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.”

Articles

This is Hollywood’s favorite machine gun for killing zombies and bad guys

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Charlton Heston offs undead nightstalkers in the ’70s cult film “The Omega Man.” (Warner Bros. screen capture)


In real life, the Smith Wesson M76 submachine gun was a weapon for men who fought in the shadows.

Created as a replacement for an embargoed firearm popular with American clandestine operators and special forces during the 1950s and 1960s, it combined a rapid rate of fire with the ability to attach a suppressor.

But the M76 is also a movie gun that Hollywood has generously splashed all over the silver screen.

Some film historians say it earned the honor of being the first “zombie apocalypse gun.”  Charlton Heston packs one in the ’70s cult classic The Omega Man, where his character Col. Robert Neville sprays deranged nightwalkers with automatic fire after bio-warfare wipes out most of the world’s population.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Then there is Heath Ledger’s Joker, who wields one against Batman in the 2008 epic The Dark Knight. As the Joker stumbles out of a wrecked van, he fires an M76 and shrieks, “Come on, I want you to do it, I want you to do it. Come on, hit me. Hit me!”

The development of the M76 is a story that is part American ingenuity, part Swedish politics, and all about ensuring special operators could continue to use a choice weapon.

The M76 replaced the Carl Gustav M/45 Kulsprutepistol, a 9 x 19 mm submachine gun with a 36-round magazine manufactured in Sweden that was a favorite of covert forces.  The M/45 actually was the main submachine gun of the Swedish Army from 1945 until it phased out in the 1990s, but reserve units carried it until 2007.

The Americans who used the weapon began to call it “the Swedish K.”

Journalist Michael Herr in his memoir Dispatches describes “Ivy League spooks,” CIA agents who carried the Swedish K as their preferred weapon as they drove near the Cambodian border.

Soon, SEALs and Green Berets used the Swedish K because much of their fighting was in the narrow confines of a jungle environment where firepower and maneuverability were more important than range and accuracy.

SEAL team members also liked the fact the Swedish K is an open-bolt weapon, which allowed it to be fired almost immediately after a frogman crossed the beach.

“You could see why it would be preferable to the US Thompson or M-3 Submachine gun,” said Alan Archambault, former supervisory curator for the U.S. Army Center of Military History and a retired Army officer. “A friend of mine who served with Special Forces in Vietnam relatively early on told me that by using foreign weapons like the Swedish K it also helped to conceal the US presence a bit. I also think that Special Ops men tend to like unusual weapons rather than using standard US issue weapons.”

Light, rugged, capable of firing 550 rounds a minute and unfailingly reliable, Swedish Ks soon became a weapon in the arsenals of covert forces, particularly those operating in Southeast Asia as the United States became more and more involved in what became the Vietnam War.

“I know my friend was proud of using a Swedish K in Vietnam,” Archambault said. “It was one more way the Special Forces were set apart from the typical ‘line doggies.’ It goes along with the Green Beret and other elite designations.”

However, in 1966 the Swedish government adopted the position of officially opposing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Pacifist Sweden placed an embargo on military supplies exported to the United States, including the Swedish K.

The decision particularly troubled the U.S. Navy SEALs, who decided to turn to a domestic supplier for a copy of the Swedish K.  The Navy approached Smith Wesson and by 1967 the company produced a clone, the M76.

It had all of the good qualities of the Swedish K as well as few refinements including a higher rate of fire (720 rounds per minute). It also could be fitted with the SG9 suppressor.

In addition, Smith Wesson experimented with a version of the M76 that electronically fired caseless ammunition. The gun actually worked well, but the caseless ammo was easily damaged by rough handling so the project was scrapped.

M76s found their way into the hands of SEAL team members and some Green Berets, where they are were used successfully during many covert operations. But as the Vietnam War began to wind down demand for the weapon decreased; more powerful weapons soon replaced it.

By 1974, Smith Wesson ceased production of the M76.  However, the weapon remained in use in the Navy, where it was still used in some instances by SEAL teams or it was issued to helicopter pilots for self-defense in case of a crash landing.

Law enforcement agencies also purchased the weapon. In fact, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center destroyed a cache of M76s where New York state law enforcement agencies maintained an arsenal.

There was even an attempt to revive the weapon during the 1980s. In 1983, Mike Ruplinger and Kenneth Dominick started a company called MK Arms after acquiring the rights to the M76 from Smith Wesson. The company manufactured both new weapons and replacement parts for existing M76s that were still in military and law enforcement inventories.

However, the M76 gained new life as a movie weapon where it was featured prominently not only in the films already mentioned but also Magnum Force, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Dog Day Afternoon and Black Sunday.

But perhaps it is in The Omega Man where the M76 gets the most screen time.

Not only does a leisured-suited, eight-track-tape-playing Charlton Heston have one in hand during almost every scene, the weapon used in the film introduces an innovation: the tactical light. In several scenes, the movie’s armorer used C-clamps to attach a flashlight to the gun’s barrel so Heston could hunt the film’s nightwalkers more efficiently.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Mattis just made a surprise visit to Kabul

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit to take stock of the war and the prospects of drawing some elements of the Taliban into peace talks with the Afghan government.


The March 13, 2018, visit, which was not announced in advance due to security concerns, comes as the United States is putting new resources into the more than 16-year-old war.

Before landing in the Afghan capital, Mattis told reporters that the United States was picking up signs of interest from groups of Taliban fighters in exploring the possibility of talks to end the violence, adding that the signs date back several months.

“There is interest that we’ve picked up from the Taliban side,” Mattis said. “We’ve had some groups of Taliban — small groups — who have either started to come over or expressed an interest in talking.”

As part of its new regional strategy announced in August 2017, Washington has stepped up assistance to the Afghan military in a bid to break the stalemate and force the militants to the negotiating table.

Also read: The Taliban just fired missiles at Mattis

During a meeting with Mattis, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the new strategy allowed Kabul to extend its peace offer to the Taliban without doing so from a position of weakness.

“It has been a game changer because it has forced every actor to re-examine their assumptions,” Ghani said.

Ghani offers incentives

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

On Feb. 28, 2018, Ghani offered to allow the Taliban to establish itself as a political party and said he would work to remove sanctions on the militant group, among other incentives, if it joined the government in peace negotiations.

In return, the militants would have to recognize the Kabul government and respect the rule of law.

But the Taliban has so far ruled out direct talks with the Western-backed government, which they say is illegitimate.

Related: How Mattis is the stabilizing force of the Trump White House

The group has insisted it would only negotiate with the United States, which it calls a “foreign occupying force.” The Taliban also says that NATO forces must withdraw before negotiations can begin.

Asked whether the United States would be willing to directly talk with the Taliban, Mattis reiterated the U.S. position that the talks should be led by Kabul.

“We want the Afghans to lead and provide the substance to the reconciliation effort,” he said.

The Afghan government and the Taliban held peace talks in 2015, but they broke down almost immediately.

‘Political reconciliation’

The VA might actually be getting its act together

As part of its new strategy for Afghanistan, the United States has boosted the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500, to a total of more than 14,000, and stepped up air strikes in the country.

Mattis told reporters that the goal is to convince the Taliban militants that they cannot win, which would hopefully push them toward reconciliation.

More: Mattis is keeping all options on the table for Afghanistan

“We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan,” he said. “Not a military victory — the victory will be a political reconciliation.”

Taliban fighters control large parts of the country, and thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians are being killed every year.

In a report published late on March 12, 2018, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that more than 30,000 people have been displaced since the beginning of the year due to continued conflict in Afghanistan.

Articles

A sailor snuck “Remember Pearl Harbor” onto Tojo’s dentures before his war crime trial

Japanese Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo took office just a month before the Pearl Harbor attacks, but had served as the Army minister for over a year before that and helped to draft the plan — from the attack at Pearl Harbor through the hopeful Japanese victory — for war with the western powers.


After Japan’s surrender, Tojo knew that he would be arrested and executed. He attempted suicide on Sep. 11, 1945 as American soldiers moved into position around his house but he survived.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: Navy Medicine

As Tojo awaited trial in 1946, the Navy sent Lt. j.g. Dr. George Foster, an oral surgeon, to examine the prime minister’s heavily damaged teeth. The surgeon removed all but seven of Tojo’s and then consulted with a Navy dental prosthetics officer, Lt. j.g. Dr. Jack Mallory.

Mallory recommended complete upper and lower dentures, but Tojo refused because he thought it would be a waste of effort to make both dentures for someone about to be executed. Instead, he asked for only an upper set of dentures so he could speak well at his trial.

Mallory and his friends devised a prank. They decided to engrave “Remember Pearl Harbor” on the back of the general’s dentures. Knowing that he would get in trouble if caught, Mallory opted to engrave the message in Morse code instead of standard letters.

Only Foster and Mallory knew that Mallory had gone through with the joke.

You could see it clearly when it was dried, but 99 percent of the time you couldn’t tell,” Mallory told the Chico News and Review in 2002.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Photo: Department of the Army

The secret got out though. Mallory bragged about the prank to two new members of the dental team and one of them told his parents in a letter. The parents passed the story on and it was broadcast on a Texas radio show.

When word began to circulate through Tokyo, Mallory went to his superior and confessed.

Army Maj. William Hill told the young dentist, “That’s funny as hell but we could get our asses kicked for doing it.”

Mallory and Foster knew a guard at the prison and got access to the prison on Feb. 14, 1947, to grind the message off of the dentures. Their mission was successful.

An Army colonel found out about the story the next morning and summoned the dentists to his office, but both men denied the rumors.

Tojo later complained that the dentures fit differently after they were adjusted that February night, but there are no signs that he ever knew about the trick the dentists played on him. He was sentenced to death during the trial and executed in 1948.

h/t Mental Floss.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 of the top issues facing military families this election

Every four years, we have the opportunity and responsibility to make our voices heard. While elections are always important, this year feels particularly critical. A global pandemic. Heightened racial tensions. Upholding or repealing Supreme Court decisions. New and old military adversaries. Economic impact… the list goes on. While military families are concerned with the macro issues facing the country, they’re also incredibly concerned about the “micro -” those issues that many Americans can’t understand because they don’t live it – things like military spouse employment, PCSing and base housing. In just a few weeks, Americans will determine our next commander in chief.

To better understand the issues paramount to our military families, WATM spoke with Military Family Advisory Network’s Executive Director, Shannon Razsadin, to talk about the results of MFAN’s 2019 Military Family Support Programming Survey.

Here are 6 of the top issues facing military families this election:


Have questions about voting? Please visit Iwillvote.com or text ACCESS to 43367

Mental Health Care

The need for and reliance on mental health care was a common thread throughout the 2019 Military Family Support Programming Survey. However, the greatest obstacle to accessing mental health care was the ability to get appointments. Those who left military service within the past 10 years were more likely to have accessed mental health care for themselves or members of their families. The more recently they left service, the more likely they were to have accessed mental health care. About 14.6% of respondents said they had accessed mental health crisis resources for themselves or their families. They expressed a need for emergency mental health care for the following reasons: specific mental health diagnoses; suicidal ideations and attempts; and feelings of stress, grief, and hopelessness. They also described difficulty receiving care, such as long wait times and less attentive medical personnel. When asked if participants themselves had thoughts of suicide in the past two years, one in eight respondents to this question responded affirmatively.

Finances

Most respondents, 77%, said they have debt. The amount of emergency savings varied significantly depending on demographics: 27.4% of currently serving military family respondents said they have less than 0 in emergency savings, while 49.2% of veteran family respondents (those without a military pension) and 22.2% of military retiree family respondents (those with a military pension) reported having less than 0. Nearly a quarter (23.5%) said they do not have a practical or viable plan for seeking assistance in a financial emergency.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. N.W. Huertas/Released)

Moving

Moves are expensive for military families, and they are causing long-term financial strain for some. On average, families are losing about ,000 per move in out-of-pocket costs and losses and damage to their household goods. The average unreimbursed out-of-pocket expense during a move was id=”listicle-2648395695″,913, and the average financial loss over and above claims for lost and damaged items during the move was ,920. The majority of respondents, 68.2%, said they experienced loss or damage during their most recent moves. Respondents said the moving support they need the most is financial.

Housing

Choosing a place to live is an essential process during a move, and the choice can affect families’ lives for the course of their tours. Exploring military families’ housing choices and experiences has been a perennial topic in MFAN’s support programming surveys. Between the 2017 survey and the 2019 survey, MFAN fielded a study on the state of privatized housing that was a catalyst to an overhaul of the system, a budget increase, and the Tenant Bill of Rights. The current research showed that concerns about privatized housing still linger, making it the number one reason families choose to live on the economy. Those who choose military housing do so for financial reasons and because of base amenities. Among the respondents living in military housing, those in lower enlisted ranks were more likely to have negative satisfaction rates, and the least satisfied respondents were those ranked E4 to E6. There was a very clearly statistically significant relationship with those ranked E4 to E6—they were more likely than any other group to rate their experiences as very negative across all areas of satisfaction rates measured.

Employment and Entrepreneurship

MFAN has explored military family employment needs and transition experiences in every support programming survey. Many of the responses have not changed. For example, in 2013, military spouses said they needed more assistance, specifically for spouses trying to build and maintain careers. In 2017, respondents said their job search experiences were generally negative, and they said they had difficulties with employer bias, location obstacles, child care, and unsuccessful searching. These themes emerged again this year.

Active duty military spouses are still struggling to find employment. Respondents said that the demands of military life, being the primary caretaker to children and needing flexible schedules, are obstacles to finding gainful employment. They are looking for remote and portable work that will help them build lasting careers. They were more likely than any other demographic group to have given up trying to find work. Meanwhile, those who had transitioned from service told a very different story. Veterans and retirees said their greatest obstacle is an employer who is willing to hire them. They would like assistance preparing for interviews and marketing themselves effectively with polished resumes.

Both groups placed a priority on assistance that would help them find open positions, and they have not been able to receive support. Nearly one-third of respondents said they can’t find effective support, and an additional 22.8% said they needed more information about available resources. 05 Active duty military spouses were statistically more likely than other demographics to consider entrepreneurship. Of those who do not currently have a business, 33% said they would consider starting one. However, entrepreneurial spouses of active duty service members reported low earnings, with 70.5% earning ,000 or less and 53.2% making ,000 or less. The most common reasons entrepreneurs chose for building their own businesses were flexible hours and to balance work and family life.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff. Sgt. Austen Adriaens/Released)

Child care and education

Child care and school-related support are the top two supports that military families with children wish they had. Child care priorities change based on the age of children; however, respondents with children ages 0 to 12 agreed that hourly care, both in-home and outside of the home, was a top priority. Those with children younger than 5 years old prioritized full-time child care, while after-school care was a priority for those with children between the ages of 6 to 12.

In alignment with their top priority for care they seek, almost two-thirds (64.1%) of actively serving military family respondents said they had to forego a medical appointment due to lack of child care in the past two years. When asked to identify helpful educational support programming for military children, 40.5% of respondents could not think of any that they were aware of or used. The top missing educational supports included special needs support; learning support, such as tutoring and personalized support to fill learning gaps; and transition support to aid military-related adjustment.

Razsadin said:
In the 2019 Military Family Support Programming Survey, military families shared with us the issues that are the greatest challenges to them. They told us that they have difficulty accessing health care appointments. That they need additional assistance as caregivers. That mental health care is critical, but difficult to access. They shared that many of them experience food insecurity. And that many feel lonely and disconnected from their communities. They disclosed that military moves are expensive and cause long-term financial strain. And that putting aside emergency savings is difficult. They talked to us about difficulties finding child care. And how hard it can be to secure (and keep) employment.

In many different areas, military families trusted us with their struggles and shared what makes military life difficult sometimes. And MFAN is committed to moving the needle on those critical areas they’ve identified. But Election Day is an opportunity for all military families to directly use their voices to address the issues that are most important to them. To speak up about what matters to them. And to vote so their voices are counted.

The people and issues military families vote for are up to them. That military families vote means our election results reflect the beautiful diversity of our force.

To learn more about President Trump’s stance on military issues, visit: https://veterans.donaldjtrump.com/issues

To learn more about Vice President Biden’s stance on military issues, visit: https://joebiden.com/militaryfamilies/#

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s what the Navy’s carriers in the Pacific bring to the fight

The US Navy announced on Oct. 25 that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier had left the Middle East, where it was conducting operations against ISIS, and heading to the Pacific on a previously scheduled visit.


The Nimitz will join two other US aircraft carriers, the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, amid ongoing tensions with North Korea.

Also read: This is why bigger is better when it comes to aircraft carriers

North Korea has not test launched a missile in over a month, but has continued its threats on Guam and even threatened to detonate a nuclear weapon above ground in late October.

Here’s what the three carriers are bringing to the Pacific.

The USS Nimitz, USS Roosevelt, and USS Reagan are all Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) performs a high speed run during operations in the Pacific Ocean. Reagan and embarked Carrier Air Wing Fourteen (CVW-14) are currently underway conducting Tailored Ships Training Availability (TSTA). U.S. Navy photo by Photographer Mate 1st Class James Thierry (RELEASED)

The Nimitz, which is the US’s oldest aircraft carrier, was commissioned in 1975, while the Roosevelt was commissioned in 1986 and the Reagan in 2003.

Each carrier is about 1,092 feet long, 252 feet wide, and 134 feet from waterline to flight deck.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

Each carrier has two nuclear reactors that power four steam turbines and shafts that bring the carriers to speeds of more than 34 mph.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) departs San Francisco. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Pete Lee)

They are each assigned a Carrier Air Wing, which generally consists of about nine squadrons and five different kinds of the following aircraft.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Corey Turner, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8, participates in a Helicopter Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (HVBSS) training exercise with a Range Support Craft (RSC) 1 in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego, April 16, 2015. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young)

Four squadrons of different F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet variants.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

One squadron of E-2 Hawkeyes.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
ARABIAN GULF (Nov. 12, 2010) Sailors assigned to the Sun Kings of Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 116 work on an E-2C Hawkeye at sunset aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). VAW-116 is part of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, which is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Spencer W. Mickler/Released)

One squadron of EA-18G Growlers.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
An E/A-18G Growler assigned to the Lancers of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 131 launches from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). The ship’s carrier strike group is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Gaines/Released)

One squadron of C-2A Greyhounds.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
Aviation Boatswains Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Dylan Mills directs the crew of a C-2A Greyhound from Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 30 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). The ship is on a deployment with the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group as part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet-led initiative to extend the command and control functions of U.S. 3rd Fleet into the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano/Released)

And two squadrons of Seahawk helicopters.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
An MH-60 Seahawk. (U.S. Navy)

Carrier Air Wing 11 is currently assigned to the Nimitz, Carrier Air Wing 17 is on the Roosevelt, and Carrier Air Wing 5 is on the Reagan.

The only real offensive weapons aboard carriers are the aircraft, but they do have two main defensive weapons.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

One is the NATO Sea Sparrow missile system, which is a short-range antiaircraft and anti-missile weapon system that fires RIM-7M missiles.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) test fires its NATO Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile System during a combat system ship qualification trial. Theodore Roosevelt is underway preparing for future deployments. (U.S. Navy photo)

The other is a 20 mm Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, which is the last line of defense against an incoming missile.

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An MK15 Phalanx close-in weapons system (CWIS) fires during a live-fire exercise aboard the amphibious assault ship USS WASP (LHD 1). Wasp is currently underway acquiring certifications in preparation for their upcoming homeport shift to Sasebo, Japan where they are slated to relieve the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in the 7th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Molina/Released)

Read more about what the CIWS can do here.

Carriers often travel in formations called Carrier Strike Groups, as seen below.

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(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke/Released)

A Carrier Strike Group consists of at least one cruiser, six to 10 destroyers and/or frigates, and a Carrier Air Wing. The carriers are used for offensive operations, while the other ships defend the carrier.

The Nimitz, Roosevelt, and Reagan are all currently accompanied by a Carrier Strike Group in the Pacific.

The last time three carriers were together in the Pacific was in June, and Navy Cmdr. Ron Flanders said it was rather unusual to have three carriers in the Pacific theatre.

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The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman departs Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Photo from US Navy.

The Pentagon also recently said that the three carriers are “not directed toward any particular threat,” and Flanders said the Nimitz’s visit had been planned for months, as it has to cross the Pacific to reach its home port at Naval Station Bremerton in Washington state.

When asked if the Nimitz would head straight home or stay in the Pacific for any given period of time, Flanders said only that when the Nimitz travels through the Pacific, it falls under the command of the 7th Fleet.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How this soldier became the first enlisted female Army ranger

As Staff Sgt. Amanda Kelley made her way through mountainous terrain in the midst of a scorching Georgia summer in 2018, she admittedly struggled, carrying more than 50 pounds of gear during a patrol exercise.

Tired and physically drained, her body had withstood nearly a month of training in the Army’s most challenging training school. She had already suffered a fracture in her back in an earlier phase and suffered other physical ailments.

But then she looked to her left and right and saw her fellow Ranger School teammates, many of whom she outranked.

“I know that I have to keep going,” said Kelley, the first enlisted female graduate of the Army Ranger School at Fort Benning. “Because if I quit, or if I show any signs of weakness, they’re going to quit.”


In the middle of 21 grueling training days in northeast Georgia, Kelley knew if she could weather the mountain phase of the Army’s Ranger School, she and her teammates would reach a new pinnacle, a critical rite of passage for Ranger students. The electronic warfare specialist spent 21 days in the mountains which includes four days of mountaineering, five days of survival techniques training and a nine-day field training exercise. She had already been recycled in the school’s first phase and didn’t want to relive that experience.

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Staff Sgt. Amanda F. Kelley marches in formation during her Ranger School graduation at Fort Benning, Ga., Aug. 31, 2018.

(Photo by Patrick A. Albright)

“It’s not about you at that moment,” Kelley said. “It’s about the people around you. You don’t realize in that moment how many people look up to you until you complete it. Everybody has those trying periods because those mountains are really rough.”

Her graduation from Ranger School paved the way for her current assignment as an electronic warfare specialist with the Third Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Since 2016, more than 1,200 female soldiers have entered combat career fields, including field artillery, armor and infantry.

Kelley said the Ranger training pushed her to meet the same standards as her male counterparts. She finished the 16-mile ruck march in under three hours.

“You literally go through the same thing,” Kelley said. “It’s not any different … You do the same thing that they do. That’s the greatest thing about Ranger School: there’s one set standard, across the board.”

Taking the easy road has never been how Kelley has lived her life. As a teenager she competed as a centerfielder on boy’s baseball teams. She also was on her high school’s track team. Growing up in the small rural community of Easley, South Carolina, she had few mentors as a teen.

“I just wanted to be somebody,” Kelley said. “And I also want to be someone that others can look up to. I didn’t have that growing up. We don’t all come from a silver spoon background; some of us have to fight for things.”

She joined the Army on a whim in 2011, considering joining the service only six months prior to enlisting. She admired the Army’s rigid discipline and high standards.

“Better opportunities,” was one reason Kelley said she joined the Army. “I wanted to get out of where I was.”

Kelley wanted to reach even higher. The 30-year-old wanted to one day become sergeant major of the Army and let her supervisors know that it wasn’t some pipe dream. After an Iraq deployment with the 1st Armored Division, Kelley’s battalion commander, Lt. Col. Mike Vandy, told her that attending Ranger School would help chart her path to success.

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A family member places the Army Ranger tab on Staff Sgt. Amanda Kelley’s uniform.

(Photo by Patrick A. Albright)

“When I went to Ranger School, I didn’t go so I could be the first (enlisted female),” Kelley said. “I went so that I could be sergeant major of the Army. And I want to be competitive with my peers.”

After Kelley decided to apply for Ranger School, she spent five months physically preparing herself and studying while deployed. Her roommate in Iraq, former Staff Sgt. Mychal Loria, said Kelley would work 12-hour shifts, workout twice a day and still found time for study. At the same time, she helped mentor other soldiers.

“She just exemplified the perfect NCO; always there for her soldiers,” Loria said.

Kelley praised former Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey for helping create more opportunities for women in combat career fields. Since the first two female graduates — Capt. Kristen Griest and then-1st Lt. Shaye Haver — completed Ranger training in 2015, more than 30 female soldiers have earned their Ranger tab. Sgt. 1st Class Janina Simmons became the first African American woman to graduate from the course earlier this year.

Kelley said has begun preparation for a six-month deployment to an undisclosed location. The South Carolina native said she looks forward to using many of the skills she learned during her time training to be an Army Ranger.

The eight-year Army vet said the Third Special Forces group has fostered a welcome environment for unit members, offering a wealth of training opportunities to help advance her career, including electronics and intelligence courses.

Kelley offered some advice for soldiers who may be considering Ranger School or other certifications to advance their careers.

“Soldiers need to understand that sometimes things you had planned change,” she said. “So just be open-minded to new things and don’t be scared to go after things that seem impossible. Because nothing’s impossible if somebody’s done it before you.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy pilot lost in C-2 crash ‘flew the hell out of that airplane’

A Navy lieutenant who lost his life while working to save his passengers in a C-2 Greyhound crash Nov. 22 may be recommended for an award, an official said Nov. 27.


Lt. Steven Combs, the pilot of the aircraft, was one of three sailors who died when the aircraft crashed Nov. 22 in the Pacific Ocean en route to the carrier Ronald Reagan from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Eight other sailors, including the co-pilot, were rescued from the water.

Combs managed to execute a landing on the water, giving the four aircrew and seven passengers the best opportunity to get clear of the aircraft and reach safety. The difficulty of such a landing with the cargo aircraft was compounded by high seas, which by some reports reached 10 to 12 feet, said Cmdr. Ronald Flanders, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces.

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Aviation Boatswains Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Dylan Mills directs the crew of a C-2A Greyhound from Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VRC) 30 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano)

“They did not have a lot of notice that they were going to have to ditch just miles from the carrier,” Flanders told Military.com. “To use the words of his co-pilot who told us, ‘[Combs] flew the hell out of that plane.'”

Flanders added that the possibility of a posthumous award for Combs in light of his actions was under discussion.

Combs, who was commissioned in 2011 and reported to Fleet Logistics Squadron 30 in 2015, had served aboard Ronald Reagan as a detachment assistant operations officer and administrative officer, according to a Navy release. During his career, he had logged more than 1,200 flight hours and 100 carrier-arrested landings.

Navy personnel were able to rescue the eight survivors within an hour of the C-2 going down southwest of Okinawa. On Nov. 25, the Navy identified those lost as Combs, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment), Airman Matthew Chialastri, and Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Apprentice Bryan Grosso.

Multiple sources have reported that engine failure is suspected as a cause of the crash, though an investigation is still underway.

Read More: US Navy searches for 3 missing sailors after plane crashes en route to USS Ronald Reagan

“Clearly there was something amiss with the aircraft and basically they were not close enough to the carrier to try to bring it in,” Flanders said.

On Nov. 25, the Ronald Reagan held a memorial service to commemorate the lives of Combs, Chialastri, and Grosso.

Capt. Michael Wosje, the commander of the Reagan’s Carrier Air Wing 5, paid special tribute to the fallen pilot.

“The loss of one of our pilots weighs heavily on the entire Carrier Air Wing Five team. Lt. Combs will always be remembered as a hero,” Wosje said, according to a news release. “I am proud to have flown with him.”

The commander of the carrier, Capt. Buzz Donnelly, also honored the sailors who died.

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Matthew Chialastri, Steven Combs, and Bryan Grosso (l to r) were killed in the C-2 Greyhound crash on November November 22nd. (Image from U.S. Navy)

“The loss of these crew members hits across the entire ship with great significance,” said Capt. Buzz Donnelly, Ronald Reagan’s commanding officer. “On behalf of the entire crew of USS Ronald Reagan, I extend heartfelt prayers and sincere condolences to the families and friends of the three shipmates we lost.”

Less than a week after the tragic crash, the Navy has not moved to suspend or pause flight operations for the aging Greyhound, the service’s carrier onboard delivery platform for personnel and logistics.

Flanders noted that the current batch of the aircraft, C-2A(R), which began flying for the Navy in the mid-1980s, has an almost unprecedented safety record. There has been only one previous fatality — a tragic 1988 mishap in which an individual walked into the aircraft’s prop arc.

“This mishap was the first of its kind in several decades,” Flanders said of the most recent crash.

The Greyhounds now flying for the Navy recently underwent a service-life extension program that was completed in 2015. The transports are set to be retired and replaced by Navy-variant CMV-22 Ospreys in the mid-2020s.

Articles

4 of the most amazing stories from Operation Market Garden

On September 17, 1944, the Allies launched an ambitious mission to cross the Rhine River into Germany dubbed “Operation Market Garden.” Allied leaders hoped the mission would lead to end of World War II by Christmas.


Known to many as the operation that was “a bridge too far” and for being a strategic failure, it was not without incredible tales of personal courage, grit, and determination. Here are four of those amazing stories.

1. Pvt. Joe E. Mann

Private Mann was a scout assigned to the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division when it jumped into Holland. During fighting around the city of Best, Mann crawled within bazooka range of a German artillery emplacement and single-handedly knocked it out. He then began picking off Germans one-by-one with his rifle before he was wounded four separate times. Despite gunshots to both shoulders and one of his arms, he wasn’t out of the fight, insisting on standing guard through the night.

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A World War II-era U.S. troop holding a bazooka (Library of Congress)

When a German attack came early the next morning, a grenade landed near Mann. Unable to raise his arms because they were bandaged to his body, he did the only thing he could — he jumped on the grenade and absorbed the blast to save his friends. Private Mann was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

2. Maj. Julian Cook

Three days into the operation, stiff German resistance managed to hold onto the Nijmegen Bridge despite efforts by the 82nd Airborne to dislodge them. With the timetable of the British XXX Corps advance in jeopardy Gen. Gavin ordered an assault crossing of the river to seize the bridge from the far side.

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Maj. Cook in a WWII-era newsreel. (Library of Congress)

With 26 collapsible canvas boats, the 307th Engineers rowed two battalions of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment across the river under heavy German fire. Some of the men had to use their rifle butts as paddles. Major Julian Cook led the 3rd Battalion across first and established a beachhead. The engineers in the boats then returned and re-crossed the river four more times, delivering the first battalion. Cook pulled several men from the water and tended to several wounded. He then led the remnants of his battalion in a 2.5 mile assault to capture German positions and secure the bridgehead.

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The ferocity of the fighting earned the battle the nickname “Little Omaha” – a reference to the bloody beach in Normandy. Cook was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross.

3. Maj. Digby Tatham-Warter

Major Alison Digby Tatham-Warter, often just called “Digby,” was an eccentric character and hard-charging officer. Troops knew Digby by the umbrella he carried because, as he said, he “couldn’t remember passwords and anyone would recognize the bloody fool carrying the umbrella as an Englishman.”

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Major Carlyle played by Christopher Good in A Bridge Too Far was based on Maj. Allison Digby Tatham-Warter. (United Artists)

He used the umbrella in one instance to stop a German armored car by shoving it through a gap and incapacitating the driver. When a fellow officer questioned his carrying of the umbrella he humorously replied, “My goodness Pat, what if it rains?” Another time, Digby led a bayonet charge wearing a bowler hat while wielding a pistol and his trusty umbrella.

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It would also come in handy when he appeared in American comics.

Eventually, not even Digby’s courageous antics could stop the inevitable. With no options left, Digby transmitted his last radio message “out of ammo, God save the King” before being captured by the Germans. Digby’s captivity would not last long. He was transported to a hospital for his wounds and escaped that evening. He then helped organize Operation Pegasus, the rescue of British paratroopers trapped across the Rhine. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order upon his return to the United Kingdom.

4. Pvt. John Towle

Private Towle was only 19-years-old when he entered combat in the Netherlands as part of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He survived the Waal River crossing led by Maj. Julian Cook, but it was when German tanks attacked the paratroopers’ bridgehead that Towle sprang into action.

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(Rendering by CMOHS.org)

Towle left his foxhole with a bazooka and rifle to engage the German tanks. It took several bazooka rounds each before the tanks retreated in the face of the lone paratrooper. Towle then started taking fire from a building the Germans made into a strongpoint. One well-aimed shot eliminated all nine German soldiers.

When a German half-track appeared, Pvt. Towle advanced again. Just as he was preparing to fire, an enemy mortar round struck his position and killed him. Towle’s tenacity and bravery single-handedly broke up the German attack and earned him the Medal of Honor.

Articles

How Afghanistan’s version of Delta Force goes after the worst of the worst

“No One Kills Terrorists as Fast as We Do”

Sheik Abdul Hasib is a stout Pakistani who chose to fight under the flag of ISIS in eastern Afghanistan. The area he chose as his redoubt is the border with Pakistan, not too far from where Osama bin Laden and the Arab-speaking jihadis chose to build caves and fight the Soviets in the ’80s. Now seeking to tax poppy growers in the Nangahar province and establish ISIS Khurahsan, the long-haired Pakistani Orakzai tribal fighters have been streaming over four mountain passes from the Khyber and Orakzai regions in Parchinar since 2015. Since then, they’ve terrorized the locals, beheading children and elders alike, and launched a number of violent attacks in Afghanistan.


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The Afghan anti-terrorist force began in Kabul and expanded to other major urban areas. Unlike the military, they’re trained by the world’s most elite counter-terrorism units to work in intense scenarios in which hundreds of civilians may be at risk. Photo from Recoilweb.com

GROWING THREAT

ISIS established a foothold in the Pakistan tribal areas in mid-2014 with the fracturing of the “little T” Taliban that was made up of former Pakistan-based Taliban fighters. Leaderless, they flowed northward into Afghanistan in 2015 when around 70 ISIS trainers travelled from Syria to school them in tactics, public relations, and ambushes. Led by Abdul Rauf Khadem, a former bin Laden confidant, ISIS began paying three times the Afghan government salary, and twice that of the Taliban. They launched their new sub brand, ISIS-Khurasan, with brutal videos of hapless villagers being blown up and other filmed executions. Islamic religion tradition insists that horse-mounted jihadis carrying the Black Flags of Khurasan will signal the retaking of the Holy Land and the end of Christianity. Not surprisingly, ISIS PR cameramen filmed chubby Pakistanis jogging and jerking along on Afghan nags carrying black flags in their videos.

The cash and the PR campaign worked. In September 2015, the UN estimated ISIS penetrated 25 out of the 34 provinces.

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The Crisis Response Unit is legendary in Afghanistan. They’re never seen in public and stay on their base until a crisis occurs, and then they deploy in minutes directly into a hostage situation. Photo from Recoilweb.com

MOAB

When I met with Resolute Support commander General “Mick” Nicholson in December, he made it clear that although the NATO side of the war was treading water, the counter-terrorism fight wasn’t hindered by a lack of funding or increasing intensity. While the USA waited patiently for the election to end, General Nicholson made his move.

On April 13, 2017, the sky lit up above Achin and the ground shook through eastern Afghanistan as US special operations forces dropped a 12,000-pound MOAB munition that detonated above the exact area ISIS selected as their headquarters.

Nicholson’s air strike had maximum effect. The USA turned the ISIS fighter’s concealment and isolation into their damnation. About 90 fighters were killed instantly by the pressure wave and collapsing buildings.

Although the rank and file of ISIS K were decimated, the work of actually finishing the job was left to US ground operators and Afghans. Ten days later, at 10:30 p.m., 50 US Army Rangers and 40 Afghan commandos went in on the location of Sheik Hasib, gunning him down about a mile away from where the bomb went off in Mohmand Valley. As in all special operation ground missions, drones, AC 130s, F16s, and Apaches provided constant top cover and ISR support. Down below, air controllers coordinated the troops moving forward, calling out targets and hostiles for Afghan commandos. ISIS in the east was snuffed out like a candle.

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(Photo from Recoilweb.com)

The top leadership and 35 members of ISIS were finally removed because they had crossed the line. They had carried out a devastating March 2017 attack on a 400-bed military hospital in Kabul in which ISIS personnel disguised as medical staff killed scores of people. Enough was enough.

Although MOAB was a global headline grabber and there’s every indication that America is getting back into the fight, much of the dirty work of killing terrorists face to face has been left to the Afghans. It’s for this reason that I visited a little-known counter-terrorism unit high above the hills of Kabul.

CRU 222

It’s Friday, the day off in Afghanistan, but Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Raqib Mubariz, the head of Afghanistan’s elite’s counter-terrorism team, has invited me over. He’s clean-shaven, tall, and eager to meet me. He runs the Afghan Crisis Response Unit 222, or CRU 222 for short. He’s unapologetic about his team. His and his men’s job is to kill terrorists in Kabul. Fast.

It’s a brutally simple idea taught to them originally by the SAS and carried forward in their training by American, and now Norwegian, commandos. When suicide bombers try to take hostages en masse, the unit’s mission is to get in and kill them without restraint. In their brutal experience, the faster they kill terrorists the lower the casualties.

Their spotless base sits on the old site of Camp Gibson, overlooking the outskirts of Kabul.

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Kabul is the fifth fastest growing city in the world. Under the Taliban in 2001 the population was barely 1.5 million; today almost 4 million people call Kabul home. Photo from Recoilweb.com

Mubariz walks me around the camp and explains the unit has three groups, one active, one in training, and one in reserve. On operations they have a 60-man protection unit and three operations groups. They work 15 days on and 15 days off, and they’re set up to respond to a crisis quickly; their goal is to be out the door within five minutes of a call.

He expresses pride that his men can “assess a situation, form a plan, and have all the belligerents dead within minutes. Instead of the hours it used to take, now we can be ready in three minutes.”

To underline the seriousness and intensity of their task, he estimates that last year 97 of his 7,000-person, nationwide staff were killed. The high-casualty rate doesn’t faze his enthusiasm for the task.

The training for the anti-terrorist squad lasts four months with a dropout rate of 10 to 15 percent of the class. “We get better training than the commandos, but we work together,” Raqib tells me, talking about another Afghan special mission unit that operates in the rural areas of the country. “We recruit from all over the country.”

I want to understand how this unit ended the March 2017 hospital attack, the most brutal terrorist act after the recent bomb attack at Camp Shahin. He offers to have his men perform a demonstration.

The men roll up to a practice building in armored Humvees, dismount, and take a knee; they lay out a protective circle and deploy snipers. They set up a command and control center, gather intel, and agree on an entry plan. Then, the teams deploy and breach, clearing each room until they reach the top.

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(Photo from Recoilweb.com)

The men are fast, aggressive, and their actions appear well rehearsed. But this is an empty building with a journalist sticking a camera in their faces, not a burning building with martyrs killing their way to a 72-virgin afterlife.

The 222 benefits from the knowledge passed on by foreign military advisors. Norwegians from the Marinejegerkommandoen were also on hand supervising and offering training guidance. The Norwegians declined to be officially interviewed, but 222’s opinion of them is effusive. “We love it when they taught us how to shoot off the back of motorcycles in the dark,” one commando laughs.

To understand 222’s tactical response to the Kabul hospital attack, I met with the officer (unnamed at his request) that led the hospital attack.

THE RESPONSE

The soft-spoken colonel describes the siege. “It was Wednesday, March 8, 8:45 in the morning. The first car bomb went off at 9 a.m. at the rear of the hospital. By 9:45 a.m. we were stuck in all kinds of traffic. We travel in armored Humvees, five men to a vehicle. We had to hit cars to get out them out the way. We were waved around to a different entrance from the normal entrance when the second car bomb went off.”

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The remnants of a vehicle bomb during the March 8, 2017, ISIS attack on the Sardar Daud Khan Military Hospital in Kabul. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)

The eight-story pink Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital is in the Wazir Akbar Khan District of Kabul and is the largest military hospital in Afghanistan. Named after the last prime minister before the Soviets landed, the staff provides medical care to members of the Afghan military and their families. There are also two floors filled with wounded Taliban fighters along with a VIP wing; in addition, there are soldiers housed here who are wounded so seriously they can’t be sent home.

“It was complicated when we arrived on scene because we had more than 1,000 doctors, patients, and visitors.” The colonel says there were 400 beds in an eight-floor building and an unknown number of terrorists wearing suicide vests with grenades, knives, and rifles inside. “I was just thinking how we can protect civilians before we can kill the terrorists.”

The men ISIS sent to cause mayhem weren’t just suicide bombers, but fourth-generation suicide fighters called inghimasis, or “those who plunge” into battle. The four attackers were let into the hospital by an employee, the colonel tells us. They put on white lab coats and began to shoot indiscriminately, using knives to kill bedridden victims to conserve ammunition.

“Once the Afghan Army commandos arrived, I stopped everyone and explained how we can work together. We have British SAS tactics; the Afghan Special Forces uses American [tactics]. We have different training and tactics, and we could kill each other.”

The units deconflicted by leap-frogging each other as they cleared the buildings seven floors, floor by floor.

“We are clearing each room, but ultimately we run to the shooting,” says the colonel. “The problem was most of the victims were being stabbed with knives and [the attackers] were dressed in lab coats like many of the hostages. On the second floor we killed the third man; we shot him, and he blew up. Again we ran to the shooting. In various rooms, there were people hiding. The gunman had killed one or two people in each room.”

The responders killed another shooter on the fourth floor as he was hiding behind a bed. “We found another terrorist on the fifth floor. We shot him, and he blew up.”

Like many Afghans, and out of respect for the dead, he won’t describe the specifics of the dozens of victims. Most of the people had been killed with knives. Later I find out from one of the men who was there that a pregnant women, the wife of a military officer, screamed, “You can’t kill me!” He looks down and describes the brutality, “They cut out her child and then killed her.”

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(Photo from Recoilweb.com)

Finally, there were 65 hostages on the top floor being held by the last gunman.

“I had heard shooting from the rooftop, and I requested an air drop,” says the Colonel. “The Mi-17 will carry 15 troops and can land on the roof where people were fleeing. Some were on the window ledges outside. [Our] snipers were using the windows, but there weren’t clear shots in the confusion. There is a green house on the top floor, and we went up and found the hostages.”

“We were using CS grenades and wearing gas masks,” he says. “It’s hard to see through the mask when you’re running and the smoke. So I aimed for his center of his vest and he exploded, killing some of the hostages.” When I ask him why he didn’t take a head a shot he looks up and just gives me a pained look.

“I think we were done by 14:00. We then had to coordinate the removal of the dead and wounded, and order ambulances since all the staff had fled.”

At the end, over 60 people were dead and roughly as many were wounded.

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The attackers were trained in Pakistan and were reportedly told to kill as many people as possible before detonating their suicide vests. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)

UNDERSTANDING THE ENEMY

Colonel Mir Ebaidullah Mirzada from Kapisa province explains how ISIS recruits and trains for these attacks. “I was in military school in high school, then I joined CID police. I spent 31 years in the intelligence service,” he says. His job now is to make sense of these attacks and understand the enemy. That enemy, he says, is increasingly more foreign.

The history of the CRU also coincides with violent attacks launched from Pakistan.

“There was a series of attacks in Kabul in 2005. At that time there was no special unit. They sent police, members of the Afghan National Directorate of Security and the Army, and there were a lot of civilian casualties. It was then they decided to create the CRU. National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar established a division of special police when he was interior minister.”

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The work of CRU 222 is not without sacrifice. In 2016, 97 members of the Afghan national anti-terrorism group were killed. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)

The first unit was 222. They started with 100 members; now they have around 7,000. Ebedullah was one of the originals. “We started with Hungarian and Bulgarian AKs, Russian PiKas (PKM), and Iranian RPGs. We swapped to Russian AKs [after] seven years with a gift of 20,000 AKs, and now, thanks to the US Embassy, we’re using M4s.

The men of the 222 still have to tape their flashlights to the barrel and make do with Chinese knockoff gear. They favor the bright green laundry bag camo pattern sprayed on their gear. It used to take three hours for the unit to jock up, and now it takes them less than five minutes to get out of their compound. Still, a Colonel gets by on $600 a month, and some of the men aren’t fully kitted. But they don’t complain. He pulls out the dossier on the attack on the hospital attack.

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More than 70 percent of Kabul’s population lives in illegal settlements like these hillside homes built without permits or proper sanitation. These migrants include thousands of former jihadis returning from Pakistan. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)

“The attackers were from Pakistan, two from Tajikistan, and two were Afghan. The people know that Pakistan is behind this.” He takes pains to read the next sentence carefully.

“They trained for four months by Major Ahmad from ISI Punjab, in Mansehra near the military base at Rawalpindi. This information comes from the ‘other side,'” he noted with a smile. Manserhra is only 13 miles north of where bin Laden was found and killed in Abbottabad.

Recruiting is done from the madrasas, free religious schools sponsored by Sunni donors from the Gulf area.

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(Photo from Recoilweb.com)

Mirzada lays out the training process. “They pass three steps to come. The first step is for ISI people who operated under the guise of being scholars who train young people. They identify those who respond to extreme ideology.”

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Despite the steady stream of violent attacks, the people of Kabul go on with their daily lives. In 16 years the country has experienced dramatic growth and education. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)

“In the madrasa they’re separated, and when they say, ‘I want to be a martyr,’ they’re ready. Then the preparation work stops. They blindfold them and take them to a military base. There they’re trained about three months on weapons, explosives, and what destiny awaits them in paradise. Before the plan [takes] place they set up companies to provide fake IDs, transportation, and lodging. They transport them to Kabul without weapons.”

Typically, he says, they’re between 14 and 25 years old, mostly from poor families. Their family gets paid 400,000 Pakistani rupees, just under $4,000 US, after they’ve reached the end of their path to martyrdom.

“The handlers train them again to get used to the area where they speak Pashto,” Mirzada says. “There are also people who know Farsi. Once they learn the area, then they ship in the weapons. There are also people who are responsible to make the film. Even when they rush and fight, they’re always filming. Before they attack they film a speech and they get injections to make them brave.”

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The elite reputation of CRU 222 attracts hundreds of young Afghan recruits; 15 percent will drop out during training. (Photo from Recoilweb.com)

One witness in the media insists he heard one of the men talking to “Mullah Sahib,” which sounds like Mullah Hasib, the head of the ISIS cell in Nangahar. The man gunned down after the MOAB was dropped by US forces. Mirzada closes the file.

When and if another hostage situation occurs, CRU 222 sits waiting for the call, stopwatch at the ready.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Check out the new 80-ton robotic assault breacher

Soldiers and Marines have risked life and limb in dangerous breach operations on the battlefield, but new technology will help keep them out of harms way.

“We never, ever want to send another soldier into a breach, so how do we do this completely autonomously?” Gen. Mike Murray, head of Army Futures Command, asked at Yakima Training Center in Washington state recently, Defense News reported.

The answer to the general’s question: A monstrous robotic Assault Breacher Vehicle, an 80-ton battlefield bulldozer built to rip up minefields and remove obstacles.


The VA might actually be getting its act together

A M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV) from 8th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division prepares to conduct gunnery qualifications.

(US Army photo by Sgt. Patrick Eakin)

The Army and Marines have been using manned M1150 ABVs for breach operations for nearly a decade.

An Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV) is essentially an M1 Abrams tank that has been upgraded with armor improvements and had its turret replaced with either a mine plow or a combat dozer blade able to clear a path for other assets.

These mobile, heavily-armored minefield and obstacle clearing vehicles have traditionally been manned by a crew of two.

The plan is to get those troops out.

“That is a very dangerous point to put soldiers and Marines, especially when dealing with explosive obstacles,” 1st Lt. David Aghakhan, ABV Platoon Commander, said in a statement, adding that new robotic variants give “us the option to take the operator out of the vehicle, and still push that vehicle through the lane, creating that mobility for follow-on forces.”

The VA might actually be getting its act together

Marines from the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., operate an Assault Breaching Vehicle with robotic operation capabilities at Yakima Training Center, Yakima, Wash., May 1, as part of Joint Warfighting Assessment 2019.

(U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Monte Swift)

The Army and the Marines tested a robotic version of the ABV for the first time out at Yakima Training Center a few weeks ago in a first step toward pulling troops out of the breach.

“This is something we cried from the mountain tops for. Somebody listened,” Lonni Johnston, program manager for Army Future Command’s Robotic Complex Breach Concept (RCBC) and former assistant program manager for the ABV program, told Business Insider.

During the recent demonstration at Yakima, a prototype was put to the test. “This is the first time this has been used. We’ve never had a robotic version of this until now,” Johnston explained.

The robotic ABVs in the recent test were supported by a robotic Polaris MRZR vehicle capable of creating smoke screens, as well as suppression fire units, which in a real situation could be either manned or unmanned.

“A breach is one of the most complex maneuvers during any type of military operation because there are so many components to it,” Johnston explained.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

Marines from the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, Camp Lejeune, N.C., operate an Assault Breaching Vehicle with robotic operation capabilities at Yakima Training Center, Yakima, Wash.

(U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Monte Swift)

The breach is one of the most dangerous places a soldier or Marine can find themselves.

“The breach is literally the worst place on Earth,” Johnston, a retired Army officer, told BI. “It’s the most dangerous place on the planet.”

“Every gun, every cannon, everything that shoots a missile or a bullet is going to be aimed at that breach,” he added. “When you are attacking an enemy force that is hellbent on keeping you out, they are going to do whatever they can to do that.”

So, the Army and Marines are looking at robotic systems smash through the breach, which soldiers and manned vehicles can then flow through.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

U.S. Marine with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion services Next Generation Combat Vehicle Surrogate during a demonstration of next generation technologies in support of Joint Warfighter Assessment 19 at Yakima Training Center.

(U.S. Army Reserve Photo by Spc. Patrick Hilson)

The services have a number of challenges to surmount for robotic ABVs to be effective against a tough adversary.

It’s unclear when the robotic ABVs will be ready for deployment, but the Army is envisions fielding six per brigade, four with mine plows and two with combat dozer blades. That is how many the service believes it needs to clear two breach lanes.

Each vehicle would be operated by one person in either a stationary or mobile command and control center.

Challenges include electronic countermeasures, such as jamming technology that could be used by an enemy to incapacitate these vehicles. There are also concerns about what to do if it dies mid-breach, inadvertently becoming just the kind of obstacle it was meant to obliterate.

These are some of the things the services will have to explore as they push forward on this technology.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why this Civil War vet marched across England with the US flag

Gilbert Bates knew what a lack of understanding between people could lead to: violence and war. Bates was a Civil War veteran of the Wisconsin artillery who knew that people were basically good, no matter what the rumors said. If there was an area that was supposed to be hostile and dangerous for Americans, Bates would set out to prove the rumors wrong.

And he did so on more than one occasion.


After the Civil War ended, Sgt. Bates returned to his Wisconsin farm. Tensions between North and South were still high, even though the war had resolved the major issues. Northerner and Southerner were still mistrustful of one another. But Bates knew the South was in the Union for good. The victory was hard-won, but won nonetheless. So when his Wisconsin neighbors began to circulate rumors that the South was rising once more in rebellion and that any Northerner was not safe down there, Bates set out to prove them wrong by marching across the South with the U.S. Flag in hand.

Bates’ march received so much notoriety at the time that even Mark Twain, the famous American author wrote of it, predicting that Bates would “get more black eyes, down there among those unreconstructed rebels than he can ever carry along with him without breaking his back.” But everyone who predicted his demise greatly exaggerated.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

Bates walked across the unreconstructed South, some 1,500 miles, through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to Washington, DC. He didn’t arrive on one leg and with an eye missing, as Twain predicted. The opposite was true, actually. Bates received genteel Southern Hospitality everywhere he went, even flying the American flag he carried over the former Confederate capital at Richmond. The only place he wasn’t allowed to fly it was over the U.S. Capitol building.

This march led to Bates taking on a bet. A wealthy friend of his bet the flag carrier that he could not do the same march across England without receiving a single insult. Bates, who had an incredible belief in the goodness of his fellow man took that bet.

The VA might actually be getting its act together

Relations with England at the time of the Civil War were much different from the “Special Relationship” we enjoy today. In the 1860s, the British were more interested in King Cotton than supporting the United States against its rebels. In many ways, the English Crown supported the Confederacy, if not openly, then as an open secret. Still undeterred, Bates marched on foot – in full Union uniform – across the country. He walked some 400 miles from the border of Scotland to London to great fanfare. The English could not support him enough. He never paid for a meal or a place to sleep. By the time he got to London, the crowds swelled so much he had to take a carriage to the raise the Stars and Stripes next to the Union Jack.

Upon arriving, he telegrammed his friend, canceling the bet. To Bates, the event was worth more than any sum.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s everything the Air Force wants in a light attack plane

The Air Force is now finalizing requirements documentation, planning a new round of combat-scenario assessments, and refining an acquisition strategy for its fast-tracked new Light Attack aircraft.


The Air Force plans a new round of tests and experiments for the new aircraft — a new multi-role aircraft intended to fill specific and highly dangerous attack mission requirements amid circumstances where the US has achieved air supremacy.

Following an initial Air Force Light Attack aircraft in August 2017, which included assessments of a handful of off-the-shelf options, the Air Force is now streamlining its effort to continue testing only two of the previous competitors from summer 2017 — Textron Aviation’s AT-6 Wolverine and the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano.

Also read: The Air Force killed a combat demo for light attack aircraft

Senior Air Force leaders had told Warrior Maven that, depending upon the results of summer 2017’s experimentation at Holloman AFB, N.M., the service might send a light attack option under consideration to actual combat missions to further assets is value. Now, given what is being learned during ongoing evaluations, service officials say an actual “combat” demo test will not be necessary.

“At this time, we believe we have the right information to move forward with light attack, without conducting a combat demonstration. The Air Force is gathering enough decision-quality data through experimentation to support rigorous light attack aircraft assessments along with rapid procurement/fielding program feasibility reviews,” Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Emily Grabowski told Warrior Maven.

Grabowski added that the for the new aircraft, a $2.5 billion effort over the course of the service’s 5-year development plan.

In keeping with the Air Force vision for the Light Attack aircraft, the anticipated test combat scenarios in which for the US Air Force has air supremacy – but still needs maneuverability, close air support and the ability to precisely destroy ground targets.

More: This is the light attack aircraft the Saudis might buy

The emerging Light Attack aircraft is envisioned as a low-cost, commercially-built, combat-capable plane able to perform a wide range of missions in a less challenging or more permissive environment.

The idea is to save mission time for more expensive and capable fighter jets, such as an F-15 or F-22, when an alternative can perform needed air-ground attack missions — such as recent attacks on ISIS.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
F-15 Eagle with Legion pod. (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

Light Attack aircraft, able to hover close to the ground and attack enemies in close proximity to US forces amid a fast-moving, dynamic combat situation, would quite likely be of substantial value in counterinsurgency-type fights as well as near-peer, force-on-force engagements.

The combat concept here, were the Air Force to engage in a substantial conflict with a major, technically-advanced adversary, would be to utilize stealth attack and advanced 5th-Gen fighters to establish air superiority — before sending light aircraft into a hostile area to support ground maneuvers, fire precision weapons at ground targets from close range, and even perform on-the-spot combat rescue missions when needed.

Additionally, the Air Force will experiment with rapidly building and operating an exportable, shareable, affordable network to enable air platforms to communicate with joint and multi-national forces and command-and-control nodes, Grabowski said.

Related: F-22s are refining their roles as combat dogfighters

The upcoming experiment, to take place from May to July of 2018 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, is expected to align with combat-capability assessment parameters consistent with those used August 2017.

“This will let us gather the data needed for a rapid procurement,” Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, said in a written statement.

Air Force officials previously provided these parameters to Warrior Maven, during the analysis phase following summer 2017’s experiment:

Basic Surface Attack – Assess impact accuracy using hit/miss criteria of practice/laser-guided bomb, and unguided/guided rockets

Close Air Support (CAS) – Assess ability to find, fix, track target and engage simulated operational targets while communicating with

the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC)

Daytime Ground Assault Force (GAF) – assess aircraft endurance, range, ability to communicate with ground forces through unsecure and secure radio and receive tactical updates

Rescue Escort (RESCORT) – Assess pilot workload to operate with a helicopter, receive area updates and targeting data, employ ballistic, unguided/guided rockets and laser-guided munitions

Night CAS – Assess pilot workload to find, fix, track, target and engage operational targets

At the same time, service officials do say the upcoming tests will more fully explore some additional criteria, such as an examination of logistics and maintenance requirements, weapons and sensor issues, training syllabus validity, networking and future interoperability with partner forces.

A-29 Super Tucano

US-trained pilots with the Afghan Air Force have been attacking the Taliban with A-29 Super Tucano aircraft.

The VA might actually be getting its act together
An A-29 Super Tucano pitch. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)

A-29s are turboprop planes armed with one 20mm cannon below the fuselage able to shoot 650 rounds per minute, one 12.7mm machine gun (FN Herstal) under each wing and up to four 7.62mm Dillion Aero M134 Miniguns able to shoot up to 3,000 rounds per minute.

Super Tucanos are also equipped with 70mm rockets, air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-9L Sidewinder, air-to-ground weapons such as the AGM-65 Maverick and precision-guided bombs. It can also use a laser rangefinder and laser-guided weapons.

More reading: A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft see first action in Afghanistan

The Super Tucano is a highly maneuverable light attack aircraft able to operate in high temperatures and rugged terrain. It is 11.38 meters long and has a wingspan of 11.14 meters; its maximum take-off weight is 5,400 kilograms. The aircraft has a combat radius of 300 nautical miles, can reach speeds up to 367 mph and hits ranges up to 720 nautical miles.

AT-6 Light Attack

The Textron Aviation AT-6 is the other multi-role light attack aircraft being analyzed by the Air Force. It uses a Lockheed A-10C mission computer and a CMC Esterline glass cockpit with flight management systems combined with an L3 Wescam MX-Ha15Di multi-sensor suite which provides color and IR sensors, laser designation technology and a laser rangefinder. The aircraft is built with an F-16 hands on throttle and also uses a SparrowHawk HUD with integrated navigation and weapons delivery, according to Textron Aviation information on the plane.

Five international partners observed the first phase of the Light Attack Experiment, and the Air Force plans to invite additional international partners to observe this second phase of experimentation, a service statement said.