Officials from the Department of Defense told Kim Dozier of The Daily Beastthat U.S. special forces have killed those “external operations leaders, planners, and facilitators” who were part of those attacks outside the CENTCOM area of responsibility.
The use of special forces in kill or capture raids (though the capture part tends to happen much less frequently) is a major part of the U.S. counterterrorism plan against ISIS. Those 40 are less than half of the high-value targets that coalition forces have taken out. The U.S. mission also includes curtailing the terror group’s ability to recruit abroad and inhibit their ability to carry out Paris-style attacks. President Obama has ordered 250 more special operators to Iraq to support these operations.
According to Dozier’s report, the effort is seeing results. Those same defense officials estimated that ISIS’ overall fighting force is down to 19,000 – 25,000 fighters, from 33,000 in 2015. Moreover, the influx of new recruits coming into the region is down 90 percent from last year.
Dozier also reports that the Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper warned this week that ISIS cells are already in place throughout Europe. ISIS’ external operations have killed 1,000 people across 21 countries since 2015. But the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is using a mixture of special operators from many, varied disciplines. Their units include Navy SEALs, Delta Force, and Green Berets integrated in all aspects of the JSOC mission. This ensures the highest performers are on kill-capture raids, and have experience in hostage rescue and working with local opposition forces.
This may be a product of battlefield lessons learned. These days, the CENTCOM AOR is run by Gen. Joseph Votel, who once commanded both U.S. Special Operations Command and JSOC. Lt. Gen. Austin S. Miller, the current JSOC commander, ran special operations in Afghanistan, where he used the mixed special forces tactics with great success.
Sgt. First Class Stephen B. Cribben, 33, of Simi Valley, California, died Nov. 4 in Logar Province, Afghanistan as a result of wounds sustained while engaged in combat operations. He was assigned to 2d Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, Fort Carson, Colorado. The incident is under investigation.
China is developing a lot of new and advanced weaponry, but a recent state media report suggests the Chinese military may not be entirely sure what to do with these new combat systems.
During a mock battle held in 2018, an “elite combined arms brigade” of the 81st Group Army of the People’s Liberation Army was defeated, despite being armed with superior weapons, specifically China’s new main battle tank, the Type 099A, the Global Times reported Jan. 20, 2019, citing a report last week from China’s state broadcaster CCTV.
China is “on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world,” Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley explained in a recent assessment of China’s military power.
“In some areas, it already leads the world,” he added.
While the DIA assessment called attention to China’s advancements in anti-satellite capabilities, precision strike tools, or hypersonic weapons, China appears particularly proud of achievements like the Type 099A battle tank, the J-20 stealth fighter, and the Type 055 guided-missile destroyer, arms which advance the warfighting capabilities of China’s army, air force, and navy respectively.
The J-20 stealth fighter.
But the Chinese military is apparently still trying to figure out what these developments mean for modern warfare.
In the interview with CCTV, two senior officers reflected on why Chinese troops armed with the new tanks lost in 2018’s simulated battle. “We rushed with the Type 099A too close to the frontline, which did not optimize the use of the tank’s combat capability,” Xu Chengbiao, a battalion commander, explained. “We only studied the capabilities of older tanks, but have not completely understood new ones,” Zhao Jianxin, a second battalion commander, reportedly told CCTV.
A Beijing-based military expert told the Global Times that weapons alone cannot win wars.
David Axe, a defense editor at The National Interest, argued that the Chinese media report indicates that China struggles with “inadequate” military doctrine due to the country’s lack of combat experience. The Chinese military has not fought a war since the late 1970s.
China is focusing more on the navy, air force, rocket force, and strategic support force than it is on the army, which his experienced a major reduction in personnel. This shift, according to some analysts, highlights an interest in power projection over home defense.
As the warfighting capabilities of the Chinese military grow, it will presumably need to adapt its military doctrine to emerging technologies to maximize capability, but that process may take some time.
The Chinese military is undergoing a massive modernization overhaul in hopes of achieving Chinese President Xi Jinping’s stated goal of building a world-class military that can fight and win wars by the middle of this century.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Iran seized a South Korean tanker and arrested its crew in the Persian Gulf on Monday as the US military continued an on-again, off-again military build-up around its border. The maneuvers came days after the first anniversary of the US assassination of a top Iranian general.
Little more was known about the seizure of the Korean ship on Monday morning.
The US and Iran have been flexing their military and rhetorical might over the past few weeks around the one-year anniversary of the US drone killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan 3, 2020. Iran has threatened revenge for the targeted killing of the country’s most powerful military official.
National security advisors convinced Trump not to conduct a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities last November, according to a New York Times report, despite strong encouragement from Israel. The Israeli government fears the incoming Biden administration will take a softer line on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has responded angrily to the provocations, which included last year’s assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist reportedly by Israeli operatives.
The reversal of the Nimitz’s movements over the past five days alarmed several NATO officials who have repeatedly expressed concerns about what they see as erratic US national security moves post-election.
“I feel like my briefings are on a 24-48 hour delay,” said a NATO official in Brussels, who asked not to be named criticizing a close ally.
“What we believe is that after weeks of pushing additional material and warships into the Gulf region to pressure Iran, it was decided to send the Nimitz home after a mission off the coast of Somalia in an effort to reduce tensions,” said the official. “NATO supported this de-escalation because tensions were dangerously high and there’s more than enough military firepower in the region to deter Iran.”
When asked why such an immediate reversal, the NATO official admitted that it was too early to tell.
“I guess I need a briefing,” said the official. “I suspect they will say there was new information or a new threat and that the Nimitz was needed to stay in the area but there will be widespread suspicions that Trump overruled the redeployment for his own political or emotional concerns.”
A former US national security official, who is expected to join the Biden administration and thus asked not to be identified, said that the previous overflights of the region by long-range bombers — which the official described as not particularly useful for defensive operations — might have inflamed regional allies enough that the Pentagon concluded the Nimitz had to go, only to be overruled by Trump three days later.
“The B-52s [sent from US bases] are useful on the first day of a major war because they can target command and control centers and anti-aircraft defenses from range with cruise missiles,” said the former official. “It’s an offensive threat and so long as they were over the Gulf, Iran would have been convinced of an imminent attack. But they go home after a few hours, the Nimitz can stay and support a much wider range of operations. So it’s an operational mistake to have tried to send it home at all but maybe this was forced by the outcry over the B-52s. Now there’s double confusion everywhere.”
The USS Nimitz — one of the world’s most powerful warships with dozens of attack and support aircraft — had been operating off the Horn of Africa in support of US forces deployed in Somalia as recently as Dec. 28, according to the US Navy. It is believed to be returning to a patrol position in the northern Gulf of Oman.
For its part, Iran announced just minutes after that it had detained the South Korean tanker that it finds South Korea sanctions unreasonable and planned to discuss the sanctions and the detained ship with the South Korean deputy foreign minister, who is due in Iran this week for talks.
GE just completed its initial test runs of the first full-scale XA100 three-stream adaptive combat engine–an entirely new fighter power plant that promises to give the United States a distinct advantage in the skies of the 21st century. Fighters have always had to maintain a tightrope walk between unleashing the power of their engines and saving enough fuel to be effective in a fight. With GE’s XA100, that’ll get a whole lot easier.
The first full-scale XA100 is one of two technology demonstrators contracted to GE through the U.S. Air Force’s Life Cycle Management Center’s Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP), with elements of development handled through both the Adaptive Versatile Engine Technology (ADVENT) and the Adaptive Engine Technology Development (AETD) programs.
This first demonstrator was intended to not just offer an incredible amount of power, but a huge improvement in engine efficiency that can grant greater fuel range and longer loiter times than ever before.
“The goal for the Air Force was to develop the next-generation fighter engine architecture and technologies to provide a generational step-change in combat propulsion capability,” David Tweedie, GE Edison Works’ General Manager of Advanced Combat Engines, told Sandboxx News.
“GE has worked hard to achieve the challenging objectives the Air Force has set out, and we believe we are delivering on what they’ve asked us to do.”
And deliver they did. GE tested their XA100 at their high altitude test cell in Evendale, Ohio over the span of more than three months, starting at the tail end of 2020, and according to their reports, the engine actually exceeded their performance targets. Chief among their goals was successfully demonstrating the engine’s ability to operate in both a high-thrust mode that delivers unparalleled power in combat and a low-burn mode that allows for covering greater distances or remaining airborne for extended periods of time.
“We hit all of our primary test objectives,” Tweedie told Aviation Week. “The engine behaved right along with our pre-test predictions and was very consistent with the program goals. We were able to demonstrate the two different modes of the engine and the ability to seamlessly transition between those two modes.”
The aim of GE’s XA100 engine was to increase thrust by 10% and fuel efficiency by 25%, but in testing, the engine did even better than that.
“Not only are we meeting that, we’re actually exceeding that pretty much everywhere in the flight envelope—and in a few places—up to 20% [more thrust],” Tweedie said. “We are very happy with where we are from thrust in terms of over-delivering versus the program requirement.”
“When you translate that to what it means to the platform, it’s 30% more range or 50% more loiter time depending on how you want to utilize that fuel burn improvement. It’s a significant increase in acceleration and combat capability with the increased thrust,” he added.
American combat aircraft are already renowned for their powerful and efficient engines. China and Russia both have new fifth-generation (stealth) fighters in service, but both nations continue to struggle with fielding engines that are adequate to meet the performance needs of top-tier fighters in the 21st century. However, China claims to be nearing development on their WS-15 engines that were specifically designed to bring their Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter on par with America’s F-22, threatening to erode that advantage.
GE’s new XA100 can produce a whopping 45,000 pounds of thrust, edging out the Pratt and Whitney’s F-135-PW-100 that currently powers America’s single-engine F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and making it a viable option for the conventional-runway iteration of the jet, the F-35A. This news comes amid ongoing concerns about F-35 engine availability and maintenance issues that could threaten as many as 20% of F-35s if a resolution isn’t found soon. While GE’s XA100 would not enter service in time to address these shortfalls, the new engine shines a light on the concept’s promising future, as well as other potential applications for this engine that span three fighter generations.
“The ADVENT, AETD, and AETP programs were set up to mature the technologies from both a design and manufacturing perspective and to burn down program risk to enable multiple low-risk Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) programs that could be applied to legacy, current production, and future fighter aircraft platforms,” Tweedie explained to Sandboxx News.
That part about “legacy, current production, and future fighter aircraft programs” is particularly important as the United States Air Force continues to hash out how best to approach the problem of airpower in this new era of near-peer competition. The F-35, once intended to serve as the backbone of the U.S. Air Force for decades to come, now faces renewed criticism over operational costs that threaten the program’s supremacy on the Air Force’s budgetary priority list.
Meanwhile, older fighters like the F-15 have returned to prominence through significant upgrades, with the F-15EX Eagle II making its way into service. And like the Air Force, the U.S. Navy is also doubling down on their legacy fourth-generation platforms, taking deliveries on the first new Block III Super Hornets last summer.
Not to keep too much focus on the past and present, however, the Air Force and Navy are also continuing their hushed development on the NGAD fighter program that promises to yield America’s next air superiority platform, which some believe will be the first of a sixth-generation of fighters. All told, that means the United States will likely be operating three different generations of fighters simultaneously within the coming twenty years. While fifth and sixth-generation platforms will offer the greatest survivability in highly contested airspace, fourth-generation jets would also benefit from an increase in power and efficiency, making the world’s most capable 4th-gen birds even more capable.
Importantly, however, that additional capability won’t come with extra stuff for the pilot to keep track of. In recent years, the Pentagon has devoted huge swaths of funding to limiting the cognitive load on fighter pilots during combat operations, streamlining their interface with the aircraft’s controls, and fusing data to offer pertinent information in the pilot’s line of sight. In keeping with this concept, GE’s XA100 handles the transition between modes without any need for pilot input.
“The mode transition is seamless to the pilot, and they won’t even know when it happens,” Tweedie told Sandboxx News.
“They will control engine power using the throttle the way they always have, and the engine schedule will determine the appropriate operational mode.”
But the XA100 isn’t just a big deal because of its fuel efficiency and power. While this new engine’s ability to seamlessly transition between tearing through the sky like a top fuel dragster and minding the fuel gauge like a Toyota Prius might catch the attention of aviation enthusiasts, it might be the engine’s thermal management and use of advanced component technologies that really make the XA100 a leap forward in fighter engines.
According to Tweedie, the XA100’s “three-stream architecture” enables a doubling of thermal management capacity, or in other words, a real reduction in the heat created by the engine’s operation. That heat reduction is essential as modern aircraft shift away from traditional metal airframes and fuselages and toward more advanced composite materials. Heat is currently a limiting factor in power production, but that will no longer be the case with this new generation of powerplant.
“We see a significant increase in capability there [with] up to two times mission systems growth enabled by the [improved] thermal management,” Tweedie said.
Advanced component technologies including additive and Ceramic Matrix Composites leveraged in the XA100’s design also play an important role in what makes this new engine stand head and shoulders above previous power plants. Not only does this reduce the overall weight of the engine, it also increases its durability over previous designs.
The result combination of power, fuel efficiency, heat management, and resilient but lightweight construction make the XA100 the physical embodiment of a fighter engine wish-list. While any of these improvements in capability would be welcome in most fighter designs, the collection of them in a single system could well make for a power plant that is even greater than the sum of its parts.
And with nations all over the world hurriedly developing new fifth and sixth-generation fighters, the United States will need every advantage it can muster to retain the competitive edge.
We’ve all seen the cool James Bond clip where Q hands over a Walther PPK/S that can only be activated by 007’s palm print .
If a bad guy tries to pick it up and shoot the superspy, no joy.
For years the idea of a so-called “smart” gun like Bond’s has been largely out of reach for anyone but the covert operators of fiction, but that hasn’t stopped the government from trying to make one for real life. And the feds just took the first step in what could eventually be a handgun fielded to law enforcement and the military that only shoots for an authorized user.
As part of a series of executive actions on gun control released in January, President Barack Obama ordered the Department of Justice to look into what a smart gun should look like for military troops and federal agents. His intention was to deploy government resources to push the technology beyond what the civilian market has yielded in hopes of making smart gun technology available for most handguns.
“As the single largest purchaser of firearms in the country, the Federal Government has a unique opportunity to advance this research and ensure that smart gun technology becomes a reality,” the White House said. “In connection with these efforts, the departments will consult with other agencies that acquire firearms and take appropriate steps to consider whether including such technology in specifications for acquisition of firearms would be consistent with operational needs.”
The Armatix iP1 is the first so-called “smart gun” available for consumers. It’s chambered in 22 LR and requires a special watch for the shooter to active the gun.
In July, researchers with the National Institute of Justice released its long-awaited specifications for what a smart handgun should be able to do and how its safety features should work. The requirements represent a high technological bar for military and law enforcement smart gun use, including overrides if the system is jammed, near instant activation and a 10,000 rounds before failure limit.
The Justice Department described “the potential benefits of advanced gun safety technology, but noted that additional work was required before this technology is ready for widespread adoption by law enforcement agencies,” the NIJ report said. “In particular, the report stressed the importance of integrating this technology into a firearm’s design without compromising the reliability durability, and accuracy that officers expect from their service weapons.”
The NIJ specs essentially call for a polymer-framed, striker fired 9mm or .40 SW handgun without any external safety. Basically, the specs point to a Glock 19 or similar modern handgun when it comes to ergonomics, size, and function.
Researchers said the smart gun should able to be programmed to work only for authorized users, could be activated with a wearable device such as a ring or bracelet, and should be able to shoot even if the smart safety fails.
But the researchers went on to call for functions that go well beyond what current technology allows, including that “the security device shall not increase the time required by the operator to grasp, draw from a holster and fire the pistol as a pistol of the same design that is not equipped with the security device.”
That means zero lag time for the pistol to draw, authorize and fire in a split second.
The smart gun will also have to detect and alert the shooter if there is an attempt to jam the system and be able override the safety and fire despite the countermeasures. And the gun must be able to fire with both a bare or gloved hand, making it tough for technology using biometric sensors to read fingerprints.
Most importantly, the smart gun will have to endure 10,000 rounds with 2,000 draws between any failure. Engineers who build systems like small lights and lasers that attach to handguns have said one of the biggest technological challenges to building miniature electronics is making them tough enough to withstand the repeated recoil of a pistol.
Skeptics have long argued smart guns insert an unreliable technology into a system that’s build to work every time at a moment’s notice and that forcing anyone to use an electronic safety on a handgun could mean the difference between life and death.
“Generally speaking, additional complexity brings increased risk of malfunction and error,” the Justice Department has said. “The types of firearms most commonly used by law enforcement and the broader American public … are relatively straightforward mechanical devices, and manufacturers have faced significant engineering challenges as they seek to seamlessly integrate electronics into firearms’ operations.
But the White House has signaled its intention to push the technology to the field as soon as possible, and the latest NIJ report shows just how solid that technology has to be for troops and law enforcement to trust it with their lives.
The US Army issued an warning against “fraudulent” text messages that claimed the recipients were selected for a military draft.
A spokesperson from US Army Recruiting Command (USAREC), the organization responsible for attracting prospective soldiers, told Insider the text messages were being sent “across the country from different brigades” this week.
USAREC said it received multiple emails and calls about the text messages, and that it was in no way associated with the US Army; the people behind the emails claimed to serving in the Army.
The text messages claimed that the sender was “contacting you through mail several times and have had no response,” according to photographs obtained by Insider.
The messages, which advised the recipient to “come to the nearest branch” in the Florida and New Jersey area, falsely claimed that the recipient would be “fined and sent to jail for a minimum 6 years” if there was no reply.
U.S. Army recruits wait in line for their initial haircut while still partially dressed in their civilian clothes during basic combat training.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Micky M. Bazaldua)
The decision to enact a military draft is initiated by the Selective Service Administration. All American males between 18 and 25 years of age are required by law to register with the organization. The database for these individuals are compiled in the event Congress declares a military draft.
“The Selective Service System is conducting business as usual,” the Selective Service System previously said in a statement. “In the event that a national emergency necessitates a draft, Congress and the President would need to pass official legislation to authorize a draft.”
The text messages comes amid the US airstrike against Iran’s elite Quds Force commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad, Iraq, on Friday. Following the attack that also killed the leader of the Shiite Iran-backed militia responsible for the assault on the US Embassy in Iraq, search queries like “World War III” and “military draft” began trending on social media platforms.
The last time the draft was implemented was in 1973, during the Vietnam War.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
On Sept. 21, 2018, the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System hosted our annual POW/MIA Recognition Day program. Three former prisoners of war (POW) attended including World War II Veteran Fred Brooks.
Here is his story.
From Bartlesville to the Battle of the Bulge
Born on April 2, 1926, Fred Brooks turned 18 in 1944. Nearly nine months later, the native of Bartlesville, Okla. was sent to the front lines on Christmas Day during the Battle of the Bulge.
On January 10, 1945, Brooks and five other solders in the 4th Infantry Division were conducting a night patrol and entered a German village.
“We went into this little village at night to check it out, and there wasn’t anyone in that village when we entered it,” said Brooks. “When daylight came, the Germans were everywhere. They killed one and wounded two.”
Surrounded, the remaining soldiers were forced to surrender, and were transported to Stalag IV-B Prison Camp in Mühlberg, Germany.
Brooks said the Germans fed the POWs once a day, which was typically a small cup of vegetable soup.
World War II Veteran Fred Brooks.
“That’s all they had to give you,” he said. “The Germans had nothing to feed their own troops, let alone us.”
He said the Germans never harmed him, but he did have to endure the brutal winter conditions.
“My feet were frozen terribly bad,” he said. “I didn’t have one drop of medication. There was an elderly English man in the camp where I was at and he helped me tremendously to clean the wounds as best we could. It was a rough winter.”
On April 23, 1945, the Russians liberated Stalag IV-B and approximately 30,000 POWs.
“The Russians entered our camp during the night,” said Brooks. “The next day, I think there was three German guards left and the Russians hung them high in the trees. We were very happy to see (the Russians). They fed us.”
Approximately 3,000 POWs died at Stalag IV-B, mostly from tuberculosis and typhus.
World War II Veteran and former POW Fred Brooks has received his health care from the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System for approximately 30 years.
Brooks was reunited with the American Army and sent to the coast of France to wait for a transport ship home. While waiting, he met another soldier from Bartlesville, and the two made a pact not to tell their families they were coming home.
“When we got to the little bus station in Bartlesville, his wife was waiting on him,” he said with a laugh. “He had broken our vow not to call.”
From the bus station, Brooks walked a mile to his parent’s home.
“I got my parents up at 2 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “It was unreal. My parents were just out of it to see me walking in the door. It really surprised them. They were very happy.”
After the war, Brooks worked in construction and retired at the age of 75. He still lives in Bartlesville.
Looking back on the war and his internment in a German POW Camp, Brooks credits divine intervention for his survival.
A veterans organization is suing the Pentagon for exposing private details about troops’ military service on “a truly massive scale” due to lax security on one of its websites.
The lawsuit filed by Vietnam Veterans of America says a Defense Department website “is currently exposing private details about the military service of millions of veterans to anybody at all, anonymously, for any purpose.”
The shoddy security measures allow virtually anyone to access sensitive data about veterans’ records by typing in a name and date of birth, which are easily available on the internet.
This gives “easy access to information about essentially all veterans or service members in the system” and thus violates the Federal Privacy Act, alleges the suit filed last week in federal court in New York.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act website, which according to the Pentagon receives more than 2.3 billion searches a year, is mean to be used by authorized institutions like banks to confirm the active duty status that entitles service members to certain protections.
Instead, the information is available to con artists and scammers who can use it to impersonate government or other officials and gain veterans’ trust by discussing details of their service that only authorized organizations would have.
Thomas Barden, a veteran of the Vietnam War who served in the US Air Force for 21 years, found that out firsthand.
The plaintiff in the suit received a call from someone supposedly affiliated with Microsoft in March 2016. Since the caller knew details about Barden’s military service, Barden thought the government backed it. The scammer sold him software to “protect” his computer and nine months later used it to lock him out and demanded ransom.
Worried about data theft, Barden broke the hard drive into pieces and was so concerned about his privacy he threw them into different trash cans over several days.
Since then, he has continued to receive harassing phone calls from the same scammers, causing him “significant anxiety and stress,” according to the lawsuit.
Impostor fraud and identity theft aside, the group says Vietnam veterans in particular want to keep details of their military record private, having “experienced the sting of rejection and public scorn on account of their service.”
Since they draw a steady, guaranteed income from the government, veterans are an attractive target for scammers. The numbers have increased in recent years, from 58,175 complaints by veterans in 2014 to 69,801 in 2016, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network.
“Veterans are disproportionately targeted by scammers and identity thieves,” Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan said in a statement.
The Pentagon “is fueling the problem by leaving veterans’ private information easily accessible on the internet (and) has refused to properly secure veterans’ information,” he said. “We are asking a court to order them to do so.”
The Defense Department has refused to make any changes since being alerted about the problems with the site, the suit says. It points out that the Defense Department could implement a strict user registration or online verification system, which are used by the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.
The challenges of protecting the massive databases containing military records are not new. The Department of Veterans Affairs in particular has struggled with privacy issues.
In 2014, a joint Pentagon-VA benefits site had recurring issues with private information about veterans being disclosed to random visitors. The VA was also sued over a serious privacy breach in 2006, after an employee’s laptop was stolen that contained the private data of 26 million soldiers and veterans. The VA settled for $20 million for failing to protect their sensitive data.
In other cases, veterans expecting to receive their own health care records opened their mail only to receive hundreds of pages of someone else’s private data.
“I got 256 pages of another person’s extremely confidential, extremely explicit mental health records,” Anthony McCann, a veteran in Tennessee, told a VA town hall in 2014.
The VA is the health provider with the most privacy complaints in the country, racking up 220 complaints between 2011 and 2014 according to a ProPublica analysis. In one case, an employee accessed her husband’s medical records more than 260 times. Another employee shared a veteran’s private health information with his parole officer. In yet another case, a VA employee posted details of a patient’s health records on Facebook after opening them 61 times, according to documents posted by ProPublica.
Twists and turns, bumps and bruises, the occasional crash. For many Veterans, the sport of bobsled is a metaphor for life.
Army Veteran Will Castillo’s story began on April 27, 2007. Castillo – then a staff sergeant – was riding along with Spc. Eddie Tamez and Pfc. David Kirkpatrick on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq, when their Humvee struck an improvised explosive device (IED).
The aftermath was a blur. When Castillo awoke, his sister and mother were by his bedside.
“I could hardly talk I was so heavily medicated,” he said. “I was just trying to survive.”
He was 27 years old, and his injuries had cost him his left leg – but he was alive. Tamez and Kirkpatrick did not survive.
Castillo spent the next two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center recovering and learning to navigate life with one leg. Visitors came by to give him hugs, handshakes and well wishes. The Director of Homeland Security even offered him a job.
In 2009, he was discharged from Walter Reed, and he moved to Orlando to start anew. But life wasn’t good.
“I had survivor’s guilt. I thought about my guys, what had I done wrong. I was depressed. I was suicidal.”
His marriage crumbled, and his mental health deteriorated.
“All the struggles I was going through. I was Baker Acted,” Castillo said, referring to the Florida law that allows for emergency or involuntary commitment for mental health treatment.
He recovered, remarried and again tried to rebuild. But his struggles continued and, in 2015, he divorced for the second time.
In 2017, Castillo returned to Walter Reed for a follow-up operation to his injured leg. His life took an unexpected turn.
“A friend of mine was there and said to me, ‘You should try bobsled.’ I was extremely overweight, but I figured it would be something to keep me busy.”
Army Veteran Will Castillo displays his gold medal from the Empire State Winter Games para bobsled competition. Castillo is one of the world’s top ranked sledders in the sport. (Courtesy photo)
His first attempt was skeleton, a sport where the slider rides face down and head-first on a small sled down an ice track at speeds of more than 80 mph.
“It was terrifying,” he said. “I was 260 pounds. I was crashing into the walls. Those little sleds are not made for that weight.”
After a year at skeleton, he switched to monobob, a one-person bobsled that looks like a rocket on ice skates. He knew instantly he’d found his sport.
“Everything just slowed down, I was able to see everything. There was danger, but I did it. There’s no disability on that ice. For that one minute, it’s awesome.”
Veterans like Castillo are dominating the sport in the United States, thanks in large part to camps like the ones at Lake Placid. From 2015 to 2020, VA’s Adaptive Sports Grant had funded 16 camps for Veterans at Lake Placid and Park City, Utah, the only two bobsled track sites in the country.
Thanks to the VA grant, Veterans’ only cost to attend is travel to and from the camp.
Camps are typically five days and allow Veterans to stay on site at the Olympic Training Center. Once there, Veterans receive training from strength and conditioning experts, physical therapists and sports psychologists. After completing initial training, they head to the ice track where they learn the fundamentals of para-bobsled and skeleton.
“With bobsled, things are pretty expensive,” Seevers said. “To get the ice time and the bobsleds is a lot. Each of the bobsleds is ,000. For us to rent the sleds and pay for track time is typically between ,500 and ,000, dependent on the number of Veterans sliding.”
Veterans among world’s elite
At the 2019-2020 Para World Cup competition, all five U.S. team members were Veterans. They finished the season ranked 7th, 16th, 18th, 21st and 24th in the world.
Castillo is the number one ranked para-bobsledder in the U.S. and will pilot USA 1, the name of the monobob designated for Team USA’s top slider, in upcoming competitions. It’s an opportunity he humbly accepts.
“It all starts with VA and those camps,” he said. “Then you really have to put the work in and you start seeing the rewards. You get to put that uniform on again (and) represent the USA with integrity and honor.”
Para bobsled and para skeleton are relatively new sports with the first international competitions having taken place in 2013. Still, neither sport is recognized as Paralympic eligible. But that may soon be changing.
Marine Corps and Army Veteran Sarah Frazier-Kim is hoping her success can help the sport and other Veterans advance to the pinnacle of international competition.
Marine Corps and Army Veteran Sarah Frazier-Kim is one of the United States’ top para bobsledders. Athletes are hoping the sport will become one of the newest Paralympic competitions. (Courtesy photo)
“I always liked winter sports, even though I don’t like the cold,” she said. “I’d watch the Olympics on TV and bobsled and skeleton were sports I always loved.”
In 1995, Frazier-Kim was injured in a training accident in the Marine Corps. In January 2019, after years of complications, pain and suffering, doctors at Ft. Sam Houston amputated her right leg above the knee.
“(My doctor) asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I want to make Team USA. And he said, ‘We’ll get you there.'”
In November 2018, in anticipation of her surgery, she was sent for physical therapy to get her into shape.
“I changed from a mom body to an athletic body.”
After the surgery, she continued physical therapy with her therapist, an ex-football player.
“He worked me out like I was on the football team. I was working out like a beast, doing balancing exercises, strength training, and someone there knew Kim Seevers.”
Like Castillo, Frazier-Kim says she was invited to one of the camps at Lake Placid. She completed her first camp in October 2019.
In less than a year, Frazier-Kim has become one of the top female sliders in the sport. Para bobsled is gender neutral with men and women competing together.
“There’s nothing like it. It’s the most exhilarating feeling. The excitement, the adrenaline rush, you’re going so fast. It’s crazy,” she said.
But her rapid success did not come without bumps and bruises along the way.
“Your legs and shoulders are hitting the sides of the bobsled. It’s not for everyone,” she said. “You have to think about every curve while you’re being slapped back and forth.”
Despite the challenges, she says her goal now is simple – to be the best.
“I plan on doing it for as long as I can – as long as my body can take it. And being a Marine, I don’t know any other way.”
A Pentagon official is urging Taiwan to boost its defense spending and “modernize its military” in the face of Beijing’s growing military prowess.
David Helvey, the US principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs said at a conference in Anapolis, Maryland, that the island “must have resources to modernize its military and provide the critical material, manning and training needed to deter, or if necessary defeat, a cross-strait invasion,” the South China Morning Post reported.
The official also took a shot at China for what they said was an attempt to “erode Taiwan’s diplomatic space in the international arena while increasing the frequency and scale of [The People’s Liberation Army] activity.”
“Taiwan’s current efforts will falter,” he warned, unless Taipei increases its military spending and improves its readiness for direct confrontation.
Helvey’s comments will be seen by many as a direct response to China’s President and Chairman of the Central Military Commission Xi Jinping who told the command which oversees the tense South China Sea to “concentrate preparations for fighting a war.“
Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China’s Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe also warned that China will not give up “one single piece” of its territorial holdings, adding that “challenges” to its sovereignty over Taiwan could lead China to use military force.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang responded on Oct. 31, 2018, to enhanced exchanges between the US and Taiwan.
“China is firmly opposed to any forms of official exchanges and military contacts between the US and Taiwan,” he said, calling on the US to “stop its official exchanges and military contacts with Taiwan, and stop selling arms to Taiwan.”
Beijing has taken a strong stance against official US contact and arms sales to Taiwan. While the US has no formal ties with Taiwan it remains Taipei’s strongest ally and sole foreign arms supplier, including the approval of a 0 million arms sale in September 2018.
Ryan Pickrell contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
At least officially, there are no existing prototypes of the B-21 Raider, the U.S. Air Force’s next stealth bomber built by Northrop Grumman and destined to replace the B-1 and B-2 fleets.
In 2016, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James revealed the first artist rendering of the Long Range Strike Bomber designated the B-21, at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida, that showed a concept quite similar to the B-2’s flying wing design; then, more recently, on Mar. 3, 2018, Brigadier General Carl Schaefer, Commander of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, publicly announced that the aircraft will be tested at Edwards: “the B-21 is coming to Edwards and we will be testing it here in the near future,” he said in his address at the Antelope Valley Board of Trade and Business Outlook Conference.
The fact that the aircraft will be tested “in the near future” seems to suggest that a prototype of the new platform has already been built or is about to be readied for testing.
Meanwhile something interesting, that might confirm the B-21 is something more than a concept, popped up on eBay: journalist and photographer Steve Douglass, has just found a B-21 Combined Test Force patch.
Flying units under the 412nd Operations Group of the 412nd TW are called flight test squadrons (FTS) and the squadron commander also usually fulfills the role of Combined Test Force, or CTF, Director.
“The CTF is an organizational construct that brings together the government developmental test and evaluation personnel (i.e., military personnel and government civilians and support contractors), the operational testers or representatives of the warfighters who will eventually employ the aerospace system in combat, and the contractors who develop and test the aerospace system.
Members of the CTF formulate the test program, develop the criteria for flight test missions, execute flight test missions, analyze data from the test flights and report on the results. The CTF military personnel, government civilians, and contractors all work together as a team. This concept enables a cheaper, faster, and more effective test program and produces a more effective aerospace system for the warfighter.”
For instance, the 411th Flight Test Squadron acts as the F-22 Raptor CFT whereas the 419th FTS acts as the Strategic Systems (B-52, B-1, B-2) CFT. Provided it is genuine, the new patch may suggest the existence of a B-21 CTF dedicated to the new bomber.
Interestingly, the patch features the text “Praenuntius” that means “Harbinger” and the Roman numerals XVII (17) with the latters [speculation on] possibly pointing to a squadron: the 417th FTS, officially inactivated on Feb. 14, 2012, formerly part of the 412th OG at Edwards AFB….
The seller has explained that organizations, personnel and infrastructure at Edwards AFB are all beginning to stand up in preparation for the testing and he purchased the patch there from personnel who are standing up the testing of the new aircraft. We don’t have many details about the aircraft but collectors can get the patch ahead of the unveiling.
By the way, at the time of writing the patch costs $31 (6 bids) but it is probably going to become more expensive…
Army testers accidentally dropped a Humvee from an Air Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft Oct. 24, 2018, about a mile short of the intended drop zone on Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The Airborne and Special operations Test Directorate was testing a new heavy-drop platform loaded with a Humvee, base spokesman Tom McCollum told Military.com.
“They were going in for a time-on-target on Sicily Drop Zone at 1 p.m.,” McCollum said. “Everything was going well; they were at the one-minute mark to the drop zone.
“We don’t know what happened, but the platform went out early and landed in a rural area. There was no one hurt. No private property was damaged.”
The incident, which is under investigation, follows a similar airborne mishap that occurred in April 2016 when three separate Humvees came loose from their heavy-drop platforms and crashed onto a designated drop zone in Germany.
The Texas Air National Guard 136th Airlift Wing’s C-130 Hercules aircraft completes a heavy cargo airdrop with a Humvee.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Julie Briden-Garcia)
For his role in the incident, Sgt. John Skipper was found guilty of three counts of destroying military property and one of lying during the investigation, according to Army Times.
A court-martial panel sentenced Skipper to be demoted to the rank of private and to receive a Bad Conduct Discharge.
In today’s accident, the C-17 was flying at 1,500 feet during the heavy-drop test, McCollum said.
“Basically what takes place is a heavy drop pallet is inside the aircraft and by this time the doors have already been opened,” he said, explaining that a pilot parachute pulls the platform out of the aircraft and three heavy-drop parachutes then open. “Everything worked as it was supposed to, except it went out early.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.