Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world. Topics include a relevant NSW, SOCOM’s anti-aging pills, award upgrades for Operation Gothic Serpent, SOF and CAS, armed overwatch program, SOF’s future, Irish Ranger Wing in Mali, UK SF to stay in Afghanistan, Ghost Army of WWII, IO, GPC, Afghanistan, UW and the info environment, upcoming events, reports, podcasts, and videos.
NSW and Relevancy. Naval Special Warfare Command is changing its focus from two decades of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism to support the Navy’s fleet and joint force operations. This is taking place in the new competitive environment with China and Russia – referred to as ‘great power competition’ or GPC. The special operators of NSW will be working more on ships, on and under the sea, and in the littorals. The command is looking at ways to transform naval special warfare to support GPC while maintaining a combat-ready SOF responsive to global war on terror missions. “Naval Special Warfare in a ‘Race for Relevancy’ as Mission Shifts to High-End Conflict”, U.S. Naval Institute News, June 30, 2021.
SOCOM and Anti-Aging Pills. In an attempt to enhance the mission readiness of special operators U.S. Special Operations Command is seeking to improve performance characteristics that typically decline with age. Clinical trials will begin next year with a pill that may inhibit or reduce some of the degenerative effects of aging and injury. SOCOM has spent $2.8 million on this effort since 2018. “SOCOM to Test Anti-Aging Pill Next Year”, Breaking Defense, June 29, 2021.
Award Upgrades for Opn Gothic Serpent. Sixty special operations soldiers will see their awards upgraded to either Silver Stars or Distinguished Flying Crosses for their actions during a long firefight in Somalia almost 30 years ago during Operation Gothic Serpent. The event was captured in a book and movie known as “Black Hawk Down”. The mission of elite soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment and Delta Force to capture top officers of a Somalian warlord went badly. “Army to upgrade combat awards for ‘Black Hawk Down’ vets”, Washington Times, July 1, 2021.
SOF and CAS. Stavros Atlamazoglou queried a number of SOF personnel who have relied on close air support in combat zones about what type of CAS air platform they liked best. Naturally the AC-130 and A-10 came in fairly high in the rankings. “Special Operations Sound Off About SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch Program”, SANDBOXX, July 1, 2021.
CA and Task Force Oceania. A Capacity Building Collaboration Symposium was held in April 2021 to foster collaboration among those working to build capacity in Oceania. Task Force Oceania (TF Oceania) strives to be the U.S. government information hub for the Oceania region – and a facilitator for the capacity, efficiency, and effectiveness of partners working in the region. TF Oceania is headquartered at the 9th Mission Support Command at Fort Shafter Flats, Hawaii. It is a company-sized element and country teams (two Civil Affairs soldiers each) that provide a consistent supporting presence throughout Oceania. Read more in “Task Force Oceania Hosts First Annual Symposium“, Eunomia Journal, The Civil Affairs Association, July 5, 2021.
SF Officer (Ret) and Fond Memories of Thailand. Col Larry Redmon (Ret.) is interviewed about his long relationship with the Thai Special Forces and the country of Thailand. “Fond Memories From a US Military Attache”, Bangkok Post, July 5, 2021.
Col. Kent Solheim Takes Command of Brigade. An Army officer with a Special Forces background has taken command of the 165th Infantry Brigade at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Solheim deployed numerous times to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Africa. In July 2007 he was shot multiple times in Iraq and lost his right leg as a result of his injuries. He has had numerous assignments in Special Forces to include command of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group. Read more about Solheim in an interview with the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. (CTC Sentinel, Mar 2018). Read about his new assignment with the 165th in “Exact Right Person Takes Command of Lightning Brigade”, Army.mil, July 1, 2021.
Recon Marine Culture Downfall of Marine? During a range firing event of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion a Marine was allegedly pressured to take part in an ammunition stealing scheme. He is getting a punitive discharge and going to jail. “Marine sentenced for stealing ammunition says he was pressured by recon community”, by Jared Morgan, Marine Corps Times, July 3, 2021.
MC-145B and Armed Overwatch. The wily Coyote is one of five aircraft the U.S. Special Operations Command is testing as part of its program to acquire a new manned light attack aircraft to support U.S. SOF in permissive environments. It appears to be a modified version of the basic twin-engine turboprop M28 / C145A aircraft. “Meet the MC-145B Wily Coyote Armed Special Ops Transport Plane”, The Drive, June 30, 2021.
Fort Campbell Has New Commander. Col. Andrew Jordan assumed command of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Campbell from Col. Jeremy Bell during a June 28, 2021, change of command ceremony. Jordan has served with the 5th Special Forces Group, 82nd Airborne Division, SOCCENT, SOJTF-Iraq, and other assignments. Bell served with the 10th Special Forces Group, 5th Special Forces Group, USAJFKSWCS, on the Joint Staff Deputy Directorate for Special Operations and Counterterrorism, and other assignments. “Fort Campbell Welcomes Jordan as New Commander”, DVIDS, July 1, 2021.
A New Future for SOF. For over a decade the United States Special Operations Command has been reorganizing and planning for a shift in operations – from Afghanistan and Iraq to requirements in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Read more in “Special Operations: Inventing a New Future”, Strategy Page, July 2, 2021.
AFSOC’s Armed Overwatch Competition. Dan Goure writes about the Air Force Special Operations Command’s effort to field 75 light aircraft with the Armed Overwatch program. The winning entry from five different companies with provide a combination of tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), communications, and strike for special operations forces deployed in austere environments. Read more in “AFSOC’s Unique Array for Armed Overwatch Competition”, Real Clear Defense, July 3, 2021.
Marine Raider Guilty in Death of Green Beret. A Marine has been judged guilty of involuntary manslaughter and other charges for his role in the death of Logan Melgar – a Special Forces NCO. The Green Beret was killed in 2017 in Mali. Another Marine Raider and two Navy SEALs were also part of the conspiracy. “Marine sergeant found guilty in strangulation death of Army Green Beret”, UPI, July 2, 2021. See also “Verdict: Marine Raider guilty in death of Green Beret staff sergeant”, Marine Corps Times, July 2, 2021.
Irish Ranger Wing in Mali Escape Attack. Members of an elite Irish unit were on patrol on June 25, 2021 and they escaped injury when their base camp was attacked by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. There were injuries – 14 German and one Belgian were wounded. Most of the Germans were evacuated to Germany for treatment for injuries suffered. The group was part of the German-led Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) Task Force in the Mali mission. “Irish troops serving in Mali narrowly dodge al Qaeda suicide bomb attack”, Irish Mirror, July 4, 2021.
Russia’s ADS Assault Rifle. A specialized dual-use underwater and above-water rifle has been created by a Russian defense firm. Underwater gunfights are rare – but it appears that if they happen the Russians will be ready. “This new Russian rifle is designed for combat beneath the waves”, Popular Science, July 5, 2021.
Keeping UK SF in Afghanistan? The United Kingdom is considering the retention of an ‘advisory group’ of Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan. The advisors would provide training to Afghan units and deploy with them on the ground. While most reports indicate that Britain will withdraw its 750 soldiers by early July – it is becoming evident that a smaller group could stay behind. “UK May Keep Special Forces in Afghanistan”, Tolo News, July 5, 2021.
Some Historical Observations From the Past Week.
- June 27th – PTSD Awareness Day.
- June 28, 2005 U.S. Navy SEALs and SOF aircrews were in the midst of Operation Red Wings.
- June 29, 1990 the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) was reactivated to cover down on the African continent – just weeks before Operation Desert Storm began.
- June 30, 1972 the 8th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was re-designated as the 3rd Bn 7th Special Forces Group in Panama.
- July 4, 1968 – the movie The Green Berets was released.
- July 4, 1976 Israeli SOF conducted the hostage rescue at Entebbe.
‘Ghost Army’ of WWII and PSYOP. Secret World War II Army units employed creative and daring techniques to perplex Germans about the true whereabouts of American forces. They used the sounds of marching troops and vehicle movements over huge loudspeakers and filling the airwaves with bogus radio chatter and false intelligence to mislead the Germans on US troop disposition and intentions. Read more in “It’s time to call the ‘Ghost Army’ what they are: Heroes”, The Hill Opinion, by retired Army Brig. Gen. Edward Burlery, July 4, 2021.
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COVID-19 and the Military
COVID in the U.S. and Around The World. The coronavirus pandemic is slowly subsiding even though hospitalizations and deaths are still occurring among those who have not yet been vaccinated. Other countries around the world are still experiencing severe effects of COVID-19, especially from the Delta variant.
COVID and the Military. Pending full Food and Drug Administration licensure, the Army may soon direct units to prepare for mandatory COVID vaccines as soon as September. Currently 70% of the Army is vaccinated against the coronavirus. The VA may force employees to get a COVID vaccine at some time in the future.
The Importance of Enduring Relationships with Strategic Partners. Marshall McGurk, a Special Forces officer, details the importance of establishing personal, institutional, and programmatic relationships with strategic partners around the world that would help in responding to crises or conflicts when they occur. He argues that well-placed relationships are essential to US national security in both irregular warfare and great power competition. “More Than Just Friends: The Strategic Advantage of Enduring Relationships”, Modern War Institute at West Point, June 29, 2021.
SOF and CF Force Integration in Resistance Ops. Colonel Kevin Stringer, a member of U.S Special Operations Command Europe, proposes the establishment of multinational Jedburgh-like SOF teams to link conventional units to national resistance organizations. He uses the examples of special operations activities during World War II. “Force Integration in Resistance Operations: Dutch Jedburghs and U.S. Alamo Scouts”, Joint Force Quarterly, July 1, 2021.
1st Woman Commands SFAB Bn. Lt. Col. Meghann Sullivan took command of the 5th Battalion, 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington on June 28, 2021. She previously served as the commander of the 31st Engineer Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The 5th SFAB deploys functional teams of engineer advisors to countries in the Indo-Pacific area of operations. “Sullivan Becomes First Women to Command an SFAB Battalion”, Army.mil, June 28, 2021.
DoD Response to Sexual Assault and Harassment. The Secretary of Defense has issued guidance to address the persistent problem of sexual assault and harassment among the ranks. The memo states that the military will require a comprehensive approach and that changes are needed to effectively counter the problem. Some changes include adding an amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice that makes sexual harassment an offense, removing prosecution of some cases from the military chain of command, and creating dedicated offices to hand the prosecution of these special crimes. The memo is in response, in part, to a recent study provided by an independent review commission (299 pages) on sexual assault in the military. The IRC made 82 recommendations in four priority areas: accountability, prevention, climate and culture, and victim care and support. The commission had twelve highly qualified experts in the areas reviewed – they interviewed more than 600 people including military leadership, service members, and sexual assault survivors. On Friday, July 2, 2021, the Pentagon’s Press Secretary John F. Kirby held a press conference that included two members of the IRC – where they presented their findings and then answered questions from the press.
Army Directive on Transgender Persons. The Secretary of the Army has published a memorandum that implements policy changes to the standards of retention, separation, in-service transition, and medical care of transgender personnel – as well as the accession of individuals with gender dysphoria. Army Directive 2021-22, June 22, 2021, PDF, 22 pages.
Air Force Changes Up PT Test – No Running Required. The Air Force has announced that it would allow airmen to walk instead of run for the portion of their periodic physical fitness test. They also have the choice of doing the ‘raised-hand push-up’ instead of the regular pushup. It is essentially a ‘menu of choices’ – Airmen can mix and match the exercises they prefer. “Air Force previews new exercises on fitness test ‘menu'”, by Rachel Cohen, Air Force Times, June 28, 2021. For more reading on this topic see A Review of the Air Force Fitness Assessment, RAND Corporation, 2021, PDF, 86 pages.
Things That Make You Go “Hmmm”
Bizarre Case of the Wrong Way to Celebrate the 4th of July. On early Saturday morning at 1:30 am on a highway heading north in a town just north of Boston a van and a pickup truck had stopped on the side of the road. One vehicle had run out of gas and was in the process of being refueled from a gas container. A State Police trooper stopped to provide assistance and found eleven men standing on the side of the highway wearing tactical gear, body armor, and carrying rifles and firearms. Finding this a little concerning he called for backup. A standoff ensued resulting in the closing of the I-95 for many hours and a major inconvenience for travelers. The men are members of a group in Rhode Island that calls itself the Rise of the Moors – a type of sovereign citizen group. They said they were on their way to Maine to conduct ‘training’ with their weapons, tactical gear, and camping equipment. The men face multiple charges to include unlawful possession of a firearm, unlawful possession of ammunition, possession of high capacity magazine, improper storage of firearms in a vehicle, use of body armor in commission of a crime, and conspiracy to commit a crime. Massachusetts has some very restrictive firearms regulations and traveling through the state can be problematic if stopped by law enforcement. Maine’s firearms regulations are a bit more relaxed. (The Boston Globe, July 3, 2021).
Information Operations and Cyber Attacks
UW in the Info Environment. Otto C. Fiala and Jim Worral write about the operations in the information environment (OIE), SOF, and unconventional warfare. “Imposing Costs: Unconventional Warfare in the Information Environment”, Modern War Institute at West Point, July 6, 2021.
China’s Propaganda. China’s sophisticated propaganda capabilities are expansive and heavily resourced. It has produced tremendous benefits for China’s Communist rulers in pursuit of their strategic objectives. Democracies have abdicated the information battlefield to China for almost three decades. “China’s Propaganda: Ludicrous, Malicious, Extremely Effective”, Strategika, Hoover Institution, May 5, 2021.
Russia’s GRU Global Brute Force Campaign (Cyber). The National Security Agency (and others) released a cybersecurity advisory on activities by the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) 95th Main Special Service Center (GTsSS). The organization is conducting widespread, distributed, and anonymized brute force access attempts against hundreds of government and private sector targets worldwide. The brute force capability allows the Russians to access protected data, including email and identify valid account credentials. Read more in the Cybersecurity Advisory, July 1, 2021, PDF, 8 pages.
Russian Cyber Attack on Businesses. A large scale cyber attack has shut down over 200 businesses in Europe and around the world. The ransomware was spread when an international company that remotely controls programs that manage internet services for companies was infected. One of Sweden’s largest grocery chains, Coop, has temporarily closed nearly all of its 800 stores because it was caught in a cyber attack by Russian ransomware hackers. Matt Tait, a security consultant, explains why the “The Kaseya Ransomware Attack is Really a Big Deal”, Lawfare Blog, July 5, 2021.
Competing with China in SEA. U.S. influence in Asia is declining while China is solidifying its strategic position in the Indo-Pacific region. A big part of this competition is in the ‘influence’ arena. A group of writers argue that U.S. policymakers should tailor foreign policy to leverage specific elements of influence where the United States maintains an advantage as well as relying upon the influence of partners. “How the United States Can Compete with Chinese Influence in Southeast Asia”, Lawfare Blog, June 27, 2021.
Defending Taiwan? There is a lot of media attention whether Red China will attempt to take the island of Taiwan by military means. And there is just as much attention to whether the United States will come to the aid of Taiwan in the event of a Communist China attempt to take the country by force. “Will America Defend Taiwan? Here’s What History Says”, Strategika, Hoover Institute, June 30, 2021.
Philippine Air Force Plane Crash. As many as 45 members of the Philippine military died in the country’s worst military air disaster in 30 years. The C-130 transport aircraft had 96 people on board that were headed to conduct counter-insurgency operations. (Yahoo! News, Jul 4, 2021).
DoD Update on Afghanistan. The Department of Defense’s Press Secretary, John Kirby, provided an information session on the status of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan on Friday, July 2nd. The SECDEF has approved a plan for the transfer of command authority over the mission in Afghanistan from General Scott Miller (Resolute Support Mission Cdr) to General Franck McKenzie (CENTCOM Cdr). Miller will remain in theater for several more weeks. The SECDEF also approved the establishment of U.S. Forces Afghanistan Forward to be led by Navy Rear Admiral Peter Vasely – the current commander of Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan (SOJTF-A). Kirby said that “the mission will continue” but as a bilateral relationship with Afghanistan. He said that there are no longer any ‘strike aircraft’ in the country but they are in the region with the capability to conduct over the horizon missions as necessary for counterterrorism. There is a plan be developed to maintain Afghanistan’s helicopters outside of Afghanistan. Turkey is still negotiating with the United States on taking over the security for the international airport. He acknowledged that there is some discussion with the governments of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for some basing options.
Biden and Withdrawal. President Biden’s decision to comply with the U.S.-Taliban agreement for the withdrawal of U.S. military troops from Afghanistan brokered by the Trump administration has him on the defensive in some respects. But to many observers his move to continue the Trump withdrawal is the right one. “A gut decision: Inside Biden’s defense of Afghanistan withdrawal amid warnings of country’s collapse”, CNN Politics, July 2, 2021.
Civil War? Lord Dannatt, a former Chief of the General Staff (UK), says that Afghanistan is facing the prospect of a civil war as Western troops near the completion of their withdrawal from the country. According to Dannatt the UK’s presence has neither been “a total failure” or “the success that we perhaps had in mind”. “Afghanistan Heading for Civil War Following Western Troop Withdrawal”, Forces.net, July 2, 2021.
Bagram Air Field Handed Over to ANDSF. On Friday, July 1, 2021, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan was turned over to the Afghan security forces. Originally built in the 1950s by the Soviet Union, the base was used by the United States from 2001 to 2021 during the long Afghan conflict. According to many news accounts, Bagram was the last US base to be handed over to the Afghan security forces. The only US personnel remaining are at the international airport or at (near) the U.S. embassy. “U.S. hands over control of key airbase to Afghans for first time in 20 years”, UPI, July 2, 2021.
Forgetting to Say “Goodbye”. Apparently when the US troops left Bagram Air Field – it was at night and then didn’t inform the Afghan commander that they were leaving. He found out two hours after the US troops departed. It seems that the electricity for the base went out at the same time. “US left Afghan airfield at night, didn’t tell new commander”, Associated Press, July 4, 2021. In planned, deliberate withdrawal perhaps we could have assisted the Afghans in the best way to utilize Bagram Airfield.
Taliban and Governance. As the Taliban continue to capture more and more territory they have established new laws and regulations. Some appear to be ones that existed during the Taliban regime – including the requirement for men to wear beards, women not leaving home without a male escort, and set dowry regulations for girls. “Taliban issues new ‘laws’ in captured districts”, Ariana News, July 1, 2021.
Foreign Troops for Mozambique. A number of nations have met to come up with solutions to Mozambique’s security problem its northern region. Zimbabwe will soon deploying one of its brigades along with some SOF elements. “5 Brigade Ready for Mozambique Deployment to Combat Insurgents”, Bulawayo 24 News, July 3, 2021.
French Resume Mali Ops. After a military coup in Mali the French suspended operations against jihadist group in the West African country of Mali. France has about 5,100 troops in several countries in the Sahel region including Mali. The French have now resumed operations in Mali at the same time that they are looking to downsize the Barkhane operation. Task Force Takuba, a European special operations TF led by the French, will remain in place. “France resumes joint military operations in Mali”, Aljazeera, July 3, 2021.
PSCs in Africa. Mercenaries, security professionals, and companies are operating in Africa on behalf of governments as well as private corporations. These private security companies are difficult to regulate and are sometimes involved in conflicts as well as are associated with human rights violations. “Why private foreign security companies are booming in Africa”, Deutsche Welle, July 2, 2021. The United Nations has accused Russian ‘instructors’ of killing civilians and looting in the Central African Republic however the Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a denial of the UN claims.
July 11, 2021. Sagamore Beach, Massachusetts
11th Annual Blackbeard’s Motorcycle Ride
Matthew Pucino Memorial Foundation
July 13-16, 2021
Fort Bragg VA Disability Claims and Benefits Seminar
Green Beret Foundation
July 16, 2021. Newport, Kentucky
Riverboating for Berets
Green Beret Foundation
July 29, 2021. Washington, D.C. (Can be viewed online)
Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations Markup
National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2022
Books, Pubs, and Reports
Report – A New Model for Joint Force Design and Integration. The report highlights specific actions for the Department of Defense to consider for mission integration and in modernizing its institutional processes in the face of changing technology and the emerging character of warfare. Advancing Decision-Centric Warfare: Gaining advantage through force design and mission integration, by Bryan Clark, Dan Patt, and Timothy Walton, Hudson Institute, Center for Defense Concepts and Technology, July 2021, PDF, 56 pages. (Editorial note: there is just one brief mention of special operations).
Podcasts, Videos, and Movies
Movie – The Tomorrow War. Movie actor Chris Pratt is the star of a military sci-fi tale as a Special Forces veteran called back into service when aliens attack earth. The attack happens 30 years in the future and Pratt’s hero is drafted to time-travel to fight the aliens. The movie is now available on Amazon Prime. You can watch the movie trailer here. Read more in this review entitled “A Special Forces Veteran Travels to the Future to Confront His Past in ‘The Tomorrow War'”, by James Barber, Military.com, July 2, 2021.
Podcast – Back to the Future: Resetting Special Operations Forces for Great Power Competition. Michele Flournoy and Admiral (Ret.) Eric Thor Olson discuss the role of special operations forces and the shift from CT/COIN to GPC – and where SOF is falling short in the shift to this new focus area. Irregular Warfare Podcast, Modern War Institute at West Point, July 2, 2021.
Podcast – Future of Urban Warfare. John Spencer, the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point and book author, is interviewed about the past, present, and future of urban warfare. 1st Squad, Task & Purpose, July 1, 2021, one hour.
Podcast – Security and Insecurity in the Indo-Pacific. Randall Schriver, the former assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, offers his perspective on U.S. security relations throughout Asia. Horns of a Dilemma, War on the Rocks, July 2, 2021, 35 minutes.
Video – Global Finance and Communications Changes Since the Cold War. A panel discussion featuring BG (Ret) Russ Howard (moderator), Dr. Karla Mastracchio (JSOU), Dave Katz, and Wilson Vorndick explore changes that have taken place since the Cold War in the world of finance and communication. This panel discussion (#3 in series) was part of the Joint Special Operations University’s “Great Power Competition Forum” held in November 2020. Posted on June 30, 2021, 45 minutes.
Video – Rapid ideation: The Coffee Cup Challenge. A Joint Special Operations University Design Facilitation Series provide one of their quick-fire design exercises. This is one of JSOU design techniques when lecturing or presenting to large audiences on the topic of innovation, imagination, creativity, and ideation for complex security challenges. Think JSOU, June 22, 2021, 6 minutes.
Video – Annual Farmer Workout. Members of the 5th Special Forces Group at home and abroad participate in the annual Farmer Workout in memory of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan Farmer. CW2 Farmer was serving in Syria on January 16, 2019 when his team was ambushed by ISIS. Video posted on DVIDS June 30, 2021, two minutes.
Video – SOF Jumps Into Miami Air and Sea Show. Members of the 919th Special Operations Wing, U.S. Army Special Operations Command Black Daggers, U.S. Army Golden Knights and the U.K. Red Devils Parachute Regiment Display Team participate in the Miami Air and Sea Show in Miami Beach, Florida, May 29, 2021. The 919th SOW supported the airshow by providing the jump platform for all three parachute demonstration teams using the C-145A Combat Coyote (U.S. Air Force video by Senior Airman Blake Wiles). May 29, 2021, one minute.
Photo: U.S. Air Force Special Warfare Airmen assigned to the 82nd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron perform static line and military free fall jumps from a KC-130J, flown by Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron-234, (VMGR-234) over Djibouti, June 21, 2021. Special Warfare Airmen maintain jump proficiency to enable rapid personnel recovery, combat search and rescue capabilities, and to rapidly deploy to austere locations to support U.S. and partner forces within the area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Asselta)