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Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 2:20 PM
The Air Force Thunderbirds have a new leader after the prior commander was fired from the high-profile post.
Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, a Long Island, N.Y., native who served as the team’s operations officer this year, will take over as commander of the team that flies six F-16 Fighting Falcons in aerial formations at air shows and events around the country.
Walsh replaces Lt. Col. Jason Heard, who was removed last month after Heard led “a highly successful show season,” but his commanding officer “lost confidence in his leadership and risk management style,” an Air Force statement said.
An Air Force spokeswoman said in a Nov. 30 email Heard continued to serve in a “non-supervisory position” with the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The Thunderbirds are based there.
The Air Force did not elaborate on specifics behind the firing, but an Air Force spokesman on Wednesday said in an email the incident was “unrelated” to a Thunderbird jet mishap in June in Dayton.
On June 23, a two-seat F-16D fighter jet slid off a wet runway in a rainstorm and flipped into a grassy area at the Dayton International Airport, injuring Capt. Erik Gonsalves, the No. 8 Thunderbird pilot and team narrator. A team member who was a passenger in the two-seat F-16D was not injured. The jet was on a single aircraft “familiarization flight.”
Gonsalves spent several days at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton and was later transferred to another medical facility for ongoing treatment. He rejoined the team based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, as narrator later in the season.
After the incident, the team canceled weekend appearances at the Vectren Dayton Air Show.
In an accident investigation report released in November, the Air Force said excessive speed and landing too far down the runway contributed to the mishap that destroyed the $29 million fighter plane.
Walsh, a former F-16 weapons tactics instructor, has served with the Thunderbirds for two years. Along with leading the team’s aerial demonstration flights, he will be in charge of the management of 140 team members.
The aviator has more than 2,600 flying hours in the cockpit, the Air Force said.
Published: Tuesday, January 09, 2018 @ 5:10 AM
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Fewer people trekked to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for the third consecutive calendar year, despite a surge of visitors the first year after a $40.8 million expansion opened in June 2016, figures show.
The museum reported 829,424 patrons in 2017, a 2.45 percent drop from the prior year. In 2016, 850,720 people came to the world’s largest military aviation museum and in 2015 attendance reached 859,780.
Figures include estimates for attendees at outdoor events.
Variables such as weather, gas prices and funding for school trips may impact year-over-year attendance, said museum director John “Jack” Hudson.
“I think that’s within the band of fluctuation that you might see based on these factors that we know exist,” he said, noting in the first year between June 2016 and May 2017 after the new expansion opened attendance “grew significantly” and the number of students experiencing educational activities has hit record levels.
Declining numbers of patron visits to the museum for the third calendar year drew initial concern from Tony Sculimbrene, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance.
“Any decline in attendance is something we worry about,” he said. “We want numbers to grow. We don’t want numbers to decline.”
Officials are betting the opening a new B-17 “Memphis Belle” exhibit and three-days filled with activities in May will bring in thousands of people in 2018.
“I don’t know if this is the largest exhibit we’ve ever had, but if not, it’s right up there,” Hudson said. “This is a big, big deal.”
Sculimbrene expected a “good bounce” in attendance. “We’re going to get a bunch of people coming to Dayton because of that … but you can’t just stop with a single event or new building,” he said.
In recent years, attendance reached 1,146,087 in 2014, driven by large events, such as the now cancelled Freedom’s Call Tattoo. The gathering of music, fireworks and flyovers brought in tens of thousands of visitors for a one-day outdoor celebration.
Officials also noted starting in July 2015 the museum changed the way it counts visitors with the installation of a more precise counting method of people passing through the security check-in point. It also closed one entrance to the main atrium and stopped counting staff and volunteers.
Total number of events at the museum dropped between 2016 when it recorded 769 events, and 2017 which marked 617.
RELATED: X-15 moves into new hangar at museum
Getting the word out
In recent years, organizations that support the Air Force museum have made more of an effort to advertise and market the largest free attraction in Ohio, Sculimbrene said.
“What everybody recognizes more so than what I’ve ever seen before is you can’t just rely on people showing up at the front door of the museum,” he said. “Three years ago, I don’t think that awareness was there.”
The Tourism Ohio brand and Dayton area convention and tourism bureaus highlight the museum in advertising across the state.
“The museum is an asset that appeals to a multigenerational audience and embodies the Ohio. Find It Here. brand,” Tourism Ohio spokeswoman Tamara Brown said in an email, adding it was in featured in a state tourism commercial
“It’s a world-class, one-of-a-kind museum that draws hundreds of thousands of people every year which brings a lot of new faces into the community,” said Jacquelyn Y. Powell, president and CEO of the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau. “They’re coming here spending money on hotel rooms and dining in our restaurants.”
The museum has a yearly economic impact of about $40 million, according to previous estimates.
Museums also face more competition in the digital age.
“As we’ve seen the digital age grow, demands on people’s time has grown,” said Johnna McEntee, executive director of the Ohio Museums Association. “There are more demands on people’s time and they don’t have as much time to wander museum halls as they used to.”
To counter this, museums have engaged in more online programming and community outreach, she said.
In the year immediately after the Air Force museum expansion opened, Hudson noted attendance grew by double digit margins: 19.4 percent between June 2016 and December 2016 and 33 percent between January 2017 and May 2017.
The hangar is home to iconic aircraft such as President John F. Kennedy’s Air Force One; the X-15 rocket plane that flew nearly seven times the speed of sound; and the C-141 “Hanoi Taxi” that flew the first U.S POWs home from Vietnam.
Officials expect thousands to converge on the museum grounds May 17-19 to unveil the restored B-17 Flying Fortress “Memphis Belle,” which will anchor a new and large strategic bombing exhibit in the World War II gallery.
The museum has received indicators many will delay a visit until the unveiling of the Memphis Belle in May, museum spokesman Rob Bardua said in an email.
The World War II Flying Fortress bomber was the first to complete 25 missions over war-ravaged skies of Europe and return to the United States.
Air Force Museum Foundation Chairman Philip L. Soucy said the drop-in attendance was a concern but, like Sculimbrene, he said was not overly worried about the museum’s future.
“It’s definitely something we need to keep watch on,” Soucy said. “We’d like to see over a million visitors a year.”
While the number of patrons have dropped, sales at the museum’s gift shop, bookstore, ride simulators, food service and a movie theater were at or near an all-time high, he said.
“Our sales are increasing in spite of the fact we’ve had less folks coming to the museum,” he said.
Air Force Museum Foundation spokesman Chuck Edmonson said in an email final sales figures will not be available until later this year.
The foundation manages the businesses inside the museum. Proceeds have been used to pay for building expansions and some marketing promotions and activities, such as the Living History and Hollywood Film Series and magazine and digital advertisements.
In 2017, for example, the foundation and museum spent $116,000 on marketing activities and promotions, according to the museum.
The foundation led the fund-raising drive for the privately funded $40.8 million expansion in June 2016.
While the number of on-site visitors has dropped slightly, more people follow the museum on social media than prior years, Hudson noted.
For example, the number of Facebook followers jumped to 255,507 in 2017 compared to 235,337 in 2016 and 176,519 in 2015.
On Twitter, followers reached 40,300 in 2017, up from 30,895 in 2016 and 10,750 in 2015, figures show.
Impressions or reach of social media posts climbed to 22.5 million on Facebook versus 17.1 million the prior year. Twitter impressions were recorded at 1.8 million last year versus more than 1.9 million in 2016.
Figures for 2015 were not recorded.
Among actual visits, 41 percent of patrons are from Ohio; 18 percent from bordering states; 31 percent from other states; and 5 percent from foreign countries, according to museum surveys. Five percent were unknown.
The typical visitor is 41 years old and male. More than two thirds of visitors never served in the military and 38 percent are first time visitors, according to museum surveys.
Tourism spending in Ohio reached about $43 billion in 2016, a $1 billion rise over the prior year, according to TourismOhio. The industry 427,000 jobs in the Buckeye State in 2016, a gain of about 7,000 jobs since 2015.
Air Force museum visitors
Here’s a snapshot of the number of visitors to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for the past decade.
Starting in July 2015, the museum changed the way it counts visitors with the installation of a more precise counting method of people passing through the security check-in point. It also closed one entrance to the main atrium, officials said.
2017 - 829,424
2016 - 850,270
2015 - 859,780
2014 - 1,146,087
2013 - 974,044
2012 - 1,232,307
2011 - 1,192,119
2010 - 1,318,715
2009 - 1,277,364
2008 - 1,107,283
2007 - 1,154,096
SOURCE: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 6:10 AM
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
Published: Sunday, December 24, 2017 @ 9:00 AM
Nancy J. Webb remembers Christmas Day a year ago didn’t go well at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
The sprawling base was subject to rocket attacks, one of many that happened before and after that day.
This was a holiday, but no break from a reminder where she and her fellow troops were at in wartime.
“Really it’s ‘Here we go again and I hope nobody gets hurt,’” said Webb, a senior master sergeant in the Air Force. “You know where you are, you know the possibility and the threat that’s in a location like that. Not the first time we had it; certainly not the last.”
Webb, who returned to the Miami Valley from her latest deployment, is the superintendent of the command center at Air Force Materiel Command headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Like hundreds of thousands of service members, she has spent the holidays apart from her immediate family numerous times, often so other airmen can go home. She has deployed 10 times, serving in Iraq and elsewhere around the globe, from Japan to Germany.
Last year, more than 190,000 service members were deployed overseas, according to the Pew Research Center analysis of Pentagon data. Thousands served in combat zones in places like Afghanistan and Syria.
Just six weeks before Christmas last year, a suicidal attacker detonated an explosive vest at Bagram, she said, and troops were still recovering from the shock. The attack killed four Americans and injured 16 U.S. service members and a Polish soldier while the group was preparing for a run, CNN reported.
“I was about 250 yards away from it in my quarters, and it about knocked me out of my bed when it happened,” Webb said.
It was the potential for danger, or the unknown, that worried her family.
“We know she’s going to be OK, but the unknown is a big if, especially in a war zone,” said Matthew Webb, 39, and the brother of Nancy. “It doesn’t get any easier over time, but I guess you get accustomed to it.”
Nancy Webb said it’s hardest on her elderly parents.
“Mom and dad, they probably take it harder than I do,” she said. “The older they get, it’s also more difficult being apart.”
“There’s a lot of tears shed,” she added. “The most difficult part for my parents was when they saw stuff in the news and sometimes it was very difficult to get a message out when something would happen. So there was a lot of uncertainty on their end of was I OK.”
Treating the wounded
Maj. Melissa Seacat, 48, is an Air Force reservist and flight nurse with the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson on a deployment to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, flying missions to Afghanistan to bring home wounded troops.
“We all know that sometimes being separated from our family can be difficult, and I think we work well to combat that,” she said in a telephone interview on her second four-month tour of duty overseas.
As a nurse, she’s accustomed to working holidays, she said.
“Working holidays while deployed is not that much different. There are people who are sick and injured who need help, and that’s what we do,” she said in an email. “Our families see our dedication to patients at home, which gives them an understanding of it while deployed.”
She and her husband Bradley Seacat, 51, stay in touch through the internet.
“We’re lucky enough nowadays that we’re able to Skype and still talk to each other face to face every day if we wish too,” he said. “It’s a whole lot different than it was say 30 years ago when all you could do is write letters back and forth. … It just makes things a lot easier to see your spouse, to see if your loved one is alright.”
Still, he doesn’t like to dwell on the risk she may face on aeromedical evacuation missions to Afghanistan.
“I told her don’t tell me when you go on a mission because I really don’t want to have to worry like that,” he said. “You can tell me when you get back.”
The couple have two grown children, which makes separation over the holidays easier, they said.
An extended family
Seacat and Webb have reached out to fellow airmen to get through family separation at the holidays.
“You still have the togetherness of a quote unquote family,” Seacat said. “It’s just a little bit different type of family … You have your crew that you work with and you fly with every day, and they become like family.”
Watching out for the welfare of other airmen has helped Webb.
“Helping them get through helped me get through as well,” she said. “I could focus more on them instead of feeling my own pain.
“I’ve made a lot of friends that are still in the military, or are now out of the military, and when I felt down or lonely or what have you, I reached out to them, and they were able to put some good thoughts in my head,” she added.
Reliably, Webb’s mother sent a piece of home to her daughter, continuing a decades-long Christmas tradition. Webb, who is single, has been in uniform for 25 years.
“It’s quite lonely to begin with, but one thing that helped me over Christmas, particularly almost every year since I’ve been in the Air Force, my mother has mailed me my (Christmas) stocking, and she handmade it when I was born.
“She sent it to me in Afghanistan,” added Webb, 46. “It was very sentimental and I was not comfortable putting it back in the mail, so when I came back … I hand carried it back to Texas with me.”
She said she hasn’t been home to Texas on Christmas Day since at least the 1990s.
“You wish they were there,” Matthew Webb said. “You miss them. She’s always been a part of us even when she’s not there.”
Care packages raised the spirits of Seacat and her comrades last week. A church in Delaware shipped letters and Christmas stockings filled with holiday items from a Girl Scouts troop and a Veterans of Foreign Wars post to the unit in Germany.
In Afghanistan, Nancy Webb and her compatriots celebrated Christmas in July to boost morale.
“We did Christmas carols and we wore hats and put up lights,” she said. “Even though it wasn’t Christmas time, we still had the camaraderie and the fun that the holidays can bring.”
Webb helped arranged a telephone call between then President Barack Obama and a young airman on Thanksgiving Day in Afghanistan.
“A little pat on the back like that can go a huge distance,” Webb said.
She also has her own way to handle deployments.
“Pack light, be flexible and stay busy,” she said. “If you find yourself sitting around just thinking about how you hate the place, how terrible it is, and how hot or dirty or whatever the case maybe, it just gets wore and worse and worse.”
Published: Saturday, December 23, 2017 @ 6:00 AM
For the third time since September, Congress temporarily agreed to a stopgap funding measure to avoid a partial federal government shutdown at midnight Friday that would have impacted thousands of civilian workers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
But the temporary spending measures have hamstrung the Defense Department through lost training of troops — impacting readiness for war — and cost more for renegotiated contracts, officials said.
The latest deadline gives Congress until Jan. 19 to reach a defense appropriations budget or face the prospect of a partial shutdown, which last occurred in 2013.
Congress has authorized a $700 billion defense bill, but has not yet passed legislation to fund it. The bill would lift spending reductions, called sequestration, imposed under the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Both the House and the Senate were able to send a bill late Thursday to President Donald Trump temporarily funding the government, but the Senate decided to kick an $81 billion bill to pay for disaster relief to next year. The House approved that relief earlier Thursday.
The overall spending bill included a $2.85 billion down payment aimed at keeping the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program running as well as reauthorizing federal surveillance powers.
The stopgap spending deals, known as continuing resolutions that cap spending at the prior fiscal year’s level, create unpredictability and uncertainty and waste money until a final defense budget is funded, analysts said.
“Continuing resolutions waste money because spending plans cannot be matched to needs in a timely fashion,” said Loren B. Thompson, a senior analyst with Virginia-based Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant.
“It’s an abdication of congressional responsibility to provide the armed forces with adequate time to plan to spend its fund as smartly as possible,” Mark Thompson, a national security analyst with the Project On Government Oversight in Washington, D.C., said in an email. “Lord knows, the Pentagon needs all the help it can get in doing that, and Congress isn’t helping.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said the ongoing stopgap measures have a “devastating” effect on the military. Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, voted for the latest extension to avoid a shutdown, but hopes it will provide time to negotiate a two-year defense budget deal and set aside sequestration through 2020.
The Dayton congressman advocates moving the start of the budget year, which begins Oct. 1, to match the calendar year.
“Congress is always going to get its work done at the end of the year, which is always going to leave our military at a disadvantage,” he said in an interview. “…We can by law just change (the start of the fiscal year) and suddenly end this agonizing four- or five-month continuing resolution that affects the military more difficultly.”
CR as the norm
Since fiscal year 2010, continuing resolutions have lasted an average of 128 days, according to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Security. Of those, the longest was 217 days in the 2017 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, followed by 197 days in 2011 and 177 in 2013, the center reported.
The military has warned congressional leaders of consequences to training, readiness and modernization, particularly after 90 days or longer without a fully funded defense budget.
“Long-term CRs impact the readiness of our forces and their equipment at a time when security threats are extraordinarily high,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis wrote in September to the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain. “The longer the CR, the greater the consequences for our force.”
Among other impacts, the six-page letter cited lost or reduced training and canceled exercises; curbs on federal hiring and recruitment; impeding the Air Force’s ability to produce aviators; paying more money to rebid or renegotiate contracts; and hampering the “recovery of readiness” which “may prove fatal in a future conflict with major power adversaries.”
The lack of a defense budget and ongoing continuing resolutions have caused uncertainty at Wright-Patterson, Col. Bradley McDonald, installation commander, said in November.
“Every time we come to the latter part of one of these time lines, it causes part of our workforce to feel concerned, so we would hope to avoid that,” he said in an interview.
“This also hurts contractors who were planning on working on projects at Wright-Patterson,” said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs. “The continuing resolution creates a delay in maintenance and training and adds to administrative burdens.”
He added: “Congress’ failure in passing a spending bill has a cumulative effect on morale and creates a sense that it doesn’t give the Defense Department sufficient priority.”
33 out of 42 years
The military has started the year under a continuing resolution 33 out of the past 42 years, a CSIS analysis found. CSIS also reported the Trump administration’s delivery of a proposed fiscal year 2018 budget on May 23 was the latest the White House has submitted one to Congress since the 1920s.