Booze, a strip club and a major gone missing: How a 101st Airborne unit went off the rails in Poland
STUTTGART, Germany — A U.S. Army Apache helicopter unit’s planned visit to World War II sites in Poland devolved into a drunken escapade at an off-limits strip club, leading to the suspected drugging of a battalion executive officer who went missing and wasn’t found until the next day, an Army investigation found.
The incident involving the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade’s “No Mercy” battalion during its recent deployment to Europe now has multiple officers facing the possible end of their military careers.
“The command took immediate and appropriate adverse action against the leaders involved,” Col. Joseph Buccino, spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps, said in a statement. “Some officers are facing further administrative actions to determine whether they will continue to serve in the Army.”
A command investigation report obtained by Stars and Stripes details how taxpayer dollars were spent on a trip that was supposed to be about improving “unit cohesion and morale,” but ended in scandal as rumors of the battalion’s deeds swirled through the brigade in the months that followed.
The September trip to the coastal city of Gdansk marks the latest findings of wrongdoing in an Army unit carrying out a rotational mission in Europe.
Earlier this month, the Army fired Col. Michael Schoenfeldt as commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, for bullying and toxic leadership during the Fort Hood group’s deployment to Europe.
The Army probe into the incident in Poland also revealed broader concerns about potentially compromised combat readiness due to a pilot being incapacitated during the trip, as well as perception within the unit of special treatment that undermined morale.
“These issues included perceived preferential treatment for pilots over other personnel, and for officers over NCOs/Soldiers, as well as the way incidents were treated by the chain of command,” the Dec. 3 Army 15-6 investigation report said.
A 15-6 investigation is typically a commander-driven probe that can lead to administrative punishment or a court-martial following a recommendation from an investigating officer.
Drugged, bitten and lost
About 40 members of the “No Mercy” 1st Battalion, led by Lt. Col. Matthew Fix, took part in the two-day trip to Gdansk. The unit, part of the 101st Airborne Division based out of Fort Campbell, Ky., was responsible for carrying out a wide range of missions during its nine-month rotation in Europe providing airpower along NATO’s eastern and southern flanks.
The Army 15-6, which was based on interviews with numerous soldiers, detailed the chain of events this way:
At the end of the first day, the team gathered for dinner at The Legendary White Rabbit Saloon and celebrated their sergeant major’s 40th birthday. Some soldiers bounced between the White Rabbit and other establishments, including a karaoke bar. By the end of the evening, many were “heavily intoxicated” and returned to their hotels around midnight, the report said.
At that time, an unspecified number of soldiers, including battalion executive officer Maj. Matthew Conner, went to Club Obsession in Gdansk’s city center.
Reviews of the club by various online travel sites warn of a sketchy scene where drinks get spiked with narcotics and woozy patrons get scammed out of thousands of dollars.
A warrant officer told the Army’s investigator that during the ride back to Powidz, Poland, at the conclusion of the trip, Conner described the events at the strip club in similar terms. Fix, the battalion commander, was driving the car.
Conner said that he received multiple lap dances and that strippers “bit his nipples to keep him awake, and repeatedly had his credit card swiped,” the report stated. Conner then showed the soldiers in the car multiple receipts, which added up to 50,000 — it wasn’t clear whether the sum was in dollars or Polish zloty, which would amount to about $13,000.
Conner “also expressed a belief that the champagne he had been given at the club had been laced/drugged,” the report said.
Fix didn’t report to higher headquarters the suspected drugging of Conner, who was still sick the following day, the report said. None of the witnesses mentioned Fix attending the strip club, according to the investigation.
Conner, a pilot, was “so severely impaired by the incident that he cancelled all of his flights for the next week because he ‘just did not feel right’ and it took days for him to feel normal again,” the report said.
Neither Fix nor Conner responded to requests for comment from Stars and Stripes.
It’s unclear how the night at the strip club ended, but by morning no one in the battalion knew where Conner was.
‘Lapses in judgment and leadership’
After partying into the early morning hours, no one could make contact with Conner, who wasn’t in his room at the IBB Hotel Dlugi Targ, the investigation report said.
That’s when Fix and Sgt. Maj. Ronnie Winberry organized a search party, calling on all staff ride attendees to meet in the city center and retrace their steps from the night before.
“The group ultimately met up outside the Obsession Club, where MAJ Conner was allegedly last seen, to begin the re-tracing process,” the report said.
Eventually, Conner was found at a different hotel by Fix and Winberry. The team then completed an abbreviated version of their World War II battlefield tour.
In the weeks that followed, rumors circulated on social media as word of the trip spread through the unit about a visit to an “alleged sex dungeon” where tens of thousands of dollars were spent, the report said.
The staff ride proved to be “poorly planned,” with insufficient dialogue between Fix and 101st CAB boss Col. Travis Habhab “regarding risk to mission or force,” the investigator found.
There also were unaddressed health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Not only is it questionable whether the purpose and intent of a (battalion staff ride) was met, but during the trip, multiple individuals exhibited lapses in judgment and leadership that are not expected of senior leaders in the Army,” the investigation stated.
The 15-6 recommended that Fix and Conner face administrative or disciplinary action along with several other junior officers and a first sergeant. An Army official said that Fix is in the process of retiring after receiving a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand, while Conner faces a separation review board.
Earlier this month, the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade completed its nine-month rotation to Europe, where it was replaced by the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.
Col. Joe Scrocca, spokesman for U.S. Army Europe and Africa, said some of the recent leadership problems that have emerged on recent unit rotations were “isolated cases.”
“The same standards of conduct and leadership apply here in Europe as they do in the United States,” Scrocca said in a statement. “Our permanently stationed and rotational forces are expected to live by the same Army Values.”