The VA can't track how much time employees spend on union business - We Are The Mighty
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The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business

You’d think that employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs would be spending every bit of their time on the job helping America’s veterans. But that may not be case — some of them may instead be working on “union business.”


Worse, there may be no way to know how much time they have spent on their outside work for federal employee unions.

According to a report by Government Executive, the VA has no standardized method of tracking how much “official time” is spent by government employees on union activities like mediation. The Office of Personnel Management website defines “official time” as “paid time off from assigned Government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees.”

The report noted that 350 of those employees are working full-time on union activities, and that almost 1.1 million man-hours were spent on official time in Fiscal Year 2012.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
The Tomah, Wisconsin VA hospital.

A 2015 Government Accountability Office report done at the request of House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) casts doubt on those reported figures.

The GAO said, “the data VA provided were not sufficiently reliable to determine the amount of official time used by VA employees and the purposes for which it was used for the period of our review.”

The biggest reason for the lack of reliability was due to the fact that the VA had no standardized means to track the amount of “official time” used by employees of that agency.

The report noted that the VA had arrangements with five unions: the National Association of Government Employees; the American Federation of Government Employees; National Nurses United; the National Federation of Federal Employees; and the Service Employees International Union.

Government Executive reported that the VA had agreed to resolve the time-tracking issues.

The VA has been hit with a number of scandals, including one case where a deceased veteran was left lying around for nine hours in a Florida VA facility and another case in a Wisconsin VA hospital where a dentist may have infected hundreds of veterans with HIV and hepatitis.

Those cases came on the heels of a VA hospital using “separate waiting lists” to conceal a backlog of cases, a practice that is believed to have lead to over 200 deaths.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Palo Alto VA hospital. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Florida incident drew the wrath of Rep. Gus Biliakis (R-FL), who angrily noted that nobody had been fired over the improper treatment of a veteran’s corpse.

Articles

This recent HBO documentary shows previously-unseen footage from the Holocaust

In 1945, Allied military and newsreel cameramen documented the liberation of Nazi concentration camps as the British, American, and Russian forces pushed ever further into Germany.  This footage was compiled and edited by the British government to make the film German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (with Alfred Hitchcock as a supervising director). More than 100 reels of footage were shot to make this documentary, the intended audience was to be German people living inside the former Nazi state to show them what the regime had done in their name.


The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business

Earlier this year, HBO launched a new documentary, Night Will Fall, which draws on footage shot by those same military cameramen while using testimony from Holocaust survivors from infamous places like Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Dachau and others. Narrated by Helena Bonham-Carter, the documentary includes interviews from the film’s director, Billy Wilder, and even Hitchcock himself. But the film was never completed.

German Concentration Camps Factual Survey itself was set to include interviews with the camps’ survivors, the soldiers who liberated the camps, and historians looking back to put the events into context. The rough cut of the documentary was put away into the depths of the British Imperial War Museum and was unearthed in an effort to restore this and other films like it. In fact, the sixth and final reel of the film was missing and so Night Will Fall will finally bring this heart-wrenching documentary to a conclusion after 70 years.

The unfinished film was screened on PBS’ Frontline and at the 1984 Berlin Film Festival, and uses the most shocking and riveting concentration camp footage ever seen, fully restored. This restored footage was screened in 2014 at the Berlin International Film Festival. Some of the holocaust survivors in the HBO documentary can recognize themselves in the footage shot by military cameramen. The scenes shot by the cameramen are so striking, they were used against Nazi regime officials in trials at Nuremberg.

In the end, the film was not shown because the British needed the German people to rebuild their economy on their own, as the economies of all of Europe had been derailed by the war. The British government decided showing this film would only demoralize the Germans further.

Night Will Fall aired worldwide in January 2015, but can be seen on HBOGo and HBO Now.

NOW: Meet the rebel kids who danced in defiance of the Nazis

OR: That one time England recruited a magician to trick Hitler

Intel

What it’s like to be an undercover female CIA agent in Iraq

The below is an excerpt from “Breaking Cover” by Michele Rigby Assad:

In the movies, secret agents face their adversaries with guns, weapons, and flashy cars. And they’re so proficient in hand-to-hand combat that they can bring enemies to their knees with the right choke hold or take them down with a well-placed aimed shot. As much as I’d like to think I was that cool, in reality, life in the CIA is much more pedantic.


What most people don’t know is that the CIA is really a massive sorting agency. Intelligence officers must sift through mountains of data in an effort to determine what is authentic and useful, versus what should be discarded. We must consider the subtleties of language and the nuance of the nonverbal. We must unwind a complicated stream of intelligence by questioning everything. In the counterterrorism realm, this process has to be quick; we have to weed out bad information with alacrity. We can’t afford to make mistakes when it comes to the collection, processing, dissemination, and evaluation of terrorism intelligence. As we say in the CIA, “The terrorists only have to get it right once, but we have to be right every time.”

Contained in that massive flow is an incredible amount of useless, inaccurate, misleading, or fabricated information. The amount of bad reporting that is peddled, not only to the CIA but to intelligence agencies all over the world, is mind-boggling.

That’s precisely why one of the greatest challenges we faced as counterterrorism experts was figuring out who was giving us solid intelligence and who wasn’t. And when we were dealing with terrorists, getting it wrong could mean someone’s death.

In early 2007 when Iraq was awash with violence, many Iraqis who had formerly counted the United States as the Great Satan for occupying their country switched sides and were willing to work with Coalition Forces against Iraqi terrorists. Brave locals were rebelling against al-Qa’ida’s brutal tactics and were doing whatever they could to take back the streets from these thugs. This was a turning point in the war. Our counterterrorism efforts became wildly successful, fueled by accurate and highly actionable intelligence.

In one such case, we were contacted by one of our established sources, who was extremely agitated. Mahmud had come from his village claiming that he had seen something that sent chills down his spine. As Mahmud was driving not far from his home, he saw an unknown person exit a building that one of his cousins owned. The building was supposed to be empty and unoccupied. For reasons Mahmud could not explain, he thought that something bad was going on and that maybe the man he saw was a member of Al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI).

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
(Courtesy Tyndale House Publishers)

Up until this point, Coalition Forces had found Mahmud’s information extremely reliable. Of course, they did not know his name or personal details, but they made sure we knew that his information had checked out. They contacted us on numerous occasions to praise us for the source’s reporting, explaining that it had allowed them to disarm IEDs and detain insurgents who were causing problems in his village.

Mahmud had a solid track record. But the bits he provided this time were sketchy and lacked sufficient detail. You can’t just disseminate intelligence reports saying that a location “feels wrong,” “seems wrong,” or that some random dude you just saw “looked like a bad guy.” That kind of information does not meet the threshold for dissemination by the CIA. In this case, however, the handling case officer and I went against protocol and put the report out.

Within the hour, we were contacted by one of the MNF-I (Multi-National Force-Iraq) units with responsibility for that AOR. They regularly executed counterterrorism operations in that village and wanted to know more about the sourcing. They were interested in taking a look at the abandoned building because they had been trying to locate terrorist safe houses they believed were somewhere in the vicinity of the building mentioned in our report. They had a feeling that nearby safe houses were being used to store large amounts of weaponry and a few had been turned into VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) factories. But there was one big problem: Military units had acted on similar intelligence reports before, but the reports had been setups—the alleged safe houses were wired to explode when the soldiers entered.

A spate of these types of explosions had occurred east of Baghdad in Diyala Governorate, and while we had not yet seen this happen out west in al-Anbar Governorate, one could never be too careful. Basically, the military wanted to know: How good is your source? Do you trust him? Do you think he could have turned on you? Could this be a setup?

This was one of the hardest parts of my job. While I had to protect the identity of our sources when passing on intelligence, I had to balance this with the need to share pertinent details that would allow the military to do their job. It was critical to give them appropriate context on the sources, their access, and their reporting records, and to give them a sense of how good the report may or may not be. Given our positive track record with these military units, I knew that they would trust my judgment, and therefore, I needed to get it right. Lives were at stake.

My mind was spinning.

What do I think? Is this a setup? He’s usually such a good reporter, but what if someone discovered he was the mole?

Even if Mahmud was “on our side,” the insurgents could turn him against us by threatening the lives of his wife and kids. Similar things had happened before. I prayed, “Please, Lord, give me wisdom.”

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
The author, Michele Rigby Assad, was an undercover CIA agent for 10 years.
(Courtesy Tyndale House Publishers)

The bottom line was, I didn’t know anything for sure, and I told the military commander that. But I also remembered that just the week before, Mahmud had provided a report that MNF-I units said was amazingly accurate regarding the location of an IED in his village. They found the IED and dug it up before the Coalition Humvee rolled over it. So as of then, he was definitely good, and I told the commander that as well.

The next day, the case officer came to my desk and said, “Did you hear?”

“Hear what?”

“Mahmud’s information was spot on!”

“Really?” What a relief, I thought. “What happened?”

“When the soldiers entered the abandoned building, they found seven Iraqis tied up on the floor, barely clinging to life. It was more than a safe house. It was a torture house. There were piles of dead bodies in the next room.”

Mahmud’s intuition about the stranger he saw exiting that building had been correct. Something about the unidentified man’s behavior or appearance—the look on his face, the posture of his body, the way he walked or the way he dressed—had hit Mahmud as being “off” or “wrong.” It turned out that local AQI affiliates had commandeered the building and were using it as a base to terrorize the local population.

My colleague pulled out copies of the military’s photographs that captured the unbelievable scene. The first images showed the battered bodies of the young men who had just been saved from certain death. According to the soldiers, when they entered the building and found the prisoners on the floor, the young men were in shock. Emaciated and trembling, they kept saying, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” They could barely stand, so the soldiers steadied them as the young men lifted up their bloodstained shirts for the camera, revealing torsos covered in welts and bruises. If that unit hadn’t shown up when they did, those men would have been dead by the next day.

I swallowed hard as I flipped through the photographs of the horrors in the next room, and my eyes welled up with tears. The terrorists had discarded the mutilated bodies of other villagers in the adjacent room, leaving them to rot in a twisted mound. I could hardly accept what I was seeing. It reminded me of Holocaust photos that were so inhumane one could not process the depth of the depravity: men and women . . . battered and bruised . . . lives stolen . . . eyes frozen open in emptiness and horror.

My stomach began to churn, but I made myself look at the pictures. I had to understand what we were fighting for, what our soldiers faced every day. As much as I wanted to dig a hole and stick my head in the sand, I needed to see what was really happening outside our cozy encampment in the Green Zone.

They say war is hell; they don’t know the half of it.

Taken from “Breaking Cover” by Michele Rigby Assad. Copyright © 2018. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Michele Rigby Assad is a former undercover officer in the National Clandestine Service of the US Central Intelligence Agency. She served as a counterterrorism specialist for 10 years, working in Iraq and other secret Middle Eastern locations. Upon retirement from active service, Michele and her husband began leading teams to aid Christian refugees.

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

Articles

This is how more vets will be able to cash in on education benefits

Congressional Republicans and Democrats have reached initial agreement on the biggest expansion of college aid for military veterans in a decade, removing a 15-year time limit to tap into benefits and boosting money for thousands in the National Guard and Reserve.


The deal being announced early July 13 is a sweeping effort to fill coverage gaps in the post-9/11 GI Bill amid a rapidly changing job market. Building on major legislation passed in 2008 that guaranteed a full-ride scholarship to any in-state public university — or the cash amount for private college students similar to the value of a scholarship at a state college — the bill gives veterans added flexibility to enroll in college later in life. Veterans would get additional payments if they complete science, technology, and engineering courses.

The Associated Press obtained details of the agreement in advance of a formal bill introduction July 13.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Alyssa M. Akers

For a student attending a private university, the additional benefits to members of the Guard and Reserve could mean $2,300 a year more in tuition than they are receiving now, plus a bigger housing allowance.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R- Calif., praised the bill as a major effort to modernize the GI Bill, better positioning veterans for jobs after their service in a technologically sophisticated US military.

“It’s really about training the workforce in a post-9/11 GI Bill world,” he told The Associated Press. “Veterans are being locked out of a whole new economy.”

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo from US Congress.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, the bill’s lead sponsor, said he would schedule a committee vote next week. Pledging more VA reforms to come, McCarthy said the full House will act quickly, describing the bill as just the “first phase to get the whole VA system working again.”

“We’ll move it out this month,” McCarthy said.

Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said he would introduce a companion bill, while Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the panel’s senior Democrat, said he was “encouraged” by the bipartisan plan. Veterans’ issues have been one of the few areas on which Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have found some common ground, as they remain sharply divided on health care, tax reform, and other issues.

The education benefits would take effect for enlistees who begin using their GI Bill money next year.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
US National Guard photo by Master Sgt. William Wiseman

Kristofer Goldsmith, 31, says he believes it would benefit many former service members who, like himself, aren’t ready to immediately enroll in college after military service. Goldsmith served in the US Army as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, reaching the rank of sergeant, but returned home to constant nightmares and other PTSD symptoms. He was kicked out of the military with a general discharge after a suicide attempt, barring him from receiving GI benefits.

Now an assistant director for policy at Vietnam Veterans of America, Goldsmith advocates for veterans with PTSD and is appealing his discharge status. He’s heading to Columbia University in the fall.

“I feel extremely lucky I have found my passion in veterans’ advocacy,” Goldsmith said. “But I’ve taken out tens of thousands of dollars to go to school. GI benefits are something service members earn while they serve. They shouldn’t lose it just because they aren’t transitioning back the way the government wants.”

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Army Photo by Staff Sgt. James Burroughs

According to Student Veterans of America, only about half of the 200,000 service members who leave the military each year go on to enroll in a college, while surveys indicate that veterans often outperform peers in the classroom. The bill is backed by the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, which says hundreds of thousands of former service members stand to gain from the new array of benefits.

“This is going to be a big win,” said Patrick Murray, associate director at VFW.

The legislation combines 18 separate House bills, also providing full GI Bill eligibility to Purple Heart recipients. Previously, those individuals had to serve at least three years. The bill also would restore benefits if a college closed in the middle of the semester, a protection added when thousands of veterans were hurt by the collapse of for-profit college giant ITT Tech.

The bill hasn’t been free of controversy.

A draft plan circulated by Roe’s committee in April drew fire after it initially proposed paying for the $3 billion cost of upgraded benefits over 10 years by reducing service members’ monthly pay by $100 per month. Veterans’ groups sharply criticized that plan as an unfair “tax on troops,” noting that Army privates typically earn less than $1,500 per month.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Army Photo by Sgt. Alexander Snyder

“The GI Bill is a cost of war, and Congress needs to pay for it as long as we are at war,” said Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA’s founder and CEO.

The latest proposal would be paid for by bringing living stipend payments under the GI Bill down to a similar level as that received by an active-duty member, whose payments were reduced in 2014 by 1 percent a year for five years.

Total government spending on the GI Bill is expected to be more than $100 billion over 10 years.

Rep. Tim Walz, the senior Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and a bill co-sponsor, praised the plan, saying it will “improve the lives of future generations of veterans … without asking our troops or American taxpayers to pay more.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

F-22s left at Tyndall likely damaged by massive hurricane

The U.S. Air Force anticipates that a number of F-22 Raptors left behind at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, during Hurricane Michael were damaged by the storm, an official said Oct. 12, 2018.

“A number of aircraft were left behind in hangars due to maintenance or safety reasons, and all of those hangars are damaged,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement. “We anticipate the aircraft parked inside may be damaged as well, but we won’t know the extent until our crews can safely enter those hangars and make an assessment.”

Neither the extent of the damage nor how many fighters were left behind was disclosed.


Officials also did not describe what maintenance was taking place that led officials to leave the jets at Tyndall instead of moving them to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where other F-22s from the 325th Fighter Wing moved.

The damage could hamper operations for the already dwindling Raptor fleet as the Defense Department aims to restore its fighter readiness rates.

While some aircraft have come out of active status for testing purposes, the Air Force has 183 of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made F-22s in its inventory today. More than 160 belong to active-duty units; the remainder are with Air National Guard elements. Four aircraft were lost or severely damaged between 2004 and 2012.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business

An Air Force F-22 Raptor assigned to the 3rd Wing flies over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Feb. 27, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Jamal Wilson)

The Pentagon last estimated the F-22 unit cost at 9 million in 2009, roughly 3 million in today’s money. The last F-22 was delivered in 2011. But in a classified report submitted to Congress in 2017, the Air Force estimated it would cost “6 million to 6 million per aircraft” should it ever want to restart the production line for newer, more advanced F-22s.

The DoD said that would amount to approximately ” billion to procure 194 additional F-22s.”

Roughly 120 fifth-generation stealth Raptors are combat-coded, or authorized to perform in wartime operations, at any given time. But the platform’s mission-capable rate has decreased over the years.

According to Defense News’ fiscal 2017 statistics, F-22s had a 49.01 percent mission-capable rate, meaning less than half were flyable at any given time. In 2014, more than three-quarters of F-22s were deemed mission capable.

The Pentagon wants to increase readiness rates for the F-22, F-16, F-35 and F/A-18 to 80 percent by September 2019 — a 31 percent bump for the Raptor alone.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business

An F/A-18 lands on the flight deck USS Theodore Roosevelt.

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Luke Williams)


In July 2018, the Government Accountability Office said the F-22 is frequently underutilized, mainly due to maintenance challenges and fewer opportunities for pilot training, as well as the fleet’s inefficient organizational structure.

In October 2018, an F-22 at Alaska’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson made an emergency landing on a base runway. Photos showed the jet, from the 3rd Wing, leaning on its left side, which the Air Force said was the result of a landing gear malfunction.

The latest incident comes months after an F-22, also assigned to JBER’s 3rd Wing, experienced engine failure April 6, 2018, during a routine training flight at Tyndall. Days preceding the engine failure, another F-22 experienced a belly skid at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Green Beret’s new book challenges you to find resiliency

Ryan Hendrickson is a retired Green Beret who’s been through a lot. Despite overwhelming challenges, he refuses to wear the title of victim and instead calls himself a survivor. He wants you to do the same.

Tip of the Spear wasn’t supposed to be a book. It started as a journal for Hendrickson, a way to work through his thoughts and post-traumatic stress. But after a few months, he saw something in those writings – as did friends. “The therapeutic effect I got from writing actually turned into a book. I had to see the silver lining in something as bad as stepping on an IED [improvised explosive device]. A lot of people that were reading it said the book talks to everyone — not just military — as far as not being a victim in your life,” Hendrickson explained.


In September of 2010, Hendrickson was deployed to Afghanistan as an 18 Charlie, a Special Forces Engineer with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th special forces. He had just completed the elite schooling to earn the coveted Green Beret and was feeling on top of the world. The first chapter of Tip of the Spear takes the reader vividly through what it’s like to arrive in Afghanistan – and the mission that changed his life.

When Hendrickson and his team entered the deserted Afghan village before dawn, he said he knew something big was coming. When his interpreter went too far ahead of uncleared ground, he had no choice but to quickly and quietly get him back. “I grabbed him by the back of the shirt and moved him around. You never like to have any unknown area or blind spot, so I put the muzzle of my M-4 in the doorway of the compound and stepped back… right onto the IED,” he shared.

Hendrickson said he didn’t realize he hit it at first, remembering that he just felt like he couldn’t breathe because of the heavy dust and ammonia in the air. “As the dust started to clear, I saw that my boot was six inches away from my leg…When I reached behind my knee to pull my leg up, my boot sort of flopped over with my toes pointed at me. I saw these two pearly white objects sticking out of my pant leg. Then it kicked in that it was bone,” he said.

It was then that Hendrickson realized it was really bad. His team couldn’t rush in to support him either, since they knew that if there was one IED, there were probably five. His interpreter started a tourniquet, effectively saving his life. After a while, his team was able to safely make it to him and they got him out. “We could hear the Taliban on chatter celebrating that I got hit and that they were going to move into position to ambush us. They splinted the leg the best they could to put the lower and upper part together,” he said.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business

Hendrickson was in theater for over a week as they tried to stabilize him and keep him alive. When he made it to San Antonio, it would take 28 surgeries to reattach his leg. Then the real work began. “I had a sergeant major who came in to see me; he told me if I could get medically cleared he’d send me back to combat. That was the big driving factor behind me taking control of my life and hitting rehab as hard as I could. That and knowing the Taliban were cheering when I got hurt. I wasn’t going to let them beat me or win,” he explained.

Although he was medically retired, Hendrickson refused to accept it. After spending a grueling year in rehabilitation, he passed all the required tests and was reinstated into active duty through a special waiver. In March of 2012 – only a year and a half after almost losing his leg to an IED – his boots were back in the sands of Afghanistan.

It wasn’t easy though, he shared. The guys he was working with were concerned he’d be a liability. Hendrickson was sent to the biggest known IED province of Afghanistan, a real test given his own experience. He had to prove himself to his teammates and did it by methodically finding IED after IED, keeping them all safe.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business

Hendrickson would continue to serve and deploy for years after that. In 2016, he earned a Silver Star for heroic efforts during a difficult seven-hour firefight in Afghanistan. “It wasn’t what I did, it was what we did…It’s the same thing all of us say, we were just doing our job,” he shared. He headed home fromAfghanistan in 2017 and found himself struggling with a lot, mentally.

After trying unsuccessfully to talk with a counselor, he sought help through the chaplain. He advised him to write, using that avenue to tell his story and work through his thoughts. Those thoughts and writing were unknowingly turning into a story of his life, both the good and the bad. It was here that he found healing and the deep resiliency he needed to never feel like a victim again.

Tip of the Spear will bring the reader on a powerful journey through a difficult childhood leading to military service spanning three branches, ultimately leading Hendrickson to become an elite Green Beret. The story culminates with the unfathomable challenge of coming back from an injury that almost took his life and was certainly considered the end of his military career. Hendrickson refused to quit and fought his way past the odds stacked against him.

It’s Hendrick’s hope that readers will use his journey to be inspired to do the same in their own lives. Anything is possible he says, but first you have to become a survivor, not a victim.

To purchase your copy of Tip of the Spear, click here.

Articles

Here’s What Life Is Like For US Army Tankers

With a 68-ton armored vehicle packing a 120mm cannon, U.S. Army tankers can take the fight to the enemy in just about any environment.


Tankers consider themselves part of a brotherhood with roots in World War I. Now driving the M1 Abrams tank, these soldiers continue that legacy today. Here is a taste of what their life is like.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Sgt Sarah Dietz

Also Read: These Crazy Photos Show 30+ Ton Tanks In Flight 

The Abrams can fire different rounds for different purposes, and tank crews have to train in a variety of environments. That means they get a lot of time on the range.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Sgt. Kim Browne

The crews are tested at twelve different levels, referred to as tables. The tables demand crews prove they can drive, fire, and coordinate together in battle in a variety of conditions.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Caldwell

The main gun is what most people think of when it comes to tanks, but crews also have to certify on the machine guns mounted outside, as well as the M9 pistols and M4 carbines they’re equipped with.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo Credit: Gertrud Zach/US Army

Crews generally have four members. There is a tank commander, a gunner, a driver, and a loader.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Spc. Marcus A. Floyd

 The inside of the tank can be a little cramped with equipment and crew.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Spc. Luke Thornberry

The driver sits in a small hole in the front of the tank. His control panel is located immediately in front of him.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Tankers sometimes bring their family to see the “office.”

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Ruth Pagan

Much of the maintenance for the tank is done by the crew.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Spc. Marcus A. Floyd

Considering everything the M1 is designed to withstand, it can be surprising that tanks sometimes break down because of soft sand or loose soil pushing a track out of place.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Sgt. Richard Andrade

When tanks break down and have to be towed out, it takes specialized equipment. The main recovery vehicle for an Abrams tank is the M88. Here, an M88 rolls up the tread from a damaged Abrams before towing the Abrams to a maintenance area.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: Us Army Sgt. Richard Andrade

Transporting tanks can also be problematic due to the tank’s weight. Crews will generally take their tanks to railways …

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Spc. Marcus A. Floyd

… or Naval ports for transport for deployments or exercises. Here, an Abrams tank is driven off of a ship.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Navy

When the mission calls for it, M1 tanks can also be flown on the Air Force’s largest planes.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Air Force Courtesy Photo

Air Force C-17s, like the one in the following photo, can carry one tank while C-5s can carry two.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Richard Wrigley

While on deployment, tankers can end up working for 20-hour days.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army

U.S. tank crews are commonly called on to train foreign allies. Recently, the Iraqi Army got a large number of Abrams tanks and U.S. soldiers provided training.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Sgt. Chad Menegay

Sometimes the mission calls for tankers to operate on foot or from other vehicles. Here, tank crews conduct a patrol in Humvees.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Sgt. Eric Rutherford

The tanker tradition dates back to WWI when the first combat cars and tanks took to the battlefield with tank crews leading the way into mechanized warfare.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: Poster by J.P. Wharton, Public Domain

 Today, US crews continue the tradition, carrying armored combat into the future.

The VA can’t track how much time employees spend on union business
Photo: US Army Sgt. Aaron Braddy

Articles

Top 5 combat diseases that would kill you in the Crusades

The Crusades was the name given to the waves of European knights and peasants who tried to conquer, keep and reconquer the holy city of Jerusalem and the Middle-East between the 11th and the 13th centuries. Although it has been romanticized and turned into a time of heroic deeds through various works of fiction, the reality was much less glamorous than modern depictions.

The Crusades were used as an excuse for violence, cruelty and massacres beyond imagination. Cities were sacked and burnt to the ground, people were tortured and slaughtered for sport or for wearing the wrong symbol around their neck by both sides. Although the death toll is in discussion among historians, some specialists estimate it around 9 million people. Battle was not the only cause of death: thirst, starvation and diseases ravaged the ranks of the Crusaders as surely as combat. As a knight, riding toward the defense of Christendom, these were the diseases that would kill you in the Crusades.

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Wikimedia Commons

Leprosy

Leprosy is a slow and ugly disease that causes deformities, sores and much suffering, before eventually leading to death. In the 12th century, an epidemic of leprosy ravaged Europe and followed the Crusaders in the Holy Land. It was the downfall of Baldwin IV, the “Leper King,” who ruled over the kingdom of Jerusalem from 1174 until 1185. The disease was believed by many to be a punishment of God; cast upon entire families, thus causing lepers to be isolated and ostracized. They were seen as morally corrupt and were forced to wear identifying clothing ‘R’ and to carry a bell announcing their approach.

Dysentery

Dysentery is a potentially fatal, parasite-induce diarrhea. Probably not the best way to die for a noble knight in quest of glory in the Holy Land. Yet, it proved the undoing of King John, younger brother of Richard the Lionheart, and it affected Saint Louis so badly that he had the bottom of his breeches cut off so he wouldn’t have to constantly pull them up and down. It was originally believed that dysentery killed Saint Louis, but it was later proven that scurvy got him first. Dysentery was often contracted from water contaminated by human wastes. With poor hygiene measures and the rarity of water leading soldiers to make unsafe compromises of the quality of their beverage, dysentery was frightfully common during the Crusades.

Scurvy

Malnutrition was an all-too-common issue in medieval times, and even more so during the Crusades. Due to the aridity of the Middle-East, food sources were jealously protected and not widely available. During marches, soldiers only had access to meager rations and often went hungry. During sieges, food was even more scarce. Even when encamped, they lacked some important variety in their diet. Meat was believed to be the only important source of energy, neglecting fruits and vegetables, which are the main source of vitamin C. Scurvy, a consequence of extreme vitamin C deficiency, killed a sixth of the French army during the Fifth Crusade and even took Saint Louis, king of France, during the Seventh Crusade. It would cause gums to swell, teeth to fall off, feet to hurt violently, and bones to rot. For most soldiers suffering from the scurvy, death was a welcomed mercy.

STDs

Sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, ran rampant in those times. Hygiene was less than basic and protection such as condoms did not exist. Knowledge regarding the cause and the cure for these diseases was also uncommon or non-existent. The prostitutes accompanying the armies were rarely in perfect health and served a great number of clients. Thus allowing a single strain of a particular disease to infect a great number of soldiers. Moreover, mass sexual assault during the conquest of a city was not only common practice, it also was used as a weapon of war. The conquerors then caught whatever bacteria and viruses infected the local population and brought them back to their own side.

Common infections

Medicine was almost barbaric in this era. The knowledge was vague and sparse, particularly regarding bacteria and viruses. When it was necessary to perform an amputation, usually done by a butcher or a barber. Alcohol was the only form of anesthesia given to the patient. The instruments were not sterilized, leading to a very high probability of fatal infection. Hygiene principles were primitive at best. The smallest cut or injury a potential nest for bacteria that could easily lead to death.

Other diseases, such as smallpox, lice-borne trench fever and tuberculosis, also deserve a mention on the list of common cause of death during the Crusades. Under the guise of good intentions, the Crusades brought about a time of incredible violence, repression, and intolerance. They lead both to the decline of the Muslim world and that of the Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, a Christian nation that was not spared from greed and war crimes. In the end, many people died from diseases. It was not a great time to be alive.

Featured image: Mahdian Crusade 1390: The Crusade-fleet with her leader, the Duke of Bourbon, and the Oriflamme. (British Library, Harley 4379 f. 60v)

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US military helicopter crashes off southern coast of Yemen

A US military Black Hawk helicopter crashed off the southern coast of Yemen while training its crew, leaving one service member missing, officials said.


Five others aboard the aircraft were rescued, officials said in a statement issued by US Central Command.

The crash took place on August 25. Officials said the accident was under investigation.

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Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Company C, 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment. Photo from DoD.

Asked if the crash involved another special forces raid, Central Command told The Associated Press that “this was a routine training event specifically for US military personnel.”

“Training events such as this are routinely held by US forces within a theater of operations in order to maintain their proficiency within the operating environment,” CENTCOM told the AP in a statement.

“Commanders deemed this location appropriate and safe for a routine training event, considering both the operational environment and weather conditions at the time.”

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A Missouri Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter (left) sits next to an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter on the flightline. USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Michaela R. Slanchik.

Yemen is located on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula.

The United States has been carrying out airstrikes against al-Qaeda in Yemen, with at least 80 launched since the end of February.

A small number of ground raids using US Special Operations forces have also taken place, including one in January which resulted in the death of a US Navy Seal.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Nobody knows where mysterious drone swarms are coming from

Something strange has been happening in Eastern Colorado at night.

Since the week of Christmas, giant drones measuring up to six feet across have been spotted in the sky at night, sometimes in swarms as large as 30. The Denver Post first reported these mysterious drone sightings in Northeast Colorado on Dec. 23, 2019. Since then, sightings have spanned six counties across Colorado and Nebraska.

Phillips County Sheriff Thomas Elliot had no answer for where the drones come from or who they belong to, but he has a rough grasp on their flying habits. “They’ve been doing a grid search, a grid pattern,” he told the Denver Post. “They fly one square and then they fly another square.”


The drones, estimated to have six-foot wingspans, have been flying over Phillips and Yuma counties every night for about the last week, Elliott said. Each night, at least 17 drones appear at around 7:00 pm and disappear at around 10:00 pm, staying 200-300 feet in the air.

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(Sorasak)

The Federal Aviation Agency told the Post it had no idea where the drones came from. Spokespeople for the Air Force, Drug Enforcement Administration, and US Army Forces Command all said that the drones did not belong to their organizations.

As the airspace in which the drones are flying is relatively ungoverned, there are no regulations requiring the drone operators to identify themselves. However, Elliott said that the drones do not appear to be malicious.

The Post spoke to commercial photographer and drone pilot Vic Moss, who said that the drones appear to be searching or mapping out the area. Moss said that drones often fly at night for crop examination purposes. It’s also possible that the drones belong to one of several drone companies based in Colorado, which may be testing out new technologies.

In the meantime, Moss urges residents not to shoot down the drones as they are highly flammable.

“It becomes a self-generating fire that burns until it burns itself out,” he told the Post. “If you shoot a drone down over your house and it lands on your house, you might not have a house in 45 minutes.”

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

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This could be the Air Force’s next jet trainer (and aggressor aircraft too)

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Lockheed Martin


The Northrop T-38 Talon is one of the oldest aircraft still serving in the United States Air Force, functioning as an advanced jet trainer for future fighter pilots who’ll eventually make their way to the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15 Eagle, or F-22 Raptor. The Talon gives trainee pilots a feel for what it’s like to fly and fight in a supersonic aircraft that can mimic the handling characteristics of current 4th generation fighters to a fair degree. But with the impending advent of the Air Force’s brand new F-35A Lightning II, and the upcoming F-X Next Generation Tactical Air fighter, which will supersede the F-22 and F-15, it’s time for a new lead-in trainer. One that’s better suited to adapting future fighter pilots to the ultra-modern cockpits of the next level of fighter aviation.

Well, that, and the Talon is just plain old. Having taken to the skies for the first time in early 1959, and with full-rate production ceasing in 1972, the T-38 is due to be retired and replaced in the coming years with an aircraft that’ll be able to serve the needs of the Air Force going into 2020 and beyond. Though the formal program to replace the aging T-38 hasn’t yet started, Lockheed Martin has already taken the initiative to showcase its proposal for a prospective T-X trainer.

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Lockheed Martin

Working closely with Korea Aerospace Industries to redevelop their FA-50 Golden Eagle (which Lockheed Martin helped fund back in the 1990s), they came up with the T-50A. The Golden Eagle was actually built from the ground up as a supersonic light fighter, similar to the T-38’s fighter variant, the F-5 Freedom Fighter/Tiger II. Modifications that’ll meet T-X specifications include a new dorsal refueling receptacle, designed to mate with the typical boom/probe setup used by Air Force fighters, and a state-of-the-art glass cockpit similar to the one found in the F-35 Lightning II, featuring a large area display (LAD). The T-50A will also be equipped with the FA-50’s integrated EW (electronic warfare) suite, but will likely lack the 20mm .

The aircraft that eventually wins the T-X contract could also very well be used for the Air Force’s unique F-22 Raptor air combat training program as adversary “Red Air” fighters.

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Korea Airspace Industries

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

Don’t ask permission, ask forgiveness: The USMC pilot who “borrowed” a helo to end a sniper situation has died

Lt. General Charles “Chuck” Pitman passed away this past Thursday at age 84. His career spanned over 40 years, including three combat tours in Vietnam. He also was involved in Operation Eagle Claw, the attempted rescue of the American hostages in Tehran in 1980. He commanded an Air Wing and was the Deputy Chief of Staff for Marine Corps Aviation. He earned the Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. But for all his achievements in uniform, Pitman is better known for ignoring military protocol and breaking a bunch of regulations so he could save lives.

Don’t ask permission, ask forgiveness.


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That was the thought process of then, Lieutenant Colonel Pitman. On Jan. 7, 1973, Pitman was the commander of the Marine Air Reserve Training in Louisiana. Pitman had turned on the television to see a horrible scene unfolding. A gunman had taken position on top of a hotel and was shooting and killing police officers. The sniper had a full view of all on comers, and any attempt to enter the hotel was met with murderous gunfire.

Pitman didn’t even think twice about asking permission to help. He grabbed another pilot and two crew members and jumped in a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter and headed toward New Orleans.

The incident Pitman was flying into actually started several days earlier on New Year’s Eve. Mark Essex was a Navy vet who had been kicked out due to behavior issues. He had ended up in New Orleans, where he fell in with radical groups. One of those groups was the Black Panthers. Essex had grown angrier over time with what he perceived to be injustices he faced in the Navy and now as a civilian. After learning of a civil rights protest in which two students from Southern University were killed by police, Essex lost it.

He went to New Orleans police headquarters, where he shot and killed an African American cadet; shooting him from behind. He then fled and tried to break into a warehouse. When police arrived, unaware that he was linked to the shooting at HQ, Essex ambushed them, mortally wounding one. By the time backup arrived, he had vanished into the night.

On Jan. 7, Essex reappeared, and entered a Howard Johnson hotel in downtown New Orleans. As he made his way to the roof, he murdered a newlywed couple and the hotel’s manager and assistant manager. He then set fires in several rooms and made his way to the roof.

Essex had set an ambush. The shooting and fires would draw first responders to the scene. Then he would carry out his horrible plan to kill more cops.

As the police and firefighters arrived, they attempted to enter the hotel. Essex killed three police officers and wounded several more. He was able to pin down anyone that attempted to move toward the hotel and was completely concealed from return fire by concrete barriers on the roof.

By this time, the TV cameras had shown up. Broadcasting over the airwaves, they told viewers of the horrible situation unfolding in downtown New Orleans.

One of the viewers was Lt. Colonel Pitman.

Pitman flew the CH-46 toward the hotel without any idea what he was actually going to do. He just knew he had to do something. When he arrived on site, Pitman located an empty parking lot next to the hotel. He landed, headed to the command center, and quickly became apprised of the situation. The cops on the scene sought his advice, and his years of service in Vietnam kicked in. Essex had the high ground, so Pittman would go higher.

He put several New Orleans police officers on the helicopter and took off. He started flying passes over the roof of the hotel, slowing down and turning so that the police could get a good shot. They could not. Essex would take shots at the aircraft from afar but would take cover the minute they closed in. Pitman noticed this and kept making passes to lure Essex into thinking this was his routine. Finally, after one pass, he turned immediately around and caught Essex in the open. The police in the helicopter unloaded on the sniper.

When all was said and done, Essex was found with over 200 rounds in his body.

Pitman was lauded as a hero by the police and citizens of New Orleans and just about everybody…except the United States Marine Corps.

It turns out that Pitman (kind of… sort of) violated a few rules and regulations when he took the helicopter. He wasn’t allowed to use military personnel or aircraft for anything other than a rescue mission (like evacuating flood victims).

You would think that the Marine Corps would look at the badassery that Pitman just pulled off and call it a public relations coup. But, they didn’t (of course) and started the process of a court-martial.

It was only due to the intervention of Democratic Congressman and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Edward Herbert that the issue was dropped.

Pitman would continue his amazing career, retiring in 1990 as a Lt. General.

Lt. General Pitman, rest easy, and Semper Fidelis.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Purple Heart recipients will move to the head of VA lines

Purple Heart recipients will soon take priority in the queue for Department of Veterans Affairs claims adjudication, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced Feb. 26, 2019.

In a hearing before the House Appropriations Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee, Wilkie said veterans who have earned the Purple Heart will be placed “at the front of the line when it comes to claims before the department.”


According to Wilkie, the change is in “recognition of wounds taken in battle.”

He didn’t provide details on how the change will be implemented but said it is among the many improvements the department is making as part of the claims and appeals modernization effort.

The VA launched a new process for handling compensation claims appeals Feb. 19, 2019, with a goal of reducing the wait time for a final decision from three to seven years to roughly four months.

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VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

The new process, created under the Appeals Modernization Act, gives veterans three choices for appealing their claim, including providing new evidence to the original reviewer; having a more senior adjudicator review the decision; and appealing to the Board of Veterans Appeals.

Wilkie described the change as part of a 21st-century transformation at the department.

The VA appeals backlog, which will be handled by the legacy system of appealing decisions to the board, stands at roughly 402,000 cases.

The new system will not only be used for disability compensation claims decisions, it will tackle decisions on education and insurance applications, vocational rehabilitation, caregiver benefits and claims with the National Cemetery Administration, according to the VA.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

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