College pranks leading up to a rivalry football game are par for the course, an expected ordinary event. But when Army meets Navy every year, the pranks are pulled by individuals trained to plan, lead, and meticulously execute military operations – and there is nothing ordinary about the students who attend the United States Military Academy or the U.S. Naval Academy.
This is especially true of one of Navy’s most famous alums, H. Ross Perot tolled Army in one of the greatest pranks in academy history.
There was nothing ordinary about Ross Perot.
Perot died of leukemia in 2019 at age 89 but the self-made billionaire and businessman who may have changed the outcome of the 1992 election got his start at the Naval Academy, graduating with the Class of 1953. His prank, however, came before the 1975 Army-Navy Game, when Perot was not only out of the Navy, but already a billionaire. His company, Electronic Data Systems, had gone public seven years prior.
His billions might have been the key element in helping Perot troll – or rather toll – the entire West Point campus on the eve of the biggest game of the season. According to the 1989 book “The Long Gray Line” by Rick Atkinson, Perot had to somehow enlist the help of a West Point chaplain to even get started.
Money. Money is how he enlisted an inside man.
At zero dark thirty on the night before the 1975 Army-Navy Game, Perot, with the help of an Army chaplain, the U.S. Military Academy’s bell-ringer, and a Midshipman friend infiltrated the West Point campus and shattered the quiet of the Hudson Valley night.
They scaled the stairs of the West Point Chapel, locked the doors behind them and played “Anchors Aweigh” (Navy’s fight song, for the uninitiated) while singing at the top of their lungs. As barracks’ lights all over campus switched on and cadets flooded their ways to the chapel, Perot and company banged out the Marines’ Hymn on the bells as a follow-up.
Perot taunted the oncoming cadets before surrendering to the mob, who promptly handed the eccentric billionaire over to the waiting Military Police. Perot presumably accepted a slap on the wrist and Navy bested Army 30-6.
The Pentagon said that after Syrian jets had bombed US-backed forces fighting ISIS in Syria and ground forces headed their way with artillery and armored vehicles, US jets made a strafing run at the vehicles to stop their advance.
But then a Syrian Su-22 popped up laden with bombs.
“They saw the Su-22 approaching,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on June 21st, as CNN notes. “It again had dirty wings; it was carrying ordnance. They did everything they could to try to warn it away. They did a head-butt maneuver, they launched flares, but ultimately the Su-22 went into a dive and it was observed dropping munitions and was subsequently shot down.”
A US F/A-18E off the USS George H.W. Bush in the Mediterranean then fired an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile at the Syrian jet, but the Su-22 had deployed flares causing the missile to miss. The US jet followed up with an AIM-120 medium range air-to-air missile which struck its target, US officials told CNN.
The pilot ejected over ISIS territory, and Syrian forces declared him missing in action.
The focus of the US’s airpower in recent years has turned to providing air support against insurgencies or forces that do not have fighter jets of their own. Before the Su-22, the US had not shot down a manned enemy aircraft since 1999.
Since the downing of the Syrian jet, Russia has threatened to target US and US-led coalition jets flying over Syria west of the Euphrates river.
Both Syria’s Su-22 and the US’s F/A-18E Super Hornet are updated versions of 1970s aircraft, but Russia and the US both have much more advanced systems to bring to bear. Fortunately, an air war seems unlikely between major powers in Syria.
He pretended to be blind so that he could receive benefits. But the Reno County man was spotted driving his car in Wichita, and on Sept. 6 he was sentenced in federal court.
Billy J. Alumbaugh, 62, of Turon, was sentenced to three years of probation and must also repay $70,000 in benefits he received, US Attorney Tom Beall said in a prepared statement. Alumbaugh pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government. His ex-wife, Debra Alumbaugh, 58, pleaded guilty to concealing the crime.
In his plea, Alumbaugh admitted he falsely represented to the Veterans Administration that he was blind and home-bound in order to receive monthly pension benefits. In truth, he was able to drive and engage in other routine life activities without assistance.
His wife accompanied him to medical visits during which they pretended he was blind and depended on her for help. Alumbaugh, who served in the US Army from 1973 to 1976, received the supplemental assistance from 2009 to 2016, according to the federal indictment that charged him.
Billy Alumbaugh was seen with his ex-wife arriving at the VA hospital in Wichita last October, according to the indictment. Debra Alumbaugh was seen driving the car and she went on to help Billy Alumbaugh out of the car and into the complex.
After the appointment, they left in the vehicle with Debra Alumbaugh behind the wheel. After she drove for a few blocks, she pulled over and they switched seats, according to the indictment.
One of the great perks of this job is that sometimes things, which you had missed or had never heard of before, get tossed into your lap and you wind up with something special. Kind of like Christmas in July. So, when the SOFREP editors asked me if I would be interested in reviewing Marc Goldberg’s book, “Beyond the Green Line,” I accepted.
Goldberg’s story is a very interesting one. It takes him from his home in Britain to the ranks of the Israeli paratroopers during the Al Aqsa (Second) Intifada. Goldberg made his aliyah to Israel during a turbulent time.
Goldberg came to Israel from London. Despite speaking poor Hebrew, he joined an elite reconnaissance unit (Orev) of the Israeli paratroopers. The book recounts his relationships with his fellow military members and his tour of duty which mainly consisted of counter-insurgency operations in the West Bank.
The Al-Aqsa Intifada stretched from September 2000 to February 2005 and was marked by as many, if not more, civilian deaths as combatant deaths. It began when Palestinians unleashed waves of suicide bombers against Israel after the 2000 Camp David Summit failed to reach a final agreement on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in July 2000.
What makes Goldberg’s case and his service unique is that he was a Briton, but being born in Jew in the U.K., he “felt like an outcast.” He hated life in the U.K., as a young man. He had dreams of grandeur, of making the Aliyah to the birthplace of his people and becoming an elite Israeli paratrooper and an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
He thought that Israel was the answer to all of the questions that troubled him. It would be the reason he existed and would erase the centuries of powerlessness that he felt his people and he had keenly suffered from.
Despite his language barrier, Goldberg passed the selection course for the IDF paratroopers, went through his training, and joined the ranks of the unit. His parents traveled from Britain to see him be awarded his maroon beret and silver paratrooper wings. He did so well in his training that his NCO gave him his own beret at his graduation and his commander gave him a watch.
His service in the IDF during the counter-insurgency campaign in Nablus is much like any operation in any military in the world. Hours upon hours of preparation and sheer boredom interspersed with brief periods of adrenaline rush. Intermingled in with the boredom were moments of head-scratching ridiculousness that mark many veterans’ career in Special Operations.
During one rock-throwing incident, where Palestinian youths climbed onto a roof of an apartment building and were throwing everything they could get their hands on, one older Palestinian man was intermittently yelling at the youths and the Israeli soldiers. He was upset that the youths broke into his apartment and were tossing all of his possessions, including the man’s washing machine, off the roof and onto the armored car the paratroopers were riding in.
One uncomfortable episode takes place in an apartment that the paratroopers are occupying to hunt for a wanted terrorist. Goldberg had to watch over a Palestinian family as well as leftist “volunteers” from the United States and the U.K.
But like many other veterans involved in a counter-insurgency campaign, Goldberg grew disillusioned with his job, the mission, and their reason for being there. He even grew disillusioned with the very terrorists they were hunting. One wanted terrorist, who was responsible for the deaths of an untold amount of Israelis and Palestinians, was trapped in a house with a boatload of ammunition. But rather than shoot it out and die a martyr’s death, as he preached to so many others, he surrendered sobbing and crying while pleading for his life.
He later fell into depression and had a classic case of PTSD, not able to interact with the civilians in Israel, while he was off-duty, anymore than he could back in England. This was despite not seeing the type of pitched combat that many of his contemporaries did.
In the end, Goldberg realized that Israel isn’t the land of milk and honey where everything is perfect and all of his questions would be answered. It is a land as troubled as anywhere else.
“Now I had seen the truth, Israel was just as beset with problems as anywhere else and the people who lived there were exactly the same as everyone else. The best were wonderful, the worst were awful, and the majority somewhere in between.”
The IDF had given him so much but also took a big piece out of him. Things got worse upon his return to England. Like many ex-servicemen, the mundane life awaiting him left him, he felt, with no challenge. He hit rock bottom and briefly contemplated suicide. But he entered therapy and ever so slowly made his way back.
In 2010, Goldberg returned to Israel, not “to a paradise, a place of milk and honey, or some kind of holy place the Messiah was imminently arriving to. I was going back to the land and country of my people. Dirty, dusty, imperfect but ours.”
He never experienced the war that he pictured in his boyhood; the war that would make him a Jewish war hero like he read and dreamed about. But he did his duty to his country and his people. He’s at peace with that. Now he’s married and living in the place he belonged all along.
Goldberg’s book is an easy, outstanding read. His style is such that while reading it, the reader has the feeling that the author is talking to you in a quiet bar and telling his story. This makes it a great page-turner and instantly hooks you; the pages will turn faster than you could imagine.
Make this book part of your counter-insurgency collection.
Almost exactly 75 years ago, on Aug. 18, 1943, the USS Abner Read was rocked by a severe explosion.
The blast — which most historians say was likely a Japanese mine — tore the 75-foot stern section of the ship clean off. The stern plummeted to the depths of the ocean, taking the lives of 71 US sailors with it, while other US ships rushed to the rescue.
Though the rest of the USS Abner Read was miraculously saved and towed into port, the original stern was thought to be lost forever — until now.
A North American B-25 Mitchell Glides over an American destroyer after taking off from Unmak Island for a raid on the Japanese base at Kiska.
USS Abner Read (DD 526) as seen in Hunters Point, California on June 13, 1943.
The 474-feet long Japanese transport ship Nisan Maru sunk in Kiska Harbor after it was stuck by bombs dropped by the US 11th Air force on June 18, 1942. Two other Japanese ships are visible in the harbor nearby.
USS Abner Read (DD 526) afire and sinking in Leyte Gulf, Nov. 1, 1944, after being hit by a kamikaze. A second Japanese suicide plane (circled) is attempting to crash another ship; however, this one was shot down short of its target.
(U.S. Navy Photo)
After the stern section of the Abner Read sunk on Aug. 18, 1943, it remained lost on the bottom of the sea for almost 75 years. The ship was eventually repaired and re-entered active service.
In 1944, the Abner Read was sunk off the coast of the Philippines by a Japanese dive bomber, as seen in the image above.
US soldiers inspect Japanese midget subs left behind after the US retook Kiska Island.
Team members launch one of the project’s four REMUS 100 autonomous underwater vehicles from R/V Norseman II for a survey of the seafloor.
The expedition was part of Project Recover, a collaborative partnership between the University of Delaware, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, Bent Prop, a nonprofit, and US Navy partners to find and document the underwater resting places of American soldiers from World War II.
“The 17 hours of daylight that now occur at this high latitude were both a godsend and a curse as there was ample time to work, but little time to sleep,” Eric Terrill, an oceanographer and the leader of the expedition, said in a mission log.
“We take our responsibility to protect these wrecks seriously,” Samuel Cox, the director of the Naval History and Heritage Command said. The USS Abner Read is the “last resting place of American sailors,” he added.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
When Jeremy Penderman joined the Army, he wasn’t quite sure what his job would entail.
“I’m not even sure the recruiter knew what the job was,” he said.
But Penderman, a multichannel transmission systems operator/maintainer, said the job hasn’t disappointed.
Now serving in Iraq with Fort Bragg’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Penderman has an undeniable impact on his unit and the ongoing fight to retake the key northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State terrorist group, officials said.
So undeniable that Penderman, who has spent nearly seven years in the Army, was the recipient of a rare battlefield promotion in April of 2017.
In an impromptu ceremony near Al Tarab, Iraq, Sgt. Penderman became Staff Sgt. Penderman when Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin pinned the new rank to his chest.
Penderman, who was at the base repairing communications equipment, said the visit — and the promotion — were unexpected.
Martin, the commander of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command — Operation Inherent Resolve and the 1st Infantry Division, was able to promote Penderman after determining that the soldier “demonstrated an extraordinary performance of duties” while filling a job that’s typically held by someone of a higher rank.
It was a special recognition for Penderman, who had spent nearly two years awaiting a promotion but still lacked the requirements for a typical bump in rank.
“It was a complete surprise,” Penderman told The Fayetteville Observer from Iraq last week. “I didn’t know anything about it.”
Penderman, 25, is a Durham-native who oversees communications for the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute infantry Regiment, which has about 700 soldiers in Iraq and deployed late last year.
In that role, he leads a small team of soldiers who work to ensure troops can communicate across the battlefield, keeping a network in place to spur a constant flow of information from advise-and-assist teams embedded with Iraqi forces and between unmanned aerial vehicles and soldiers on the ground.
The job often sees him working with complex communications equipment, tapping into satellites and generally maintaining a tactical communications network in an austere and ever-changing environment.
Not bad for someone who knew little to nothing about his career when he joined the Army.
“I didn’t even know what an IP (address) was,” Penderman said. “I didn’t know anything about computers.”
Instead, Penderman had high hopes that baseball would be his future.
“I played everywhere,” he said of his time at the Durham School of the Arts. “But I went to college as an outfielder.”
That college was Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, where Penderman received a scholarship to play baseball.
But after being redshirted his freshman year, he began to reconsider another dream.
Penderman always wanted to join the military. He wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps as a Marine, although his parents urged him to try college instead.
He made a promise that he would give college a year, and, if that didn’t work, he’d be free to enlist.
Today, Penderman might have been a Marine if it wasn’t for one more discovery.
“I found out about the airborne,” he said.
Over spring break his freshman year — March 2010 — Penderman walked into a recruiting center and enlisted in the Army.
At first, he wanted to be an airborne infantryman, but a recruiter instead guided him through a list of available jobs.
He described Penderman’s current military occupational specialty, known as a 25Q, as “half infantry, half radios” and promised he could still become a paratrooper. Also, the job came with an enlistment bonus.
Since enlisting, Penderman spent more than four years in Germany with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team before joining the 82nd Airborne Division about two years ago.
He has seven years in the Army and plans to apply to become a warrant officer in the Signal Corps. While he wants to stay in the Army as long as possible, he said the skills he’s learned have opened the door to a bright future no matter if he wears the uniform or not.
“It’s really set me up for success, whether I stay in or get out,” he said.
Penderman is noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of his battalion’s S6, or communications, shop.
Typically, that organization would have upward of a dozen soldiers, including an NCOIC and an officer. But Penderman’s shop has three soldiers and no officer.
That shows the faith and trust that leadership has in the soldier, officials said.
In training while preparing for the deployment, the battalion trained with the smaller force. But Penderman said little could have prepared him for another aspect of the deployment — a constant leapfrogging of the battlefield.
When Penderman’s battalion arrived in country, they set up more than 20 miles from Mosul to partner with the 9th Iraqi Armored Division, one of the local forces looking to take back the city.
“And we moved six times,” Penderman said. “As they gain ground and they move forward, we move forward with them.”
Today, he’s based out of a tactical assembly area near the village of Bakhira. From there, he’s near the border of the city and close to the fighting.
“We can hear them shooting off mortars,” Penderman said.
He’s also seen forces treating wounded. And he said that knowing he has played a role in the march into the city has been humbling.
“It’s fulfilling work,” Penderman said. “I get to impact the battalion on a daily basis… It definitely feels like I’m making a difference in my battalion and helping to make a difference in the fight in Mosul.”
As the initial results were seen of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22 1941, observers around the world had every reason to believe that Germany was on a course to win the war and become one of the most powerful nations in all of history.
Four million men crossed the border into the Soviet Union during the invasion and quickly claimed large swaths of territory and inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviet Union. By the end of the summer, the Wehrmacht had swept through the Baltic states, the Soviet portion of Poland, and the western half of Ukraine. German forces had made their way to Moscow by October before the bitter cold set in and Soviet General Zhukov could organize a successful defense of the city.
The following spring, Hitler devised a new offensive in the East that would target the oil fields of southern Russia and capture the city of Stalingrad on the Volga river. Capturing the city would disrupt supply routes along the Volga and allow German forces to turn north and once again encircle Moscow. The Soviets were no less determined to defend the city as an important industrial and transportation center and a psychologically important city that bore the name of the Soviet Premiere.
In September 1943, German forces entered Stalingrad, which provoked fierce house by house and street by street fighting. The brutality of the fighting is difficult to even imagine. 1.1 million Soviet soldiers became casualties, along with another 800,000 Axis fighters. But beyond the gruesome statistics, the battle for Stalingrad was the psychological turning point of all of the Second World War.
According to British historian Antony Beevor, Soviet soldiers shouted to German Prisoners of War after they had been captured, “This is how Berlin is going to look!” Advances to the east by German soldiers were about to be replaced with Soviet marches westward and no intelligent German believed that they could ever win a war of attrition, which is what Stalingrad became.
The fighting was also romanticized almost immediately. First, by the Soviet propaganda machine and later by Hollywood, which produced films like Enemy at the Gates. The center of the fighting is now strewn with monuments celebrating Communism’s great victory over Fascism.
The real legacy of Stalingrad, however, was the wasted lives of so many young men (and women). Germany did not need to make Stalingrad a city of vital strategic importance. The main aim of the campaign was the capture of oil fields in the caucuses. That could have been achieved without taking Stalingrad. Hitler directly intervened to overrule his Generals, who were about to withdraw from Stalingrad to capture targets further south en route to the Baku oil fields. Hitler’s primary aim was the propaganda value of the city.
Soviet preparedness for war was one of the primary reasons why Germany was able to so effectively fight the Red Army in the opening months of the war. Stalin had only recently purged the armed forces of needed officers out of a desire to further consolidate his power. Zhukov was spared but later said he always kept an emergency bag packed in case a knock on the door arrived. Had he been purged, it seems likely the Soviet Union would not have been able to win the war.
Stalingrad was ultimately a microcosm of the broader war in the east: a war of ugliness, cruelty, hatred, racism, misogyny, rape, and plunder. It is a leading candidate for the most brutal war ever fought.
Of course, some very important military principles were either learned or reinforced through Stalingrad. Military leaders must be cautious in spreading their troops too thinly, soldiers and civilians in a fight for their own country will often prove more motivated and willing to expend themselves, and that guerrilla warfare is a completely different matter than conventional warfare.
But, the symbolism of Stalingrad does continue to live on in more inspiring ways than simple cruelty due to the clashing egos of two very powerful men. It really did change the course of history and involved ordinary men and women, in addition to professional soldiers, fighting for their very lives. Today, in Volgograd, there are echoes of the conflict still, as the descendants of those fighters continue on in the legacy left for them.
While the annual Army-Navy Game might be one of the U.S. military’s oldest ongoing traditions, it’s an event that has not always included the Commander-In-Chief. Only ten U.S. Presidents have attended the game at one time or another, but if the nation’s chief executive decides to come, there are traditions for that office to follow when Army plays Navy.
President Trump has attended the game for nearly every year he’s been in office, including attending as President-Elect. While there is no precedent that says he has to attend the game, the very fact that he goes every year could set a new precedent, all the same, creating a tradition for future Commanders-In-Chief to follow throughout their administrations. Woodrow Wilson did something similar when he attended the game, creating a tradition that carries on to this day when the POTUS is in the house.
Although Wilson wasn’t the first American President to attend (that was, of course, the most athletic and all-around competitive President, Theodore Roosevelt), Wilson started the tradition of switching sides during the middle of the game, walking across the field at halftime in order to show no favoritism toward Army or Navy as the game continued. Presidents in attendance from Calvin Coolidge through President Trump have walked across the field ever since.
For many years following the Coolidge Administration, the President did not attend the game. Watching a raucous football game in the middle of the Great Depression and the Second World War might have sent a bad message. But once the economy turned around and the Axis was defeated, President Harry Truman returned to the game for much of his administration. But it wasn’t until President John F. Kennedy helped throw out the pregame coin toss that another Presidential tradition was born. His immediate successors did not attend, but Navy veteran Gerald Ford sure did. The next President to attend would be Bill Clinton, however. And ever since, Presidents have attended at least one Army-Navy Game during their administration.
One presidential event that didn’t catch on was when George W. Bush gave the Naval Academy Midshipmen a pregame speech and a pep talk to the Army Black Knights before the Army-Navy Game as American troops were fighting to avenge the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – a special consideration for a wartime President.
On July 25, 1953, seven Czechoslovakians rolled across one of the most heavily guarded borders in the world to freedom in the West. They rolled over three rows of barbed wire, land mines, and guard towers on their way into West Germany. The Czech border guards didn’t even try to stop them. No one fired a shot. They all just watched in stunned disbelief as the Nazi armored personnel vehicle just tore its way across the Iron Curtain.
The story of Vaclav Uhlik is a success story for American soft power, specifically the Cold War-era broadcasts of Radio Free Europe. Uhlik was an engineer in the new, Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia following the end of World War II. He was a concentration camp survivor, a fighter for the Czech Underground, and mechanic who hid a big secret from the new Communist authorities in his country: there was an armored vehicle in his backyard – and he was rebuilding it.
For three years, he listened to the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe as he gathered parts and materials needed to get the APC operational again. The broadcasts gave him hope. His progress gave him patience. He was assisted by former Czech soldiers Walter Hora and Vaclav Krejciri in his efforts, and they were rewarded by riding in the vehicle the night it was to drive to the West.
The Czech-West German Border in 1980.
(Photo by Alan Denney)
Starting nearly from scratch, the men slowly reconstructed a battered Nazi Saurer RR-7 Artillery Tractor. Vaclav Uhlik, the engineer, rebuilt the vehicle as an armored personnel carrier. He made it large enough to carry himself, his wife and two children, the two veterans, Josef Pisarik, and Libuse Hrdonkova, a Czech woman who married an American after the war. Since he could only stay with her for three months, she decided to come to him in Iowa.
After years of tinkering and preparation, the modified RR-7, covered in the brush and foliage that hid it from Czechoslovakian authorities for so long, rumbled its way to the West German border. They drove through the Bavarian forest to the Wald-München (near Nuremberg) border crossing. And he did cross the border, except he didn’t go through the gates, instead opting to go right through the rows of barbed wire between guard towers and minefields.
The border guards just watched in awe, as they thought the APC was a friendly army vehicle. The Czechs inside had only what they wore with them, but they were on the right side of the Iron Curtain.
The seven Czechs drove the APC for several miles into West Germany and away from the border until they were stopped by West German police, taken to an American installation to be interviewed by intelligence officers, and then welcomed to their new home in the West. They would eventually be resettled in Springfield, Mass. – all except Hrdonkova. She would move to Sioux City, Iowa, to be with her long-separated husband.
But a lot will change for the MCU after this year.
Disney, which owns Marvel, will own the film rights to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four after merging with Fox. The producer Kevin Feige has said he expects that to happen within the first six months of 2019, at which point he’ll get the green light to develop projects with those characters.
It comes at a good time, as “Endgame” marks the end of this era for the MCU, and veteran actors like Chris Evans (who plays Captain America) are expected to retire from their roles.
But before the MCU faces a big shakeup, we ranked all 21 movies — including “Captain Marvel” — from worst to best.
Here’s every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, ranked:
The MCU has since become a well-oiled machine that knows how to balance it all. But in 2010, it was still working on that.
20. “Thor” (2011)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
There’s nothing particularly horrible about “Thor,” but there’s nothing memorable either. It’s impressive that the movie works at all, considering that Thor, an alien god with daddy issues, was such a little-known character at the time, and Chris Hemsworth was not the superstar he is now. But James Gunn managed to turn even lesser-known and weirder characters into MCU standouts in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It would take a while for Thor to really come into his own.
We now know Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk, but in the second MCU movie, Edward Norton was in the role.
Out of all the MCU movies, “The Incredible Hulk” feels the least connected to the universe. Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross, Banner’s love interest, has never appeared again, and neither has Tim Blake Nelson, who was teased as the Hulk’s archnemesis, the Leader.
But even with that tease, a sequel never happened, and the only character besides the Hulk to have any meaningful connection to the MCU has been General “Thunderbolt” Ross, played by William Hurt, who popped up again in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.”
(Disney / Marvel)
18. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013)
Directed by Alan Taylor
It’s almost pointless to compare the first two “Thor” movies, as they’re both toward the bottom of the MCU barrel. But “The Dark World” is a tad more fun than “Thor,” and it’s integral in introducing one of the Infinity Stones (the Reality Stone) that Thanos ends up using to destroy half of humanity.
But Marvel still hadn’t realized that Hemsworth’s best attribute in the role is his humor, and the character — and the first two movies — suffer because of it.
17. “Doctor Strange” (2016)
Directed by Scott Derrickson
“Doctor Strange” is the most overrated movie in the MCU. By 2016, movies like the Russos’ “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” had progressed the MCU into new territory, but “Doctor Strange” felt like a step back. Sure, the magic was cool, but it also relied on a formulaic plot with a forgettable love interest. (How do you not give Rachel McAdams more to do?!)
16. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015)
Directed by Joss Whedon
This “Avengers” sequel made the same mistake as “Iron Man 2”: cramming too much into its plot to serve the future of the franchise.
The movie features some cool action sequences, notably the Iron Man-Hulk battle. But it fails to distinguish Ultron, the Avengers’ biggest enemy in the comics, from other two-dimensional MCU villains, and it spends too much time setting up future movies. (What exactly is Thor doing?)
15. “Ant-Man” (2015)
Directed by Peyton Reed
“Ant-Man” is a fun little Marvel movie, but not much else. Paul Rudd is charming in the lead role, and Evangeline Lilly is more than just a love interest as Hope van Dyne (the future Wasp). But the movie still falls into familiar territory, including a lackluster villain in Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket.
(Disney / Marvel)
14. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011)
Directed by Joe Johnston
“The First Avenger” is arguably the first movie that “mattered” in the MCU. While “Iron Man” is better, “The First Avenger” sets up “The Avengers” better than “Iron Man,” which basically acts as a prequel to the big team-up movie.
“The First Avenger” would prove essential to the movies that came after — even “Infinity War” with the unexpected return of a character thought to be dead.
13. “Iron Man 3” (2013)
Directed by Shane Black
“Iron Man 3” is the most divisive movie in the MCU, and for good reason. It takes some wacky turns, with a major twist that ruined the movie for plenty of people. But I admire that Black just went for it with this movie and delivered something that fans still argue over.
12. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018)
Directed by Peyton Reed
While it’s not necessarily an “essential” MCU movie, it improves on the first “Ant-Man” in nearly every way, with plenty of heart and humor.
Reed came back to direct after replacing Edgar Wright at the last minute on the first movie, and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels as if he was more adjusted to the job, with some well-polished action sequences and a great handle on the characters.
11. “Captain Marvel” (2019)
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Maybe in time “Captain Marvel” will inch higher on this list. But for now, it’s a solid entry into the MCU, but not a fantastic one.
Boden and Fleck are at their best in the character-driven aspects of the movie. Unfortunately, it’s the action the movie is lacking, which hurts it by the end.
Brie Larson is perfect in the title role, though, and her chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury makes the movie. There are also some surprising twists that elicited plenty of reactions from theater audiences. If anything, this is a worthy appetizer for “Avengers: Endgame.”
10. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017)
Directed by Jon Watts
I didn’t have a strong positive reaction to “Homecoming” when I first saw it, but it’s grown on me. Peter Parker’s motivations throughout the movie to be a hero — impressing Tony Stark — rubbed me the wrong way at first. But it’s hard not to like Tom Holland’s spot-on portrayal of the character, and the movie knows exactly what it wants to be: high-school ’80s classic meets modern superhero flick. And Michael Keaton is truly menacing as Adrian Toomes/Vulture in what began a hot streak for villains in the MCU.
9. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017)
Directed by James Gunn
Though “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a step back from the first movie, it’s still the most underrated MCU movie. The “Guardians” movies are unique entries in the franchise, and it’s a shame Gunn was given the boot from the third movie, which is in limbo.
8. “Iron Man” (2008)
Directed by Jon Favreau
The first movie — and still among the best — “Iron Man” kicked off what has become the most lucrative movie franchise of all time. But in 2008, it was just a fun superhero origin movie that defied the odds.
Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, and it’s hard to think of anyone else who could have embodied the role with so much of the necessary charisma to sell a character who casual audiences hadn’t cared about.
7. “The Avengers” (2012)
Directed by Joss Whedon
Four years after “Iron Man,” “The Avengers” proved that Marvel had what it takes to pull off a connected universe of movies. It’s even more impressive considering that the early MCU movies, like “Thor,” “Iron Man 2,” and “The Incredible Hulk,” are some of the worst in the franchise. But “The Avengers” course-corrected, delivering a bona fide blockbuster that hadn’t been achieved before.
(Disney / Marvel)
6. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
2014 marks the point when the MCU really got it together. There have been minimal low points since, and it’s because Kevin Feige and crew finally had the machine running smoothly with low-profile directors who could deliver surprising superhero movies.
Among those filmmakers were the Russos, who have become somewhat of the architects of the universe. After “The Winter Soldier,” an expertly crafted espionage thriller posing as a superhero movie, they went on to direct “Civil War,” “Infinity War,” and “Endgame.”
(Disney / Marvel Studios)
6. “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)
Directed by Taika Waititi
“Thor: Ragnarok” is the most absurd movie in the MCU, but that’s only part of what makes it so good. This is when Marvel finally realized that Chris Hemsworth is an extremely funny guy with loads of charm and built a movie around that.
It’s also probably the closest thing we’ll get to another Hulk movie in the MCU.
4. “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
“Civil War” is loosely based on a 2007 comic-book event of the same name that pits Marvel’s superheroes against one another over the ethics of a registration act making it illegal for any superpowered person to not register their identities with the government.
The MCU version is obviously more contained, but that’s what makes it so good. It takes a huge storyline and successfully tells it through Captain America’s perspective, making it even more personal.
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
3. “Black Panther” (2018)
Directed by Ryan Coogler
“Black Panther” is a lot of firsts: the first superhero movie to be nominated for best picture, the first movie to win Oscars for Marvel Studios, the first superhero movie with a predominantly black cast.
It was more than just an MCU movie — it was a cultural event. And its box office reflects that. It was the highest-grossing movie in the US in 2018, breaking barriers and riding its success all the way to Oscar gold.
2. “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
“Infinity War” is an order of magnitude bigger than “Avengers” or “Civil War.” With a cast of over 20 characters, “Infinity War” is the culmination of 10 years of universe-building.
The Russos pulled it off, and they’re not done yet. After the most shocking ending in an MCU movie, the story will continue in “Endgame.”
But on its own, “Infinity War” is an impressive balancing act, and Josh Brolin’s Thanos lives up to the hype.
1. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)
Directed by James Gunn
“Guardians of the Galaxy” was the first MCU movie that really felt disconnected from the rest of the universe, but not in a negative way like “The Incredible Hulk.” It’s an important entry in the franchise from a story standpoint — but it’s also just a hilarious, fun, self-contained movie that turned an unknown group of characters into fan favorites.
It’s the most rewatchable movie in the MCU, with a brilliant soundtrack, but it’s the characters that really make it, from the dynamic between Rocket and Groot to the oblivious Drax. They don’t like each other at first, but the audience loves them as soon as they’re introduced.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
After hitting a low in 2012, Colombia’s cultivation of coca, the base ingredient in cocaine, jumped 134% between 2013 and 2016, US officials said late 2017.
2016 alone saw a 52% increase in the area under coca cultivation, rising to 360,774 acres from 237,221 acres in 2015, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Potential cocaine production jumped 34%, from 712 tons in 2015 to 954 tons a year later.
The amount of cocaine seized in the country also rose by nearly half, the UNODC said, from 253,591 kilos in 2015 to 378,260 kilos in 2016. That was accompanied by a 26% increase in the number of illegal cocaine labs destroyed, from 3,827 in 2015 to 4,842 the following year. (The real amounts are likely much higher than official estimates.)
Colombia has faced pressure from the US to clamp down on that surge, but there were a variety of factors that drove it through 2016, when the government signed a peace accord with left-wing rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Under that deal, the government has pursued crop-substitution and alternative-development programs to pull farmers away from coca.
But a lack of resources has hindered implementation of those programs, and in lieu of an alternative, Colombian growers have forged ahead with the only one they can grow profitably.
“What really happened, I think, is that the government did stop fumigating, which was a factor,” said Adam Isacson, the director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America. “It also cut way back on manual eradication, and it didn’t make a presence” in often-marginalized parts of the country where cultivation has been the most intense, Isacson told Business Insider.
Isacson, who spent a month on the ground in Colombia in February 2018, pointed to Putumayo, a department on Colombia’s southern border.
“That fringe area with Ecuador is no-man’s land, and nobody’s seen an eradicator or a development official, same for most of Catatumbo,” he told Business Insider, referring to a region in the northwest Colombian department of Norte de Santander, where cultivation is also intense.
“So if it’s no-man’s land and you see your neighbor’s now got waist-high coca bushes, and they’re two years old and nobody’s messed with him, it’s probably pretty tempting to grow it yourself,” Isacson said.
Efforts to get farmers to grow other crops have faltered because they aren’t economically viable — in part because getting those crops to market from rural, isolated areas eats away the profit margin.
“You probably often make more with almost any other crop, but it’s always a different crop. Sometimes it’s coca. Sometimes … something else might be getting a better price than coca, but coca never goes down,” Isacson told Business Insider. “It’s just this always above-average price. It’s like an insurance policy for them.”
“The government has tried alternate-crop development and what have you, but it’s never worked, because growing breadfruit, bananas, and other crops does not come close to fetching the prices that coca does,” said Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
The value of coca increases dramatically as it is refined and moves toward consumer markets.
The ton of fresh coca leaf needed to make a kilo of cocaine costs a few hundred dollars in Colombia. After its processed and turned into power, that kilo can fetch $30,000 or more in the US. On the street, once that kilo is “stepped on” by cutting it to grams and adding fillers, its total value can exceed $100,000. (Though not all that money filters back to the source.)
“Coca cultivation has always been the most marketable and the highest-priced commodity that the criminal groups have engaged in, because really there’s no other crop that brings the price that cocaine does,” Vigil, who worked on the ground in Colombia while in the DEA, told Business Insider.
That doesn’t necessarily translate into a boon for farmers, however. Traffickers and criminal groups, as the main buyers, have outsize control at the point of purchase, often dictating the price.
“The farmers really don’t have a say, because they have to be able to sell the cocaine that they produce,” Vigil said. “If they don’t acquiesce to the prices of the major drug-trafficking organizations, they’re going to move on, and there’s always somebody else that they can buy it from.”
Farmers have also been left vulnerable by the Colombian government, which has forged ahead with manual eradication, which has vastly outstripped the building of roads and infrastructure that would support alternative development and cultivation of other crops, in part because of an economic downturn that has lashed the government’s budget.
And while nearly 30,000 families are now receiving benefits from Colombia’s Comprehensive Program for Illicit Crop Substitution, that’s only about one-quarter of the families who have signed collective agreements, which is just the first step in a long process to get aid.
With a lack of state support, farmers interested in moving out of the coca trade are often exposed to FARC dissidents and other criminal groups, who have rushed to fill the vacuum left by demobilizing FARC units and want farmers to continue tending coca bushes.
“They don’t have the money to support us, and the pressure to continue [growing coca] is fierce,” a community leader in the isolated southwest municipality of Tumaco — a global hub for coca — said in late 2016, after a deadly clash between state security forces and farmers protesting efforts to destroy their coca.
In January 2018, the Colombian government sent 2,000 troops to Tumaco to contain violence there.
“What we have seen — in Norte de Santander it’s happened [and] in Putumayo to some extent — is people signing on to the crop-substitution programs [and] getting threatened or killed for … abandoning it.”
A photo released by AFRICOM reportedly shows a Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum jet flying over Libya.
The U.S. military has provided more details about an alleged Russian deployment of fighter jets to Libya, as officials in Russia continued to deny the presence of Russian military aircraft or personnel in the North African country.
The United States says Moscow deployed the jets to provide support for Russian mercenaries helping a local warlord battle Libya’s internationally recognized government.
The alleged deployment could have a big impact on the war pitting the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar and forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is recognized by the United Nations.
The conflict has drawn in multiple regional actors, with Russia, France, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates backing Haftar’s command.
Turkey, which deployed troops, drones, and Syrian rebel mercenaries to Libya in January, supports the government in Tripoli, alongside Qatar and Italy.
As Libya continues to be subjected to a UN arms embargo, the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) on May 26 said it assessed Russia had recently deployed military jets to Libya via Syria to support Russian mercenaries fighting alongside the LNA. It said the jets were repainted in Syria to remove Russian Federation Air Force markings.
In a tweet on May 27, AFRICOM added that MiG-29 and Su-24 fighters bearing Russian Federation Air Force markings departed Russia “over multiple days in May.”
After the aircraft landed at the Russian military base of Hmeimim in western Syria, the MiG-29s “are repainted and emerge with no national markings.”
AFRICOM wrote in a separate tweet that the jets were flown by “Russian military personnel” and were escorted to Libya by “Russian fighters” based in Syria.
The planes first landed near Tobruk in eastern Libya to refuel, it said, adding: “At least 14 newly unmarked Russian aircraft are then delivered to Al Jufra Air Base” in central Libya, an LNA stronghold.
Meanwhile, LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari denied that new jets had arrived, calling it “media rumors and lies,” according to Reuters.
Viktor Bondarev, the chairman of the Federation Council’s committee on defense and security, dismissed the U.S. claims as “stupidity.”
“If the warplanes are in Libya, they are Soviet, not Russian,” Bondarev said.
Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy head of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, said Russia had not sent military personnel to Libya and the Russian upper house of parliament has not received a request to approve such a dispatch.
Vagner Group, a private military contractor believed to be close to the Kremlin, has been helping Haftar’s forces. A UN report earlier this month estimated the number of Russian mercenaries at between 800 and 1,200.
The Bondarev and Dzhabarov comments are the latest denials from Moscow that the Russian state is responsible for any deployments.
But U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, commander of AFRICOM, said on May 26: “For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now. We watched as Russia flew fourth-generation jet fighters to Libya — every step of the way.”
Oil-rich Libya has been torn by civil war since a NATO-backed popular uprising ousted and killed the country’s longtime dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, in 2011.
Haftar, who controls the eastern part of the country, is seeking to capture the capital, Tripoli, from GNA forces.
But his LNA lost a string of western towns and a key air base in the past two months after Turkey stepped up military support for his rivals.
Since President Donald Trump assumed office, there has been an intense focus on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. But eight other countries, including the US, have stockpiled nuclear weapons for decades.
A few years after the US dropped atomic bombs on Japan during World War II — the only time nuclear weapons have been used in combat — Russia began developing its own nuclear capabilities. The United Kingdom, France, and China followed soon thereafter.
By the 1960s, it was becoming apparent that a future in which dozens of countries build and test nuclear weapons would not be safe for the world. This led to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, which was designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology. A handful of countries, including Israel and North Korea, have not signed on to the agreement.
The treaty has been largely successful. But the potential use of nuclear weapons between hostile nations continues to threaten international peace.
Here’s how many nuclear weapons exist and which countries have them, according to a report from the Federation of American Scientists:
9. North Korea: 60
For years, the US tried to negotiate with North Korea to curb its nuclear weapons program. The Agreed Framework, signed in 1994 under President Bill Clinton, ultimately failed. North Korea was cheating.
In 2003, Pyongyang officially withdrew from the NPT. Three years later, the country conducted its first nuclear test. North Korea has since continued building weapons, despite efforts by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump to slow its progress.
Today, North Korea most likely has up to 60 nuclear weapons, though that number is an estimate.
8. Israel: 80
Israel’s government will neither officially confirm nor deny it has nuclear weapons. But it’s an open secret that the Middle Eastern country has been building nuclear weapons for decades.
In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician and whistle-blower, revealed the existence of Israel’s program.
Western allies, like the US and the UK, have supported Israel’s policy of keeping its program “secret.”
The Guardian reported that in 2009, when a reporter asked US President Barack Obama whether he knew of any country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, “he dodged the trapdoor by saying only that he did not wish to ‘speculate.'”
7. India: 130
To put it mildly, India has a hostile relationship with its neighbor Pakistan. That tension is compounded by the fact that both countries possess nuclear weapons. For nearly two decades, however, the two nations have avoided any escalating nuclear conflict.
In 2003, India, which is not a party to the NPT, declared a no-use-first policy, meaning it vowed to never use nuclear weapons in combat unless first attacked by another country with nuclear weapons. China maintains a similar policy.
India first began developing nuclear weapons in an attempt to counter Chinese aggression in the 1960s. It has since tested multiple nuclear devices, which caused the US to impose, then later lift, various sanctions.
6. Pakistan: 140
Contrary to India’s no-first-use policy, Pakistan has not ruled out first-attack use of nuclear weapons.
The 1971 Indo-Pakistani War and the threat of India’s burgeoning nuclear weapons capabilities prompted Pakistan to start a nuclear program of its own.
In 2014, Pakistan began developing tactical nuclear weapons, which are smaller warheads built for use on battlefields rather than against cities or infrastructure. These weapons are small enough to launch from warships or submarines, which makes them easier to use on short notice than traditional nuclear weapons.
Pakistan is also reportedly nearing completion of its nuclear triad, which would give the country the ability to launch nuclear missiles from the land, air, and sea.
5. United Kingdom: 215
Like all other nuclearized countries, the UK argues that it needs nuclear weapons largely for defense purposes.
Its nuclear weapons deterrent is called Trident and consists of four Vanguard-class submarines that can carry up to 16 Trident II D5 ballistic missiles, each armed with up to eight nuclear warheads, The Telegraph reported.
From 2010 to 2015, the UK cut the number of its operational warheads by 40, to 120. It continues to work on nuclear reduction while maintaining its advocacy for minimum nuclear force — just the right amount of force to inflict devastation and achieve combat goals.
4. China: 270
Lieutenant General Ding Laihang. Photo from South China Morning Post.
China’s first nuclear weapons test took place in 1964. Like India, Beijing maintains a no-use-first nuclear policy, but some in the international community are skeptical of its intentions.
Beijing keeps its nuclear weapons count secret, so it’s impossible to determine exactly how many the country has. While the East Asian superpower is a member of the NPT, its increasingly ambitious military ventures have been a cause of concern for some countries.
Next year, for example, China plans to unveil its next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile, which will be able to strike anywhere in the world and carry up to 10 nuclear warheads. In 2016, similar long-range nuclear missiles capable of striking Guam, a US territory, were revealed, sending shockwaves through the American defense establishment.
3. France: 300
France began developing nuclear weapons during the Cold War, when President Charles de Gaulle believed it needed defense capabilities independent of the US and NATO. De Gaulle feared that neither would come to France’s defense in the event of an attack by the Soviet Union or some other enemy.
While France possesses the third-largest nuclear weapons stockpile in the world, it claims it has no chemical or biological warfare weapons. It is a member of the NPT.
In 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reaffirmed that the country’s nuclear weapons were not “targeted at anybody.” Rather, they were part of a “life-insurance policy.” Sarkozy also announced a nuclear weapons reduction, cutting its stockpile to “half the maximum number of warheads [France] had during the Cold War.
2. United States: 6,800
The US ushered in the nuclear era under President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 when the military launched the Manhattan Project, which led to the world’s first nuclear bomb detonation.
During World War II, the US forever changed the way the world would look at nuclear technology after dropping bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, instantly killing tens of thousands of civilians.
The US is a member of the NPT but has refused to sign on to a no-first-use policy.
Earlier this year, former Vice President Joe Biden doubled down on major investments to boost America’s nuclear capabilities.
“So long as other countries possess nuclear weapons that could be used against us, we too must maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal to deter attacks against ourselves and our allies,” Biden said. “That is why … we increased funding to maintain our arsenal and modernize our nuclear infrastructure.”
Quartz reported that the US would spend approximately $400 billion over a 10-year period to maintain and modernize its arsenal. Another purpose of this investment is to keep pace with Russia’s growing arsenal.
Trump has echoed Obama’s calls for a revamping of the US arsenal.
“I want modernization and total rehabilitation,” the president said. After calling for an increase in the US stockpile on the campaign trail, he said in October 2017 that would be “totally unnecessary.”
1. Russia: 7,000
The former Soviet Union began work on its nuclear weapons program in the 1940s after hearing reports of the US Manhattan Project.
After the Soviet-US arms race during the Cold War, nuclear weapons stored in former Soviet states were returned to Russia, where many were dismantled. But Russia still maintained a vast stockpile of weapons.
Today, Russia appears to be investing in nuclear weapons modernization — much like the US — and growing its arsenal. Last year, President Barack Obama criticized such efforts as impediments to global nuclear disarmament.
“Because of the vision that he’s been pursuing of emphasizing military might,” Obama said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, “we have not seen the type of progress that I would have hoped for with Russia.”
In October, Putin said he wanted to help reduce the world’s nuclear arsenal and “will be striving to achieve that,” but he added that Russia would continue to develop its program so long as other countries continue doing so.
While Russia has the most nuclear weapons of any country, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the most powerful.
“Russia built nuclear weapons that are incremental improvements,” or weapons that would need updating every decade or so, Jeffrey Lewis, the founding publisher of Arms Control Wonk, told Business Insider.
On the other hand, Lewis said: “US nukes are like Ferraris: beautiful, intricate, and designed for high performance. Experts have said the plutonium pits will last for 100s of years.” Indeed, the US’s stocks of Minuteman III ICBMS, despite their age, are “exquisite machinery, incredible things.”
“Russia’s nuclear weapons are newer, true, but they reflect the design philosophy that says ‘No reason to make it super fancy because we’ll just rebuild it in 10 years,'” Lewis added.