More than 70 years ago, a US Army cargo plane dubbed “Hot as Hell” was headed for India on a supply mission. It never arrived, and no one went looking for the doomed aircraft or the eight men on board because military officials had no way of pinpointing where it went down.
All signs of the mission were lost until 2006, when a hiker in northeast India spotted a wing and panel sign with the plane’s name inscribed — “Hot as Hell.” It wasn’t until 2015 that the US Defense Department investigated the crash site and found the remains of 1st Lt. Robert Eugene Oxford.
On June 8th, Oxford will finally be returned home and then laid to rest the following weekend with full military honors in his tiny hometown of Concord, Georgia. Photos of his seven fellow crewmen, none of whom was ever found, will lay beside the coffin and then be placed inside it for burial.
“We were ecstatic that Eugene was found, but we feel guilty there are seven other men on that mountain top,” said Merrill Roan, the wife of Oxford’s nephew. “So we are honoring the other seven. … We have to honor them as well, because they may never get any closure.”
Oxford’s plane departed Kumming, China, on Jan. 25, 1944, said Staff Sgt. Kristen Duus at the Defense Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Agency. Oxford was declared dead two years later.
Oxford’s family didn’t know the wreckage had been found until 2007 when Merrill Roan saw a message on a genealogy website from a relative of another service member on the aircraft. That relative wanted help persuading military officials to investigate the crash site.
Duus’ agency confirmed the crash site correlated with the missing aircraft in 2008. But harmful weather coupled with access issues and security delayed recovery operation efforts until late 2015, Duus said.
Officials say a DNA analysis of Oxford’s remains matched his niece and nephew.
Roan said the family was “shocked and excited” when they heard the news.
Duus said Oxford is one of 74 veterans who have been identified so far this year. She said all service members have been returned to the US for identification before the family is notified and the service member is provided a funeral with honors.
Eighty service members were identified in 2015, and that number more than doubled with 164 the following year, Duus said.
The Missing in Action Agency website says there are more than 86,000 Americans still missing abroad from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Advancements in DNA testing technology and partnerships with other nations has helped find and identify more missing service members than ever, Duus said.
Oxford’s parents, siblings, and any other relatives who saw him leave for World War II have all died since he went missing, said Terrell Moody of Moody-Daniel Funeral Home, which is handling burial arrangements. Still, the long-overdue homecoming of his remains won’t go unnoticed.
A State Patrol escort will guide a hearse carrying Oxford’s casket 50 miles south on Interstate 75 from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to the funeral home. A funeral will be held June 10th in a school auditorium — the biggest venue in town, Moody said.
“It’s just a huge historical event for our little town,” Moody said. “The phone constantly rings from people wanting information.”
Oxford will be buried in the same plot with his parents, Charles and Bessie Oxford, who had placed a memorial marker for their lost son at the gravesite after his plane went missing seven decades ago.
An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be able to use its sensors, weapons and computer technology to destroy Russian and Chinese 5th-Generation Stealth fighters in a high-end combat fight, service officials said.
“There is nothing that I have seen from maneuvering an F-35 in a tactical environment that leads me to assume that there is any other airplane I would rather be in. I feel completely comfortable and confident in taking that airplane into any combat environment,” Lt. Col. Matt Hayden, 56th Fighter Wing, Chief of Safety, Luke AFB, Arizona, told Scout Warrior in a special pilot interview.
Furthermore, several F-35 pilots have been clear in their resolve that the multi-role fighter is able to outperform any other platform in existence.
While Hayden was clear to point out he has not, as of yet, flown simulated combat missions against the emerging Russian Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA 5th-Generation stealth fighter now in development or the Chinese Shenyang J-31 5th Generation Stealth aircraft. While he was clear to point out he did not personally know all of the technologies and capabilities of these Russian and Chinese aircraft, he was unambiguous in his assertion regarding confidence in the F-35. In addition, many Air Force officials have cited a strong belief that the F-35 is the best fighter in the world.
Available information says the Russians have built at least 6 prototype T-50 PAK FAs for their Air Force and Navy; the Chinese conducted a maiden test flight of its J-31 in 2012. In addition, China is in pre-production with its J-20 5th-Generation stealth fighter. This fighter, called the Chengdu J-20, made its first flight in 2011, and is expected to be operational by 2018, according to publicly available information and various news reports.
While Hayden did not elaborate on aspects of the J-20, he did say he would be confident flying the F-35 against any aircraft in the world.
“All those other countries (Russia and China) are trying to develop airplanes that are technologically capable as well — from an F-35 perspective. We are no less capable than any airplane and any fighters out there,” Hayden described.
In addition to leveraging the best available technologies on a fighter jet, winning a dog-fight or combat engagement would depend just as much on the air-tactics and decisions made by a pilot, Hayden explained.
“I have not flown against some of those aircraft. When you fight against an airplane, it depends upon the airspeed. If I maximize the effectiveness of an F-35, I can exploit the weaknesses of any other aircraft,” he said.
Many analysts have made the assessment that the J-20 does appear to be closely modelled after the F-35.
In fact, a Defense Science Board report, cited in a 2014 Congressional assessment of the Chinese military, (US-China Economic Security and Review Commission) makes reference to specific developmental information and specs of numerous U.S. weapons systems believed to be stolen by Chinese computer hackers; design specs and technologies for the F-35 were among those compromised by Chinese cyber-theft, according to the report.
An AIN Online report from the Singapore Air Show in February of this year catalogues a number of J-20 features and technologies – including those believed to be quite similar to the F-35.
“The J-20 is a large multi-role fighter with stealthy features similar to those found in the American F-22 and F-35. Although very little is known about its intended purpose, the aircraft appears to offer capability in a number of roles, including long-range interception and precision attack.
In terms of weapon carriage the J-20 has a similar arrangement to that of the Lockheed Martin F-22, comprising two lateral bays for small air-to-air missiles such as the agile, imaging-infrared PL-10, and a large under-fuselage bay for accommodating larger missiles and precision-guided surface attack weapons. The 607 Institute’s new PL-15 active-radar missile is thought to be the primary long-range air-to-air weapon, reportedly having been test-fired from a Shenyang J-16 platform last year. The PL-21, a ramjet-powered weapon in the same class as the MBDA Meteor, is another possibility for the J-20.
The sensor suite includes an electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) and a large-array AESA radar, which was developed by the 14th Institute at Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology (NRIET, 14th Institute), and is possibly designated Type 1475/KLJ-5. Diamond-shaped windows around the fuselage suggest that a distributed aperture infrared vision system is installed.
In the cockpit, the J-20 sports three large color displays, plus other small screens, and a holographic wide-angle head-up display. An advanced datalink has been developed, and a retractable refueling probe is located on the starboard side of the forward fuselage. Much of the avionics suite has been tested by the CFTE (China flight test establishment) aboard a modified Tupolev Tu-204C, in much the same way as the systems of the F-22 were tested in a Boeing 757.”
Regarding the Russian T-50 PAK FA Stealth fighter, numerous reports suggest the aircraft has numerous technological problems and is a 5th generation plane “in name only.”
“Reporting from the Singapore Airshow 2016, IHS Jane’s reports that “Russian industry has consistently referred to the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA as a fifth-generation aircraft, but a careful look at the program reveals that this is an ‘in name only’ designation.”
This is largely because of a lack of evolutionary technology aboard the plane compared with previous jets that Russia and the US have designed. Indeed, the PAK FA’s engines are the same as those aboard Russia’s 4++ generation (a bridging generation between fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft) Su-35. Additionally, the PAK FA and the Su-35 share many of the same onboard systems.
And even when the PAK FA’s systems are different from the Su-35’s, the plane’s specifications are still not up to true fifth-generation standards.
RealClearDefense, citing Indian media reports that are familiar with a PAK FA variant being constructed in India, notes that the plane has multiple technological problems. Among these problems are the plane’s “engine performance, the reliability of its AESA radar, and poor stealth engineering.”
F-35 Sensor Fusion
Despite various reports about technologies being engineered into the Russian and Chinese 5th-Generation Stealth Fighters, it is in no way clear that either aircraft is in any way comparable to the F-35. Most publicly available information seems to indicate that the F-35 is superior – however, to some extent, the issue remains an open question. More information is likely to emerge once the Russian and Chinese aircraft are operational and deployed.
For example, the Chinese J-20 is cited as having an Electro-Optical targeting system, stealth configuration, datalink, AESA radar and precision weaponry quite similar to the F-35, according to the AIN report.
The computer algorithms woven into the F-35 architecture are designed to leverage early iterations of what could be described as early phases of “artificial intelligence.” Broadly speaking, artificial intelligence refers to fast-evolving computer technology and processors able to gather, assess and integrate information more autonomously in order to help humans make decisions more quickly and efficiently from a position of command-and-control.
“If there is some kind of threat that I need to respond to with the airplane, I don’t have to go look at multiple sensors and multiple displays from multiple locations which could take my time and attention away from something else,” Hayden added.
The F-35 software, which shows images on display screens in the cockpit as well as on a pilot’s helmet-mounted-display, is able to merge results from various radar capabilities onto a single screen for the pilot.
“The F-35 takes from multiple sensors around the airplane and combines them together in a way that is much more manageable and accessible — while not detracting from the other tasks that the pilot is trying to accomplish,” Hayden said.
For instance, the F-35’s Electro-Optical Target System, or EOTS, is an infrared sensor able to assist pilots with air and ground targeting at increased standoff ranges while also performing laser designation, laser range-finding and other tasks.
In addition, the plane’s Distributed Aperture System, or DAS, is a series of six electro-optical sensors also able to give information to the pilot. The DAS includes precision tracking, fire control capabilities and the ability to warn the pilot of an approaching threat or missile.
The F-35 is also engineered with an Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar, which is able to track a host of electromagnetic signals, including returns from Synthetic Aperture Radar, or SAR. This paints a picture of the contours of the ground or surrounding terrain and, along with Ground Moving Target Indicator, or GMTI, locates something on the move on the ground and airborne objects or threats.
Hayden added that the F-35 has been training against other F-35s in simulated combat situations, testing basic fighter maneuvers. Having himself flown other fighter aircraft, he explained that many other F-35 pilots also fly the airplane after having experience flying an F-16, A-10 or other combat aircraft.
“The F-35’s low-observable technology can prevent detection. That is a strength that other airplanes do not have,” he said.
F-35 and F-22
At the same time, senior Air Force leaders have made the point that F-35 technological superiority is intended to be paired with the pure air-to-air dogfighting ability of the service’s F-22 – a stealth aircraft, with its speed, maneuverability and thrust-to-weight ratio, is believed by many to be the most capable air-to-air platform in the world.
“Every airplane has flaws. When you design an airplane, you design an airplane with tradeoffs – give something else up. If I was flying against an adversary in actual combat, my job would be to exploit the enemy weakness and play to my strength. I can compensate for certain things,” Hayden explained. “There is a certain way to fly and fight in an airplane, using airspeed to maximize the turning performance of the airplane.”
During a public speech in 2015, the Air Forces Air Combat Commander, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, said the F-22 is engineered such that it can complement the F-35.
“You will use the F-35 for air superiority, but you will need the raptors to do some things in a high-end fight to penetrate denied airspace,” he said. “The airplane is designed for multi-role capability, electronic warfare and sensors. The F-35 will win against any fourth-generation airplane — in a close-in fight, it will do exceedingly well. There will be a combination of F-22s and F-35s in the future.”
Hayden further elaborated upon these claims, arguing that the F-35 has another set of strategic advantages to include an ability to use internally built sensors. This prevents the need to use external pods on a fighter jet which can add drag, slowing down and restricting maneuverability for an aircraft.
“As an F-35 pilot, I can carry bombs to a target area where I can now take out air-to-ground threats. You have to look at the overall picture of the airplane. The airplane was designed to overwhelm the battlespace in a non-permissive threatening environment where 4th-gen fighters are not going to persist,” he added.
The F-35 is engineered with a 25-mm gun and has the ability to carry and fire a wide range of weapons. The aircraft has already demonstrated an ability to fire an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile), JDADM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or GBU 12 (laser-guided aerial bomb), and AIM 9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.
So-called “Block 3F” software for the F-35 increases the weapons delivery capacity of the JSF as well, giving it the ability to drop a Small Diameter Bomb and 500-pound JDAM.
As a multi-role fighter, the F-35 is also engineered to function as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform designed to apprehend and process video, data and information from long distances. Some F-35 developers have gone so far as to say the F-35 has ISR technologies comparable to many drones in service today that are able to beam a “soda straw” video view of tactically relevant combat locations in real time.
Finally, regarding dogfighting, it is pertinent to point out a “War is Boring” report from 2015 which cited an F-35 fighter pilot explaining how an F-16 was able to win a “mock dogfight” against an F-35; the F-35 Joint Program Office disputed this claim, saying the F-35 used in the scenario was in no way representative of today’s operational F-35s. The software, weapons and sensor technologies used in the mock dogfight were not comparable to the most evolved F-35.
Furthermore, F-35 proponents maintained that the aircraft’s advanced computer technology and sensors would enable it to see and destroy enemy fighters from much longer ranges – essentially destroying enemy fighters before they are seen.
The idea is to enable F-35 pilots to see and destroy enemies in the air, well in advance of a potential dogfight scenario. This can be explained in terms of a well-known Air Force strategic concept pioneered years ago by air theorist and pilot Col. John Boyd, referred to as the “OODA Loop,” — for observe, orient, decide and act. The concept is to complete this process quickly and make fast decisions while in an air-to-air dogfight — in order to get inside the enemy’s decision cycle, properly anticipate, and destroy an enemy before they can destroy you.
The F-35 is designed with long-range sensors and data fusion technologies such that, as a fifth-generation aircraft, it can complete the OODA Loop much more quickly than potential adversaries, F-35 advocates claim.
Mission Data Files
Described as the brains of the airplane, the mission data files are extensive on-board data systems compiling information on geography, air space and potential threats in known areas of the world where the F-35 might be expected to perform combat operations, Air Force officials explained.
Consisting of hardware and software, the mission data files are essentially a database of known threats and friendly aircraft in specific parts of the world. The files are being worked on at a reprogramming laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Air Force officials toldMilitary.com last year. The mission data files are designed to work with the aircraft’s Radar Warning Receiver engineered to find and identify approaching enemy threats and hostile fire.
The mission data packages are loaded with a wide range of information to include commercial airliner information and specifics on Russian and Chinese fighter jets. For example, the mission data system would enable a pilot to quickly identify a Russian MiG-29 if it were detected by the F-35’s sensors.
The mission data files are being engineered to adjust to new threat and intelligence information as it emerges. For instance, the system is engineered to one day have all the details on a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter or Russian T-50 PAK FA stealth aircraft.
As a high-visibility, expensive acquisition program, the F-35 has many vocal detractors and advocates; the aircraft has, to be sure, had its share of developmental problems over the years. some of these problems include complications with its main computer system, called ALIS, and a now-corrected engine fire aboard the aircraft. Overall, most critics have pointed to the program’s growing costs, something program officials claim has vastly improved through various money-saving initiatives and bulk-buys.
Six-year-old Mason Rudder of Kansas City, Missouri was born a Escobar Syndrome, a rare genetic neuromuscular disorder that causes muscle weakness and joint deformities. There is only one thing he ever wanted to be when he grows up: a U.S. Navy SEAL.
“I want to save the country and I want to save people,” Mason told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His condition affects his bones and joints and restricts his range of motion, but that didn’t stop him from clearing a house with his fire team.
Mason’s SEAL training began when his parents reached out to Asymmetric Solutions, a St. Louis-based tactical training company, staffed with former special forces operators of all varieties, even boasting some Israeli commandos. Asymmetric Solutions’ ex-SEAL Jared Ogden trained Mason at a tactical training center near Farmington, Missouri.
The company agreed to host a “Navy SEAL for a Day” event just for Mason. The little SEAL cycled through rounds of firearms training, including M4 and AR-15 rifles, and setting off a wall bomb that blew the door of a building. His training culminated in the house raid that “killed” a “Taliban leader.”
Ogden pinned a SEAL trident to the boy’s sweatshirt as a symbol of completing the training.
“You wear that with pride,” Ogden said to Mason. “Good job, team leader.”
The entry-level course is for Marines who’ve finished boot camp and aren’t assigned to infantry jobs. It lasts about a month and involves basic combat training, including patrol and convoy operations, marksmanship, and the use of grenade launchers and machine guns.
Pena said the female Marines will be fully integrated with the men, and that their inclusion triggered no changes to the course instruction. He said that, eventually, as many as 1,700 women would go through the combat training there each year.
Currently, Marine boot camp on the West Coast is only for male recruits. Women attend boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina, where they are separated from the men for portions of the training. Congress members have been critical of that policy, and the Corps has been reviewing it.
Until now, half of the Marine Corps’ male recruits would go through their initial training on the West Coast where they had no female colleagues. A key reason for the limits is the shortage of female recruits. Women make up just 8.7 percent of the Corps.
But Marine leaders have been eyeing changes with the belief that giving the men greater exposure to women recruits during training could foster better relations and greater respect over time.
Violent jihadism as a governing ideology has been a significant feature of the global scene for nearly two decades.
There are certainly differences between say, the nature Al Shabaab’s control over Somalia in the early 2010s, the Taliban state’s governance of Afghanistan from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001, and ISIS’s “caliphate” in the present day.
But militant groups spurred by a combination of religious radicalism, violent disenchantment with the existing state system, revisionist philosophies of Islamic history, and a rejection of secularism and Enlightenment value systems have morphed into territorial political units with alarming frequency in recent years.
One such instance was in Mali in early 2012, when jihadists piggybacked on a long-simmering Tuareg autonomy movement — itself empowered by the collapse of Mali’s government in the wake of a shocking military coup — in order to take control of several population centers in Mali’s desert north. Among them was Timbuktu, a legendary center of trade and Islamic scholarship.
The jihadist occupation of Timbuktu was brutal but thankfully brief: In early 2013, a French-led coalition liberated the city after 10 months of militant control. Now, the rule of Al Qaeda-allied militants over the city is the topic of what might be the important movie of the past year.
The hypnotic and visually overwhelming “Timbuktu,” the work of Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako and an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film, is an intimate and terrifying inquiry into one of the defining authoritarian ideologies of the 21st century, as told from the perspective of the people who are actually suffering under its yoke. (The film is currently playing in New York and LA and will open in various other US cities in February and March.)
US movie audiences have usually met jihadists through the lenses of American sniper rifles, or lying prone in front of CIA interrogators. “Timbuktu” is hardly the only movie that’s portrayed them as political and social actors. “Osama,” a multi-national production about a girl living in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that won the 2004 Golden Globe award for best foreign-language film, and Iranian director Moshen Makhmalbaf’s highly regarded “Kandahar,” about a Afghan woman who sneaks into Taliban Afghanistan to try to stop her sister from committing suicide, succeed in giving viewers a first-hand look at the societies that jihadists create and the horrors this visits upon the people trapped in them.
In the wake of ISIS’s takeover of a Belgium-sized slice of the Middle East, “Timbuktu” has more immediate resonance than either of those films. The movie opens with a pickup truck of fighters flying a black flag nearly identical to ISIS’s. As the opening credits roll, the fighters eviscerate a row of traditional figurines in a hail of machine-gun fire.
But the firmest sign that jihadist rule is something external, alien, and deeply unwanted comes in the next scene, when gun-toting fighters enter a mud-brick mosque without taking their shoes off. They tell the imam that they have come to wage jihad. The imam replies that in Timbuktu, people wage jihad (which has the double meaning of spiritual reflection and self-purification, in addition to earthly holy war) with their minds and not with guns.
The next hour and a half is a grisly survey of what happened when this 1400-year-old precedent was inverted.
The jihadists ban music — one of the most celebrated aspects of Malian culture — and then whip violators in public. They ban soccer, and then break up a group of children miming a game in silent protest. The jihadists speak a smattering of local languages and broken Arabic; their leader bans smoking only to sneak cigarettes under the cover of the town’s surrounding sand dunes.
In one of the more illustrative scenes, a female fish seller is told by one jihadist that women can no longer appear in public without wearing gloves. She explains to him that she can’t work unless she’s barehanded and then dares the fighter to cut her hands off on the spot.
In “Timbuktu,” the jihadists are power-tripping, thuggish and hypocritical. They are in the city to create a totally new kind of society and revel in their own insensitivity to local concerns.
But crucially they are not entirely outsiders, and some of the film’s most affecting scenes involve a Tuareg who joins with the jihadists occupying the town, a reminder that there are local dynamics at play. Just as importantly, the film hints at the context of state collapse and social chaos that allowed the jihadists to take over in the first place.
The movie’s primary narrative follows a Tuareg herder who accidentally kills a fisherman from a different ethnic group during an argument over his cows’ access to drinking water along a disputed riverbank. The film’s central conflict encapsulates the unresolved questions of ethnicity and resources that kept northern Mali in a state of crisis that the jihadists later exploited.
The herder’s treatment at the hands of Timbuktu’s new overlords depicts the imposition of an an outside ideology. But the killing is itself is a pointed example of how social turmoil can feed into a violent, totalitarian mania seemingly without warning. It harkens back to ISIS’s swift takeover of Iraq this past summer, a national-level instance of the dynamics that “Timbuktu” manages to boil down to an intimate, dramatic scale.
“Timbuktu” has a happy ending. Even if it isn’t part of the movie, the city was eventually liberated from jihadist control. The film depicts a now-extinct regime.
But the nightmare of “Timbuktu” is far from over. The liberation of the areas that ISIS rules will come at some indeterminate future date, and parts of Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria are still under the control of extremists whose ideologies are not categorically different from what appears in the film.
“Timbuktu” is maybe the best cinematic depiction ever made of what millions of people around the world are suffering through.
The Battle of Fort Sumter kicked off one of the bloodiest wars in American history and, for the most part, was itself the opposite of bloody. Actually, in hindsight there were some pretty funny moments.
When South Carolina seceded from the United States on December 20, 1860, all federal forces in the state were put on alert – they were now in unfriendly territory. In Charleston, Union Major Robert Anderson saw the situation deteriorating and moved his small force of 85 soldiers from Fort Moultrie – on the mainland overlooking Charleston Harbor – to Fort Sumter in the middle of the harbor. Fort Sumter was unfinished when Anderson’s men occupied it and by the time of Lincoln’s inauguration a few months later on March 4, 1861, the men were running low on supplies.
Across the water, Confederate Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant (PGT) Beauregard saw the Union men running low on supplies and demanded their surrender on April 11. Anderson refused and the next morning at 4:30am, the Confederate forces took the first shots of the Civil War. What followed was a 34-hour exchange of artillery fire, most of which came from the Confederate side. Guess how many people died. Zero. Actually, according to Mark Collins Jenkins, more animals died than people – one mule.
After 34 hours, Anderson decided he had had enough and agreed to surrender. The first casualty of the war was nearly Roger A. Pryor, an emissary from Virginia who visited Fort Sumter shortly after the battle. Pryor sat with Union officers and got up to pour himself a drink without asking, which would have been a pretty badass move. However, instead of pouring what he thought was whiskey, he actually poured a glass of iodine and drank it all in one gulp. Fortunately for him, Union doctors quickly pumped his stomach and saved his life.
The first casualty of the war came shortly after Pryor’s incident and occurred during the Union surrender ceremony, which generously included a 100-gun salute. The salute was cut short, however, after the Union soldiers accidentally placed their stockpile of ammunition too close to their cannon. High winds were blamed for carrying sparks from the cannon to the ammunition, which set off a large explosion that killed one Union soldier and mortally wounded another. The ceremony ended and the next day, the Union troops withdrew from the fort.
It would’ve been nice if the rest of the war went the same way, but by the time the war ended four years later, between 700,000 and 900,000 soldiers and civilians were dead on both sides, making it the bloodiest war in American history by some estimates. Bummer.
The moment Otto Catalan had waited almost two decades for had finally arrived. Sitting in a small office, surrounded by his doctors and other medical staff, the blind U.S. Navy Veteran could only hope for one thing: to see the face of his teenage son for the first time.
“I see a lot of flashes, and they’re getting brighter,” he said. “Wow. It’s amazing.”
He turned his head to the right and saw bright flashes of light reflecting off the white coat of Miami VA Chief of Ophthalmology Dr. Ninel Gregori. When he turned to the left to talk with his son, he paused and began to cry. Gregori hugged him.
“Thank you very much, guys,” he said. “I’ll work hard, so I can see. It’s been 19 years, and I have been able to see my son. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Catalan is keeping true to his word and continuing to work hard to learn how to use his new Argus® II prosthesis or “bionic eye.” Even though he struggled for years to come to terms with the loss of his sight, Catalan now feels optimistic about moving forward and beginning a new life.
“I’m learning something new everyday,” he said. “This prosthetic will help me be more successful in life. It’s already helping me be more mobile at home, and it’s going to make a big difference for me at work.”
Catalan’s struggles with vision loss began in 1989, when he was serving as a ship serviceman in the U.S. Navy. While he was on guard duty aboard a ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf, everything suddenly went dark.
“It felt like I was walking in the dark,” he said. “I told my superior officer, and he sent me to a doctor, but they couldn’t find out what it was. We went back to Virginia. They did extensive tests, and that’s when they found out I had retinitis pigmentosa.”
Catalan was scared when he heard the diagnosis. He never heard of retinitis pigmentosa and didn’t know what it would mean for his future. He was immediately removed from the ship and sent to rehab, and would eventually be medically separated from the military.
What is retinitis pigmentosa?
“Retinitis pigmentosa is one of the most common inherited diseases we see in ophthalmology,” Gregori said. “For people with this condition and certainly in Mr. Catalan’s case, the retina becomes very thin, and the photoreceptors, which convert light into electrical signals, gradually die off over time. Initially, peripheral vision, or the side vision, goes away, and then finally the central vision disappears.”
Catalan’s eyesight continued to deteriorate. Still needing to make money, he took a job as a cook. As his conditioned worsened, he struggled to tell if food was cooked and even burned himself multiple times. It was at this point that Catalan knew he needed help, so he went to the Northport VA Medical Center in New York.
“My doctors told me I needed to start preparing because I was going to be permanently blind soon,” he said. “After I heard that, I remember crying all the time. I couldn’t even hear someone say the word ‘see’ because I would burst into tears.”
The Northport VAMC referred Catalan to the VA Connecticut Healthcare System to participate in its Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Service’s three-month training program. While sitting through the training sessions and listening to the instructors and other Veterans, Catalan unexpectedly learned a valuable life lesson.
“Once I met other blind Vietnam Veterans at VA Connecticut and saw how well they were dealing with their situation, I never cried about my own condition again,” he said.
Throughout the program, he also learned to perform everyday tasks, such as shave his face, eat with utensils, identify clothing and walk with a cane. He stayed an additional two months to learn to use a computer and screen-reader technology.
Moving to Florida
In 2005, Catalan heard about ophthalmology research being conducted at the Miami VA Healthcare System and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, which serves as the ophthalmology department of the University of Miami Health System. He moved his family to Cutler Bay, Florida and transferred his care to the then Miami VA Medical Center—where he worked with Roberta Goldstein, now retired Miami VA visual impairment services team coordinator.
“Roberta was great,” he said. “She referred me to the prosthetics department at the West Palm Beach VAMC, so I could get equipment to help me go back to work. She’s the best.”
Shortly after receiving his prosthetics equipment, Catalan landed a job as a resource specialist with Marriott Hotels—where he still works today. He says Marriott has been accommodating to his condition, and he hopes to be considered for promotion one day.
In March 2015, he received a phone call that would help his chances of getting that long-awaited promotion and also change his life.
One of my hopes was to see my son’s face for the first time
When he heard about the “bionic eye,” Catalan requested an evaluation for the device at the Miami VA Eye Clinic. With the help of the low vision Miami VA team, Gregori selected him for the Argus II® screening evaluation and personally called his home to ask if he was still interested.
“He was a perfect candidate,” Gregori said. “His personality was extremely important. With artificial vision, the patient must have the patience to learn to interpret the lights and images he or she is seeing. Learning to use the Argus II is like learning a new language, so individuals with both an optimistic personality and a strong willingness to work hard are the best candidates for the technology.”
Dr. Gregori is the Miami VA chief of ophthalmology and an associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. In 2004, she was part of the surgical team that implanted the first Argus II® retinal prosthesis in a Florida patient, a non-Veteran from Tampa. She was eager to bring the new technology to the Miami VA, where she proudly serves South Florida Veterans and has lead the ophthalmology department for the past 10 years.
“Miami VA Medical Center Director Paul Russo and Chief of Surgery Dr. Seth Spector both enthusiastically welcomed the idea of making the bionic eye available to our Veterans. It would not have been possible without their support,” Gregori said.
It felt like I had just given somebody the best Christmas present
Catalan underwent surgery to implant the Argus® II, a new prosthesis approved in 2013 by the Food and Drug Administration to treat people with end-stages of retinitis pigmentosa, at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute on Nov. 24, 2015. Catalan’s bionic eye was activated Dec. 11 by the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute’s biomedical engineers, under the supervision of Miami VA’s Dr. Ninel Gregori. Even though Gregori and her team had already been through the experience of turning on the prosthesis with a previous patient, Catalan’s moment was emotional nonetheless.
“When it was turned on, Mr. Catalan started crying, and it brought tears to my eyes,” Gregori said. “It felt like I just gave somebody the best Christmas present I had ever given to anybody in my life. That’s why I went into ophthalmology.”
“After 19 years, the first thing I saw was my son’s face,” Catalan said. “I could also see Dr. Gregori, and when we walked around the hall, I was able to tell where the door and window frames were for the first time. That might not mean a lot to other people, but it meant so much to me.”
Catalan continues to work with the Miami VA Blind Rehabilitation Team, lead by optometrist Dr. Kasey Zann, to learn how to use the Argus II® in his everyday life. Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist Linh Pham visits his home and trains him to use the device in his home environment and in public. He also works regularly with Gregori and her team at the Miami VA Eye Clinic.
“The Miami VA Healthcare System has amazing low vision and blind rehabilitation resources for Veterans. It is an ideal setting for rehabilitation after Argus II implantation,” Gregori said.
At home, Catalan now sees objects and walls, and can even see lights and motion on his television for the first time. His next goal is to learn to use his new computer at work. After his training, he will be able to see shapes, the different windows and letters on his computer screen.
During an outing with his family in early 2015, Catalan was surprised to see a sight he had not seen in years.
“On New Year’s Eve, I was able to see the fireworks outside for the first time in 19 years. My mouth stayed open for a while,” he said. “Now, when I’m walking on the grass, I can see the lines where the grass is versus where the sidewalk is. The fact that I’m walking outside and can see the lights makes it all worth it.”
About the Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System
The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System—made by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc.—is an artificial retina, or bionic eye, that converts images into light and uses a miniature video camera that is mounted on a pair of glasses, said Gregori. Once the images are converted, they are wirelessly transmitted to a surgically implanted prosthesis located in the patient’s eye. The implant then stimulates the retina to produce an image that is sent to the brain for interpretation.
The Far Cry video game series has always gone above and beyond in placing the player in a beautiful, open world and pitting them against a cunning and well-written antagonist. The graphics in the most recent installment are as crisp as you’d expect from the series, the gameplay is phenomenal, and plenty of critics are already singing its praise, but what sets this game apart from every other shooter is the storyline.
This time around, instead of exploring some scenic island fighting against drug-running pirates or a prehistoric valley against neanderthals, Far Cry 5 pits the player against deranged cult in a fictional county of Montana.
You play as a Sheriff’s deputy tasked with arresting Joseph Seed, a cult leader who is a mix of David Koresh, Jim Jones, and a hipster douchebag. There’s a palpable eeriness as you walk through his church’s compound and Joseph is seemingly compliant at first. He lets you handcuff him before saying, “you’ll never arrest me.” As you make your way back to the helicopter, one of his followers hurls himself into the propellers, allowing Seed to escape back to his followers, kicking off the game.
The player is then saved by the first of many veterans you’ll encounter in the game, Dutch. He’s a loner Vietnam veteran who has shut himself off in a bunker while the world goes to sh*t outside. Inside his bunker, you’ll find plenty of little references to real-life military units, like an homage to the 82nd Airborne patch (the “AA” has been replaced by the number “82” in the same style) and a patch that’s the shape of the 101st, but with the XVIII Corps’ dragon.
He offers to help you out and gives you something to wear something other than your uniform, which includes (and I’m not making this up) some 5.11 gear.
The next veteran who helps you out is Pastor Jerome Jeffries, a Gulf War veteran turned Catholic priest. He’s holed up in his church with the few citizens who haven’t been indoctrinated by the cult. While there, you set up a resistance to buy time until the National Guard can come reinforce. You must band together with the rag-tag group of remaining people to take down Seed and his followers.
Which brings you to the third main veteran in the storyline, Grace Armstrong, a U.S. Army sniper who deployed to Afghanistan. She’s one of the characters that fights alongside you throughout the game, providing fire support from a good distance.
Though his veteran status remains unknown, you’ll also come across a companion named Boomer. Boomer’s a dog who, if he gets hurt, can be healed with a nice belly rub. It’s the little things in this game that make it amazing.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and 93-year-old Pennsylvania resident Olive Veronesi wasn’t about to let things get too bleak.
CNN Pittsburgh affiliate KDKA shared a photo of Veronesi taken by a family member, with a Coors Light in hand and a plea written on a white board: “I NEED MORE BEER!!” The picture was shared more than 5 million times and Coors Light delivered on the request in a major way.
Local 93-Year-Old Woman Who Went Viral For Requesting More Beer Gets Her Wish
Veronesi said she drinks a beer every night and was down to her last few cans.
“When we saw Olive’s message, we knew we had to jump at the chance to not only connect with someone who brought a smile to our faces during this pandemic, but also gave us a special opportunity to say thanks for being a Coors Light fan,” a Coors spokesperson told CNN.
Our favorite part? She cracked one open on the front porch as soon as the cases were delivered. Cheers, Olive! We’ll definitely be raising a Coors to you.
The main trailer for ‘Dunkirk’ is out, and it seems that Christopher Nolan will be telling the amazing story of Operation Dynamo from all angles as weekend sailors, Royal Air Force pilots, nurses, fishermen, and others appear in the footage.
Operation Dynamo, often called “The Miracle at Dunkirk,” was the evacuation of nearly 400,000 British and allied troops from the coast of France in 1940 after the German blitzkrieg cut through Allied defenses much faster than anyone anticipated.
The German invasion was expected to take months, but Nazi forces slashed a corridor through France to the English Channel in just over two weeks before they halted their advance. But the Nazis hadn’t been stopped by force of arms.
Rather, the high command decided that they didn’t want to risk panzers in pitched fighting near Dunkirk. So the German army kept the expeditionary force pinned down on the beach and sent the Luftwaffe to kill British ships in the English channel and strafe and bomb survivors on the beaches.
On May 26, the British launched Operation Dynamo, a Hail Mary attempt to rescue those dying troops through Royal Navy assets and, when those proved to be too few, hundreds of small fishing and pleasure boats piloted by civilians. Nearly 340,000 troops were evacuated from May 26 to June 4.
Previous trailers for Nolan’s movie about the event have focused on the plight of soldiers on the beach who waited for days, sometimes in shoulder-deep water while under fire from the Luftwaffe, for rescue. The new trailer shows them, but it also spends a lot of time on a father crossing the channel with his sons, as well as the nurses and pilots who made the mission possible.
It looks like World War II buffs may get to see one of the war’s most miraculous moments played out on the screen through perspectives of everyone who made it possible. Many of the troops rescued from the beaches went on to fight in North Africa, the D-Day landings, and on to Berlin.
The commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force has ordered a stop to all MV-22 Osprey flight operations in Japan until safety procedures can be reviewed after one of the tiltrotor aircraft was forced to make an emergency shallow-water landing off the coast of Okinawa on Tuesday.
In a press conference in Okinawa following the incident, Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson said the aircraft had been conducting aerial refueling operations over water when the rotor blades hit the refueling line, causing damage to the aircraft.
“After the aircraft was unhooking, it was shaking violently,” Nicholson said, according to a III MEF news release. “The pilot made a decision to not fly over Okinawan homes and families. He made a conscious decision to try to reach Camp Schwab … and land in the shallow water to protect his crew and the people of Okinawa.”
All five Marine crew members aboard the Osprey were rescued from the aircraft and taken to the naval hospital at Camp Foster for treatment following the crash. According to the release, three have been released, and two remain under observation. Their current condition was not described.
III MEF officials said a salvage survey is being conducted to determine how best to recover the damaged Osprey safely, while protecting the environment. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.
During the press conference, Nicholson thanked the Japan Coast Guard and the Okinawan police for their assistance in responding to the crash.
“I regret that this incident took place,” Nicholson said. “We are thankful for all the thoughts and prayers the people of Okinawa gave to our injured crew.”
The Marines’ use of the Osprey on Okinawa has long been a point of contention among residents, many of whom fear that the aircraft might be especially prone to crashes given its history of deadly incidents in its early days. When additional Ospreys arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in 2012, locals held protests to oppose the move.
This is the second time in four months that Nicholson has ordered an operational pause for aircraft in Japan. In September, he ordered AV-8B Harriers in the region to temporarily halt operations after one of the aircraft crashed off of Okinawa.
A Mexican drug cartel, the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, or CJNG, has been caught with a kamikaze-style drone, marking an escalation of the threat posed by the non-state actors. The drone was discovered when Mexican police arrested four men in a stolen pickup truck.
The United States has been pursuing a number of counter-UAV technologies. One, the Battelle DroneDefender, can end drones running back to their home base. This could prove a nasty surprise for some bad guy using a drone with an IED. Nammo has developed programmable ammo to shoot down enemy drones. Another promising approach had been to use lasers. Last month, Lockheed and the Army tested the ATHENA laser system against five MQM-170C drones.
In any case, some of those counter-drone systems could very well find themselves being deployed on the southern border of the United States to counter the threat of cartel drones. The scary thing is, the cartels may not be the only folks using drones.
A photograph on display at a Russian military academy is adding to the growing evidence identifying a Russian military intelligence officer who was allegedly involved in the poisoning of a former double agent in England.
The photo, highlighted in an Oct. 2, 2018 report published jointly by RFE/RL’s Russian Service and the open-source investigative website Bellingcat, builds on other recent reports that have used data from passport registries, online photographs, and military records to focus on a Russian man identified by British authorities as Ruslan Boshirov.
British authorities say that Boshirov and another man identified as Aleksandr Petrov were behind the March 2018 poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the English town of Salisbury.
The Skripals survived the poisoning, which used a Soviet-made military nerve agent known as Novichok.
Days after being publicly identified, the two Russians went on state-controlled TV channel RT and claimed they were merely tourists.
The Kremlin has strenuously denied any involvement in the poisoning, which prompted London, Washington, and other Western allies to expel dozens of Russian diplomats.
A CCTV image issued by London’s Metropolitan police showing Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov at Salisbury train station.
Later research pinpointed Boshirov’s alleged true identity as Anatoly Chepiga, who graduated from the Far Eastern Military Academy and received a medal — the Hero of the Russia Federation — in 2014, and holds the rank of colonel in the GRU.
Several people from Chepiga’s hometown also corroborated his identity to Russian and Western media, and confirmed he had been awarded a medal.
Using social-media postings, RFE/RL’s Russian Service, along with Bellingcat, discovered a wall of photos at the military academy honoring famous graduates.
One of the photos, posted between July 2014 and March 2016, is identified as Chepiga. The photo shows a man resembling the man identified as Boshirov on the RT interview.
Bellingcat also obtained a higher-resolution version of the Chepiga photograph on the wall, showing a close resemblance to the man who was interviewed on RT.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has asserted that the allegations about Chepiga and the other man are part of an “information campaign” aimed at Russia.
In June 2018, two other British citizens were also exposed to the nerve agent, apparently by accident; one of them, Dawn Sturgess, died.