The personnel chiefs for the Navyand Marine Corps revealed Tuesday that both services are considering updating their policies to require mandatory processing for administrative separation for troops found to have engaged in abusive social media activity, a move that would make online violations akin to drug use and sexual assault.
Lt. Gen. Mark Brilakis, Marine Corps deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told Military.com that a task force organized to address the aftermath of a social media scandal implicating Marines is considering the option.
The scandal centers on a private Facebook page called Marines United, where hundreds of active-duty troops and reservists apparently viewed and exchanged nude and compromising photos of female service members without their consent. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe into the illicit activity has since expanded beyond the page to other groups and users, NCIS officials said last week.
“There is mandatory processing for administrative separation in a number of different cases. Use of drugs requires mandatory administrative processing, sexual harassment requires mandatory administrative processing, sexual assault requires mandatory administrative processing,” Brilakis said, following a congressional hearing on military social media policies on Capitol Hill.
“We are considering whether events wrapped up in Marines United, those things, would rise to the level where the commandant would recommend or direct me to begin mandatory administrative processing for separation,” he said.
Processing does not guarantee that an individual will be separated from the service, but it does direct that the relevant commander begin a review, and an administrative board review the case of the service member in question. Such a move would require a change to the Marine Corps separations manual, Brilakis said.
The Navy, which organized a senior leader working group in the wake of the scandal, is considering a similar step, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke told the House Armed Services subcommittee on personnel Tuesday.
“We are reviewing the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] and Navy policy governing mandatory administrative separation to ensure they are adequate,” he said.
The fact that both services are considering such a move, reserved for violations for which the military has a zero-tolerance policy, underscores how seriously the military is now addressing the problem of social media harassment and the pressure from lawmakers to produce results fast.
Similar policies implemented in the 1980s to combat drug use in the services resulted in a huge reduction. According to Defense Department statistics, 47 percent of troops were found to have used drugs in 1973, compared to just 3 percent by 1995. More recently, the military has worked to apply the same approach to sexual harassment and assault, though the results to date have been more muted.
The policy reviews come as multiple lawmakers express outrage at service members’ alleged behavior and call for decisive action.
Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a freshman Democrat from New Hampshire, called on the military to boot offenders, reading aloud from an enlistment document that states troops will be subject to separation if their behavior falls short of military standards.
“I don’t know why we have to debate and you tell them at the very beginning and you sign off saying their behaviors are unacceptable,” she said. “I don’t understand why we have to then pursue many various avenues. Do you still have the power to throw them out if it’s very clear they can’t do this?”
Brilakis, however, emphasized that everyone in uniform deserves due process and will continue to receive it.
“Whether it be through an administrative procedure or a military justice procedure, there are processes,” he said.
A recent Islamic State video calls upon would-be jihadis to join the terrorist group in the Philippines rather than the core caliphate in Syria, an NBC News analysis reveals.
The video specifically instructs any would-be travelers in the Asia-Pacific region to go to the Philippines instead of trying to travel to the core caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
“Come forth to the land of jihad. Perform hijrah. Come forth to … Marawi,” a militant instructs in the video.
ISIS fighters remain besieged in the Filipino city of Marawi, where it has mounted a months-long surprisingly robust insurgency. The battle for Marawai has displaced hundreds of thousands of residents and began during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The terrorist group frequently uses the holy month as an excuse to mount some of its deadliest operations. Dozens of Filipino soldiers have been killed in the ensuing siege.
The group’s loss of territory has caused a concerted change in the terrorist organization’s propaganda efforts, which now tell fighters to either carry out attacks in their home countries or travel to one of the group’s affiliate chapters.
ISIS also has active affiliates in Afghanistan, Egypt, and Libya, each of which command the loyalty of hundreds, if not thousands, of fighters. Many of its affiliates have been linked to high-profile attacks in their host countries and even plots against the West.
When I frequented my Marine Corps recruiting office from 1999 until I enlisted in 2003, Staff Sgt. Molina used to welcome me with a familiar, “Ey devil,” and Staff Sgt. Ciccarreli would echo with “Eyyyyyyy.” Vintage recruiting posters were sprinkled among more modern propaganda. The message they consistently reinforced was that the Corps’ values—especially service above self—are timeless.
In one of the old posters, a strong, black Marine standing tall in his dress blue uniform with gold jump wings stared back at me. I couldn’t tell whether he was grinning or scowling—welcoming a potential recruit or warning me. Scrawled in bold typeface across the bottom third of the poster were the words “Ask a Marine.” My reaction was visceral. Where do I sign?
The iconic Marine recruitment ad campaign featuring Capers. He was the first black man to be featured in such a campaign.
The man in the poster was James Capers Jr., a now retired major whose 23-year career was defined by breaking barriers and blazing a path of excellence in the Marine Corps special operations community. Capers recently published “Faith Through the Storm: Memoirs of James Capers, Jr.,” and the book is a powerful portrait of an extraordinary life.
As the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina, Capers had to flee the Jim Crow South for Baltimore after his father committed some petty offense, which he feared might get him lynched. Capers describes his flight in the back of an old pickup driven by a white person as a sort of “Underground Railroad.” His trip to Baltimore is reminiscent of Frederick Douglass’ escape north because not much had changed for black people in the South since 1830.
We get a vivid picture of Capers’ early years and family life in Baltimore before he joins the Marine Corps. In the Marines, Capers finds an organization where men are judged by their actions, and he excels. He polishes his boots, cleans his weapons and learns what he can from the old salts, who mostly respect his effort. Early on, Capers commits himself to a standard of excellence that distinguishes him above his peers. That struggle is a consistent theme throughout his career.
When applying for special operations swim qualification, an instructor cites pseudo-science to explain that black people can’t swim. Capers has to beg to be let into the class. When a white student fails the test required to graduate, Capers pleads with the cadre to allow the student to swim it again. Then he swims with the Marine, motivating him to muster up the fortitude and faith in himself to pass.
At one point, Capers can’t find an apartment in Baltimore even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had recently passed and was promoted to end housing discrimination based on race. While assigned the temporary lowly duty of a barracks NCO, a white Marine flicks a cigarette butt at Capers—already trained as an elite Force Reconnaissance Marine—and tells him to pick it up. The slight weighs heavily on Capers until he tracks the Marine down and does something about it.
As Vietnam approaches, Capers is eager to get in the fight. A seasoned veteran of more than 10 years, he volunteers to return to special operations, and in the spring of 1966, he deploys with 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company.
Capers (bottom right) with his Marine Corps 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Vietnam.
The section about Capers’ Vietnam tour is harrowing and crushing. He survives and thrives as a warrior and leader through several months of brutal combat in the jungle. Eventually, he receives a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant and becomes the first black officer in Marine special operations. By the heart-pounding final mission in Vietnam, I couldn’t help but feel like the book is a 400-page summary of action for a Medal of Honor.
Heart is the book’s central theme. Its most moving parts focus on overcoming adversity and heartbreak. In one chapter, Capers leads his men through two minefields to avoid the enemy. His inspiring leadership carries them through alive against all odds.
Characters frequently appear only briefly enough to become attached to before they die. Capers recalls fondly an old black first sergeant who had fought on Iwo Jima in World War II and saved Capers from some trouble. He dies in Vietnam.
In another scene, a Marine hollers a cadence on a medevac transport out of Vietnam to raise the spirits of wounded Marines who join the sing-song before the Marine dies somewhere along the way.
These wrenching memories reminded me of returning to the recruiting office after my first combat deployment and asking Staff Sgt. Alvarado whatever happened to Staff Sgt. Molina, whose son had fallen under my supervision when I was an assistant karate instructor before I enlisted. Alvarado’s eyes looked to the ground, “You didn’t hear?” I’d seen enough death on my deployment to suddenly know without having to be told, and a mental image of his cherub-faced child still tugs my heart because that kid had an especially wonderful dad.
The death surrounding Capers takes its toll on him, and though he is a hard charger and maybe the best Marine in Vietnam, he is not a machine. His pain is complicated. The book’s strength is in Capers’ brutal honesty about his emotional state, which deteriorates as the death toll mounts and the misuse of his recon team by new out-of-touch officers costs more than he can bear.
Retired Marine Corps Maj. James Capers II.
(Photo by Ethan E. Rocke)
This memoir may not break into the mainstream like a Matterhorn or Jarhead because it’s steeped in Marine culture that may not translate to readers outside of those bounds. It deserves a mini-series due to its dramatic story arc and relevance regarding the unique historical experience of a black U.S. Marine who is able to achieve in the Marine Corps what most likely would not have been accessible to him in the society of his time.
“Faith Through the Storm” should be required reading for Marine infantry officers. It’s the perfect book for The Commandant’s Professional Reading List. This book ultimately adds another dimension to one of the Corps’ most famous recruiting posters.
For the last 227 years, the U.S. Coast Guard has remained always ready to defend and secure our nation’s coastlines. For the last couple decades, however, the Coast Guard has pushed its boundaries out further, taking more aggressive stabs at the flow of South American drugs that, eventually, make their way into the U.S.
The fact is that narcotics will make their way to wherever people will buy them and, in the case of cocaine, the U.S. is happy to spend. According to The Washington Post, just shy of a million people tried cocaine for the first time in 2015.
Couple that stat with the fact that 90% of cocaine used in the U.S. comes from Colombia, and you’ve got yourself a bustling drug railroad.
The problem is that international borders are tricky for smugglers and there are quite a few between Colombia and the U.S. So, cartels often opt to take the path of least resistance, which extends out into the Pacific Ocean.
Cartels moving product north go to sea, trying to sail under the radar of the U.S. Coast Guard—and the odds of getting through aren’t so bad. Despite the fact that the Coast Guard has seized almost 500,000lbs of cocaine over the past year, it’s logistically impossible to keep all 6 million square miles of patrolled sea clean.
“I simply sit and watch it go by,” lamented Gen. John Kelly in 2014, then head of the Southern Command. Despite the fact that the U.S. Coast Guard seizes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the drug, Gen. Kelly estimated that, because of resource limitations, the USCG stops just a quarter of trafficking.
So, who’s moving these mountains of coke? In many cases, they’re men from small fishing villages looking to support their families when times are tough. In their regular lives, they have little to do with drugs, but moving product makes a lot more money than selling the day’s catch. These fisherman are approached by cartel representatives and asked to do a week’s worth of work to pull in three or four times their normal annual salary—high risk, high reward.
Unfortunately for these men, the U.S. Coast Guard has played a huge role in the ongoing war on drugs. In 1986, the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act was passed, which defined smuggling drugs through international waters as a crime against the United States. This enabled the Coast Guard, the only branch of the US military that doubles as a law enforcement agency, to take the battle into foreign waters—and it’s been a winning strategy.
In the 1990s, the USCG detained roughly 200 men per year in waters beyond the U.S. Between Sept. 2016 and Sept. 2017, the USCG detained more than 700.
Drug cartels are notoriously elusive, so every fragment of intel against them is important. This means that every trafficker is to be charged, sentenced, and questioned on U.S. soil, no matter how small their involvement.
For these captives, due process doesn’t start until they’re formally arrested, which doesn’t happen until the ship makes port. Some challenge these practices, citing violation of human rights, but the U.S. Coast Guard stands firm in their belief that anyone detained is being adequately fed and sheltered during their lengthy transfers.
Fighting the war on drugs can be an ugly business and, sometimes, those caught in the crossfire are just looking to make a buck for their families. But, as Gen. Kelly said, “we are a nation under attack” from these cartels and defending our coasts is exactly what the Coast Guard does best.
In December of 2017, The New York Times published a stunning front-page exposé about the Pentagon’s mysterious UFO program, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). Featuring an interview with a former military intelligence official and Special Agent In-Charge, Luis Elizondo, who confirmed the existence of the hidden government program, the controversial story was the focus of worldwide attention.
Previously run by Elizondo, AATIP was created to research and investigate Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) including numerous videos of reported encounters, three of which were released to a shocked public in 2017. Elizondo resigned after expressing to the government that these UAPs could pose a major threat to our national security, and not enough was being done to deal with them or address our potential vulnerabilities.
Now, as a part of HISTORY’s groundbreaking new six-part, one-hour limited series “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation,” Elizondo is speaking out for the first time with Tom DeLonge, co-founder and President of To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science, and Chris Mellon, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Intelligence, to expose a series of startling encounters and embark on fascinating new investigations that will urge the public to ask questions and look for answers. From A+E Originals, DeLonge serves as executive producer.
In collaboration with We Are The Mighty and HISTORY, I had the opportunity to sit down with this warrior for an interview.
Series premieres Friday, May 31, at 10/9c on HISTORY.
Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation | Premieres Friday May 31st 10/9c | HISTORY
Luis Elizondo – Director of Global Security & Special Programs
Luis Elizondo is a career intelligence officer whose experience includes working with the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the National Counterintelligence Executive, and the Director of National Intelligence. As a former Special Agent In-Charge, Elizondo conducted and supervised highly sensitive espionage and terrorism investigations around the world. As an intelligence Case Officer, he ran clandestine source operations throughout Latin America and the Middle East.
Most recently, Elizondo managed the security for certain sensitive portfolios for the U.S. Government as the Director for the National Programs Special Management Staff. For nearly the last decade, Elizondo also ran a sensitive aerospace threat identification program focusing on unidentified aerial technologies. Elizondo’s academic background includes Microbiology, Immunology, and Parasitology, with research experience in tropical diseases.
Elizondo is also an inventor who holds several patents.
What was it like operating under high levels of secrecy regarding AATIP?
I think in my position as a career intelligence officer in the department of defense, I am used to working discreetly on programs of a national security nature. I think the very role of intelligence tends to be secretive, obviously for the purposes of Operational Security (OPSEC), you don’t want to inadvertently compromise your activities or efforts and have those fall into the hands of a foreign adversary. You know, it was just another day at the office.
UFO spotted by US fighter jet pilots, new footage reveals – BBC News
Well, what I think AATIP was successful in identifying signatures and performance characteristics that go beyond the typical profile of adversarial type technologies. I know from that perspective AATIP was very helpful because you’re looking at performance characteristics including; extreme acceleration, hypersonic velocities, low observability, multi-median or trans-median travel and, frankly, positive hits without any type of propulsion or flight surfaces or wings.
Put that into context of what you’re observing electro-optically on radar and what’s being reported by the military eyewitnesses. I think you have to pause for a minute and scratch your head thinking ‘you’re not looking at a conventional technology.’
What kind of repercussions are there with providing the public with this type of information?
Well, I can’t answer on behalf of the government. Obviously, there are some individuals that remained in the department that may not appreciate what I did or how I did it. At the end of the day, if the information is unclassified and is of potential national security concern, I think the public has a right to know. Keep in mind that at no point in time were [any] sources or methods compromised, vocational data or any other type of data, [that] we try to keep out of the hands of foreign adversaries.
Keep in mind, had the system worked [from] the beginning I wouldn’t have had to resign. I resigned out of a sense of loyalty and duty to the department of defense. I tried to work within the system to inform my boss, General Mattis at the time. This is the man who was the secretary of defense, and my experience with him in combat was he was a man who wants more information, not less. We didn’t have the ability to report certain information or aspects of AATIP up the chain of command to the boss — that was a problem.
Sometimes if you want to fix something, you have to go outside of the system to fix it. That’s my perspective anyway.
Let’s not forget that secretary Mattis did almost the exact same thing almost a year later, he had to resign for reasons that he thought were important to him.
UFO spotted by US fighter jet pilots, new footage reveals – BBC News
Project Blue Book insisted that UFOs were not a threat to national security, however, decades later your findings tell otherwise. What is responsible for this shift?
Do I think they’re a threat? They could be if they wanted to be.
Let me give you a very succinct analogy: Let’s say at night you go to lock your front door, you don’t expect any problems, but you lock it anyways just to be extra safe. You lock your windows, and you turn on your alarm system, and you go to bed. You do this every morning, and let’s say one morning after you wake up, you’re walking downstairs, and you find muddy footprints in your living room.
Nothing has been taken, no one is hurt, but despite you locking the front doors, the windows, and turning on the alarm system — there are muddy footprints in your living room. The question is: is that a threat?
Well, I don’t know, but it could be if it wanted to be.
For that reason, it’s imperative from a national security perspective that we better understand what it is we’re seeing.
My job at AATIP was very simple: [identify] what it is and how it works, not to determine who is behind the wheel or where they’re from or what their intentions are. What I’m saying is that other people who are smarter than me should figure out those answers.
To me, a threat is a threat, until I know something isn’t a threat, in the Department of Defense, we have to assume it is a threat. The primary function of the Department of Defense is to fight and win wars, we’re not police officers, we don’t go to places to protect and serve. I hate to say it but our job is to kill as many bad guys as possible, so from that perspective, if this was not potentially a threat it would be something someone else should look at — There are different agencies out there such as Health and Human Services, DHS, FAA, and State Department.
This is something that is flying in our skies with impunity. It has the ability to fly over our combat air space and control overall combat theaters, potentially over all of our cities and there is not much we can do about it.
I have to assume it’s a threat.
Keeping in mind that if a Russian or Chinese aircraft entered out airspace the first thing we’d do is scramble F-22s and go intercept it and it would be front page on CNN. [These things, however,] because they don’t have tail numbers, insignia on their wings or tails — they don’t even have wings or tails [at all], it’s crickets. This is occurring, and no one wants to have a conversation about it. That, to me is a greater threat than the threat itself because we can’t allow ourselves [to talk about it] despite the mounting evidence that is there.
Is there anything the public can do to put pressure on our leaders to have a more appropriate response?
First of all, in defense of the Department of Defense, people like to blame DoD “oh, these guys said it was weather balloons or swamp gas” but the reason why there is a stigma is because we made it an issue and made it taboo as American citizens and therefore the Department of Defense is simply responding to the stigma we placed on it. The DoD, for many years, wanted to look at this but the social stigma and taboo, put a lot of pressure on the DoD not to report these things. It’s a shame because of a laundry list of secondary, tertiary issues that ensue if you ignore a potential problem.
I think DoD, in defense of our national security apparatus, nobody wanted to own this portfolio because it was fraught with so much stigma. million of taxpayer dollars were used to support this and it’s problematic because how do you, as a DoD official, go to your boss and say “there’s something in our skies, we don’t know what it is, we don’t know how it works, and by the way, there is not a damned thing we can do about it.” That’s not a conversation that’s easy to have.
Now imagine having that conversation with a man named “Mad Dog Mattis.”
You want to have answers.
In this particular case, we didn’t have enough data. We need more data.
The only way you’re going to get more data is by letting the Department of Defense and Congress know that the American people support this endeavor. The reason they’re not going to respond to it is if they’re [only] getting calls from their constituents saying “what are you doing wasting my taxpayer money?”
I think that once the American people decide this is an issue that should be a priority, then I think the national security apparatus would respond accordingly.
Do you have any advice for service members that may witness strange events? How would you advise them to come forward?
I would advise them [by] letting them know that there are efforts underway in looking at this and they should report this. The Navy and the Air Force are changing their policies to be able to report this information to a cognoscente authority without the fear of repercussions.
What could the readers of We Are The Mighty expect from your work in the future?
That’s it, the truth.
By the way, there are areas which are classified, and I can’t talk about, but I only say that to you off caveat. I don’t like to speculate, I prefer to just keep it to the facts. As a former special agent, for me, it’s always just about the facts. Let’s collect as much data as we can and let the American people decide what this information means to them.
Series premieres Friday, May 31, at 10/9c on HISTORY.
Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan continued his move to secure his increasingly Islamist regime in the wake of the failed coup from this past weekend. Among those arrested in the crackdown is the commander of Incirlik Air Base, where the United States Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing is based.
During the coup, Turkish F-16s reportedly had Erdogan’s plane in their sights, and harassed it, but they did not shoot it down. The Federal Aviation Administration has extended the ban on flights to and from Turkey through September 1, a sign that this crisis is expected to continue for weeks at the very least.
According to one media report, Turkish state media claimed that former air force commander Akin Ozturk had confessed to planning the coup, but in an appearance before a prosecutor, Ozturk denied any involvement. Erdogan has banned all “public servants” from leaving Turkey – an attempt to ensure that none of those who plotted the coup escape. The Turkish President is also stating that he will approve the reinstatement of the death penalty, abolished in 2004, should the Turkish legislature approve it. Such approval may well happen given the fact that Erdogan’s party has control of the Turkish Parliament. The European Union has stated that any use of capital punishment will end any chances of Turkey entering that body.
Erdogan has also begun a series of purges, with the total number of police, judges, and military personnel being suspended or detained totaling at least 14,000. Many of those were supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan’s until they fell out over a 2013 corruption investigation. The BBC reported that Erdogan helped the Gulen supporters get jobs in the police prior to the end of their alliance.
On the diplomatic front, the United States and Turkey are heading towards a falling out. Erdogan has said that Turkey may need to “reconsider” its friendship with the United States. The Turkish president is also continuing to demand the extradition of Gulen, an influential cleric who supports education, religious tolerance, democracy, and is, by all appearances, a genuinely moderate Moslem. In response, Secretary of State John Kerry is saying that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization could expel Turkey. Gulen has raised the possibility that Erdogan staged the coup himself to justify the purges. One European Union commissioner speculated that Erdogan’s regime may have had lists of people to arrest prepared beforehand, a claim that was dismissed by Turkish Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The arrest of the commander of Incirlik Air Base came after the officer’s request for asylum from the United States was denied. Tweets from Americans stationed at Incirlik vouched for the officer, who was taken into custody, and who is likely to be imprisoned, if not killed. Reports have surfaced that Turkish police and prosecutors are searching the air base, where the Federation of American Scientists believe that a number of B61 gravity bombs are stored.
Retired Rear Adm. John Kirby was a Navy public affairs officer for decades and now serves as the State Department’s top spokesman, so he’s been around journalists for a while and given plenty of briefings.
That may explain why he was so chill when — in the middle of reading a statement about defeating ISIS propaganda — he noticed a journalist playing Pokemon Go on a smartphone.
Look, WATM isn’t one of those places that wants to take people’s joy away. Do your thing and enjoy life. If Pokemon make you happy, chase those Pokemon.
But maybe let’s don’t interrupt a briefing about the importance of defeating ISIS on the internet by playing video games — Pokemon Go or otherwise.
Unless, of course, you’ve found a way to defeat ISIS via video games. Then please forward your idea to WATM so we can spread the word.
North Korea issued a message of warning to the United States on April 25, vowing to respond to force with force if attacked.
But Pyongyang did not engage in a major provocation on the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army as some analysts have speculated, a possible sign Kim Jong Un could be taking a step back in the face of renewed pressure from China and the United States.
Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun stated in an editorial on April 25 that its army has the capacity to “respond to any war the United States wants,” and that the “era of the U.S. imperialist’s nuclear terror has ended forever,” because North Korea has developed its own nuclear capacity.
The editorial also suggested the absence of a nuclear or missile provocation on April 25 was no guarantee the Kim Jong Un regime would refrain from a test in the near future.
“In the area of defense, as we produce more advanced weapons, we must work toward creating more events similar to the ‘March 18 Revolution,'” Pyongyang stated.
The North Korean leader did not issue a message on the day of the anniversary, most recently making an appearance at a pig farm, according to KCTV.
China and the United States condemned North Korea’s missile provocations in April, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the United States would respond if North Korea attacks U.S. troops in the region.
“If you see [Kim] attack a military base, if you see some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, then obviously we’re going to [strike back],” Haley said on NBC’s “Today.” “But right now, we’re saying, ‘Don’t test, don’t use nuclear missiles, don’t try and do any more actions,’ and I think he’s understanding that.”
Although the Force has significantly reduced its maintainer shortage, it now faces the daunting task of training the new recruits up to the levels of knowledge and experience the Force needs. That takes considerable time.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said, in Nov. 2017, that the lack of maintainers was having a noticeable effect on air operations.
Whereas in years past, a pilot would have multiple maintainers on hand for aircraft prep, takeoff, and landing, now, Goldfein said, pilots often have to “taxi slow, because the same single-crew chief that you met has to … drive to the end of the runway to pull the pins and arm the weapons.”
“Then, you sit on the runway before you take off and you wait, because that crew chief has to go jump on a C-17 with his tools to fly ahead to meet you at the other end,” he added. “This is the level of numbers that we’re dealing with.”
The maintainer shortage has been a problem for some time and was exacerbated by the drawdown in 2014, which grew the shortage by 1,200 airmen. At the end of fiscal year 2015, the force was short some 4,000 maintainers.
The shortages fell especially hard on the most experienced airmen — 1,900 maintainers at the 5- and 7-skill levels were absent. Maintainers at that level work on the Air Force’s advanced aircraft, like the F-35, and those with the most experience were left working 50- to 60-hour weeks to keep aircraft in flying shape.
The Air Force tries to keep deployed units at full strength, meaning the personnel shortage was felt acutely among squadrons in the US.
The force rolled out a number of enticements to keep airmen on the flight line. By the end of fiscal year 2016, that shortage shrunk to 3,400 maintainers. By the end of fiscal year 2017, the official tally was down to 400.
“So we’ve been getting well” in terms of maintainers, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said at a Heritage Foundation event last week.
Wilson said in mid-February 2018 that the shortage had fallen to 200 maintainers— though Air Force spokeswoman Erika Yepsen told Business Insider the number can change throughout the year based on the force’s personnel numbers and needs.
Wilson added at the Heritage Foundation that simply adding airmen won’t solve the problem created by shedding experienced maintainers.
New, 3-skill level maintainers usually take five to seven years to get fully experienced.
“You go from being an apprentice to a craftsman to a master craftsman,” Wilson said. “So, we have a deficit in those craftsmen, and so we’re looking at different ways to be able to accelerate the learning of those young maintainers.”
“There’s only so much you can do to really learn and master your craft, but we’re almost well in terms of numbers, really now it’s about seasoning that force and getting them to the level of being craftsmen,” she added.
To help accelerate training, the Air Force is going to the boneyard — the aircraft storage facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. The boneyard (there is more than one) provides long-term storage for mothballed or unused aircraft — the force has scavenged parts from there to keep its largest plane, the C5 Galaxy, in the air.
According to Air Force Times, the force will start pulling F-15s and F-16s from the facility to provide training aircraft for the new maintainers and weapons-loaders. Those planes won’t fly, but they will act as high-tech guinea pigs for aircrews training to work on active combat aircraft. This will also keep the Air Force from having to take active aircraft out of service for training.
The Air Force has also brought in civilian contractors to take over some responsibilities — like washing aircraft and instruction — to free up time for maintainers to train.
“Every jet that I can relieve and put back on a flying schedule instead of being a ground instructional trainer, that has second- and third-order return on investment,” Col. Michael Lawrence, head of the Air Force’s maintenance division, told Air Force Times in December 2017.
“When you move jets from one place to another in a maintenance group complex, that drives a level of effort,” Lawrence added. “When we can park a jet down there on a permanent basis, that is a training asset.”
Early on the morning of Jan. 16, 1966, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber took off from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.
The bomber headed toward Europe, where it would patrol near the borders of the Soviet Union with four nuclear weapons, part of Operation Chrome Dome, a Cold War program to provide 24-hour rapid-response capabilities in case of war.
During its return to the U.S. the next day, the B-52 was to rendezvous with a KC-135 tanker for refueling over Spain. Capt. Charles Wendorf, the 29-year-old Air Force pilot at the controls of the bomber, asked his staff pilot, Maj. Larry Messinger, to take over as they approached the refueling point.
Just after 10 a.m. on Jan. 17, the planes began their approach at 31,000ft over eastern Spain. Messinger sensed something was amiss.
“We came in behind the tanker, and we were a little bit fast, and we started to overrun him a little bit,” Messinger recalled, according to American Heritage magazine.
“There is a procedure they have in refueling where, if the boom operator feels that you’re getting too close and it’s a dangerous situation, he will call, ‘ breakaway, breakaway, breakaway,'” Messinger said. “There was no call for a breakaway, so we didn’t see anything dangerous about the situation, but all of a sudden, all hell seemed to break loose.”
The B-52 collided with the tanker. The belly of the KC-135 was torn open, and jet fuel spilled into the tanker and onto the bomber. Explosions ripped through both planes, consuming the tanker and killing all four men aboard. Three men in the tail of the bomber were killed, and the four other crew members ejected.
Capt. Ivens Buchanan, strapped into his ejection seat, was caught in the fireball and burned. He crashed to the ground, but survived. Wendorf’s and Lt. Richard Rooney’s parachutes opened at 14,000 feet, and they drifted out to sea where fishermen rescued them.
Messinger hit his head during ejection. “I opened my parachute. Well, I shouldn’t have done that. I should have freefalled and the parachute would open automatically at 14,000 feet,” he said. “But I opened mine anyway, because of the fact that I got hit in the head, I imagine.” He drifted eight miles out to sea, where he was also picked up by fishermen.
A Spanish fisherman 5 miles offshore at the time reported seeing the explosion and the rain of debris. He then saw five parachutes — three with surviving crew members from the bomber; two others carrying “half a man, with his guts trailing,” and a “dead man.”
Soon after, on the ground in Spain, officers at Air Force bases scrambled to pack the troops they could find — cooks, clerks, and musicians — into buses to head toward Palomares, a coastal farming village in southeast Spain.
“It was just chaos,” John Garman, then a military police officer, told The New York Times in 2016. “Wreckage was all over the village. A big part of the bomber had crashed down in the yard of the school.”
By the evening of Jan. 17, all the airmen had been accounted for and no villagers were hurt. But U.S. personnel continued their search for the four nuclear bombs the B-52 had been carrying.
Days of searching
The bombs — each carrying 1.45 megatons of explosive power, about 100 times as much as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — were not armed, meaning there was no chance of a nuclear detonation.
One was recovered intact, but the high-explosives in two of them, designed to detonate and trigger a nuclear blast, did explode. The blasts left house-size craters on either side of the village, scattering plutonium and contaminating crops and farmland.
“There was no talk about radiation or plutonium or anything else,” Frank B. Thompson, then a 22-year-old trombone player, told The New York Times in 2016.
Thompson and others spent days searching contaminated fields without protective equipment or even a change of clothes. “They told us it was safe, and we were dumb enough, I guess, to believe them,” he said.
The fourth bomb remained missing after days of searching, its absence embarrassing for the U.S. and potentially deadly for people in the area.
The Pentagon called on engineers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, who crunched the available numbers in order to determine where the missing bomb may have landed. The circumstances of the crash and the multitude of variables made such an estimate difficult.
Clues pointed to a sea landing for the fourth bomb, but there was little hard data to indicate where.
An interview with the fisherman who watched five members of the bomber’s crew land at sea yielded a breakthrough.
The “dead man” was, in fact, the bomb attached to its parachute, and the “half man, with his guts trailing” was the empty parachute bag with its packing lines trailing in the air.
That information led the engineers assisting the search to recommend a new search area, bringing the total area being scoured to 27 square miles — with visibility of only 20 feet in some spots.
On Feb. 11, the Navy called in Alvin, a 22-foot-long, 8-foot-wide submersible weighting 13 tons. It had room for a pilot and two observers, carried several cameras and a grappling arm, and could dive to 6,000 feet.
Alvin‘s primitive technology made the search a slog. There was no progress until March 1, when they spotted a track on the seabed.
Two more weeks of searching went by before they spotted the bomb — 2,550 feet below the surface, almost exactly in the spot where the fisherman had seen it enter the water. On March 24, divers in Alvin managed to attach a line to the bomb’s parachute. Just after 8 p.m., a winch on a Navy ship began to reel in the line. About an hour later, the line broke, sending the bomb back to the ocean floor.
They found it again on April 2, resting about 350 feet deeper in the same area. The Navy rigged up another retrieval plan using an unmanned recovery vehicle, but it got caught in the bomb’s parachute. On April 7, the admiral leading the search ordered his crew to lift the whole thing.
The laborious process that followed, assisted by Navy frogmen, lifted the missing nuclear bomb to the surface, bringing the 81-day saga to a close.
Alvin‘s pilots became international heroes, but little else about the incident ended so well.
‘They told us everything was safe’
U.S. soldiers plowed up 600 acres of crops in Palomares, sending it to the Savannah River nuclear complex in South Carolina for disposal.
The U.S. government paid $710,914 to settle 536 Spanish claims. The fisherman, who wanted his claim for finding the bomb, sued for $5 million and eventually won $14,566. Madrid, where protesters had chanted “Yankee assassins!” during the search, asked U.S. Strategic Air Command to stop its flights over Spain. The airborne-alert program of which Operation Chrome Dome was a part was curtailed and then ended for good in 1992.
The U.S. personnel involved in the search and Spaniards in the area have lived with the legacy of the accident in the half-century since it happened.
Despite removing soil in the immediate aftermath, tests in the 1990s revealed high levels of Americium, a product of decaying plutonium, in the village. More tests showed that 50,000 cubic meters of the soil remained radioactive. The U.S. agreed to clean up the contamination remaining in the village in 2015.
Many of the U.S. veterans who assisted the search have said they are dealing with the effects of plutonium poisoning. Linking cancers to a single exposure to radiation is impossible, and there hasn’t been any study to assess whether they have an elevated incidence of illness, but in the years since, some have been ravaged by disease.
Of the 40 veterans involved in the search who were identified by The Times in 2016, 21 had cancer — nine had died from it.
Many of the men have blamed the Air Force, which sent them to clean the scene with little protective gear and later fed troops the contaminated crops that Spaniards refused to eat. One military-police officer was given a plastic bag and told to pick up radioactive fragments by hand.
The Air Force also dismissed tests done at the time showing the men had high levels of plutonium contamination.
“It took me a long time to start to realize this maybe had to do with cleaning up the bombs,” said Arthur Kindler, who was a grocery supply clerk at the time of the incident.
He was so covered in plutonium during the cleanup that the Air Force made him wash off in the ocean and took his clothes. Four years later, he developed testicular cancer and a rare lung infection; he has had cancer in his lymph nodes three times since then.
“You have to understand, they told us everything was safe,” Kindler said. “We were young. We trusted them. Why would they lie?”
If you’re headed overseas to fight against Islamic State and Al Qaeda, then one company may have a cutting-edge rifle for you – at the cost of zero dollars.
Pflugerville, Texas-based TrackingPoint is offering 10 free M600 Service Rifles or M800 Designated Marksman Rifles to any U.S. organization that can legally bring them to the Middle East for the fight against terrorism.
“It’s hard to sit back and watch what is happening over there. We want to do our part,” explained the company’s CEOJohn McHale, in a press release. “Ten guns doesn’t sound like a lot but the dramatic leap in lethality is a great force multiplier. Those ten guns will feel like two hundred to the enemy.”
“We firmly believe that the M600 SR and M800 DMR will save countless lives and enable our soldiers to dominate enemy combatants including terrorists,” he added.
Precision Guided Rifles are designed to help overcome factors that can impact precision for shooters like recoil, direction and speed of wind, inclination, and temperature. They also work to help counteract common human errors like miscalculating range.
The M600 SR
TrackingPoint designed the M600 SR Squad Level Precision Guided NATO 5.56 Service Rifle to replace the M4A1.
The full length is 36.25 inches including the 16-inch barrel. The M600 weighs 12 pounds and has an operating time of two-and-a-half hours.
Whether you are an inexperienced or accomplished shooter, the rifle has an 87 percent first shot success rate out to 600 yards – a percentage 40 times higher than the first shot kill rate for an average warfighter, according to the company.
The rifle is also designed to eliminate targets moving as fast as 15 mph.
The M800 DMR
TrackingPoint describes this rifle as the “nuclear bomb of small arms.”
The M800 Designated Marksman Rifle Squad-Level Precision guided 7.62 was designed to replace the M110 and M14.
This rifle weighs a bit more at 14 and-a-half pounds. The full length is 39 inches with the 18-inch barrel. The M800 also has an operating time of two and-a-half hours before needing to switch out the dual lithium-ion batteries.
With the very first shot, the success rate on this rifle is 89 percent at out to 800 yards- based on the company’s evaluation.
Extrapolating from the Army’s 1999 White Feather study, TrackingPoint says this 89 percent success rate is about 33 times the success rate of first shots as kill shots by professional snipers.
The M800 DMR can hit targets moving as fast as 20 mph.
Both rifles incorporate the company’s “RapidLok Target Acquisition.” As a warfighter pulls the trigger, the target is automatically acquired and tracked. The range is also calculated and measured for velocity. Accuracy is enhanced because all this work is accomplished by the time the trigger squeeze is completely.
Both rifles also feature tech that enables accurate off-hand shots. The image is stabilized to the sort of image you would get with a supported gun rest.
Each rifle comes with a case that includes a charger, bi-pod, 20 round mag, bore guide and link pin. It also comes ready with two batteries.
The M600 SR retails for $9995, while the M800 DMR will be available for $15,995. If you’re an interested civilian, TrackingPoint says the weapons are available to “select non-military U.S. individuals.”
On Dec. 5, the company will begin shipping the free rifles to the chosen qualified U.S, citizens who can bring the guns into the fight against terrorism legally.
A video of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un crying about his country’s terrible economy while surveying its coast is said to be making the rounds among the country’s leadership — and it could be a sign he’s ready to cave in to President Donald Trump in negotiations.
The defector reportedly said the video surfaced in April 2018, and high-ranking members of North Korea’s ruling party viewed it, possibly in an official message from Kim to the party.
In April 2018, North Korea had already offered the US a meeting with Kim and was in the midst of a diplomatic charm offensive in which it offered up the prospect of denuclearization to China, South Korea, and the US.
The defector speculated that the video was meant to prepare the country for possible changes after the summit with Trump.
Really strange video
In North Korea, Kim is essentially worshipped as a god-like figure with an impossible mythology surrounding his bloodline. Kim is meant to be all powerful, so footage showing him crying at his own inability to improve his country’s economics would be a shock.
Kim’s core policy as a leader had been to pursue both economic and nuclear development, but around the turn of 2018, he declared his country’s nuclear-weapon program completed.
Experts assess with near unanimity that Kim doesn’t really want to give up his country’s nuclear weapons, as he went to the trouble of writing the possession of nuclear weapons into North Korea’s constitution.
Instead, a new report from the CIA says Kim simply wants US businesses, perhaps a burger joint, to open within the country as a gesture of goodwill and an economic carrot, CNBC reports.
Big if true
Trump has made North Korea a top priority during his presidency and has spearheaded the toughest sanctions ever on Pyongyang. In particular, Trump has been credited with getting China, North Korea’s biggest ally and trading partner, to participate in the sanctions.