Spc. Bryan C. Anderson was part of an Army Ranger assault force sent after a high-value target in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan on Oct. 5, 2013. When the team landed, an insurgent successfully fled the target building and began running away. An element of soldiers moved to catch him but they were struck by a suicide bomber and triggered two pressure plate IEDs.
Anderson rushed to the aid of the wounded even though he knew they were in the middle of a pressure plate IED belt.
“I wasn’t concerned with my life,” Anderson said in an Army Times interview. “I was concerned that I had buddies who were bleeding out back on the compound.”
Over the next few hours, Anderson crisscrossed the IED belt treating the wounded. During a particularly harrowing 30 minutes, seven IEDs detonated within 10 meters of Anderson, according to his official award citation. Though some of his patients from that night died, two severely injured Rangers survived because Anderson continued rendering aid despite experiencing his own traumatic brain injuries.
“The whole time I’ve been in Regiment, I’ve taken my job very seriously,” Anderson told an Army journalist. “Sometimes you are the only medical provider on the ground and when something bad does happen, all of a sudden you become the leader and everybody looks to you for what to do next. I wanted to be that calm voice in the middle of all the chaos on what the next step needed to be.”
No other force epitomizes the absolute destructive power humanity has unlocked in the way nuclear weapons have. And the weapons rapidly became more powerful in the decades after that first test.
The device tested in 1945 had a 20 kiloton yield, meaning it had the explosive force of 20,000 tons of TNT. Within 20 years, the US and USSR tested nuclear weapons larger than 10 megatons, or 10 million tons of TNT. For scale, these weapons were at least 500 times as strong as the first atomic bomb.
To put the size of history’s largest nuclear blasts to scale, we have used Alex Wellerstein’s Nukemap, a tool for visualizing the terrifying real-world impact of a nuclear explosion.
In the following maps, the first ring of the blast is the fireball, followed by the radiation radius. In the pink radius, almost all buildings are demolished and fatalities approach 100%. In the gray radius, stronger buildings would weather the blast, but injuries are nearly universal. In the orange radius, people with exposed skin would suffer from third-degree burns, and flammable materials would catch on fire, leading to possible firestorms.
11 (tie). Soviet Tests #158 and #168
On August 25 and September 19, 1962, less than a month apart, the USSR conducted nuclear tests #158 and #168. Both tests were held over the Novaya Zemlya region of Russia, an archipelago to the north of Russia near the Arctic Ocean.
No film or photographs of the tests have been released, but both tests included the use of 10-megaton atomic bombs. These blasts would have incinerated everything within 1.77 square miles of their epicenters while causing third-degree burns up to an area of 1,090 square miles.
10. Ivy Mike
On November 1, 1952, the US tested Ivy Mike over the Marshall Islands. Ivy Mike was the world’s first hydrogen bomb and had a yield of 10.4 megatons, making it 700 times as strong as the first atomic bomb.
Ivy Mike’s detonation was so powerful that it vaporized the Elugelab Island where it was detonated, leaving in its place a 164-foot-deep crater. The explosion’s mushroom cloud traveled 30 miles into the atmosphere.
9. Castle Romeo
Romeo was the second US nuclear detonation of the Castle Series of tests, which were conducted in 1954. All of the detonations took place over Bikini Atoll. Castle Romeo was the third-most powerful test of the series and had a yield of 11 megatons.
Romeo was the first device to be tested on a barge over open water instead of on a reef, as the US was quickly running out of islands upon which it could test nuclear weapons.
The blast would have incinerated everything within 1.91 square miles.
8. Soviet Test #123
On October 23, 1961, the Soviets conducted nuclear test #123 over Novaya Zemlya. Test #123 used a 12.5 megaton nuclear bomb. A bomb of this size would incinerate everything within 2.11 square miles while causing third-degree burns in an area of 1,309 square miles.
No footage or photographs of this nuclear test have been released.
7. Castle Yankee
Castle Yankee, the second-strongest of the Castle series tests, was conducted on May 4, 1954. The bomb was 13.5 megatons. Four days later, its fallout reached Mexico City, about 7,100 miles away.
6. Castle Bravo
Castle Bravo, detonated on February 28, 1954, was the first of the Castle series of tests and the largest US nuclear blast of all time.
Bravo was anticipated as a 6-megaton explosion. Instead, the bomb produced a 15-megaton fission blast. Its mushroom cloud reached 114,000 feet into the air.
The US military’s miscalculation of the test’s size resulted in the irradiation of approximately 665 inhabitants of the Marshall Islands and the radiation poisoning death of a Japanese fisherman who was 80 miles away from the detonation site.
3 (tie). Soviet Tests #173, #174, and #147
From August 5 to September 27, 1962, the USSR conducted a series of nuclear tests over Novaya Zemlya.Tests #173, #174, and #147 all stand out as being the fifth-, fourth-, and third-strongest nuclear blasts in history.
All three produced blasts of about 20 megatons, or about 1,000 times as strong as the Trinity bomb. A bomb of this strength would incinerate everything within 3 square miles.
No footage or photographs of these nuclear tests have been released.
2. Soviet Test #219
On December 24, 1962, the USSR conductedTest #219 over Novaya Zemlya. The bomb had a yield of 24.2 megatons. A bomb of this strength would incinerate everything within 3.58 square miles while causing third-degree burns in an area up to 2,250 square miles.
There are no released photos or video of this explosion.
1. The Tsar Bomba
On October 30, 1961, the USSR detonated the largest nuclear weapon ever tested and created the biggest man-made explosion in history. The blast, 3,000 times as strong as the bomb used on Hiroshima, broke windows 560 miles away, according to Slate.
The flash of light from the blast was visible up to 620 miles away.
The Tsar Bomba, as the test was ultimately known, had a yield between 50 and 58 megatons, twice the size of the second-largest nuclear blast.
A bomb of this size would create a fireball 6.4 square miles large and would be able to give humans third-degree burns within 4,080 square miles of the bomb’s epicenter.
“It was 2006, I was working in hotel management,” Gina Elise says. “There were all these stories about the Veterans Administration struggling to treat returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. I wanted to do something to support them and to support the hospitals who treated them.”
Gina Elise is the founder of Pin-Ups for Vets, a non-profit whose mission is based on producing WWII-style pinup calendars to support hospitalized veterans and deployed troops. After four years, she quit her job at the hotel to work with veterans full time. She has produced nine annual calendars since, but her efforts don’t stop at just calendars. Elise and her unit of celebrities and women veterans are currently on a 50-state VA and military hospital tour. To date, the pinups visited 6,000 veterans at their bedside.
“Attitude is a huge part of recovery,” says Shannon Stacy, a former Marine Corps Flight Surgeon and the 2015 calendar’s Miss April. “I think its great that an organization like this can come in really make a difference in patients lives, on top of what the doctors and nurses do.” Stacy can appreciate how attitude affects recovery, as she is also currently an Emergency Medicine Physician.
“On the surface, we’re shooting a fun, artistic calendar,” Elise says. “Under that, we’re supporting a cause that should be important to all Americans: supporting our veterans.” Most importantly, Pin-Ups for Vets buys medical equipment for VA and military hospitals and sends morale-boosting care packages to deployed American troops around the world. So far, Pin-Ups for Vets donated more than $50,000 of state-of-the-art rehabilitation equipment to VA military hospitals nationwide.
“My grandfather was a World War II veteran,” Elise recalls. “They used to paint this art on the nose of planes to boost morale for the guys going into battle to remind them of what they were fighting for.”
“When you think about the fact these soldiers painted these women on the sides of aircraft, and it gave them the confidence to go fight,” says Jovane Henry, a former Marine Corps Photojournalist and 2015’s Miss July. “What’s more empowering than that? I think it’s great. It’s a continuation of service for me. Serving was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I’m happy to be able to continue that service through Pin-Ups for Vets.”
The spirit of Pin-Ups For Vets also promotes volunteerism at Veterans Hospitals, supports homeless Veterans in shelters, and boosts morale for military wives and female Veterans with makeovers and clothing.
The recent launch party for the 2015 calendar, the first to feature 12 veterans, was held at the American Legion in Hollywood (Post 43) and featured a burlesque show headlined by an all-veteran pinup revue. It was the first of its kind. Jennifer Campbell, who worked a .50 cal in a US Army transportation unit participated in the show, but saw it as a family event.
“It gave us a chance to jump into a different period of time,” Campbell recalls. “My great aunt was a WWII poster pin-up girl. It was fun seeing the transition from then to now.”
The burlesque troop, “The Dollface Dames,” performed a variety of numbers. It was a vintage burlesque show, true to its 1940’s heritage, complete with dancing, feather boas, hula-hoops, singing, even a shadow silhouette erotic dance.
“There’s no hard, fast rule that says I can’t be a hard-charging Marine and a lipstick-wearing pinup,” Henry states. “So I choose to be both.”
HillVets has announced a new Congressional Fellowship program exclusively for veterans seeking to begin careers in Washington, called HillVets House. Phase I of the program will feature six Congressional Fellows to be hosted and placed in staff positions on Capitol Hill and is set to begin with the first cohort in July 2016.
HillVets is a bipartisan group of veterans, service members, and supporters focused on empowerment through networking, community involvement, and education. HillVets strives to increase veterans involvement in government and advocacy. This is the first time the effort is being made to get more veterans onto Capitol Hill.
The program is the result of a survey taken by the organization in 2014 in an effort to connect vets on Capitol Hill. The surveyors found that not many veterans were active in Congress. The veterans organization says if they were to rank agencies by number of veterans, the Federal legislative body would be dead last. They are making this effort to change that with the help of the Atlantic Council and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
Capitol Hill experience is largely considered a key component and invaluable experience for a long-term career in government and politics. Currently, less than three percent of staff members working for the United States Congress are military veterans. As hundreds of veterans continue to come to the Washington, D.C. area, they are often frustrated by an inability to quickly build an adequate network and open the initial doors necessary for long-term success.
HillVets House is designed to help veterans overcome the many challenges they face beginning second careers by providing a comprehensive introduction to government, politics, and advocacy. HillVets says this program will provide the first premiere access point for veterans wishing to continue their service in unique roles across all government agencies and branches.
Veterans with honorable discharges, Bachelor’s degrees, or who will be in their final semester at the time of the fellowship, and are ready and able to take permanent employment will receive preference. HillVets will focus on recently-separated vets or those who just completed school.
The HillVets Fellowships will start twice a year, with the first class to start in July 2016 and the second in January 2017. Fellows will have a mandatory commitment to their host offices for a period of three months, the second three month period is to focus on finding a permanent, paid position on Capitol Hill, while continuing to work in the Congressional Host office. The placement will be sensitive to the individual’s political party affiliation.
In addition to full-time placement, Fellows will receive housing and/or a living stipend, educational and career development programs, and extensive networking opportunities.
Look for the program application on the HillVets House website by November 17, 2015. All applications are due by March 25, 2016 and should be sent to email@example.com.
There is another contender — the GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator.
So, yeah, there is another massive bomb. It is a heavier bomb — 30,000 pounds compared to the 21,700 of the GBU-43 MOAB. But the 30-foot long GBU-43 is ten feel longer than the GBU-57, and at 40 inches, it is about 8.5 inches wider.
So, what is the deal with the MOP? Why get it when you had MOAB? It’s for the same reason you have a high-explosive round and an armor piercing round.
The MOAB, like the BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter,” is like a giant high-explosive round. It detonates — either with the help of a standoff fuze or a proximity fuze — with the intent of using the blast to clear a large area or to leave a psychological mark on the bad guys.
The MOP, on the other hand, is like an armor-piercing shell. As its name suggests, it is designed to penetrate deep into a heavily-protected facility, then go boom. What sort of facility? Think bunkers and command posts.
The MOP, it should be noted, was also designed to fit inside a strategic bomber, notably the B-2A Spirit; but the B-52 Stratofortress (or BUFF) can also carry it.
Both bombs, by the way, use the Global Positioning System for guidance, allowing them to be dropped from high altitudes.
This not only allows the plane to escape the blast — something that was difficult with the unguided BLU-82 — but it also reduces the threat from air-defense systems. In the case of the MOP, altitude helps it go deeper underground, making sure that buried target you want to go away goes away.
(You can go ahead and make some penetrator jokes now.)
For most of us, we leave the military wanting desperately to escape. At some point, the majesty and nobility and glamour runs out. The pride has been spent sometime between the incompetent staff-non commissioned officer who yelled at you that last time for something stupid, or CIF giving you a hard time because there is dust on your gear, or S-1 messed up your leave, or you have just done the math and you have only woken up next to your wife 22 of the last 48 months and even more time waking up within arms reach of a rifle. For me, my last year was horrible. I had everything in that year, with some of the worst of it in the last three months.
When it was all over, Jennie and I packed up the truck and left California heading for Oklahoma. Among a sundry of other problems I had lost all love for the military and was now ready to greet the civilian life with open, while completely disenfranchised, arms.
A few months go by and then we try and start our new lives. You get a little fat and you try not to yell at random strangers for wearing flip-flops at the store or walking while holding their phones and then you realize, “Wait… they can do that. I can do that too!” So you just spend a while going full on hippy. You let it all go. Grow your hair, beard and just slum it like the civies for a while. Of course at some point, that wears off too, and you feel disgusted with yourself and find some medium that you are happy with. For me, I don’t work out that much, but I still always keep my high reg haircut.
After this is either college or work. For me, it was college. I would like to share this with you so that you can kind of grasp how we feel.
You have to understand. You are four years older than almost anyone around you. That doesn’t mean much when you’re 30 and they are 26, but it means a lot when you are 22 and they are 18. It especially means a lot to you when have been a Sergeant in charge of a mid sized team of military professionals in combat operations and that other person is just a high school graduate with a newly found sense of unqualified empowerment because he is now an “adult”, which he probably only discovered because his parents told him to get a job and move out of the house. You now question the meaning and subtlities of the word “equality” when your new peers continue to believe their opinions have as much intrinsic value as yours on the now questionable premise of equality. You feel an intense obligation to excel and show up on time. You are appalled by the people who are still mentally in high school who can’t stop acting like children. Worse is that they are all stupid. Perhaps stupid is a strong word… but yeah, I am going to go with it. Stupid.
It isn’t that they are actually intellectually deficient, but they don’t have any sort of world view based on anything more than peace, love, rainbows, hugs and unicorns and the other humanitarian world views propogated by those who have never truly suffered real indignity or desperation. Their opinions lack any sort of wisdom or experience. They have never experienced something like living in a country where there are people quite literally planning your death. How could you blame them?
Also, because of our experiences, people find it very difficult to communicate with us, due perhaps to our brazen animosity and extreme arrogance. In college we also experience a good amount of push back. You need to understand that most young people understand nothing about the wars other than “the evil Bush administration” and “all the stupid soldiers are idiots for being brainwashed into going”. Someone actually said that in a class one day. The professor was kind and asked “What does anyone else think about that?” and he didn’t even interrupt a massive two minute rant where I tore that kid a new one in front of the rest of the class.
That will last for a few years as they mellow out and try to adjust to acting the way that everyone else does. The training and lifestyle they live is hard to get rid of and will always be a part of them. Then there is the job search.
Now what I think was interesting was that as I was looking for a job I faced two different serious issues:
I faced some people who saw my military experience as a problem. I might be too aggressive to work with customers, I have never had a real job, I might have PTSD. Really? These are real discriminations I faced with no actual basis to support them.
Then the others thought I would be a real hard charger, a real go getter. In the worst case, obedient, you know the good little soldier who never questions and will march happily to your every whim. I had a boss like that for a minute. You shouldn’t treat employees like they are just stupid little troops in your service, especially not actual vets, and especially not ones who graduated with honors in business management.
Eventually though I did find work that fit. People still are surprised if you have any intelligence in you at all, in spite of the degree hanging behind your desk, because they will still only hire your military experience. Now I am in a place where my organizational ability and leadership are coming into play, and for many this is exactly the type of role they try and fill. We do have a type of responsibility factor that doesn’t appear except in about 60% of the civilians I deal with and it doesn’t really frighten us to get in someone’s face when they don’t cut it. Of course that isn’t all we do, we did get out after all.
Then there is a point that you get to and you realize that you don’t hate the military anymore. You are just proud. Maybe it is when the people you work with hear you were a Marine and are like “Whoa! Um…Well… OK.” Maybe it is after you get a few handshakes from the old Marines (who had it harder than you, just ask them). Maybe it is in knowing that you are different in a good way than many of the others around you. You have these powerful, sometimes very difficult experiences, that have built in you a character that others respect.
I looked back at my time in and realized eventually that there were parts I really missed. The Marine Corps has a saying that it is a perfect organization made of imperfect people. I definitely didn’t miss some of the people, but there was something important about what we were doing. We also recite this one often.
“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem.”
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN, 1985
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to go back. I love waking up next to Jennie every morning. I don’t like the panic that comes with not knowing where your weapon is, because you forgot the deployment is over. I don’t want to worry anymore if that car is going to explode, or if someone I know is going to be hurt or killed. But I definitely have learned to appreciate and love what I was a part of. From time to time I still bad mouth the little things, but now the Corps is like family. I can say whatever I want about it, but you don’t get to. You haven’t earned the right to disrespect her. You don’t question or assume or anything. You don’t muddle my heritage or dishonor the sacrifice of my friends. You respect what we stood for.
And once you reach that point you realize…
You are never going to be able to transition from military to civilian life.
A group of six German shepherds gave a final salute August 28 in honor of a fellow canine who served three tours of duty as a military working dog for the US Marine Corps and died on July 27 at age 10 after a weeks’ long battle with bone cancer.
The German shepherds, which are part of the K-9 Salute Team, were trained to kneel and howl on command in honor of Cena, a black lab who was euthanized in July and whose remains were interred August 28 at the Michigan War Dog Memorial in Lyon Township.
The memorial site, which hosted the public service and private interment, has about 10 military dogs buried beside 2,150 pets interred at the historic pet cemetery, according to memorial president and director Phil Weitlauf.
DeYoung and Cena. Photo from American Humane via NewsEdge.
Cena, a bomb-sniffing dog, belonged to Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jeffrey DeYoung, 27, of Muskegon, who said he adopted the black lab in June 2014 after Cena underwent a year of rehabilitation therapy. DeYoung said that he and Cena served together on a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan that began in October 2009.
Cena also served with Jon North, a Marine sergeant from Osage, Iowa, who was present at the ceremony, and one other soldier who was not able to be there.
DeYoung said in a eulogy at the memorial service that Cena endured various injuries on his tours of duty, and that he and Cena encountered three improvised explosive devices together. Cena was officially an IED detection dog with the Marine Corps. The dogs walk ahead of patrols and pick up the scent of the explosives in the area and sit down near the explosive before a bomb-disarming unit comes, Weitlauf said.
“In every aspect of Cena, he has shed blood, pain, sweat, and tears for this country,” DeYoung said.
North, 28, who served one year with Cena in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011 didn’t speak at the service, but told the Free Press that Cena was known for being “a slow, old man” and that he was “just kind of a goofy old dog.”
“By the end of your time together, he’s more like a brother, more like a kid. It’s hard to let him go,” North said.
Together, DeYoung and North carried an urn containing Cena’s ashes in a funeral procession that included bagpipers and a military color guard.
Weitlauf said that three separate Jeep convoys — including one from Muskegon with DeYoung escorting Cena’s remains — traversed different parts of the state to make it to the service, linking up at different locations including Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and New Hudson. He said that about 80 Jeeps participated in the convoys, and that about 600 people attended the funeral service — nearly double the 350 attendees the services normally get.
DeYoung, who is a professional public speaker, said that after adopting Cena in 2014, their job wasn’t yet over. They spent the next several years journeying across the country together to places such as President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and the US Congress, where DeYoung discussed the need to bring home all war dogs prior to retirement “so that what happened in Vietnam with the euthanasia will never happen again.”
At the end of that war, troops were ordered to leave their dogs in Vietnam out of fear of a logistical nightmare and concerns of disease being brought back, Weitlauf said. They had the option to give the dogs over to the South Vietnamese army or to euthanize them, he said. Over 4,000 were left behind, and only 204 made it back home, Weitlauf said.
Tom Strempka, 69, of Bloomfield Hills was deployed to Vietnam in 1971 at the age of 23, where he served a six-month tour of duty and suffered injuries. He said the funeral gave him closure.
Strempka said that war dogs in Vietnam once saved his platoon of 30 men from an ambush.
“I’m out here for every funeral because it’s long overdue for everyone to recognize the importance of dogs as being part of the unit and not a piece of equipment, the way the government treated them in Vietnam,” Strempka said. “And it’s a glorious day, and I guess that it gives me a little more peace of mind.”
For DeYoung, laying Cena to rest at what he described as the ” Arlington of dogs” also provided some closure.
“Cena’s journey in my life is done. Our work is not, so I will continue doing so in his honor,” DeYoung said to reporters before the ceremony.
Marine Corps veteran Imran Yousuf was working as a bouncer at Pulse nightclub in Orlando when he heard a rapid-fire series of gunshots crack across the venue.
“You could just tell it was a high caliber,” Yousuf told CBS. He saw the patrons were frozen in fear and that no one was moving to open a nearby door.
“There was only one choice — either we all stay there and we all die, or I could take the chance,” Yousuf said, “and I jumped over to open that latch and we got everyone that we can out of there.”
Orlando law enforcement officials credit Yousuf with saving about 70 lives with his unflinching action. “I wish I could’ve saved more,” he told CBS. “There’s a lot of people that are dead.”
Yousuf’s six-year stint as an electrical systems tech included a combat tour to Afghanistan in 2011 according to records. His last command was the 3rd Marine Logistics Group in Okinawa, Japan. He left active duty at the rank of sergeant.
Yousuf posted the following message on his Facebook page:
There are a lot of people naming me a hero and as a former Marine and Afghan veteran. I honestly believe I reacted by instinct. I have lost a few of my friends that night which I am just finding out about right now and while it might seem that my actions are heroic I decided that the others around me needed to be saved as well and so I just reacted.
We need to show our love and profound efforts to the families and friends who have lost someone and help them cope with what happened and turn our efforts to those who truly need it. Once again I sincerely thank everyone and bless all those who are recovering and trying to make sense of it all.
He focuses on a few things that Marines can do every day to make themselves better warfighters, like reading and working out.
One of the greatest pieces of advice was that all Marines should treat every week like it’s their last week of peace. That will drive them to prepare for war and will accept no excuses from themselves.
3. When he led Task Force 58 through the invasion of Afghanistan
One of the most forward units during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the 1st Marine Division commanded by, you guessed it, Mattis. He later led the Marines through fighting in the Anbar province including the first two battles of Fallujah.
His quotes during this time became famous. Speaking of which …
5. When he gave us some of the best quotes in military history
One quote that will definitely resonate with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, conflicts where U.S. troops are still engaged, is, “No war is over until the enemy says it’s over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote.”
6. When he explained the importance of reading is to save the lives of young troops
The general has suggested a few different things that Marines should do to become better leaders, and reading is consistently at the top of his list. In an email to a colleague, he explained that the real reason he always wants his subordinate officers to read is because it saved blood on the battlefield.
The whole email is worth a read, but this excerpt — where he is discussing the lessons that Alexander the Great and others have written in books — sums it up:
We have been fighting on this planet for 5,000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. “Winging it” and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of incompetence in our profession. As commanders and staff officers, we are coaches and sentries for our units: how can we coach anything if we don’t know a hell of a lot more than just the [Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures]?
“Transpecos,” winner of the SXSW Film Festival’s Audience Award, deals with what happens to a Border Patrol agent when he gets dragged to the other side by a drug cartel. It’s an impressive directorial debut from independent filmmaker Greg Kwedar.
Kwedar, whose work includes commercials, documentaries, and short films, took six years to make “Transpecos.” To research the film, he worked with the U.S. Border Patrol, an agency that’s reluctant to share its methods – for good reason. Their mission isn’t just keeping illegal immigrants out of the United States, they’re also fighting a massive, brutal enemy with unlimited funding and firepower, and no rules.
“Transpecos” is the story of three Border Patrol agents, a rookie named Davis (played by Johnny Simmons), a seasoned professional, Flores (Gabriel Luna), and salty veteran Hobbs (Clifton Collins, Jr.). They man a remote checkpoint somewhere near the U.S.-Mexican border. When one stop goes from routine to nightmarish, all three end up fighting for their lives.
“There’s this famous Western line: ‘silver or lead?,'” says Greg Kwedar, the director who co-wrote the script with Clint Bentley. “Money’s not a vulnerability for everyone. They [Border Patrol] have higher standards to live by. The leverage can be their own personal safety or that of their family. If an agent can rise above that then the cartel might say, “Who do you care about? We’ll use them.”
That’s exactly what happens in the film. Drug cartels use an agent’s family to force him to allow shipments of cocaine across the border. The Border Patrol agents find themselves torn between duty and family, between fulfilling their mission and protecting their own.
(Samuel Goldwyn Films)
To get access to the real Border Patrol agents Kwedar and his team went out into the desert and got lost (or pretended to be) in the hopes of finding agents who were on the job — a highly unorthodox and potentially dangerous process.
“Once they realized we weren’t antagonistic, that we really wanted to know more about them and their work, they really opened up to us,” Kwedar says. “They invited us into their world and from that we found real friendships, running the gamut from grabbing a beer in a one-stoplight town to sitting down with their families at dinner.”
The characters – Davis, Flores, and Hobbs – are the heart of the film. The Border Patrol depicted in “Transpecos” could just as well be any military checkpoint or remote combat outpost anywhere in the world. It’s hot and desolate. The guys manning the checkpoint can be just as bored as any troops on deployment at any given time. They even have to go out on foot patrols.
“It was 110 degrees Fahrenheit on some of those days,” says Johnny Simmons, who portrays the green Agent Davis. “Our boots were melting, we were covered in sweat at the end of the day when we took off our Kevlar. My brother is a Marine and working on this film brought me a little closer to what it must be like for him … only he and so many others do it every day.”
The credit for this realism goes to the film’s technical advisor, Sam Sadler. Sadler is a retired Border Patrol agent who joined the service at age 17. Before he retired, he was the second in command at Deming Station, New Mexico, the area where “Transpecos” was filmed. He rode ATVs; he rode horseback. He tracked people through the desert by their footprints, the way Native American tribes used to – a practice still in use by agents today. By the end of his 25 years on the border, Sadler was the go-to guy.
“[Kwedar and Sadler] gave us a great roadmap to the script,” said Clifton Collins, Jr., who plays the experienced, by-the-book Agent Hobbs. “They took us off the leash in regards to the research and I really brought a lot of that to the table.”
At heart, Kwedar made the film for Border Patrol agents and their families. Sadler taught the actors the protocol and search methods to make sure they got the details right.
“These guys are so isolated, and it takes a special person to be able to do that,” Gabriel Luna, who plays Agent Flores, said. “Working on this film really cleared up my view of the Border Patrol. These men and women are just regular people. They’re human, they’re doing this job day in and day out, and it’s such an incredible thing.”
“Transpecos” is now available nationwide on demand and digital including Comcast, DirecTV and iTunes. It will be released on DVD September 27, 2016.
Part of the Memex suite of tools, Tellfinder reveals trafficking activity and summarizes the behavior of and relationships between the entities that post them. (DARPA graphic)
Wade Shen, a program manager in DARPA’s Information Innovation Office, said in a recent DoD News interview that the program, called Memex, is designed to help law enforcement officers and others perform online investigations to hunt down human traffickers.
“Our goal is to understand the footprint of human trafficking in online spaces, whether that be the dark web or the open web,” he explained, characterizing the dark web as the anonymous internet, accessed through a system, among others, called Tor.
“The term dark web is used to refer to the fact that crimes can be committed in those spaces because they’re anonymous,” Shen said, “and therefore, people can make use of [them] for nefarious activities.”
Point of Sale
The approach he and his team have taken is to collect data from the Internet and make it accessible through search engines.
“Typically, this is data that’s hard for commercial search engines to get at, and it’s typically the point of sale where sex trafficking is happening,” Shen explained. “Victims of sex trafficking are often sold as prostitutes online, and a number of websites are the advertising point where people who want to buy and people who are selling can exchange information, or make deals.
“What we’re looking for,” he continued, “is online behavioral signals in the ads that occur in these spaces that help us detect whether or not a person is being trafficked.”
When a prostitute is advertised online as being “new in town” or by specific characteristics, those are hints that person might be trafficked. New in town means a person might be moving around, and the term “fresh” often means a person is underage, Shen explained. “Those kinds of things are indicators we can use to figure out whether or not a person is being pimped and trafficked,” he added.
Before the Memex program formally began in late 2014, Shen’s team was working with the district attorney of New York to determine if they could find signals associated with trafficking in prostitution ads on popular websites.
DMA modern slavery info graphic.
“We found that lots of signals existed in the data, whether they be phone numbers used repeatedly by organizations that are selling multiple women online, or branding tattoos that exist in photos online, or signals in the text of the ads,” Shen said.
Shen’s team had been working on text-based exploitation programs for big data — extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. But they thought that if they extended the technology to understand images and networks of people, then they could apply it to detecting rings of traffickers and behaviors associated with trafficking online.
“If we could do that,” he said, “we could … generate leads for investigators so they wouldn’t have to sift through millions of ads in order to find the small number of ads that are associated with trafficking. So that’s what we did.”
Early on, the team realized that search wasn’t quite the right modality for doing such investigations and that there was a lot more work to do before the technology could be adapted to trafficking. That’s when the Memex program began, Shen said.
“Since the beginning of the program, we’ve had a strong relationship with the district attorney of New York, but they’re not the only user of the technology. Over time, we have engaged with many different law enforcement agencies, including 26 in the United Kingdom, the district attorney of San Francisco, and a number of others,” he said.
Investigators for the district attorney of New York were able to use Memex tools to find and prosecute perpetrators, and that resulted in an arrest and conviction in the program’s first year, he added.
“Since then,” Shen said, “there have been hundreds of arrests and other convictions by a variety of law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad.”
Today, more than 33 agencies are using the tools, he added, and an increasing number of local law enforcement agencies are using the tools.
“As word of mouth spreads about the tools and the fact that we give free access to the tools to law enforcement, more and more people are signing up to use it,” he said.
Shen said it’s easy for his team to work with state, local and federal partners in the United States, but it’s harder to work with agencies abroad.
“But we’re committed to do that,” he added, “so we are in the process of working out deals with a number of those agencies so they have access to the tools we currently deploy and to allow them, after we exit [when the program ends in a year] … to continue to run their own versions of these tools.”
DARPA funds the Memex project, which, according to the agency’s budget office, has cost $67 million to date. But rather than do the work, as with its other projects, DARPA catalyzes commercial agents, universities and others to develop the technology, Shen said.
“They are experts in their fields — image analysis, text analysis or web crawling and so on — and we engage the best of that community to work on this problem. What they’ve essentially done is form coalitions to … build the tools [needed] to solve the problem, because no one of the entities that we call performers is able to do that on their own,” he added.
The Memex program has 17 different performers, and many of them also work with partners. “So all in all,” Shen said, “we have hundreds of people who are working on this effort. All of them are very dedicated to this problem, because the problem of human trafficking is real.”
When Shen’s team started the program, one of the things they realized was that the cost of people in these spaces, the cost of slaves, is essentially zero, he added.
“That means our lives are essentially worthless in some sense, and that just seems wrong,” he said. “That motivated us and a lot of our performers to do something, especially when we build technology for all sorts of commercial applications for profit and for other motives. That’s what a lot of our folks do on a day-to-day basis, and they felt the need to make use of their technology for a noble cause. We think Memex is one of these noble causes.”
Warning:You’re the Worst (returning for season 2 this week on FXX) isn’t a comedy about characters with a few irritating quirks who ultimately mean well. It’s a very black comedy about two horrible people who manage to find each other and try to have a relationship that allows them to stay horrible. It’s most definitely not for everyone, but if you tune in and find it funny, you’ll think it’s one of the most hilarious shows you’ve ever seen, although most of you will be deeply offended and despair for the future of our culture.
What’s most interesting to us is the character of Edgar Quintero (played by Desmin Borges), a veteran who’s barely functioning as he works his way through PTSD. He ends up rooming with lead character Jimmy Shive-Overly, one of the show’s horrible lead characters. Jimmy constantly abuses Edgar, but he constantly abuses everyone in his life, so it’s not like he’s persecuting his roommate. Over the course of season one, Edgar emerges as the only character with redeeming personal qualities even though he’s still not really a capable member of society.
In an interview with the Washington Post, creator Stephen Falk talks about bringing the issue before an urban, educated audience that usually gets to ignore the reality of men and women returning from war: “It’s not something that’s super-visible or talked about. … It’s a problem of other people, like a rural thing or a lower-class thing. It’s just not something that kids who read Pitchfork, who watch ‘Rectify’ and can’t stop talking about ‘Girls,’ have to really deal with a lot. But it is a reality.”
As most of us realize, military humor can have a very funny dark side. You’re the Worst is fully committed to its bleak worldview and it’s fascinating (and even refreshing) to see a serious issue treated with something besides the overwrought reverence that so many movies bring to veteran issues. If you’re easily offended, though, you might want to stay away.
You can catch up with season 1 for free on Hulu or buy episodes from Amazon or iTunes. If you were a fan of season 1, please note that the show has moved from the FX network (the Sons of Anarchy one) to the FXX network (the one that seems to play The Simpsons all the time).
Desmin Borges and Stephen Falk gave interviews about the character last season to GiveMeMyRemote.com and we’ve embedded them below.
This article originally appeared at Military.com Copyright 2015. Follow Military.com on Twitter.