That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust - We Are The Mighty
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That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust

The B-1B Lancer is perhaps America’s most underrated heavy bomber.


For some perspective, let’s look at the specs. The Lancer can carry 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs internally — that’s more than the B-52 or the B-2. It can carry a bunch of other weapons as well – from the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile to the CBU-97 cluster bomb.

And the B-1 may be the one thing holding back Russia from an all-out invasion of the Baltics.

But did you know that a B-1 even foiled a plan to bring over 1,000 pounds of cocaine into the country? Here’s how that happened:

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
A B-1B Lancer takes off from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., March 27, 2011, on a mission in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marc I. Lane)

According to an Air Force Times report from last year, the B-1 had been on a routine training mission off the Florida coast in March when the crew noticed something suspicious. When they went to check it out they saw a speed boat with drug smugglers and a fresh load of cocaine.

The smugglers had no idea that they were followed until they looked up and saw the humongous bomber coming right at them. They did what just about anyone would do in that situation: They panicked.

The B-1 crew caught them on tape dumping an estimated 500 kilos of cocaine overboard. According to an Oct. 2016 report by Business Insider, each kilo was worth up to $150,000 on the street – meaning that some drug lord took a $75 million hit to his bottom line.

Now that’s a good thing.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
Photo: Courtesy US Coast Guard

You might think the crew of that B-1B got into trouble for violating the Posse Comitatus Act. Guess again – in fact, this incident inspired then-Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James to see if other training missions could be used to help in the War on Drugs. This past September, DodBuzz.com reported that a five-day training exercise last August was used to assist in a counter-drug operation that seized over 6,000 kilos of cocaine.

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That time America abandoned an Abrams tank in Baghdad

In April 2003, Lt. Col. Eric Schwartz and his men were part of the “Thunder Run” — and armored push through the the city of Baghdad and a test of the new Iraqi resistance.


During the movement through the city, an enemy RPG pierced the fuel cell on the back of the tank and left it immobile and burning in the city streets.

The chaotic battle began as the tanks rushed into the city on its highway system. A gunner in the lead tank spotted troops drinking tea with weapons nearby and asked permission to fire. The tank commander gave it, and the fight was on.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
(Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon II)

While the gunner easily dispatched those first soldiers in the open, hundreds of fighters, many in civilian clothes or firing from bunkers, remained. And they put up a fierce resistance with small arms, mortars, and RPGs.

An early RPG hit disabled a Bradley, and the next major RPG hit disabled the Abrams. For almost 20 minutes, the Americans attempted to put out the flames and save the machine. But more fighters kept coming and Schwartz made the decision to sacrifice the tank wreckage to save the armored column.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
A scuttled M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank rests in front of a Fedayeen camp just outside of Jaman Al Juburi, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Photo: Department of Defense)

The crew was moved to another vehicle and the crucial sensitive items were removed from the tank. Then the tankers filled the vehicle with thermite grenades and took off through the city. The Air Force later dropped bombs on what remained.

In the video below, Schwartz and other tankers involved in the battle discuss the unprecedented decision to abandon an Abrams tank.

The Iraqi government loyal to Saddam Hussein later claimed that the tank was killed, which would have given them credit for the first combat kill of an Abrams tank. The U.S. argued that it was merely disabled, and that it was the U.S. Army’s thermite grenades and later U.S. Air Force bombs that actually destroyed it.
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Army chief wants power to select new pistol

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
1st Lt. Lyndon Hill, assigned to 30th Medical Command, fires the M9 pistol during United States Army Europe’s Best Junior Officer Competition | U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Gertrud Zach


The U.S. Army‘s chief of staff said Thursday that if he had his way, he’d abandon the bureaucratic Modular Handgun System effort and personally select the service’s next pistol.

Speaking at the Future of War Conference 2016, Gen. Mark Milley said he has asked Congress to grant service chiefs the authority to bypass the Pentagon’s multi-layered and complex acquisition process on programs that do not require research and development.

“We are not exactly redesigning how to go to the moon, right?” Milley said. “This is a pistol. And arguably, it is the least lethal and important weapon system in the Department of Defense inventory.”

The Army launched its long-awaited XM17 MHS competition in late August to replace its Cold War era M9 9mm pistol. One of the major goals of the MHS effort is to adopt a pistol chambered for a more potent round than the current 9mm. The U.S. military replaced the .45 caliber 1911 pistol with the M9 in 1985 and began using the 9mm NATO round at that time.

Gunmakers had until Feb. 12 to submit proposals to the Army.

Milley used the program as an example of the bureaucratic acquisition system that often makes it overly complicated to field equipment to soldiers in a timely manner.

“We are trying to figure out a way to speed up the acquisition system,” Milley said. “Some of these systems take multiple years, some of them decades to develop.”

As the service chief, Milley said he should be able to say “here is your purpose; here is the end-state I want to achieve … if you succeed, you are promoted and I give you a medal. If you fail, you are fired. You hold people accountable.

“I’m saying let me and then hold me accountable,” he added. “Let me figure out what type of pistol we need and let me go buy it without having to go through nine years of incredibly scrutiny.”

The program has a “367-page requirement document. Why?” Milley asked. “Well, a lawyer says this and a lawyer says that and you have to go through this process and that process and you have to have oversight from this that and the other.”

Milley also criticized the lengthy testing process for MHS that’s slated to cost $17 million.

“The testing — I got a briefing the other day — the testing for this pistol is two years,” Milley said. “Two years to test technology that we know exists. You give me $17 million on the credit card, I’ll call Cabelas tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine with a pistol and I’ll get a discount on it for bulk buys.”

That calculation appears off, though, since the handguns under consideration retail between $400 and $700 apiece and the military may purchase nearly a half million firearms as part of the program.

Current plans call for the Army to purchase more than 280,000 full-size handguns and 7,000 compact versions, officials maintain. The other military services participating in the MHS program may order an additional 212,000 systems above the Army quantity.

MHS is set to cost at least $350 million and potentially millions more if it results in the selection of a more potent pistol caliber, sources said.

The request for proposal calls on gun makers to submit packages that include full-size and compact versions of their handgun as well as hundreds of thousands of rounds for testing.

In a break from tradition, the Army is also requiring competing firms to prove that they are capable of delivering millions of rounds of pistol ammunition per month in addition to delivering thousands of new handguns per month, according to the request.

The competition will also evaluate expanding or fragmenting ammunition, such as hollow-point bullets, that have been used by law enforcement agencies for years. The Army’s draft solicitation cited a new Defense Department policy that allows for the use of “special purpose ammunition.”

“We are not figuring out the next lunar landing,” Milley said. “This is a pistol.

“There is a certain degree of common sense to this stuff and that is what I am talking about — empower the service chiefs with the capability to go out and do certain things. Speed the process up.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This Navy SEAL has dedicated his life to helping wounded vets

It happened in a flash and changed Jason Redman’s life forever.


Redman — a lieutenant on a Navy SEAL team — and his assault squad were searching for an Al-Qaeda operative in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2007 when they were ambushed. Redman’s left elbow nearly exploded when two rounds tore through his arm. As the team retreated for cover, another round tripped through the right side of his face, shattering his jaw and tearing off half his nose as it exited.

Nobody would have questioned Redman had he chose to let that moment ruin his life.

Instead, Redman pushed forward and started several organizations designed to help wounded veterans.

Now, he’s receiving the Red Bandanna Hero Award for his efforts.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
The American Heroes Channel Red Bandanna Hero Award. Logo from AHCTV.com.

Named for Welles Remy Crowther — “The Man in the Red Bandanna” who rescued more than a dozen victims of the World Trade Center attacks — the award pays tribute to the “everyday hero who exemplifies the American Spirit and defines us as a nation,” according to a news release. It is given by the American Heroes Channel and the Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust, and the winner gets to donate $10,000 to the charity of his or her choice.

Redman will receive the honor during an Oct. 27 ESPN broadcast of the Boston College-Florida State football game. And he will be featured on an American Heroes Channel story about the award on Oct. 28.

“Before I was wounded, I wanted to stay in the Navy for 30 years and become the commander of a SEAL Team,” said Redman, who lives in Virginia Beach. “It’s amazing how life turns on a dime and unfolds right in front of you.”

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
Retired Lt. Jason Redman, U.S. Navy SEAL, exits Malmstrom Air Force Base’s auditorium to a standing ovation after his presentation. USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Collin Schmidt.

Redman is the CEO and founder of Combat Wounded Coalition and Wounded Wear. He also has a speaking and consulting firm called SOF Spoken. With Old Dominion University he is creating the Overcome Academy, which will help military men and women returning to civilian life. All operate under the Combat Wounded Coalition umbrella, which he started with his wife, Erica.

“If anybody should have the light shine on them, it’s him,” said Kevin Gaydosh of O’Brien et al. Advertising in Virginia Beach, which supports Redman on some of his projects. “Talk about an inspiration. We certainly believe in him and what he’s trying to do.

“You have to admire a guy like this.”

Also Read: Everyone should see these powerful images of wounded vets

Redman, 42, also has written a book, “The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader,” and will appear in an upcoming film about Navy SEALS. He recently had a role in an episode of the Hawaii Five-O television series.

“Some people suffer through a bad event and stay in that spot,” said Redman, who joined the Navy in 1992 and finished SEAL training three years later. “Others push and drive forward by learning and growing.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust

“But no, if you told me after I was wounded that I would have a book, a non-profit, that I’d be speaking and acting, I would say no and that you needed an instant drug test.”

Redman barely survived his injuries because of blood loss, and doctors initially thought he would lose his arm because of the injuries to the elbow. Forty surgeries, thousands of stitches, hundreds of staples, and countless hours of rehabilitation helped him regain some normalcy.

But progress was slow.

“Like so many wounded warriors, I was broke,” said the father of three children. “I was used to making things happen, and it wasn’t as fast as I wanted.”

Redman admits that he let himself go. He stopped working out and wasn’t eating right. He drank more than he should have. But a visit to the doctor changed all that.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
Retired Marine Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, right, and retired Navy Lt. Jason Redman, left, pose for a photo following the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Ball in Washington, D.C., March 22, 2014. USMC photo by Cpl. Tia Dufour.

“He told me I would die of a heart attack,” Redman said. “My family has a history of heart disease and high cholesterol, so it was all there.”

“Now I’m pretty much on a fitness quest.”

Back on track, Redman is excited about the award he said belongs to all those he’s trying to help.

“Every morning I wake up I’m thankful I have another day,” said Redman, who retired from the Navy in 2013. “If I die today, because I’m already living on borrowed time, I know that I did it right today.

“Most of us have one shot in this life. I got a second chance.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This video game marathon raised over $450,000 to help vets get jobs

For Veterans Day, the Call of Duty Endowment held the Race to Prestige. Five gamer personalities – GoldGloveTV, TmarTn, Jeriicho, Hutch, and VernNotice – played Call of Duty: Black Ops III for 96 hours straight in a live stream marathon. The goal? To help veterans get high quality jobs.


The Call of Duty Endowment helps veterans find high quality careers by supporting groups that prepare them for the job market and by raising awareness of the value vets ring to the workplace.

Activision matched the donations raised by gamers from all over the Internet. The event collected $450,000 for the endowment. Navy veteran and Executive Director of the Call of Duty Endowment Dan Goldenberg lauded the goal-breaking fundraising, “Our goal initially was to raise $25,000 and they blew that away in the first two hours… basically, every $600 puts a vet in a job.”

By that math, the event raised enough money to help 750 veterans find great, long-term employment.

If you are an out-of-work veteran, go to www.callofdutyendowment.org.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army’s new paradigm for tackling traumatic brain injuries

Frontline medics and providers delved into the military’s latest paradigm shift of traumatic brain injury assessment and treatment March 7, 2019, at the Warfighter Brain Health Training Symposium at Madigan Army Medical Center.

“The need for training this year is greater than most years because just about every standard system that we use in our assessment and management of TBI are being overhauled based on the latest state of the science,” said Maj. (Dr.) Joseph Kamerath, the director of the TBI and Intrepid Spirit Center at Madigan.


A warfighter brain health memo issued last fall by Patrick Shanahan, acting Secretary of Defense, when he was serving as the Deputy Secretary of Defense established a commitment to understanding, preventing, diagnosing, and treating TBI in all of its forms, and the 2018 Defense Authorization Act also called for expanding blast research.

“We’re in an environment where we understand that the effects on readiness are greater than we ever thought, the numbers of service members sustaining TBI continue to be high despite the decreased operative tempo, and that we need to put a bigger emphasis on preventing TBI, and when people do have a TBI, mitigating the effects to maximize not only their wellness but our military readiness,” Kamerath said.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust

Director of the TBI and Intrepid Spirit Center at Madigan Maj. (Dr.) Joseph Kamerath.

He spoke to an audience of primarily frontline providers such as primary care managers and medics, who he called “the backbone of far-forward military health care.”

Researchers presenting at the symposium emphasized the key role of medics in early detection and treatment of TBIs as being influential in the long-term health of service members.

Although years past the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, TBIs are still a substantial issue affecting readiness, with nearly 18,000 new TBI diagnoses in the Department of Defense in 2017.

Current research is developing evidence that the long-term symptoms of mild TBIs, or concussions, may be more prevalent than previously thought.

“We used to say 85 percent are going to be fine; 85 percent of mild TBIs are (going to be) 100 percent better,” said Kamerath.

However, he said researchers are now finding that a certain percent of that 85 percent are experiencing more subtle symptoms, such as changes in vision, headaches, sleep, and concentration.

“One of the really unique things that’s been recognized is that in the coming several months after sustaining a mild traumatic brain injury, a soldier or a college athlete is twice as likely as their peer to sustain a lower extremity musculoskeletal injury be that hip, knee or ankle,” he said.

A potential reason could be that the subtle balance deficits caused by a TBI may make people more likely to sustain an injury.

From there, the math to TBIs affecting readiness is simple. Twice the rate of musculoskeletal injuries, which are one of the greatest health concerns which affect warfighter readiness, means that even the subtle mid- and long-term effects of TBIs could have real mission impacts. In other words, if readiness matters and TBIs affect readiness, then understanding the best way to assess, treat and mitigate the risks of TBIs also matter, Kamerath said.

“We are working to develop the best ways to make sure that they get back in the fight without sustaining injuries and maximize the readiness of our force,” he said.

One of the ways to better treat TBIs is to get patients to specialists faster. Historically, TBI specialty clinics cared for patients living with the chronic effects of TBI, who may have been referred after months of related symptoms. Now, the standard is that if a patient experiences an uncomplicated TBI yet is not improving seven days later to refer them to TBI specialists, who in turn are committed to seeing patients within seven days of the referral.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust

U.S. Army Pfc. Shawn Williams of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, gives the thumbs-up to members of his unit as he is evacuated after being injured by a roadside bomb.

(Photo by U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Haraz N. Ghanbari)

“With more and more evidence suggesting that early rehab can be helpful to mitigate long-term effects, the push now is to change our model,” said Kamerath. “This is really the right way forward to get people in early, getting them into see the appropriate specialist early, so that they can get the care that’s needed.”

Other speakers addressed the long-term effects of TBIs, including the increased levels of disabilities experienced by blast concussion patients compared to those with non-blast TBIs one year after their initial injuries.

Dr. Christine MacDonald, an associate professor of neurological surgery at the University of Washington, explained that her longitudinal study found that 74 percent of concussive blast patients still experienced health reductions five years after their injuries. The best early predictors of these long-term reductions include being at an older age at the time of injury, having a TBI diagnosis, experiencing greater depression symptoms, exhibiting a slower reaction time, and demonstrating less word generation (aka verbal fluency).

Another study presented by Dr. Jesse Fann, a professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences and adjunct professor of rehabilitation medicine and epidemiology at the University of Washington, found a long-term increased risk of dementia for people with TBIs.

“The impact of a TBI is higher when you have a TBI earlier in life,” said Fann.

He shared that more severe TBIs also increase the risk of later developing dementia. While only 0.4 percent of the people studied had dementia due to TBI, that statistic is still significant given the large number of people who eventually do suffer from dementia, he said.

While the symposium included long-term potential effects of TBIs, it also offered medical providers tools that they can use now to better assess TBIs with the hope that better detection leads to better treatment.

While the Military Acute Concussion Evaluation is the standard for TBI screenings, the older algorithms are being replaced by the Concussion Management Tool, according to Kamerath. It is also incorporating the Vestibular/Ocular Motor Screening. Other new tools include the BrainScope One Device.

“When we get patients with TBI, our biggest concern is if it’s life-threatening now,” said Maj. Nicholas Koreerat, a clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy.

He briefed on the BrainScope One Device, which detects if bleeding occurs in the brain after a traumatic brain injury. Before the military began using it, the options to treat suspected brain bleeds downrange where to either “wait and see” or medevac the patient for a CT scan. However, if service members are medevaced unnecessarily, operational effectiveness decreases as aircraft are diverted for unneeded medevacs. Due to its high rate of sensitivity, the BrainScope increases the effectiveness and accuracy of determining treatment for patients who may experience brain bleeds, Koreerat said.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust

(US Army photo)

Another frontline screening tool now available is the Vestibular/Ocular Motor Screening, presented by Maj. Katrina Monti, the senior physician assistant for the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne). The six-minute screening tool assesses headache, dizziness, nausea, and fogginess following specific maneuvers used to cluster TBI-associated symptoms. Monti explained that 60 percent of concussions result in these vestibular symptoms, and that patients tend to have poorer outcomes and longer recovery times with these symptoms as well.

“The big takeaway for me from that presentation was just how easy it is to implement some of the new tools that are coming out from the research that we’re seeing in the field, in deployment or other real-life settings, not just in clinics and hospitals,” said Kasey Zink with the Geneva Foundation, which funds research like the VOMS tool.

Others learned that just because TBI assessment tools may be easy to use, other factors may serve as barriers to screening.

In fact, underreporting mild TBIs occurs in the field because of lack of awareness — service members may not know which symptoms are related to concussions — and because they sometimes don’t want to be taken off their teams, even temporarily, for medical observation or treatment, said Monti. The key, she said, was in part greater education of the troops on mTBIs, to include awareness that earlier reporting can lead to faster improvement of symptoms and earlier return to duty.

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

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The Army is ditching the Stryker Mobile Gun System

On May 12, 2021, the Army announced the divestiture of all M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun Systems by fiscal year 2022. The decision follows a comprehensive analysis that highlighted obsolescence and systemic issues with the MGS’s outdated cannon and autoloader.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
The Stryker MGS holds 8 rounds in the autoloader’s carousel and 10 rounds in a replenisher at the rear of the vehicle (U.S. Army)

First produced in 2002 by General Dynamics Land Systems, the M1128 MGS is a variant of the Stryker armored fighting vehicle. The Stryker itself is based on the LAV III light-armored vehicle manufactured for the Canadian military by General Dynamics.

Equipped with a 105mm M68A1E4 rifled cannon, the MGS is capable of dealing with a wide array of threats. Although it is not designed to engage in direct combat with tanks, it is capable of destroying armored vehicles with the M900 kinetic energy penetrator round. Lighter vehicles are addressed with the M456A2 high-explosive anti-tank round. The M393A3 high explosive plastic round excels at destroying bunkers, machine gun nests, and knocking down walls in support of infantry. Finally, the M1040 canister shot is used to engage dismounted infantry. The MGS is also equipped with a coaxial M240C 7.62x51mm machine gun, an M2 .50 caliber machine gun, and two M6 smoke grenade launchers.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
The main gun is separated from the crew compartment, so stoppages can only be cleared by exiting the vehicle (U.S. Army)

Crewed by a commander, a gunner, and a driver, the MGS was designed to increase the firepower of the infantry rifle company. Initially, 27 MGSs were allocated to each Stryker Brigade Combat Team. A standard SBCT rifle company organically operates one platoon of three MGSs to support the company’s three rifle platoons. As of 2017, each SBCT is equipped with three platoons of MGSs and three platoons of ATGM Strykers equipped with the TOW missile system.

The Army purchased a total of 142 Stryker MGSs. However, three have been lost in combat. One of the chief complaints of MGS crews and a major factor in the Army’s divestiture is the vehicle’s autoloader. Although the system is widely used amongst European armored vehicles, the MGS was the first U.S. Army system to be fielded with an autoloader. Since its introduction, the autoloader has been costly and difficult to maintain. Additionally, the Stryker chassis used on the MGS has a flat bottom which makes it susceptible to modern threats like IEDs and improved anti-tank mines.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
Although the MGS is being divested, the Stryker will remain an integral part of the Army’s mechanized infantry (U.S. Army)

The divestiture of the MGS will not leave soldiers lacking in firepower. “Decisions on when it is best to divest a system currently in the force are not taken lightly,” said LTG James F. Pasquarette, Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8 (Programs). “The Army has done its due diligence to ensure lethality upgrades will remain intact to provide our Stryker formations the capabilities they need in the future.” New projects like the Medium Caliber Weapons System and the Mobile Protected Firepower Light Tank program look to bring enhanced lethality to Army formations. Moreover, existing system like the Javelin and the 30mm autocannon are receiving regular updates to ensure that soldiers maintain every advantage on the battlefield. It’s worth noting that the Army is continuing to support other Stryker variants with upgrades like V-shaped hulls.

Featured image: US Army

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Canadian and US generals discussed the possibility of fully ‘integrating’ the two countries’ militaries

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
Canadian soldiers set a perimeter position after disembarking a U.S. Navy landing craft during a simulated amphibious landing. (Photo: Wikimedia)


Top Canadian and US generals once explored the possibility of creating a fully integrated military force for expeditionary operations, James Cudmorewrites for CBC news in an exclusive report.

In a series of meetings that occurred prior to October 2013, top military officials from Canada and the US discussed ways of increasing interoperability between the two military forces. On several occasions, Cudmorewrites citing information from the Department of National Defense, then-Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Tom Lawson of Canada and now retired US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey attempted to create plans for “fully integrated forces.”

In a “fully-integrated force,” US and Canadian military members would serve side by side within the same units under one unified command. Canadian and US soldiers would then be deployed around the world on expeditionary operations under a unified military command structure.

Although the discussions were carried out at the highest levels, Canada decided that it was not in its best interest to fully integrate its military with the US’s for these types of missions. Among the Canadians’ concerns were the implications of Ottawa potentially having to cede control over its forces to US commanders in certain situations.

“The two armies do not intend to field formally integrated forces at this time,” a Department of National Defense spokesman wrote to CBC.

“Instead, they are developing the capability to operate together on any mission authorized by the government of Canada. Canada-US cooperation is excellent; we are trying to make it better.”

Canada and the US already have a high level of military interoperability. The two countries are both members of the NATO military alliance, and the militaries have served together recently in Afghanistan and in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.

Additionally, Canada and the US operate a fully integrated military organization under the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). NORAD is responsible for defending North America from both external and internal aerial threats.

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense. Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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VA chief says he’d stay if Trump wants him

As a new administration prepares to take charge in late January, the man who’s lead the Department of Veterans Affairs through nearly three years of turbulence says if President-elect Donald Trump wants him to stay aboard, he’ll keep working to reform the sprawling agency.


“I haven’t yet received a call,” says Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald. “But I would never turn my back on my duty.”

Trump has reportedly looked into several candidates for the post, including former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, but some are calling for McDonald to stay on.

During a recent “Town Hall”-style meeting at the West Los Angeles VA Jan. 4, McDonald fielded questions from the veteran audience that touched on service lapses and recent scandals, including accusations and fraud within the VA and a perceived lack of accountability.

“A certain employee here lost 30 vehicles and still drew a $140,000 salary,” one veteran and VA employee complained. “There’s no accountability with people in management.”

McDonald agreed he inherited a VA plagued with bad actors, but said most of the local VA leaders who were in office when he took over are no longer employed by the VA.

For McDonald the changes haven’t happened fast enough. Speed, he laments, is his greatest challenge. Future VA Secretaries will feel the need for speed as well.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James A. Winnefeld, Jr. and (left) Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald (center) receive a brief on a firearms training driving simulator during a tour of the Center for the Intrepid, Dec. 19, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder)

“One of the things I talk about in my top 10 leadership principles is the need to get the right leaders in place,” McDonald told WATM in an exclusive interview. “I changed 14 of my 17 top leaders, but it’s two and a half years later, and we’re not done yet.”

Many of the veterans at the town hall meeting asked McDonald to address problems specific to them — bad record keeping or missed appointments. While the VA secretary said he’d get those problems fixed, he argued its a good sign the complaints focus on the tactical rather than larger systemic problems.

“Two and a half years ago, many of the comments I got were things like, ‘it’s too hard to get an appointment,’ ” he says. “Now, more and more, we’re hearing about individuals and that individual service.”

When you run a large customer service organization, you want to get from anecdotes to specific situations so you can deal with them,” he added.

Talking to McDonald, you can hear how his time as CEO of Procter  Gamble colors his view of running the VA.

“The brands you like the most, ones you can’t do without, you feel like you have an intimate relationship,” he says. “That intimacy leads to trust. What you want to do is measure the trust and measure the emotion that comes out of the experience that you have.”

Those are the metrics that he says matter.

“The fact that trust of the VA has gone up from 47 percent to 60 percent, it’s not where we want it to be, but the fact that it’s gone up says the veterans are seeing a difference,” he said. “What we’ve seen is ease of getting care has gone up 20 points, and the effectiveness of care has gone up about 12 points. Trust, then, has gone up 13 points.”

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
(VA photo)

While veterans’ trust in the system has gone up, McDonald said, there are still calls for more services to be transitioned to private organizations. Many argue private doctors and specialists are more efficient and provide a quicker turnaround for vets in need, while others say moving toward privatization is a bad idea.

For McDonald, a careful mixture of both is the right way forward.

“Since I’ve been the secretary, we’ve gone from 20 percent of our appointments in private medicine to now 32 percent in the private sector, so there has been some degree of privatization,” he says. “We’ve done that in a very evolutionary way, where if we didn’t have a skill, specialty, or a location, we would send people into the community.”

“As I looked at this, privatizing VA services wholesale didn’t make sense to me,” he added.

He explained what he calls the “three-legged stool” of the VA: valuable medical research (to the tune of $1.8B per year), training 70 percent of doctors in the United States, and providing the “best patients” for clinical work – patients with unique situations.

He also said many veterans organization don’t want total privatization.

“They like the integrated care that the VA provides, and they like having medical providers who are familiar with their unique situations,” McDonald says. “They typically have a number of issues that need to be resolved simultaneously.”

Whether he stays in the job or not, McDonald feels it’s important the next VA secretary has a similar pedigree to his — one that combines military experience with top-line business credentials.

“It’s important to have somebody who’s a veteran, obviously, because they have to have credibility with the veteran population, but somebody who’s also run a large organization,” he says. “I think it’s advantageous to have somebody who’s run a large organization and understands the importance of getting the right leaders in place, of setting the right strategies, of making sure the system’s robust, of setting the right culture.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

Bringing back the original meaning of Memorial Day – with flowers

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.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust

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.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust

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.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Syrian regime vows to drive US out of country

The Syrian army is determined to drive out the U.S. from any involvement in the country, state television reported Jan. 15.


Bashar al-Assad’s army objects to any form of U.S. presence in the country and will seek to put an end to it, Reuters reported, citing state media.

The U.S.-led coalition is currently training Syrian militias and plans to establish a new border force together with the Kurdish-led opposition fighters, consisting of 30,000 personnel over the next several years, according to the coalition.

The move has been criticized by the Syrian foreign ministry, branding it as a “blatant assault” on the country’s sovereignty, according to the state media.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
Fighters of the Euphrates Liberation Brigade, part of the Manbij Military Council of the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the city of Manbij in northern Syria. (Wikimedia Commons photo from Kurdishstruggle.)

The coalition officials said that it had recently recruited 230 cadets for the new force that it will be tasked with securing areas recently liberated from Islamic State militants, Syria’s northern border with Turkey and the eastern border with Iraq.

Half of the force will be made up of soldiers from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which currently controls a quarter of Syria’s territory along the borders with Turkey and Iraq.

Turkey objects to the creation of the border force, seeing the Kurdish militia in Syria as an extension of an active Kurdish insurgent group operating in the country.

A senior Turkish official said the training of the new border force was the reason the U.S. top diplomat stationed in the country was summoned to Ankara last week, Reuters reported. A spokesman for President Tayyip Erdogan said the new force is unacceptable.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Putin orders new Su-57 stealth fighters in attempt to rival the US

Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to order nearly five times as many fifth-generation Su-57 stealth fighters as originally planned to replace older fighters, strengthen Russian airpower, and give Russia a fighting chance in competition with its rivals.

“The 2028 arms program stipulated the purchase of 16 such jets,” Putin said during last week’s defense meeting before announcing that the Russian military had “agreed to purchase 76 such fighters without the increase in prices in the same period of time.”

The Russian president said a 20% reduction in cost had made the purchase of additional fifth-gen fighters possible. Improvements in the production process are also reportedly behind Putin’s decision to order more of the aircraft.


He added that a contract would be signed in the near future for the fighters, which he said would be armed with “modern weapons of destruction,” according to Russia’s state-run TASS News Agency. Such weapons could include the R-37M long-range hypersonic air-to-ar missile, an advanced standoff weapon with a range of more than 300 kilometers, or about 186 miles, Russian media reported.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust

Russian R-37M long-range hypersonic air-to-ar missile.

(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

The new Su-57s are expected to be delivered to three aviation regiments. Those units, the Russian outlet Izvestia reported May 20, 2019, include regiments in the three main strategic regions in the northwest, southwest, and far east. The report said only the best pilots would be trained on the aircraft.

Seventy-six of these fighters is a particularly tall order for the Russian military, which has had to cut orders for various programs, such as the T-14 Armata main battle tank, over funding shortages. Right now, Russia has only 10 Su-57 prototypes, and fighter development has been moving much slower than expected.

The Su-57’s chief developer argued late last year that the Su-57 was superior to US stealth fighter jets, a claim met with skepticism by most independent experts.

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust

Su-57 stealth fighter at the MAKS 2011 air show.

Russia’s Su-57 fighters, as they are right now, largely rely on older fourth-generation engines, and they lack the kind of low-observable stealth capabilities characteristic of true fifth-generation fighters, such as Lockheed Martin’s highly capable F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

That is not to say the Russian fighter does not have its own advantageous features, such as the side-facing radar that gives it the ability to trick the radar on US stealth fighters. And it is possible, even likely, that the Russian military will make improvements to the aircraft going forward.

Should Russia follow through in purchasing 76 Su-57s, its military would still trail far behind those of the US and its partners with respect to fifth-generation airpower. As of February 2019, there were 360 F-35s operating from 16 bases in 10 countries, according to Bloomberg. The US also possesses 187 F-22s, arguably the best aircraft in the world.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Four-legged smoke eaters: How dalmatians became official mascots of the fire service

One of the oldest traditions still honored in US fire departments is having a Dalmatian in the firehouse. Today, the black-spotted pups serve strictly as mascots, station dogs, and fire safety dogs. But the Dalmatian’s firefighting origin story is far more heroic than most people know.

The Dalmatian breed earned a reputation in Britain beginning in the 17th century for their role as coach and carriage dogs. The wealthy used Dalmatians both as society dogs and as guardians against thieves for their horse-drawn carriages. Stagecoach drivers also relied on the big dogs to guard horses and luggage. Great companions for horses, they formed strong bonds with their much larger animal friends. They were trained to run long distances beside them and would scare off aggressive street dogs that attempted to attack.

The leap into the fire service came with the emergence of the horse-drawn fire apparatus. The Dalmatian’s bark warned passersby they were responding to a fire. 

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
The Wrazej family trained JT over the summer of 2020. JT is named after James Trainor, an FDNY firefighter who retired after 39 years of service and died in 2018. Photo courtesy of the westsiderag.com.

“When a station call comes into an engine house the dog is out the instant the doors are thrown open, barking and prancing about, seemingly at least with the purpose of clearing the sidewalk,” a New York City newspaper called The Sun reported in March 1912. “They tell of one case in which the fire dog tugged at the dress of a little child that had remained standing in front of the door; and of another case in which the dog barked at the heels of a gentleman who hadn’t moved away quickly enough.”

Traditionally, when they arrived at the chaotic scene, the dog would keep the horses company to calm their anxiety. The presence of the Dalmatian prevented others from potentially stealing any of the valuable firefighting equipment on the rig. In some instances, they joined in on the action.

“They are in danger at fires,” The Sun writes, “for some dogs are great smoke eaters, and go right into the building with the firemen.”

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust

Their low center of gravity made them ideal for running under the smoke into burning buildings to locate and rescue children and other people trapped in a fire. 

Sometimes they were known for their antics just like other beloved pets. “Jack the Bum” was one Dalmatian that worked with Truck 9 from the station on Elizabeth Street. This pesky pooch had memorized the eating schedules of all the firefighters, and when he got hungry he’d beg for the crumbs. He’d even go as far as trotting past the entrance of Lyon’s restaurant and around back to the kitchen to eat the scraps. 

The Dalmatians were heralded by the local communities they served. In 1910, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show developed a category specifically for Fire Department Dalmatians. Mike from New York’s Engine Company 8 on 51st Street came in first place, while another Dalmatian named Smoke II of Engine Company 68 on Jay Street in Brooklyn took second.

Interestingly enough, The Sun posed the question as to what would happen to Dalmatians once the motor-driven hose wagons replaced the horse-drawn carriages. “Of course nobody knows for sure just what will happen in that day, but the general opinion among the firemen is that though the horses may go the dogs will stay.”

That time a B-1 Lancer bomber made a $75 million drug bust
JT the fire dog is the official mascot of FDNY’s Company 74. Before JT, there was Yogi, Sparky, Buddy, and Chloe. Photo courtesy of @jt_thefiredog/Instagram.

Their predictions were right, except the Dalmatians took on more of a mascot role than as working fire dogs. Yogi, an FDNY Dalmatian who died at the age of 15 in January 2020, enjoyed hitching a ride on the fire truck. He was also a really good boy who brought happiness to the men in the firehouse. Yogi took his name from Ruben Correa, a firefighter for Company 74 on the Upper West Side who was killed while helping people escape the Marriott Hotel at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He earned the nickname Yogi playing softball with his firehouse teammates.

When Patti Trainor-Wrazej learned of Yogi the fire dog’s passing, she immediately began training JT for Company 74. JT was a quick learner and soon joined his human counterparts on fire runs.

“We built a small bed frame that attaches on and off [the rig] when we need to remove it,” senior firefighter John Keaveny said. “It fits him perfectly so he can lay down during runs and be comfortable.”

JT has become so popular he even has his own Instagram page, @jt_firedog.  

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