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AFRL scientist scales highest peak in South America for research

Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 6:10 AM


            Air Force Research Laboratory researcher Kevin D. Schmidt unfurls an AFRL flag on Mount Aconcagua in South America. CONTRIBUTED
Air Force Research Laboratory researcher Kevin D. Schmidt unfurls an AFRL flag on Mount Aconcagua in South America. CONTRIBUTED

“Horrifically fast winds” ripped open the small tent Kevin D. Schmidt barricaded himself in on a trek to reach the top of the highest mountain in South America that spans the border of Chile and Argentina.

Without shelter, Schmidt said he took refuge with a stranger in another tent to continue the climb with a team on the mountainside.

Schmidt, 28, a research engineering psychologist at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, was thousands of feet up on a climb of Mount Aconcagua to learn more about the effects of hypoxia, or lack of oxygen at high altitudes, on humans’ ability to think and perform.

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The winds “were pretty hostile,” Schmidt said in a recent telephone interview from Santiago, Chile. “We met a lot of other people on the mountain and we were all climbing together and my tent wasn’t the only one to rip open. It’s pretty crazy.

“I had to rely on other people on the mountain,” he added. “Actually, it was an incredible show of humanity. … You just instantly have this bond when you’re in hostile environments that everyone is just trying to get through it together.”

The summit to Mount Aconcagua, at about 22,800 feet, is the highest point in the Western Hemisphere. He made it to just under 20,000 feet when the decision was made to return to base camp because the dangerous winds persisted on the final day of the ascent.

“The biggest thing that I learned about this mountaineering stuff is the mountain lets you summit,” he said. “You can’t plan everything. I usually like to have everything spelled out and no matter how much training we do … how much working out we do, how much our bodies are ready for this, you’re always at the will of the mountain.

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“You learn that quickly when 80 mile-an-hour winds or whatever rips your tent apart and you’re stuck there without shelter,” the Ohio native added. “That was the big take home for me.”

The research, which was not sponsored by AFRL, was to determine how to better train for high-altitude environments and how the mind and body are affected in low oxygen environments. He was on the mountain for nine days last month, and was scheduled this week to climb the Cascade Mountains in Washington state for more research.

“You can feasibly see situations in a cockpit where having better performance in these low oxygen environments might really be lifesaving,” Schmidt said.

He used AFRL-developed technology to make the trek in South America, he said. The gear included BATDOK (Battlefield Airmen Trauma Distributed Observation Kit), which transmits vital data on how the body is performing to a wearable or a small wireless computer; GPS smart watches from an exercise and physiology lab called Signature Tracking for Optimal Nutrition and Training; and a battery of cognitive tests from the Biophysiology of Stress Laboratory. The facilties are within AFRL.

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Schmidt, who planted an AFRL flag when he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, prepared for this latest ascent spending three-hour sessions on a Stairmaster with 70-pound backpacks, running and bike rides, according to AFRL.

The Air Force researcher and Wright State University graduate started a five-year program this fall to earn a doctoral degree to study brain behavior and cognition in the psychology department at Northwestern University near Chicago. He’s enrolled in a Department of Defense program called Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART).

Through SMART, he also earned a master’s degree in a neuroscience program at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

“I’m in school to develop my skills so once I graduate I can start doing formal work for the Air Force again trying to develop these technologies for the Air Force,” he said.

First exercise of new year set at Wright Patt

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 11:51 AM


            Wright-Patterson Air Force Base CONTRIBUTED
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base CONTRIBUTED

Wright-Patterson will launch its first base-wide exercise of 2018 between Jan. 29 to Feb.5, authorities say.

RELATED: Will a shutdown happen? Wright-Patt in holding pattern

Base personnel and visitors may be delayed getting through or out of gateways at times during the security exercise, officials said.

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Communities outside the base may see more emergency vehicles and hear sirens or base-wide announcements during the exercise, officials said.

Fears grow as shutdown deadline nears

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 5:00 AM


            This Jan. 3, 2018, file photo shows the Capitol in Washington. The government is financed through Friday, Jan. 19, and another temporary spending bill is needed to prevent a partial government shutdown after that. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
            J. Scott Applewhite
This Jan. 3, 2018, file photo shows the Capitol in Washington. The government is financed through Friday, Jan. 19, and another temporary spending bill is needed to prevent a partial government shutdown after that. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)(J. Scott Applewhite)

President Donald Trump and Congress appear to be careening toward a partial shutdown of the federal government, though lawmakers expressed some hope Tuesday they can at least approve a temporary spending bill that would keep the government running beyond the Friday deadline.

It’s far from a sure bet, though, and there are growing fears the government will partly close for the first time since a two-week shutdown in 2013. Thousands of civilian employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force were furloughed during those two weeks as the federal installation went into partial shutdown mode.

Wright-Patterson is the largest single-site employer in Ohio with more than 27,000 employees — the vast majority of whom are civilians — and touts a regional economic impact greater than $4 billion.

RELATED: Temporary funding prevents shutdown but hurts military, officials say

Michael Gessel, vice president of the Dayton Development Coalition, said “it is increasingly difficult to predict what Congress will do and the predictions change almost on an hour-by-hour basis. There is similarly a very high level of uncertainty and we will not really know until the next few days what the chances are.”

“I know it grows tiresome to hear, but yes, the bickering and intransigence between the parties appears to be growing and making legislation more difficult,” Gessel added.

Prior to 2013, the most recent government shutdown was during a three-week period in 1995 and 1996.

Major fallout

The fallout from any shutdown damages national security, wastes money, and impacts employee morale, Gessel said.

Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, predicted Congress will approve another temporary spending bill.

But in an e-mail Tuesday, he warned that a “shutdown remains a real possibility,” adding that “Congress will eventually get to a budget deal, but it may take a few more weeks or months.”

RELATED: Lack of defense budget raising concerns at Wright-Patterson

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions, would close until a funding deal is reached, a spokesman has said.

Divided Congress

The two parties are squabbling over whether to increase defense spending, find money to build a wall or increase security along the Mexican border as demanded by Trump, and an insistence by Democrats that any spending measure provide legal guarantees for the children of undocumented immigrants, a program known as the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or DACA.

While there appears little appetite in the Senate to shut down the government, the House is deeply divided. With Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid shielded from potential reductions through a 2013 law aimed at controlling spending, lawmakers are arguing about how to spend roughly $1.1 trillion in what is known as discretionary spending — money Congress needs to appropriate every year.

A number of Republicans such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Rep. Mike Turner of Dayton are demanding more than the $549 billion for defense than is permitted under 2018 federal spending year guidelines. In return, Democrats want to spend more on domestic programs than the $516 billion allowed in 2018.

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In a conference call with Ohio reporters Tuesday, Portman said in a private meeting last week with Senate Republicans, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis “painted a pretty dismal picture about our preparedness.”

“We do have a situation right now with more and more responsibilities overseas,” Portman said. “We have to have additional defense spending.”

Portman said he has talked to people at Wright-Patt who are concerned about a shutdown. “I think it is really important to figure out to move forward without a government shutdown,” he said.

No relationship building

Looming in the background is the concern about the impact a shutdown could have on this year’s congressional elections. With Trump’s popularity remaining around 40 percent in most polls, GOP analysts already fear they could lose the Senate and House in November.

Daniel R. Birdsong, a University of Dayton political science lecturer, predicted a shutdown is unlikely “because of the political question of who gets blamed for this.”

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But Wright State University economics professor Evan Osborne said a shutdown is likely because he doesn’t expect Trump to budge on the “single most important” issue to his base: illegal immigration.

“He ran on ‘build the wall’” and curbing illegal immigration, Osborne said. “I don’t really see him giving on that.”

Adding to the unpredictability is the combativeness between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of relationship building between the Congress and the White House on big ticket items like immigration and tax reform,” Birdsong said.

In a sign that both parties are prepared to blame the other, Blaine Kelly, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, took direct aim at Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, saying Brown “would be wise not to hold military funding hostage, but instead support a common sense compromise to keep the government open.”

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For his part Brown, who is seeking re-election to a third term in November, said “there is no reason for a government shutdown. Congress needs to come together and do its job.”

‘We follow a very deliberative process’

Military leaders — including at Wright-Patterson — tend to decry temporary spending measures. They say they lower combat readiness, prevent the start of new programs, cap spending at last year’s levels and don’t eliminate reductions under the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer said the base has not received guidelines on who would be exempt from a furlough.

“We follow a very deliberative process and guidelines to determine what services, if any, would be suspended during any government shutdown,” he wrote in an email.

The last time the base shut down, active-duty military personnel stayed on the job.

Among civilians, exemptions were made for personnel involved with the protection of life or property, such as police, fire, medical services and airfield operations.

Will a shutdown happen? Wright Patt in holding pattern

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 3:41 PM


            Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employs more than 27,000 employees and is the largest single-site employer in Ohio. The base has a $4.1 billion economic impact in Ohio. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employs more than 27,000 employees and is the largest single-site employer in Ohio. The base has a $4.1 billion economic impact in Ohio. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

In a familiar and more frequent holding pattern in recent months and years, thousands of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employees await word on whether the federal government will avert the latest shutdown threat on Friday.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans appear further at odds now than perhaps anytime since September. Since then, Congress passed stopgap spending measures three times because it could not reach agreement on a long-term budget deal.

The most recent partial federal government shutdown was in 2013, causing thousands of Wright-Patterson civilian employees to be furloughed.

Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs, said Tuesday he couldn’t guess what will happen on Friday.

“It is increasingly difficult to predict what Congress will do and the predictions change almost on an hour-by-hour basis,” he said. “There is similarly a very high level of uncertainty and we will not really know until the next few days what the chances are.

“I know it grows tiresome to hear, but yes, the bickering and intransigence between the parties appears to be growing and making legislation more difficult,” he said.

RELATED: Temporary funding prevents shutdown, hurts military, officials say

Big impact

The fallout from the lack of a fully funded defense budget damages national security, wastes money, and impacts government operations and employee morale, Gessel said.

Military leaders — including at Wright-Patterson — have decried temporary stopgap funding measures. They say they lower combat readiness, prevent the start of new programs, cap spending at the previous year’s levels and don’t eliminate reductions under the Budget Control Act of 2011, among the consequences.

Congress has authorized a $700 billion defense bill for the 2018 fiscal year that began Oct. 1, but has not yet passed legislation to fund it.

Wright-Patterson is the largest single-site employer in Ohio with more than 27,000 employees — the vast majority of whom are civilians — and touts a regional economic impact greater than $4 billion.

RELATED: Lack of defense budget raising concerns at Wright-Patterson

Two observers said they expect a fourth continuing resolution by Friday to keep the doors open.

This one will likely last into February or later, said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“But a shutdown remains a real possibility,” he said in an email Tuesday. “Congress will eventually get to a budget deal, but it may take a few more weeks or months.”

Daniel R. Birdsong, a University of Dayton political science lecturer and a Washington observer, expects Congress to roll out a fourth short-term spending measure.

“I think (a shutdown is) unlikely because of the political question of who gets blamed for this,” Birdsong said in an interview.

RELATED: Ohio fighter jet unit heads to Baltic region

‘More combative’

Looming large in the budget battle are spats over immigration, funding for a southern border wall with Mexico, the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — which protected the young from deportation if they arrived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant — and even the alleged remarks made by President Donald Trump about Haiti and countries in Africa.

“It certainly seems to be more combative and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of relationship building between the Congress and the White House on big ticket items like immigration and tax reform,” Birdsong said in an interview.

Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer said Tuesday the sprawling base has not received guidelines on who would be exempt from a furlough.

“We follow a very deliberative process and guidelines to determine what services, if any, would be suspended during any government shutdown,” he wrote in an email.

The last time the base shut down, active-duty military personnel stayed on the job.

Among civilians, exemptions were made for personnel involved with the protection of life or property, such as police, fire, medical services and airfield operations.

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions, would close until a funding deal is reached, a spokesman has said.

Ohio fighter jet unit heads to Baltic region

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 9:42 AM


            F-16 crews from the Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing flew training missions out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in August 2013 as their home runway at Toledo Express Airport was repaved. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF FILE PHOTO
F-16 crews from the Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing flew training missions out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in August 2013 as their home runway at Toledo Express Airport was repaved. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF FILE PHOTO

Ohio’s only fighter jet wing has sent 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons to Europe as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, officials said.

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The Toledo-based 180th Fighter wing deployed the fighter jets and 250 Ohio Air National Guardsmen to Amari Air Base, Estonia, in the Baltic region. The mission will last about three months, according to Staff Sgt. Shane Hughes, a unit spokesman.

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The wing will train with NATO, regional countries, and other National Guard units, officials said.

Several F-16s remain at the Toledo base to fly training exercises and air defense intercept missions, Hughes said.