The US Navy sent a guided-missile destroyer Dec. 5, 2018, to challenge Russia in the Sea of Japan.
The USS McCambell “sailed in the vicinity of Peter the Great Bay to challenge Russia’s excessive maritime claims and uphold the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea enjoyed by the United States and other nations,” US Pacific Fleet spokesperson US Navy Lt. Rachel McMarr told CNN.
The Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet is headquartered in the eastern port city of Vladivostok, located in Peter the Great Bay, the largest gulf in the East Sea/Sea of Japan.
Pacific Fleet stressed to CNN that Dec. 5, 2018’s freedom-of-navigation operation (FONOP) was “not about any one country, nor are they about current events,” adding, “These operations demonstrate the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. That is true in the Sea of Japan, as in other places around the globe.”
The US Navy regularly conducts FONOPS in the South China Sea, much to China’s displeasure. The guided-missile cruiser USS Chancelorsville “sailed near the Paracel Islands to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law.”
The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jon Dasbach)
Two days later, the US Navy sent two warships — the destroyer USS Stockdale and the underway replenishment oiler USNS Pecos — through the Taiwan Strait. Both the South China Sea FONOP and the Taiwan Strait transit, which occurred just days before a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump, drew criticism from Beijing.
China has also repeatedly criticized US Air Force bomber overflights in the region.
Tensions between Moscow and Washington are on the rise in the wake of apparent Russian aggression in the Sea of Azov, where Russian vessels rammed and fired on Ukrainian vessels before capturing the ships and their crews, and US plans to withdraw from the Cold War Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a response to Russian violations.
NATO has accused Russia of developing weapons in violation of the treaty, and the State Department has warned Russia that it has 60 days to return to compliance or the treaty is finished.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Dec. 5, 2018, that if the US withdraws from the 1987 treaty, Russia will begin developing the very nuclear weapons prohibited by it.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
The M4 carbine completely slicked down is already a mighty-fine assault weapon, but nothing is above improvement. With the rise of a hypersensitive world, where one picture can change the game, the great members and I of the unit put out a request for some serious target acquisition and fire control hardware. What we didn’t expect was the flood of equipment some good… some less than helpful.
I’ve seen how the evolution of weapons and kit works among pipe-hitters. It roughly follows this sequence: the newest brothers readily slap every new gadget onto their ARs and love and swear by them all. Soon their ARs become an unruly sort of Rube Goldberg contraption that resembles a deep space cruiser out of Star Wars. Inevitably SHOOTING… becomes a secondary or tertiary function of the… the thing!
There finally comes the time when the brother is tired of weeds, branches, socks, and whatever snagged up and caught on his “weapon,” and the fact that he can no longer fire it from the prone or even hold it up steady firing off-hand… he starts to get wiser about his configuration; he resolutely removes from his M4 Carbine:
• the Hubble star finder scope he thought would be great for navigation • the AM radio receiver dialed into the 24-hour continuous weather variables reporting station he thought would be great for fine aiming adjustments • the Enterprise Photon Torpedo launch tube and rails are the next to go • the 22 LR rim-fire spotting sub-rifle comes off; he would just have to learn to zero better • (approximately) 19 linear feet of Picatinny rail segments • (finally) the coffee press
But there are some pieces of gear that actually do make the M4 much more lethal than what those Neanderthal iron blade and peep sights have to offer. A red-dot scope will replace those nicely, perhaps even one with a couple of times (X) magnification power thrown in.
(An example red dot stop superimposes an adjustable red dot where your bullet will
A forward pistol grip is always a plus, lending stability to the weapon when firing, as it assists with recoil management and site-picture recovery. In the struggle between ‘yes’ forward pistol grip and ‘no’ forward pistol grip, a folding or collapsible pistol grip feature could quell the struggle.
(A decent representative folding forward pistol grip)
Chamfered, flared, or beveled magazine wells are a real plus for combat shooters who require speed during reloads as well as accuracy. The simple fact is trying to align a rectangular-shaped magazine into a rectangular-shaped magazine well quickly requires a relatively precision alignment, one that takes a split-second more time than you might have.
The flared magazine well attachment provides a gentle sloping angle to the bottom of the well to allow for subtle errors in alignment of the magazine to be accepted foregoing the loss of time due to poor alignment. This feature is just as effective for pistols as well as rifle combat shooters.
(An after-market flared magazine well attachment. Note the extended bolt release that allows the shooter to seat the magazine and release the bolt in almost the same movement)
Perhaps you may feel the need for a LASER aim point for your AR. That can be a visible red dot that is aligned with your rifle sight and allows you to hit whatever the light dot is on. It allows you to hit a target even without a sight picture such as firing from the hip. This advantage comes heavily into play when the shooter is restricted from his sight picture by the requirement to wear a protective (gas) mask. Carrying out the tactical scenario even farther, you may want your light dot to be infrared and only visible by Night Observation Devices (NODs).
(An odd off-brand, small and very inexpensive visible red dot LASER mounted to a 2.5″ Picatinny segment. A device such as this costs less than .00 w/o rail segment.)
We still need illumination. A strong white light source can always be capped by a snap-on/snap-off filter that renders the light to the Infrared spectrum, so no need for two separate devices. Technology affords us the luxury of going from attaching clumsy flashlights to ARs with pipe clamps, to small LED light devices of very high lumens and elegant mountings.
Subject to the accessories dance is the “need” to not only have all of these target acquisition and fire and control devices, but to also have them located in such a configuration that you can activate them all quickly while firing your weapon. After a while, it might seem like trying to play a piano concerto with one hand. Perhaps some of us would be better off playing the one-handed concerto…
(Not the lowest profile solution today, but a workable illumination choice nonetheless. This lamp uses a high-lumen Halogen bulb for a flood)
It is an observation of mine that the older guys on the assault team seemed to have the slickest ARs; that is, the ones with the fewest gadgets on them. The reason for that is readily debatable, lending itself never to be fully defined. I think my own Delta Team leader summed it up the best I ever heard during yet another “kit argument.” When he was asked to inject his two cents into the debate, he replied, “Let me tell you something, homes… 50 years ago the American Army assaulted Omaha Beach wearing f*cking WOOL!”
The alert sowed confusion, fear, and, pandemonium — especially among tourists — in the 38 minutes before it was officially declared a false alarm. Some hotel guests peered through windows and doors to catch a glimpse of the incoming threat. Others scrambled to their rooms to stuff a bag and dash for the car (which you should never do in a nuclear attack).
One married couple in town from St. Louis rebuffed their hotel’s instructions to stay inside and instead stepped out onto nearby Waikiki Beach.
“We were afraid of being inside a building and getting crushed, like in 9/11,” the couple told Business Insider in an email. “We were afraid to follow all of the hotel employees calmly telling us to go into a ballroom.”
That is, until one of them googled “safety nuclear bomb how shelter” from the beach — and found a Business Insider article titled “If a nuclear bomb goes off, this is the most important thing you can do to survive.”
Our story advises going inside if there’s a nuclear explosion, which the couple said they then did.
It does not address how to act if there’s an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile launched by a nation like North Korea. As Hawaii’s false alarm suggests, the latter may come with a few minutes to a half-hour of warning.
“The good news is the ‘get inside, stay inside, stay tuned’ phrase works for both for the threat of a potential nuclear detonation as well as a nuclear detonation that has occurred,” Brooke Buddemeier, a health physicist and expert on radiation and emergency preparedness at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told Business Insider.
But Buddemeier, who has worked for more than 15 years with federal, state, and local stakeholders on response plans to nuclear-disaster scenarios, says there are some important differences that can improve your chances of survival.
“Having a plan and knowing what to do can really help alleviate a lot of anxiety,” he said.
Here’s how to act and where to take shelter if you get an alert about an ICBM or other nuclear threat.
A flash, a burst, and a blast
Knowing what you’re trying to avoid can help keep you safe. All nuclear blasts are marked by a handful of important effects:
1. A flash of light.
2. A pulse of thermal (i.e., heat) energy.
3. A pulse of nuclear radiation.
4. A fireball.
5. An air blast.
6. Radioactive fallout.
The first three arrive almost instantaneously, as they travel at light-speed — though thermal radiation can last several seconds and inflict severe burns miles from a blast site.
The final two effects travel close together, but the air blast goes much farther. It causes the most damage in a nuclear explosion by tumbling vehicles, toppling weak buildings, and throwing debris. The majority of fallout arrives last, as it’s lofted high into the sky and sprinkles down.
There are two upshots: Going inside can greatly limit or even block these devastating effects, and a nuclear weapon’s power is not infinite but limited to the device’s explosive yield. That makes a single blast or even a limited nuclear exchange survivable for most people.
Arms-control experts suspect a nation like North Korea may have missile-ready warheads that would explode with 10 to 30 kilotons’ worth of TNT. That ranges from less than to roughly twice the yield of either nuclear bomb the US dropped on Japan in 1945.
The worst destruction, where the chances of survival are least likely, is confined to a “severe damage zone.” For a 10-kiloton blast — equivalent to two-thirds of the Hiroshima bomb blast, or 5,000 Oklahoma City truck bombings — that’s about a half-mile radius.
Vehicles offer almost no protection from radiation, including fallout, and a driver can experience dazzle — or flash blindness — for 15 seconds to a minute.
“The rods and cones of your eyes get overloaded and kind of have to reboot,” Buddemeier. “It’s just long enough to lose control of your car. If you happen to be driving at speed on the roadways, and you and all the other drivers around you are suddenly blind, I think that would probably result in crashes and injuries and road blockages.”
If there’s a missile alert, the best move is to get to the closest place where you can safely pull over, get out, and make your way into a building.
“When you go inside, go into the interior middle of the building, or a basement,” he said. “This would prevent injuries from flying glass from the blast, it would prevent dazzle from the blast, and it would prevent thermal burns.”
The deeper and lower in the building you can get, and the farther from windows (which can shatter), doors (which can fly open), and exterior walls (which can cave in), the better your odds.
“When I think of where I would go for protection from prompt effects, and from the blast wave in particular, I think of the same kinds of things that we do for tornadoes,” Buddemeier said. “If your house is going to be struck by a wall of air or a tornado or a hurricane, you want to be in a place that is structurally sound.”
Another tip: Steer clear of rooms with a lot of ceiling tiles, fixtures, or moveable objects.
“Be in an area where if there’s a dramatic jolt, things aren’t going to fall on you,” he said.
Buddemeier said that at his office building, he’d go to the stairwell.
“It’s actually in the core of the building, so it has concrete walls, and it doesn’t have a lot of junk in it,” he said. “So that would be an ideal place to go.”
At home, a three-story condo building, he’d head toward the first floor and move as much toward its center as possible.
“I do not have a basement, but if I did, that’s where I’d go,” Buddemeier said. “The storm cellar Auntie Em has in Kansas is great too.”
Staying inside can also limit how much invisible nuclear radiation produced by a blast will reach your body.
Too much exposure over a short time can damage the body enough to limit its ability to fix itself, fight infection, and perform other functions, leading to a dangerous condition called acute radiation sickness or syndrome.
Typically, about 750 millisieverts of exposure over several hours or less can make a person sick. This is roughly 100 times the amount of natural and medical radiation that an average American receives each year. A 10-kiloton blast can deliver this much exposure within a radius of about a mile, inside the “moderate damage zone.” (Several miles away, radiation dosage drops to tens of millisieverts or less.)
But Buddemeier says most exposure assumptions are based on test blasts in the desert.
“There’s no assumption that there’s some kind of blocking going on,” he said, which is all the more reason to put as much concrete, steel, and other radiation-absorbing building materials between you and a blast.
Buddemeier said a decent shelter could reduce your exposure by tenfold or more.
The shelter you find before a blast, however, may not be the best place to stay afterward.
How to avoid radioactive fallout after an explosion
The next danger to avoid is radioactive fallout, a mixture of fission products (or radioisotopes) that a nuclear explosion creates by splitting atoms.
Nuclear explosions loft this material high into the atmosphere as dust-, salt-, and sand-size particles, and it can take up to 15 minutes to fall to the ground. High-altitude winds can make it sprinkle over hundreds of square miles, though it’s most intense near the blast site.
The danger is from fission products that further split up or decay. During this process, many shoot gamma rays, an invisible yet highly energetic form of light that can deeply penetrate the body and inflict significant radiation damage.
But a nuclear attack would probably create more radioactive fallout than a missile-launched warhead. That’s because warheads are often designed to explode high above a target — not close to the ground, where their fireballs can suck up and irradiate thousands of tons of dirt and debris.
Regardless, Buddemeier says sheltering in place for at least 12 to 24 hours — about how long the worst of this radiation lasts — can help you survive the threat of fallout.
“If your ad hoc blast-protection shelter is not that robust and there’s a bigger robust building nearby or a building that has a basement, you may have time to move to that building for your fallout protection after the detonation has occurred,” Buddemeier said.
He added that, depending on your distance from the blast, you might get 10 to 15 minutes to move to a better shelter — ideally, a windowless basement, where soil and concrete can help block a lot of radiation.
Buddemeier said that at his basement-less condo, he’d move to the center of the middle floor after a blast “because the fallout is going to land on the ground around my house, and that first floor would have slightly higher exposure than the second floor.”
But it’s best to hunker down in your blast shelter if you’re unsure whether it’s safe to move, he said. Fires and obstructive debris, for example, are likely to be widespread.
“The most important thing in both cases is to be inside when the event occurs, either when the detonation occurs or when the fallout arrives,” Buddemeier said.
A 2014 study suggests that waiting an hour after fallout arrives to move to a better location that’s within 15 minutes can be a smart idea in limited situations.
Buddemeier is a fan of the phrase “go in, stay in, tune in”: Get to your fallout shelter, stay in for 12 to 24 hours, and tune in with a radio, phone, or other device for official instructions on when to evacuate and what route to take to avoid fallout.
“Fallout casualties are entirely preventable,” he previously told Business Insider. “In a large city … knowing what to do after an event like this can literally save hundreds of thousands of people from radiation illness or fatalities.”
Other tips for making it out of a nuclear disaster alive
There are many more strategies to increase your chances of survival.
Having basic emergency supplies in kits at home, at work, and in your car will help you prepare for and respond to any disaster, let alone a radiological one.
For preventing exposure to fallout after a blast, tape plastic over entryways or broken windows at your shelter and turn off any cooling or heating systems that draw in outside air. Drinking bottled water and prepackaged food is also a good idea.
And if you’ve been exposed to fallout, there’s a process to remove that radioactive contamination:
–Take off your outer layer of clothes, put them into a plastic bag, and remove the bag from your shelter.
–Shower if you can, thoroughly washing your hair and skin with soap or shampoo (no conditioner), or use a wet cloth.
–Blow your nose to remove any inhaled fallout.
–Flush your eyes, nose, and facial hair (including eyebrows and eyelashes) with water, or wipe them with a wet cloth.
–Put on uncontaminated clothes (for example, from a drawer or plastic bag).
Potassium iodide pills, while often billed as anti-radiation drugs, are anything but fallout cure-alls. Buddemeier estimates that radioiodine is just 0.2% of the overall exposure you may face outdoors and says the pills are more helpful for addressing longer-term concerns about food-supply contamination. (The government will provide them for free if they’re needed, according to the Food and Drug Administration.)
The single most important thing to remember if a nuclear bomb is supposed to explode, he says, is to shelter in place.
“There were survivors in Hiroshima within 300 meters of the epicenter,” Buddemeier said. “They weren’t in [buildings] to be protected. They just happened to be in there. And what major injuries they received were from flying glass.”
Each branch of the military has a different way to show their unit pride. U.S. Army soldiers wear easily identifiable patches (a shoulder sleeve insignia) on the left shoulder of their combat uniform.
The SSI shows the current duty station that the soldier is attached to. If the soldier has deployed to a designated combat zone, they can also slap that unit patch onto the right shoulder to wear for the rest of their career.
This leads to a little game soldiers play, reminiscent of kids playing with trading cards, where they trade unit patches with one another or leave one with the Bangor Troop Greeters.
Depending on the unit, this may be for regiment, brigade, or division — with the patch being from the highest distinct echelon (so if you were in the 101st Airborne, you would wear the 101st patch and not the XVIII Airborne Corps patch).
The patch was conceived to inspire unit pride and to identify other soldiers in the unit. The first to adopt a shoulder patch was the 81st Infantry Division in 1918. When they deployed to France shortly after adopting it, their patch drew much disdain from other units in the American Expeditionary Force.
The “Wildcat” Division’s unit patch was brought to the attention of Gen. John J. “Blackjack” Pershing by a fellow officer because it was unbecoming of the uniform. After some consideration, the only American to be promoted to General of the Armies in his lifetime decided that the 81st should keep their unit patch and suggested other divisions to follow suit. The patch became officially recognized on Oct. 19, 1918, and many more followed shortly after.
Ever since then, soldiers have a treasured relationship with their unit patches (and even more if they deployed with them.) Through their patch, they stand tall among their brothers in arms of the past — adding to their legacy.
Some planes have long had a reputation for being deadly in air-to-air combat. That is an arena built for the fast and evasive — and planes get faster and more evasive all the time. But what do we do about the older fighters? Retirement or being passed on, second-hand, to other countries happens to some models, and some of these designs are so good, they last for decades (the P-51 served in a military role until 1985). Other planes, however, undergo a little role change and start dropping bombs instead.
In fact, when you look at the most prominent fighters from World War II (the P-51, the F6F Hellcat, the F4U Corsair, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and the P-38 Lightning), they were all multi-role fighters. The jet age was no different — many planes designed for air-to-air became very good at dropping bombs on the enemy on the ground. Here are some of the most prominent.
1. North American F-86 Sabre
The F-86 Sabre dominated the skies during the Korean War, but as the war went on, this plane also had a significant impact as a fighter-bomber. This plane did so well dropping ordnance that the Air Force eventually bought the F-86H, a dedicated fighter-bomber version of the F-86, which served until 1972.
2. North American F-100 Super Sabre
Like the F-86, the F-100 was initially intended for air-to-air combat. But the F-100A had its teething problems, and it never saw much combat as a fighter. The F-100D version, however, became a very reliable fighter-bomber. In fact, a later model, the F-100F operational trainer model, was among the first of the Wild Weasels — Vietnam-era bombers that were responsible for taking out enemy air defenses. The F-100 fighter-bombers stuck around until 1979.
3. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom
The Navy’s version of the Phantom, the F-4B, was an all-weather interceptor. The Air Force was the first branch to use this airframe as a tactical fighter, and the others quickly followed suit. As F-14s and F-15s emerged into service, F-4s took on more ground-attack missions. Today, those still in service with Turkey and other countries are primarily used for bombing.
4. Grumman F-14 Tomcat
Lessons learned from Vietnam and the development of new Soviet bombers spurred the development of the F-14 as a pure fighter. It had quite the long reach, too. With the end of the Cold War, though, the Tomcat quickly ran thin on targets in the air and was quickly retooled to attack ground targets. Sadly, it also saw its production ended shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union and was retired in 2004. It leaves us to wonder just what could have been for carrier air wings.
5. McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle
While the Navy replaced its F-4s with the F-14, the Air Force chose to replace them in the air-to-air role with the F-15. The F-15 dominated as an air-superiority fighter (it still hasn’t lost a for-real dogfight). Then, the Air Force sought to replace the F-4 for the ground-attack missions – and the F-15 was selected. Today, the F-15E is still going strong, bringing the fight to ground forces.
The fact is, an air-superiority fighter need not despair when newer jets come along. It can earn a second lease on life by dropping bombs on the bad guys. It might not be as thrilling as a dogfight, but it’s plenty effective.
Veterans with PTSD often suffer from nightmares, as 53 percent of combat Veterans with PTSD report a significant nightmare problem. In fact, nightmares are one of the criteria used to diagnose PTSD. Often, nightmares are recurrent and may relate to or replay the trauma the Veteran has experienced. They may be frequent and occur several times a week.
Prolonged or intense stress, such as that experienced during a trauma or in PTSD, is associated with a decreased level of serotonin. The serotonin system regulates parts of the brain that deal with fear and worry. Low serotonin production disrupts sleep and often leads to more significant sleep disorders, like insomnia.
Those with PTSD who experience these brain chemistry changes may be hyper-vigilant, even in sleep. This can make it difficult to fall asleep or remain asleep. Excess adrenaline can make Veterans feel wired at night and unable to relax and fall asleep. With elevated cortisol, there is a decrease in short-wave sleep, and increases in light sleep and waking.
Treating PTSD and sleep disorders
It’s important for Veterans to seek treatment for trauma-related sleep difficulties. With treatment, Veterans can work to improve sleep difficulties and get more restful sleep. Treatment for Veterans with PTSD may include:
1. Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is used to facilitate processing of a traumatic event. It may include therapies such as prolonged exposure, cognitive processing therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Although psychotherapy may not be directly aimed at sleep improvement, it can be effective in relieving PTSD, and in turn, the symptoms of sleep disruption from PTSD.
2. Cognitive behavioral therapy: With cognitive behavioral therapy, Veterans with PTSD discuss their sleep habits and identify opportunities for improvement of sleep hygiene.
3. Relaxation therapy: Often combined with meditation, relaxation therapy is used to promote soothing and a peaceful mindset before bedtime. Ideally, relaxation therapy can alleviate hyperarousal so that Veterans with PTSD can relax and fall asleep more easily.
4. Light therapy: Light therapy uses exposure to bright light to realign the circadian clock. With exposure to bright light during the day, your brain is better able to understand that it’s daytime, and time to be alert. Patients of light therapy often fall asleep more easily and sleep later.
5. Sleep restriction: Sleep restriction is controlled sleep deprivation, which limits the time spent in bed so that sleeping takes up 85 to 90 percent of the time spent in bed.
6. Medication and supplements: Medications are typically considered a last resort for solving sleep difficulties due to their potential side effects. Supplements of melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates the sleep cycle can help patients sleep better. Medications including sedatives and hypnotics may be used if therapies and natural supplements are not effective.
Strategies and techniques to help PTSD-affected Veterans get to sleep
Treatment of PTSD and related sleep disorders is key. However, there are steps Veterans can take in addition to treatment that can alleviate the sleep disruption associated with PTSD. These include:
7. Sleep in a comforting location: Your sleep environment should be a location where you feel safe, and free of any triggers that might cause you to relive trauma.
8. Ask friends and family for support: Some with PTSD feel safer and more comfortable sleeping with a trusted friend or family member in the same room or a nearby room.
9. Wind down in the evening: Spend time in the evening before bed winding down from the day to induce relaxation. If you take time to relax and maintain a consistent bedtime routine, you can signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. This can be done by going through the same steps before bed every night, ideally relaxing activities such as playing soft music, meditating, practicing muscle relaxation, taking a warm bath, or reading a book.
10. Setup the ideal sleep environment: A nightlight might make you feel more comfortable sleeping in a dark room. If your sleeping environment can be noisy or disruptive, consider playing soft music or using a white noise machine to block out sounds that can startle you out of sleep. Make sure to control the temperature of your room and keep it between 60-67 degrees fahrenheit. From your mattress to your bedding, make sure you know what keeps your spine in alignment and alleviates any pressure points or additional issues you might face.
11. Give yourself enough time to sleep: Being rushed in the evening or morning can contribute to feelings of stress that may exacerbate sleep struggles for Veterans with PTSD. You shouldn’t feel like you don’t have enough time to sleep. Schedule enough time for adequate rest, leaving extra time if you often experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep through the night.
12. Listen to your body’s sleep cues: Following trauma, you may need more sleep than you’re expecting. Listen to your body and go to bed when you feel ready to sleep. However, it’s important to avoid getting into bed too early and lying awake for long periods of time.
13. Avoid activities that can interfere with sleep: Eating a large meal, drinking alcohol, consuming caffeine, or napping or exercising a few hours before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep. Avoid screen time late at night, including video games, TV, and mobile devices.
Hardeep Grewal was a 29-year-old Air Force computer operations specialist suffering a mild case of pneumonia when he deployed to Saudi Arabia and a series of other Southwest Asian countries in 2003.
The staff sergeant stayed ill and returned to the United States “looking like a scare crow,” he said. He was diagnosed with asthma, which would require two medications daily for the rest of his life. By December 2004, Grewal was medically discharged with a 10 percent disability rating and a small severance payment.
The Air Force physical evaluation board “lowballed me,” he recalled in a phone conversation on April 25, 2018, from his Northern Virginia home. “They were trying to get rid of people” from a specialty that, after offering an attractive reenlistment bonus, quickly became overmanned.
Grewal promptly applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability compensation and his initial VA rating was set at 30 percent. Full VA payments were delayed until Grewal’s Air Force severance was recouped.
Twelve years later, in August 2016, he got a letter inviting him to have his military disability rating reviewed by a special board Congress created solely to determine whether veterans like him, discharged for conditions rated 20 percent disabling or less from Sept. 11, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2009, were treated fairly.
“I waited like almost two months to apply because I didn’t know if somebody was pulling my leg,” Grewal said. “I talked to a lot of people, including a friend at Langley Air Force Base, to find out if it was legit. He said other service members he knew who had gotten out were saying, ‘Yeah, it’s legit. You can look it up.’ “
Grewal had to wait 18 months but he received his decision letter from the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) in April 2018. It recommends to the Air Force Secretary that Grewal’s discharge with severance pay be recharacterized to permanent disability retirement, effective the date of his prior medical separation.
If, as expected, the Air Force approves a revised disability rating to 30 percent back to December 2004, Grewal will receive retroactive disability retirement, become eligible for TRICARE health insurance and begin to enjoy other privileges of “retiree” status including access to discount shopping on base.
Congress ordered that the PDBR established as part of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act after a mountain of evidence surfaced that service branches had been low-balling disability ratings given to thousands of service members medically separated over a nine-year period through recent wars.
The PDBR began accepting applications in January 2009. So far only 19,000 veterans have applied from pool of 71,000 known to be eligible for at least a disability rating review. All of them were medically-discharged with disability ratings of 20 percent or less sometime during the qualifying period.
A bump in rating to 30 percent or higher bestows retiree status including a tax-free disability retirement and TRICARE eligibility. And yet only 27 percent of veterans believed eligible for a rating review have applied. Indeed, applications to the PDBR have slowed to a trickle of 40 to 50 per month.
For this column, Greg Johnson, director of the PDRB, provided written responses to two dozen questions on the board’s operations. Overall, he explained, 42 percent of applicants receive a recommendation that their original rating be upgraded. Their service branch has the final say on whether a recommendation is approved but in almost every instance they have been.
To date, 47 percent of Army veterans who applied got a recommendation for upgrade, and 18 percent saw their rating increased to at least 30 percent to qualify for disability retirement.
For the Navy Department, which includes Sailors and Marines, 34 percent of applicants received upgrade recommendations and 17 percent gained retiree status. For Air Force applicants the approval rate also has been 34 percent, but 21 percent airmen got a revised rating high enough to qualify for disability retirement.
The top three medical conditions triggering favorable recommendations are mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress, back ailments and arthritis.
As Grewal learned, decisions are not made quickly. The current wait, on average, is eight to 12 months, Johnson said. But that is faster than the 18-to-24-month wait that was routine in earlier years.
Also, veterans need not fear that a new review will result in a rating downgrade. The law establishing the PDBR doesn’t allow for it.
Once received, applications are scanned into the PDBR data base and the board requests from the service branch a copy of their physical evaluation board case file. Also, PDBR retrieves from VA the veteran’s treatment records and all documents associated with a VA disability rating decision.
After paperwork is gathered, a PDBR panel of one medical officer and two non-medical officers, military or civilian, reviews the original rating decision. All panelists are the rank of colonel or lieutenant colonel (for Navy, captain or commander) or their civilian equivalents. The board has 34 voting members plus support staff, which is more than PDBR had in its early years, Johnson said.
The wait for a decision is long because of the time it takes to retrieve records, the thoroughness of the review and the complexity of the cases, Johnson said.
About 70 percent of applicants have been Army, 20 percent Navy or Marine Corps veterans, 10 percent Air Force and less than one percent Coast Guard.
PDBR notification letters have been sent to eligible veterans at last-known addresses at least twice and include applications and pre-stamped return envelopes. Grewal said he had moved four times since leaving service which might be why he never heard of the board before the notification letter reach him in 2016.
At some point Congress could set a deadline for the board to cease operations but it hasn’t yet. The board advises veterans, however, to apply as soon as they can. The longer they wait, it notes on its website, “the more difficult it may be to gather required medical evidence from your VA rating process, your service treatment record or other in-service sources [needed] to assess your claim.”
If an eligible veteran is incapacitated or deceased, a surviving spouse, next of kin or legal representative also can request the PDBR review.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Reserve and active duty pararescuemen were undergoing dive and jump training Sept. 11, 2018, in Key West, Florida, when they were recalled back to their home units to immediately begin the process of pre-positioning for Hurricane Florence search-and-rescue operations.
Reserve airmen within the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, put their lives on temporary hold to respond to a natural disaster.
“When we returned to Patrick (AFB) that evening, we unpacked our dive gear and repacked all of our hurricane gear,” said Senior Master Sgt. Joe Traska, 308th Rescue Squadron pararescueman. “We went home to see our families briefly and returned the following morning to begin the trip to Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.”
In all, 140 Reservists dropped what they were doing on a Wednesday afternoon to fix and fly search-and-rescue aircraft, and perform everything imaginable in-between, to get four HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and all the necessary personnel and equipment heading north to Moody AFB, Georgia, when the prepare-to-deploy order was given Sept. 12, 2018.
HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter aircrew airmen with the 334th Air Expeditionary Group, sit alert on the Joint Base Charleston, S.C.flightline Sept. 16, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kelly Goonan)
The 920th RQW airmen integrated forces with active duty personnel at Moody AFB’s 23rd Wing and began posturing for an official disaster relief operation as one cohesive Air Expeditionary Group, waiting out Hurricane Florence as it crawled through the Carolinas.
Two days later, Maj. Gen. Leonard Isabelle, director of search-and-rescue operations coordination element for Air Force North Command, officially established the 334th Air Expeditionary Group tasked with positioning the fully integrated forces of airmen and assets for relief efforts to assist those most severely impacted by Hurricane Florence.
Within 18-hours, 270 airmen working together seamlessly picked up and moved their search-and-rescue operation from middle Georgia forward to Joint Base Charleston, S.C.
Senior Master Sgt. Will Towers checks the tail rotor blades as part of his preflight checklist at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., Sept. 16, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kelly Goonan)
However, the coastal installation was still under evacuation orders leaving the 334th AEG faced with establishing a bare base operations center while contending with lingering unfavorable weather conditions.
“The base had to literally open their gates for our arrival,” said Lt. Col. Adolph Rodriguez, 334th Mission Support Group commander. “They (JB Charleston officials) began recalling critical personnel to give us the necessary assistance for this operation to be a success.”
With the aid of the host installation, the 334th AEG was at full operational capability, ready to conduct search-and-rescue missions when the first HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter landed Sept. 15, 2018.
Col. Bryan Creel, 334th Air Expeditionary Group commander, discusses search-and-rescue operational plans with Lt. Col. Jeff Hannold, 334th AEG deputy commander, at Joint Base Charleston on Sept. 15, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Technical Sgt. Kelly Goonan)
Switching gears from readiness training in South Florida to real-world operations in South Carolina is a prime example of, “being constantly fluid and flexible,” said Capt. Jessica Colby, 334 AEG public affairs officer. “Search and rescue is often like that: You never know where you’re going to go, you never know how big of a footprint you can bring, or what will be needed.”
There is one constant in situations like these, training, explained Rodriguez. “Reserve citizen airmen must constantly train to not only stay current, but to propel their capabilities beyond just meeting the minimum requirement. Honing their proficiencies will ultimately provide the best possible performance in real-world operations. All of the readiness training efforts that the 920th RQW has conducted has better positioned the Wing to this current operational pace.”
“The same capabilities which make the U.S. armed forces so powerful in combat also lends themselves extraordinarily well to disaster relief.”
“It’s amazing what these citizen airmen did inside and outside their Air Force specialty codes,” Rodriguez said. “They’re doing things they’re trained for, and accomplishing tasks beyond their job scope with zero deficiencies and zero mishaps.”
The Marine Corps will begin fielding a reinforced pack frame for their standard rucksacks as early as 2018 following reports of the current issue FILBE frames becoming brittle and snapping in cold weather.
The current frame has been fielded since 2011, but issues with its durability began surfacing in 2013 from the Marine School of Infantry – West. Further incidents with the frame breaking arose during airborne operations and mountain warfare training and exercises in Norway during the winter of 2015 and 2016.
The new frame is identical in form and how it attaches to the pack and the Marine, but is constructed using stronger materials.
The frame has already been tested by Marine Recon units during a variety of exercises, and will undergo further trials in sub-freezing weather where it will be checked for signs of stress and cracking after heavy use.
“The reinforced frame is being tested in both constant cold temperature environments, as well as changing temperature environments,” Infantry Combat Equipment engineer Mackie Jordan said in a press release.
“Future testing may include hot-to-cold/cold-to-hot testing to simulate rapid temperature changes during jump operations.”
The Marines have been beefing up their presence and training in Norway, where many of the worst cold-weather breakage issues occurred.
Modern plastic composite pack frames are designed to help distribute the weight of the pack more evenly and take stress off the shoulders. Infantry on foot can easily be forced to carry equipment well in excess of 100 pounds over long distances and severe conditions, making efficient and durable packs vital.
Russian lawmakers have approved a bill banning the armed forces from carrying smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets capable of recording and keeping information while on duty.
According to the bill, approved in its third and final reading in the lower house on Feb. 19, 2019, only regular phones with no cameras and without an Internet connection are now allowed in the Russian armed forces.
The bill also bans military personnel from sharing information online about their military units, missions, services, colleagues, former colleagues, and their relatives.
The bill says that “information placed on the Internet or mass media by military personnel is … in some cases used to shape a biased assessment of the Russian Federation’s state policies.”
(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
The bill was approved by 408 lawmakers with no vote against.
The legislation was necessary because military personnel were of “particular interest for the intelligence services of foreign governments, for terrorists, and extremist organizations,” the Duma said.
In recent years, photos and video footage inadvertently posted online via smartphones by members of the Russian military have revealed information about the location and movements of its troops and equipment.
Human rights activists were also sometimes able to obtain from the Internet video and photographic proof of the hazing of young recruits in the Russian military.
Amazon is planning to make a foray into delivering ready-to-eat meals based on a technology program pioneered by the Army to improve the infamous MRE field rations.
According to a report by Reuters, the online retailer currently trying to acquire Whole Foods is also looking to sell food items like beef stew and vegetable frittatas that would be shelf stable for at least a year.
This is done using a preparation technique called microwave assisted thermal sterilization, or “MATS,” which was developed by 915 Labs, a start-up in the Denver area.
MATS came about as the Army was seeking to improve its Meals Ready to Eat for troops in the field. Traditional methods of preparing shelf-stable foods involve using pressure cookers, which also remove nutrients and alter the food’s flavor and texture. This requires the use of additive, including sodium and artificial flavors, according to reports.
The new technology involves putting sealed packages of food into water and using microwaves to heat them. Currently, machines can produce about 1,800 meals per hour, but some machines could produce as many as 225 meals a minute.
The shelf-stable foods would be ideal for Amazon’s current delivery system, which involves warehouses to store products that are later delivered to customers. Shelf-stable food that is ready-to-eat is seen as a potential “disruptor” in the industry.
“They will test these products with their consumers, and get a sense of where they would go,” Greg Spragg, the President and CEO of Solve for Food, told Reuters. The company is based in Arkansas, near the headquarters of Wal-Mart.
One bottleneck had been getting approval from the Food and Drug Administration for dishes prepared with MATS. 915 Labs has developed dishes, but is awaiting the go-ahead. Meanwhile, the Australian military has acquired the technology, and several countries in Asia that lack refrigerated supply chains are also purchasing machines.
Oh, and MATS could also be used on MREs, providing the same five-year shelf life that the current versions get as well.
Ticks are some of the dirtiest disease-carrying bugs on Earth. They can carry any number of pathogens, bacterias, and viruses – a single tick bite can infect a human with more than one of those at any given time. The point is ticks don’t need any help to be terrible disease vectors.
But you couldn’t tell that to the U.S. Army, who apparently doesn’t have an off switch.
“… and that’s how I made cancer airborne and contagious. Go Army, beat Navy.”
The U.S. House of Representatives voted to require the Pentagon’s Inspector General to tell the public if the Army weaponized disease-ridden ticks and then released them into the continental United States between 1950 and 1975. The vote came as part of a vote on amendments related to the 2020 defense authorization bill, which was passed the next day.
A very important aspect of the request is finding out if the military released the ticks on purpose or if the release came as an accident. Congress also required the Pentagon to provide the House and Senate Armed Services committees with a detailed report on the scope of the experiment.
How would you vote on this measure?
Ticks can cause Lyme Disease, Typhus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Meningoencephalitis, Hemorrhagic Fevers, paralysis, and even an allergy to meat. The House vote was only to force the Pentagon to acknowledge and deliver a report on whether or not the military released weaponized ticks, despite a ban on such experiments implemented by the Nixon Administration. The vote, however, would not require the Pentagon to reveal what the ticks were carrying, though advocates of the bill are primarily interested in the spread of Lyme Disease, which affects 300,000 to 400,000 new people every year.
The Senate bill did not have the weaponized ticks amendment and it remains to be seen if the reconciled bill bound for the President’s desk will include it.