Tag Archives: Air Force

Female veterans, Maryland natives transition to life after active duty

In a May 8 piece for Southern Maryland Newspapers Online published on SoMdNews.Com, staff writer Sara K. Taylor tells the stories of two female veterans’ journeys from active-duty military careers (in the Navy and Air Force) to college students. The story does a stellar job of tackling the issue of veteran education as well as the unique challenges faced by female veterans transitioning into civilian life, through a local lens.

Read it here.

Obama to wounded warriors: ‘We’ve got your back’

  • President Barack Obama speaks with spectators after the cyclists have set off on the Soldier Ride. (Nick Kariuki/MEDILL)
    President Barack Obama speaks with spectators after the cyclists have set off on the Soldier Ride. (Nick Kariuki/MEDILL)

WASHINGTON — Under clear skies, President Obama blasted an air horn Thursday to start the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride from the White House’s South Lawn.

Speaking before the bikes rolled out, Obama said the event was “a chance to say to all the returning heroes that you’re not alone. That we’ve got your back. We’re going to be with you every step of the way.”

The nationwide, annual ride offers wounded service members and veterans the chance to salve the physical, mental and emotional wounds they may have suffered through cycling and the common bond of military service.

Over 50 riders from all branches of the armed forces signed up for the three-day, 60 mile challenge, many riding on adaptive bicycles.

Obama was joined by Vice President Joe Biden and Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald. This year marked the sixth time that the event was welcomed to the White House.

The first Soldier Ride was in 2004 when Chris Carney, a Long Island, New York, bartender, biked across the country to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that supports injured troops.

The WWP claims over 68,000 alumni and more than 10,500 family members involved, as of April 1.

Published in conjunction with Military Times Logo

AP reporters discuss investigation into nuclear arsenal security lapses

WASHINGTON — Two journalists from The Associated Press say recent AP disclosures about personnel problems among the military personnel in charge of the U.S. U.S. nuclear arsenal say the stories raised questions about the Air Force’s commitment to mission.

Robert Burns, national security reporter from the AP, and Wendy Benjaminson, AP Washington assistant bureau chief, spoke at a Newseum panel discussion about Burns’ series of reports exposing systemic issues with the Air Force personnel managing America’s nuclear weapons, including burnout, disciplinary problems, allegations of drug use and cheating on proficiency tests.

Since May 2013, Burns has reported on numerous transgressions at the nuclear base that put the nation’s security at risk, including leaving a blast door open on two occasions, failing security tests and poor handling of the weapons, which have the capacity to cause massive amounts of destruction.

An unprecedented 17 people were initially decertified due to the problems, which strained the unit’s capabilities, Burns said. That number later rose to 34 decertified launch officers. The AP series resulted in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordering a full investigation into the unit managing the missiles.

The series also exposed poor morale among those managing the missiles, which first came to light when Burns obtained an internal Air Force email last year. Much of the infrastructure related to the missiles and their capsules are out of date, having been first deployed in 1970, Burns said.

“The people who are doing these jobs are questioning whether the Air Force has a proper commitment to doing it, when they look at this stuff and say, ‘It’s so old. Why don’t you upgrade it?’” Burns said.

With the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the recent revelations of the National Security Agency collecting Americans’ phone records and other online data at the forefront of most people’s minds, the problems at the arsenal may not be getting the attention they deserve, Benjaminson said.

“America isn’t scared of nuclear weapons anymore,” she said. “Our children, grown and not grown, don’t even think of nuclear weapons. They’re something from an old movie.”

However, the recent appointment of a new secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James, shows promise for resolving some of the issues plaguing the unit, Burns said.

“[James] called it a systemic problem, meaning not just an episodic, random problem,” he said. “It’s a problem that’s ingrained, it’s widespread, it’s real and we need to do something about it. And we never heard that from the Air Force until she said that.”

Wounded warriors; brass ceiling broken; Air Force crash dispute; military vehicle museum plans

Dream of national competition attracts wounded athletes to California

US SanDiego LogoWounded Marines are competing at Camp Pendleton this week for a spot in the nationwide 2013 Wounded Warriors games. Athletes train and compete in several games throughout the year to make their way to the top competition. “It’s just kind of getting me back to being normal,” says Sgt. Kaleb Weakley, whose femur was shattered by a gunshot wound in Afghanistan a year ago. Full story from U-T San Diego.

Maj. Gen Michelle Johnson

Maj. General Breaks Through Brass Ceiling to become first woman to Lead Air Force Academy

A woman will lead the Air Force Academy for the first time, but as Dan Elliot reports for AP, not everyone believes the landmark promotion marks the end of problems for women in the military. “This appointment is significant for many reasons. Very few women have attained the rank of general, let alone two-star general,” Anu Bhagwati, executive director of Service Women’s Action Network, said. Full story in Army Times.

Inspector general contradicts Air force on F-22 Crash

DOD inspector general sealThe inspector general’s office questions the Air Force on its findings about the crash of a $422 million fighter jet in Alaska. The Air Force found fault with the pilot’s behavior, but the IG says there’s no evidence to support that claim. Full story from the Los Angeles Times.

Military vehicle enthusiast hopes to build home for his collection

A retiring New Orleans cop is trying to turn his passion – restoring military vehicles – into a museum. He has the jeeps and the plan; now he just needs the money. Full story from nola.com.

How strong is the human element behind drones?

War may be more automated than ever, but human fingers still pull the triggers.

Although President Barack Obama has adopted drones as the workhorse weapons system of his anti-terrorism strategy, full automation is unlikely in the near future.

“Drones don’t change the human dimension of war,” said Christopher Swift of Georgetown University, a leading expert on the anti-terrorism campaign in Yemen. The true philosophical quandary, Swift explained, comes with granting computers the power to shoot.

Replacing humans with computers in that capacity “seems like an incredibly bad idea,” said Josh Meyer, former chief terrorism reporter for The Los Angeles Times and director of education and outreach for Medill’s National Security Journalism Initiative.

While it’s unlikely that automaton UAVs would present a sci-fi threat akin to the Terminator series’ Skynet, the human element is still essential for effective use of drones.

Ground based teams commonly aid UAVs in finding their targets. There are also strong indications that the military is using manned aircraft in the sort of covert missions usually reserved for drones. Witness February’s fatal accident in Djibouti, in which an Air Force Special Operations U-28 with civilian markings crashed killing all 4 occupants.

But the level of reliance on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is not to be underestimated. According to Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation, the Obama administration conducts a drone strike every 4 days. Under President George W. Bush, the average time between drone attacks was 40 days.

There are many reasons for the increased dependence on drones. One major advantage of drones over conventional aircraft is the UAV’s ability to remain in a holding pattern for a long period of time. This ability leads to “better precision [when conducting strikes]”, said Meyer.

Another advantage is political. Drone strikes have been ordered overwhelmingly in Pakistan and Yemen, countries where a conventional American military presence would likely create havoc. While Pakistan and Yemen have tacitly acquiesced to UAV operations over their territories, the strategy is not without flaws.

The strikes have successfully weakened Al-Qaida by killing off many within its leadership, especially those with battle experience. “It used to be that Al-Qaida had a deep bench,” said Meyer, “some killed aren’t easily replaceable.”

But the strikes aren’t 100 percent accurate. The collateral damage caused by drone attacks has at times alienated potential key allies on the ground. Swift claims drone strikes have multiplied the number of Al-Qaida militants in Yemen threefold.

The pressure for young Yemeni males is economic, Al-Qaida pays $200 a month in a $60 a month economy, and reactive: Signature strikes, attacks aimed at men behaving in a suspicious manner, have often hit undeserving targets. As Swift pointed out, “Not everybody with an Ak-47 and a turban in Yemen is al-Qaida.”

Most UAV missions are not signature strikes but targeted killings. Because of collateral damage, missiles mounted on drones have been modified over time to be more precise.



Secret space plane and reviving Rumsfeld’s missile scheme

A couple interesting pieces from Wired’s Danger Room blog today.

The first is about a “secretive” space plane, called the X-37B, launched by the U.S. Air Force last night from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is an unmanned, reusable space craft and part of the X-37 program first developed for NASA in the 1990s by Boeing’s Phantom Works Division. The program got transferred to the Department of Defense in 2004, and pretty much fell off the radar.

According to the article, much of the mission remains classified, but deputy undersecretary for the Air Force for space programs Gary Payton said a top priority is an inexpensive turnaround. The Air Force wants to see how much service is required for the unmanned space craft, and if it is really reusable and able to be turned around and relaunched within 15 days. The article quotes the Air Force description of the project as being:

a flexible space test platform to conduct various experiments and allow satellite sensors, subsystems, components and associated technology to be efficiently transported to and from the space environment. This service directly supports the Defense Department’s technology risk-reduction efforts for new satellite systems. By providing an ‘on-orbit laboratory’ test environment, it will prove new technology and components before those technologies are committed to operational satellite programs.

The second piece from Danger Room deals with potentially reviving of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Prompt Global Strike weapons, or putting conventional warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The general idea behind them is for the U.S. to have the ability to strike specific targets only half way around the world, like a cave hiding Osama Bin Laden or an Iranian nuclear site, without using nuclear weapons.

As Danger Room points out, ICBMs “look and fly exactly like the nuclear missiles” that the U.S. might launch at Russia or China, in the event of a world war. The Obama administration sees the program as an alternative to nuclear weapons, another way to protect America without causing a nuclear war.