Under President Donald Trump, the US is starting to prepare for a great-power war and has set its sights on two countries run by powerful men — Russia and China.
Both Vladimir Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China are set to stay in power for years to come. Putin is widely expected to win Russia’s upcoming election in March and China recently announced plans to end presidential term limits, which could allow Xi to keep his position for decades.
Evan Osnos, a New Yorker staff writer who lived in China from 2005 to 2013, charted the differences between the two leaders in an article on Xi and China’s term limit decision. He noted that the similarities between Putin and Xi are “limited.”
“In matters of diplomacy and war, Putin wields mostly the weapons of the weak: hackers in American politics, militias in Ukraine, obstructionism in the United Nations,” Osnos wrote.
Osnos argued that Putin’s Russia uses “the arsenal of a declining power,” while Xi’s China is “ascendant.”
“On the current trajectory, Xi’s economy and military will pose a far greater challenge to American leadership than Putin’s,” according to Osnos.
Xi, he said, “is throwing out the written rules, and to the degree that he applies that approach to the international system — including rules on trade, arms, and access to international waters — America faces its most serious challenge since the end of the Cold War.”
The US has largely avoided weighing in on China’s planned term limit change.
“That’s a decision for China to make about what’s best for their country,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Feb. 26, 2018.
However, Osnos is not alone in thinking the US should be worried about China under Xi.
“For the United States, the idea of an absolute dictator running the most powerful peer competitor nation-state-and soon to be the most powerful economy — with a single-minded obsession to ‘Make China Great Again’ who is going to be around for another 10 to 15 years must give us pause,” former State Department official and China expert John Tkacik told the Washington Free Beacon.
During World War II, sitting in aircraft hangars at Birmingham, England, were millions of undelivered pieces of mail and packages. Those U.S. service members in Europe took notice that no mail was being delivered and Army officials reported that a lack of reliable mail was hurting morale. It was predicted that it would take six months to clear the backlog in England, but who was up for the task?
In November 1944, African-American women — 824 enlisted and thirty-one officers — were recruited from the Women’s Army Corps, the Army Service Forces, and the Army Air Forces to form the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, or the “Six Triple Eight.” The first and only all-female African-American battalion to be deployed overseas during World War II was organized into a Headquarters Company, for administrative and service support, and four postal directory companies — A, B, C, and D — commanded by either a captain or a first lieutenant. The battalion would be commanded by Maj. Charity Edna Adams Earley, the first African American woman to achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.
Retired Master Sgt. Elizabeth Helm-Frazier touches the bust made in the likeness of battalion commander Lt. Col. Charity Adams on the monument honoring the all-female, all-African-American 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion Nov. 29, 2018 in the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area, Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Helm-Frazier, of Md., said she knows how important mail is to service members, and she joined the project team to help get the monument funded so that future generations will know that women in uniform also helped guarantee freedom.
(Prudence Siebert, Fort Leavenworth Lamp)
Upon arriving in Birmingham after their initial training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, the 6888th’s mission seemed simple: clear the backlog of mail bags that filled hangars from floor to ceiling. However, many of the letters and packages were addressed simply to “Junior,” “Buster,” or to soldiers who shared common names such as “Robert Smith.” Also, the hangars themselves were poorly lit, unheated, and cold and damp, with rats making their homes in packages of stale cookies and cakes. The women wore long underwear and extra layers of clothing underneath their uniforms in order to stay warm. The lighting was poor due to the windows being blacked out to prevent light from escaping and alerting enemy aircraft of their location during nighttime air raids. The late Staff Sgt. Millie L. Dunn Veasey stated that there were buzz bombs that came down. “You could see them, and then you didn’t know where they were going to land,” she said. “You had to go get into a shelter. Just drop everything, and just run.”
Members of the 6888th sorting mail.
(The National Archives)
With World War II raging on, the soldiers of the 6888th were given six months to sort and deliver the mail — they did it in three months. The women divided into three eight-hour shifts and worked seven days a week to sort and redirect an average of sixty-five thousand pieces of mail per day, totaling nearly seven million pieces in Birmingham alone. The mail clerks used special locator cards that contained soldiers’ names, unit numbers, and serial numbers to help ensure proper delivery; they also had the duty of returning mail addressed to those service members who had died. The women developed the motto “No mail, low morale,” as they were providing the support of linking service members with their loved ones back home.
Following their three months in Birmingham, the members of the 6888th were deployed to Rouen, France, to clear two to three years of backed up mail. And again, the women completed the task in just three months. While deployed to Paris, they faced new challenges: the theft of packages and items from packages to supply the populace.
French civilians and soldiers from the 6888th sort mail in the spring of 1945.
(U.S. Army Womens Museum)
The battalion was transferred home and disbanded at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in 1946. There was no ceremony, no parades, no public appreciation, and no official recognition for all their accomplishments.
Though there have been exhibits and educational programs about the 6888th, public events honoring the women of the battalion have been few. One of the most prominent events was a ceremony by the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Ceremony. Veterans received certificates, letters of appreciation from the secretary of the Army and the Army chief of staff, lapel pins, and decals. The most recent event to honor the 6888th was the Nov. 30, 2018 dedication of a monument located at the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area on Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Five surviving members of the battalion attended: Pvt. Maybelle Rutland Tanner Campbell, Pfc. Elizabeth Barker Johnson, Cpl. Lena Derriecott Bell King, Pvt. Anna Mae Wilson Robertson, and Pfc. Deloris Ruddock.
Veterans who served during World War II with the 6888th, (left to right) Pvt. Anna Mae Wilson Robertson, Pfc. Elizabeth Barker Johnson, Pfc. Deloris Ruddock, Pvt. Maybelle Rutland Tanner Campbell, and Cpl. Lena Derriecott Bell King gather around the monument honoring the battalion Nov. 29, 2018 the day before a ceremony dedicating the monument at the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area, Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The women, all in their nineties, are five of seven known surviving members.
(Prudence Siebert, Fort Leavenworth Lamp)
Carlton Philpot, Buffalo Soldier Monument Committee chair and project director, said that the goal of this monument is to “make it unique enough that no one will have to look for it when they come into the park.” With the names of five hundred battalion members and a 25-inch bronze bust of its leader, Lt. Col. Charity Adams Earley, the monument is truly unique. It joins monuments dedicated to Gen. Colin Powell, 2nd Lt. Henry Flipper, the 555th Parachute Infantry Division, the Buffalo Soldier, and others in the Circle of Firsts and the Walkway of Units at the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area. As Earley’s son, Stanley, said, “My mother was always enormously proud of the Six Triple Eight. This monument is a statement of the responsibility, determination, and honor, and it is a gift from the recent past addressed to the future.”
Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said, “When we unveil this monument, what we are really saying is this: Thank you for your service. We respect you and we love you.”
Two sailors partnered with Meals On Wheels (MOW) Mesa County to deliver meals to local clients in the Grand Junction, Colorado, area during Western Slope Navy Week, July 23, 2019.
The mission of MOW is to promote the independence, health, and well being of the elderly through quality nutritional services. This is the first time Navy Outreach has partnered with the organization during a Navy Week.
“We were really glad to have the sailors here to help us, and a lot of the clients were looking forward to the interactions,” said Amanda Debock, program manager. “We gave them a route that had a large amount of veterans and they were especially excited to have their meals delivered by active duty sailors.”
MOW Mesa County provides affordable lunchtime meals to seniors age 60 and older in Mesa County. Today, the program prepares and serves more than 120,000 meals annually and 500 or more per day.
Lt. Jacob Cook and Navy Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Giovanni Dagostino, both assigned to Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 117, rode along with volunteer Steve Kendrick to deliver lunch to 19 clients.
“I have never volunteered with Meals on Wheels myself,” said Cook. “This experience has been really great just to go out and see what they do as an organization and to meet the people in this community that they serve and take care of.”
Seven clients included in the route were Navy, Army or Air Force Veterans that served during Word War II, the war in Vietnam and throughout various other periods.
“I was surprised how excited some of the veterans were when we showed up at the door,” said Kendrick. “We had one vet that was almost in tears when he saw the sailors come to the door in uniform. A lot of them just acted like [the sailors] were just part of their family. It seemed like it was a very special event for everyone.”
Started in 1970 by a group of concerned citizens, Meals on Wheels Mesa County has been serving nutritious meals to seniors for 49 years.
The Navy Week program brings sailors, equipment, and displays to approximately 14 American cities each year for a week-long schedule of outreach engagements designed for Americans to experience firsthand the Navy the nation needs.
Airmen from the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing and the 26th Weapons Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, made history earlier this week by employing the first GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition from an MQ-9 Reaper.
While the JDAM has been around since the late ’90s, the munition has just recently been validated and now proven for real world engagements marking a significant step in the Reapers’ joint warfighter role.
“We had a great opportunity to drop the first live GBU-38s in training,” said Capt. Scott, a 26th WPS weapons instructor pilot. “The GBU-38 is a weapon we’ve been trying to get on the MQ-9 for several years now and we had the opportunity to be the first to drop during training.”
While waiting for the aircraft to approach the target area, members of the weapons squadron waited anxiously. After the bombs successfully struck their practice targets in a controlled environment, the entire room cheered.
For the past 10 years skilled MQ-9 aircrew have been employing AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, but the JDAM brings new global positioning system capabilities to the warfighters.
“The GBU-38, just like the Hellfire and GBU-12, is a very accurate weapon and the fact that it’s GPS-guided gives us another versatile way to guide the weapon, specifically, through inclement weather onto targets,” Scott said.
The JDAM being added to the arsenal is another step in furthering the attack capabilities of the MQ-9 Reaper force.
“There’s definitely times when I could’ve used the GBU-38 in combat prior to this,” Scott said.
Not only does the GBU-38 perform through poor weather conditions, it also helps the munitions Airmen and the weapons load crew members who load them.
“The GBU-38 has a 20 minute load time compared to the GBU-12, which has a 30 minute load time,” said Senior Airman Curtis, a 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load crew member. “The GBU-38 is a quicker load compared to the GBU-12 and gets the plane in the air quicker.”
Incorporating this new munition into the total strike package will give MQ-9 aircrews additional capabilities.
“Our job at the weapons school is to train to the highest standard possible,” Scott said. “We’re going to take the GBU-38 and incorporate it into our advanced scenarios, prove the weapon and integrate with all Air Force assets. What that gives us is the ability to take it downrange and employ in the most demanding circumstances possible.”
The JDAM will add flexibility and efficiency to the targeting process. Aircrews will continue to employ the AGM-114 Hellfires and GBU-12s downrange in addition to the GBU-38 that is now ready for combat.
“The overall impact of the GBU-38 is aircrew will have more versatility for the commanders to provide different effects and make a difference for the guys on the ground,” Scott said. “It has a different guidance system and it opens the bridge to more GPS-guided weapons in the future.”
“No one left behind” is a phrase inextricably linked with our military culture. The concept is a pillar that supports the platform of what it means to serve, analogous to “defending those who can’t defend themselves” and “protecting our freedom.” Like all military axioms, no one left behind means many different things, depending on the service member or veteran you ask.
The most prominent examples of this are in the Medal of Honor citations of U.S. troops braving enemy fire to bring a wounded comrade to safety without regard for their own well-being. Not as thoroughly illustrated in Hollywood, however, are veterans who are determined to bring home the remains of U.S. troops lost in foreign wars, or those working to help other veterans with challenges in employment, physical disabilities, and mental health. All of it can be traced back to “no one left behind.”
The time has come for the U.S. to embody this core principle yet again.
Close to 18,000 Afghans (and their 53,000 family members) who provided assistance to the U.S. as interpreters, security guards, contractors and more, now face a future that is uncertain at best. These people who fought alongside our men and women in uniform are running out of time, as the U.S. Department of Defense now estimates its withdrawal from Afghanistan is 95% complete as of July 12th.
One man with a wealth of knowledge and experience on the subject is General Joseph Votel (Retired). The former commander of the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and US Central Command (CENTCOM) was one of the first troops on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11, conducting a rare combat jump with his fellow Rangers on Objective Rhino, near Kandahar.
“I was in the first wave of troops, October of 2001,” General Votel told Sandboxx News. “And I think between 2001 and 2019 — when I actually left service — I’d been to Afghanistan for some part of every year, sometimes just a few days and sometimes for a whole year.”
General Votel’s extensive time spent in theater, dating back to the very beginning of U.S. operations there, makes him as qualified as any expert one could find on the war-torn country and its looming humanitarian crisis.
These thousands of Afghans who aided or sympathized with U.S.-led forces in the 20-year war against the Taliban have been imperiled as the American presence dwindles. The slow trickle of departing troops turned to a hasty exit at the beginning of May, and the U.S. has assumed a much more defensive posture. As a result, the Taliban has seized territory at an alarming rate and now control over half of the districts in the country. There was already plenty of support for their strict interpretation (and enforcement) of Sharia in more conservative, rural areas, but they are now are closing in on major cities that have been more secular and progressive in terms of things like women’s rights.
“I’ve invested a lot of time in this like many have, and I feel like I got to know the Afghan people. I certainly got to know their story quite well. I feel sad that we are not leaving them in a better position,” General Votel said.
The Taliban are determined to improve their image with the U.S. government and avoid any entanglements that would prolong the withdrawal. Multiple Taliban spokesmen have been dismissive of human rights abuses in territories they’ve re-captured, and recently stated that Afghans who worked with the U.S. will not be harmed if they “show remorse for their past actions and must not engage in such activities in the future that amount to treason against Islam and the country.”
Many Afghans put little stock in the statement from Taliban leadership, and have no intention to stay and find out if they keep their word. There are countless stories of retaliation against these Afghans that the Taliban has past referred to as “traitors” and “slaves.” Whether all of the more recent violence has been sanctioned by the Taliban or not, those who fear further reprisals without the U.S. presence do so justifiably.
“These interpreters and others that helped us, they did this at their own personal risk. We recognized this and we set up programs. The Special Immigrant Visa program, SIV program… is specifically designed to give those who’ve spent time with us a leg up in the immigration process — to come to the United States and have an opportunity to become a citizen, because we knew that their jobs — what they were doing for us –would put them in danger down the line.”
The sheer volume of SIV applications coupled with staffing issues and lack of a central database has created an enormous backlog at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that could take several years to sort through. An outbreak of COVID-19 killed one and infected 114 staffers at the embassy last month, grinding operations to a halt. Further complicating the issue, many SIV applicants do not live in Kabul. Transportation and communication would already be an issue, particularly in rural areas, even without Taliban militants’ ever-increasing presence.
“It’s really important, I think, for us to follow up on that, follow through on our promises and, and do the right thing for these people. It’s literally a life and death situation for many of them,” General Votel explained.
Operation Allies Refuge, announced earlier this week, will begin the massive task of evacuating all SIV applicants out of Afghanistan by the end of the month. When asked at Wednesday’s briefing, DOD Press Secretary John Kirby was non-committal about potential locations for the soon-to-be displaced Afghans while their pending immigration is processed. There is precedent, and therefore hope, for such a large undertaking. CONUS installations have not been ruled out, such as in 1999 when the U.S. airlifted 20,000 Kosovo refugees to Fort Dix, NJ. International U.S. assets like Guam seem more likely, as that is where 130,000 Vietnamese refugees were evacuated to in 1975.
Growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, General Votel has a personal connection to that operation as well. Many Vietnamese Hmong ended up immigrating to that area, and the connection to the present-day crisis is not lost on him:
“They have integrated so well and they have become a very integrated, important and contributing part of our community right here. And whenever you see Hmong, and the different influence they have in here, it makes you think of America doing the right thing, even in the wake of a disaster like Vietnam was,” he said.
“We did the right thing. We stood by people that stood by us, that were going to be persecuted because of their association and support to us. And we brought them to our country and then made them part of our society.”
While the U.S. government has acknowledged the problem and is putting things in motion to get these Afghans to safety, General Votel said that the American people can also help. No One Left Behind is a non-profit at the forefront of the issue, one that Votel supports himself. They have already raised over $1 million dollars for their cause of evacuating our Afghan allies from Kabul, and now the General is helping to spread the word far and wide.
While Americans can certainly offer their financial support to No One Left Behind, General Votel was just as quick to mention the importance of people using their “time and talent” to help. He says one of the best ways Americans can help right now is to be aware of the problem, make others aware of it, and especially, put pressure on Congress and keep the plight of the Afghans in the public eye and a high-priority for President Biden’s administration.
General Votel’s own experience with interpreters, in particular, speaks to why ensuring the safety of these Afghans is not only a question of American morality and doing the right thing, but also crucial to the safety of U.S. troops and the security of the American people. What interpreters provide troops on the ground is invaluable, and is not just translation of the language (though it is certainly that, as well).
“What I deeply valued was the cultural aspects that I really picked up from them… They understand the country. They understand things that are just so difficult for us as Americans to appreciate that they can share that with us, and they give us an understanding of the society and how things there work.”
The estimated cost of approximately $699 million to execute Operation Allies Refuge is a relatively small price to pay for a mission that will enhance security and save American lives in the future. However, General Votel emphasized to Sandboxx News more than once that there’s also the moral obligation that the United States has to the Afghan people who helped us.
“They become comrades. They begin to appreciate our values, as well, and are really good representatives for our country. So they’re just so much more than somebody that translates words from one language into another.”
Iran carried out a military drill on Sept. 21, 2018, aimed at showing the US how it could shut down oil shipping in the Persian Gulf as more US sanctions loom in November 2018, but the display was underwhelming at best.
The US will slap Iran with sanctions on its oil exports on Nov. 4, 2018, a date that marks six months since the US’s withdrawal from the Iran deal. Iran essentially responded by saying that if its oil exports are blocked, it will take military measures to block oil exports from other countries, including US allies.
“If the enemies and arrogant powers have an eye on the borders and land of Islamic Iran they will receive a pounding reply in the fraction of a second,” Iranian media quoted Colonel Yousef Safipour as saying of the drills.
On Sept. 22, 2018, Iran will stage a large military drill with up to 600 navy vessels, its state media said. This number likely includes Iran’s fast attack craft, or military speedboats that have harassed US ships in the past.
A highly classified U.S. spy satellite is missing after a SpaceX launch from Florida on Jan. 7, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
The satellite, code-named Zuma, failed to reach orbit and fell back into Earth’s atmosphere after separating from the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. The Journal suggested the satellite may have been damaged or released at the wrong time.
Officials who spoke with NBC said the missing satellite most likely broke up or landed in the sea.
A SpaceX representative told Business Insider, “We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now, reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally.”
The Journal, which received the same statement, said the language pointed to normal rocket operations, suggesting the cause of any issue came from elsewhere.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said on Twitter that SpaceX did not supply the payload adapter, which shoots the satellite off the rocket, for this mission. Instead, it was supplied by the customer, so Elon Musk’s SpaceX may not have been the cause of any problem. Those details, however, were not immediately known.
Zuma was built by the defense contractor Northrop Grumman, though it is unknown which U.S. agency would have been using the satellite.
Zuma was initially scheduled to launch in November but was delayed until the rocket and satellite were declared “healthy” for launch last week.
The mission most likely cost billions of dollars, and congressional lawmakers have been briefed on the developments, The Journal reported.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard Hunter was accompanying a 50-man joint Special Forces team as they moved forward in Taliban-ridden Kunduz Province on Nov. 2, 2016.
As they snaked through an alleyway during the night mission in search of a high-value target in Boz Qandahari village, the U.S.-Afghan team came upon a barrier, “a large metal fence, that blocked the way, and it wasn’t supposed to be there,” according to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.
That’s when the first enemy grenade was launched, and bullets started to spray during the ambush, said Wilson, who presented the Air Force Cross — second only to the Medal of Honor for valor in combat — to Hunter, a combat controller, on October 17 for his steadfast decisions and courage during the U.S. Army-led mission in Afghanistan.
Wilson said Hunter, assigned to 23rd Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron, kept his position, never faltering as he called in “danger-close” airstrikes from AC-130 Spooky gunships and AH-64 Apache helicopters within 20 meters of their position.
Danger-close refers to strikes coming within 100 meters of friendly personnel. The firefight lasted for eight hours.
“What was truly extraordinary as I reviewed this story was the amazing precision and professionalism of the team,” she said, speaking before the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron; Air Force Special Operations Command commander Lt. Gen. Brad Webb; and the AFSOC community at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
Hunter managed to position himself between the insurgents and his team, “shielding the wounded with his body, while providing suppressive fire with his rifle,” according to the citation.
After clearing the compound, and taking cover with a few team members, Hunter exposed himself to gunfire again as he heard calls for help in the distance, “dragging a wounded teammate 30 meters to safety,” the citation states.
For the next four hours, the airstrikes kept coming from the AC-130 “Spooky 43” gunship crew and the helicopters, including multiple 105mm rounds within as little as 13 meters from his location.
“Doesn’t an insurgent fear, more than the sound of a jet fighter, the sound of an AC-130 gunship?” Wilson said.
In all, 1,787 munitions rained down on the enemy’s position, which included 31 “danger-close” engagements, the citation said. More than 50 lives were saved, and 27 Taliban fighters were killed.
“Every [Joint Terminal Attack Controller], aircraft commander and ground force commander knows the risk of a danger-close mission,” Wilson said.
“But 31 without a single fratricide [by friendly fire] on the ground is just astounding,” she said.
“Thanks to [Staff] Sgt. Hunter, and his efforts to always be closest to the enemy, to put himself in the rear when everyone else got out of the way. To make sure his team was safe. He risked his own life and put himself in position to maintain tally on the target,” Wilson said.
The secretary honored two Army Green Beretskilled in action that day: Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Gloyer and Maj. Andrew Byers. Byers was posthumously awarded the Silver Star in February.
“Special operations is a force that we call when we really need the absolute best,” Wilson said.
She added, “There’s no better friend — and no worse enemy — than the United States special operations forces.”
May is a month to celebrate military spouses and mothers, so let’s give a salute to all the military spouse moms holding the family together and keeping things going on the homefront!
Military life is always challenging, but it’s especially difficult when your service member is away and you’re the solo parent. This month, we shine a spotlight on military spouse moms navigating through deployments. Thank you, mothers, for your generous love and sacrifices.
To the mothers missing their service member:
We know it’s difficult when your service member is gone. It doesn’t matter how long they are away, whether it is a deployment, a TDY, or just a few days of training. We salute you, moms who are on your own. We know there are times when you cry in the shower or in your car, just so the kids won’t see your tears. And we know that you have what it takes to keep going.
“I’ve temporarily had to say see you later to my best friend, my teammate, and my partner in crime. My husband deploying was extremely difficult on myself and our four children. However, going through all of this without my husband allowed me to experience first-hand that I can, I will, I do, and I did handle deployment like a boss.” – Megan, Navy spouse
To the pregnant mothers:
We see you, moms who are juggling the difficulties of pregnancy with the obstacles of military life. To all those trying to plan a baby in between PCS moves and deployments, and experiencing sickness and fatigue on your own—we salute you! Even when you feel exhausted, you are everything your baby needs.
“I’m about to be a mom of two Irish twins. My son is 9 months old right now. I’m due again in three months. I’m very nervous not having my husband by my side for this one but I have to be strong for the both of us.” – Meagan, Army spouse
To the mothers of little ones:
We salute you, mothers surrounded by diapers and bottles, unfolded laundry, and art projects. When you feel like you’re going crazy, remember that you are not alone! You’re part of an incredible club of mothers who are making things work one day at a time.
“I am a mom of four under 7. I took a leave of absence from my job a few months into this deployment. I mentally couldn’t handle my career and solo parenting. It was the best decision I made, and has given me an opportunity to experience being a stay-at-home mom. Because I have so many young children, routine is really important.” – Emily, National Guard spouse
To the mothers of teens:
We know you’ve been feeling invisible ever since the middle school years. Even when your kids treat you like a taxi and meal delivery service, know that you are still their rock. We salute you for all the times you stay up late, taking care of the emotional needs of these bigger kids.
“Working mom of three teenage daughters here. That means this momma goes 100 mph six days a week. As tired as I am sometimes, I enjoy taking them to practices and games.” – Terri, Army spouse
To the mothers struggling with infertility:
Our hearts go out to the mothers who have struggled with the pain, loss, and disappointment of infertility. Whether you are already a mother hoping for more children, or you are longing to someday hold your own child, we see you and we salute you.
“We were going through IVF treatment during a year-long deployment. It was the most difficult deployment by far because I was going through a medical treatment that was draining emotionally and physically. It was a hard year, but it was a year of growth.” – Linda, Air Force spouse
To the mothers who are caregivers:
As a mother, you already give your energy, your love, and your care to your children. To those who also care for their service member or take on the responsibility of aging parents, we salute your generosity and we wish you all the patience in the world.
“I’ve lost a lot of my own independence and free time which is probably the hardest. I’m exhausted at the end of the day. Moving my mother-in-law in actually ended up being way harder and less help than we had hoped.” – Caitlin, National Guard spouse
To the stepmothers and blended families:
They should call you the bonus mom when you take on bonus kids and open your heart to his, yours, and ours. We salute your love, your patience, and your perseverance.
“We are a quintessential blended family. We each have children from previous marriages. I am pregnant with our second “ours” baby. Sea duty life has rocked our world for the last three years. He’s been gone as much as he’s been home.” – Julie, Navy spouse
To the mothers in dual military marriages:
You are juggling all the responsibilities, and so much falls on your shoulders. You are supporting your spouse’s military career, while pursuing your own, and trying to do what’s best for your children too. We salute you and thank you for your service!
“It’s hard being the service member and the spouse. Sometimes it’s easier to go to work and focus on a mission than it is to stay at home with the kids and not hear from him.” – Lauren, Navy married to a Marine
Whatever stage you are in, military spouse, we support you and wish you a happy Mother’s Day!
You don’t see too many planes flying over Walt Disney World, but that will change on April 6 when the U.S. Navy Blue Angels make two flybys over the Magic Kingdom.
This isn’t the first time the performance squadron has graced the skies above Mickey’s place. The Blues did a flyby back in 2015, when six F/A-18 Hornets flew right over Main Street and performed a Delta Break in which they split into six different directions. The two planned flybys on April 6 will happen between 9:30 a.m.-10 a.m., according to the Disney Parks blog.
The Blue Angels are set to perform at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, Florida. They practice at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport on April 6 and April 7 and have performances on April 8 and April 9.
While they are based in Pensacola, the Blue Angels are making their first Florida appearance of the year. Their Air Force counterparts, the Thunderbirds, have already made two of their three planned air show appearances for 2017 ,having just performed at the Melbourne Air Space Show the weekend of April 1.
A highlight of that was the transportation of 87-year-old Buzz Aldrin, who can now say he’s walked on the moon and flown in a Thunderbird. They earlier performed at the TICO Warbird Airshow in Titusville, Florida, and had their own flyby of an American icon, when they took to the skies over Daytona International Speedway ahead of the Daytona 500.
The Thunderbirds finish their Florida schedule for 2017 with a stop up in the Panhandle for the Gulf Coast Salute at Tyndall Air Force Base on April 22-23.
The Blue Angels will make three more stops in the state stretching into November: the mid-summer Pensacola Beach Air Show on July 8, a two-day performance at Naval Air Station Jacksonville on Nov. 4-5 and the Homecoming Air Show at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Nov. 11-12. Air shows held at military bases are free.
The Sun ‘n Fun will also feature the French Air Force’s Patrouille de France Jet Demonstration Team, which this year is making its first U.S. appearances in 30 years.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said the review, commissioned by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Jan. 26, would study the two aircraft “apples to apples” to determine whether the 4th-generation Super Hornet can fill the shoes of the brand-new F-35C.
Davis noted that the Marine Corps owns a significant portion of the program’s institutional wisdom as well.
“I probably have the most experienced F-35 pilots in the department of the Navy on my staff right now,” he said.
Mattis’ directive, aimed at finding ways to shave cost off the infamously expensive Joint Strike Fighter program, dictates that the review assess the extent that improvements can be made to the Super Hornet “in order to provide a competitive, cost-effective fighter aircraft alternative.”
Davis said that F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin and Super Hornet maker Boeing would have opportunities to make their case for the aircraft.
However, he said, he expects the study to validate the need to have the technologically advanced F-35C deployed aboard carriers in the future.
“I think it will be a good study, and my sense is we’ll probably have validated the imperative to have a 5th-generation aircraft out there on our nation’s bow,” he said.
If F-35Cs are taken out of the picture as a result of the review, attrition rates of the 4th-generation Super Hornet may become an issue, Davis said, suggesting such a move would limit the aircraft’s ability to deploy in some situations.
“We’re not going backward in time, we’re going forward in time,” he said. “The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, we’re deployed, naval and expeditionary, and we want to make sure our Marines and our sailors have the very best gear in case something bad happens. And that’s 5th-generation airplanes.”
Can the Army produce faster, stronger and smarter soldiers through electrical stimulation of the brain?
Neurostimulation is not actually a process the Army intends to use for creating “super soldiers.” However, Army researchers have been experimenting with it as a means to accelerate training.
“We’ve seen a lot of positive effects of neurostimulation in our lab,” said Dr. Tad Brunye, senior cognitive scientist at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, known as NSRDEC, in Natick, Massachusetts. He heads up neurostimulation research there along with Dr. Erika Hussey.
Brunye and members of his staff were in the Pentagon courtyard May 23-24, 2018, during a Close Combat Lethality Tech Day.
Brunye has been experimenting with neurostimulation at Natick over the past four years and at the nearby Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences in Medford, Massachusetts. The center was created in 2015 through a partnership between the Army and the School of Engineering at Tufts University. It is co-directed by NSRDEC’s Cognitive Science and Applications Team along with Tufts faculty.
The center includes what Brunye calls “large virtual-reality caves.”
(U.S. Army photo by Gary Sheftick)
Volunteers at the center receive low-intensity electrical current through headphone-style stimulation systems or electrodes mounted on what looks like a bathing cap. Then their performance in the virtual-reality environment is measured. Neurostimulation has shown the following benefits:
— Increased ability to recognize suspected terrorists from a list of faces studied hours earlier during neurostimulation.
— Improved navigation performance, especially for individuals with lower spatial abilities. Soldiers in large-scale virtual urban environments did better moving between objectives during neurostimulation.
— Increased attention span. Attention might wane after 20 minutes when watching a security monitor and neurostimulation could increase that attention span to 20 hours.
— Enhanced motor skills, such as the standing broad jump, when a particular area of the brain is stimulated during practice.
“We want to make sure that we stimulate the right areas of the brain, at the right time, in the right individual, in a manner targeted to specific tasks that we need them to excel on,” Brunye said.
“The consumer market is exploding with do-it-yourself brain stimulation devices right now, and Soldiers are willing to try just about anything to enhance their mental and physical performance,” Brunye continued. “But we need to be sure that any commercial claims are supported by rigorous experimental science, and that the systems are being used only in appropriate and beneficial ways. Our science and technology efforts are helping ensure that is the case.”
Creating high performers
Soldiers from a variety of military occupational specialties volunteer to come to Natick immediately following their initial-entry training, Brunye said. They serve about three months at Natick before moving on to their first unit. These soldiers are used in the experiments, along with volunteers from local communities around Boston.
The volunteers feel just a tingling, itchy sensation on their scalp during the neurostimulation, he said.
“In terms of long-term impact, there are no known negative or adverse effects of neurostimulation,” he said.
Neurostimulation will help accelerate learning and can bring Soldiers up to a level of high performance quickly. “It will compensate for some of the variability we see” during learning, Brunye said.
The effects of neurostimulation, however, are less noticeable on those who are already high performers on a specific task, he said. In fact, neurostimulation can sometimes have a slightly detrimental effect on high performers. Those individuals already have a fine-tuned system for completing a task and neurostimulation will help them wire a new neuron highway for that task — one that may not be initially as effective, he explained.
(U.S. Army photo by Gary Sheftick)
The Army signed a five-year cooperative agreement with the Tufts School of Engineering almost four years ago and established the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences.
“It’s a very unique reciprocal relationship we have with the university,” Brunye said.
The university provided the physical facility and infrastructure, such as the heating and cooling systems, networking, and computer hardware and software. Tufts also provided personnel for manning the facility and post-doctoral researchers to help run it.
The Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center — part of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command — provided everything else. The virtual reality programs all came from Natick.
About half of the participants in experiments at the center are soldiers, Brunye said.
The neurostimulation is provided via a wireless device. Much was learned from experiments that involved searching and clearing buildings over the last five months, he said. In these experiments, neurostimulation began about five minutes before a task and continued through the task, Brunye said.
The voltage varied from 7 to 18 volts, at very low amperage (usually between 1 and 2 milliamps). Direct current is the norm, but the lab is beginning to use alternating current to target more specific areas of the brain, he said.
Special ops interest
The Army’s Special Operations community is becoming more interested in neurostimulation, Brunye said.
Recently, Special Operations Command and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, have been experimenting with neurostimulation. They have been especially interested in developing motor skills and new procedures with weapons systems, Brunye said.
In addition to coordinating with RDECOM, the Natick team works closely with the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command on neurostimulation to enhance training, Brunye said. They also work closely with the Air Force Research Laboratory and have partnered with them on a NATO exploratory team examining several techniques for cognitive neuroenhancement.
Other government partners in research include the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the Army Research Lab’s Human Research and Engineering Directorate and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA has been conducting related brain-stimulation research called Targeted Neuroplasticity Training, or TNT.
Fort Carson’s newest weapon is also its most revolutionary, allowing ground-pounding units to strike targets hundreds of miles behind enemy lines and giving commanders an unprecedented view of enemy movements.
All without risking lives.
Meet the Gray Eagle, a hulking drone with a 56-foot wingspan that packs four Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and can stay aloft for a full 24-hours with its thrumming diesel power plant. Fort Carson has authorization for a dozen of the drones and they will soon be ready for war.
“We are reaching full-operational capability,” said Col. Scott Gallaway, who commands the post’s 4th Combat Aviation Brigade.
The Gray Eagle is similar to drones in use by U.S. intelligence agencies and the Air Force. But how they’re used by the Army will be different.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, armed drones have targeted insurgents and been flown by operators half a world away.
The Army envisions its drones as a way to give combat commanders the capability of striking deep, with drone operators sticking close to the battlefield. While the Air Force relies heavily on officers to fly drones, the Army will lean on its enlisted corps to do most of the flying.
Gallaway said the drones are a tool for a “near-peer competitive environment” – a battle against a well-armed and organized enemy.
The Army has gone to war with drones for nearly two decades. But those drones have been toys compared to the Gray Eagle.
The biggest was the Shadow – with 14-foot wings. It had a range of 68 miles, compared to the Gray Eagle’s more than 1,500 mile range. The small one was the Raven – with a 4-foot wingspan and a range of 6 miles.
Those drones gave commanders a limited view of the battlefield for short periods of time. They’re unarmed, but tactically useful when confronting nearby enemies.
The Gray Eagle, with sophisticated cameras and other intelligence sensors aboard, is strategic, Gallaway said.
“It gives us reconnaissance and security,” he said.
Training with the Gray Eagle at Fort Carson, though, is challenging.
The 135,000-acre post has limited room to use the drones, and it is difficult to simulate how they would be used in war without vast tracts of land. On Fort Carson, the drones look inward to the post’s training area and aren’t used to spy on the neighbors, Gallaway said. The drones, though armed in battle, don’t carry missiles in training.
The small training area denies operators experience that will prepare them for combat.
To overcome that, the post is asking the Federal Aeronautics Administration to create a corridor between Fort Carson and the 235,000-acre Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site east of Trinidad. That would give the drone’s operators experience with long-distance flights while keeping the drones safely separated from other aircraft with a dedicated flight path.
“We want to be able to operate out of Piñon Canyon,” Gallaway said. “We see it as fundamentally important to our readiness.”
The need for that kind of room to fly also speaks to the Gray Eagle’s game-changing battlefield role.
The drone can sneak behind the lines and gather intelligence on enemy movements, sharing the enemy’s precise location with computers mounted on American vehicles across the battlefield.
It can also be used to target enemy commanders, throwing their units into chaos with a precision strike.
“We see them as a combat multiplier,” Gallaway said.
The drones can also be used in new ways the Army is beginning to explore. Pilots aboard the aviation brigade’s AH-64E attack helicopters can view the drone feed in their cockpit and control the Gray Eagle in flight.
“Manned-unmanned teaming brings synergy to the battlefield where each platform, ground or air, uses its combat systems in the most efficient mode to supplement each team member’s capabilities in missions such as overwatch of troops in combat engagements, route reconnaissance, and convoy security,” Lt. Col. Fernando Guadalupe Jr. wrote in the Army’s Aviation Digest.
Translated: Using drones, the Army can overwhelm an enemy like the Martians in War of The Worlds.
Gallaway, an attack helicopter pilot, said he’s been watching the rise of drones in warfare for years.
It will change warfare. And America is in the lead.