Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY SPORTS

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

In the gym at VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System, Joe Curran encourages R.J. Garcia with the intensity of a football coach. “C’mon, you’ve got this!” Curran barks as Garcia struggles to finish his last rep on the leg press machine. Garcia pushes through gritted teeth as he lowers the weight, balancing it between his good leg and his prosthetic. “There you go!” says Curran.

The two Army veterans are members of the Ass Kickers, an amputee exercise and support group that meets every Friday.

“They took on the name because they are known for making a lot of noise,” says Jessica Blackwell, a VA kinesiotherapist who founded the group in 2017 as a way for amputee veterans to stay active and meet others in the same situation. “They’re a great group of guys, but we mean business. They’ve come to work hard, and that’s how they got the name.”


Kinesiotherapy is therapeutic exercise to help rehabilitate people with functional limitations, including amputations.

“Joe is our ringleader,” Blackwell says. “He’s our loudest one, but he takes care of the other guys, making sure that they have the resources they need. He’s actually helping himself in the process.”

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

Veteran R.J. Garcia and kinesiotherapist Jessica Blackwell at the gym.

Pushing veterans “out of respect”

Curran relishes his role. “What I do is put a little fire under their butts. These guys in wheelchairs, they won’t get out unless I start pushing them. And I only do it to motivate them, out of respect.”

The motivation works, says Blackwell. “I’ve really seen a great turnaround with my guys since we started this group. Their health, their psyche, their mood—I’ve seen a lot of improvements.”

One reason Curran is so successful is that he literally walks the walk. After he lost both legs to complications he attributes to Agent Orange exposure, VA specialists helped him get going again. “First they taught me how to walk on one foot with a walker, how to hobble along. Now I can just walk with a cane. I try to stay out of the chair as much as possible.”

Curran’s grit is contagious. The group has expanded from two veterans at the start to more than 25. Besides their Friday gym session, they often meet for bowling, golf and other events.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

Joe Curran lights a fire under his fellow Veterans.

A sense of community

“Before this was created, our guys didn’t really have a reason to put their leg on and go outside,” says Blackwell. “They told me that they would stay at home and sit in their wheelchairs. This has really given them motivation and a sense of community.”

“I’ve got a theory,” Curran adds. “The average American veteran in a wheelchair is 200 pounds overweight. They’re homebound and often depressed. They’ll live longer if I can get them out of that chair. So that’s my plan: get the veteran off his butt and move!”

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump’s latest threats remind us we’re still close to nuclear war

President Donald Trump addressed a key North Korean complaint on May 17, 2018, ahead of a planned historic summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

But in doing so he evoked the threats that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in 2017.


Asked about comments by his national security adviser, John Bolton, that the White House was looking at a “Libya model” for ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons, something to which North Korea responded angrily, Trump essentially issued an ultimatum: Denuclearize or die.

The ultimatum was clear, but Trump’s understanding of the history of disarmament in Libya was not.

“The model, if you look at that model with Gaddafi, that was a total decimation,” Trump said. “We went in there to beat him.”

The US and other nations agreed with Libya in 2003 to remove the Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi’s nascent nuclear weapons program and his chemical weapons.

Gaddafi gained international acceptance as a result, and he ruled for eight more years until a popular uprising plunged his country into civil war.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again
Muammar Gaddafi

The US, along with NATO allies, then backed the uprising against him, and attacked Gaddafi’s forces, but did not kill Gaddafi.

Though the US strikes were effective, they were focused and did not “decimate” the country in the way that, say, US bombers pounded North Korea in the Korean War.

Gaddafi died within six months of the US intervention, but it was his own people who killed him after finding his hideout and dragging him through the streets.

Bolton’s original comments about a Libya model appeared to address the disarmament in 2003, while Trump on May 17, 2018, appeared to address Gaddafi’s death in 2011, something North Korea has picked up on and responded to.

A model involving national devastation for the country “would take place if we don’t make a deal, most likely,” Trump said. “But if we make a deal,” he continued, “I think Kim Jong Un is going to be very, very happy.”

Return to fire and fury

On May 14, 2018, the US and North Korea were going into their fourth month of warming relations, preparing for a summit for Trump and Kim to discuss peace and possible denuclearization.

On May 15, 2018, North Korea threatened to back out of the talks, spewed vitriolic anti-US rhetoric, and reasserted itself as a nuclear power.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jon Un.

By May 17, 2018, Trump was back to talking about decimation and framing North Korea’s future as a choice between death or denuclearization.

Both Trump and Kim have incentives to keep the summit and peace push on track. But as Trump’s comments on May 17, 2018, show, despite the hand-holding and peace talks, almost nothing has changed in North Korea, or with Trump.

Experts warn that a Trump-Kim summit carries huge risk. If the summit fails to achieve peace and agreement, the highest cards in both countries’ diplomatic decks have been played, and all that remains is confrontation.

So far, 2018 has been almost clear of nuclear brinkmanship between Trump and Kim, but May 17, 2018, should remind us that as long as North Korea has nuclear weapons, the US stands a hair’s breadth from war.

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

Articles

U.S. general admits F-35 is actually three separate airplanes

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again
Image: Lockheed Martin


The whole idea behind the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was for it to be, you know, joint. That is to say, the same basic plane would work for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and foreign countries.

Lockheed Martin is designing the F-35 to meet all the requirements of all three U.S. military branches from the outset, with — in theory — only minor differences between the Air Force’s F-35A, the Marines’ F-35B and the Navy’s F-35C.

The variants were supposed to be 70-percent common. But Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, head of the JSF program office, told a seminar audience on Feb. 10 that the three F-35 models are only 20- to 25-percent common, mainly in their cockpits.

In other words, the F-35 is actually three different warplanes. The F-35, F-36 and F-37.

There are very few examples of plane designs that effectively meet the requirements of all three American armed services that operate fighters. The F-4 Phantom was a successful joint fighter, but only because McDonnell Douglas developed it for the Navy — and the Marines and Air Force adopted it after the fact without complicating the design process.

By contrast, the JSF’s design has taken the services’ competing, even contradictory, needs into account from the outset. The F-35A is supposed to be able to pull nine Gs. The B-model has a downward-blasting lift fan to allow it to take off and land vertically. The C-variant has a bigger wing and systems for operating from aircraft carriers. Even trying to bend each variant toward the same basic airframe resulted in a bulky, blocky fuselage that limits the F-35’s aerodynamic performance.

And the compromise didn’t result in a truly common design. It’s “almost like three separate production lines,” Bogdan said, according to Air Forcemagazine. A real joint fighter, the program boss said, is “hard” because each branch is adamant about its requirements. “You want what you want,” Bogdan said.

Bogdan declined to say whether the Pentagon’s next generation of fighters should be joint. But Lt. Gen. James Holmes, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for plans and requirements, said in mid-February 2016 that the Navy and Air Force would probably design their next fighters separately.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Coast Guard’s icebreaking tugs are on the job in New York City

Coast Guard crews have been busy freeing up tugs stuck in the icy Hudson River.


The Coast Guard used an ice-breaking vessel to free a tug the morning of Jan. 2 that had been stuck in the ice overnight near Kingston. The ice-breaking tug freed another vessel Dec. 31 near Saugerties.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again
Coast Guard Cutter Penobscot Bay helps break free tug Brooklyn from the ice on the Hudson River near Saugerties, New York, December, 31 2017. Coast Guard ice-breaking tugs from New Jersey and New York are positioned along the river and are assisting vessels transiting areas where thick ice is present. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Coast Guard Cutter Penobscot Bay)

Temperatures have dropped below zero along the river recently, complicating commercial shipping between New York City and Albany. Of the heating oil used in the U.S., 85% is consumed in the Northeast, and 90% of that is delivered by barge, the Coast Guard said in a release announcing the start of ice-breaking season in mid-December.

Also Read: 27 amazing photos of the Coast Guard in 2017

Operation Reliable Energy for Northeast Winters is the region-wide effort launched by the Coast Guard to ensure communities in the area have supplies and resources throughout the winter.

The Coast Guard has ice-breaking tugs — including 140-foot seagoing icebreaking tugs and 65-foot small harbor tugs — positioned along the river to help vessels where the river ice is thick. Coast Guard crews also have the service’s aircraft and buoy tenders on hand for operations.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here are the changes to the combat uniform the Army is testing right now

In January 2018, some Soldiers within the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii will receive new uniforms and a new set of boots as part of Program Executive Office Soldier’s continued testing and evaluation of the improved hot-weather combat uniform and jungle combat boot.


Keeping in line with the modernization and readiness initiatives set by Secretary of the Army, Dr. Mark T. Esper, and Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the new versions of combat uniforms and boots will allow Soldiers to better operate in hot, extremely hot, and hot/wet environments.

“Today’s Soldier must be ready to execute the mission in any operational environment,” said Col. Stephen Thomas, project manager with Soldier protection and individual equipment, during a Dec. 7 media roundtable here. “[We’re] providing a capability to Soldiers that may give them a decisive edge in that type of environment.”

Production is near competition on 65,000 uniforms and approximately 750 new boots that will be sent to 25th Infantry Division Soldiers in time for the upcoming Pacific Pathways exercise in February, according to Capt. Daniel Ferenczy, assistant product manager for environmental clothing and footwear.

In March, PEO Soldier will then collect feedback from Soldiers and use that information to modify future versions of both systems, Ferenczy added.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again
Program Executive Office Soldier officials discussed improvements to the hot weather uniform and jungle combat boot programs during a media roundtable event on Fort Belvoir, Va., Dec. 7, 2017. The 25th Infantry Division is slated to field test the new uniform and boot starting in January. (U.S. Army photo by Devon L. Suits)

Improvements to the combat uniform

To make the new uniform more breathable and lightweight, Ferenczy said that excess layers and seams, which often lock in heat and moisture, have been removed. Furthermore, the new uniform can be dried in 60 minutes, compared to the 90 minutes dry-time of the current uniform.

In addition, program officials have incorporated feedback and made changes to the uniform design from previous field tests. Changes include:

  • mandarin collar eliminated.
  • shoulder pockets open from top rather than sides.
  • zipper closures replaced by buttons.
  • breast and back trouser pockets removed.
  • crotch gusseted for better fit, prevent chafing or blowouts.
  • knee articulated for better maneuverability.

Moving forward, program officials will continue to evaluate other fabric compositions and uniform design elements through 2018, Ferenczy said.

Also Read: Army goes dark with new PT uniform

Depending on the feedback received during the upcoming field test, and the requirements set by Army headquarters, a newer version of the hot-weather uniform could be requested and tested by the 25th Infantry Division around the same time next year.

Jungle Combat Boots Version 2

In addition to the new uniform, 25th Infantry Division Soldiers will have a chance to try out five versions of footwear that represent a “Version 2” of the jungle boot. These five variants are based on “Version 1” of the boot Soldiers field-tested earlier this year.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again
Program Executive Office Soldier officials discussed improvements to the hot weather uniform and jungle combat boot programs during a media roundtable event on Fort Belvoir, Va., Dec. 7, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Devon L. Suits)

After field testing Version 1, Soldiers determined that they wanted a combat boot that was lighter and more flexible, and which also had less stack-height off the ground. Ferenczy said the five types of Version 2 jungle boots meet all those Soldier demands, while also remaining puncture-proof and quick-drying.

The Version 2 boots also provide increased traction in the mud. Furthermore, he said, all the Version 2 boots are better designed to not hold in any moisture, and incorporate larger-sized drainage vents on both sides.

Come January, the Version 2 boots — 150 from each of five manufacturers — will be distributed to 25th Infantry Division Soldiers to be field-tested until March. The goal is for this current evaluation of Version 2 boots, and subsequent feedback, to be combined into a final offering.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Joint US-Europe military exercise canceled due to coronavirus

In a measure to keep troops from potentially contracting the COVID-19 virus, a joint American and European exercise has been canceled when authorities determined that it was necessary to stop the exercise to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus that is spreading through the European Continent right now.


Cold Response 20 was two days into operations when the Norwegians decided to cancel the remainder of the exercise. Authorities from Norway made the determination after several troops were put into quarantine over fears they might have been exposed to the coronavirus. The United States had 1,500 troops in Norway with the total Allied manpower for the exercise being at 15,000.

What is Cold Response 20?

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

Cold Response 20’s aim is to enhance high-intensity fighting skills while collaborating with other countries’ forces under severe cold climate conditions while conducting exercises that include maritime, land and air events. The exercise’s aim is to maintain and build upon capabilities and cohesiveness in high-intensity warfighting in an arctic environment.

The exercise was supposed to be held during the month of March, with the 15,000 service members coming from over 10 countries. The nations that were part of the canceled exercise were Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In a statement, EUCOM said, “The decision is a precautionary measure in response to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 and to protect the health and safety of all participants and local population. The health of our force continues to be a top priority and we are committed to maintaining mission readiness”.

After a Norwegian soldier tested positive for the coronavirus, it was determined he was in contact with over two dozen United States Marines. The Marines were put under quarantine, but the risk was too much for authorities to chance.

According to the most recent data, Norway currently has 277 cases of the coronavirus but have not had any deaths reported so far. However, the number of cases has almost doubled in recent days prompting the concern from officials of a massive spread of the disease.

The European countries with the most U.S. troops stationed there are Germany and Italy. Italy has shut down most of their country as they have had the third-worst national outbreak after China and Iran. South Korea and Japan have the most U.S. troops in Asia. South Korea’s rate of infections seems to have leveled off after getting up to over 7,000 as quarantine procedures have been implemented. Japan has had less than 600 cases as of yet.

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The move is the latest in a series of steps the United States military has implemented to prevent service members and their families from being exposed to the virus. There is also talk that the military will put a 60-day pause on troop and family relocations. While no word yet has come, it seems this will most likely affect troops with PCS orders, primarily in South Korea and Italy.

A training exercise in Africa has also been scaled down in breadth, and the Pentagon is considering scaling down or canceling additional exercises. Called African Lion, the exercise would pair Americans with troops from Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

A top test pilot landed backwards on Britain’s largest warship

A British F-35 pilot has pulled off what the Royal Navy called a “milestone” maneuver, executing a backward landing on the deck of Britain’s largest warship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The Royal Air Force test pilot Squadron Leader Andy Edgell flew his American-made F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter across the bow of the large British aircraft carrier.

The pilot then brought the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft to a hover over the deck before gently setting it down, the Royal Navy said in a statement Nov. 19, 2018. He said the F-35 jump jet “handled beautifully.”


The aviation achievement is intended to give the carrier crew additional options in the event of an emergency. Given the nature of the aircraft, the landing was not radically different from more conventional alternatives.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

An F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter landing on the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

(Royal Navy photo)

The British Royal Navy said this atypical landing was like “driving the wrong way down a one-way street.” Reflecting on the maneuver, Edgell said, “It was briefly bizarre to bear down on the ship and see the waves parting on the bow as you fly an approach aft facing.”

“It was also a unique opportunity fly towards the ship, stare at the bridge, and wonder what the captain is thinking,” he added.

This maneuver, like the previously executed conventional landings and rolling landings, was part of a nine-week intensive training program that began off the US east coast.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

An F-35B Lightning II above the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth on Sept. 25, 2018.

(UK Ministry of Defense)

The first landing was carried out Sept. 25, 2018, when Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray landed an F-35B on the deck of the carrier. It marked the first time in eight years that an aircraft had landed on a British carrier. The UK had previously acquired the F-35, and its new carrier set sail in 2017. The combination of the two was championed as the dawn of a new era for British sea power.

Commodore Andrew Betton, the commander of the UK carrier strike group, called it “a tremendous step forward in reestablishing the UK’s carrier strike capability.”

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

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Army is developing exoskeletons that will save your knees

David Audet, chief of the Mission Equipment and Systems Branch in the Soldier Performance Optimization Directorate, at the Research, Development and Engineering Command’s Soldier Center, is gearing up his team for the next User Touch Point activities to explore exoskeleton options in late January 2019.

“As we explore the more mature exoskeleton options available to us and engage users, the more we learn about where the possible value of these systems is to Army operations,” said Audet.


“Before the Army can consider investing in any development above what industry has done on their own, we need to make sure that users are on board with human augmentation concepts and that the systems are worth investing in. The Army is not ready yet to commit. NSRDEC [RDECOM Soldier Center] has a lead role in working with PEO-Soldier and the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, to determine whether or not a longer-term investment in fielding new technologies is justifiable. But this is what we do best. We find the options and create the partnerships to help us figure it out.”

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

Soldiers from Army’s 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, were able to get hands on and try two of the current human augmentation technologies (pictured here) being pursued by the RDECOM Soldier Center. The soldier on the left is wearing the ONYX and the soldier on the right is wearing the ExoBoot.

(RDECOM Soldier Center)

Recent media has brought a lot of attention to the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Controls, or LMMFC, ONYX, a Popular Science award recipient for 2018.

As innovative as it is, and with all the attention on the Soldier Center’s .9 million Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) award, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and lose perspective of the overall work the Soldier Center is actually doing.

Out of the 48-month phased effort, roughly 0K has been put on the LMMFC OTA — currently focused on having enough systems to take to the field for operational evaluation. Although performing, the technology has yet to prove itself in a full operational exercise before moving forward. And while LMMFC is highly confident in their product and continues to invest their funding on further developing the system for commercial use, the Soldier Center is also looking at other technologies.

Located in Maynard, Massachusetts, Dephy, Inc.’s ExoBoot is another entrant in the program. The Dephy ExoBoot is an autonomous foot ankle exoskeleton that was inspired by research done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under collaboration with the Army. It is currently under consideration for evaluation during the third and fourth quarter of 2019. Brigadier General David M. Hodne has worn the ExoBoot during Soldier Center program updates and is quite intrigued by the capability. User feedback will determine if both systems move forward and under which considerations.

“Under ideal conditions, we would favor a full development effort,” said Audet. “However, given the push for rapid transition and innovation, we can save the Army a lot of time and money by identifying and vetting mature technologies, consistent with the vision of the Army Futures Command, or AFC.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

(David Kamm, RDECOM Soldier Center)

“In order to achieve the goal of vetting and providing recommendations, NSRDEC [the Soldier Center] and PEO-Soldier are strong partners, teamed up to work with third party independent engineering firms such as Boston Engineering out of Waltham, Massachusetts. The engineering analysis of systems will provide an unbiased system-level analysis of any of the technologies under consideration, following rigorous analysis of the capabilities as they exist, the operational parameters provided by users and assessment of how humans will use and interact with the systems.”

“We are confident products will succeed or — at a minimum — fill a gap we have not been able to address by any other materiel or training means,” said Audet.

“We will be prepared to transition, but we know there is a road ahead before we get there. We aren’t committing to anything more than to bring the systems to a demonstration and educate the community at large on what these preliminary technologies can offer. In the meantime, we add a layer of third party independent analysis as a reassurance policy that we are mitigating bias and staying laser focused on user needs and meeting the demands of the future warfighting landscape.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A storied Delta Force leader just suddenly died this week

One of U.S. Special Forces’ most legendary figures died suddenly and tragically on April 29, 2019. Eldon Bargewell, a 72-year-old retired Major General, was killed after his lawnmower rolled over an embankment near his Alabama home. His 40-year military career saw him serve everywhere from Vietnam to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and probably every hotspot in between.


Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

Bargewell as an enlisted recon troop in Vietnam.

He first joined the military in 1967, going to Vietnam for a year, going home, and then volunteering to return to Vietnam – in the same recon outfit he left a couple of years earlier. He was working areas outside of Vietnam, technically in Laos, monitoring NVA supply routes.

In an action for which he received the Distinguished Service Cross, he was hit by an AK-47 round in the side of his face but still managed to carry on the fight. Deep inside enemy territory, his unit was hit with two RPG rounds as a hail of enemy bullets overcame them. In minutes the entire recon team was wounded. Bargewell, carrying a Russian-made RPD machine gun (because he wanted to ensure he killed the enemies he shot), broke up an onslaught of charging NVA soldiers, numbering anywhere from 75-100 men.

“Very few people come through the path Eldon Bargewell did,” said Maj. Gen. William Garrison, commander of the Special Forces effort to capture a Somali warlord in 1993. “Starting out as a private, working his way as a non-commissioned officer, and then getting to the highest levels of leadership. Very few people can do that. He is the type of man, soldier, leader that we all want to be like.”

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

Major General Eldon Bargewell, U.S. Army.

The NVA sent wave after wave of men toward the Army Special Forces’ perimeter, and each was gunned down in turn by Bargewell and his 7.62 RPD. With the dead and wounded piling up, including Bargewell himself, the Americans needed to get out of the area in a hurry. They anxiously awaited the helicopters that would lift them to safety. When they finally arrived, Bargewell refused to be evacuated.

“He wouldn’t go up,” said Billy Waugh, Bargewell’s then-Sergeant Major. “He had the weapons that was saving the day… he was the last out and that’s what saved that team.” And it really was. Bargewell went through half of his 1000 rounds protecting the perimeter and defending his fellow soldiers as they boarded the helicopter. That’s when 60 more NVA bum-rushed him.

Bargewell went up with the next helicopter.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

“His selfless sacrifice touched so many,” said Lt. Gen. Lawson MacGruder III, one of the Army Rangers’ first commanders and a Ranger Hall of Famer. “In just about every conflict since Vietnam.”

After returning from Vietnam, he went to infantry officer candidate school, earning his commission. From there he commanded special operations teams in Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, the Middle East, El Salvador, Panama, Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, and Afghanistan. In his last deployment, he was the director of special operations at Headquarters Multi-National Force-Iraq in Baghdad. He retired in 2006, the most decorated active duty soldier at the time.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How the Coast Guard intercepts cocaine at sea

The Coast Guard cutter James pulled into Port Everglades on November 15 laden with 38,000 pounds of cocaine hauled in by it and other Coast Guard ships during months of patrols in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

The crew of the James and the helicopter deployed with them were in formation behind the bales, some of which were topped with testaments to the precision of Coast Guard marksmen.

Coast Guard crews and the ships and aircraft they use have a variety of roles, but they are just one component in the fight against drug smuggling on the high seas that is reaching new heights.


The 458,000 pounds of cocaine seized in the most recent fiscal year, which ended September 30, was intercepted through a complex interdiction process that sometimes begins before the drugs even set sail, draws on governments and security forces from throughout the region, and requires crews to be as good at reacting as they are at planning.

“At-sea interdiction … is truly a team sport,” Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said aboard the James.

Colombia is the world’s largest producer of coca, the base ingredient in cocaine. While it’s the only South American country with Atlantic and Pacific coasts, more than 80% of the finished product destined for the US goes through the eastern Pacific — an area the size of the US mainland.

Finding suspicious vessels in an area that size can be a challenge for the Coast Guard, even with the capabilities of the other US agencies and neighboring countries with which it partners.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

A crew from US Coast Guard cutter Dependable intercepts a drug-smuggling boat in the eastern Pacific Ocean, April 8,, 2017.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Time, speed, and distance

Intelligence-gathering can point to when and where shipments will depart, but in the absence of that the search for seaborne smugglers often starts in at sea, where what a vessel looks like and how people aboard it behave are sometimes the first signs of nefarious activity.”

If you have like one of these open-construction boats, known as a panga, that usually has multiple outboard engines,” Capt. Jeffrey Randall, commander of the James, told Business Insider in an interview aboard the cutter.

“Most of the legitimate traffic has one engine,” Randall said. “Some of the ones that are actually trying to move the cocaine will have multiple engines so they can go faster and evade detection.”

Fuel barrels can be a tipoff. “Ones that have multiple fuel barrels, you know they are preparing for a longer transit, so that may be an indicator,” Randall said. “You may also in some cases see the bales of contraband on deck.”

In other instances, the crew of vessel not waving or otherwise acknowledging the Coast Guard’s presence — particularly when that presence is a helicopter overhead — may also warrant closer attention.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

A boarding team aboard the Coast Guard cutter Stratton removes bales of contraband that later tested positive for cocaine from a go-fast vessel in international waters in the drug-transit zone of the eastern Pacific Ocean, February 23, 2017.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Barney)

Personnel from the Joint Interagency Task Force South, a US-based multiagency body that liaises with authorities through the region, also run aerial patrols over the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean.

“They’ll fly some overhead surveillance, and one of those aircraft may sight one of these vessels,” Randall said of the JIATF-South. “Then they’ll vector us in to those targets, and then that’s when we launch the boats, launch the helicopter, and coordinate an interdiction.”

But where and when — and even whether — those interdictions take place depends on a number of factors.

“It basically boils down to time, speed, and distance, and where you want to effect that interdiction,” Randall said.

“There’s a time aspect. There’s a boat-capability aspect. There’s a what-is-your-adversary-going-to-do aspect,” Randall said.

No two interdictions are the same, he added. It’s “situation-dependent on all those things.”

“We talk with our pilots. We talk with our boat operators and say, ‘OK, this is what we think is going to be the best process to effect this interdiction,'” he said. “Then we put all those pieces together, make some decisions, launch, and then try and go effect the interdiction.”

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf during a counterdrug patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, March 10, 2018.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

‘We do a lot of training’

Coast Guard crew members tasked with those interdictions are typically waiting on-call aboard their ship.

“We kind of rotate with three teams, and we rotate when you’re on ready status,” said Lt. j.g. Simon Juul-Hindsgaul, a boarding officer on the James, in an interview aboard the ship. “You’re decked out … you hear the pipe, and you’re ready to go.”

Poor conditions can cause delays, as can logistical factors.

“The boats have a certain range, and you want to maximize how quickly you can get to the asset. That’s based on sea state and some other things,” Randall said. “You want to maximize how much time your helicopter has on scene, so that’s going to play into … that time, speed, and distance.”

Poor conditions can cause delays, as can logistical factors.

“The boats have a certain range, and you want to maximize how quickly you can get to the asset. That’s based on sea state and some other things,” Randall said. “You want to maximize how much time your helicopter has on scene, so that’s going to play into … that time, speed, and distance.”

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Crew members from the US Coast Guard cutter Spencer interdict a self-propelled semi-submersible vessel during a counter-narcotics patrol, November 11, 2017.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Midas)

There are different approach tactics for different kinds of vessels, Juul-Hindsgaul said, declining to elaborate on them. And different kinds of missions come with different kinds of concerns, he added.

“When it’s a pursuit mission — so it’s not a vessel that is potentially flagged or that we would have to just do some alongside questioning — then you’re thinking are they going to be compliant? How am I going to approach the vessel? What’s the safest angle of approach?”

In the small boat, where Juul-Hindsgaul is always stationed, communications are a constant concern.

“Comms with the helicopter, because they’re generally overhead and they can vector us in, that’s key,” he said. “The farther out we operate, the more unreliable the communications become, so then you start working secondary comms and that sort of thing.”

Approaching a suspect vessel can get hairy. In April, Coast Guard and Navy crews came upon a go-fast boat in the eastern Pacific. Spotting the US ship, the go-fast boat’s crew began throwing their cargo overboard.

Then their engine caught fire, and Coast Guardsmen and Navy sailors had to battle flames before seizing a half-ton of cocaine.

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The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane approaches a suspected smuggling vessel while a helicopter crew from the Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron monitors from the air, February 25, 2018.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Some at-sea interdictions, which can take 12 hours or more, come up with nothing, either because the suspect vessel carried no contraband or because it offloaded it before being intercepted.

Whatever the situation, Coast Guardsman tasked with boarding have to prepare for a variety of potential threats. In one case, a fishing vessel intercepted by the James during its most recent cruise had more than 30 people aboard, Juul-Hindsgual said.”

Just the sheer number of individuals that I don’t know what they have on them before I get on board,” he said, “there’s always that.”

“We’re always checking to make sure that they don’t have any weapons that could potentially harm us,” he added. “Then with the other vessels … they could potentially ram us or something, so we’re always aware of that.”

Boarding a suspected smuggling vessel brings a new set of challenges, with a procedure to match.

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Coast Guard cutter Valiant crew members transport seized contraband from one of the eight vessels interdicted during their eight-week patrol in the eastern Pacific in early 2016.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

“So we get on board, one of our initial procedures, which you learn out of school, is just your initial safety sweep. You always do that, make sure that the vessel’s safe to be on board,” Juul-Hindsgaul said.

Training includes a basic boarding course for officers as well as a specialized counter-narcotics course. Crews keep training while at sea. “We do a lot of training,” Juul-Hindsgaul said.

Some smuggling vessels, especially self-propelled semi-submersibles, which carry multiton loads of drugs just below the surface and cost id=”listicle-2621744055″ million to million apiece, are equipped with “kill switches.”

“We find that all the time, that they have scuttling valves or something,” Juul-Hindsgual said.

Sometimes smugglers just throw contraband overboard. Recovering floating bales of drugs is no easy task either.

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Crewmembers of the Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk (WMEC 913) and Tactical Law Enforcement Team South on top of a self-propelled semi-submersible they stopped July 3, 2018.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Boarding a smuggling vessel means eventually getting off of it — a task complicated by drugs and detainees that need to be brought back.

“It matters whether or not the vessel has nationality [and] if it makes a claim of nationality,” Randall said of dealing with a seized vessel. “If it makes a claim of nationality, then we may have to use one of our … bilateral agreements … to do some exchange of information to verify the registry of the vessel or verify the nationality of the people” on it.

That inquiry and the response to it often has to go through layers of bureaucracy. It may take hours to get an answer, but that answer affects what comes next, Randall said.

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A boarding team member from Coast Guard cutter Stratton grabs a bale of cocaine that suspected smugglers jettisoned from their vessel in a failed attempt to flee Coast Guard pursuit in the eastern Pacific Ocean, September 8, 2017.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios)

“For the safety of the people we usually bring them on board, because some of these semi-submersible or these low profile vessels are not the safest vessels to be on,” he added. “So we’ll remove them and put them on our boats, which [are] a safer platform, until those disposition processes work out.”

“That’s generally an all-hands effort,” Juul-Hindsgaul said of removing people and contraband.

Read more: The Coast Guard is catching more drug-running subs, but most ‘very stealthy’ narco subs are probably going undetected

“I’m out there on the boarding team and we … do the full law-enforcement boarding,” he added, “and then we’ll set a different scenario where we set a stage on board, where everyone preps and gets ready and then we’ll just transport all that back to the vessel.”

Coast Guardsmen handling any suspected drugs are outfitted with protective gear.

“You don’t want to get any of it on you or ingest any of it,” Randall said. “It’s really highly potent.”

“People train to go through and … check medical and all that sort of stuff for” detainees, Juul-Hindsgual said. “Then we gear up and then transport the contraband to a secure hold” aboard the Coast Guard ship.

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Coast Guard cutter Stratton boarding-team members detain four suspected smugglers after intercepting their vessel with 17 bales of cocaine on board in the eastern Pacific Ocean, September 8, 2017.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios)

“We give [detainees] a medical check. We get them showered. We give them a uniform and then start providing three meals a day and all that kind of stuff,” Randall said. “They take good care of them until we get them back to the US judicial system.”

Detainees, some of whom arrive poorly clothed or in ill health, remain at sea with the ship, disembarking to another vessel if the cutter makes a port call in another country, as the Coast Guard must hold them in international waters.

“Once we get, basically, to a position where we’re allowed to enforce US law or a country waives jurisdiction … and we get an positive drug test, we will embark the people as detainees and then embark the contraband and then hold them until we can bring them back for US prosecution,” Randall said.

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A Coast Guard cutter Bernard C. Webber crew member carries a bale of cocaine during a drug offload at Coast Guard Base Miami Beach, October 16, 2018.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Murray)

‘Peddlers of poison’

Taking care of the drugs is fairly straight-forward process. Seizures from several ships are collected aboard one ship for an offload, usually in South Florida or Southern California.

From there, the drugs are usually turned over to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which takes samples and discards the rest. Each year, the DEA’s Cocaine Signature Program conducts tests on about 2,500 cocaine samples.

The DEA says its tests can determine the origin of cocaine down to the sub-regional level with 96% confidence, and it consistently finds that Colombian cocaine dominates the US market.

The DEA has “ways to … analyze that [cocaine] and then the bulk of it gets destroyed,” said Schultz, the Coast Guard commandant. “They will use it to enable prosecutions to better inform the intelligence picture on this threat that exists out there.”

Things are more complicated for the human cargo that Coast Guard ships bring back.While the Coast Guard is a law-enforcement agency, the expansion of the drug war and of its authority to detain suspected smugglers in international waters has increased the numbers of detainees.

That increase has raised concern about legal procedure and due process.

In 2017, a former Coast Guard lawyer described the cutters holding detainees at sea as “floating Guantanamos.” Another Coast Guard officer called them “boat prisons.”

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Petty Officer 1st Class Radoslaw Florczak, left, a health services technician aboard Coast Guard cutter Active, medically screens a detained suspected narcotics smuggler during a patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, May 15, 2018.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse)

Schultz’s predecessor, Paul Zukunft, who retired as an admiral in 2018, bristled at that description when asked about it during a December 2017 interview, saying he thought it was “an unfair stab at the Coast Guard.”

Taking care of detainees while aboard and offloading them to the proper authorities were “a challenge of logistics,” he said.

The Coast Guard and US officials have said intelligence gleaned from detainees is vital to bring down trafficking networks, though some are skeptical the smugglers being caught — often low-level members of criminal groups or fishermen who sign up for the lucrative pay a successful smuggling run can bring — can offer more than fragments of information.

“Make no mistake, these are peddlers of poison,” Zukunft said in December 2017. “So I think there’s been a mischaracterization of who these people are. They have choices. They’ve elected to engage in criminal activity. That is a direct threat to the livelihood here in the United States.”

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

Intel

Snowmaggedon? This wounded warrior and his wheelchair can help

A disabled vet in Nebraska has found an awesome way to continue serving his community. After receiving an off-road wheelchair with sweet treads, Justin Anderson fitted the front of his chair with a short snow plow.


He now uses it to clear the sidewalks of his block and help his neighbors.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFjqHeXnT6Ifeature=youtu.be

Anderson lost a leg in the Iraq War and was given the wheelchair by Independence Fund, a non-profit that helps severely wounded warriors.

He also received help from the local community during his surgeries and other medical care.

“The community has supported me immensely with my struggles and tough times as I had a leg amputated and my fight with brain cancer,” he told the local news. “This is my way of giving back.”

The response from the community has been great, with people asking to take photos with him and saying thank you.

“It’s very gratifying. It’s nice to know you’re appreciated,” he says in the video, “But even if I didn’t get any response from anyone – or nobody said Thank You – I’d still do it.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the agenda for Mattis’ Indo-Asia-Pacific tour

Strengthening ties with allies, increasing defense capabilities in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, and discussions about the threat of North Korea are among the topics Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will contend with on his trip to the region, he told reporters traveling with him yesterday.


The secretary arrived in the Philippines on Oct. 23. He laid out his agenda for the trip during an in-flight news conference.

Mattis will meet with Philippine officials before taking part in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministerial set for Oct. 23-25. That meeting is at the former Clark Air Base.

“One of the first things I’m going to do when I get there is commend the Philippine military for liberating Marawi from the terrorists,” he told reporters. “It was a very tough fight, as you know, in southern Mindanao. And I think the Philippine military sends a very strong message to the terrorists.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines battled forces allied under the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Marawi. Coalition forces helped the Philippine troops with intelligence, advice and logistic support. While small pockets of terrorists remain, the government declared the city liberated Oct. 17.

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Marawi, Phillipines, sits on the northern bank of Lake Lanao. The tiny country is surrounded by the Phillipine, South China, Sulu, and Celebes Seas, and the Pacific Ocean to the east. (image Chrisgel Ryan Cruz)

ASEAN

The association has been in existence for almost 50 years and is a force promoting peace and stability in the region. It is a forum for the nations to discuss issues among themselves and hash out ways to cooperate that brings prosperity to the region, Mattis said. The meeting also marks 40 years of friendship and cooperation between ASEAN and the United States.

“ASEAN provides an international venue, giving voice to those who want relations between states to be based on respect, not on predatory economics or on the size of militaries,” he said. “ASEAN nations have demonstrated that they can listen to one another, they identify opportunities to increase defense cooperation for their own security and seek shared solutions to shared concerns. The U.S. remains unambiguously committed to supporting ASEAN.”

The secretary will take advantage of his time at the meeting to visit with his regional counterparts, he said. In addition to meeting Philippine counterparts, Mattis is scheduled to meet with representatives of Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.

He will also hold trilateral talks with Japanese and South Korean defense officials.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again
Signalman Seaman Adrian Delaney practices his semaphore aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) during an at-sea training evolution with the Royal Thai Navy tank landing ship Her Thai MajestyÕs Ship (HTMS) Prathong (LST 715) during the Thailand phase of exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT). (U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 3rd Class Alicia T. Boatwright.)

North Korea

Mattis said the regional disturbances created by North Korea will be on the agenda at ASEAN. He said will also emphasize the shared values the nations of the alliance have, the territorial sovereignty of the nations and the need for “freedom of navigation through historically international waters and fair and reciprocal trade.”

Related: This is why Mattis isn’t losing sleep over threats from North Korea

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mattis will lead the official U.S. delegation to the funeral of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October 2016. The royal cremation rite ends the period of mourning for the country — one of America’s treaty allies in the region. “He was understandably beloved by his people and a proponent of our strong Thailand-United States relationship,” the defense secretary said.

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

After the ASEAN meeting ends, Mattis will move on to Seoul, where he and South Korea’s Defense Minister Song Young-moo will co-chair the 49th annual Security Consultative Meeting. “There, we will underscore our ironclad commitment to each other,” Mattis said.

North Korea is a threat to the region and globally, defense officials have said. Two unanimous U.N. Security Council resolutions have isolated the state from the rest of the world. The U.N. acted after North Korea detonated nuclear devices and flew an intercontinental ballistic missile over Japan. During his meetings in South Korea, the secretary said he will discuss reinforcing diplomatic efforts to return to a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

The defense leaders will also discuss “how we are going to maintain peace by keeping our militaries alert while our diplomats — Japanese, South Korean and U.S. — work with all nations to denuclearize the Korean peninsula,” Mattis said.

hauntedbattlefields

These base residents say ghosts haunt their houses

Costumes, candy, Halloween parties, and trick or treating are common ways to celebrate All Hallows Eve. Another way some choose to take part in is by going to a “haunted house.”

For some, haunted houses are all too real.

Many Team Shaw members have heard rumors of some buildings on base that are supposedly haunted, but few have actually had experiences with the paranormal. The following stories have been told by Shaw housing residents who claim to have had encounters.


“The old base housing was very haunted so I’d say yes it’s possible the new ones are too,” said a Team Shaw spouse. “We had so many creepy experiences in the old housing. My oldest would scream bloody murder and just point at something in his room and refuse to go in there. At night, we’d lay in bed and could hear something downstairs slamming cabinets closed.”

Others said they have seen floating orbs of light on camera, had home devices turn on by themselves and heard doors open and close or bangs in their home.

Another member said she is “creeped out” but has come to terms with the entity in her home. Whenever she decides to turn in for the night, she now says, “Alright haunts. I’m going to bed. It’s time for you to go on home.”

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(Flickr photo by PROMichael)

In August of 2015, Heather Ingle, Team Shaw spouse, moved to Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, with her active duty husband and two young daughters.

“When we came here, (the girls) were refusing to sleep in their room,” Ingle said of her new home. “(My youngest daughter) was still pretty young, and she wouldn’t even go in there,”

“They just would not go in the room,” said Ingle. “(My eldest daughter) kept saying, ‘There is a scary lady in there.’ I told her, ‘There is nobody in this house. There’s nobody in here.’ We would just battle night after night after night that they wanted to sleep in bed with me, both of them.”

During this time in her life, Ingle was working in Columbia, South Carolina, and would get home late, while her daughters would stay at a friend’s home until she was able to pick them up and take them home.

Ingle stated one night she and her daughters got home around midnight after a long day of work. Her children were exhausted, but still argued to sleep with her in her bedroom.

She, then, went into their bedroom, closed the door, and screamed at whatever entity was there to go away, saying it wasn’t welcome here. Then, Ingle shouted out a blessing she was told to use by a friend.

According to Ingle, ever since that night, there have been no experiences. The girls do not see the ‘scary lady’ anymore.

So, if Team Shaw members hear someone shout “Boo!” while enjoying a “haunted house” this Halloween, look around. There may not be anyone there.

This article originally appeared on DVIDS. Follow @DVIDSHub on Twitter.

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