But it wasn’t always this way. During the Cold War, Airborne forces relied on the M551 Sheridan, an Airborne-capable light tank first fielded in 1969.
The Sheridan was a replacement for the World War II-era Mk. VII Tetrarch tank and the M22 Locust Airborne tank. The Tetrarch was a British glider-capable light tank and the M22 was an American tank custom-built for glider insertion.
The M551, unlike its predecessors, was airdrop-capable, meaning it could be inserted using parachutes instead of gliders. The tank was also used with the Low-Altitude Parachute Extraction System, an airdrop system that allowed the U.S. to drop the tanks from a few feet to a few dozen feet off the ground.
The tank used an experimental 152mm gun that could fire missiles or tank rounds. Even its tank rounds were experimental, though — they used a combustible casing instead of the standard brass casings.
The Sheridan served well in Vietnam and Panama. During Operation Just Cause, it was even airdropped into combat, allowing paratroopers to bring their own fire support to the battlefield.
The tank’s main gun could inflict serious damage at distances of up to 2,000 feet, allowing it to punch out enemy bunkers from outside the range of many enemy guns.
Unfortunately, the light armor of the Sheridan posed serious issues. Some Sheridans were pierced by enemy infantry’s heavy machine guns, meaning crews had to be careful even when there was no enemy armor or anti-armor on the field. Worse, the main gun started to develop a reputation as being unreliable.
Firing the main gun knocked out the electronics for the longer-range missile, meaning that a tank firing on bunkers or enemy armor at close range would usually lose their ability to punch targets at long range. And there was no way to avoid this issue as the Shillelagh missile couldn’t hit targets at less than 2,400 feet.
The only way for an M551 to punch at close range was to give up its capability at long ranges.
By 1980, most cavalry units were moving to the M60 Patton Main Battle Tank, which was actually introduced before the Sheridan. The Patton featured heavier armor, more power, and a more reliable gun. It had also just been upgraded with new “Reliability Improved Selected Equipment,” or “RISE.”
The airborne forces would keep the Sheridan through 1996, partially because they had no other options. A number of potential replacements were canceled and modern airborne forces just make do without true armored support.
Getting married can be one of the most exciting times in one’s life, and marrying someone who serves is no different. That said, marrying into the military lifestyle can often come with an adjustment period. Ten military spouses agreed to speak candidly about aspects of military life – from moving to education – that they wish they would have known before marrying their spouse.
“I wish I knew that friendship would be so, so hard. And that the people I truly view as friends are never close because we move away. Yes, I knew we’d move. But after restarting my life four times now, I am really struggling to make friends and have my own tribe because it’s so much effort. And at some duty stations, it’s great. Others are terrible and you just never really connect with anyone the entire time (or you do and they of course move one second later). I feel like a lot of people won’t be my friend, because they know I will leave too. I also wish I knew that most of the country does not understand our lifestyle, like, at all.” – Melissa Sheridan, Air Force spouse
“Be diligent in finding your people – however many that may be for you – and you’ll thrive. Above all else, you will experience the best and worst in the world, but your mindset is everything.” – Missy Moore, Army spouse
“Life can be a real adventure if you stay open minded and flexible to new people, places and cultures! In my wildest dreams I would have never imagined where this path has led my husband and I. From meeting in Honduras while stationed there, getting stationed in an amazing area of Texas to living in a tropical paradise in Hawaii – just bizarre in all the most amazing ways!” – Katie Whitehurst, Air Force reservist and Army spouse
“I’ve never felt more supported than in this community, but I’ve also never felt so alone. Sometimes you can’t wait for that PCS to roll around and others you absolutely dread leaving a place that feels more like home than anywhere else. I wish I’d known that grief can include the giant loss you feel when you are forced to leave a place and people you love. I wish I’d known the guilt I would feel for not giving my children roots.” – Chelsea Coulston, Navy spouse
“It’s OK to find a new home and you are going to find friendships that are more meaningful than any in your life prior.” – Jaci Greggs, Army spouse
“Accept that nearly nothing will go according to plan. Write plans down in pencil and buy the refundable tickets! Dates, missions, locations, etc., change often and with little notice.” – Alex Fernandez Rubio, Army spouse
“I didn’t expect that we would have a bunch of curtains that will never fit in the next house! I also didn’t expect to love the adventure so much. Military life truly is that. It’s hard, yes, but it’s also allowed me to see the world from a different perspective. Having a baby abroad was an unexpected surprise blessing that we really enjoyed! I also didn’t expect how intense the stress levels would be. Stress that isn’t what the average person experiences—like traffic—stress that not only cripples the military member, but cripples the entire family both physically and emotionally.” – Caroline Potter, Navy spouse
“I appreciate the college opportunity offered to me as a spouse of an enlisted soldier and I wish more spouses knew about and took advantage of the MyCAA program.” – Jenn Richardson, Army spouse
“I got married at 25. I had no idea at that point how important having a career would be to me, and that maintaining a career would be nearly impossible as a military spouse. We end up taking a backseat to our spouse’s career. It’s hard personally, professionally, and frankly, financially. The military does not prioritize helping spouses [who have] careers maintain them.” – Julie Yaste, Navy spouse
“I wish I would have known how little the military actually cared about the physical and mental health of my spouse. After 15 years, we have realized that it’s all a numbers game and about how much they can get out of their members without much regard for the life they have to live after service. I don’t think it would have changed my husband’s mind regarding his career but I would have approached a lot of things within his job differently regarding health.” – Kylie Martin, Navy spouse
“I wish I had known that my husband would be treated like [a] machine whose mental and physical health doesn’t matter. I wish I had known that the military doesn’t care about individuals, just the overall result and the ability to get results as quickly as possible.” – Hannah O’Melia Sherriff, Navy spouse
Your Advice for New Military Spouses Facing Their First Deployment
We asked our audience what advice they had for new military spouses facing their first deployment. With hundreds of responses from military spouses from all walks of military life, there is no shortage of support out there for you! Here are some of our favorite responses.
Power of Attorney and do NOT listen to all of the freaking horror stories some of the other spouses may impart. Your spouse is not their spouse or their friend’s best friend’s spouse. Have faith in your spouse instead of the b.s. stories. Brush off the gossip and its mouthpiece. Most of all, take time out for you… mind body and soul. You’re strong and you’ve got this. – Holly M.
An amazing spouse told me, “Count paychecks. Because 2 a month is way better than trying to count down 180+ days.” Definitely helped! – Caitlin M.
Have a candid discussion with both sides of the family about what to expect/not to expect as well as what is helpful/hurtful. Examples: best ways to stay in touch, care package ideas, why he/she can’t just come home for special occasions, whether or not RR is allowed and the process, things always change, etc. – Jane T.
Make goals, start a hobby, go back to school. Take care of yourself. Make time for self care. Talk about your spouse being gone, especially with your kids. Routine, routine (whether you have kiddos or not). Think out of the box for friends, we are a diverse community. Remember to send boxes and little things (I am horrible at this and after four deployments I slack) but I know how much my spouse appreciates a piece of home. It will feel like autopilot sometimes and that’s okay. Being sad is okay. Check with all your on post services! I was so young the first time I had no idea all the things I could use like MYCAA scholarships, and spouse get togethers (for parents and child free spouses!) just know you’re not alone. It never gets easier and every tour will have its struggles but you have tools at your disposal; learn to use them, and yes have a POA. – Andrea R.
Comedian Rob Riggle accepted a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1990 with the intent of earning a pilot’s Wings of Gold, but once he got to flight school in Pensacola it hit him that the lengthy commitment was going to keep him from realizing his dream of doing stand up.
“If I had continued flying I didn’t see how I would be able to take my shot at comedy,” Riggle says. “I left flight school and became a public affairs officer.”
After nine years on active duty that included stateside tours at Cherry Point, Camp Lejeune, and Corpus Christi and overseas tours in Liberia and Albania (where he helped build refugee camps for those displaced by the fighting in Kosovo), Riggle transferred to the Marine Corps Reserve. He moved to New York City to pursue his comedy career and drilled with Marine Training Unit 17 — the only reserve unit in Manhattan.
And then 9/11 happened.
“I got a call from my CO and was ordered to report to One Police Plaza first thing in the morning on Sept. 12,” Riggle says. “I worked on the bucket brigades moving rubble by hand.”
For a week he worked 12-on-12-off, clearing the twisted wreckage that was piled six stories high around where the twin towers of the World Trade Center had proudly stood just days before. On the seventh day, the operation was changed from search-and-rescue to search-and-recovery. With all hope gone that more victims might be found alive among the concrete and steel and with the danger of more collapses gone, the heavy machinery was brought in to remove the rest.
Riggle was exhausted and emotionally spent. He’d seen enough.
“Like most Americans, I was pissed off,” he says. “But as a Marine captain, I could do something about it. I put my hand in the air and told my commanding officer, ‘put me in this thing.’ And so he did.”
Now watch Rob Riggle fly with the Blue Angels:
Riggle received orders on Nov. 10 — the Marine Corps birthday — and a week later he reported to CENTCOM in Tampa for training and two weeks after that he was on his way to the war.
“About 20 days from the time I got my orders I was on my way to Afghanistan,” Riggle recalls. “That’s why you have reserves.”
He did two rotations into Afghanistan during his year back on active duty, working out of the Joint Operations Center because he had top secret security clearance. He was part of Operation Anaconda — the first major offensive using a large number of conventional troops — and other major campaigns during that time.
“When my year was up I moved back to New York City and ran the marathon,” he recalls.
The year after that he was added to the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” And the rest is American comedy history.
“I earned the title Marine, no one gave it to me,” Riggle says when asked to sum up his military career. “I’ll be proud of that as long as I’m alive.”
As the Marine Corps enters the final stages of preparing to receive the CH-35K King Stallion, its new heavy-lift workhorse helicopter, aviation officials are already looking forward to the Corps’ next generation of rotorcraft.
Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant of aviation, told reporters Friday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., that the Corps had asked for optionally manned capability for the Pentagon’s future vertical lift plan, which aims to develop replacement choppers for the Army and other services.
“We’ve told them it’s what we want,” Davis said. “Why wouldn’t we want it?”
Davis said he envisioned a vertical lift platform that might be operated unmanned to deliver cargo and manned for more sensitive or technically complex missions.
Potentially, he said, such a platform, equipped with a sensor, could also serve as an unmanned sentry of sorts from the air in defense of a deployed ship.
Davis noted that the future vertical lift, or FVL, program is currently in the down-select phases, and acquisition was expected to take place in the 2030s.
“The future of aviation is operationally manned,” Davis said.
The Air Force and Marine Corps are both part of the FVL program, which is led by the Army.
One candidate to satisfy FVL requirements is Bell’s V-280 Valor aircraft, a next-generation tiltrotor that does feature a fly-by-wire control system. The other aircraft being evaluated in the FVL program, the medium-lift Sikorsky/Boeing SB-1 Defiant, also features fly-by-wire capabilities.
Davis said Marine officials had communicated with both contracting teams about their interest in optionally manned technology.
Meanwhile, the Marine Corps continues to evaluate concepts for a separate unmanned or optionally manned air cargo and logistics platform.
In May, two Lockheed Martin/Kaman K-MAX optionally manned rotorcraft arrived at Marine Corps’ Operational Test Evaluation Squadron 22 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, for testing and development designed to evaluate their ability to perform surveillance and reconnaissance.
Marine logistics officials have also expressed interest in DARPA’s Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES), an unmanned vertical lift platform designed for cargo resupply, medevac and surveillance.
This past summer, the 75th Ranger Regiment found an innovative way to entertain and ensure the wellbeing of its single troops.
Throughout the summer months, the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Unit Ministry Team (UMT) organized and led 24-hour retreats for over 100 single Rangers. Some of the events that the troops participated in include hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, biking, and camping.
Army UMTs assist commanders with morale and provide religious and informal psychological support to troops.
“It was so encouraging to hear these guys go deep, and get real, and just talk about how they are really doing and the struggles they are currently dealing with or have dealt with in their past,” said Captain Bo Waldo, the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Deputy Regimental Chaplain, in a press release. “It really is a privilege for me to care for these Rangers. The single Rangers are such a critical component of our force, and they are having to deal with this crazy season of isolation in some very challenging ways. This trip was well worth the effort to put it together.”
A Ranger participating in a river kayaking event (U.S. Army)
The Coronavirus pandemic isn’t the only thing Rangers have to worry about on a daily basis. There is always the ever-present fear of messing up and getting released for standards (RFU), the 75th Ranger Regiment’s internal mechanism to cycle out Soldiers who aren’t suitable to serve in the unit. Consequently, even a brief break from the rigors of the job can be revitalizing and ensure sustainability.
“Just the chance to get away from the barracks and spend time with friends, to think about what I want my life and legacy to be, is a phenomenal opportunity,” said an anonymous Ranger from 3rd Battalion.
The 75th Ranger Regiment is the world’s premier light infantry special operations force. It’s one of the few units in the entire US military to have been continuously deployed since the start of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) after 9/11. Specializing in direct action missions and airfield seizures, the 75th Ranger Regiment is comprised of a headquarters, three infantry battalions (1st, 2nd, and 3rd), a Military Intelligence battalion, and Special Troops battalion.
Rangers preparing to launch their kayaks into the ocean (U.S. Army).
“I have never been on a trip like this before, but I really liked it. It was fun to jump in and find ways I could help,” said Specialist Adam Gathercole, from the Military Intelligence battalion.
But the retreats aren’t the only initiative that the unit is taking to ensure the well-being of its Rangers. Recently, the 75th Ranger Regiment launched PHALANX, an innovative program that aims to enhance the combat capabilities, careers, and education opportunities of Rangers. The logic behind the initiative is that well-educated, superb-trained, and physically and mentally healthy troops will be a more productive member of the team. Additionally, by investing in the education and wellbeing of its Rangers, the 75th Ranger Regiment aims to improve its retention levels, and indeed its investment as hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent in training just one Ranger.
From small town Pennsylvania to teaching at the U.S. Navy, then to social work and back to teaching, Darryl Ponicsan has lived an inspiring and interesting life. After his second stint of teaching, he struck gold with his first novel “The Last Detail.” From there the sky was the limit where he is most known for his novels that have been adapted to screenplays which include “The Last Detail,” “Cinderella Liberty” and “Last Flag Flying.” Screenplays include “Taps,” “Vision Quest,” Nuts,” The Boost,” “School Ties” and “Random Hearts.” He also wrote the voice-over for “Blade Runner.” We sat down with him to hear about his life and his service to our country.
1. Tell me about your family and your life growing up?
My parents ran a mom ‘n pop auto parts store in Shenandoah, Pa., a coal mining town that was booming then. Now you can buy a three-story house there for the price of a used Chevy. I worked in the store as a kid and hated almost every minute of it. The town itself, however, was rich soil for drama and comedy. I’m surprised I’m the only writer ever to come out of the place. At the age of nine we moved into the first and only home my parents ever bought, six miles over the hill in Ringtown, a farming community. I had a happy childhood there, graduating from the local high school, now gone, in a class of 22 students. I think I ranked #18.
2. What is the most distinct memory of your mother and your father?
My father and I used to take our own trash to the dump once a week and dump it into a deep pit. One day there were two bums there. I was around 13. One held the end of a rope, and at the other end was his partner with a big bag, scavenging for anything of value. The one on top asked if they could go through our garbage before we dumped it. My father said sure, and we stepped aside. I said something belittling about what they were doing. My father told me, “It’s an honest living.” A great lesson in life. Years later, I was going through a nasty divorce. My mother told me it took years to build my character, don’t let this take it apart. Those two moments are linked in my memory, because in truth I did not have a close relationship with either of them.
Darryl during his days as a teacher.
3. What challenges did you face at school and in the community?
As I said, I was in a class of 22. There were no cliques. In Shenandoah I was a latchkey kid at a very early age, unheard of today, but the neighbors looked after us as we played in the streets. Likewise in Ringtown where my parents knew all my teachers on a first name basis. I got into a little trouble fighting, which seemed to be our favorite pastime, but we fought with fists only and afterwards were usually ok with each other.
4. What values were stressed at home?
My parents were laissez-faire. They seldom knew where I might be. Frugality, toughness—both emotionally and physically—a work ethic, and honesty were values instilled in us, more by example than preaching.
Darryl at his first duty station
Camp Perry in Ohio and with his friends after bootcamp (top right).
Darryl at Guantanamo Bay Cuba in 1964 (far left).
5. What influenced your career choices post college and why did you join the Navy?
Honestly, I never thought of a career, not even when it seemed I was living one. I became a teacher by default, and when I was offered tenure, I resigned to join the Navy, at age 24, because I wanted to be a writer, not a teacher. In those days everyone was expected to serve a hitch. My brother went to the Air Force at age 18. I chose the Navy because no one had yet written a Navy novel from an enlisted man’s point of view, at least not that I knew about. I’d studied creative writing at Muhlenberg, Cornell, and CalState LA, but my true education as a writer started as a child in a coal town and matured during my time in the Navy.
James Caan and Marsha Mason in “Cinderella Liberty.” From IMDB.com.
6. What lessons did you take away from your service and what are some of your favorite moments from the Navy?
The Navy is the only branch that draws its cops from the rank and file on a temporary basis, as a work detail. This is both a good and bad idea for exactly the same reason: the Shore Patrol does not put aside his humanity when he puts on the arm band. (Navy brigs, however, are run by Marines.)
I spent most of my enlistment at sea, and I have many memories of the sea itself. I remember seeing my first flying fish. I remember the Atlantic as still as a pond and so wild that I had to lie on a table and hook my elbows and heels over the edges. My very first night at sea I was intensely seasick, throwing up over port and starboard while standing my first mid watch. And of course, there were the liberty ports. We would rotate nine months in the Mediterranean, a month or so in Norfolk, and then four or five months in the Caribbean, my ship was the first American warship to tie up at St. Mark’s Square in maybe ever. We would walk off the ladder right onto St. Mark’s Sq. We were in Venice for a week. I was on the USS MONROVIA (APA-31), the flagship for Comphibron 8, an amphibious squadron. Occasionally we would move to the USS OKINAWA, a helicopter carrier, which was a luxury compared to the Monrovia. I also spent about two months in transit on the USS INTREPID, which is now a museum in Manhattan.
An indelible memory, resulting in my novel and movie “Cinderella Liberty,” was a week-long stay at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va. I went there for a surgery. It turned out I didn’t need the surgery, but it took a week to process me out of the hospital. I had liberty every night until 2400.
Another weird one: my first TDY after boot camp, before getting a ship, was at an Army depot in Ohio. Long story. I was there for a whole summer.
Faculty picture for the school yearbook.
7. What did you enjoy most about being an English teacher and a social worker?
Both had annoying bureaucracies which hampered some good work, and the pay in both is shamefully low, but the rewards of seeing children progress or in helping people in true need cannot be measured. A lot of my former students are now Facebook friends. They’re all retired and I’m still working.
8. What inspired you to write “The Last Detail,” “Cinderella Liberty” and the “Last Flag Flying,”?
“The Last Detail” was an incredible stroke of luck. It was handed to me almost whole while I was in transit aboard the USS INTREPID after leaving the hospital. I was working with a crusty old P.O.1 in a tiny office. The Career Guidance Office. We played chess all day and swapped sea stories. He told me about having to escort a young sailor from Corpus Christi to the brig in Portsmouth, NH. The kid was unjustly sentenced to a long sentence for a small offense. I knew immediately I had struck gold. It took five or six years to evolve from a short story to a novel.
“Cinderella Liberty” was based on my Naval Hospital experience. That one took about four months to write.
“Last Flag Flying” was the result of endless prodding by a friend to revisit the characters in “The Last Detail” and essentially duplicate their train trip. I resisted for obvious reasons, but I was so obsessed with Bush pushing us into an endless and unnecessary war I felt it might be the best way to get it all off my chest.
Otis Wilson, Randy Quaid, Jack Nicholson and Don McGovern in “The Last Detail.” From IMDB.com
Steve Carrell, Laurence Fishburne, Darryl, Bryan Cranston and Rick Linklater on “Last Flag Flying.”
9. What was it like working with Jack Nicholson, Hal Ashby, Robert Towne, Harrison Ford, Martin Ritt, Barbara Streisand, Richard Dreyfus, Harold Becker, James Woods, Mark Rydell, Sydney Pollack, Sherry Lansing and Stanley Jaffe, Richard Linklater, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carrell?
I never worked with any of the principals involved in “The Last Detail.” I worked alone on Towne’s first draft for two weeks, the first time I ever saw a screenplay. Of the others, I worked most intensely with Barbra, Harold Becker, Mark Rydell, and Rick Linklater.
Mark Rydell did “Cinderella Liberty.” I worked closely with him on the script, my first, which took over twice as long as it took to write the novel. A WGA strike forced us to call it done. Mark was a charming, clever director, but I think I absorbed some bad stuff from him. He was an operator and I know at times I emulated him. A mistake. I’m not an operator, and I should have known that from the beginning. Not that his heart wasn’t in the right place.
I did several scripts with Harold Becker, who I liked personally, but I never fully trusted him. I saw him throw others under the bus and I’m pretty sure he did likewise with me.
Sherry Lansing was often derided as a cheerleader, but she was the best of cheerleaders, always encouraging, out in front. She was great to work with on “School Ties.” She was one of the first women to break out big in the business. I like her a lot. I worked with her and Jaffe on “Taps” and “School Ties,” which Jaffe left to head up Paramount. Stanley and I had a love-hate relationship. While at Paramount he hired me to do a major rewrite for a green-lit picture with a major star. I knew he had bragged about getting me cheap for “Taps,” so he made up for it with this job. It was outlandish. I can’t mention the project because at the last moment the star decided he couldn’t work with the director, and the whole thing crashed and burned.
Sydney Pollock was a good friend and a guide to me in the industry. He helped me through the political and filmmaking process in Hollywood. Sydney said that I was not “part of all this,” meaning the ethos and byzantine angles of Hollywood, and he took on the role of guide. I never did learn the ins and outs of the business, and whenever I pretended to I came off as a jerk.
My best experience, which turned out to be my least successful movie, was with Rick Linklater. All indications are that the movie will be rediscovered as time moves on. That happened with “Vision Quest,” a failed picture that keeps finding new audiences that are deeply moved by it. Rick never speaks above a whisper. He seems always on an even keel. Whatever he does comes from the heart.
Barbra was a singular experience. She’s taken a bad rap in the past. Even though I didn’t even like her, until I met her. I was so nervous about our first meeting. At the time, Sidney Pollack told me I would love her, and I did, even though I have a hard time being around perfectionists, who I believe get in their own way. Alvin Sargent, a good friend, worked with me as a collaborator on “Nuts.” Mark Rydell was originally the director. At one point she asked Rydell to step aside and let her work alone with the two of us. He wasn’t happy about it, but Barbra gets what she wants. We practically lived at her house in Beverly Hills for a week. It was agony, it was a joy. Rydell was replaced by Martin Ritt, one of the great old lefty directors.
Tom Cruise, Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn in Taps. From IMDB.com
Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott on “Blade Runner.” From IMDB.com
Richard Dreyfus and Barbra Streisand in “Nuts.” From IMDB.com
Linda Fiorentino and Matthew Modine in “Vision Quest.” From IMDB.com
Ben Affleck, Brendan Fraser, Matt Damon and Zeljko Ivanek in “School Ties.” From IMDB.com
10. What are you most proud of, your life and career?
Whatever I may be proud of came with a good deal of luck. I’m proud and lucky that my children are not addicts, and I’m proud I never wrote anything I’m ashamed of.
I’m also proud and lucky to have received an Image Award from the NAACP as Screenwriter of the Year. (1973) I may be the only Caucasian to receive that.
Several years ago, I was living in Sonoma and found I could not work because of the raucous noise of leaf blowers. I went to the city council and took my allotted three minutes to urge them to ban blowers. I went to every meeting over the next year, taking my three minutes. I did my homework and concluded that blowers were the most destructive handheld tool ever invented. I bombarded them with data they could not ignore. They finally voted to ban them, but the mayor caved to commercial pressure and changed his vote. He lost the next election because of that. The issue finally went to a ballot measure and the ban was passed by 16 votes.
I did the same thing in Palm Springs, but this time it was a slam dunk. I’m proud to have had a role in banning leaf blowers in two different cities.
Darryl worked a season with the George Matthews Great London 3-Ring Circus and wrote a book about it, “The Ringmaster.” He became Randy the Clown.
Darryl with Stephen Colbert at an event for “Last Flag Flying.”
Darryl’s NAACP Image Award for Screenwriter of the Year for 1973.
A Skyborg conceptual design for a low cost attritable Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle. (USAF ILLUSTRATION)
Skyborg is an autonomy-focused capability that will enable the Air Force to operate and sustain low-cost, teamed aircraft driven by artificial intelligence that can thwart adversaries with quick, decisive actions in contested environments. These unmanned aerial systems are meant to operate alongside manned fighters and will utilize machine learning technology to increase combat capability as they train alongside their piloted partner.
These wingman aircraft could fly ahead of manned planes to extend the pair’s sensor coverage to increase battlespace awareness. They can fire weapons at targets designated by their human wingmen, and a swarm of automated wingmen could protect piloted aircraft by absorbing missile shots from enemy forces.
Air Force policy stipulates that people are always responsible for lethal decision-making. Accordingly, Skyborg will not replace human pilots. Instead, it will provide them with key data to support rapid, informed decisions.
“Ever since “Star Wars” first debuted, this idea of being able to fly with autonomy to support you, and cute little beeps and squeaks right, it has just caught the imagination,” said Dr. Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. “It’s time to make that real.”
Attendees watch a video about the Skyborg Vanguard Program during the Air Warfare Symposium, Feb. 28, 2020. Skyborg is an unmanned aircraft focused competency that will allow the Air Force to employ a team of artificially intelligent aircraft to quickly thwart adversaries in combat. Skyborg will not replace pilots but will provide crucial and prompt data to help the pilot make informed and accurate decisions. (PHOTO // KENNETH MCNULTY)
Roper said he’s excited for the R2-D2 program, a name he uses to refer to Skyborg.
Speaking to the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in June, Roper divulged that conversations with world-renowned experts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed that artificial intelligence, in its current form, is fragile.
“It’s (AI) fine when it’s helping you with entertainment related functions. If your app crashes and the AI gives you the wrong choice on what movie or song to play next, well no big deal,” Roper said. “But on the battlefield an adversary will be there trying to thwart and confound that AI and it’s very easy to do.”
Roper added that the Air Force is going to need a new form of AI that is hardened against an adversary, and research is underway. He expressed the need to accelerate and if done skillfully, the Air Force won’t just be accelerating for the Defense Department; this kind of hardened AI is also needed in the commercial sector for delivery drones and improving self-driving cars.
Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, discusses “The Future Air Force, Faster, Smarter: The Next Gear” during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 16, 2019. One innovative project the Air Force is employing is Skyborg, an unmanned aircraft focused competency that will allow the Air Force to employ a team of artificially intelligent aircraft to quickly thwart adversaries in combat. (U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO // STAFF SGT. CHAD TRUJILLO)
“The roots of the Air Force are all about breaking boundaries and doing new things and I think we may have forgotten that a little bit,” Roper said. “In the wake of the Soviet Union collapse, we didn’t have that adversary pushing us. We ought to be doing new things all the time and everywhere and AI autopilot, or wingman or R2-D2 is something new. I can’t wait to get it out on the battlefield.”
Skyborg is one of three Vanguard programs identified in 2019 as part of the Air Force Science and Technology 2030 Strategy. The Air Force plans to channel more resources into the programs and speed up their development.
The Air Force Research Laboratory announced the new strategy last year. It prioritizes demands on time, space and complexity in future conflicts across all domains. The strategy aligns with the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy and lays out a path forward for the Air Force Science and Technology ecosystem to deliver warfighting capabilities at the speed of relevance and necessity.
The Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie is an experimental stealthy unmanned combat aerial vehicle designed and built for the United States Air Force Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator program, under the USAF Research Laboratory’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology project portfolio. (PHOTO // AFRL)
In July, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center awarded multiple indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts to The Boeing Co., General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems, Inc. and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. These initial awards will establish a vendor pool that will continue to compete for up to 0 million in subsequent delivery orders in support of the Skyborg Vanguard Program.
“Because autonomous systems can support missions that are too strenuous or dangerous for manned crews, Skyborg can increase capability significantly and be a force multiplier for the Air Force,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, program executive officer for fighters and advanced aircraft, who, along with Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, Air Force Research Laboratory commander, serves as the leadership for the Skyborg program. “We have the opportunity to transform our warfighting capabilities and change the way we fight and the way we employ air power.”
An illustration depicting the future integration of the Air Force enabling fusion warfare, where huge sets of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data are collected, analyzed by artificial intelligence and utilized by Airmen, their autonomous wingmen and the joint force in a seamless process to stay many steps ahead of an adversary. (ILLUSTRATION // AFRL)
“Autonomy technologies in Skyborg’s portfolio will range from simple play-book algorithms to advanced team decision making and will include on-ramp opportunities for artificial intelligence technologies,” Pringle said. “This effort will provide a foundational government reference architecture for a family of layered, autonomous, and open-architecture unmanned aerial systems.”
The Vanguards are also introducing a novel early partnership between AFLCMC and AFRL due to the need to quickly identify cutting edge technology and transition it directly into the hands of the warfighter.
“The greatest technological edge is for naught if the warfighter can’t use it on the battlefield. That makes the partnership between AFRL and AFLCMC so vital to this program. We can’t allow bureaucratic speed bumps to interfere with our mandate to deliver,” White said.
Just as the last generation of pilots had the instincts for stealth, Roper believes, the next generation will have the instincts for this, previously nonexistent, type of algorithmic warfare on future battlefields.
“This next generation of pilot is not going to be ready to hand the reins over to R2-D2, but neither will they be willing to go into combat without R2-D2, if R2-D2 is available,” Roper said. “Our pilots are the best and they will continue to be the best if we give this technology, it will take their game into a completely different dimension.”
The United States was the “Arsenal of Democracy” in World War II, but even this arsenal had to get a little help from allies. The British, in fact, loaned us some of their planes during that conflict. Here are four planes we borrowed from the Brits.
1. Supermarine Spitfire
Yes, even though the United States had the P-40, P-38, P-47, P-51, F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, and the F4U Corsair, they had to acquire the plane that won the Battle of Britain.
The American Spitfires mostly saw service in North Africa and Italy, according to SpitfireSite.com, until they were replaced by P-51s. United States Army Air Force Spitfires scored almost 350 kills during World War II.
The Spitfire is also notable for being the plane that got Jimmy Doolittle chewed out by Eisenhower.
2. Airspeed Horsa
Okay, this is technically a glider. Still, the United States needed a glider to bring in heavy gear for units like the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The Airspeed Horsa fit the bill with its ability to carry a lot of troops and gear, and the United States got 301 of the planes for D-Day, according to the book World War II Glider Assault Tactics.
3. Bristol Beaufighter
This was a multi-role heavy fighter, which packed a huge punch (four 20mm cannon, six .303-caliber machine guns). According to Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, the United States operated four squadrons of Beaufighters in the night-fighter role. These squadrons operated in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, eventually switching to the P-61 Black Widow.
4. De Havilland Mosquito
This plane was very versatile, used for photo reconnaissance, as a night-fighter, as a heavy fighter, and even as a light bomber. The Army Air Force used a number of these planes in all of those roles during World War II, but historynet.com noted that most of them were crashed because this airborne hot rod was difficult to fly.
America may have missed out — the Mosquito is considered a legend.
Even today, America’s importing warplanes: The A-29 Super Tucano is a Brazilian design, while the AV-8 Harrier was British.
With irony equal to that of the unsinkable Titanic drowning on her maiden voyage, the Swedish warship, Mars, called “the Matchless,” was set afire, her armament exploded, and she sank during her first major sea battle. Lost for nearly 450 years, Marshas recently been found in the Baltic Sea, and archaeologists are giddy with the discovery.
In the 1560s, several of the Baltic states were at war, with Sweden on one side, and Denmark and Lübeck (of the Hanseatic League in Northern Germany) on the other. Continuing a practice begun years earlier, Sweden’s king, Erik XIV, funded his campaigns, at least in part, by confiscating Catholic church treasures.
Naval powerhouses, the warring states required strong fleets, and there was a push toward ever-larger ships. In 1563, as part of his drive to have the best navy, Erik commissioned the Mars, one of Europe’s first large, three-masted ships.
At 48 meters long and 13 wide, and displacing 1,800 tons, the Mars held an impressive array of armament. Spanning three decks as well as the crow’s nest, this included 53 canons and 50 smaller guns, an arsenal of incendiary grenades, round balls, chain shots and fire-balls. The ship also boasted a crew of nearly 700. Of course, there was a massive amount of gunpowder on board, as well, for use in the canons and other weapons.
According to legend, to make many of these canons, bells were taken from the Catholic churches in Swedish controlled lands and melted down and forged into the ship’s guns.
Regardless of the truth of that, this ship was launched in 1564 and shortly thereafter, on May 29, 1564, the Mars embarked on its first and only sea battle at Öland. After two days of fighting, the Mars had earned its nickname, the Matchless, as it led the fight against Denmark and Lübeck, who lost 16 ships and approximately 7,000 men in the battle.
The enemy rallied, and on May 31, 1564, so many fireballs were lobbed onto the Mars’deck that it was soon disabled sufficiently for the German’s to board. Of course, beyond the 350 or so sailors aboard the Mars, anyone boarding it also had to contend with its full compliment of about 450 soldiers. Unfortunately for both sides, a short time after being boarded, the Matchless’ gunpowder stores ignited, creating a heat so intense it reportedly caused the warship’s loaded canons to explode. The result of all of this was enough damage to the most powerful ship in the world that it sank, killing between 800 and 900 Swedish and Lübeckian sailors in the process.
The warship Kronan explodes during a battle. Kronan was destroyed by a fire similar to the one that claimed the Mars. Photo: Wikipedia
Slipping into the Baltic in 75 meters of cold water, many Catholics at the time blamed the disaster on the supposed theft and re-use of the church bells.
For over four centuries, the Mars remained lost.
At between 50N and 65N latitude, the Baltic Sea is cold, and at the place where the Marssank, just east of Öland Island, the currents are slow, the water brackish but with little sediment, and the mollusk typically responsible for rapidly destroying shipwrecks, the shipworm, is absent. The combination of all these factors is that, despite its long slumber in Davy Jones’ locker, the Mars is remarkably well preserved.
Discovered in 2011 by a group of divers, given the age and fragility of the Mars and its remaining contents, archaeologists have been hesitant to raise the ship. Rather, they have focused on photographing and digitally scanning the wreck with an eye toward producing 3-D reconstructions that are accurate to within 2 millimeters.
The Mars has been called by some “the missing link” because it marked the shift in Europe toward the massive, much more well-known warships of the 17th century; evidence for this is seen in the fact that, shortly after meeting the Mars at Öland, the Danes and Lübeckians were building their own massive, heavily armed ships, including the 2,100 displacement ton Fortuna and Grosse Adler (1567), and the nearly 3,500 displacement ton,St. Oluf (1573).
Note, however, that these Matchless champions of the time are tiny by today’s standards. In fact, the largest warships on the sea today, the United States Nimitz class super carriers, are over 330 meters long and 40 meters wide, sport flight decks of just over 75 meters, and displace approximately 97,000 tons when fully loaded.
But the US and Russia said the missile had a medium range and presented no threat to either country.
North Korea has increased the frequency of its missile tests, in defiance of a ban by the UN Security Council.
China and Russia called on Pyongyang to freeze its missile and nuclear activities.
The announcement on North Korea state television said the Hwasong-14 missile test was overseen by leader Kim Jong-un.
It said the projectile had reached an altitude of 2,802km (1,731 miles) and flew 933km for 39 minutes before hitting a target in the sea.
North Korea, it said, was now “a full-fledged nuclear power that has been possessed of the most powerful inter-continental ballistic rocket capable of hitting any part of the world.”
It would enable the country to “put an end to the US nuclear war threat and blackmail” and defend the Korean peninsula, it said.
While Pyongyang appears to have made progress, experts believe North Korea does not have the capability to accurately hit a target with an ICBM, or miniaturize a nuclear warhead that can fit onto such a missile.
Other nuclear powers have also cast doubt on North Korea’s assessment, with Russia saying the missile only reached an altitude of 535km and flew about 510km.
How far could this missile travel?
The big question is what range it has, says the BBC’s Steven Evans in Seoul. Could it hit the United States?
David Wright, a physicist with the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, says that if the reports are correct, this missile could “reach a maximum range of roughly 6,700km on a standard trajectory”.
That range would allow it to reach Alaska, but not the large islands of Hawaii or the other 48 US states, he says.
It is not just a missile that North Korea would need, our correspondent adds. It must also have the ability to protect a warhead as it re-enters the atmosphere, and it is not clear if North Korea can do that.
Once again North Korea has defied the odds and thumbed its nose at the world in a single missile launch. With the test of the Hwasong-14, it has shown that it can likely reach intercontinental ballistic missile ranges including putting Alaska at risk.
Kim Jong-un has long expressed his desire for such a test, and to have it on the 4 July holiday in the US is just the icing on his very large cake.
Despite this technical achievement, however, it is likely many outside North Korea will continue to be skeptical of North Korea’s missile. They will ask for proof of working guidance, re-entry vehicle, and even a nuclear warhead.
From a technical perspective, though, their engines have demonstrated ICBM ranges, and this would be the first of several paths North Korea has to an ICBM with even greater range.
Are neighbors and nuclear powers concerned?
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has called on the UN Security Council to take steps against North Korea.
Japan described “repeated provocations like this are absolutely unacceptable” and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country would “unite strongly” with the US and South Korea to put pressure on Pyongyang.
Russia and China said the launch was “unacceptable”.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is in Moscow, where he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two leaders urged Pyongyang to suspend all its tests. They also asked the US and South Korea to not hold joint military exercises.
US President Donald Trump also responded swiftly on July 4.
On his Twitter account he made apparent reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying: “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?”
“Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”
President Trump has repeatedly called on China, Pyongyang’s closest economic ally, to pressure North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programs.
On the prospect of North Korea being able to strike the US, he tweeted in January: “It won’t happen”. However experts say it might – within five years or less.
Beijing called for “restraint” following the latest test on July 4.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China was opposed to North Korea going against clear UN Security Council resolutions on its missile launches.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK “stood alongside the US and our allies to confront the threat North Korea poses to international security”.
The government is moving to give Australia’s overseas spies extra powers to protect themselves and their operations by the use of force.
Legislation to be introduced on Nov. 29, 2018, will allow a staff member or agent of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) to be able to use “reasonable force” in the course of their work.
It also will enable the Foreign Minister to specify extra people, such as a hostage, who may be protected by an ASIS staffer or agent.
It is understood the changes have been discussed with the opposition and are likely to receive its support.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne says in a statement that ASIS officers often work in dangerous areas including under warlike conditions. “As the world becomes more complex, the overseas operating environment for ASIS also becomes more complex”, she says.
The provisions covering the use of force by ASIS have not undergone significant change since 2004.
“Currently, ASIS officers are only able to use weapons for self-protection, or the protection of other staff members or agents cooperating with ASIS.
R. G. Casey House houses the headquarters of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.
(Photo by Adam Carr)
“The changes will mean officers are able to protect a broader range of people and use reasonable force if someone poses a risk to an operation”, Payne says.
“Like the existing ability to use weapons for self-defense, these amendments will be an exception to the standing prohibitions against the use of violence or use of weapons by ASIS.”
There are presently legal grey areas in relation to using force, especially the use of reasonable and limited force to restrain, detain or move a person who might pose a risk to an operation or to an ASIS staff member.
Under the amendment the use of force would only apply where there was a significant risk to the safety of a person, or a threat to security or a risk to the operational security of ASIS. Any use of force would have to be proportionate.
The government instances as an example the keeping safe of an uncooperative person from a source of immediate danger during an ASIS operation, including by removing them from the danger.
Mindy N. asks: After a long run my leg muscles are tired, but my heart is not. Why doesn’t the heart need any rest?
An average of around 60 to 100 times every minute of every day of every year of your ultimately meaningless life, your heart beats… until it doesn’t. Not long after it stops, all knowledge of your having existed is rapidly forgotten. Unlike the other muscles in your body, however, your heart steadfastly rages against the dying of the light, refusing to ever get tired. But how does it manage this and why are your other muscles such slackers in comparison?
To begin with, the human body is broadly composed of three types of muscles: skeletal, smooth and cardiac. Skeletal muscles are striated (banded), and are what most of us think of when we envision a muscle — controlling pretty much all voluntary, and some involuntary, body movement.
Like cardiac muscle, skeletal muscle derives energy from ATP (Adenosine triphoweknowyoudontcare), with this being made in a few different ways. To avoid going full textbook, we’ll just briefly give the high level over simplified view here. In a nutshell, the slowest, but most efficient, method of ATP production is via aerobic respiration where mitochondria in your muscle cells draw energy from the Dark Dimension, producing ATP, a small amount of which is stored in your muscles at any given time. This stored amount is a sufficient supply to last for about 3 seconds of vigorous activity, not unlike your high school boyfriend.
Diagram of the human heart.
After this supply is taxed, with the ATP converted to ADP (adenosine diphosophate) in the process, creatine phosphate in the muscles is used to convert it back to ATP. This supply will last about 8-15 seconds.
Next up, it turns out we were totally wrong about that whole Dark Dimension thing as, in fact, your muscles continue to get ATP beyond this via a series of chemical reactions resulting in glucose being used to make the needed ATP to keep going. This glucose comes from a variety of sources, such as glycogen in your muscles, or via blood via fats, protein, stores in the liver, and from your food churning away in your intestines.
There are two high level ways this production of ATP ends up being accomplished. In the first, using large supplies of oxygen. In this case, as much as 38 ATP molecules can be produced for every glucose molecule. In the second case, via anaerobic glycolysis — not requiring oxygen — only 2 molecules of ATP are produced for each molecule of glucose. While an extremely inefficient use of the available supply of glucose, this method at least produces the ATP over two times faster than aerobic respiration and continues working for a time while you’re out of breath.
Due to glycolysis resulting in the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles, ultimately if it accumulates faster than it can be gotten rid of, it will interfere with the anaerobic glycolysis process and your muscles are going to go all jelly and cease to work as well for a little bit. This is in part why, if you get out of breath when exercising and your body is relying more on anaerobic glycolysis, you get fatigued extremely quickly. In this case, you’re simultaneously creating lactic acid at a much more rapid rate and using up your available glucose molecules faster, but producing relatively small amounts of ATP for those molecules used. Do this for more than a minute or two and it will overtax your skeletal muscles’ ability to produce the needed ATP at the rate you’re using it. (Though, again, your mileage will vary based on your current fitness level.)
Back it off and so you’re relying mostly on aerobic respiration and you’re going to get the most bang for your buck, able to keep going all night long if you keep hydrated and well fed. Slow and steady wins the race.
Unsurprisingly from all of this, the more mitochondria there are, the faster ATP can potentially be produced if the needed molecules are present and the more the muscle can keep on keeping on. As for skeletal muscle, about 2%-8% of the volume of such muscle is mitochondria, though this varies somewhat from person to person depending on your level of physical fitness.
Moving on to smooth muscle, as you may have gleaned from the name, this is smooth with no striations. Found in your hollow internal organs (except the heart), smooth muscles work automatically, helping you digest food, dilate your pupils and take a wee-wee. As an example of smooth muscle in action, in digestion, the contractions themselves are really not too dissimilar to how your heart beat works — fluctuation of electrical potential in the smooth muscle cells which causes the muscle to contract in a rhythmic fashion, in this case called the “Basic Electrical Rhythm” or BER. This rhythm is about three times per minute in the stomach, and 12 times per minute in the small intestines. The sound you are hearing when your stomach and intestines make noise is the result of these muscular contractions mixing and moving chyme (the cocktail of digestive juices, food, microbes, etc.) and air along down the tube between your mouth and your waste disposal port.
As for the mitochondrial needs of these muscles, they are typically approximately that of your skeletal muscles, with mitochondria making up about 3-5% of the smooth muscle volume.
This finally brings us to the real hero of your life story — cardiac muscle. Like skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle is striated and like the other muscle in your body is primarily powered by mitochondria. The cardiac muscles, however, have as much as 10 times the density of mitochondria as your other muscles, at about 35% of the volume of your cardiac muscle.
It should also be noted that individual muscle cells in the heart actually do get regular rest thanks to how the heart beat actually works, which we’ll get into in the Bonus Fact in a bit. But the net result is that about 60%-70% of your life a given part of your heart is actually in a resting state.
Combining these micro-rests with the extreme amount of mitochondria and a large amount of oxygen from the heart’s awesome blood supply, this allows your heart all the ATP it needs to not get tired, assuming you’re not in an extreme state of starvation or doing some extreme form of exercise for extended periods well beyond your normal fitness regime.
On that note, the downside to needing so much ATP thanks to no extended downtime is that the heart really needs to rely on aerobic respiration to make sure it doesn’t run out of ATP, and thus it doesn’t take oxygen being cut off for too long from it before you’re going to have a bad time, unlike other muscles you can just stop using to help recover the needed ATP over time.
And, yes, it turns out the human heart can actually get tired and suffer damage if you’re trying to do some extreme form of physical activity outside your norm for lengthy periods, especially if in a low oxygen environment like at high altitude. In these cases, even the healthiest hearts can suffer damage, though given the other effects on your body of such extreme physical activity, typically most people will stop doing whatever before the heart is negatively impacted in a damaging way. In essence, your legs will give out before your heart does (usually), at least when talking energy supply. But that doesn’t mean in certain cases a measurable level of tiredness in the heart can’t be observed.
For example, in 2001, cardiologists studied a few dozen endurance athletes competing in a 400 km race in Scotland, which comprised of all manner of physical activities from paddling, rope climbing, running, biking, climbing, etc. and the whole event taking almost 100 hours. During this span, the athletes typically only slept about 1 hour per 24 hours during the event and otherwise soldiered on.
The results? At the end of the race, the athletes’ hearts were only pumping about 90% of the volume per beat they’d been managing before the race started.
That said, further research on endurance athletes calls into question the notion of “no permanent damage” being done. For example, researchers involved in a 2011 British study looking at British Olympians who competed in distance running and rowing (and specifically competing in at minimum a hundred events), found that as they aged they showed marked signs of heart muscle scarring, something that can lead to irregular heart function and, potentially, heart failure.
Of course, these are extreme examples, and for most people not doing ultra marathons regularly or competing professionally or semi-professionally in endurance events, this is unlikely to be a problem and the holistic health benefits of regular, vigorous exercise are likely to make up for it even then.
Ever wonder how the heart beat works? Well, wonder no more. In a nutshell, the heart is a four chambered pump. The top two chambers are called Atria, the bottom two are called Ventricles. They are separated from top to bottom by valves; the right and left sides are separated by a septum. So what makes the pump squeeze? When the hearts muscle gets “shocked”, it will contract and force the blood down its path, with the valves not allowing blood to flow back through the system, unless they are defective.
The blood’s path through the heart starts in a vein called the Superior Vena Cava. Then it enters the right atrium, flows through the tricuspid valve into the right ventricle. From there it travels through the pulmonic valve into pulmonary arteries, then the lungs. Now back to the heart and into the left atrium, through the mitral valve. The blood is now in the “strongest” chamber of the heart, the left ventricle. From there it gets pumped through the aortic valve and into the aorta and out to the rest of the body!
So what causes that infamous electric shock the heart receives approximately 60-100 times a minute? Short answer: Dormammu. Long answer: The exchange of electrolytes across specialized cells within the heart build up a differing electrical potential on either side of the cell. When this electrical potential reaches a certain level, it discharges and sends a shock down another unique set of cells within the heart, causing a shock and thus the contraction.
The specific set of cells that regulates the heart rate (in most people) are called the Sinoatrial node or SA node for short. The SA node (pacemaker of the heart) sits in the upper portion of the R atria near the entrance of the superior vena cava.
When the SA node sends out and electrical shock, it immediately shocks the atria. The pulse then gets “held up” in another set of cells called the Atrioventricular node, or AV node for short. This then transmits the impulse down to the bundle of His and then to two pathways called the right and left bundle branches. Then it’s transmitted to the rest of the Ventricles through what are called Purkinje fibers. All together this “shock” causes the atria to contract, then the ventricles. You’re still alive! (For now.)
So what and how do these electrolytes cause this shock? In an attempt not to give a physiology lecture of ungodly proportion, we will simply say that the main two electrolytes involved are sodium and potassium. Potassium normally sits inside the cell, and sodium outside. Potassium slowly leaks outside of the cell and sodium then goes inside the cell. This creates the differing electrical potential that builds up until the point of discharge. Other electrolytes also help in creating this differential, and they are calcium and magnesium. All together the harmony created by this yin and yang system of electrical and mechanical systems come together to make that wonderfully thumping thing inside your chest!
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
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.”