Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis is a legend in the military. Revered by Marines and non-Marines alike, Mattis has taken on the persona of a modern-day Patton — having the knowledge and insight to lead his Marines through combat, while standing behind them and taking the heat if things go bad. In short, Mattis is a hell of a leader.
In 2013 while serving as commander of Central Command in Tampa, Fla., Mattis retired after four decades of service. Since then, he’s been teaching at Stanford and Dartmouth, as well as speaking across the country on leadership. He’s also working on a book with author Bing West.
We looked back at some of the best insights he offered, through a great collection of quotes. Most apply strictly to military service, but some can be just as useful in the corporate boardroom.
“You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it’s going to be bad.”
The “dream world” Mattis is talking about is one of denial and complacency — a mood in combat that can get you killed. And in corporate America, it can get you wiped out by the competition.
“If in order to kill the enemy you have to kill an innocent, don’t take the shot. Don’t create more enemies than you take out by some immoral act.”
Mattis, who co-wrote the manual for Counterinsurgency with Gen. David Petraeus, knows well that troops cannot win over the population to their side if they are killing the wrong people. His advice here to soldiers and Marines is spot on.
“I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.”
Of course he can spell it but that’s not the point. Mattis wants to impress upon his troops that failure should not be an option.
“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”
Before his Marines deployed to Iraq in 2003, he told them this (along with many other great pieces of advice in a now-famous letter). His point here is to be a professional warfighter who can be polite with civilians, but always remember that if things go south, the dirty work needs to get done.
“The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some sh–heads in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim.”
Recalling the mentality of the wolf, the sheep, and the sheepdog, Mattis understands that there is evil in the world. It’s important for his men to be prepared for whether they will be the hunter or the victim if they ever face it.
“There are some people who think you have to hate them in order to shoot them. I don’t think you do. It’s just business.”
One of his more controversial quotes, to be sure. But in Mattis’ view, to be a professional, you need to have a professional mindset. It’s not really necessary to get emotional about what you have to do. It just needs to get done.
“You can overcome wrong technology. Your people have the initiative, they see the problem, no big deal … you can’t overcome bad culture. You’ve gotta change whoever is in charge.”
In a talk at Stanford, Mattis was relating how toxic culture can bring down an organization that has everything else right. The culture of an organization comes from the top, and if that part is screwed up, there are going to be problems.
“The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”
Mattis doesn’t want robots just mindlessly following his orders. As a leader, he gives broad guidance and lets his men use their own brains to decide how it gets accomplished.
“Find the enemy that wants to end this experiment (in American democracy) and kill every one of them until they’re so sick of the killing that they leave us and our freedoms intact.”
“In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony — even vicious harmony — on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines.”
Mattis implores his officers to not get stuck in their own little boxes. Learning how to be brilliant on the battlefield is important, but it’s more important to be able to work with others to get the job done.
“PowerPoint makes us stupid.”
Military officers endure (and have to create) tons of PowerPoint briefings to inform their chain of command what’s going on. Mattis however, is not one of those officers. He actually banned PowerPoint since he saw it as a waste of time.
“You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”
Mattis wants his Marines to always be thinking before they take the shot. It’s advice that has no doubt saved lives.
“An untrained or uneducated Marine … deployed to the combat zone is a bigger threat to mission accomplishment … than the enemy.”
The biggest detriment to mission accomplishment is not from the competition, but from within. Having the right mindset and skills is what results in getting results.
“No war is over until the enemy says it’s over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote.”
Combat doesn’t happen in a vacuum. All the planning, meetings, and briefings on what potentially can happen in a given situation are good, but the bad guys will always react in uncertain ways. The key is to be prepared for anything.
“Be the hunter, not the hunted: Never allow your unit to be caught with its guard down.”
Just because you are at the top of your game doesn’t mean someone won’t come along to knock you down. Units (and individuals) need to be vigilant and make sure that doesn’t happen.
“Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun.”
Mattis is an avid reader. On all his deployments, the general brought along a ton of books that he thought may help him along the way. In an email that went viral (via Business Insider) on the importance of reading, Mattis wrote that it “doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”
“You’ve been told that you’re broken. That you’re damaged goods … there is also Post-Traumatic Growth. You come back from war stronger and more sure of who you are.”
While giving a speech to veterans in San Francisco, Mattis tried to dispel the mindset that those leaving the service should be pitied. Instead, he told them, use your experiences as a positive that teaches you to be a better person.
For the longest time, the GI Bill was one of the most effective recruiting incentives. Even for recruits who had no intention of using some of the many perks, the ability to pass it on to their spouses or children was a huge factor in deciding whether or not to enlist. For some U.S. troops, that benefit is at an end.
A new policy reported by Military Times shows that the Pentagon sees the transferability benefit as a recruiting tool and that those military members with more than 16 years of service are closer to retirement than they are to being a recruit. As a result, the Department of Defense will place a cap on transferring those benefits, clearly believing the possibility of retirement at 20 years is a much better retention incentive than giving a free education to military children.
The current policy states that any member with six years’ time in service can transfer their GI Bill benefits to their spouse or children as long as they serve another four years. That will not change. Members with 10 years of service also received transferability benefits even if they were unable to extend their service for any reason. That provision will also go away – unless the member was forced out due to force-shaping policies.
“The fact that nobody was consulted about this is alarming,” Paul Frost, a retired Navy captain who serves as MOAA’s program director for financial and benefits education, told Stars & Stripes. “What else is being discussed on the changes of this bill, which is one of the key benefits that a service member gets?”
Current service members will have until that year to decide their course of action. The new Forever GI Bill does not affect this new policy and all transfer requests must still be made while the service member is on active duty.
“As a matter of principle, The American Legion is against the curtailment of veterans’ earned benefits,” said American Legion spokesperson Joe Plenzler. “We understand the minimum time-in-service for transferability eligibility, and that makes sense from a retention perspective, but the 16-year transfer or lose rule makes no sense to us as DOD has articulated it and disadvantages the veteran when it comes to the full use of this earned benefit.”
Boasting that Russia’s nuclear arsenal has already surpassed its competitors, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a fire and brimstone warning to his nuclear rivals Oct. 18, 2018.
In the event of a nuclear war, “the aggressor should know that retaliation is inevitable, and he will be destroyed,” Putin said at an international policy forum in Sochi. “We would be victims of an aggression and would get to go to heaven as martyrs. They will simply drop dead. They won’t even have time to repent.”
“We have run ahead of the competition,” he bragged.
“No one has precision hypersonic weapons. Others are planning to start testing them within the next 1½ to 2 years, and we already have them on duty,” Putin claimed, potentially referencing the Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic missile.
The Avangard hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, which Putin said can travel up to 20 times the speed of sound, hitting a target “like a meteorite, like a ball of fire,” is set to enter service in the near future.
This weapon can reportedly carry a conventional or nuclear warhead with an explosive yield ranging from 150 kilotons to one megaton, the Russian news outlet TASS introduced in March 2018.
The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic missile being carried by a Mikoyan MiG-31K interceptor.
The US military, facing competition from both Russia and China on hypersonic weapons, is scrambling to catch up. The Army, Navy, and Air Force are jointly working to develop advanced hypersonic systems for next-level warfighting. The US is also interested in modernizing its nuclear arsenal.
While Putin delivered his message focused on the nuclear destruction of Russia’s enemies, he insisted that his country would never strike first.
“Only when we become convinced that there is an incoming attack on the territory of Russia, and that happens within seconds, only after that we would launch a retaliatory strike,” he said. “It would naturally mean a global catastrophe, but I want to emphasize that we can’t be those who initiate it because we don’t foresee a preventive strike.”
Russia dropped its “no-first-use pledge” in the early 1990s, writing a new nuclear doctrine with certain loopholes and exceptions.
The Russian president’s tough and damning rhetoric comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and the US and its NATO allies.
Starting late October 2018, US forces, along with NATO allies and partners, will take part in a massive war game involving tens of thousands of troops, as well as numerous vehicles, ships, and aircraft. The drills are designed to send a strong deterrence message to Russia.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Cold War was the ultimate worldwide, geopolitical game, pitting two disparate ideologies against one another. The battle lines were drawn — and they were clear. In one corner, you had the global Communist bloc and its allies, some perfidious, willing to pit the two superpowers against each other for their own gain. In the other was the West and its allies, defenders of capitalism and democracy (or… at least… they were just not Communists).
For nearly 50 years, this game dominated the world order. It became so ingrained in our brains that, today, it’s still difficult to think of Russia as anything but the Soviet Union, a democracy in name only, just waiting to turn back the clock and surprise us. So we must always be on guard.
Pictured: Chinese foreign policy.
The problem with American foreign policy makers is that they don’t really know if Russia is truly their main adversary these days. Recently, a top CIA Asia expert told the Aspen Security Forum that China was definitely enemy number one, but does not want a direct conflict. China is much more insidious than that. Where the Soviets Russians prefer to openly troll Americans and blatantly defy American objectives, China is subtly undermining American power in strategic locations all over the world. And it has nothing to do with trade disputes.
FBI Director Christopher Wray says China poses the most significant threat to U.S. national security.
“The volume of it. The pervasiveness of it. The significance of it is something that I think this country cannot underestimate,” Wray said. It was a sentiment echoed by many security experts in Aspen — China is ready to replace Russia as a global U.S. competitor and to supplant the U.S. as the economic powerhouse.
China has the second-largest defense budget in the world, the largest standing army in terms of ground forces, the third-largest air force, and a navy of 300 ships and more than 60 submarines — all in the process of modernizing and upgrading. The Chinese are also far ahead of the United States in developing hypersonic weapons.
They’re ready for the United States in a way that Russia hasn’t been prepared for in a long, long time.
“I’m sorry Xi, I misheard you. The future is what?”
And this isn’t exactly a new development. While the United States (and now Russia) were engaged in costly wars and interventions all over the world, China has slowly been expanding its worldwide economic footprint and partnerships. Russia has been harassing its neighbors since 2008 in Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, China began its Belt and Road Initiative, investing billions in infrastructure to link China with markets from Central Asia to Europe.
While no one was watching, Chinese investment dollars have filled coffers all over the world, bringing once-forgotten economic backwaters into the Chinese sphere of influence at the cost of American prestige. Chinese raw materials will build these developing marketplaces and the Yuan may soon even be the currency of choice. If the Belt and Road Forum takes off, it could even cut Chinese reliance on American markets.
Russia seems more threatening because that’s exactly what the Russians are good at. Vladimir Putin is no fan of the West or NATO and it seems like he takes real delight in NATO’s failures, especially in Ukraine. While hypersonic weapons, an increased nuclear weapons capacity, and a deeper relationship with Bashar al-Assad’s Syria seem like a significant threat (and may well be), the reality is those hypersonic weapons aren’t quite perfect and Syria isn’t going as well as planned.
Meanwhile, China is quietly preparing for the future.
Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola, a former Army infantry officer and West Point graduate (class of 1977) was announced as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to serve as Secretary of the Army.
VIncent Viola (far left) presents the National Italian American Foundation’s first Marine Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone Award for Distinguished Military Service to Gen. Ray Odierno and his son, Capt. Anthony Odierno. (Photo U.S. Army)
According to a report by the Washington Examiner, Viola, who served with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), is the executive chairman of Virtu Financial. Viola also chaired the New York Mercantile Stock Exchange at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
After 9/11, he founded the West Point Combating Terrorism Center.
“Whether it is his distinguished military service or highly impressive track record in the world of business, Vinnie has proved throughout his life that he knows how to be a leader and deliver major results in the face of any challenge,” the Trump transition office said in a statement. “The American people, whether civilian or military, should have great confidence that Vinnie Viola has what it takes to keep America safe and oversee issues of concern to our troops in the Army.”
In a statement, Viola said he looked forward to serving.
“I will work tirelessly to provide our president with the land force he will need to accomplish any mission in support of his National Defense Strategy,” Viola said. “A primary focus of my leadership will be ensuring that America’s soldiers have the ways and means to fight and win across the full spectrum of conflict.”
Retired Army Col. James Hickey, commander of the brigade that captured deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, had been reported to be a front-runner for the position, along with Van Hipp, the long-time chairman of American Defense International, Inc.
Why do we worship Chuck Norris anyway? What has he ever done besides getting whopped by Bruce Lee in a bad sequel to Enter the Dragon?
When, exactly, did he become downright holy? I wish I could give you all the answers because he really grinds my gears!
Here are my top 4 reasons why Chuck Norris is dead to me:
Disclaimer: I am an Air Force veteran who spent the entirety of his 13 years in uniform as a Security Forces member. The following is written — and intended to be taken — in jest. I love Chuck Norris and I’ve actually been to his first Tae Kwan Do school. Also, we share a common duty unit (Osan, ROK).
Where did this come from? Did he start them himself? Who decided he was so cool? He’s literally the master of life, according to the internet and I need answers!
I just don’t understand it, and we all hate things we don’t understand, right?
Don’t forget to look away — Chuck Norris once beat the sun in a staring contest.
3. Total Gym? Yeah… it bites!
Have you ever actually tried to use a Total Gym?
Did you pinch parts of yourself in the nest of cables and pulleys all while getting exactly no workout from the supposed ‘gym,’ too? If so, then you know what I’m talking about.
It supposedly offers 80 different exercises, but you’d have to be a pretty clever f*cker to figure out more than three.
2. He thinks he’s a Marine
I guess, he is a Marine — technically. He was made an honorary Marine back in 2007. That’s fine and dandy, but there’s one problem with that… he was already a veteran of the U.S. Air Force!
If you happen to be one of those few people who knew Chuck Norris was a veteran going into this article, it is likely that you thought he was a Marine. Just based on the sheer number of photo ops, he seems to love having wearing Marine Corps uniforms!
With their deployment coming to an end, they decided to properly send off the women that provided temporary release from their sexual repression, according to the video. The ceremony and obituary are pure comedy, check it out:
We gather here today to honor the eternal memory of the women that have sacrificed services for the good of those that have suffered sexual repression through geographic isolation, mainly: us.
These ladies of the periodical, queens of the center fold have inspired our imaginations and other parts that should not be mentioned at this time.
Though these many months have been long and hard, they provided us with a means for us to have a temporary release.
Your undying patriotism and service to those who serve has not been in vain and though our time together may have come to an end, you will forever live on in our hearts.
We salute you oh princess of the page, you will never be forgotten.
Now we will sound off a few of the names of those who have inspired us …
“This allows the aircraft to identify a threat and actively prosecute that threat through avoidance, deception or jamming techniques,” Mike Gibbons, Vice President of the Boeing F-15 program, told Scout Warrior in an interview a few months ago.
These updated EW capabilities replace the Tactical Electronic Warfare Suite, which has been used since the 1980s, not long after the F-15 first deployed. The service plans to operate the fleet until the mid-2040’s, so an overhaul of the Eagle’s electronic systems helps maintain U.S. air supremacy, the contract announcement said.
Boeing won the initial contract for the EPAWSS project last year and hired BAE Systems as the primary subcontractor.
Overall, the US Air Force is vigorously upgrading the 1980s-era F-15 fighter by giving new weapons and sensors in the hope of maintaining air-to-air superiority over the Chinese J-10 equivalent.
The multi-pronged effort not only includes the current addition of electronic warfare technology but also extends to super-fast high-speed computers, infrared search and track enemy targeting systems, increased networking ability and upgraded weapons-firing capability, Air Force and Boeing officials said.
“The Air Force plans to keep the F-15 fleet in service until the mid-2040’s. Many of the F-15 systems date back to the 1970’s and must be upgraded if the aircraft is to remain operationally effective. Various upgrades will be complete as early as 2021 for the F-15C AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar and as late as 2032 for the various EW (electronic warfare) upgrades,” Air Force spokesman Maj. Rob Leese told Scout Warrior a few months ago.
The Air Force currently operates roughly 400 F-15C, D and E variants. A key impetus for the upgrade was well articulate in a Congressional report on the US and China in 2014. (US-China Economic and Security Review Commission —www.uscc.gov). Among other things, the report cited rapid Chinese technological progress and explained that the US margin of superiority has massively decreased since the 1980s.
As an example, the report said that in the 1980s, the US F-15 was vastly superior to the Chinese equivalent – the J-10. However, Chinese technical advances in recent years have considerably narrowed that gap to the point where the Chinese J-10 is now roughly comparable to the US F-15, the report explained.
Air Force and Boeing developers maintain that ongoing upgrades to the F-15 will ensure that this equivalence is not the case and that, instead, they will ensure the superiority of the F-15.
Among the upgrades is an ongoing effort to equip the F-15 with the fastest jet-computer processer in the world, called the Advanced Display Core Processor, or ADCPII.
“It is capable of processing 87 billion instructions per second of computing throughput, translating into faster and more reliable mission processing capability for an aircrew,” Boeing spokesman Randy Jackson told Scout Warrior.
High tech targeting and tracking technology is also being integrated onto the F-15, Gibbons added. This includes the addition of a passive long-range sensor called Infrared Search and Track, or IRST.
The technology is also being engineered into the Navy F-18 Super Hornet. The technology can detect the heat signature, often called infrared emissions, of enemy aircraft.
“The system can simultaneously track multiple targets and provide a highly effective air-to-air targeting capability, even when encountering advanced threats equipped with radar-jamming technology,” Navy officials said.
IRST also provides an alternate air-to-air targeting system in a high threat electronic attack environment, Navy, Air Force and industry developers said.
The F-15 is also being engineered for additional speed and range, along with weapons-firing ability. The weapons-carrying ability is being increased from 8 up to 16 weapons; this includes an ability to fire an AIM-9x or AIM-120 missile. In addition, upgrades to the aircraft include adding an increased ability to integrate or accommodate new emerging weapons systems as they become available. This is being done through both hardware and software-oriented “open standards” IP protocol and architecture.
The aircraft is also getting a “fly-by-wire” automated flight control system.
“Fly by wire means when the pilot provides the input – straight to a computer than then determines how to have the aircraft perform the way it wants – provides electrical signals for the more quickly and more safely move from point to point as opposed to using a mechanical controls stick,” Gibbons explained.
Along with these weapons upgrades and other modifications, the F-15 is also getting upgrades to the pilot’s digital helmet and some radar signature reducing, or stealthy characteristics.
However, at the same time, the F-15 is not a stealthy aircraft and is expected to be used in combat environments in what is called “less contested” environments where the Air Force already has a margin of air superiority over advanced enemy air defenses.
For this reason, the F-15 will also be increasing networked so as to better support existing 5th-generation platforms such as the F-22 and F-35, Air Force officials said.
The intent of these F-15 upgrades is to effectively perform the missions assigned to the F-15 fleet, which are to support the F-22 in providing air superiority and the F-35 in providing precision attack capabilities, Leese said.
“While these upgrades will not make these aircraft equivalent to 5th generation fighters, they will allow the F-15 to support 5th generation fighters in performing their missions, and will also allow F-15s to assume missions in more permissive environments where capabilities of 5th generation fighters are not required,” Leese added.
Gibbons added that the upgrades to the F-15 will ensure that the fighter aircraft remains superior to its Chinese equivalent.
“The F-15 as a vital platform that still has a capability that cannot be matched in terms of ability to fly high, fly fast, go very far carry a lot. It is an air dominance machine,” Gibbons explained.
The U.S. Navy has released video of a Su-27, a Russian fighter, conducting an extremely dangerous maneuver against the crew of an EP-3 Aries plane taking part in Trident Juncture, the massive NATO war games that have sent the Russian military into a tizzy.
The depicted aerial maneuvers, which included the Russian plane flying within a few feet of the U.S. aircraft with engines roaring, were seemingly conducted solely with the intention of threatening the unarmed plane. The intercept included two passes and lasted for approximately 25 minutes. According to a Navy statement,
On Nov. 5, 2018, a U.S. EP-3 Aries aircraft flying in international airspace over the Black Sea was intercepted by a Russian SU-27. This interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the SU-27 conducting a high speed pass directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk. The intercepting SU-27 made an additional pass, closing with the EP-3 and applying its afterburner while conducting a banking turn away. The crew of the EP-3 reported turbulence following the first interaction, and vibrations from the second.
Article IV of the agreement specifically calls for commanders of aircraft to “use the greatest of caution and prudence in approaching aircraft and ships of the other Party,” something that this November 5 incident seems to be a flagrant violation of. This follows a November 2 incident in which a Russian bomber flew nearly directly over a U.S. command ship, the USS Mount Whitney.
A Pentagon spokesperson told Business Insider that Russia failed to make radio contact with the plane before conducting its maneuvers, making this interaction especially dangerous.
This sudden increase in incidents is no accident. NATO’s Trident Juncture war games are a response to increasing Russian aggression, including the illegal annexation of Crimea and election meddling across the Europe and the U.S.
The military exercises have triggered a series of responses from Russia, which include the dangerous intercepts, a huge missile exercise announced and held in the middle of NATO’s training, and an increased naval presence in the waters in and around the exercise.
Russia’s concerns about the large exercise ring hollow, though, since Russia held the Vostock 2018 war games in September, which it claimed was its largest exercise since the Cold War. While Russia inflated the size of Vostock, claiming 300,000 troops where there may have been as few as 150,000, it was still much larger than Trident Juncture, which has only 50,000 participants.
But Trident Juncture is still frightening for Russia as 30 nations are taking part. Vostock had only three participants: Russia, China, and a small Mongolian force. And Trident Juncture includes nations that are Russian neighbors and either members of NATO or friends of the alliance, posing a big threat to Russia’s ability to push around its neighbors.
It had to have been a simultaneously proud and awkward moment in his career: The day U.S. Navy Commander James Kirk got promoted to captain.
Of course any Trekkie would know the reason, as the real-life captain shares the name of the fictionalized character played by William Shatner on “Star Trek.” But the real Kirk is a serious officer, taking the helm of the futuristic USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), a ship christened earlier this year.
“Unfortunately I can’t be with you when your vessel is commissioned and obviously your captain, Captain Kirk, is dear to my heart,” Shatner wrote. “So forgive me for not attending, my schedule won’t allow me, but know that you are in our thoughts — Mr. Mrs. Shatner — and that we bless you and hope that you have a safe journey wherever your ship takes you.”
Next week is the Fourth of July and there’s countless celebrations planned all around the country. Of course, there’s the fireworks and the air shows, but we can’t forget about all the military parades. Speaking from personal experience, military parades for the general public are the worst.
You get there five hours in advance and your NCO is hounding you not to even make the slightest wrong move. Then when you’re actually marching in formation through the designated route, there’s always going to be those people in the crowds that try to jump to the “join” the formation.
I get it, if it’s a kid – I’ll smile down at them, tell them they’re getting it (regardless if they are or not) and keep moving. My problem is when the douche bag bros hop in the back and say some sh*t like “I’m just like you guys!” If this was just a one time thing, I would chalk it up as a bad encounter. But this happened three different times to me outside two different Army posts.
Anyways, here’s some memes while I wrap myself in my DD-214 blanket to forget about douchey civilians.
Alex K. asks: Is it true that sommeliers can’t tell the difference between expensive and cheap wines?
Having a seasoned tongue that can detect the subtle differences between different kinds of adult grape juice is a sure sign of class. In fact, the go-to Hollywood trope for showing that a character is refined is to give them a penchant for expensive wines. Even Hannibal Lecter, one of the most terrifying and cultured characters in film history, had a soft spot for chianti. But the question at hand today is can even the professional wine connoisseurs actually tell the difference between a Chateau Cheval Blanc 1943 and a Bota Box Chardonnay?
To begin with, it’s important to understand what a person has to go through to acquire the label of wine expert, otherwise known as a sommelier. It turns out this varies considerably from absolutely no official required training at all (the label is technically originally a job title) to an extreme amount as in the case of Master Sommeliers, of which there have been less than 300 people who have managed to achieve that certification in the little over a half a century that title has been granted, making it one of the most exclusive professional certifications in the world.
As to the former vastly more common distinction of “sommelier”, some who achieve this certification are simply wine enthusiasts wanting to take their hobby to the next level. Others are those working in the restaurant service industry who may have even got that title via working there way up from a simple waiter at a wine bar and learning on the job.
That said, as sommelier Dustin Wilson notes, “…by forcing oneself to study hard for a long period of time, certification offers young sommeliers the opportunity to gain the context they need to understand wine much faster than they would if they simply relied on the dining room floor as their classroom.”
This brings us to more formal certification. How rigorous a given course for certification is varies from institution to institution offering such, but in general sommeliers must be able to identify with reasonable accuracy random types of wine by taste, sight, and smell, answer various questions about wine making, the various regions of the world that are major wine producers, and what makes wines from them different than wines produced elsewhere. They must also have extensive knowledge of very specific food pairings, as well as demonstrate little things like the best technique for how to open a bottle of wine and pour — while simple for those working in the industry, nonetheless often trips up the hobbyist attempting to get that certification.
On that note, while actual formal training to get such a certification may only take dozens of hours, leading up to passing a given program’s tests a person generally needs extensive experience with all things wine, whether as a long time hobby or experience within the industry.
As you might have gathered from this, all sommeliers are not created equal. Some may be immensely knowledgeable and skilled at judging various wines, while others might be littler better than your wine enthusiast cousin Jill.
This brings us to the elite of the elite — Master Sommeliers. These are the Yoda’s of the wine world, and no coincidence the average salary for one eclipses that of mere mortal sommeliers. For your reference, a run of the mill lowly just starting out sommelier might make as little as in the ,000 a year range, whereas someone who has passed the tests to become an Advanced Sommelier earns around ,000 a year on average. The Master Sommeliers, on the other hand, typically make about 0,000 per year and can usually be found working at some of the world’s finest restaurants.
The testing to become a Master Sommelier is vastly more rigorous, and those invited to test (and it is invite only), must have first passed the Introductory Exam, then the Certified Exam, and then the Advanced Sommelier Exam. Those who pursue this course also tend to already have extensive backgrounds in the culinary arts and typically have many years of experience working as a sommelier at some wine serving establishment.
Once they’ve distinguished themselves enough in the field, they may then be invited to takes the tests to become a Master Sommelier. From here, they are given three years to pass three tests, including a practical restaurant service section, a verbal examination covering all things wine related to incredible depth, from history to grape cultivation in various regions, to various wine making methods; finally, the most difficult test of all is the taste test. In this, they are given six random wines chosen from the thousands produced around world. In 25 minutes, they must correctly identify not just what region of the world each one came from, but also the exact year the grapes used were harvested.
Each candidate is allowed to take each test up to six times in the three year span, but even then, as you might expect from so few having ever achieved this certification, many fail despite already being considered advanced wine experts before even attempting the tests.
Now, given all this, surely the elite wine professionals must be able to tell the difference between random expensive and a random cheap wines, right? Well, yes, the elite of the elite absolutely can. But also, no, they can’t at all actually.
So what’s going on here?
There are several factors that go into this. First, there’s the business side with a variety of factors that go into what makes something an “expensive” or “cheap” wine that go far beyond taste. Making such distinctions smaller than ever, wine making has become huge business on a scale and with scientific vigor never leveled at the industry before — all in an effort to create the best wines for as cheaply as possible.
As journalist and sommelier Bianca Bosker notes, “One of the things that I did was to go into this wine conglomerate [Treasury Wine Estates] that produces millions of bottles of wine per year… People are there developing wine the way flavor scientists develop the new Oreo or Doritos flavor.”
Noteworthy here is that the scientists extensively use sommeliers to help tweak their mass produced wines to be as high quality as possible even to the experts. They further add a variety of things to the wine, not unlike adding ingredients to any beverage, to tweak just about every facet of it until they come up with an end product that they think will maximally appeal to consumers.
As a result, even disregarding business elements effecting price beyond taste, the gap between inexpensive wines and the finest has closed considerably in recent decades, and there are more variety of wines to enjoy today than there ever have been before, all making it an effort in futility for even a Master Sommelier to be able to consistently identify one wine as one that was probably ultra expensive vs. more of a middle of the road variety of the same type of wine.
Partially as a result, while studies using the general public tend to show most can identify the difference between the cheapest of wines at a couple dollars a bottle and, say, a or bottle, as soon as you start to go much above that, we mere mortals tend to be able to differentiate the two with about the same accuracy you’d expect in predicting the results of a coin flip.
That said it turns out there is actually a slight and very interesting correlation. In one study with over 6,000 taste tasters, comprising about 12% sommeliers and the rest the general public, trying to determine if people like expensive wines more than cheap ones, it turned out that:
[W]e find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less. For individuals with wine training, however, we find indications of a positive relationship between price and enjoyment…. Our results indicate that both the prices of wines and wine recommendations by experts may be poor guides for non-expert wine consumers.
Thus, similar to music or really any field, those who are experts do seem to tend to enjoy the finer, more complex, versions of the craft, such as a symphony, vs the general public who prefer listening to the latest from Taylor Swift. Or as one music professor the co-author of this piece once had was fond of stating with respect to pop music vs. things like a symphony, “Cotton candy tastes great, but you can only eat so much of it before you get sick of it and start craving a high quality steak dinner.”
Now, at this point you might be thinking, “Well, sure, it’s easy to be fooled by the business side of things when talking price, but what about all those studies that show wine experts can’t even tell white wine from red in blind taste tests?”
It turns out there is a lot more going on with that than the clickbait headlines tend to indicate, and should be obvious from the fact that Master Sommeliers are able to pass the test they do in the first place, which would be impossible if their skills were really as bad as that. As Wheezy Waiter wisely points out in his aptly titled song “A Headline’s Not an Article” — a headline is not an article.
You see, as ever, our monkey brain’s are gonna monkey brain. We humans are just really, really easy to trick, especially when it comes to our senses. Ever eaten something minty and then drank a room temperature glass of water? Congratulations, you’ve just tricked your body into thinking you’re drinking ice cold water because menthol binds with cold-sensitive receptors that make these much more sensitive than normal, so they trigger more easily and you feel a cold sensation, even though everything is the same temperature as before.
So everything from what you ate or drank before to scents in the environment you’re currently in, to even your level of fatigue can influence the way you perceive the taste of something.
On top of physical things like that, there’s your expectations, which can be absurdly easily influenced, especially when it comes to taste.
So let’s now talk about wine. Contained within the grape juice are many dozens of esters and aldehydes, sugars, minerals, organic acids, etc. etc. This cocktail all derives from the grapes (whose contents are in turn effected by a variety of factors), processes of the yeast as it works its magic, and what the wine is processed and stored in during its journey from plant to your belly. This all creates the colors, smells, and taste which combined to form the flavor your perceive when you ingest the wine. To give you a small idea of the scope of things here, consider that over 400 compounds that influence the scent alone have been identified in wine.
On that note, temperature by itself can make a huge difference to taste, among other reasons, because of how this can effect the boiling point and thus smell and, in turn, taste, of some of these compounds in the wine. As wine enthusiast David Derbyshire notes, “Serve a New World chardonnay too cold and you’ll only taste the overpowering oak. Serve a red too warm and the heady boozy qualities will be overpowering.”
As for the wine experts, while they may have honed their skills with sometimes thousands of hours of study into all things wine, they still have the same monkey brain as the rest of us. Case in point, we have wine expert and journalist Katie Kelly Bell, who was traveling with a fellow group of wine connoisseurs. While at Waters Vineyards in Washington State, the owner poured everyone two glasses of white wine and asked them to identify what type they were. Bell sums up:
We swirled, we sniffed, we wrinkled our brows in contemplation. Some of us nodding with assurance. I took notes, finding the first white to be more floral and elegant than the second. Drawing on my years and years (there have been too many) of tasting, studying and observation, I swiftly concluded that the first wine was an unoaked Chardonnay and the second was a Sauvignon Blanc, easy peasy. Much to my mortification I was dead wrong, as was everyone else in the room. The proprietor chuckled and informed his room… that the wines were actually the same wine; one was just warmer than the other. He wasn’t intentionally shaming us (not one person got it right); he was pointedly demonstrating the power of just one element in the wine tasting experience: temperature.
Now consider a test conducted at the suggestion of winery owner Robert Hodgson at the California State Fair wine competition. Essentially, the panels of 65-70 expert judges were given a huge variety of wines to rank as per usual. But what they were not told was that they were actually given each of the wines three times and from the same exact bottle.
After running this same experiment four consecutive years, what Hodgson found was that, to quote the paper published on the experiment, Only “about 10 percent of the judges were able to replicate their score within a single medal group.” In fact, he even found about 10% of the judges were so far off that they switched a Bronze rating to a Gold for the exact same wine from the exact same bottle.
In another study conducted by Hodgson, An Analysis of the Concordance Among 13 U.S. Wine Competitions, it was found that in the vast majority of cases, receiving a Gold medal at one wine competition had virtually no correlation to not just being ranked similarly at another competition, but in many cases that same wine scoring below average at other competitions.
As to what’s going on here, Hodgson sums up, “…there are individual expert tasters with exceptional abilities sitting alone who have a good sense, but when you sit 100 wines in front of them the task is beyond human ability.”
In yet another test, this one by Frenchman Frédéric Brochet in 2001, he found that simply changing the label of the same bottle of wine from an expensive well thought of type to a cheap one resulted in the 57 taste testers almost universally changed their tune on not just how they liked it, but various attributes about it.
In another experiment, Brochet also gave a similar panel a glass of white wine and a glass of red wine and gave them a list of common words used to describe white and red wines and told them to assign them appropriately to the two wines in front of them. It turns out the red wine was actually the same as the white wine except dyed red, and only a small percentage of the testers were able to accurately identify that both wines tasted the same in the descriptive words they chose to identify each wine. And, yes, contrary to what is almost universally stated, not all of the taste testers got it wrong.
Nevertheless, most did. While you may try to argue that perhaps the results ended up being different because the dye had an effect on the flavor, beyond that it was purported to be flavorless dye, we can at least be reasonably sure it didn’t drastically alter the taste to “jammy”, “spicy”, and “intense”, among other common terms wine professionals use to talk about red wines.
That said, important to note here is that while Brochet’s studies are often cited as definitively showing how bad wine experts are at judging wines, in this case that they can’t even tell the difference between red and white wines, that’s not what that study actually showed at all. Blindfold even amateur wine drinkers and legitimately give them a white and a red wine and they are going to likely do extremely well at telling the difference, as anyone whose drunk wine pretty much ever can attest. Rather, this test simply showed how easily our perception of things is influenced by suggestion.
Just as importantly here, what literally every single source we could find not only leaves out when reporting this story, but in the vast majority of cases falsely states, is the actual qualifications of those being tested by Brochet. It turns out, the people he was using as taste testers were not experts at all, simply undergraduate students studying oenology (wine and wine making). While certainly probably more knowledgeable than your average person on the street, nobody would call an undergraduate mathematics major just learning the ropes a “math expert”, nor would their skills be indicative of what their professors who have vastly more experience and are actual experts are capable of doing.
Thus, how expert any of these students were at the point in their education when given these tests isn’t clear. What would be far more interesting and indicative is to give that same exact test to the world’s Master Sommeliers and see how they did. Presumably because they still have monkey brains like the rest of us, they would still perform poorly, but nobody yet has run that test that we could fine.
However they would do in such a scenario, what is undeniable is that study after study shows that our perception and expectation vastly influences our experiences, not just in wine tasting, but pretty much every facet of life.
As the Master Sommeliers demonstrate by passing the taste test they are subjected to in the first place, with enough time and study, there are actually people who are exceptionally good at identifying and judging attributes of wines in the right circumstances. But overwhelm there sense with 100 wines or change their expectations about what they are tasting and their perceptions will change significantly, seemingly, making them little better than a random person off the street at telling anything definitive about the wine.
And then when adding not just telling attributes about the wine, but also whether it is inexpensive to purchase or expensive, the whole thing is an effort in futility.
In the end, a hand crafted table might cost a lot more than one that is mass produced. But if they are made from more or less the same materials and the company mass producing them hasn’t chosen to cut any corners, the mass produced and often vastly cheaper table will in a lot of cases actually be objectively better, and certainly more consistently so, thanks to machined and automated precision. But that doesn’t stop people from appreciating and enjoying their hand crafted table more than the same basic table purchased from Ikea.
As with everything, you like what you like. Wine tasting is subjective and what about a given type appeals to you is really all that matters. If knowing you paid 0 for that glass enhances your experience, then great. For others buying several bottles of Two-Buck Chuck so they can enjoy many glasses with a large group of friends at a party may make that one all the more enjoyable. For others, the experience of attending wine events where various fancy wines are sampled and discussed more than makes them worth the extra cost and the trip. For yet others, even when sipping alone at home, the cheap wine that has had sugars added to make it a little sweeter might be their preferred cup of tea. As the old adage goes, “The only thing that matters with regard to a wine is whether or not you like it.”
Whatever your preferences, just don’t be a snob about it. Whether a wine connoisseur or not, I think we can all agree wine snobs are right up there with Grammar Nazis in two groups nobody at any expertise level likes, probably not even themselves.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The GoPro Camera has provided us with a ton of awesome videos. But what do you think happens when paratroopers get a hold of one? Yeah, they take it on a jump.
Probably one of the best descriptors of the ethos of the paratroopers is the “Rule of the LGOPs.” The rule describes a fascinating effect that when, in battle, an Airbone plan dissolves, you’re left with something truly fearsome: Small groups of 19-year-olds who are willing to jump from a plane, armed to the teeth, and lacking serious adult supervision and…well, you get the idea.
But in peacetime, if these same paratroopers want to remain fearsome, they need to keep their training up. This means lots of practice jumps from aircraft. This not only helps the paratroopers, it helps the crews.
Luckily for us, the 173rd Airborne Brigade brought a GoPro on one of these practice jumps, joined by Serbian Army paratroopers from the 63rd Parachute Brigade.
These paratroopers used a pair of C-130 transport planes during an exercise code-named Double Eagle. A C-130 can carry as many as 64 paratroopers on board, according to an Air Force fact sheet. A version known as the C-130J-30 can carry as many as 92.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade was part of the 87th Infantry Division in World War I, and saw some action in World War II when its headquarters company as designated the 87th Reconnaissance Troop. In 1963, it was activated, and eventually saw action in Vietnam before being inactivated. In 2000, it was reactivated, and has remained part of the active Army as a quick-reaction force based in Italy. The 173rd has generations of experience under its belt; let’s watch them put that experience to the test.
Take a look at the video below to see a first-person perspective of a parachute jump.