The VA might actually be getting its act together - We Are The Mighty
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The VA might actually be getting its act together

Trying to emerge from scandals that shook the agency to its core, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting to overhaul what officials admit was sometimes pretty bad customer service.


Quietly, since 2015, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs has built a national Veterans Experience Office.

The office’s first steps have been rolling out over 100 community veterans committees nationwide and retraining employees to be less rigid and more customer-focused.

The VA even hired professional writers to redraft the language of 1,200 official letter templates to make them more reader friendly.

“(We) had somehow gotten away from the primary mission of organizing the enterprise through the eyes of the customer,” said Joy White, who leads the office’s Pacific district, which includes California and the West Coast.

“(We did) things that made sense to us, made it easy for us as the VA,” White said. “But, in all of that, we lost the voice of the customer.”

The task at hand: How to change the culture of a massive federal agency that provides everything from medical care to monthly disability checks to funerals.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Or her widow, Mr. President. Or her widow. (Photo: Veterans Affairs)

Some might wonder if — with what’s a famously dense bureaucracy — it can be done. Even new VA Secretary David Shulkin has said it’s a struggle to fire bad apples, including employees who watch porn on the job.

The new Veterans Experience Office’s budget this fiscal year is $55.4 million, up from $49 million last year, “to lead the My VA transformation,” according to a budget document. About 150 jobs now fall under this office’s umbrella.

Two years in, the nation’s veterans organizations are still taking a wait-and-see position.

“We’re not sure how much the VEO has improved the VA to date, but we are encouraged by this initiative and hope to see it succeed,” said Joe Plenzler, American Legion spokesman. “Any effort to improve dialogue between veterans and VA employees and administrators is time and money well spent.”

One vocal critic of the VA said the office has potential but not if it tries to just “paper over” structural issues facing the veterans agency.

“Doing things that are more feel-good measures, but actually don’t address some of the core problems of the VA, could distract from what’s needed to be done,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director at Concerned Veterans for America.

“That’s the danger I see, potentially, with this office. But I want to say there’s a lot of opportunity here. If this office is managed well and insists that they are here to improve the outcomes for veterans — and not just ‘the experience’ — they could be successful.”

Also read: The VA is set to lower copays for prescriptions

The “veterans experience” campaign started under former VA Secretary Bob McDonald, the retired Proctor Gamble chief executive brought in by President Barack Obama in mid-2014 following a national scandal over wait times for VA medical care.

McDonald installed a “chief veterans experience officer” in early 2015.

The office reports directly to the VA secretary — now Shulkin, a doctor and health-care executive who is the first non-veteran to lead the agency.

Whether he will continue the “experience” campaign is an open question.

However, in April he named Lynda Davis, a former Army officer and Pentagon civilian executive with experience in personnel and suicide prevention, to head the office. She replaces a former McDonald’s executive, Tom Allin, who held the job for about two years.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Talihina Veterans Center (Oklahona Department of Veterans Affairs)

Some of the hiring was for “human-centered design” teams. These teams, which include people from Stanford’s prestigious D School, are supposed to re-engineer VA routines that aren’t working.

They produced a “journey map” showing what VA patients experience.

It identifies “pain points” along the way, such as cancelled appointments. It also calls out “moments that matter,” such as the check-in process and whether it’s hard or easy to park.

Two early goals were to establish one consumer-oriented website and one toll-free telephone number for all VA divisions. The result was vets.gov and 1 (844) My-VA311.

The VA is now looking for inspiration from national brands famous for good service. Starbucks, Marriott, and Walgreens are on the list.

“We get the experience that we design. Historically, we haven’t put an emphasis as an organization on customer service. There was no program of record that said ‘this how we do customer service,'” White told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“You walk into a Starbucks anywhere in the country, there is something that looks and feels very familiar wherever you go.”

Also read: Starbucks donated free coffee to every US service member in Afghanistan

One change the Veterans Experience Office has led: hiring for customer-service skills, instead of just looking for people qualified for a position.

“We weren’t hiring for attitude,” said White, who said her office identified questions to insert in the VA’s interview process to draw out whether an applicant had customer service aptitude.

In a changing health-care industry, this is a bandwagon that the VA is belatedly jumping on.

Other hospital organizations have rebooted their customer experience in the past decade in response to a shift in Medicare reimbursement policy that now rewards for patient satisfaction, experts said. The power of social media is also a factor.

The Cleveland Clinic was the first major academic medical center to appoint a chief experience officer in 2007. Across the country, hospitals have built grand entrances, opened restaurants intended to draw non-patients and put flowers by bedsides.

“My sense of it is that we live in the age of the empowered consumer,” said John Romley, an economist at the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer center for health policy.

“VA customers maybe have less choice in the matter, but at the same time, there’s a great deal of sensitivity in the broader population about how we treat these people in the VA system.”

The VA’s new customer service motto — Own the Moment — sounds a bit like a commercial TV jingle.

Training is rolling out across the country, including at the La Jolla VA hospital.

The premise: Each VA employee should “own” their time with a customer, the veteran, and do their best to ensure the person gets the help he or she needs.

That contrasts to the like-it-or-lump-it experience that veterans have sometimes complained about in the past.

“We’re moving away from a rules-based organization to a more of what we call a values, principle-based organization,” said Allan Castellanos, the VA employee teaching the La Jolla seminar.

“I call it more like integrated ethics, like doing the right thing for the right reason,” he said.

The employees were shown a video of VA workers going the extra mile to welcome an uncertain new veteran into a clinic.

In another, VA workers allowed the family of a dying veteran to bring his horse onto hospital grounds.

The VA is trying to emerge from bunker mentality after back-to-back national embarrassments.

First, in 2013, the backlog of disability claims rose to mountainous proportions, bringing down the wrath of Congress and the public.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
We just wanna see more vets smiling. (Photo: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

Then, in 2014, news reports revealed that VA medical workers were keeping secret lists of patients waiting for appointments to make wait-time data appear satisfactory.

All of this occurred as the VA struggled to handle a flood of new veterans coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

A few of the ideas being pursued by the Veterans Experience Office have origins in San Diego.

Officials acknowledge that what they are calling Community Veterans Experience Boards — the 152 community boards they eventually want to create nationally — came from San Diego’s longstanding example.

San Diego veterans leaders meet monthly with VA officials here in both closed-door and public sessions.

Additionally, the tragic suicide of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jeremy Sears appears to have helped spur a campaign to redraft VA correspondence to make it more user friendly.

Sears shot himself at an Oceanside gun range in 2014 after being rejected for VA disability benefits despite the cumulative effects of several combat tours.

Veterans advocates suggested that the VA rejection letter could have offered advice on where to go for counseling and other assistance, instead of just a “no.”

“That was one of the ‘pain points’ that was identified,” White said, referring to the veteran’s “journey mapping” that her office did. “There was a lot of legalese, when in fact we just want it to be simple and clean.”

They started with the Veterans Benefit Administration’s correspondence and are working their way toward the Veterans Health Administration’s appointment cards.

Veterans Experience Office officials first told the Union-Tribune that they could provide examples of the rewritten letter formats, but later said they weren’t ready yet.

The Veterans Experience Office, headquartered in Washington, now has split the country into five districts and dispatched “relationship managers” to each.

The Veterans Experience Office is now trying to finesse those moments that matter to veterans. In 2017, officials expect to roll out a veterans real-time feedback tool in 10 locations. They also plan to release a patient experience “program of record.”

“Our goal is to build trust with veterans, their family members, and survivors,” White said. “How do we do that? By bringing their voices to everything we do.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia condemns British plan for new military bases

Moscow has condemned Britain’s plans to build new military bases in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean, saying Russia is prepared to take retaliatory measures if its own interests or those of its allies are threatened.

British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson told the Sunday Telegraph in December 2018 that Britain could establish the new military bases “within the next couple of years” after the country leaves the European Union.


Williamson said the expansion would be part of a strategy for Britain to become a “true global player” after Brexit.

He did not specify where the bases might be built. But the newspaper reported that options included Singapore or Brunei near the South China Sea and Montserrat or Guyana in the Caribbean.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson.

Speaking on Jan. 11, 2019, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswomen Maria Zakharova said Williamson’s comments were baffling and warned that such plans could destabilize world affairs.

“Of course, Britain like any other country is independent when it comes to its military construction plans. But against the backdrop of overall rising military and political tensions in the world…statements about the desire to build up its military presence in third countries are counterproductive, destabilizing, and possibly of a provocational nature,” she was quoted as saying by TASS.

Russia has military bases in several former Soviet countries. It also operates military facilities in Syria and Vietnam.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Watch: Navy filmmaker’s ‘Top Gun’ inspired mini-documentary

When Matthew Callahan was first introduced to the movie Top Gun at 2 years old, the film became an instant favorite.

So when the award-winning video producer for the Navy’s All Hands Magazine was tasked with producing a series of videos for Naval Air Station Oceana’s Virtual Air Show last month, Callahan drew inspiration from director Tony Scott’s Cold War classic.

Top Gun was my first true love of cinema,” Callahan told Coffee or Die Magazine. “It’s a movie of its time — the late ’80s, when they were just overdoing everything — but the way it’s filmed is beautiful. I’ll never forget that opening scene with footage at sunrise or sunset on the ship. You don’t often see military personnel and equipment framed that way, where it’s kind of treated like a total spectacle, and I try and capture that same feeling with a lot of my stuff because it cuts through a lot of noise.”


Callahan was part of a three-man production team including All Hands video producer Jimmy Shea and Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Jorge. Together, they spent five days producing eight videos for NAS Oceana’s virtual air show. Trying to convey the excitement and spectacle of an air show with a series of short videos is no easy task, but Callahan and his team worked hard to translate their own passion for viewers.

“We produced eight or nine video products in five days,” Callahan said. “The tempo was pretty nonstop. It was exhausting but also amazing.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fp-brLzwc1o
The Next Generation: VFA-106 Prepares F/A-18 Aircrew For Fleet

www.youtube.com

The standout production from the trip is a roughly three-minute video about NAS Oceana’s Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106. The Virginia Beach-based training squadron prepares freshly minted F-18 aircrews for fleet service.

Callahan said for that video he supplemented the team’s production from Virginia with footage provided by the Navy’s advertising agency.

“I asked for cool, sexy carrier footage, and the ad agency really delivered,” Callahan said. “It seems like Top Gun really set a kind of visual precedent for filming jets on an aircraft carrier, and I wanted to produce something fast but serious in a brass-tacks kind of way.”

Callahan said that while he realizes most of his audience engages with his productions online or on mobile devices, he still tries to include some audio and visual treats for true cinephiles who might watch on a larger TV screen or with noise-canceling headphones.

“I’m always editing and creating soundscapes for that one person who might wanna watch these stories on a big display with a good sound system,” he said. “It’s almost never the case, with most folks engaging on mobile, but there’s always gonna be someone who does. I hope that there’s a payoff for those few who chose to watch that way.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

See these Afghan Black Hawks fly their first mission

The Afghan Air Force has been making major changes in its inventory lately. Once a user of primarily Russian aircraft, the Afghans are switching to American systems — and they’re buying a lot of them.

At present, the Afghan National Air Force is operating four Mi-25 Hind attack helicopters, 40 Mi-8/Mi-17 Hip transport helicopters, 12 A-29 Super Tucanos, 10 UH-1H Iroquois utility helicopters, 24 MD530 attack helicopters, and four UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters. This is already a varied force, with more on the way.


The VA might actually be getting its act together

An Afghan Air Force member inspects a UH-60 Black Hawk as air crews prepare for their first Afghan-led operational mission on this aircraft.

(U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Erin Recanzone)

The Afghan Air Force has 154 MD530s on order along with 155 UH-60As. This gives them a lot of rotary-wing capability for taking on the Taliban and is a level of force the country hasn’t seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. What few planes and helicopters remained flyable after Soviet support evaporated with the end of the Cold War were taken out by the United States of America. Rebuilding that lost capability has been a long process.

The UH-60A, the baseline version of the highly versatile H-60 airframe, has a crew of three and can haul 11 troops or up to 8,000 pounds of cargo. It entered service in 1979 and has been used internationally ever since. By comparison, the Mi-8/Mi-17 entered service in 1967, has a crew of three, and can hold 26 passengers or up to 8,800 pounds of cargo.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

A graduate from UH-60 Mission Qualification Training proudly holds his certificate of training at a graduation ceremony the day before the Afghan Air Force launched its first operational mission with the UH-60A Blckhawk.

(U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Erin Recanzone)

One step on that long road to restoring a national force was recently taken when three Afghan Air Force UH-60s took part in a mission to support provincial elections in Afghanistan. The mission took place the day after Mission Qualification Training for the Afghan personnel.

The United States has been fighting the Taliban for almost 17 years, but this mission is a clear sign that the Afghan government is starting to bring more power to the fight.

Watch the Afghan Black Hawks leave for their first mission in the video below.

Articles

The Coast Guard is using this drone to nab drug smugglers

ABOARD THE COAST GUARD CUTTER STRATTON, in the eastern Pacific Ocean — The drone is loaded onto a catapult on the flight deck. From a control room, a technician revs the motor until the go-ahead is given to press the red button. Then the ScanEagle lifts off with a whoosh and, true to its lofty name, soars majestically over the wide blue sea.


The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Stratton is steaming more than 500 miles south of the Guatemala-El Salvador border, along the biggest narcotics smuggling corridor in the world.

Its mission: intercept vessels hauling cocaine bound for America’s cities.

It is a monumental task that has grown even larger in the past few years because of a boom in coca production in Colombia. But the Coast Guard is bringing more intelligence and technology to bear.

Deep within the 418-foot Stratton, which is based in Alameda, California, specialists crunch data from radar, infrared video, helicopter sorties and now the Boeing-made ScanEagle, which was deployed aboard the Coast Guard cutter for the first time during this three-month mission.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
PACIFIC OCEAN — Petty Officer 3rd Class John Cartwright, a Coast Guard Cutter Stratton crewmember, releases the Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft Scan Eagle during a demonstration approximately 150 miles off the Pacific Coast, Aug. 12, 2012. The Scan Eagle is being tested for capabilities that will create a reliable reconnaissance system for all 11 Coast Guard missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Clayton.

“In the earlier days, when you wouldn’t see or catch anything, we used to pat ourselves on our back and say we must’ve deterred them,” said Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, with more than four decades at sea. “Now rarely 72 hours go by when you don’t have an event or we send a ship down there that doesn’t come back with multiple interdictions.”

The Associated Press spent two weeks in February and March aboard the Stratton, the most advanced ship in the Coast Guard fleet, as 100-plus crew members patrolled the eastern Pacific, through which about 70 percent of the cocaine consumed in the U.S. passes.

With three to five Coast Guard cutters covering 6 million square miles — from the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to the eastern Pacific Ocean — it’s like having a few police cars watch over the entire lower 48 states.

Just after lunch on the second day of deployment, the Stratton’s PA system starts piping out acronyms. A TOI, or target of interest, has been detected by the ScanEagle with the support of aircraft radar, and a go-fast boat slides down a rear ramp into the blue waters to begin the chase.

In just a few minutes it catches up with a fishing boat, called a panga, with two outboard motors.

Sometimes smugglers frantically dump their cargo over the side or try to make a run for it, forcing their pursuers to fire warning shots or shoot out their engines. But this time, the boat’s crewmen, some of them barefoot, offer no resistance.

The four suspected smugglers sit handcuffed as a Coast Guardsman takes out some vials to conduct a chemical test. The results come back positive for cocaine, and the two Colombians and two Ecuadoreans are put aboard the cutter.

Hidden in the bales of cocaine is a GPS tracking device in a condom, a sure sign the drug bosses behind the shipment knew right away it didn’t reach its destination.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
PACIFIC OCEAN — The Unmanned Aerial Surveillance aircraft Scan Eagle watches the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton from afar during a demonstration approximately 150 miles off the Pacific Coast, Aug. 12, 2012. The Scan Eagle is being tested for capabilities that will create a reliable reconnaissance system for all 11 Coast Guard missions. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

At sunset, the Stratton’s crew proudly poses for a picture with the haul while a black plume rises above the sea where the boat was set ablaze by the Coast Guard. A few hours later, the Stratton fires its cannon and sinks the vessel.

The next morning the ever-rising Narcometer in the on-board newsletter reflects the size of the bust: 700 kilograms (over 1,500 pounds) of pure cocaine with a wholesale value of $21 million. On the streets in the U.S., it could be worth more than five times that.

The Stratton’s biggest bust — a Coast Guard record — came in 2015, when it found more than 16,000 pounds of cocaine worth $225 million before the smuggling craft, a hard-to-detect semi-submersible vessel, sank with some of its cargo still aboard.

As good as the Coast Guard gets, its victories seem doomed to be short-lived. That’s because hundreds of miles to the south, in the jungles of Colombia, there’s a bumper harvest taking place. And Colombia is virtually the only source of cocaine smuggled by sea in small vessels.

That, along with better technology, may help explain why the Coast Guard has been coming back with ever-larger hauls. It set a record in 2016, seizing more than 240 tons of cocaine with a wholesale value of $5.9 billion and arresting 585 smugglers.

Last year, the amount of land devoted to coca cultivation in Colombia climbed 18 percent to an estimated 188,000 hectares (465,000 acres), according to a White House report. That is more coca production than at any time since the U.S. in 1999 began investing billions in an anti-narcotics strategy known as Plan Colombia.

“What we know here out at sea is that the business has been really good in the last couple of years,” said Capt. Nathan Moore, the Stratton’s skipper.

The surge is being driven in part by Colombia’s decision in 2015 to suspend aerial spraying of crop-destroying herbicides because of health concerns.

At the same time, there was a rush among peasant farmers to start growing coca so they could take advantage of generous payments to switch to legal crops being offered as part of a peace deal between the government and Colombia’s rebels.

Thus far, 55,000 families have signed pledges to rip up 48,000 hectares of coca in exchange for as much as $12,000 over two years. The government is also expanding manual eradication of coca, a slower and far more dangerous task, with the goal of destroying 50,000 hectares this year alone.

But many experts are skeptical that poor farmers will renounce coca growing, especially as criminal gangs fill the void left by the retreating rebels. Also, a successful drug run can net each smuggler a small fortune that makes it well worth the risk of a long prison sentence for many.

Such dynamics help explain why, despite the Coast Guard’s technological superiority, four drug-running boats are thought to get through for every one caught, Zukunft said.

Those taken into custody for smuggling are put in white hazmat suits, given health exams and then led into a converted helicopter hangar aboard the Stratton, where they are shackled to the floor and issued a wool blanket, toiletries and a cot or a foam mat. Eventually they are flown to the U.S. and prosecuted at American expense.

The alternative would be to seek prosecution in Central American countries such as Honduras, where the vast majority of crimes go unpunished.

More than a dozen nations in Central and South America have essentially outsourced their drug-interdiction efforts to the U.S.

“Imagine you’re out at Ocean City, Maryland, and then out of nowhere comes this foreign helicopter and it starts peppering a U.S. recreational boat with automatic machine gun fire and sniper fire. We would say it’s an act of war,” Zukunft said.

“But that’s the faith and confidence these countries have in the U.S. and our Coast Guard.”

Articles

15 clichés every military recruit from Texas hears in basic training

Being from Texas bring a certain set of expectations. Some are good, some are funny, and some are just ridiculous.


There are many, but here are 15 clichés every recruit hears at boot camp:

1. “Only steers and queers come from Texas private cowboy, and you don’t much look like a steer to me so that kinda narrows it down” – Sergeant Hartman, “Full Metal Jacket” (1987)

You know how it goes. You get to a new unit and the first thing someone asks is what’s your name and where you’re from. You say, “my name is ____” followed by, “I’m from Texas.” The first thing you get is the Gunny Hartman quote about steers and queers. It doesn’t get more original than that (note my sarcasm).

2. The drill instructor calls you “Lone Star” to single you out.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: Cpl. Caitlin Brink/USMC

What the hell are you doing Lone Star? Why are you out of formation!? This one is worth owning.

3. Everyone calls you “Tex” instead of your name. This usually happens for the first two weeks of boot camp while everyone is still learning names.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: YouTube Screen Grab

“There was Dallas, from Phoenix; Cleveland – he was from Detroit; and Tex… well, I don’t remember where Tex come from.” – Forrest Gump, “Forrest Gump” (1994)

4. Everyone assumes you have a horse back home.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: Reddit

Nope. Too expensive.

5. Everyone from Texas goes hunting.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: @outdoorhunters/instagram

Not really. But we do have a friend that does who’d let us tag along with if we wanted to.

6. The other recruits assume you know your way around a rifle because everyone in Texas has a gun.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

… because Texas has that open carry law.

7. You eat BBQ for every meal.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: @jdslaugh/instagram

We f–king love BBQ! And, we don’t settle for that nonsense other states call BBQ. Your choice of meat with pepper and salt over misquite is all you need.

8. All Texans are stupid.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: mike_who/instagram

They’re just mistaking our Texan drawl for being slow.

9. You grew up on a ranch.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: @jmd.x/instagram

Where do you think we do all our BBQing, shooting, and hunting? Actually, no. Cities like San Antonio, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Houston are among the largest in the country. There’s no room for a ranch in the asphalt jungle.

10. You must have an oil well in your backyard.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: @asoto217/instagram

Who do you think we are, the Beverly Hillbillies?

11. You probably have a big truck.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: @lonestar_diesel

If we don’t have one, we really want one. Who doesn’t?

12. People from Texas are the definition of “Murica.”

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: evan_el_jefe/instagram

We’re very patriotic, which is why there’s always a handful of recruits from the great state in your unit.

13. Football is your religion.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: @katytexans_tyfa/instagram

Yes. We go to church every Friday (high school football), Saturday (college football), and Sunday (NFL football).

14. You have long horns over your fireplace or on your vehicle.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: @jon_jp/instagram

Nope. Not so much. It would go well with UT Longhorn gear though.

15. You’re from Texas, so therefore you’re a redneck. Nope, I’m a Texan.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: American Sniper/imdb

“Texans tend to ride horses whereas rednecks ride their cousins.” — Chris Kyle, “American Sniper” (2014)

Articles

Japan’s 5th gen. stealth prototype takes to the skies for the first time

The VA might actually be getting its act together
JASDF


The Mitsubishi X-2, Japan’s first foray into the world of 5th generation fighter aviation, took to the skies for its maiden flight just yesterday, lifting off with the traditional gear-down configuration from Nagoya Airfield, home of the Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation. Originally known as the ATD-X, the aircraft has been in development for over seven years, with no less than 220 domestic Japanese companies involved as program subcontractors. The flight lasted a total of 26 minutes, with the launch occurring at 0847 local time from Nagoya, and ending at 0913 local at Japan Air Self-Defense Force Gifu Airbase, escorted along the way by a Mitsubishi F-2 fighter.

The X-2 isn’t actually a fighter, however. Mitsubishi, and the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF), will instead use it as a technology demonstrator and a testbed to develop and mature concepts and hardware which they’ll eventually use on an indigenous 5th generation stealth fighter, presumably also built by Mitsubishi. The design of the aircraft is fairly similar to the broad architectural layout used on the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, but lacks the dark gray radar-absorbent coating the latter jets utilize to further diminish their radar cross section (RCS).

The X-2 actually only around 46 feet in length, in comparison to the F-35 which is 51 feet long, and the F-22 which is 62 feet long. It’ll fly, for the moment, with one pilot though there seems to be space for a second cockpit behind the primary. It includes thrust-vectored IHI XF5-1 turbofan engines which use three paddles (per engine), probably to afford it a three-dimensional vectoring ability unlike the F-22’s two-dimensional vectoring capabilities. Mitsubishi will also be testing a “Self Repairing Flight Control Capability”, which will allow the aircraft’s onboard computers to detect malfunctions or damage to flight control surfaces, and accordingly adjust the the aircraft to achieve stabilized flight, at least until the aircraft can return to base.

The ultimate goal of the X-2 program is to develop a fighter that can best anything China has to throw at it, including the country’s new J-31 and J-20 fighter aircraft, which are supposedly on the same playing field as other fifth generation fighters in development today. The X-2 actually has the F-22 Raptor to thank for its origin, as the program began when Japan’s attempts to buy the Raptor for the JASDF were shot down by the US government, with a formal prohibition on foreign sales of the F-22. Japan plans on procuring the F-35 Lightning II for the JASDF as well.

 

Articles

How China could potentially stop a US strike on North Korea — without starting World War III

After North Korea tested a salvo of ballistic missiles designed to defeat US and allied missile defenses in the Pacific, speculation has risen about a possible US decapitation strike on North Korea.


With the help of Stratfor‘s Sim Tack, Business Insider detailed how such a strike would likely play out, but in the interest of keeping the article focused, we omitted a major player — China.

Here’s how China would respond if the US were to attack the Hermit Kingdom.

China has interests in preserving the North Korean state, but not enough to start World War III over.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
DoD photo

China may not endorse North Korea’s nuclear threats towards the US, South Korea, and Japan, or its abysmal human rights practices, but Beijing does have a vested interest in preventing reunification on the Korean peninsula.

Related: China’s J-20 stealth fighter enters military service

Still, China’s proximity to North Korea means that the US would likely alert Chinese forces of an attack — whether they gave 30 minutes or 30 days notice, the Chinese response would likely be to preclude — not thwart — such an attack.

China sees a united Korea as a potential threat.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
U.S. Soldiers move a casualty toward a designated casualty collection point (CCP) with their Republic of Korea (ROK) Army Soldier counterparts during a platoon live fire training blank iteration on Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, near the DMZ, Republic of Korea. | U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock

“A united Korea is potentially very powerful, country right on China’s border,” with a functioning democracy, booming tech sector, and a Western bent, which represents “a problem they’d rather not deal with,” according to Tack.

The US has more than 25,000 troops permanently stationed in South Korea, but no US asset has crossed the 38th parallel in decades. China would like to keep it that way.

And without North Korea, China would find itself exposed.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
A Korean Ship sails in formation during Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2006, the world’s largest biennial maritime exercise. RIMPAC brings together military forces from Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rebecca J. Moat

For China, the North Korean state acts as a “physical buffer against US allies and forces,” said Tack.

If the US could base forces in North Korea, they’d be right on China’s border, and thereby better situated to contain China as it continues to rise as a world power.

Tack said that China would “definitely react to and try to prevent” US action that could lead to a reunified Korea, but the idea that Chinese ground forces would flood into North Korea and fight against the West is “not particularly likely at all.”

Overtly backing North Korea against the West would be political suicide for China.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Kim Jong-Un on the summit of Mt. Paektu. Photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 19, 2015

For China to come to the aide of the Kim regime — an international pariah with concentration camps and ambitions to nuke the US — just to protect a buffer state “would literally mean that China would engage in a third world war,” said Tack.

So while China would certainly try to mitigate the fall of North Korea, it’s extremely unlikely they’d do so with direct force against the West, like it did in the Korean War.

Any response from China would likely start with diplomacy.

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The test-fire of Pukguksong-2. This photo was released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on February 13. | KCNA/Handout

Currently, the US has an aircraft carrier, nuclear submarines, F-22s, and F-35s in the Pacific. Many of the US’s biggest guns shipped out to the Pacific for Foal Eagle, the annual military exercise between the US and South Korea.

But according to Tack, the real deliberations on North Korea’s fate aren’t going on between military planners, but between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Chinese diplomats he’ll be meeting with.

Even after decades of failed diplomacy, there’s still hope for a non-military solution.

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A North Korean propaganda poster depicting a missile firing at the United States. | Via Flickr.

“There’s still a lot of diplomatic means to use up before the US has no other options but to go with a military option,” said Tack. “But even if they decide the military option is going to be the way to go — it’s still going to be costly. It’s not something that you would take lightly.”

While no side in a potential conflict would resort to using force without exhausting all diplomatic avenues, each side has a plan to move first.

According to Tack, if China thought the US was going to move against North Korea, they’d try to use force to pressure Pyongyang to negotiate, lest they be forced to deal with the consequences of a Western-imposed order in what would eventually be a reunified Korea.

“China could bring forces into North Korea to act as a tripwire,” said Tack.

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Soldiers with the People’s Liberation Army at Shenyang training base in China, March 24, 2007. | 
DoD photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, U.S. Air Force.

“The overt presence of Chinese forces would dissuade the US from going into that territory because they would run the risk of inviting that larger conflict themselves.”

For the same reason that the US stations troops in South Korea, or Poland, China may look to put some of its forces on the line to stop the US from striking.

Related: Chinese troops are reportedly patrolling in Afghanistan

With Chinese soldiers in Pyongyang and around North Korea’s main nuclear infrastructure, the US would have to think long and hard about bombing these critical targets.

It’s pretty likely that China would try to force the “infallible” ruler’s hand.

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Even China, a country often indifferent to international opinion that has strict prohibitions on free speech internally, wouldn’t want to stand up and back the murderous Kim regime.

Chinese forces in North Korea would “be in a position to force a coup or force Kim’s hand” to disarm, said Tack.

“To make sure North Korea still exists and serves Chinese interests while it stops acting as a massive bullseye to the US,” he added.

That would be an ideal result for China, and would most certainly preclude a direct US strike.

But even if China does potentially save the day, it could still be perceived as the bad guy.

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President Donald J. Trump speaks with Sailors in the hangar bay aboard Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 1st Class Joshua Sheppard

Chinese leaders wants to avoid a strong, US-aligned Korea on its borders. They want to prevent a massive refugee outflow from a crushed North Korean state. And they want to defuse the Korean peninsula’s nuclear tensions — but in doing so, they’d expose an ugly truth.

US President Donald Trump has accused China of refusing to help with North Korea.

If China unilaterally denuclearized North Korea to head off a US strike, this would only vindicate that claim, and raise questions as to why China allowed North Korea to develop and export dangerous technologies and commit heinous human rights abuses.

So what happens in the end?

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Chinese and US sailors observe a gun exercise aboard the Chinese Navy frigate Hengshui during Rim of the Pacific 2016. (Photo: Chinese Navy Lt. Cmdr. Zeng Xingjian)

For China, it’s “not even about saving” the approximately 25 million living under a brutal dictatorship in North Korea, but rather maintaining its buffer state, according to Tack.

China would likely seek to install an alternative government to the Kim regime but one that still opposes the West and does not cooperate with the US.

According to Tack, China needs a North Korean state that says “we oppose Western interests and we own this plot of land.”

If China doesn’t exert its influence soon, it may be too late.

MIGHTY TRENDING

ISIS has lost 98 percent of its caliphate

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, has not had a good 2017. Having held an area the size of Ohio, the self-proclaimed “caliphate” now has only two percent of the territory it once had.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, the terrorist group has also seen a drastic reduction in terms of how many fighting personnel are on the field. At present, they are estimated to have roughly 1,000 fighters, down from a high of 45,000. As many as 70,000 jihadists have been killed.

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US-led Coalition successfully executes a large scale, multinational strike on a weapons facility. (DoD photo from Staff Sgt. Charles Rivezzo)

At least half of ISIS’s territorial losses have come since President Trump took office. Where the radical Islamic terrorist group’s caliphate once reached Mosul and Raqqa, it now has a small sliver of territory along the border of Iraq and Syria. Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the former head of U.S. Air Force intelligence, and the dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, believes these results could he been achieved much sooner.

“The rules of engagement under the Obama administration were onerous. I mean what are we doing having individual target determination being conducted in the White House,” he told FoxNews.com, adding that the process took “weeks and weeks” because of micromanagement.

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The before and after of an American F-22 air strike on a target in Syria.

ISIS is still encouraging terrorist attacks, and some followers around the world are carrying them out. The New York Post reported that one ISIS-inspired attack set to take place on Christmas Day in San Francisco was thwarted by law enforcement. An ISIS-inspired truck attack on Halloween killed eight people.

While ISIS has been largely defeated, an old adversary is making a comeback in Syria. Joshua Geltzer, a visiting law professor at Georgetown University, told FoxNews.com that al-Qaeda, the radical Islamic terrorist group that carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, has shifted its “center of gravity” to the war-torn country.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Sister of missing Fort Hood soldier seeks answers

With each passing hour, Mayra Guillen is consumed by one thought: Will Vanessa be found today?

“I don’t even know what’s keeping me going,” Mayra said. “Sometimes I don’t get hungry. I have my days when I feel like giving up, but then I think about it and I say, ‘What if I’m a step away? What if tomorrow’s the day?”’


Army Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, Mayra’s younger sister, has been missing since April 22 at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Guillen, 20, was last seen in the parking lot of her squadron headquarters, wearing a black T-shirt and purple “fitness-type” pants. Guillen is of Hispanic descent. She is 5 feet, 2 inches tall, weighs 126 pounds and has black hair and brown eyes.

The Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) is working with other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Safety. More than 150 people have been interviewed, and ground and air searches have been conducted, the CID said.

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Along with her barracks room key, ID card and wallet, Guillen’s car keys were discovered the day she disappeared in the armory room where she was working, the CID said.

“We are completely committed to finding Vanessa and aggressively going after every single piece of credible information and every lead in this investigation,” Chris Grey, CID chief of public affairs, said in a news release this week. “We will not stop until we find Vanessa.”

The CID is offering a reward up to ,000 in its search for Guillen, whose case has drawn the attention of, among others, actress Salma Hayek.

“We will maintain our resolve to locate Pfc. Vanessa Guillen and will continue our efforts until she is found,” Col. Ralph Overland, 3rd Calvary Regiment commander at Fort Hood, said in a separate news release.

A team of investigators at Fort Hood will look into allegations that Guillen was being sexually harassed, it was announced Thursday.

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Searches are ongoing for missing Soldier Pfc. Vanessa Guillén. Troopers from Thunder Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, receive a brief prior to going out on searches recently in the training area at Fort Hood, Texas. (Army courtesy photo.)

Guillen, the second-oldest of six children, was raised in Houston. As a child, she loved playing soccer and running. The medals from her races would hang in her room.

Vanessa and Mayra traded turns doing each other’s hair and makeup. Mayra was not surprised when Vanessa enlisted.

“She knew right away she wasn’t suited to work in an office or something in an environment where you have to sit down, just be still,” Mayra said. “She’s really active, so when she started looking up about joining the Army, she saw a future there. She wanted to represent the country, have some type of honor because you have to honor and respect our soldiers.”

Vanessa was taking online classes and planned to study kinesiology, the science of human movement.

Investigators said they do not believe that Guillen’s disappearance is related to the case of PV2 Gregory Morales, who had not been seen since last Aug. 19. Morales’ remains were found Friday in a field in Killeen. An autopsy is pending.

Anyone with information about Guillen is asked to go online at https://www.cid.army.mil/report-a-crime.html or contact Army CID Special Agents at 254-287-2722 or the Military Police Desk at 254-288-1170.

“It’s something that I still can’t accept,” Mayra said. “I still can’t believe this happened, and I’m having to deal with it. … I still honestly believe that she’s alive and she’s waiting to be found, and by the grace of God, it’s going to happen.”

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army created a new, safe vaccine for the Zika virus

Three Phase-1 human clinical trials evaluating an Army-developed Zika purified inactivated virus vaccine, known as a ZPIV, have shown it was safe and well-tolerated in healthy adults and induced a robust immune response. Initial findings from the trials were published early in December in the medical journal “The Lancet.”


Each of the three studies included in the paper was designed to address a unique question about background immunity, vaccine dose or vaccination schedule. A fourth trial with ZPIV is still underway in Puerto Rico, where the population has natural exposure to other viruses in the same family as Zika (flaviviruses), such as dengue.

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A team of U.S. Army researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are developing a Zika vaccine that has induced a strong immune response in early trials. (U.S. Army photo by Jonathan Thompson, WRAIR)

“It is imperative to develop a vaccine that prevents severe birth defects and other neurologic complications in babies caused by Zika virus infection during pregnancy,” said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, WRAIR’s Director for Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Zika program co-lead and the article’s lead author. “These results give us hope that a safe and effective vaccine will be achievable.”

Across the three trials, a total of 67 healthy adult volunteers (55 vaccine, 12 placebo) received two vaccine injections, four weeks apart. Researchers measured the immune response by monitoring levels of Zika virus-neutralizing antibodies in the blood. More than 90% of volunteers who received the vaccine developed an immune response against Zika.

Read More: Here’s what US troops should do if they’re worried about Zika

“Not only is the development of a Zika vaccine a global public health priority, but it is also necessary to protect Service Members and their families,” said Col. Nelson Michael, director of WRAIR’s Military HIV Research Program and Zika program co-lead.

The ZPIV vaccine candidate was developed as part of the U.S. Department of Defense response to the 2015 outbreak of Zika virus in the Americas. WRAIR researchers conceived the ZPIV vaccine in February 2016 and were able to advance the candidate to a Phase 1 human trial by November of the same year.

“WRAIR has previously steered to licensure a similar vaccine for Japanese encephalitis, a flavivirus in the same family as Zika, which helped speed our vaccine development effort,” said Dr. Leyi Lin, who led one of the trials at WRAIR.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
A team of U.S. Army researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are developing a Zika vaccine that has induced a strong immune response in early trials. (U.S. Army photo by Jonathan Thompson, WRAIR)

In the volunteers who received the vaccine, neutralizing antibody levels peaked two weeks after they completed the 2-dose vaccine series, and exceeded the threshold established in an earlier study needed to protect monkeys against a Zika virus challenge. Researchers also found that antibodies from vaccinated volunteers protected mice from a Zika virus challenge, providing insight into how this vaccine might prevent Zika infection.

Next steps include evaluating how long vaccine-induced immunity lasts, and the impact of dose, schedule and background immunity. Michael added that, “Army researchers are part of integrated, strategic US Government effort to develop a vaccine to protect against Zika.”

The ZPIV program is led by Col. Michael and Dr. Modjarrad. The principal investigators at each of the study sites were Dr. Leyi Lin at WRAIR, Dr. Sarah L. George at SLU and Dr. Kathryn E. Stephenson at BIDMC. The sponsor of the investigational new drug application for two of the studies (WRAIR and SLU) is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. The BIDMC study is investigator-sponsored by Dr. Kathryn Stephenson.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
A team of U.S. Army researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are developing a Zika vaccine that has induced a strong immune response in early trials. (U.S. Army photo by Jonathan Thompson, WRAIR)

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

Photos show what the US troops on the border are doing

A number of active-duty US troops, the first of thousands, have arrived at the US-Mexico border.

US military personnel deployed to the border ahead of the anticipated arrival of migrant caravans have started constructing bases of operations and running razor wire to prevent illegal crossings.

These photos show some of what troops are doing at the border:


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(U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Alexandra Minor)

Soldiers from the the 89th Military Police Brigade, and 41st Engineering Company, 19th Engineering Battalion, Fort Riley, Kansas, arrive in Harlingen, TX on Nov. 1, 2018.

The active-duty troops which have been or will be deployed to parts of Texas, Arizona, and California are among a group of more than 7,000 troops expected to be sent to the border in support of Operation Faithful Patriot.

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(U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Alexandra Minor)

Many of the engineering teams are expected to be involved in activities such as barrier construction and the hardening of key border facilities.

Active-duty military personnel are heading to the border to support the Customs and Border Protection mission.

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The troops deploying to the border, according to the US military, will provide planning assistance and engineering support, as well as equipment and resources, to assist the DHS as it attempts to secure the southern border against migrant caravans from Latin America.

The number of troops slated for deployment to the US-Mexico border has risen three times in the past week, surging from several hundred into the thousands, and the number could rise again in response to operational demands.

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(Angela Camara/Operation Faithful Patriot)

A C-17 Globemaster III carrying soldiers and equipment from the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, Fort Campbell, Kentucky, landed in southern Arizona on Oct. 31, 2018, in support of Operation Faithful Patriot.

There are already over 2,000 National Guard troops serving at the border, advancing the mission for Operation Guardian Support. They were deployed in April and serve in a different role than the troops presently heading south.

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(Angela Camara/Operation Faithful Patriot)

Troops are bringing significant amounts of equipment for border operations, including miles and miles worth of concertina wire.

President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly characterized the approaching caravans — without evidence — as an “invasion,” has warned the migrants that the military will be waiting for them when they arrive.

He has said that the total number of troops deployed to the southern border could ultimately be as high as 15,000. The president has also indicated that US troops may open fire on migrants who become aggressive.

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(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Brandon Best)

A US Army soldier assigned to 309th Military Intelligence Battalion hammers a stake into the ground while setting up tents at Fort Huachuca, Arizona on Nov. 1, 2018.

The military units currently being sent to the border are acting in a Title X capacity. Military police, engineers, medical teams, airlift units, and command teams will be constructing barriers, hardening points of entry, and assisting CBP officials. These troops are not permitted to engage in law enforcement activities on US soil.

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(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Brandon Best)

The Department of Defense has made it clear, despite the various claims stating otherwise, that these tent cities will house troops arriving at the border, not migrants.

While some observers argue that sending active-duty military personnel to the border is a waste of manpower, one that could costa s much as 0 million by the end of the year, the administration says troops being deployed to the border are responding to an escalated threat to US national security. As of Friday, there were around 3,500 troops deployed to staging bases along the border, the Pentagon told the Associated Press.

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(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Brandon Best)

Multiple staging areas are being established at Base Support Installations, areas where troops from ten different states will set up operations.

One of the larger groups recently clashed with Mexican authorities on the border of Guatemala, a violent exchange which appears to have led President Trump to state that US troops might shoot migrants who throw rocks at US military and border patrol personnel, a position he has since backed away from.

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(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kristine Legate)

Airmen from the 355th Civil Engineering Squadron construct Air Force deployable airbase systems (DABS) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona on Nov. 1, 2018.

The migrant caravans heading north toward the US-Mexico border are currently believed to be around 800 miles away, putting them a few weeks out.

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(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Larsen)

These tents, like those set up at Fort Huachuca, will house military personnel deployed to the border in support of Operation Faithful Patriot.

In recent days, as the midterm elections come around the corner, the president has proposed eliminating birthright citizenship, denying asylum to anyone who crosses illegally, and using disproportional military force against migrants who become violent, moves and rhetoric presumably intended to highlight his administration’s tough stance on illegal immigration.

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(U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Alexandra Minor)

Soldiers from the 97th Military Police Brigade, and 41st Engineering Company, Fort Riley, Kansas, run 300 meters of concertina wire along the border in support of CBP operations in Hidalgo, Texas.

Critics have accused the president of engaging in a political stunt ahead of midterm elections. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who approved the deployment of troops to the border in response to a DHS request, has countered such accusations, stating, “We don’t do stunts in this department.”

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(U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Alexandra Minor)

US troops deployed with enough concertina wire already in position to cover 22 miles, with officials noting that the military had the capability to run wire along another 120 miles if necessary.

“It’s all preparation in anticipation of the caravan,” Manuel Padilla Jr., US Border Patrol’s Rio Grande River Valley sector chief, told the Associated Press. “We’re hoping that these people do not show up at the border. They’re not going to be allowed in.”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

This corpsman wants to keep saving lives with ‘Combat Medicine’


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When Doc Todd left the Navy after spending three years as a corpsman, he didn’t have any transition assistance or training. He lost friends. He lost Marines. After separating from the military, he saw even more of his Marines take their own lives through substance abuse and suicide. It’s wasn’t the ending he had expected when he joined.

He joined the Navy in 2007 after spending four years in sales and restaurant jobs. He wanted to experience some meaningful growth in his life and be part of something bigger than himself. That – to him – meant joining the U.S. Navy. Doc ended up spending the bulk of his time with Marines in “America’s Battalion,” 2nd Battalion 8th Marines. In 2009, he and his Marines were in Afghanistan in Operation Khanjar, the largest aerial insertion of Marine troops since the Vietnam War.

Though he experienced his own struggles upon leaving the military, he didn’t turn to music as a means of coping. He actually waited until he had the strength to better express himself instead.

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Doc Todd in the studio.

“Honestly, from an artistic perspective, I didn’t know who I was yet. Or who I was becoming,” Doc says. “I found it very difficult to make a statement musically when I didn’t know what to say.”

When Doc picked himself up was when he was finally able to realize his purpose was helping others. Like a true corpsman, he never wanted to stop looking out for others. He saw too many overdoses, too many suicides. He decides to enter the veteran’s space, but to do it in his own way.

In June 2017, his album Combat Medicine dropped to widespread acclaim and national praise, not to mention a flood of personal stories from those who listened to it and felt the message.

Doc is currently working on a release titled “The Shadow Game EP,” on Runaway Train Records.

Mandatory Fun guest: Doc Todd is combat veteran who proudly served our country as a Fleet Marine Force Corpsman (combat medic) in the United States Navy. Since Doc’s honorable discharge in 2009, Doc moved to Atlanta and worked at restaurants and a premier hospital, while he pursed his college education on the G.I. Bill. Doc graduated from Georgia State University magna cum laude with an undergraduate degree in studying Economics and Public Policy in 2014. He then joined Northwestern Mutual where he began to build a financial management practice, before pursuing his music.

Doc resides in Atlanta with his wife Abby, two young daughters Savannah and Audrey, and dog Memphis, who Doc rescued shortly after coming home from war.

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2017’s Combat Medicine

Mandatory Fun is hosted By:

Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and Managing Editor

Tim Kirkpatrick: Navy veteran and Editorial Coordinator

Orvelin Valle (aka O.V.): Navy veteran and Podcast Producer

Catch the show on Twitter at: @MandoFun and on our Facebook group.

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