Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, which flew the AH-1 Viper attack and the UH-1 Venom transport helicopters; the 189th Assault Helicopter Company “Ghost Riders,” which flew assault and transport variants of the UH-1 Huey helicopter.
SOG commandos on the ground could also rely on fixed-wing close air support, with the turboprop A-1 Skyraider being a favorite platform for close air support and the F-4 Phantom a good choice on any given day.
“Military politics always interfered, and our leadership had to fight from close air support assets, such as the A-1 Skyraider squadrons,” Meyer told Sandboxx News.
“For example, SOG brass had to fight to keep the 56th Special Operations Wing, operating from Location Alpha in Da Nang.
“That unit’s SPADs [A-1 Skyraiders] were consistent and fearless and were considered the backbone of CAS during Operation Tailwind. On day 4, for example, the NVA were about to overrun the HF [Hatchet Force] when Tom Stump made devastating gun runs that broke the back of those frontal attacks, giving McCarley time to get them off the LZ and out of the target as weather closed in.”
Close air support was vital and probably the most important factor in the survival of numerous SOG teams. However, although SOG commandos enjoyed air superiority and North Vietnamese aircraft never posed a danger, the Air Commandos supporting SOG had to face the extremely potent anti-aircraft capabilities of the North Vietnamese, which included anything from light machine guns to heavy anti-aircraft cannons to surface-to-air missiles. Every hot extraction forced a penalty of downed helicopters and fighters/ or bombers, or at least a few riddled with bullets.
SOG commandos called in close air support themselves, usually by using a compass and smoke canisters. Forward air controllers, nicknamed “Covey,” flew overhead and assisted in coordinating with the team on the ground and controlling all air assets and close air support. In CCS, Covey usually flew solo, doing both tasks while also flying his plane. In CCN, however, Covey was a two-man affair, usually entailing an experienced SOG operator joining the pilot and helping out with his unique experience, having been on the receiving end of close air support numerous teams.
Years after the Vietnam War ended, it was discovered that there was a mole at the SOG headquarters in Saigon who had been passing information on team missions and locations to the enemy.
SOG operators, including special operations legends like Colonel Robert Howard and Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez, earned 12 Medals of Honor throughout the conflict.
Although service at SOG came with the unspoken agreement of a perilous life full of danger and risk, it also came with an unbreakable sense of loyalty and trust between the men who served there. A sense of loyalty and trust that time and again SOG operators proved through their commitment to leave no man behind, dead or alive. That effort, that commitment, continues to this day.
Air Force F-35A Joint Strike Fighters coordinated close air support with Navy SEALs, trained with F-15Es and A-10s, dropped laser-guided bombs and practiced key mission sets and tactics in Idaho as part of initial preparations for what will likely be its first deployment within several years, senior service officials said.
“We are practicing taking what would be a smaller contingent of jets and moving them to another location and then having them employ out of that location,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, Director, F-35 Integration Office told Scout Warrior in an interview.
While the Marine Corps has publically said it plans to deploy its Short-Take-off-and-Landing F-35B aboard an amphibious assault ship by 2017, the Air Force has been reluctant thus far to specify a deployment date for its F-35A variant.
However, Harrigian did say the Air Force plane would likely deploy within several years and pointed to recent mini-deployments of 6 F-35As from Edwards AFB in Calif., to Mountain Home AFB in Idaho as key evidence of its ongoing preparations.
“They dropped 30-bombs – 20 laser-guided bombs and 10 JDAMS (Joint Direct Attack Munitions). All of them were effective. We are trying to understand not only how we understand the airplane in terms of ordnance but also those tactics, techniques and procedures we need to prepare,” Harrigian explained.
During the exercises at Mountain Home AFB, the F-35A also practiced coordinating communications such as target identification, radio and other command and control functions with 4th-generation aircraft such as the F-15E, he added.
The training exercises in Idaho were also the first “real” occasion to test the airplane’s ability to use its computer system called the Autonomic Logistic Information System, or ALIS. The Air Force brought servers up to Mountain Home AFB to practice maintaining data from the computer system.
A report in the Air Force Times indicated that lawmakers have expressed some concerns about the development of ALIS, which has been plagued with developmental problems such as maintenance issues and problems referred to as “false positives.”
“This is a new piece of the weapons system. It has been challenging and hard. You have all this data about your airplanes. We learned some things that we were able to do in a reasonable amount of time,” Harrigian said.
F-35A “Sensor Fusion”
The computer system is essential to what F-35 proponents refer to as “sensor fusion,” a next-generation technology which combines and integrates information from a variety of sensors onto a single screen. As a result, a pilot does not have to look at separate displays to calculate mapping information, targeting data, sensor input and results from a radar warning receiver.
Harrigian added that his “fusion” technology allows F-35A pilots to process information and therefore make decisions faster than a potential enemy. He explained how this bears upon the historic and often referred to OODA Loop – a term to connote the Observation Orientation, Decision, Action cycle that fighter pilots need to go through in a dogfight or combat engagement in order to successfully destroy the enemy. The OODA-Loop concept was developed by former Air Force strategist Col. John Boyd; it has been a benchmark of fighter pilot training, preparation and tactical mission execution.
“As we go in and start to target the enemy, we are maximizing the capabilities of our jets. The F-35 takes all that sensor input and gives it to you in one picture. Your ability to make decisions quicker that the enemy is exponentially better than when we were trying to put it all together in a 4th generation airplane. You are arriving already in a position of advantage,” Harrigian explained.
Also, the F-35 is able to fire weapons such as the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile “off boresight,” meaning it can destroy enemy targets at different angles of approach that are not necessarily directly in front of the aircraft.
“Before you get into an engagement you will have likely already shot a few missiles at the enemy,” Harrigian said.
The F-35s Electro-Optical Targeting System, or EOTS, combines forward-looking infrared and infrared search and track sensor technology for pilots – allowing them to find and track targets before attacking with laser and GPS-guided precision weapons.
The EOTs system is engineered to work in tandem with a technology called the Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, a collection of six cameras strategically mounted around the aircraft to give the pilot a 360-degree view.
The DAS includes precision tracking, fire control capabilities and the ability to warn the pilot of an approaching threat or missile.
An F-35B dropping a GBU-12 during a developmental test flight. | U.S. Air Force photo
The F-35 is also engineered with an Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar which is able to track a host of electromagnetic signals, including returns from Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. This paints a picture of the contours of the ground or surrounding terrain and, along with Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, locates something on-the-move on the ground and airborne objects or threats.
F-35A Joint Strike Fighter Deployment
The Air Force plans to announce what’s called Initial Operational Capability, or IOC, of its F-35A at some point between August and December of this year; seven F-35As are preparing for this at Hill AFB, Utah.
There is an operational unit at Hill AFB which, this coming June, is slated to go to Mountain Home for its training and preparation. They are the 34th Fighter Squadron
“All of this is part of a robust schedule of activities,” Harrigian added.
Following this development, the F-35A will be ready for deployment, Harrigian explained.
Once deployed, the F-35 will operate with an advanced software drop known as “3F” which will give the aircraft an ability to destroy enemy air defenses and employ a wide range of weapons.
Full operational capability will come with Block 3F, service officials said.
Block 3F will increase the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb, 500-pound JDAM and AIM 9X short-range air-to-air missile, Air Force officials said.
As per where the initial squadron might deploy, Harrigian said that would be determined by Air Combat Command depending upon operational needs at that time. He did, however, mention the Pacific theater and Middle East as distinct possibilities.
“Within a couple years, I would envision they will take the squadron down range. Now, whether they go to Pacific Command or go to the Middle East – the operational environment and what happens in the world will drive this. If there is a situation where we need this capability and they are IOC – then Air Combat Command is going to take a hard look at using these aircraft,” he said.
The U.S. wields the world’s biggest, most powerful Navy, but recent developments in China and Russia’s missile inventory severely threaten the surface fleet with superior range and often velocity.
But the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin have a variety of solutions in the works to tip the scales in the United State’s favor by going hard on offense.
For years, the Navy has focused on a concept called “distributed lethality,” which calls for arming even the Navy’s smallest ships with powerful weapons that can hit targets hundreds of miles out.
Yet Russian and Chinese ships and missile forces already field long-range precision missiles that can hit U.S. ships before the forces are even close.
Additionally, both Russia and China are working on hypersonic weapons that could travel more than five times as fast as the speed of sound. These weapons would fly faster than current U.S. ships could hope to defend against.
Lockheed Martin’s Chris Mang, vice president of tactical missiles and combat maneuver systems, told reporters at its Arlington, Virginia, office that “defense is good,” but “offense is better.
“People don’t shoot back when they go away,” he said.
Mang said that promising new missiles like the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile for ships and planes could hit the field by 2020, which would bolster the Navy’s strategy of “see first, understand first, shoot first.”
The LRASM boasts a range of well over 200 nautical miles, a payload of 1,000 pounds, and the ability to strike at nearly the speed of sound.
An anti-ship missile LRASM in front of a F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet. (U.S. Navy)
It also has a huge advantage that neither Russia nor China have come close to cracking: naval aviation. Lockheed Martin officials said U.S. Navy F-18s and long-range B-1B bombers could carry the LRASM as early as next year.
While the U.S. has been surpassed in missile technology in some areas, the Navy still has a considerable edge in radar technology and command-and-control that can provide intelligence to ship captains faster than its adversaries.
As for the hypersonic weapons meant to redefine naval warfare, Mang said they’re still a long way out. (The U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are working on their own versions, though.)
An artist’s concept of an X-51A hypersonic aircraft during flight. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
“How far do they go?” Mang said of the hypervelocity weapons. “They tend to be fuel-consumption-heavy and thermally limited, so they go really fast for a very short distance. If you can shoot them before they get in range of you, that is a tactic.”
The Navy continues to improve and spread its Aegis missile-defense capabilities so the long-range missiles Russia and China have can be knocked out and the short-range hypersonic missiles they’re developing can be out-ranged.
Though adversaries out-range the U.S. Navy on paper, the U.S. military has and will never be defeated by figures on paper.
Instead, the U.S. and Lockheed Martin seem to be pushing forward with proven technologies that would bolster the United State’s ability to protect its shores.