When retired U.S. Marine Willis “Bill” Hansen was shipped off to the Vietnam War, he took his sea-bag and a library book…which traveled with him for 52 years.
Hansen joined the Marine Corps in 1964 as an unassigned infantryman and was later attached to a battalion in Okinawa, Japan. Although Hansen deployed to Vietnam as a machine gunner, he was provided the opportunity to work in recon through the length of the war.
He held on to the book The Kimono Mind by Bernard Rudofsky, during his entire 13-month deployment in Vietnam and never got around to returning it to the base library.
In an interview, he states, “When I first got to the island, I wanted to learn a little bit about the culture and where I was staying. So I checked out a book from the library that I figured would give me a little insight into the culture. I intended to return the book, but it slipped my mind.”
Going full circle, Hansen’s son, Lt. Col. Richard Hansen, who used to dress up in his father’s recon uniforms as a child, is now the commander of the same unit in Okinawa that Hansen served under in the Vietnam War.
The coincidence of it all renders a fateful moment. Hansen finally got the chance to return the book when he was invited to the 3rd Reconnaissance Marine Corps birthday ball in Okinawa. He was welcomed by the current staff of the library and relinquished his possession of his literary companion to their shelves (fee-free), where it will stay, until someone else checks it out and flips through its pages, oblivious to its journey through time.
Most of the news about combat trauma and PTS(D) is bad. Those of us who slogged through nasty deployments are often seen as ticking time bombs. Civilians tend to throw out a “Thank you for your service!” before scurrying away.
Mattis knows that the public emphasizes the negative experiences. Many people are tempted to think of combat vets as broken or suffering. What they ignore, he says, is that we come back stronger than when we left. We are challenged by war, forced to grow and adapt, and return as a more kick-ass version of ourselves.
Combat vets are survivors. The mindset and skills we pick up in war are incredibly valuable no matter what we choose to do after taking off the uniform.
Badass skill #1: We are better able to multitask, especially in chaotic environments.
This is a no-brainer. It’s the foundation of every infantryman’s “shoot, move, communicate” skillset. Where else are you expected to maintain awareness of your environment while simultaneously communicating with other units and assets in an area?
Badass skill #2: We have higher tolerances for stress.
There are a lot of people who think they lead stressful lives. Traffic, emails, complaining kids; all these things can seem like stress until you deploy for 7 to 12 months at a time. We may get annoyed by life, sure, but who doesn’t? The difference is that combat vets function better when things get really nasty, not collapse under the strain.
Badass skill #3: We aren’t intimidated by difficult work.
It’s hard to find something more challenging than combat. There is the grueling months of the work-up, the separation from friends and family, and then the slow and steady grind of the actual deployment. Many of us repeat this cycle again, and again, and again. After that you can be pretty confident that life isn’t going to throw anything at you that you can’t handle.
Badass skill #4: We can adapt to new tools and technologies.
Despite what a lot of people think about military technology, we get to use some pretty cool stuff. More than that, the gear is constantly changing, sometimes even during deployment. We have to be adaptable – willing to learn on the fly. Quick on-the-job training is incredibly valuable for many jobs.
William Treseder served in the Marines between 2001 and 2011. He now writes regularly on military topics, and has been featured in TIME, Foreign Policy, and Boston Review.
That still didn’t stop these 8 famous veterans from going Absent Without Leave, and they all faced the consequences.
8. Humphrey Bogart
Humphrey Bogart is an iconic Academy Award winning actor, but prior to his acting career, Bogie served in the United States Navy during the tail end of World War I. While most of the other cases on this list were clearly some level of intentional, in Bogart’s case, going AWOL seemed to be a complete accident.
When the King of Cool finally returned to his post, he was sentenced to 41 days in the brig for his insubordination. McQueen served his sentence and eventually returned to duty, ultimately using the benefits of the GI Bill to sponsor his acting education.
6. Jerry Garcia
Some vets will probably be pissed to learn some of these celebs almost deserted, but could anyone be surprised to learn about Jerry Garcia? The Grateful Dead singer/guitarist/songwriter was one of the faces of the 60s countercultural movement, but before becoming a rock legend, he served in the United States Army upon his mother’s insistence.
The only foreigner on the list, Schwarzenegger was born in Austria, where a year of military service was mandatory for teenage males. Even as a young man, the future Governor was far more focused on bodybuilding, and chose to go AWOL to hone his craft.
After realizing he would get the gig, Ramone turned himself in and asked what he had to do to be discharged and allowed to play with the band. For going AWOL, Ramone had to serve five weeks in jail — but to his surprise, Johnny Ramone called him to tell him he still had a job if he wanted it.
1. Randy Orton
Randy Orton is a 12-time WWE from Charleston SC, known professionally for his short temper and rebellious attitude. They say the best characters stem from real life, and Orton’s rebelliousness started as a member of the USMC, where he went AWOL twice, serving 38 days in jail.
Orton also disobeyed orders from a commanding officer and was dishonorably discharged. His poor record of service lead to controversy when WWE announced Orton would star in The Marine 3, a casting choice that got scrapped when his poor military record became public.
The federal government invests a lot of time and money into training service members of the armed forces. As a result, it’s to the advantage of the government to retain service members for as long as possible. Retention programs and bonuses incentivize service members to stay in, but if you no longer wish to volunteer for an all-volunteer service, you can leave (provided your contract is up, of course).
After all, skills and certifications acquired in the military are highly sought after in the civilian workforce. Whether you’re a missileer who goes to work for Raytheon, an intel analyst with a secret clearance who gets scooped up by Booz Allen Hamilton or a diesel mechanic who takes a job with Union Pacific, your experience and training in the military makes you a valuable asset to any organization. For those that want to continue serving their country outside of the military, many federal agencies are more than willing to hire vets to fill their ranks.
In 2009, President Obama signed an executive order establishing the Veterans Employment Initiative. Meant to promote the hiring of veterans in the executive branch, the program has also served as a model for companies in the private sector to make hiring veterans a priority. “As the nation’s leading employers, the federal government is in need of highly skilled individuals to meet agency staffing needs and to support mission objectives,” said the director of veteran services at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and Air Force vet, Hakeem Basheerud-Deen. “Veterans get a lot of training and development during their military service, and their wide variety of skills and experience—as well as their motivation for public service—can help fulfill federal agencies’ staffing needs.” In no particular order, these are some of the best federal jobs for veterans of any background.
(National Park Service)
1. Park Ranger
If you’ve been stationed in Alaska, Colorado, Fort Drum (you have our condolences) or any other location where outdoor activities are plentiful, you may have developed an affinity for open-air recreation. If you have, you might consider a job as a ranger for the National Park Service. As a ranger, you would investigate complaints and violations of park regulations, provide visitors with guidance and information, and generally protect the land set aside for future generations to enjoy. If an office job sounds like a prison sentence, this might be the job for you.
(Fort Bliss Public Affairs Office via DVIDS)
2. Law Enforcement
Looking for a post-military career that will keep you in the action? You might consider a job in federal law enforcement. This is a very broad job field, though. You could work as a federal police officer at a military installation, a park police officer under the National Park Service or even an FBI agent serving as a legal attaché to an overseas embassy.
Another commonly thought of job under this umbrella is Border Patrol Agent. However, under Customs and Border Protection, you can also find CBP Officers. These are the men and women who protect the country at all ports of entry. From screening passengers at passport control to combing through cargo containers for illicit cargo, CBP Officers oversee everything coming into the country. Aside from DEA and FBI agents who train at Quantico, Federal Law Enforcement agents train at specialized Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers. FLETC is headquartered at the former Naval Air Station Glynco in Georgia and operates two other residential training sites in Artesia, New Mexico and Charleston, South Carolina.
(207th Regional Support Group via DVIDS)
3. Human Resources
Paperwork is the lifeblood of the government. It moves information, initiates action, and can mean the difference between you getting paid or owing money. Though many systems have moved online to database or system entries, there is still a plethora of Standard and Agency-specific Forms that the federal government relies on.
Coming from the military, you’ll be familiar with having to fill out paperwork for everything from life insurance and emergency contacts to leave requests and requisition forms. Though more senior positions might require civilian HR certifications (a good time to use that post-9/11 GI Bill), there are still entry-level positions that allow veterans to get their foot in the door with their service experience alone. If it’s not on paper, it didn’t happen.
(U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy via DVIDS)
4. Range Tech
Almost everyone who has donned the uniform has been to a range. Even some chaplains hop on the firing line to test their aim (unofficially, of course). You know those civilians who run the computers? You could be one of them! Though some bases contract these jobs out to private companies, there are still jobs that pop up on USAJobs.gov for range tech positions across the country.
As long as you have some experience learning something new and working with your hands (you went to basic training, after all), you’re good to go. Now, there’s a bit more to it than just pressing buttons, laughing at the people who struggle to qualify, and refreshing the ancient program running on Windows 95. But, if you like being on the firing line and you’re willing to learn how to maintain and operate a range, this job could be your perfect fit.
5. Postal Service
As of February 2020, the USPS employs more than 97,000 veterans and is one of the largest employers of veterans in the country. Don’t want to be a letter carrier or work customer service? Contrary to popular belief, Postal Service careers extend beyond the aforementioned positions. USPS offers careers in accounting and finance, operations, marketing and sales, human resources and admin, processing and delivery, and many more. If you’ve deployed overseas, you know just how valuable mail is. Especially during the COVID-19 timeframe, the personal touch of a physical letter can be just what someone needs to brighten their day. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…
Whether you’re retiring from the military or separating after your first contract, your service and experience in the armed forces sets you apart from people that haven’t served. A federal job allows you to continue that service. A steady paycheck and maintaining your TSP aren’t bad perks either.
U.S. Central Command chief General Joseph Votel says he does not expect major changes in military strategy as a result of an updated assessment of the war effort in Afghanistan currently being conducted.
“I don’t envision something…that would likely lead to a major change in the overall strategy, which I believe is showing progress,” Votel told a news briefing in Washington on July 19.
Votel said his review work was more designed to consider adjustments that might be required to help Kabul reach its goal of bringing Taliban militants to the negotiating table.
As of July 20, 2018, it is reported that there have been 2412 U.S. deaths in Afghanistan since 2001.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans)
Media reports earlier in July stated the United States was planning to undertake a major strategy review for the 17-year war effort in Afghanistan and that U.S. President Donald Trump was frustrated by a lack of progress. The U.S. administration at the time denied that a major reassessment was planned.
Trump on August 21, 2017, announced his new strategy for Afghanistan, leading to an eventual increase in the number of troops deployed to country, and backtracking on campaign pledges to end U.S. involvement there.
Officials said Trump had authorized an additional 3,000 U.S. troops, bringing the U.S. contingent in the NATO-led effort to about 15,000, although media have quoted administration officials as saying the president was reluctant to do so.
Trump also upped the pressure on neighboring Pakistan, saying the authorities there were providing safe havens to militants operating in Afghanistan and attacking U.S. forces.
Votel cited positive signs from Islamabad, but he urged Pakistan to arrest, expel, or target the militants with military action.
“We also need to see [Pakistan] continue to make efforts to compel the Taliban to come to the table and take advantage of these opportunities,” Votel said.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani dismissed the Taliban’s rejection of his offer of peace talks, suggesting that the militant group can still be persuaded to come to the negotiating table.
In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul on July 16, Ghani said the Taliban’s opposition to peace talks was not “a full rejection.”
“It’s like when you ask someone’s hand in marriage and the family of the bride says no several times [before relenting],” Ghani said, referring to a culture in which refusal is seen as a sign of humility. “In reality, it is likely that we will get a positive answer.”
The Kabul government has struggled in the past year against resurgent Taliban fighters, as well as Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda militants, nearly two decades after a U.S.-led coalition drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001.
IS and Al-Qaeda were not included in the recent government-announced cease-fires.
The US Navy’s latest aircraft carrier deployment began in an unusual way, and it appears to be part of efforts to make the service less predictable.
In a break from the norm, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group deployed immediately after completing a final certification exercise instead of first returning to the carrier’s home port.
Carrier Strike Group 10, a formidable naval force consisting of the Eisenhower, two cruisers, three destroyers and more than 6,000 sailors, set sail on deployment right after completing the Composite Unit Training Exercise, the Navy announced Thursday.
“Upon the successful completion of C2X, strike groups are certified and postured to deploy at any time,” US 2nd Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Marycate Walsh told Insider.
“IKE’s timeline for departure was demonstrative of the inherent agility of our naval forces,” she continued. “There is no one size fits all policy; operations at sea routinely flex for a variety of reasons.”
But the Eisenhower’s latest deployment, as The Virginian-Pilot notes, appears to be a part of the Navy’s efforts to implement dynamic force employment, which the Navy argues makes the fleet much less predictable and strengthens deterrence against potential adversaries.
The Truman executed the first DFE deployment in 2018, when it sailed into the North Atlantic and Arctic shortly after returning from the Mediterranean.
After that deployment, Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Italy, said: “The National Defense Strategy makes clear that we must be operationally unpredictable to our long-term strategic adversaries, while upholding our commitments to our allies and partners.”
It is unclear where the Eisenhower is currently headed.
“The sailors of IKE Strike Group are trained and ready to execute the full spectrum of maritime operations in any theater,” Rear Adm. Paul Schlise, commander of Carrier Strike Group 10, said in a statement.
“Carrier Strike Groups,” he said, “are visible and powerful symbols of US commitment and resolve to our allies and partners, and possess the flexibility and sustainability to fight major wars and ensure freedom of the seas.”
It’s Monday. I’ve been awake since 6am and I’m sipping on hot coffee – a rare treat in my house, since my kids are still asleep – and looking at my weekly planner. I see that I have another full week of appointments and social gatherings.
Seems pretty normal, right?
For any other person, this looks like a normal week. As for me, this looks like a million things to do and I start thinking of all the ways any of these can go wrong. I quickly become overwhelmed, and then, anxious. I try to gain some control by using my husband as a soundboard to discuss everything coming up, and we formulate a plan together. His reassurance is what helps me overcome the anxiety and get things done.
Then, he calls me and tells me he has a last-minute TDY, and he leaves this weekend. Once again, the military has thrown a wrench in our plans, and I am expected to pick up the slack and adapt.
For some, this last part is just par for the course, and they manage just fine despite the difficulties ahead. For me, my anxiety is now in full swing. How will I get through this?
This is just one example of how my anxiety used to affect my daily life as a military spouse. My anxiety also had control over other aspects, such as:
Making friends at a new place (because I feared I wouldn’t be accepted by them)
My spouse’s work schedule changes
As military spouses, the expectations placed on us to be strong can be difficult even without anxiety. With anxiety, those expectations are even harder to meet – including the ability to quickly adapt to situations and do things on our own while our spouses are gone. It is really hard to ask for help because we don’t want to be a burden, and as a result, we often feel more alone than we actually are.
If any of this sounds like what you are experiencing, I want you to know that you are not alone! Your friends, key spouse, and even mental health professionals are there to assist you when you are struggling, and it is okay to ask them for help. Asking for help is the best thing I ever did, and if I can do it, you can, too!
An Afghan soldier has opened fire on American troops, wounding at least seven of them, before being shot dead in a military base in northern Afghanistan, officials said, in the second so-called “insider attack” in the past week.
Abdul Qahar Araam, spokesman for the US military, said on June 17th that the attack took place at Camp Shaheen in Mazar-i-Sharif. Araam added that the soldiers returned fire and killed the attacker.
General Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, also confirmed the incident.
The Resolute Support, the international training mission to Afghanistan, announced on its Twitter feed that seven US service members were wounded, adding that there were no US fatalities.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, said NATO soldiers were training their Afghan counterparts at the base where the attack took place.
“A source told Al Jazeera that the attack happened at the end of a training exercise,” he said.
“We understand that the soldiers were getting back into their vehicle when a soldier from the Afghan national army picked up what is said to be a rocket-propelled grenade and fired it at the group of soldiers, and that is how these injuries have happened.”
Another insider attack
Three US soldiers were killed and a fourth was wounded on June 11 when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them at a base in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.
Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the armed group, said at the time that a Taliban loyalist had infiltrated the Afghan army “just to attack foreign forces.”
On June 17th, Mujahid praised the Camp Shaheen attack in a statement sent to the media, but did not claim Taliban responsibility.
In April, scores of Afghan soldiers were killed when fighters breached security at the camp, detonating explosives and shooting hundreds at a mosque and dining hall on the base. The attackers were disguised in Afghan army uniforms.
Since then, images of the Rangers and their vehicles — mostly Strykers with upgraded armor — have trickled out. And new video from Kurdistan24 and Rojava News gives an idea of what kind of firepower they’re packing. Hint: It’s a lot.
The Army usually deploys the minigun on helicopters for self-defense and landing zone suppression, but they’ve also appeared on everything from small boats to Humvees. The Navy Special Warfare Combatant Craft crews deploy it on boats to support Navy SEALs and quickly destroy enemy craft. So, mounting them on a Stryker probably wasn’t too tough.
At least three vehicles in the video are carrying Javelin missiles strapped to the outside. While the Rangers would likely call for air strikes if they were threatened by hostile armor, the Javelins guarantee that they have a way to annihilate tanks if no jets are available in time. The operators can also call on Marine and Army artillery in the country.
The Marines and special operators are both involved in the fight to retake Raqqa, though it isn’t clear how much frontline fighting either is expected to do. The Marines are artillery troops equipped with 155mm howitzers, so they can fight 20 miles from the front lines but are still susceptible to attack if ISIS or other forces maneuver quickly.
But the special operators, with Strykers, M2s, Javelins, and miniguns, are equipped for a frontline fight even if they want to avoid one. If they do want to get into the fight, woe unto all ISIS fighters defending Raqqa right now.
Comedy writer and performer Bill Dana, who won stardom in the 1950s and ’60s with his character Jose Jimenez, has died.
Dana died June 15th at his home in Nashville, Tennessee, according to Emerson College, his alma mater. He was 92.
Dana served as an Army infantryman during World War II and earned the Bronze Star.
Early in his career, Dana wrote jokes for Don Adams and Steve Allen, on whose show he served as head writer. It was for a sketch on “The Steve Allen Show” that Dana created Jose Jimenez, which eventually led to his own NBC sitcom, “The Bill Dana Show,” which aired from 1963-1965.
The character’s shy, Spanish-accented introduction, “My name … Jose … Jimenez,” became a national catchphrase.
Dana became a favorite of NASA’s Mercury astronauts, eventually being named as the honorary 8th member of the first team of Americans in space.
Dana recorded eight best-selling comedy albums, and made many TV appearances while continuing behind the scenes as a comedy writer.
The HMS Conquerer is the only nuclear-powered submarine to engage an enemy with torpedoes. In a sea engagement during the Falklands War in the 1980s, two of the three shots fired at an Argentine cruiser hit home. Her hull pierces, the General Belgrano began listing and her captain called for the crew to abandon ship within 20 minutes.
In line with Royal Navy tradition, the Conquerer flew a Jolly Roger – a pirate flag – to note her victory at sea.
Submarines were considered “underhand, unfair and damned un-English,” by Sir Arthur Wilson, who was First Sea Lord when subs were introduced to the Royal Navy. Hs even threatened to hang all sub crews as pirates during wartime.
The insult stuck. When the HMS E9 sunk a German cruiser during WWI — the Royal Navy’s first submarine victory — its commander had a Jolly Roger made and it flew from the periscope as the sub sailed back to port.
The pirate flag soon became the official emblem of Britain’s silent service.
The British submarine HMS Utmost showing off their Jolly Roger in February 1942. The markings on the flag indicate the boat’s achievements: nine ships torpedoed (including one warship), eight ‘cloak and dagger’ operations, one target destroyed by gunfire, and one at-sea rescue. (Imperial War Museum)
The 1982 sinking of the Argentine General Belgrano was only the second instance of a submarine sinking a surface ship since the end of World War II.
Argentinian sailors reported a “fireball” shooting up through the ship, which means it was not cleared for action. If the crew was ready for a fight, ideally, the ship’s doors and hatches would have been sealed to keep out fire and water, author Larry Bond wrote in his book “Crash Dive,” which covers the incident.
The Royal Navy’s Cmdr. Chris Wreford-Brown, the captain of the Conqueror, later said of the sinking:
“The Royal Navy spent 13 years preparing me for such an occasion. It would have been regarded as extremely dreary if I had fouled it up.”
Ships from Argentina and neighboring Chile rescued 772 men over the next two days. The attack killed 321 sailors and two civilians.
The Argentine Navy returned to port and was largely out of the rest of the war.
On May 30, 2018, during a change-of-command ceremony for US Pacific Command, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced that the command will change its name to US Indo-Pacific Command to better reflect what he described as linkages and values in the region.
“Relationships with our Pacific and Indian Ocean allies and partners have proven critical to maintaining regional stability,” Mattis said in prepared remarks during the ceremony, which marked Adm. Phil Davidson’s assumption of command from Adm. Harry Harris, who will take over as US ambassador to South Korea.
“We stand by our partners and support their sovereign decisions, because all nations large and small are essential to the region if we’re to sustain stability in ocean areas critical to global peace,” Mattis added. “Further, in recognition of increasing stability [between] the Indian and Pacific Oceans, today we rename the US Pacific Command to US Indo-Pacific Command. Over many decades this command has repeated adapted to changing circumstance, and today carries that legacy forward as America focuses west.”
US Pacific Command has about 375,000 civilian and military personnel assigned to it. It covers more of the world than any of the five over geographic combatant commands and shares a border with each of its counterparts.
The renaming does not mean more resources will be assigned to the command, and Abraham Denmark, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia under President Barack Obama, said the change would be “ultimately a symbolic act” unless the US pursues more investment and initiatives in the region.
(U.S. Defense Department)
The change is meant to underscore the US’s growing military relationship with India, with whom the US has worked to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.
Davidson, the incoming head of the command, said during his confirmation hearing in April 2018, that the US-India relationship “is potentially the most historic opportunity we have in the 21st century, and I intend to pursue that quite rigorously.”
The phrase “Indo-Pacific” is not new in US foreign-policy discussions, but it has been embraced by President Donald Trump as a way to dilute China’s primacy by expanding the conception of the region.
“I don’t think that’s just a ploy by the US and others. I think it’s a reflection of reality,” Rory Medcalf, the head of the national security college at Australian National University who has written about the term, told Politico in 2017.
Some countries in Asia have grown concerned about Trump, believing his stated policy goals could mean a reduced US presence in the region at a time when China is seeking to expand its influence. (Some have sought alternatives to partnering with the US for defense.)
The US, for its part, has continued to try to counter Beijing. During his hearing in April 2018, Davidson told senators that China has a particular focus on undersea warfare and was “stealing [US] technology in just about every domain and trying to use it to their advantage.”
China has also used its One Belt, One Road initiative to grow its sway in Asia and across the Pacific, offering loans and financing for an array of infrastructure and other development programs. Beijing has been criticized for using those economic relationships to gain leverage over smaller countries.
US Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said in March 2018, that China was “weaponizing capital” around the globe.
“Americans’ vision is shared by most nations in the region, where every state’s sovereignty is respected, no matter its size, and it’s a region open to investment in free, fair, and reciprocal trade not bound by any nation’s predatory economics or threat of coercion,” Mattis said May 30, 2018. “For the Indo-Pacific has many belts and many roads.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The KC-135 Stratotanker, one of the oldest aircraft still flying in the US Air Force today, will likely get a life extension thanks to budget and replacement issues according to Gen. Carlton Everhart of Air Mobility Command, adding over 40 more years to its service record which began in the mid-1950s.
By the time this legendary aerial refueler enters retirement and is phased out from the USAF once and for all, it will have served just over 100 years — longer than any other aircraft in American history. Having seen action in virtually every American-involved conflict since 1956, the Stratotanker is easily one of the most recognizable and beloved aircraft flying today with the Air Force.
The KC-135 was, at first, supposed to be replaced entirely by the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus. But thanks to budget cuts and slashes to the projected buy for the KC-46, the Air Force will be left with a shortage of tankers to carry out aerial refueling operations both at home and overseas, severely impacting the service’s ability to extend the range of the vast majority of its aircraft. Instead, the Air Force will be looking to upgrade its KC-135s into a “Super Stratotanker” of sorts, keeping it flying for 40 more years until the branch initiates the KC-Z replacement program to supersede the Stratotanker for good.
Crew members from the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron prepare to take off in a KC-135 Stratotanker before performing a refueling mission over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve September 15, 2016. The KC-135 provides the core aerial refueling capability for the U.S. Air Force and has excelled in this role for more than 50 years — and could be on the flightline for another 40 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Douglas Ellis/Released)
The KC-46, the result of the controversial KC-X program, was destined to be a larger longer-range follow-on to the KC-135, featuring two engines instead of four, and greater fuel carriage capacity, allowing for more aircraft to be refueling during a typical mission than what the Stratotanker could handle. However, the program has been constantly plagued with a variety of issues including cost overruns and delays, which ultimately led to the Air Force scaling down the number of Pegasus tankers it originally planned on buying to just 179.
This pushes retiring the KC-135 out of the question, as the Air Force (and Air National Guard) require a greater number of tankers to continue carrying out their mission at home and around the world.
While the USAF will continue with its plans to field the Pegasus, the Stratotanker fleet’s life-extension seems inevitable. At the moment, the Air Force has already begun the $910 million Block 45 extension program, which seeks to keep these 60-year-old aircraft relevant and able to meet the needs of the modern Air Force. As part of the Block 45 updates, all American KC-135s will receive a new glass cockpit, replacing the older analog/gauge cockpits still in use, new avionics and an upgraded autopilot system, an enhanced navigation suite, and much more.
To keep the KC-135 flying for 40 more years, an advanced networking and electronic countermeasures suite would likely be the next upgrade the Air Force will pursue with the aircraft, during or after the completion of Block 45, which will end in 2028. Currently, the USAF estimates that their KC-135s have only used up around 35 percent of their lifetime flying hours, meaning that the aircraft is perfectly capable of flying on until 2040 with regular maintenance and scheduled overhauls.
As of 2014, there are 414 KC-135s in service with the US military — 167 assigned to the active duty Air Force, 180 to the Air National Guard, and 67 in the Air Force Reserve. Once the Air Force finishes procuring its 179 KC-46s, the number of Stratotankers in service will likely drop by 100 airframes, which will be retired to the boneyard at Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona.
It’s also probable that the KC-135’s current [younger] sister tanker, the three-engined KC-10 Extender, will receive a similar upgrade to keep its smaller fleet flying longer. Eventually, both of these aircraft will see their flying days come to an end with the initiation of the KC-Y and KC-Z next generation tanker programs, still decades away from coming to fruition.