Archive for January, 2012
Afghan Avalanche Rescue
U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Todd Peplow, a helicopter gunner from the 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, watches as injured villagers are carried off his Mi-17 helicopter to awaiting ambulances at Fayzabad, Afghanistan. That’s right, his ride is a Russian-made, twin turbine Mi-17 Afghan transport helicopter. The 438th is part of the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing which has been training Afghan Air Force pilots, air and ground crews in tasks ranging from maintenance to flight discipline.
In this photo (click on it to enlarge) you can see some of the tools of the trade that the master sergeant carries, including a helmet-mounted video camera, 9 mm pistol, work gloves, a GPS (global positioning system) and a first aid kit.
Peplow was part of a U.S.-Afghan rescue mission in Badakshan province, after an avalanche trapped and injured residents of Shewa Village in northern Afghanistan.Two Mi-17s were sent to rescue the injured as well as the crew of a downed Afghan Mi-17. The downed aircrew supplied triage information about the victims — many suffering frostbite — and helped villagers shovel out a landing zone in minus-15-degree-temperatures.
See the photo below for an idea of the terrain and weather the helo crews faced at the landing site — 9,000 feet above sea level.
For additional photos of the rescue operation, click here.
Counter Terrorism Effort Funded
The U.S. Army and Marine Corps will shrink as will the number of Air Force fighter squadrons and Navy cruisers under the Obama administration’s 2013 budget request, but Special Operations Forces and other irregular warfare programs will continue to see steady funding.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff outlined their plans for cutting personnel, programs and units to meet congressionally-mandated spending cuts during a Pentagon briefing session Thursday (Jan. 26).
The Defense Department will ask Congress for $525 billion in funding for Fiscal Year 2013 which runs from Oct. 1 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013. That’s about $33 billion less than Congress approved for the Pentagon in 2012 9$531 billion). Panetta and military leaders are also seeking an additional $88.4 billion to fund the war in Afghanistan and other overseas contingency operations around the world like this week’s hostage rescue mission in Somalia. That figure, too, is lower than the $115 billion approved by Congress last year.
Earlier this month, Panetta and Dempsey unveiled the Pentagon’s strategic guidance which called for a shift in priorities after a decade of war in iraq and Afghanistan. It calls for focusing more on the Asia-Pacific area while keeping an eye on the Middle East – especially in the area of the Persian Gulf.
But the 2013 budget request is also being driven by pressure from Congress to cut the enormous U.S. Budget deficit. The 2011 Budget Control Act requires the Defense Department to reduce spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years.
“We have to retain the kind of leverage the lessons of recent conflicts have given us,” Panetta told the press briefing. “And we need to stay ahead of the most lethal and distruptive threats that we’re going to face in the future,” he added.
That means protecting – or increasing – investments in things like cyber cabailities, projecting power in denied areas and Special Operations Forces “the kind that we saw that conducted the bin Laden raid and the hostage rescue operation.” Panetta said. Other investments to be protected include homeland missile defense and countering weapons of mass destruction.
Dempsey and other Pentagon officials noted that while the amount of money was directed by Congress, the decisions on where to make the cuts were driven by the strategic guidance and the concdept of matching the size and needs of the military to the missions of the future. “This budget is the first step,” Dempsey said, adding: “It’s a downpayment as we transition from an emphasis on today’s wars to preparing for tomorrow’s.”
Details of the Pentagon’s 2013 budget request will be released after President Obama issues the full budget on Feb. 13. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials outlined some of the proposed cuts and changes:
The Army will be reduced in size from a high of 570,000 in the years after 9/11 to 490,000 by 2017. The Marine Corps will shrink during the same period from a peak of 202,000 to 182,000 personnel.
There are also plans to cut six of the Air Force’s 60 tactical air fighter squadrons. “None of that will impact our ability to police the skies,” Panetta said. The budget also calls for retiring 27 aging C-5As – the massive four-engine intercontinental cargo airlifters – and 65 of the oldest C-130s – smaller turbo-prop transport aircraft. That will still leave the Air Force with 52 modernized C-5Ms and 318 C-130s as well as 222 jet-powered C-17 cargo aircraft.
The Navy will retire seven cruisers ahead of schedule but maintain its 11 nuclear-powered, big deck aircraft carriers, which are deemed essential for projecting power in an era when the number of U.S. overseas bases is shrinking. There are also plans to base one of the new Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore and the Marine Corps will have a small but steady presence in Australia.
Pentagon leaders say the U.S. will be engaged in counter terrorism operations around the globe, so in addition to the emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, there will be a focus on Special Operations Forces like Navy Seals, Green Berets and Army Rangers. Unmanned air systems (UAS) are also getting a boost with funds aimed at sustaining the Air Force MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper. The Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle is also being funded in the next budget.
One UAS that is being cut is the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 program. Panetta said the high flying unmanned surveillance aircraft had proved to be just too expensive at more than $200 million apiece. Instead the Defense Department is extending the Cold War era U-2 spy plane program. Other versions of the Global Hawk, such as the Block 40 and the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance system will continue. Other programs that provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance are also being shielded from the budget ax.
Take a look at all that frozen wasteland. The Russian tanker Renda follows a path through the ice of the Bering Sea made by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB-20). The Seattle-based Healy – the only polar ice breaker in the U.S. fleet — assisted Renda on its mission to deliver more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel to Nome, Alaska, after a winter storm restricted a scheduled delivery by barge.
The storm prevented November’s scheduled delivery, leaving Nome’s 3,500 residents without enough gasoline and diesel fuel before the next scheduled delivery in late May or June. The 370-foot tanker set out from Russia in mid-December. It stopped in South Korea to pick up diesel fuel and then called at Dutch Harbor, Alaska to load up unleaded gasoline. Renda left the Alaskan port — accompanied by Healy — on Jan. 3.
The 420-foot Healy — yes, the ice breaker is bigger than an oil tanker — is designed to break 4 ½ feet of ice continuously at three knots and can operate in temperatures as low as 50 degrees below zero (Farenheit).Unlike most ocean-going vessels, the Healy has a blunt, rounded bow that enable it to ride up on top of the ice. As the bow goes up and the stern (rear) sinks below the water, the force of buoyancy acting on the submerged part of the stern create a lever-like action bringing Healy’s 16,000 tons down onto the ice — breaking it, according to Lt. Commander Kristen Serumgard of the Coast Guard’s Office of Cutter Forces.
After a 5,000-mile journey, the Renda made it — almost — into port at Nome on Jan. 14. Because of the tremendous amount of ice that was as hard as concrete, the Renda pumped out its cargo through hoses that stretched over 500 yards to the distribution facility. See photo below. The Renda completed pumping out its cargo on Jan. 19.
To see a slideshow of the two vessels’ mercy mission through 500 miles of ice-packed Bering Sea, click here.
For more information on the Healy’s mission breaking up the ice for the Renda, click here.
To see a short (27 second) video on You Tube of the two ships in the frozen north, click here.
Pakistan may be getting ready to reopen key border crossings into Afghanistan, ending a blockade imposed after a NATO air attack mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, according to Reuters.
The news service quoted an unidentified “a senior security official” Jan. 19 that two border checkpoints – closed since late November – would be reopened sometime in the future. The official also said that while trucks carrying crucial supplies to U.S. forces in Afghanistan would be allowed to pass, Pakistan intends to charge a tax or tariff on the incoming cargo – in part to show its continuing displeasure with U.S. and coalition forces’ activities in the troubled border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But U.S. officials say that Islamabad had not contacted Washington about that reported plan. “We have not, as of this moment, had any official communication from the Government of Pakistan on this subject,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Jan. 19.
At least one Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, is reporting that Prime Minister Yosuf Raza Gilani says Pakistan’s parliament will decide when and if to reopen the border to NATO supply trucks.
Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan had been deteriorating since the unannounced U.S. commando raid that killed al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden last May. That embarrassed the Pakistani military and its intelligence service which had claimed bin Laden was not in the country. Then on Nov. 26, more that two dozen Pakistani troops were killed or wounded in a NATO cross-border airstrike on two outposts.
NATO-led coalition forces said the attack was a mistake due to communication and coordination blunders after NATO troops came under fire from the Pakistani side of the border. But Pakistani public officials– already angered by U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistani territory – claimed the attack was deliberate. The U.S. has expressed regret about the incident but has not apologized.
The border shutdown has forced the U.S. and its NATO allies to transport food, fuel and other supplies via other routes at great cost. The Associated Press, citing a Pentagon report, says it now costs about $104 million a month to move the needed cargo via alternate routes – $87 million more per month than it cost before the Pakistanis closed the border. The alternate routes come down from the north after passing through Russia and Central Asia.
The blockade also backed up hundreds of fuel tankers and other trucks, making them vulnerable to attack by insurgents and terrorists.
Marine Corps Aviation Centennial
Back in 1985, when I was an Associated Press reporter in New York, my editor asked me to help cover the Vietnam Veterans parade that would march across the Brooklyn Bridge to the city’s brand new Vietnam Memorial in lower Manhattan.
A park on the Brooklyn side of the bridge was the staging area for the parade. As I was interviewing some veterans of the 1st Marine Division, several UH-1 “Huey” helicopters streaked overhead with their rotor blades making a menacing, “Apocalypse Now” whup, whup, whup sound.
But when the Marine and Amy vets around me looked up, they pumped their fists in the air and let loose with a primal roar that drowned out the choppers and city traffic noise.
“That’s the sound of the cavalry coming,” one Marine vet shouted to me over the din. “When you heard that sound, it meant you were O.K. You were going to get out alive.”
The memory of that moment came back to me last week as I toured an exhibit of Marine Corps combat art, marking 100 years of Leatherneck aviation, at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington. More than Navy or Air Force fliers, Marine Corps aviators have always had a close relationship with the grunts on the ground. Close air support was a concept pioneered by the Marines in the Central American “Banana Wars” of the 1920s and 1930s — and has been a key part of Marine Corps air doctrine ever since.
There were lots of paintings and drawings of Marines dashing off Hueys into Vietnam rice paddies among the 91 artworks on exhibit — all of them on loan from the National Museum of the Marines Corps in Virginia. The exhibit also included a painting of Marine infantrymen under fire on a snowy Korean hillside while an F4U Corsair fighter plane provides close air support. Another, painted by Alex Raymond, the creator of the Flash Gordon comic strip in the 1930s — who served with the Marines in World War II – shows Marine fighter pilots describing a dog fight during an after action debriefing.
The exhibit, “Fly Marines! The Centennial of Marine Corps Aviation: 1912-2012,” celebrates the 100 years since 1st Lt. Alfred Cunningham signed up as an aviation trainee in May 1912. A few months later he soloed in a Curtis seaplane — after just two hours and 40 minutes of instruction — becoming the first Marine Corps aviator, less than nine years after the Wright brothers’ first flight.
The exhibit, which opened Jan. 14 and runs through Jan. 6, 2013, includes paintings drawings and sculptures of all types of helicopters, jets and piston-driven aircraft — and the Marines who flew them – from World War I to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are also a few artifacts like the pilot’s wings of Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the legendary Black Sheep Squadron leader and top Marine Corps ace of World War II.
One unique detail of the exhibit: nearly all of the artwork on display was done by artists who either are, or were, serving Marines. Since 1942, the Marine Corps has had a contingent of combat artists to record what war really was like for the Leathernecks. Once numbering as many as 70 trained artists, they sketched and painted what they saw at sea, in the air and on the ground — often in combat zones around the world. Now there is only one full-time artist, Staff Sgt. Kristopher Battles.
He described to 4GWAR and other reporters attending a press preview of the exhibit how he carried a 9 millimeter sidearm and an M-16 rifle as well as a camera, watercolor paints and a sketchpad when he went out on patrol with Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two of Battles’ paintings are on display at the Air & Space exhibit, as well as his artist’s kit.
You can just make out Battles’ paintings of a V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter on the wall behind and to the left of the flight suit-wearing mannequin in the photo above (click on the photo to enlarge). You can get a better view of both works at his personal website Sketchpad Warrior.
Battles, who served in the Marines and reserves from 1986 to 1996, has a fine arts degree from Northeast Missouri State University. He re-joined the Corps as a combat artist in 2006 at the urging of the then-last remaining combat artist, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Fay. Battles had e-mailed Fay to say he admired his work and when Fay learned he was both a former Marine sergeant and an artist, he and combat art program officials asked him to consider re-upping. In September of 2006 Battles, who was then 38, reported to Marine Base Quantico for training and a month later he was on his way to Iraq.
In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, Battles has been deployed to Haiti — where he once was a missionary — to record the Marines’ humanitarian relief efforts after the 2010 earthquake. Battles, who learned Creole French in his missionary days, also helped as a translator.
The staff sergeant said he considered himself lucky to have come under fire infrequently in combat zones. His predecessor, Fay, was wounded in Iraq, he noted. Battles said it can be difficult looking for subject material with a painter’s eye while on a combat patrol. “You still have to be on guard and watching as a Marine. It’s an interesting juggling act,” he said. Occasionally he ran across a gunnery sergeant or 1st sergeant that didn’t know about combat artists or that “we’re trained Marines,” who balked at taking the artist on patrols. “But most of my experience has been quite positive,” Battles said, adding “Once you start sketching a Marine in the field, they kind of perk up a little bit. It’s a morale builder.”
To see more of the Fly Marines exhibit click here. The National Air and Space Museum museum is located on the National Mall in Washington, DC at Sixth St. and Independence Ave. S.W.
To see more of the 8,000 artworks in the collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, click here. That museum is located at 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway, Triangle, Virginia — not far from the Quantico Marine Base.
SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.
Almost Shovel Ready
As any vehicle owner in snowy climes knows, sometimes digging out after a storm is the hardest part of winter operations.
In this photo, U.S. Air Force personnel are removing snow last week (Jan. 5) from an F-15E Strike Eagle at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. The airmen are assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 130,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.
In fact, visits per year to 4GWAR more than doubled from 62,552 in 2010 to 134,856 in 2011.
A Terrible Beauty
U.S. Army Spc. Devon Boxa observes the Afghan landscape out the back door of her CH-47D Chinook helicopter as another Chinook follows over Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Boxa is a crew chief assigned to Company B, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment. The helicopters were flying from Kabul to Jalalabad.
The headline is drawn from “Easter, 1916″ a poem by William Butler Yeats about the leaders of the failed Irish revolt against British rule during World War I. The fourth stanza begins: “Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart. Oh when may it suffice?” The poem ends with the line “A terrible beauty is born.”
President Barack Obama has unveiled his administration’s new defense strategy — emphasizing the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region and the need to reduce the size of U.S. ground forces after years of war and economic constraints.
Accompanied by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Gen. Martin Dempsey – the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – and other Defense Department officials, Obama told a Pentagon press briefing that the shift in focus was necessary to meet congressionally-mandated budget cuts and potential threats from potential opponents like China, Iran and North Korea.
Panetta called the change “a historic shift to the future,” adding that the U.S. faces “a complex and growing array of security challenges across the globe.”h
No specifics on what programs or military units would be cut were given at the briefing. Officials noted those details will be made public when the Defense Department unveils its 2013 budget request next month.
But Obama said the U.S. intends to strengthen its presence in the Asia-Pacific region and remain “vigilant” in the Middle East. Following the recommendations of a recently completed defense strategy review, the military will reduce the size of its ground forces – the Army and Marine Corps – and get rid of “outdated” Cold War technologies, Obama said, adding that while conventional ground forces will be smaller, they will also be agile, flexible “and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.”
The 2012 defense bill recently signed into law authorizes $662 billion for defense spending. The Pentagon has already planned more than $450 billion in spending cuts over the next decade. Billions more in across-the-board cuts remains a lingering threat if Congress can’t work out a way to trim $1 trillion from the federal budget deficit in the next year.
Obama said the growth of the defense budget will slow but it will still be larger than it was at the end of the previous administration of President George Bush. While spending cuts will be necessary for some programs, officials acknowledged, they said more spending is likely for unmanned systems and other technologies that can deliver intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. Special Operations Forces, cybersecurity and cyberwarfare as well as programs to counter terrorism, insurgency and weapons of mass destruction also will be emphasized and presumably better funded.
In Africa and Latin America, Pentagon officials said the U.S. will continue to focus on training missions with small technical units, foreign military sales and joint exercises with partners in the region as a way to maintain security and stability without a large U.S. military footprint.