The topic of combat-related trauma is finally being addressed in mainstream medicine across the United States. After seventeen consecutive years in overseas conflicts, trauma is both a reality and a devastation for our troops. As the stigma previously attached to mental health challenges fades, we’re finally coming together collectively to help support the men and women who serve in our military.
Luckily, there are many forms of treatment. Throttle therapy happens to be one of them — and a high octane one at that.
“Throttle therapy” is the term for time spent on a motorized bike with the intent to enjoy feelings of euphoria that may exceed the capabilities of prescription or illegal drugs. According to the nonprofit Veteran Motocross Foundation, or VetMX, “Research has shown that physical experiences which are thrilling and physically demanding can re-center human brain chemistry.”
In other words, sports like Motocross can help alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress, especially for veterans.
“It’s not something radical we’ve come up with,” said Dustin Blankenship, an Air Force veteran with a paralyzed left thigh. “There’s proof that riding a motorcycle helps people. It’s almost like you’re in a trance state on a motorcycle. It’s like meditation.”
Blankenship discovered that his injury doesn’t hold him back when he rides.
He’s not the only veteran to experience a transformation when he rides. Then-2nd Lt. Michael Reardon told the Air Force that motocross racing was the ultimate stress reliever and the perfect adrenaline rush — within reason: “[Motocross] is only dangerous if you let it be dangerous. The sport is much safer if you don’t exceed your own limits.”
Brothers Greg Oswald and Eli Tomac, a C-17 pilot and a Supercross champ respectively, know a thing or two about getting in a machine and letting everything else fade away. Check out the video below to hear about how they support each other on the ground, in the air, or on a racetrack:
While serving as Miss Rocky Gap, Emma Lutton, of New Windsor, Maryland, had to combine her philanthropic efforts and pageant-winner responsibilities with another entirely separate set of duties as a lieutenant junior grade in the United States Coast Guard.
Lutton won the Miss Rocky Gap title in March, and the last several months of her title reign have overlapped with her final deployment with the Coast Guard in the Caribbean. Now that she’s back in the States, Lutton is looking to expand her role in the Miss America Pageant system as she competes against other local title holders for the role of Miss Maryland this week.
Unlike many others who began their pageantry careers earlier, Lutton said the Miss Rocky Gap competition was only her second ever attempt at winning a crown. She said she was inspired after seeing the work her younger sister was doing as a title holder.
“I had this misconception that pageants were just about looking pretty and being dumb,” Lutton said. “Then I realized how big of a difference I could make with charities and community service.”
Under the recommendation of current Miss Maryland Hannah Brewer, a Hampstead resident, Lutton decided to compete in the Miss Rocky Gap contest — the very same contest that started Brewer on her path to the Miss Maryland title.
Lutton said she was attracted to the Miss America pageants due to their emphasis on scholarships, which she is currently eyeing to help pay for graduate school. Lutton graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 2015 and is currently interested in studying to become a patent lawyer.
Though her father and older brother both served in the Navy, Lutton said she wasn’t initially interested in the military.
“I thought, ‘You guys are cool, but I’m going to do my own cool thing,'” Lutton said. “My senior year, I realized I really wanted to be an engineer, but I love people and I love making a difference while not just sitting in a cubical.”
After visiting the Coast Guard Academy, Lutton said she knew it was the place for her. She said one of the main draws of the Coast Guard over the other military branches is the high percentage of women in the service and the lack of barriers for females.
“I didn’t want to work really hard and find out that a certain path is closed off to me just because I’m a girl,” she said.
For her platform, Lutton chose to support the Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, providing care packages to service members overseas. She said she’s also passionate about supporting military family members, who don’t always have the support they need.”
“There’s not enough out there for families who are picking up and moving when we go,” Lutton said. “The most popular jobs for military spouses are nursing and teaching, and it’s extraordinarily difficult to get re-certified every time they move.”
Emma’s mother, Patty, said she is appreciative of her daughter’s service in and out of the military.
“When she decided to go into the Coast Guard, we were a little apprehensive to have two out of our three kids in the military,” she said, “but we’re incredibly proud of her.”
Lutton has been competing in the Miss Maryland pageant throughout the week, with preliminary interviews, swimsuit, talent, and evening gown competitions taking place. On June 24th, the field will be narrowed down to the top 10, one of whom will be crowned Miss Maryland by the end of the night.
Lutton said she’s excited just to make it this far, and is thrilled that both the pageantry and her service can complement each other.
“I think the two things really help support each other,” Lutton said. “Being in the Coast Guard helps make me a stronger woman that little girls can look up to, and being in the pageant can help the visibility of the Coast Guard which is a smaller service.”
Today, the Wounded Warrior ProjectBoard of Directors announced the appointment of Michael S. Linnington to the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Wounded Warrior Project. Linnington is joining WWP from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, where he was appointed Director by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in 2015. His 35-year military career included three combat tours and a number of command positions.
Linnington’s appointment follows a CBS News report about WWP that resulted in the firings last March of the previous CEO Steve Nardizzi and COO Al Giordano for misusing funds for extravagant parties and other perks that ate up nearly 50 percent of donated money. (The average overhead for veteran charities is approximately 10-15 percent.)
WWP’s interim CEO, retired Major General Charlie Fletcher, will remain in place until Linnington takes over on July 18. The WWP Board has also announced they planned to add another four members before the end of the year.
“Mike’s extensive military experience and proven leadership credentials make him the perfect candidate to lead WWP,” Anthony Odierno, Chairman of the WWP Board of Directors, said. “Mike understands the unique needs of our nation’s veteran community, is a collaborative team-builder, and is deeply committed to fulfilling our mission of honoring and empowering Wounded Warriors. I am excited for WWP’s path forward under his leadership.”
“I had the privilege of working with General Linnington in his role as Director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, and know him to be a man of honor and integrity,” Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6, said. “The veteran and military family communities — and our entire nation — will benefit from his demonstrated leadership and dedication.”
Linnington’s active duty tours included command of the Third Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is an Airborne, Air Assault, Pathfinder and Ranger qualified officer, and earned the Expert Infantryman’s Badge and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. He is a West Point graduate.
According to their website, “WWP’s purpose is to raise awareness and to enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members, to help injured servicemen and women aid and assist each other, and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs.”
Female Soldiers may now wear dreadlocks and male Soldiers whose religious faith requires beards and turbans may now seek permanent accommodation.
Army directive 2017-03, signed earlier this month, spells out changes to Army Regulation 670-1, the uniform policy, for the turban, worn by male Soldiers, the under-turban; male hair worn under a turban; the hijab, which is a head scarf worn by females; and beards worn by male members.
Sgt. Maj. Anthony J. Moore, the uniform policy branch sergeant major inside the Army’s G-1, said the policy change was made largely as a way to increase diversity inside the service, and to provide opportunity for more Americans to serve in uniform.
“This is so we can expand the pool of people eligible to join the Army,” Moore said. “There was a section of the population who previously were unable to enlist in the Army. This makes the Army better because you’re opening the doors for more talent. You’re allowing people to come in who have skills the Army can use.”
Female Soldiers have been asking for a while for permission to wear “locks,” or dreadlocks, Moore said.
“We understood there was no need to differentiate between locks, corn rows, or twists, as long as they all met the same dimension,” Moore said. “It’s one more option for female hairstyles. Females have been asking for a while, especially females of African-American decent, to be able to wear dreadlocks, and locks, because it’s easier to maintain that hairstyle.”
The Army directive says that each lock or dreadlock “will be of uniform dimension; have a diameter no greater than 1/2 inch; and present a neat, professional, and well-groomed appearance.”
All female Soldiers can opt to wear the dreadlocks, Moore said.
The Army has granted waivers to Sikh Soldiers since 2009 to wear a turban in lieu of issued Army headgear, and allowed those same Soldiers to wear the turban indoors when Army headgear would normally be removed. Moore said for those Soldiers, the waivers were permanent, but that it was unclear Army-wide that this was the case. That is no longer true, he said.
The new policy is that religious accommodation for Soldiers wanting to wear the turban needs to be requested only once, and that the accommodation will apply to them for their entire Army career.
In an Army directive dated Jan. 3, then-Secretary of the Army Eric K. Fanning made official the policy regarding the wear of turbans, beards, hijabs, and under-turbans.
“Based on the successful examples of Soldiers currently serving with these accommodations, I have determined that brigade-level commanders may approve requests for these accommodations, and I direct that the wear and appearance standards established in … this directive be incorporated into AR 670-1,” Fanning wrote in the directive.
“With the new directive, which will be incorporated into the Army regulation, religious accommodations are officially permanent for Soldiers,” Moore said.
Also a change: whereas in the past requests for such accommodation rose to the Pentagon before they could be approved, permission can now be granted by brigade-level commanders. Bringing approval down to that level, Moore said, speeds up the approval process dramatically.
That was the intent, Moore said. “They are trying to speed up the process for the Army and for the Soldier.”
Moore said the same religious accommodation rules apply for those Soldiers seeking to wear a beard for religious reasons, and to female Soldiers who want to wear a hijab as well.
If brigade-level commanders feel it inappropriate to approve the accommodation for some reason, he said, then they can recommend disapproval, but it must be channeled to the GCMCA for decision. Under the new policy, requests for religious accommodations that are not approved at the GCMCA-level will come to the secretary of the Army or designee for a final decision.
Still at issue for Soldiers is wear of a beard in conjunction with a gas mask.
“Study results show that beard growth consistently degrades the protection factor provided by the protective masks currently in the Army inventory to an unacceptable degree,” Fanning wrote in the Army directive. “Although the addition of a powered air-purifying respirator and/or a protective mask with a loose-fitting facepiece has demonstrated potential to provide adequate protection for bearded individuals operating in hazardous environments, further research, development, testing, and evaluation are necessary to identify masks that are capable of operational use and can be adequately maintained in field conditions.”
Moore said that until further testing is completed, and alternatives are found to protect bearded Soldiers in environments that are affected or are projected to be affected by chemical weapons, Soldiers with beards may be told to shave them in advance, with specific and concrete evidence of an expected chemical attack.
If a chemical warfare threat is immediate, Moore said, instructions to shave their beards would come from higher up, at the General Court-Martial Convening Authority-level — typically a division-level commander.
Likewise, Soldiers who seek religious accommodation to wear a beard will not be allowed to attend the Army schools required for entry into chemical warfare-related career fields, Moore said.
For wear of the beard, Moore said, the new directive allows for beards to be as long as the Soldier wants, so long as the beard can be rolled up and compressed to less than two inches from the bottom of the chin. Additionally, for those Soldiers wearing a beard under a religious accommodation, the rules for wearing a mustache are also new. Mustaches may extend past the corners of the mouth, but must be trimmed or groomed to not cover the upper lip.
Maj. Kamaljeet Kalsi, a civil affairs officer in the Army Reserve’s 404th Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Dix, New Jersey, is a Sikh Soldier who wears both a turban and a beard. He said he welcomes the new policy change as an indication that the Army is now looking to both accolade his faith, and to open its doors to talent in the United States that might have been previously untapped.
“It means a lot to us,” Kalsi said. “And not just to Sikh Americans, but I think Americans that value religious freedom and religious liberty, and value diversity. I think it means a lot to all of us. To me it says the nation is moving in a direction that the founders intended, a pluralistic democracy that represents all. I think we’re a stronger nation when we can draw from the broadest amount of talent, the broadest talent pool. And it makes us a stronger military when the military looks like the people it serves.”
Capt. Simratpal Singh, with the 249th Engineer Battalion prime power section, said the policy is for him about acceptance.
“On a personal level, it means that I can serve freely and without having to worry about any stipulations or constraint,” he said. “That’s all I want: is to serve in the U.S. Army just like any of my peers.”
Because the next edition of AR 670-1 is expected to be published next month, the Army will not be able to include the new rules. But Moore said Soldiers can expect to see these most recent changes in the AR 670-1 that comes out at this time next year.
Mark Rasnake outside the hospital in October 2005. (Photo courtesy of Mark Rasnake)
Maj. Mark Rasnake was exhausted. The 32-year-old Air Force infectious disease specialist had worked through the night treating some of the worst trauma he’d seen in his life — seven soldiers who’d been brought in after sustaining catastrophic burns when their Bradley Fighting Vehicle hit an improvised explosive device near Daliaya, Iraq, and erupted in flames. But back at his bunk at Balad Air Force Base, north of Baghdad, he couldn’t sleep.
He opened his laptop and began to type a letter home. “I met a hero last night,” he wrote. “I did not realize it at the time … This is a place where the word “hero” is tossed around day in and day out, so much so that you sometimes lose sight of its true meaning. His story reminded me of it.”
As a medical professional, Rasnake never identified his patient, even in a letter only intended for family members. As it happened, though, his words would travel further than he imagined. His local newspaper in Eastern Tennessee took it as a submission and reprinted it; and eventually, Air Force officials reached out to the paper so the service could publish it too.
Rasnake’s letter survives on the Air Force’s official website as the first public account of the bravery of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who sacrificed his life running again and again into the fiery vehicle, ignoring his own burning uniform. It has been 15 years to the day since Cashe hauled his teammates out of the Bradley on Oct. 17, 2005; but Rasnake, now the residency program director for the University of Tennessee’s Division of Infectious Diseases, says he’s never stopped thinking about him.
“I kind of think about the guy all the time,” Rasnake told Military.com in an interview earlier this month. “I’ve got a helmet bag that I use to carry stuff to and from work, and I put a 3rd Infantry Division patch on that thing, just to always have the visual thing to remember what he did. That’s just always been important to me, to at least carry that memory.”
Rasnake said he didn’t learn Cashe’s story until a few hours after he and more than a dozen other military medical professionals had finished treating the soldiers and loaded them on an air evacuation flight bound for Germany. He can’t remember who shared the account of what happened in the aftermath of the Bradley explosion. But as word spread among his colleagues and across the base, it provoked a common feeling of awe.
“The discussions we had is, you know, if his actions don’t deserve the Medal of Honor, we had trouble imagining anything that did that would,” Rasnake said.
Cashe was initially nominated for a lesser award, the Silver Star, by his battalion commander, Gary Brito, now a major general. Brito, by his own account, pushed for an upgrade to the Medal of Honor as soon as he learned of the severity of Cashe’s injuries. But as the years passed, no medal upgrade came.
At issue, according to various reports, was difficulty ascertaining accurate witness statements of what took place. While initial accounts led the Army to determine Cashe’s heroism did not take place in active combat, current descriptions — championed by lawmakers — say he dodged enemy fire while hauling body after body out of the vehicle: six soldiers plus an interpreter, who died on the scene. Cashe refused medevac until the others were taken away, according to his Silver Star citation.
Mark Rasnake (right) along with doctors Col. Ty Putnam and Maj. James Pollock, Oct 17, 2005. (Photo courtesy of Mark Rasnake)
What Rasnake saw is in none of those accounts, but speaks to the pain and trauma Cashe’s body endured because of his choice not to leave his brothers-in-arms behind.
“The surgeons worked for hours on his wounds and we worked for hours in the intensive care unit to stabilize him for transport. In the end, damage to his lungs made him too sick to be safely transported by plane to our hospital in Germany and then on to a burn center in San Antonio,” Rasnake wrote in his later-published letter home. ” … Our air evac team loaded him into the plane for the six-hour flight to Germany. They had to deliver every breath to him during that flight by squeezing a small bag by hand.”
Rasnake still has clear memories of that night, although the conditions and treatment of specific soldiers is a blur. Off-duty medical staff were called back up before the casualties arrived. A field intensive care unit was heated to treat those suffering from the hypothermia sometimes brought on by severe burns. Doctors had to intubate to keep the badly burned soldiers’ blood oxygenated, and some required surgical incisions to allow burn-traumatized limbs to swell.
Six of the men needed ICU treatment; ultimately, three would succumb to their injuries.
Rasnake had arrived in Iraq earlier that fall, and it wasn’t common for doctors at Balad to keep track of the wounded troops they’d treated once they moved on for additional care. But this case was different.
“It was heartbreaking,” he said. “For the next two weeks … Some of them didn’t make it, including Sgt. Cashe ultimately, and he was the last one to expire of the ones that ultimately died. And it was just heart-wrenching for us to hear what was happening back home … he had the entire [Air Force] 33nd Medical Group following daily what was happening.”
As Rasnake sat typing that first night in his sleeping quarters, not knowing the fate of Cashe or the other men he’d treated, he thought of a hero from his hometown of Greeneville, Tenn.: Marine Sgt. Elbert Kinser, who threw himself on a Japanese grenade in 1945, saving his men and earning the Medal of Honor. A bridge in the city of Tusculum, Tenn., bears his name.
“How many of his friends are still alive to remember the story? How many grew old and had grandchildren because of his sacrifice?” Rasnake wrote. “Did they thank him every day of their lives? The next time I cross that bridge I will stop for just a few minutes of my life to read about a man that gave all of his.”
Now 47, and 13 years out of the Air Force, Rasnake said he never lost hope that Cashe would receive the Medal of Honor that he never doubted the soldier deserved.
“The fact that he’s up for the MOH, reliving this and kind of seeing some closure for him and his family is just amazing,” Rasnake said. “I’m so glad; it’s probably the first piece of good news I’ve gotten in 2020.”
We all know Nine Line Apparel. We wear the gear, we have seen the amazing social media content and perhaps most importantly, we have seen them support the veteran community time and time again.
Well they are coming in clutch once again.
Nine Line announced that they will be shifting operations to produce and distribute masks for doctors and nurses who are working around the clock to care for Americans during the coronavirus outbreak that has gripped the nation. There has been a shortage of masks across the country; hospitals have resorted to using ultraviolet light to ‘clean’ and reuse masks. The most commonly used mask, the N95 mask, is supposed to be used only once. Every time a doctor or nurse sees a patient, they are supposed to discard the mask and use a new one for a different patient.
One big issue is that a lot of masks are being sent from China. With the high demand of masks combined with pricing changes from Chinese manufacturers, there is now a scarcity for nurses and doctors. Masks that used to cost just 70 cents are now being billed at each. And the materials to make the mask that cost ,000 a ton have now seen an increase to 0,000 a ton according to Nine Line Apparel founder and CEO Tyler Merritt.
According to a statement Nine Line put out, the estimated number of masks needed in the next few months will be between 1.7 and 3 billion, but the country currently has a stockpile that only numbers in the millions.
Merritt went on Fox and Friends to discuss what Nine Line was planning on doing.
This outbreak strikes close to home for Merritt, like many Americans.
“I’m an engineer, I’m also a former Army officer, I’m also a member of the special operations community, I’m also the son of a person who will die if he contracts this, I’m also the son of a nurse, I’m also the father of children who could potentially die,” said Merritt. “So, this is not about money. This is about coming together, cutting through the red tape. This is also about identifying those horrible, massive conglomerates that are hoarding materials.” Partnering with Bella+Canvas out of Los Angeles, Nine Line is working to circumvent the red tape from the government as well as corporate conglomerates who may be using this pandemic for financial gain.
Merritt’s vision is to create and sell (at cost) a mask similar or better than the N95 mask and distribute the Personal Protective Equipment to hospitals and health care workers around the country. This mask would be made out of apparel fabric and would be created by both Bella+Canvas and Nine Line using the equipment that makes those awesome shirts that you and I wear.
Nine Line says they can shift operations and create up to 10 million masks in the next few weeks but are limited by waiting on the FDA. They are looking for help from the federal government to speed up testing of their mask and approve it so they can mass produce it and get them to hospitals ASAP.
Nine Line does have a mask (not for hospital use) that is selling to the public which can be purchased here.
Thanks for thinking outside the box and once again, doing your best to serve the public, Nine Line! Bravo.
Joe Serna escaped death so many times while deployed with the Army’s Special Forces. He was blown up by explosive devices on multiple occasions over three combat deployments to Afghanistan. One threw him from his vehicle, another nearly drowned him in an MRAP in an irrigation canal, and a Taliban fighter detonated a grenade in his face. Like many combat veterans of his caliber, both mental and physical wounds followed him home.
After his medical retirement, alcohol-related events landed him in hot water with the law until the day he violated his probation and ended up in front of North Carolina Judge Lou Olivera.
Serna’s MRAP was thrown into a canal by an IED in 2008. Three other soldiers drowned, including one who rescued Serna.
In 2016, Serna’s record of offenses and failure to follow his probation put him in front of a North Carolina Veterans Treatment Court, a system of justice designed to hold returning veterans accountable for their behavior while accepting the special set of circumstances they might be struggling with in their daily life. Veterans Treatment Courts demand mandatory appearances, drug and alcohol testing, and a structure similar to the demands of the service.
Judge Lou Olivera was presiding over Cumberland County, North Carolina’s veterans treatment courts. Olivera is a veteran of the Gulf War and is especially suited to handle cases like Serna’s. The judge ordered the green beret to spend 24 hours in jail for his probation violation, not anything unusual for a judge to do. What Olivera did next is what makes his court exceptional.
Olivera convinced Serna’s jailer, also a veteran, to allow the judge to share Serna’s sentence. Judge Olivera was volunteering to be a battle buddy for the green beret while he did his time. The judge drove Serna to the neighboring county lockup, where jail administrator George Kenworthy put them both in jail for the night.
“He did his duty,” Serna told People Magazine. “He sentenced me. It was his job to hold me accountable. He is a judge, but that night he was my battle buddy. He knew what I was going through. As a warrior, he connected.”
Serna had no idea Judge Olivera planned to share his sentence as the two drove to the Robeson County, N.C. jail. Olivera knew of Serna’s combat records, and that the green beret spent a night in a submerged in an MRAP, struggling to stay in an air pocket, with the bodies of his drowned compatriots around him. So a night spent in a cramped box seemed like a harsh sentence that could trigger harsher thoughts, but the judge knew the soldier had to be held accountable. So he decided he wouldn’t be alone in the box.
“Joe was a good soldier, and he’s a good man,” Olivera said. “I wanted him to know I had his back. I didn’t want him to do this alone… I’m a judge and I’ve seen evil, but I see the humanity in people. Joe is a good man. Helping him helped me. I wanted him to know he isn’t alone.”
Amid rising tensions on Israel’s northern border, the IDF is launching its largest drill in close to 20 years, with tens of thousands of soldiers from all branches of the army, simulating a war with Hezbollah.
The drill, dubbed “Or Hadagan” (Hebrew for “the Light of the Grain”), will start on Sept. 5 and end on Sept. 14, The Times of Israel reported. Named after Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, the exercise will see thousands of soldiers and reservists and all the different branches of the IDF – air force, navy, ground forces, intelligence, cyber – drilling the ability of all branches to coordinate their operations during wartime.
According to military assessments, the northern border remains the most explosive, and both sides have warned that the next conflict would be devastating for the other.
While the primary threat posed by Hezbollah remains its missile arsenal, the IDF believes that the next war will see the group trying to bring the fight into Israel by infiltrating Israeli communities to inflict significant civilian and military casualties.
The ten-day drill will focus on countering Hezbollah’s increased capabilities, and also include simulations of evacuating communities close to the border with Lebanon, The Jerusalem Post reports.
Israel last held an exercise of such magnitude in 1998, a drill that simulated a war with Syria and was led by Meir Dagan.
“The purpose of the drill is to test the fitness of the Northern Command and the relevant battalions during an emergency,” a senior IDF officer told Haaretz. In the drill scenario, the cabinet tells the armed forces to vanquish Hezbollah – “as I understand it, the state in which Hezbollah either has no ability or desire to attack anymore,” said the officer.
Pakistan’s former sports-celebrity-turned politician, Imran Khan, in his televised election victory speech July 26, 2018, pledged to tackle poverty and endemic corruption through a revamped governance system in the country.
Khan delivered the speech as about 90 percent of the results from July 25, 2018’s parliamentary polls already had been compiled. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PT) party was well ahead of its main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of jailed former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.
Almost all the main rival parties have alleged the polls were rigged and manipulated in favor of Khan, allegations the independent Election Commission of Pakistan rejected.
Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Mohammad Raza strongly defended the voting process as free and fair. “These elections were 100 percent transparent and fair … there is no stain,” Raza insisted while speaking to reporters early July 26, 2018.
The commission admitted that its electronic reporting system collapsed shortly after vote counting began late July 25, 2018, causing unprecedented delays in announcing results.
Khan also promised to provide any assistance required to investigate the rigging charges, though he declared the polls as “the fairest in Pakistan.”
Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Mohammad Raza
Analysts say partial election results suggest Khan’s party, with the help of smaller groups and independents, is poised to establish governments not only at the center but possibly in three of Pakistan’s four provinces.
Khan pledged in July 26, 2018’s speech to deliver on campaign promises, saying he would turn Pakistan into an “Islamic welfare state.”
The would-be government, he said, would not use the palatial prime minister’s residence in Islamabad and would use the space for other priorities as it focuses on good governance and economic challenges facing the country.
“I would be ashamed to live in such a large house. That house will be converted into an educational institution or something of the sort,” he said. “Our state institutions will be stronger, everyone will be held accountable. First I will be subjected to accountability, then my ministers and so on.”
Khan acknowledged while speaking to VOA on the eve of the election that the economy is the biggest challenge facing Pakistan.
“The only way we can overcome this is by revamping the way we do governance in this country, strengthening institutions and then spending it on our human beings,” Khan noted. This is “the rock bottom” for Pakistan, he warned.
“Never have we fallen so low as we have right now in terms of human development, in terms of the cost of doing business, in terms of our economy going down the drain. So, the challenges are huge but they can only be done … if we change the way we do governance in this country.”
Sharif’s party has been for months accusing the military of covertly helping Khan’s election campaign, charges both Khan and the military have strongly denied.
The PML-N’s electoral chances also have been shaken by Sharif’s conviction in absentia earlier this month on corruption charges involving expensive properties he and his family held overseas.
Sharif, who immediately was placed in custody after returning from Britain nearly two weeks ago, has denounced the verdict as politically motivated. He accused a covert military-judiciary alliance of trying to keep him out of politics and undermining the integrity of his PML-N party.
Khan and his party were instrumental in leading street protests and fighting legal battles to win the conviction in corruption cases against Sharif.
In his brief speech, Khan also spoke about how his party intends to deal with foreign policy challenges facing Pakistan.
Years of wars in Afghanistan have inflicted unprecedented sufferings on Afghans and they need peace, he said. The new government will make all possible efforts to promote peace in Afghanistan to ensure peace in Pakistan, Khan vowed.
“I also want to build relations with Afghanistan to a point where we have open borders just like those within the European Union,” he added.
Khan said he would seek a mutually beneficial and balanced relationship with the United States.
“We want to improve our relations with India, if their leadership also wants it. This blame game that whatever goes wrong in Pakistan is because of India and vice versa brings us back to square one. If they take one step toward us, we will take two, but we at least need a start.”
The election is just Pakistan’s third peaceful transition of power. The military has ruled the Muslim-majority nation of more than 200 million people for nearly half of the country’s 71-year-history.
July 25, 2018’s vote was disrupted by militant attacks and incidents involving gunfire between political rivals.
The deadliest incident occurred in Quetta, capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, where a suicide blast ripped through a crowed of political activists, voters and security personnel, killing more than 30 people. The Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility for the bloodshed.
The campaign leading up to the July 25, 2018 vote had been marred by violence that left more than 170 people dead.
The world is “one tiny tantrum away” from a nuclear crisis, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said Dec. 10 as it accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.
“We have a choice: the end of nuclear weapons or the end of us,” the group’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn, said, according to a BBC report.
ICAN, a network of more than 400 global nongovernmental organizations, won the prize for its efforts in highlighting the dangers of nuclear weapons as well as working on a treaty to ban them.
The possibility of nuclear retaliation has been thrust into the global spotlight in recent months as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea continue to flare. North Korea’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile launch in late November demonstrated the country’s expanding missile capabilities, putting the international community on edge.
At the same time, many foreign-policy observers have criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for mocking and lashing out at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Twitter.
Speaking at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway, Fihn said the threat of nuclear weapons being used was “greater today than in the Cold War” and warned that a country’s “moment of panic” could lead to the “destruction of cities and the deaths of millions of civilians.”
The Nobel committee’s chair, Berit Reiss-Andersen, commended ICAN’s work toward eliminating nuclear weapons, warning that “irresponsible leaders can come to power in any nuclear state.”
The group’s win was announced in October, to international applaud.
Following the statement, Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN under secretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, said in a UN broadcast that ICAN’s win came at a time when everyone “realizes the danger that we are all living in terms of nuclear peril.”
Referring to current relations between the international community and North Korea, Nakamitsu said, “moving towards a world free of nuclear weapons is really today an urgent priority.”
Last week, the White House national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the chances for war on the peninsula were growing, CNN reported.
“I think it’s increasing every day, which means that we are in a race, really, we are in a race to be able to solve this problem,” McMaster said in a conference in California, when asked whether North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch had increased the chance of war.
In October 2018, Airman Magazine sat down for a conversation with Maj. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, Twenty-fourth Air Force commander; Air Forces Cyber commander and Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber commander, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. He is responsible for providing Air Force component and combatant commanders with trained and ready cyber forces to plan, direct and execute global cyberspace operations.
Airman Magazine: In July, the Twenty-fourth AF moved from Air Force Space Command to Air Combat Command. At the same time you moved from AFSPC to ACC. What are the reasons for that restructuring?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: This allows Gen. Raymond, as the Air Force Space Command commander, to truly focus on space operations. The other thing is this brings cyber within Air Combat Command, which has intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; command and control and the air domain. Bringing all these forces together under one four-star MAJCOM (major command) commander, Gen. Holmes, allows him some more flexibility to be able to present forces across the spectrum of operations.
The networks for those operations need to be resilient and they need to be protected. When you bring together the ISR, cyber, information operations, electronic warfare and command and control, that’s a lot under one hat. But it allows us greater integration as we move forward. At the end of the day, this is about multi-domain operations and the more we can bring those together, the more successful we’ll be.
Airman Magazine: How are your responsibilities divided between your three commands? It seems that just the information technology portion alone would be a huge demand on your resources.
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Cyber operations have four or five different lines of effort. One is to actually build the networks, build the applications and build the systems.
Another is to operate and maintain the networks, but also secure and protect them from vulnerability to adversaries. We also defend networks for our maneuver forces and then we have full spectrum operations, which is on the offensive side.
We also have combat communications airmen and engineering installation airmen who extend the network out to a multitude of places, whether that’s tactical basing or at the forward battle edge.
With that said, information technology is still a key part of the cyberspace domain and we are moving forward in the Enterprise IT as a service. We are going to utilize things industry does very well as a commodity type of action activity.
We are going to leverage what industry does great, providing some services and network infrastructure, and re-mission our airmen to do core Air Force missions on the defensive and offensive side, while providing assurance for the many missions the Air Force presents to the combatant commanders on the joint side.
The bottom line is we’re in the cyber operations business — information technology, networks, both operating and defending — and we provide full spectrum operations in this thing we call the cyberspace domain.
Tech. Sgt. Wyatt Bloom uses a spectrum analyzer to check television broadcast network routers at the Defense Media Activity, Fort Meade, Md., July 18, 2012. Bloom is a cyber-transport technician assigned to DMA.
Airman Magazine: Would you explain your duties as commander of the Air Force component at Cyber Command? How is that different from the hat you wear as commander of Twenty-fourth AF and Air Force Cyber?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: This could actually be a dissertation. To break it down a little bit, the Twenty-fourth AF is where we organize, train and equip our airmen. The perfect example is we have an organization down at Hurlburt Field — they train almost every cyber professional. Now we do a lot more than that, but that’s one example of the Twenty-fourth AF piece.
In the Air Force cyber piece, I am charged by the Air Force to present forces to Gen. Paul Nakasone, the U.S. Cyber Command commander, for his missions and functions as the combatant commander.
We provide offensive forces and defensive forces, DODIN (Department of Defense Information Networks) ops cyber professionals and ISR professionals to Gen. Nakasone, so he can perform his mission.
Then the third area is the Joint Force Headquarters side. That’s where Gen. Nakasone has asked us to align to three different combatant commanders to provide additional joint support for their missions.
We have planning elements that are aligned to these three combatant commanders, as well as some cyber teams supporting the commanders’ efforts in defense of the mission. Our teams are able to deploy and employ forces against a particular adversary at the time and place of the combatant command commanders’ choosing.
Our job within Twenty-fourth AF, AF Cyber JFHQC and Cyber Command, is to be ready at a moment’s notice to protect our systems and defend the networks and defend the core missions of our military and our joint war fighters. Then deter, disrupt and degrade an enemy’s ability to perform those functions against us. Part of that goes into making sure that we have persistent engagement, a persistent presence, and a persistent innovation as we continue to move forward.
Airman Magazine: Across the Air Force, joint force, partner agencies and nations, do cyber operations equate to kinetic operations or is that a completely different animal?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I would say it is not a completely different animal. To be successful in cyber operations and have cyberspace superiority at the time and place of our choosing, we need a team of teams that is internal to the Air Force.
Every single airman in our Air Force needs to be a cyber sentinel. We need every airman to be very conscious of cyber security, cyber hygiene and things that are going on within the cyberspace domain.
We have branched out and are part of several joint organizations that perform functions and missions within the cyber domain. The National Security Agency is a huge partner with us as we perform these missions, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Information Systems Agency and Department of Homeland Security — a lot of different agencies across the board.
We are also great partners with commercial industry and academia because we’re all in the same field and in the same cyber domain.
Within Twenty-fourth AF, we have a United Kingdom representative and an Australian liaison officer, but most of our allies and partners are really up at the Cyber Command level. We leverage those partners through U.S. Cyber Command, NATO and other organizations.
Capt. Taiwan Veney, cyber warfare operations officer, watches members of the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group, from left, Capt. Adelia McClain, Staff Sgt. Wendell Myler, Senior Airman Paul Pearson and Staff Sgt. Thacious Freeman, analyze log files and provide a cyber threat update utilizing a Kibana visualization on the large data wall in the Hunter’s Den at Warfield Air National Guard Base.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: What is it that makes your cyber airmen “cyber warriors”?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Our airmen are absolutely warriors. We have teams in the fight operating constantly: 7 days a week, 365 days a year, Christmas and New Year’s.
If you’ve heard Gen. Nakasone speak recently you’ve heard him say we’re no longer solely responding to network intrusions, we have cyber forces persistently engaged against state and non-state adversaries, actively identifying and countering threats in the cyber domain.
This achieves several benefits at once: first and foremost, it gives us control over the cyber terrain that serves as the foundation for superiority in cyberspace. It also keeps our operators ready and their skills honed and imposes cost on the adversary so they can no longer operate freely without repercussion. There’s already a massive demand signal for our cyber operators that will only increase, so we have to ensure we’re fielding proficient, ready and lethal operators at scale.
Because of this, we are investing not only the readiness of our mission, but also in the readiness of our people. This means examining everything within our scope of control, including the effect the operational tempo of our 24/7/365 mission has on our operators.
Just like you see within the (remotely piloted aircraft) field, cyber can mean long periods away from the sunlight and abnormal sleep hours, and that can absolutely have an effect on people. Any leader will tell you—if you take care of the people, they will take care of the mission.
Airman Magazine: What part does the total force play in cyber operations and defense?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I will tell you, we could not do our job on a day-to-day basis without the total force. The majority of the forces within Twenty-fourth AF are guard and reserve components.
Our engineering installation mission is 85 to 90 percent within the guard. More than 50 percent of our combat communications capability, which extends and expands our capabilities to the tactical edge, is in the guard. We have guard organizations up in Washington. We have some in Rhode Island. We have some here in Texas. I will tell you they provide great day-to-day work.
What’s even more important is the expertise that they bring from their civilian jobs. We have vice presidents of some corporations who are part of our total force as well. Bringing that expertise, leadership, things that the public is good at and things that industry is focused on benefits the military and vice versa. They take lessons learned from the military and take it to their company. So it’s a great yin-yang relationship.
Whether it’s an offensive operation or a defensive operation or even DODIN ops, there has to be a tight tie between all of those as we move forward because the defense learns from the offense and the offense learns from the defense. DODIN ops learn from defense to figure it out where we need to be resilient, where some of our mission critical assets are and how to defend them.
All the computer networks, email, applications and systems in the cyberspace domain are what we call the Department of Defense Information Networks. There are pay applications that we have in the Air Force that are part of DODIN. If you get paid electronically within the Air Force that’s part of the DoD information network.
Airman Magazine: Is it an advantage that those reserve and National Guard personnel tend to have long histories with one unit?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I would say sometimes it’s an advantage and sometimes it’s not. In some places having continuity is good. I would say having too much continuity isn’t necessarily good in cyber because you want some fresh blood, some fresh ideas.
Airman Magazine: Would a technical track for active-duty cyber operators benefit the force?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Similar to other domains and weapon systems, we have to be proficient to be effective. Since cyber is a technical domain we do need technical expertise.
However as our people gain that expertise and increase in rank and responsibility, we need them to be leaders and lead teams to success while still maintaining credibility in their profession. We, ACC and Headquarters Air Force are working closely together to determine what the right “path to greatness” will look like, in order to build a force that generates maximum lethality.
Cyber warfare operators assigned to the 275th Cyber Operations Squadron of the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group of the Maryland Air National Guard configure a threat intelligence feed for daily watch in the Hunter’s Den at Warfield Air National Guard Base.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: As cyber tools and methods seem to change constantly, ow can the acquisitions process be altered to make sure the Air Force has the best technologies and practices in the cyber domain?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: The Air Force and DoD leadership are laser-like focused on our ability to acquire things in a more agile, fast and relevant way. We have leveraging other authorities, like 804 authorities, to bring on the future faster and to bring innovation faster.
As an Air Force we are becoming more of a software force than a hardware force. The ability to bring the new wave of agile software development operations, DevOps, is going to be key in maintaining our superiority and operating within the enemy’s OODA loop (time it takes to observe, orient, decide, and act).
We’re bringing in individuals who understand the old waterfall model is not the right model because by the time that you set the requirements and start developing to those requirements, the environment, threats and priorities have changed.
If you’re spending weeks, months and years identifying and defining hundreds or thousands of requirements, you definitely can’t meet those requirements in a timely manner. So leverage industry, leverage developers who are innovative, define the left and right limits or requirements.
So you get a three to five-page requirements document, which is much better than a 100 to 200-page document. Let them innovate and come back with a solution and in a much more timely manner—days and weeks versus months and years. Then you iterate and you continue to iterate on that minimum viable product.
Then also leverage some of those techniques to buy the right hardware in a timely fashion and focus on the approval top rate process, to reduce the amount of time to approve either software or hardware for connecting to the network. I know that Dr. Roper, Air Force Acquisition and the chief and secretary are very focused on bringing the future faster.
Airman Magazine: The Air Force is considering launching a cyber rapid capabilities office. How would that benefit the Twenty-fourth AF and the cyber community as a whole?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: The traditional slow-and-steady acquisition model is great for buying a fleet of fifth-generation aircraft, but it isn’t ideal for cyberspace where the landscape is changing constantly and where the state-of-the-art is available to anyone interested in buying. We need to get faster.
The DNA of the Air Force RCO brings agility and flexibility, which drives down timelines and increases capability. Right now we can’t say what form a cyber RCO would take, but will benefit us by getting the right capabilities and weapons at the right time to our operators. We need to respond to malicious cyber activity with greater speed and tempo employing a calculated, “spectrum of risk” framework which is properly delegated at echelon to enable responsible and responsive cyberspace operations in support of assigned missions.
The concept of Fusion Warfare gathers all intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data across all Air Force platforms into the “combat cloud” through and autonomous process where it’s analyzed and combined to create a real time big picture for commanders.
(Photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin Sommer Giron)
Airman Magazine: What effect will advances in big data research have on cyber operations?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Data is the game changer in our business. If I own the data battle space, then I will definitely be within the OODA loop of the adversary. Being able to leverage quantum computing, artificial intelligence and analysis of big data platforms is really the future of our mission.
There is so much data out there in today’s environment there is no way that you can get through all of it (manually). So you may miss a key data point that would help you make a decision. In a future conflict, being able to have the right data at the right time analyzed at the right tempo is key to success.
We’re putting a lot of effort into better understanding the data, not just from cyber standpoint, but also in logistics, in intelligence and even in personnel. The more we can analyze the data, the better that we can perform education and training, perform timely logistics, perform ISR operations. Every single Air Force core mission is reliant on data to be more effective, more efficient and more successful.
Airman Magazine: Can you talk about Hack the Air Force and its value to the force?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: The first Hack the Air Force iteration was in late 2017, after the successful Hack the Pentagon initiative by Defense Digital Services. When the first hackathon sprint kicked off it took less than a minute for a hacker to find a valid vulnerability. By the end, over 200 holes in our boundary had been patched—and that was just the first iteration.
Hack the Air Force gets after two important focus areas: first, it builds capacity for the Air Force by leveraging expertise from a multitude of places, and second, it leverages innovative thinking to find vulnerabilities we otherwise might not uncover.
Take, for example, the person who won the first hackathon sprint, a 17-year-old high school student from Chicago. Maybe his path won’t lead him to the Air Force, but we were still able to use his talents to make ourselves more resilient. To me that’s a win.
Quynh Tran, right, a Raytheon Corporation software engineer, talks with Capt. Nick Lundin, Product Management lead, about a software coding project May 30, 2018 at Kessel Run, a program within the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, a United States Department of Defense organization, in Boston.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: What lessons can be learned from commercial companies about practices that enable those fresh ideas to come forward?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: There are a lot of great lessons learned from Silicon Valley and I would offer Silicon Valley has also learned from the Department of Defense.
As I’ve said many times over my 33-year career to date, if I came into the military today, compared with a talent level of the individuals that we have now, I would not be as successful as I have been.
The talent today is amazing and our job as senior leaders is how do we unleash that talent? How do we have the right policies and the right directives leveraging the right acquisition authorities and unleash this talent on the hard problems that our force and our nation face today.
The key is getting the right people in the room to determine how best to provide solutions, whether it’s software development, hardware acquisition or cyberspace operations. It’s getting the right people in the room and getting through the bureaucracy, pushing the bureaucracy to the side and being able to unleash the talent.
Airman Magazine: How can, especially when it comes to the cyber domain, the Air Force compete with civilian industry to attract more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: There was always a competition between academia, research labs, commercial industry and the military. We as a military cannot compete from a dollar standpoint.
But where we can compete is with the great things you can do within the DoD, that you probably can’t do within the commercial world. We have great missions coming from the research we’re doing.
Some of the operations we’re doing on a day-to-day basis, you can’t do that on the commercial side. We have opportunities for individuals at a variety of levels to perform things they couldn’t do outside of the military. That’s our calling card.
Airman Magazine: Peer and near-peer competitors have been going to school on us since World War II; how do we offset that advantage?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I would say every threat is an opportunity. While we have been focused over the last 10 to 15 years on the violent extremist, the latest National Defense Strategy, National Security Strategy and National Cyber Strategy outline strategic competition, peer competitors, and has turned the focus there.
You’ll hear a lot about readiness. Readiness is very important to our chief, very important to our secretary and very important to the secretary of defense. We need to make sure that we have a lethal force. In order to do that, you need to have a ready force.
In order to be ready, you need to have a disciplined force. Especially when there is strategic competition out there and adversaries who on a day-to-day basis are performing actions and operations that are probably right below the level of conflict.
But, I would not want to go and do a mission against a threat with anyone else but the airmen we have in our service today. Our airmen, with our joint partners in the other services, still have the most critical, credible and lethal force in the world.
Airmen with the 68th Network Warfare Squadron monitor Air Force communications to analyze disclosures of critical information and perform data loss prevention at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Oct. 25, 2018.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: You talked about having a disciplined force in order to be lethal. What constitutes discipline in the cyber world?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Discipline is key. I’m not talking about discipline from a uniform code of military justice aspect. This is discipline in processes, discipline in procedures and discipline in command and control. We spent a lot of time going back and trying to figure out what happened on something because there was an undisciplined tactic, technique, procedure or process. We’re trying to leverage discipline to make our force more effective and more capable and build capacity.
Then we come to a readiness standpoint. Readiness, as you know, is made up of personnel, equipment, procedures and training. We are continually leveraging our innovative airmen to improve the training they receive, how we purchase equipment, how we educate our airmen.
Part of all this is proficiency. Proficiency against a violent extremist organization is much different than proficiency against strategic competitors. Our focus continues to be how to maintain and improve the readiness and proficiency against strategic competitors.
We are also leveraging our airmen and technology to be more efficient and more effective.
Leveraging artificial intelligence can decrease the amount of time that our airmen spend doing manual work so they can focus on the higher end discussions of cognitive actions and activities.
For example, manually looking through thousands of pages of data takes a very long time. We have airmen who are leveraging technology, whether it’s using keywords or bringing a couple of technologies together, that can take those thousands of documents and run through them in minutes versus hours, days or weeks.
Then taking what the technology has given you and put the human eye on it — are there any other needles in the haystack?
That’s what our airmen are doing on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s from a data collection standpoint, whether it’s from a cyber operation standpoint, whether it’s looking through logs to see if we have an adversary presence on our networks. Looking through logs to make sure that our user experience is where it needs to be on a daily basis, but leveraging technology to reduce the amount of manual steps.
Airman Magazine: With a kinetic weapon, the effects are apparent and there is an inherent process to be able to determine origin, intent and purpose. The very nature of cyber is to hide the hand that dealt the cards. What kind of challenges does determining attribution pose for a commander?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: So attribution is a very significant challenge. There are not as well defined international norms in the cyberspace domain and therefore a multitude of nations and multitude of criminals and the multitude of other individuals are continuing to push the limits.
It is often very apparent in the other domains, from an effect or an outcome, who the actors are. In the cyber domain, you can have the same type of effects in as in other domains, but it is harder to determine the source, which is really important when you start talking about multi-domain operations.
Cyber is a critical enabler while also a critical operation because cyber can be both supporting and supported within multi-domain operations. As we continue to refine our operations, to refine our tactics, techniques and procedures, we will continue to get better at understanding attribution, understanding the outcomes, and making sure that we refine and define those outcomes and bound the outcomes to meet our mission objectives.
As cyber continues to get more profound and more pronounced in the day-to-day operations, attribution is going to become that much harder.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Skinner, then Deputy Commander of Air Force Space Command, speaks at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Cyberspace Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, March 6, 2018.
(Photo by Dave Grim)
Airman Magazine: How do you convince people that cyber and space have become foundational to everything that the Air Force, and our society as a whole, does on a daily basis?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I’ll give you a perfect example, the Global Positioning System is operated by Air Force Space Command: not only for the nation, but the whole world. The U.S. Air Force supplies and supports the system and satellites that enable the GPS navigation we use in our cars and on our phones every day, millions of times around the world.
It also provides timing. Every financial transaction is supported by the GPS system. So when you purchase something and put your credit card into that reader, there’s a timing aspect that is being supported by GPS. So the Air Force is supporting billions of activities and actions all the time.
Airman Magazine: The chief of staff and secretary have made it a priority to push command level decisions down to the lowest level possible. How is that manifested in your command?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Its not only because the chief and the secretary say they want it done. We have the greatest airmen in the world and we have the greatest commanders in the world—pushing authorities and responsibility down to the lowest level really enables them to unleash the talent around them and enables us to unleash their talent.
You don’t need higher headquarters micromanaging and directing things on a daily basis. Our commanders are boarded. We have a tradition of great commanders in our Air Force and we need to let them run. We need to let them determine how best to run their organizations and how best to be effective. The more that we can push decision authority down, the more bureaucracy we can eliminate and the more agile, lethal and effective we can be as an Air Force.
From a higher headquarters level and higher commander level, our responsibility is to give the left and right limits to those organizations and then let them run.
If we are in a conflict, especially against a peer competitor, the amount of time it would take to micromanage our tactical-level units would not allow us to be inside the OODA loop of our adversary.
We need to allow our commanders, in peacetime, to train like they are going to fight. To have that authority to perform the mission as they see fit. With more guidance, directives and limitations to that commander, there’s going to be some negative learning, first and foremost, but secondly, the safety of our airmen will be put in jeopardy.
Participants in the joint, multinational exercise Cyber Guard 2016 work through a training scenario during the nine-day event in Suffolk, Va., on June 16, 2016.
(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse A. Hyatt)
Airman Magazine: As commander of Joint Force Headquarters Cyber, you’re responsible for cyber affects in campaign plans from U.S. Central Command to U.S. Transportation Command. How does that integration take place?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Aligned to each of those combatant commanders we have an element called the Cyber Operations Integrated Planning Element. We are just now standing those up and they are at the combatant commanders’ headquarters.
They’re kind of our picture window into that combatant commander to enable cyber operations planning to be part of their overall plan. Each combatant commander has either a function or a region they’re responsible for and they have what we call a scheme of maneuver, which is either day-to-day or in conflict. It is the commander’s plan of how to ensure sure we are successful in that campaign.
These planning elements are aligned there so we can be part of that plan and make sure that cyber isn’t just bolted on, but integrated into that plan. Cyber will be one of the first options that are available to that combatant commander below the level of conflict to make sure that we are meeting our objectives.
Airman Magazine: How do you get everyone with a piece of the huge cyber puzzle speaking the same language? How do you communicate capabilities and vulnerabilities to leadership, agency partners and airmen who are not cyber experts?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I would say today we have the best understanding and the best alignment from the cyber domain standpoint that we’ve ever had with all the strategy documents – the National Defense Strategy, which is underneath the National Security Strategy, the National Cyber Policy and Strategy, the DoD Cyber Strategy and the Cyber Posture Review.
All of these documents are perfectly aligned and it’s a great understanding of the capabilities that we provide, but also the importance of cyber to the multi-domain operations. The education is continual, but I offer that our Air Force leadership understands the cyber domain. They understand how important the cyber domain is to multi-domain operations.
We continue to educate the entire forest. We’re continuing the education process of all of our airmen, from the highest level to the most junior airman and the joint community, but from a joint standpoint and a national standpoint cyber is more understood than it ever has been.
Proposed content viewing page on the Cyber Education Hub, which is being developed at the Center for Cyberspace Research in the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
(AFIT CCR photo)
Airman Magazine: Do you see the Continuum of Learning concept and applications like the Cyber Learning Hub being developed by the Center for Cyberspace Research, Air Force Cyber College and U.S Air Force Academy’s CyberWorx, as aiding in that effort?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: There are a lot of great opportunities with that as cyber continues to be more and more integrated into the day-to-day operations.
We currently have the Air Force Warfare Center where we bring a lot of different mission systems together, integrate them, exercise and train and cyber is a significant part of that.
From an education standpoint we send people to the Air Force Institute of Technology. They not only have general education classes, but we they have Cyber 100, Cyber 200, Cyber 300 and Cyber 400 courses.
We have the 39th Information Operations Squadron, which does our cyber training. Keesler Air Force Base has a lot of our cyber courses. Just as Gen. Raymond over the last year has been working with Air University to make sure we have more space in our professional military education, we’re doing the same thing from a cyber standpoint.
We’re working with Gen. Cotton at Air University and Gen. Kwast at Air Education and Training Command to make sure that we continue to improve the amount of cyber and relevant topics in cyber education in basic military training through professional military education and to highlight cyber, both from a professional and a personal standpoint, because it impacts every part of your life.
Airman Magazine: In that vein, what would you like every airman to be aware of in their daily connectivity?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: One of the biggest vectors that our adversaries use to get into our networks is email. It’s called spear phishing. You can get those at your home and at the office. We continue to educate that you should know who the sender of an email is, that you do not click on links that you’re not certain are good links. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
If you get an email offering a free vacation, there’s probably not a free vacation. That’s probably someone trying to gain access to your personal information or gain access into our Air Force systems to cause havoc and disrupt our ability to do our missions.
Additionally, be aware that our adversaries can put different pieces of unclassified information together, which in the aggregate actually become classified. So you always have to be careful when you’re outside of work, or even inside work, of what you talk about in the open.
You have to monitor your computer systems. Make sure your systems are patched, especially at home, because that is the quickest way for an adversary to exploit your system. Some vulnerabilities have been out there for years. We find that both on the commercial side and the government side — there are systems out there that have not been patched in a long time, even though a patch has been out there.
We’re continuing to leverage technology to make that a little easier, to make sure that we’re updating and protecting all those systems.
Maj. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, Commander, 24th Air Force; Commander, Air Forces Cyber and Commander, Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber is photographed at his headquarters at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Oct. 26, 2018.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: The Air Force places a premium on building leaders. What twists and turns has your career taken that culminated in command of the Twenty-fourth AF?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I’ve had multiple mentors who have taken a special interest in my career. They have said you need to go to this position. I questioned it. I didn’t understand it. But it turns out that developed a place in my leadership that was not refined well enough. We spend a lot of time and energy on managing our talent. What differentiates us from other nations and other militaries is our airmen, whether officer, enlisted or civilian.
Our Airmen are our most precious asset. It is our solemn duty to professionally develop our airmen to the best extent possible. We take special interest in placing them where they professionally develop, while making sure our missions continue to be successful.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
The opening scenes of Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn introduce viewers to a charismatic and devoted father deep in the joys of parenthood. Crawling on the floor, swimming and blowing out birthday candles with his toddler and infant sons, he is right where he should be. Until the day he isn’t. Through interviews, reports and a thoroughly researched investigation, the filmmaker poses some incriminating questions.
Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? Was it the mechanic who told him his helicopter was cleared for flight two hours before it slammed tail-first into the ocean? Was it the manufacturer who produced the faulty wiring blamed for the explosion? Was it the upper ranks of the Navy who disregarded multiple letters of concern purportedly choosing flight hours over safety? How about the Congressional and Executive branches of our government that teamed up with arms manufacturers and focused on new bloated defense contracts instead of investing in the people and machinery already in place?
Van Dorn’s wife, Nicole, living in the shadow of her husband’s unnecessary death, is on a mission to find out. Catalyzed by her and others’ search for answers, this gripping 2018 documentary investigates events leading up to Navy lieutenant J. Wesley Van Dorn’s death one month before his 30th birthday. His untimely demise occurred during a training exercise when an explosion killing three of the five crewmen aboard caused the crash-prone helicopter to fall from the sky into frigid waters below. Van Dorn was not the only one who had expressed concerns about the safety of this aircraft, nor was he the only one to die in it as a result of misguided leadership and mechanical failure.
Written, directed, and narrated by Zachary Stauffer as his first feature documentary, this film offers a sobering look into chronic institutional failings that have resulted in 132 arguably preventable deaths. Diving unforgivably into one family’s agonizing loss, Stauffer invites us to ponder heavy questions while constructing a wall of outrage in his viewers. What is the price of a life? How many lives does it take before change takes place? When will avarice and the “just get ‘er done” attitude stop undermining the American defense establishment?
Built by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, the MH-53E Sea Dragon is the Navy’s nearly identical version of the Marine Corps’ CH-53-E Super Stallion. Since entering service in 1986, it has never succumbed to enemy fire but holds the worst safety record in the Navy’s fleet making it the deadliest aircraft in military history. The 53-E is a powerful machine used by the Navy for dragging heavy equipment through water to sweep for mines while the Marine version is used for transporting people and gear.
Stauffer explains that due to issues with these aircraft that cropped up even in their initial test flights at the manufacturer and in training missions, the Navy tried to get away with using less powerful helicopters and alternate minesweeping tactics but nothing was as effective as the relic Sea Dragon. Since they were fated to be replaced at some point, the higher ranks avoided investing too much into them so funding for spare parts and maintenance was lean. Members of Congress allegedly chose the path of greed and corruption when defense contractors offered them flashy new weaponry and vehicles as well as comfortable retirement packages. The upper echelons flourished while those training, fighting, and dying on the ground, as well as the American taxpayers, suffered needlessly as top-down decision makers claimed their hands were tied.
With fewer and fewer resources, those maintaining the Sea Dragon had to do more with less. They began cutting corners and developing bad habits. When voicing their worries in person or through over a dozen letters and memos to the upper ranks, they were “belittled, humiliated and cut down,” as one pilot explained. More than 30 years before Van Dorn’s crash, Sikorsky recommended replacing the faulty Kapton wires on all Navy aircraft. This was suggested not once, not twice, but three times before the Navy decided to start looking into the issue. Eventually they named Kapton as the highest ranked safety risk in the fleet and devised a long-term plan to replace it in phases but claimed to never have enough funding to refit all the wiring in the 53s. Only months prior to Van Dorn’s crash the Pentagon re-budgeted funding away from this critical project. Thus, problems that had been escalating over decades while the issue was known and actively overlooked perpetuated, yet the birds were still allowed to fly.
By the time Van Dorn signed on the dotted line in 2010, the run-down helicopters that required about 40 hours of maintenance for a single hour of flight time should have been retired. He and his wife made the decision together to request a spot in the squadron flying 53s because others told them it was an ideal position for a family man who wanted to be home for dinner every night.
Van Dorn was one of those who voiced his opinions about the safety of this aircraft. In an ominous voice recording foreshadowing his own death, he stated “If anyone should care about what’s happening on that aircraft, it should be me and the other pilots, I think. It makes sense to me, because I’m the one who’s going to get in it and have something terrible happen if it doesn’t go right.” His wife Nicole later explained that, “He felt that no matter what he said or what he wrote or who he complained to, nothing was changing.”
On a particularly cold morning in January 2014, Van Dorn’s own portentous sentiments were realized 18 nautical miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. Chafing from a single nylon zip tie exposed naked wiring to a fine spray of fuel causing it to arc, sending a blast of fire into the cockpit. Hours later Nicole lay on her husband’s chest just before they pronounced him dead.
Dylan Boone, a Naval aircrewman and one of two survivors of the wreck declared, “You don’t expect to give up your life for this country because you were given faulty equipment.”
Dynamic cinematography combined with a subtly haunting score by composer William Ryan Fritch creates the backdrop for this solid investigative report. Crisp and flowing visuals paired with thrilling military footage complement the feelings portrayed by those interviewed. These primary sources include Van Dorn’s mother, wife, friends, and fellow airmen as well as a mechanic, pilots, a general, a Pentagon Analyst and a military reporter. Throughout the documentary they and the narrator explain the multifaceted issues connected to Van Dorn’s death and the trouble with the 53s from a variety of angles.
Woven skillfully together, a poignant story is told of decades of negligence that continues to result in tragedy. Wholesome home movies of a young involved father raising two sons with his lovely wife are contrasted with the aching void ripped into the Van Dorn family’s home after his death. Stirring visions of military life ignite the urge to join in viewers who have ever felt compelled to do so, whereas the deep frustration of stifled dreams and a scarred body and soul are almost tangible to someone who has been there before as hard truths are drawn out throughout the film.
Centering on the death of a handsome, beloved father, husband and seaman who was liked by all humanized an issue that might have otherwise been unrelatable. Utilizing the audience’s heartstrings as a focal point was a powerful way to bring attention to a predicament that could have been swept under the rug. Despite the fact that the C-53 airframes experienced serious accidents more than twice as often as the average aircraft and that internal investigations were performed with alarming results, the Navy continues to risk its servicemembers’ life and limb to keep these helicopters performing their critical mission in the air. With this in mind, this documentary might just put enough pressure on the Navy to make the changes necessary to save an untold number of lives.
Winner of the Audience Award in Active Cinema at the 2018 Mill Valley Film Festival, Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn is an intriguing and effective piece of military reporting presented in comprehensible terms for the layman. It is a successful examination of not only the serious failings of a controversial aircraft and the misled priorities keeping it aloft, but also hints toward the fact that anyone who brings up the disturbing issue of safety of these helicopters will be forced out of service. I would recommend this professional-level documentary, especially to anyone with interests in the military or national defense.
The Navy, the Pentagon, Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin declined to participate in this well-researched film. Major funding to make this documentary possible was provided by supporters of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and Investigative Studios.
After viewing this film, you can decide for yourself who killed Lt. Van Dorn. Regardless of the answer, his unwarranted death will not have been completely in vain if it successfully carries out his final mission: righting the deep and longstanding problems with the CH-53 helicopters, thus preventing the death and destruction of countless others just as it ultimately took him.