Military movies contain inspiring moments, important messages, and hilarious insults lobbed between troops. Filled with wit, wisdom, and profanity, here are 13 of our favorites.
“Have you ever been mistaken for a man?”
“No, have you?”
2. Good Morning Vietnam
“You are in more dire need of a bl–job than any white man in history.”
3. A Few Good Men
“You see, Danny, I can deal with the bullets, and the bombs, and the blood. I don’t want money, and I don’t want medals. What I do want is for you to stand there in that f-ggoty white uniform and with your Harvard mouth extend me some f-cking courtesy. You gotta ask me nicely.”
4. Enemy at the Gates
Nikita Kruschev while speaking to a commander who has stopped attacking: “I don’t care if you’ve lost half your men. Lose the other half, or lose yourself!”
5. The Dirty Dozen
“I owe you an apology, colonel. I always thought that you were a cold, unimaginative, tight-lipped officer. But you’re really quite emotional, aren’t you?”
6. A Bridge Too Far
“I’ve selected you to lead us, not only because of your extraordinary fighting ability, but also because, in the unlikely event the Germans ever get you, they will assume from your attire that they’ve captured a wretched peasant and immediately send you on your way.”
7. Heartbreak Ridge
“The Marines are looking for a few good men. Unfortunately, you ain’t it.”
Pfc. Bernstein while discussing disliked officers: “When you salute them two, you have to apologize to your arm.”
9. The Caine Mutiny
“If you want to do anything about, I’ll be outside. I’m a lot drunker than you are, so it’ll be a fair fight.”
10. Saving Private Ryan
“You wouldn’t shoot that Kraut son of a b-tch, now you’re gonna shoot me?”
“He was better than you.”
“What makes this woman think she can speak among men?”
“Because only Spartan women give birth to real men.”
12. Full Metal Jacket
Obviously, this whole list could be Gunny Hartman quotes, but we just picked a couple of favorites to include.
“Who the f-ck said that? Who’s the slimy, little, communist sh-t, twinkle-toed c–ksucker down here who just signed his own death warrant? Nobody, huh? The fairy f–king godmother said it? Out-f–king-standing!” (0:22 in the video above)
“It looks to me like the best part of you ran down the crack of your momma’s ass and ended up as a brown stain on the mattress!” (2:24 in the video).
“I bet you could suck a golf ball through a garden hose!” (3:14)
The US Army is finally set to phase out one of the most consistent images of modern American military power: the Humvee.
Earlier this year, the US Army announced the three finalists for the massive contract to replace the iconic Humvee, which has been in service for almost three decades.
Oshkosh Corporation, defense contractor Lockheed Martin, and Humvee-maker AM General each delivered 22 prototypes of their Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLVT) to military evaluators, who are running elaborate tests on the vehicles to determine the best fit.
Since the 1990s, AM General’s Humvee has been the US military’s workhorse, first seeing action in the Gulf War.
Despite its ubiquity, the Humvee has caused some serious headaches for American forces. As Wired notes, the Humvee was designed in the 1980s as an off-road carrier to transport troops and equipment quickly across Eastern Europe in a theoretical ground war against the then Soviet Union.
But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Humvee’s mission changed. It was deployed to the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where US commanders quickly discovered that it was dangerously under equipped to protect troops against close-combat urban fire and improvised explosive devices.
With this problem in mind, the vehicles in this summer’s competition are all far more resistant to explosive blasts. The new vehicles are smaller, so they can be more easily airlifted and transported. They’re also light and better equipped to deal with the urban and off-road patrol duties that the Humvee took on in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The winning payout for the contract will be huge. As the Dallas Morning News reports, the US Army plans to spend billions on at least 20,000 vehicles, and the Marine Corps will likely buy around 5,000. If the vehicle is more successful, it could be an even greater windfall — since the ’80s, the AM General has produced 250,000 Humvees for the US military.
Here are the three vehicles that could replace the Humvee:
Oshkosh’s entry into the competition is the Light Combat Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle.
The company has one advantage. After the Army realized in the early 2000s that the Humvee left troops vulnerable to blasts, the Pentagon ordered thousands of Oshkosh’s Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the name suggests, Oshkosh’s MRAP was much better suited to transport troops through these environments. Wired notes that the MRAP was so successful at sustaining blasts that some troops reportedly didn’t realize when they ran over bombs.
Oshkosh’s entry in the JLTV contest attempts to expand upon the MRAP’s success. The L-ATV is a lighter, smaller vehicle than the MRAP and can be more quickly and easily airlifted. This makes the vehicle preferable to the MRAP, which is large and can’t be deployed to areas where it needs to maneuver in crowded spaces.
Oshkosh believes that since the company demonstrated its proficiency with the MRAP, the JLTV is a natural transition.
“The Oshkosh M-ATV is the only vehicle performing the JLTV mission profile in operations today,” Oshkosh Vice President of Business Development Jennifer Christiansen told Business Insider in an email.
“This is where Oshkosh is truly unique because no other company has successfully transitioned more new military vehicle programs into production for the US Department of Defense,” Christiansen said.
The vehicle also has some unique features. If the military wishes to make their vehicles a little greener, Oshkosh threw an optional hybrid-diesel engine into the mix to help increase fuel efficiency.
Lockheed Martin’s JLTV
Designed with anti-guerilla combat in mind, Lockheed is playing on somewhat unfamiliar ground in the ground fight. Oshkosh and AM General both have troop carriers in use by the US military, while Lockheed is still more widely known for its high-tech aircraft and missile systems.
Like the other competitors, Lockheed aimed to make its slightly boxier vehicle lighter and tested it for blast-resistance.
“It can take a soldier everywhere, but can survive everything that they could survive in an MRAP,” Trevor McWilliams, a former soldier whose truck was hit with an IED, said in a Lockheed promotional video.
Lockheed is also hoping that the vehicle’s price tag will persuade the military to adopt its proposal. The defense contractor’s website touts the vehicle’s gas mileage, low production cost, and easy adaptability in case mechanics want to add on or upgrade the car in the shop.
“We are providing the most capable vehicle to our soldiers and our Marines, and we’re going to do it a very affordable cost,” Lockheed Martin program director Katheryn Hasse told Army Recognition in 2014.
AM General’s BRV-O
Though the Humvee itself may be on the way out, the lessons it learned have been passed on to AM General’s 21st century version.
This time around, AM General has built the Humvee’s largest weakness into the vehicle’s name: the Blast-Resistant Vehicle Off-Road. The company is highlighting the renewed safety of their BRV-O, touting its blast-resistant frame and space for amour add-ons.
“The Humvee was not designed for underbody protection, so the BRV-O has a higher ground clearance and is able to apply a protection kit to the bottom of the vehicle,” AM General Vice President of Business Development Chris Vanslanger told CNN in 2012.
According to AM General, the BRV-O is also the only vehicle equipped with a system that allows all passengers to connect to the military’s C4ISR network, which helps troops, aircraft, and commanders link up and coordinate movements on the battlefield.
Booby traps are terrifying weapons of choice for the troops who want to seriously wound their enemies without having to spend precious time waiting for them to show up.
Placed at specific areas on the battlefield where the opposition is most likely to travel, these easily assembled devices have the ability to take troops right out of the fight or cause a painful delayed death.
Staff Sgt. Ray C. Hunt was a mechanic in the Army Air Corps when the Japanese surprise attack across the Pacific on Dec. 7, 1941, dragged him into World War II.
He was soon captured, escaped the Bataan Death March that killed thousands, and then led guerrilla forces against the Japanese for the rest of the war.
Hunt is one of history’s true reluctant heroes. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1939 partially to avoid duty in the infantry if the war in Europe eventually swept up the United States. He rose to the rank of staff sergeant as a mechanic and was an expert in the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter.
When the Japanese attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, Hunt’s base in the Philippines was hit just a few hours later. Because Hunt was west of the International Date Line, his base experienced the attack in the early hours of December 8.
The mechanic and other members of his unit were in the field sleeping in foxholes when the attack began, but still suffered losses as bombs and rounds from aircraft pelted their positions. For troops in the Philippines, that wasn’t the end of the attack. The Imperial Japanese followed up air attacks with amphibious landings and invasion.
America defaulted to its old War Plan Orange in the Philippines which called for a fierce defense of Bataan Peninsula. Hunt and others created a hidden airfield in the jungle and recovered their planes which flew missions against Japan. But the defense was doomed from the start by a lack of true combat troops and the decision not to reinforce the defenders.
Prisoners on the march from Bataan to the prison camp. Very few who took part in the march survived the war. (U.S. National Archives)
In the jungle, Hunt recruited a small group of fighters and began operating under Lt. Robert Lapham, another American turned Filipino guerrilla leader. As the war ground on, the resistance in the Philippines spent most of its time gathering intelligence and moving constantly, though they did launch harassing attacks when possible.
Hunt was promoted to captain by the guerrillas and given command of a large group of fighters which eventually grew to 3,400. Their finest hour came in the five days before the American invasion of Luzon when they launched a massive campaign to prepare the island for American landings in what was called “Operations Plan 12.” The guerrillas received their orders on Jan. 4, 1945.
The American relayed the order to begin operations to the other company commanders and then took his men on an assault against a Japanese encampment. While the overzealous guerrillas launched such a slapdash attack that Hunt called it a “Marx Brothers battle,” it managed to cause extensive damage and kill some of the Japanese defenders.
The best part for the guerrillas was that when the Japanese troops found their bullet casings dated 1942 and 1943, they assumed that they had been attacked by paratroopers and so began to focus on the possibility of constant attacks, degrading their morale and readiness.
Hunt and his men spent the following days collecting intelligence and harassing the Japanese as they withdrew to defensive positions. When the invasion came on Jan. 9, they were ordered to stay in their position. This put them in the perfect place to attack Japanese forces falling back east from the main American attackers in the west.
Hunt’s men would later be credited with 3,000 kills in those crucial five days preceding the invasion.
The American leadership accepted Hunt’s promotion to captain and ordered him to rejoin American forces. He went on horseback with 15 of his fighters to the headquarters and briefed other officers on the disposition of guerrilla and Japanese forces, often accidentally speaking in Filipino dialects because he was no longer used to speaking English.
Hunt voluntarily remained in the Philippines for a few more months to support the American invasion and was personally pinned with a Distinguished Service Cross by Gen. Douglas MacArthur who thanked Hunt and others for remaining in the Philippines and serving American interests for three years.
Several American servicemen have been killed and injured June 10 after coming under fire in a ‘green-on-blue’ attack in eastern Afghanistan, the Pentagon has announced.
“Three US soldiers were killed in eastern Afghanistan today,” the Pentagon said in a statement, adding, that another serviceman was wounded and is now receiving medical treatment.
The three serviceman were identified as Sgt. Eric M. Houck, 25, of Baltimore, Maryland; Sgt. William M. Bays, 29 of Barstow, California; and Corporal Dillon C. Baldridge, 22 of Youngsville, North Carolina. The soldiers were assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Company D, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, KY.
Earlier on June 10, Attahullah Khogyani, a provincial spokesman in Nangarhar province, said that two other soldiers were also injured in the attack, which was carried out by an Afghan soldier in the Achin district, where US and Afghan forces are carrying out joint operations against Taliban and Islamic State militants.
“Today at around noon an Afghan commando opened fire on US troops in Achin district, killing two American soldiers. The soldier was also killed in the return fire,” Khogyani told AFP.
A Taliban spokesman claimed the shooter was a part of the militant group and had killed four Americans and injured several more, but this has yet to be confirmed by government sources. The Achin district in eastern Nangarhar province, where the attack took place, is also thought to be a stronghold of IS.
“The cause of the shooting is not clear. An investigation has already begun,” Khogyani said, according to Reuters.
This type of incident, known as a ‘green-on-blue’ attack, is not uncommon in Afghanistan. In March, three American soldiers were wounded by an Afghan soldier at a base in Helmand province.
Members of the Afghan security forces, including the army and police, are often undisciplined, corrupt and/or have conflicting loyalties, which leaves these institutions vulnerable to infiltration by the Taliban and other militant groups. In the past, the Afghan government has been heavily criticized for its poor vetting process to weed out unsuitable or dangerous candidates.
The attack comes soon after a case of friendly fire against Afghan forces. On June 10, Afghan officials also confirmed that three policemen had been killed and two others wounded when a US aircraft opened fire during an operation in Helmand Province.
“We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families of the ABP [ Afghan Border Police] members affected by this unfortunate incident,” read a statement from the US military, as quoted by Reuters.
Afghan and American officials are investigating the incident.
It’s actually amazing the Galactic Empire managed to control as much of the galaxy as they did. Logistically, they had the funds and the manpower of a giant imperial power but there were serious issues with the Imperial Defense Contractors.
Frankly, the Empire seemed to buy anything and everything.
Like the United States and Russia during the Cold War, the Galactic Empire obviously bought technology and weapon designs with little consideration for anything other than their ongoing effort to have the latest and greatest.
Some are just cumbersome and inefficient, like a moon-sized space station. Others were egregiously flawed from the start, reckless enough to be considered treasonous.
1. The Emperor’s Royal Guards’ Armor
With what armor do you equip the guys who guard the most powerful person in the universe? Bright red robes, of course. Then give them a giant, long, plastic helmet which restricts their neck movement and you’ve got a winner.
It’s a good thing the Emperor moves like a senior citizen walking out of a Golden Corral, because his Royal Guardsmen only have a six inch slit in those helmets for what looks like a 60-degree range of vision. But that hardly matters anyway, because even if they had to defend the Emperor for any reason, they’ve been issued what looks like pikes to fight with in a world full of lightsabers and blaster rifles. Their unit patches should probably just say “cannon fodder.”
2. TIE Fighters
When you need a fleet of superfast fighter spacecraft to defend your giant, lumbering Star Destroyers and planet-sized space stations, what better way to pump out a bunch of placeholders than the TIE Fighter, the galaxy’s most elite floating targets?
With only two chin-mounted cannons, dual ion engines, these pilots are expected to tackle fleets of superior X-Wing and A-Wing fighters head to head, with the only strategy employed in their use being the Empire’s ability to throw an overwhelming number of them at any given time. Also, there is not pilot ejection system.
On top of all that, they come fully equipped with a set of giant walls acting as blinders on either side of the craft, effectively restricting the pilot’s vision of roughly half of the battlespace.
This is another example of the Empire favoring numbers over combat ability. The Empire’s signature shock troops, the average Stormtrooper hasn’t successfully killed anything since the Clone Wars ended.
The only exception was the Snowtroopers at the Battle of Hoth but lets be honest – the Rebel Alliance depended completely on ONE giant ion cannon to protect the entire planet from an invasion.
You might defend the stormtroopers by blaming their rifles but that’s all the more reason to execute whomever procured the rifles and/or negotiated the clone trooper deal. The blasters would be a lot more effective if they didn’t come permanently set to “miss.”
Finally, the white PVC armor does nothing for them either. Why bother wearing bright white armor if it does nothing to protect you from the flaming death bolts the other side is shooting your way. Han Solo does just fine in combat and he’s wearing a vest.
4. AT-ST Walkers
The All Terrain Scout Transport, the two-legged version of The Empire Strikes Back’s famous four-legged snow invaders, are supposed to be an environment-adaptable version of the same. Except whomever convinced the Empire to deploy them on Endor didn’t tell the Imperial Army about the height of the trees being taller than that of the walkers. It doesn’t take a protocol droid to know how to bust into one of those from the treetops.
And if the AT-ST was the right tool for the job on Endor, it would have been able to navigate a series of rolling logs, the armor shouldn’t have crushed like an empty beer can between two trees, and the Empire wouldn’t have been beaten by an army of Care Bears.
5. Speeder Bikes for a Giant Forest World
While we’re on the Battle of Endor, who put it in the Empire’s mind that the ideal ground transport for scouts was a hyper-fast moving, one person bike in a world full of giant primeval trees? These bikes are begging to be wrecked left and right.
The Ewoks could have just set up random strings of rope all over the forest and taken out half these Imperial Scouts. Speeder Bikes on Endor are a safety brief waiting to happen. Even in Return of the Jedi, no one who drives a Speeder Bike ever lands one, they all just wreck or are punted off in some way.
6. Death Star Exhaust/Ventilation Systems
It’s actually difficult to blame an engineer for putting a thermal exhaust port on a giant, roving space station. The thing’s gotta have a tailpipe. Should it have led directly to the Death Star’s reactor core? Why isn’t there a few twists and turns leading up to the core? T
hey should have installed a few vents, maybe a more complex system would have worked better. Still, at only two meters, it’s hard for any engineer to predict the effects of what is essentially magic on the trajectory of a proton torpedo.
Who we can blame are the engineers who designed the second Death Star’s reactor core. Despite the lessons learned from the destruction of the first Death Star at the Battle of Yavin, the new team of engineers not only kept the big gaping hole design flaw, they made it so big it could fit the Millennium Falcon, two X-Wings, an A-Wing, and a few TIE fighters.
They didn’t need magic torpedoes the second time, the Rebels just flew right up to the reactor core and blew it to smithereens.
Update: The Star Wars film “Rogue One” covered #6 on the list. The design flaw was a purposeful attempt to give the rebels a chance against the space station.
The author stands by his assertion that the second Death Star didn’t need a hole leading directly to its core.
With a multitude of potential threats radiating over the border from North Korea, South Korea cannot be lax when it comes to security.
As such, Seoul places a premium on the training and capabilities of its military and police forces. This is clearly illustrated through the paramilitary capabilities of the South Korean National Police (KNP) SWAT teams.
A 2014 video from LiveLeak shows the incredible training in small-arms maneuvers that these SWAT members go through.
The KNP is responsible for most security operations within the country, including counterterrorism measures, riot control, and hostage negotiations. The KNP also, on occasion, carries out joint exercises with the Korean Coast Guard and Army.
The highlights of the KNP training video are in the following GIFs:
A trainee practices strafing while alternating fire between a pistol and a submachine gun.
Trainees practice disarming, and counter-disarming, techniques.
Two prospective SWAT members work in a pair, coordinating movement and cover fire.
A trainee practices a faux surrender.
SWAT team members must be ready to respond to all manner of threats, including the sudden appearance of a combatant from behind.
Here, a trainee practices handling the recoil from a shotgun, before transitioning to his pistol
In possible crowd situations, accuracy is of critical importance, and marksmanship is given plenty of practice.
While in the field, SWAT members must be ready to continue an operation even after a potential injury. Here, a trainee is practicing shooting and reloading with one hand.
Of course, being able to function while distracted and under stress is one of the most important factors for success in the KNP. Here, instructors attempt to distract a trainee during an accuracy drill
The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:
The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team performs during halftime at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., Dec. 14, 2016. The routine was part of the Washington Wizards’ Air Force night, where the team took on the Charlotte Hornets.
A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor passes over the Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., flightline during a morning training mission Dec. 14, 2016. Six Air Force installations contributed air and ground support assets to the 2016 Checkered Flag 17-1 and Combat Archer 17-3 large scale aerial total force integration exercise.
1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division Soldiers carry a simulated casualty to the casualty collection point during a training rotation at the National Training Center/Fort Irwin.
A U.S. Soldier with Scout Platoon 2D Battalion (Airborne) 503D Infantry “The Rock” repels down a steep ravine during a German Mountain Warfare Training in Seinsbach Gorge, Mittenwald, Germany, Dec. 8, 2016.
YOKOSUKA, Japan (Dec. 20, 2016) Sailors assigned to the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), deliver gifts to Shakai Fukushi Kotobuki childcare center during a community relations project. Twenty-five Ronald Reagan Sailors and multiple Sailors’ family members travelled to the center in Yokohama to interact with the children and celebrate the holiday season. Ronald Reagan, the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Dec. 19, 2016) An AV-8B Harrier from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (22nd MEU) launches off the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). Wasp is deployed as part of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group, which is offloading the 22nd MEU after completing a six-month deployment to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operations.
GULF OF ADEN (Dec. 17, 2016) U.S. Marines assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Maritime Raid Force, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (11th MEU), position their rigid-hull inflatable boat to conduct a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) mission as part of Exercise Alligator Dagger, Dec. 17. The unilateral exercise provides an opportunity for the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and 11th MEU to train in amphibious operations within the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. The 11th MEU is currently supporting U.S. 5th Fleet’s mission to promote and maintain stability and security in the region.
Infantry squad leaders assigned to School of Infantry West, Detachment Hawaii, provide security during the Advanced Infantry Course aboard Kahuku Training Area, September 21, 2016.
The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Alder clears ice from the deck of the cutter as the ship transits through Lake Superior Dec. 14, 2016. The Alder and other Great Lakes Coast Guard cutters commenced Operation Taconite, the Coast Guard’s largest domestic ice-breaking operation, encompassing Lake Superior, the St. Mary’s River, the Straits of Mackinac and Lake Michigan, Dec. 19, 2016.
Capt. Malcolm McLellan, deputy commander of Sector Houston-Galveston, presides over the swearing in of new Coast Guard recruits during the halftime event at the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, Dec. 23, 2016. The Navy Midshipmen played the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl at the Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Let’s face it, the military has a lot of rules and regulations that they expect everyone to follow to the letter. For the most part, service members abide by the guidelines their commands set for them, though there are some that push the boundaries any chance they get.
Even the most squared away troop has violated a military statute at one time or another because many of them are bull sh*t less important to the mission than others.
Check out our list of regulations that service members violate every day.
1. Hands in pockets
As crazy as it sounds, having your hands stuffed inside your warm pockets on a cold day isn’t allowed; it’s the military way — but we still do it.
A consensual adult relationship between officers and enlisted members totally violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but it’s a lot of fun to brag about after you get out.
Sleeping with someone who isn’t your spouse is just a d*ck move. But just because it’s not cool doesn’t mean it never happens.
4. Wearing white socks
Although they’re more comfortable than wearing black socks with combat boots, don’t let the higher ups see you sporting the out-of-reg look.
Most service members prefer the term “hardcore training” — but for those enduring the tough discipline, it’s seen it as a negative thing.
Robin Olds was not known for obeying the spirit of Air Force regulations. From the start of his military career, he didn’t always do things by the book. He was West Point graduate whose time at the Academy was hastened so he and his class could catch the last half of World War II.
This legendary fighter pilot was actually almost a bomber pilot, told by an instructor he called “Military Bill” that he was too big for a fighter. But he flew bombers like fighters and performed illegal maneuvers whenever possible. Eventually so many reports of his ability came in that “Military Bill” was overruled and Olds was back in a fighter. Even when the Army’s top brass declared that West Pointers were to be squadron commanders only, Olds and a buddy went down to the personnel section of their outfit and asked the old, grey-haired sergeant in charge to send them to England, and it worked.
Olds’ entire career was results-oriented. Everything from planning Operation Bolo in Vietnam to being Commandant of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He turned an underperforming unit around with bold leadership and his distinctive out-of-regs mustache that he open admitted was a “middle finger I couldn’t raise in PR photographs.”
He spoke with authenticity and authority on all things military and aviation, so it makes sense that when Brig. Gen. Terryl Schwalier was a major, writing a paper for the Air Command and Staff College called “The Tactical Flight Commander — Developing Warriors,” he asked then-retired Brig. Gen. Robin Olds for his insights on the role of flight commander. In return, Schwalier received a five-page diagnosis on the institutional problems with the modern Air Force. Olds went on to describe how a commander can find fulfillment and still exemplify leadership, even in the current Air Force climate:
30 Nov 1981
Dear Major Schwalier,
Your question, or better request, is provocative, to say the least. I have thought much since receiving your Oct 21 letter, and the more I consider your topic, the more difficult it becomes to frame a reasonable or even useful response. I’ll try to boil down my thoughts, hoping something useful may distill.
First, let me get some negatives in perspective. In my view, current Air Force philosophy and practice have all but eliminated any meaningful role playable by an officer placed in a so-called position of command. Authority has evaporated, sucked up to the rarified heights of “they,” who are somehow felt to exist in the echelons above. For your information, “they” do not exist. Neither is there any “he” fulfilling that role. Authority is expressed through the medium of committee consensus, leadership has become a watered down adherence to the principles of camp counsellorship, with a 90% emphasis on avoiding any action that may in any way be questioned by any one of hundreds of piss ants on the administrative ladder above. In fact, leadership (and I use that term with contempt) has become a process of looking busy as hell while doing nothing, avoiding personal commitment, and above all, making no decision without prior approval.
Historical example: as a 22 year old Major, commanding a squadron in 1945, I was responsible for and empowered to: pay the troops; feed them; house them; train them; clothe them; promote; demote; reward; punish; maintain their personnel files, etc. When I retired as a BG in 1973, I possessed not one of those authorities or responsibilities. Get the drift?
And you ask the importance of a flight commander. I am tempted to say NONE. But that is not true, for in spite of the system, in spite of the executive and administrative castration, a man instinctively looks to a system of military authority in a military situation or system. If that authority is waffled or watered, he still looks to those appointed to the military echelons to do their best under the circumstances. A man (a nation for that matter) wants, demands, leadership. So today’s flight leader/commander leads and commands by example, by appeal to basic instinct, and by light footed avoidance of error, like walking a tightrope. He has responsibility, for sure. But he does not have authority, or freedom of discretion/interpretation. Unfortunately, in some units he really isn’t given much voice. Yet he functions, and if he is successful (perhaps a better word is “effective”) it is greatly to his credit for having done so under the prevailing circumstances.
Another thought. All else to the contrary, two basic demands are faced by the Flight Commander. One is PEACE, the other is WAR. It has been my experience, in the fighter business I hasten to add, that the man who may excel under the one is not necessarily worth a damn under the other. Many examples come to mind. I do not (and did not) condemn one man or the other, rather I accepted the challenge of recognizing the difference and choosing accordingly.
I hope some of this makes sense.
P.S. For your information, there is no such thing as HQ, USAF. The highest echelon is a faceless entity, composed of thousands of diverse individuals loosely arranged by a system of interlocking committees and headed by an individual technically labeled the “Chief of Staff.” Note he is not called the Commander. By law, he cannot be. By nature he is forced to be the consummate bureaucrat, fighting for the all mighty dollar, serving as a buffer between Sec Def / Congress and the people and mission of his service – a demanding, demeaning role playable by very few.
This letter was first released on the John Q. Public blog, whose author is a former USAF officer. He noted that Olds retired in 1973 and the letter was written in 1981. He acknowledged that much of what Olds was talking about was cleared away by the time Operation Desert Storm rolled around. But protracted war in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world has caused much of the recurring problems of “Top heaviness, micromanagement, loss of combat focus, misprioritization” to return to the Air Force. This is the age where USAF leadership testifies to Congress about morale being “pretty darn good,” while the Air Force suffers from a crushing ops tempo and mistrust of leadership (note the occasion in 2011 where the USAF invited officers to apply for voluntary separation, revoked the offer, then gave them the boot anyway… or the occasion in 2014 where the same thing happened).
It’s nice to know it wasn’t always this way… and that it can be fixed.