Army reservists deployed to Europe were wrongly denied housing allowance payments, subjected to humiliating criminal investigations, and forced into debt by the service after the Army “willfully disregarded” its own policies to refuse benefits owed, according to a federal court complaint.
The complaint, filed in April 2018, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, accuses the Army of “gross negligence,” saying it caused financial and professional damage by intentionally denying benefits it should have paid.
The lawsuit also says the soldiers faced threats that “jeopardized their careers and security clearances by flagging them as subjects to fraud or larceny investigations.”
The dispute began in 2016 after reservist soldiers deployed to Europe and received benefits authorized by the Army, which included basic housing allowance, or BAH, for their stateside homes. They also received overseas housing allowance, or OHA, in Europe after being ordered by the Army to live off post because of a lack of available housing.
The benefit is spelled out in the Joint Federal Travel Regulations, which govern how allowances are paid: “A Service member called/ordered to active duty in support of a contingency operation is authorized primary residence-based BAH/OHA beginning on the first active duty day . . . This rate continues for the duration of the tour.” Army regulations reiterate the policy.
Months into their respective deployments, the finance office at U.S. Army Europe decided the benefits should no longer be paid, said Patrick Hughes, the Washington attorney representing the seven soldiers who filed the lawsuit.
Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Nina Hill declined to comment on the case, citing “ongoing litigation.”
The Army Reserve and National Guard officers, who were dispatched to Europe for contingency operations, are seeking to restore their benefits and abolish Army-imposed debts that have been levied.
Over the past two years, Hughes said, soldiers have seen entire paychecks wiped out through wage garnishments as the Army seeks to collect on debts that range from $13,000 to $94,000.
Investigated, reprimanded, indebted
Hundreds of reservists could have been affected by the Army’s actions, Hughes said.
The court is expected to respond to the complaint within 30 days. If it’s accepted as the proper venue, the soldiers will move to certify the case as a class-action lawsuit that other reservists could join.
“You do need power in numbers to get action to be taken in these situations. We are trying to address it at a massive scale,” Hughes said. “This an effort to resolve the issue in its entirety for everyone.”
In some cases, soldiers were issued general officer reprimands, which are often considered career-killers.
Col. Bradley Wolfing, one of the plaintiffs in the case, successfully appealed his reprimand, which was the result of being “erroneously placed under investigation by the Army’s CID, and ultimately punished for BAH fraud on or about March 24, 2017,” the complaint says.
A grade determination review board determined Wolfing satisfactorily served as a colonel and was allowed to retire as such, the complaint states.
In conjunction with that ruling, Defense Financing and Accounting Services reviewed the case and “concluded that the Army’s decision to ignore (the Joint Federal Travel Regulation) and deny COL Wolfing his primary residence location BAH entitlement was erroneous.”
That conclusion will likely factor into any future litigation.
“This DFAS opinion is of great significance, because its analysis is applicable to virtually all of those affected by the Army’s primary residence location BAH entitlement denial,” the complaint says.
Still, the Army continues to garnish soldiers’ wages, a move the complaint says “amounts to gross negligence.” The Army indebted Wolfing for $94,000.
In 2016, the Army launched criminal investigations into the reservists who received the benefits that the Army itself had authorized when the reservists were mobilized.
“Basically, I was criminally processed, all because they are saying I shouldn’t (have been) collecting BAH for my Connecticut residence. I was stunned,” said Capt. Tim Kibodeaux, an intelligence officer with 27 years in the National Guard.
Criminal Investigation Command agents fingerprinted him and took his mug shot for their records during the investigation.
The Army levied a $50,000 debt on Kibodeaux for BAH payments it says he wasn’t entitled to and has repeatedly garnished his wages, the soldiers’ complaint says. Meanwhile, he hasn’t received about $16,000 in owed benefits.
The six other service members in the complaint are in similar situations.
“My credit has been completely ruined,” Kibodeaux said. “I am disgusted at this point. We think about 340 people were affected by this.”
At least 140 soldiers were snared in the BAH investigation in Europe, according to the complaint, which cites information relayed by the Criminal Investigation Command.
Given the high numbers of reservists who have been rotating through Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve — the campaign to deter Russian aggression in the region — the lawsuit says that the numbers are likely much higher. If the complaint grows, millions of dollars could be at stake in future litigation.
One concern now, Kibodeaux said, is that lower-ranking reservists could have been intimidated into silence and may be unaware that their rights to certain benefits have been violated.
“Several Plaintiffs were informed through their chain-of-command that any future inquiries into this issue would be met with negative consequences, and that the denial of the housing entitlement was a final decision,” the complaint says.
Kibodeaux said he and his colleagues never received a clear explanation from the Army why benefits were taken away or why they were subjected to criminal investigations.
During the probe, Kibodeaux said, he told Army finance officials about the regulation that allowed for the allowance. He said the Army investigators told him they didn’t recognize the policy, which for decades has allowed reservists on deployment overseas to receive BAH for their home of record.
(Photo by Timothy Hale)
“They said, ‘We don’t go by that. We go by the active duty one,'” Kibodeaux said.
When Kibodeaux pointed out the military’s regulations governing allowances for reservists to a criminal investigator, the agent’s response was, “We just do what finance tells us to do,” Kibodeaux said.
In recent years, the military has struggled to interpret federal regulations dealing with living allowances.
In 2013, a reinterpretation of overarching State Department regulations by the Defense Department put nearly 700 civilians in debt by cutting off their housing allowances. Special waivers were required to eliminate debts that in some cases reached six figures.
Europe-based reservists have also been affected by new interpretations of long-standing regulations. In 2013, the Army decided to stop paying BAH to reservists who lived in Germany and deployed on Army missions in other parts of Germany that were hours away from their home.
The Army, which imposed debts on about 10 soldiers at the time, never fully explained its legal rationale for changing the rules.
Service members and civilians who have gotten caught up in benefits disputes have complained that there is little internal recourse in a one-on-one fight with the military bureaucracy over benefits. And the idea of taking on the federal government in a lengthy court fight also is daunting and costly.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Israeli Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin announced that its F-35 aircraft, known as Adir, “are already operational and flying in operational missions.”
“We are the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity,” Norkin said via the official Israel Defense Forces’ Twitter account on May 22, 2018.
In an interview with the Haaretz newspaper, Norkin said F-35s had been used in two recent strikes, but it was unclear if the aircraft supported the missions by providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance or conducted the strikes.
Early May 2018, Iranian forces “fired 32 rockets, we intercepted 4 of them & the rest fell outside Israeli territory,” Norkin tweeted, referring to a counterattack in the Golan Heights.
Israel responded by attacking multiple Iranian weapons and logistics sites in Syria. “In our response attack, more than 100 ground-to-air missiles were fired at our planes,” he said.
Israel declared initial operating capability of its Lockheed Martin-made F-35I in December 2017. Middle Eastern outlets have said the fifth-generation stealth aircraft has likely made flights before for reconnaissance missions over or near Syrian territory, but those reports are unconfirmed.
Critics at the time wondered why the F-35 wasn’t used, since the aircraft would have been better able to evade enemy radar. But pilots and former members of the Israeli Air Force said use of the F-35 would have been risky so early in its operational lifespan.
“If they thought that the targets were so strategically important, I’m sure they’d consider using them. But they weren’t. So why risk use of the F-35s at such an early point in their operational maturity?” retired Israeli Air Force Brig. Gen. Abraham Assael told Defense News at the time.
Israel in August 2017, signed a new contract with Lockheed for its next batch of 17 aircraft, following two previous contracts for 33 aircraft.
IAF officials have expressed interest in buying up to 30 additional aircraft.
If you’re thinking about skipping Captain Marveland going straight to Avengers: Endgame, think again. Early reviews of Captain Marvel say that the movie is not only fantastic but that it will be essential viewing for anyone going to see the next installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s the early consensus, totally free of spoilers for the movie.
Eric Eisenberg, of CinemaBlend, said the movie has “surprises” that audiences won’t see coming.
Steve Weintraub at Collider said the movie made him “So ready for Avengers: Endgame.”
Meanwhile, Anna Klausen of Newsweek, Bustle and The Daily Beastsaid, moviegoers, should “watch closely” for “lots of fun Easter eggs” and links to the “history and other films in the MCU.”
At this point, critics who have seen the movie aren’t able to reveal any spoilers for the film, so what we’re seeing now is general impressions of the film. Elsewhere in the universe, a smattering of trolls who have not seen the film yet are trying to destroy the Rotten Tomatoes Score of Captain Marvel before the movie is released. Several publications have already likened this sexist campaign to what happened around the time The Last Jedi was released. Needless to say, if someone hasn’t seen the movie, and they’re trashing it, we don’t have to spend much time thinking about their opinion.
For the rest of us, it sounds like Captain Marvel might not be a perfect movie, but then again, none of these superhero movies really ever are. And for those of us who have daughters — or just like to see heroes who aren’t dudes — Brie Larson as Carol Danvers can’t come soon enough.
In the 180 days deployed, the soldiers have put in 153 days of training with allies and community engagements across a swath of the continent from the Baltic to the Black Sea. To supply the brigade’s more than 4,000 troops, the unit’s truckers have logged more than 100,000 highway miles.
After taking part in the biggest European training exercise for US troops since the Cold War, which wrapped up in Germany last week, the brigade’s troops had fired more than 1 million rounds from their pistols, rifles, machine guns, tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and artillery pieces.
“It has been absolutely tremendous,” said the brigade’s boss, Col. Christopher Norrie.
The colonel spoke to The Gazette by phone last week as his soldiers packed up their gear for yet another mock war, this time in Hungary. His soldiers had just fought mock battles alongside a full team of American allies, including the usual suspects from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and newer partners including Ukrainian tankers and Albanian infantry.
“We fired 7,000 rounds of artillery,” Norrie said of the 10-day exercise. The unit also drilled with allied Air Forces and coordinated with a French command team.
“I think the dynamic here that was most interesting was the international environment.”
With tensions on the rise across Europe fueled by an increasingly aggressive Russia led by president Vladimir Putin, the training has sent a clear message: Don’t mess with the US or its friends.
The brigade headed to the continent from Colorado Springs in January, bringing more than 2,000 tanks, trucks, and artillery pieces across the Atlantic by ship. The goal was to demonstrate how quickly a US-based unit could be ready to fight overseas.
After gathering in Poland, the unit spread out from Estonia to Bulgaria.
Moving the unit across the vast expanse of Europe showed how quickly its soldiers could show up for battle. The training exercises that followed have shown how they can win the fight, Norrie said.
“We view deterrence as presence plus lethality,” Norrie said.
At a German training area, the brigade’s M-1 tanks proved dominant in a simulated war that included traditional combat and modern-day threats including a cyber attack.
“We seized seven objectives in 48 hours,” Norrie said.
Large-scale tank training has been a rarity for the Army and 3rd Brigade in recent years. Since 2001, the unit has served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but its tanks and other heavily-armored rigs were parked as its soldiers fought as infantry against insurgent groups.
Now, the Army is focused on its ability to take on “near-peer” enemies, like Russia and China.
That explains the abundance of training rounds fired by the brigade — numbers unheard of in recent years as the Pentagon tightened its belt to deal with budget cuts.
Having the unit overseas also allowed 3rd brigade to practice working with allies.
“There are things we need to improve, things our allies need to improve, and things we are very good at,” he said.
Norrie said his unit was successful in bridging language and cultural barriers thanks to liaison teams. The unit put its troops in the headquarters of allied forces and the other nations reciprocated, creating an instant solution for problems as they arose.
He said cooperation was also fueled by having a clear common goal.
“That shared interest of expressing the will of the alliance, it’s a very powerful motivator,” he said.
The training for the brigade is also proceeding at a pace unseen outside wartime.
After wrapping up the training in Germany, tank crews were busy washing mud off their tracks and heading out for training in Hungary.
The brigade, which will head back to Fort Carson in about three months, has become expert at shipping gear across the continent.
“We have done 180 different rail movements throughout Europe,” Norrie said.
The pounding pace of the unit’s work would be enough to grind down even the most veteran of soldiers.
But Norrie said it has actually had the opposite effect.
Instead of dragging, 3rd Brigade soldiers are walking taller, he said. The platoons, companies, and battalions have become close knit families during weeks of intense work.
Mechanics have set records for the number of vehicles available for war despite their heavy use. Gunnery scores have gone sky-high as soldiers hone their skills, he said.
Norrie said the brigade has the swagger of an undefeated team.
“If you see our soldiers they are so proud of what they have done,” he said.
Think you have a great idea that will revolutionize Army readiness and resilience? The Army wants to boost your chance at making it happen.
Starting in June 2019, the Army implemented a formal process to capture and evaluate grassroots, personal readiness, and resilience initiatives, before considering the idea for potential Army-wide use.
The new process, outlined in the just released Initiative Evaluation Process technical guide, is designed to ensure ideas can demonstrate results, have applicability Army-wide and avoid duplication or unintended consequences.
“Not every good idea, even if it’s a great idea, may hit the mark,” said Joe Ezell, a Management and Program Analyst at the Army’s G-1 SHARP, Ready and Resilient (SR2) Directorate. “Sometimes people don’t quite understand the second and third order effects associated with their good idea … and the execution of that idea might not quite evolve into what they are looking for.”
(U.S. Army photo)
Previously, the Army may have implemented ideas sent by local installations, but without thorough analysis or resourcing, those initiatives fell by the wayside. The new technical guide, developed jointly by SR2 and the Army Public Health Center (APHC), requires that proposed initiatives undergo a five-step screening process to assess effectiveness and Army-wide applicability.
Army program managers, Army leaders or anyone with a great idea to improve soldier, civilian, and family member personal readiness and resilience can begin the process of fielding it by reaching out to their Commander’s Readiness and Resilient Integrator (CR2I).
This first step in the process provides the individual leader or organization proposing an idea with the backing of a work group that will help them gather effectiveness data, walk them through the other steps in the process and, if the idea has merit, put together the proposal package for submission to the local installation commander. The initiative will then undergo review at several echelons before it is potentially forwarded to the Army G-1 level.
Although the process may seem cumbersome, it is not intended to inhibit innovation, instead it is meant to refine it, said David Collins, Evaluations Branch Chief at SR2.
(U.S. Army photo by Davide Dalla Massara)
“As with any good ideas, it has to be well thought out,” Collins said. “It forces people to think about outcomes. Oftentimes we just think about execution, we never really think about the impact.”
The end result will be that the best ideas will rise to the top and get pushed through up to the highest levels for evaluation and possible implementation Army-wide, Collins said. Other ideas may work better at the local or regional level, and commanders can still count on the IEP process to validate those initiatives.
The proposal package the CR2I puts together is intended to show the quantifiable impact an idea has, and gather objective evidence that will reinforce the value of the idea so that when a new program is presented to senior Army leaders, they will be able to make evidence-based decisions. The IEP will “save time, energy and effort across the board,” Ezell said.
Grassroots efforts have traditionally driven innovation in the ranks, so if you are ready to submit your idea, download the technical guide and reach out to your local CR2I now.
“For almost 70 years, our Nation has set aside one day to recognize the great debt we owe to the men and women who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard,” Trump said in a statement. “On Armed Forces Day, we salute the bravery of those who defend our Nation’s peace and security. Their service defends for Americans the freedom that all people deserve.”
According to the Department of Defense website, the celebration of Armed Forces Day first began in 1950, following a proclamation on Aug. 31, 1949, by then-Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson. Johnson’s intention was to replace separate holidays for the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
“I invite the Governors of the States and Territories and other areas subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to provide for the observance of Armed Forces Day within their jurisdiction each year in an appropriate manner designed to increase public understanding and appreciation of the Armed Forces of the United States. I also invite veterans, civic, and other organizations to join in the observance of Armed Forces Day each year,” Trump said in the proclamation, which has been issued by his predecessors in virtually the same form, including George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan.
Trump’s proclamation did make special note of the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I, citing the 4.7 million Americans who served in that conflict. Trump also re-tweeted a Defense Department tweet featuring a video.
“Finally, I call upon all Americans to display the flag of the United States at their homes and businesses on Armed Forces Day, and I urge citizens to learn more about military service by attending and participating in the local observances of the day,” Trump’s proclamation concluded.
Personnel other than grunts, or POGs, are an essential part of the fight. POGs make up the majority of the military and they perform every job that is not specifically reserved for infantry.
Any non-03 or 11B (Marine and Army infantry MOSs) that gets butthurt when someone reminds them that they do not hold a very specific MOS may need to look in the mirror and do some soul-searching. The offended are, essentially, upset that someone said they aren’t a security guard.
Infantry soldiers and Marines enjoy ribbing non-infantry personnel with the term, but when examined further, there is really nothing condescending about it.
Talk to any motor transport operator serving in Iraq between 2003 and 2008 and they will tell you that there is no guarantee of safety provided by your occupational specialty.
2. Infantry is ineffective without them.
This one might cause some friction, but any unit that thinks they can sustain themselves without food, water, supplies, and munitions is kidding themselves.
There are zero infantry leaders that aren’t appreciative of their logistician peers.
3. It’s a fact, not a state of being.
Whether you hold an administrative position behind a desk at the headquarters building on mainside or you’re an explosives ordinance disposal specialist clearing enemy IEDs, you are a POG. The only people who are not have an 03 or an 11B on their occupational specialty.
4. POGs learn useful skills for future employment.
Unless you want to be a security guard or security contractor, the skills mastered by infantry are not very relevant on the outside.
Of course, leadership and ability to operate under extreme pressure are handy, but these skills are not exclusive to the infantry.
The residents alleged they were being intimidated into not fighting the overages, and sources told WATM Navy investigators were looking into the issue.
But according to a Feb. 14 statement from Naval Criminal Investigative Service spokesman Ed Buice, Navy officials closed the inquiry into accusations of over billing “after it became evident the allegations being made were unfounded.”
“No criminal misconduct was discovered,” Buice added in the email statement to WATM.
Buice did not reply to a request for additional comment.
Residents of the San Onofre II neighborhood at Camp Pendleton say they were within the margins for monthly electricity use that would preclude an overage charge.
Military families there pay a lump sum rent that includes a certain amount of energy usage. When they consume less electricity than the allotted amount, they are refunded; when they go over, they receive bills, officials say.
Several residents told WATM that they had seen sudden sharp increases in their electric bills and were threatened with eviction if they didn’t pay up. Many claimed they were rebuffed when they approached base housing officials about the alleged billing problems.
Marine Corps Installations West spokeswoman 1st Lt. Abigail Peterson told WATM in a Feb. 16 email that “all of the official complaints received regarding this situation were addressed and resolved,” adding that Lincoln Military Housing had “implemented a new process to monitor requests to ensure all concerns are addressed in a timely manner.”
“We take feedback very seriously and want to ensure responsible measures are followed to alleviate any issues for our Marines, sailors and their families living here on base,” Peterson said.
Military family advocate Kristine Schellhaas — who originally brought the billing allegations to light — wasn’t satisfied Pendleton’s response, arguing base residents aren’t simply misreading their bills.
“There are systematic flaws with how this program has been implemented,” Schellhaas told WATM. “The facts are that this program needs to get audited.”
BAE Systems showed off its new 40mm cannon at Fort Benning in Georgia late March 2018, as the US Army looks to add more fire power to its Strykers, Bradleys, and perhaps other combat vehicles, according to Defense News.
“Everything went perfectly,” Rory Chamberlain, a business development manager at BAE Systems, told reporters after the cannon was fired, Defense News reported. BAE Systems is one of the largest defense companies in the world.
CTA International, a joint venture between BAE Systems and Nexter, began developing the weapon in 1994, and the gun was recently chosen by the UK and France for their new Ajax and EBRC Jaguar armored vehicles, according to The War Zone.
The cannon has six kinds of cased telescoped ammunition (meaning the projectile is in the cartridge with the charge), including aerial airbust rounds, airbust rounds, armor piercing rounds, point detonating rounds, and two more designated for training.
(Photo by BAE Systems)
The 40mm rounds are up to four times stronger than 30mm rounds, according to BAE Systems.
Depending on which round is used, the cannon can take out a variety of armored vehicles and even older tanks, like the Russian T-55, The War Zone reported.
One of the most benefitial features of the gun is that it can fire at a high angle, making urban fighting easier, according to Defense News.
Chamberlain told Defense News that “Stryker lethality is open, as much as they got the Dragoon, that is a fat turret and it’s doing its job and it’s what they wanted,” adding that the lethality and requirements for the upgrade are still to be decided.
He said the same is possible for the Bradley, but Maj. Gen. David Bassett told Defense News in late 2017 that the Army is looking to replace its 25mm Bushmaster with a 30mm cannon.
Let’s face it, when the Army bought the Stryker, in one sense, they were really just catching up with the Marines, who were making an 8×8 wheeled, armored vehicle work for quite a while. Now, though, the Marines are getting a new system for one variant of their Light Armored Vehicles, the LAV-AT, which will make them even deadlier and easier to maintain.
According to a release by Marine Corps Systems Command, the LAV-ATM project gives this version of the LAV a new turret. The LAV will still be firing the BGM-71 Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided missile.
“Compared to the legacy version, the new turret is unmanned, it fires both wire-guided and radio frequency TOW missiles, and it can acquire targets while on-the-move with an improved thermal sight,” said Jim Forkin, Program Manager’s Office LAV-ATM team lead.
“The turret is important because it protects Marines and gives them an enhanced capability that they didn’t have before,” Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael S. Lovell, Ordinance Vehicle Maintenance officer, PM LAV team, explained.
A Marine tests the enhanced vision capability—part of an upgrade to the Light Armored Vehicle’s Anti-Tank Weapon System—during new equipment training Sept. 18-29, at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Marine Corps Systems Command completed its first fielding of four upgraded ATWS in September. (United States Marine Corps photo)
The new LAV also makes maintenance easier with an on-board trouble-shooting system that allows operators and maintenance personnel conduct checks on the systems involved with the vehicle and turret. Learning how to use the new turret takes about one week each for operators and maintainers. The Marines have also acquired 3D computer technology to enhance the training on the new LAV-AT.
But the real benefit of the turret is that “Marines who serve as anti-tank gunners will be able to do their job better,” according to Chief Warrant Officer Lovell. “We’re providing a product that gives Marines an enhanced anti-tank capability improving their forward reconnaissance and combined arms fire power on the battlefield.”
Enemy tanks will hopefully be unavailable for comment on these enhancements.
Garlin Conner charged alone into the cold abyss, toward the massive silhouettes of German tanks in the distance.
Clutching a telephone, radio and wire, the first lieutenant carried himself through the frigid January air, toward 600 encroaching Germans and the enemy rounds he knew were coming.
Conner could not turn back if he wanted to.
His company needed a guide to cut into the surging German infantry or risk getting overrun. The Kentucky marksman always fought in front of his men, and his fellow soldiers trusted him to lead. Conner often fired at the opposition standing while others ducked for cover.
Conner could see the enemy before they spotted him, fellow soldiers wrote.
The thunder of the German rifles didn’t rattle him. His father had raised him to be fearless while hunting wild game in the woods of southern Kentucky. A bullet wound in his left hip could not keep him from returning to the front lines, nor could orders to remain at a military field hospital. On a frigid winter morning in 1945, Conner would once more put himself between his fellow soldiers and the onslaught of enemy fire.
This time, in a snow-covered forest, 5-foot-6-inch Conner faced the full brunt of German forces. On Jan. 24, the Nazi-led German army mounted a desperate surge to split American units near the French-German border.
Conner headed toward the flurry of bullets until he ducked into a shallow, snowy ditch.
Here in the frozen French countryside, amid rampant automatic fire, Conner would make what could be his final stand, guiding American artillery toward the German infantry. Here, Conner would remain until American forces stopped the Germans, or until a bullet stopped him.
When locals in the rural farming town of Albany, Kentucky, would ask Garlin “Murl” Conner about his time in World War II, he’d hush them quickly.
“I’d done what I had to do,” Conner said in soldier accounts, “and that’s all there is to it.”
After returning to Clinton County following the war and starting a tobacco farm, the decorated Army veteran decided he had seen enough of the world and the horrors of armed combat. Conner had found peace plowing fields in the shadows of the Appalachians.
Conner never boasted about his acts of bravery.
For more than 53 years until his death in 1998, he rarely spoke about the war again — not to his wife, Pauline, or even to a fellow soldier.
During the two decades since Conner died of complications related to heart and kidney failure, others took up the cause the farmer so adamantly declined. Former Army Green Beret Richard Chilton, with the support of seven retired generals, presented Conner’s bid for the Medal of Honor to the Army’s personnel records office.
The curious case of Conner, who held a war record so compelling that it rivals the accolades of the more famous veteran Audie Murphy, baffled those who knew him. In all, Conner spent more than 800 days on the front lines in World War II. He suffered seven combat wounds while earning four Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, the French military decoration Croix de Guerre, and the Distinguished Service Cross.
And yet, in an effort to get Conner recognized with a Medal of Honor, Chilton and his team endured a difficult quest that spanned decades. A federal district court rejected Conner’s initial bid for the award. In the 2014 ruling, a federal judge in Kentucky told a heartbroken Pauline that she had not filed her husband’s paperwork in time.
Conner had for decades shied away from talk of the award, much like he avoided any conversation of his four years in the Army. Still, his family continued to cling to hope that one day Conner would earn the U.S. military’s highest distinction.
Old Kentucky home
A curving paved road leads to Murl and Pauline Conner’s red brick farmhouse wedged near the foothills of the Appalachians in southern Kentucky, two miles north of the Tennessee state line.
Blue skies hang over Albany’s green rolling landscape, as plowed fields seem to shine under the midday sun. Cardinals outside the one-story house chirp as a light wind sweeps by. This farm, cradled in the hilly terrain of Clinton County, hid the story of a man whose steely courage withstood the gravest circumstances.
Just footsteps down the road from the farm, Murl’s son Paul, and his wife Kathy, live in a modular home that was built to replace their home that had been destroyed by a tornado. Paul took over the farm after his father suffered a heart attack on a spring day in 1979.
He spent long hours planting tobacco plants before the farm transitioned into raising cattle as its primary product.
Born nine years after Conner returned from the war, Paul contrasts his dad in appearance. Burly and stout, he sports a much larger frame than his father, who had been thin and wiry, at 5-foot-6-inches tall, and weighing only 120 pounds during active duty.
Paul shares his father’s love of animals. And Paul raised his four children with the same grounded morals he learned from his father. Paul said his father offered sound advice that Paul would later instill in his children. “Be a man of your word,” Paul recalled his dad saying. “Do what you say. If you can’t fulfill a promise, don’t make it. Be mindful of people around you because everyone has feelings.”
In the family’s living room, Paul sits next to a black and white portrait of Murl as a young soldier, flanked by faded portraits of Paul’s children and grandchildren. Decorated with beige ceramic lamps, rustic wooden chairs and shelves, the room has changed little since Pauline and her husband moved into the home more than 50 years ago.
For decades the photo loomed over the room. As a boy, Paul occasionally would stare at the black and white picture in awe.
When he asked his father about his time in the Army, he’d receive the same cold response: “We went over there, we did what we had to do,” Paul recalled his father saying. “And it needs to stay over there.”
Paul grew up without knowing the full extent of his father’s achievements on the battlefield. And for the most part, so did Pauline.
Generations have passed since the soldier with only an eighth-grade education used wit and intelligence to thwart enemy advances. But buried in eyewitness accounts and in the testimonials of fellow soldiers, Conner’s heroic deeds remained etched in history, unknown to his family and many of Albany’s residents.
“I just thought he was a farmer and he did a little something in the war,” said Walton Haddix, a family friend of the Conners. “But he never would talk about it. He never mentioned anything he did in the military.”
Outside of his war medals, this 200-acre farm on the lower east end of Clinton County is Conner’s lasting legacy. The family purchased the plot of land in 1949, after the government bought the family’s previous farm to make way for the Wolf Creek Dam and Lake Cumberland Reservoir. With his time in service long behind him, Conner turned his attention to his farm and raising Paul.
He never boasted about his wartime achievements, telling his wife he didn’t want to appear to be bragging. After all, Conner’s five brothers also served in the military: four in World War II and one in the Korean War.
As a farmer, he took pride in working on his farm, where he could often be found in his long-sleeved khaki shirt, farmer’s billed cap and overalls, riding a tractor or teaching Paul how to grow tobacco from the soil.
But the war never truly left him. Sometimes, at night, Conner would wake, gripped with tension and reliving moments from the battlefield, said his wife. Instead of returning to bed, Conner would retreat to the family’s wooden porch, where he lingered for hours smoking cigarettes.
The episodes at times became so traumatic, Pauline declines to talk in detail about them. Pauline said her husband suffered symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, an illness that had not yet been widely identified until the Vietnam War.
“If anyone had PTSD, it was Murl,” Pauline said.
Conner carried the burden internally, never voicing his anguish to his family. The last time Conner had spoken publicly about the war, it happened to be the same day Pauline laid eyes on her future husband for the first time.
A hero’s welcome
On a bright spring day in May 1945, the Wells family heard that a war hero, a native of Clinton County, would be returning after four years overseas.
The local American Legion post organized a parade in the town square to welcome back a war veteran whose bravery had townspeople talking. They traveled from surrounding counties, some by wagon. Others drove in by car, while some came on foot.
Garlin Murl Conner, a farmer’s son who voluntarily joined the Army in 1941, had come home from the war.
Pauline Wells, still in her teenage years, climbed into the back of the family’s horse-drawn wagon along with her two brothers, two sisters and her parents at the family’s farm in northern Clinton County. They drove the wagon along a dirt trail, 10 miles to the town square. The county’s schools dismissed classes early so students could attend the parade.
Pauline’s family learned that following the parade, Conner would be speaking to the crowd about the war. So townspeople crowded into the second floor of the old courthouse. Sergeant Alvin C. York, the most decorated soldier of the First World War, also attended, beginning what became a lifelong friendship with Conner. Pauline leaned onto the wooden bench in the back row to hear Conner speak.
“I was expecting a giant of a man,” Pauline said.
When Conner finally emerged before the crowd, his appearance stunned Pauline. Wearing his olive-colored military dress uniform, the lieutenant’s small stature underwhelmed the young Pauline. With narrow shoulders, and a slender frame, Conner hardly appeared like heroes in storybooks.
“That little wharf rat,” Pauline said to her mother, Tressie. “He couldn’t have done all the things they said he’d done.”
But unbeknownst to Pauline and her family, Conner had long proved his mettle to U.S. forces, the Allies, and fellow soldiers, his commanding officer would say.
Conner was a quiet man of few words. The native of nearby Aaron, Kentucky, stood before the crowded courtroom and said what would be his last public statements about his time in the war.
“It gives me great pleasure,” Conner began, “to be able to come out here today. I am not a speaker, and did not come here to make a speech.”
“But,” Conner continued, “I will try to explain to you a small part of the war in Europe and some of the things I saw.”
Conner didn’t mince words. He talked first about the early November morning in 1942 when his unit first landed on the shore of Fedala, Morocco, in support of Operation Torch. American and Allied forces wrested control of North Africa from the Axis powers in only three days.
He moved onto the invasion of Licata, Sicily, a war-ravaged city that lay in tatters after 38 days of continuous fighting. Through his 10-minute testimony, Conner didn’t talk about his medals, or the times he fought on the front lines ahead of his men. Instead he spoke of his unit’s achievements, and how they survived the changing elements and terrain.
Finally, Conner touched on his unit’s trek into southern France and a difficult battle in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains. But he didn’t say a word about any of his selfless, valorous acts. Nor did he mention a fateful January morning near a small French village during the aftermath of the Battle of the Bulge, when for three hours in the winter of 1945, he risked his life so his unit could survive.
At any cost
On the morning of Jan. 24, 1945, the men of the K Company, 7th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division entered the Brunwald Woods near Houssen, France.
As U.S. troops scrambled to reinforce their position in the small village near the German-French border, a bitter cold swept over eastern France, creating a stinging chill.
As the frigid wind stung their faces, K Company’s soldiers marched into the snow to take on a Battalion of desperate German soldiers.
Conner had rejoined his unit in the French countryside while still recovering from a sniper bullet wound in his left hip. Conner, knowing a crucial battle loomed, had earlier slipped out of the field hospital in northern France and returned to the front lines.
Upon his return, Conner learned that his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Lloyd Ramsey, had made arrangements to send him home. Conner had earned eligibility to return to Kentucky based on his time served and accolades earned. Ramsey removed Conner from the front lines and reassigned him to serve as his intelligence officer in battalion headquarters for his own safety.
Hitler’s army, facing looming defeat, countered American forces with desperate barrage after barrage, attacking U.S. forces with ruthless resolve. The German assaults gravely concerned Ramsey. The day before, the Germans had rallied for a fierce offensive against another company, costing the Americans 25 men.
Ramsey needed a patrol team to scout the enemy’s position, but resources ran thin.
Conner, still ailing from his hip injury, once again volunteered to take a patrol and said he would attempt to use direct artillery to halt the German offensive. Ramsey, knowing the weight of Conner’s previous contributions and his pending return home, reluctantly agreed.
“No words can express the outstanding leadership qualities that Lt. Conner had,” the late Ramsey wrote. “(He was) always willing to do more than his part.”
Conner had built a reputation as an expert scout and marksman. The soldier from the Bluegrass State had earned the respect of his fellow soldiers by fearlessly confronting the enemy and taking dangerous missions. Maurice Williams, a soldier who served under Conner, said Conner’s background as a Kentucky outdoorsman helped prepare him to go undetected in combat. Raised on a farm during the Depression era, Conner learned to become a skilled marksman and hunter.
“He could go through the woods unnoticed,” Haddix, the family friend, said. “And if a squirrel (was) in a tree somewhere and move its tail, he could see it.”
While other soldiers would go on night scouting missions with team members, Conner operated alone.
Conner had fostered such a respect from his fellow soldiers, and had performed with such distinction, that he earned a battlefield commission at Anzio. Conner, along with the highly-decorated Murphy, both served in the 3rd Infantry Division, which suffered more casualties than any other during World War II.
“He always led from the front,” wrote Williams, who fought alongside Conner earlier in the war. “And his platoon felt safe following him.”
At about 8 a.m. on Jan. 24, a sudden barrage of light artillery swept on the American troops. Six German Panzer tanks emerged from the frigid air, flanked by a battalion of 600 German soldiers descending on K Company. The powerful, 9-foot tall tanks nearly spanned 27 feet across and 12 feet wide.
“The Americans, the Allies, had nothing like it,” said Luther Conner, President of Clinton County’s historical society. “It was the most potent war weapon at that time. It was just a monster. It caused fear just for a soldier to see the size of it.”
Two thirds of the battalion pushed toward K Company, attempting to split and divide the Americans. A week earlier, a German Panzer division attacked Second Battalion’s 600 soldiers. About 100 returned to their units. Germans killed or took the remainder as prisoners.
Near Houssen, K Company faced similar odds. Conner knew his unit’s only chance in the wintry conditions rested in his hands. He needed to guide artillery fire on the Germans.
Conner saw the towering frames of German Panzers barrelling through the forest. Without a moment’s hesitation, the soldier sprinted straight toward tanks, carrying a telephone, radio, and wire reel.
Conner uncoiled the wire as exploding shells and wood splinters from the surrounding woods showered upon him. Conner ran nearly 400 yards toward the enemy, ignoring warnings from his unit, said Chilton.
He did not stop until he had advanced 30 yards past the American Infantry front line.
There, in a shallow ditch beneath the January snow, Conner planted himself before the oncoming German fire. And for three hours, Conner laid like immovable rock under a violent wave, directing artillery rounds onto the German infantry. As swarm after swarm of German soldiers came like an avalanche upon him, Conner, barked directions and coordinates to battalion headquarters.
“Although he was in a prone position, the ditch only covered part of his body,” wrote 1st Lt. Harold Wigetman, who served as the S-3 in 3rd Battalion. “He was wedged in there so tight, that it was almost impossible for him to move or shift his position.”
The Germans soon grew aware of the lone figure in the snow guiding the American artillery. German soldiers began to swarm and surround Conner and the Americans. The German army mounted a final surge to overwhelm the American forces.
Conner, seeing the enemy close, made a lasting, drastic choice to defeat the German infantry.
Conner directed American artillery rounds toward his position, and the surrounding Germans. As the enemy attack continued to unfurl, Conner put himself in peril so that his unit could achieve victory.
“He cared about his men more than he cared about himself,” Chilton said.
With bullets flying toward him from both directions, Conner never wavered. At one point, a German soldier ran within five yards of Conner clutching a grenade before an American stopped him. Haddix said Conner dispatched German soldiers with his submachine gun.
“With icy self-control, he kept telephoning his directions,” Wigetman wrote, “although he must have seen that the (Germans) would have killed him before he could get on his feet.”
The American onslaught led by Conner overwhelmed the German attack. By the time the final rounds fell, Conner’s actions had resulted in killing 50 German soldiers and leaving more than 150 wounded. American munitions destroyed the six German tanks.
“I saw elements waver … their fighting spirit broken by the deadly concentration of (American) fire,” Wigetman wrote.
Conner paid a heavy toll for his valor during the war. The injury to his left hip would hamper his mobility for the rest of his life. Like many veterans of his generation, Conner did not think highly of anything he had achieved in Europe, his wife said.
“He was always very humble,” Pauline said. “He did what he felt like he had to do to protect our freedom to vote and our freedom of speech, which we have truly earned from what he did and others like him.”
Ramsey called Conner the greatest combat soldier he had ever seen. Troops who remembered him noted Conner’s cool resolve under the most difficult conditions.
Wrote Williams in his journal, “I had such confidence in (Lt.) Conner. I would have followed him anywhere he wanted to go.”
In the years after Conner’s heart attack in 1979, he found a new calling. He listened with concern to stories of soldiers who had not received their veteran’s affairs benefits. Some servicemen struggled with living expenses after they left the service.
Conner and his wife would drive across Clinton County’s 196 square miles of rolling hills and farmland to meet with vets. They extended their travels to 10 neighboring counties. Once a month they would place their paperwork and a suitcase in their Buick sedan and travel to veterans’ homes or meet them at their office in the courthouses. Pauline acted as his secretary, fielding phone calls and helping her husband coordinate his appointments with the veterans in need.
The night episodes continued through the years, Pauline said. And Conner still struggled to sleep on some nights. But helping other veterans, she said, helped him find peace.
“(Assisting veterans) became his life,” Paul said.
But listening to the tales of other soldiers and hearing about their struggles awakened a longing in Conner he thought that he had long buried.
Throughout his four years in the Army, Conner’s concerns rested with his soldiers, never seeking personal glory, but always on the lookout for how he could help, whether scouting the enemy position, or finding ways to help retired vets file their military records. But hearing their stories, Pauline said, she noticed for the first time regret.
That regret became clear in 1996, his wife said.
Chilton, a former Army Green Beret from Wisconsin, wrote a letter to Conner in search of information on his late uncle, Pfc. Gordon Roberts, who was killed after landing at Anzio. Conner, no longer able to speak or write, invited Chilton to his Albany home.
Chilton visited Conner on a fall day in 1996. He sat with Conner in the family living room, and asked him questions about his uncle and the war, while Conner nodded his answers from his wheelchair.
Chilton learned that Conner had indeed served with his uncle, and that Conner had carried his uncle in his last moments to a medical aid station. Conner, reliving a moment from 50 years prior, began to weep.
Pauline suggested that she could sort through her husband’s old war records to search for documentation of Roberts’ service. She carried her husband’s weathered, military green duffel bag out of the living room closet and pulled out old paperwork, records and medals contained inside a cardboard box.
As Chilton skimmed through the pages, his eyes widened. Chilton saw the decorations: the Purple Hearts and Bronze Star and Silver Stars. The Kentucky native had participated in eight major campaigns and had been wounded in each of the countries he toured.
“My God,” a stunned Chilton said to Pauline. “This man should have been awarded the Medal of Honor.”
Chilton, feeling sudden inspiration, asked Pauline and Garlin if he could pursue an application for the medal on Murl’s behalf. Pauline turned to her husband.
“I looked at [Garlin],” she said. “And he was looking at me so straight with tears in his eyes.”
Conner nodded his head yes. After 50 years, he was finally ready to apply for the honor that he had for so long been reluctant to seek.
“He’s my hero,” Pauline said, sitting in the Conner family’s living room, clutching the brown picture frame holding her husband’s black and white service photo. “He always has been.”
Wearing a black blazer and rose-colored blouse, her once-blonde locks have faded into gray. Now 89 years old, her voice wavers when she talks about the life of her late husband. She fondly recalls his humility and his quiet way of voicing his approval.
Finally, she talks about that spring night in 1945, when she and Garlin slipped away from Clinton County in his convertible with nothing but a homemade dress to get married at a courthouse in Rossville, Georgia. They would stop at a neighboring town on the way to Georgia to purchase clothing for Pauline. Pauline said Garlin’s patience and understanding swayed her to marry him after two weeks of dating.
Though their early marriage suffered the occasional bumps, Pauline stood by her husband’s side for more than five decades. Conner suffered a heart attack in 1979, after falling ill riding on the tractor. He underwent open heart surgery later that year, and a second surgery 11 years later.
In the years before his death, Garlin had battled numerous illnesses, including kidney failure, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. He suffered a stroke that left him bedridden and no longer able to speak. Pauline took on the role of caretaker, cooking his meals and driving him to his medical appointments. She took a part-time job for additional income.
Conner passed mercifully on a November day in 1998. He was 79.
“The last few years my dad was alive, he wasn’t really alive,” Paul said. “It progressively got worse. I wish I hadn’t have had to see that part of it. But we can’t choose how we’re going to live and how the last days are going to be.”
At the Weldon Haddix Funeral home along Business Route 127 in Albany, hundreds waited in line to view Conner’s remains. In the rectangular, brick building nestled between local businesses on the north side of Albany, farmers, neighbors and veterans paid their respects. Veterans whom Conner had helped approached Pauline to express their gratitude for Conner’s assistance years ago. Neighboring farmers whom Conner helped as president of the Clinton County Farm Bureau also attended. To this day, Pauline said, veterans still greet her.
“They come up and hug me for what I’ve done, for what [Garlin] has done,” Pauline said. “And I always hug them and tell them I love every one of them.”
Conner’s acts left a lasting impression on Ramsey. The two remained in touch for decades through letters and phone calls. Ramsey later retired as a major general and suffered five combat wounds during his time in service. He encouraged Conner to apply for the medal over the years, Pauline said. But each time, Conner declined and the medals and decorations remained mostly untouched inside the duffel bag, in the living room closet.
Ramsey, whose 34-year career spanned three wars, wrote in 2006: “One of the most disappointing regrets of my career is not having the Medal of Honor awarded to the most outstanding soldier I’ve had the privilege of commanding.” The Army medically retired Ramsey in 1974.
A final plea
Chilton continued to press on Conner’s application for the Medal of Honor, writing letters and contacting politicians.
New evidence had been uncovered by Congressman Ed Whitfield’s office in the National Archives in Washington, including three eyewitness accounts written by fellow soldiers who fought on the front lines with Conner. The three affidavits painted in vivid detail accounts of Conner’s acts in January 1945. But even the affidavits would not be enough.
The Army Board for Correction of Military Records rejected Chilton’s original application for Conner’s eligibility for the medal. Haddix assembled a legal team, headed by Dennis Shepherd of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs as lead trial counsel, and included Luther Conner, who also serves as the Conner family’s lawyer, to begin work on a lawsuit which was filed in federal court. That lawsuit would obtain a ruling ordering the Board to grant Pauline a new hearing and to consider the new evidence.
In 2014, U.S. District Judge Thomas Russell ruled that the statute of limitations to correct Conner’s military record had expired and that the family could no longer continue to seek the award.
After the judge dismissed Pauline’s case in 2014, she said she had lost hope. She returned to Albany and resigned herself to the idea that her husband’s decorated service record would remain as it was, without the addition of the honor that Conner’s family and friends felt he deserved. Despite the backing of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, several generals and Congressman Ed Whitfield, Conner’s chances for the Medal dimmed.
But then, on March 2, 2015, Conner’s case reached a turning point at the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. During the appeal for Conner’s Medal of Honor bid, Assistant U.S. Attorney Candace Hill was assigned to represent the government’s stance against Conner’s case. For 15 minutes, Hill defended the Army’s previous stance during the proceedings, saying the case should be left alone.
But then, in a closing moment of abject candor, Hill revealed her true feelings.
Hill broke into tears, as she discussed her father’s service as an officer in the same unit as Conner during World War II. She said her father suffered a severe leg injury on Jan. 25, 1945, one day after Conner’s heroic acts.
“For all I know,” she said. “Garlin Conner may have … helped save his life.”
Hill’s words, according to an Associated Press report, convinced the panel to submit Conner’s case to a federal mediator. The mediator then directed the ABCMR to grant a new hearing and to consider all evidence, including the recently discovered eyewitness accounts. The following October, the Board granted “full relief” to Pauline’s request to upgrade Conner’s Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor.
Still, Conner’s bid for the medal needed further approval from the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of Defense, and the president.
Last March, Pauline received a call from a military officer at the Pentagon who told her to expect an important phone call from a high-ranking DOD official regarding her husband. Could this be the phone call she had been waiting for? It must be a trick, Pauline thought, and she called Luther Conner, the family’s attorney, to confirm its validity. When Luther gave his assurances, Pauline still asked Luther, and his wife Susan, to sit with her for the important call.
The following Monday the phone rang.
“Is this Lyda Conner?” asked a man with a gruff, New York accent.
“I go by Pauline,” she said.
“You sound just like an old country gal,” the man said.
“I am,” Pauline said, soon realizing the caller was the president.
“It’s a beautiful place down there where you live,” President Trump said.
“Yes it is,” Pauline said, as she sat in the family’s tidy living room, amid family photos of Conner, her son, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Outside, redbirds chirped in the cool spring air.
“You are the widow of Lieutenant Garlin Conner?” Trump asked.
“I am,” she confirmed.
After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Trump said, “Well I’ve got some good news for you. He has a wonderful military record — one of the best I’ve ever seen. I am going to award him the Medal of Honor.”
The news soon spread to the rest of the Conner family, Conner’s legal team and Clinton County’s residents. Chilton, who spent much of his own time and money on Conner’s journey, could breathe a sigh of relief. Chilton traveled across the country in his quest to bring the Medal of Honor to the Conner family. He’d conducted dozens of interviews with former veterans who knew Conner. Nearly all have since passed. Chilton also penned what he said could be hundreds of hand-written letters to congressmen and to the Army.
A 22-year quest for a man who left everything on the battlefield had finally ended. Conner will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony June 26.
“It gets you kind of numb, you know?” Chilton said. “It sinks in and you understand it. You realize how long you’ve been after it and how long you’ve been doing it. I was just kind of numb … I felt good for him. I felt good for his wife; she suffered through all this stuff. I felt good for (Paul). They’ll all know this forever: (he’s) a hero.”
Pauline was asked what she thought her husband would say if he was still alive. Pauline thought for a moment. And she recalled how her husband might not want the honor, and might brush it aside once more. He might defer credit to the men he fought alongside. But Pauline said she sensed her husband’s attitude toward the honor had changed during his waning years. She remembered his regret in the 1996 meeting with Chilton.
Maybe, Conner might just tip his cap, and smile.
“More than anything I miss him,” Pauline said wistfully. “And I wish he was here so he could go get the Medal himself. Because I think he would have been proud of it. I know he would have.”
“I always kept thinking he didn’t want it in his younger days. And he didn’t really. … When he got older, he wished he had.”
The story of Garlin Conner doesn’t lie in his heroic acts or in his courage under the grimmest of odds. His family says it lies in his unending desire to help others, whether guiding soldiers on the battlefields of Western Europe, or helping veterans in the rolling hills of Clinton County, Kentucky.
Chilton, a military veteran of 20 years, traveled the world with both the U.S. Army and the Israeli Army during Desert Storm. Perhaps the Wisconsin resident put it best.
“I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve seen a lot,” Chilton said. “But I’ve never met anyone like Garlin Conner.”
Editor’s note: Garlin Murl Conner will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House June 26, 2018. President Trump will present the Medal to Conner’s widow, Pauline, at the ceremony.
A huge battle featuring the Battletoads, Ninja Turtles, Ultraman, Mechagodzilla, a team of Spartans from Halo, and about a thousand other beloved pop-culture and childhood icons is something we sadly had to leave behind once all our action figures were cleaned up and mom called us down to dinner.
Kinda like that — but not at all.
Well, not anymore.
Hundreds of pop culture references from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and recent years are featured heavily in Steven Speilberg’s new film, Ready Player One. It’s a film the director says was three years in the making and required the coordination of hundreds of artists and creatives the world over — including author Ernest Cline. Cline’s 2011 sci-fi novel of the same name was also filled with these great easter eggs.
The film is about the quest for such an “easter egg,” which, for the unfamiliar, is an inside joke, hidden message, or secret feature created by the designer of a work. Watching or reading Ready Player One is a lot like trying to get to the center of the world’s largest Matryoshka nesting doll of easter eggs.
Set in a poor area of Columbus, Ohio in the year 2045, film centers around Wade Watts, a young gamer inside the Oasis, an open, massively multiplayer, online world – essentially, it’s a video game that has supplanted the real world in popularity. The Oasis is populated primarily by other gamers and almost everyone has a customized avatar. Wade’s avatar is called “Parzival” and, in the Oasis, he’s on the quest for the greatest easter egg in history.
The Oasis’ late creator, James Halliday, left a series of clues to help people find hidden keys. Once all three keys are collected, the winner can claim the easter egg – Halliday’s fortune and ownership of the Oasis. Watts, in his quest, stumbles upon another gunter (or “egg hunter”), Samantha (also known as Art3mis) and three gamers he knows only through the Oasis: Aech (pronounced “H“), a samurai called Daito, and a ninja called Sho.
Together, as they unlock the secrets to finding the keys, they have to contend with billionaire businessman Nolan Sorrento, CEO of Innovative Online Industries. IOI’s corporate villain has seemingly unlimited resources, unlimited lives, and a vast army of digital slaves helping him wrest ownership of and monetize the Oasis, an idea anathema to the god-like Halliday’s vision.
By the time we get to the Battle of Castle Anorak (Anorak being the name of the late Halliday’s avatar), Parzival has rallied the entire Oasis – the entire world – to fight to keep their digital world pure. Rolling in the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future, wielding crowd-pleasing weaponry, like Monty Python’s holy hand grenade, and fighting alongside horror movie legend, Chucky, Parzival and friends take on IOI’s respawning army of employees.
I know, it seems like a lot — even if you’ve already read the book. But look: If you’re a fan of the pop culture of the 1980s, this is the movie for you (listen up, Gen-Xers). The film loves the 1980s as much as you do. More than that, Ready Player One is a throwback to the popcorn-peddling, fun, thrill-ride of movies from the 80s.
Even if you don’t love video games or cheeky 80s references, there’s still something for everyone to love in Ready Player One. This is a movie for your inner pop-culture fan.
Just make sure you’ve seen The Shining before you go.
The U.S. has some of the best special operations units in the world, but they can’t do everything on their own. The American military relies on allied special operators from places like Britain, Iraq, and Israel to collect intelligence and kill enemy insurgents and soldiers. Here are 6 of those special operations commands.
A quick note on the photos: Many allied militaries are even more loathe to show the faces of their special operators than the U.S. The photos we’ve used here are, according to the photographers, of the discussed special operations forces, but we cannot independently verify that the individuals photographed are actually members of the respective clandestine force.
A British Special Forces member from the 22nd Special Air Service at Hereford, England, uses binoculars to locate a target down range.
(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Rick Bloom)
1. SAS and SBS
These could obviously be two separate entries, but we’re combining them here because they’re both British units that often operate side-by-side with U.S. forces, just with different missions and pedigrees. The Special Air Service pulls from the British Army and focuses on counter-terrorism and reconnaissance. The Special Boat Service does maritime counter-terrorism and amphibious warfare (but will absolutely stack bodies on land, too).
Both forces have deployed with U.S. operators around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan where they were part of secretive task forces that hunted top Taliban members, ISIS, and Iraqi insurgents.
The Sayeret Matkal does all sorts of hush-hush missions for Israel, everything from intelligence gathering to direct action to hostage rescue.
(Israel Defense Forces)
2. Sayeret Matkal
Israel’s Sayeret Matkal has generated rumors and conjecture for decades, and it’s easy to see why when you look at their few public successes. They rescued 103 Jewish hostages under gunpoint in Uganda after a plane hijacking. They hunted down the killers who attacked Israel’s 1972 Munich Olympic team, killing 11 coaches and athletes. The commandos in the unit are skilled in deception, direct action, and intelligence gathering.
The U.S. is closely allied with Israel and Sayeret Matkal is extremely good at gathering intelligence, which is often shared with the U.S. One of their most public recent successes came when they led a daring mission to install listening devices in ISIS buildings, learning of a plan to hide bombs in the battery wells of laptops.
French Army special operations troops conduct a simulated hostage rescue during a 2018 demonstration.
(Domenjod, CC BY-SA 4.0)
3. French Special Operations Command
French special operations units are even more close-mouthed than the overall specops community, but they have an army unit dedicated to intelligence gathering and anti-terrorism, a navy unit filled with assault forces and underwater demolitions experts, and an air force unit specializing in calling in air strikes and rescuing isolated personnel behind enemy lines.
The commandos have reportedly deployed to Syria in recent years to fight ISIS. And while Germany is fairly tight-lipped about the unit, they have confirmed that the unit was deployed to Iraq for a few years in the early 2000s. On these missions, they help U.S.-led coalitions achieve success.
Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) operators demonstrate forward repelling during the 2nd School graduation in Baghdad, Iraq, Oct. 1, 2018. The ceremony included a ribbon cutting for the repelling tower, which will be used by future 2nd school classes.
(U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)
5. Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service
The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service was created by the U.S. and, oddly, does not fall within the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, making this one of the few special operations units that isn’t part of the traditional military. It has three special operations forces brigades and, in recent years, has largely focused on eliminating ISIS-controlled territory and the surviving forces.
The operators have also fought against other groups like Al Qaeda-Iraq. The unit was originally formed in 2003, meaning it has only existed while Iraq was at war with insurgents, so the force has operated almost exclusively within Iraq’s borders. It earned high marks in 2014 when its troops maintained good order and fought effectively against ISIS while many of the security forces were falling apart.
An Afghan National Army Special Operations Commando instructor assesses Commando recruits in training as they perform security duties during a training exercise in Camp Commando, Kabul, Afghanistan, May 6, 2018.