Some of you military types will be by the pool, some of you will be skating or shamming on duty, and at least one of you will be explaining to someone on Facebook that Labor Day isn’t about veterans or the military.
Let the best memes of the week help you stave off any labor (for at least a few more minutes) and give you some tips for celebrating the holiday.
1. Don’t forget to include your pets.
2. Remember: you can get arrested for a DUI while driving a boat.
3. Guys, be yourself when talking to the ladies.
You know it’s true because it’s the first thing he said to her.
4. Be prepared if the ladies reject your advances.
Paramount released the first trailer for Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the film adaptation of war correspondent Kim Barker’s 2011 book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan andPakistan.
Fey plays Barker, a childless, unmarried reporter who volunteers to go to Afghanistan and Pakistan, including an embedded assignment with U.S. Marines in the region. Joining her is Margot Robbie, who of all people explains the “Desert Queen Principle” to Fey’s Barker once in country.
The film also stars Martin Freeman as a Scottish journalist, Alfred Molina (who is not of Afghan descent) as a local Afghan official, and Billy Bob Thorton as the Marine Corps commanding officer. The trailer makes the film seem like a sort of Eat, Pray, Love for reporters, which the film even outright calls “the most American white lady story I’ve ever heard.”
Barker’s original book depicted her own humorous journey from hapless to hardcore. She covered stories about Islamic militants and the reconstruction efforts in the Af-Pak area, along with her fears about the future of the region.
The US Army is developing precision-guided 155mm rounds that are longer range than existing shells and able to conduct combat missions in a GPS-denied war environment.
The Precision Guidance Kit Modernization (PGK-M) is now being developed to replace the standard PGK rounds, which consist of an unguided 155 round with a GPS-fuse built into it; the concept with the original PGK, which first emerged roughly 10 years ago, was to bring a greater amount of precision to historically unguided artillery fire.
Now, Army developers with the Army’s Program Executive Office Ammunition at Picatinny Arsenal are taking the technology to a new level by improving upon the range, accuracy, and functionality of the weapon. Perhaps of greatest importance, the emerging PGK-M shell is engineered such that it can still fire with range and accuracy in a war environment where GPS guidance and navigation technology is compromised or destroyed.
The emerging ammunition will be able to fire from standard 155mm capable weapons such as an Army M777 lightweight towed howitzer and M109 howitzer.
“PGK-M will provide enhanced performance against a broad spectrum of threats. In addition, PGK-M will be interoperable with the Army’s new long-range artillery projectiles, which are currently in parallel development,” Audra Calloway, spokeswoman for the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal, told Warrior Maven.
BAE Systems is among several vendors currently developing PGK-M with the Army’s Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium. BAE developers say the kits enable munitions to make in-flight course corrections even in GPS-jammed environments.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jessica A. DuVernay)
“Our experience with munitions handling, gun launch shock, interior ballistics, and guidance and fire control uniquely positions us to integrate precision technology into the Army’s artillery platforms,” David Richards, Program Manager, Strategic Growth Initiatives for our Precision Guidance and Sensing Solutions group, BAE Systems, told Warrior Maven in a statement.
This technological step forward is quite significant for the Army, as it refines its attack technologies in a newly-emerging threat environment. The advent of vastly improved land-fired precision weaponry began about 10 years ago during the height of counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. GPS-guided 155m Excalibur rounds and the Army’s GPS and inertial measurement unit weapon, the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, burst onto the war scene as a way to give commanders more attack options.
Traditional suppressive fire, or “area weapons” as they have been historically thought of, were not particularly useful in combat against insurgents. Instead, since enemies were, by design, blended among civilians, Army attack options had little alternative but to place the highest possible premium upon precision guidance.
GMLRS, for example, was used to destroy Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, and Excalibur had its combat debut in the 2007, 2008 timeframe. With a CEP of roughly 1-meter Excalibur proved to be an invaluable attack mechanism against insurgents. Small groups of enemy fighters, when spotted by human intel or overhead ISR, could effectively be attack without hurting innocents or causing what military officials like to call “collateral damage.” PGK was initially envision as a less expensive, and also less precise, alternative to Excalibur.
The rise of near peer threats, and newer technologies commensurate with larger budgets and fortified military modernization ambitions, have created an entirely new war environment confronting the Army of today and tomorrow. Principle among these circumstances is, for example, China’s rapid development of Anti-Satellite, or ASAT weapons.This ongoing development, which has both the watchful eye and concern of US military strategists and war planners, underscores a larger and much discussed phenomenon – that of the United States military being entirely too reliant upon GPS for combat ops. GPS, used in a ubiquitous way across the Army and other military services, spans small force-tracking devices to JDAMs dropped from the air, and much more, of course including the aforementioned land weapons.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Veronica Mammina)
Advanced jamming techniques, electronic warfare and sophisticated cyberattacks have radically altered the combat equation – making GPS signals vulnerable to enemy disruption. Accordingly, there is a broad consensus among military developers, and industry innovators that far too many necessary combat technologies are reliant upon GPS systems. Weapons targeting, ship navigation, and even small handheld solider force-tracking systems all rely upon GPS signals to operate.
Accordingly, the Army and other services are now accelerating a number of technical measures and emerging technologies designed to create what’s called Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT), or GPS-like guidance, navigation and targeting, without actually needing satellites. This includes ad hoc software programmable radio networks, various kinds of wave-relay connectivity technologies and navigational technology able to help soldiers operate without GPS-enabled force tracking systems.
At the same time, the Army is working with the Air Force on an integrated strategy to protect satellite comms, harden networks, and also better facilitate joint-interoperability in a GPS-denied environment.
The Air Force Space strategy, for instance, is currently pursuing a multi-fold satellite strategy to include “dispersion,” “disaggregation” and “redundancy.” At the same time, the service has also identified the need to successfully network the force in an environment without GPS. Naturally, this is massively interwoven with air-ground coordination. Fighters, bombers and even drones want to use a wide range of secure sensors to both go after targets and operate with ground forces.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is working with industry to test and refine an emerging radiofrequency force-tracking technology able to identify ground forces’ location without needing to rely upon GPS.
Given all this, it is by no means insignificant that the Army seeks guided rounds able to function without GPS. Should they engage in near-peer, force-on-force mechanized ground combat against a major, technologically advanced adversary, they may indeed need to launch precision attacks across wide swaths of terrain – without GPS.
Finally, by all expectations, modern warfare is expected to increasingly become more and more dispersed across wider swaths of terrain, while also more readily crossing domains, given rapid emergence of longer range weapons and sensors.
This circumstance inevitably creates the need for both precision and long-range strike. As one senior Army weapons developer with PEO Missiles and Space told Warrior Maven in an interview — Brig. Gen. Robert Rasch — …”it is about out-ranging the enemy.”
President-elect Donald Trump selected retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, the former commander of United States Southern Command, to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security.
The president-elect is slated to make a formal announcement next week, and is also expected to name his pick for Secretary of State as well.
According to a 2014 report by the Washington Free Beacon, Kelly made waves during his tenure at SOUTHCOM by declaring that he had only 5 percent of the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance elements needed to halt drug smuggling.
That year, he also revealed that nearly three-fourths of drug smugglers got through due to a lack of assets.
Kelly also has warned of Iranian influence in South America.
“Over the last 15 years Iran has periodically sought closer ties with regional governments, albeit with mixed results,” Kelly testified during a Congressional hearing March 2015, according to the Free Beacon. “Iranian legislators visited Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua to advocate for increased economic and diplomatic cooperation. Iran’s outreach is predicated on circumventing sanctions and countering U.S. influence.”
Kelly, a Gold Star father, is the third general to be appointed to a high-level national security post by President-elect Trump. Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, a former commander of United States Central Command, was selected to serve as Secretary of Defense while former Defense Intelligence Agency head Michael Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, was chosen to be Trump’s national security advisor.
Kelly served in the Marine Corps for 46 years, counting four in the inactive reserve. He served in Operation Desert Storm and the Global War on Terror.
His decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with Combat Distinguishing Device and a gold star in lieu of a second award, and the Meritorious Service Medal with a gold star in lieu of a second award.
Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness praised the selection, saying, “I agree with a Marine veteran friend who said of the appointment of General Kelly, ‘The Marines have landed . . . and the situation soon will be well in hand!’ After years of HHS Director Jeh Johnson’s failure to protect and defend the integrity of America’s borders, this is an inspired and reassuring choice. President-elect Donald Trump is deploying in defense of our nation a man of character who commands respect.”
The Coast Guard may not have a lot of hulls, but what they have, they make very good use of. In fact, they were able to keep old ships in service for a long time, and they even bring in some unique systems. Here’s some of the cool stuff they’ve used over the years.
1. Casco-class high-endurance cutters
After World War II, the Navy had a lot of leftover vessels. The Coast Guard took in 18 Barnegat-class small seaplane tenders and used them as high-endurance cutters for over two decades.
While many were scrapped or sunk, the USCGC Unimak (WHEC 379), stayed in active service until 1988. One ship, the former USCGC Absecon (WHEC 374) may have remained through the 1990s after being captured by North Vietnam.
The Barnegats had a five-inch gun, two twin 40mm mounts, two twin 20mm mounts, and were even fitted with 324mm torpedo tubes.
The 1987-1988 version of Combat Fleets of the World noted that the North Vietnamese had fitted launchers for the SS-N-2 Styx anti-ship missile on the former Absecon.
2. HU-16 Albatross
Helicopters took a while to develop. Before that, the best search-and-rescue assets were flying boats and amphibian aircraft.
The Grumman HU-16 was one asset that handled this mission after World War II. The Air Force put it to use during the Korean War, and it also saw action in the Vietnam War.
In Coast Guard service, the survivors of a 91-plane purchase of HU-16s stuck around until 1983 – and civilian versions still operate today.
It’s not surprising the plane lasted so long. According to specifications at GlobalSecurity.org, the Albatross had a range of over 1600 miles and a top speed of 240 miles per hour. Let’s see a helicopter do that!
3. HH-52 Seaguard
This amphibious helicopter was the epitome of the specialized aircraft the Coast Guard bought when it could.
Imagine being able to land on the water to retrieve a survivor, but not needing to make a long takeoff run.
According to a Coast Guard fact sheet on this helo, the capability was necessary because there was no rescue swimmer program at the time. That omission was rectified in the 1980s, and in 1989, the last HH-52 was retired. By that time the fleet of 99 helos had saved over 15,000 lives.
4. Boeing PB-1G Flying Fortress
After World War II, the Army Air Force had a lot of planes lying around – many of which had been built too late for them to see action.
The legendary bomber served as a search-and-rescue asset for 14 years, using a lifeboat slung underneath for that mission. The Coast Guard’s fact sheet notes that another legendary plane, the C-130, eventually replaced the Flying Fortress in their service.
5. MH-68A Stingray
The Coast Guard once had a specialized unit, HITRON 10 (Helicopter Interdiction Squadron 10), that specialized in stopping the flow of drugs into the U.S. To do that, the service got a special helicopter, the MH-68A Stingray — a version of the Agusta A109.
With a forward-looking infrared system, an M240 machine gun, a M82A1 Barrett sniper rifle, and other high-tech avionics, this helo was a lethal hunter. According to Helis.com, the eight-plane force was retired in 2008, and the Coast Guard modified 10 MH-65s to the MH-65C standard to replace them.
6. Sea Bird-class Surface Effect Ships
This three-ship class was fast (25-knot cruising speed), and they were perfectly suited for the drug interdiction mission in the Caribbean.
It seems like it’s been a long time since there was a decent World War II shooter-game, but Battalion 1944 may put an end to that.
This multiplayer World War 2 shooter is in the works for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. And from the looks of the official announcement trailer (see above), it looks promising.
Players can fight in real world locations such as the streets of Carentan, the forests of Bastogne and many more in what a company release calls “a spiritual successor to the great multiplayer shooters of the past.”
Bulkhead Interactive reports, “In short, Battalion 1944 is an infantry based first person shooter with an emphasis on raw skill. No grinding, no ‘exosuits’, just you and your skill as a player. Battalion 1944 utilizes the most advanced industry technology to create a visceral and heart-thumping multiplayer experience that has been crafted by the designers who have grown up playing Medal of Honor and Call of Duty 2.”
Bulkhead Interactive was seeking $145,000 in crowdfunding on Kickstarter to get the project off the ground. The goal was reached after only two days.
If someone told you the only way for you to survive the coming recession unscathed would be to start your own business, would you even know where to begin? Would you be able to afford the startup costs on your own? Can you handle the workload that might come with such a venture? For most people, especially veterans, that answer is no. That’s what startup accelerators are for – access to knowledge, access to capital, mentorship, connections, talent – all these things can be acquired through these programs.
Vets have some unique skills and traits that make them natural entrepreneurs. And that’s why a startup accelerator like Bunker Labs has big plans for those who are ready to take the first steps toward entrepreneurship.
When some of the most powerful brands get together for vets, big things happen.
Veterans are an interesting slice of Americans, especially where entrepreneurship is concerned. Time and again, veterans show they have the work ethic and drive it takes to start their own enterprises. Of the 200,000 separating veterans every year, 25 percent of those are interested in starting their own businesses but only 4.5 percent of those 50,000 vets are actually able to pursue their own entrepreneurial vision. The reason is because starting your own business takes knowledge veterans may not have and capital most definitely do not have.
That’s where a veteran-owned business accelerator can come into play. If you don’t know where to begin but you have a great idea, an accelerator like Bunker Labs is a great place to start. Starting a business isn’t obvious – there’s a lot that goes into it that you will just not know. Bunker Labs is a non-profit startup accelerator for the military-veteran community comprised of veteran volunteers with the tools and resources to help their fellow vetrepreneurs start their business.
Bunker Labs has helped create more than 1,000 veteran jobs in the United States and helped raise some million in startup capital. This accelerator captures the ambition and innovation veterans bring to startups and equips them with knowledge, mentorship, and opportunities they might otherwise not have had access to. There are labs online, labs in-residency for vets, and when the ball really gets rolling, a cadre of CEO vetrepreneurs who are taking their work to the next level. Bunker Labs is even a partner with the 2019 Military Influencer Conference, a three-day entrepreneurial workshop which brings together the brightest and most inspiring veteran entrepreneurs to teach and share their lessons learned and best practices.
To get started with Bunker Labs, vets simply have to start with registering for their Launch Labs Online, fill out some quick demographic information and from there you can connect with other new members, find a mentor, engage the Facebook group, and more. After activating your account, you can start taking classes with Bunker Labs right away. The core classes include knowing yourself, knowing your customers, and how to make money. From there, the sky could be the limit.
If you’re interested in starting your own business and don’t know where to begin, the Military Influencer Conferences are the perfect place to start. There, you can network with other veteran entrepreneurs while listening to the best speakers and panels the military-veteran community of entrepreneurs can muster. Visit the Military Influencer Conference website for more information.
As COVID restrictions begin to lift and businesses implement new safety protocols, more and more service members are putting in leave or planning their next family vacations—goodness knows we could all use one after lockdown. Though many hotels are offering lower rates in order to entice tourists to return, there are still popular vacation destinations where lodging is at a premium.
Luckily, there are some hidden gems to be found in these areas…as long as you have your military ID. Even if you’re not planning to travel soon, keep these locations in mind for your post-COVID vacations. Since international travel restrictions are still in place, this list will focus on accommodations in the United States. Overseas locations like Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, South Korea will not be included.
1. Hale Koa Hotel—Honolulu, HI
Situated in the heart of Waikiki, Hale Koa offers service members an affordable and high class aloha experience. Owned by the DoD, Hale Koa is part of a chain of Joint Service Facility resorts called Armed Forces Recreation Centers. Room rates range from 3 to 1 per night depending on the dates of your stay and your rank (try to find resort rates like that in Waikiki). In order to book a stay, guests must provide proof of eligibility like a CAC or DD Form 2. For a full list of eligibility, see the Hale Koa website. Reservations are accepted up to 365 days before your desired trip. Hale Koa notes that September to mid-December offers the most room availability.
2. NAB Coronado/NAS North Island Navy Gateway—Coronado, CA
Coronado in San Diego is a premiere resort city known for the grand Victorian Hotel del Coronado, world-class beaches, and hosting two Navy bases. Both bases offer service members lodging operated by the DoD Lodging Program under Navy Gateway Inns Suites. While the Navy Gateway at NAS North Island offers guests more luxurious accommodations, its location on the north end of the peninsula means that it is further from the shops and restaurants that visitors come to Coronado for. On the other hand, the Navy Gateway at NAB Coronado is just south of the heart of the city. In fact, the lodging is only 1.5 miles from “The Del” and the picturesque Coronado Yacht Club. Both locations offer easy and exclusive beach access. However, if you plan to take your four-legged friend(s) to Coronado’s famous white-sand dog beach, note that only the NAB Coronado location is pet friendly. Pricing and availability vary, but a standard room can usually be had for around 0/night.
3. Shades of Green—Lake Buena Vista, FL
Like Hale Koa, Shades of Green is a Joint Service Facility resort under the AFRC program. Located on the grounds of Walt Disney World in between two PGA championship golf courses, the resort offers nearly 600 rooms and suites reserved exclusively for service members, families, and sponsored guests. A full list of eligibility is listed on their website. Accommodations range in price from a standard room at 9/night for E-1 through E-6, up to 9/night for their top-tier Palm and Magnolia Suites regardless of rank. Compared to Disney’s on-site resorts, Shades of Green is comparable to their Deluxe Resorts like the Polynesian Resort. Though resort guests cannot park for free at the Disney parks, Shades of Green does offer a complimentary bus service to and from the parks. That said, the resort does not provide transportation to or from the Orlando International Airport and on-site parking comes at the cost of /night.
4. Coast Guard Guest Lodging—Cape May, NJ
Most people don’t know that Cape May, NJ hosts basic training for the U.S. Coast Guard. The city claims to be America’s original seaside resort. The pristine beaches, diverse dining options, and rich history make it a great choice for an east coast vacation on the water. While the city has plenty of hotels, bed breakfast inns, and guest houses, the Coast Guard Guest Lodging offers eligible service members lodging options in the form of six fully furnished two bedroom units. Each unit has a living room, kitchen, and full bathroom along with essential housing items. If you and your family are planning an extended stay in Cape May and/or want to visit the surrounding area, these Coast Guard accommodations might be for you. Reservations during the peak season of May 15-September 15 will cost you /night while the non-peak season of September 16-May 14 runs at /night. Two pet friendly units are available and will require a non-refundable pet fee of 0.
5. Soldiers’, Sailors’, Marines’, Coast Guard & Airmen’s Club—New York, NY
Located on Lexington Avenue in the heart of Manhattan, the SSMA Club has been housing service members in the Big Apple since 1919. It is the only private organization in the New York area that provides accommodations at subsidized rates and club-type facilities to service members, veterans, retirees, and their families. The club rents by the bed rather than by the room; there are 21 rooms with two beds, six rooms with three beds, one room with four beds, and one room with six beds. Daily rates range from – per night depending on eligibility. There is also a single VIP Room that goes for 0/night for single-occupancy and 0/night for double-occupancy. Lavatories are communal and separated by gender. The club does not offer food service, but it does have kitchen facilities for guests to use. Common areas include the canteen, library, and two lounges.
Whether you’re looking to vacation at the beach, in a city, or at the happiest place on Earth, keep military-exclusive lodging options like these in mind. The eligibility and nightly rates for use of these facilities vary, so be sure to check their websites. Even if you’re not planning a trip to one of the locations listed, check to see if your vacation destination has a military-exclusive establishment. Service members and their families sacrifice so much for this country; accommodations like these offer a little bit in return.
As everyone watches the event in Oregon, which so far isn’t really a standoff, reporters are trying to figure out who the 12-150 people in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters building are.
Ryan Payne speaks with Youtube vlogger Pete Santilli about the militia occupation of federal buildings at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Youtube/Pete Santilli Show
Ryan Payne, a former soldier, is among them. He has been a prominent presence in the buildup to the occupation of the buildings in Oregon and claimed to have lead militia snipers who targeted — but didn’t fire on — federal agents during the showdown at the Bundy ranch in Nevada in 2014.
Payne claimed to be a Ranger on internet forums and during interviews early in the Bundy ranch standoff, but it’s been pointed out by a number of stolen valor sites that Payne never earned a tab.
“It’s all in the Ranger handbook,” Payne once said. “The Ranger handbook is like the quintessential fighting man’s story. You know, how to do this—everything to be a fighting guy. And having served in that type of unit, that was my Bible. I carried it around on me everywhere I went.”
The only Ranger-type unit Payne was in was the West Mountain Rangers, a militia that is likely not associated with the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Payne did serve in the Army and likely did some awesome stuff as a member of the 18th Airborne Corps Long Range Surveillance Company during the invasion of Iraq. The LRS is comprised of paratroopers who move behind enemy lines and conduct reconnaissance on enemy forces. But any paratrooper knows the difference between being Airborne and being an Airborne Ranger.
The difference is at least two months of grueling training, longer for the 34 percent of graduates who have to recycle at least one phase of the 61-day course. The difference is an assignment to one of the three battalions of the storied Ranger Regiment. The difference is earning the scroll, tab, and beret that are worn by actual Rangers.
It was after members of the Ranger community called him out that Payne switched from touting his fictional credentials as a Ranger to his actual “achievements” of targeting federal police officers with sniper rifles.
The Gary Sinise Foundation announced that Dr. Mike Thirtle has been named as the organization’s next chief executive officer. Established in 2011 by award-winning actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise, the Gary Sinise Foundation’s mission is to serve our nation by honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need. The Foundation achieves its mission through programs and initiatives designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen, and build communities.
Gary Sinise has been leading the Foundation since its inception 10 years ago, growing the organization exponentially and consistently exceeding its annual goals. As the Foundation’s chairman, Sinise and the Board of Directors selected Thirtle to lead the Gary Sinise Foundation as the organization expands and ascends to new levels of delivering on Sinise’s commitment to serve and honor our nation’s heroes and their loved ones.
“As the Gary Sinise Foundation enters our second decade, it is my great pleasure to announce our new Chief Executive Officer, Mike Thirtle,” said Sinise. “With over 20 years of military service, 12 years at the RAND Corporation, and 7 years as president and CEO of the nonprofit Bethesda Lutheran Communities, Mike brings tremendous experience to GSF, and I am looking forward to working with him on the GSF mission of service for our defenders and their families.”
Thirtle — who will officially assume the role on July 12 — joins the Foundation with a passion for serving others and a broad background in philanthropy, non-profit leadership, strategy and policy analysis, business consulting, higher education, and military service. He will report directly to the Board of Directors and will lead the day-to-day programs of the Foundation.
“I am deeply honored to serve Gary, the Board, and the staff at the Gary Sinise Foundation as we support the millions of defenders, veterans, first responders, and their families across our nation — the true heroes and guardians of our freedom,” said Thirtle, an Air Force veteran. “It is because of their sacrifices that we enjoy the fruits of freedom and for which we are all grateful. My wife, Juli, and I look forward to being part of the Gary Sinise Foundation family and supporting Gary and this amazing cause.”
Retired Air Force Gen. Robin Rand will continue to serve as CEO until Thirtle assumes the position of CEO on July 12. Sinise recruited Rand in 2018 for the position of CEO after he ended a long career of active-duty service in the Air Force, retiring as a four-star general. He was selected by Sinise for the role given his deep understanding of the needs of the military and veteran community and his passionate desire to give back, which Sinise felt were crucial to elevate the Foundation and further its mission.
Sinise praised Rand’s contributions saying, “I am extremely grateful to Gen. Robin Rand for his leadership of the Foundation these past 2-and-a-half years beginning in October of 2018. We have certainly faced tremendous challenges during this time, especially with the 2020 global pandemic, yet under Robin’s leadership, the Foundation has continued to excel, sailing full speed ahead with tremendous growth throughout this period. He is a gifted leader and a good friend. On behalf of all of us at the Foundation, I thank him for his dedication and time with GSF, and especially for his 40 years of service to our country in the United States Air Force.”
Rand shared his reflections, saying, “The mission of the Gary Sinise Foundation is so noble, and it has been a tremendous honor to serve at the GSF for the past 33 months. I’m forever grateful.”
It is not Iron Man. It isn’t even Iron Fist. Lockheed Martin’s newest exoskeleton is more like Iron Leg. But for a soldier humping his weapons, ammo and body armor up a mountain in Afghanistan or a high-rise building in a future urban battle, a device to take the load off would be welcome. And, unlike science fiction supersuits, we can build it now.
Exoskeletons are part of the Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy, which seeks to use robotics and artificial intelligence to enhance humans on the battlefield, rather than to replace them. There’s no area where the need is more acute than in the infantry, which takes the vast majority of casualties.
One particularly persistent problem: weight. US foot troops have been overburdened since at least D-Day, where some men drowned in shallow water under their heavy packs. The problem has become especially acute since 9/11, with US troops in body armor laboring to chase Taliban in flip-flops. The military is constantly looking at ways to make equipment lighter, but those improvements are mainly on the margins, a pound shaved here or there. It’s also experimenting with wheeled or tracked robots that can carry some of a squad’s equipment, but these robotic mules can’t yet keep up with nimble infantrymen over rough terrain.
So if you can’t lighten the soldier’s load, and you can’t take it off him, can you make him stronger? Nowadays, the answer is yes: We have the technology.
How It Works
The Lockheed exoskeleton’s full and unwieldly designation is FORTIS Knee-Stress Relief Device (K-SRD), which makes it sounds like a piece of molded plastic your insurance would refuse to cover. In fact, it’s a sophisticated synthesis of multiple technologies:
a rigid load-bearing framework to transfer weight off the wearer to the ground; compact actuators at the knee to increase strength (future models may add actuators at the hip as well); soft materials that buffer between the human being and the rigid frame, helping translate analog human movements into digital signals to the actuators; and an artificial intelligence that adjusts the machinery to move seamlessly with the wearer — unlike past earlier exoskeletons that often resisted the body’s natural movements.
In tests, elite Tier One special operators wearing K-SRD found they could do twice as many squats lifting 185 pounds of weight, going from an average of 20-25 reps to over 50. There were similar improvements climbing stairs carrying a 185-lb simulated casualty, said Lockheed product manager Keith Maxwell, a former Navy and “Other Government Agency” operator himself. “It literally pushes you up flights of stairs,” he told me. “(You) do it faster, with much less fatigue.”
However, the gains are greatest with vertical movement and least on level ground, Maxwell emphasized. On a 15-degree slope, he said, the device reduces the human’s energy expenditure — the “net metabolic cost” — by only about 9 percent. On level ground, it doesn’t save any energy, he said. Why? Humans evolved over millions of years for long-distance chases across the savannah: The theory of persistence hunting suggests our ancestors, lacking bows and arrows, simply ran after prey until it collapsed from exhaustion. Nothing modern technology can make is likely to improve on human performance over level ground, at least any time soon.
With K-SRD on level ground, said Maxwell, “what we’re able to do is break even” — which is a marked improvement over past exoskeletons. Lockheed spent years on an 85-lb rigid exoskeleton called HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier), which was good at carrying heavy weights but lousy at matching human movements. “The problem was that terrain is irregular and human gait is infinitely variable,” Maxwell said, so HULC’s computer kept misunderstanding what the wearer wanted to do and moving the wrong way. Overall, Maxwell said, walking around in a HULC actually cost 15 to 25 percent more energy than having no exoskeletal “help” at all.
Lockheed moved on to the less ambitious FORTIS, essentially a rigid support frame — it doesn’t require electricity because it doesn’t have actuators — that could help factory and shipyard workers handle heavy tools without fatigue. The wearer has enough mobility to relocate, tools in hand, to another worksite within 100 yards, but the industrial FORTIS far too awkward for the battlefield.
The FORTIS K-SRD, by contrast, uses its mix of rigid and flexible components, and a much more sophisticated set of algorithms than HULC, to move with the wearer’s body. Testers were able to operate it with only 15 minutes of training, Maxwell said, and some of the special operators didn’t bother with the training at all.
“They can run, they can climb, they can squat,” Maxwell said. They can hit the dirt, take cover, and crawl, then jump up and dash forward and take cover again. They can even walk along a balance beam although for such precision movements he recommends turning the strength-magnifying actuators off, done with a simple thumb movement on the controls. One tester even found his K-SRD comfortable enough to sleep with it on.
The Case Against Iron Man
After decades of exoskeleton development, Lockheed wants to get this device out into the field soon. The K-SRD team is working mostly closely with the Army’s Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., which they expect to buy a number of K-SRDs for test purposes and institute a Cooperative Research Development Agreement (CRADA) in the next 30-60 days. Other partners include the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad initiative. Lockheed is even working with theDepartment of Homeland Security and some foreign fire departments on potential firefighting and rescue applications, since those also involve heavily burdened humans climbing up and down with life and death and stake.
Maxwell did not mention Special Operations Command, whose TALOS program envisions a full-body suit of mechanical armor able to resist point-blank gunshots — what then-SOCOM chief Adm. William McRaven compared to Iron Man’s suit.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) relies on the JARVIS artificial intelligence to help pilot his Iron Man suit — the kind of “human-machine teaming” that increasingly intrigues the Pentagon. (Marvel Comics/Paramount Pictures)
“Can we have an up-armored solution that’s capable of breaching and entering and being relatively invulnerable to 7.62 AP (armor piercing) bullets at point-blank range? Yeah, we can do that,” said Maxwell. That said, it’d probably be heavy and slow, far from the flight-capable suit in the comics.
“Iron Man has…hurt exoskeleton development,” Maxwell said, because it’s created impossible expectations — literally impossible, since the CGI suit in the movies routinely violates the laws of physics. When Iron Man drops from the sky to a neat three-point landing, in particular, the sudden deceleration would liquefy Tony Stark inside the suit.
Nevertheless, Maxwell said, while real-world exoskeletons may not copy the comic books, they’re still a marvel. When our best troops put them on, he said, “they become something more than human.” They become something more than mere machines, as well, he said: “The man in the machine will beat the machine (by itself) every time.”
That’s the so-called centaur model of human-machine teaming at the heart of the Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy. It’s the synergy of a human imagination and agility controlling the strength and speed of a machine, like the mythical centaur combining rider and horse into a single being.
“As long as there’s judgment (required) in situations in which the person is going to have to make a call, we’re going to want a human in the loop. Eventually, if we can get machines to do that for us…we’ll just make these robots,” Maxwell told me. “Until then…you take the absolute best human beings and combine them with the absolute best in machines.”
Enlisting in the Army with a childhood friend or relative is a generations-old practice meant to bring familiarity and comfort to an experience fraught with stress and uncertainty.
So, does signing up with more than one recruit further ease the difficulties associated with initial military training?
The answer is an emphatic “yes” as it relates to members of a Samoan family with a decidedly large footprint at Fort Lee. There are 41 of them enrolled in various Sustainment Center of Excellence courses here, twisting the old adage “strength in numbers.”
“This is good for us,” said 30-year-old Spc. Joseph Tauiliili, assigned to Papa Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion, and the oldest among relatives in various stages of advanced individual training. “We come from American Samoa, and we’re basically thousands of miles away from home. Seeing them by my side keeps me motivated every day.”
American Samoa is a U.S. territory and part of the Samoan Islands, an archipelago that also includes the independent nation of Samoa. It is located in the Pacific Ocean roughly 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii and a little over 2,000 miles northeast of New Zealand.
The Samoans in training here — first, second, third, and fourth cousins — hail from Poloa, an area near the capital city of Pago Pago. All are related to the same malietoa or chieftain. Their decision to join in close proximity was partly based on strong familial and cultural ties, said Pvt. Siiva Tuiolemotu, assigned to Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion.
“We wanted to stick together in training,” the 20-year-old said, noting her country’s communal culture.
Most of the Samoans are training in the Unit Supply Specialist Course taught at the Quartermaster School. A few are enrolled in courses for other quartermaster military occupational specialties, and at least one attends the Ordnance School.
American Samoa, which has struggled economically, boasts strong traditions of military service, said Tuiolemotu. In 2014, a local Army recruiting station was the most productive in the world, according to the Samoa News website. Still, kinship is what drives most to take the oath of service.
“The thing we care about is supporting our families,” she said. “If that means (sacrificing) our lives, yes, we have to fight for them.”
It also is legacy. Many of the Soldiers are the latest to uphold family traditions.
“Most of my siblings are in the military, and I’m the youngest, so I wanted to follow in their footsteps,” said 25-year-old Pfc. Vasait Saua, Whiskey Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion.
Pvt. Talalelei Ames said his parents also spent time in uniform, and his father is a retiree. Enduring long periods of separation while they served, he said his military ties were not strong, but that has changed since he took the oath.
“Wearing the uniform makes me feel I am more connected to them,” said the 19-year-old. “I think it’s pretty awesome. I never had this much fun in my life and never had this much responsibility. Now, I know what my parents went through to protect the country.”
The question of whether the Samoans are a close-knit clan or a loose group of relatives was answered during a recent photo session. The Quartermaster School’s Sgt. Maj. Micheal Lambert, who organized the gathering, said there were smiles, hugs, and kisses reminiscent of a family reunion. To top it all off, they postured as if performing a traditional dance complete with contorted facial expressions
“They are definitely a family,” he said.
At some point during their training, the Samoans must face an inherent component of Army life — family separation. The sheer number of Samoans wearing uniforms, however, along with the richness of Samoan culture is comforting in light of the prospect, said Tuiolemotu.
“I’m the first one who will leave the group,” she said, noting a pending Fort Riley, Kansas, assignment. “I’m not worried because there are a lot of us out there. I’m bound to meet another relative somewhere. That’s for sure.”
The US Navy is banning vaping aboard ships, submarines, aircraft, boats, craft and heavy equipment.
The Navy announced April 14 that it is suspending the use, possession, storage and charging of so-called “Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems” aboard navy craft following continued reports of explosions of ENDS due to the overheating of lithium-ion batteries.
The prohibition applies to sailors, Marines, Military Sealift Command civilians and any personnel working on or visiting those units.
The Navy said it implemented this policy to protect the safety and welfare of sailors and to protect the ships, submarines, aircraft and equipment. Multiple sailors have suffered serious injuries from these devices, to include first- and second-degree burns and facial disfigurement. In these cases, injuries resulted from battery explosions during ENDS use, charging, replacement or inadvertent contact with a metal object while transporting.
The prohibition will be effective 30 days from the release of the policy May 14, and will remain in effect until a final determination can be made following a thorough analysis.
Deployed units may request extensions on device removal until their next port visit. Supervisors should ensure that removable lithium-ion batteries are removed from the units and stored according to the ENDS manufacturer instructions, in plastic wrap, in a plastic bag or any other non-conductive storage container.
Sailors on shore will still be allowed to use ENDS on base, but must do so in designated smoking areas ashore while on military installations.