Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer? - We Are The Mighty
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Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?

I know a lot of veterans who based their military careers on whichever recruiting office they walked into first. That’s one way to go about signing your life away to Uncle Sam, but it’s not what I would recommend. The military is a major commitment and will probably affect the rest of your life, whether you serve for four years or forty.

The biggest factors that go into your military experience are which branch you join and whether you enlist or commission as an officer. In this article, we’ll be going over some of the differences between officers and enlisted personnel across the five branches of the military.

We’ll cover everything from pay and benefits, mission execution to culture.


Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?

How to Join

Qualifications for enlisting in the military:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or resident alien
  • Meet the age and fitness requirements
  • Have a high school diploma
  • Pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test

For each branch, enlisted personnel begin their military experience with a form of boot camp. It is a strenuous introduction to military life, from the medical in-processing to the physical training to the hazing discipline. After about eight weeks of boot camp, enlisted personnel will receive their first duty assignments (probably at a job-specific training location) and they’ll be ready to actively serve in the military.

Qualifications for commissioning in the military:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or resident alien
  • Meet the age and fitness requirements
  • Have an undergraduate degree
  • Complete an officer training program

In order to earn a commission into the United States military, officer candidates must complete an officer training program. Two options for cadets without college degrees are to attend a military academy, such as West Point or the Air Force Academy, or to join the Reserve Officer Training Corps while attending the qualified college of their choice.

Academy cadets and ROTC cadets will learn about the military while completing their undergraduate or graduate degrees. Half-way through their studies, they will attend a summer boot camp, much like the enlisted boot camps except that cadets will already be expected to meet physical fitness and academic requirements. For officer candidates, boot camp is the rite of passage that will elevate cadets to the leadership fundamentals portion of their training.

Once academy or ROTC cadets graduate and receive their degrees, they commission into active duty and receive orders for their first assignment, which, like enlisted personnel, will probably include a job-specific training.

A third route to becoming an officer is to complete an Officer Candidate School (or Officer Training School, depending on the branch). Cadets who already have college degrees will undergo a three-month training program that includes military academics and leadership training as well as boot camp. Once complete, OCS/OTS cadets will commission just like academy and ROTC cadets.

Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?

Missions

Enlisted personnel make up 82% of the military. They are primarily responsible for carrying out military operations. The remaining 18% are officers, who are responsible for overseeing operations and enlisted personnel.

Officers will have a head-start on managerial experience, commanding personnel at the mid- to senior-level corporate executive level. They hold a commission from the President of the United States, a position that comes with more authority and responsibility.

Enlisted personnel, however, are the subject matter experts. They will have the hands-on application of the mission and as they rise in rank they will also rise in leadership authority and experience. Enlisted personnel are also expected to continue their education while on active duty and many earn degrees and vocational training that can translate to a civilian career after their service.

Mission requirements and experience will vary depending on your military career and assignment location. A career in cyber operations might mean the mission is conducted over the internet, where the officer’s role is to aggregate information collected by enlisted personnel. A career in the infantry might mean that an officer is coordinating weapons and targets as enlisted personnel fight in combat.

That being said, there are certain career fields only available to officers or enlisted. A prime example: Air Force pilots are officers.

Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?

Pay Tables

Officers will start out at a higher pay grade than enlisted personnel, though enlisted service members are eligible for a variety of bonuses that can be quite substantial. Officers will also receive higher benefits such as monthly Basic Allowance for Housing. You can see from these charts, however, that year-for-year and promotion-to-promotion, officers tend to make about twice as much money as enlisted personnel from monthly basic pay alone.

Education

Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?

 

Let’s say you want to serve in the military to help pay for college.

Veterans (enlisted and officer) who meet qualifications are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a program that will help pay for college classes or an on-the-job training program after military service. The Post-9/11 GI Bill includes tuition and BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) assistance so it’s a major benefit when veterans transition back to civilian life.

But it’s not precisely equal for everyone.

According to the VA, “If you have at least 90 days of aggregate active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001, and are still on active duty, or if you are an honorably discharged Veteran or were discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days, you may be eligible for this VA-administered program.”

In other words, after a typical four-year service commitment, the average enlisted veteran will qualify for a paid college degree (and the Yellow Ribbon Program can supplement tuition that the GI Bill might not cover, at a private school for example).

The average officer, however, will not qualify for the GI Bill after a four-year service commitment. Here’s why:

Tuition and fees for the military academies is free for officer candidates. ROTC cadets also compete for varying degrees of scholarships to cover their college expenses in addition to receiving stipends during training.

In other words, most officers receive a college degree and then they serve in the military. If they want to earn Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, they will have to serve additional time beyond their initial service commitment. Over time, officers accrue a percentage of the GI Bill.

So, if you’re still in high school and you’re trying to decide what you want to do in the military and what career you might want after the military, it could make sense to enlist first and gain professional experience then go to college courtesy of the GI Bill in the field you want to pursue.

As an alternative, you can complete your officer training and earn your first degree, serve in the military and gain professional experience similar to that of mid-level professionals, then either separate after your service commitment and pursue a civilian career or continue to serve longer and accrue GI Bill benefits for your next degree.

There are no wrong options here – it all depends on whether you know what career you want, whether it aligns with your potential military career and what kind of degree or vocational training would support you.

Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?

Culture

Officers tend to be older when they join the military, having already obtained their undergraduate degree. They are also trained with an emphasis on leadership and responsibility. Furthermore, active duty officers generally have the option of living off-base as opposed to barracks. For many of these reasons, officers get into less trouble than enlisted personnel while on active duty. As for women in the force: 

Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?

According to the DoD’s 2018 Statistical Data on Sexual Assault, 88 percent of sexual assault reports were made by enlisted personnel.

Both officers and enlisted make critical contributions to the United States military. Their experiences will vary from location to location and job to job. They will also vary based on their branch. Be sure to read about the differences between each branch of the military to decide which one is best suited for you.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

For almost 40 years, the Irish people endured a constant state of fear stemming from a low-level war that killed thousands of Irish civilians, British troops, and Irish fighters – all in a stunningly understated conflict called “The Troubles.” While British and U.K. loyalist forces were well-equipped and armed for the task, the Irish Republican Army, fighting for a united Ireland, had to improvise a little.


Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?

This is why “Irish Car Bombs” are a thing.

The Irish Republican Army was a homegrown paramilitary organization that was at best outlawed, and at worst, designated a terrorist organization. They were committed to a fully united Ireland by any means necessary and resisted the United Kingdom’s occupation of Northern Ireland, also by any means necessary. This usually meant improvised guns, bombs, and even mortars. That’s how they created what British troops called the Mark 15. The IRA called it the “Barrack Buster.”

Barrack Busters first started to appear in the IRA arsenal in the 1990s and was an improvised 36-centimeter mortar capable of firing three-foot-long propane tanks filled with high explosives. The Mark 15 was usually made of a cooking gas container created for use in rural areas of Ireland. It was capable of launching one of these powerful explosive containers nearly a thousand feet.

The IRA improvised mortars of various sizes and power, and hit not only military barracks, but bases and even 10 Downing Street.

The Mark 15 was described as having the effect of a flying car bomb, that has taken down barracks, helicopters, and even Royal Air Force planes. It was the fifteenth in a line of development that stretched as far back as the early 1970s. It was the largest homemade mortar developed by the Irish Republican Army. The development does stretch to a Mark-16, but that weapon was more of a recoilless rifle than it was a traditional mortar.

Introduction of the giant mortar did have an impact on British forces. The United Kingdom was forced to pull its checkpoints away from the Irish border after the introduction of the Mark 15 mortar. It was so effective as a weapon it was adapted for use by paramilitary forces in other countries and conflicts, including the FARC in Colombia and the Free Syrian Army in Syria.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

MilSpouse and NASA’s last living ‘Hidden Figure,’ Katherine Johnson, dies at 101

NASA legend, mathematician, race barrier breaker, women’s rights advancer, mother, military spouse: Katherine Johnson was truly out of this world. The once in a generation mind passed away at age 101 on February 24, NASA announced.

We’re saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson. Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers: https://go.nasa.gov/2SUMtN2 pic.twitter.com/dGiGmEVvAW

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Johnson was born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. From an early age, she demonstrated a love of counting and numbers far beyond her peers and well beyond her years. By age 10, Johnson was already through her grade school curriculum and enrolled in high school, which she finished at 14. She enrolled in West Virginia State College at only age 15 and started pursuing her love of math.

According to NASA, while at WVSC, Johnson had the opportunity to study under well known professor Dr. William W. Schiefflin Claytor. Claytor guided Johnson in her career path, once telling her, “You’d make a great research mathematician.” He also provided her guidance with how to become one. In an interview with NASA, Johnson recalled, “Many professors tell you that you’d be good at this or that, but they don’t always help you with that career path. Professor Claytor made sure I was prepared to be a research mathematician.” Claytor’s spirit of mentorship was something that Johnson paid forward. “Claytor was a young professor himself,” she said, “and he would walk into the room, put his hand in his pocket, and take some chalk out, and continue yesterday’s lesson. But sometimes I could see that others in the class did not understand what he was teaching. So I would ask questions to help them. He’d tell me that I should know the answer, and I finally had to tell him that I did know the answer, but the other students did not. I could tell.”

Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?

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Johnson became the first black woman to attend West Virginia University’s graduate school. Following graduation, she became a school teacher, settled down and married. She spent many years at home with her three daughters, but when her husband became ill, she began teaching again. In the early 1950s, a family friend told Johnson that NACA (the predecessor to NASA) was hiring. According to NASA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics were specifically looking for African-American females to work as “computers” in what was then their Guidance and Navigation Department. In the 1950s, pools of women at NACA did calculations that the engineers needed worked or verified.

Johnson applied but the openings were already filled. The following year, she applied again, and this time she was offered two contracts. She took the one as a researcher. She started working at NACA in 1953. In 1956, her husband died of an inoperable brain tumor. In 1959, Johnson remarried James A. Johnson, an Army captain and Korean War veteran.

Johnson was a pioneer for multiple reasons. Not only was she a working woman in the 1950s, an era during which women were generally secretaries if they worked at all, she was also a black woman. In an interview for the book “Black Women Scientists in the United States,” Johnson recalled, “We needed to be assertive as women in those days – assertive and aggressive – and the degree to which we had to be that way depended on where you were. I had to be. In the early days of NASA women were not allowed to put their names on the reports – no woman in my division had had her name on a report. I was working with Ted Skopinski and he wanted to leave and go to Houston … but Henry Pearson, our supervisor – he was not a fan of women – kept pushing him to finish the report we were working on. Finally, Ted told him, ‘Katherine should finish the report, she’s done most of the work anyway.’ So Ted left Pearson with no choice; I finished the report and my name went on it, and that was the first time a woman in our division had her name on something.”

If Johnson was intimidated, she never showed it. “The women did what they were told to do,” she explained in an interview with NASA. “They didn’t ask questions or take the task any further. I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there.”

Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?

NASA photo

Johnson was so well known for her capabilities, that John Glenn personally asked for her before his orbit in 1962. According to NASA, “The complexity of the orbital flight had required the construction of a worldwide communications network, linking tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, Cape Canaveral in Florida, and Bermuda. The computers had been programmed with the orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission from liftoff to splashdown, but the astronauts were wary of putting their lives in the care of the electronic calculating machines, which were prone to hiccups and blackouts. As a part of the preflight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to ‘get the girl’—Johnson—to run the same numbers through the same equations that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop mechanical calculating machine. ‘If she says they’re good,” Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, ‘then I’m ready to go.’ Glenn’s flight was a success, and marked a turning point in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in space.”

Johnson was an instrumental part of the team and was the only woman to be pulled from the calculating pool room to work on other projects. One of those projects: putting a man on the moon.

Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?

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Johnson lived a remarkable life and had a prestigious career. Her awards and decorations are numerous, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, honorary doctorate from William and Mary, a facility being named after her at NASA’s Langley campus and even a Barbie made in her image. She had a fervor for learning and a love of life.

“Like what you do, and then you will do your best,” she said.

Rest in peace, Ms. Johnson.

Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?
MIGHTY CULTURE

The wild science of military MRE meals

It’s hard to think of a more beloved — and sometimes hated — cultural touchstone in the military than MRE meals, or meals ready to eat. They’ve been around since the C-Rations of World War II and beyond, and have for decades offered a touch of comfort and a taste of home — albeit a highly engineered one that can last for years at high temperatures without spoiling. You can find MRE cookbooks that will tell you how to turn drink mix and generic toaster pastries into gourmet desserts, and there are scores of YouTube videos dedicated to taste-testing chili mac and the prized jalapeno cheese spread.

Well, it turns out there’s a lot of science that goes into each one of these compact rations packs, and sometimes the development of a new MRE menu item — such as the coveted pepperoni pizza slice — requires actual technological breakthrough. Today, we’ll talk to two people from the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Massachusetts: Lauren Oleksyk, team leader for food engineering, who holds two patents in revolutionary food science, and David Accetta, an Army military historian and public affairs officer at the directorate.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Left of Boom:

Hope Hodge Seck 0:00

Welcome back to Left of Boom. I’m your host, Hope Hodge Seck. It’s hard to think of a more beloved — and sometimes hated — cultural touchstone in the military than meals ready to eat, or MREs. They’ve been around since the C-rations of World War II and beyond, and have for decades offered a touch of comfort and a taste of home, albeit a highly engineered one that can last for years at high temperatures without spoiling. You can find MRE cookbooks that will tell you how to turn drink mix and generic toaster pastries into gourmet desserts, and there are scores of YouTube videos dedicated to taste-testing chili mac and the prized jalapeno cheese spread. Well, it turns out there’s a lot of science that goes into each one of these compact rations packs. And sometimes the development of a new MRE menu item, such as the coveted pepperoni pizza slice requires actual technological breakthrough. Today we’ll talk to two people from the Combat Feeding Directorate in Natick, Massachusetts: Lauren Oleksyk, team leader for food engineering, who holds two patents in revolutionary food science, and David Accetta, an Army military historian and public affairs officer at the directorate. Welcome to the show.

Lauren Oleksyk 1:10

Hello.

David Accetta 1:11

Hi, thank you very much for having us.

Hope Hodge Seck 1:14

So, Lauren, I am so interested in this really unique job that you have. So how did you end up as the team leader of food engineering, basically one of the top MRE developers for the military? Do you start taking the science career path to get here? Or do you get here through a love of the culinary arts? Or both? What was it for you?

Lauren Oleksyk 1:39

For me, it was a little of both. I specifically sought a career in the combat feeding division. While I was still in college, I majored in food science at a local university and started working at the soldier center as an intern. But I would say my interest in food science actually began as a child. I came from a large family and we had an enormous garden. So we canned most of our fruits and vegetables. And I learned very early on about food preservation, and my neighbors were dairy farmers. So my first job as a teen was in the milk-processing field. So I think I developed an early interest in that and also in nutrition and packaging, and I love to cook. So a career in food science was a perfect fit for me.

Hope Hodge Seck 2:24

When did you encounter your first MRE? or How did you get interested in the military side of boot development in the first place?

Lauren Oleksyk 2:32

Well, I interned at a soldier center in the combat feeding division, and I was immediately drawn to the science and technology side of ration development. And one of my first tasks there was to develop cereal bars for survival rations. You know, I had some product development experience when I was in college. But this was my first real hands on experience with product development. And I assumed it would be not too difficult, you know, I develop a cereal bar and test it out, and it will be ready to go. And I quickly learned all about the military constraints and requirements for rations and realize that this was really a unique job.

Hope Hodge Seck 3:12

Can you give a rundown on what those requirements and constraints are?

Lauren Oleksyk 3:16

Probably the most difficult challenge is, rations have to withstand a three-year shelf life. So that’s at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s a long time that these foods have to be shelf-stable and not spoil. They also have to be extremely compact and lightweight and durable enough to survive airdrop, they have to withstand extreme climatic changes that range from minus 60 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. So our packaging has to be really, really durable to protect rations for that long of a period of time. And we have nutritional requirements that are mandated by the Office of the Surgeon General. Also we have to consider operational scenarios. Where will these rations be issued? This is a lot to consider. It’s not as simple as if you were developing a food for the commercial market.

Hope Hodge Seck 4:05

So the cereal bar was it a hit? Did it meet the requirement? Is it still out there in the world.

Lauren Oleksyk 4:11

It is still a component of survival rations. These rations have very, very long shelf life requirements, sometimes in excess of three years. And the cereal bars are still packaged in that ration, but it’s a special-purpose ration and it’s not readily used unless it needs to be. There’s less variety in that type of ration compared to the MRE.

Hope Hodge Seck 4:31

And I’m not sure how long you’ve been at the combat feeding directorate. But what other MRE recipes have you created or developed since you got there?

Lauren Oleksyk 4:40

I’ve been there a long time. It’s going on 37 years now.

Hope Hodge Seck 4:44

Oh my goodness.

Lauren Oleksyk 4:46

Yeah. And over the years, I was involved in the development of a few MRE items. One in particular, I have a co-patent on the MRE shelf-stable bread, and this bread is stable for three years due to a series of what we call hurdle technologies that keep the bread from staling or spoiling. So this product and technologies that we use to stabilize it form the basis of several other big items in the MRE. To this day, things like the shelf-stable pizza that you’ve heard about, and shelf-stable sandwiches that are in some of our other rations.

Hope Hodge Seck 5:22

That’s incredible. Can you go through what those technologies are that keep the bread for example, from going stale or otherwise spoiling?

Lauren Oleksyk 5:32

The technologies used for bread and baked goods are, we call them hurdle technologies. And this is a way to preserve foods that have intermediate moisture contents without having to subject them to a thermal sterilization process. Essentially, you introduce hurdles to microbial growth. And you do that by using specific ingredients that control water activity that control the product’s pH, control the moisture content, in the case of something like a shelf-stable pizza, it would control the migration of moisture from one part of the food to another, because you might have a lot of components. Like in the case of the pizza, you have the dough, the sauce, the cheese, the toppings, and they all have different moisture contents and water activity. So if you don’t control how that migrates from piece to piece, you are going to introduce the opportunity for microbial spoilage. So we use ingredients, and we also control the headspace in the package. And everything we can do to prevent that spoilage. And we test the safety of the food throughout its three-year shelf life to confirm that it’s safe to consume and nothing will grow. That’s an example of a hurdle technology. And it’s employed in different ways for different intermediate moisture products.

Hope Hodge Seck 6:51

And I know this MRE pizza slice pepperoni pizza slice, I’ve actually tried it, it came out a few years ago, and it was sort of the holy grail of MRE. And as I understand, was a highly requested item since its release. Have you tracked soldier service member feedback? And what are you hearing about how well it’s going over in the field?

Lauren Oleksyk 7:12

Well, we should actually start getting that data soon. It was incorporated into the MRE in 2018, and really first fielded around 2019. Every year, we actually do field tests and evaluation with soldiers and we get that feedback from them. So this will be the first year that we actually can start collecting data on the fielded Pizza to assess how well it’s accepted. But prior to it going into the MRE, we did a number of field evaluations on just that item like all MRE components. It had to be warfighter-tested and approved before it went into the ration. And the pizza definitely was a highly accepted product. They had been asking for it for years, and it was very well received. So we’re hoping that the field test results going forward confirm that, and we’ll keep a close eye on it.

Hope Hodge Seck 8:02

What sort of feedback do you solicit in these surveys that you’re talking about getting the data back from?

Lauren Oleksyk 8:07

We ask them to rate the acceptability of the components, especially if we’re testing new prototypes. So they’re given a scale from one to nine, and they rank how well they like the product. We also do consumption studies, where we measure how much of each item they eat, and how much they throw away, so we can assess whether something is under-consumed. And if we see that trend, we’ll ask them questions regarding that: why aren’t they consuming it? And then every year, based on that data, we make decisions on whether something’s retired from the MRE or replaced with something else. And a lot of times the demographics might change of the military. So things that were well loved by warfighters, you know, back in the ’70s and ’80s are not well-liked by you know, some of the military personnel today who might prefer different foods that reflect more of what they ate when they were growing up.

Hope Hodge Seck 9:03

I know for example, cigarettes are no longer included in MREs and they were historically included in combat rations many years ago. But how often our items are tired and what are some of the most recent items to be retired?

Lauren Oleksyk 9:17

Things that were very popular years ago like chicken a la king, ham and lima beans to go way back, those things were retired, and today we have things like burritos and vegetarian options, things that they request and are much more familiar with — the MRE pizza. But in terms of what’s taken in and out every year, it varies.

David Accetta 9:35

It’s all based on the soldiers and feedback and and it’s actually not just soldiers. We also do the surveys with Marines, because the Army and the Marine Corps are the primary consumers of the MREs. So we need to get their feedback and ask them what do they like, what they don’t like, and then what they don’t like, gets retired, and we try to figure out what they do like, which is how we got to the pizza. And then a lot of the other things that are in MREs — If you looked at the menu from today versus the menus from the early 80s, when they first came out, you’ll see great differences in the entrees. Because the original MREs were pretty much based on traditional American comfort food, the same way that the previous series of rations, meal combat-individual, and before that the Army C-rations. You know, as we did more surveys and got more feedback from military personnel, we found out what they liked and what they didn’t like. And Lauren alluded to it when she said things that they remember growing up, and you’ve got so much more diversity in the Army now, you’ve got people from all different ethnic backgrounds. So there’s a lot of different types of food. It’s not just standard American comfort food, it’s not pot roast, and it’s not those kind of things anymore.

Hope Hodge Seck 11:01

So one of my favorite things about MREs, henever I’ve had the chance to eat them downrange is all the little side items that they come with, all the little packages you can open and the jalapeno cheese spread and the snacks for later. It’s really fun opening them up and seeing all the items that are inside and how they all work together. And you know, of course there are those people who make little recipes in the field with whatever they have or trade them back and forth. So how does a new complete MRE menu come about? And what are sort of the parameters for ensuring complementarity of taste and nutritional balance and appeal for everything that’s in the package as a whole, developing a new menu?

Lauren Oleksyk 11:47

We consider three things really. The first one are the warfighters’ recommendations and their desires, you know, and the MRE pizza is an example of that. But secondly, and probably more importantly, we have to think about military requirements and the operational scenario where the ration will be used. And then lastly, we look at leading-edge food science and packaging technologies, because sometimes the science itself will bring us in a direction that says we can develop something that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to be developed before, because it’s a new technology that we can utilize. In addition to the three-year shelf life requirement for a new menu, we have nutritional guidelines that we have to follow. So there might be a nutrient that’s lacking in a menu. And so we’ll develop a food that specifically has that nutrient in it. So that as a whole when you put all those components together, the MRE is nutritionally complete. As far as taste and palatability, the combat feeding division is outfitted with a sensory lab, where technically trained panelists can examine the foods’ organoleptic properties. So this would include the appearance odor, flavor, texture, and overall quality. And we do that over the duration of the product shelf life. So we’ll rate the products on a scale and we try to achieve a score above a six. So you know,one being dislike, nine being like. And we’ll try to get a six at the end of a product shelf life to ensure that it’s acceptable once it’s issued, six or better. So that’s kind of our internal goal. But we also utilize general consumer panels who rate a new product based on just a matter of how much they like it. They don’t really look at the technical aspects of the food, but whether they like it or not. And then we have military human research volunteers that are located at soldier center. And we solicit them to test new prototypes and to participate in focus groups to get their feedback. And then after we do all of that is when we’ll conduct our annual or biannual field tests with military personnel. And that’s where every new MRE component must be tested and accepted before it will go into a ration.

Hope Hodge Seck 13:52

When you’re talking about this technical expert panelists, who are those people?

Lauren Oleksyk 13:57

They are primarily food technologists, they’ve undergone specific training in sensory evaluation. So we all have varied thresholds where we can pick up very subtle changes in flavors and odors. And we have a good range of us so they look across you know, people who have a very low threshold for salt, say. Some others might have a very low threshold for rancidity, or bitterness. And so combined, this group of technical panelists really can do a thorough evaluation of foods. And we’ll do it not only when a food is first developed, but even after it’s been stored for three years.

Hope Hodge Seck 14:35

That’s fascinating. So you talked about the hurdle technologies that led to bread and then to pizza, which was sort of like this revelation. Are there current scientific food challenges that you’re currently working through to pave the way to develop more items?

Lauren Oleksyk 14:53

Yes, there are. And one of the reasons is we’re very focused right now on the fact that soldiers and units might be in environments where they have to go longer without resupply. So right now, we’re very focused on reducing the logistics burden by reducing the weight and size of rations so that soldiers in small units can carry more. And this is becoming critically important. And it’s it’s dictating the development of smaller and more compact, nutrient-dense foods. So some of the technologies we’re really advancing right now are drying technologies to reduce the weight of foods, and compression technologies to reduce the volume of foods. And that’s includes things like vacuum microwave drying, and ultrasonic agglomeration, which is a compression technology. And sometimes we’re developing new prototypes, using a combination of those two technologies to make these very nutrient-dense, compact foods, in some cases can actually be entire meal replacement bars.

Hope Hodge Seck 15:56

The way you’re describing it, immediately, what comes to mind is the rations that are sent to space with astronauts, when you’re talking about drying and making things as late as they possibly can be. Are there any similarities there?

Lauren Oleksyk 16:10

Yes, very similar requirements. In fact, we collaborate with NASA, and have worked with them on many dense and compact items such as meal replacement bars that they’re considering for their menus for the mission to Mars. And also, we work with them on developing entrees that are used at the International Space Station. So the similarities and requirements for astronauts and military personnel are very, very similar. And in fact, NASA has long shelf-life requirements too, even longer than military rations in some case, but lightweight products in very dense products are required by both.

Hope Hodge Seck 16:50

How soon might we see a meal replacement bar out in the field and fully developed and being used by troops on the go?

Lauren Oleksyk 16:58

We’re working on a new ration called the close combat assault ration. This is a ration that’s designed to be extremely lightweight and compact. So we’re developing these nutrient-dense bars. Now they’re in the prototype stage for the close combat assault ration that’s going to be field-tested soon. Some of the first prototypes will be field-tested in the near future, the bars that we’re looking at for that ration are not necessarily full meal replacement bars. But they using the technology for drying and compression that enable us to make a full meal replacement bar if needed.

Hope Hodge Seck 17:34

And how much lighter it might these rations be than the typical MRE package?

Lauren Oleksyk 17:39

The ration components themselves, it depends on how much moisture you remove. But we’ve achieved anywhere between 40 to 70% decrease in weight on a component level, because essentially, you’re just taking the fresh food and you’re removing the moisture, but you can dial in how much you want to remove for palatability purposes. We know that war fighters don’t necessarily want to consume all dry bars. So we want to be able to offer a variety of moistures in these products so that it’s something they want to consume. So it depends, you know, the weight reductions depend, but we have metrics and goals to achieve about a 40% reduction in weight. And we can achieve the same and volume if we compress the product as well.

Hope Hodge Seck 18:27

As we’re talking about many development. I know in the last couple of decades, there’s a lot more service members who want to eat, say keto, or paleo, even Whole 30 — these diets that are really dependent on protein and vegetables and probably really hard to sustain in the field. And I’m sure there are things that it’s just like, yeah, there’s no way to make shelf-stable rations that fit that bill. But are you looking at any ways to develop additional menus that cater to people who have specific food requirements like these, or want to, I guess, eat a little bit more whole food or protein-heavy, whatever the case may be?

Lauren Oleksyk 19:12

With regard to the MRE, there is no requirement from the military services to develop keto or paleo menus. All the menus in the MREs have to meet the nutritional standards for operational rations. You know, and as I mentioned, that was that’s mandated by the Office of the Surgeon General. But we do listen to some of their desires for this for certain types of foods. And one example of that is we currently have four vegetarian meals in the MRE out of the 24 menus. Four of them are vegetarian, two new vegetarian entrees were approved for the latest MRE: cheese pizza and the Mexican-style rice and bean bowl. And every every ration is labeled in accordance with FDA regulations so individual soldiers can see the list of ingredients and they can determine for themselves, you know whether it’s a product that they want to consume, but in general, you know, we want them to consume the entire MRE, because that is a nutritionally complete ration and it will optimize their performance and health if they consume it all.

Hope Hodge Seck 20:14

In my journeys around the internet, I have found this trove of MRE enthusiasts who live on places like YouTube, where they’ll buy old MREs that are decades old and taste-test them or make Top Chef-style recipes, combining different ingredients, using the Kool-Aid powder and the, you know, you name it just really mixing things up. So do you ever kind of watch those YouTube videos? Or pay attention to that little subculture? And do the fans of MREs who kind of live out in the civilian world and are just interested in these things, do they ever inspire you in your work?

Lauren Oleksyk 20:51

I do watch those. I love those videos, they make me laugh, first of all, but I also think it’s so fun to see how creative they get with the types of things they make. I read the comments, I find the comments are very interesting and helpful. And I will bring, when I read something like that, I will have little brainstorm sessions at work. And we’ll talk about what people think and you know, some of the ideas that come from those videos in terms of new product lines. So yes, I do watch them. And a lot of times, you know, if they’re a positive review, it can be actually somewhat rewarding to know that you were part of the development of those products, I see that a lot with the flameless ration heater that they show inside the MRE, that was a development that — I was one of the original developers of the flameless ration heater. And even though it’s not a food item, it allows soldiers to actually have a hot meal now in the field, where before 1992, they didn’t always have a way to heat their entrees. So a lot of those YouTube videos will show people using the flameless ration heater and heating up their entree and it’s quite enjoyable to watch them.

Hope Hodge Seck 22:03

I love that so much.

David Accetta 22:05

The flameless ration heater was a huge, huge development that to help soldiers — well, all troops in the field. You know, having been in the Army for a long time, before flameless ration heaters, you have to come up with creative ways to to heat your food. Otherwise, you know, your food was essentially the same temperature as it was outside, whether that was 40 degrees or 70 degrees. The flameless ration heater made a huge difference to the morale of troops, because it gave them the ability to have hot food anywhere that they were. So they didn’t have to rely on using the heat from the engine of the vehicle that you happen to be next to, or finding some other creative way to heat up your MRE components without making a fire.

Hope Hodge Seck 22:55

Something that still gives troops a lot of joy is the instructions that those heaters come with. And the fact that they tell whoever is eating the MRE to put the whole package, balance it on “a rock or something” are the words that people really get a kick out of. Do you know how that particular bit of instruction that language came about?

Lauren Oleksyk 23:17

Yes, I happen to know that. Since we developed the flameless ration heater, we also developed the instructions that are on the bag. And initially that when we were designing the pictograms that you see on the package itself, we were trying to come up with an object that you lean the flameless ration heater on top of, at an angle, which helps it to heat faster. And we couldn’t think of an object. And my colleague next to me said, well, let’s just use the rock or something in the picture. And we did we put a rock and we called it the “rock or something” as a joke. And we left it in because people thought it was funny. And it actually brought some humor to the field. So we decided over the long term to leave it in there and we still hear about it all the time.

Hope Hodge Seck 24:04

That is so amazing.

Lauren Oleksyk 24:06

Yeah.

Hope Hodge Seck 24:06

So I do have to ask about a little bit more MRE myths and legends. Anyone who’s ever been out in the field is eating these and so they get talked about a lot and there are all these rumors that are flying around. First of all, the gum that comes with the current mre, they say it’s a laxative to keep things moving along. Is there any truth in that rumor?

David Accetta 24:27

Absolutely not.

Lauren Oleksyk 24:30

The gum at one point had a xylitol component which can have in some people a laxative effect, but it was it’s not intentionally in the MRE to to serve as a laxative. So yes, that is not exactly true.

David Accetta 24:46

The xylitol in the gum is to help prevent tooth decay. So it was designed for situations where you didn’t have the ability to brush your teeth. You could chew the gum and then that would help with the health of your teeth in the field.

Hope Hodge Seck 25:05

So there was a hidden benefit, but it was not what people were thinking.

Lauren Oleksyk 25:09

Correct.

Hope Hodge Seck 25:10

Other one that I think spans your career is even back in the ’90s, maybe even in the early 2000s, maybe even longer — Charms candy, were part of some MRE menus and those were notorious for being bad luck. I think even in the Generation Kill miniseries, they come across the Charms dump, where everyone’s just gotten the Charms out of their MRIs to be on the safe side. So do you know anything about how that charms rumor came about? And when Charm stopped being part of the MRE?

Lauren Oleksyk 25:42

I’m not sure when exactly they were removed, they are no longer in the MRE today. And I know, I’ve heard of the curse of the Charms. Back in the day. If a warfighter received a ration with Charms in it, they would deem to bring bad luck, so they would get rid of them. I’ve heard stories of soldiers holding bags out to collect everyone’s Charms at feeding time to get rid of. David might have more experience with that.

David Accetta 26:08

Yeah, we don’t really have a good idea of exactly when or how Charms became associated with bad luck. But I mean, I do remember hearing that, that if you ate the Charms when you were in field, say in a training environment, then that would guarantee that it would rain on you. And then later on, as we got into more combat operations in different parts of the world, they became associated with soldiers getting injured or killed. Which is why some troops were very adamant about not having the Charms and getting rid of them as soon as they could. I think some of that might have to do with the popularity or lack of popularity of the Charms, of hard candy. So those had been part of military rations for a long time going back to World War II. And I kind of think personally that, generations later, troops were just not all that fond of hard candy, and just didn’t want to eat them, you know, whereas it was probably much more popular in the ’40s and ’50s.

Hope Hodge Seck 27:21

Makes sense. It’s good to get to get to the bottom of that one. I could talk to you all for hours. I think this is really fascinating stuff. And I love the work that you do. But I know we have to wrap up. So my final question is for each of you. What is your favorite MRE menu and why?

Lauren Oleksyk 27:39

Okay, well, for me, it’s the MRE pepperoni pizza, of course, partly because my team is the team that developed the item but also because I love pizza. And I also like the vegetarian taco pasta. So those are my two favorites.

Hope Hodge Seck 27:54

Hmm.

David Accetta 27:55

I have, I think very strange sense of taste. And that’s what most people would politely describe it. My favorite MRE was the omelet with ham. And that was also my favorite of the meal combat-individuals and the canned rations. And that was really good for me because most people didn’t like either one of those. So I could always trade whatever I had for that one. Now of the of the newer-generation MREs, I like the cheese tortellini, it’s even though it’s a vegetarian meal and I’m not a vegetarian. I like the cheese tortellini. And just as a point of trivia, the only ration I mean, the only entree that is still in the MRE menu from the original menu is the spaghetti. And everybody likes the spaghetti and during Desert Storm and going into Iraq in in 2003, as well, that one was really popular and I remember soldiers fighting over who was going to get the spaghetti because they like the spaghetti and that one also came with M&Ms. So that was a jackpot if you pull the the spaghetti MRE out of the box.

Hope Hodge Seck 29:19

Love it, jackpot indeed. Well, I have a very fun memory of being very hungry on a late night in Afghanistan and finding a first strike ration that had a pepperoni sandwich in it, and it tasted just so good. And I don’t think anything will ever taste as good as that item did.

David Accetta 29:39

And that is all due to the work that Lauren and her team did with the shelf-stable bread that enabled the pepperoni sandwich. But you’re exactly right. And we tell people that because you mentioned the the MRE videos on the internet and you know, MREs get a lot of criticism. Not only from troops, but also from civilians who may pick one up somewhere and they eat it. And they’re not designed to be gourmet food. And you know, what we like to tell people is that the true benefit of an MRE can’t be found if you’re sitting in your kitchen or your living room eating it. The benefit of an MRE is when you’re cold, wet, tired and hungry, sitting in the dark in the rain on a mountainside in Afghanistan. And you can open up an MRE and you can have hot food, and you can have something that reminds you of home and have better times and that’s really what the benefits of the MRE are and how you can really appreciate them.

Hope Hodge Seck 30:42

Well, Lauren, and David, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

David Accetta 30:46

Thank you. Great being here.

Hope Hodge Seck 30:57

Well, I don’t know about you, but that episode made me hungry. I’ll take the barbecue beef MRE: It comes with a side of black beans and shelf-stable tortillas and that delicious jalapeno cheese. Do you have any favorite memory recipes or stories about how you enjoy them in the field? Are there any combat ration myths and rumors that we didn’t get to on today’s episode? Hit me up at podcast@military.com and let me know. Hit subscribe on the show today, and if you use Apple podcasts, please do leave a rating and review. And until next time, remember to check out Military.com for all the information and news you need about your military community.

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

10 things the movies get wrong about war

The first war film ever, D.W. Griffith’s silent picture, “The Fugitive” was made over a century ago. The intensity and drama of war films caught on quickly, and the best ones have been huge hits at the box office. As thrilling as they are, even movies portrayed as historically accurate rarely get the details of war just right. We can’t blame them entirely; war movies would be a lot less thrilling and suspenseful if they skipped all the theatrics. Here’s the scoop about what movie directors get wrong, and what war is really like.

The sound effects

In the movies, battles start with the sound of gunfire, before bullets come flying past. That’s not a thing. Rifles are actually supersonic, so the bullets arrive before the sound does. Soldiers do hear a whistling sound as the bullets pass by, but the actual sound of the gun firing arrives after the fact.

The actual sounds are pretty far off, too. The sound of mortars firing is something like the sound of a tennis ball launcher in most war films, but it’s infinitely louder in real life. The blast is so powerful it can be felt, shaking the ground and causing intense vibrations. That’s one reason veterans are prone to tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. It’s THAT loud.

The uniforms 

Some movies do a better job of this than others, but more often than not, a detail or two of the dress code is missed. Military dress uniforms are incredibly precise, so anyone other than a veteran would be hard-pressed to get every nuance right. Untucked lapels on a Marine service alpha uniform is a small one, but some movies dress actors in the wrong uniforms entirely. Come on, directors. You can do better.

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media.defense.gov

How crowded battlefields are

Ever seen a movie with soldiers all in one place, hashing it out in close combat? That’s rarely how it works. No one arranges a battle on a conveniently located open field where everyone meets up to shoot each other, with helicopters and planes joining in at random. In a real war, dispersing troops is critical. Distance is kept between military personnel to prevent the enemy from wiping out a massive chunk of your forces all at once.

How aerial attacks work

Most movies make it seem like planes swoop down nearly to the ground before attacking. It’s dramatic for sure, but it’s not realistic. Low-level flying is only used in specific scenarios. For the most part, planes fly as high as possible to maximize safety and ensure adequate maneuverability. More space, more chances to get out of there if necessary. Low-level flying does happen, but generally, pilots try to drop to low altitudes as briefly as possible.

Camouflage

While movie soldiers do wear camo, they rarely use it well. When used correctly, camouflage can make soldiers and even vehicles seemingly vanish. The movies just skip that part because it’s a lot less fun to watch a battlefield with nothing but sand and a few tumbleweeds on it.

Confusion

In movies, the characters always know what’s going on. The details of the battle are clear. The enemy starts shooting, and the hero instantly knows where the gunfire is coming from, how large the enemy forces are, and how to retaliate. In a real battle, it’s much more confusing. No one is familiar with the area, so someone is studying a map while someone else is trying to figure out what’s happening and what to do next. It’s confusing! Radios aren’t usually as clear as they are in the movies, either. It might take four tries to hear the order coming in.

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How much shooting actually occurs

A shot rings out in the night. There’s a moment of stillness, and then utter chaos breaks loose. Shots fly everywhere. It’s a gunfire free for all. There’s a cut and dry good side and a bad side, and they shoot at each other with abandon until one (usually the good side) reigns victorious.

Real battles are much more calculated. There’s rarely indiscriminate shooting. Most soldiers never fire their weapons, and if they do it’s usually under the direction of a senior ranking officer. Everyone’s heard the phrase “all is fair in love and war”, but that’s not quite the case. War has rules. You can’t just shoot whomever you want.

Endless ammo

Ammo doesn’t last forever, so automatic fire doesn’t happen nearly as often as the movies would lead you to believe. Military rifles are more than capable of the task, but automatic fire is rarely used in real battles. That would be both expensive and unnecessary.

How bad it really gets

Movies hype up the drama but tone down the horror. They do show some blood, injuries and casualties, but they keep the gore in check to avoid completely scarring the audience. People go to the movies to be entertained, not legitimately traumatized. Real war can be much more horrific. The gore, suffering, and emotional trauma exceeds what the movie industry dares to sell.

The darkly peaceful aftermath

It’s a classic scene. The battle is over. The field is quiet and still, and dead men lie silently amongst weapons and shredded, muddied flags. That would be a more peaceful end than what really happens. The chaos isn’t over after the battle is won. The wounded are in severe pain as medics rush to treat them. Soldiers scramble to collect weapons and usable ammunition. The scattered flags? Not a thing. The victorious would never leave their own flags behind, and enemy flags are often kept as trophies.

That said, while the reality of war is pretty dark, let’s remember that many members of our armed forces never fight in combat, never fire their weapon and return home safely. To end on a lighter, helpful note, here’s a quick pro-tip: You know all those overpriced phone cases that claim to offer “military-grade protection?” Much like the glamourous battle scenes from Hollywood, it’s not real. There’s no official military-grade certification. It’s just a well-disguised excuse to jack up the price. But you won’t fall for it, because you know the real story.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Navy surface combatants conduct ‘Top Gun’-like training

Ships from the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and other cruiser-destroyer units based at Naval Station Norfolk sailed into the Atlantic in November 2018 for the East Coast’s first Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training, or SWATT, exercise with a carrier group.

SWATT is a relatively new addition to the Navy’s training repertoire, and it comes a years-long period in which the force was focused on anti-piracy and other high-sea policing operations rather than on a high-end fight against a sophisticated adversary.


SWATT exercises are led by warfare-tactics instructors from the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center, or SMWDC, which was set up in 2015 to help the Navy develop experts in surface warfare operations.

The exercises are meant to take place in between ship exercises where a crew trains and qualifies for its missions and advanced exercises where an entire amphibious ready group or carrier strike group gathers to train.

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Culinary Specialist First Class Marcus Madison stands watch on the bridge of the guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze, Nov. 3, 2018.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist Seaman Nikki Custer)

The idea is deploy instructors, both senior and junior surface warfare officers with specific training, to train with other sailors in the group, imparting advanced knowledge of weapons and tactics — similar to the Navy’s “Top Gun” training for aviators.

“Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTI’s) improve ships’ proficiency in carrying out missions in the surface, anti-submarine, integrated air and missile defense, and information-warfare domains,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nick Van Wagoner, a WTI and lead planner for the exercise.

SWATT exercises also provide training for amphibious warfare and mine warfare.

Instructors aim to inculcate a process of planning, briefing, executing, and debriefing among a ship’s crew. “This model utilizes a crawl-walk-run approach,” Van Wagoner said, “allowing teams to build and develop skills as they move from basic to more advanced events.”

Crew teams receive “over-the-shoulder mentoring” through SWATT drills, the Navy said.

Setting up SMWDC three years ago was “the beginning of an important cultural shift in the surface fleet to rapidly increase surface force tactical proficiency, readiness, and combat capability,” Rear Adm. Dave Welch, the SMWDC commander, said in a Navy release.

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An MH-60S Seahawk helicopter crewman watches simulated fast-attack craft approach the USS Kearsarge during a Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise, June 24, 2018.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Ryre Arciaga)

Carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups based on the West Coast have already gone through SWATT exercises. In 2018, the amphibious ready group based around the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge carried out the first SWATT exercise for an ARG based on the East Coast.

The Lincoln carrier strike group’s SWATT exercise helps fulfill the Navy’s training vision, Welch said.

“This first East Coast CSG SWATT represents our commitment to the entirety of the surface force,” he said in the release. “SWATT provides a critical path for warfare and strike group commanders to develop the combat capability needed by our numbered fleet commanders to compete effectively in an era of great-power competition.”

Those numbered fleets include established commands like 7th Fleet, which oversees the Pacific, and 6th Fleet, which oversees Europe and the eastern half of the Atlantic Ocean. A recent addition is 2nd Fleet, which was reactivated in May, 2018 to oversee the East Coast and the northern and western Atlantic Ocean.

As with SWATT, the reactivation of 2nd Fleet was part of preparations to fight an opponent who can fight back.

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An E-2D Hawkeye prepares to launch from the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the North Sea, Sept. 30, 2018.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley)

“Our National Defense Strategy makes clear that we’re back in an era of great-power competition as the security environment continues to grow more challenging and complex,” Adm. John Richardson, the chief of US naval operations, said at the reactivation ceremony.

The Navy has made a number of changes in response to that competition, including shuffling carrier deployments to inject some unpredictability into their operations — part of the “dynamic force employment” concept touted by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

In July 2018, the USS Harry S. Truman and its strike group returned to Norfolk after just three months at sea rather than the typical six-month deployment.

In October 2018, the Truman sailed north of the Arctic Circle, the first carrier to do so since the early 1990s, where it joined forces from every other NATO member for exercise Trident Juncture, which NATO officials have said is alliance’s largest exercise since the Cold War.

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

‘Endgame’ director says there’s a reason the original 6 Avengers survived

For months, the Avengers: Endgame speculation machine limped along on slivers of evidence: A leaked picture of a Lego set, frame-by-frame breakdowns of misleading trailers, tweets from Chris Evans. With so little to go on, it’s no wonder that no one has actually figured out what’s going to happen.

But now that we’re weeks away from Endgame hitting theaters, there are promotional appearances from the cast and crew and, along with them, more information trickling out.


Case in point: last weekend’s press junket. After showing six minutes of footage, the assembled actors and directors took questions from the media. Yahoo! asked about the ending of Infinity War, specifically the disintegration of half of the Avengers by the Infinity Gauntlet-wielding Thanos.

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(Marvel)

Mark Ruffalo said that he wasn’t sure the Hulk would survive until he saw the movie. Don Cheadle talked about how hard it was being left behind, and Chris Hemsworth joked that he had “survivor’s guilt.”

The most honest answer came from Scarlett Johansson: “I think like every actor you’re just like, ‘Great, I get more screen time.'”

But by far the most interesting response for fan theorists came from Joe Russo, director, along with his brother Anthony, of both Infinity War and Endgame.

“The only thing we’ll say in that regard, is that there’s a reason that the original six Avengers survived,” he shared.

True to his word, that was the only thing Russo said in that regard, leaving fans to speculate as to what the reason might be. You can find out for sure on April 26, 2019, when you can finally watch the film (assuming you were able to get tickets).

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Coalition bombings spike in Afghanistan, but stalemate drags on

The US and its coalition partners have dropped more bombs on Afghanistan in the first ten months of 2018 than any year in the past five years, the US military revealed Nov. 29, 2018.

Between January and October of 2018, the US-led coalition dropped 5,982 bombs in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel and Operation Resolute Support, significantly more than the previous years.

Coalition strike aircraft flew 6,584 sorties during that time, 783 of which involved the release of a weapon, the US Air Forces Central Command’s Combined Air Operations Center disclosed in its monthly Airpower Statistics report.


The Trump administration made airpower a priority for the war in Afghanistan. With the relocation of Air National Guard KC-135 refueling tankers from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar to Kandahar last fall, the US-led coalition has been able to increase the number of airstrikes against the Taliban and other enemy combatants.

In addition to the refueling tankers, a number of A-10C Thunderbolt attack aircraft, HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, and MQ-9 Reaper drones were also shifted to Kandahar, Military.com reported Nov. 28, 2018.

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A U.S. Air Force MQ-9A Reaper.

The US and its coalition partners have made progress in the fight against ISIS, but while the number of bombs falling on Afghanistan is on the rise, the coalition continues to struggle to secure victory against a surging and brutal Taliban foe.

The Afghan government’s control of the country has been slipping over the past few years, falling from 72 percent in 2015 to just over half in the third quarter of 2018. In that period, Afghanistan lost 28,529 security force personnel, the Afghan president said in November 2018.

The US continues to suffer losses as well.

Five US troops were killed in November 2018, one to an insider attack, one to accidental friendly fire, and three to an improvised explosive device. Thirteen US service members have died fighting in Afghanistan in 2018, as US forces have largely shifted to advise, assist and training missions.

The Taliban “are not losing right now, I think that is fair to say,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. “We used the term stalemate a year ago and, relatively speaking, it has not changed much.”

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Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

(DOD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

“We do believe the Taliban know that at some point they do have to reconcile,” Dunford added, stressing that the key is to pressure the Taliban, which has also suffered heavy losses, to eventually negotiate.

Reporters from the Washington Post recently questioned President Donald Trump on America’s presence in Afghanistan. “We’re there because virtually every expert that I have and speak to say if we don’t go there, they’re going to be fighting over here. And I’ve heard it over and over again,” he replied.

He further remarked that there is talk of peace, but added that he was unsure if that is a real possibility.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon Nov. 28, 2018, Mattis said the peace process is “picking up momentum,” but did not go into additional detail.

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

popular

5 things the US has fired out of cannons besides artillery rounds

High-explosive rounds and metal balls are the cliche options for what to fire out of a howitzer. Discerning cannon users who want to fire less stereotypical munitions should check out these 5 military experiments:


1. Nuclear warheads

 

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Photo: US Federal Archives

 

There was a time when the American nuclear arsenal was as much about tactical weapons as strategic, and one of the greatest artillery rounds was the M65 which packed a 15 to 20-kiloton nuclear warhead. The U.S. has phased out nuclear artillery rounds, but China, India, and Pakistan still have them.

2. Drones

Artillery-launched drones are a thing, allowing batteries to launch drones in support of special operators and other ground forces.

Right now, the main drone launched from cannons is the Coyote drone. Coyotes are used in the Navy’s experimental LOCUST project, a plan to launch “swarms” of up to 30 drones from cannons. The drones would work together to achieve tough missions.

3. Space program experiments

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Photo: Public Domain

Project HARP was a U.S. and Canadian program to test space re-entry vehicles by firing them from cannons. A HARP cannon at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona successfully fired a test vehicle on Nov. 18, 1966, to an altitude of 111 miles, almost 50 miles above the boundary of space. Most of the HARP tests were fired to lower altitudes and carried experimental space parts to see how they acted during descent.

4. Cameras

In the late 1970s, the Army experimented with firing artillery rounds that carried cameras that could beam video back to a ground station for the duration of the rounds’ parachute-resisted descent. The tests were mostly failures, but the Army still designed a lethal version of the round that carried an explosive canister.

5. Rockets

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An M109A6 Paladin fires a gas-propelled round during calibration in Mosul, Iraq. Photo: US Army Spc. Gregory Gieske

The U.S. military developed the M549, a 155mm artillery shell that featured increased range thanks to a rocket engine housed inside the round. The cannon crew fired the round with normally and, before the round started to drop, the rocket engine would ignite and increase the weapon’s range.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a tuba led to the National Guard training allies in Europe

In some ways, the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program — which pairs National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide — started with a tuba.

“The Latvian military band needed a big tuba,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. John Conaway, the 22nd chief of the NGB and “father” of the SPP. “And we hauled a tuba over there.”


The trip with the tuba was part of the early planning stages for the program, which turns 25 in 2018.

“We delivered that tuba to the Latvian band and they were amazed to get it,” said Conaway. “That started the program with the first, initial visit.”

That first visit lead the way to a program that now has 74 partnerships with countries throughout the world. But it all started with three: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

“We were received in grand fashion in all three places,” said Conaway, referring to that initial trip. Where it would go from there, he added, was then still unknown.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “But, we had the visit. That was the start.”

That first visit was the result of a simple directive from Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, then-supreme allied commander in Europe with NATO, and who would be appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993.

“He called me up and said “we’ve got to help these new emerging democracies [in the Baltics],'” said Conaway, adding that after additional planning with Pentagon officials, he formed a small team and they started working with the State Department. That led to meeting with the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, as well as military officials in those countries.

“It looked like they wanted our help and we started talking about putting liaison officers from the National Guard on orders with them,” said Conaway. “Our role was to help make the transition [to democracy] as smooth as we could.”

The idea of liaison officers grew into tying specific Guard elements with specific countries.

“The [team] and I huddled and thought, “We’ve got tons of Lithuanians and Lithuanian-Americans living in Pennsylvania,'” Conaway said. “It fit. We’ll tie Lithuania to the Pennsylvania National Guard.”

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Sgt. 1st Class Harry R. Martinez, right, with the New Jersey Army National Guard, demonstrates how to load an ammunition drum on a M249 squad automatic weapon to Albanian Officer Candidate Endri Deda while training at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)

The idea grew from there.

“There were a lot of Latvian-Americans in Michigan, so we got with the adjutant general [of the Michigan National Guard] and tied them together with Latvia,” said Conaway. “There are Estonian-Americans in Baltimore, and so we tied [Estonia] together with the Maryland National Guard.”

Conaway added there was little precedent to follow while developing the program.

“We were doing this off the back of an envelope back then,” he said. “It was happening so fast.”

By the time Conaway retired in November 1993, the SPP had 13 partnerships, primarily with former Eastern Bloc countries in Europe.

The following years saw new partnerships added from across the globe.

“It’s grown to 74 partnerships and that’s been an incremental growth of about two to three partnerships a year,” said Air Force Col. Donald McGuire, chief of the international affairs branch at the NGB.

As the program has expanded, the process for adding new partnerships has become more refined.

First, the country has to request to be a member of the program, said McGuire, adding that input from the State Department and the combatant command — the U.S. military command element overseeing specific geographic regions — goes along with that request.

“They collectively decide that this is a good country we want to nominate for selection into the program,” said McGuire, adding that from there staff work is done to determine the best course of action with pairing up elements for a partnership.

“It’s very analytical what the staff here does,” said McGuire. “They put a lot of hard work and brain cells against making sure they’re doing a good analysis to give the chief [of the NGB] the best recommendation they can.”

The long-term success of the program has come about, in part, from that intrinsic relationship with both the State Department and the combatant command, said McGuire. The SPP is nested with the command’s theater security cooperation plan and the State Department’s country study plan.

“It’s in tune with the combatant commanders, therefore, it’s in tune or synchronized with the National Defense Strategy,” McGuire said.

Building relationships, said McGuire, is one of the hallmarks of the program.

“This provides, perhaps, the most well-known and established international partnership capability the National Guard is involved with,” he said. “These are relationships that have grown over the course of time and continue to grow.”

Those relationships have not only seen partners in the program train together, but also work together in the wake of natural disasters and large-scale emergencies.

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Soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard demonstrate how to properly apply camouflage concealment to the face at Babadag Training Area in eastern Romania

It’s also seen co-deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas.

“You wouldn’t have these countries and units deploying together, necessarily, if they didn’t already have this relationship.”

McGuire added that’s a significant element.

“That tells you a lot about the program,” he said. “These co-deployments are real-world operations, named contingencies that represent the next level of collaboration and coordination.”

Building collaboration and coordination is also key to building greater regional security, said Army Brig. Gen. Christopher F. Lawson, the NGB’s vice director of strategy, policy, plans and international affairs.

“In order to promote greater peace and stability in the world long into the future, we will need a program like the SPP because it helps nations transition from security consumers to security providers,” he said.

For Conaway, the continued growth of the program is more than he imagined 25 years ago.

“It is beyond my wildest dreams and imagination that it would be this passionate and this popular and the good the National Guard has done,” he said. “Here we are, 25 years after it started and the National Guard is just as enthusiastic as ever.”

The pairing of the West Virginia National Guard with Qatar was announced in April 2018, and McGuire said additional partnerships are in the coordination phase.

“We have a few more partnerships in the queue,” he said, adding he sees continued growth of the program over the next 25 years and beyond.

“It really is the entry point to a lot of good things that happen,” McGuire said.

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

Articles

This is why West Point graduates have big shoes to fill

The United States Military Academy (also known as West Point, the Point, the Academy or the Long Gray Line) was founded in March 1802 by Thomas Jefferson. The university, located in West Point, New York, is one of the top educational institutions in the United States. Being selected to study at West Point is very difficult, with only 10 percent of applicants admitted each year.

The high standard of education offered has resulted in a number of very successful alumni. Although it is an institution that produced many brilliant military careers, the achievements of its graduates are not limited to the battlefield. Military, business, politics, sciences or downright groundbreaking achievements, over the years, the West point alumni have brought honor to the Academy in many fields. Some of them have even shaped the future of the United States and played an important role on the international stage. Whatever their field, the West Point graduates carry the motto of their school with them: Duty, Honor, Country.

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Wikimedia Commons

Benjamin L.E. Bonneville

Class of 1815. Fearless explorer who ventured into the uncharted American West, mapping the Yellowstone, Green, Salmon, and Snake rivers, as well as the Great Salt Lake. The Bonneville Salt Flats, now used to establish speed records on land, is named after him.

Jefferson Davis

Class of 1828. Successful politician, member of Congress, Senator from Mississippi, Secretary of War from 1853 to 1857. He went on to become the President of the Confederate States of America.

Robert E. Lee

Class of 1829. General in Chief of the Confederate forces during the Civil War, he became the president of the Washington & Lee University after the war.

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This painting depicts Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant on the field during the Battle of the Wilderness, Virginia, May 5-7, 1864. (U.S. Army)

Ulysses S. Grant

Class of 1843. General in Chief of the Armies of the United States of America during the Civil War, he went on to become the President of the United States from 1869 to 1877.

John J. Pershing

Class of 1886. Nicknamed “Black Jack,” he was the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during WWI and became General of the Armies in 1919. His tactics were often criticized for their high cost of lives, but he achieved several important military victories.

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U.S. Army

Douglas MacArthur

Class of 1903. Supreme Commander of the Pacific from 1941 to 1945, Supreme Commander of the UN Forces in Korea from 1950 to 1951. He received a Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Bataan.

George S. Patton, Jr

Class of 1909. Member of the U.S. Olympic team of 1912 (Pentathlon), he became a commander of the forces in the European Theater during WWII. Known for his bold tactics, he butted heads with his superiors a few times, but he achieved some great victories against the Nazis.

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U.S. Army

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Class of 1915. Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe from 1943 to the victory in 1945, reaching the 5-star general rank and organizing Operation Overlord. He went on to become President of the United States from 1953 to 1961.

Robert F. McDermott

Class of 1943. A fighter pilot during WWII, he achieved the rank of brigadier general before having a successful business career, where he became Chairman of USAA.

Fidel V. Ramos

Class of 1950. An international cadet, he became an officer in the Phillipino Army, then served in the Philippino government, before becoming President of the Republic of the Philippines from 1992 to 1998.

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NASA

Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin

Class of 1951. Astronaut from 1963 to 1972, he became the second man to ever walk on the Moon in July 1969.

Edward White II

Class of 1952. Astronaut from 1962 to 1967, he became the first American to do a spacewalk. He died tragically in 1967, during the Apollo spacecraft fire.

James V. Kimsey

Class of 1962. Served two tours in Vietnam as a Ranger. He co-founded and headed AOL as Chairman until 1995 and created the Kimsey Foundation upon retirement.

Marshall Larsen

Class of 1970. He became COO of the Goodrich Aerospace Corporation, CEO and chairman of Ithaco Space Systems, Inc, and chairman of the Aerospace Industries Association.

Should you enlist in the military or commission as an officer?
Wikimedia Commons

Robert Alan McDonald

Class of 1975. Politician and businessman, he became the eighth Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the United States and went on to become CEO of Proctor & Gamble.

Alex Gorsky

Class of 1982. After graduation, he became an Army Ranger, where he reached the rank of Captain. He successfully transitioned into a business career, where he became CEO of Johnson & Johnson.


Feature image: U.S. Army photo

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This critical Navy system you’ve never heard about is retiring

When the Navy announced plans to retire a system in August of 2018, not a lot of media outlets paid attention. Despite its failure to make headlines, the system that’s on the way out is actually one of the most important in the Navy. We’re talking, of course, about the Standard Automated Logistics Tool Set, or SALTS.

Developed in the space of just three weeks during the run-up to Operation Desert Storm, this system has been with the Navy for 27 years — and it makes sure that the personnel in the fight have what they need by rapidly moving data on required parts and available inventory to and from the battlefield electronically.


There is an old saying, “amateurs discuss tactics and strategy, while professionals talk logistics.” Think of it this way: How can the pilot of a F/A-18E Super Hornet be expected to blow an enemy MiG out of the sky if his radar doesn’t work? Yes, launching skilled pilots on the right mission at the right time is critically important, but nothing happens if the moving pieces aren’t in order. The fighters on a carrier, for instance, need spare parts to work (just like your car).

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A F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 102 launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Such operations would not be possible without enough spare parts.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate)

It’s not just the super-complex fighters. Even the M16 rifles and M4 carbines used by SEALs will need spare parts or replacement magazines (which are often ejected and left behind in firefights) — not to mention ammo. Then there are the many other needs of the Navy: Food for the sailors, fuel to keep ships and planes running, the list goes on and on.

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These magazines loaded with ammo for M16 rifles and M4 carbines — something Marines and SEALs need in abundance.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James R. Turner)

SALTS enabled sailors on the front to handle Military Standard Requisitioning and Issue Procedures (MILSTRIP) in minutes as opposed to weeks or days. It also could fix some mistakes in seconds. Not bad for a solution that was designed and implemented in three weeks.

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The replenishment underway in this photo is one of many made possible by SALTS.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William McCann)

SALTS, though, was running up against advancing computer technology and new cyber-security threats. There is a new system known as One Touch Support, or OTS, that will take over for SALTS. And yes, just like its predecessor, OTS isn’t likely to make headlines, but will play a crucial role for the Navy.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army’s crazy new camouflage can defeat night vision, thermal

The US Army is moving forward on next-generation concealment technology to ensure that American soldiers can hide in plain sight.

Fibrotex has built an Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System that can be used to conceal soldier’s positions, vehicles, tanks and aircraft. The new “camouflage system will mask soldiers, vehicles and installations from state-of-the-art electro-optical sensors and radars,” the company said Nov. 8, 2018, in a press release sent to Business Insider.

Fibrotex has been awarded a contract to supply this advanced camouflage to conceal troops from night vision, thermal imaging, radar, and more.


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Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System.

(Fibrotex USA)

Soldiers, vehicles, and other relevant systems can just about disappear in snowy, desert, urban, and woodland environments, according to the camouflage-maker.

The new program aims to replace outdated camouflage that protects soldiers in the visible spectrum but not against more advanced, high-end sensors. ULCANS “provides more persistent [infrared], thermal counter-radar performance,” Fibrotex explained.

The Army has awarded Fibrotex a 10-year indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract valued at 0 million. Full-scale production will begin in 2019 at a manufacturing facility in McCreary County, Kentucky, where the company expects to create and secure hundreds of new jobs in the coming years.

“Today, more than ever, military forces and opposition groups are using night vision sensors and thermal devices against our troops,” Eyal Malleron, the CEO of Fibrotex USA, said in a statement.

“But, by using Fibrotex’s camouflage, concealment and deception solutions, we make them undetectable again, allowing them to continue keeping us safe.”

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Ultra-Light Camouflage Netting System.

(Fibrotex USA)

Enemies can’t see in, but US soldiers can see out

The result came from roughly two years of testing at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center, where new technology was tested against the Army’s most advanced sensors.

Fibrotex noted that the netting is reversible, creating the possibility for two distinctly different prints for varied environments. And while outsiders can’t see through the netting, those on the inside have an excellent view of their surroundings, as can be seen in the picture above.

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Mobile Camouflage Solution.

(Fibrotex USA)

The new camouflage for troops and vehicles has reportedly been tested against the best sensors in the Army, and it beat them all.

The Mobile Camouflage Solution (MCS) takes concealment to another level, as “the MCS provides concealment while the platform is moving,” the company revealed. Business Insider inquired about the secret sauce to blend in moving vehicles with changing scenery, but Fibrotex would only say that their “technology combines special materials, a unique fabric structure and a dedicated manufacturing process.”

ULCANS and its relevant variants are based on “combat-proven technologies” designed by the Israel-based Fibrotex Technologies Ltd., the parent company for Fibrotex USA, over the past two decades. The company’s products have been specifically modified to meet the needs of the Department of Defense.

“We have more than 50 years of experience, with thousands of hours in the field and a deep understanding of conventional and asymmetric warfare. The U.S. Army tested our best camouflage solutions and the camouflage repeatedly demonstrated the ability to defeat all sensors known to be operating in the battlefield and throughout the electromagnetic spectrum,” Malleron explained.

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

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