How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Doctors, nurses, and other embarked medical personnel aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) conducted a mass casualty training exercise in preparation for visiting medical sites in Central and South America, Oct. 13, 2018.

The exercise tested Comfort’s crew in mass casualty triage, care, and first-aid practices. Participants included multi-service members, partner nation service members, and mission volunteers.


“A mass casualty event, by nature, is chaotic,” said Lt. Jessie Paull, a general surgery resident embarked on Comfort. “Being able to practice, it gets your nerves under control.”

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Lt. Cmdr. Cynthia Matters, from Claremore, Okla. assigns surgeries during a mass casualty exercise aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph DeLuco)

The event started on the flight deck of the ship and continued down to Comfort’s casualty receiving area.

“Getting the team squared away is essential to execute this mission during a real event,” said Paull.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Sailors, aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort, conduct stretcher bearer training during a mass casualty drill.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Devin Alexondra Lowe)

The exercise included various medical procedures, including basic medical triage techniques, blood tests, and computed tomography (CT) scans.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Lt. Cmdr. Arthur Lammers, an anesthesiologist assigned to the hospital ship USNS Comfort, practices patient transfer during a mass casualty exercise.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph DeLuco)

“This is exactly what I would hope to see coming from a group of professionals on, essentially, day three of our mission,” said Capt. William Shafley, commander, Task Force 49.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Lt. Cmdr. Joshua Barnhill, an anesthesiologist assigned to the hospital ship USNS Comfort, conducts surgery preparation training during a mass casualty exercise.

(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph DeLuco)

Comfort is on an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative. Working with health and government partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Honduras, the embarked medical team will provide care on board and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems caused partly by an increase in cross-border migrants. The deployment reflects the United States’ enduring promise of friendship, partnership, and solidarity with the Americas.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/NAVSOUS4THFLT and www.dvidshub.net/feature/comfort2018

This article originally appeared on the United States Navy. Follow @USNavy on Twitter.

Articles

Russian fighter in ‘near miss’ with US aircraft over Syria

On the first day of the Mosul offensive in Iraq, a Russian fighter came close to colliding with a U.S. warplane in a “near miss” over northeastern Syria, U.S. military officials said Friday.


Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Force Central Command, told NBC News that the nighttime incident Oct. 17 was a “near miss” but said he tended to believe the Russians’ explanation that their pilot simply did not see the U.S. aircraft in the dark.

Also read: NATO is boosting deployments after Russian threats

However, Harrigian said similar close calls between Russian and U.S. aircraft over Syria have increased in the past six weeks amid rising tensions between Moscow and Washington over Syria’s civil war and now occur about every 10 days.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case
Two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft flying over USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea on April 12, 2016. | U.S. Navy photo

In a later statement on the incident, Air Force Central Command said that the Russian fighter was escorting a Russian surveillance aircraft and inadvertently flew across the nose of the U.S. aircraft.

The close call was the result of a “mistake” by the Russians and the U.S. believed that it was “fully unintentional,” the statement said.

“The Russians cooperated by looking into the incident, calling back, and explaining themselves and their pilots actions as an error,” it said.

In a separate briefing to the Pentagon, Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said the Russian fighter came within a half-mile of the U.S. aircraft, but “we don’t believe there was any nefarious intent” on the part of the Russians.

Dorrian did not name the types of aircraft involved, saying only that the Russian aircraft was a fighter and the U.S. plane was a “larger aircraft.” He said the Russian fighter “passed close enough that the jet wash from that flight was felt within the larger aircraft,” but “no one declared an in-flight emergency or anything of that nature.”

Immediately after the incident, the Russians were contacted over the “deconfliction” hotline set up by the Russian and U.S. militaries to avoid close calls by aircraft on missions in the region.

Harrigian, speaking from a U.S. base in the Mideast, said that, in some cases, U.S. and Russian aircraft flying in close proximity are “not a big deal,” but added, “I think it’s important to recognize this one got our attention.”

“We called the Russians about it and made sure they knew we were concerned,” Harrigian said. “They didn’t have the situational awareness to know how close some of our airplanes were.”

When asked why the Oct. 17 incident wasn’t disclosed until Oct. 28, Dorrian said, “There wasn’t anybody playing ‘I’ve got a secret.’ ”

He said Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the task force commander, was immediately informed of the close call but did not feel that it merited being disclosed as a “breaking news event.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Suicide prevention: How can you get involved?

Suicide is one of the most challenging societal issues of our time, and sadly, one that affects those who served our Nation at alarming rates. For Veterans, the suicide rate is 1.5 times higher and the female Veteran suicide rate is 2.2 times higher than the general population.

There is good news: suicide is preventable and working together, we can create change and save lives.

On March 5, 2019, President Trump signed Executive Order 13861 establishing a three-year effort known as the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS). Under the leadership of The White House and VA, the PREVENTS Office and cabinet-level, interagency task force were created to amplify and accelerate our progress in addressing suicide. The roadmap was released on June 17, 2020.


In July, PREVENTS launched a centerpiece of the initiative: the Nation’s first public health campaign focused on suicide prevention, REACH. This campaign is for and about everyone because we all have risk and protective factors for suicide that we need to recognize and understand. REACH provides the knowledge, tools, and resources that we need to prevent suicide by educating ourselves so that we can REACH when we are in need – so that we can REACH to those who feel hopeless. REACH empowers us to reach beyond what we have done before to change the way we think about, talk about, and address emotional pain and suffering.

As a member of the VA community, you are in a position to REACH out to Veterans who may be at risk during this difficult time. We all need support – sometimes we need more.

How can you get involved?

Take the PREVENTS Pledge to REACH: Make a commitment to increase awareness of mental health challenges as we work to prevent suicide for all Americans. Visit wearewithinreach.net to sign the pledge and challenge your friends and colleagues to do the same. PREVENTS is planning a month-long pledge drive during September, Suicide Prevention Month. Please join us!

Veterans can also help lead the way as we work to change the way we think about, talk about and address mental health and suicide. Veterans can give us their perspective and provide guidance as we reach out to those in need. To that end, the PREVENTS Office is launching a first-of-its kind, national survey on Sept. 2, 2020, that will give us invaluable feedback from Veterans and other stakeholders, including Veterans Service Organizations, Veterans’ families and community organizations. The survey will help us learn what are our Veterans’ most pressing needs. In addition, the answers we receive will help us understand how Veterans want to receive important information on mental health services and suicide prevention.

Please help us by taking the survey at PREVENTS Survey and encourage everyone you know to take it. Filling out the survey takes less than 5 minutes! The PREVENTS survey will be available from Sept. 2-30.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Marines want to swarm enemy defenses with hundreds of small boats

Move over, 355-ship Navy.


The Marine Corps is working to build up its own sizable fleet of boats as it postures itself for future combat in shallow coastal waters and dispersed across large stretches of land and water.

Maj. Gen. David Coffman, the Navy’s director of expeditionary warfare, said the service wants to find new ways to put conventional forces on small watercraft for operations ranging from raids to insertions and river operations.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case
A Navy boat launched from USS New Orleans Aug. 14 carries maritime raid force members of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit to a vessel the force’s assault element later boarded during counter-piracy and counter-terrorism training. (Lance Cpl. Justin R. Stein)

Typically, small boats have been the territory of Marine Corps and Navy special operations and specialized forces, such as the Coastal Riverines.

But, Coffman said, he has received guidance from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller to change that.

“If we were to claim any moniker, we want to be the father of the 1,000-boat Navy,” Coffman said at a Navy League event near Washington, D.C., in late November.

Currently, he said, Naval Expeditionary Warfare is resource sponsor to about 800 small boats, including combatant craft, Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boats, and smaller craft. While the precise numbers desired haven’t been settled on, he suggested 1,000 boats is close to what’s needed.

“The Marine Corps largely got out of what we call itty bitty boats … the commandant wants us to get back in the boat business,” Coffman said. “He’s recognizing he needs to distribute his force and be able to move in smaller discrete elements and different ways.”

Also Read: The Marines want robotic boats with mortars for beach assaults

The strategy for employing these boats is still being developed, but Coffman said the Marine Corps wants to be able to cover a wider range of maritime operations. The service, he said, likely wants to develop a family of small boats, ranging from high-tech combatant craft like those used in special operations to lower-end craft for harbor escorts and troop transport.

A good starting point for discussion, he said, is the 11-meter Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat, or RHIB, used by the Navy SEALs for a variety of missions and by Naval Expeditionary Warfare for things like maritime interdiction and transport to and from larger ships.

That design, Coffman said, would be easy to “sex up or simple down” as needed.

For the Marine Corps, small boat employment has largely focused on protecting larger ships, Coffman told Military.com in a brief interview.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case
Force reconnaissance Marines with 4th Force Reconnaissance Company paddle toward the beach in F470 Combat Rubber Raiding Crafts during hydrographic reconnaissance training at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows in Waimanalo, Hawaii. (Image Marines)

“A lot of my theme is trying to flip the script, move from defensive to offensive,” he said.

With the Navy’s riverine forces increasingly employed in the Middle East to defend ships, there’s less availability for other small boat missions that could press the advantage. But with an investment in a new family of watercraft, that could change.

“That’s part of how you counter the peer threat: ‘I’ll out-asymmetric you,’ ” Coffman said. “So [Neller is] excited about that, that work’s going to happen.”

Articles

This Marine sniper threw the enemy’s grenade back to save his brothers

His team spotted by insurgents and forced to take cover in an abandoned compound, Marine sniper Joshua Moore went against his instinct when two grenades landed next to him, throwing one of them back at the enemy and holding off insurgent fire until help could arrive.


Moore, at the time a Lance Corporal, was later awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.

Moore was part of a scout sniper platoon during a mission in Marjah, Afghanistan, in March 2011, when insurgents targeted his team.

The Marines fell back to a nearby compound, but enemy machine gun rounds soon sliced through the air, wounding two of them. After taking cover, Moore felt two objects hit him in the back. When he turned he saw two grenades lying in the sand.

Related video:

He reached down, grabbed the first grenade, and threw it back out the window where it detonated just a moment later. He went for the second but noticed it was covered in rust and was likely a dud.

The young sniper would later say that he was, “scared out of my mind, but I knew we had to do everything possible to get everyone home.” Despite the brush with death and under the continuing threat of incoming fire, Moore crawled from the building and held off the enemy until a quick reaction force arrived.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

He went to the north where the enemy attack was heaviest and began aiding the wounded and returning fire. He used an M4 with an attached M203 grenade launcher to suppress fighters where he could find them.

The arrival of a quick reaction force and another sniper platoon allowed the Marines to finally gain fire superiority, evacuate the wounded and fall back to their patrol base.

Moore was meritoriously promoted to corporal less than two months after the battle and was awarded the Navy Cross in Nov. 2013.

“It’s an honor to receive an award like the Navy Cross. But to be honest, I was just doing my job,” Moore said after the ceremony.

Since then, Moore has been promoted to sergeant and assigned as an instructor at the scout sniper basic course. He told Stars and Stripes that he often shares the story of the engagement with his students, but that he avoids talking about his medal.

“That honestly not the important part,” he said.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This video of the Chinese army obstacle course is absolutely ridiculous

China’s state-run news organization is being shamed for flaunting its “incredibly strong soldier morale” in a video showing a People’s Liberation Army service member participating in what appeared to be an obstacle course.

“This is the incredibly strong soldier morale of China’s PLA,” the People’s Daily tweeted in the caption, referring to China’s People Liberation Army. “They fear nothing.”

The service member, wearing a combat helmet and a load-bearing vest, could be seen dunking himself into a hole filled with water amid sounds of gunfire.


People on Twitter, some of whom are former US service members, mocked the People’s Daily’s characterization of the PLA troops:

In its latest report on the Chinese military, the US Defense Department said China continues to reform their armed forces in an effort to become a “world-class” military by 2049.

“In 2018, the PLA focused its training on war preparedness and improving its capability to win wars through realistic combat training during numerous smaller force-on-force exercises and skills-based competition exercises,” the Defense Department said in its annual report to Congress.

In addition to conventional warfare training, the Chinese military is said to have expanded its presence in the digital realm. Some of its flagship projects, such as the J-20 aircraft, is believed to have mimicked US technology from Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II.

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

popular

9 most irritating things vets hear when they head off to college

Life in the military is fantastic, but being a lifer isn’t for everyone. One of the greatest pieces of legislative success for the veteran community was the creation of the GI Bill. It opened the door for countless veterans to finally spread their wings and get a leg up in the civilian marketplace, rewarding their service with a launchpad.

Because of the GI Bill, many civilians who went straight to college from high school have their first interactions with a veteran. And it’s a good thing. You’re both in school, so there’s some common ground — thus helping bridge the ever-growing civilian-military divide. However, not all civilians approach veterans with the best opening lines.

The following are questions and comments that make veterans grit their teeth almost immediately.


How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

These dumb-ass discussions are made even better when no one but the veteran understands that they’re f*cking with everyone just to watch their reactions.

1. “You’re a vet. What’s your opinion on the war/politics/the latest hot-button issue?”

In a smaller, more intimate setting, it’s fine to ask us about our opinions on things. Hell, we’re kind of known for making 30-minute-long rant videos from the front seats of our trucks.

But putting us on the spot in the middle of a classroom discussion is not cool. If the conversation is clearly leaning to one side, you’re setting the veteran up to be the enemy for standing up for anything military related. Ask this question and you’re either going to get an extremely heated debate or a completely zoned-out vet.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Not everyone can get their dream job — but vets with the GI Bill are given a chance, and you’re damn right they’re going to try.

2. “Why are you going for X degree and not something in security?”

The great thing about the GI Bill is that it can be applied for any college degree course. If the veteran wants to get out and follow their childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian, an artist, or whatever — more power to them. They earned that right by serving their country.

Bringing up the fact that they’re going to be making far less money by doing what they love as opposed to doing what they did in the military all over again isn’t going to make that realization any easier.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

The sad truth is that most veterans will keep their demons to themselves. Some random d*ckhead isn’t going to sudden change that.

3. “So, like, did you see some bad stuff over there?”

Ranger Up hit this one on the head perfectly. No veteran wants to talk about that kind of thing with some random stranger they just met. Either they didn’t and harbor some guilt over the fact that they didn’t share the same burden as many of their brothers, they’re dealing with very real, resulting stress in a highly personal manner, or they’re going to overload the curious civilian with the grim details they actually don’t want.

After months of friendship, a veteran might be willing to open up about what happened out there — probably over a beer or seven — but never when it’s said in a half-joking manner.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

College life may be stressful, but have you ever had someone in your company lose a pair of NVGs in a porta-john? I thought so.

4. “Why are you veterans so…”

Offensive? Overly polite? Loud? Reserved? Drunk? This one is a catchall for the wide spectrum of awkward questions that lump veterans into a single box.

Veterans come from literally all walks of life, from every place in the United States (and abroad), and are made up of the same folks that make up the rest of the population. Pretty much the only unifying thread that can be accurately applied to every single veteran is that we’re comfortable in bad situations.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Yep.

(Combs)

5. “It’s alright bro. You got back in one piece!”

Post-Traumatic Stress is called an invisible wound for a reason. Vets who live with the pain of what happened back in the day won’t easily show it and walk around wearing a happy mask around people they don’t know.

Just because that veteran made it back alright doesn’t mean that their buddy did, too. Even if that veteran wasn’t anywhere near the front line, saying something so ignorant trivializes the experiences of troops who didn’t have the same luxury.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Also, if you really want to get specific, a large percentage of the prolific killers who were in the service were kicked out before even serving a single enlistment. So…

6. “You’re not one of those crazy vets who’ll snap at any moment, right?”

Here’s a piece of news for you: If you compare the veteran population average to the civilian average in terms of homicides and other violent crimes, veterans are actually less likely to commit such acts.

In fact, veterans with combat experience who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress are, once again, far less likely to commit violent crime than the average civilian. So, no, I’m not going to snap — are you?

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

We may have taken a detour, but we’ll get there.

7. “I would have joined, but I came here instead”

The veteran you’re talking to signed up and now they’re in the exact same boat as you! Except instead of having student-loan debt, they’ve got a few more years of life experience on you.

The reason this statement bothers veterans is that there’s an underlying assumption here that veterans are uneducated or that they wouldn’t have been able to get into college without Uncle Sam’s help. Oh boy, is that wrong. Fun fact: The ASVAB, the test required by all troops to qualify them into military service, is actually much more difficult than the college SAT or ACT.

The absolute lowest ASVAB score that will allow you to enlist is 31, which means you must be in the 69th percentile of scores among the general population. When SATs were graded out of 1600, the 69th percentile was roughly a 950 — which gets you into about 2/3rds of all universities and colleges around the country.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Just keep in mind that if you mess with one of our sisters, she was trained to shoot at targets at a max effective range of 300 meters.

8. “You don’t look like a veteran”

Just like the “lumping all veterans in one box” comment, this one implies that there’s this singular build for all troops. Well, there are skinny troops, there are fat troops, and there are muscular troops. There are troops of every race, religion, and creed. It’s the uniform and hair-cut standards that make us all alike.

But as bad is this one is for most troops, it’s almost always flung at our sisters-in-arms. Even though women make up 17 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces, male civilians tend to act shocked when they learn that a female served. It’s belittling.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Maybe one day when I finally put that underwater basket-weaving degree to good use… maybe…

9. “You’re so lucky you got the GI Bill”

Wrong. And f*ck you. That’s not how it works. Luck had nothing to do with all the hard work it took to serve in the military the minimum of three years required to get 100% access to the GI Bill. Luck, in my opinion, is being born into a family where mommy and daddy can pay for everything — but that’s none of my business.

If you want to be technical, a lot of veterans still take out student loans to help make ends meet. The GI Bill pays for a lot, but it doesn’t pay for everything.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Prestigious NORAD Air Force award goes to… a coastie

When the Continental U.S. North American Air Force Aerospace Control Alert Maintainer of the Year for 2020 was announced, there was some shock. The prestigious Air Force award went to … a coastie.

The Continental Division of the North American Aerospace Defense Command is comprised of the United States Air Force, Air National Guard, Army National Guard, Canadian Air Force and to the surprise of many – the Coast Guard.


The National Capital Region Air Defense Facility of the Coast Guard is housed under the command of NORAD in Washington, D.C and is their only permanent air defense unit. Operating simultaneously as both a military branch and law enforcement within the Department of Homeland Security allows the elite Coast Guard unit the ability to respond to potential threats on a moment’s notice. One of their most vital missions is protecting the restricted air space around the White House.

When a threat to the capital is detected, coasties are the first on deck to respond.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)

Avionics Technician First Class Andrew Anton is a member of the small crew of coasties tasked with protecting America’s capital and the only coastie to have ever been selected for the Maintainer of the Year award. “It was a surprise to me. I didn’t see it coming and it’s very humbling,” he said. Anton continued, “We don’t fly the helicopter by ourselves. This is a team award and a Coast Guard win.”

Anton is responsible for managing, scheduling and maintaining all of the helicopters at the unit. “We are the only rotary wing air intercept entity under the NORAD structure. We are Coast Guard but we work for the Air Force,” he explained.

Working within aviation is not without risk, which is why Anton feels his award is attributed to the team and not just him. A day in the life of a coastie working aviation involves dangerous chemicals, heavy parts and working in high lifts. Then, there’s the inherent risk of simply being up in the air in flight. “At the end of the day, there has to be a human factor in this. We all live and die together. This is a very dangerous job,” Anton shared. “This unit applies the best amount of leadership that I have ever seen. Although this is an individual award, it is a team. No one can be successful if the ones around you can’t do their jobs.”

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)

Military service has been ingrained into Anton his entire life as his family has served in the Armed Forces for generations. “I have had a passion for aviation since I was very young. Every male in my family since World War II was a pilot, I am the only mechanic in my family. I love flying but I prefer to work with my hands,” he explained. When he finished college, he knew he wanted to join the Coast Guard.

“I work for Aviation Engineering and I am a maintainer, a mechanic,” Anton said. But he’s much more than that. Anton is a Coast Guard Rotary Wing Aircrew Member, an Enlisted Flight Examiner, Flight Standards Board Member, a facility Training Petty Officer and is responsible for primary quality assurance.

Since his unit is a part of NORAD and works alongside the Air Force, they have unique protocols to follow. “The Coast Guard regulations are one thing, but we also have to abide by the Air Force Regulations because we are an Air Combat Alert unit,” Anton explained.

Anton shared that when the Air Force completes the inspections for their Coast Guard unit, they are often left baffled. When they realize that only one Coast Guard maintainer does the job that it takes eight separate Air Force members to do, they’re shocked. “When they come for these assessments, it’s kind of funny to hear them ask, ‘I’d like to talk to your refueler’ or ‘I’d like to talk to your tool manager’ and I’m like – still here, all me. They’ll do that for everything. We take pride in our workload and what we are able to accomplish,” he said.
How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

(Photo: USCG PA1 Tara Molle)

They maintain their high level of efficiency with just six maintainers on a daily basis.

“As coasties, there’s just so many hats that we take off and put on, but we do it well. We’re so accustomed to being adaptable,” Anton shared. Many may find themselves shocked at what the Coast Guard accomplishes in a single day and probably didn’t realize they are a vital part of protecting the President of the United States.

“We don’t have Coast Guard signs out front and this mission isn’t as heavily publicized because we are following POTUS around. It’s a way to mitigate risk,” Anton shared. The members of this unit are not allowed to wear their Coast Guard uniforms outside of the facility and much of what they do still remains shrouded in secrecy, as a matter of national security.

While this unit is lending vital support to Operation Noble Eagle, the Coast Guard as a whole is also engaging in Rotary Wing Air Intercept nationwide for the U.S. Secret Service. They guard the skies above National Special Security Events and the president, wherever he or she goes.

Receiving this award showcases the important role that the Coast Guard plays in not only guarding America’s waters, but her sky as well. Their missions are accomplished with pride and devotion, despite the challenges they encounter within their budget. “It’s important to know that these guys and this team manage it all. You don’t hear about it because they do it so well,” Anton said. “The Coast Guard is such a small branch that it must be that good.”


MIGHTY HISTORY

How a teenager with a Cessna’s insane trip helped topple the Soviet Union

Back in 1987, the world was a very different place. While the Soviet Union was on a crash course with destiny, the power the nation wielded–backed by a massive nuclear arsenal–had left it in a decades-long staring match with the United States.

Mutually Assured Destruction, a doctrine of military strategy that left the two nuclear powers in a stalemate President Ronald Reagan described as a “suicide pact,” had left the world in an uneasy state of both peace and war simultaneously. And nowhere was this dichotomy more present than in the homes of residents of East and West Germany. The nation had been divided since the end of World War II, with NATO’s Western powers in West Germany, and a Soviet puppet-state called the German Democratic Republic in the east.


How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

East German students sit atop the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate in front of border guards in 1989 (University of Minnesota Institute of Advanced Studies)

By 1987, the wheels that would ultimately tear down the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany physically and ideological were already turning, and a young man named Mathias Rust was keen on playing his part in history. Like many young adults, Rust was increasingly politically minded. Unlike most 18-year-olds, he also had a pilot’s license and access to a Cessna 172 airplane that had been modified by removing the rear seats for added fuel capacity.

In October of 1986, Rust had watched the Reykjavík summit between U.S President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. As that summit ended in a stalemate, Rust felt the overwhelming urge to find a way to make a difference.

“I thought every human on this planet is responsible for some progress and I was looking for an opportunity to take my share in it,” he would go on to tell the BBC.

Rust soon began forming a plan. President Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have,” and while it’s unlikely that Rust was aware of the axiom, his actions embodied the premise. He took stock of the skills he had, the resources he had available, and the situation to begin forming an idea. He’d take his little Cessna directly into the heart of the Soviet Union in a political spectacle he hoped would inspire others.

“I was thinking I could use the aircraft to build an imaginary bridge between West and East to show that a lot of people in Europe wanted to improve relations between our worlds,” Rust said.
How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Rust’s rented Cessna 172 (WikiMedia Commons)

By May 13, 1987, Rust was ready to put his plan into action, but he still harbored understandable doubts. Today, Russia is renown for their advanced air defense systems, and the same was true of their Soviet predecessors. The USSR maintained the most elaborate and largest air defense system anywhere on the globe and they had demonstrated a propensity for using it against civilian aircraft. Only about five years earlier, the Soviets had shot down a South Korean airliner that had strayed into their airspace, killing all 269 passengers on board.

Rust told his parents he was leaving on a tour of Northern Europe that would help him accumulate more hours toward his professional pilot’s license, and for the first few days, that’e exactly what he did. After a few days of traveling, he stayed in Helsinki, Finland for a few days and pondered what he was about to do. He wanted to make a big public statement, but he wasn’t keen on dying in the process.

“Of course I was afraid to lose my life. I was weighing if it is really responsible, reasonable, to take this kind of risk. At the end I came to the conclusion, ‘I have to risk it.'”

He filed a flight plan that would have taken him to Stockholm and took off just like he would on any other day. As Rust recalls, he still wasn’t really sure he would go through with it until well after he was already airborne.

“I made the final decision about half an hour after departure. I just changed the direction to 170 degrees and I was heading straight down to Moscow.”
How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Rust’s flight path (WikiMedia Commons)

It wasn’t long before Soviet air defenses were alerted to his presence. They were tracking him on radar, and within an hour of diverting from his flight plan, fighters had been scrambled to intercept his little Cessna. He was flying low–only about 1,000 feet off the ground or 2,500 feet above sea level, and donned his crash helmet.

“The whole time I was just sitting in the aircraft, focusing on the dials,” said Rust. “It felt like I wasn’t really doing it.”

Fate was on Rust’s side, however, and one of the fighter pilots reported seeing what he believed was a Yak-12–a Soviet plane that looks similar to a Cessna 172. Either the pilot or his air traffic controllers decided that the plane must have been allowed to be there, because they broke off pursuit. At around the same time, Rust descended below the clouds to prevent them from icing up his wings, which also made him disappear from Soviet radar. Once he passed the clouds, he climbed back up to 2,500 feet and popped back up on their radar scopes.

Suddenly, he spotted fighters emerge from the cloud cover in front of him.

“It was coming at me very fast, and dead-on. And it went whoosh!—right over me. I remember how my heart felt, beating very fast,” he explained. “This was exactly the moment when you start to ask yourself: Is this when they shoot you down?”

Before he knew it, Soviet Mig-23 interceptors pulled up alongside him from both beneath him and his left. The single-seat, swing-wing Mig-23 was capable of speeds in excess of Mach 2.3 (more than 300 miles per hour faster than an F-35) and was positively massive compared to Rust’s little Cessna. In order to flank him, the Migs had to lower their landing gear and extend their flaps to scrub their speed enough not to scream past Rust and his single-prop 172.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Soviet Mig-23

“I realized because they hadn’t shot me down yet that they wanted to check on what I was doing there,” Rust said. “There was no sign, no signal from the pilot for me to follow him. Nothing.”

Rust would later learn that the pilots were indeed trying to contact him, but were using high-frequency military channels. Finally, the Migs pulled their landing gear in, dropped their flaps and screamed off into the distance again, circling rust twice in half mile loops before departing. Rust had once again made it through a brush with Soviet interceptors and was still flying straight for the Soviet capital.

A later investigation would confirm that, either the pilots assumed the Cessna was indeed a Soviet Yak-12, or their command didn’t think the situation warranted any concern. Shortly after the fighters departed, luck would once again deal in Rust’s favor. He unknowingly entered into a Soviet air force training zone where aircraft with similar radar signatures to his own were conducting various exercises. His small plane got lost in the radar chatter, which would save his neck in the following minutes.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

The Soviet Yak-12 looks very similar to a Cessna 172 (WikiMedia Commons)

Protocol required that all Soviet pilots reset their transponder at frequent intervals, and any pilot that didn’t reset theirs would immediately show as hostile on radar. At 3pm, just such a switch was scheduled, but because Rust was flying among a group of student pilots, the Soviet commander overseeing radar operations assumed he was a student that had absent-mindedly forgotten to switch his transponder. He ordered the radar operator to change Rust’s radar return to “friendly,” warning that “otherwise we might shoot some of our own.”

An hour later, Rust was little more than 200 miles outside of Moscow, and subject to a new region’s radar and air defense scrutiny. Once again, radar operators spotted the small aircraft and intercept fighters were dispatched, but the cloud cover was too thick and they were unable to find the small Cessna visually. Soon thereafter, another radar operator would mark Rust’s plane as “friendly,” mistaking it for a search and rescue helicopter that had been dispatched to the region.

As Rust approached Moscow’s airspace, the report that was forwarded to the air defense in the area listed a Soviet aircraft seemingly flying with its transponder off, rather than anything about a West German teenager infiltrating hundreds of miles of heavily guarded Soviet airspace.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Soviet 2K12 “Kub” air defense system (Andrey Korchagin on Flickr)

Rust then flew his small plane over Moscow’s infamous “Ring of Steel,” which was made up of multiple overlapping air defense systems built specifically to protect the Soviet capital from American bombers. Air defense rings surrounded Moscow at 10, 25, and 45 miles out, all capable of engaging a fleet of heavy bombers, but none the least bit interested in the tiny plane Rust piloted.

Shortly thereafter, Rust entered the airspace over the city itself–an area that had all air traffic heavily restricted, even military flights. As Rust flew over Moscow, Soviet radar operators finally realized something was terribly amiss, but it was too late. There was no time to scramble intercept fighters; Rust was already flying from building to building, trying to identify Moscow’s famous Red Square.

“At first, I thought maybe I should land inside the Kremlin wall, but then I realized that although there was plenty of space, I wasn’t sure what the KGB might do with me,” he remembers. “If I landed inside the wall, only a few people would see me, and they could just take me away and deny the whole thing. But if I landed in the square, plenty of people would see me, and the KGB couldn’t just arrest me and lie about it. So it was for my own security that I dropped that idea.”
How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Moscow’s Red Square

Rust spotted a 6-lane bridge that led into Red Square with sparse traffic and only a few power lines he’d need to avoid. He flew over the first set of wires, then dropped the aircraft down quickly to fly below the next set. As he nearly touched down, he spotted a car directly in his path.

“I moved to the left to pass him,” Rust said, “and as I did I looked and saw this old man with this look on his face like he could not believe what he was seeing. I just hoped he wouldn’t panic and lose control of the car and hit me.”

With his wheels on the ground, Rust rolled directly into Red Square. He had wanted to park the plane in front of Lenin’s tomb, but a fence blocked his path and he settled for coming to a stop in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. He shut down the engine and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as the reality of his situation slowly engulfed him. He had done the impossible.

“A big crowd had formed around me,” Rust recalled. “People were smiling and coming up to shake my hand or ask for autographs. There was a young Russian guy who spoke English. He asked me where I came from. I told him I came from the West and wanted to talk to Gorbachev to deliver this peace message that would [help Gorbachev] convince everybody in the West that he had a new approach.”
How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Rust next to his Cessna 172 in Moscow’s Red Square

He had anticipated being captured immediately by the KGB, but instead found the crowd confused and delighted by his stunning entrance. One woman gave him some bread. A young soldier chastised him for not applying for a visa, but credited him for the initiative. What Rust didn’t realize was that the KGB was already present, and agents were already worming through the crowd, confiscating cameras and notebooks people had Rust sign.

An hour later, two truck loads of Soviet soldiers arrived. They mostly ignored Rust as they aggressively pushed the crowds back and put up barriers around the teenager and his plane. Then three men arrived in a black sedan, one of whom identified himself as an interpreter. He asked Rust for his passport and if they could inspect the aircraft. Rust recalls their demeanor as mostly friendly and even casual.

The plane was then taken to the nearby Sheremetyevo International Airport where it was completely disassembled during its inspection, and despite the friendly demeanor of the Soviets, he was immediately transported to Lefortovo prison. The prison was infamous for its use by the KGB to hold political prisoners.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

A modern view of the Lefortovo prison (WikiMedia Commons)

Initially, the Soviets refused to believe that Rust had accomplished his daring mission without support from NATO forces. The date he chose, May 28, was Border Guards Day in the Soviet Union, and they accused him of choosing the day intentionally to embarrass them. Then they accused him of getting the maps he’d used to reach Moscow from the American CIA… that is, until the Soviet consul in Hamburg confirmed that they could purchase the very same maps through a mail order service.

After realizing Rust was not the world’s youngest and most ostentatious CIA operative, they finally charged him illegal entry, violation of flight laws, and “malicious hooliganism.” Rust pleaded guilty to the first two charges, but refused the third, claiming he had no malicious intent. Nonetheless, he was found guilty on all counts by a panel of three judges and sentenced to four years in the same Lefortovo prison. Despite the prison’s harsh reputation, Rust was mostly well cared for, and even allowed to have his parents visit every two months.

In 1988, Rust was released from prison in a “goodwill gesture” following a treaty between Reagan and Gorbachev that would have both nations eliminate their intermediate range nuclear missiles. It was not quite such a happy ending for many Soviet officials however.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Rust’s re-assembled Cessna on display in the German Museum of Technology (WikiMedia Commons)

In a way, Rust’s flight did exactly what he’d hoped. The stunt had seriously damaged the reputation of the Soviet military and provided Gorbachev with the leverage he needed to outfox those who opposed his reforms.

Almost immediately following Rust’s landing in Red Square, the Soviet defense minister and the Soviet air defense chief were both removed from their posts for allowing such an egregious violation of Soviet airspace. Shortly thereafter, hundreds of other officers were also removed from their positions. Rust’s flight led to the single largest turnover of Soviet officers since the 1930s, according to Air Space Magazine.

Rust would never sit behind the stick of an aircraft again, but would go down in history as the only pilot to defeat the entirety of the Soviet military using a rented, single prop, trainer plane. Unfortunately, Rust’s seemingly heroic stunt has been overshadowed by the troubled man’s continued run-ins with the law. In the early 90s, he received another prison sentence for assaulting a woman that refused his romantic advances. In 2005, he was again convicted of a crime–this time for fraud. Today he describes himself an analyst for an investment bank, seemingly keen to leave his high-flying theatrics behind him.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.


MIGHTY TACTICAL

This futuristic ultra-flexible airplane wing could change aviation forever

Researchers from MIT and NASA have developed an airplane wing that can change shape and increase the efficiency of aircraft flight, production, and maintenance, according to MIT News.

On a traditional airplane wing, only parts of the wing, such as flaps and ailerons, can move to change the plane’s direction. The wing designed by the MIT and NASA researchers would be able to move in its entirety.


The wing is made of hundreds of small, identical pieces that contain both rigid and flexible components which make it lighter and more efficient than traditional airplane wings. Since the wing could adjust to the particular characteristics of each stage of flight (takeoff, landing, steering, etc.), it could perform better than traditional wings, which are not designed to maximize performance during any part of a flight.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Wing assembly under construction.

(NASA)

“We’re able to gain efficiency by matching the shape to the loads at different angles of attack,” NASA research engineer Nicholas Cramer told MIT News.

The wing’s parts are arranged in a lattice structure that creates a large amount of empty space and covered in a thin, polymer material. Combined, the wing’s materials and structure make it as firm as a rubber-like polymer (though much less dense) and as light as an aerogel.

MIT graduate student Benjamin Jenett told MIT News that the wing performed better than expected during a test in a wind tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Nazi army was made entirely of Soviet POWs

It’s sometimes hard to remember that World War II wasn’t actually a single, globe-spanning conflict. It was really about a dozen smaller conflicts that had all been openly fought (or at least simmering) in the months and years leading up to the German invasion of Poland — the moment most historians point to as the beginning of the war.


Members of the Russian Liberation Army stand together in 1943. The “POA” patch features the Cyrillic-language abbreviation of the unit’s name in Russian.

(Karl Muller, Bundesarchiv Bild)

One of those long-simmering conflicts was between the Soviets in Russia and the Fascists in Germany. Both countries descended into harsh autocracies between World Wars I and II, but their leaders were deeply distrustful of one another. And, their populations were split as to who the worse evil was, even during the war.

That’s probably why somewhere around 200,000 Russian soldiers were recruited from prisoner of war camps and Soviet defections to form the Russian Liberation Army, a military force of Russian citizens who fought for Hitler against Stalin.

The head of the unit, abbreviated from Russian as the ROA, was a decorated Soviet officer, Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov. Vlasov and his men fought well against the Nazi invasion of Russia.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

A Leningrad building burns after a German air raid in World War II. The city was besieged by German forces, and Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov was in charge of a large segment of the forces sent to free it.

(RIA Novosti Archive)

Vlasov commanded the 4th Mechanized Corps, and he and his men retook multiple cities from Nazi forces during counterattacks, escaped encirclement at one point, and even helped save Moscow at one point. His face was printed in newspapers as a “defender of Moscow” and he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.

But he was then placed in command of an army and sent to break the siege at Leningrad. He failed, though some historians point to the failure of other commanders to exploit openings that Vlasov created. Regardless, most of his army was eventually slaughtered and he was captured.

While imprisoned in prisoner of war camps, Vlasov was known for making statements against Stalin. Eventually, this led to Vlasov advocating for a new military unit made up of Russians and commanded by Russians — but fighting for Germany.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Russian defector to Germany Lt. Gen. Andrey Vlasov speaks with volunteers in Germany in 1944.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

This wasn’t entirely crazy. There were actually a lot of Soviet citizens who hated Stalin and communism, and some of them saw the German invasion as a liberation. Not nearly as many as Hitler had hoped, but enough that some estimates posit as many as one million Russian men eventually opted to fight for Germany, with 1 in 10 prisoners captured on the coasts of Normandy on D-day being Soviet citizens.

After months in POW camps, Vlasov was able to convince Germany to create the ROA. He wrote pamphlets and other materials to convince more Soviet POWs to join, and these were also dropped as leaflets over Soviet formations to trigger defections. The main selling point was that, after the war, Germany would allow for a free and democratic Russia.

Unfortunately for Vlasov, the Germans still barely trusted him. Most Russians recruited into the ROA served under the command of other officers, including German ones. Vlasov was promoted to general but only put in command of the ROA against Soviet forces one time. On February 11, 1945, Vlasov led the ROA against the Red Army as the Soviets pressed against a Polish river.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case

Russian defector Gen. Andrey Vlasov meets with senior Nazi leaders, including Joseph Goebbels at far right.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

The ROA performed well, but was ultimately withdrawn and never sent into full-scale battle again. As Germany continued to lose ground, many in the ROA switched sides again, and fought their way through German units towards the western Allies, hoping that British and American forces would accept a surrender and request for asylum.

After all, they had no delusions about what the Soviets would do to captured Russian soldiers who fought against Stalin and the Red Army.

Unfortunately for the ROA, most western officers ultimately gave in the the political pressures at the time and allowed Soviet troops to arrest the defectors, including Vlasov. Approximately 33,000 men were handed over between May and September, 1945. Most would be executed or sent to the Gulag until they grew old or died.

Vlasov was executed by hanging on August 1, 1946.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the Russian spy unit that keeps getting caught in the act

Most of us think of highly-trained spies and espionage units as the best of the best, Cold War ninjas who would never dream of getting caught lest they be disavowed by Washington, Moscow, London or wherever they come from.

If 1980s-era film and television has taught us anything, it’s that the Russian spy agencies are among the best of the best. If that was true, something is severely lacking lately, because one of their spy units keeps getting caught doing some high-profile greasy stuff.


Russia’s GRU unit 29155 was recently outed as the unit behind the alleged payment of bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But that’s not the only high-visibility mission that was uncovered in recent days. 29155 was also allegedly behind the effort to hack Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the assassination of former KGB spy Sergei Skripal in England, and an attempted coup in Montenegro.

The unit is part of the Russian military intelligence apparatus, responsible for intelligence gathering and operations outside of the Russian Federation. The GRU (as it’s known outside of Russia and the former Soviet Union) was not as widely known or regarded as the Soviet KGB or the KGB’s antecedents, the Russian SVR and FSB, but today it is the go-to agency for military-related operations.

Why? Because it deploys six times as many foriegn operatives as the FSB or SVR. The GRU is Russia’s largest foreign security service. But unlike the KGB, the GRU has been largely unchanged since its Soviet heyday.

The GRU is the unit that takes on the most important military operations, like say, partnering with the Taliban or killing off former Soviet spies. But Foreign Policy says their work has been pretty sloppy in the past few years.

In the case of bounties on American troops in Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence services were actually able to track bank transfers between the Taliban and GRU accounts overseas. As for the other plots, it didn’t even require intelligence services. Media outlets inside and outside of Russia have been able to track members of 29155 because they kept reusing aliases with questionable cover stories to travel throughout the world.

Using these bits of information, the movement of GRU assets was relatively easy to track for the media, who published their findings. It was so easy, the information was confirmed by multiple countries’ intelligence agencies. The members of 29155 were mapped and tracked all over Europe.

Two of the 29155’s agents, Alexander Petrov (really Alexander Mishkin) and Ruslan Boshirov (real name Anatoliy Chepiga), were caught red-handed by Scotland Yard on closed-circuit tv cameras in the 2018 assassination plot of Sergei Skripal.

In that plot, the use of a Soviet nerve agent, along with the GRU operatives, led investigators not only to 29155, but to Chepiga entire graduating class of the GRU academy. From there, they uncovered plots to poison an arms dealer, interfering in elections in Spain, and even a coup in NATO member Montenegro.

Western intelligence saw the effort as a “Rosettta Stone” in reading Russian intelligence movements abroad.

Whoops.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is what happened when the VA tried to slash money for homeless veterans

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told a group of veteran advocates that he was cutting funding to a program that addresses veteran homelessness, according to a Dec. 6 report from Politico.


The conversation reportedly happened over the phone, with “advocates for veterans, state officials, and even officials from HUD” reacting to the news from Shulkin in outright anger.

The program, co-sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), allocates $460 million a year to housing homeless veterans. It seems to have been working, too, as veteran homelessness is down 46 percent from 2010.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case
First, La Crosse. Next, the country? (Photo from Tomah VA Medical Center)

Nevertheless, Shulkin determined that nearly $1 billion should be moved from “specific purpose” funds to “general purpose” funds. This means moving all of the funding used specifically to ameliorate veterans homelessness.

According to a Sept. 2 memo, the VA believes that money designated to specific programs, like addressing veteran homelessness, transplant programs, amputation care, and women’s health, would be better used in a general fund, leaving veterans hospitals to decide for themselves how to use the money. The memo states that the move is designed to support “the Secretary’s five priorities” and could be used for administrative things, like hiring more VA employees.

The memo does not state how each individual hospital must use its newfound funds. Rather, it simply notes that network directors will have control over how much (if any) to give to specific programs.

Also Read: This city ended veteran homelessness in just 100 days

The Senate Committee on Appropriations responded to Shulkin’s plans to move the funds with a bipartisan, strongly worded letter signed by every member. In it, the committee reminded the Secretary of Veterans Affairs that his department had previously been extended the privilege of flexibility to move money without review because of its willingness to be transparent. That transparency, the letter argued, would all but disappear should Shulkin divert the specific purpose funds.

The letter closed with what seemed like a warning in the form of a suggestion: Stop, think, and before you do anything, submit to us a detailed “funding allocation plan” in the future.

How the USNS Comfort prepares for worst case
Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin. Photo courtesy of VA.

It didn’t take long for Shulkin to shift gears and reverse his earlier statements. “There will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless programs,” Shulkin wrote in a statement released Dec. 6.

However, Shulkin added, “we will not be shifting any homeless program money to the Choice program.” It is not immediately clear whether the Choice program is where Shulkin suggested the funds would go in his Dec. 1 phone call.

Upon further review of the VA’s budget brief, the department does, in fact, plan to cut funding from “certain Veterans’ benefit programs” to offset the cost of money borrowed from the nearly bankrupt Veterans Choice Program, a program designed to offer veterans medical care closer to where they reside.

The brief does not specify which programs will be cut.

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