Laura Miller apologized more than once for getting emotional as she spoke at the Airborne Special Operations Museum on Monday.
But after seeing battle-hardened Special Forces soldiers dissolve into tears at the loss of their dogs, she said the love these men felt for their dogs — and of the dogs for them — can lead to tears at times.
Miller, a retired veterinarian technician who served 26 years, including 10 with caring for Special Operations Forces dogs, spoke to a crowd of several hundred about the sacrifices of military dogs — and the number of military lives they have saved.
“To see these big, strong soldiers break into tears over the loss of their dog, you realize this is a special bond,” Miller said. “There is a love that runs deeper.”
“The love for their dog and of the dog for their handler…” she paused as the emotion of the moment again caught her. “Just appreciate everything. Life is too short. The evidence of that is right here.”
She waved over to the nearby ASOM Field of honor, where more than 600 flags caught a light breeze.
In addition to the ceremony, the ASOM offered a series of concerts, exhibits, and first-person displays. Military experts offered visitors hands-on experience with military equipment from World War I through the Vietnam era.
Ron Wolfe, a retired Army sergeant, let youngsters try on his flak jacket and helmet from Vietnam, laughing when they complained about their weight and heat.
“Yeah, they can get a bit heavy,” Wolfe said. “Just wait until you had to wear them all day in the summertime.”
The ASOM K-9 Memorial honors more than 60 trained dogs who have died in service to Special Forces as well as partner groups in Great Britain and Australia. It was dedicated in 2013.
A 95-year-old, 29 1/2-year veteran famous for being the single-known ace to achieve victories against both German and Japanese aircraft during WWII and later becoming a stunt pilot for 20th Century Fox film “Tora Tora Tora” in 1969, flew his 100th aircraft above “the birthplace of naval aviation,” July 9.
Retired Cmdr. Dean “Diz” Laird served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, operated in 175 combat and training missions, served on 12 different carriers, flew in the Navy’s first jet squadron, was the first person to land a jet-powered aircraft aboard USS Midway and has the most arrested landings on a straight-deck carrier.
“I want to thank everyone who took part in making this happen,” said Laird. “When I found out that I was going to be able to do this, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it.”
Laird added that flying his 100th plane wasn’t for an achievement, medal or trophy. He wanted to set this milestone for himself.
Laird flew in the rear seat of a T-34C Turbomentor with Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Johnson, a fleet replacement squadron instructor pilot with the “Flying Eagles” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 122.
“I was so excited and honored to fly with a true legend, how many people can say they flew with ‘Diz’ Laird,” said Johnson. “Then he had to make me look bad by being a better pilot at 95 [years old]. It is men like this that paved the way for the rest of us.”
She continued to say that “aviation is a lot different now from what it was, especially when you think about how he is an ace. We train for air-to-air combat our whole career, but very rarely, in this day and age, does that actually happen. It’s phenomenal to have just had a conversation and fly with him. It’s fantastic and an honor.”
She added that flying 100 different aircraft is a tremendous achievement for any pilot. In comparison, Johnson has flown only 15 aircraft in her 12-year career as a pilot.
The 95-year-old legend had some words of advice for younger naval aviators. He said that his “policy has always been that every fighter pilot has two main assets once they’re airborne. One is altitude and the other is speed. Never give up one, without gaining something on the other.”
During the flight Laird and Johnson flew off the coast of San Diego for a little bit of sightseeing followed by conducting a few aileron rolls in a training area before coming in for a landing.
Laird has been recognized on Coronado’s Avenue of Heroes and continues to actively participate in Naval Aviation organizations.
Marine Corps Systems Command just announced a contract award in its Squad Common Optic program to Trijicon. The Corps chose to outfit its Fleet Marine Force, basically all of its line units, with Trijicon’s VCOG 1-8x variable magnification optic.
According to Matt Gonzales at MARCORSYSCOM’s Office of Public Affairs:
Six months after seeking industry proposals, Marine Corps Systems Command awarded an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price contract to Trijicon, Inc., of Wixom, Michigan, Feb. 21 to produce Squad Common Optic systems.
The contract has a maximum ceiling of million, and Trijicon is slated to produce approximately 19,000 units. The purchase also includes spare parts, training, nonfunctional units, interim contractor logistics support and refurbishment of test articles.
Fielding to Fleet Marine Forces will begin in the first quarter of fiscal year 2021 and will be completed by fiscal year 2023.
Service member signs his security seal of approval before it is placed on crates full of his personal property July 1, 2019.
The U.S. Army has issued hundreds of waivers for many military permanent change of station moves, despite a Defense Department-wide ban on international and domestic travel until at least June 30, top officials said Tuesday.
And while many PCS moves are halted amid the global pandemic, the Army is bracing for backlogs during the busy summer move season after restrictions lift, and are weighing what incentives it can offer to those who can ease the burden on logistics by moving themselves.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, said the service had roughly 48,000 personnel with PCS orders to move to their next duty station in March, when the travel ban took effect; “several hundred” of those were ultimately given permission to move anyway. To date, the vice chief of staff’s office, headed by Gen. Joseph Martin, has considered 500 waiver requests, he said.
Even with the latest stop-move order — which does not apply to basic training or deployments and redeployments within the combatant commands — officials said the upcoming summer months will still be the busiest for troops and their families trying to relocate. And springtime moves delayed by the travel ban will add to the summer rush, which is why the Army is bracing for backlogs to occur, added Lt. Gen. Duane Gamble, deputy chief of staff for logistics.
“There are a limited supply of moving companies that exist every summer,” Gamble said. “We’re working to streamline the PCS process … making sure soldiers get orders quicker so they can get their moves scheduled quicker.”
That includes having families move themselves instead of waiting for the government to contact a moving company, he said.
The military commonly reimburses self-moves at a rate equal to 95% of what it would pay a moving company. But Gamble said officials are considering upping the rate to encourage more troops to take advantage of it. He did not offer additional details about the change.
“We’re making recommendations to the Joint Staff and to the leadership for these changes,” he said, adding a proposal to streamline Personally Procured Moves (PPM), more commonly known as DITY moves, will be sent to the Office of the Secretary of Defense this week.
Roughly 7,000 people moved themselves over fiscal 2019, he said.
“Juxtapose that against 48,000 [in just a few months],” Gamble said, explaining that government moves still make up the majority of PCS moves. “If we continue on the current policy, we have to move five months of people in three months.”
Seamands said the Army is considering exceptions to the stop-movement order on a case-by-case basis for personnel facing hardship and those deemed mission-essential. “We’re encouraging soldiers to seek help from their chain of command” to get their permanent change-of-station move done, he added.
Mission-essential personnel who had already begun the process of relocation were given preference to proceed with their moves, Seamands said. Mission-essential designations are up to the gaining command, he explained.
Officials “coordinate with the losing command to see if the losing command is prepared to allow [a soldier] to leave based on the COVID situation, their area and other readiness issues,” he said. “Then the gaining command comes up through the Army staff to the vice chief of staff of the Army, who from the strategic level makes an assessment on whether or not to support the soldier to make the move based on how mission-essential they are.”
This year has undoubtedly been a doozie. One we don’t wish to repeat any time soon. However, as the calendar dates continue to drone on, we can look into the next few months and realize that soon, we’re starting a New Year. (We can only hope 2021 can be much kinder.)
Until then, we can endure whatever the world continues to throw at us. Sit back and enjoy some of the most relatable memes that we can link back to how this year has gone.
A French air force flying team will roar over the Air Force Academy on April 19 to celebrate the nations’ bonds built in the sky during World War I.
Patrouille de France, that nation’s equivalent of the Air Force Thunderbirds, will arrive over the academy about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 19, for a brief air show. It’s a big flying team with eight Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets, a twin-engined light attack fighter that’s known for its nimbleness.
“I think folks in Colorado Springs will get a great miniature airshow,” said Lt. Col. Allen Herritage, an Air Force Academy spokesman.
The first Americans to reach the aerial battlefields of France, though, were American airmen of the French air force’s Lafayette Escadrille, a fighter unit with American pilots that was established a year before the United States entered the war.
America’s first flying aces came from the small French unit, including Maj. Gervais Lufberry, who was credited with downing 16 planes before he was killed over Francein 1918.
The relationship built over the trenches between French and American pilots is still celebrated at the Air Force Academy today.
Herritage said the school has a French officer on the faculty and French exchange cadets on the campus. One of the pilots on the French flying team, Maj. Nicolas Lieumont, was an exchange student at the Colorado Springs school.
“We feel lucky to have them stop in Colorado Springs,” Herritage said. “It marks our nation’s longstanding relationship with France.”
The academy is inviting locals to get a better view of the French team. Visitors are welcome at the academy on April 19 and can watch the show from a viewing area near the Cadet chapel.
The Army Futures Command, or AFC, is developing wearable identity authentication and authorization technologies that will enable soldiers to securely access network-based capabilities while operating on the move in contested, threat-based environments.
Since 2001, the Common Access Card, or CAC, has served as the de facto, government-wide standard for network and system security access control. However, CAC cards are not operationally suited for use in every environment.
Moreover, the Army lacks a standard way for soldiers at every echelon to prove their identity when operating systems, devices, and applications on Army networks.
With this in mind, AFC’s major subordinate command, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or CCDC, is researching and developing authentication technologies that will provide soldiers with secure and simple ways to identify, authenticate and be authorized access to Army networks, operating systems, servers, laptops, applications, web services, radios, weapon systems, and handheld devices.
CCDC’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or C5ISR, Center is designing wearable identity tokens for soldiers to use to log on to mission command systems, networks and tactical platforms. The tokens are wireless, lightweight, flexible, and rugged, and they can be inserted in a soldier’s pocket, attached to a sleeve or integrated into a wrist band like a Fitbit.
Conceptually, soldiers wearing these tokens could simply approach a system to login, be recognized by that system, which would then prompt the soldier to enter a PIN or use a biometric as a second factor, and be automatically logged out when they walk out of the system’s range.
The CCDC C5ISR Center is developing wearable authentication tokens that will enable soldiers at every echelon to prove their identity when operating systems, devices and applications on the Army tactical network.
(Photo by Spc. Dustin D. Biven, 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
“The Army is driving towards a simpler and intuitive tactical network, so we’re aligning our Science and Technology resources to explore the challenges associated with this mission space, inform senior decision makers of the lessons learned and deliver capabilities that support Army Modernization and address the soldier’s needs — now and in the future,” said Brian Dempsey, Tactical Network Protection chief for the C5ISR Center’s Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate, or STCD.
The wearable identity tokens combine the security of a public key-based credential — similar to the credential on the CAC — with cutting-edge advances in the commercial wireless payment industry and flexible hybrid electronics, explained Ogedi Okwudishu, project lead for the Tactical Identity and Access Management, or TIDAM, program.
“As part of the Army Futures Command, we’re looking to move at the speed of the information age. We want to be able to research, test, proof the concepts and integrate emerging IT capabilities from industry as they become available. There’s no point re-inventing the wheel,” Okwudishu said.
Under the current paradigm, tactical platforms would need to be retrofitted with specialized equipment in order to read new identity authentication technologies. Such deployments and retrofitting can be very costly. Wearable tokens, however, leverage already existing communication and protocol capabilities, Okwudishu pointed out.
“Soldiers should not have to take out a smartcard, insert it into a card reader and then remember to remove the card from the reader when they are done,” said Okwudishu. “Contactless identity tokens are not only easy to use, they provide a significant cost savings for the Army. You can continue to add authentication capabilities without needing to redesign, or deploy new, tactical hardware to every laptop, server, handheld device or weapon system in the field.”
The tokens are lightweight, flexible and rugged, and they can be inserted in a soldier’s pocket, attached to a sleeve or integrated into a wrist band like a Fitbit.
(Photo by Douglas Scott)
Since beginning the TIDAM program in 2017, the C5ISR Center has worked closely with soldiers and Program Executive Offices, or PEOs, soldier and Command, Control Communications-Tactical, or C3T, to validate, demonstrate and mature the technology.
The center’s STCD is working with Project Manager Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS, to finalize a transition agreement with PEO soldier for wearable authenticator infrastructure technologies. In the meantime, the directorate is developing a wearable authenticator software provisioner that will enable the secure placement of credentials on the wearable tokens and the ability to do this “locally” at the brigade level and below.
STCD is also working from a roadmap it jointly developed with PEO soldier to integrate the capability with various systems from PEO soldier and PEO C3T. Currently, the goal for fielding the tokens is in FY 22.
“I think this is a really great idea,” said Sgt. 1st Class David Worthington, senior enlisted advisor for the C5ISR Center. “Nobody has done anything like this yet. If done properly, it will make the authentication process a lot easier and a lot faster. More important, it provides more reciprocity at the tactical level for log-ins, so you can track what people are doing on the network.”
North Korea’s newly demonstrated missile muscle puts Alaska within range of potential attack and stresses the Pentagon’s missile defenses like never before. Even more worrisome, it may be only a matter of time before North Korea makes an even longer-range ICBM with a nuclear warhead, putting all of the United States at risk.
The Pentagon has spent tens of billions to develop what it calls a limited defense against missiles capable of reaching US soil. The system has never faced combat or been fully tested. The system succeeded May 30 in its first attempted intercept of a mock ICBM, but it hasn’t faced more realistic conditions.
Although Russia and China have long been capable of targeting the US with a nuclear weapon, North Korea is seen as the bigger, more troubling threat. Its opaque, unpredictable government often confounds US intelligence assessments. And North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has openly threatened to strike the US, while showing no interest in nuclear or missile negotiations.
“We should be worried,” said Philip E. Coyle III, a former head of the Pentagon’s test and evaluation office. North Korea’s latest success, he said, “shows that time is not on our side.”
US officials believe North Korea is still short of being able to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to fit atop an intercontinental missile. And it’s unclear whether it has developed the technology and expertise to sufficiently shield such a warhead from the extreme heat experienced when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere en route to a target.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said July 5, “We’ve still not seen a number of things that would indicate a full-up threat,” including a demonstrated ability to mate a nuclear warhead to an ICBM. “But clearly they are working on it. Clearly they seek to do it. This is an aggressive research and development program on their part.”
Davis said the US defensive system is limited but effective.
“We do have confidence in it,” he said. “That’s why we’ve developed it.”
The Trump administration, like its recent predecessors, has put its money on finding a diplomatic path to halting and reversing North Korea’s nuclear program. While the Pentagon has highly developed plans if military force is ordered, the approach is seen as untenable because it would put millions of South Korean civilians at risk.
But diplomacy has failed so far. That’s why US missile defenses may soon come into play.
The Pentagon has a total of 36 missile interceptors in underground silos on military bases in Alaska and California, due to increase to 44 by year’s end. These interceptors can be launched upon notice of a missile headed toward the United States. An interceptor soars toward its target based on tracking data from radars and other electronic sensors, and is supposed to destroy the target by sheer force of impact outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Sometimes likened to hitting a bullet with a bullet, the collision is meant to incinerate the targeted warhead, neutralizing its nuclear explosive power.
This so-called hit-to-kill technology has been in development for decades. For all its advances, the Pentagon is not satisfied that the current defensive system is adequate for North Korea’s accelerating missile advances.
“The pace of the threat is advancing faster than I think was considered when we did the first ballistic missile defense review back in 2010,” Rob Soofer, who is helping review missile defenses, told a Senate Armed Service subcommittee last month. Beyond what US officials have said publicly about the North Korean nuclear threat, he said the classified picture “is even more dire.” Soofer didn’t provide details.
The escalating danger has led the administration to consider alternative concepts for missile defense, including what is known as “boost phase” defense. This approach involves destroying a hostile missile shortly after its launch, before the warhead separates from the missile body and decoys can be deployed. One proposed tactic would be to develop a drone capable of long-endurance flight and armed with a solid-state laser to destroy or disable a missile in flight.
These and other possible new approaches would add to budget strains already felt in the missile defense program.
President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would cut $340 million from missile defense programs intended to deter a potential strike by North Korea, Iran or other countries. The Republican-led Congress has taken the first steps in rejecting the reduction. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R- Texas, the House Armed Services Committee chairman, declared last month that he was “astonished” Trump would propose trimming missile defense.
Thornberry’s committee voted last week to provide about $12.5 billion for missile defense in the 2018 fiscal year that begins in October, nearly $2.5 billion more than Trump’s request. The Senate Armed Services Committee also called for millions more than Trump requested. The full House and Senate are expected to consider the committees’ legislation, and the boost in missile defense money, later this month.
In 1862, the Merrimack and the Monitor fought the famous naval battle at Hampton Roads where ships with iron armor fought each other for the first time. That clash is often cited as one of the moments where warfare changed overnight. Suddenly, it was clear that most cannons couldn’t penetrate iron hulls, and so every navy rushed to armor their hulls.
Just four years later, two fleets of wooden and iron-hulled boats clashed in the waters near Venice, and this first clash of iron fleets got weird, fast.
The Battle of Lissa was fought near an island of the same name in the Adriatic Sea, sometimes known as Vis, its Croatian name. A large Italian fleet of about 26 ships, including 13 ironclads, faced off against about 26 Austrian ships, but only seven Austrian ships were ironclads.
But the ironclad numbers weren’t the end of the Italian advantage. The ships that took part were powered by a mix of sail and steam. Like, each ship used both. Some ships were predominantly steam-powered but had sails to make them more efficient on long voyages, and some were sail-powered with small steam engines and paddles to help them quickly turn in combat. The ships predominantly powered by steam were generally more effective in combat, and Italy had a higher mix of those. And the Italian ships were generally larger, as well.
But most importantly, the Italian ships had larger guns and more rifled pieces. At the time, rifle-fired rounds and exploding rounds were about the only thing that could pierce iron armor. And by larger guns, we mean the largest Austrian guns were 48-pounders, and every piece of Italian naval artillery was larger.
So, the Italian ships were larger, better armed and armored, and technologically advanced. Guess the Italians won. Cool. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
The Austrian wooden battleship Kaiser rams an Italian ironclad in the Battle. The ship left its figurehead behind after the clash.
Except, nope, just wait. Italy sent ships to capture the island of Lissa from an Austrian garrison on July 16, 1866. This assault was repelled, and the Italian ships returned on the night of July 19 to try again. The next morning, July 20, 1866, was rainy and the waters were covered in mist.
But the Italian fleet used the weather as a cover for their coming bombardment and landings right up until a dispatch vessel ran back to elements of the fleet with news that Austrian ships had reached the island. The Italian fleet had been split up to bombard multiple targets and land troops. They were not properly massed for a naval battle.
The Italians were unimpressed, though, and continued to focus on landing troops. With the technological and numerical advantage, it must have seemed that they could bat away any attempts at disturbing the landings.
Ships are designed with long bodies to minimize resistance and to give stability, but artillery works best when it’s deployed side-by-side with all the guns firing in support of one another. So, when one group of ships charges on another, the group firing broadsides can typically fire many more cannons than the group that is charging. So, seemingly, this would work to the Italians’ advantage.
But then the Italian admiral did something completely baffling. He changed flagships as the Austrians bore down on him. He would later claim that he did this so he would be on a faster ship that could more efficiently relay orders, but the Italian ship crews didn’t know about the change and so would look to the wrong ship for direction for most of the battle.
And then the Austrians got a second break. Their headlong charge was obscured as the naval guns opened fire and began to emit those huge clouds of smoke. The Austrian commander, Rear Adm. Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, charged through the smoke with most of his ships and suddenly realized that he had unwittingly passed through the Italian line of battle.
So the Italian fleet was receiving no clear orders from what the captains thought was the flagship, was obscured by smoke, and suddenly had an enemy literally sailing through their lines. The battle quickly descended into a tight mass of ships circling and firing on one another with little real coordination. As the smoke filled the air and everyone lost sight of nearly everything, it became tough for combatants to tell who they were supposed to fight.
An illustration shows Rear Adm. Wilhelm von Tegetthoff during the Battle of Lissa.
Von Tegetthoff, though, had issued an order that worked perfectly in this insanity. Remember, Austria’s largest guns in the battle were nearly useless for firing at armor plating. The 48-pound shells that were his most powerful projectile would still need a lucky shot to seriously damage an Italian ironclad. So, von Tegetthoff had ordered his ships to ram Italian vessels whenever the opportunity arose.
And so the spinning, chaotic, smoke-filled brawl that morning was perfect for them. It softened the impact of the Italian artillery advantage, and Austrian crews began ramming everything that looked vaguely Italian.
Yeah, the first clash of iron fleets descended into a battle of naval ramming, a tactic that had lost favor in the decades prior because rammings were hard to pull off as the ships required a lot of time and space to build up speed, but easy to avoid as the targeted vessel could pull out of the way or turn so that an otherwise lethal blow would be a glancing hit instead.
In the melee of Lissa, ships of both sides rammed each other, and gun crews fired on ships that they were locked into combat with. An Austrian battleship rammed an Italian vessel and left its figurehead, a statue of the emperor, in the enemy’s iron armor. The Austrian ship even caught fire when one of its masts broke, landed on its own smokestack, and then became overheated by the exhaust.
The Italian ship Re d’Italia sinks at the end of the Battle of Lissa.
(Carl Frederik Sørensen)
When the ships were exchanging shells, the Italians generally got the better of the exchanges as they could lob 300-pound shells from some guns. But the Austrian proficiency at ramming claimed a greater toll.
The heavy Italian ship rolled away, rolled back, and then sank in less than two minutes as sailors and marines struggled to escape the suction of the quickly sinking iron.
The fleets disentangled themselves. The Austrian forces had lost no ships, had only one badly damaged, and had suffered almost 200 casualties including 38 killed. The Italians had lost a prized ironclad and hundreds killed. Worse, a fire was spreading on another ironclad, the Palestro. Despite heroic efforts by the crew to save the ship, including flooding its powder magazines, a separate store of shells and powder was ignited.
The ship blew up like a massive bomb, sending parts of its plating and hull high in the air. Hundreds more Italian sailors died, and the wreckage sank within minutes. Italy had lost a second ironclad, and its death toll for the battle rose to 620. Not to mention, the shores of Lissa were now safe from the threatened Italian amphibious assault.
The aftereffect of Lissa was even weirder than the battle, though. The success of rams led to new ship designs that emphasized the weapon for decades, so even in World War I modern-ish battleships and many smaller vessels still carried iron rams at the waterline. And, maybe even more surprising, the Austrian success at Lissa had become moot before it was even fought.
The Austrian Empire had been decisively defeated on land at the Battle of Königgrätz by Prussian forces on July 3. Prussian forces on the continent kept pressure on Austria for the rest of July, and the war came to an end with Prussian victory.
Germanic tribes, and their Italian allies, were allowed to consolidate their peoples into new nations separate from the Austrian Empire. That empire renamed itself the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and, 48 years later, one of its archdukes was killed while riding in a car in the town of Sarajevo, less than 130 miles northeast of Lissa.
(Today, the island is part of Croatia and is known by its name in the Croatian language, Vis.)
“When you’re young, you have this sense of invincibility, ” says Stacy Pearsall. “You can hear the gunshots, but they can’t touch you.” Pearsall is a former Air Force Combat Photojournalist who spent much of her storied ten-year Air Force career assigned to the 1st Combat Camera Squadron in Charleston South Carolina. Her awards include the Bronze Star, Air Medal, and Air Force Commendation Medal with Valor. She is one of two women to win Military Photographer of the Year and the only woman to win it twice. She has an honorary doctoral degree from The Citadel and was declared a Champion of Change by the White House.
During her first Iraq deployment in 2003, then-23-year-old Pearsall documented everything from Blackhawk helicopter sorties to foot patrols with Army infantry units on the ground. This would be the cornerstone of an epic that would impact thousands of veterans from across the US and around the globe.
“Throughout my deployment I photographed a civil affairs mission to rebuild a bombed out school where Saddam’s wife once taught,” Pearsall reflects. “We targeted it during “shock and awe” because Ba’athists used it as a headquarters. When we were gearing up for the convoy, there was one open seat in the lead vehicle and one in the rear. My partner and I drew straws to see who would sit where. As we departed the school, an IED buried under piles of debris detonated near my vehicle, sending projectiles and dust everywhere. It was fortunate the bomb wasn’t bigger. Everyone walked away that day.”
She waited to seek medical attention until she returned to the Air Force’s Camp Sather. She’d seen far worse wounds and didn’t want to make a big deal about whiplash and some blood in her ears. She played down her injuries and continued to document missions nearly every day until the end of her deployment.
“Suffice to say I slammed a lot of vitamin M,” Pearsall recalls.
Like many blast traumas, it was the injuries she couldn’t see that followed her home from deployment. Once back home in Charleston, Pearsall was cooking dinner and suddenly fell over. Her world was off-kilter and she couldn’t stand upright. Doctors thought her injuries gave way to viruses so she underwent the treatment for that with little to no relief. Today, a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury (TBI) would’ve been more likely. For Pearsall, that diagnosis would not come for another five years.
“So I learned to deal with the vertigo and headaches,” Pearsall says. Despite the chronic headaches and neck pain, she continued her Air Force photojournalism career. Her work earned her Military Photographer of the Year (MPOY) in 2003, an annual award, open to all military personnel. During the judging, the panel referred to Stacy as ‘he‘. They did not do it years later, when she won for the second time.
While supporting Operation Enduring Freedom Horn of Africa, she teamed up with combat videographer Staff Sergeant Katie Robinson, an Air Force Reservist who would eventually become Pearsall’s battle buddy for life. The two worked to deploy together at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Warhorse, near Baqubah, Iraq.
Despite a mud-floored CHU with a leaky roof and a critical satellite transmitter sitting in a pool of water, set out to prove they could hang with the soldiers at Warhorse.
“I was never faced with anything regarding my competency because I am a female,” Pearsall says. Initially, everyone was apprehensive because I was a photographer. I caught earfuls of inter-service rivalry for being Air Force but after our first firefight, word got around that I was worth having around. Instead of seeking them out, they started asking for our support.”
FOB Warhorse proved to be the right place for action. The Battle of Baqubah was the last major offensive of the Iraq War and would last seven months. Having freedom to do so, Pearsall and Robinson moved around the AOR documenting one key mission after another.
“I put those soldiers on a pedestal,” Pearsall reveals. “They are still today, my personal heroes to whom owe my life.”
Pearsall and Robinson were supposed to accompany Delta Company into Baqubah on a raid to take down a house harboring enemy fighters. At the last minute, they were transferred to an Iraqi Army operation in nearby Buhriz. As they prepared for their new assignment, they listened to their friends’ progress as the reports trickled in.
“As the breach team moved in, the house blew,” Pearsall remembers. “The Bradleys came back to the FOB and began unloading the injured. The soldiers were a mess. We looked for our friends, but couldn’t see them. Then the last Bradley dropped ramp and unloaded those who were killed in action. Blue Platoon lost three really great guys that day. The rest of their team had to soldier on. Katie and I did too. We still had to go out and meet the Iraqi Army for our next operation.”
The two were split up between two Iraqi Army companies, with the idea they’d link back up in a few days. That was the plan, anyway.
“They shot my fucking thumb off!” Robinson said the minute she was struck by a nearby sniper. The sniper was aiming for an officer sitting next to Robinson. The bullet went through her left forearm, through her video camera and exploded the battery, which partially amputated her right thumb.
“I laughed when I heard that,” Pearsall remembers. “That’s what made us so close. Our collective humor, our unwavering bond, our utmost respect for each other.” When given the opportunity to redeploy home and rehab back in the United States, Robinson refused. Instead, she opted to return to FOB Warhorse.
“For me, the rest of the deployment was intense, just like that,” Pearsall says. “So many good soldiers taken so quickly, so young. Photographing the rare moments between gunfights was my favorite thing to do. It was my sense of home, of humanity.”
Toward the end of her deployment, Pearsall further injured her neck during an operation. Robinson finally convinced her to see a doctor. An x-ray led to a CAT scan and more tests. Doctors concluded she needed surgery. For Pearsall, that was not an option. She wanted to leave Iraq on her own terms.
“Katie was strong. I wanted to remain strong too,” Pearsall says. I already lived with the pain for so long, one flight home wasn’t going to kill me. It was the one thing I could control in a situation that seemed out of my control.”
“My neck wouldn’t heal enough for me to stay in the military,” Pearsall explains. “It was devastating. They offered alternatives, like admin or finance. But after you’ve tasted combat, you can’t go back. If I couldn’t fight, what was I supposed to do? My career in the military was over.”
“One day, while waiting for an appointment at my VA hospital, a World War II veteran leaned over and asked if I was taking my grandfather to his doctor’s appointment. He seemed surprised to learn I was a veteran. He told me how he helped liberate a concentration camp during WWII and I realized that I judged him unfairly – just as everyone was doing to me. So I set about healing myself through the experiences of other veterans.”
Now her mission continues. First on her mind is a portrait project, photographing veterans from every conflict and preserving their stories their image for generations to come.
“I had the honor of photographing the last living pictures of soldiers on the battlefield,” she says. “And I wanted to continue that service to my fellow veterans.”
Her work and personal recovery, isn’t limited to her portrait project. There were some whose stories could no longer be told firsthand. In 2012, she published Shooter: Combat From Behind the Camera, a book of her Iraq War imagery.
“I couldn’t look at my photos without having an emotional response,” she says. “I wanted to put what happened on a page and shelve it, so I wouldn’t have to live that part of my life every day anymore. Shooter was my therapy. It was my way of honoring those who didn’t have a voice anymore, to share their experience with the world.”
Her second book, A Photojournalist’s Field Guide was published in 2013. Along with contributions from her heavy–hitter photojournalist friends, Pearsall created a guide to educate younger photographers. The book isn’t limited to photography tips. It includes insight on how to survive in austere conditions, cope with stress and maneuver through tough situations.
“I’m not the first woman to go into combat for the United States,” Pearsall explains. “There are a whole slew of women who fought for this country. Unfortunately, they’re not spoken much of in the history books.”
Not anymore. Pearsall’s project will ensure history won’t forget any veteran who fought for the U.S., regardless of gender.
Rescuer turned rescuee this week as a British diver involved in saving the trapped Thai soccer team last year needed the help of emergency services himself when he got trapped in a cave in Tennessee, The Guardian reported.
Josh Bratchley was rescued on April 17, 2019, after spending more than a day underground. Bratchley was part of the British cave diving team that helped in the high profile rescue of 12 Thai school boys and their soccer coach from the flooded Tham Luang cave last summer.
He had explored a cave in Jackson County, Tennessee on April 16, 2019, but failed to return to surface with the rest of his group at around 3.00 p.m. His fellow divers alerted 911 at 1.00 a.m. the next morning.
The Jackson County Emergency Management Agency said that specialized divers from Arkansas and Florida had to be flown in to help with the “highly technical issue,” CNN reported.
This NBC News video shows the moment the expert diver was brought to safety that same evening.
Diver Rescued After Being Trapped For 27 Hours In Tennessee Cave | NBC Nightly News
The expert diver was awake, alert, and oriented, EMA spokesman Derek Woolbright said a press conference.
“His only request when he got to the surface was that he wanted some pizza,” Woolbright said, according to The Guardian.
Edd Sorenson, a veteran technical cave diver, told journalists that he found Bratchley waiting in the mud with his gear off, NBC reported. The British diver’s expertise likely saved his life, Sorenson said.
“Most of the time on rescues, when I get there, they’re hysterical, they’re panicked, and that makes it very dangerous for me,” he said. “[Bratchley’s] mental state was impeccable. He’s a consummate professional.”
Sorenson said he was expecting the worst because there was limited visibility in the small cave system.
“Putting people in body bags all the time is no fun, and when you get to send one home, it’s an exceptional feeling,” he said.
Lieutenant Brian Krebs, from Chattanooga Hamilton County Rescue Services, also praised Bratchley’s composure, saying: “Most of what happened today here was Josh. His mental state when he came out was excellent.”
The former meteorologist was honored by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, and was appointed to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, according to The Guardian.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thiisInsider on Twitter.
Awhile ago, United may have taken it one step too far – at the expense of one of its own.
Daniel Fandrei is a United Airlines pilot who says he was not credited with his employee benefits – his accrued sick leave – while he was deployed to Southwest Asia as Air Force Reserve pilot Lt. Col. Fandrei. He reportedly filed a complaint with the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.
Fandrei is a KC-10 Extender pilot who spent December 2012 to March 2013 conducting mid-air refuelings in support of combat operations in the CENTCOM theater. According to the Justice Department, United did not give him the same benefits as other employees during that time.
The Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act ensures military reserve and guard members called to active duty do not experience penalties as a result of their service.
Under the USERRA, the federal government will file legal actions against things like car repossessions and home foreclosures for activated servicemembers. Fandrei joined the Air Force as an officer in 1990 and started working for United in 2000.
“Lt. Col. Fandrei has made many sacrifices to serve our nation honorably, including spending months away from his job and family,” U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois said in a statement. “When our servicemembers are deployed in the service of our country, they are entitled to retain their civilian employment and benefits, and to the protections of federal law that prevent them from being subject to discrimination based upon their military obligations.”
When the idea for an Army Futures Command was first broached by Chief of Staff General Mark Milley and then acting Secretary Ryan McCarthy at the 2017 annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army, it was part shock and part thrill. The civilian and military leadership of the Army was united in their intention to radically change the service’s approach to acquisition.
The centerpiece of their strategy for change was the creation of a Futures Command. The goal of the new command, according to the Vice Chief of Staff General James McConville, is to kickstart Army modernization by starting with a vision of the future, imagining the world you want and then working backward to figure out what it would take to get there. This approach is much more likely to produce revolutionary change, and it’s the one Army Futures Command will adopt.
In recent public statements, General John Murray, the newly-confirmed commander of the Army’s fledgling Futures Command, has been downplaying expectations for his new organization. He has cautioned listeners not to expect miracles from the new organization. In fact, in General Murray’s estimation, it will take the next three to five years to achieve buy-in from the Army and Congress for Futures Command. According to him, buy-in is achieved “by being a little bit disruptive, but not being so disruptive you upset the apple cart.” So much for the goal of revolutionary change.
The trouble with this perspective is that the current state of the Army requires some miracles. Virtually the entire array of Army ground and aerial platforms is in serious, in some cases desperate, need of modernization. Also, at the end of the Cold War, the Army essentially abandoned several capability areas, most notably tactical air defense, electronic warfare and chemical-biological defense, that it now is scrambling to resurrect. Then there are the emerging areas such as cyber warfare and robotics which the Army and the other services are struggling to master.
General John Murray, the newly-confirmed commander of the Army’s fledgling Futures Command.
The Army leadership may not believe in miracles. However, they do seem to be indulging in wishful thinking. By locating Futures Command in Austin, a city with a reputation as a hotbed of innovative thinking regarding technology, they believe that a staff composed largely of mid-career Army officers and government civilians can be magically transformed into a cohort of Steve Jobs, Peter Thiel and Bill Gates. Army secretary Mark Esper described their intentions this way: “We needed to immerse ourselves in an environment where innovation occurs, at speeds far faster than our current process allows.”
Neither Silicon Valley nor Austin created the innovative culture that has become so attractive to defense leaders. There is nothing in the air or water in either location that promotes creative thinking or an entrepreneurial spirit. There are many cities in the United States that possess the combination of characteristics that Army leaders said they wanted in the place that would house Futures Command: academic talent, advanced industries, and an innovative private sector. Army leaders initially had a list of thirty potential candidates. The five finalists, Austin, Boston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Raleigh, are spread across the United States.
Department of Defense and Army leaders have it exactly backward. Innovators created Silicon Valley, Austin and the other locations that were identified as prospective homes for Futures Command. Moreover, innovators are not made, they are born. They begin by seeing the world differently than conventional thinkers. They don’t learn to take risks; it is part of their DNA.
This is, even more, the case for entrepreneurs, those who successfully translate the innovator’s creations into marketable products. Entrepreneurship is inherently about using the products of innovation to destroy old devices, systems and ways of behaving. Can one imagine Steve Jobs’ response if he had been told to restrain himself to being just a little disruptive?
If immersion in a “hothouse” environment of innovation is necessary in order for the Pentagon to produce cutting-edge military capabilities, how does one account for the successes of Kelly Johnson, Hyman Rickover, Donn Starry and the other defense innovators in the decades before Silicon Valley emerged? How do we explain the stream of innovations that have emerged from the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks, the Boeing’ Phantom Works and BAE Systems’ state-of-the-art Integration, Assembly and Test facility?
It is unclear how Futures Command is going to infuse the rest of the Army’s acquisition system with the spirit of innovation and the drive of entrepreneurship. There is an urgent need to get control over the requirements process that can often take five or more years to develop a set of validated requirements. But this is only a palliative measure.
What must be disrupted, even destroyed, is the risk-averse, do it by the books, write iron-clad contracts mentality that afflicts much of the acquisition system. There is also an imperative to change the risk-averse mindset of many Program Executive Officers and Program Managers.
Futures Command could be most useful, at least initially, by focusing on removing impediments to innovation and entrepreneurship rather than searching for new and potentially exciting technologies. It could focus on deregulation and retraining contracting officers so that they are supportive of the process of innovation. Then the Command could look for law schools that teach their students how to find ways to change policies and procedures rather than identifying all the reasons why it can’t be done. Building a flexible acquisition system with a culture supportive of innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit would be a miracle. But this is what the Army needs.