DARPA’s ICARUS Program Aims for Vampire Drones

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By Debbie Gregory.

Drones can drop supplies to hidden Special Forces or essential medical kit in warzones, but there’s the risk that their presence may give away the recipient’s location, or that the technology ends up in enemy hands.

To avoid that scenario, the U.S. military now wants to create a futuristic drone, capable of physically vanishing after completing its mission.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) want to answer the logistical and strategic problems involved in trying to bring drones and other supply vehicles back to base during battle or on covert operations.

The aim is to come up with a drone that can drop deliveries to personnel in hard-to-reach regions without it needing clearing away and hiding, which can be time consuming. In some circumstances, operational security mandates that no supply vehicles are to be left behind following a mission, thus creating something of a catch-22 when troops in the field are in dire need of supplies.

DARPA states that currently, those missions require the use of large, parachute-based delivery systems that must be packed-out after receipt of the payload both for operational security and environmental concerns

The program, called Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems, (ICARUS) has a budget of $8 million. The program is hoping to come up with a drone no larger than ten feet in length, with a range of approximately 90 miles, and the ability to drop a package weighing less than three pounds onto a target measuring no more than 33 feet. Darpa says the goal of Icarus is to design, prototype, and demonstrate an autonomous, guided, precision, vanishing air delivery vehicle.

DARPA admits that it sounds like an engineering fantasy, or maybe an episode from Mission Impossible. But while the millennia-old Icarus story ends badly when the protagonist soars on wings of feather and wax, too close to the sun, and then drowns in the ocean as his wings disintegrate, DARPA’s ICARUS aims for a more uplifting ending.

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Lump-sum Military Retirement Benefits: In Whose Best Interest?

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By Debbie Gregory.

Career troops who have served for 20 years will have choice to make under a controversial retirement system approved by Congress. Retirees can opt for the traditional pension checks, or alternatively, they can choose to receive up to half the promised pension benefit in the form of a one-time, lump-sum cash payment.

The Defense Department and many veteran advocates are criticizing the option as a bad deal for military families, tempting troops with quick cash and sacrificing tens of thousands of dollars in future long-term payouts.

But nonetheless, lawmakers have included it in their final 2016 defense authorization bill. They believe such payouts would allow more flexibility for separating troops who are starting a business, paying for college or facing other immediate expenses.

Congress is leaving it up to the Defense Department to determine exactly how that lump-sum cash payment is calculated, which will require Pentagon officials to peg a number to the present value of a promised military retirement pension and its annual cost-of-living increases.

The proposed compensation plan features a 401(k)-style investment into individual troops’ Thrift Savings Plans. This gives all troops who serve at least two years some retirement benefits after they leave military service. Under the current system, t is estimated that only about 17% of troops leave service with any retirement payouts.

Some studies show that enlisted troops are far more eager than officers to take lump-sum payouts. That suggests the Pentagon could consider giving officers a better discount rate simply because academic-style studies show they are more skeptical of the lump-sum options.

The new military retirement system would take effect in 2018. All current troops would have a grandfather clause and a choice to remain under the current system or opt into the new one. Future recruits joining the military in 2018 and beyond would have no choice other than the new system.

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Ending the Stigma of Seeking Mental Health Assistance

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By Debbie Gregory.

The four star general who serves as the head of the U.S. military’s most elite forces doesn’t just talk the talk.

When it comes to ending the stigma of seeking mental health help, Army Gen. Joe Votel, commander of U.S. Special Forces Command, openly admits to using the support programs offered by the military for his own family.

The 35-year veteran of Special Operations is leading by example, saying, “It is absolutely normal and expected that you will ask for help.”

“The injuries that our people deal with aren’t always physical ones,” said Votel. “These are hard-charging people. They suppress stuff and it comes out later, and so we have to have the capability to take care of that.”

Many servicemembers and veterans are reluctant to admit that they need help. They allow the fear of being labeled keep them from seeking help. But with treatment, relief can be attained by identifying the problem and reducing the symptoms that interfere with living a balanced life.

Votel wants to stress especially to those in active duty, that going to a counselor won’t hinder their careers.

“If you hurt yourself doing (physical training) in the morning, you go to the doctor and be taken care of … and it’s the same way if you’re having stress or emotional issues,” Votel said. “We want you to come forward.”

When the number of deaths by suicide outnumber the number of deaths in car accidents, it is important to take action. The military and veteran communities have been hard-hit by this alarming fact.

The Campaign to Change Direction helps identify the signs that indicate someone is at risk. If you don’t already know the signs, I invite you to visit http://www.changedirection.org/know-the-five-signs/ to learn the five signs. You could very well be saving a life. But at the very least, you will expressing your gratitude to those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom by showing them care and compassion.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

VA Spending Called Into Question

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By Debbie Gregory.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, has called into question a pattern of “wanton and abusive spending practices” by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Reminiscent of the government waste that resulted in $640 toilet seats, Miller went to the House floor with poster displays of a rock sculpture and other art installations that account for $6.34 million in recent renovation expenses at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

The massive rock, called “Aggregate,” cost $483,000. In an attempt to convey “a sense of transformation, rebuilding, and self-investigation,” the stone was cut into 50 shifting and static blocks with a laser and then pieced back together.

“Aggregate” is just one example given by Miller, who said the agency’s spending habits continue to be a problem.

“These projects include an art installation on the side of a parking garage that displays quotes by Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt in, wait for it … in Morse code that cost $285,000. It actually lights up,” Miller said.

The bill to raise the VA spending limit on another project, the massively over-budget Denver hospital, which is $625 million in the red, passed easily. Support is more than likely due to the fact that the legislation also authorizes continued spending on other critical VA programs that few lawmakers want to see expire.

The bill also puts the Army Corps of Engineers at the helm of any VA construction projects (estimated at more than $100 million) as a way to avoid the years of mismanagement and shifting plans that plagued the Denver hospital.

Miller, who has put himself in watchdog mode, cited the $33.4 million spent so far this year on conferences for staff. He also referenced a VA leadership conference in Leesburg, VA, some 40 miles from Washington DC, that cost the department $1 million.

The VA has admitted that mistakes were made in the development of the Denver medical center, but insist that the state-of-the-art facility will serve Colorado Veterans well.

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Brigade Boasts Three Medal of Honor Recipients

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By Debbie Gregory.

Army Captain Florent Groberg, formerly of the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, left Afghanistan in 2012 with a mangled left leg that required more than 30 surgeries, and confined him to a hospital bed for three months.

Groberg had been charged with protecting a formation of senior leaders. On August 8, 2012, an insurgent armed with a suicide vest attacked the group. Groberg tackled him and the vest exploded. The Army said his actions saved many lives.

But surviving the attack that day left Groberg feeling a big responsibility to the four men who did not survive: Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Griffin, Air Force Maj. Walter David Gray, Army Maj. Thomas Kennedy and Ragaei Abdelfattah, a USAID foreign-service officer.

“So what do I do now?” Groberg asked himself. “I live my life to the best of my ability for four individuals, who unfortunately did not have the same luck — if you want to call it luck.”

For his heroic actions that day, Groberg will receive the Medal of Honor. He is the third Fort Carson soldier to receive the Army’s highest award.

He joins former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha and former Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, both of whom received the prestigious honor in 2013 for their bravery during a deadly fight in a remote area Afghanistan in 2009.

In 2009, Romesha was assigned to defend Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan. The post was overrun by hundreds of Taliban insurgents on October 3rd. Despite shrapnel in his arm, Romesha coordinated counterattack airstrikes, killed insurgents with a Soviet-era sniper rifle he found on the ground, and made a bold 100-meter dash through a barrage of gunfire to retrieve the bodies of men who were killed. His actions saved Keating and most of its troops. Romesha was discharged from the Army in 2011.

On that same day, Carter also was wounded when fighting broke out at Keating. Like Romesha, despite his injuries, Carter braved enemy fire to rescue a wounded comrade, Spc. Stephan Mace. Carter pulled Mace to safety and dressed his wounds, but unfortunately, Mace succumbed to his injuries.

Following an Army investigation, Combat Outpost Keating was later declared to be “tactically indefensible.”

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