As Hurricane Hermine passed through Florida last week and moved northward, Langley Air Force Base in Virginia was faced with the problem of protecting its F-22 Raptors.
Costing about $140 million a pop, not including development costs, the stealth aircraft became vulnerable to the elements as Virginia declared a state of emergency.
That’s when the Air Force reached out to NASA’s Langley Research Center nearby.
With 85,200 square feet of space in their hangar, NASA’s Category 2 hurricane-rated facility seemed like the ideal location to hold 13 F-22s. After it was all said and done, 22 aircraft, including a massive C-130, was squeezed into the hangar.
The Air Force even showed their gratitude with the following tweet:
Developed by the Germans as early as 1939, night-vision goggles, or NVGs, have been a massive staple in the allied forces’ arsenal, enabling troops to conduct vital missions in the dead of night.
The optic devices produce exceptional images from very low-lit environments by identifying decreased levels of light and amplifying them through a specific set of lenses.
For years, the U.S. has used this sensitive technology to capture and kill enemies after the sun goes down. But, in recent events, Afghan officials have reported that Taliban insurgents have sacked three different checkpoints during a series of nighttime raids in the western province of Farah, killing approximately 20 police officers.
A German soldier holding a “Zielgerät 1229” night-vision scope, attached to his rifle.
Afghan officials have stated that the night-vision goggles the Taliban have been using appear to have Russian markings on them, but that theory has yet to be confirmed. This “evidence” has led Afghan authorities to believe that Russian officials have been arming the Taliban — an accusation the Russians deny.
Although implicated, Russia isn’t the only possible source for the NVGs. Since the Taliban regularly trade through Pakistan, the night-vision goggles may have been obtained there via the black market.
An inside look through a pair of night-vision goggles. (Screenshot from NightVisionGuys YouTube)
Multiple companies sell NVGs to civilians via hunting stores and, in some former Soviet countries, they’re available online. In fact, members of the Taliban terrorist network have been seen, on occasion, using U.S.-manufactured tactical equipment.
Although this isn’t enough information to implicate the Russians in aiding the Taliban, it’s not too far-fetched. Political analysts in Moscow revealed that the Russian government has lost their confidence in the U.S.’s approach to balancing the ongoing Taliban threat. This lack of uncertainty has caused the nation to reach out on its own to other various factions, which may include the Taliban.
(This story was provided courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division)
Mother’s Day 1943 was not a day of celebration in the Sullivan house in Waterloo, Iowa. Just four months earlier, Alleta Sullivan along with her husband Tom, her daughter Genevieve, and her grandson James received official word that all five of her sons had been lost after the ship on which they all served, USS Juneau, was sunk Nov. 13, 1942, during the Battle of Guadalcanal.
News spread across the country of the enormous sacrifice made by the Sullivans and honors were heaped onto Alleta and her family including posters honoring the brothers’ sacrifice, extensive media coverage and even a 1944 motion picture based on their story.
Alleta became an important figure in the war effort. She volunteered at the United Serviceman’s Organization (USO) to help make life easier for troops stateside and abroad. With her husband and daughter, Alleta visited more than 200 manufacturing plants and shipyards offering encouragement to employees in the hopes their efforts would bring the war to an end sooner. By January 1944, Alleta and her family had spoken to more than a million workers in 65 cities and reached millions of others over the radio.
The second ship to be called The Sullivans (DDG 68) was commissioned April 19, 1997, and was sponsored by Kelly Sullivan Loughren, Alleta’s great granddaughter. The ship’s motto is “We Stick Together.” Today the ship, which returned home from a six month deployment just in time for the holidays on Dec. 22, 2013, is based at Naval Station Mayport, Fla.
Kelly obviously admires her great-grandmother’s courage and continued service to the nation in the face of the most devastating loss a mother can suffer. But the story that sticks with her the most is that long after the war, after the movie, the media and the ceremonies had faded, Alleta would receive house calls from Sailors that either knew her sons or who just wanted to stop by and extend their condolences. Kelly said her great-grandmother would often cook them a hot meal and offer them a place to stay for the evening or the weekend.
On this Mother’s Day, America’s Navy salutes the quintessential Navy Mom – Alleta Sullivan, as well as all the mothers who have served, or who have stood on the shore as their sons and daughters went down to the sea in ships.
Recent events, new suicide data and employer survey results paint a difficult picture of veterans in America. Veterans need to take an active role in changing trends and perceptions.
The disheartening events in Dallas struck a heart-breaking blow to the families affected by the loss of life and the community around them. The veteran community, more broadly, reacted with shock and dismay when details surrounding the likely perpetrator indicated he was an honorably discharged Army veteran.
Two other news items that same week added to the negative narrative that continues to hover unfairly over all veterans. First, the Department of Veterans Affairs published the most comprehensive study on veteran suicide to date, which more accurately estimated the number to be 20 per day. Most concerning in the new findings are the risks to younger veterans and women veterans when compared to non-veteran counterparts. Veterans under age 30 have twice the suicide rate when compared to older veterans (who still account for the largest portion of veteran suicides). Similarly, young women veterans are nearly four times as likely to die by suicide compared to non-veteran women.
Second, Edelman released some of the results of its recent survey which found 84 percent of employers viewed veterans as heroes, but only 26 percent viewed veterans as “strategic assets.” Similar studies in recent years show an increasing division between veterans and other Americans with no military connection. A general lack of understanding between those who have served and those who have not plagues many veterans seeking future opportunities.
In less than 72 hours, Americans read articles depicting veterans as homicidal maniacs, suicidal victims and employees of little value. These stories have the potential of reversing progress made by many government and private sector leaders who have worked tirelessly to create a more responsible narrative reflecting the spectrum of attributes (both positive and negative) relating to service member and veteran experiences. Leaders at the White House’s Joining Forces Initiative, led by Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden, along with former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen and General Dempsey, and private sector stakeholders and advocates have helped dispel myths about veterans in recent years.
Yet, despite these public-facing efforts and campaigns, the convergence of several news items has the potential to reverse progress. Coupled with the Joint Chiefs of Staff ending its biggest advocacy effort aimed at helping service members transition, the Chairman’s Office of Reintegration (formerly Office of Warrior and Family Support), our nation’s veterans, service members and military-affiliated families will continue to be plagued by false narratives, misallocated resources and stereotypes.
With these challenges in mind, veterans and military families need to take an active role in setting the record straight and in voicing real needs to ensure resources are directed where needed most. Here are several ways families can start:
1. Tell your story
Sociologists teach us that societies are always changing. These changes are often the result of modification in social relationships. Sharing your experiences with others is a vital step in reducing the civilian-military drift. As Gen. Martin Dempsey articulated, “If you want to stay connected to the American people, you can’t do it episodically.” The most powerful way to reconnect with the rest of America is to openly share your military experiences without exaggeration or diminishing the realities.
2. Participate in surveys
Academic institutions, government agencies and nonprofit organization are often seeking survey responses from veterans or military families. Taking 10 or 15 minutes to provide input could ensure you and other military-affiliated families get the resources they need. One such survey, conducted by Military-Transition.org, is ongoing and actively seeking recently transitioned service member respondents. The Center for a New American Security is also running a Veteran Retention Survey.
3. Give Feedback
We all know the power of customer reviews. Sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Google+ are some of the first places consumers look before choosing a location for dinner, planning a vacation or making a purchase at a retailer. As veterans, we know there is an inherent trust of other veterans. Many of us rely on fellow veterans to help us find credible counselors, get information about a new community we’re moving to or help us find an employer who has values similar to those experienced while in uniform. Now is the time to merge these two realities (the value of aggregated online reviews and inherent veteran trust of fellow veterans). Are you giving feedback and leaving reviews for businesses that offer discounts to service members and veterans? Have you accessed services from a nonprofit organization or public agency and if so, did you leave them feedback so they can improve their services? If you’re not doing so, I’d encourage you to leave feedback. To make it simple, try a new site, WeVets.us, designed exclusively to capture veteran and military family feedback so fellow services members and veterans can find valuable services.
4. Self-identify in the workplace
CEB Global reviewed the records of more than one million employees and found veterans to be 4 percent more productive than non-veteran employees and have a 3 percent lower turnover rate. While the Edleman survey above indicates an employer perception problem, the CEB data indicate a strong business case for hiring veterans. As a veteran in the workforce, are you self-identifying to your employer? Are you serving your company in a way that leverages your prior military experiences? It is through self-identification and exemplary service that employer perceptions will shift over time.
One of the most coveted freedoms service members defend is our right to vote. As defenders and former defenders of that right, exercise your own right to vote. Elect public officials who have veteran and military family interests in mind. Register to vote and then vote in upcoming elections. If you’re overseas or a military voter, register here.
Chris Ford is a champion for veterans and military families; advocating for solutions that eliminate barriers to the successful transition and reintegration of service members and their families. As the CEO of NAVSO, he expresses his passion and commitment to improve the lives of veterans and military families by providing essential resources to those who serve them. Chris is a 20-year Air Force veteran who retired in 2014 from the Joint Chiefs of Staff where he served in the Chairman’s Office of Warrior and Family Support. During his Air Force career, he deployed in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and earned many decorations and awards including the Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor.
According to the VA, there are 40,056 homeless veterans — and 453,000 unemployed veterans — with 22 veterans a day committing suicide.
Navy SEAL veteran Eli Crane believes it doesn’t have to be this way.
Crane, the founder of Bottle Breacher, is a strong advocate for veterans and believes they lack a unifying community, something he hopes to change with a new movement called Long Live the Veteran Brotherhood.
Long Live the Veteran Brotherhood is Crane’s movement to unite all veterans in a sense of brotherhood and accountability to each other. Crane says that most veterans underestimate how important it is to associate with other veterans, especially when it comes to the individual’s welfare.
His company, a lifestyle accessories brand that gained fame for their unique bottle openers made from recycled bullet casings—and a successful appearance on the Shark Tank TV show—hires a large number of veteran workers and supports both veteran and military non-profits.
In addition to his commitment to hiring veterans, Crane is also working to solve what he believes is a major issue facing the community.
“One of the worst and most disappointing things that I have seen since I have left the military,” Crane says, “is the trash-talking and infighting within the veteran community.”
Warriors without a war
According to the Disabled American Veterans, one of the chief contributing factors to veteran suicide is the loss of mission, purpose and community. Crane also succumbed to this when he transitioned out of the Navy. He wanted to leave all the stress and feelings of burnout behind, and was ready to focus on his family—but the idea that he had abandoned something, rather selfishly, kept biting at him.
When Crane connected with other veterans, he found what he had left behind and rediscovered his love of helping others.
“You see, most of us are hard-wired for service,” Crane says. “Most of us become hard-wired, while we are active duty, to try to take the load off the back of our brothers and put their needs before our own.
Continue the mission
Veterans are mission-driven and when they are connected to a community of fellow veterans, research shows that it helps with depression, grief, and other psychological conditions. Peer support and motivation is also key to helping people succeed, and has been proven to reduce costs for mental and physical health services—for veterans as well as civilians.
By identifying and acknowledging veterans, Crane hopes that these efforts will build the community that they need to thrive mentally, emotionally, and economically.
He says, “If the majority of us spent more of their time building each other up and helping each other out, you wouldn’t see half of the problems you see our veterans struggling with.”
The division between service branches, theater or decade served, rank or lack thereof — these are just some of the things that are used to create animosity among veterans. Things that really don’t matter, according to Crane.
“Are we being our brother’s keeper? Are we reaching out to those that are struggling to acclimate and transition?” Crane asked.
The common experiences of veterans far outweigh the differences, and it’s those commonalities that the community should be focusing on.
To bring these things to light, Crane is asking veterans to share what it means to be a part of the Veteran Brotherhood on social media (see below on how to participate in Long Live the Veteran Brotherhood).
Crane hopes that these efforts will raise awareness of the different ways that the veteran community at large can be proactively involved in supporting the community.
The name of his organization, Long Live the Veteran Brotherhood, comes from a Navy SEAL saying, Long Live the Brotherhood. When he would hear that phrase, Crane felt a deep connection to his team and the greater community that the SEALS represent.
He felt that the veteran community would benefit from a similar message, reminding them that they are also connected to a much larger and just as powerful group.
“At the end of the day, the brotherhood shouldn’t end when we take off the uniform,” Crane said.
Crane’s top transition tips for veterans:
Build a team. It is most likely that like the rest of us you have many weaknesses and are not capable of building anything amazing by yourself. Surround yourself with loyal and talented people who share your values and your mission.
Don’t count on anything from anyone. If you’re willing to work as hard in the private sector as you did in the military you will crush it.
If you are intending to become an entrepreneur, I highly recommend the side-hustle. That means that you have a full-time gig that pays the bills and you run your start-up on nights and weekends.
Resilience is the most important thing when exiting the service. Like most of us, you will encounter plenty of adversity and hear countless “No’s”. If you are diligent and give yourself the freedom to fail while applying the lessons learned you will eventually become successful.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will the next chapter of your life. Enjoy the process.
Jacob Warwick is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for LifeFlip Media—a full-service PR agency that helps veteran brands tell their business and military transition stories in a way that attracts customers and helps grow their business.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
The Army is known for its ability to fight on land, and most people know it has plenty of helicopters. But the Army also has an impressive fleet of watercraft that it uses for transportation, engineering, and even special operations platforms. Here are the watercraft that hardly anyone knows the Army has.
1. The landing craft that can be a floating base for special operators
Most people know landing crafts from World War II movies where ramps dropped, and soldiers rushed out and onto the beaches. Landing craft are still largely the same, with advances in technology allowing for larger, more resilient ships. The Army currently fields 34 Landing Craft, Utility 2000s.
The LCU works by pulling close to a shore, dock, or pier and dropping a ramp to form a bridge for vehicles. Supplies are then carried off by forklift while transported vehicles can roll off under their own power. The LCU-2000 can carry up to 350 tons into water as shallow as 9 feet, meaning it can drop 5 Abrams tanks directly onto a beach.
The LCU-2000s have been historically used as transportation platforms for supplies and armored vehicles, but they also saw service with special operators in Haiti and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In Haiti, the ships were used to transport operators to different fights while avoiding the heavily defended road network. In Iraq, they were used as floating staging bases for operators assaulting offshore oil platforms.
2. The landing craft that can assault beaches, fight fires, and act as a command center
The Landing Craft, Mechanized 8 is primarily a supply transport ship like the LCU-2000. It is smaller and carries only 53 tons, meaning it can’t lift a single heavy tank. It can carry smaller vehicles though and can operate in waters as shallow as 5 ft.
It is highly customizable though, and it’s used for a variety of purposes. Its shallow draft allows it to operate inland, far away from deep water. It can be fitted with firefighting equipment, diver support equipment, or communications relays. It especially shines in disaster relief since it can deliver to an unimproved beach or damaged dock as much cargo as a C-17 can carry.
The Army has 40 LCM-8s, but it’s looking to replace them. The Maneuver Support Vessel (Light) program calls for a new ship with capabilities above and beyond the LCM-8. It would carry more cargo, be more survivable under attack, and have both fore and aft ramps so vehicles could drive on and off faster.
3. Logistics support vessels that can deploy 24 combat-ready tanks
Though the Army has only eight Logistics Support Vessels, they are heavy lifters. The LSV is capable of carrying 2,000 tons from deepwater boats to shore. Though it needs 12 feet of water to float, it has a longer ramp that allows it to reach the shore on beaches the LCM-8 and LCU-2000 can’t reach.
Its larger deck surface and greater capacity means it can carry 24 M1 tanks directly to a beach and the tanks can roll off, ready to fight. That’s almost enough space to carry an entire armored cavalry troop in one lift.
4. Dredges and cranes for re-shaping the coast
Army engineers are in charge of U.S. dredging operations. That’s the removal of silt from the ocean floor to lay communications cable, open clogged shipping lanes, or deepen waterways for larger ships. To accomplish this mission, they maintain 11 dredging vessels that remove silt and sand and dump it out to sea or in pre-planned sites.
The engineers also keep a small fleet of floating cranes used to assist with dredging, repair or build ports, and move supplies onto and off of ships.
5. Tugs that can pull aircraft carriers
Army tugs are used primarily to maneuver friendly ships in tricky ports or waterways just like civilian tugs. They are also useful for repositioning cranes and moving floating piers or barges into position.
While carrying a ruck sack may sometimes feel like the equivalent of carrying a refrigerator on your back, a ruck sack is not able to provide a stable, temperature-controlled environment for lifesaving blood products that might be needed in remote or deployed environments.
The XVIII Airborne Corps and the Armed Services Blood Program are partnering to identify soldiers with blood type O who have low levels of antibodies in their blood. These individuals have the ability to provide an immediate blood donation to an injured person of any blood type that needs a transfusion at or near the point of injury.
“We are taking individuals with type O blood, who are already considered universal donors for packed red blood cells, and testing the levels of antibodies in their blood,” said Lt. Col. Melanie Sloan, director, Fort Bragg Blood Donor Center. “Everyone has antibodies. They are naturally occurring and can attach themselves to transfused blood cells. The titer testing helps identify individuals with lower levels of these antibodies.”
The Army is currently using the standard of 1 to 256 for the level of antibodies in the individuals identified as low titer O. When a person with blood type A or B needs blood and is receiving blood from a type O donor, the lower level of antibodies will make it easier for the body to accept the different blood type. Low titer O blood can be given to anyone in need, regardless of their blood type.
Sgt. Charles Moncayo, 82nd Airborne Division Band, get his blood drawn as part of the low titer O testing at a blood drive hosted by the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery (DIVARTY), June 7, 2019.
(Photo by Eve Meinhardt)
1st Lt. Robert Blough, the physician assistant for the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery (DIVARTY) and a former Special Forces medical sergeant, arranged for soldiers in his unit to get tested for low titer O and also helps with mobile training teams to teach others how to perform field blood transfusions. He said he is passionate about implementing this program across the force because he has seen first-hand how it can save a life.
“In 2007, I had an Iraqi get shot in lower abdominal area,” said Blough. “He was bleeding out internally, not overly fast, but there was nothing I could do to stop the bleeding inside him. The MEDEVAC got delayed. We were sitting on a mountaintop with this guy and I did not have the ability to transfuse blood to save his life.”
Blough said that experience led him to volunteer for the working group spearheading the efforts to identify and screen fresh whole blood donors within the XVIII Abn. Corps.
The ability to transfuse blood while on the battlefield or at a remote location is hardly new and its effectiveness has been proven throughout history.
“We were doing this in 1918 during World War I,” said Lt. Col. George Barbee, deputy corps surgeon, Task Force Dragon, XVIII Abn. Corps. “We were still doing whole blood transfusions in World War II up through the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.”
Barbee said that the Army transitioned from whole blood to component therapy in the 1970s. He said that while breaking the blood down into components is effective for treatment of some disease processes, it’s not a feasible option for an immediate need for blood in the field.
“We have done a lot of studies to see what the best method was for saving lives through transfusion,” he said. “They pointed back to whole blood.”
Sgt. Charles Moncayo, 82nd Airborne Division Band, get his blood drawn as part of the low titer O testing at a blood drive hosted by the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery, June 7, 2019.
(Photo by Eve Meinhardt)
The ability to identify low titer O soldiers provides an agile and flexible approach to accessing the lifesaving measures that whole blood provides. The ASBP is increasing the amount of low titer O whole blood that it stocks on its shelves for rapid deployment and emergency measures.
However, blood needs to be stored in a temperature-controlled environment and bags of blood are not always readily available in a time of crisis. The pre-screened and identified soldiers provide an instant supply if one of their peers is injured and needs a transfusion.
Each of the identified soldiers is regularly tested for a variety of blood-borne diseases to ensure their safety and the safety of others. Patient privacy still applies for identified donors. If they are removed from the roster, the information is kept confidential and only revealed to the patient.
While the identification of being a “walking blood bank” might seem a little odd for the soldiers who have this universal blood type, they are instrumental to efforts to improve survivability and mobility for the Army. Barbee hopes to someday see the program implemented across the Department of Defense.
“We completely support the XVIII Airborne Corps’ whole blood initiative,” said Col. John J. Melvin, chief nurse and chief of clinical operations, U.S. Army Forces Command Surgeon’s Office. “It closes the gaps that we see on the battlefield for blood supply at role one and conditions of prolonged field care. In order to provide the best opportunity of survival for our soldiers, the whole blood program is essential for our successful treatment of combat casualties.”
South Korea’s president said Feb. 26, 2018, that the United States should lower the threshold for talks with North Korea and that the two countries should start a dialogue soon.
President Moon Jae-in made the remarks in a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong one day after a senior North Korean official told Moon that his country is willing to open talks with the United States.
The officials were in South Korea for the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Feb. 25, 2018.
According to his office, Moon asked for China’s support for U.S.-North Korea talks, and Liu responded that China would help facilitate them. Moon also said that North Korea should show a commitment to denuclearization, something it has refused to do.
Earlier, the U.S. said the international community needs to maintain maximum pressure on North Korea until it gives up its nuclear weapons development.
“We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” the White House said in a statement.
Moon met Feb. 25, 2018, with a North Korean delegation led by Kim Yong Chol, a former general whom South Korea has accused of being behind two attacks on the South that killed 50 people in 2010. Kim told Moon that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to improve ties with Washington and had “ample intentions of holding talks,” according to the South Korean president’s office.
The North Korean delegation met with Moon’s national security chief on Feb. 26, 2018. Moon’s office said the two sides agreed that the Olympics had been a meaningful stepping stone toward restoring inter-Korean ties, and to continue to collaborate to seek a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korean protesters burned a North Korean flag and used a knife to slash a portrait of Kim Jong Un near a hotel where the North Korean delegation was staying.
Vietnam-era Marine and Hue City veteran John Ligato once remarked that the most ferocious fighting machine the world has ever seen is the 19-year-old pissed off Marine. In the case of John J. Kelly, he couldn’t be more right.
Kelly joined the Marines in May 1917, just one month after the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany. The Chicago native was soon in France with 78th Company, 6th Regiment, 2d Division. That’s where he would earn the Army and Navy versions of the Medal of Honor — at the same time.
In October 1918, Kelly was in Blanc Mont Ridge in France, which the Germans occupied since 1915. The French were joined by two divisions of the U.S. Army and Major General John Lejeune’s 2d Division of Marines — including Pvt. John Kelly.
At the start of the near-monthlong battle, Kelly ran through no-man’s land, 100 yards ahead of an allied artillery barrage — straight toward a machine gun nest.
He chucked a grenade into the nest, killing one of the Germans. Then he took out the other using his sidearm.
The American advance at St. Etienne turned the tide of the Battle of Blanc Mont against the Germans. By Oct. 28, the area they occupied since the very start of the World War was now firmly in Allied hands.
Kelly was awarded both the Army and Navy Medals of Honor by General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, in 1919. With the war over, Kelly left the military and returned to civilian life.
He returned to his native Illinois, where he died in 1957.
On the 15th anniversary of the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, a startling new number was released: more than 1,000 first responders had died due to illnesses related to the ash and debris from the attack – and some 37,000 were sick at the time. Experts predicted that within five years from that 2016 milestone, more would have died from their illnesses than were killed at Ground Zero.
We are three years removed from that date, and the response from Congress has been woefully inadequate, as evidenced by the recent controversy in Congress sparked by Jon Stewart on behalf of 9/11 first responders. But even the response garnered by Stewart may not be enough for the tens of thousands of victims who could come forward in the next few years.
“Within the next five years we will be at the point where more people have died from World Trade Center-related illnesses than died from the immediate impact of the attacks,” said Dr. Jim Melius, a doctor at the New York State Laborers Union and health advisor to the Obama White House.
The attacks killed 2,977 people with 2,753 dying at the World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan. The debris of those towers contained asbestos, lead, glass, poisonous chemicals, heavy metal toxins, oil, and jet fuel. The resulting dust was a menagerie of toxicity that coated throats, mouths, and lungs. Resulting diseases have included cancers, lung disease, digestive disorders, and even cognitive impairment on par with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The federal World Trade Center Health Program has 75,000 registered members with 87 percent of those who worked on rescue and recovery efforts on the ground that day. New York City residents and workers make up the rest of the list. In 2016, the number of registered people on the list who died of related cancers was 1,140. By 2017, that number was more than 2,000. The rate of cancers among first responders to the attacks is up to 30 percent higher than in the general population.
As of Sept. 2018, the number of dead from related illnesses was due to outpace those killed in the attack by the end of 2020 – and the rate of new cancer diagnoses in 9/11 first responders continues to grow.
“Raven 08, Deci Tower, cleared for take-off, wind calm.”
I’m in the backseat of a Tornado IDS belonging to the 154° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 6° Stormo (Wing) from Ghedi, currently deployed to Decimomannu airbase, Italy, for the yearly training activity in the Sardinian firing ranges. The words of the controller, that I can hear quite clearly before the noise will spread through the cockpit making all the subsequent communications barely readable, have a double meaning to me: first, they give the “go ahead” to the most exciting part of my flight in a Tornado (the very first one on this kind of aircraft); second, they mark the end of the long and delicate stage of the jet flight preparation; a preparation that determines either the success or failure of the sortie from the journalistic point of view.
Italian aircraft IDS Tornado flies over a live fire range in exercise Eager Centaur II in an undisclosed location, Southwest Asia, March 14, 2016. Eager Centaur II is conducted to complete initial joint terminal attack controller training and exercise the SPMAGTF-CR-CC Fire Support Coordination Center, to include combined arms live-fire tactics, techniques, and procedures. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Clarence A. Leake)
A flight in a jet usually lasts between 45 and 110 minutes (longer if it includes aerial refueling, but it’s not the case): in my case, fully exploiting the (short) time available to “observe” a mission from the inside and collect all the photos and video material for both aviation magazines, this blog and its connected social networks, is paramount. A flight in a combat aircraft represents an almost unique opportunity and it is important to make the most out of it. If something in the backseat goes wrong, if a camera body fails or a lens proves to be unsuitable for the photo session, there will hardly be a second chance. In about 20 years I’ve had this opportunity quite a few times, hence here are a few suggestions based on my little (if compared to others) experience in a combat aircraft. If you are going to fly in a fast jet for the first time, because you were invited or simply because you’ve paid for a ride, maybe the following few tips will help you maximize your experience.
Even though the thrill of flying in a jet fighter is always the same, learning from the past mistakes as well as the experience gained over the years, have been pivotal to perfecting the preparation of the mission so as to minimize the risk that something unexpected can jeopardize the reportage’s success. For example, during one of my first jet flights, to have a back-up in case of problems with the main camera, I decided to put a compact camera in one of the pockets of the flight suit, the one located more or less over the right’s lower leg. Fortunately, I did not need it. In fact, I hadn’t taken into account that the anti-G suit, dressed over the normal flight suit, would have made the “emergency” camera inaccessible during the flight! Since then, I only use the pockets of the anti-G pants for all those small accessories I might need in the cockpit.
With regard to the flight gear, in addition to my mask, I always try to use my own helmet, which is also easily recognizable by the bright yellow-green checkerboard on the cover. However, this is not always possible: for instance, in the case of the Eurofighter, the aircrews have to use the specific flight equipment designed for the Typhoon flight line which differs from that used on any other Italian Air Force aircraft and includes, among the other things, a Gentex ACS (Aircrew Combat System) helmet and an EFA / ACS mask. For my flight in the Tornado, I had to use to an HGU-55G helmet, with the characteristic 154th squadron’s “red devil” symbol painted on the cover, that I was lent by the unit.
Back to the preparation of the mission, once the flight gear’s check and fitting have been completed, I think the most important thing is the inspection of the rear cockpit of the aircraft: it is essential to know how to “move” in the backseat, where to attach the GoPro so that it is both stable and reachable (to modify some settings or move it), evaluate the size of any storage compartment to see if it can be used to accommodate a camera body or lens. In fact, digital cameras have greatly simplified life in a jet: when I was still using color slide films I needed to change the rolls several times during the flight. This forced me to continuously estimate the number of photographs I could take so that I didn’t run out of shots during a maneuver: in order to replace the finished roll with a new one, it was necessary to remove the gloves, be more or less stable (that is, in level flight) and have the time to safely remove and store the used roll before inserting a new one; an operation that would take just a few seconds in other conditions but, performed in a very narrow space, strapped into the ejection seat, wearing the heavy helmet, the mask, the Secumar, etc., was, especially at the beginning, quite challenging. With the advent of digital photography, this problem has been solved.
Returning to the preparation of the flight, once understood how to move (or not move) in the rear cockpit, it is important to discuss with the crews that will take part in the mission and determine which phases of the missions will be suitable for some aerial shots. Although I have had the opportunity to arrange “pure” air-to-air photo sessions, I usually prefer to take part in missions that bring me in the aircraft’s operational environment: I am a journalist and I find it much more interesting for my readers (and for myself) to see and recount the mission from a privileged point of view, focusing on both the tactical aspects of the flight and the technical details of the employed weapon systems. This means that the time available for photography is normally reduced to about ten minutes: during the transition to the operating zone or during the RTB (Return To Base) phase.
Obviously, a sortie with well-defined operational goals leaves little room for aerobatics or formations flying in favor of light: if you are part of a 3-ship that is acting as “Red Air” in a 4 vs 3 supersonic training mission, as in my flight in the Eurofighter, the aircraft will fly towards the operational area in fighting wing, with a significant spacing from one another, and the time for close formation will be reduced to a few minutes. However, as I have already explained, I prefer a few clicks from a realistic operational situation rather than taking part in a sortie that is particularly cool from a photographic point of view, but “poor” from the operational one. Generally, “how to arrange the aircraft” and “when to take photographs” are topics discussed with the aircrews during the briefing and reviewed, if necessary, during the flight, asking the pilot in the front seat to assume a specific attitude so as to obtain a particular shot.
Dealing with the photographic equipment, in addition to the GoPro and camera, I bring with me what I need inside a large removable pocket that comes with velcro to be attached to the anti-G at the thigh: here is where I put spare batteries or extra lenses, like fisheye and zoom for the iPhone, used to take short videos or photos that complement the work of the DSLR camera. As for the camera, I strongly recommend removing any type of strap to prevent it from coming into contact with the stick, throttle or, worse, with the ejection seat handle. From 1999 to today, I have carried several camera bodies with me, but the lens I prefer in the back seat is almost always the Canon 28-135 USM, an extremely reliable, versatile and lightweight lens, more than adequate for my needs. If you do not have hundreds of flights under your belt, photographing air-to-air from the cockpit of a military aircraft is not an easy task: properly framing the other jets during some maneuvers requires some physical effort (the camera is subject to the same accelerations as aircraft meaning that in a 5 g turn the camera weighs five times its weight on the ground …) and gives very nauseous feelings, too. Luckily, I have never needed it, but I always bring a bag for nausea in the anti-G pocket; I also drink a lot of water and limit carbohydrates, alcohol, or spicy foods ahead of flying. Anyway, pro photographers, with hundreds if not thousands of flight hours in fast jets, such as Katsuhiko “Katsu” Tokunaga, Jamie Hunter, or Frank Crebas (to name but few), may provide much more expert advice about air-to-air photography and related tips and tricks.
The opportunity to fly in a high-performance aircraft every now and then has given me some exciting and long-lasting memories: the formation aerobatics with the TF-104, the BBQ (Ultra-low level flying) with AMX, the LIFT (Lead In Fighter Trainer) sortie with the T-346A or the supersonic BVR (Beyond Visual Range) interception flown as Aggressor with the Eurofighter.