On Patrol

Until every one comes home | The Magazine of the USO

Firefighting Commandos

September 3, 2015, 8:09AM

Air Force commandos practice extinguishing an aircraft fire during an exercise on Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., last month. DoD photo Air Force commandos practice extinguishing an aircraft fire during an exercise on Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., last month. DoD photo

Extraction Demo

September 2, 2015, 8:08AM

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Timothy Hanson demonstrates detainee extraction procedures on U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jamie Fleetwood, on Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, last month. DoD photoMarine Corps Staff Sgt. Timothy Hanson demonstrates detainee extraction procedures on U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jamie Fleetwood, on Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, last month. DoD photo

Fuel Station in the Sky

September 1, 2015, 9:06AM

A U.S. Marine Corps Harrier pilot waits to receive fuel from an Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker over Al Udeid Base in Qatar, Aug. 25, 2015. DoD photo A U.S. Marine Corps Harrier pilot waits to receive fuel from an Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker over Al Udeid Base in Qatar, Aug. 25, 2015. DoD photo

In his limited spare time, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dallan Livingston employs his carpentry skills to improve Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

Livingston serves with the 451st Expeditionary Support Central Command Material Recovery Element as an air transport specialist who loads and unloads aircraft and processes cargo and passengers.

“We deal with anything before it hits the aircraft or after it gets off the aircraft,” said Livingston, a native of Roseville, California. 

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dallan Livingston, 451st Expeditionary Support Squadron Central Command Material Recovery Element air transportation specialist, poses for a photo after building a set of stairs for a defensive fighting position at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, last month. 2015. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joseph SwaffordAir Force Tech. Sgt. Dallan Livingston, 451st Expeditionary Support Squadron Central Command Material Recovery Element air transportation specialist, poses for a photo after building a set of stairs for a defensive fighting position at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, last month. 2015. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joseph SwaffordAs that part of his job has slowed recently, he uses his off-duty time to better the base by building much needed projects. 

“I’ve built six sets of stairs for defensive fighting positions around base. A lot of them were just old ladders and rickety structures that were not safe,” Livingston said. “Now with the new structures they can go up and down safely with their weapons and gear and it’s no longer a safety issue.”

Livingston is an Air Force reservist assigned to the 45th Aerial Port Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California. Having a full time job outside of his military career allowed him to take up a hobby and learn carpentry skills, which he has used while deployed.

“Woodworking is a big hobby of mine,” Livingston said. “I’ve spent a lot of my spare time doing wood-working and learning how to do it on my own. I did a couple of projects here and the word spread and I started getting more taskings after I got more of a reputation.”

Livingston’s carpentry skills are not only good for the base but are also a stress reliever.

“I have a lot of fun and it’s a great opportunity to do some problem solving and think outside of the box,” Livingston said. “I’ve gotten a lot of good response and feedback so far. It’s good in two parts; it de-stresses me and it also helps the base.”

Cooperation Afloat

August 31, 2015, 11:02AM

U.S. sailors and members of the Thai navy's riverine patrol regiment train on a special operations craft during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Thailand 2015 in Sattahip, Thailand, Aug. 27. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Scott U.S. sailors and members of the Thai navy's riverine patrol regiment train on a special operations craft during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Thailand 2015 in Sattahip, Thailand, Aug. 27. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Scott

Forecasters said the hurricane would be bad, but no one expected a Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, causing initial destruction from Texas to Florida. It wreaked such damage over such a large area that it changed the way the U.S. government responds to disasters.

According to the National Hurricane Center Katrina, was directly responsible for around 1,200 deaths, making it the third deadliest hurricane in American history. It caused $108 billion in property damage, making it the costliest hurricane to strike the U.S.

DoD personnel were in the middle of rescue and recovery efforts for weeks and months after the storm hit. More than 60,000 members of the U.S. military forces were on the ground, first saving, then sustaining lives.

An Enormous Effort

It was an enormous effort with 18,000 active-duty service members joining 43,000 National Guardsmen focused on Katrina relief operations.

And they were needed. When Katrina hit, it caused a storm surge that inundated whole coastlines, according to National Hurricane Center Service measurements. The storm had sustained winds of more than 120 mph. Portions of Louisiana and Mississippi received 15 inches of rain.

Katrina knocked out power and the communications grid crashed. Bridges, underpasses and roads were all closed. Flooding forced relief personnel to detour for miles.

This August 25, 2005, satellite image shows inbound Hurricane Katrina. The storm moved slowly, enabling heavy rains to linger longer over one area, according to the National Hurricane Center. Courtesy photoThis August 25, 2005, satellite image shows inbound Hurricane Katrina. The storm moved slowly, enabling heavy rains to linger longer over one area, according to the National Hurricane Center. Courtesy photo

Huge Storm

The size of the storm caused its own set of problems. The storm surge in Mobile Bay—fully 70 miles east of where Katrina hit land—was still between 12 and 16 feet. Hurricane-force winds lashed the Florida Panhandle.

Typically, hurricanes lose force after making landfall. Not Katrina. Tornadoes and rain lashed inland areas up into Georgia. Hurricane Katrina affected over 93,000 square miles of the United States, an area almost as large as Great Britain and left an estimated five million people without power, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Levees protecting the city of New Orleans weren’t high enough with the storm surge overtopping some of the protective berms, and breaching others. At a U.S. Senate hearing after the storm, Army Corps of Engineers officials said there were 55 breaches in the levee system protecting the city.

New Orleans Underwater

New Orleans officials estimated that 80 percent of the population evacuated, but that still left between 50,000 and 60,000 people who were hunkering down in their homes or in “last-chance” shelters like the Superdome. The levee failures flooded about 80 percent of the city. Some 26,000 people who had taken refuge in the Superdome were surrounded by water.

The city also sustained wind damage. The Hyatt Hotel in downtown New Orleans had almost every window blown out on the north side of the building.

The Mississippi coast was devastated. Pass Christian, a pretty town along the Gulf Coast, disappeared. The storm surge and winds scoured the town leaving nothing but concrete slabs where brick homes once stood. The surge picked up whole section of a bridge that carried Route 90 and deposited the huge concrete structure 200 to 300 meters inland. Strangely, the other two lanes of the bridge remained in place. More than 80 percent of the structures in Pass Christian were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, according to local officials who had set up a headquarters in a relatively unscathed gas station.

In Biloxi, the surge picked up freight train cars full of chicken and the winds broke them apart. For weeks, the smell was something to behold.

Seabees based in Gulfport, Mississippi, began work with their base essentially underwater.

An Army National Guard air crewman directs Hurricane Katrina victims as they exit the back of an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter during relief efforts in New Orleans on September 3, 2005. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Robert McRill An Army National Guard air crewman directs Hurricane Katrina victims as they exit the back of an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter during relief efforts in New Orleans on September 3, 2005. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Robert McRill

Rescue Efforts Commence

U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard personnel moved in as soon as conditions allowed. Coast Guardsmen were the first on the scene with any kind of organization. Coast Guard helicopters skittered across the city rescuing people from rooftops and flooded streets and providing the eyes for those following in their wake. The Coast Guard helicopters were soon followed by Coast Guard vessels. The airport in Mobile became the world’s largest Coast Guard base with choppers from around the service flying missions. Overall, Coast Guard personnel rescued 33,544 people during Katrina operations, according to their records. For its response, the Coast Guard received the Presidential Unit Citation.

National Guardsmen tried to move into the city even as the winds were blowing and the rain was falling. Fallen trees and flooded roads stalled their progress, said Guardsmen. Many of the Guardsmen had lost their homes, yet they were heading out to help others.

Multi-Service Effort

National Guard forces entering the city conducted humanitarian, search-and-rescue, evacuation and security missions, officials reported. While Coast Guard, Air Force and Army helicopters sought out those trapped in attics or roofs, National Guardsmen and police conducted house-to-house searches. The doors marked with an X and information written or painted in the various quadrants explained who searched the house, what was found and when the search was conducted. The Xs became a familiar sign.

The Guardsmen were soon joined by active-duty soldiers and Marines.

Navy and Coast Guard vessels sailed up the Mississippi River to lend the help their crews and facilities could provide. In time, 28 ships—21 Navy and seven Coast Guard—were stationed in the affected region.

Coordinating the DoD effort was Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, who commanded Joint Task Force Katrina. Honore, a Louisiana native, became a legend for his gruff, no nonsense approach. “He got things done,” then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said of Honore.

Getting Back to Normal

The Army Corps of Engineers set about mending the breached levees and fixing the pumping stations that usually kept the below-sea-level city dry. It was October before the floodwaters were pumped out.

There are still signs of Katrina in New Orleans and along the coast. Then-President George W. Bush said recovery would take years, and he was right. A decade on, the area is still rebuilding. New, deeper levees were built, new water control apparatus erected. Some areas were elevated, while others were cleared. It remains a work in progress.

The loss of life and the damage from Katrina was so severe, that the National Weather Service officially retired Katrina from the Atlantic hurricane naming list. 

Hot Topics for August 28

August 28, 2015, 11:58AM

The long fight over an Iraq oil town whose importance is now debatable (Washington Post)

Connecticut ended chronic homelessness among veterans (Associated Press)

Lockheed Skunk Works designing next-gen U-2 spy plane (Flightglobal)

Silicon Valley Wary as Pentagon Chief to Court Innovators (Bloomberg) 

Putting On A Show

August 28, 2015, 8:20AM

Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Roy Vanek interacts with visitors and a staff member at the Kansas City Sea Life Aquarium during Kansas City Navy Week in Kansas City, Mo. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Gold Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Roy Vanek interacts with visitors and a staff member at the Kansas City Sea Life Aquarium during Kansas City Navy Week in Kansas City, Mo. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Gold

Lithuania Lift

August 27, 2015, 8:18AM

U.S. Army UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters airlift vehicles during exercise Uhlan Fury at the General Silvestras Zlikaliskas Training Area in Pabrade, Lithuania. Army photo U.S. Army UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters airlift vehicles during exercise Uhlan Fury at the General Silvestras Zlikaliskas Training Area in Pabrade, Lithuania. Army photo

The First

August 26, 2015, 8:15AM

Army 1st Lt. Elyse Ping Medvigy conducts a call-for-fire during an artillery shoot south of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 22. Medvigy is the first female company fire support officer to serve in an infantry brigade combat team supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston Army 1st Lt. Elyse Ping Medvigy conducts a call-for-fire during an artillery shoot south of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 22. Medvigy is the first female company fire support officer to serve in an infantry brigade combat team supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston

Declan Alexander, 6, was recently honored as a Swamp Fox Pilot for a Day by the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, receiving a hero's welcome from the moment he arrived.

Declan and his father Brian Alexander were guests of the South Carolina Air National Guard Aug. 15, as part of the Pilot for a Day program, which allows children with disadvantages or debilitating illnesses to experience the life of a fighter pilot.

"Pilot for a Day allows us to reach out to the community, make community bonds and make a difference in someone's life," said 1st Lt. Cody May, a fighter pilot assigned to the 157th Fighter Squadron and Declan's host for the day.

The tour, led by May, began with Declan receiving a custom pilot’s flight suit from the aircrew flight equipment shop. He was later escorted to the end of the runway to watch F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft land and was greeted with thumbs-up and well wishes from the airmen he met on base.

Declan Alexander spent the day with U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Cody "Rail" May, a fighter pilot with the 157th Fighter Squadron, and watched F-16 fighter jets land, toured aircrew flight equipment, sat in the cockpit of an F-16, and took a ride in a fire truck. S.C. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Ashleigh PavelekDeclan Alexander spent the day with U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Cody "Rail" May, a fighter pilot with the 157th Fighter Squadron, and watched F-16 fighter jets land, toured aircrew flight equipment, sat in the cockpit of an F-16, and took a ride in a fire truck. S.C. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Ashleigh Pavelek

Lifetime Memories

"It is hard to express how cool it is to have everyone take time out of their day to set all this up and show us around and create lasting memories," Brian Alexander said. "It really is an amazing experience. There really are not words to express how much of a big deal this is for him and for us."

Declan displayed a big smile while sitting in the cockpit of an F-16 bearing his name on the side. He also enjoyed spraying the water cannon from McEntire's largest fire truck while touring the fire department, Brian Alexander said.

"Getting to ride in a fire truck and getting to sit in a fighter jet are two things you don't ever get to do," he said. "Those were definitely a ton of fun and put a smile on his face."

The Pilot for a Day program helps a child and the child's family to gain a memory of a lifetime, and is just as important to the Swamp Fox family who welcomed the young hero.

May said the most important part of the Pilot for a Day program is it has the ability to take a family's mind off of an illness by allowing them to experience something that very few people will ever get to experience.

"I really enjoyed being able to make a difference in someone's life," he added.

The 169th Fighter Wing has supported the Pilot for a Day program for nearly two decades.

Prepared for Takeoff

August 21, 2015, 8:49AM

Navy Lts. Zachary Holbus, foreground, and Keith Ferrell launch an E-2C Hawkeye aircraft from the flight deck of the USS George Washington. DoD photo Navy Lts. Zachary Holbus, foreground, and Keith Ferrell launch an E-2C Hawkeye aircraft from the flight deck of the USS George Washington. DoD photo

Boating Enthusiasts

August 20, 2015, 9:00AM

Paratroopers carry a Zodiac boat to prepare to train for waterborne operations at Mott Lake on Fort Bragg, N.C. DoD photoParatroopers carry a Zodiac boat to prepare to train for waterborne operations at Mott Lake on Fort Bragg, N.C. DoD photo

Low clouds clung to the peaks of Unalaska on Aug. 9, as two tugboats eased the massive red hull of Coast Guard Cutter Healy out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska for an historic mission to the Arctic. Loaded heavy with stores, supplies, scientific equipment, and 145 souls, Healy headed north into the steel-gray waters of the Bering Sea.

Healy is supporting Geotraces, an international scientific mission seven years in the making, to create a baseline for the health of the world’s oceans. This summer’s mission will be part of the first Geotraces expedition to the Arctic Ocean.

It is the goal of the expedition to gather seawater, sediment, ice, and air samples at pre-determined stations reaching to the North Pole, making this journey particularly unique.

“This will be the first time in several years that we have operated in the highest regions of the Arctic,” said Capt. Jason Hamilton, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Healy. “In fact, an unaccompanied U.S. surface vessel has never reached the North Pole.”

Coast Guard Cutter Healy cruises under cloudy skies in the Bering Sea on Aug. 12. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall. Coast Guard Cutter Healy cruises under cloudy skies in the Bering Sea on Aug. 12. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

In addition to Healy’s permanent Coast Guard crew, a 50-member, interdisciplinary team of scientists are onboard working together to meet the expedition’s many scientific objectives by pooling their knowledge of chemical, biological, and physical oceanography.

Healy is well-suited to such expeditions, seamlessly filling dual roles both as a military cutter, capable of icebreaking, law enforcement, and search and rescue, and that of a research vessel, with scientist berthing, extensive lab spaces, and multiple oceanographic winches.

At 420 feet long and 82 feet wide, Healy is the Coast Guard’s largest cutter. Onboard you’ll find an impressive galley, large medical facility, science lounge, ship’s store, a library, and crews’ lounges, which all prove handy for a group who will be underway continuously for 65 days. Morale events are on-going for both the Coast Guard crew and science party, including trivia nights, movie marathons, and talent shows. Physical fitness classes and an oceanography course are also available to the crew.

As Healy heads further north to gather scientific samples, sea ice will become a constant companion. Ice in the northern latitudes greatly limits the reach of most research vessels. When scientists need to reach the furthest points in the Arctic, they board Healy.

“First and foremost, we are the Unites States’ premiere, high-latitude research vessel,” said Hamilton. “We are a 16,000-ton, 30,000-horsepower icebreaker that is capable of breaking four and a half feet of ice at three knots and over 10 feet of ice when we back and ram. This enables us to provide access throughout the Arctic.”

As Healy’s passageways are bustling with crew members conducting rounds and scientists carrying samples to and from labs, the ship feels alive as we transit the Bering Sea. Each person dutifully does their part to move the expedition forward, never forgetting the significance of accessing and studying an increasingly-important Arctic region.

“The U.S. is an Arctic nation,” said Hamilton. “The Coast Guard has provided presence and access to the Arctic region since the 1860s – the time of Capt. Mike Healy. This ship, which carries his name, continues that proud tradition. This summer we will demonstrate how we continue to provide access to the furthest regions of the globe.”

Supporting Saipan

August 19, 2015, 11:42AM

Marines distribute water to civilians as part of typhoon relief efforts in Saipan last week. DoD PhotoMarines distribute water to civilians as part of typhoon relief efforts in Saipan last week. DoD Photo