In their 75 years building, fighting and serving on every continent – even Antarctica – only one Navy Seabee has been bestowed with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.
Marvin G. Shields was a third-class construction mechanic with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 and assigned to a nine-member Seabee team at a small camp near Dong Xoai, Vietnam. The camp housed Army Green Berets with 5th Special Forces Group, who were advising a force of Vietnamese soldiers including 400 local Montagnards.
Shields, then 25, who enlisted in 1962, was killed in an intense 1965 battle in Vietnam. His actions under fire led to the posthumous medal, awarded in 1966, “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
On June 10, 1965, Dong Xoai came under heavy fire from a regimental-sized Viet Cong force, who pummeled the camp with machine guns and heavy weapons. The initial attack wounded Shields but didn’t stop him.
“Shields continued to resupply his fellow Americans who needed ammunition and to return the enemy fire for a period of approximately three hours, at which time the Viet Cong launched a massive attack at close range with flame-throwers, hand grenades and small-arms fire,” his award citation states. “Wounded a second time during this attack, Shields nevertheless assisted in carrying a more critically wounded man to safety, and then resumed firing at the enemy for four more hours.”
Still, Shields kept fighting.
“When the commander asked for a volunteer to accompany him in an attempt to knock out an enemy machinegun emplacement which was endangering the lives of all personnel in the compound because of the accuracy of its fire, Shields unhesitatingly volunteered for this extremely hazardous mission,” reads the citation. “Proceeding toward their objective with a 3.5-inch rocket launcher, they succeeded in destroying the enemy machinegun emplacement, thus undoubtedly saving the lives of many of their fellow servicemen in the compound.”
But hostile fire ultimately got Shields, mortally wounding him as he was taking cover.
“His heroic initiative and great personal valor in the face of intense enemy fire sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service,” the citation states.
The five-day Battle of Dong Xoai also garnered a Medal of Honor for a junior Green Beret officer, 2nd Lt. Charles Q. Williams, who was wounded several times in the battle and survived the war.
Shields’ unit – Seabee Team 1104 – had come together just four months before the attack on their Dong Xoai camp, Frank Peterlin, the team’s officer-in-charge, recalled in a 2015 Navy news article about the Navy’s 50th commemoration of the battle and Shields’ award.
“In the evening, he [Shields] would have his guitar at his side and would love to sing and dance, especially with the Cambodian troops at our first camp,” said Peterlin, who attended the ceremony. “Marvin was always upbeat. At Dong Xoai, he was joking and encouraging his teammates throughout the battle.” Peterlin, a lieutenant junior-grade at the time, was wounded amid the fight and earned the Silver Star medal for his actions leading the men.
Shields, who was survived by his wife and young daughter, has been long remembered by Port Townsend, Washington, his hometown.
At the time of his death, the Port Townsend Leader newspaper wrote of him and his service: “A 1958 graduate of Port Townsend High School, Shields was one of the first employees on the Mineral Basin in Mining Development at Hyder, Alaska, when the locally organized project was initiated there by Walt Moa of Discovery Bay. He worked at Mineral Basin during the summer before graduating from school and returned there as a full time construction worker in 1958. He was called into the Navy early in 1962, and was due to be discharged in January.”
The Navy honored his memory with a frigate in his name (retired in 1992). The official U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, California, has a large display about him its Hall of Heroes. Navy Seabees have never forgotten Shields, who is buried in Gardiner, Washington. Inscribed on his black-granite headstone is this: “He died as he lived, for his friends.”
There are many elements that make up a fighting force’s effectiveness in battle; leadership, doctrine, and equipment are most often cited as key determinants. But, as this extensive study shows, organizational culture is also an important factor. Overall, The Culture of Military Organizations convincingly shows that internal culture has an enormous influence on fighting organizations. This influence includes their approach to warfare and their performance in battle.
An institution’s culture frames what its institution values, what heroes it reveres, and what it rewards. Culture imbues an organization with a sense of mission, identity, and core competencies. Cultural influences deeply impact what members think, how they perceive problems, and how they react to them. These are reinforced by rituals and narratives, passed on to recruits and acolytes in the training and educational programs of all armed forces.
A fighting organization’s culture emerges over an extended period, sometimes deliberately and often indirectly from victory and defeat. Culture operates internally like the operating system of a computer. Some scholars contend that culture is so deeply embedded that its existence and influence is imperceptible. In fact, military members are said to sense and act without being consciously aware that their belief system is framing their orientation and actions.
Numerous authors have researched the subject in the past. Yet, it has never been comprehensively studied in a rigorous and comparative manner. This is what makes this excellent book valuable.
The editors of this anthology bring together extensive experience, from both academic and practitioner perspectives. Dr. Peter R. Mansoor, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, holds the General Raymond E. Mason, Jr. Chair of Military History at Ohio State University. Mansoor earned his PhD at Ohio State University and served as executive officer to General David Petraeus during the 2007 surge of U.S. forces in Iraq. His memoir of his tour as a brigade commander, Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq, shows his mettle as a combat leader and student of war. Mansoor teamed up with Williamson Murray, an acclaimed U.S. historian and U.S. Air Force veteran from the Vietnam era. Murray’s best work has focused on grand strategy and military innovation and adaptation. This book stands with those for relevance and historical scholarship.
The editors assembled an international cast of scholars to delve deep into their respective countries and areas of expertise through sixteen case studies. Most explore a single armed force within a particular country for a specified period of time. The book contains an introduction and framework, along with an international suite of case studies covering a range of cultures and wars, from the U.S. Civil War to the most recent conflict in Iraq. The cases examine institutional and wartime history, but stress how culture impacted its subject’s effectiveness over time.
Mansoor and Murray employ a wide definition of military culture, representing “the assumptions, ideas, norms, and beliefs, expressed or reflected in symbols, rituals, myths, and practices, that shape how an organization functions and adapts to external stimuli and that give meaning to its members.” Culture is multi-dimensional, set in a large social context, and reflected in an organization’s internal practices. “A service’s culture is a complex aggregate of its attitudes,” Harold Winton has written, “toward a variety of issues including its role in war, its promotion system, its relation to other services, and its place in the society it serves.”
The notion that a military service has a distinctive set of values that create its personality or DNA is fairly well accepted in security studies. More relevant to our current strategic context, many scholars link the limits of a rigid culture when it comes to changing military organizations and their practices. Several notable studies, including those of Elizabeth Kier and John Nagl, find organizational or military culture relevant to both peacetime innovation and wartime adaptation. In Israel, Meir Finkel explored organizational flexibility and noted how critical culture was to learning and agility in wartime. Murray’s own work on innovation recognizes policy makers or institutional leaders must work within or alter an existing culture to overcome barriers to change.
The editors wisely commissioned two well respected researchers to establish an analytical foundation for this study. Dr. Leonard Wong and Dr. Stephen Gerras, both with the U.S. Army War College, employ two different analytical models for examining organizations. They adapted a framework generated in the commercial world, drawn from 17,000 middle managers and nearly one thousand organizations. None of the organizations involved were military. This framework is more useful for societal comparisons—which the pair recognizes, while still demonstrating the model’s analytical utility—but only within the U.S. Army. More familiar to scholars in this field was their inclusion of Edgar Schein’s list of embedding and reinforcing mechanisms. Unfortunately, this useful framework is left to the respective authors to consider, and few took up the task.
The best chapter is Richard Sinnreich’s overview of the Victorian-era British Army. This case is a common interpretation, concluding that this era embraced the English gentleman ideal of an officer corps drawn from the upper tier of society. Rigorous professional development and competitive promotions were disdained and book learning frowned upon. Sinnreich details how pre-World War I tactical modernization in the British Army was stillborn, despite the introduction of breech-loading rifles and quick-firing artillery. The tribal conformity imposed by regimental life, and a social system that deferred instinctively to one’s superiors were pressures that “tended to stifle subordinate initiative and to breed a tactically rigidity ill equipped to deal with more modern and sophisticated enemies.” This all came to a head in South Africa near the end of the century, where “British regulars, including storied regiments, repeatedly were outgeneraled, outmaneuvered, and outfought by South Africa’s indifferently organized but well-armed and determined Boer militias.” Readers may want to compare this interpretation of social linkages and limited intellectual development with recent scholarship.
The Royal Navy is not slighted, Professor Corbin Williamson covers its evolution from 1900 to the end of the Second World War. Williamson deftly addresses the Navy’s struggle to balance near-term training against higher order education to develop competent officers in a period of rapid technological change. He quotes another scholar’s assessment: “The educational system, as it existed in 1914, lacked coherence and ambition.” When the test of war emerged, the Navy lacked officers who could make an impact at the cabinet level or in theater strategy debates. Andrew Gordon’s wonderful insights from Rules of the Game are leveraged to good effect to detail how rigid naval command had become. The disappointments from Jutland influenced the Royal Navy’s reconception of command, initiative, and offensive employment, and served as the basis for a series of reforms, drawn from Lambert’s Sir John Fisher’s Naval Revolution. “Through these reforms,” Williamson concludes, “the navy reinvigorated an offensive ethos and placed a higher priority on subordinate’s initiative based on an understanding of the admiral’s intent similar to modern ‘mission command.'”
Allan Millett, former Marine and author of the definitive history of the U.S. Marine Corps, writes about the intense nature of that institution’s internal operating system. Millett gives appropriate recognition to General Victor Krulak and his son, General Charles C. Krulak, as institutional innovators. But this chapter overlooked an excellent appreciation of Marine Corps change agents by Terry Terriff of the University of Calgary. There are other recent works that readers will want to explore. The culture of the U.S Marine Corps is going to be sorely tested in this next decade, as a generation of Marines leaves behind a half-century focus on amphibious missions, after its 15 years of counterinsurgency operations, and now attempts to redefine its identity and transition to great power competition.
The U.S. Air Force has a distinctive culture, and Robert Farley superbly draws out how that institution developed an unshakable and misguided belief that high-altitude, daylight, and precision bombing was a decisive form of warfare. He correctly notes how influential the Pacific and European campaigns of World War II were to the Air Force, conflicts in which its preferred operating paradigm was severely tested by adversary counter-responses. He argues the Air Force’s fervent desire for independence promoted an element of autonomy and assertiveness that still exists today, and with studied understatement notes, “the pursuit of technological innovation has played an unusually large role in the culture of the USAF for the course of its history….” This is a culture now beset by numerous priorities from air superiority fighters, stealth bombers, and remotely piloted aerial systems…and now to a competing Space Force. Farley suggests the combat experiences of the last generation has moved past its fixations with autonomy and technology, and moved towards closer interaction with other services, especially special operations. That may be the official line but the previous generation still contends airpower is even more precise and decisive.
One of the distinguishing aspects of this book is the inclusion of non-Western examples. Dan Marston, now with Johns Hopkins University, provides an illuminating discussion on the Indian Army, and Gil-li Vardi’s chapter on the Israeli Defense Force is balanced. Vardi depicts the evolution of the Israeli Defence Force’s psyche; including its offensive nature and penchant for initiative and improvisation over hierarchy and directive command.
The lack of Chinese and French chapters is an obvious drawback in the book’s design. Given the increasing salience of the Chinese military today, this has to be considered a shortfall. Furthermore, while the chapter on Russia was well executed, it stopped at the end of World War II, leaving readers to wonder how Russia military culture has since evolved. These weaknesses are offset by a strategic culture chapter penned by David Kilcullen, who does address Russian national culture. What he does not capture is the debate over the utility of strategic culture. Some dispute its existence and use in understanding or anticipating a rival’s moves or deriving insights on how history, geography, form of government, and civil-military relations influence a state’s strategic behavior.
The editors present a selective suite of implications. They note the social links from any military to its larger culture, the criticality of military education to sustain critical thinking, and the tensions between continuity and change. Gil-li Vardi’s point about the difficulty of leveraging culture is underscored: “organizational culture is a resilient and even sluggish creature, which operates on cumulative knowledge, organically embedded into a coherent, powerful and highly restrictive mind-set.” This is the most salient feature of the study, assisting leaders in closing the gap between today’s force and one that meets the needs of the future conception of warfare. Murray’s past works on innovation clearly show that an organizational culture inclined to test its assumptions, assess the external environment for changes routinely, and experiment with novel solutions is best suited for long-term success. The challenge for leaders today, not explored enough in the book, is learning how to successfully reprogram the internal code to improve its alignment with new missions or technologies. We can hope some enterprising scholars will jump into this field and apply the same conceptual lens to complement this product.
Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus observed that “culture, once formed, is difficult to change; it cannot always be ‘tamed’ but it can and should be understood.” Those responsible for strategic leadership and for preparing their military for the future, must understand how culture impacts the effectiveness of an armed force. This is particularly relevant since most officials today describe the strategic environment as an age of disruptive technological change.
Professors Mansoor and Murray offer a superlative foundation for reflecting on how to change the odds of gaining that transformation short of the carnage of a world war.
Mighty Stories is a weekly WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Krista Simpson Anderson – Army wife, Gold Star wife, founder of the nonprofit The Unquiet Professional.
I grew up in Hampton, Massachusetts – a little town right outside of Springfield. My father served in the U.S. Air Force from 1967-1971, but it was before I was born. My mom’s side of the family also served, but it wasn’t something we talked about. I was blissfully ignorant about military life.
I met Mike in June 2006. He was a friend of my cousin’s. My cousin was deploying to Iraq and my aunt was having a deployment party for him. She flew in a few of his friends that had been in the Old Guard with him, and she called me and asked me to help her with the guys flying in.
I walked into the Toasted Owl Tavern in Northhampton, and there he was.
It was love at first sight. I remember my cousin saying to me, ‘I’m going to disown you both if you get married.’ But we were fixed on each other. The whole world could have come crashing down around us and we wouldn’t have noticed.
In August 2006, Mike’s whole unit transferred to Germany. I went out to visit him for Thanksgiving. In September of 2007, he deployed to Iraq. He came out to Rhode Island to my family’s home before he left and we spent a week together. I was working in the restaurant business at the time of his deployment, so I took a couple of different jobs, one in St. Thomas, one in New York. But we stayed in contact.
In April 2008, during his mid-tour leave, he invited me to his brother David and sister-in-law Kelsey’s wedding in Texas. During their rehearsal dinner in his parents’ backyard, he went to give his best man’s speech and we all thought it would be something funny. He was so goofy, it was hard to imagine him doing something serious. Now mind you, he served in the military in the Old Guard so he clearly had to be serious for work. But the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Be each other’s compass.’
I was blown away.
Mike and Krista. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
That night, he walked me to my room – we were all staying with his parents – and he told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. And he asked me, ‘Will you be my wife?’ I knew that it had been a long night of celebrating so I told him that if he felt the same way in the morning we could talk about it. I went to sleep dreaming of the rest of our lives together.
The next morning over a cup of coffee at the counter, Mike looked at me and said, ‘I don’t feel any differently than I did last night. I want you to be my wife. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ I said yes, of course. We kept this a secret because it was not our day – it was David and Kelsey’s wedding day, and we knew his oldest brother, Isaac, was going to be proposing to his now wife, Vanessa, the next day. We told his sister, Abby, and then swore her to secrecy.
A few days after the wedding we announced our good news and decided to marry as soon as Mike returned from his deployment.
Mike went back to Iraq a week later, and returned in October 2008 to Germany. We met back up in Tennessee for Isaac and Vanessa’s wedding in November. December 20, 2008, we married in Rhode Island, and the first week of January he returned to Germany. We decided to live apart until his orders came through to start the Special Forces Qualification course so he wouldn’t need to extend in Germany.
I went to Germany to see him in February for his birthday, and I came home and found out I was pregnant with our first son a month later. I was working at a restaurant as a manager and living with my parents in Rhode Island awaiting orders. By September 2009 we were finally living together in Fort Bragg, NC and our son Michael was born October 22nd.
I remember taking “SF101” (Special Forces 101) for the spouses and the emphasis was put on how long our husbands would be away from home. Everything was about not getting our hopes up for birthdays, holidays, special occasions and being a family during those times. They really wanted to prepare us for the let downs of our military career. No one ever told me the incredible things our husbands would be doing while away from home and that every mission would be for the good of our nation. No one ever told me about the amazing and wonderful things we would be doing for our families while they were away. No one ever told me how, as spouses, we would show up for each other, in good times and in bad. No one ever told me that we would all be changing the world together – them abroad and us on the homefront.
Mike, Krista and their two boys. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
Mike graduated in March 2011 and then reported July 10 for a Special Forces billet at 4th BN, Charlie Company, 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I got out there August 1 with Michael who was just about two, and pregnant with Gabriel. We closed on our first house on my birthday, September 23.
As soon as our household goods arrived, Mike was off on a TDY (Temporary Duty) so I set up the house with my two year old and called my Mom and Aunt in for reinforcements to paint beige the mustard yellow walls and ceiling our new home offered.
When home, Mike was a present and incredibly fun daddy. He played this game called Daddy T-Rex. He would hold Gabe and chase Mic around the house, pretending to be a dinosaur. They would also lie on the floor and play Legos, have mini race-car races all the while tapping into Mike’s very present childlike spirit. He’d say to me, ‘I can’t wait until they’re older so we can do more fun things.’ He couldn’t wait to play basketball, soccer and teach them to ride bikes.
On 6 April 2013, Mike deployed with his company to eastern Afghanistan. Less than three weeks later I received the call every military spouse prays they’ll never get.
Mike, right, with a battle buddy. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
The day before the call, Mike and I were texting back and forth and I was telling him how grateful I was to be his wife. I asked him to marry me all over again. I said, ‘I love you more today than I ever have. You have brought so much joy to my life that it overwhelms me. Will you marry me… Again?’ We were going to meet in Mexico with our families around Christmas and I told him I wanted to do it then. He wrote back, ‘Yes!’
On April 27, I had just put Gabriel down for a nap (he was 16 months) and I heard my phone ringing. I ran down the stairs to an ‘Unknown’ caller and answered what I can only assume must have been the last ring. It was (now Lieutenant Colonel) Major Jamie Alden, and he said ‘Hi, Krista? This is Major Alden.’ It didn’t even dawn on me why the company commander would be calling me from Afghanistan.
He asked me where I was, and I told him I was at home. He asked where the boys were, and I told him Mic was in the other room and I’d just put Gabe down for a nap.
He said, ‘I need you to sit down.’
You know that feeling when it seems that your brain starts going numb and it begins to rush through your whole body? Luckily I made it to the other room and sat down near the boys’ toys – on a bean bag chair.
‘Michael is alive, but he is in critical condition. There was an accident; he hit an IED while riding an ATV. He has a lower right leg amputation and there has been severe trauma to his right arm. We know there is shrapnel damage, we just are not sure where and the extent. Again, he is alive, but he is critical.’
I had to stop him. I couldn’t process anything and I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember anything else he was saying. I ran across the street and banged on my neighbor Kate’s door, and her daughter opened it. She was supposed to be coming over anyway to watch the boys since we had a neighborhood clean-up scheduled and I was president of the homeowners association. She ran to stay with the boys while Kate got on the phone with Major Alden. It took some convincing for him to speak to her but he finally agreed, understanding my emotional state.
I watched her as she spoke to him but I couldn’t hear her. I could hear sounds, just not the words, as if my ears were blocked. Kate handed the phone back to me and I thanked him, and he reminded me that we were family, that his wife Susan would be calling me soon, and that everything was going to be okay.
Mike, before the attack. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
I got off the phone and had to start making phone calls. I walked with my phone in my hand across the grass toward our friends, Alan and Angie’s, house. They were laying out a tarp for mulch on their driveway when they looked over. It must have been written all over my face because they rushed to me and caught me before I fell to my knees. Alan was the commander of an EOD unit on JBLM and assured me everything was going to be ok. Angie was by my side and provided support in any way I needed.
I wanted to close my eyes and wake up from the nightmare but I couldn’t. I was a Green Beret’s wife and the mother of two future Green Berets. I said to myself, ‘Pull yourself together, handle your business- he’s not dead and is going to need you to be strong!’
I stood outside, barefoot, on the cold pavement. The bottoms of my feet still get cold remembering those moments. I tried calling Mike’s parents but there was no answer. I tried calling my parents and no answer again. I called his brother Isaac, who was also a Green Beret who was in North Carolina doing his instructor rotation. I said, ‘It’s Mike. He’s alive but he hit an IED and he’s in surgery. It’s critical.’
I can still hear his scream.
Isaac had witness IED attacks before and he knew the gravity of this news. Isaac and Vanessa would make the calls to the rest of the Simpson family as I continued my calls from the floor of our parish where I sat and prayed. Once my parents were notified, my mother arrived from Rhode Island to our home in Olympia, Washington, 12 hours later.
1st Special Forces Group (1st SFG) at JBLM welcomed me in every morning to call Afghanistan for updates. LTC David Haight would call Bagram ICU and translate their medical report for me whether at that morning meeting or 1am. We would share our information, formulate a plan and I would leave the table every morning stronger than I arrived. Monday, 29 April, I called the hospital myself. The doctor that answered told me he was sorry, but that Mike didn’t have a gag or corneal reflex and that he would not live.
I thanked him and his team for caring for him so well. I went downstairs to tell my mother before the boys awoke and then retreated to my room where I called my cousin Alicia and friend Andrea. I begged Alicia to wake me up and take this away.
The medical team cared for Mike so well they were able to transfer him from Afghanistan to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany. We got the green light to go to Germany as soon as Mike was in the air from AFG. They couldn’t cut orders or book our flights until they knew Mike was surviving the altitude. They performed emergency surgery on the plane and worked tirelessly to keep him alive even though they knew the outcome. When they arrived in Germany, one of Mike’s closest friends from the Special Forces Qualification Course was there awaiting his arrival. Casey served with another Special Forces Group and was training in the area when we received the news.
As I traveled to Germany, my Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) SFC Gerry DeMarzo and Chaplain Johnny Elder escorted me. What a blessing they were for so many reasons I couldn’t possibly list in short. The ‘behind the scenes’ had so many issues getting us all there but with the help from the Green Beret Foundation, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, USO, Fisher House Foundation and Care Coalition on top of 1st SFG, I arrived and met Mike’s parents, siblings and spouses to be with Mike.
Upon arrival, my only request was that I got to see him first. I wanted to clean him up before his mom saw him. Silly, but it was all I could think of. I got to the hospital and Casey was at the door with SFC Doug Way. (They both never once left us. Casey stayed at Mike’s bedside and Doug would either be standing outside his hospital room or kneeling outside the room praying.)
I never lost hope.
‘Maybe he will heal and maybe the doctors were wrong,’ I kept telling myself.
Casey and Doug greeted me, offered their condolences and I entered the room.
There he was.
My big bad Green Beret laying broken and vulnerable. I had never felt so helpless in all of my life.
All I could manage was a whisper… ‘Dear Lord, please help us.’
On 1 May 2013, as we all stood around Mike’s bed, Dr. Betts informed us that Mike was in fact brain dead. I asked, ‘Can his brain heal?’ rationally knowing the answer, but I had to ask. ‘No ma’am, the brain can not heal from these injuries,’ he said. I nodded my head in understanding, saw the very real pain in his parents’ and siblings’ faces, said, ‘Thank you,’ and then ran out.
I ran left out of the room, through the ICU doors into the hall toward the stairs, down the stairs and out of the hospital hoping I could run away from this earth-shattering moment in my life and somehow, when I returned, everything would be ok – Mike would wake, he would rehab and our lives would go on … Together.
I stopped and Gerry and Doug were not too many steps behind me. Gerry never let me out of his sight for a moment; he was my greatest advocate and protector. He always told me he took care of our family the way he would have wanted his family taken care of if something were to have happened to him. When I returned to the hospital, I went back in and I didn’t leave Mike’s side except for an hour to take care of the paperwork I needed to sign.
The rest of that day we would call all the family and friends we could connect with so they could say their goodbyes. I would call and inform them of Mike’s diagnosis, tell them how sorry I was but that it was time for them to say goodbye if they wished. I would put the phone down on Mike’s pillow next to his ear, believing he would receive their love and pain through their words.
I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to say whatever they wanted and needed to for some closure. Our family and friends stateside would say goodbye as well as Charlie Company, 4th BN, 1st SFG. Mike’s team was sure he would survive, so my news was heartbreaking to them … Mike was their brother.
One of Mike’s friends and teammates brought me to my knees with his heartfelt message that his wife would transcribe for me later. His words were, ‘For Mike: Hey buddy. Have no fear, you’re the realest Green Beret now. You did it all. Thanks for all the bravo advice and an invitation to be a part of your family. I will never forget our time together and will do anything for your family. R.I.P. brother. I love you. One more thing – thank you for the greatest sacrifice one can make. My prayer to you … Now I lay you down to sleep, I pray the Lord your soul to keep. If you should die before you wake, bless Mikey Lord, his soul to take.’
Once the last call was made I think my body and mind knew it and I needed to rest. I asked the hospital staff if they could move Mike over so I could lie next to him in his hospital bed. I laid there and just listened to his heart beat. I prayed until I drifted off to sleep. Around 4 am, the nurse came in and wanted to change his dressings and clean him up. I asked if I could help, so she brought in soapy water and a washcloth. She changed his dressings while I cleaned him up. Around 9 pm, they came in to get him for organ donor surgery. I stayed with him while they got him ready to be moved. I walked to the door holding his hand as they started to wheel him out, and didn’t want to let go.
This was it.
I would never see his chest rise and fall or hear his beating heart again. ‘I’M NOT READY!’ I screamed in my head.
But … with as much grace as I could, I leaned down and kissed him one last time and whispered, ‘I love you all the world. I promise you I will take care of our boys, and we will always remember you.’
They wheeled his bed out and I stood in the empty, cold hospital room alone. ‘What now?’ I asked. ‘How do I live without you?’
We came back from Germany to Dover for the dignified transfer on 7 May 2013. He was supposed to be the only casket on the flight, but seven other soldiers were killed just days before, so we were with their families. These families didn’t have what we did. They didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. They watched their loved one get on the plane for deployment and then their casket come off in Dover.
It started to rain as we stood out on the tarmac, so hard it was sideways. My mother in law had an umbrella and was also trying to wrap me in her jacket to protect me. I told her I was okay without it, because I wanted to feel everything; the rain, the heartache, the fear. I had to face that moment.
As the caskets were taken off the plane I could hear the rain and the wailing from mothers and fathers who lost their sons, siblings who lost their brothers, spouses who lost their husbands and children who lost their fathers. I felt as though I was hovering over myself, looking down in disbelief that this was now my journey.
I flew home to Washington after being gone for 10 days. I could never spend a few hours away from my boys without missing them terribly. This time I was afraid to see them. What would I say? How would I tell them their Daddy wasn’t coming home?
Mike’s dignified transfer. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
I sat Michael (age 3) down and asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’
‘Yes Mommy,’ he said.
‘Even though you can’t see Him?’ I asked.
‘Yes of course Mommy!’ he replied.
‘You know Daddy is a soldier?’
‘Yes,’ he answered.
I looked into his eyes and softly said, ‘Well, Daddy is going to be God’s soldier now.’
‘But I will miss him,’ he said.
It would have been easy to sit down and focus on all the tragedy. My husband, my best friend, the father of my two beautiful boys was gone. I was a 35 year old widow who didn’t have enough time with the love of my life. Mike and I always told each other, ‘This love happens once in a lifetime,’ and it was gone.
My future and dreams broke into a million pieces and I had no idea how I would become whole again. And yet, somehow, I had to choose to see the incredible blessings that were happening all around us. The support from our family, friends and community; the military representatives that were assigned to us that created a beautiful journey; it was all a gift as much as my husband’s sacrifice was a gift to us all. Everybody who walked into our lives … it was nothing short of perfect.
On 30 May 2013, our Memorial Day, Mike was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery by his original Old Guard unit where he served when he first joined the military in 2003.
There are many things I remember about that day. It was so hot I could feel the heat from the pavement radiate through the bottom of my sandals – a stark contrast from the cold I felt on my bare feet the day I got the call that Mike had been hit.
I remember walking for what seemed like forever with our two children, hoping to make it through the ceremony.
Michael with his Daddy T-rex at Mike’s memorial. Photo courtesy of Krista Simpson Anderson.
And I remember thinking that this place, Arlington National Cemetery, had always been one of my favorite places to be. It’s so peaceful. It’s filled with a clear and strong sense of honor and courage, but in that moment I didn’t feel brave at all.
There were over 100 people in attendance to show their love and support, not just for Mike, but for us as well. My dear friend Andrea Rinaldi was one of them. She stayed by my side through it all, from the very beginning of our journey, and selflessly gave of her time and heart. The service, experience and support of so many was humbling, and I will always be grateful.
Finally, I remember the boys and I receiving the folded flags. How do you process receiving a folded flag in the place of your Daddy when you’re only three years old? Michael was given the flag, but really only wanted his Daddy T-Rex. As I held our 16 month old, I watched as Gerry, our Casualty Assistance Officer, took a knee, and took Michael’s flag for him. I love this picture – this moment in time – as it truly captures how Gerry so beautifully served our family.
Mike’s company would continue their deployment for six more months after Mike’s death. One of his teammates stated during his memorial, ‘This Team… This company… This regiment, will never forget your sacrifice. Each day when we don our kit and prepare for battle, we will do it in your honor. We will take the fight to the enemy and fight how you would have wanted us to. Never faltering… Never failing… and never forgetting. This fight is over for you brother, but know that it is not over for us. We will continue in your honor and remember you as a husband, a father, and a Green Beret.’
I attended the homecoming for the first flight that came in from Afghanistan. I was grateful to be there yet nervous about my emotions. As we waited in the company I was approached by a woman in the hallway. ‘Mrs. Simpson,’ she said. ‘I am not sure if this is an appropriate time but I wanted to introduce myself and tell you that I was one of Mike’s nurses in Afghanistan.’ I am sure I hugged her immediately and was so grateful to lay my hands on someone who was there, with Mike, during the scariest moments of his life. It was a blessing I can’t explain. She was one of many who saved Mike so our family could say goodbye. She was, and still is, my angel. I am blessed by her and her whole family to this day.
When the buses arrived carrying Mike’s company we all rushed outside to greet them. The minds and hearts of so many wives and children were eased and made whole again. I truly was so happy for them, yet I subconsciously waited for Mike to get off that bus. The last man embarked and I was sure Mike would be next. The door closed and the bus drove away.
In the distance, I heard the shriek of a little girl, calling, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ and as I turned to look, I saw her run and jump into a man’s arms who wore the same uniform as all the other soldiers … the same one Mike would have been wearing, with the same wide arms he would have caught our sons in. But it wasn’t him and it never would be. My heart shattered all over again and I needed to turn and walk inside to face this emotion alone. I couldn’t allow anyone to think I was not grateful their husbands came home, because I was, wholeheartedly, but that didn’t take away my pain.
I went home that night with a folded flag that was flown over Mike’s camp in Afghanistan. My dear friend laid next to me as I cried myself to sleep and she didn’t leave my side until she knew I was okay.
Over the next several months I was constantly at the battalion, offering help, wanting to talk to them to make sure they were doing okay. I know it was difficult for them to see me since I was a reminder of the reality of Mike’s death. I know many struggled with his loss and I recognized very quickly that survivor’s guilt was a very real emotion. They needed to know that this was God’s plan, not ours, and He doesn’t make mistakes. My mission was to show them that we would honor Mike, grieve his loss but we would absolutely be okay. We were strong and proud, not weak and angry. Everyone grieves differently and there is not a right or wrong way to do it. I chose grace for me, my children and his team.
One of Mike’s teammates, Gus, had done the original inventory on Mike’s things. He was able to put all of his belongings into perspective. What he was wearing the day of his accident, what certain gear meant and what it was used for. He brought back command challenge coins from the memorial in Afghanistan where they all gathered on 11 May. Gus was able to retrieve and hand carry the patches Mike wore on his helmet, along with the memorial patch he had made for their team’s uniforms. Gus would come over and play with the boys, give me a moment of rest and help anyway he could.
So many of Mike’s teammates and their families would do the same. I was so grateful for the respite since the light at the end of the deployment tunnel was extinguished for me. Mike wouldn’t return to ease the natural burdens of parenting coupled with keeping up the household alone.
I always had family dinners. From the time Mike passed, I’d send out a text at 1:00 pm on a Sunday with, ‘Family dinner at 4’ and a few hours later the house would fill with joy and laughter. What better therapy than to be surrounded by those that loved us and Mike?
Gus and I would talk a lot about Mike, his feelings of survivor’s guilt (which they all had) and spent a lot of time together over the next couple years. I started to realize I cared for Gus more than I thought was possible and wanted to see where that would lead us.
I flew down to Texas for Easter – I needed to talk to Mike’s parents. His father said to me, ‘I have four requirements: He loves you, he loves the boys, he loves Jesus and that he always shows them it’s manly to love Jesus.’ His mother said, ‘I’ve prayed since the week after Mike died that you would find somebody.’ They were my greatest supporters. And they already loved Gus. He was already a part of our family. This was a no brainer for me.
I struggled with Gus being my secret-not so secret boyfriend. I had this organization that I’d founded as a widow of an active duty service member. I was afraid. I had lost my identity as a military spouse and then I found one as a military widow. It allowed me to talk about Mike and honor him. We were afraid of what our friends might think of our relationship and the judgement that would come. In July 2016, we broke up when I realized I needed time. Ten days later, he left for Nepal with his team and during those three months I recognized all of the things I was doing wrong. I thought I was honoring Mike every day but by not honoring Gus at all, was I really? By having someone in my life who wanted to love us, take care of us and honor Mike, yet I wasn’t willing to let him in – could I be dishonoring my late husband? I used to resent the ‘widow’ title but then I found myself not wanting to let it go.
I prayed so much and I came to the conclusion that I just needed to love Gus, and show him that he was a priority. He got back from Nepal and he was still very angry with me. We met a few times to talk, took it slow and then one day I boldly told him that we were going to get married. I knew the response could have broke my heart but he was worth it.
We were worth it.
He laughed and told me softly that I had to be crazy. One month later, Gus got down on one knee on the docks in Seattle, in front of our favorite Oyster Bar (Elliotts) and asked me to marry him. Two months later, we were married in Rhode Island among our family and friends. The priest who married us had married my parents, baptized Gabriel, did last rights for Mike and his funeral in Arlington, and had confirmed and married Casey and Sandy (Mike’s friend who was with him in Germany). It was perfect.
Thanks to Michael’s kind-hearted 1st grade teacher, Ms. Petruska, my boys decided to call Gus ‘Dad’ the moment we stepped off the altar, and have not called him anything but that since. They wanted and needed a father in their lives so badly and I don’t think I realized that until then. Michael and Gabriel both repeat Ms. Petruska’s words often – ‘We have a Daddy in Heaven and a Daddy on earth.’
A month after Gus and I married he deployed to Afghanistan. I woke up every morning and prayed that Gus was alive. He was so good about messaging me whenever he could to ease my mind, even though I never shared with him my fears. His heart and mind just works that way and he is always considering the times and moments I may go through in this journey and how they may be affecting me. He is constantly striving to make life easier. I pray I do the same for him.
I won’t tell you that I didn’t struggle through those six months but I can tell you I found peace in God’s plan and chose to continue to trust that His plan was greater than mine. Tragedy and loss does not have to define you or dictate the rest of your life. My story didn’t end with the loss of Mike; it began with a new chapter of hope and my choice of joy. It continued with honoring Mike and Gus giving me the greatest gift… he never makes me choose as he continues to give me the freedom to love them both.
Five years to the day that Mike touched American soil in Dover, Delaware for his dignified transfer, I landed in Washington, DC with Gus, for the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year events with Military Spouse Magazine that would change my life. Five years to the day that Mike was flown back to Joint Base Lewis McChord to land at Grey Army Airfield, I was awarded the overall Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year. I know it’s right where I need to be, that God’s timing is perfect, and that Mike would be so proud of me. And I also know I couldn’t have done any of this without Gus or my children.
Tragedy did not dictate my life in a negative way. My goal is that other people can see that, and feel that. I remember looking at other Gold Star Spouses like Lisa Hallett and thinking, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ And I want other people to look at me and find hope, too.
Mike was very proud to sacrifice his life. And I am so proud to honor him.
Arlington National Cemetery is where my friend Andrea suggested a fundraiser for those who supported us and ultimately where The Unquiet Professional was born. So many organizations supported us, from the volunteers with the USO who carried my kids through the airport, the Green Beret Foundation being there for everything, or wear blue: run to remember, where I found a healthy and meaningful way to heal. I wanted to be able to pay that love back.
We now provide healthy and empowering opportunities for Gold Star Families, Veterans and their families. When Andrea suggested fundraising, she saved me that day. She saved me from the possibilities of not being able to live out my grief in a positive way. I heal as I strive to help others do the same with my ‘twice in a lifetime love’ by my side every step of the way.
Memorial Day is my favorite holiday of the year. We feel Mike’s presence and his loss every single day no matter what life brings us. But on Memorial Day, everyone thinks of all of our fallen heroes. People say when you’re having your bbq and your beer you’re not remembering the sacrifices, but I say celebrate. Celebrate their lives. Remember them.
The M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System has made its mark. You can see why in this video, where a slight hiccup with the main gun is overcome, and the gun goes off. However, does it truly match up with the M551 Sheridan light tank?
Well, technically, the Sheridan was an Armored Reconnaissance/Airborne Assault Vehicle that was first introduced in 1966. Its main gun was the M81, a 152mm gun that could also fire the MGM-51 Shillelagh missile.
The Shillelagh had a range of 3,000 meters. It didn’t work that well, and is only combat experience was being used against bunkers during Operation Desert Storm. A Sheridan could carry nine Shillelaghs and twenty “normal” rounds for the M81 gun.
The Sheridan did see a lot of combat in Vietnam, where it was both loved and hated. Its gun was very good at providing fire support, but it had a much slower rate of fire than the M48 Patton. Still, the Army bought over 1,600 Sheridans. The Sheridan was also the only armored vehicle that could be dropped in with the 82nd Airborne.
Now, let’s look at the M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System. Like the rest of the Stryker family, it is an eight-by-eight wheeled vehicle. It fired the same M68 gun used on the M60 Patton and early versions of the M1 Abrams tank. It holds 18 rounds.
The gun is also mounted on an external weapons station with an autoloader. The M1128 can’t be air-dropped, though, but it can be flown in on a C-130.
Both vehicles have a .50-caliber machine gun and a 7.62mm machine gun to handle infantry threats. Neither are capable of resisting anything more powerful than a 14.5mm machine gun, although the Stryker can take additional armor (at the cost of mobility).
Both gave the Army’s lighter forces some extra firepower. But the Sheridan had some clear advantages over the Stryker, while the Stryker offers some improvements over the Sheridan.
Really, though, the best of both worlds was probably the XM8 Armored Gun System. This was a light tank that had a XM35 105mm gun, and could hold 30 rounds for its main gun (plus the .50-caliber and 7.62mm machine guns). The system was also able to take add-on armor to protect it against a number of battlefield threats. Sadly, it was cancelled in 1997.
The Army used to have a powder chock full of electrolytes to add to water for rehydration. But there was a problem.
“It was terrible — tasted so bad that nobody would use it,” said Gregory Sumerlin, senior director of Government Military Accounts for DripDrop ORS (Oral Rehydration Solutions).
Enter DripDrop, with packets of lemon-, cherry- and watermelon-flavored powders that were on display Tuesday at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention in Washington.
Sumerlin said the packets, which cost about $1.82 a piece, have been used by the Army for about four years. The other services also have shown interest, he said.
Medics in Afghanistan and Iraq have carried a supply of the packets, and troops also can keep a few stuffed in their packs, he said.
According to DripDrop’s website, the powders have “proven to hydrate better and faster than water or sports drinks, and are comparable to IV therapy.”
“By solving the taste problem, DripDrop ORS has made the most highly effective oral hydration solution known to medical science, practical for use by anyone who finds themselves with a hydration need where water and sports drinks just aren’t enough,” the site says.
The packets contain a balanced amount of electrolytes, including sodium citrate, potassium citrate, chloride, magnesium citrate, zinc aspartate and sugars to provide what DripDrop called “a fast-acting, performance-enhancing hydration solution.”
The product also has an endorsement from Bob Weir, co-founder of the Grateful Dead:
“There is no better test of a hydration drink’s effectiveness than a summer tour. If I didn’t have DripDrop, I’d have to rethink about how I would go about performing a 3.5-hour show.”
In every parking lot on every military installation is a bumper sticker that reads, “not all heroes wear capes!” It’s a great message and all, but it’s always fun to speculate what life would be like if each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces was a superhero. What super powers would they have?
So, in a completely tongue-in-cheek response to a nice and sweet bumper sticker, here’s what the superhero branches would be.
Powers: Generic super strength, speed, and durability.
Weakness: Entirely bland.
The largest and most self-sustaining branch among the Armed Forces would also be the most run-of-the-mill superhero.
In comic books, nearly every protagonist who gets superpowers pretty much just checks off the standard hero boxes: super speed, super strength, super durability, etc. Now, this doesn’t make for a bad superhero, but it’s also not the most interesting. A perfect fit for the most average branch of the Armed Forces.
Coasties are a part of the Armed Forces. They’re not always attached to the Department of Defense, but they’re still brothers-in-arms. The Puddle Pirates are out there constantly fighting the good fight, but no one really gives a damn about them. If they are remembered, it’s by other vets mocking them for being essentially the Navy National Guard.
On the bright side, at least the Coast Guard has one superhero: Spectrum, whose superpowers vary greatly. One of which she, coincidentally, shares with the U.S. Coast Guard – not being noticed.
One battle truly showed the world the fire that burns in the hearts of these soldiers. Put up against unfathomable odds and pushed to their absolute limit, the 101st stood their ground and turned the tides of war. This was the Siege of Bastogne.
There’s no unit in the United States Army that can boast an impressive relationship with destiny like the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division. The invasion of Normandy, the Battle of Hamburger Hill, the left-hook of the Persian Gulf War, and Operation Dragon Strike in Afghanistan would each make for a pretty feather in the cap of any unit — but it’s the 101st who heroically fought at all of them.
It had been six months since the invasion of Normandy. U.S. troops had mostly pushed the Germans out of France and back to the Ardennes Forest. The same soldiers who landed on D-Day found themselves still fighting, day-in and day-out. The tempo of war had pushed them much further than originally anticipated and supplies were running low.
It wasn’t a secret that the only hope for the Allies was the tiny shipping village of Antwerp, Belgium. Without it, any continued assault against the Germans would end immediately. Knowing this, the Germans devised a plan that would effectively cut the Allies off from Antwerp in one massive blitzkrieg through the Ardennes. If they could cut the Americans off from each other and their supplies, they’d be forced into a peace treaty in favor of the Axis. And the only thing stopping them was the collection of battle-weary soldiers sparsely populating the forest.
On December 16, 1944, after two hours of constantly artillery bombardment, the Germans sent in 200,000 fresh troops. So far, everything was going in the Axis’ favor, from the weather to the landscape to the element of surprise. The only thing the Americans could do was to hold up in Bastogne and St. Vith.
Two days later, on December 18, the soldiers of the 101st were completely surrounded in the town of Bastogne. They had little ammunition, barely any food, and most soldiers didn’t even have cold-weather gear. Reinforcements were inbound, but it would take a week for Patton to arrive. Most of the senior leadership was elsewhere, leaving the task of holding ground entirely on the shoulders of the troops.
A night-time raid by the Germans on the Division Service Area took out almost the entirety of the 101st medical company. By the time of the morning of December 19, Americans were outnumbered five to one — and so the Germans moved in.
On paper, this was a completely uphill battle. The only thing Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe could do was have his men form a 360-degree perimeter around the 333rd Artillery Battalion’s guns. Ultimately, this tightly controlled circle was the advantage they needed.
As the Germans prodded, trying to find a hole in Allied defenses, troops were be able to communicate with each other and quickly adjust, fortifying areas to meet their attackers. When the Germans pivoted and believed they’d found a new approach, the protected artillery guns opened fire. They’d regroup and try another approach, only to be met by American troops once again. This pattern continued on through the battle.
The fighting was intense but McAuliffe’s defense held like a charm. On December 22, General von Lüttwitz, the German commander, gave the Americans their demands:
“There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.”
McAuliffe’s response, in its entirety, was as follows:
“To the German Commander. NUTS! The American Commander.“
“This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.” – Churchill
This riled the Germans up even more. The Germans put all of their efforts into trying to wrest Bastogne from the 101st Airborne — at the expense of securing Antwerp. The American line was broken several times by panzers, but artillery shells would effectively pluck German armor out long enough for Allied infantrymen to retake their position.
On December 23, the skies finally opened up and the 101st started to bring in reinforcements and supplies via airdrop. It’s not an understatement to say that they were only holding on by the skin of their teeth. American P-47 Thunderbolts came to the rescue, relieving artillery who’d almost entirely run out of ammo. The panzers, which had been painted green and brown for summertime, stuck out like a sore thumb against the snow. The narrow passageways the tanks had to travel meant the tanks couldn’t escape the wrath of the Thunderbolts.
Throughout it all, the Battered Bastards of Bastogne endued. Patton arrived on December 26th, finally evening the odds and breaking off the Ardennes Offensive. But all of that couldn’t have been done without the ferocity of the Screaming Eagles holding down Bastogne.
In today’s military, seniority by rank is limited to four-star generals and admirals. And while public law still allows for five-star generals, one hasn’t been appointed since Omar Bradley held the rank in 1950.
Yet, six-star general is a rank that (technically) exists.
Two men have held higher ranks in the Armed Forces of the United States. The latest was General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, whose contributions to service were awarded with the title General of the Armies of the United States, complete with gold four-star insignia. His rank was higher than that of other four star generals due to an act of Congress that mandated that he remain preeminent above all personnel until his death in 1948.
Although I hope the act of Congress didn’t specify the year.
The other is the father of America, who wore only two stars in his lifetime, President George Washington. The Continental Congress commissioned Washington as a Major General in 1775. As Commander-In-Chief, he outranked all others fielded by Congress. After his Presidency, his successor, John Adams, promoted him to Lieutenant General and he would be on the Army rolls as Lt. Gen. Washington in perpetuity, outranked by every four- and five-star general who came after him.
Toward the end of World War II, Congress considered promoting Gen. Douglas MacArthur, already a five-star general, to General of the Armies, on the same level as Pershing. The Army Institute of Heraldry even designed an insignia for this rank which included six stars.
But as the years went on and the U.S. came closer to its bicentennial birthday, the idea that someone could outrank George Washington began to bother some in government, including President Gerald Ford. In 1976, Ford would sign a bill which promoted Washington to stand “above all grades of the Army, past or present.”
The text of the bill reads:
“Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That… The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.”
News reports at the time referred to his promotion as a six-star general’s rank (though there is no mention of the insignia he would wear).
House Representative Lucien Nedzl of Michigan thought the rank was unnecessary, saying “it’s like the Pope offering to make Christ a Cardinal.”
President Donald Trump has reportedly soured on Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and is now increasingly making US military policy on his own.
Trump withdrew from the Iran deal, stopped US military exercises in South Korea, and aired plans to create the first new military branch in 70 years all in snap, shock decisions that saw Mattis scrambling to keep up, according to a new report from NBC.
“They don’t really see eye to eye,” said a former senior White House official.
These policy moves represent a budding trend of Trump steering US foreign and military policy by himself, and often against the advice of his top advisers like Mattis, sources told NBC.
Trump has made a number of snap decisions that have met with slow responses from Mattis and the Pentagon.
In July 2017, Trump announced a ban on transgender people joining the US military. Four federal courts struck down the order, and by the end of the year Mattis was accepting transgender troops again.
Trump, unsatisfied with the Pentagon slow-walking his policy decisions, has increasingly cut out Mattis and taken matters into his own hands, NBC cites sources as saying.
Trump recently asked the military to come to the rescue of another imperiled policy by asking the National Guard to come to the border. Mattis reportedly resisted the idea in private but remained tight-lipped and dutiful in his public comments.
“[Mattis] didn’t feel like the mission was well-defined,” a senior White House official told NBC.
A Pentagon spokesperson told NBC that it was “silly” to say Mattis had been out of the loop on major US military policy decisions taken by Trump, but the White House and Pentagon have a record of making disjointed statements.
This week, National Geographic will air the first episode of The Long Road Home. The miniseries is a scripted retelling of the beginning of the U.S. Army’s fight in the Siege of Sadr City of April 2004. What began with an uprising against the U.S. occupation forces in the Shia neighborhood of the capital led to a long protracted siege spanning years.
The Long Road Home is the story of an ambushed Army escort convoy from 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. It’s based on the true story of a platoon forced to hole up in a civilian home and await rescue. With eight American soldiers lost in the initial fighting in the Baghdad neighborhood, the battle came to be known as “Black Sunday.”
Adapted from ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz’ book of the same name, the show meticulously created what might be the most accurate military story in film or television.
1. The show’s military advisors were in Sadr City that day.
Any military show or movie with an interest in authenticity is going to have veteran technical advisors on hand to tell the director when things are wrong. But in The Long Road Home, you can expect more than infantry badges and rank to be in the right place. You can expect the people and vehicles to be in Sadr City in the right places too.
Showrunner Mikko Alanne hired two veterans from Black Sunday – Eric Bourquin and Aaron Fowler – to be the show’s military advisors. If one of the actors needed to know how to wear a patrol cap, the two veterans could show him. But unlike most shows, if the director needed a minute-by-minute breakdown, he could ask the guys who were there.
“Personally, I like it,” says Fowler. “Because I’m a retired Sergeant First Class, so I have the anal-retentive part down. I’ve got lots of notebooks, and I have access to all the guys. If one of the actors had a question, I could get my phone and hand them the person that did the action they had questions about.”
Jeremy Sisto as Sgt. Robert Miltenberger in The Long Road Home. (National Geographic)
“Eric [Bourquin] was in the platoon that was pinned down on the roof and Aaron [Fowler] was among the rescuers,” says Alanne.
“I’m very proud to be a part of what happened and how it’s been handled. I’ve struggled with having to open up, because having such a wide spotlight cast on a pretty intense part of my life,” says Bourquin. “I learned things I didn’t know transpired. Because the whole time, I was stuck on the roof for four hours. People were out there trying to come in, to get us, so I’d been exposed to a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of and that was healing too. This is honoring them. Now everybody’s gonna always know their story. With that being said, how could I not be involved?”
2. Raddatz’ interviewed everyone close to the fighting.
You don’t get to be the Chief Global Affairs Correspondent of a major network without being addicted to the facts. Martha Raddatz, who literally wrote the book on the events in Sadr City that day, was working for ABC News in Baghdad at the time when she heard about what happened. She ended up talking to everyone from 2-5 Cav that was still in country.
“This story came to me,” she says. “I was covering politics and policy when a general told me about this battle. I had to go talk to these guys. We did pieces for ABC News, for Nightline… I was just so stricken by them. I come from a foreign affairs background and I see presidents make policy and then I went over and saw the effects of that policy.”
She was introduced to the families through the soldiers who fought there that day.
“It will be with me forever,” Raddatz says. “It felt like they could all be my neighbors. One day they’re all in minivans with their kids, and in three days they’re in the middle of a battle. These aren’t a bunch of action figures, these are real human beings.”
3. Mike Medavoy is an executive producer.
If the name of a film producer doesn’t excite you, that’s fine. An executive producer’s name likely doesn’t carry a lot of weight with most of America.
In the case of The Long Road Home, however, the addition of Medavoy puts the miniseries in the hands of a guy who helped make the legendary war movies Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and The Thin Red Line (not to mention non-military films Rocky, Raging Bull, and Terminator 2).
4. The Long Road Home’s depiction of Army families is heartfelt and real.
When the cast arrived at Fort Hood and met the families of 2-5 Cav, they got just a taste of what living in a military family is like.
“I took away an incredible sense of community,” says actress Katie Paxton, who plays Amber Aguero, wife to Lt. Shane Aguero. “You felt that community from the soldiers. When you’re in war covering your sector, you’re covering the guy to your left. You’re covering the guy to your right. And those guys are your family. I never really understood that until I talked to soldiers.”
A still from the opening episode of The Long Road Home. (National Geographic)
“I grew up in the city as a city kid, and this totally dispelled all of my ideas of what the soldier was actually like,” says actor Ian Quinlan, who plays Spc. Robert Arsiaga. “There was a very significant through line between these soldiers – a lot of these guys joined after 9/11. It blew me away because as a New Yorker I didn’t know anyone in my immediate vicinity in New York who would ever think of that.”
“Hearing their stories, you just feel the goosebumps,” says Karina Ortiz, who plays one of the Gold Star Wives. “The soldiers leave and everything is fine at first, but then people start hearing things. Rumors. The waiting. The not knowing. I would get teary-eyed and just feel their pain. Or I’d feel their fear.”
The experience of recreating the events of April 2004 even had an effect on its veterans.
“One of the Gold Star Wives came up to me after the Fort Hood premiere and told me thank you,” Eric Bourquin says. “I don’t know why. Her husband died trying to come rescue us guys that were stuck on the roof. But the more I thought about it I realized everyone watching is going to see what the families and everyone involved goes through when shit happens.”
5. The showrunner’s background is in documentary.
“I was very cognizant from the beginning that real life people were going to be watching this,” says Mikko Alanne. “It was my hope that we would be able to use everyone’s real name, and so Martha and I worked very closely on reaching out to all the families.”
The two were very successful. The show originally premiered in Fort Hood’s Abrams Gym. After the show’s Los Angeles premiere, the veterans and Gold Star Families took the stage with their TV counterparts, to a standing ovation from an elite Hollywood audience. But the realism didn’t stop with cooperation.
A still from The Long Road Home. Sadr City was meticulously recreated on Fort Hood for these scenes. (National Geographic)
“So many of the families sent us their photographs, actual photographs used as props, or photographs of their homes for us to recreate,” Alanne says. “And it was very important to me the cast reached out to their real-life counterparts. Bonds were formed between the actors and the real life families, and everyone became infused with the same mission that Martha really started; that these families and these experiences would not be lost to history.”
6. The Fort Hood scenes are really Fort Hood.
When you see Fort Hood, Tex. depicted on screen, you can be sure that’s what Fort Hood really looks like. The show was shot entirely at Fort Hood. The cast even lived in base housing. More important than that, however, is the exact recreation of Sadr City built on Fort Hood that took the veterans on the base back to April 2004.
“The smell was the only thing that wasn’t exactly recreated,” says Fowler. “We veterans and Gold Star Families got to walk back to the streets of Sadr City that we would never get to go. It was an incredibly healing experience. Exposure therapy plain and simple.”
Eric Bourquin agrees.
“Being able to travel back to your battlespace without fear of being captured and ending up in a YouTube video is a gift that can’t be put into words,” he says. “Just like the guys that go back and visit France, or Korea, or Vietnam — it’s become a reality.”
A candid from behind the scenes of The Long Road Home on Fort Hood. (National Geographic)
The Long Road Home starts Tuesday Nov. 7 at 9pm on National Geographic.
A huge new “Star Wars” game is on the verge of being fully revealed: “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” is expected to arrive later this year on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
Even better: The game is being made by Respawn Entertainment, the same studio behind the excellent “Titanfall” series and recent blockbuster “Apex Legends.”
So what is it? Here’s everything we know so far:
No, not this Jedi — “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” takes place long before Rey was born.
1. “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” is a third-person action game starring a Jedi as the playable character.
Given the naming convention, you probably already guessed it: “Fallen Order” stars a Jedi.
That means, unlike “Star Wars Battlefront 2,” this game is no shooter. Instead, it’s a third-person action game that focuses on lightsaber-based combat.
2. It takes place between the events of “Episode 3” and “Episode 4.”
Spoilers for “Episode 3” ahead! In “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” (“Episode 3”), a very moody Anakin Skywalker — before turning into everyone’s favorite cyborg, Darth Vader — sets out to destroy the Jedi Order.
It’s part of a bigger jedi purge, known as “Order 66.” Few Jedi survive the purge, but apparently the main character in “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” is one of those few.
The game follows “a young Padawan’s journey in the Dark Times following Order 66,” according to Disney.
3. It’s likely to involve stealth gameplay.
In a tweet this week, the official “Star Wars” gaming account from Electronic Arts published the image above with the text, “Don’t stand out.”
Given the time period of the game, it’s very likely that the main character — a Jedi — is trying to stay out of sight. When the game was announced in June 2018, Respawn Entertainment head Vince Zampella referred to its setting as “dark times.”
What that means for gameplay is that stealth is almost certainly involved. After all, even the most adept Jedi couldn’t withstand the collective force of the Imperial Clone army.
4. It’s scheduled to arrive in “holiday 2019.”
When the game was announced in June 2018, it was given a “holiday 2019” release window by Respawn Entertainment head Vince Zampella. Given that the next major “Star Wars” movie is set to arrive on Dec. 20, 2019, we’d guess that “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” will arrive somewhere in the vicinity of December or November 2019.
The image above leaked ahead of the official reveal, and it offered fans an early look at what to expect from the upcoming game.
5. There appears to be a droid of some form alongside the main character.
As you may have noticed in the image above, next to the Jedi is an adorable little droid. It appears as though that droid will star alongside the game’s main character — perhaps as an assistant? Or maybe it offers help in puzzle-solving situations? We’ll see!
(Apex Legends/Electronic Arts)
6. It’s being made by the folks who made “Apex Legends” and “Titanfall,” Respawn Entertainment.
Respawn Entertainment, an EA-owned game studio, has only produced excellent games. Starting with “Titanfall” and, most recently, “Apex Legends,” Respawn Entertainment has a near-perfect record.
That said, Respawn Entertainment is known for creating first-person shooters — before Respawn, many of the studio’s employees developed the most iconic “Call of Duty” games. “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” is the studio’s first attempt at character action.
7. The game is getting detailed during a panel at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago on April 13, 2019.
Ready to learn more? Good news: Disney’s about to tell everyone a lot more about “Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order” on April 13, 2019!
During a panel at the Star Wars Celebration 2019 in Chicago, Disney is scheduled to reveal many more details about the upcoming game.
Here’s the full panel description:
“Join the head of Respawn Entertainment, Vince Zampella, and Game Director, Stig Asmussen, along with many special guests, to be the first to learn about this holiday’s highly anticipated action adventure game, ‘Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.’ Hear how Respawn and Lucasfilm collaborated on this original Star Wars story, following a young Padawan’s journey in the Dark Times following Order 66. And of course, we’ll have a few surprises in store.”
The worst terrorist attack in U.S. history turned more than a few ordinary Americans into heroes.
Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on Sep. 11, 2001, after al Qaeda hijackers flew airplanes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York. More than 6,000 were injured.
Tens of thousands of people typically worked in the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, and most were able to escape. While all who endured that terrible day can be considered brave, there are some who went above and beyond in trying to save lives, and ultimately prevented the tragedy from becoming even worse.
1. A 24-year-old equities trader helped at least a dozen people get out, and then he went back in with firefighters to save more.
Just a few minutes after United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, 24-year-old Welles Crowther called his mother and calmly left a voicemail: “Mom, this is Welles. I want you to know that I’m ok.”
Crowther was an equities trader at Sandler O’Neil and Partners on the 104th floor. But after that call, the man who was a volunteer firefighter in his teens made his way down to the 78th floor sky lobby and became a hero to strangers known only as “the man in the red bandana.”
Amid the smoke, chaos and debris, Crowther helped injured and disoriented office workers to safety, risking his own life in the process. Though they couldn’t see much through the haze, those he saved recalled a tall figure wearing a red bandana to shield his lungs and mouth. He had come down to the 78th-floor sky lobby, an alcove in the building with express elevators meant to speed up trips to the ground floor. In what’s been described as a “strong, authoritative voice,” Crowther directed survivors to the stairway and encouraged them to help others while he carried an injured woman on his back. After bringing her 15 floors down to safety, he made his way back up to help others.
“Everyone who can stand, stand now,” Crowther told survivors while directing them to a stairway exit. “If you can help others, do so.”
“He’s definitely my guardian angel — no ifs, ands or buts — because without him, we would be sitting there, waiting [until] the building came down,” survivor Ling Young told CNN. Crowther is credited with saving at least a dozen people that day.
Crowther’s body was later recovered alongside firefighters in a stairwell heading back up the tower with the “jaws of life” rescue tool, according to Mic.
2. A group of strangers teamed up to take back United Flight 93, preventing the plane from killing untold numbers of people in the U.S. Capitol.
At approximately 9:28 a.m. on Sep. 11, 2001, United Flight 93 was hijacked by four al Qaeda terrorists. After the terrorists had stabbed the pilot and a flight attendant, the passengers were told that a bomb was onboard and the plane was heading back to the airport.
But this was after two planes had already hit the World Trade Center, and the passengers on United 93 — huddled in the back of the plane — were beginning to find out what the real plan was. Beginning at 9:30 a.m., several passengers made phone calls to their loved ones.
“Tom, they are hijacking planes all up and down the east coast,” Deena Burnett told her husband Tom, a passenger on United 93, in a cell phone call at 9:34 a.m. “They are taking them and hitting designated targets. They’ve already hit both towers of the World Trade Center.” In another phone call, Tom learned from his wife that another plane had hit the Pentagon.
“We have to do something,” Burnett told his wife at 9:45 a.m. “I’m putting a plan together.” Other passengers, including Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick, and Todd Beamer, were learning similar details in their own phone calls, as the plane was barreling towards Washington, D.C.
The passengers voted on whether to fight back against the hijackers. Led by the four man group, the passengers then rushed the cockpit, with Beamer rallying them in his last words: “You ready? Okay, let’s roll.”
From 9.57, the cockpit recorder picks up the sounds of fighting in an aircraft losing control at 30,000 feet – the crash of trolleys, dishes being hurled and smashed. The terrorists scream at each other to hold the door against what is obviously a siege from the cabin. A passenger cries: ‘Let’s get them!’ and there is more screaming, then an apparent breach. ‘Give it to me!’ shouts a passenger, apparently about to seize the controls.
Instead of the plane hitting its intended target — believed to be The White House or the Capitol Building — it crashed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all 44 passengers onboard.
3. Two former U.S. Marines put their uniforms back on and searched through rubble that could have collapsed at any moment. They found two survivors.
While the planes were hitting the World Trade Center, 27-year-old Jason Thomas was dropping off his daughter to his mother in Long Island. When Thomas heard what had transpired, he changed into the Marine Corps uniform he had sitting in his trunk — he was a former sergeant who had been out of the Corps for a year — and sped toward Manhattan.
“Someone needed help. It didn’t matter who,” Thomas told AP. “I didn’t even have a plan. But I have all this training as a Marine, and all I could think was, ‘My city is in need.'”
Around the same time in Wilton, Connecticut, Dave Karnes was working in his office at Deloitte watching the attack unfold on TV. “We’re at war,” the former Marine staff sergeant said to his colleagues, before telling his boss he might not be back for a while, according to Slate. He went and got a haircut, changed into his Marine uniform, and drove toward New York City at 120 miles per hour.
Once both Marines reached the collapsed towers — the site now covered in ash and debris — they began searching for survivors, but first, they found each other. They had little gear with them besides flashlights and a military entrenching tool, AP reported.
Along with other first responders, the pair climbed over the dangerous field of metal, concrete, and dust, calling out, “United States Marines! If you can hear us, yell or tap!”
When they reached a depression in the rubble of what had been the south tower, he said, “I thought I heard someone. … So I yelled down and they replied back that they were New York Port Authority police officers. “They asked us not to leave them.”
Karnes told Thomas to get to a high point to direct rescuers to the site, then called his wife and sister on his cell phone and told them to phone and give the New York police his location.
The two officers, William Jimeno and John McLoughlin, were on the main concourse between the towers when the South Tower began to fall, but made it into a freight elevator before the collapse. They were alive but seriously injured, trapped approximately 20 feet below the surface.
According to USA Today, once they heard the voices of the Marines, Jimeno began shouting the code for officer down: “8-13! 8-13!” After they were located amid the unstable mountain of debris, it took rescue workers roughly three hours to dig out Jimeno, and another eight to reach McLoughlin, who was buried further down.
An exhausted Thomas, who never gave his first name, left the site after Jimeno was rescued, but returned to Ground Zero for the next 2 1/12 weeks to help. His identity was a mystery until after Oliver Stone’s 2006 film “World Trade Center” chronicled the rescue of the officers, and Thomas emerged from the shadows.
Karnes also left after Jimeno came up, but helped at the site for another nine days. After he returned to Connecticut, he went to his reserve center and reenlisted, and later served two tours of duty in Iraq.
4. Two flight attendants on American Airlines Flight 11 calmly relayed information on the hijackers that would help the FBI determine the perpetrators were al Qaeda.
Fifteen minutes after takeoff from Boston, American Airlines Flight 11 was hijacked by five al Qaeda terrorists and sharply changed its flight path away from Los Angeles to New York City. With the group leader Mohamed Atta at the controls and some flight attendants and passengers stabbed, the terrorists pushed the remaining passengers toward the back of the plane.
Using crew telephones, flight attendants Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney calmly relayed information to their colleagues on what was unfolding that morning. “Okay, my name is Betty Ong. I’m number 3 on Flight 11. And the cockpit is not answering their phone, and there’s somebody stabbed in business class, and there’s — we can’t breathe in business class. Somebody’s got mace or something.”
Speaking with an American Airlines reservation center, Ong explained that some of the crew had been murdered and hijackers had infiltrated the cockpit. She shared information on the men, including their seat numbers and what they looked like. Her colleague Amy Sweeney did the same.
Sweeney slid into a passenger seat in the next-to-last row of coach and used an Airfone to call American Airlines Flight Service at Boston’s Logan airport. “This is Amy Sweeney,” she reported. “I’m on Flight 11 — this plane has been hijacked.” She was disconnected. She called back: “Listen to me, and listen to me very carefully.” Within seconds, her befuddled respondent was replaced by a voice she knew.
“Amy, this is Michael Woodward.” The American Airlines flight service manager had been friends with Sweeney for a decade, so he didnt have to waste any time verifying that this wasn’t a hoax. “Michael, this plane has been hijacked,” Ms. Sweeney repeated. Calmly, she gave him the seat locations of three of the hijackers: 9D, 9G and 10B. She said they were all of Middle Eastern descent, and one spoke English very well.
Those on the other end of the line were astonished at their calm demeanor and professionalism at the time, according to ABC News. At least 20 minutes before the plane crashed into the North Tower, American Airlines had the names, addresses, and other information on three of the five hijackers, details that would help the FBI get a jumpstart on the investigation.
Nydia Gonzales, an operations specialist with American, later testified to the 9/11 Commission about the calm demeanor of Ong, who asked her to “pray for us.”
5. Rick Rescorla was responsible for saving more than 2,700 lives, and he sang songs to keep people calm while they evacuated.
Rick Rescorla was already a hero of the battlefields of Vietnam, where he earned the Silver Star and other awards for his exploits as an Army officer. Rescorla — once immortalized on the cover of the book “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young” — would often sing to his men to calm them down while under fire, using songs of his youth while growing up in the United Kingdom.
Many more in the South Tower would hear his songs on Sep. 11, where Rescorla was working as head of corporate security for Morgan Stanley. When American Flight 11 hit the tower next to him, Port Authority ordered Rescorla to keep his employees at their desks, according to San Diego Source.
“I said, ‘Piss off, you son of a bitch,'” Rescorla told Daniel Hill, a close friend who was trained in counterterrorism, in a phone call that morning. “Everything above where that plane hit is going to collapse, and it’s going to take the whole building with it. I’m getting my people the fuck out of here.”
Rescorla, who had frequently warned the Port Authority and his company about the World Trade Center’s security weaknesses, had already issued the order to evacuate. He had made Morgan Stanley employees practice emergency drills for years, and it paid off that day: Just 16 minutes after the first plane hit the opposite tower, more than 2,700 employees and visitors were out when the second plane hit their building.
During the evacuation, Rescorla calmly reassured people. singing “God Bless America” and “Men of Harlech” over a bullhorn as they walked down the stairs.
During the evacuation Rescorla called his wife, according to The New Yorker:
“Stop crying,” he told her. “I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life.”
Rescorla was last seen on the 10th floor of the South Tower, heading upward to look for any stragglers. His body was never found.
6. Two unarmed F-16s scrambled to stop any other hijacked airliners and the pilots were prepared to give their lives to stop them.
With scant detail of what was happening and no time to do pre-flight checklists, two D.C. Air National Guard pilots quickly scrambled to intercept United 93 after two other planes had hit the World Trade Center.
In the days before Sept. 11, there were no armed aircraft standing guard in Washington, D.C., ready to scramble at the first sign of trouble.
And with a Boeing 757 aircraft speeding in the direction of Washington, D.C., Penney and her commanding officer, Col. Marc Sasseville, couldn’t wait the dozens of minutes it was going to take to properly arm their respective jets.
“We had to protect the airspace any way we could,” Maj. Heather Penney recalled to The Washington Post in 2011. “We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft. I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot.” Before they took off, Penney and Sasseville both planned to ram the aircraft with their F-16s.
Instead, the passengers on United 93 made the intercept unnecessary, ultimately fighting back against the hijackers and downing the aircraft into a Pennsylvania field 20 minutes outside of Washington.
7. A tour guide at the Pentagon gave medical aid to the injured outside, then went back in to the building while it was still in flames.
Army Spc. Beau Doboszenski was working as a tour guide on the opposite side of the Pentagon when the building was struck by American Airlines Flight 77, and didn’t even hear it. But Doboszenski, a former volunteer firefighter and trained EMT, responded after a Navy captain asked for anyone with medical training, The Army News Service reported.
“Specialist Beau Doboszenski was a tour guide that morning, on the far side of the building,” Vice President Joe Biden said on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. “So far away, in fact, he never heard the plane hit. But he shortly felt the commotion. He could have gone home — no one would have blamed him. But he was also a trained EMT and came from a family of firefighters.”
Doboszenski ended up running around the building to try to get to the crash but was stopped by police. Eventually he went around the barricades to reach a medical triage station, and helped give first aid to numerous victims. Afterward, he joined a six-man team that went back in to look for survivors, while the building was still in flames.
“When people started streaming out of the building and screaming, he sprinted toward the crash site,” Biden said. “For hours, he altered between treating his co-workers and dashing into the inferno with a team of six men.”
Dust off your VHS tape, grab a DVD, or search Netflix for the 1996 comedy ‘Sgt. Bilko’ starring comedic icons Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd and the late, great Phil Hartman and give it a rewatch sometime. The movie is a remake of the hit 1950’s series The Phil Silvers Show. Most will agree that the movie was not nearly as good as the show. In fact, the numbers to prove it. “Sgt. Bilko” has a 32 percent critic favorability rating on the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes. Users score the film a bit better at 45 percent.
Martin plays the wheeling and dealing Army Master Sgt. Ernest Bilko, a motor pool supervisor who uses his soldiers to make a quick buck by running an illegal gambling ring on a fictional Army base called Fort Baxter. Aykroyd plays Army Col. John T. Hall, the base’s commanding officer. The colonel seems mostly unaware of or unconcerned with Bilko’s antics and Bilko practically runs the base.
It’s all smooth sailing for Bilko until an old rival (Major Colin Thorn, played by Hartman) arrives to inspect his motor pool. It’s part of a plan to punish Bilko for the fixed boxing match that sent him to Greenland years before. He also seeks his revenge by trying to steal away Bilko’s fianceé.
The movie is also centered on the development of a Hover Tank that can rise over land and water. However, the tank is not yet ready for prime time. The fate of Fort Baxter and Bilko’s career rest on the tank performing well in a high-profile demonstration in front of a Congressional delegation and senior military officials.
Although it’s not a great military film and several blunders are clearly noticeable in the movie. The wear of military uniforms and errors in military customs and courtesies are the most egregious errors, but there are some scenes that many veterans will find funny.
In the opening scenes of the movie, Bilko is signaled by the base radio station that Col. Hall is on his way to his location. The motor pool is a mini Las Vegas with craps and roulette tables, full bar and massage room. The Soldiers are in a hurry to hide all the illegal activities but find themselves in a dilemma when they have to hide a horse used in a previous gambling scheme. In classic Bilko fashion, he tries to smooth talk his way out of trouble.
The rivalry between Maj. Thorn and Master Sgt. Bilko is explained in this flashback scene. In anticipation of a big boxing championship match, Bilko takes in bets. Like the good con man he is, Bilko pays off one of the fighters to take a dive hoping to score some big money. But a problem arises when Bilko’s assistant pays off the wrong fighter. The miscommunication leads to a double knockout. Somehow though it’s Thorn and not Bilko who gets in trouble for the botched fight.
Bilko’s platoon is given a surprise barracks inspection. The motor pool barracks are trashed. Facing certain failure, Bilko switches the signs between his barracks and a neighboring women’s barracks. In typical military fashion, the men line up in front of the rooms. When Thorn finds a bra in one of the closets, he asks the soldier if it’s his. His DADT-related reply is classic: “It is my understanding that you can no longer ask me these questions, Sir.”
Duane Doberman is one of Bilko’s most lovable soldiers. However, he is clearly out of Army weight standards. Maj. Thorn is out to get him but his battle buddies come to his rescue, helping him complete some push-ups in front of the officer. See the push-ups for yourself:
Viva Las Vegas
Bilko’s dream of going to Vegas comes true when he is allowed to go to a military exercise in Nevada. He is overjoyed and cruises the Vegas strip in some military hardware.
The Hover Tank
Like a good NCO, Master Sgt. Bilko outwits Maj. Thorn and gets the tank up and running with some deceptive tactics. Eventually, it leads to the dismissal of Thorn back to Greenland. Bilko is once again the ruler of his domain. “It’s no wonder why they call him a Master Sergeant.”