The making of 'Range 15' is even crazier than 'Range 15' - We Are The Mighty
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The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’

“Nothing’s off limits.”


That’s a quote from one of the actors in Range 15, but it’s also the way the creators of the film live their lives.

And before you start getting all teary-eyed over it, know that it’s also the attitude they bring to their dark, effed up, and glorious comedic projects.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’

For people who can relate to military humor, it doesn’t get much better than the veteran-produced zombie flick “Range 15”…until you find out they also made a behind-the-scenes documentary.

For those who haven’t seen “Range 15” (it’s for sale as a digital download at Amazon.com), it’s about some military buddies who have a wild party and find themselves tossed into the drunk tank. They wake up to the realization that the zombie apocalypse is in full swing.

Think of what follows as a threesome between “Team America,” “Zombieland,” and “The Hangover.”

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’

According to a report by the Military Times, the documentary made its debut on June 30, 2017. The video, dubbed Not a War Story, details the making of the movie, which was filmed in 13 days — a balls crazy pace. The 80 vets who made the film, some of them amputees, had very little (if any) experience shooting feature films, but they didn’t let that stop them.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’

In the trailer, William Shatner, who plays an attorney in the film, strikes a very poignant tone as he recognizes the sacrifices many of these veterans have made. “You’re the fellows who altered your life to do the job,” he says.

Oh, and good news for Range 15 fans: Military Times mentioned that a sequel is reportedly in the works.

In the meantime, check out the trailer for Not a War Story and check out the film on iTunes Nov. 7, 2017.

MIGHTY TRENDING

6 essentials for that ‘super-serious-ROTC-kid’


The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. David Bruce

Energy drink

If you’re a true super-serious-ROTC-kid it is an absolute must that you have an energy drink on you at all times. You can’t get your hands on an actual Rip-It yet, but don’t let that stop you from letting people know that you’re in the military.

It doesn’t matter what kind you have: Monster, Red Bull, some random off-brand one you found at Big Lots called like “Pulse” or something—it doesn’t matter, just have one. You’re on a college campus swarming with seas of people zonked out on Adderall, and you simply don’t have that luxury.

You need an equally unhealthy way to spike your energy levels in the early morning. So chase down that convenience store donut with an energy drink during your 8 a.m. You were up at 6 a.m for PT, right? You need 24 ounces of gasoline and sugar.

And that’s exactly what you’ll tell every student within earshot who didn’t ask.

Always using military time

If you truly want to be a super-serious-ROTC kid, then when someone asks you what time it is—answer in military time. No matter what. Class at 4 p.m.? Nope. Class at 1600. Throw in a “0” before the time for bonus points. Even if it’s wrong. Now I know what you’re thinking, “But what if someone asks me for the time, and it’s not after 1200?” Easy. Shoehorn it in, let them know you’re ROTC.

Example:

Student: Hey, do you know what time the McDonald’s on campus stops selling egg McMuffins?

Super serious ROTC kid: At 11 a.m… And, in case you’re wondering, they close every night at 2200.

Student: Oh, uh. Okay. Thanks?

Well done. Another pleb slightly confused unnecessarily, super-serious-ROTC-kid.

Mark Doliner on Flickr

Digital watch

Okay, so, oddly enough… This one doesn’t use military time.

But every single other super-serious-ROTC-kid has one on their wrist for some reason, so don’t be caught without one of these bad boys. Be sure to get one with a velcro strap so you sound like the shoe rack at a nursing home every time you try to take it off before a test.

Bonus points if you buy the model that is permanently loaded with the function of beeping every 4 (also known as 04) hours, with no way of turning it off. Your classmates will look at you, and they will know. And you will nod and give them a thumbs up.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
U.S. Army photo

Wrap around sunglasses

Thor has his hammer. Legolas had his bow and arrow. Super-serious-ROTC-kids have their wrap around sunglasses. An important note with these, however—due to new union regulations, if they are not bleach-white/midnight black Oakleys—they must have a neck lanyard attachment.

Indoors: they must be worn on your face over your eyes. Outside: it’s optional, but if you want bonus points prop them atop your head on your bent billed baseball hat.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
U.S. Army photo

Camo tactical backpack

“Woah buddy! Almost didn’t see all your schoolwork there. Your digital camo backpack blends in with all these massive red brick buildings like a chameleon.” That’s the kind of stealth and tactical advantage you will have over all your classmates dressed in loud throwback NBA jerseys and pastel-colored khaki shorts.

Do you need a tactical backpack to carry notebooks and old Lunchables you forgot to throw away? If you want to be a super-serious-ROTC-kid you do.

A super-serious-ROTC-kid must also fill the backpack to the brim. It doesn’t matter with what: bundled up sweatshirts, copies of “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” or literal bricks—just make sure it bulges outward behind you no less than 2 (also known as 02) feet.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
U.S. Army photo

A good mustache

Without this—nothing else matters.

Every super-serious-ROTC-kid since the dawn of time has had this. This tight bristled lip tickler is to you what flowing locks of hair were to Samson.

It is not to be confused with the super-serious-police-academy-kid mustache. Those are bulky, rounded, and accompanied by aviator sunglasses.

Note: your hair does not have to be in regs, but if you want it to match the mustache, maintain a nice tight fade.

Congratulations. You’re now a super-serious-ROTC-kid.

Articles

Upgrade advances A-10’s search capability

A-10C Thunderbolt IIs assigned to active duty fighter squadrons here are in the process of having new lightweight airborne recovery systems installed.


The LARS V-12 is designed to allow A-10 pilots to communicate more effectively with individuals on the ground such as downed pilots, pararescuemen and joint terminal attack controllers.

Related: Watch the effects of an A-10’s GAU-8 cannon on an enemy building

The LARS system provides the A-10 pilots with GPS coordinates of ground personnel and enables them to communicate via voice or text, according to Staff Sgt. Andre Gonzalez, 355th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron avionics technician.

The systems upgrades are being installed by the 309th Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Group.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
An A-10C Thunderbolt II upgraded with a new lightweight airborne recovery system V-12 rests on the flight line at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Dec. 21, 2016. | U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mya M. Crosby

“This urgent operational need arose in August (2016),” said Timothy Gray, 309th AMARG acting director. “Air Combat Command and the A-10 Program Office asked me if AMARG could complete 16 aircraft by 16 December. I said ‘Absolutely!’ It was awesome to see Team AMARG take on this massive logistical challenge, build a production machine, find facilities, manpower, equipment, tools, and make material kits (to) execute the requirement.”

In the last three months, the technicians have completed LARS installations on 19 aircraft from Davis-Monthan and Moody AFB, Ga., which will ultimately provide pilots and ground personnel downrange with a valuable search capability.

“A-10 pilots take the Combat Search and Rescue role very seriously,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Hayde, 354th Fighter Squadron commander and A-10 pilot. “While this is just one tool, it can assist us in bringing them back to U.S. soil safely.”
Articles

3 reasons why the Afghan army uniform may not have been a big waste of money

There’s a lot of finger pointing going on over the alleged waste of millions in taxpayer funds to develop and field a uniform for the Afghan army that investigators claim “doesn’t work.”


And while there’s certainly plenty of blame to go around, a long-time military equipment designer who helped develop the green, brown and tan digital ANA duds says it’s not as dumb as people are being lead to believe.

In an interview with We Are The Mighty, the man behind the camouflage pattern, Guy Cramer of HyperStealth Biotechnologies, says there were very specific reasons why the Afghan army chose the uniforms it did, and that it wasn’t a decision imposed by the Pentagon.

1. The camouflage is actually perfect for the environment

Pentagon watchdogs argue the Afghan army uniform is built in a pattern that won’t help conceal soldiers in about 98 percent of Afghanistan’s environment. The country is mostly desert, rock or arid (think the New Mexico or Arizona mountains) and the green-heavy pattern the Afghan army adopted isn’t suited to most of the battlefields soldiers would fight in.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
See, the Marines are using woodland camo in the insurgent hotbed of Sangin. (U.S. military photo)

Cramer told us, however, that at the time the army adopted its pattern, most of the fighting was going on in the agricultural areas of Afghanistan’s south, among ribbons of lush growth flanking irrigation canals and croplands.

In fact, during the intense fight in Helmand province back in 2010 and later, the Marines were authorized to wear a mix of woodland and desert camo pattern MARPAT uniforms due to the more lush agricultural areas where most engagements occurred.

2. It doesn’t glow at night

The pattern adopted by the Afghan army is similar to one that was developed for a competition in the U.S. Army to find an alternative to the gray-green Universal Camouflage Pattern the service began fielding in 2003. Cramer engineered so-called the US4CES family of patterns that in some tests performed far better than the MultiCam pattern the Army eventually settled on.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
These uniforms don’t glow in the dark Mr. Badguy. (U.S Army photo by Pfc. Dixie Rae Liwanag/Released)

One of the things Cramer builds into his patterns is technology to help conceal soldiers at night, not just in daylight. Pentagon watchdogs claim there were several U.S. patterns available for the Afghans to choose from, including the UCP one and the old-style “Battle Dress Uniform” analog pattern.

But Cramer says the UCP and others “glows” at night when seen through night vision — a technology that’s becoming increasingly available to insurgents and terrorists.

The Afghan pattern is designed to help conceal soldiers during night operations, which are increasingly part of the Afghan army’s tactics.

3. It sets the army apart

Sure, Pentagon watchdogs point fingers — and possibly rightly so — at then Afghan defense minister Abdul Rahim Wardak for his focus on fashion instead of utility in picking the AFPAT over other patterns like BDUs and desert digital. But Cramer says one of the things Wardak was looking to do was to set his forces apart from the rest of the hodgepodge of Afghanistan’s security forces.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
The patchwork of camouflage patterns used by Afghan security forces causes confusion and are easily obtained by insurgents, experts say. (U.S. military photo)

“He wanted it to be distinct,” Cramer said. “The ANA is highly respected in Afghanistan and he wanted his troops to look different.”

Sounds kinda like the Marine Corps, doesn’t it?

Also, and potentially more importantly, Cramer argues that making a distinct, licensed pattern for the ANA is safer for the troops because it’s harder for insurgents to disguise themselves as friendlies and infiltrate bases.

“Anyone can get their hands on BDUs,” he added.

In fact, there have been several incidents in Afghanistan where insurgents have slipped inside friendly lines wearing Army UCP-pattern uniforms, and the Afghan army wanted to avoid that at all costs, Cramer said.

The fur is flying over the alleged “waste” of $28 million in an Afghan uniform that’s suitable for just 2 percent of Afghanistan’s terrain (if you just include “forest” as your measure), and there’s certainly a lot of waste, fraud and abuse to go around when it comes to bankrolling America’s Afghan allies.

But as with any Washington kerfuffle over Pentagon spending, there’s at least a little more to it than meets the eye.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Trump Administration is at war with itself over the VA

David Shulkin, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, showed up to what he thought would be a routine Senate oversight hearing in January 2018, only to discover it was an ambush.


Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., was the sole holdout among members of the veterans affairs committee on a bill that would shape the future of the agency. The bipartisan bill had the support of 26 service groups representing millions of veterans. But Moran was pushing a rival piece of legislation, and it had the support of a White House aide who wields significant clout on veterans policy. Neither proposal could advance as long as there was any doubt about which President Donald Trump wanted to sign.

Moran blamed Shulkin for the impasse. “In every instance, you led me to believe that you and I were on the same page,” Moran said at the hearing. “Our inability to reach an agreement is in significant part related to your ability to speak out of both sides of your mouth: double talk.”

There were gasps in the hearing room. It was an astounding rebuke for a Trump appointee to receive from a Republican senator, especially for Shulkin, who was confirmed by the Senate unanimously.

Clearly ruffled, Shulkin hesitated before answering. “I think it is grossly unfair to make the characterizations you have made of me, and I’m disappointed that you would do that,” he said. “What I am trying to do is give you my best advice about how this works.”

Moran dug in. “I chose my words intentionally,” he said. “I think you tell me one thing and you tell others something else. And that’s incompatible with our ability to reach an agreement and to work together.” Moran then left the hearing for another appointment.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS, center) with Kansans serving in Afghanistan, April 2011

The exchange exposed tensions that had been brewing for months behind closed doors. A battle for the future of the VA has been raging between the White House and veterans groups, with Shulkin caught in the middle. The conflict erupted into national headlines as a result of a seemingly unrelated development: the release of a lacerating report on Shulkin that found “serious derelictions” in a taxpayer-funded European business trip in which he and his wife enjoyed free tickets to Wimbledon and more.

The underlying disagreement at the VA has a different flavor than the overhauls at a number of federal agencies. Unlike some Trump appointees, who took the reins of agencies with track records of opposing the very mission of the organization, Shulkin is a technocratic Obama holdover. He not only participated in the past administration, but defends the VA’s much-maligned health care system. He seeks to keep the organization at the center of veterans’ health care. (An adviser to Shulkin said the White House isn’t permitting him to do interviews.)

But others in the administration want a much more drastic change: They seek to privatize vets’ health care. From perches in Congress, the White House, and the VA itself, they have battled Shulkin. In some instances, his own subordinates have openly defied him.

Related: VA watchdog is reviewing Shulkin’s 10-day trip to Europe where he attended Wimbledon, went on cruise

Multiple publications have explored the turmoil and conflict at the VA in the wake of the inspector general report. Yet a closer examination shows the roots of the fight stretch back to the presidential campaign and reveals how far the entropy of the Trump administration has spread. Much has been written on the “chaos presidency.” Every day seems to bring exposés of White House backstabbing and blood feuds. The fight over the VA shows not only that this problem afflicts federal agencies, too, but that friction and contradiction were inevitable: Trump appointed a VA secretary who wants to preserve the fundamental structure of government-provided health care; the president also installed a handful of senior aides who are committed to a dramatically different philosophy.

The blistering report may yet cost Shulkin his job. But the attention on his travel-related misbehavior is distracting from a much more significant issue: The administration’s infighting is imperiling a major legislative deal that could shape the future of the VA.

Taking better care of veterans was a constant refrain at Trump’s presidential campaign rallies. In the speech announcing his candidacy, he said, “We need a leader that can bring back our jobs, can bring back our manufacturing, can bring back our military, can take care of our vets. Our vets have been abandoned.” Ex-military people overwhelmingly supported him on Election Day and in office.

Trump’s original policy proposals on veterans health, unveiled in October 2015, largely consisted of tweaks to the current system. They called for increasing funding for mental health and helping vets find jobs; providing more women’s health services; modernizing infrastructure and setting up satellite clinics in rural areas.

The ideas drew derisive responses from the Koch brothers-backed group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). Pete Hegseth, its then-CEO, called the proposal “painfully thin” and “unserious.”

Trump then took a sharp turn toward CVA’s positions after clinching the Republican nomination. In a July 2016 speech in Virginia Beach, he embraced a very different vision for the VA, emphasizing private-sector alternatives. “Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics,” Trump said, “whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center.”

Trump’s new 10-point plan for veterans policy resembled the CVA’s priorities. In fact, six of the proposals drew directly on CVA ideas. Three of them aimed to make it easier to fire employees; a fourth advocated the creation of a reform commission; and two involved privatizing VA medical care.

Trump’s new direction, according to a campaign aide, was influenced by Jeff Miller, then the chairman of the House veterans committee. Miller, who retired from Congress in January 2017, was a close ally of CVA and a scathing critic of Obama’s VA.

Miller became one of the first congressmen to endorse Trump, in April 2016. He did so a few weeks after attending a meeting of the campaign’s national security advisers. (That meeting, and the photo Trump tweeted of it, would become famous because of the presence of George Papadopoulos, who is cooperating with investigators after pleading guilty to lying about Russian contacts. Miller is wearing the light gray jacket in the front right. Now a lobbyist with the law firm McDermott Will Emery, he didn’t reply to requests for comment.) Miller became Trump’s point man on veterans policy, the campaign aide said.

Miller and CVA portrayed the VA as the embodiment of “bureaucratic ineptitude and appalling dysfunction.” They were able to cite an ample supply of embarrassing scandals.

The scandals may come as less of a surprise than the fact that the VA actually enjoys widespread support among veterans. Most who use its health care report a positive experience. For example, 92 percent of veterans in a poll conducted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars reported that they would rather improve the VA system than dismantle it. Independent assessments have found that VA health care outperforms comparable private facilities. “The politicization of health care in the VA is frankly really unfair,” said Nancy Schlichting, the retired CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, who chaired an independent commission to study the VA under the Obama administration. “Noise gets out there based on very specific instances, but this is a very large system. If any health system in this country had the scrutiny the VA has, they’d have stories too.”

One piece of extreme noise was a scandal in 2014, which strengthened Miller and CVA’s hand and created crucial momentum toward privatization. In an April 2014 hearing, Miller revealed that officials at the VA hospital in Phoenix were effectively fudging records to cover up long delays in providing medical care to patients. He alleged that 40 veterans died while waiting to be seen. A week later, CVA organized a protest in Phoenix of 150 veterans demanding answers.

More: This is what happened when the VA tried to slash money for homeless veterans

Miller’s dramatic claims did not hold up. A comprehensive IG investigation would eventually find 28 delays that were clinically significant; and though six of those patients died, the IG did not conclude that the delays caused those deaths. Later still, an independent assessment found that long waits were not widespread: More than 90 percent of existing patients got appointments within two weeks of their initial request.

But such statistics were lost in the furor. “Nobody stood up and said, ‘Wait a minute, time out, are we destroying this national resource because a small group of people made a mistake?'” a former senior congressional staffer said. “Even those who considered themselves to be friends of the VA were silent. It was a surreal period. The way it grew tentacles has had consequences nobody would have predicted.”

In the heat of the scandal, Miller and CVA pushed for a new program called Choice. It would allow veterans who have to wait more than 30 days for a doctor’s appointment or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to get private-sector care. The VA has bought some private medical care for decades, but Choice represented a significant expansion, and Democrats were wary that it would open the door to privatizing VA health care on a much broader scale.

Still, the Phoenix scandal had made it hard for the Democrats to resist. The Choice bill passed with bipartisan support and President Obama signed it into law in August 2014.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
Former President Barack Obama. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By 2016, then-candidate Trump was demanding further changes. “The VA scandals that have occurred on this administration’s watch are widespread and inexcusable,” he said in the Virginia Beach speech. “Veterans should be guaranteed the right to choose their doctor and clinics, whether at a VA facility or at a private medical center. We must extend this right to all veterans.”

Trump’s contacts with CVA and its allies deepened during the transition. He met Hegseth, who left CVA to become a Fox News commentator, in Trump Tower. Trump picked Darin Selnick for the “landing team” that would supervise the transition at the VA. Selnick had directed CVA’s policy task force, which in 2015 recommended splitting the VA’s payer and provider functions and spinning off the latter into a government nonprofit corporation. Such an operation, organized along the lines of Amtrak, would be able to receive federal funding but also raise other revenue.

Trump’s consideration of Hegseth and Miller to lead the VA ran into fierce resistance from veterans groups, powerful institutions whose clout is boosted by the emotional power that comes with members’ having risked their lives for their country. At a meeting with the Trump transition in December 2016, officials from the major veterans groups held a firm line against privatizing the VA and any secretary intent on it.

Trump finally settled on Shulkin, 58, who ran the VA health system under Obama. Shulkin is a former chief of private hospital systems and a doctor — an internist, he still occasionally treats patients at the VA — who comes across more as a medical geek than the chief of a massive organization.

Trump heaps praise on Shulkin in public appearances and meets with him regularly in private. He was one of the first cabinet secretaries Trump consulted about the impact of the government shutdown on Jan. 21, 2018. They met at Camp David in December 2017 and lunched at the White House on Feb. 8, 2018. “You’re doing a great job,” Trump told Shulkin at a Jan. 9 signing ceremony for an executive order on veterans mental health services, handing Shulkin the executive pen. “We appreciate you.”

Also read: A new petition could help veterans with service animals

Trump may like Shulkin, but that didn’t stop his administration from appointing officials who opposed his philosophy. One of them, Jake Leinenkugel, a Marine Corps veteran and retired Wisconsin brewery owner, became the White House’s eyes and ears inside the agency. He works in an office next to Shulkin’s, but his title is senior White House adviser. Leinenkugel, 65, said he came out of retirement to take the position because he was “excited about taking POTUS’s agenda and advancing it.” As he put it, “I’m here to help veterans.”

He and Shulkin got along fine for a few months. But then, in May 2017, the two men clashed, as Shulkin accused Leinenkugel of undermining him. Shulkin wanted to nominate the VA’s acting under secretary for health, Poonam Alaigh, to take the position permanently, according to two people familiar with his thinking. But, the VA secretary charged, Leinenkugel told the White House to drop Alaigh. Shulkin confronted Leinenkugel, who denied any sabotage, according to an email Leinenkugel subsequently wrote. Alaigh stepped down in October and the position remains unfilled.

Shulkin has even been at odds with his own press secretary, Curt Cashour, who came from Miller’s House committee staff. January 2018, Shulkin assigned an official to send a letter to a veterans group that said the agency would update its motto, to be inclusive of servicewomen. (Adapted from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, the original reads, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The new version would read: “To care for those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors.”)

Cashour told The Washington Post the motto wouldn’t change. A few days later, the secretary’s strategic plan went out using the updated, gender-neutral motto. Cashour then denied the change a second time, telling the Post that was “not VA’s position.” A new document with the Lincoln quote restored subsequently appeared on the VA’s website. Shulkin was stunned at being disobeyed by his own spokesman, two people briefed on the incident said. (Cashour denied defying the VA secretary. “The premise of your inquiry is false,” he told ProPublica. Cashour said Shulkin never approved the letter regarding the updated motto and authorized the restoration of the original one.)

Then there was Selnick, who became the administration’s most effective proponent for privatization. He joined the VA as a “senior advisor to the secretary.” Though he reported to Shulkin, he quickly began developing his own policy proposals and conducted his own dealings with lawmakers, according to people with knowledge of the situation. In mid-2017 Shulkin pushed him out — sort of.

Selnick left the VA offices and took up roost in the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. There he started hosting VA-related policy meetings without informing Shulkin, according to people briefed on the meetings. At one such meeting of the “Veterans Policy Coordinating Committee,” Selnick floated merging the Choice program with military’s Tricare insurance plan, according to documents from the meeting obtained by ProPublica.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
Former House Veterans Affairs chairman Rep. Jeff Miller.

Veterans groups were furious. At a Nov. 17, 2017  meeting, Selnick boasted that Trump wouldn’t sign anything without Selnick’s endorsement, according to a person present. Shulkin would later tell a confidant that moving Selnick out of the VA was his “biggest mistake” because he did even more damage from the White House. (Selnick did not reply to a request for comment. A White House spokesman said some VA officials were aware of the policy meetings that Selnick hosted. The spokesman said Selnick does not brief the president or the chief of staff.)

Selnick, 57, is a retired Air Force captain from California who worked in the VA under the George W. Bush administration. At CVA, he not only ran the policy task force, he testified before Congress and appeared on TV. In 2015, House Speaker John Boehner appointed Selnick to the Commission on Care, an independent body created by a Congressional act to study the VA and make recommendations.

Selnick impressed his fellow commissioners with his preparation but sometimes irked them with what they viewed as his assumption that he was in charge, people who worked with him on the commission said. Selnick often brought up his experience at the VA. But some commissioners scoffed behind his back because his position, in charge of faith-based initiatives, had little relevance to health care. Whatever his credentials, Selnick had audacious ambitions: He wanted to reconceive the VA’s fundamental approach to medical care.

Selnick wanted to open up the VA so any veteran could see any doctor, an approach that would transform its role into something resembling an insurance company, albeit one with no restrictions on providers. Other commissioners worried that would cost the government more, impose fees and deductibles on veterans and serve them worse. “He was probably the most vocal of all of the members,” said David Gorman, the retired executive director of Disabled American Veterans who also served on the commission, “in a good and a bad way.”

The bad part, in the view of Nancy Schlichting, the chairwoman, emerged when Selnick tried to “hijack” the commission. Selnick and a minority of commissioners secretly drafted their own proposal, which went further than CVA’s. (The group included executives of large health systems that stood to gain more patients.) They wrote that the “the current VA health care system is seriously broken” with “no efficient path to repair it.” They proposed closing facilities, letting all veterans choose private care, and transitioning the rest to private care over two decades.

Related: Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than three million calls

The draft was written in a way that seemed to speak for the commission as a whole, with phrases like “the Commission recommends.” The commission staff suggested labeling it a “straw man report,” implying it was meant to provoke discussion. Still, veterans organizations were angry, and Schlichting had to publicly disavow the draft. “Darin Selnick has never run a health system in his life and doesn’t understand the complexity of it,” Schlichting told ProPublica.

For his part, Shulkin publicly staked out his vision in a March 17, 2016 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. In it, he defended the VA’s quality of care and proposed reimagining the VA as an integrated system composed of its own core facilities, a network of vetted private-sector providers, and a third layer of private care for veterans in remote places. Shulkin also edited a book published last year trumpeting the VA’s successes, called “Best Care Everywhere.”

Almost four years after the Phoenix scandal, the emergency measure letting some veterans get care outside the VA is still limping along with temporary extensions, not to mention payment glitches and confusion about its rules. Key legislators grew tired of renewing emergency funding and wanted to find a long-term solution. In the House, negotiations broke down after Democrats boycotted a listening session featuring CVA. So fall 2017, focus turned to the Senate.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
A quote from Abraham Lincoln on a sign at the Department of Veterans Affairs Building in Washington, DC. (Flickr)

The crux of the debate was the extent to which the VA should rely on private care. The chairman and ranking member on the Senate veterans committee, respectively, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Jon Tester of Montana, drafted a bill to consolidate all of the VA’s programs that pay for private care and let doctors and patients decide where veterans would get care. The VA would buy private care when that makes the most sense but would still coordinate all veterans care in an integrated, comprehensive way. The bill garnered the support of 26 veterans organizations and every committee member except Moran.

Moran represents the Koch brothers’ home state; employees of Koch Industries are the second-largest source of campaign contributions in his career, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. With the support of CVA, Moran wanted to establish clear criteria making veterans eligible for private-sector care, like the 30 days/40 miles standard in the Choice program. It might sound like a subtle distinction, but it means the difference between keeping all veterans within the VA system versus ceding the direction of patient care to the private sector. When the committee rejected his amendment, Moran proposed his own bill and signed up Sen. John McCain as a co-sponsor.

Moran’s bill initially called for all veterans to be able to choose private care. When a McCain aide shared it with a lobbyist for the American Legion, the lobbyist was so enraged by what he viewed as a bid to undermine the VA that he torched a copy of the bill and sent the McCain aide a photo of the charred draft. (An American Legion spokesman declined to comment.) With the American Legion’s input, McCain’s and Moran’s staffs toned down the bill to the point that they got letters of support from the group, along with Amvets and CVA. But American Legion and Amvets were still working to get consensus on the Isakson-Tester bill.

Still, the Moran-McCain bill had a few key allies: Selnick and Leinenkugel. They had gained sway in part because of a White House vacuum. The president himself has been largely absent on veterans policy and there’s no senior point person. The portfolio has at times belonged to Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner and Omarosa Manigault, according to veterans groups and congressional officials. (A White House spokesman said those officials played a role in “veterans issues,” but not “veterans policy.” The latter, the spokesman said, is overseen by Selnick on the Domestic Policy Council.)

That has given Selnick and Leinenkugel wide latitude to shape White House positions on issues that don’t rise to Trump’s level. “Darin [Selnick] is pretty much in the ascendancy,” said Michael Blecker, the executive director of Swords to Plowshares, a San Francisco-based charity serving veterans.

As long as Moran had a competing claim to the Trump administration’s support, the Isakson-Tester bill was stuck. Republicans wouldn’t risk a floor vote on a bill the president might not sign. Shulkin supported the Isakson-Tester bill but he knew his rivals inside the White House were pushing for Moran’s proposal. So Shulkin hedged, awkwardly praising both bills. “We still don’t know which bill he wants,” Joe Chenelly, executive director of Amvets, said. “If the White House wants something different, then we need to know how to reconcile that.”

Amid the impasse, the Choice program was out of money again and needed an extension as part of the end-of-year spending deal. Tester vowed to make it the last one he’d agree to. He called on Shulkin to break the stalemate by publicly endorsing his and Isakson’s bill. “I would love to have the VA come out forcefully for this bill,” he said on the Senate floor in late December. “I think it would help get it passed.”

In a private meeting, Isakson and Tester chided Shulkin for withholding support for their bill, according to three people briefed on the meeting. Shulkin told them he was doing the best he could, but he had to fend off a competing agenda from the White House.

Unbeknown to Shulkin, there was already talk in the White House of easing him out. On Dec. 4, 2017, Leinenkugel wrote a memo, which ProPublica obtained, summarizing his disillusionment with Shulkin as well as with Shulkin’s deputy, Thomas Bowman, and chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson. (“I was asked to tell the truth and I gave it,” said Leinenkugel of his memo; he declined to say who requested it.)

More reading: A new petition could help veterans with service animals

Leinenkugel accused Bowman of disloyalty and opposing the “dynamic new Choice options requested by POTUS agenda.” The memo recommended that Bowman be fired — and replaced by Leinenkugel himself. It also asserted that Wright Simpson “was proud to tell me she is a Democrat who completely trusts the secretary and it’s her job to protect him.” Leinenkugel accused her of delaying the placement of Trump’s political appointees. Leinenkugel recommended replacing her, too.

As for Shulkin, Leinenkugel’s memo advocated he be “put on notice to leave after major legislation and key POTUS VA initiatives [are] in place.”

After the clash between Moran and Shulkin at the January hearing, Isakson said the White House would provide feedback on his bill to help the committee chart a way forward. “The president basically is pushing to get a unanimous vote out of committee,” said Rick Weidman, the top lobbyist for Vietnam Veterans of America. “The only reason why we didn’t get it before was there is one mid-level guy on the Domestic Policy Council who threw a monkey wrench into it by confusing people about what the administration’s position is.” That person, Weidman said, is Selnick.

The White House’s feedback on the Isakson-Tester bill, a copy of which was obtained by ProPublica, was the closest the administration has come to a unified position on veterans health care. It incorporated input from the VA and the Office of Management and Budget. Selnick told veterans groups he wrote the memo, leaving some miffed that Selnick seemingly had the final word instead of Shulkin. (A White House spokesman said Selnick was not the only author.)

Selnick requested changes that might look like minor tweaks but would have dramatic policy consequences. “It’s these very small differences in details that the public would never notice that change the character of the thing entirely,” said Phillip Longman, whose 2007 book, “Best Care Anywhere,” argued that the VA works better than private health care. (The title of the book Shulkin edited, “Best Care Everywhere,” was a nod at Longman’s book.)

Most important, the White House wanted clear criteria that make veterans eligible for private care. That was the main feature of Moran’s bill and the sticking point in the negotiations. The administration also asked to preserve a piece of the Choice program by grandfathering in veterans living more than 40 miles away from a VA facility. CVA praised the White House for nudging the bill in Moran’s direction. “We applaud President Trump for taking a firm stand in favor of more health care choice for veterans at the VA,” the group’s director, Daniel Caldwell, said in a statement dated Jan. 24, 2018.

The White House feedback also called for removing provisions that would regulate providers, such as requiring them to meet quality standards and limiting opioid prescriptions. And the administration objected to provisions in the bill that would require it to fill critical vacancies at the VA and report back to Congress.

Selnick got what he asked for, but it still might not be enough. Isakson and Tester agreed to most of the changes. But in a White House meeting with veterans groups on Feb. 5, 2018, Selnick continued to insist on open choice, suggesting that’s what Trump wants. Selnick visited Moran’s staff, a person with knowledge of the meeting said, and Moran indicated he wouldn’t support the modified version of the Isakson-Tester bill. (A White House spokesman said Isakson and Tester did not accept all the changes and negotiations continue. He denied that Selnick pushed for open choice.) Moran’s spokesman didn’t answer emailed questions by press time.)

The tensions spilled out publicly again on Feb. 8, 2018, when the Washington Post reported that the White House wanted to oust Bowman, Shulkin’s deputy. The article said the purpose was to chastise Shulkin for “freewheeling” — working with senators who don’t share the administration’s position. Isakson’s spokeswoman called it a “shameful attempt” to derail the negotiations. Isakson resolved to move ahead without Moran, the spokeswoman said, but it’s not clear when the bill will get time on the Senate floor (the Senate focused on immigration this week and then will take a recess). Moran could still place a “hold” on the bill or round up other senators to oppose it.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Shulkin determined that Selnick and Leinenkugel had to go, according to four people familiar with the secretary’s thinking. But Shulkin doesn’t appear to have the authority to fire them since they work for the White House. Plus, the attacks from the right were already taking a toll on Shulkin’s standing. “If leaders at Trump’s VA don’t support REAL CHOICE — why won’t they resign?” former CVA chief Hegseth tweeted on Feb. 13, 2018 tagging Shulkin in the post.

Veterans advocates responded by defending Shulkin against attacks they viewed as originating with Selnick and Leinenkugel. “They thought they could coopt David,” said Weidman, the lobbyist for Vietnam Veterans of America. “When he couldn’t be coopted, they decided to go after his character.”

The biggest blow came on Feb. 14, 2018 when the VA’s Inspector General released its report on Shulkin’s trip to Europe in April 2017. It concluded that Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets, misused a subordinate as a “personal travel concierge,” lied to reporters, and that his chief of staff doctored an email in such a way that would justify paying travel expenses for Shulkin’s wife.

Shulkin disputed the IG’s findings, but he again ran into trouble getting his message out from his own press office. A statement insisting he had “done nothing wrong” disappeared from the VA’s website, and Cashour replaced it with one saying “we look forward to reviewing the report and its recommendations in more detail before determining an appropriate response.” Cashour said the White House directed him to take down Shulkin’s statement and approved the new one.

Shulkin told Politico the IG report was spurred by internal opponents. “They are really killing me,” he said. By Feb. 16, 2018, his chief of staff had told colleagues Friday she would retire, USA Today reported.

The condemnation after the IG report was swift and widespread. House veterans committee member Mike Coffman, R-Colo., called on Shulkin to resign. Democrats, though generally sympathetic to Shulkin, couldn’t resist lumping the imbroglio in with other travel-expense tempests across Trump’s cabinet (involving Tom Price, Ryan Zinke, Scott Pruitt, and Steven Mnuchin). The chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate veterans committees said they were “disappointed” and want Shulkin to address the allegations, but acknowledged the politics at work and the stakes in a joint statement: “We need to continue progress we have made and not allow distractions to get in the way.”

The next day, Shulkin appeared before another routine oversight hearing, in this instance on the House side. He told the representatives he would reimburse the government for his wife’s travel and accept the IG’s recommendations. Shulkin thanked the chairman and ranking member for urging their colleagues not to let the scandal commandeer the hearing. “I do regret the decisions that have been made that have taken the focus off that important work,” he said.

Turning to the VA’s budget, Shulkin resumed his tightrope walk. He praised the VA’s services while acknowledging the need for some veterans to be treated outside the government’s system. By the time he left the hearing, two hours later, the Trump administration’s position on veterans health privatization remained a mystery.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why experts think Kim Jong Un never actually attended an elite military academy

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is not only the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), the fourth-largest military in the world.

North Korea’s military is part of its foundation; Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and the founder of the so-called “Hermit Kingdom,” used his own military service — as a guerilla fighting against the Japanese occupation of Korea — to burnish his cult of personality, according to Washington Post reporter Anna Fifield’s book, “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.”

Military service is baked into the North Korean constitution; “National defense is the supreme duty and honor of citizens,” it says, and military service is generally compulsory. Kim has never served in the North Korean military but reportedly graduated near the top of his class at a prestigious military academy, a claim that experts and a former North Korean military member found highly suspect.


North Korea spends approximately 25% of its GDP on its military, including its nuclear program, spending .5 billion each year on its forces between 2004 and 2014. It boasts 1.1 million troops, about 5% of its population, according to CFR.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
(KCNA)

According to North Korean propaganda, the 35-year-old Kim Jong Un prepared to lead this massive force by attending Kim Il Sung Military University in Pyongyang; experts said it was more likely that he had received some instruction from military trainers associated with this university.

Some propaganda accounts cited by Fifield say Kim, who reportedly started at the academy when he was 18, was such a natural at military strategy that he was soon training his instructors.

Kim’s ‘elite’ alma mater

Kim Il Sung Military University is a “military institution for educating elite military officers,” according to Bruce W. Bennett, senior defense analyst at The RAND Corporation. It was established in 1952, according to North Korea Leadership Watch, and is one of several military training schools.

“The students of this university are middle level officers such as majors and lieutenant colonels,” Bennett said, equating the university to institutions like the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

“It is the university that is a gateway to becoming a senior officer in the Korean People’s Army (KPA). Most of North Korean military generals studied in this university when they were mid-career,” Bennett told INSIDER via email.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’

An image of Pyongyang, with Kim Il Sung Military University outlined.

(North Korea Leadership Watch/Google Images)

Fifield’s book, and official North Korean propaganda, report that Kim studied here alongside his older brother, Kim Jong Chol.

“It was their mother’s idea to send them to the military academy, a way to bolster her sons’ claim to succession,” Fifield writes. Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Chol are the children of Kim Jong Il and Ko Yong Hui, to whom he was not officially married. Kim Jong Il installed Ko Yong Hui and her sons in a home in his compound, ensuring they were well cared for.

Kim Jong Un reportedly entered the university in 2002, after his early education in Switzerland, and began studying “juche-oriented military leadership,” Fifield writes, referring to the North Korean concept of juche, or self-reliance. Juche is essential to the North Korean identity, although the country was economically dependent on the Soviet Union until its collapse. China is now its most important economic relationship.

“I would expect that most of the training at Kim Il Sung Military University would be on military operations, military history, and political indoctrination,” Bennett told INSIDER via email.

“But a big part of the curriculum is likely also competition between the personnel to see how they deal with each other physically and mentally, which leads to forming bonds of friendship critical as officers are promoted.”

‘A natural at military strategy’

While Kim Jong Un never served in the KPA, North Korea Leadership Watch (NKLW) contends that it’s likely some students are able to enter Kim Il Sung Military University without any prior service, straight out of high school.

NKLW describes Kim Il Sung Military University as modeled on Soviet military academies; while there might be classes on North Korean military history, the structure and academics of Kim Il Sung Military University find their closest analogs in the Soviet system.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in an unknown location in North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency.

(KCNA)

According to North Korean official state media, Fifield writes, Kim Jong Un was “such a natural at military strategy that he was instructing the instructors rather than learning from them.”

He graduated on Dec. 24, 2006, Fifield writes, “with honors,” after writing a final dissertation on “A Simulation for the Improvement of Accuracy in the Operational Map by the Global Positioning System (GPS).”

But a former member of the North Korean military who now lives in the US and is familiar with the Kim family said it was unlikely that Kim Jong Un actually attended Kim Il Sung Military University, at least not in the traditional sense.

“According to North Korean propaganda, Kim Jong Un attended Kim Il Sung Military University, but I couldn’t find any of his classmates or Army mates. If he really attended that university, somebody should know that he attended,” the former military member said.

“If Kim Jong Un actually attended that college, he has pictures, he has a record, and he has friends. But [none] of the North Korean elite could find his picture and his friends. I think it’s a kind of propaganda,” the former military member said, noting that the North Korean propaganda department would have exploited any evidence of Kim Jong Un having attended the university to build up his cult of personality.

Rather than actually physically attending classes, there were “probably private instructors visiting his house to give him a lecture,” the former military member said.

“Kim Il Sung Military University is a more closed university, the students are military officers, not civilians, so they can keep the secret that Kim Jong Un didn’t actually attend.”

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’

(KCNA)

Kim would have been unique in attending the military school named for his grandfather; “I don’t think most of the Kim family become military officers — they avoid becoming military officers,” the former military member said.

“They have a good life […] they don’t need to go [in] the military to risk their lives.”

In order to qualify for a school like Kim Il Sung Military University, potential recruits must have, “superior service records, excellent physical condition and trusted political reliability” and have “a flawless family background, be popular among fellow soldiers, and receive the approval of their commanding and political officers,” according to Joseph Bermudez’s book “Shield of the Great Leader: The Armed Forces of North Korea.”

NKLW contends that Kim probably had private tutoring for at least a few years, and that he was likely a very good student, exhausting teachers with his questions. The academics on military operations are thought to be rigorous, even if it’s unlikely Kim also participated in the physical and professional competitions that other students must face.

In whatever capacity he studied with the university’s instructors, it influenced his relationship with the North Korean military today, in particular the aggressive missile testing North Korea undertook under the third Kim leader.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

How Syria is bringing France’s Macron and Trump closer

French President Emmanuel Macron said that he was the mastermind behind Donald Trump’s airstrike on Syria, and has persuaded him to station troops in the country for the long term.

In a major interview broadcast April 15, 2018, on BFMTV, Macron took the credit for the strike in Syria, which Trump has characterized as a personal success.


Macron said he thrashed out a list of targets with Trump, and persuaded him to limit action to chemical weapons facilities, rather than a broader strike on Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

He also claimed to have convinced Trump to ditch an idea to pull troops out of Syria, and instead commit to staying.

Macron told the cameras:

“Ten days ago President Trump said the US wanted to disengage in Syria. We convinced him, we convinced him that it was necessary to stay there.

“I think that on the diplomatic plan there that took place, the three strikes were one element that was for me not the most essential, I reassure you, we convinced him that he had to stay there for the long term.

“The second thing that we were successful in convincing him was to limit the strikes on chemical weapon [sites] after things got carried away over tweets.”

Here’s a video of his comment (in French):

Macron and Trump have made much of their close personal relationship, which Business Insider has previously characterized as a bromance.

The French leader invited his US counterpart to Paris in 2017, to celebrate Bastille Day, where Trump witnessed a grand military parade that inspired plans to do something similar in Washington, D.C.

In return, Macron is the first world leader whom Trump has invited to make a full state visit.

Trump has not responded directly to Macron’s claims. However, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders seemed to downplay Macron’s influence, and said “the US mission has not changed.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

USS John S. McCain’s return to warfighting readiness

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) completed her necessary repairs and is underway to conduct comprehensive at sea testing.


During the at-sea testing, the ship and her crew will perform a series of demonstrations to evaluate that the ship’s onboard systems meet or exceed Navy performance specifications. Among the systems that will be tested are navigation, damage control, mechanical and electrical systems, combat systems, communications, and propulsion application.

John S. McCain, assigned to Destroyer Squadron FIFTEEN (DESRON 15) and forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, completed her in-port phase of training, and will continue Basic Phase at-sea training in the upcoming months to certify in every mission area the ship is required to perform and prepare for return to operational tasking.

“The USS John S. McCain embodies the absolute fighting spirit of her namesakes, and shows the resiliency of our Sailors. She has completed her maintenance period with the most up-to-date multi-mission offensive and defensive capabilities, preparing her to successfully execute a multitude of high-end operations,” said Capt. Steven DeMoss, commander, Destroyer Squadron 15. “As a guided-missile destroyer assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15, the John S. McCain is poised and ready to contribute to the lethal and combat ready forward-deployed naval force in the free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

John S. McCain completed repairs and extensive, accelerated upgrades over the last two years, following a collision in August 2017.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’

“This whole crew is eager to get back to sea, and that’s evident in the efforts they’ve made over the last two years to bring the ship back to fighting shape, and the energy they’ve put into preparing themselves for the rigors of at-sea operations,” said Cmdr. Ryan T. Easterday, John S. McCain’s commanding officer. “I’m extremely proud of them as we return the ship to sea, and return to the operational fleet more ready than ever to support security and stability throughout the region.”

Multiple upgrades to the ship’s computer network, antenna systems, radar array, combat weapons systems and berthing have ensured John S. McCain will return to operational missions with improved capability and lethality.

John S. McCain, is assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, the Navy’s largest forward-deployed DESRON and the U.S. 7th Fleet’s principal surface force.

This article originally appeared on All Hands Magazine. Follow @AllHandsMag on Twitter.

Articles

This former soldier says Team RWB helped him make the transition from service to civilian life

With most veteran service organizations, the only way to get in the door is to show your military cred — if you didn’t serve, they don’t serve.


And that’s great for some. But for groups like Team Red, White Blue, the whole point is to bring veterans and the civilian community together.

If you didn’t serve, we’re here to serve, they say.

And that proved a crucial difference for Mark Benson, a former Army fire direction specialist who left the military in 2004 after serving a tour during the invasion of Iraq. It was that civilian-to-military connection that attracted Benson to Team RWB, and it’s a distinction that he believes helps former service members survive in the civilian world.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
(Photo courtesy of Rick Benson Facebook)

 

“Team RWB’s mission is also to help folks rejoin the civilian world. If you’re not engaged with civilians then how are you ever going to connect with the civilian world?” Benson said. “If you’re just hanging out with a bunch of veterans, then you just kind of have your own little microcosm.”

Living in the Los Angeles area is like living in a military veteran desert, he said, it’s hard to find folks who get what doing a combat deployment means. But through his work as a community liaison with Team RWB, Benson found that even those who didn’t serve have a lot of support to offer.

“Some of these non-veterans did experience things in their life where they had a hard time and they kind of can relate to a certain extent,” Benson said. “A lot of the people that are in the leadership in the LA chapter aren’t veterans, but they do have a story. And I think that’s important.”

Benson has been a community liaison for Team RWB for almost a year and helped run with the “stars and stripes” in this year’s cross-country Old Glory Relay. It was Benson’s first run and served as a poignant reminder of the service he and others gave of themselves and provided an outlet to show a new generation the meaning of patriotism and selflessness.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
Support Team Red White, Blue by donating today!

During a stretch of the relay, Benson and his team of runners passed by an elementary school where the kids were lined up outside reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Later in the run, the Old Glory Relay team paid their respects with the flag at a veterans memorial cemetery.

“It was kind of cool to start out with the young future leaders of the world and then go pay our respects to those who gave their lives to help those young leaders live their lives in peace,” Benson said.

With just over a year being part of Team Red, White Blue, Benson sees his involvement deepening and the influence of his organization growing. Particularly in a non-military town like Los Angeles, it’s groups like Team RWB that bring veterans and their community together and help narrow that military-civilian divide.

“LA is probably one of those areas that has a larger civilian-military divide,” Benson said. “But it seems like in our area at least, there’s definitely a lot more understanding.”

There are many ways to get involved with Team Red, White Blue and the Old Glory Relay, so check out their website to get more information – or text ‘OGR’ to 41444 to learn more and donate! You can track the flag on its journey across America at the OGR Live tracking page.

 

Articles

Here’s how the F-16 Falcon could replace the F-15 Eagle

The F-15 Eagle, arguably the most successful fighter jet of the modern age, could be in for an early retirement with the US Air Force thanks to skyrocketing upgrade and refurbishment costs.


In a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, Air Force and Air National Guard brass informed the panel that a plan was recently formed to retire and replace the F-15C/D variant of the Eagle far ahead of schedule by a matter of decades, though no decision had been made on that plan. While the Air Force did plan to keep the Eagle flying till 2040 through a $4 billion upgrade, it was recently determined that a further $8 billion would need to be invested in refurbishing the fuselages of these Eagles, driving up the costs of retaining the F-15C/D even higher than originally expected — presenting what seems to be the final nail the Eagle’s eventual coffin.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
A U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle from the 67th Fighter Squadron takes off March 16, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-15’s superior maneuverability and acceleration are achieved through high engine thrust-to-weight ratio and low wing loading. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Corey Pettis/Released)

So, what will the Air Force likely do to replace this 40-year-old wonder jet?

The Air Force had at first planned to replace the F-15 with the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, but successive cuts to the Raptor program left the branch with only 187 fighters, a substantially lower quantity than the planned buy of around 700. This forced the decision to keep the Eagles in service longer, and thus, the aforementioned investment of over $4 billion was made towards upgrading all combat coded F-15C/Ds with new radars, networking systems, and avionics to keep these fighters in service up till around 2040, when it would be replaced with a newer sixth-generation fighter, also superseding the fifth-generation F-22 Raptor.

Once the F-15 gets pulled by the mid-2020s, the Air Force claims it already has a solution to replace what was once a bastion of American air power.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flies over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve April 5, 2016. The President has authorized U.S. Central Command to work with partner nations to conduct targeted airstrikes of Iraq and Syria as part of the comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook/Released)

This solution comes in the form of enhancing F-16 Fighting Falcons with new radars from Northrop Grumman, and networking systems to take over the Eagle’s role in North American air defense, at least in the interim until the Air Force begins and completes its sixth-generation fighter project, which will bring about an even more capable air superiority fighter replacement for both the F-22 and the F-15.

The Air Force has already begun extending the lives of its F-16s till 2048, through a fleet-wide Service Life Extension Program that will add an extra 4,000 flight hours to its Fighting Falcons. Air Force leadership has also advocated buying more fighters, namely the F-35A Lightning II, faster, so that when the hammer does eventually drop on the Eagle, the branch’s fighter fleet won’t be left undersized and vulnerable.

Even with upgrades, however, the F-16 still has some very big boots to fill.

The F-15 was designed primarily as an air superiority fighter, meaning it was built to excel at shooting other aircraft down; all other mission types, like performing air-to-ground strikes, were secondary to its main tasking. To perform in this role, the Eagle was given stellar range, sizable weapons carriage, fantastic speed (over two and a half times the speed of sound), and a high operational ceiling. Conversely, the F-16 was designed as a low-cost alternative to the F-15, able to operate in a variety of roles, though decidedly not as well as the F-15 could with the air-to-air mission. Its combat range, weapons load and speed fall short of the standard set by the Eagle. Regardless, the Air Force still believes that the F-16 will be the best interim solution until the 6th generation fighter is fielded.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel

The USAF’s most decorated F-16 pilot, Dan Hampton, doesn’t disagree with these plans. In an interview with The War Zone, Hampton argues that though the F-16 lacks the weapons payload that the F-15 possesses, advances in missile guidance and homing make carrying more air-to-air weaponry a moot point, as pilots would likely hit their mark with the first or second shot, instead of having to fire off a salvo of missiles. Hampton adds that the F-16’s versatility in being able to perform a diverse array of missions makes it more suitable for long-term upgrades to retain it over the Eagle. Whether or not this will actually work out the way the Air Force hopes it will is anybody’s guess.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Mattis says Army may have to take the lead in North Korea fight

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Army must continue to improve and evolve to face ever-changing threats.


Mattis said the Army is the greatest in the world, but it must adapt to emerging domains in space and cyberwarfare and new weapons.

“We have to make sure we aren’t dominant and irrelevant at the same time,” he said.

Citing Iran’s support of terrorism in the Middle East, North Korea’s saber-rattling in the Pacific, and Russian meddling in US elections, Mattis said the international threats facing the nation were the most complex and demanding than he has seen in decades of service.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis gives the keynote address to kick off the 2017 annual meeting of the Association of the US Army (AUSA) at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, Oct. 9, 2017. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith.

He said the Army was facing new challenges overseas and at home, where budget constraints continue to hinder planning and modernization.

Mattis said he has confidence in Congress to do what is best for the country, but no confidence in the automatic budget cuts it created several years ago.

“I want Congress back in the driver seat of budget decisions, not the spectator seat of automatic cuts,” he said.

Mattis was the keynote speaker for the opening ceremony of the annual meeting and exposition of the Association of the United States Army, which began Oct. 9 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis gives the keynote address to kick off the 2017 annual meeting of the Association of the US Army (AUSA) at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, Oct. 9, 2017. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith.

The three-day event brings together defense industry leaders, high-ranking Army officials, and others for professional development and discussions on the Army’s role in national defense. More than 26,000 attendees preregistered this year, along with representatives from 70 nations.

Mattis reiterated the remarks of other defense leaders who have stressed that the Army’s priority is readiness.

He said the Army must be striving to improve itself, “assuming every week in the Army is a week to get better.”

“We need you at the top of your game in body, mind, and spirit,” Mattis said.

The former Marine Corps general said the Army could look to the past when preparing for the future.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’

He said the military learned the hard way in the build-up to World War I that readiness was not something that could be achieved in a short amount of time.

“We know too well the costs of not being ready,” Mattis said.

Mattis said preparing for war was the best way to prevent war. He also reassured the nation’s allies in Europe and the Pacific that the Army would be there to help them if needed.

“We are with you,” he said.

On one of the most pressing threats — North Korea — Mattis said the military was not yet at the forefront.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
KCNA photo

“It is right now a diplomatically led, economic sanction-buttressed effort,” he said. But, Mattis said, that could change.

“You have got to be ready to ensure we have military options that our president can employ if needed,” he said.

Following Mattis’ remarks, officials presented several AUSA national awards, honoring former Department of Veterans Affairs secretary and retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki; former president of the National Guard Association of the United States and retired Maj.Gen. Gus L. Hargett Jr.; retired Maj. Gen. Marcia M. Anderson; retired Sgt. Maj. Todd B. Hunter and others.

The first day of the annual meeting includes several discussions involving Fort Bragg leaders.

During a breakfast honoring members of the National Guard and Army Reserve, Gen. Robert B. “Abe” Abrams said those soldiers were integral to the readiness of the total Army.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
Paratroopers assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division stand ready with their unit guidons during the All American Week Airborne Review at Fort Bragg, N.C., May 25, 2017. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Anthony Hewitt.

Abrams is the commanding general of US Army Forces Command, headquartered at Fort Bragg. The command is the largest in the nation, charged with preparing forces for combat commanders around the globe.

“Our job as professionals is to be ready now,” Abrams said. “I hope no one is mistaken, we are not in an interwar period.”

In the afternoon, Abrams is to participate in another discussion, during a forum titled, “Ready Now.”

He’ll be part of a panel that also will include Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division; and Col. Christopher Norrie, chief of the operations group at the National Training Center.

Articles

Stealth bombers strike ISIS in Libya

A training camp used by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, was destroyed by a pair of stealth bombers today.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, two B-2A Spirit bombers attacked the training camp about 30 miles from Sirte. At least 85 members of the terrorist group are believed to have been killed in the mission, which involved the bombers dropping a total of 108 500-pound bombs. Unmanned aerial vehicles also took part in the attack, using AGM-114 Hellfire missiles to kill surviving terrorists.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
A B-2 Spirit drops 32 inert Joint Direct Attack Munitions Aug. 27, 2016 at the Utah Testing and Training Range.

FoxNews.com noted that the bombers were refueled five times as they flew to and from Whiteman Air Force Base.

“This action was authorized by the President as an extension of the successful operation the U.S. military conducted last year to support Libyan forces in freeing Sirte from ISIL control,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement released after the attack. “The ISIL terrorists targeted included individuals who fled to the remote desert camps from Sirte in order to reorganize, and they posed a security threat to Libya, the region, and U.S. national interests.”

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’
A B-2 Spirit soars after a refueling mission over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, May 30, 2006. The B-2, from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., is part of a continuous bomber presence in the Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)

The use of B-2 bombers might come as a surprise as F-15E Strike Eagles from the 48th Fighter Wing at Lakenheath Air Base had been used in the past. The Navy had the guided missile destroyers USS Porter (DDG 78) and USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) in the region as well. Last year, Marine Cobras from a Marine Expeditionary Unit took part in operations against ISIS in the country.

FoxNews.com reported that this was the first action the B-2s had seen since 2011. One possible reason was the presence of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. The carrier reportedly hosted a Libyan warlord who the Russians are backing to run the war-torn country. The carrier and its escorts, including a Kirov-class battlecruiser, have substantial air-defense assets, including Su-33 Flankers, MiG-29K fighters, and SA-N-6 surface-to-air missiles.

MIGHTY TRENDING

What water vapor on the moon means for deep space exploration

Researchers from NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, report that streams of meteoroids striking the Moon infuse the thin lunar atmosphere with a short-lived water vapor.

The findings will help scientists understand the history of lunar water — a potential resource for sustaining long term operations on the Moon and human exploration of deep space. Models had predicted that meteoroid impacts could release water from the Moon as a vapor, but scientists hadn’t yet observed the phenomenon.

Now, the team has found dozens of these events in data collected by NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. LADEE was a robotic mission that orbited the Moon to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere, and determine whether dust is lofted into the lunar sky.


Water Released from Moon During Meteor Showers

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Water Released from Moon During Meteor Showers

“We traced most of these events to known meteoroid streams, but the really surprising part is that we also found evidence of four meteoroid streams that were previously undiscovered,” said Mehdi Benna of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Benna is the lead author of the study, published in Nature Geosciences.

The newly identified meteoroid streams, observed by LADEE, occurred on Jan. 9, April 2, April 5, and April 9, 2014.

There’s evidence that the Moon has water (H2O) and hydroxyl (OH), a more reactive relative of H2O. But debates continue about the origins of the water, whether it is widely distributed and how much might be present.

“The Moon doesn’t have significant amounts of H2O or OH in its atmosphere most of the time,” said Richard Elphic, the LADEE project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “But when the Moon passed through one of these meteoroid streams, enough vapor was ejected for us to detect it. And then, when the event was over, the H2O or OH went away.”

Lunar scientists often use the term “water” to refer to both H2O and OH. Figuring out how much H2O and how much OH are present is something future Moon missions might address.

The making of ‘Range 15’ is even crazier than ‘Range 15’

This infographic shows the lunar water cycle based on the new observations from the Neutral Mass Spectrometer on board the LADEE spacecraft. At the lunar surface, a dry layer overlays a hydrated layer. Water is liberated by shock waves from meteoroid impacts. The liberated water either escapes to space or is redeposited elsewhere on the Moon. Some water is created by chemical reactions between the solar wind and the surface or delivered to the Moon by the meteoroids themselves. However, in order to sustain the water loss from meteoroid impacts, the hydrated layer requires replenishment from a deeper ancient water reservoir.

Credits: NASA Goddard/Mehdi Benna/Jay Friedlander

LADEE, which was built and managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, detected the vapor using its Neutral Mass Spectrometer, an instrument built by Goddard. The mission orbited the Moon from October 2013 to April 2014 and gathered detailed information about the structure and composition of the lunar atmosphere, or more correctly, the “exosphere” – a faint envelope of gases around the Moon.

To release water, the meteoroids had to penetrate at least 3 inches (8 centimeters) below the surface. Underneath this bone-dry top layer lies a thin transition layer, then a hydrated layer, where water molecules likely stick to bits of soil and rock, called regolith.

From the measurements of water in the exosphere, the researchers calculated that the hydrated layer has a water concentration of about 200 to 500 parts per million, or about 0.02 to 0.05 percent by weight. This concentration is much drier than the driest terrestrial soil, and is consistent with earlier studies. It is so dry that one would need to process more than a metric ton of regolith in order to collect 16 ounces of water.

Because the material on the lunar surface is fluffy, even a meteoroid that’s a fraction of an inch (5 millimeters) across can penetrate far enough to release a puff of vapor. With each impact, a small shock wave fans out and ejects water from the surrounding area.

When a stream of meteoroids rains down on the lunar surface, the liberated water will enter the exosphere and spread through it. About two-thirds of that vapor escapes into space, but about one-third lands back on the surface of the Moon.

These findings could help explain the deposits of ice in cold traps in the dark reaches of craters near the poles. Most of the known water on the Moon is located in cold traps, where temperatures are so low that water vapor and other volatiles that encounter the surface will remain stable for a very long time, perhaps up to several billion years. Meteoroid strikes can transport water both into and out of cold traps.

The team ruled out the possibility that all of the water detected came from the meteoroids themselves.

“We know that some of the water must be coming from the Moon, because the mass of water being released is greater than the water mass within the meteoroids coming in,” said the second author of the paper, Dana Hurley of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

The analysis indicates that meteoroid impacts release water faster than it can be produced from reactions that occur when the solar wind hits the lunar surface.

“The water being lost is likely ancient, either dating back to the formation of the Moon or deposited early in its history,” said Benna.

NASA is leading a sustainable return to the Moon with commercial and international partners to expand human presence in space and bring back new knowledge and opportunities.

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