During World War II, Maj. Claude Hensinger had to bail from his B-29 bomber. When he jumped out of his plane, he was packing a parachute that turned out to suit a number of purposes for a wayward pilot, not the least of all ensuring he came to Earth with a thud instead of a splat. It also turned out to be a blanket, a pillow, and a wedding ring.
Hensinger and his crew had just successfully made a bombing run over Yowata, Japan but on the way back to base, one of their engines caught fire. Instead of heading home, everyone had to bail out over China. In 1944, survival was anything but guaranteed in that part of the world. Much of China was still occupied by the Japanese, who were always on the lookout for down Allied aviators.
As if roving Japanese troops wasn’t enough, the nights were cold, dark, and long on the ground there. He didn’t know if he was even in occupied territory. Hensinger was also injured from landing on a pile of sharp rocks and was bleeding. He kept a hold on his parachute, even after landing. It was a good thing, too. The chute kept him warm and kept his bleeding to a minimum.
Eventually, he made it to safety and then the comfort of the United States.
When the war ended, he returned to his native Pennsylvania, where he reconnected with a friend from his childhood — a girl named Ruth. The two began dating and in 1947, Hensinger wanted to propose to his lifelong friend. When he got down on one knee, he proposed to her without a ring. Instead, he held his lucky parachute in his hands. He told Ruth how it saved his life and that he wanted her to fashion a wedding dress from the dirty, blood-stained nylon.
Of course she said yes. To both questions. As she pondered how to make the paratrooper’s dream gown, she began to worry about how she could ever turn the nylon into a real wedding dress. One day, walking by a store, the inspiration came to her. She passed a frock that was itself inspired by one worn on Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind. She patterned the dress to match that while designing a veil and bodice to boot.
While another local seamstress sewed the veil and bodice, Ruth sewed the skirt, using the parachute strings to lace the skirt higher in the back than in the front. Keeping with tradition, Hensinger didn’t get to see his wife’s parachute dress until she walked down the aisle. He was a happy man, according to Ruth.
The couple was married for 49 years before Hensinger died in 1996. In the years between, two other generations of women were married in Ruth Hensinger’s parachute dress. The dress is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History.
The White House has decided to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, as the Trump administration steps up its maximum-pressure campaign against Iran.
This is the first time the US has applied the designation to part of a foreign government, which the White House on April 8, 2019, said “underscores the fact that Iran’s actions are fundamentally different from those of other governments.”
“This unprecedented step,” President Donald Trump said in a statement April 8, 2019, “recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft.”
“This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences,” the president added.
Designating the Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization clears the way for US prosecutors to target those who provide material support to it. Conducting business with the group will now be considered a criminal offense punishable by law.
President Donald Trump.
(Photo by Michael Vadon)
“This designation is a direct response to an outlaw regime and should surprise no one,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said April 8, 2019, further commenting that the Quds Force, which is also being identified as a foreign terrorist organization, was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US troops in Iraq.
“The Middle East cannot be more stable and peaceful without weakening the IRGC,” a senior administration official said on background before April 8, 2019’s announcement. “We have to diminish their power. The IRGC has been threatening American troops and our operations almost since the time it was formed.”
The Pentagon said that Iran-backed militants killed 603 US troops from 2003 to 2011, meaning that Iran is held responsible for 17% of all US deaths in Iraq during that window. “This death toll is in addition to the many thousands of Iraqis killed by the IRGC’s proxies,” the State Department added, according to Military Times.
Iran, responding to rumors before the White House announcement, has already threatened to retaliate.
“We will answer any action taken against this force with a reciprocal action,” Iranian lawmakers said in a statement April 7, 2019, Fox News reported. “So the leaders of America, who themselves are the creators and supporters of terrorists in the [Middle East] region, will regret this inappropriate and idiotic action.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The legend about the Army having more boats than the Navy hasn’t been true since World War II, but the Army’s fleet of about 130 ships support combat and logistical operations around the world, especially in inhospitable or underdeveloped environments.
According to several reports, the Army plans to scuttle much of its boat fleet and reassign the soldiers manning them.
At least 18 of the Army’s more than 30 landing craft utility — versatile, 174-foot-long workhorses capable of carrying 500 tons of cargo — will be sold or transferred, and eight Army Reserve watercraft units that train soldiers and maintain dozens of watercraft are to be closed, as first reported by maritime website gCaptain.
An Army memo obtained by gCaptain said the goal was to “eliminate all United States Army Reserve and National Guard Bureau [Army Watercraft Systems] capabilities and/or supporting structure.”
Plans to ditch the aging fleet come amid warnings about the US military’s lack of transport capacity and as the Pentagon’s focus shifts to a potential fight against a more sophisticated adversary, like Russia or China.
Below, you can see what the Army’s large but relatively unknown fleet does and why it may not be doing it much longer.
US Army Logistics Support Vessel-5, Maj. Gen. Charles P. Gross, capable of carrying up to 2,000 tons of cargo, arrives at a port in the Persian Gulf for the Iron Union 17-4 exercise in the United Arab Emirates, Sept. 10, 2017.
(US Army photo Staff Sgt. Jennifer Milnes)
US Army vessels participating in a Logistics-over-the Shore mission at Shuaiba port in Kuwait, June 24, 2018.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Charlotte Reavis)
As of November 2018, the Army’s fleet includes eight Gen. Frank S. Besson-class Logistic Support Vessels, its largest class of ships, as well as 34 Landing Craft Utility, and 36 Landing Craft Mechanized Mk-8, in addition to a number of tugs, small ferries, and barges.
US Army vessels participating in a Logistics-over-the Shore mission at Shuaiba port in Kuwait, June 24, 2018.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Charlotte Reavis)
Army watercraft “expand commanders’ movement and maneuver options in support of unified land operations,” the service says. Landing craft move personnel and cargo from bases and ships to harbors, beaches, and contested or degraded ports. Ship-to-shore enablers allow the transfer of cargo at sea, and towing and terminal operators support operations in different environments.
Waves crash over US Army Vessel Churubusco on the Persian Gulf, during training exercise Operation Spartan Mariner, Jan. 9, 2013.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Johnston)
“When higher echelons receive something like redeployment orders, they will not be restricted in their ability to just travel by land or air. They will also understand the Army has these unique capabilities to redeploy their forces or insert their forces into an austere environment if needed,” Sgt. 1st Class Chase Conner, assigned to the 7th Transportation Brigade, said during an exercise in summer 2018.
USAV Lt. Gen. William B. Bunker (LSV-4) approaches a slip at Waipio Point, Hawaii, June 3, 2017.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon)
Despite what the Army’s watercraft bring to the fight, the service thinks it can do without them. In June 2018, Army Secretary Mark Esper ordered the divestment of “all watercraft systems” in preparation for the service’s 2020 budget. At that time, Esper said the Army had found billion that could be cut and spent on other projects.
The Military Sealift Command Vessel Gem State transfers a container to the US Army watercraft Logistics Support Vessel 5 (LSV-5) Maj. Gen. Charles P. Gross during an in-stream cargo transfer exercise in the Persian Gulf, June 13, 2017.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Jeremy Bratt)
“What makes this situation different than other in-activations is the short notification, the number of units and positions identified, and the unique equipment and capability being in-activated,” according to notes accompanying a PowerPoint presentation dated January 8, obtained by Stars and Stripes.
More than 30 Army mariners embarked on a multi-day transport mission aboard the Army logistic support vessel Maj. Gen. Charles P. Gross from Kuwait Naval Base, Jan. 19, 2017.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Aaron Ellerman)
The deactivations and unit closures laid out in the slides would affect at least 746 positions. Recruitment and training of Army mariners would also be put on hold until a final decision is made about the service’s watercraft. Decisions about what, where, and how to cut are still being made.
More than 30 Army mariners embarked on a multi-day transport mission aboard the Army logistic support vessel Maj. Gen. Charles P. Gross from Kuwait Naval Base, Jan. 19, 2017.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Aaron Ellerman)
The Army Reserve oversees much of the service’s marine force, managing about one-quarter of the fleet. The memo seen by gCaptain said soldiers now in the maritime field would be “assessed into units where they can best serve the needs of the Army Reserve while also being gainfully employed.”
Some of the boats currently managed by the Reserve component could be reassigned to the active-duty forces. Others could be decommissioned, stripped of military markings, and sold off.
More than 30 Army mariners embarked on a multi-day transport mission aboard the Army logistic support vessel Maj. Gen. Charles P. Gross from Kuwait Naval Base, Jan. 19, 2017.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Aaron Ellerman)
Staff Sgt. Yohannes Page, a watercraft operator, makes an adjustment on a sensor on a component of the Harbormaster Command and Control Center at Joint Expeditionary Base Fort Story, May 15, 2017.
(US Army Reserve photo by 1st Sgt. Angele Ringo)
At the end of 2018, the Army’s logistics staff told Congress that declining sealift capacity — exacerbated the aging of transport vessels — could create “unacceptable risk in force projection” within five years if the Navy doesn’t take action.
US Army Spc. Kayla Pfertsh fires an M2 machine gun at an inflatable target known as a killer tomato during a sea-based gunnery range aboard Logistics Support Vessel 5, Jan. 24, 2017
(US Army photo by Sgt. Jeremy Bratt)
“The Army’s ability to project military power influences adversaries’ risk calculations,” the Army G-4 document said, according to Defense News, which described it as “reflect[ing] the Army’s growing impatience with the Navy’s efforts to recapitalize its surge sealift ships.”
Watercraft operator Sgt. Rebecca Sheriff fires at a target in the Pacific Ocean during a waterborne range aboard Logistics Support Vehicle-2, about 40 miles south of Pearl Harbor, Oct. 4, 2017.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Silvers)
But even if the sealift fleet were fully stocked and trained, many of its ships, which are tasked with transporting gear for the Army and Marine Corps, can’t unload in underdeveloped or contested ports and waterways, particularly areas where enemies could attack or project force.
US Army Reserve watercraft operators replicate a fire-fighting drill during a photo shoot aboard a Logistics Support Vessel in Baltimore, April 7 and April 8, 2017.
(US Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)
“My fear is the Army doesn’t understand what we have or what we’re getting rid of,” Michael Carr, a retired Army Reserve mariner and author of the gCaptain report, told Stars and Stripes. “I am concerned the Army will have to respond to something in Southeast Asia or South America, somewhere with hostile shores or underdeveloped ports, and we will need this capability and we won’t have it.”
In October 2018, Airman Magazine sat down for a conversation with Maj. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, Twenty-fourth Air Force commander; Air Forces Cyber commander and Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber commander, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. He is responsible for providing Air Force component and combatant commanders with trained and ready cyber forces to plan, direct and execute global cyberspace operations.
Airman Magazine: In July, the Twenty-fourth AF moved from Air Force Space Command to Air Combat Command. At the same time you moved from AFSPC to ACC. What are the reasons for that restructuring?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: This allows Gen. Raymond, as the Air Force Space Command commander, to truly focus on space operations. The other thing is this brings cyber within Air Combat Command, which has intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; command and control and the air domain. Bringing all these forces together under one four-star MAJCOM (major command) commander, Gen. Holmes, allows him some more flexibility to be able to present forces across the spectrum of operations.
The networks for those operations need to be resilient and they need to be protected. When you bring together the ISR, cyber, information operations, electronic warfare and command and control, that’s a lot under one hat. But it allows us greater integration as we move forward. At the end of the day, this is about multi-domain operations and the more we can bring those together, the more successful we’ll be.
Airman Magazine: How are your responsibilities divided between your three commands? It seems that just the information technology portion alone would be a huge demand on your resources.
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Cyber operations have four or five different lines of effort. One is to actually build the networks, build the applications and build the systems.
Another is to operate and maintain the networks, but also secure and protect them from vulnerability to adversaries. We also defend networks for our maneuver forces and then we have full spectrum operations, which is on the offensive side.
We also have combat communications airmen and engineering installation airmen who extend the network out to a multitude of places, whether that’s tactical basing or at the forward battle edge.
With that said, information technology is still a key part of the cyberspace domain and we are moving forward in the Enterprise IT as a service. We are going to utilize things industry does very well as a commodity type of action activity.
We are going to leverage what industry does great, providing some services and network infrastructure, and re-mission our airmen to do core Air Force missions on the defensive and offensive side, while providing assurance for the many missions the Air Force presents to the combatant commanders on the joint side.
The bottom line is we’re in the cyber operations business — information technology, networks, both operating and defending — and we provide full spectrum operations in this thing we call the cyberspace domain.
Tech. Sgt. Wyatt Bloom uses a spectrum analyzer to check television broadcast network routers at the Defense Media Activity, Fort Meade, Md., July 18, 2012. Bloom is a cyber-transport technician assigned to DMA.
Airman Magazine: Would you explain your duties as commander of the Air Force component at Cyber Command? How is that different from the hat you wear as commander of Twenty-fourth AF and Air Force Cyber?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: This could actually be a dissertation. To break it down a little bit, the Twenty-fourth AF is where we organize, train and equip our airmen. The perfect example is we have an organization down at Hurlburt Field — they train almost every cyber professional. Now we do a lot more than that, but that’s one example of the Twenty-fourth AF piece.
In the Air Force cyber piece, I am charged by the Air Force to present forces to Gen. Paul Nakasone, the U.S. Cyber Command commander, for his missions and functions as the combatant commander.
We provide offensive forces and defensive forces, DODIN (Department of Defense Information Networks) ops cyber professionals and ISR professionals to Gen. Nakasone, so he can perform his mission.
Then the third area is the Joint Force Headquarters side. That’s where Gen. Nakasone has asked us to align to three different combatant commanders to provide additional joint support for their missions.
We have planning elements that are aligned to these three combatant commanders, as well as some cyber teams supporting the commanders’ efforts in defense of the mission. Our teams are able to deploy and employ forces against a particular adversary at the time and place of the combatant command commanders’ choosing.
Our job within Twenty-fourth AF, AF Cyber JFHQC and Cyber Command, is to be ready at a moment’s notice to protect our systems and defend the networks and defend the core missions of our military and our joint war fighters. Then deter, disrupt and degrade an enemy’s ability to perform those functions against us. Part of that goes into making sure that we have persistent engagement, a persistent presence, and a persistent innovation as we continue to move forward.
Airman Magazine: Across the Air Force, joint force, partner agencies and nations, do cyber operations equate to kinetic operations or is that a completely different animal?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I would say it is not a completely different animal. To be successful in cyber operations and have cyberspace superiority at the time and place of our choosing, we need a team of teams that is internal to the Air Force.
Every single airman in our Air Force needs to be a cyber sentinel. We need every airman to be very conscious of cyber security, cyber hygiene and things that are going on within the cyberspace domain.
We have branched out and are part of several joint organizations that perform functions and missions within the cyber domain. The National Security Agency is a huge partner with us as we perform these missions, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Information Systems Agency and Department of Homeland Security — a lot of different agencies across the board.
We are also great partners with commercial industry and academia because we’re all in the same field and in the same cyber domain.
Within Twenty-fourth AF, we have a United Kingdom representative and an Australian liaison officer, but most of our allies and partners are really up at the Cyber Command level. We leverage those partners through U.S. Cyber Command, NATO and other organizations.
Capt. Taiwan Veney, cyber warfare operations officer, watches members of the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group, from left, Capt. Adelia McClain, Staff Sgt. Wendell Myler, Senior Airman Paul Pearson and Staff Sgt. Thacious Freeman, analyze log files and provide a cyber threat update utilizing a Kibana visualization on the large data wall in the Hunter’s Den at Warfield Air National Guard Base.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: What is it that makes your cyber airmen “cyber warriors”?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Our airmen are absolutely warriors. We have teams in the fight operating constantly: 7 days a week, 365 days a year, Christmas and New Year’s.
If you’ve heard Gen. Nakasone speak recently you’ve heard him say we’re no longer solely responding to network intrusions, we have cyber forces persistently engaged against state and non-state adversaries, actively identifying and countering threats in the cyber domain.
This achieves several benefits at once: first and foremost, it gives us control over the cyber terrain that serves as the foundation for superiority in cyberspace. It also keeps our operators ready and their skills honed and imposes cost on the adversary so they can no longer operate freely without repercussion. There’s already a massive demand signal for our cyber operators that will only increase, so we have to ensure we’re fielding proficient, ready and lethal operators at scale.
Because of this, we are investing not only the readiness of our mission, but also in the readiness of our people. This means examining everything within our scope of control, including the effect the operational tempo of our 24/7/365 mission has on our operators.
Just like you see within the (remotely piloted aircraft) field, cyber can mean long periods away from the sunlight and abnormal sleep hours, and that can absolutely have an effect on people. Any leader will tell you—if you take care of the people, they will take care of the mission.
Airman Magazine: What part does the total force play in cyber operations and defense?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I will tell you, we could not do our job on a day-to-day basis without the total force. The majority of the forces within Twenty-fourth AF are guard and reserve components.
Our engineering installation mission is 85 to 90 percent within the guard. More than 50 percent of our combat communications capability, which extends and expands our capabilities to the tactical edge, is in the guard. We have guard organizations up in Washington. We have some in Rhode Island. We have some here in Texas. I will tell you they provide great day-to-day work.
What’s even more important is the expertise that they bring from their civilian jobs. We have vice presidents of some corporations who are part of our total force as well. Bringing that expertise, leadership, things that the public is good at and things that industry is focused on benefits the military and vice versa. They take lessons learned from the military and take it to their company. So it’s a great yin-yang relationship.
Whether it’s an offensive operation or a defensive operation or even DODIN ops, there has to be a tight tie between all of those as we move forward because the defense learns from the offense and the offense learns from the defense. DODIN ops learn from defense to figure it out where we need to be resilient, where some of our mission critical assets are and how to defend them.
All the computer networks, email, applications and systems in the cyberspace domain are what we call the Department of Defense Information Networks. There are pay applications that we have in the Air Force that are part of DODIN. If you get paid electronically within the Air Force that’s part of the DoD information network.
Airman Magazine: Is it an advantage that those reserve and National Guard personnel tend to have long histories with one unit?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I would say sometimes it’s an advantage and sometimes it’s not. In some places having continuity is good. I would say having too much continuity isn’t necessarily good in cyber because you want some fresh blood, some fresh ideas.
Airman Magazine: Would a technical track for active-duty cyber operators benefit the force?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Similar to other domains and weapon systems, we have to be proficient to be effective. Since cyber is a technical domain we do need technical expertise.
However as our people gain that expertise and increase in rank and responsibility, we need them to be leaders and lead teams to success while still maintaining credibility in their profession. We, ACC and Headquarters Air Force are working closely together to determine what the right “path to greatness” will look like, in order to build a force that generates maximum lethality.
Cyber warfare operators assigned to the 275th Cyber Operations Squadron of the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group of the Maryland Air National Guard configure a threat intelligence feed for daily watch in the Hunter’s Den at Warfield Air National Guard Base.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: As cyber tools and methods seem to change constantly, ow can the acquisitions process be altered to make sure the Air Force has the best technologies and practices in the cyber domain?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: The Air Force and DoD leadership are laser-like focused on our ability to acquire things in a more agile, fast and relevant way. We have leveraging other authorities, like 804 authorities, to bring on the future faster and to bring innovation faster.
As an Air Force we are becoming more of a software force than a hardware force. The ability to bring the new wave of agile software development operations, DevOps, is going to be key in maintaining our superiority and operating within the enemy’s OODA loop (time it takes to observe, orient, decide, and act).
We’re bringing in individuals who understand the old waterfall model is not the right model because by the time that you set the requirements and start developing to those requirements, the environment, threats and priorities have changed.
If you’re spending weeks, months and years identifying and defining hundreds or thousands of requirements, you definitely can’t meet those requirements in a timely manner. So leverage industry, leverage developers who are innovative, define the left and right limits or requirements.
So you get a three to five-page requirements document, which is much better than a 100 to 200-page document. Let them innovate and come back with a solution and in a much more timely manner—days and weeks versus months and years. Then you iterate and you continue to iterate on that minimum viable product.
Then also leverage some of those techniques to buy the right hardware in a timely fashion and focus on the approval top rate process, to reduce the amount of time to approve either software or hardware for connecting to the network. I know that Dr. Roper, Air Force Acquisition and the chief and secretary are very focused on bringing the future faster.
Airman Magazine: The Air Force is considering launching a cyber rapid capabilities office. How would that benefit the Twenty-fourth AF and the cyber community as a whole?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: The traditional slow-and-steady acquisition model is great for buying a fleet of fifth-generation aircraft, but it isn’t ideal for cyberspace where the landscape is changing constantly and where the state-of-the-art is available to anyone interested in buying. We need to get faster.
The DNA of the Air Force RCO brings agility and flexibility, which drives down timelines and increases capability. Right now we can’t say what form a cyber RCO would take, but will benefit us by getting the right capabilities and weapons at the right time to our operators. We need to respond to malicious cyber activity with greater speed and tempo employing a calculated, “spectrum of risk” framework which is properly delegated at echelon to enable responsible and responsive cyberspace operations in support of assigned missions.
The concept of Fusion Warfare gathers all intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data across all Air Force platforms into the “combat cloud” through and autonomous process where it’s analyzed and combined to create a real time big picture for commanders.
(Photo by Airman 1st Class Kevin Sommer Giron)
Airman Magazine: What effect will advances in big data research have on cyber operations?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Data is the game changer in our business. If I own the data battle space, then I will definitely be within the OODA loop of the adversary. Being able to leverage quantum computing, artificial intelligence and analysis of big data platforms is really the future of our mission.
There is so much data out there in today’s environment there is no way that you can get through all of it (manually). So you may miss a key data point that would help you make a decision. In a future conflict, being able to have the right data at the right time analyzed at the right tempo is key to success.
We’re putting a lot of effort into better understanding the data, not just from cyber standpoint, but also in logistics, in intelligence and even in personnel. The more we can analyze the data, the better that we can perform education and training, perform timely logistics, perform ISR operations. Every single Air Force core mission is reliant on data to be more effective, more efficient and more successful.
Airman Magazine: Can you talk about Hack the Air Force and its value to the force?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: The first Hack the Air Force iteration was in late 2017, after the successful Hack the Pentagon initiative by Defense Digital Services. When the first hackathon sprint kicked off it took less than a minute for a hacker to find a valid vulnerability. By the end, over 200 holes in our boundary had been patched—and that was just the first iteration.
Hack the Air Force gets after two important focus areas: first, it builds capacity for the Air Force by leveraging expertise from a multitude of places, and second, it leverages innovative thinking to find vulnerabilities we otherwise might not uncover.
Take, for example, the person who won the first hackathon sprint, a 17-year-old high school student from Chicago. Maybe his path won’t lead him to the Air Force, but we were still able to use his talents to make ourselves more resilient. To me that’s a win.
Quynh Tran, right, a Raytheon Corporation software engineer, talks with Capt. Nick Lundin, Product Management lead, about a software coding project May 30, 2018 at Kessel Run, a program within the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, a United States Department of Defense organization, in Boston.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: What lessons can be learned from commercial companies about practices that enable those fresh ideas to come forward?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: There are a lot of great lessons learned from Silicon Valley and I would offer Silicon Valley has also learned from the Department of Defense.
As I’ve said many times over my 33-year career to date, if I came into the military today, compared with a talent level of the individuals that we have now, I would not be as successful as I have been.
The talent today is amazing and our job as senior leaders is how do we unleash that talent? How do we have the right policies and the right directives leveraging the right acquisition authorities and unleash this talent on the hard problems that our force and our nation face today.
The key is getting the right people in the room to determine how best to provide solutions, whether it’s software development, hardware acquisition or cyberspace operations. It’s getting the right people in the room and getting through the bureaucracy, pushing the bureaucracy to the side and being able to unleash the talent.
Airman Magazine: How can, especially when it comes to the cyber domain, the Air Force compete with civilian industry to attract more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: There was always a competition between academia, research labs, commercial industry and the military. We as a military cannot compete from a dollar standpoint.
But where we can compete is with the great things you can do within the DoD, that you probably can’t do within the commercial world. We have great missions coming from the research we’re doing.
Some of the operations we’re doing on a day-to-day basis, you can’t do that on the commercial side. We have opportunities for individuals at a variety of levels to perform things they couldn’t do outside of the military. That’s our calling card.
Airman Magazine: Peer and near-peer competitors have been going to school on us since World War II; how do we offset that advantage?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I would say every threat is an opportunity. While we have been focused over the last 10 to 15 years on the violent extremist, the latest National Defense Strategy, National Security Strategy and National Cyber Strategy outline strategic competition, peer competitors, and has turned the focus there.
You’ll hear a lot about readiness. Readiness is very important to our chief, very important to our secretary and very important to the secretary of defense. We need to make sure that we have a lethal force. In order to do that, you need to have a ready force.
In order to be ready, you need to have a disciplined force. Especially when there is strategic competition out there and adversaries who on a day-to-day basis are performing actions and operations that are probably right below the level of conflict.
But, I would not want to go and do a mission against a threat with anyone else but the airmen we have in our service today. Our airmen, with our joint partners in the other services, still have the most critical, credible and lethal force in the world.
Airmen with the 68th Network Warfare Squadron monitor Air Force communications to analyze disclosures of critical information and perform data loss prevention at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Oct. 25, 2018.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: You talked about having a disciplined force in order to be lethal. What constitutes discipline in the cyber world?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Discipline is key. I’m not talking about discipline from a uniform code of military justice aspect. This is discipline in processes, discipline in procedures and discipline in command and control. We spent a lot of time going back and trying to figure out what happened on something because there was an undisciplined tactic, technique, procedure or process. We’re trying to leverage discipline to make our force more effective and more capable and build capacity.
Then we come to a readiness standpoint. Readiness, as you know, is made up of personnel, equipment, procedures and training. We are continually leveraging our innovative airmen to improve the training they receive, how we purchase equipment, how we educate our airmen.
Part of all this is proficiency. Proficiency against a violent extremist organization is much different than proficiency against strategic competitors. Our focus continues to be how to maintain and improve the readiness and proficiency against strategic competitors.
We are also leveraging our airmen and technology to be more efficient and more effective.
Leveraging artificial intelligence can decrease the amount of time that our airmen spend doing manual work so they can focus on the higher end discussions of cognitive actions and activities.
For example, manually looking through thousands of pages of data takes a very long time. We have airmen who are leveraging technology, whether it’s using keywords or bringing a couple of technologies together, that can take those thousands of documents and run through them in minutes versus hours, days or weeks.
Then taking what the technology has given you and put the human eye on it — are there any other needles in the haystack?
That’s what our airmen are doing on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s from a data collection standpoint, whether it’s from a cyber operation standpoint, whether it’s looking through logs to see if we have an adversary presence on our networks. Looking through logs to make sure that our user experience is where it needs to be on a daily basis, but leveraging technology to reduce the amount of manual steps.
Airman Magazine: With a kinetic weapon, the effects are apparent and there is an inherent process to be able to determine origin, intent and purpose. The very nature of cyber is to hide the hand that dealt the cards. What kind of challenges does determining attribution pose for a commander?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: So attribution is a very significant challenge. There are not as well defined international norms in the cyberspace domain and therefore a multitude of nations and multitude of criminals and the multitude of other individuals are continuing to push the limits.
It is often very apparent in the other domains, from an effect or an outcome, who the actors are. In the cyber domain, you can have the same type of effects in as in other domains, but it is harder to determine the source, which is really important when you start talking about multi-domain operations.
Cyber is a critical enabler while also a critical operation because cyber can be both supporting and supported within multi-domain operations. As we continue to refine our operations, to refine our tactics, techniques and procedures, we will continue to get better at understanding attribution, understanding the outcomes, and making sure that we refine and define those outcomes and bound the outcomes to meet our mission objectives.
As cyber continues to get more profound and more pronounced in the day-to-day operations, attribution is going to become that much harder.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Skinner, then Deputy Commander of Air Force Space Command, speaks at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Cyberspace Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, March 6, 2018.
(Photo by Dave Grim)
Airman Magazine: How do you convince people that cyber and space have become foundational to everything that the Air Force, and our society as a whole, does on a daily basis?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I’ll give you a perfect example, the Global Positioning System is operated by Air Force Space Command: not only for the nation, but the whole world. The U.S. Air Force supplies and supports the system and satellites that enable the GPS navigation we use in our cars and on our phones every day, millions of times around the world.
It also provides timing. Every financial transaction is supported by the GPS system. So when you purchase something and put your credit card into that reader, there’s a timing aspect that is being supported by GPS. So the Air Force is supporting billions of activities and actions all the time.
Airman Magazine: The chief of staff and secretary have made it a priority to push command level decisions down to the lowest level possible. How is that manifested in your command?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Its not only because the chief and the secretary say they want it done. We have the greatest airmen in the world and we have the greatest commanders in the world—pushing authorities and responsibility down to the lowest level really enables them to unleash the talent around them and enables us to unleash their talent.
You don’t need higher headquarters micromanaging and directing things on a daily basis. Our commanders are boarded. We have a tradition of great commanders in our Air Force and we need to let them run. We need to let them determine how best to run their organizations and how best to be effective. The more that we can push decision authority down, the more bureaucracy we can eliminate and the more agile, lethal and effective we can be as an Air Force.
From a higher headquarters level and higher commander level, our responsibility is to give the left and right limits to those organizations and then let them run.
If we are in a conflict, especially against a peer competitor, the amount of time it would take to micromanage our tactical-level units would not allow us to be inside the OODA loop of our adversary.
We need to allow our commanders, in peacetime, to train like they are going to fight. To have that authority to perform the mission as they see fit. With more guidance, directives and limitations to that commander, there’s going to be some negative learning, first and foremost, but secondly, the safety of our airmen will be put in jeopardy.
Participants in the joint, multinational exercise Cyber Guard 2016 work through a training scenario during the nine-day event in Suffolk, Va., on June 16, 2016.
(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse A. Hyatt)
Airman Magazine: As commander of Joint Force Headquarters Cyber, you’re responsible for cyber affects in campaign plans from U.S. Central Command to U.S. Transportation Command. How does that integration take place?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: Aligned to each of those combatant commanders we have an element called the Cyber Operations Integrated Planning Element. We are just now standing those up and they are at the combatant commanders’ headquarters.
They’re kind of our picture window into that combatant commander to enable cyber operations planning to be part of their overall plan. Each combatant commander has either a function or a region they’re responsible for and they have what we call a scheme of maneuver, which is either day-to-day or in conflict. It is the commander’s plan of how to ensure sure we are successful in that campaign.
These planning elements are aligned there so we can be part of that plan and make sure that cyber isn’t just bolted on, but integrated into that plan. Cyber will be one of the first options that are available to that combatant commander below the level of conflict to make sure that we are meeting our objectives.
Airman Magazine: How do you get everyone with a piece of the huge cyber puzzle speaking the same language? How do you communicate capabilities and vulnerabilities to leadership, agency partners and airmen who are not cyber experts?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I would say today we have the best understanding and the best alignment from the cyber domain standpoint that we’ve ever had with all the strategy documents – the National Defense Strategy, which is underneath the National Security Strategy, the National Cyber Policy and Strategy, the DoD Cyber Strategy and the Cyber Posture Review.
All of these documents are perfectly aligned and it’s a great understanding of the capabilities that we provide, but also the importance of cyber to the multi-domain operations. The education is continual, but I offer that our Air Force leadership understands the cyber domain. They understand how important the cyber domain is to multi-domain operations.
We continue to educate the entire forest. We’re continuing the education process of all of our airmen, from the highest level to the most junior airman and the joint community, but from a joint standpoint and a national standpoint cyber is more understood than it ever has been.
Proposed content viewing page on the Cyber Education Hub, which is being developed at the Center for Cyberspace Research in the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
(AFIT CCR photo)
Airman Magazine: Do you see the Continuum of Learning concept and applications like the Cyber Learning Hub being developed by the Center for Cyberspace Research, Air Force Cyber College and U.S Air Force Academy’s CyberWorx, as aiding in that effort?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: There are a lot of great opportunities with that as cyber continues to be more and more integrated into the day-to-day operations.
We currently have the Air Force Warfare Center where we bring a lot of different mission systems together, integrate them, exercise and train and cyber is a significant part of that.
From an education standpoint we send people to the Air Force Institute of Technology. They not only have general education classes, but we they have Cyber 100, Cyber 200, Cyber 300 and Cyber 400 courses.
We have the 39th Information Operations Squadron, which does our cyber training. Keesler Air Force Base has a lot of our cyber courses. Just as Gen. Raymond over the last year has been working with Air University to make sure we have more space in our professional military education, we’re doing the same thing from a cyber standpoint.
We’re working with Gen. Cotton at Air University and Gen. Kwast at Air Education and Training Command to make sure that we continue to improve the amount of cyber and relevant topics in cyber education in basic military training through professional military education and to highlight cyber, both from a professional and a personal standpoint, because it impacts every part of your life.
Airman Magazine: In that vein, what would you like every airman to be aware of in their daily connectivity?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: One of the biggest vectors that our adversaries use to get into our networks is email. It’s called spear phishing. You can get those at your home and at the office. We continue to educate that you should know who the sender of an email is, that you do not click on links that you’re not certain are good links. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
If you get an email offering a free vacation, there’s probably not a free vacation. That’s probably someone trying to gain access to your personal information or gain access into our Air Force systems to cause havoc and disrupt our ability to do our missions.
Additionally, be aware that our adversaries can put different pieces of unclassified information together, which in the aggregate actually become classified. So you always have to be careful when you’re outside of work, or even inside work, of what you talk about in the open.
You have to monitor your computer systems. Make sure your systems are patched, especially at home, because that is the quickest way for an adversary to exploit your system. Some vulnerabilities have been out there for years. We find that both on the commercial side and the government side — there are systems out there that have not been patched in a long time, even though a patch has been out there.
We’re continuing to leverage technology to make that a little easier, to make sure that we’re updating and protecting all those systems.
Maj. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, Commander, 24th Air Force; Commander, Air Forces Cyber and Commander, Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber is photographed at his headquarters at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Oct. 26, 2018.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
Airman Magazine: The Air Force places a premium on building leaders. What twists and turns has your career taken that culminated in command of the Twenty-fourth AF?
Maj. Gen. Skinner: I’ve had multiple mentors who have taken a special interest in my career. They have said you need to go to this position. I questioned it. I didn’t understand it. But it turns out that developed a place in my leadership that was not refined well enough. We spend a lot of time and energy on managing our talent. What differentiates us from other nations and other militaries is our airmen, whether officer, enlisted or civilian.
Our Airmen are our most precious asset. It is our solemn duty to professionally develop our airmen to the best extent possible. We take special interest in placing them where they professionally develop, while making sure our missions continue to be successful.
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.
In reading the history books, one might come to believe the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan was an unstoppable machine that rolled over everything and everyone in its path. Largely, they would be right to think so.
Until the Great Khan’s death in 1227, there weren’t a lot of things that would give the Mongol Hordes any kind of pause, and a killer hangover would usually top the list. By the time Khan died, he ruled an empire that spanned from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea in the west.
There was a military leader that the Mongols did not want to fight, and it comes from an unlikely and less often remembered place. He was Jalal ad Din Mingburnu, the last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire.
Khan conquered two-thirds of what is today China and after their defeat, sent a caravan of traders into the Khwarezmian Empire, in modern-day Turkey, Iran, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The Mongols were looking to establish trade relations. Khan had no desire to actually invade the empire. But the caravan was attacked and looted by a local governor before it could reach its destination. The governor refused to pay restitution for the caravan.
Still, unlike the Khan of the history books, the Mongols sent three emissaries to resolve the situation diplomatically. Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad, ruler of the Khwarazmian Empire, had them put to death, along with the survivors of the caravan.
This is where the old Genghis Khan you read about shows up. He assembled the largest Mongol Army ever created, a force of 100,000 men to reduce the Shah’s empire to rubble. And that’s pretty much what happened. The Mongols leveled all the major cities and tried to destroy any historical mentions of the Khwarezmian Empire.
The Shah and his sons escaped to the Caspian Sea, where he named his son, Jalal ad Din Mingburunu, as his successor to what was left of the empire. It was Jalal ad-Din who was eventually able to defeat the Mongols.
Khan, now in his 60s, warned his sons Jochi, Jebe, and Tolui not to mess up when fighting Jalal ad-Din. The young ruler was everything the Great Khan feared he would be.
Now in command of the Khwarazmian army, Jalal ad-Din made his way to the former capital at Samarkand. Along the way, he encountered a Mongol cavalry with just his 300-man bodyguard to fight them. The young ruler, only 21 years old, handed the Mongols their first defeat.
He gathered what was left of the army at the old capital and made his way to Nesa, where he relieved the city of a Mongol siege and headed to the new capital at Ghazni, where he defeated the Mongols once more.
Jalal ad-Din’s general soon got into a scuffle about how to divide the spoils of war and the divide led to 30,000 men abandoning the young king. Khan, now in awe of the young man’s ability, heard about the split and decided it would be the only chance he had to defeat the Khwarazmian. He assembled a force that would overwhelm what was left of the Khwarazmian army.
At the 1221 Battle of Indus, Jalal ad-Din was on his way to exile in India, but Khan caught up to him as he was fording the river. The Khwarazmians stood to fight, but were simply overwhelmed. Jalal was forced to swim across the Indus River to escape alive.
He spent three years in India but soon returned at the head of another army. Jalal ad-Din spent the rest of his life harassing the Mongol forces but was never able to re-establish his empire.
An infantryman works and trains hard to one day deploy their weapon system and score an accurate kill shot. For machine-gunners, scoring a precise kill from a distance is highly unlikely.
This isn’t because the shooter is incapable; that weapon system wasn’t designed to nail an enemy combatant square between the eyes but, rather, to take their head clean off.
However, some gunners still strive to make that perfect shot with their heavy-ass weapon.
2. The “Napoleon”
This one refers to the French military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, because of his height. This gunner gets looked at differently because of the contrast between their smaller body and the massive size of the M240 they’re holding.
However, they always manage to carry it and fire the weapon like a seasoned pro.
3. The “Screamer”
Machine-gunners are trained to whisper the words “die motherf*cker, die” while firing their weapon. In the time it takes to finish saying the words to themselves, they’ve shot roughly between four to six rounds. The “screamer” chooses to shout that sh*t out loud.
This repeated mantra is designed to prevent the gunner from overheating their barrel and causes them regularly adjust their fire for more accuracy.
4. The “Barrel-burner”
As previously stated, machine-gunners are trained to only discharge four to six rounds at a time to avoid overheating their barrels. The “barrel-burner” tends to forget the shooting cycle and fires more than intended — which can cause the barrel to warp.
5. The “Freeloader”
This gunner tends to ask other members of his squad to carry his extra ammo so that they can haul more Rip-Its. What’s hilarious about this type of gunner is the nice way they go about asking you.
It makes you feel good about yourself for helping out a brother.
If you’ve ever served in the infantry, you probably had one or two “Animal Mothers” in your company. Just like in the movie, Full Metal Jacket, he’s the trigger-happy badass who is more than thrilled to shoot into an enemy compound and then ask questions later.
After enduring countless hardships and overcoming unimaginable obstacles, Airman 1st Class Guor Maker, a dental assistant currently in technical training, found his way out of war-torn South Sudan, Africa and into the U.S. nearly 20 years ago.
As one of roughly 20,000 children uprooted by the gruesome Second Sudanese Civil War, Maker’s childhood was far from normal. After losing 28 family members, including eight of his nine siblings, 8-year-old Maker set out on foot from South Sudan to live with his uncle.
“The country I came from was torn apart by war,” said Maker. “It was all I knew growing up, nothing else. I’ve seen people die in front of me, but I knew no matter what, I had to make it.”
During his harrowing journey, Maker was captured and enslaved twice: once by Sudanese soldiers, and once by herdsmen.
“When I was captured, I was forced to be a slave laborer,” said Maker. “I would wash dishes or do anything else needed to get by. I slept in a small cell and rarely got to eat… but not always.”
Both times, Maker successfully escaped from enslavement and was finally able to join his uncle in Khartoum after three perilous years. However, his journey to safety was far from over.
During a nighttime attack on the perceived safety of his uncle’s home, Maker sustained serious injuries when he was beaten unconscious by a soldier who smashed his jaw with a rifle.
“My mouth was shut for two months and I could only consume liquids because my jaw was broken,” he said. “We fled to Egypt after that, and the United Nations treated my injuries.”
After two years of filling out paperwork at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Egypt, Maker and his uncle’s family were finally granted permission to enter the United States.
“I was very excited to come to the U.S.,” said Maker. “Looking back at everything my family and I endured, it is a miracle that we made it out of there.”
When Maker first arrived in the U.S. in 2001, he settled in Concord, New Hampshire. Not only did he want to survive, but he wanted to thrive.
“I wanted to change my life, help my parents back in South Sudan, and give my future children a better childhood than the one I had,” he said. “And the only way to do that was through education and determination.”
Maker started with the basics and began learning English by watching children’s cartoons and spending plenty of time with other high school kids just listening to their conversations and absorbing all that he could.
“Within a short amount of time, I was able to communicate with effectively with other students and teachers, order food, and really get by on my own,” Maker said.
While learning English was a crucial step in his personal journey, Maker’s high school career really took off when one of his teachers introduced him to running.
“Running was always just natural and easy for me,” said Maker. “It was a great high school experience and it helped me meet a lot of friends, build confidence and it was genuinely fun.”
After winning the National High School indoor two-mile title, Maker received a scholarship to compete at Iowa State University, where he allowed himself to dream of things that had never been done before.
“When I got to college in 2005, I remember hanging a piece of paper on my wall that said I was going to run in the Olympics in 2012 for South Sudan,” said Maker. “I thought ‘Why not me? Why can’t I do it?'”
Maker graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and reached All-American status as a student-athlete, Ready to start his new life. Maker planned to head to Flagstaff, Arizona to train for the 2012 Olympics.
The same day he left for Arizona in 2011 was the day South Sudan officially gained its independence.
“I drove the whole way celebrating and it was a very special day that I will always remember,” said Maker.
Following his year of training, Maker qualified to run the marathon in the 2012 Olympics in London.
Even though South Sudan officially gained its independence, the country was not yet a member of the International Olympic Committee and Maker was still not an official U.S. citizen.
“State senators from New Hampshire and Arizona presented my case to the Senate in Washington D.C. so the International Olympic Committee allowed me to run in the Olympics without a country,” said Maker.
Even though his dream of running for South Sudan had not yet come true, Maker accomplished a great deal as an unaffiliated Olympian.
“All of the people in South Sudan knew where I was from,” said Maker. “I wanted to be the inspiration for the children to say, ‘Hey, if Maker can do it, you know what, I can do it too.'”
After the 2012 Olympics, Maker was undeterred and set a new goal for himself and his country.
“I said to myself, ‘In 2016, I’m going to bring South Sudan to the Olympics for the first time,'” said Maker. “I wanted to try to do more for my country and the 2012 Olympics only strengthened my conviction to accomplish my goal.”
This time around Maker’s dream became a reality in Rio de Janeiro 2016 when he became one of three athletes to be the first to represent South Sudan in an Olympic games, as well as South Sudan’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony.
“Walking into that stadium, carrying the South Sudan flag was just indescribable,” said Maker. “The people of South Sudan were in my mind the whole time I was running into the stadium with that flag and it meant so much to me.”
While it was a truly incredible and improbable moment for Maker, his thoughts were filled with the people of his home country while he was running with that flag.
“Over 50 years of civil war and my country finally got independence,” said Maker. “So many lives were lost for our freedom, it was just ringing in my head that we have done it, we have done it. On that day, everyone in South Sudan was at peace watching the Olympics for the first time.”
The 2016 Olympics were an enormous accomplishment for the former slave and South Sudan native that went far beyond his 82nd overall finish.
“I couldn’t have accomplished any of it without all the support I received from my family and the opportunity the United States gave me. It’s the highlight of my athletic career so far and a moment I’ll treasure forever.”
The next chapter in Maker’s life began when he decided to join the U.S. Air Force to serve the country that gave him so many opportunities.
“All of the things I’ve accomplished have derived from the opportunities the U.S. has afforded me,” said Maker. “When I first came to America, I didn’t have hardly anything, but with the support and opportunity this country has given me, I’ve been able to completely change my life.”
The staff at basic military training had no idea who Maker was, but he quickly stood out to leadership at the 324th Training Squadron.
“I went out to the track and saw the instructors were putting their attention on one trainee in particular,” said Maj. John Lippolis, director of operations for the 324th TRS. “I could see him running noticeably faster than everyone else and the instructors explained to me that we had a two-time Olympian at BMT.”
In addition to Maker’s Olympian status, his unique personal story also stood out Lippolis.
“I was just absolutely floored when I talked to him about what he went through to get to where he is today,” said Lippolis. “Not only did he get survive, he wanted to better himself and he has accomplished so much. He has an amazing story and the drive he has displayed to succeed like that in the face of such adversity is truly inspiring.”
Maker not only inspired Lippolis, but other members of his flight were inspired too.
“All of his wingmen said the same things when I talked to them,” said Lippolis. “They told me what an inspiration he was within the flight; that the flight rallied around him and he doesn’t do anything he’s supposed to do for himself until he helps out everybody else.”
While Maker has accomplished a great deal in his lifetime, he’s not done dreaming.
Maker hopes to join the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, a program designed to allow elite athletes the opportunity to train and compete in national events to make the Olympics. He also wants to make the 2020 Olympics where he’ll have the opportunity to represent his new home and the country that gave him so much.
“Joining the greatest Air Force in the world has been an absolute miracle,” said Maker. “I can’t wait to see what this next chapter holds for me.”
The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor wasn’t the only time the Japanese struck U.S. soil during World War II. In response to the Doolittle Raid — the successful penetration of Japanese airspace and the bombing of strategic targets in Tokyo from the allies — the Japanese executed their revenge. The date of the launch was chosen for the birthday of former emperor Meiji, Nov. 3, 1944.
However, instead of using airplanes, the Japanese used fusen bakudan, or balloon bombs, that each carried four incendiaries and a 33-pound, highly explosive anti-personnel fragmentation device. The Fu-Go balloon bombs traveled 7,500 miles along the Pacific Ocean jet stream at altitudes between 20,000 and 40,000 feet. Witnesses described these large, white balloons as “giant jellyfish” floating in the sky. Their main objective was to start forest fires, create security doubts among the civilian populace, and cause upheaval.
The all-black Triple Nickles battalion was ultimately responsible for combating the slow-moving, round balloon bombs, which had no escort or protection and had been spotted by the U.S. Navy patrol off the coast of California only two days after their initial launch. The patrol alerted the FBI, and investigations were conducted to find the origin of these mysterious flammable balloons traveling over the Pacific Northwest and into Canada.
A Japanese Fu-Go balloon with its payload of charges suspended below. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
Paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions suffered heavy casualties in the European Theater (ETO) during the Battle of the Bulge and the courageous siege of Bastogne; they were in a desperate need for replacements. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, or the “Triple Nickles” as they became known, trained to fulfill this capacity. However, as with other all-black units of the time, African-American soldiers weren’t treated equally. “We were relegated to serving in menial units such as truck drivers, port companies (loading ships), mess halls (waiting on tables) and guard duty,” wrote Walter Morris, a Triple Nickle veteran.
Although no Triple Nickles completed a combat jump or deployed to Europe, these trendsetters provided another example of how an elite all-black unit could be employed in a combat or peacetime environment. The Triple Nickles participated in a top-secret project fighting forest fires as the U.S. military’s first smoke jumping paratroopers over the Pacific Northwest.
The Triple Nickles, a name derived from the parachute regiment’s designation, was created in the winter of 1943 and consisted of 17 of the original 20-man platoon from the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division. These men were hand-selected to create the first “colored test platoon.” A few months into 1944 saw newly minted paratroopers who completed training jumps at Fort Benning, Georgia. The first all-black parachute infantry battalion in history had formed but were still brand-new and lacked manpower. The paratroopers honed their skills and became experts in small-unit tactics.
Several went to the best schools the U.S. Army had to offer. Some became riggers and jump masters while others learned the metrics in communications, the skills to navigate difficult terrain as pathfinders, and the intricacies in demolitions.
They were the cream of the crop — college graduates, professional athletes, men of high character and extraordinary intellect. One Triple Nickle veteran, “Tiger” Ted Lowry, entered the ring to face world champion boxing legend Joe Louis, who came to Lowry’s base in 1943. He was accompanied by Sugar Ray Robinson — who Muhammad Ali coined as “the king, the master, my idol” — when the duo toured military camps to entertain soldiers. “Stay in the middle of the ring,” Robinson advised Lowry, “don’t let him get you on the ropes.” Lowry already had 70 fights to his name and somehow survived the three-round exhibition with one of the greatest boxers in history.
“You can’t imagine what that did for my ego,” Lowry reflected. “I had just been in the ring with the champion of the world, the greatest fighter in the world, and he was unable to knock me down. My confidence was inflated.” His fighting days halted when he joined the Triple Nickles but resumed when he faced Rocky Marciano, the Brockton, Massachusetts, undefeated heavyweight champion. Not only did he stun Marciano, but he shocked crowds of hometown Italian-Americans by going the distance twice with the Brockton Blockbuster, the only fighter ever to do so.
The men of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment march in the New York City Victory Parade on January 12, 1946. Maj. Gen. Jim Gavin ensured the “Triple Nickles” not only marched in the parade, but wore the insignia of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
When World War II was nearing a close and as the Germans were losing ground, the Triple Nickles’ focus shifted from Europe to the homefront. The Triple Nickles were the size of a “reinforced company” but expected to reach battalion size by 1945. The threat from the Japanese balloon bombs was imminent, and they were diverted to Pendleton, Oregon, and Chico, California, under secret orders to the 9th Services Command.
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) received help from the U.S. Army when 400 paratroopers from the Triple Nickles were tasked with the difficult job. They turned in their rifles, hand grenades, and rucksacks. In that equipment’s place they donned football helmets with wire face masks, equipped 50 feet of nylon rope for lowering themselves from trees, and packed firefighting tools such as axes and handsaws on their person for parachute jumps.
The smoke jumping program was in its sixth firefighting season, but the war dwindled their resources, and the Triple Nickles provided a welcome skillset. Pilots flying C-47s needed no additional training and had prior results in properly managing smokejumper assets in remote regions where fires were often inaccessible by roads. The response and defensive strategy against the Japanese balloon bombs was a little-known secret called Operation Firefly.
Later reports suggested that the Japanese launched over 9,000 helium balloons. Damage from these balloons was rare but noteworthy. One balloon exploded after it hit high-tension power lines that were connected to a plutonium plant in Hanford, Washington. It caused a temporary blackout to the community, and the plutonium plant was ironically responsible for developing the fuel for the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan.
Triple Nickle member Jesse Mayes prepares to jump from a C-47. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
Vincent “Bud” Whitehead, a U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, used to track and chase the balloons in the air from his plane. In March 1945, a balloon had landed on the ground but didn’t ignite. “They sent a bus up with all of this specially trained personnel, gloves, full contamination suits, masks,” Whitehead said in an interview with the Voices of the Manhattan Project. “I had been walking around on that stuff and they had not told me! They were afraid of bacterial warfare.” Biological and bacterial warfare fears were not exaggerated because it was later revealed that the Japanese had scrapped an operation at the end of the war for weaponizing the bubonic plague.
Another notable tragedy that involved these balloon bombs was the devastation of almost an entire family while they picnicked near the Gearhart Mountain in Bly, Oregon. On May 5, 1945, Reverend Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife, Elsie, and five children from their Sunday School class were victims of the balloon’s lethality. The children went to investigate the strange object that had floated to the ground, but they got too close and were killed when the balloon did what it was designed to do. Archie Mitchell was the only survivor.
The Triple Nickles went to work to prevent additional American civilian casualties. First Lieutenant Edwin Willis, a brilliant planner and training specialist, put his paratroopers through a three-week crash course to learn proper firefighting knowledge and techniques. Willis received assistance and guidance from USFS smokejumpers and forest rangers as well.
Frank Derry, Parachute Instructor-Rigger, instructing prospective smoke jumper in the use of the “drop rig.” Simulates landing from chute caught in a snag or other obstacles by use of landing rope. Lolo National Forest, Montana. Photo by W.J. Mead, courtesy fo the National Archives and Records Administration.
This course included “demolitions training, tree climbing and techniques for descent if we landed in a tree, handling firefighting equipment, jumping into pocket-sized drop zones studded with rocks and tree stumps, survival in wooded areas, and extensive first-aid training for injuries — particularly broken bones,” said Morris.
Frank Derry, a master civilian parachutist, issued the Triple Nickles his “Derry-chute,” which was known for its maneuverability and steering capabilities. “Snag trees, those were the worst. I didn’t like those dudes at all,” Derry said, referring to the nuisances found in their path. “But landing in the trees was just as soft as landing, better than landing on the ground. The thick trees […] you just come into them like sitting down on a pillow, nothing to it.”
The Triple Nickles were also assisted by demolition experts from the 9th Services Command and USFS rangers. “Learning the touchy business of handling unexploded bombs, as well as how to isolate areas in which a bomb, or suspected bomb, was located,” Morris wrote. The incedinaries and chemicals were an additional pucker factor to their already challenging task.
Then-1st. Sgt. Walter Morris, right, prepares for his first jump with the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.
The Triple Nickles also learned to live off the land and avoid costly mistakes that could derail their mission. “They could walk up the hills like a cat on a snake walk,” Morris wrote, discussing the expertise of USFS rangers. “They taught us how to climb, use an axe, and what vegetation to eat. At the same time, we underwent an orientation program with Forest Service maps. And, above all, our morale and spirit of adventure never sagged in the face of this unusual mission.”
The Triple Nickles became fully operational smokejumpers, but the numbers on how many fires and fire jumps they completed have been skewed over the years. Chuck Sheley, the editor of Smokejumper Magazine, states they completed 460 to 470 jumps on an estimated 15 of 28 forest fires, while they drove or hiked into the other fires. The National 555th Parachute Infantry Association consensus estimates the Triple Nickles answered 36 fire calls with 1,200 individual jumps across seven Western states.
Private First Class Malvin Brown was the only casualty of the Triple Nickles. Brown was a critical component of the team because of his medical expertise. Any injuries, accidents, or potential concerns went through the fire medics. When 15 Triple Nickles paratroopers boarded their C-47 on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Brown wasn’t supposed to be there. However, he volunteered to replace another medic who was sick. Hours later he jumped into a fire in Umpqua National Forest in southern Oregon’s Cascade Range and landed in a tree. Moments later he slipped and fell more than 150 feet to the ground below. He died instantly.
Brown’s fellow smokejumpers changed their mission from fighting the fire to bringing home their teammate’s body. After an arduous search in rocky terrain, they located him and carried him more than 3 miles through the backcountry. Their first sign of civilization was a trail, but it took another 12 miles for them to find a road to get help.
The soldiers of the Triple Nickles weren’t respected while they were in service, but their contributions in a long lineage of elite all-black units are remembered as if they were legends. The Triple Nickles disbanded after World War II, but many of the soldiers continued to serve, including Lieutenant Colonel John Cannon, who was a combat medic during the Korean War. John E. Mann served as an Army Special Forces advisor in Vietnam and was awarded the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, three Legions of Merit, and a Distinguished Flying Cross. Mann served in the military for 33 years and later authored four detective novels.
In World War I, pilots on either side of the line enjoyed sudden lurches ahead in technology advances followed by steady declines into obsolescence. This created a seesaw effect in the air where Allied pilots would be able to blast their way through German lines for a few months, but then had to run scared if the enemy got the jump on them.
So the Allied pilots found a way to fake their deaths in the air with a risky but effective maneuver.
Some Nieuport planes had a tendency to break apart when pilots pulled them out of a steep dive.
(Nieuport, public domain)
By the time that America was getting pilots to the front in 1917, all of the early combatants from the war had years of hard-won experience in aerial fighting. U.S. pilots would have to catch up. Worse, U.S. pilots were joining the fight while German planes were more capable than Allied ones, especially America’s Nieuport 28s purchased from France.
France had declined to put the Nieuport 28 into service because of a number of shortcomings. Its engine burned castor oil, and the exhaust would spray across the pilots, coating their goggles in a blinding film and making many of them sick. It could also turn tight but had some limitations. Worst of all, pilots couldn’t dive and then suddenly pull up, a common method of evading fire in combat, without risking the weak wings suddenly snapping off.
Yes, in standard combat flying, the plane could be torn apart by its own flight. So new American pilots adopted a strategy of playing dead in the air.
The technique wasn’t too complicated. In normal flying, a pilot who stalled his plane and then entered a spin was typically doomed to slam into the ground. And so, enemy pilots would often break off an attack on a spinning plane, allowing it to finish crashing on its own.
But a British test pilot, Frederick A. Lindemann, figured out how to reliably recover from a spin and stall. He did so twice in either 1916 or 1917. So, pilots who learned how to recover from a stall and spin would, when overwhelmed in combat, slow down and pull up, forcing a stall in the air.
Then as they started to drop, they would push the stick hard to one side, causing one wing to have full lift and the other to have minimal lift, so it would fall in a severe spin. German pilots, thinking they had won, would break off the attack. Then the Allied pilot would attempt to recover.
U.S. combat pilot Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker was America’s top-scoring fighter ace of World War I.
(U.S. Air Force)
But spins were considered dangerous for a reason. Recovery required leveling that lift on the wings and then using the rudder to stop spin before pulling up on the stick to stop the fall. So, for the first few moments of recovery, the pilot had to ignore that they were pointed at the ground. If they tried to pull up while they were still spinning, they really would crash. In fact, on some aircraft, it was essential to steepen the dive in order to recover.
And this whole process took time, so a pilot who fell too far before beginning recovery would hit the ground while still trying to recover from their intentional spin.
Most future American aces learned these maneuvers from British pilots in fairly controlled conditions, but some of them were limited in their flight time by their duties on the ground. Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, in charge of maintaining and improving America’s major aerodrome at Issoudon, France, taught himself the maneuver on his own during stolen plane time, surviving his first attempt and then repeating it on subsequent days until he could do it perfectly.
Rickenbacker would go on the be America’s top scoring ace in World War I despite being partially blind in one eye and officially too old for training when he went to flight school.
For the first time ever, I find myself seriously considering buying Ranger panties. And not just buying them; wearing them to all sorts of events. These are about to be the centerpiece (and possibly only piece) of my Valentine’s Day outfit. And it’s all thanks to this ad from Dog Company of some battalion or another:
Look at it. Really look at it. It’s got puns, it’s got rhymes, it’s got suggestive language, it’s got a joke at the expense of cavalry scouts (thanks for securing our routes, sorry about all the jokes).
It even suggests that Ranger panties are perfect for signing into the unit when you get to Dog Company, which, come on, if you’re not checking to see if they have openings for your MOS already, you’re doing it wrong. My old MOS, unfortunately, does not appear in any infantry MTOEs, so I have to long after these shorts from afar.
But not Dog Company. No, these guys apparently get to throw on their Ranger panties, smack their significant other on the Ranger panty-clad butt, and then charge into battle against communists with guns firing and thighs open to the air, absorbing the sun’s rays and warmth while the commies are absorbing the bullets.
When they’re done with that, they get to have a short meeting with first sergeant, still in the Ranger panties and ostensibly still covered in the gore of their enemies, before going to a wedding or two and a few children’s parties.
The clown isn’t going to be the scariest thing at that party. Thank Valhalla for that.
We’re still not sure which infantryman found a keyboard and typed up this beautiful masterpiece. The fact that they found a keyboard indicates maybe an XO, but the fact that the final advertisement is quality indicates a specialist or corporal.
Maybe it was a team-up? Regardless, grab a pair if you happen to be in Dog Company (all proceeds benefit the FRG!). If you’re not, just get your panties from Ranger Joe’s or your own FRG or whatever. We can’t help you.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force has released a new video showcasing its deadliest air assets, including some newer aircraft developed as part of China’s extensive military modernization.
The nearly three-minute video is a compilation of footage from Chinese training exercises emphasizing preparation for a new era of warfare. The promotional video, titled “Safeguarding the New Era,” highlights some of the PLAAF’s newest war planes and was aired for the first time Aug. 28, 2018, at the air force’s Aviation Open Day in Jilin province in northeastern China.
Over the past few days, you’ve been collecting exit signatures for your check-out sheet, and low and behold, you’re almost home. The process has been relatively straightforward up until this point.
The last item you need to get signed off is from the Central Issue Facility, or supply, where you need to check in all of your gear. Supply is one of the last stops a service member makes before obtaining their official DD-214.
Sounds easy enough, right?
Wrong. If one aspect of your gear is not check-in ready, integrating back into civilian population will be delayed.
So check out our list of what it typically takes to check in your gear and move on with your life.
(This is based on many true stories)
1. What it looks like when you’re on your way to the central issue on a Friday afternoon.
Oh, come on. (Images via Giphy)
2.When you walk inside and all you see are other troops waiting in a long a** line.
There’s too many to count. (Images via Giphy)
3. To add insult to injury, everyone who works there looks slow and grumpy.
Why do I hate life? (Images via Giphy)
4. After waiting what felt like an eternity, you finally haul your heavy gear over to the counter and begin the checkout process.
So heavy. (Images via Giphy)
5. You make it to the counter, and just as your morale has been boosted, you realized you’re at the slowest worker’s section.
Please, hurry the f*ck up! (Images via Giphy)
6. The clerk starts to review all your gear, pulling everything out piece-by-piece — most of which you never used.
And we mean most things. (Images via Giphy)
7. After completing the inventory, the clerk finds an issue with your almost squared away paperwork. All of your gear is clean enough to pass, but there’s a missing signature.
No way freakin’ way. (Images via Giphy)
8. Your superior officer’s signature is missing for an expensive piece of gear which got destroyed while you were deployed. The clerk informs you that you can either pay for it yourself or get the signature before you can get out of the military.
You can’t believe what you’re hearing.
I ain’t paying for sh*t. (Images via Giphy)
9. You speed back to your company HQ to find your CO.
Pedal to the metal. (Images via Giphy)
10. You dash into the HQ in search of the man or woman who can set you free.
Where are they? (Images via Giphy)
11. You find your superior, he or she signs the paperwork and then your emotions take over.
This may be wrong but it feels right. (Images via Giphy)
12. Now that you got your signature, it’s time to head back to central issue.
Almost to the finish line. (Images via Giphy)
13. You get back the central issue building and attempt to eyeball the person who helped you earlier to avoid waiting in line again.
Most people know about the French Foreign Legion, a military unit for foreigners to take part in combat on behalf of the French people. Turns out, one group of people has no need for foreign legions because they’ll just create their own brigade to fight on whichever side of any war they like.
Since the late 1600s, Irish brigades have fought in everything from English wars of succession to the American Civil War to World War II, often in conflicts where Ireland was a neutral nation.
While the Catholics failed to return James II or his son James III to the throne, the French and Spanish monarchs had sent armies on the same side as the Irish brigades to the war and had helped organize and equip them as the war dragged on. Many of the Irish veterans returned to France and Spain and created permanent Irish units there.
Other units were formed in other European countries such as Austria and Russia. Like the French Foreign Legion, the Irish Brigades were often kept deployed as much as possible.
Irish forces — then organized as three separate regiments — fought on behalf of American colonists after the French openly threw their weight behind the revolution in 1778. Irish marines served on Capt. John Paul Jones Bonhomme Richard during his attacks on British shipping.
Just over a decade later, Irish brigades fought on both sides of the Civil War, though they overwhelmingly favored the Union. An estimated 150,000 to 160,000 Irish soldiers fought on behalf of the Union while approximately 20,000 fought on behalf of the Confederacy.
But it’s important when looking at those numbers to remember that some regiments assigned to the Irish brigade — such as the 116th Pennsylvania and the 29th Massachusetts — were non-Irish units.
During World War I, Ireland was still subordinate to the Kingdom of Great Britain and so Irish units were sent directly to the British Expeditionary Force. Still, most volunteers from within Ireland served in units either officially designated as Irish or named for the Irish areas where the unit was formed.