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MIGHTY CULTURE

LinkedIn or CheckedOut: How to live your best life after service

Retiring from the armed forces can be a very stressful transition because there is no magic crystal ball that allows you to see into your future as a civilian. Veterans often have strong networks built over the course of their military service, but as useful as these networks are, they are also apt to keep you from branching out into something new, or taking time off to pursue uncharted possibilities. You don’t know what you don’t know, so it is easy to fall into a trap where income becomes the driving force behind career decisions rather than a deep introspective look into what you really want out of life. This leads to a pursuit of employment rather than fulfillment, and ends in a contract that forces you to trade more of your precious time for money. After giving so much to your country, and asking your family to sacrifice just as much or more, taking time to reconnect with them and yourself before a second career is worth your consideration. You might be pleasantly surprised where it will lead.


Consider the following in your calculus:

  • Military service didn’t leave much room for hobbies and passions. Do you have any languishing in the recesses of your life?
  • Military regulations and culture compelled you to identify yourself by an all-consuming job title, which in turn suppressed your identity as an individual. You were the Admiral, the Colonel, Skipper, Warrant, Chief, Senior, Top, OPSO, COS, the LPO, the First Sergeant. Do you really know who you are anymore without a job title to define you?
  • Time keeps ticking, but money comes and goes. Is time more valuable than money when you realize that you can bank one but not the other?
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This last thought is the one that gave me the most pause. If you are shackled to a life dictated by consumerism and workism, your “one day” list becomes less and less achievable. This is paradoxical, because chances are you might be making a decent salary on top of your retirement income, but you don’t have time for you, your spouse, your kids, your dog, your forgotten hobbies, or your wild and crazy ambitions. Why? Because your new job might provide a comfortable existence and a title to impress your friends, but it doesn’t guarantee you will have time for anything on your bucket list. How many successful people have all the toys in the world but no time to use them? More than you think. In this article, I will argue that as a veteran, you have been given all the resources you need to thrive in a life of your choosing. To be clear, I am not suggesting that you become completely “checked out” and retreat from society never to work again. Instead, I am advocating for a period of time that prevents you from rushing headlong into a second career. This will give you some “maneuver space” to sort through the stress, the noise, and the pressure that is screaming at you to immediately get a job and keep slogging forward. That space might be a few months, or it might be a few years, but either way, it is time well-spent.

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Try this little exercise. Mentally fast forward to the end of your life. You are looking back on your experiences wondering why you worked your whole life, yet missed out on so much living. Maybe you wanted to take a year and surf the south Pacific, or fish the great rivers in Alaska, or hike the Appalachian Trail, or follow the Tour de France, or start a business, or write a novel, or raise alpacas, or sell it all and buy a sailboat…but you didn’t, and now you are too old and tired to do anything but look back with sadness and regret. You realize there was always something standing in the way; there were always reasons why you couldn’t. So, instead of doing, you resigned yourself to watching others as you scrolled through your social media feeds and groused about your boss, staff meetings, the person who chews their food too loudly in their cubicle, the jerk who cut you off on your commute, and the endless mundane aspects of life in “The Matrix.”

As you contemplate those lost dreams, you might be asking yourself with a twinge of frustration, “Why didn’t I go for it? What was I afraid of? What was the worst thing that could have happened to me if I had unshackled myself from the ‘golden handcuffs,’ put down the electronic tether, and lived the life I always imagined?” You might be surprised to learn the worst thing that could have happened was nothing from which you could not have quickly recovered.
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Now, rewind to the present. Ask yourself this question, “Have I ever allowed myself to fail?” If you made it all the way through a 20-year (or more) career, chances are the answer is a resounding no! So why do you think you will start failing now? I’ll let you in on a little secret…you won’t. You already know how to succeed. The sad truth, however, is that many of us never take a chance, because we focus on the reasons we shouldn’t…the fears…rather than the reasons we should…the inspiration.

Every military member goes through transition class on their way out of the service. You learn that it is possible to reinvent yourself, but it isn’t easy. You are instructed to make a list of your assets, your liabilities, and any gaps you have in your skill set, then cross-reference it against what you need to break into a sector outside of what you have been doing for the past twenty-plus years. You are told to be willing to move to an area where that sector has a presence, be patient, be willing to evangelize yourself, build a network in your new community, use your hard-earned benefits to get the education or certifications you need to fill in any gaps, and be willing to start at the bottom. If you do these things while exhibiting all the qualities that made you successful on active duty, you will succeed.

What if I told you that same blueprint for reinventing yourself professionally is just as useful for reinventing yourself personally, and going after those “one day” dreams before you blindly (or deliberately) trade one overlord for another. With a little bit of planning and foresight, you can do it, and if I haven’t made my position clear, I think you should. When else will you get a planned break in your professional life to do something crazy?

I started my transition playing by the rules. I spent hours…no, weeks…working on a resume. I went to career fairs. I interviewed for jobs. I received job offers. None of it felt right in my gut. I started terminal leave in June 2018 in a panic-stricken state, grasping for a lifeline. At my wife’s urging I had been exploring the idea of trade school using my GI Bill benefits, but I was afraid to commit. “It’s not what I am expected to do,” was my typical reason, which was ridiculous. I was afraid of the unknown and everything that came with it. That was the truth. I had reached the first portal of fear, and with my wife’s encouragement, I stepped through it.

In September 2018, I enrolled in a six-month program at the IYRS School of Technology and Trades in Newport, R.I. that ended with a one-month internship and American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) certifications as a Marine Electrician, Diesel Mechanic, and Systems Technician. I wrote about how beneficial that was for me as a veteran while I was serving as a student ambassador at the school. But as I approached the end of the program, I realized I had only deferred my dilemma. I still had to figure out my life after the military.
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Once again, I found myself grasping for the familiar and hiding from my fears. I applied for a government job overseas, knowing it wasn’t what I really wanted. A friend was recruiting me to come back to the staff I had left a year and a half earlier, but after I submitted my resume, there were knots in my stomach. “What am I doing,” I asked myself. “Is this what I really want?” I wasn’t ready for staff meetings and point papers again. I wasn’t ready for days when I went to work at dawn and came home after dinner just to get up and do it all over again while my life ticked away a second at a time.

My wife had a dream that we could sell it all and go sailing. I was adamantly opposed. “If there is one thing I learned at the marine trade and technology school,” I joked, “it is don’t buy a boat!” The truth of the matter is I was terrified of selling everything and buying a boat. There were too many voices in my head telling me it would be our ruination…MY ruination. I hid behind my biggest fear – money. We couldn’t afford it. End of story.

But, it wasn’t.

It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. As I tell my children, there is a solution to every problem, we only need to outthink it. So we looked at the problem again and realized we could afford it. But, I still wasn’t ready to commit. I needed a push.

Fate intervened on my behalf. Much to my surprise, my resume never made it through the initial screening for the civil servant position, so I never got the job interview on the staff overseas. Despite my ego being bruised, I actually breathed a sigh of relief. I was a free man again. A few weeks later, after some long, introspective conversations with my wife, I agreed to the sailing adventure. Failure had somehow opened a pathway to an outcome I did not think possible. That was in March 2019. Four months later, we would be boat owners after an exhausting push to sell, donate, or repurpose just about everything we owned. Three months after that, we would be getting underway from Hampton, VA for a 1,600 nautical mile ocean passage to Antigua.

How did we go from “normal life” to “boat life” so quickly? We followed the same blueprint I received in the transition seminar. We laid out a plan, prioritized our resources, and focused everything we had on the achievement of our goal. I had already filled in the knowledge gaps by becoming a certified marine mechanic. Anyone who knows boats will tell you that 90% of boat ownership is boat maintenance, so I felt confident I could handle that responsibility with my new skills. I grew up sailing, so that wasn’t an issue, but living aboard a boat full-time was another story. We hired a couple who had twice circumnavigated with their kids as “cruising coaches.” We built a network by talking about our plans with people who could help and guide us. We made sure we were able to fund our dream by paying cash for a boat and living within the means of my retirement income. Using our new and growing network, we found a boat, brokered the deal, and moved aboard on July 31, 2019.

It was not an easy transition from land life to sea life. In fact, it was harder than anything we had ever done. Being a military family, we were used to relocating and starting over every couple years, so we put all that experience to good use. But, this time it was different. It was all on us to get it done. There were at least three distinct points when we wanted to quit. We didn’t, largely due to the encouragement and instruction we received from people who had walked the same path. The rewards for persevering are too many to list. Suffice it to say, I answer to no master. I have learned more about myself and my family in six months than I have in six years. I have swum with a whale in 19,000 feet of water halfway between Bermuda and the Leeward Islands. We have sailed our way through 50-knot squalls and come out the other side stronger and more resilient. I have made lifelong friendships with people I would never have met had I stayed in my “safe” bubble. I have gained valuable perspective by using this time away from the rat race to sort myself; to be a better husband, father, and friend.

A good counterargument to this conversation would go something like this – “My professional stock is highest immediately after I retire. It will be irresponsible for me not to take advantage of that transition point and start building my professional resume in the real world. Statistics support the fact that I most likely will change jobs several times as I find my niche, so it doesn’t matter what I do. The important thing is to get into the ring and make a name for myself.” So you get a job and a fancy-sounding title that you eagerly post on LinkedIn. You beef up your profile with a power photo that has you leaning into the camera with a smile that says, “I’m a go-getter!” You add a description underneath that says something like, “I’m a results-oriented leader with a proven track record of astonishing accomplishments, fiscal maturity, operational prowess, cunning initiative, etc, etc, etc.” It becomes your identity, and it is the right thing to do, isn’t it? I certainly thought it was. But for me, at least, it wasn’t. I am not getting any younger. Neither are you. The counterargument doesn’t hold up, in my opinion. You can always get a job and make money, but you can’t make more time. Another aspect of this counterargument is that your network will abandon you if you take time for yourself and your family. I also believe that this is invalid, and would go so far as to suggest that your network will respect you more for leading in this manner.

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We as Americans have it all backwards. We work and work and work until we hit the “golden years,” then we retire with the idea that we are going to take off from our empty nest and explore the world. I have heard so many tragic stories about people who FINALLY get some time to do the things they have always wanted to do only to be sidelined by unexpected health crises that leave them debilitated or worse. Derek Thompson, a senior staff writer for The Atlantic wrote a compelling article in February 2019 titled, “Workism is Making Americans Miserable,” where he argues that work has become, unfortunately, the, “centerpiece of one’s identity and purpose.” It’s an excellent, thought-provoking read.

Work, pay taxes, then die.

As a retiring military member, you have the resources to do what you want – healthcare, education opportunities, steady income, and many more benefits to jumpstart your second life. You only need to face down your fears and embrace the possibilities that lay before you. I am not done working, but I guarantee whatever employment I pursue in the future will be far different than what I thought I had to shoehorn myself into when I first transitioned from service. We have had a lot of people tell us how amazing our life is…how lucky we are…how courageous we are to be out sailing with our kids full time. We don’t see ourselves as different or special. We are just us, living a life of our choosing. We realized in hindsight that fear had been holding us back, not resources. Once we made our decision, we were flabbergasted by how everything suddenly seemed to align behind us. It was all there to begin with, but we were blinded by our fears of the unknown, and therefore too afraid to take a chance.

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Fear is paralyzing, and in the weeks surrounding my transition there were days when I didn’t want to get out of bed and face reality. In the middle of those dark moments, a very wise friend of mine asked me to stretch my hands out in front of myself palms up, then she had me clench my fists. She looked at me and said, “There won’t be room for anything new in your life if you are holding onto everything so tightly, afraid to let go. You have to open your hands and be willing to release – toxic relationships, needless possessions, clutter, the wrong career, convenience, the safe and easy path, money. But more importantly, you have to open your hands so what you really want has a place to land.”

I stood there for a moment clenching and unclenching my upturned hands. I am not a particularly spiritual person, but I was shocked at how profoundly her simple exercise struck a chord. “Money comes and money goes, and it should,” she concluded, “but even though we have had our backs to the wall a number of times, we always believed we would be fine because we kept our hands, figuratively of course, upturned and open.” She and her husband are better now than ever after launching their own business nearly twenty years ago. They had been let go from their previous jobs at the same time, when their kids were still young, and their stress levels already high. In that moment of darkness, they chose to open their own business and live life according to their own terms. It wasn’t easy, but looking back, they wouldn’t want it any other way.

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In the final analysis, it’s not about how much you have, but what you do with it. Achieving your ambitions means making decisions, prioritizing and leveraging resources, and aligning efforts. Do you want to be linked in right away, or checked out to gain some perspective and clarity? The choice is yours, and it doesn’t matter how big your proverbial or actual boat is. It only matters that you believe in yourself and face down your fears. Trust me, someone always has a bigger boat. You can find dozens of YouTube channels where people are sailing the world on every manner of boat imaginable. I used to watch some of them and say, “Look at their boat. It’s so ugly, or small, or dilapidated.” My wife would answer, “Yeah, sure is…but they are doing it!” How true. Would you rather be sitting in a staff meeting wishing you were doing it, or actually doing it?

I’ll close with this final thought. Many, if not all of us, who are retiring from a career in the service lost shipmates, close friends, and comrades in training and combat. A few years ago, standing on a beach in Italy looking out into the Adriatic Sea, where a friend in Air Wing 17 had perished during a nighttime training flight off the USS George Washington (CVN-73) in 2002, I made a promise that if I somehow made it through my military career, I would not squander the opportunity to fulfill dreams and live an amazing life. I felt like I owed that to those who couldn’t. Life is short, and precious. Don’t let fear hold you back. Don’t let a false sense of obligation keep you from doing the things on your “one day” list. If you do, that list will go unfulfilled.

We keep a sign on our boat that reads, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” It is a constant reminder for us to keep pushing forward. You can, too.

Glenn Robbins is a retired Naval Officer cruising full-time on a 46-foot catamaran named FEARLESS with his wife Andi and their two children, Gavin and Alexis.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the soldier headed to the International Space Station

One soldier is proving childhood dreams can come true as she prepares to launch into space for her first time.

Army Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne C. McClain, and her crewmates, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency and Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, are scheduled to launch Dec. 20, 2018, aboard the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for a six-month rotation on the International Space Station.

“When you look over the history of human space flight during the past 50 years, it is a relatively short time,” McClain said. “Every vehicle that has been built and every flight that has been taken is an accomplishment in and of itself. We have been flying to the space station for about 18 years and the thing we are always doing at all of our agencies is [asking], ‘What’s next? What is the next step we can take where mankind has never been before?’ For us, that is deep space.


“At the crew level we are fortunate,” she continued. “We have been training together more than a year for this flight. It is actually very easy to forget we are from three different countries and three different places because we are doing the same things together every day. We have the same concerns and the same issues in dealing with our families and we just connect as human beings.”

‘We are all in it together’

“At the end of the day, the Earth is a small place and we are all in it together, McClain said. “The decisions we make affect one another. From our perspectives, rather than taking politics and letting them inform our friendships, we actually take our friendships and let them inform our view of how politics should be and how our world could be.

“The peaceful exploration of space is absolutely a unifying aspect,” she added. “Working with this crew is an incredible opportunity, but it is also an example of what humans can do when we put aside our differences and really focus on what motivates us.”

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Army Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne C. McClain.

McClain is a native of Spokane, Washington, and earned her undergraduate degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Additionally, she earned two master’s degrees while studying in England. She was a member of the USA Rugby Women’s National Team and said her experiences have played an integral role in helping her work with the international members of her NASA team.

“We are not just going to the International Space Station to visit, we are going there to live. It will be our home, and we are going to adapt to it,” McClain said. “When I go to Russia, it is absolutely a second home for me right now. I always tell people it is amazing the perspective you get when you get out of your comfort zone long enough to make it your comfort zone.

“It is amazing to see how people on the other side of the world approach the exact same problems yet come up with different solutions,” she added. “Getting comfortable in another culture really helps you understand perspectives and that we are not that different from one another.”

‘Humbling’ experience

As a soldier, McClain earned her wings as an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior scout/attack helicopter pilot. She has more than 2,000 flight hours and served at every level of Army aviation units at Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii, and at Fort Rucker, Alabama; as well as in combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“The Army has given me everything I have as an adult,” she said. “It gave me my undergraduate college education and two master’s degrees. It gave me flight school and test pilot school. But I think, most importantly, the Army gave me really humbling, selfless leadership experience.”

“I went into the Army probably a little overconfident in some of my abilities, and I came out very humbled and very in awe of the people I serve with and with a recognition that I could never accomplish remotely what others can when given the right tools,” McClain said. “My biggest role as a leader or as a member of the team is to enable other people around me to perform at their optimal best.”

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Expedition 58 crew members Anne McClain of NASA (left), Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos (center) and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency (right) pose for pictures following their final Soyuz spacecraft qualification exams at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia.

(NASA photo by Elizabeth Weissinger)

“I try to be the leader who synergizes the team and tries to recognize barriers to the team around me and knock those barriers down,” she continued. “Our soldiers in our military are some of the most innovative, smart, dedicated, selfless people who I have ever worked with in my life. I am humbled every day just to be in their ranks. I learned from them to trust the people around me.

“Here at NASA our lives depend on each other every day,” McClain added. “I was in a vacuum chamber last week that can be a real threat to your body. These guys put on my gloves and pants while doing a leak check to make sure everything was good. My life was in their hands last week and it will be again in the future. I learned to have that trust in the Army.”

Selection, training

In 2013, McClain attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School where she was selected as one of eight members of NASA’s 21st astronaut class. Her astronaut candidate training included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in ISS systems, spacewalks, robotics, physiological training, T-38 flight training and water and wilderness survival training. She completed astronaut training in 2015.

“If you do the thing everybody else does, you are going to get what everybody else does,” McClain said. “If you want to do something amazing and something great, you need to start being different today and stay dedicated to that. There is nothing you are doing that is not important so you must excel in everything you do.”

During the upcoming mission, McClain and her team will facilitate about 250 research investigations and technology demonstrations. She explained that science experiments conducted in space yield benefits and technology advancements for all humanity and looks forward to achieving more scientific progress.

“The benefit of science experiments in micro-gravity and low-earth orbit are too numerous to just leave and move onto the next thing,” McClain said. “I am overwhelmed at the quantity of tasks we have, in a good way. One of the really neat things about going to the space station for six months is that we don’t specialize.”

“One of the things I really like is getting into academic areas I had no experience with before,” she continued. “I am an aerospace engineer by training and I was a test pilot in the Army. One of my favorite things now is biology and learning about the human body. To me this is really fascinating, and I could have had a totally different career and loved it also.

“What I am most excited about is space walks. We have some ‘penciled in’ for our mission,” McClain added. “It is what I dreamed of when I was a little 5-year-old girl and it is pretty neat to think that maybe in the next six months it could be happening.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 items to make your field exercise less miserable

Let’s face it; no one actually likes going to the field. Round-the-clock operations, sleeping on the ground, and spending way too much time with the people you work with can take its toll. Next time you prep for the field, be sure to consider bringing these items to make your field experience a little more bearable. Just be sure that they’re not contraband. Sergeant Major yelling at you is the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve here.


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Mags, check. Plates, check. Gloves, check. Jetboil, check (Jetboil)

1. Portable stove

In most cases, a portable stove is an approved item to bring to the field. One of the most common stoves is the convenient Jetboil. Available in a variety of sizes and powered by easily-packed fuel canisters, Jetboil stoves can be used to boil water to warm MREs, cook instant ramen, make coffee, and even shave with (just be sure to boil more water and wash it out afterwards). Also, be careful operating it so that you don’t end up like Cpl. Ray Person after Rudy’s espresso machine went off like a 40 mike mike (if you know, you know).

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They fold flat and can easily be stuffed in an assault pack (Rothco)

2. Folding stool

Look, laying in the prone for hours sucks, especially if the ground is cold, wet, and full of bugs. Some grunts and snake eaters live for that sort of thing, but for those of us that don’t, there’s the folding stool. When you come off the line and into the center of the patrol base for some chow, a stool to sit on is a simple luxury that can make all the difference. Plus, you won’t have to fight with your buddies over who gets to sit on the few remaining unopened MRE boxes. You didn’t hear it from me, but you might even consider popping a squat on your folding stool while pulling security. Just don’t get caught.

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Maybe bring a spare pack for your buddies (Pampers)

3. Baby wipes

This one is almost a given, but you’d be surprised how often troops forget their baby wipes. If you do forget them, you’d better hope your buddies are willing to share theirs. Otherwise, it’s the MRE napkins for you. Aside from helping you answer nature’s call, baby wipes also provide the cooling relief of a “field shower”, which can be all you need to unwind after a day of patrols. If you’ll be wearing face camo during your time in the field, consider packing makeup wipes as well. They’re better suited for cutting through the thick and waxy face paint than regular baby wipes.

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The Iceman knows the value of a can of Beefaroni (HBO)

4. Civilian food

Again, this one is almost a given. That said, packing lists can sometimes explicitly forbid bringing any type of food, so read yours carefully…or just hide your food well. Sunflower seeds can help relieve boredom when you’re static for hours on end, beef jerky can keep you going during those long foot patrols, and a can of Chef Boyardee (heated with your portable stove) might be the morale boost you need to make it through the final days of your op. Need a convenient way to carry your food while having it easily accessible? Consider adding a magazine dump pouch to your kit. Just don’t let First Sergeant catch you pulling gummy worms out of it.

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The famous Gulf War Gameboy is completely original (Nintendo)

5. Nintendo Gameboy

Or really, whatever portable game system you want. I’ve seen everything from PSPs in sunglasses cases to a Switch stuffed in a Crown Royal bag. That said, an old-school Gameboy offers you an easily concealable platform, absurdly long battery life, and the chance to beat the Elite Four again. A Gameboy can also be quickly switched off and shoved into your pocket or an empty mag pouch if you see your squad leader coming towards your position.

By no means is this an all-encompassing list. Really, the best items to bring with you on a field exercise are the things that will make you happy, whether that be a book, a photograph, or fuzzy socks to sleep in. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, pay attention to your packing list…and your surroundings.


MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Marines now have an anti-ship missile

The US Marine Corps plans to arm its forces with a new anti-ship missile that will allow US troops to sink enemy ships from shore-based launchers 100 miles away, a capability the Marines have been chasing with China’s growing navy in mind.

The Corps has decided to spend roughly $48 million on Raytheon’s Naval Strike Missile, a long-range precision strike missile the Navy ordered last year for its littoral combat ships and future frigates, Raytheon announced this week.

The service has made fielding this capability a priority.

“There’s a ground component to the maritime fight. You have to help the ships control sea space. And you can do that from the land,” Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller told USNI News earlier this year. “We’ve got to be able to attack surface platforms at range.”


Breaking Defense reported in January 2019 that the Marines were considering Lockheed Martin’s Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, the Naval Strike Missile, and Boeing’s Harpoon as options for the kind of capability the Corps desires as the US military readies itself to defeat a powerful rival like Russia or China.

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Army experiments with land-based launch of Naval Strike Missile during RIMPAC 2018.

(David Hogan, AMRDEC WDI)

The Naval Strike Missile, which was manufactured by Norway’s Kongsberg Defence Systems in partnership with Raytheon, carries a 275-pound warhead, has a range of over 100 nautical miles, and can be fired from ships and mobile shore-based launchers.

The Army experimented with a land-based launch of the Naval Strike Missile during last year’s Rim of the Pacific exercise, when the weapon was fired from a truck at a decommissioned ship off Hawaii.

The Marines have yet to select a suitable mobile launch platform, which could be Lockheed’s M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or one of two large, heavy trucks from Oshkosh, Breaking Defense previously reported. The Corps told Military.com two years ago they wanted a launcher that could be easily moved by a V-22 Osprey.

The Corps still has some important experimentation and decision-making to do before the Naval Strike Missile can be effectively fielded from shore-based batteries.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

Army SSGT performs the ultimate Van Halen tribute and it goes viral

On October 6, legendary rocker Eddie Van Halen lost his battle with cancer. The death of the rocker shocked not just his legions of fans but people around the globe. As a tribute to the late great, Army Staff Sgt. Austin West took to the internet to play through his grief and offer one of the most fitting tributes to the musician.


Eddie Van Halen Tribute

www.youtube.com

West knew what many of us inherently understand – music unites us, both in times of hope and in times of grief. Of course, West wasn’t the only person who took to the internet to offer their tributes, but his was definitely the best.

The three-minute video of West has been viewed more than a million times. West, who is a recruiter based in Watertown, New York, instantly became a viral sensation, not just because of West’s stellar guitar skills but also because it’s so very clear that his tribute to the late rocker is so heartfelt.

West successfully manages to play half a dozen of Van Halen’s best-known guitar riffs, including “You Really Got Me,” “Panama” and “Eruption.” The Army musician reportedly told Stars and Stripes that he feels connected to both his guitar and the late musical legend.

The 26-guitar player first picked up an ax after listening to an AC/DC cassette. He was hooked and immediately wanted to learn how to play. Then, he saw Van Halen live in 2008, and that sealed the deal. He’s been playing for 13 years now, and he once played a single song for an AC/DC tribute band.

That tribute was never rehearsed and played flawlessly, West said, so it’s no surprise that his Van Halen tribute has had so many views and rings so true.

In an interview with the Watertown CBS affiliate WWNY, West said that even his earliest attempts at learning Van Halen’s music made him feel like a “rock god,” and that’s one of the many reasons he kept practicing.

During his Army career, West has worked as both a signal soldier and then held a post as a guitarist for the US Army Bank.

A soldier spotlight video for the US Army Recruiting Command, released in February, features West. In the video, he says that getting out of bed every morning is easier knowing he’s going to help someone, “whether it be in recruiting and helping change someone’s life and hearing their success stories or going out and playing in front of all these beautiful people.”

The Van Halen tribute video isn’t the first time that West’s guitar playing has reached countless fans. Back in 2015, he performed in a tour with the US Army Soldier Show. The Soldier Show is an annual production that visits installations around the country to feature the musical and theater talents of service members and to help raise awareness that creative positions in the Army exist. During West’s participation in 2015, the Soldier Show stopped at 74 installations.

In a time of increasing social isolation, music is one of the few shared creative outlets that can exist across all communities. Uniting through music, no matter if it’s Van Halen or Mozart, can help bring people together in a way that other media can’t. West’s touching tribute proves that viral videos don’t need to be over the top or extreme to be shared, liked, and appreciated by people all around the country. Music is all around us and helps provide us the foundation to share our stories, which is exactly what West has been able to do with his tribute to Eddie Van Halen. As a universal language, it helps unit us across cultures and can comfort people in times of need, grief, or sadness – emotions all felt when the world learned of Van Halen’s untimely death.

Once his recruiting billet is complete, West will be joining the Army pop-rock group, As You Were, for a three-year assignment.


MIGHTY TRENDING

China doubles down with anti-ship missiles in the South China Sea

Anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems were stationed on Chinese outposts in the contested South China Sea, in yet another signal that China intends to cement its presence on the disputed islands.

Sources familiar with US intelligence reports said the weapons systems were installed on three fortified outposts in the Spratly Islands, west of the Philippines, according to a CNBC report.


The YJ-12B anti-ship cruise missiles would provide China the ability to engage surface vessels within 295 nautical miles of the reefs; and the HQ-9B surface-to-air missiles are expected to have a range of 160 nautical miles, CNBC reported.

“We have consistently called on China, as well as other claimants, to refrain from further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and militarization of disputed features, and to commit to managing and resolving disputes peacefully with other claimants,” a Pentagon official said to CNBC. “The further militarization of outposts will only serve to raise tensions and create greater distrust among claimants.”

“These would be the first missiles in the Spratlys, either surface to air, or anti-ship,” Greg Poling, a South China Sea expert the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Reuters.

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An anti-ship cruise missile.
(Photo by Jeff Hilton)

“Before this, if you were one of the other claimants … you knew that China was monitoring your every move. Now you will know that you’re operating inside Chinese missile range. That’s a pretty strong, if implicit, threat,” he said.

China’s increased military presence in the region comes amid another maneuver, one which exacerbated concerns among the US military and its allies. US officials said that in early April 2018, intelligence officers detected China was moving radar and communications-jamming equipment to the Spratly Island outposts.

“This is not something that the US will look kindly on or think they can overlook.” Stratfor military analyst Omar Lamrani told Business Insider editor Alex Lockie, when asked about potential moves to jam communications channels. “The US will likely seek to counter this in some way,” he said.

Hotly disputed, $3.4 trillion shipping lane

Six countries, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, are contesting at least part of the chain of islands, reefs, and surrounding waters in the South China Sea. Located between Vietnam and the Philippines, the natural resources and trade routes that pass through the Spratly Islands are a lucrative venture for the countries — around $3.4 trillion in trade is reportedly transported through the South China Sea every year.

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CSIS/Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

China has been one of the most prominent claimants to territory in the South China Sea since the 1980s. It currently has around 27 outposts throughout the islands and has continued to outfit them with aircraft runways, lighthouses, tourist resorts, hospitals, and farms.

According to some experts, the creation of civilian attractions in the region signals that China is undertaking a two-pronged approach in attempts to legitimize its ownership — by arguing it has a vested interest in the region, both militarily and otherwise.

In April 2018, US Navy Adm. Philip Davidson, nominated to lead the US’ Pacific Command, said Beijing’s “forward operating bases” in the South China Sea appeared complete.

Davidson said China could use the bases pose a challenge the US and “would easily overwhelm the military forces of any other South China Sea-claimants.

“China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States,” he said.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump wants ‘Space Force’ to be its own military branch

While speaking to US Marines in San Diego on March 13, 2018, President Donald Trump suggested creating a branch of the military for space.


“My new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a war-fighting domain just like the land, air and sea,” Trump said at Miramar Air Station. “We may even have a Space Force.”

“You know, I was saying it the other day cause we’re doing a tremendous amount of work in space,” Trump said. “I said ‘maybe we need a new force, we’ll call it the space force.’ And I was not really serious, and then I said ‘what a great idea, maybe we’ll have to do that.'”

“That could happen, that could be the big breaking story,” Trump said. “Look at all those people back there,” Trump said, pointing to the media in the background. “Look at them… Ohhhh, that fake news.”

Related: Trump’s strategy to prepare the US for power war with Russia and China

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(Photo by garysan97/Flickr)

While Trump appears to have wandered into the issue in his speech, the idea is not new.

The Congressional Strategic Forces Subcommittee even proposed creating such a branch in July 2017, which they called Space Corps. But the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that passed in November 2017 actually banned it.

Also read: This is President Trump’s military wishlist for 2019

The proposed Space Corps would have fallen under the Air Force branch.

Republican Mike Rogers, the chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, however, said in February 2018 that he expects such a force to be built in three to five years, according to Defense News.

Supporters of the Space Corps have argued that it’s needed to counter Russia and China’s desire to build anti-satellite weaponry.

Articles

5 basic things you should know about the thrift savings plan

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Retirement planning can be stressful, but figuring out how to finance it takes a great deal of the stress away. Enter the government’s Thrift Savings Plan, or TSP. The first step in understanding TSPs is answering five basic questions: who, what, where, when, and why.

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Who: The thrift savings plan is available to federal employees and members of the uniformed services. It is managed by BlackRock, a financial planning and investment firm headquartered in New York City.

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What: TSP is a retirement savings plan similar to a private sector 401(k). Federal employees and military personnel can contribute up to a certain percentage of their base pay to their TSP. BlackRock assigns a broker to manage TSP accounts. Brokers are not held to the same standards as fiduciaries in that a broker has no vested interest in your funds; rather a broker’s only job is to invest money in suitable securities.

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When: If you are a federal employee who joined your agency after 2010, you’re automatically enrolled in TSP with 3 percent of your base pay sent to your TSP; your agency matches this contribution automatically. If you joined your agency before 2010, an automatic 1 percent of your base pay is sent to TSP; your agency matches your additional contributions above the 1 percent. Military members must set up their own contributions and there is no matching contribution from the military.

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Where: Military members can set up contributions to TSP through MyPay. Which type of funds you decide to invest in will determine when you can access the funds from that investment. There are L Funds, which are “lifestyle funds” that you can withdraw from at a predetermined time. Then there are G, F, S, C, and I funds, which rely on you to make your own investment decisions with a broker, according to the government’s TSP summary.

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Why: A thrift savings plan gives you the ability to participate in a long-term retirement savings and investment plan. Additionally, you can choose between a regular TSP and a Roth TSP. Traditional TSP is tax free as you contribute, but you’ll pay taxes when you withdraw the funds. A Roth TSP allows you to pay taxes upon investment, and withdraw at a later date tax free. The upside to utilizing the government’s TSP is that you won’t pay fees to invest, and you’ll have a broker to manage the funds.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why squadrons are the ‘beating heart’ of the Air Force

In the Air Force, squadrons are the basic level of operations, its “beating heart” as Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Goldfein calls them.

To better understand how significant the squadron is to the Air Force, it’s also important to know what a squadron is.

Within the Air Force, the squadron is the lowest level of command with a headquarters element. Squadrons are typically commanded by a lieutenant colonel, though smaller squadrons may be commanded by majors, captains and sometimes even lieutenants. Squadrons can also vary in size and are usually identified numerically and by function. An example would be the 60th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron or the 355th Communications Squadron.


Two or more squadrons form a group. In the Air Force, groups are usually based upon the assignment of squadrons with similar functions. For example, the supply squadron, transportation, and aircraft maintenance squadron would be assigned to the Logistics Group, the flying squadrons would be assigned to the Operations Group and the Dental Squadron and the Medical Squadron would be assigned to the Medical Group. Groups, in turn, are then assigned to a wing with the same number. For instance, the 49th Logistics Group is assigned to the 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

However, the squadron actually predates the Air Force. In March 1913, the first squadron was created when the Army ordered the creation of the Army Air Services’ 1st Provisional Aero Squadron – known today as the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, the U.S. military’s oldest flying unit.

The creation of higher echelons came later as the role of air power grew during World War I. Groups and wings were formed in order to remedy the difficulty of coordinating aerial activities between dispersed aero squadrons. Though WWI saw the first great military mobilization, it also saw the first huge drawdown. What was more than 660 aero units diminished to a little over 70 squadrons by 1919, with an air component that was 19,000 soldiers strong reduced to around 5 percent of what it used to be. No one would have predicted that after two decades, the air component found itself expanding once again.

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108th Bombardment Squadron during the Korean War activation formation in 1951.

(US Air Force photo)

With the advent of World War II, then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt acknowledged the growing importance of airpower. He believed, according to his adviser, Harry Hopkins, “that airpower would win the war.” What was then renamed to the Army Air Corps was well funded and grew rapidly, seeing more planes and squadrons than it ever will in its history – from a workforce comprised of 26,500 soldiers in 1939 to a staggering 2,253,000-strong by 1945.

The aerial component saw a considerable drawdown after the war ended, and, despite becoming its own department through the National Security Act of 1947, the number of airmen and squadrons continued to fluctuate and shrink over the years.

In the current Air Force, led by Wilson, Goldfein, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, the push for revitalizing squadrons, empowering airmen and supporting innovation is stronger than ever, but unbeknownst to many, these concepts have been implemented by many successful military leaders of the past. A prime example is one of the U.S. Air Force’s most iconic figures: a man known for his prowess in the aerial battlefield and his famously distinctive lip foliage, Big. Gen. Robin Olds.

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“Wolfpack” aviators of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing carry their Commanding Officer, Colonel Robin Olds, following his return from his last combat mission over North Vietnam, on 23 September 1967. This mission was his hundredth “official” combat mission, but his actual combat mission total for his tour was 152. Olds led the 8th TFW Wolfpack from September 1966 through September 1967, as it amassed 24 MiG victories, the greatest aerial combat record of an F-4 Wing in the Vietnam war.

(US Air Force)

Along with inspiring the Air Force tradition, Mustache March, Olds was known as a triple ace for shooting down 17 enemy aircraft during his career. Along with the accolades he received as a skilled fighter pilot, Olds was known for his innovative leadership. In Vietnam, he led the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing to 24 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 jet aircraft kills – an unsurpassed total for that conflict.

One of the most significant moments in his career was on Jan. 2, 1967, during Operation Bolo, where he, as a colonel, entrusted the planning of an experimental and high-stakes mission to a quartet of veteran junior officers and pilots in his unit. Operation Bolo was conceived in response to the North Vietnamese use of MiG-21s to successfully shoot down F-105 Thunderchief aircraft. Olds noticed that F-4 Phantoms and F-105 Thunderchiefs routes became predictable. Enemy intelligence analysts would listen in on radio transmissions and were able to recognize F-105 and F-4 call signs and flight patterns and used the information to target the more vulnerable F-105s. Olds charged his men to come up with a plan to trick the North Vietnamese into thinking the F-4s were the F-105s. The F-4s were then fitted with the jamming pods usually carried by F-105s so that their electronic signature would be the same and also used the same call signs and flew the same routes and pod formations as the F-105s. Needless to say, the operation was a success and lead to the most MiGs shot down during a single mission.

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Francis S. Gabreski (left) congratulates another World War II and Korean War ace, Maj. William T. Whisner (center). On the right is Lt. Col. George Jones, a MiG ace with 6.5 kills.

(US Air Force)

In a commentary commemorating Olds in March of 2018 written by Lt. Col. Bobby Schmitt, 16th Space Control Squadron commander, he said that Operation Bolo “showed innovation could work when the leader trusted and empowered his people to think of and implement new and better ways to do business.”

He also referred to Olds as “an innovative leader” at a time when the Air Force was in dire need of innovation to face difficult missions where a lot of people’s lives were at stake.

Just like Olds, Goldfein and Wilson ask airmen to help come up with ideas to reinvigorate squadrons for the force to be ready for the 21st-century fight.

They have gone as far as reviewing all Air Force instructions and empowering commanders to maneuver and make decisions as well as encourage wing commanders to let squadron commanders make important decisions.

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Capt. Lacey Koelling, the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge, and 34th Bomb Squadron members Capt. Lillian Pryor, a B-1 pilot; Capt. Danielle Zidack, a weapon systems officer; Capt. Lauren Olme, a B-1 pilot; and 1st Lt. Kimberly Auton, a weapon systems officer, conduct a preflight briefing prior to an all-female flight out of Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., March 21, 2018. The flight was in honor of WomenÕs History Month and consisted of routine training in the local area.

(Air Force photo by Sgt. Jette Carr)

During an Air Force update in September 2017, where Goldfein talked about creating healthy squadrons who excel in multi-domain warfare and ready to lead the joint force, he concluded by saying, “It’s the secretary and my job to release the brilliance found throughout the airmen in our Air Force,” a sentiment that echoes the voices of great Air Force leaders of the past, the present and the future.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Army’s desperate World War I fight for privates’ parts

When America entered World War I, it brought more radical changes than just fresh troops and a huge manufacturing base. It also introduced novel tactics in the fight against venereal disease — the war for infantrymen’s penises.


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Specifically, “go and don’t bring back venereal diseases.”

(The Museum of New Zealand)

See, while World War I was a bone-crunching and horrible war, those who rotated off the front were still willing to stand at attention for a little morale improvement. Unfortunately, troops wouldn’t always report it if their li’l Joes encountered some biological warfare on the battlefield.

All euphemisms aside, lots of troops were sleeping with lots of women whenever they got the chance, leading to an outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases. Because of social stigmas, many troops wouldn’t report it when they contracted one of the STDs, further propelling the problem.

As American troops and their physicians made their way to the front, leaders had to decide how to prevent the same issue among U.S. ranks. While the European powers had embraced a program of abstinence, the U.S. Army created a four-pronged attack on venereal disease.

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Alcohol wasn’t popular in the U.S. before or after the war. Remember, America entered World War I just three years before it enacted Prohibition.

(United Committee on War Temperance)

The first two prongs were social: First, the U.S. cracked down on access to alcohol and prostitutes in the ranks. While this, obviously, eliminated American forces from most of the fun trenches of France, it would also serve to cut down on how often the soldiers were exposed to venereal disease. Then, authorities launched an education campaign, ostensibly to help men “Just Say No” to diseased genitals.

Oddly enough, this second prong, “education,” was actually controversial. Birth control education was actually illegal in America during World War I and had been since 1873. In fact, a high-profile arrest in 1916 occurred when a woman opened America’s first birth control clinic.

The next prong represented the biggest shift from Europe abstinence program. The U.S. distributed “prophylactics,” or condoms. Condoms help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, especially gonorrhea and chlamydia, which were big threats in France at the times. Condoms also cut down on the transmission of syphilis, another widespread disease.

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It wasn’t just prostitutes that American G.I.s were able to attract, either. Remember that Britain and France had been at war for almost three years when America came along, and huge numbers of their military-age males were already dead. Plenty of women looking for boyfriends and husbands had few options beyond traveling soldiers.

(Imperial War Museum)

This was also illegal in World War I in some parts of the country and would remain so until 1965 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law banning birth control — but hey, troops get certain exemptions. When you bend the rules to ask a guy to kill for you, you should probably loosen the rules about teaching him how to get laid without contracting disease or conceiving a baby.

These three prongs helped but, of course, even if the troops never got drunk with a prostitute and used a new condom every time they had sex, some guys would still get unlucky and contract a disease or two. So, prong four of the plan was an emphasis on medical care. Report the disease when you’re sick, come to the clinic, and get diagnosed and treated.

All of these efforts were buffed by other programs advocated by Army doctors, like the “furnishing of healthy social conditions and of opportunities for diversion….” Basically, keep the troops too busy with the YMCA and and other social organizations that they wouldn’t get so bored they’d slip out of camp to look for prostitutes.

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This was the treatment for gonorrhea in those days, an injection into the urethra. We can’t understand why troops might’ve avoided seeing the doctor.

(Public domain)

And there was a stick that backed up the carrot. Any soldier who contracted an STI and didn’t seek treatment would face trial and imprisonment.

Yeah, get the drip-drop and don’t report to the docs, you’re going to the stocks.

And the policies worked, to an extent. Of course some guys got sick and passed the disease along before getting treatment, but disease levels were lower in the U.S. camps than in British and French ones.

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Front and back cover on a War Department pamphlet advocating veterans engage in a war against venereal disease back in the U.S.

(War Department)

So the allies followed suit, distributing condoms and providing distractions. Again, no plan was perfect, and there were limits to what medicine was capable of at the time, so not all troops who got sick were guaranteed recovery with treatment.

The efforts to protect troops from STDs in World War I were repeated in World War II — and led to the slow expansion of birth control and disease prevention at home. Troops were sent home with books about venereal disease, but these typically advocated abstinence in place of the condoms and medical treatment provided in the trenches.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Ukrainians describe the day their world erupted in an ammunition fire

When Mykola Reshetnuk first heard the blasts at just after 3 in the morning, he just buried himself deeper in his blankets and stayed in bed. But with the deafening reports seeming to get closer and closer, the 57-year-old Ukrainian got worried and left. And with good reason.

Seconds later, a shell tore through his house.

Reshetnuk, a pensioner, doesn’t live in a war zone. Instead, he is one of around 12,000 residents forced out of their homes after ammunition stored at a military depot near the town of Ichnya, about 135 kilometers northeast of Kyiv, began exploding early on Oct. 9, 2018, sparking a huge blaze that the Defense Ministry suggested was the result of “military sabotage.”


After the deployment of repurposed tanks and aircraft to the scene, officials said on Oct. 11, 2018, that the depot fire had finally been “extinguished completely.”

“I rushed out. I was hiding over there, in a ditch,” he told RFE/RL one day earlier, motioning to the side of a nearby road spotted with rubble and debris. “Everything was blasting, exploding around me.”

Off in the distance, explosions periodically punctuated his words.

As the smoke clears from the blaze, Reshetnuk and others may be forgiven for feeling like they live in a combat zone.

Rows of houses for kilometers around the Chernihiv region depot bear the scars of incoming armaments that were launched by the heat of the blaze.

Charred frames of homes that were occupied just days ago continued to smolder as people returned to survey the damage.

A couple walked their bikes down one of the town’s narrow roads, careful to avoid the potholes from the hundreds of shells that rained down and now lay littered about the town.

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“Did you get everything?” shouted one Emergency Services employee as crews armed with metal detectors and shovels scanned nearby yards after reports that some unexploded devices were still embedded in the ground.

They doubled back on his command, fearing the damage one overlooked hole in the ground could wreak on an unsuspecting victim. No casualties have been reported from the fire, and officials are hoping to keep it that way.

“From 3 a.m. to 8 a.m., we were hiding in the cellar. It was impossible to get out,” said Reshtnuk’s neighbor, Serhiy Ishchenko.

“We returned and the neighbor’s house and fence were in flames. All we could do was try to contain it so that the blaze wouldn’t spread to other buildings.”

Pointing to how the explosions appeared to go off at intervals in different parts of the depot, Ukrainian authorities blamed saboteurs.

There have been other major explosions and fires at Ukrainian arms depots in recent years, amid fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a few hundred kilometers southeast of the depot site.

The war has killed more than 10,300 people since it began after Russia seized Crimea in 2014 and fomented separatism following the ouster of Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled after months of pro-European unrest in Kyiv.

Cease-fire deals signed in Minsk in September 2014 and February 2015 have failed to end the bloodshed despite near-constant dialogue among European, Russian, and U.S. officials over ways to resolve the four-year crisis.

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Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

In March 2017, a massive firestorm at a munitions depot near the eastern city of Kharkiv prompted the evacuation of about 20,000 residents within a 20-kilometer radius of the site.

And in September 2017, more than 30,000 people were forced from their homes after artillery warehouses on a military installation exploded in the Vinnytsya region, southwest of Kyiv.

Authorities have frequently blamed the blasts on sabotage, and the government has allocated 100 million hryvnyas (.6 million) for the protection of the country’s ammunition-storage facilities.

But that does little for Reshetnuk as he surveys the damage to his home.

“The furnace is the only thing left here. Where will I keep myself warm now? What will I do in winter? How will I rebuild my house? My monthly pension is just 1,400 hryvnyas,” he says, spreading his hands to the sky to show how his house no longer has a roof.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

France’s operators are reportedly hunting French militants in Iraq

France’s special operators in Iraq are collecting intelligence on their own citizens and then distributing it to Iraqi forces, according to the Wall Street Journal. The intent appears to be ensuring that as few French citizens as possible learn to fight under ISIS tutelage and then conduct attacks at home.


France has suffered many ISIS-sponsored and ISIS-inspired international attack, including the attack in Nice in July 2016 that killed 84 and the 2015 Paris attack that killed 130.

An estimated 1,700 French citizens have joined militant groups in Iraq and Syria, and France has little reason to want any of them back. Gathering intelligence on the most dangerous of them and handing it over to the Iraqis is a convenient way to reduce the threat without violating French laws on extra-judicial killings.

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French TV news has reported that France’s special operations forces are embedded with Iraqi units. (Screen Grab from France 24 News)

The U.S. has killed Americans in drone strikes and firefights, but only one of them was specifically targeted. Anwar al-Awlaki was a New Mexico-born Muslim cleric who preached a particularly anti-American and violent reading of Islam. He was targeted and killed in a drone strike in 2011.

France appears to be sidestepping the controversy that embroiled the Obama administration after the killing of al-Awlaki by outsourcing the dirty work.

Christophe Castaner, a French spokesman, responded to questions about the special operations with, “I say to all the fighters who join (Islamic State) and who travel overseas to wage war: Waging war means taking risks. They are responsible for those risks.”

Basically, the official spokesman equivalent of, “Bye, Felicia.”

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The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle sails in 2009. (Photo: U.S. Navy

France was historically reluctant to join the wars in the Middle East, participating in the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan but protesting America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But the rise of ISIS drew France deeper into the fight and Paris currently has large operations ongoing in North Africa and in Iraq and Syria. In 2015, France’s only aircraft carrier was en route to the Persian Gulf when the ISIS attack in Paris killed 130. The carrier was rerouted to the Mediterranean Sea where it concentrated its air strikes against ISIS forces in Syria.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

If it’s not ethical, they won’t field it: Pentagon release new A.I. guidelines

The Pentagon has vowed that if it cannot use artificial intelligence on the battlefield in an ethical or responsible way, it will simply not field it, a top general said Monday.


Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), made that promise as the Defense Department unveiled new A.I. guidelines, including five main pillars for its principled execution of A.I.: to be responsible, equitable, traceable, reliable and governable.

“We will not field an algorithm until we are convinced it meets our level of performance and our standard, and if we don’t believe it can be used in a safe and ethical manner, we won’t field it,” Shanahan told reporters during a briefing. Algorithms often offer the calculation or data processing instruction for an A.I. system. The guidelines will govern A.I. in both combat and non-combat functions that aid U.S. military use.

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The general, who has held various intelligence posts, including overseeing the algorithmic warfare cross-functional team for Google’s Project Maven, said the new effort is indicative of the U.S.’s intent to stand apart from Russia and China. Both of those countries are testing their uses of A.I. technology for military purposes, but raise “serious concerns about human rights, ethics, and international norms.”

For example, China has been building several digital artificial intelligence cities in a military-civilian partnership as it looks to understand how A.I. will be propagated and become a global leader in technology. The cities track human movement through artificial facial recognition software, watching citizens’ every move as they go about their day.

While Shanahan stressed the U.S. should be aggressive in its pursuits to harness accurate data to stay ahead, he said it will not go down the same path of Russia and China as they neglect the principles that dictate how humans should use A.I.

Instead, the steps put in place by the Pentagon can hold someone accountable for a bad action, he said.

“What I worry about with both countries is they move so fast that they’re not adhering to what we would say are mandatory principles of A.I. adoption and integration,” he said.

The recommendations came after 15 months of consultation with commercial, academic and government A.I. experts as well as the Defense Innovation Board (DIB) and the JAIC. The DIB, which is chaired by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, made the recommendations last October, according to a statement. The JAIC will be the “focal point” in coordinating implementation of the principles for the department, the statement said.

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Dana Deasy, the Pentagon’s Chief Information Officer, said the guidelines will become a blueprint for other agencies, such as the intelligence community, that will be able to use it “as they roll out their appropriate adoption of A.I. ethics.” Shanahan added the guidelines are a “good scene setter” for also collaborating alongside the robust tech sector, especially Silicon Valley.

Within the broader Pentagon A.I. executive committee, a specific subgroup of people will be responsible for formulating how the guidelines get put in place, Deasy said. Part of that, he said, depends on the technology itself.

“They’re broad principles for a reason,” Shanahan added. “Tech adapts, tech evolves; the last thing we wanted to do was put handcuffs on the department to say what you could and could not do. So the principles now have to be translated into implementation guidance,” he said.

That guidance is currently under development. A 2012 military doctrine already requires a “human in the loop” to control automated weapons, but does not delineate how broader uses for A.I. fits within the decision authority.

The Monday announcement comes roughly one year after DoD unveiled its artificial intelligence strategy in concert with the White House executive order that created the American Artificial Intelligence Strategy.

“We firmly believe that the nation that masters A.I. first will prevail on the battlefield for many years,” Shanahan said, reiterating previous U.S. officials positions on the leap in technology.

Similarly in 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised event that, “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

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