The Army Has Developed An App To Help Soldiers Survive Active-Shooter Situations

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Civilians role played by the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team out of the Oklahoma Army National Guard run to the Military Police seeking safety during an active shooter training scenario June 28th, 2017 at JMRC in Hohenfels, Germany.
Army photo by Staff Sgt. Nicholas Farina

A team of civilian employees from the Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Alabama, have developed a phone app that will help soldiers and civilians survive an active-shooter response situation, the Army announced on July 12.


The final details of the app, the winning entry in a recent contest hosted by the Army Training and Doctrine Command, are still in flux, but the Army claims it will double as both an educational tool and a means of quickly connecting users to emergency response personnel.

Taking into account the frantic stress of suddenly finding oneself in a life-or-death situation, the app was designed to be as user-friendly as possible: Once opened, a single tap of a button will access the emergency dialer. The app then instructs users on what to do as they wait for help to arrive.

“If adrenaline kicks in and they forget what to do in the moment, all of that information is right there in front of them,” said Matt MacLaughlin of the TRADOC Senior Mobile Training Development center. “It should help everybody respond to that situation in the fastest manner possible.”

U.S. military installations have been targeted by lone gunmen on numerous occasions over the years, often with devastating results. In 2013, 34-year-old civilian contractor Aaron Alexis open fired at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington D.C. Alexis fatally shot a total of 12 people before being killed by police, making the incident the second deadliest mass murder on a U.S. military base in history. The deadliest shooting occurred in 2009, when Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist and Islamic extremist, went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood that left 13 people dead.

The active shooter response app competition was part of a broader effort by the Army to modernize the way it disseminates information. That effort is being lead by TRADOC Capability Manager — Mobile, or TCM Mobile, which, according to the Army, has so far developed 80 different apps, including ones for sexual harassment prevention, combat training, and suicide prevention. All of the apps are available at the Army’s mobile app store, the TRADOC Application Gateway.

“All these applications have the necessary and vital information that will save lives, time, and educate those with little or no training on active-shooter response situations,” said Capt. Dylan Gallagan, operations officer at the Army Office of the Provost Marshal General.

The winning entry of the active-shooter response app competition was judged based on “contest and functionality as well as design and overall user experience,” explained TCM Instructional Design Specialist Patty Dobbins. The app walks users through various steps of how to respond to an active shooter, all the way up to when law enforcement arrives.

“We’re going to try to think for you,” MacLaughlin said. “Because there’s situations where you won’t have time to think.”

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Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra

Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.

However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:

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Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.

On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties belonging to a company with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.

In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.

Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.

The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.

After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.

There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.

At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects.

The skepticism of Pentagon bureaucracy and Washington political operators is on full display throughout the movie. When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.

Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)

As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.

In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.

"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.

"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."

The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.

There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of military dramas, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good film.

The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.

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The Defense Department has remained relatively tight-lipped regarding the brazen Jan. 5 raid on a military base at Manda Bay, Kenya, but a new report from the New York Times provides a riveting account filled with new details about how the hours-long gunfight played out.

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Roughly a dozen U.S. troops showing concussion-related symptoms are being medically evacuated from Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a defense official told Task & Purpose on Tuesday.

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