Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Creative geniuses behind digital humans and human-like characters in Hollywood blockbusters Avatar, Blade Runner 2049, Maleficent, Furious 7, The Jungle Book, Ready Player One, and others have U.S. Army-funded technology to thank for visual effects.

That technology was developed at the U.S. Army Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California. The ICT is funded by the RDECOM Research Laboratory, the Army’s corporate research laboratory (ARL).

Developers of that technology were recently announced winners of one of nine scientific and technical achievements by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


A Technical Achievement Award will be presented at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills on Feb. 9, 2019, to Paul Debevec, Tim Hawkins, and Wan-Chun Ma for the invention of the Polarized Spherical Gradient Illumination facial appearance capture method, and to Xueming Yu for the design and engineering of the Light Stage X capture system during the Academy’s annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Creative geniuses behind digital humans and human-like characters in Hollywood blockbusters have U.S. Army-funded technology to thank for visual effects. Pictured here, engineers work on the Light Stage X capture system’s recording process.

(U.S. Army Institute for Creative Technologies)

The Scientific and Technical Academy Awards demonstrate a proven record of contributing significant value to the process of making motion pictures.

The Academy Certificate reads: “Polarized Spherical Gradient Illumination was a breakthrough in facial capture technology allowing shape and reflectance capture of an actor’s face with sub-millimeter detail, enabling the faithful recreation of hero character faces. The Light Stage X structure was the foundation for all subsequent innovation and has been the keystone of the method’s evolution into a production system.”

The new high-resolution facial scanning process uses a custom sphere of computer-controllable LED light sources to illuminate an actor’s face with special polarized gradient lighting patterns which allow digital cameras to digitize every detail of every facial expression at a resolution down to a tenth of a millimeter.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

A Soldier demonstrates the Light Stage X capture system technology.

(U.S. Army Institute for Creative Technologies)

The technology has been used by the visual effects industry to help create digital human and human-like characters in a number of movies and has scanned over one hundred actors including Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Zoe Saldana, Hugh Jackman, Brad Pitt, and Dwayne Johnson at University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies.

Additionally, the Light Stage technology assists the military in facilitating recordings for its Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program through a system called the Digital Survivor of Sexual Assault (DS2A). DS2A leverages research technologies previous created for the Department of Defense under the direction of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and allows for Soldiers to interact with a digital guest speaker and hear their stories. As part of the ongoing SHARP training, this technology enables new SHARP personnel, as well as selected Army leaders, to participate in conversations on SHARP topics through the lens of a survivor’s firsthand account. It is the first system of its kind to be used in an Army classroom.

All four awardees were members of USC ICT’s Graphics Laboratory during the development of the technology from 2006 through 2016.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Paul Debevec is one of the designers and engineers of the Light Stage X capture system.

(U.S. Army Institute for Creative Technologies)

Paul Debevec continues as an Adjunct Research Professor at USC Viterbi and at the USC ICT Vision Graphics Lab. Wan-Chun “Alex” Ma was Paul Debevec’s first Ph.D student at USC ICT and Xueming Yu joined the USC ICT Graphics Lab in 2008 as a USC Viterbi Master’s student. Tim Hawkins now runs a commercial light stage scanning service in Burbank for OTOY, who licensed the light stage technology through USC Stevens in 2008.

This is the second Academy Sci-Tech award being given to the Light Stage technology developed at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. The first, given nine years ago, was for the earliest light stage capture devices and the “image-based facial rendering system developed for character relighting in motion pictures” and was awarded to Paul Debevec, Tim Hawkins, John Monos, and Mark Sagar.

Established in 1999, the Army’s ICT is a DOD-sponsored University Affiliated Research Center working in collaboration with the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) Research Laboratory’s UARCs are aligned with prestigious institutions conducting research at the forefront of science and innovation.

The RDECOM Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How to get a medical marijuana card

While different states have different laws, the process is pretty similar no matter where you live.

Thirty-six states and four territories have chosen to flout the United States government’s prohibition on cannabis by legalizing the sale and consumption of marijuana for medical purposes. The FDA has only approved one marijuana-derived drug to treat two rare forms of epilepsy, but there is promising evidence that medical marijuana can also help those suffering from conditions including chronic pain, cancer, glaucoma, PTSD, and Parkinson’s Disease. Who’s ready to join the more than 4.3 million Americans who already have a medical marijuana card?

Not so fast. The lack of a federal framework means there are 40 separate sets of rules governing medical marijuana certification and so your path to a medical marijuana card includes some bureaucratic hoop-jumping. While some specifics vary from state to state, the general procedure for obtaining a medical marijuana card follows a pretty similar and clear path. Here’s what you need to know.

Qualifying conditions for a medical marijuana card.

Qualifying diagnosable medical conditions that medical marijuana can be recommended to treat differ for each state, but there are a number of overlapping conditions. The most common (according to online cannabis marketplace Leafly) are epilepsy and seizure disorders, cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, neurodegenerative diseases, cachexia, and PTSD. Nausea and pain are also common qualifying conditions, but some states only classify “severe” or “intractable” examples of the two as qualifying conditions.

Some states, like Florida, also include “medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those listed,” which gives physicians the discretion to recommend medical marijuana for serious conditions that explicitly included on the list of qualifying conditions.

Medical recommendations for a medical marijuana card.

If you think your condition is a qualifying condition, the next step is to find a medical professional who will recommend cannabis. Prescribing the drug, a schedule 1 substance under federal law, is a big no-no, but recommending is inbounds.

Some states will require an in-person visit to a doctor’s office and some allow for telemedicine visits, particularly during the pandemic. Your general practitioner might be willing to provide a recommendation, but in most states, there are clinics that market themselves (with varying degrees of subtlety) as places to get medical marijuana recommendations.

Register for a medical marijuana card with your state.

Once you have a recommendation, you can provide it to your state as part of the application process. Some states provide a temporary card that, when presented with a state ID card or driver’s license, can be used at a dispensary. Others will make you wait until you receive the card in the mail.

Some states will also allow you to register one or two caregivers as part of your application. They’ll need to complete some paperwork themselves, but once approved they can buy medical marijuana for the patient, something that’s particularly useful for people whose conditions make it difficult for them to leave the house.

What to do once you have a medical marijuana card.

A medical marijuana card will allow you to purchase medical marijuana products in limited quantities from licensed dispensaries in your state, some of which offer home delivery. Some states allow you to grow limited quantities of your own while eleven states and Washington, DC, allow purchases in their dispensaries from holders of out-of-state medical marijuana cards, a nice perk if you find yourself in need while away from home.

Among the prohibitions that are universal across states are giving medical marijuana to someone else and purchasing it from anywhere but a licensed dispensary. Additionally, the federal government still has legal authority over interstate commerce, so transporting marijuana across state lines—even if both have legalized it—is illegal under federal law.

Budtenders — employees of dispensaries — are good sources of information, as being well-versed in the laws of their state is a condition of their employment. Otherwise, the best way to look at the laws that govern marijuana in your state is probably to Google “[state name] medical marijuana qualifying conditions.” Avoid the 420.biz-style results you’ll also find and click on the official state website (e.g. ny.gov or mn.us) for the real dope.

MIGHTY SPORTS

First Army goes back to basics to prepare for the ACFT

The upcoming Army Combat Fitness Test is intended to improve soldier readiness, transform the Army’s fitness culture, reduce preventable injuries, and enhance mental toughness and stamina.

But the new test leaves one question: How do soldiers train safely?

First Sgt. Daniel Ramirez, the first sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, First Army, answered this question for his soldiers by partnering with a local functional fitness gym. He and fifteen other soldiers of the Detachment recently attended a four-day, in-depth class at Foundation in East Moline, Illinois on proper techniques for lifting, squatting, and other exercises essential to safe completion of the ACFT. The goal of the workshop was to “Train the Trainer,” enabling First Army personnel to be subject-matter experts in advising their teammates on safe and efficient methods of exercise.


“We want to get everyone on the same page technique-wise so we can prevent injuries,” said Ramirez. The Foundation coaches, Ramirez said, were ideal instructors, due to their knowledge and experience.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Soldiers of First Army practice lifting techniques and proper lifting posture at Foundation in East Moline, Illinois.

(US Army)

Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Sims, Command Sgt. Maj. First Army, also attended the training. He agreed with the idea of partnering with fitness professionals to learn the fundamentals.

“It’s crucial to have a better understanding of what we are asking our soldiers to do,” explained Sims. “By working with professionals in this, it’s only going to build our knowledge base when we go back and train the rest of the team.”

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Brandon Bartz, Co-Owner of Foundation in East Moline, Illinois, observes Soldiers of First Army practicing their technique that will be used during the standing power throw of the Army Combat Fitness test.

(US Army)

Brandon Bartz and Josiah Lorentzen, owners of the Foundation, instructed the soldiers in the proper exercise techniques.

“We just want to help the soldiers get ready for the new test,” explained Bartz. “We just want all of you to be able to train effectively and safely.”

In addition to developing First Army’s philosophy as a team of Fit Army Professionals and preparing for the fitness test, the event also strengthened ties to the local community and the Rock Island Arsenal.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Josiah Lorentzen and Brandon Bartz, Owners of Foundation, in East Moline, Illinois, demonstrate the proper dead lift technique to First Army Soldiers.

(US Army)

“It’s awesome to work these soldiers, said Lorentzen. “They are close to home, so we love getting to work with them whenever we can.”

The Army Combat Fitness Test becomes an official for record test staring in October of 2020.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

SHOT Show 2019: Glocks are so hot right now

Every year at SHOT Show, there seems to be a theme among the new product releases. 2018 seemed to be the year of the Roland Special & pistol comps, the year prior was pistol caliber carbines, before that was the modular rifles and suppressors. We are already seeing a trend forming here, Glock clones.

Brownells has been killing it with the exclusive Polymer80 options as well as their bargain-priced slides. With the success that Brownells saw with the Polymer80 frames and Brownells produced slides, it was only a matter of time for other manufacturers to jump on the Glock clone bandwagon.


Leading up to the show season Brownells even launched new Gen4 Glock slides,

The Glock clone army that might invade the 2019 SHOT Show really started on the floor of SHOT 2018 with the announcement of the PF940SC and the serialized PF940C frames. Could this have been foreshadowing of the impending invasion?

Our friends over at Grey Ghost Precision dropped their Combat Pistol frame on us back in August 2018, giving Glock builders yet another option. The Combat Pistol frame has a distinctive texture and is ready to build on right out of the box.

How about a folding Glock clone? Full Conceal launched their Polymer80 framed thing in 2018 as well.

There are even options to build a non-Glock Glock in large frame calibers like .45 ACP and 10mm with Polymer80’s recently announced PF45 frame.

As for 2019? We’ve seen a slew of new Glock clones announced like the Alpha Foxtrot aluminum frame, and the new Zev OZ9 pistol kicking the show season off strong. Following those, Faxon Firearms released their FX-19 pistol that appears to be based on a Faxon specific Poly80 frame.

If the Faxon pistol doesn’t do it for you, how about the new Glock build kit from Agency? This one came as the biggest surprise to us given Agency’s history producing some of the nicest Glocks on the planet. If you scoop one of these up, not only do you get an Agency stippled frame but also a lower parts kit and their Syndicate slide.

I think that it’s pretty safe to assume that the show floor is going to be littered with Glock clones built on their very own platform like the ZRO Delta Genesis Z9 or the half a dozen “new” pistols being offered that have a Polymer80 frame.

There are likely several other new Glock clone options that have been overlooked in the sea of plastic fantastic.

Regardless of what this year’s theme turns out to be, we will be pleased with any new products announced. After all, variety is the spice of life.

This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.

Humor

The 13 funniest memes for the week of April 27th

Fantastic week, everyone! Plenty of hard-won success within the veteran and military community! The doctors at Johns Hopkins fought to give a wounded warrior a new penis, one of our own fought hard for his right to have a beard, and we fought to get tax exemption for disabled veterans with student loan forgiveness.


All this and no one fractured the community with a t-rex puppet or an article about how “millennials are killing the iron sight industry.” Your weekly meme brief is simple. Don’t do dumb sh*t; just keep making the vet and military community proud. Have a drink, you earned it.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

(Meme via Air Force Nation)

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

(Meme by WATM)

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

(Meme via Dysfunctional Veterans)

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

(Meme via Infantry Army)

Friend: “Is that a gun in your pants or are you just happy to see me?”

Me, a 2A supporter: “Both”

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

This one got dark. We Are The Mighty does not condone the humanitarian catastrophes in Syria, but the U.S. cannot condone the use of chemical warfare…anyway…back to the memes…

(Meme via Sh*t My LPO Says)

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

(Meme by WATM)

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

(Meme via Military World)

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

(Meme via The Salty Soldier)

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

(Meme via U.S. Army WTF Moments)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The hilarious story behind the first-ever in-flight radio transmission

The first time the radio was used in an aircraft, the message wasn’t one about science, technology, or even the wild blue yonder. It was much more mundane – but still unexpectedly hilarious. When the crew of the Airship America decided to attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, they opted to take a radio system with them along with a cat that had been living in the airship’s hangar, one named Kiddo. The first message transmitted by the airmen was about Kiddo.

“Roy, come and get this goddam cat!”


It was 1910, and America’s airman Walter Wellman loaded five companions onto the airship America in an effort to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. Though the mission would end in a kind of disaster (and not cross the Atlantic), it would still be historic, setting a number of firsts and records for traveling by air. The ship traveled more than a thousand miles and stayed in the air for a whopping 72 hours. Wellman also decided he would take a radio system and an engineer with him so he could communicate with ships below.

He also brought a stray cat, one they named Kiddo. But Kiddo wasn’t as daring as his human companions – at least not at first. And he made his wariness known to the rest of the crew.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

“We can never have luck without a cat on board,” said navigator Murray Simon, a superstitious former sailor.

Kiddo was especially vocal with the radio engineer, Melvin Vaniman. Vaniman didn’t seem to like cats that much in the first place but when Kiddo began meowing loudly, crying, and running around “like a squirrel in a cage,” Vaniman decided enough was enough, and he made the first-ever ship-to-shore radio transmission to a secretary back on terra firma:

“Roy, come and get this goddam cat!”

The crew weren’t heartless. They tried to lower Kiddo into a trailing motorboat down below using a canvas bag, but the seas were much too rough to successfully do it, so they had to take him back up. Kiddo eventually got his air-legs and began to grow more accustomed to the floating dirigible. He even became a valuable member of the crew, warning them when the barometer dropped and a storm was on the horizon.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Wellman’s airship from the deck of the SS Trent.

It was the weather that would force the crew of the America to abandon ship and that particular plan to cross the Atlantic. Just a few hours into the journey, two of their engines failed. They proceeded with the remaining engine to drive them, but they soon realized it was throwing a lot of sparks into the area of a very hydrogen-filled balloon. Averting the likely fire, they ditched the airship and headed for the attached lifeboat. Kiddo came along too.

The America also sent the first radio distress signal from an aircraft when the airmen decided to abandon the ship. When the lifeboat detached from the airship, the balloon lifted off like never before – and was never seen again. The crew were rescued by a British steamer, the SS Trent. Kiddo and the crew returned to New York. Kiddo received a hero’s welcome and spent the rest of his days as an attraction at Gimbel’s department store.

Articles

Top general says US still vulnerable to North Korean missiles

The head of the Missile Defense Agency has expressed concerns about America’s long-term ability to defend the homeland in the face of growing threats from North Korea.


The U.S. military conducted a successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) intercept test in May. An interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California eliminated a mock long-range missile fired from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. The results of the test have boosted the MDA’s confidence, but there is still much more work to be done.

The test involved a new exoatmospheric kill vehicle and a faster target, although perhaps not as fast an actual incoming ICBM.

Vice Admiral James Syring, the director of the MDA, told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday that the recent intercept test was an “exact replica” of what the U.S. would face in the event of a North Korean missile strike.

“The scenario that we conducted was maybe more operationally realistic than not,” he explained.

Although the recent test was successful, Syring expressed concerns about the North Korean ballistic missile threat.

North Korea has tested multiple new ballistic missile systems this year. The Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile and Pukguksong-2 medium-range ballistic missile could be the technological predecessors to liquid and solid-fueled ICBM systems.

“Today, we are ahead” of the threat, Syring explained in his testimony, “We need to stay ahead.”

“I would not say we are comfortably ahead of the threat; I would say we are addressing the threat that we know today,” Syring testified. “The advancements in the last six months have caused great concern to me and others, in the advancement of and demonstration of technology of ballistic missiles from North Korea.”

North Korea does not yet have an ICBM, but it appears to be moving in that direction at an accelerated pace. While the North may still be several years from developing this kind of technology, defense officials believe that it is necessary to assume that North Korea can “range” the U.S. with a long-range ballistic missile.

In the wake of the recent test, the Department of Defense upgraded its assessment of the capabilities of the U.S. missile shield. For years, the U.S. has maintained “limited capability” to defend against North Korean missiles. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system has “demonstrated the capability to defend the U.S. homeland from a small number of intermediate-range or intercontinental missile threats with simple countermeasures,” the Pentagon said in a recent memo, according to Reuters.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement
During a test of the nation’s ballistic missile defense system on May 31, 2017, the U.S. successfully intercepted an intercontinental ballistic missile target. Photo by U.S. Missile Defense Agency

Nonetheless, the system needs improvements. “It’s just not the interceptor, the entire system,” Syring said June 7, “We are not there yet.”

“We have continued work with the redesigned kill vehicle. We have continued work with the reliability of the other components of the system to make it totally reliable,” he said. “We are not done yet.”

Some expert observers have suggested that the recent intercept test may not have been as realistic as the MDA claims, leaving something to be desired.

“I think Syring was overstating the case,” Joshua Pollack, editor of The Nonproliferation Review and senior research associate in the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told The DCNF. “A real situation involving ICBM attack could include such unpleasant circumstances as multiple, simultaneous launches on different trajectories; decoys and chaff; intercepts in the shadow of the Earth (not illuminated by sunlight); and attacks on the [Ballistic Missile Defense] system itself by various means.”

“The intercept geometry, as depicted by MDA, in no way, shape or form resembles a [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] ICBM attack against [the continental U.S.],” Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program in the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, tweeted Wednesday. “To be fair, MDA was right to walk before trying to run. A (sic) easy test is totally fine, but Adm. Syring appears to be over-claiming a bit.”

The range of the mock ICBM was 5,800 kilometers, which would give the missile a much slower closing speed than a real North Korean ICBM covering a distance of 9,000 to 11,000 kilometers would have. Faster closing speeds, according to Laura Grego, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, “give the interceptor less time to make course corrections, and are therefore more stressing for the interceptor.”

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement
A North Korean propaganda poster depicting a missile firing at the United States. (Photo by Flickr)

The head-on engagement trajectory of the May test is also inconsistent with the likely conditions of a North Korean strike.

“This test approximates many aspects of an intercept against an ICBM launched from North Korea, but the target and intercept geometry would be very different in a real attack,” Lewis told TheDCNF. “The missile would be launched closer to the interceptor site, would have a significantly longer range, and (in the case of an attack on DC) moving away from the interceptor site at a much greater angle.”

“MDA is limited by the existing test infrastructure and the very high cost of tests, so we should be reasonable about how realistic MDA can make any test,” he added. “But, in exchange, MDA needs to be reasonable in making claims about what has been demonstrated.”

Other scholars, however, believe the recent intercept test was a big breakthrough.

“This is a good day for homeland missile defense and a bad day for Kim Jong-un,” Thomas Karako, the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in response to the test.

During the June 7 congressional hearing, Syring said that in an actual combat scenario, the U.S. would fire off a salvo of interceptors to better address the threat.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the Coast Guard’s largest loss of life in a single event

“I felt and saw two flashes after which only the bow of the ship was visible. The rest had disintegrated and the bow sank soon afterwards.” – Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Perry Stinson, USS Serpens commanding officer

The quote above refers to the Coast Guard-manned USS Serpens. Nearly 73 years ago on Jan. 29, 1945, a catastrophic explosion destroyed the transport. In terms of lives lost, the destruction of the Serpens ranks as the single largest disaster ever recorded in Coast Guard history.


In March 1943, an EC-2 class “Liberty Ship” was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract as “Hull #739” by the California Shipbuilding Corporation of Wilmington, California. It was launched less than a month later as the SS Benjamin N. Cardozo. Two weeks later it was transferred to the U.S. Navy and designated AK-97. The transport was 442 feet in length, displaced 14,250 tons and had a top speed of 11 knots. For defense it carried one 5-inch gun, one 3-inch gun, two 40mm and six 20mm anti-aircraft cannons. Its crew consisted of 19 officers and 188 enlisted men. In late May, the Navy renamed the transport Serpens, after a constellation in the Northern Hemisphere, and commissioned the vessel in San Diego under the command of Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Magnus Johnson.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement
USS Serpens at anchor somewhere in the Pacific islands with derricks extended to take on cargo.
(U.S. Navy photo.)

Following a shakedown cruise off Southern California, Serpens loaded general cargo at Alameda, California, and, on June 24, set sail to support combat operations in the Southwest Pacific. It steamed between the supply hub of New Zealand and various Pacific islands, such as Tonga, Vitu Levu, Tutuila, Penrhyn, Bora Bora, Aitutaki, and Tongatabu. In early December, Serpens moved its operations into the southern Solomons, re-supplying bases and units on Florida Island, Banika Island, Guadalcanal and Bougainville. In February 1944, its crew was ordered back to New Zealand for dry-dock and, for another four months, they delivered materials to bases in the New Hebrides and Solomons.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement
An aerial view of Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, during World War II showing the airfield captured by the U.S. Marines early in the campaign.
(U.S. Navy photo)

In late July 1944, Lt. Cmdr. Perry Stinson assumed command from Johnson. From that time into the fall of 1944, Serpens resumed operations carrying general cargo and rolling stock between ports and anchorages within the Solomon Islands. In mid-November, it loaded repairable military vehicles from the Russell Islands and Guadalcanal and sailed for New Zealand. After offloading in New Zealand, three of its holds were converted for ammunition stowage. Late in December 1944, Serpens commenced loading at Wellington, completed loading at Auckland, New Zealand, and returned to the Solomons in mid-January 1945.

Monday, January 29, found Serpens anchored off Lunga Point, Guadalcanal. Lunga Point had served as the primary loading area for Guadalcanal since the U.S. military’s first offensive of World War II began there in August 1942. Serpens’s commanding officer, a junior officer and six enlisted men went ashore while the rest of the crew loaded depth charges into the holds or performed their usual shipboard duties. Late in the day, in the blink of an eye, the explosive cargo stowed in Serpens’s holds detonated. An enlisted man aboard a nearby Navy personnel boat gave the following eyewitness account:

“As we headed our personnel boat shoreward, the sound and concussion of the explosion suddenly reached us and, as we turned, we witnessed the awe-inspiring death drams unfold before us. As the report of screeching shells filled the air and the flash of tracers continued, the water splashed throughout the harbor as the shells hit. We headed our boat in the direction of the smoke and, as we came into closer view of what had once been a ship, the water was filled only with floating debris, dead fish, torn life jackets, lumber and other unidentifiable objects. The smell of death, and fire, and gasoline, and oil was evident and nauseating. This was sudden death, and horror, unwanted and unasked for, but complete.”

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement
A chart of Iron Bottom Sound, located north of Guadalcanal, showing the numerous ships lying on the seafloor, including the remains of USS Serpens at Lunga Point.

After the explosion, only the bow of the ship remained. The rest of Serpens had disintegrated, and the bow sank soon after the cataclysm. Killed in the explosion were 197 Coast Guard officers and enlisted men, 51 U.S. Army stevedores, and surgeon Harry Levin, a U.S. Public Health Service physician. Only two men on board Serpens survived–Seaman 1/c Kelsie Kemp and Seaman 1/c George Kennedy, who had been located in the boatswain’s locker. Both men were injured, but were later rescued from the wreckage and survived. In addition, a soldier who was ashore at Lunga Point was killed by flying shrapnel. Only two Coast Guardsmen’s bodies were recovered intact and later identified out of the nearly 250 men killed in the explosion.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement
USS Serpens crew’s caskets arrive at Arlington National Cemetery from Guadalcanal in 1949.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

At first, the loss of Serpens was attributed to enemy action and three Purple Heart Medals were issued to the two survivors and posthumously to Levin. However, a court of inquiry later determined that the cause of the explosion could not be established from surviving evidence. By 1949, the U.S. Navy officially closed the case deciding that the loss was not due to enemy action but an “accident intrinsic to the loading process.”

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement
Retired Coast Guard officer Richard Stoud plays taps at the Serpens Memorial in November 2013.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Today, all that remains of the Serpens is the bow section sitting upside down on the sea floor off Lunga Point. The dead were initially buried at the Army, Navy and Marine Corps Cemetery at Guadalcanal. The crew’s mortal remains were later exhumed and shipped to Arlington National Cemetery for burial. On June 15, 1949, Serpens’s Coast Guardsmen were interred on Arlington Cemetery’s Coast Guard Hill. A monument to the Serpens listing all of the lost crewmembers was erected over the gravesite and dedicated on Nov. 16, 1950.

This article originally appeared on the United States Coast Guard. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Even ‘limited’ nuclear war between India and Pakistan could trigger global famine

Deadly tensions between India and Pakistan are boiling over in Kashmir, a disputed territory at the northern border of each country.

A regional conflict is worrisome enough, but climate scientists warn that if either country launches just a portion of its nuclear weapons, the situation might escalate into a global environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.

On Feb. 14, 2019, a suicide bomber killed at least 40 Indian troops in a convoy traveling through Kashmir. A militant group based in Pakistan called Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack. India responded by launching airstrikes against its neighbor — the first in roughly 50 years — and Pakistan has said it shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured one of the pilots.


Both countries possess about 140 to 150 nuclear weapons. Though nuclear conflict is unlikely, Pakistani leaders have said their military is preparing for “all eventualities.” The country has also assembled its group responsible for making decisions on nuclear strikes.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

An Indian air force Mirage 2000 fighter jet.

“This is the premier nuclear flashpoint in the world,” Ben Rhodes, a political commentator, said on Feb. 27, 2019’s episode of the “Pod Save the World” podcast.

For that reason, climate scientists have modeled how an exchange of nuclear weapons between the two countries — what is technically called a limited regional nuclear war — might affect the world.

Though the explosions would be local, the ramifications would be global, that research concluded. The ozone layer could be crippled and Earth’s climate may cool for years, triggering crop and fishery losses that would result in what the researchers called a “global nuclear famine.”

“The danger of nuclear winter has been under-understood — poorly understood — by both policymakers and the public,” Michael Mills, a researcher at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Business Insider. “It has reached a point where we found that nuclear weapons are largely unusable because of the global impacts.”

Why a ‘small’ nuclear war could ravage Earth

When a nuclear weapon explodes, its effects extend beyond the structure-toppling blast wave, blinding fireball, and mushroom cloud. Nuclear detonations close to the ground, for example, can spread radioactive debris called fallout for hundreds of miles.

But the most frightening effect is intense heat that can ignite structures for miles around. Those fires, if they occur in industrial areas or densely populated cities, can lead to a frightening phenomenon called a firestorm.

“These firestorms release many times the energy stored in nuclear weapons themselves,” Mills said. “They basically create their own weather and pull things into them, burning all of it.”

Mills helped model the outcome of an India-Pakistan nuclear war in a 2014 study. In that scenario, each country exchanges 50 weapons, less than half of its arsenal. Each of those weapons is capable of triggering a Hiroshima-size explosion, or about 15 kilotons’ worth of TNT.

The model suggested those explosions would release about 5 million tons of smoke into the air, triggering a decades-long nuclear winter.

The effects of this nuclear conflict would eliminate 20% to 50% of the ozone layer over populated areas. Surface temperatures would become colder than they’ve been for at least 1,000 years.

The bombs in the researchers’ scenario are about as powerful as the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, enough to devastate a city. But that’s far weaker than many weapons that exist today. The latest device North Korea tested was estimated to be about 10 times as powerful as Little Boy. The US and Russia each possess weapons 1,000 times as powerful.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Photograph of a mock-up of the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945.

Still, the number of weapons used is more important than strength, according to the calculations in this study.

How firestorms would wreck the climate

Most of the smoke in the scenario the researchers considered would come from firestorms that would tear through buildings, vehicles, fuel depots, vegetation, and more. This smoke would rise through the troposphere (the atmospheric zone closest to the ground), and particles would then be deposited in a higher layer called the stratosphere. From there, tiny black-carbon aerosols could spread around the globe.

“The lifetime of a smoke particle in the stratosphere is about five years. In the troposphere, the lifetime is one week,” Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who worked on the study, told Business Insider. “So in the stratosphere, the lifetime of smoke particles is much longer, which gives it 50 times the impact.”

The fine soot would cause the stratosphere, normally below freezing, to be dozens of degrees warmer than usual for five years. It would take two decades for conditions to return to normal.

This would cause ozone loss “on a scale never observed,” the study said. That ozone damage would consequently allow harmful amounts of ultraviolet radiation from the sun to reach the ground, hurting crops and humans, harming ocean plankton, and affecting vulnerable species all over the planet.

But it gets worse: Earth’s ecosystems would also be threatened by suddenly colder temperatures.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Change in surface temperature (K) for (a) June to August and (b) December to February. Values are five- year seasonal averages.

(Earth’s Future/Michael J. Mills et al.)

The fine black soot in the stratosphere would prevent some sun from reaching the ground. The researchers calculated that average temperatures around the world would drop by about 1.5 degrees Celsius over the five years following the nuclear blasts.

In populated areas of North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, changes could be more extreme (as illustrated in the graphic above). Winters there would be about 2.5 degrees colder and summers between 1 and 4 degrees colder, reducing critical growing seasons by 10 to 40 days. Expanded sea ice would also prolong the cooling process, since ice reflects sunlight away.

“It’d be cold and dark and dry on the ground, and that’d affect plants,” Robock said. “This is something everybody should be concerned about because of the potential global effects.”

The change in ocean temperatures could devastate sea life and fisheries that much of the world relies on for food. Such sudden blows to the food supply and the “ensuing panic” could cause “a global nuclear famine,” according to the study’s authors.

Temperatures wouldn’t return to normal for more than 25 years.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Pakistani Missiles on display in Karachi, Pakistan.

The effects might be much worse than previously thought

Robock is working on new models of nuclear-winter scenarios; his team was awarded a nearly million grant from the Open Philanthropy Project to do so.

“You’d think the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies would fund this research, but they didn’t and had no interest,” he said.

Since his earlier modeling work, Robock said, the potential effects of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan have gotten worse. That’s because India and Pakistan now have more nuclear weapons, and their cities have grown.

“It’s about five times worse than what we’ve previously calculated,” he said.

Because of his intimate knowledge of the potential consequences, Robock advocates the reduction of nuclear arsenals around the world. He said he thinks Russia and the US — which has nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons — are in a unique position to lead the way.

“Why don’t the US and Russia each get down to 200? That’s a first step,” Robock said.

“If President Trump wants the Nobel Peace Prize, he should get rid of land-based missiles, which are on hair-trigger alert, because we don’t need them,” he added. “That’s how he’ll get a peace prize — not by saying we have more than anyone else.”

Kevin Loria and Alex Lockie contributed to this article.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Army created a new, safe vaccine for the Zika virus

Three Phase-1 human clinical trials evaluating an Army-developed Zika purified inactivated virus vaccine, known as a ZPIV, have shown it was safe and well-tolerated in healthy adults and induced a robust immune response. Initial findings from the trials were published early in December in the medical journal “The Lancet.”


Each of the three studies included in the paper was designed to address a unique question about background immunity, vaccine dose or vaccination schedule. A fourth trial with ZPIV is still underway in Puerto Rico, where the population has natural exposure to other viruses in the same family as Zika (flaviviruses), such as dengue.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement
A team of U.S. Army researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are developing a Zika vaccine that has induced a strong immune response in early trials. (U.S. Army photo by Jonathan Thompson, WRAIR)

“It is imperative to develop a vaccine that prevents severe birth defects and other neurologic complications in babies caused by Zika virus infection during pregnancy,” said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, WRAIR’s Director for Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Zika program co-lead and the article’s lead author. “These results give us hope that a safe and effective vaccine will be achievable.”

Across the three trials, a total of 67 healthy adult volunteers (55 vaccine, 12 placebo) received two vaccine injections, four weeks apart. Researchers measured the immune response by monitoring levels of Zika virus-neutralizing antibodies in the blood. More than 90% of volunteers who received the vaccine developed an immune response against Zika.

Read More: Here’s what US troops should do if they’re worried about Zika

“Not only is the development of a Zika vaccine a global public health priority, but it is also necessary to protect Service Members and their families,” said Col. Nelson Michael, director of WRAIR’s Military HIV Research Program and Zika program co-lead.

The ZPIV vaccine candidate was developed as part of the U.S. Department of Defense response to the 2015 outbreak of Zika virus in the Americas. WRAIR researchers conceived the ZPIV vaccine in February 2016 and were able to advance the candidate to a Phase 1 human trial by November of the same year.

“WRAIR has previously steered to licensure a similar vaccine for Japanese encephalitis, a flavivirus in the same family as Zika, which helped speed our vaccine development effort,” said Dr. Leyi Lin, who led one of the trials at WRAIR.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement
A team of U.S. Army researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are developing a Zika vaccine that has induced a strong immune response in early trials. (U.S. Army photo by Jonathan Thompson, WRAIR)

In the volunteers who received the vaccine, neutralizing antibody levels peaked two weeks after they completed the 2-dose vaccine series, and exceeded the threshold established in an earlier study needed to protect monkeys against a Zika virus challenge. Researchers also found that antibodies from vaccinated volunteers protected mice from a Zika virus challenge, providing insight into how this vaccine might prevent Zika infection.

Next steps include evaluating how long vaccine-induced immunity lasts, and the impact of dose, schedule and background immunity. Michael added that, “Army researchers are part of integrated, strategic US Government effort to develop a vaccine to protect against Zika.”

The ZPIV program is led by Col. Michael and Dr. Modjarrad. The principal investigators at each of the study sites were Dr. Leyi Lin at WRAIR, Dr. Sarah L. George at SLU and Dr. Kathryn E. Stephenson at BIDMC. The sponsor of the investigational new drug application for two of the studies (WRAIR and SLU) is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. The BIDMC study is investigator-sponsored by Dr. Kathryn Stephenson.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement
A team of U.S. Army researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are developing a Zika vaccine that has induced a strong immune response in early trials. (U.S. Army photo by Jonathan Thompson, WRAIR)

 

MIGHTY TACTICAL

You can buy a US Army ship right now

The U.S. government is auctioning off the former USAV SSGT Robert T. Kuroda, an LSV (Logistic Support Vessel) Kuroda Class vessel fitted with all your beach landing and cargo transfer needs.

So if you’ve ever wondered how to get your hands on a military boat, now is your chance!

The vessel is operational and in active status, with a minimum cruising range of 5,500 NM @ 12.5 knots, Electronic Chart Display System, and Global Maritime Distress & Safety System. If you just want to take your honey on a romantic cruise or maybe have a getaway plan in the event of the zombie apocalypse, you’re in for a real treat.


Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Supporting document from the bid site.

GSA Auctions is currently hosting the auction, set to end on July 31, 2019. The ship is currently berthed in Tacoma, Washington, where you can make an appointment to inspect the vessel in-person. According to The Drive, there is currently a id=”listicle-2639233931″ million bid for the Kuroda, though this “has not met an unspecified reserve price for the ship, which originally cost million to build.”

Designed to transport 900 short tons of vehicles and cargo over the shore in as little as four feet of water, the LSVs are “roll-on roll-off” vessels that can transport 15 main battle tanks or up to 82 double-stacked 20-foot long ISO containers.

Also read: 8 useless pieces of gear the military still issues out

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

A view of the inside of the LSV, as shared on the auction site.

Kuroda is the only one of the Army’s eight LSVs name for a Medal of Honor recipient.

According to his Medal of Honor citation, “Staff Sgt. Robert T. Kuroda distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action, on 20 October 1944, near Bruyeres, France. Leading his men in an advance to destroy snipers and machine gun nests, Staff Sergeant Kuroda encountered heavy fire from enemy soldiers occupying a heavily wooded slope. Unable to pinpoint the hostile machine gun, he boldly made his way through heavy fire to the crest of the ridge. Once he located the machine gun, Staff Sergeant Kuroda advanced to a point within ten yards of the nest and killed three enemy gunners with grenades. He then fired clip after clip of rifle ammunition, killing or wounding at least three of the enemy. As he expended the last of his ammunition, he observed that an American officer had been struck by a burst of fire from a hostile machine gun located on an adjacent hill. Rushing to the officer’s assistance, he found that the officer had been killed. Picking up the officer’s submachine gun, Staff Sergeant Kuroda advanced through continuous fire toward a second machine gun emplacement and destroyed the position. As he turned to fire upon additional enemy soldiers, he was killed by a sniper. Staff Sergeant Kuroda’s courageous actions and indomitable fighting spirit ensured the destruction of enemy resistance in the sector. Staff Sergeant Kuroda’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.”

MIGHTY MOVIES

6 Star Wars blasters made from real-life guns

Despite the creation of the United States Space Force, we’re still a long way off from building blasters like ones in the Star Wars universe and defeating our enemies with intense bolts of plasma energy. That’s right, they’re not lasers. In the Star Wars universe, ranged weapons are primarily powered by an energy-rich gas that is converted to a glowing particle beam. A far cry from jacketed lead ammunition propelled by gunpowder, or slugthrowers as they’re known in Star Wars, many of the blasters used in a galaxy far, far away are actually built from real-life firearms that are more familiar to us.

With a very tight budget of $11 million, or just under $50 million today adjusted for inflation, George Lucas and his film crew elected to modify real-life surplus weapons rather than create futuristic weapons from scratch. Weaponry and prop supplier Bapty & Co was contracted to provide Star Wars with modified surplus firearms to serve as space-age blasters. However, because of the aforementioned budget, many of the props could only be rented for the film. As a result, modifications were light and we can easily recognize the base weapons today.
Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

The left-side magazine, large breastplate, and restricted arm movement in their armor forced Stormtrooper actors to hold their E-11s left-handed (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

1. BlasTech E-11 blaster rifle

The standard issue weapon of Imperial stormtroopers, the E-11 was a light, handy, and lethal blaster. The debate about Stormtrooper accuracy aside, the blaster was very effective on the battlefield and even featured three power settings: lethal, stun, and sting. It also came equipped with a telescopic sight and a folding three-position stock, a carryover from the real-life weapon it is based on.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

British soldiers of 2 PARA armed with Sterlings (Ministry of Defence)

The Sterling L2A3 submachine gun is a British firearm designed at the end of WWII to replace the famed Sten submachine gun. Firing the 9x19mm Parabellum round, the Sterling was a favorite of special forces units for its excellent reliability and good accuracy. The Star Wars conversions used a cut-down version of the Sterling’s stick magazine as their power cell.

2. BlasTech A280 blaster rifle

The favored small arm of the Rebel Alliance, the BlasTech A280 was highly effective at piercing armor and provided more power than other standard infantry blasters at long range. Two variants of the A280 existed. The A280C was the preferred weapon of Rebel commandos. The A280-CFE (Covert Field Edition) was a modular weapon system that could be converted from its core heavy pistol to an assault rifle or sniper rifle.

The standard A280 is an amalgamation of an AR-15 receiver with a cut-down magazine and the front of a German StG 44, again with a cut-down magazine. Original StG 44s are extremely rare and expensive, so the ones cut apart to make the A280 were rubber props previously used by Bapty Co. The A280C is based largely on the StG 44; the only notable changes being the alteration of the stock, removal of the magazine, and the addition of a scope and handguard. The A280-CFE is more akin to the base A280, featuring an AR-15 as its core heavy pistol. The assault rifle and sniper rifle conversions feature the addition of the StG 44 front end.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Did Han shoot first? (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

3. BlasTech DL-44 heavy blaster pistol

Considered one of the most powerful blaster pistols in the galaxy, the DL-44 delivers massive close-range damage at the expense of overheating quickly under sustained fire. A carbine variation with an extended barrel and an attachable stock also exists. This version was used by Tobias Beckett on Mimban before he deconstructed it and gave it Han Solo. Solo further modified the weapon to make his iconic sidearm. After all, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.”

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

The Waffen-SS soldier on the right shoulders an M712, an automatic variant of the C96 (Bundesarchiv)

The DL-44 is modified from the Mauser C96 pistol, easily identifiable by its rectangular internal magazine and broomhandle grip. Originally produced in Germany beginning in 1896, unlicensed copies were also produced in Spain and China throughout the first half of the 20th century. With the popularity of Han Solo’s DL-44, Star Wars enthusiasts have been known to purchase and modify increasingly rare original C96s to make replicas, much to the dismay of gun collectors.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Though small in stature, the Defender could still put down an Imperial trooper (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

4. DDC Defender sporting blaster pistol

On the other end of the spectrum, the Defender blaster pistol was a low-powered weapon meant for civilian defense and small-game hunting. It was also popular amongst the nobility of the Star Wars universe who used it in honor duels. The weapon was the sidearm of choice for Princess Leia Organa who wielded it against Imperial Stormtroopers during the boarding of the Tantive IV and the attack on the Endor shield generator bunker.

The Defender is based on the Margolin or MCM practice shooting pistol. The Soviet-made .22lr pistol is used primarily for competitive target shooting in the 25m Standard Pistol class. The weapon was chosen for its diminutive size to keep the prop gun from looking bulky and unwieldy in Carrie Fisher’s hands during filming.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Death troopers used vocal scramblers that could only be understood by other death troopers (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

5. BlasTech DLT-19 heavy blaster rifle

The DLT-19 was used heavily by Imperial forces as well as bounty hunters and even some Rebel heavy troopers. Although it was not a crew-served weapon, its high rate of fire meant that it could be used to suppress and cut down enemies at long range. The DLT-19D variant, which featured a scope and an under barrel glow rod (flashlight), was used by the elite Imperial death troopers. The DLT-19x targeting blaster was another variant. It featured a scope with greater magnification than the D variant and released all of its power in one shot, making it an extremely accurate and deadly long-range precision weapon.

Very little was changed on the MG 34 to make it into the DLT-19. Introduced in 1934, the German machine gun could be belt-fed or utilize a drum magazine; neither of which were used on the DLT-19. The MG 34 was designed under the new concept of a universal machine gun and is generally considered to be the world’s first general-purpose machine gun. It was the mainstay of German support weapons until it was replaced by the MG 42 in 1942. Even then, because the MG 34’s barrel could be changed out more easily inside of a vehicle than the MG 42, it remained the primary armored vehicle defensive weapon throughout the entirety of the war.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

You can never have too much suppressive fire (Lucasfilm Ltd.)

6. BlasTech T-21 light repeating blaster

If you couldn’t tell, the nationalization of BlasTech industries meant that it was the premier military-grade arms manufacturer in the galaxy. The T-21 was a rarer sight than their more common E-11 or A280 blasters though. It was issued to more elite units like stormtroopers, magma troopers, and shadow troopers. However, its high rate of fire and long-range accuracy were limited by its power capacity of just 30 shots. To remedy this limitation, the T-21 could be hooked up to a power generator to provide sustained fire. The T-21B variant added an optic to increase its lethality at long range.

Army-funded technology wins Oscar for technical acheivement

Australian soldiers drill with Lewis guns in France (Public Domain)

The Lewis light machine gun was designed in America, but built in Britain and fielded by the British Empire during WWI. It featured a distinctive barrel cooling shroud and a top-mounted pan magazine. Like the magazine of the MG 34, the Lewis gun’s magazine was omitted for its use in the Star Wars universe. It was often used as an aircraft machine gun and served to the end of the Korean War.


MIGHTY TRENDING

What’s at stake for America in the ongoing Venezuelan crisis?

Venezuela’s government has been in a state of constant unrest as opposition leaders, especially Juan Guaidó, have accused Nicolás Maduro of rigging elections, mismanaging the government, and causing the starvation of the Venezuelan people. Now, Guaidó has emerged from hiding and is attempting to rally military and civilian support in an apparent uprising.


There’s a lot at stake, and the result of this uprising will determine the state of great power competition in America’s backyard. People on both sides are already dying from gunfire and vehicle charges from government forces.

As most journalists take this time to report on the minute-by-minute developments (the AFP news agency has a lot of quick facts and quotes as the situation develops, CNN International is posting amazing photos, and the overall Twitter stream has a mix of everything), we thought we would take a moment to remind everyone what the stakes are, here.

Venezuela is a socialist country, but, more accurately, it’s a dictatorship with a socialist system. That means that the government has direct control of significant parts of the economy, and that the government is controlled by one person. Right now, that’s Nicolás Maduro. Maduro has used short-term strategies to hop from one crisis to another since taking power.

Maduro and Guaidó have clashed for more than a year about whether or not Maduro rigged elections in his own favor. And the clashes between their supporters have become increasingly violent, but Maduro has always held the advantage because the military was largely on his side. But today, Guaidó appeared in a video saying that he has military support and is using it to trigger an uprising.

This is tragic for the Venezuelan people. Regardless of who wins, the violence will likely result in the deaths of at least dozens of people and the wounding of hundreds more. But it will also decide the balance of power in Venezuela, and Maduro and Guaidó have very different international backers.

Guaidó has the support of the U.S., U.K., and other Western powers. But Maduro is one of Vladimir Putin’s most important allies in the Western hemisphere.

That’s not because Russia and Venezuela are especially close. They’re not. But Venezuela, first under Hugo Chavez and now under Maduro, has historically been a socialist thorn in America’s side. And Putin knows that he needs friends in this hemisphere if he ever wants to directly pressure Washington like Stalin was able to during the Cold War.

He has few natural allies in this hemisphere, especially as Fidel Castro has died and Raúl Castro has grown old in Cuba. Raúl has stepped down as president and is 87.

Putin showed his support for Maduro last year by deploying two nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela and sending heavy investments of Russian money into the Venezuelan oil industry. That second action is larger than it sounds: Russia and Venezuela are both heavy oil exporters that need the money to fuel their economies. Russian money that supports Venezuelan oil sales necessarily cuts into Russian profits.

But the foreign policy stakes were too high in Venezuela for Putin to ignore. Russia wants influence in the west, and Venezuela is one of its few toeholds. As then-U.S. Southern Command Commanding General John Kelly said in 2015:

Periodically since 2008, Russia has pursued an increased presence in Latin America through propaganda, military arms and equipment sales, counterdrug agreements, and trade. Under President [Vladimir] Putin, however, we have seen a clear return to Cold War-tactics. As part of its global strategy, Russia is using power projection in an attempt to erode U.S. leadership and challenge U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere.

Those actions in Venezuela have not always produced great fruit, but Venezuela is a resource-rich country that’s leadership leans towards Putin.

Meanwhile, America has historically supported true democracies, preferably capitalist ones, in South America for obvious reasons. A capitalist democracy would necessarily share more values with the U.S. than Venezuela did under Chavez or Maduro. And the Trump administration has signaled its support for the April 30 uprising. Not a big surprise since Vice President Michael Pence also recorded a video in January supporting Venezuelan opposition and Guaidó.

And, for what it’s worth, those Russian nuclear-capable bombers in Venezuela have the range to bomb any point in the U.S. without refueling including Alaska and Hawaii. (But, if they’re landing in Venezuela on the same tank of gas, they would be unable to hit much of Idaho, Nevada, or California.)

So this coup in Venezuela will decide the balance of power in America’s backyard. Russia has already said that Putin has met with his top generals to discuss the situation, though there is no sign yet of the large military deployments they sent to Syria to prop up his boy there.

While all of us should care about the crisis because of the real human suffering under Maduro, who are now caught in the crossfire, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking this is strictly a foreign problem. The effects of the uprising attempt will be felt here.

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