This is what the US cyber command could look like - We Are The Mighty
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This is what the US cyber command could look like

After months of delay, the Trump administration is finalizing plans to revamp the nation’s military command for defensive and offensive cyber operations in hopes of intensifying America’s ability to wage cyber war against the Islamic State group and other foes, according to US officials.


Under the plans, US Cyber Command would eventually be split off from the intelligence-focused National Security Agency.

Details are still being worked out, but officials say they expect a decision and announcement in the coming weeks. The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter so requested anonymity.

The goal, they said, is to give US Cyber Command more autonomy, freeing it from any constraints that stem from working alongside the NSA, which is responsible for monitoring and collecting telephone, internet, and other intelligence data from around the world — a responsibility that can sometimes clash with military operations against enemy forces.

This is what the US cyber command could look like
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Making cyber an independent military command will put the fight in digital space on the same footing as more traditional realms of battle on land, in the air, at sea, and in space.

The move reflects the escalating threat of cyberattacks and intrusions from other nation states, terrorist groups, and hackers, and comes as the US faces ever-widening fears about Russian hacking following Moscow’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 American election.

The US has long operated quietly in cyberspace, using it to collect information, disrupt enemy networks, and aid conventional military missions. But as other nations and foes expand their use of cyberspying and attacks, the US is determined to improve its ability to incorporate cyber operations into its everyday warfighting.

Experts said the command will need time to find its footing.

“Right now I think it’s inevitable, but it’s on a very slow glide path,” said Jim Lewis, a cybersecurity expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But, he added, “A new entity is not going to be able to duplicate NSA’s capabilities.”

This is what the US cyber command could look like
U.S. Air Force photo by Raymond McCoy

The NSA, for example, has 300 of the country’s leading mathematicians “and a gigantic super computer,” Lewis said. “Things like this are hard to duplicate.”

He added, however, that over time, the US has increasingly used cyber as a tactical weapon, bolstering the argument for separating it from the NSA.

The two highly secretive organizations, based at Fort Meade, Maryland, have been under the same four-star commander since Cyber Command’s creation in 2009.

But the Defense Department has been agitating for a separation, perceiving the NSA and intelligence community as resistant to more aggressive cyber warfare, particularly after the Islamic State’s transformation in recent years from an obscure insurgent force into an organization holding significant territory across Iraq and Syria and with a worldwide recruiting network.

While the military wanted to attack IS networks, intelligence objectives prioritized gathering information from them, according to US officials familiar with the debate. They weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly and requested anonymity.

This is what the US cyber command could look like
Former United States Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter.

Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter sent a plan to President Barack Obama last year to make Cyber Command an independent military headquarters and break it away from the NSA, believing that the agency’s desire to collect intelligence was at times preventing the military from eliminating IS’ ability to raise money, inspire attacks, and command its widely dispersed network of fighters.

Carter, at the time, also pushed for the ouster of Adm. Mike Rogers, who still heads both bodies. The Pentagon, he warned, was losing the war in the cyber domain, focusing on cyberthreats from nations such as Iran, Russia, and China, rather than on countering the communications and propaganda campaigns of internet-savvy insurgents.

Officials also grew alarmed by the growing number of cyberattacks against the US government, including several serious, high-level Defense Department breaches that occurred under Rogers’ watch.

“NSA is truly an intelligence-collection organization,” said Lauren Fish, a research associate with the Center for a New American Security. “It should be collecting information, writing reports on it. Cyber Command is meant to be an organization that uses tools to have military operational effect.”

This is what the US cyber command could look like
Director of United States National Security Agency, Mike Rogers. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

After President Donald Trump’s inauguration, officials said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis endorsed much of the plan. But debate over details has dragged on for months.

It’s unclear how fast the Cyber Command will break off on its own. Some officials believe the new command isn’t battle-ready, given its current reliance on the NSA’s expertise, staff, and equipment. That effort will require the department to continue to attract and retain cyber experts.

Cyber Command was created in 2009 by the Obama administration to address threats of cyber espionage and other attacks. It was set up as a sub-unit under US Strategic Command to coordinate the Pentagon’s ability to conduct cyber warfare and to defend its own networks, including those that are used by combat forces in battle.

Officials originally said the new cyber effort would likely involve hundreds, rather than thousands, of new employees.

This is what the US cyber command could look like
Graduates from the Master of Cyber Systems and Operations program inside NPS’ Hamming High Performance Computing Center. Navy photo by Javier Chagoya.

Since then, the command has grown to more than 700 military and civilian employees. The military services also have their own cyber units, with a goal of having 133 fully operational teams with as many as 6,200 personnel.

Its proposed budget for next year is $647 million. Rogers told Congress in May that represents a 16 percent increase over this year’s budget to cover costs associated with building the cyber force, fighting IS, and becoming an independent command.

Under the new plan being forwarded by the Pentagon to the White House, officials said Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville would be nominated to lead Cyber Command. Leadership of the NSA could be turned over to a civilian.

Mayville is currently the director of the military’s joint staff and has extensive experience as a combat-hardened commander. He deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, leading the 173rd Airborne Brigade when it made its assault into Iraq in March 2003 and later heading coalition operations in eastern Afghanistan.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Las Vegas hotel is suing 2017 mass shooting victims

The owners of the Las Vegas hotel that was the scene of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history is counter-suing victims who are suing the hotel for negligence.

Fifty-eight people were killed and hundreds wounded when Stephen Paddock fired on a concert from his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel in October 2017. Paddock killed himself as police moved in.


Hundreds of victims have filed suit against MGM Resorts, which owns the Mandalay Bay, accusing the company of negligence for failing to monitor the hotel’s guests and for allowing Paddock to stockpile an arsenal of high-powered weapons and ammunition in his room in the days leading up to the massacre.

MGM Resorts, filed suit against the victims in July 2018, alleging those wounded or whose relatives were killed cannot sue the hotel.

This is what the US cyber command could look like

President Trump visits a Las Vegas shooting victim.

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

MGM cites a 2002 federal law that limits liabilities against businesses that take certain steps to “prevent and respond to mass violence.”

MGM says the security company it employed at the concert was certified by the Department of Homeland Security.

But Las Vegas lawyer Robert Eglet, who represents about 1000 of the victims, says the company providing security at the hotel, from where Paddock fired his shots, was not certified.

“MGM has done something that in over 30 years of practice is the most outrageous thing I have ever seen. They have sued the families of the victims while they’re still grieving over their loved ones,” Eglet said.

This article originally appeared on Voice of America News. Follow @VOANews on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran to cut four zeros from currency to fight hyperinflation

Iran’s parliament has voted to slash four zeros from the national currency, the rial, to fight hyperinflation caused by crippling U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers also decided on May 4 that the rial, which has been Iran’s national currency since 1925, wiil be replaced by the toman, which will be equal to 10,000 rials, according to the IRNA and ISNA news agencies.

President Donald Trump in May 2018 withdrew the United States from a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers under which Tehran pledged to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.


Washington then reimposed most sanctions on Iran, dealing a hard blow to the Islamic republic’s economy.

In recent months, the rial has shed more than 60 percent of its value, with hyperinflation also accelerated by the economic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak. Iran is one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic.

The law must be ratified by the Guardians Council, a powerful hard-line constitutional watchdog.

State television said Iran’s Central Bank will have two years to “pave the ground to change the currency to the toman.”

The Iranian currency was trading at about 156,000 rials per dollar on the unofficial market on May 4, according to foreign-exchange websites.

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

Articles

How one milspouse nonprofit rallied the community for wounded Airmen

Military relief organizations typically focus on their own service members and families. But on June 4, 2021, many of those organizations went all-in for wounded Airmen, instead.

In 2019, the Air Force saw unprecedented suicide numbers within their active duty force. It prompted a branch-wide stand down to address the alarming losses and opened an even deeper discussion on suicide prevention. The Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) program saw success with their intense efforts that year but it was short lived. Known for their Warrior Care events and adaptive sports, much had to be put on hold the following year due to a global pandemic. COVID-19 quickly created increased isolation and caused negative mental health symptoms to skyrocket.

This is what the US cyber command could look like

The Inspire Up Foundation, founded by four military spouses each affiliated with a different branch of service, wanted to help. Their primary mission is to serve the military and first responder communities. Jessica Manfre, a Coast Guard spouse and CFO of the organization, said they had to do something. “We’re well-known for our Spark and Inspire boxes we give away so we thought this was a unique opportunity to create a warrior box just for them,” she explained.

Manfre said they brought the idea to their primary sponsor and partner, Caliber Home Loans. The goal was to create 500 boxes for Airmen identified as at-risk and the company immediately donated $7,500 to the cause.

“Caliber believes strongly in stepping forward to support our military and veterans. Being a veteran Air Force spouse myself, this project really hits home. I’m thankful we could step forward to kickstart this endeavor to uplift Airmen in need,” Brittany Boccher, National Director of Military Community Engagement for Caliber Home Loans stated in the press release.

Knowing they’d need more to fill those boxes, the networking began.

“I just finished reading Once a Warrior, written by Jake Wood. The book was an incredible journey through his Marine Corps service and his season of finding purpose outside his uniform,” Manfre explained. “I just couldn’t help but think this was the book these wounded Airmen needed to read. So, I emailed Jake and asked if he or his publishing company could help us with our project and they immediately said yes.”

Black Rifle Coffee company was approached next, known for their ongoing support of the military community. Manfre said the company immediately offered enough coffee for half of the boxes and gave the rest well below cost. The remaining funding was used to create a special warrior coffee mug and custom journal, a practice studies have linked to support healing.

The collaborating wasn’t done yet. Manfre said they had everything shipped to AFW2 headquarters in San Antonio, Texas — a city the Green Beret Foundation also calls home, too. “I called their executive director and asked if they’d be willing to host us to assemble and fill the boxes,” Manfre said. “He [Brent Cooper] said yes without hesitation. It didn’t matter that these weren’t soldiers or special forces, they were in.”

In the press release for the project, Cooper said they were proud to host. “Suicide is not exclusive to one branch of the military. Our service members and veterans continue to battle mental health every day and it’s critical for organizations to come together to accelerate the impact of reducing the suicide statistics,” he shared. “We are more than happy to be able to provide the workspace needed to the Inspire Up Foundation, one of GBF’s force multipliers, and work together to continue the fight against veteran suicide.”

On the day of the event, the building was filled with smiling volunteers from all walks of the military life. Samantha Gomolka, Army spouse and COO of the Inspire Up Foundation, said it was overwhelming. “The joy was palpable and it was so beautiful to see,” she explained. “Beyond immediately serving these wounded warriors, we want the world to know that taking care of our service members doesn’t stop when they take off the uniform. They deserve and need our support always.”

Maria Reed, Army Spouse and CEO of the Inspire Up Foundation, echoed that sentiment. “I get emotional talking about it but our warriors here at home need us just as much as those deployed do. Don’t forget them,” she implored through tears.

Also present for the event were local Air Force spouses like Verenice Castillo, CEO of the Military Spouse Advocacy Network, veteran special forces soldiers and the AFW2 Wellness and Resiliency team. It only took the group three hours to assemble and fill 500 boxes.

“We all just want this project to just be the beginning. Our military community was already hurting before this pandemic made it worse,” Manfre said. “It’s not even about a free box filled with nice things. It’s the gesture and the way we hope to show them they are loved and seen. As a therapist, I know the value of community and connection. For many, it makes a life or death difference.”

Articles

World War II veteran gets Bronze Star after 73 years

A South Carolina World War II veteran’s family, along with Congressman Joe Wilson and Rep. Bill Taylor, R- SC, recently honored the war hero with the Bronze Star, which he actually received 73 years ago.


On May 20, Aiken County’s James “Boots” Beatty, 96, was presented the award that was authorized in 1944, but he was never notified.

Now, after decades, Wilson and Taylor presented the Bronze Star.

“I honored him recognition from the South Carolina House of Representatives,” Taylor said. “Boots was one of the original military ‘tough guys’. He served in the famed Devil’s Brigade, our county’s First Special Forces Unit and the forerunner of Delta Force, the Navy Seals.”

This is what the US cyber command could look like
Navy Seals in WW2. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The Bronze Star Medal, unofficially the Bronze Star, is a United States decoration awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone.

Beatty received this and several other awards during a special surprise presentation at his home in Aiken.

“Today’s recognition was a surprise arranged by his loving family who didn’t know of his special service until they discovered it six years ago because he never told them,” Taylor said.

Jim Hamilton, Beatty’s son-in-law, and several other family members also presented other medals and decorations Beatty won, but lost over the many years.

This is what the US cyber command could look like
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Beatty also was presented with the Good Conduct medal, which was approved by the Secretary of War on Oct. 30, 1942; the European — African — Middle Eastern Campaign Medal is a military award of the United States Armed Forces which was first created on Nov. 6, 1942 by executive order 9265, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt; and the World War II Victory Medal, Hamilton said.

He also received the Active Duty Army Minute Man Lapel Pin, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Expert Infantryman Badge.

Articles

The Nazis nearly completed a super-cannon capable of hitting London and France

This is what the US cyber command could look like


WW2 saw the nations of the world investing massive amounts of manpower and money into the development of better ways to extinguish life in hopes of turning the tide of the war in their respective favors, sometimes including coming up with outlandish contraptions like (surprisingly effective) bat bombs and pigeon guided missiles, anti-tank dogs,flying jeeps and tanks, suicide torpedoes,super ships made of ice, and even balloon bombs randomly sent out with the hope they might land somewhere thousands of miles away on enemy soil. Today we’ll be looking at another notable WWII weapon, the V-3 cannon- a piece of artillery capable of hitting a target more than 100 miles (165 km) away, shooting its projectiles at around 3,400 mph (5500 km/h)!

Technically defined as a “supergun”, a term given to guns of such comically large size they need to be categorised separately, the V-3 was 430 feet long (131 metres). This massive size meant that the gun had to be built already aiming at its target and could only reliably hit a target the size of a city, a fairly minor trade-off considering the weapon’s nigh-unparalleled range for a non-rocket based weapon.

This is what the US cyber command could look like
The V-3 was able to achieve the incredible projectile range due to a rather unique firing mechanism that utilized multiple smaller explosions, rather than one big one, along the length of its barrel set to go off just as the projectile passed these side chambers. This allowed the supergun to fire its payload at extreme distances without damaging the barrel, which had proved to be a problem for other, similarly massive guns.

Notable here, for reasons we’ll get to in a minute, is the so-called Kaiser Wilhelm Geschütz (quite literally, Emperor Wilhelm Gun). This was a 200 ton, 111 foot long gun used by the German’s to shell Paris during WW1. It could only fire around 60 rounds before its entire barrel needed to be replaced due to damage from the explosions used to launch its 106 kilo or 236 pound shells.  The projectiles also had to be numbered and fired in a specific order, with each one slightly bigger than the previous one to account for the increasing diameter of the barrel as the massive cannon was fired each time.

The Emperor gun was so powerful, it was noted for being the first man-made invention to launch an object into the stratosphere, with the shells it launched peaking at an altitude of around 40 kilometres during flight. The range of the gun was so unthinkably extreme for such a weapon that the 80 man team in charge of firing it had to aim a little under a kilometre “to the left” of the target to account for the Coriolis effect. The French military genuinely suspected for a time that these projectiles were being launched from super-high Zeppelins hiding behind clouds because the idea of them being fired from a gun up to 75 miles  (120 km) away was deemed to be too absurd.

Virtually all records of this gun’s existence and how it was constructed were destroyed towards the close of WW1. Nonetheless, it was known to the French and in response they drafted plans for an even bigger gun that utilised multiple explosions to launch projectiles a similar distance.

Sound familiar? These plans were ultimately archived by the French after WW1 and were found by German soldiers in 1940 who then passed them onto August Cönders, the guy who designed the V-3 cannon… In other words, the only reason the V-3 cannon was even invented is because the Germans found plans at the start of WW2 explicitly drafted to counter another giant gun they’d used during WW1.

This is what the US cyber command could look like
Mini Replica of the V-3

In any event, beyond its massive range, a battery of V-3 cannons could fire close to 300 shells an hour, or roughly one shell every 12 seconds. This is a fact that piqued the interest of Hitler himself, who enthusiastically granted the project near unlimited support when existence of a prototype was brought to his attention in 1943 by his advisor, Albert Speer, even though said prototype had yet to fire a single shell.

With Hitler throwing everything the German military had at its disposal behind the project in mid-1943, the V-3 cannon, dubbed the “Hochdruckpumpe” or “High-Pressure Pump” during construction to hide its purpose from spies, went from the idea phase to construction almost immediately.  Since Hitler wanted to use the gun to shell London, and the gun had to be built aiming at its target, the location had to be somewhere in Northern France. The gun also needed to be built within close proximity to a railway (due to the size of its ammunition which could only be transported effectively via rail).

Luckily for the Nazis, an ideal location was found in the form of limestone hill located in the French hamlet of Mimoyecques in Landrethun-le-Nord. The location was deemed ideal as the chalk that made up most of the hill would be easy to excavate but was ultimately strong enough to tunnel through to create the underground infrastructure needed for the weapon.

Construction of 50, V-3 guns began in earnest in September of 1943 utilising a combination of drafted German engineers and Soviet POWs. The initial plan was for two separate facilities to be constructed roughly 1000 metres apart, each housing 25 V-3 cannons built into drifts dug into the hillside. They also planned to build tunnels connecting each facility that would be used for storing the shells, which in turn would be transported to the guns via an underground railway.

This is what the US cyber command could look like
Amazingly, construction of most of the underground tunnels was completed. However, construction of the guns themselves was severely hampered when the allies learned of a German plan to attack London using an unknown superweapon in the latter stages of 1943. Knowing that the German’s were planning something at Mimoyecques, and putting two and two together, the RAF doggedly attacked it throughout the last few months of 1943 and the first half of 1944. This led to the proposed number of V-3 cannons dropping from 50 to 25 when the RAF destroyed the Western-most site. This was further reduced to 5 following a bombing run utilising “tallboy” bombs specifically designed to destroy fortified bunkers on July 6, 1944. Plans were dropped altogether in on July 30th that same year due to the advance of allied ground troops.

The allies wouldn’t actually learn about the existence of the V-3 cannons until after the war, at which point then Prime Minister Winston Churchill was reported as saying that the site could have been responsible for the “most devastating attack of all on London”.

Although the Nazis never got a full-size V-3 cannon working during WW2, they did manage to construct two much smaller versions of the weapon with which they shelled the recently liberated Luxembourg from a somewhat less impressive distance of 43 kilometres (26 miles) away in late 1944. Smaller, but still impressively powered, these mini V-3’s were capable of shooting off their deadly projectiles at speeds of over 2,000 mph or 3300 km/h.

Despite the impressive specs, and with the guns firing hundreds of rounds (142 of which hit Luxembourg), only 10 people were killed and 35 wounded as a result. While the Nazis tried desperately to use the gun again, even deploying one during their last major offensive of WW2, Operation Nordwind, they never actually successfully fired another version of the V-3 again during the entire war, giving these guns a laughably low kill rate given the resources put into them.

Today the failed location of the French battery has been converted to a museum containing what remains of the guns.

Articles

This retired Navy pilot rocks the nation with speed metal karaoke at 82 years old

John Hetlinger left the Navy pilot ranks for aerospace engineering. He succeeded in that field, working for NASA on the Hubble Space Telescope for NASA before retiring in his late 60s.


That’s when he got into karaoke, singing at karaoke bars in pleated shorts and pants and nice polo shirts. He’s apparently got a thing for polos with toucans, which is kind of sweet.

Oh, but the songs he sings are heavy metal, and Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” appears to be one of his favorites to perform:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfR5O2PXzfc
That’s Hetlinger on his recently aired episode of “America’s Got Talent” where he wowed the judges with his performance. You can see Hetlinger perform a longer version of the song, where he includes some profanity, in this 2014 show from when he was a spry 80 years old.
(H/T NPR)
Articles

Sailor’s death in Syria shows just how ballsy Navy bomb technicians really are

The Department of Defense identified a sailor killed in action on Nov. 24 during Operation Inherent Resolve as Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott C. Dayton.


The 42-year-old from Woodbridge, Virginia, died when an improvised explosive device detonated in northern Syria, near Ayn Issa, according to a release from the headquarters of Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve, which is coordinating the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

This is what the US cyber command could look like
Photo of Navy EOD Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott C. Dayton. (Photo from U.S. Navy)

The Wall Street Journal reports that Dayton was killed north of Raqqa, a key battleground pitting Syrian government forces, rebel units and militants aligned with ISIS against one another.

Dayton was assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Two, based out of the Norfolk area. According to the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command website, explosive ordnance disposal personnel specialize in rendering explosive hazards safe, and have done anything from dismantling IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan to helping secure the Olympics to supporting a local police department.

Navy bomb technicians like Dayton often are assigned to special operations teams like SEAL Team 6, which is known to be operating with rebel units deep inside war torn Syria.

EOD is one field that can be very busy, even in peacetime, often due to unexploded ordnance from past wars. In recent years, BALTOPS exercises have come across live mines left over from World War II, and some Civil War souvenirs have caused major kerfluffles in the United States.

This is what the US cyber command could look like
Members of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5, Platoon 503, embarked aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), practice visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) techniques aboard the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) during a fast-rope exercise. Barry is on patrol with Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG 5) in the Philippine Sea supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin V. Cunningham/Released)

“I am deeply saddened by the news on this Thanksgiving Day that one of our brave service members has been killed in Syria while protecting us from the evil of ISIL. It is a painful reminder of the dangers our men and women in uniform face around the world to keep us safe,” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said in a statement released by the Defense Department.

Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, said, “The entire counter-ISIL Coalition sends our condolences to this hero’s family, friends and teammates.”

Over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, members of the anti-ISIS coalition launched a total of 90 strikes, 19 of which were around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Those nineteen strikes destroyed or damaged a number of targets, including fifteen mortar systems, eight vehicles, four vehicle-borne IEDs, 22 supply routes, five caches and two heavy machine guns.

Six strikes took place near Ayn Issa, engaging four ISIS “tactical units” and destroying a vehicle storage facility, a vehicle-borne IED, a vehicle-borne IED facility and damaged fighting position.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Borne the Battle: Jeff Struecker — Army Ranger, pastor, author

This week’s Borne the Battle episode features guest Jeff Struecker, who discusses his life as a soldier, pastor, and author.

In 1987, Struecker enlisted in the army when he was 18. He excelled, serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment, and he played a pivotal role in the Battle of Mogadishu. He also won the 1996 Best Ranger Competition and was also recognized in 1998 as the U.S Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Noncommisioned Officer of the Year.


Black Hawk Down – KIA Sgt. Dominick Pilla – Convoy Scene

www.youtube.com

‘This Week’ Sunday Spotlight: Return to Mogadishu

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Fighting fire with chainsaws

The sun was already bright and warm when I pulled up at the Twin Springs Preserve in Williamson County, Texas just before 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Stepping out of my car, I shielded my eyes to take in the dense stands of ash juniper and white oak trees against the cloudless blue sky. It felt unusually spring-like for early February; I opted to shuck my jacket.

With my back to the road and neighborhood, I could imagine this area north of Austin as the verdant forest it once was. But the human population of Williamson County has tripled over the last several decades, encroaching on the wildland. In 2009, the county bought 175 acres to create a preserve and mitigate against the destruction of natural habitat. In addition to wild turkeys, foxes, deer, and raccoons, Twin Springs is home to several threatened or endangered species, including the bone cave harvestman spider, Salido salamander, and golden-cheeked warbler.


The beauty and peacefulness of the preserve belie a hidden danger. Here, the forest floor is strewn with grasses, shrubs, and the litter of fallen leaves and branches. In hot, dry conditions, those materials become tinder. All it takes is a sustained wind and an errant spark—from a discarded cigarette, say, a car’s exhaust system, or a lightning strike—for the tinder to catch fire. Unchecked, the flames can climb to the upper canopy and then quickly spread from tree to tree.

This is what the US cyber command could look like

Cleaning up after the West Fire that hit Alpine, CA, in 2018.

Canopy fires are intense, fast-moving, and virtually unstoppable says Kyle McKnight, an Emergency Management Specialist with Williamson County. “A canopy fire could very rapidly progress to these homeowners, causing millions of dollars of losses and potentially loss of human life as well,” he said. “Look at what is happening in California. We’ve seen a huge loss of life and property.”

id=”listicle-2646945029″ OF PREVENTION VS. OF CURE

Greater Austin, which includes Williamson County, ranks fifth in the nation among metropolitan areas at risk for wildfires according to a recent report by CoreLogic, an online property data service. The only areas at greater risk are all in California.

Rather than wait to react to the inevitable wildfires, Williamson County officials put together a comprehensive plan to mitigate risk. “According to FEMA, [the Federal Emergency Management Association], on average, every id=”listicle-2646945029″ spent in mitigation results in of saved cost from fighting the fires and recovery from damage,” says McKnight. In some areas with more expensive real estate, he says, the return is as high as for every id=”listicle-2646945029″ invested in prevention.

The Williamson County mitigation plan calls for creating a 50-foot wide shaded fuel break along the perimeter of Twin Creeks Preserve, McKnight explains. The idea is to take out debris and shrubs, and remove tree limbs up to about 8 feet above ground, leaving the shaded canopy to keep the forest cooler and discourage the growth of flammable understory plants.

This is what the US cyber command could look like

Clearing a blowdown on a road after Colorado’s Spring Creek fire.

What Williamson County didn’t have, however, was the budget or manpower to carry out the work. That’s where Team Rubicon came in. For two weekends in February, teams of about 50 volunteers—known by Team Rubicon as Greyshirts—worked steadily to make the forest and surrounding neighborhoods safer by creating a shaded fuel break.

A BLUE-SKY OPERATION

The morning I arrive, the preserve is a beehive of activity. The insistent buzz of chainsaws and mechanical drone of woodchippers cut through the morning air. It smells amazing, like walking into a freshly built cedar closet.

Oscar Arauco, the Texas State Administrator for Team Rubicon, has me don a hard hat, goggles, and earplugs before we survey the worksite. As we walk, he explains that Team Rubicon coordinates “gray skies” operations to provide relief after disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, which roiled the Gulf coast in 2017, and “blue skies” prevention operations such as this that help mitigate risk. Often, Team Rubicon uses such mitigation work to further educate and train sawyers and other Greyshirts, too.

Like 70% of the people involved in Team Rubicon, Arauco is a military veteran, having served for 28 years as a U.S. Army artillery officer and chaplain. (The remaining members are affectionately known as kick-ass civilians, he explains.) Once Team Rubicon identifies a need and defines a project, a call for help goes out to members living within a 450-mile radius. With the exception of a couple of paid project managers, everyone here is a volunteer. Most have driven in for the weekend and are bunking on cots at the nearby First Baptist Church of Georgetown.

This is what the US cyber command could look like

Clearing debris for fire mitigation in the Twin Springs Preserve.

Arauco points out that the busy work site is well organized into sets of three teams, each supervised by a strike leader. People known as “sawyers” use pole saws and chainsaws to take out tree limbs and vegetation up to the 8-foot mark. “Swampers” carry the woody material to the perimeter where the “chippers” feed it into wood chippers to turn it into mulch that goes back into the preserve.

I’m struck by the diversity of Greyshirts and the lack of traditional hierarchies—a young woman is just as apt to be leading a team as an older man. That’s one of the things Arauco says he likes most about his work. “I love that Team Rubicon values service over any other factor,” he says. “There are no age- or gender-specific roles. It’s all about pulling your weight and getting the job done.”

FORMER ARMY MEDIC TURNS HER FOCUS TO HEALTHY FORESTS

M.D. Kidd, who takes a break from the chainsaw to talk, is one of the younger faces in the group. She served as a medic in the U.S. Army from 2011 to 2015 and then trained as a wildland firefighter for the Southwest Conservation Corp in Colorado. In 2017, she joined Team Rubicon and underwent training to become a regional chainsaw instructor. Now a full-time college student majoring in sociology and public health, Kidd says she would eventually like to work for the Peace Corps. For her, volunteering with Team Rubicon is the way to serve both people and the environment.

She points out that fire is a natural part of the cycle for healthy forests, but for more than a century people have focused on suppressing fires, leaving the tinder-like material to build up. “The longer we suppress fires and leave the fuel sitting there, the worse it is in the long run,” she said. “So efforts that mitigate the risk of fire are hugely important. As with medicine, I think prevention is really the way to go.”

This is what the US cyber command could look like

To mitigate against fire, Greyshirts take tree limbs out up to the 8-foot mark.

Kidd and others say a big reason they volunteer on mitigation projects like this for Team Rubicon is the break from routine it provides, and the camaraderie. “The reason I am so passionate about this organization is that it provides a purpose for veterans,” says Patrick Smith, a 23-year U.S. Army veteran who is coordinating logistics for the operation. Smith works as a Deputy Sheriff in charge of animal cruelty for Harris County and as a physician’s assistant at Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston. “Team Rubicon takes our skills and experience and finds a place where they can be put to good use,” he says.

Greyshirt Keith Elwell, a former project engineer for the defense industry, joined in 2018 after seeing people in Houston trying to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on the news. “Man, I’m sitting there just watching. I’m thinking ‘I’ve got some skills. I can help. I can do stuff’,” he says. He has now gained enough training and experience as a sawyer to mentor others.

Since then, he says, he’s “been all over the place”—from clearing trees felled by a fierce storm in Wisconsin to tearing down homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida to cleaning up after the Mississippi River Flooded in Vicksburg, Tennessee. “There are all different roles and no two situations are the same,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate enough to help people on the worst day of their lives.”

OVER TWO WEEKENDS, MONTHS GET WHITTLED AWAY

It’s hard to put into words how meaningful the mitigation effort is to the county officials and inhabitants of this scenic area, says Mark Pettigrew, a Trails and Preserves Steward for Williamson County. We sat down on a couple of flat rocks in front of the trailhead and he gestured to the activity around us. “I’m one of only two main employees for the Williamson County Conservation Foundation. To get all this done would have taken us months and months,” he says.

Pettigrew points to the area in front of us, where the preserve abuts a busy road and neighborhood. The teams are mostly finished here and it looks like an arboretum with a wide, mulched path shaded by a graceful canopy of trees. “The most hazardous area is along this road and we’ve got the whole place completely cleared out and ready to go,” he says. “It’s phenomenal.”

Without the help of the Team Rubicon Greyshirts, it’s not clear when—or if—fire mitigation in the preserve would get done. As the county’s Emergency Management Specialist, McKnight says he knows that there’s currently no budget for the work. Grants often require extra steps and cost matching. “It’s a creative strategy for getting projects like this done,” says McKnight. “It requires a minimal investment on our behalf—some food and porta-potties—and we’re saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor costs. It’s a win-win.”

By the time I’d wrapped up, the day had shaped up to be unseasonably warm with low humidity—pleasant, but concerning, too, given what I had learned about wildfire risk. Climate change is bringing wave after wave of record heat to the Austin area. Last September was the hottest on record, with nearly three straight weeks of triple-digit temperatures.

On the way back to my car another Team Rubicon Greyshirt, Sam Brokenshire, stopped me. He wanted me to leave with a sense of scale for just how much the group had accomplished. At the end of the two-weekend project, he says, the team will have removed about 4,000 cubic yards—about 90 dumpsters worth—of brush.

Seeing people out working for the common good means a lot, says Brokenshire. “Yesterday, a guy from the neighborhood pulled up to thank us for the work we are doing,” he says. “That makes it all worth it.”

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Some of the Team Rubicon Greyshirts who worked on the Williamson County fire mitigation project.

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


MIGHTY GAMING

A Navy veteran just got a special Xbox delivered via skydiver

To celebrate the release of Battlefield V, Microsoft and Electronic Arts partnered to give a Florida veteran a limited-edition Xbox One X bundle, delivered via an outrageous skydiving stunt.

Motorsport driver and stunt performer Travis Pastrana of Nitro Circus dove from a height of 13,000 feet to deliver the first Xbox One X Gold Rush Special Edition Battlefield V bundle to retired Navy Corpsman Jeff Bartrom, who lives in Paisley, Florida. Pastrana hit a peak speed of 140 mph during the dive, and the jump took less than 55 seconds.


Travis Pastrana Aerial Drop With Xbox One Gold Rush Battlefield Bundle

www.youtube.com

The giveaway was meant to thank Bartrom for his service, and it coincides with Microsoft’s #GiveWithXbox initiative. The company pledged to donate worth of Xbox products for every picture shared to social media with the hashtag showing the importance of gaming. Microsoft will donate up to id=”listicle-2621537520″ million to be split between four charities, Child’s Play, Gamers Outreach, SpecialEffect, and Operation Supply Drop. The social-media campaign is running through December 9th.

World War II shooter Battlefield V officially launched on Nov. 20, 2018, and is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. The Xbox One X version of Battlefield V also features enhanced visuals. EA Access members can play a free 10-hour trial of the game on their platform of choice as well.

Get the latest Microsoft stock price here.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

This President wants to prevent asteroids from destroying Earth

On Apr. 15, 2018, an asteroid similar in size to one that may have caused the 1908 Tunguska Event in remote Siberia flew by Earth by a mere 119,400 miles, just half the distance between the Earth and the Moon — and we didn’t even know it was coming.


If you’re unfamiliar with the Tunguska Explosion, it was a mysterious explosion in the most remote region of Russian Siberia that flattened 2,000 square kilometers of forest. It was the largest explosion in Earth’s recorded history and was one-third the size of the Tsar Bomba, the Soviet Union’s largest nuclear detonation — enough to flatten a large metropolitan area.

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This is all anyone saw of the near-miss asteroid. One amateur Austrian astronomer’s gif.
(Michael Jäger)

And we only knew about it one day before it flew by.

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Not this President.

Like something from a 1990s-era disaster movie, President Trump wants to tackle the problem and make the United States the leader in asteroid impact avoidance. Politico reports that Trump wants to spend 0 million toward that effort, which includes unmanned spacecraft that would nudge a small asteroid off course.

NASA estimates there are 1,000 such asteroids close to Earth, what they refer to as “near-Earth objects.” The bad news is that they also estimate there are upwards of 10,000 near-Earth objects that they don’t know about. A growing number of those are said to be the size (or larger) than the ones that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

The office getting the budget bump is NASA’s planetary defense office, who created a new asteroid-mitigations strategy with the White House and FEMA just last year. None of the proposed strategies involved oil drillers or astronauts; NASA actually scoffs at that idea, saying the work could be done entirely by robotic spacecraft.

Related: This is earth’s real first line of defense against asteroid strikes

But the recent near-miss wasn’t an event that required NASA’s intervention. The asteroid 2018 GE3 flew harmlessly between the Earth and Moon’s orbits, continuing its regular orbit.

“If 2018 GE3 had hit Earth, it would have caused regional, not global, damage, and might have disintegrated in the atmosphere before reaching the ground,” SpaceWeather.com reported. “Nevertheless, it is a significant asteroid, illustrating how even large space rocks can still take us by surprise. 2018 GE3 was found less than a day before its closest approach.”
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(NASA/JPL)

NASA’s California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory made a model of the orbits of asteroid 2018 GE3, Earth, and other planets in the Solar System, so we can all track where the asteroid is at any given time. Below is the position of the asteroid in relation to Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter at the time of this week.

NASA’s next test will use robot spacecraft to ram an orbiting moon around the asteroid Didymos, currently seven million miles away from Earth, in an effort to change the satellite’s orbit. The only thing delaying this test that everyone agrees is a good idea and that we should definitely get started on is Congress, who are waffling on the latest spending bill that would keep this program along with the U.S. government, running.

It could take as long as another three months to pass the appropriations for the program while NASA estimates a delay of six months or more could affect the program entirely, leaving Earth defenseless.

For now.

Articles

9 things new chief petty officers do when they put on khakis

The US Navy is an institution rich in tradition with its own language and elaborate ceremonies. One of those ceremonies is the Chief Petter Officer initiation.


Ask any sailor what a newly made chief does as soon as they put on the khaki uniform and you’ll get mixed results. Responses vary from the good to the awfully absurd and usually based on a sailor’s time in service.

For example, this sailor on Facebook said that his chief completely changed when he put on the khakis for the first time:

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Ask a chief and he’ll say that it’s one of the hardest and most satisfying jobs in the world:

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WATM did an informal poll of sailors of all ranks to uncover the nine common things that new chiefs do when they put on the khakis:

1. Smile incessantly for about an hour.

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Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Trevor Welsh/USN

They’ve just been made and now have the privilege to do the following eight things:

2. Get a new coffee mug that says “chief.”

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Photo: navychief.com

A good chief’s mug will be respected and left alone. A bad chief will have their mug washed out. Apparently, chiefs have it in their mind that their unwashed coffee mugs have super caffeine powers.

3. Start calling everyone ‘shipmate.’

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Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jennifer A. Villalovos/USN

Everyone becomes a “shipmate” once you become a chief. It used to be that they call everyone by their rate (Navy job) and rank.

4. Start calling other khakis by their first names.

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Photo: Chief Mass Communication Specialist Tiffini Jones Vanderwyst/USN

It’s now Frankie and Jane instead of Smith and Martinez.

5. Start eating like a king in the chief’s mess.

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Rumor has it that the chiefs eat better than the officers aboard a ship.

6. Gain weight.

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Everything has a cause and effect.

7. Pass off the ensign to the first-class.

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Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Deven B. King/USN

They lose an ensign but gain a lieutenant.

8. Wait for the first person to call him ‘sir’ so he can say, “don’t call me sir, I work for a living.”

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Photo: USN

Along with the new position comes treasure trove of cliché terms that they’ve been waiting years to use. (Poor boot, he confused the chief for an officer.)

Also read: 21 of the US military’s most-overused clichés

9. Change their civilian wardrobes to match their uniforms.

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Photo: NavyChief.com

(OBTW: It’s safe to call a chief “a lifer.” If they’ve made it this far, you can expect to get a full 20 years before retiring.)

NOW: 9 WTF? questions Navy recruits have at boot camp

OR: 13 lessons every new sailor learns the hard way

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