The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MOVIES

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

Recently, we delved into the 5 best military movies of the 1990s, so it only seemed right that we give the 1980’s the same treatment, especially now that most of us are stuck in our houses without much else to do than take a trip down cinema’s memory lane.

Whenever you’re compiling a list of movies like this, it’s inevitable that you’ll miss some really good picks. In a decade like the 1980s, when there was a laundry list of great films depicting military service or a time of war, the chances that you’ll miss a doozy becomes that much more significant. After all, how do you choose between Clint Eastwood’s “Heartbreak Ridge,” and Robin Williams’ “Good Morning Vietnam?” Easy, I didn’t include either — and I’m sure that’ll ruffle some feathers.


That’s what’s so great about film and analyzing its value or impact. A movie that means the world to you may not have had any impact at all on the next guy. It’s value to you isn’t diminished by his opinion and it doesn’t have to be. Everybody can have their own favorites.

So with the understanding that this list won’t be exhaustive and will probably make some folks mad — here’s my list of the best military movies of the 1980s.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

(Tristar Pictures)

Iron Eagle

Right out of the gate, including this movie on the list requires a disclaimer: In order to be a good military movie, you don’t need to be realistic. “Iron Eagle” is a lot of things, but realistic isn’t one of them.

For those who haven’t seen it, “Iron Eagle” is the story of a young man named Doug Masters who aspires to be a pilot like his father, U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Col. Ted Masters. When Col. Masters is shot down over the fictional Arab nation of Bilya, Doug enlists the help of another fighter pilot, Colonel “Chappy” Sinclair. The two hatch a scheme to steal two F-16 Fighting Falcons and somehow fly them all the way to the Middle East, take on an entire Air Force, land on an enemy airstrip, and fly Doug’s dad home.

This movie is about as realistic as my chances of being elected president in 2020, but that doesn’t matter. This silly romp is a blast to watch, especially if you enjoy ironically watching ridiculous movies.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

(MGM)

Red Dawn

While it maybe a bit slow paced compared to high budget action movies of today, “Red Dawn” earns its spot on this list thanks to solid acting from its young cast (some of whom went on to successful careers in Hollywood) and its semi-serious approach to depicting an America that’s not only at war… but losing it.

“Red Dawn” can certainly be categorized as pro-American propaganda, but if you ask me, that just makes it all the more fun. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia remains one of America’s primary diplomatic opponents on the world’s stage, making it that much easier to revel in the Wolverine’s efforts to take back their town from the combined Cuban and Soviet occupational forces.

If you can watch this movie and not scream “Wolverines” at the top of your lungs, you’re a better movie-goer than I am.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

(20th Century Fox)

Predator

What do you get when you take two future governors, a Hollywood script writer, and Apollo Creed and stick them in the jungle with a bunch of guns? You get what is perhaps the greatest piece of action satire of all time.

You might be surprised to hear me refer to “Predator” as a satire film, but when you take a step back and really look at the framework of this movie, you’ll realize that it is a pretty clever deconstruction of the big-budget action movies of the 80’s. It’s got all the same ingredients of an 80’s thrill ride, but delivered in a way that takes the wind right out our action hero’s sails. After using traditional action movie tactics to easily wipe out a village of bad guys, Dutch’s vaguely special operations crew are then faced with a far worthier opponent: a monster that doesn’t yield to the tropes of action movie heroes.

What follows is a rapid transition from action movie to slasher flick, and a movie that doesn’t just hold up over time, but offers an insightful critique of movie culture in general.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

(Paramount Pictures)

Top Gun

While “Top Gun” may take the number two spot on this list, it’s ranked number one in terms of recruiting. “Top Gun” offered many Americans their first glimpse into the world of Naval aviation, and in particular, the Navy’s very real Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program.

With a long awaited sequel slated to drop later this year, Top Gun’s appeal clearly stands the test of time, even if Maverick is admittedly a pretty bad pilot that has no place in the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat. This movie led to a boon in Navy recruiting, with some recruiters setting up tables right outside cinema doors to engage with excited young aspiring pilots while their blood pressure was still high.

Once again, “Top Gun” proved that you don’t have to be realistic to be great. Here’s hoping the new one can do the same.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

(20th Century Fox)

Aliens

After the massive hit that was “Alien,” the much anticipated sequel somehow managed to add a platoon of Space Marines and still retain the chilling vibe the “Alien” universe is known for. Now, this movie may not take place in a fictional Arab nation or involve existing military branches, but who doesn’t love a story about Space Marines fighting alien monsters?

This movie might be the least “military” of the lot, but it’s also the most fun to re-watch again and again, which earns it a whole lot of extra credit in my book. For Marines like me, we may not want to associate with the cowardly yelps of Bill Paxton’s Pvt. Hudson, but let’s all be honest with ourselves… a few yelps are warranted when you’re being hunted by a slimy space monster with acid for blood.

That does it for my list of the best military movies of the 1980s, so the question is: what’s on your list?

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY GAMING

The Navy will recruit drone pilots using video games

Can a video game help the U.S. Navy find future operators for its remotely operated, unmanned vehicles (UxV), popularly called drones?

To find out, the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute and Adaptive Immersion Technologies, a software company, are developing a computer game to identify individuals with the right skills to be UxV operators. The project, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), is called StealthAdapt.


“The Navy currently doesn’t have a test like this to predict who might excel as UxV operators,” said Lt. Cmdr. Peter Walker, a program officer in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department. “This fast-paced, realistic computer simulation of UxV missions could be an effective recruitment tool.”

Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, UxV have played ever-larger roles in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and other missions. Consequently, there’s an increasing need for well-trained UxV operators.

In recent years, the Air Force established its own formal screening process for remotely piloted aircraft operators, and the Marine Corps designated an unmanned aviation systems (UAS) career path for its ranks.

The Navy, however, doesn’t have an official selection and training pipeline specifically for its UxV operators, who face challenges unique to the service. For UAS duty, the Navy has taken aviators who already earned their wings; provided on-the-job, UAS-specific training; and placed them in temporary positions.

However, this presents challenges. It’s costly and time-consuming to add more training hours, and it takes aviators away from their manned aircraft duties. Finally, the cognitive skills needed for successful manned aviation can vary from those needed for unmanned operators.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home
A MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle prepares to land after a mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The Reaper has the ability to carry both precision-guided bombs and air-to-ground missiles.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

StealthAdapt is designed to address this issue. It consists of a cognitive test, personality assessment, and biographical history assessment. The cognitive exam actually is the game-based component of the system and takes the form of a search-and-rescue mission. Each player’s assignment is to rescue as many stranded friendly forces as possible, within a pre-set time limit, while avoiding fire from hostile forces.

If that’s not stressful enough, players must simultaneously monitor chat-based communications, make sure they have enough fuel and battery power to complete missions, memorize and enter authentication codes required for safe rescue of friendlies, decode encrypted information, and maintain situational awareness.

“We’re trying to see how well players respond under pressure, which is critical for success as an unmanned operator,” said Dr. Phillip Mangos, president and chief scientist at Adaptive Immersion Technologies. “We’re looking for attention to detail, the ability to multitask and prioritize, and a talent for strategic planning — thinking 10 moves ahead of your adversary.”

To maintain this pressure, players complete multiple 5- to 10-minute missions in an hour. Each scenario changes, with different weather, terrain, number of friendlies and hostiles, and potential communication breakdowns.

After finishing the game portion, participants answer questions focusing on personality and biographical history. Mangos’ team then crunches this data with game-performance metrics to create a comprehensive operator evaluation.

In 2017, over 400 civilian and military volunteers participated as StealthAdapt research subjects at various Navy and Air Force training centers. Mangos and his research team currently are reviewing the results and designing an updated system for validation by prospective Navy and Air Force unmanned operators. It will be ready for fleet implementation in 2018

Mangos envisions StealthAdapt serving as a stand-alone testing and recruitment tool, or as part of a larger screening process such as the Selection for UAS Personnel, also known as SUPer. SUPer is an ONR-sponsored series of specialized tests that assesses cognitive abilities and personality traits of aspiring UxV operators.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US Navy finds smoking gun that points to Iran in latest tanker attack

The US is accusing Iran of carrying out attacks on two tankers just outside the Strait of Hormuz, a critical waterway through which more than 30% of the world’s seaborne crude oil passes, and the US Navy has reportedly discovered an unexploded mine that may very well be evidence of Iran’s culpability in June 13, 2019’s attacks.

The USS Bainbridge, a US warship deployed to the Middle East, spotted a limpet mine on the side of one of the two tankers hit on June 13, 2019, CNN reported, citing a US defense official. Another defense official confirmed the discovery to Fox News, telling reporters that “it’s highly likely Iran is responsible.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said June 13, 2019, that Iran was responsible for the attacks, an announcment that briefly spiked US West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures up to $52.88 per barrel, or 3.4% from the day’s start.


He did not provide specific evidence for the accusations but said US conclusions were “based on the level of expertise for the execution, and recent attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”

The limpet mine spotted by the US Navy was reportedly discovered on the Kokuka Courageous, one of two tankers targeted. Twenty-one sailors rescued from the damaged ship are aboard the USS Bainbridge, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer that was operating nearby and called in to assist.

A limpet mine is an explosive with a detonator that can be attached to the hull of a ship using magnets, and Iranian forces are believed to have used these weapons in an attack on four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in May. While the US has blamed Iran for the attacks, Tehran, Iran’s capital, has repeatedly denied any involvement.

The UAE determined an unnamed “state actor” was behind the tanker attacks and concluded “it was highly likely that limpet mines were deployed.”

There has been some debate about who was behind the latest attacks, with one official telling ABC News that “we’re not pointing to Iran, but we’re not ruling anything out at this time.” Another official asked the media outlet, “Who else could it be?”

U.S. Blames Iran for Tanker Attacks in Gulf of Oman

www.youtube.com

Iran used mines heavily during the Tanker Wars in the late 1980s.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who may have been briefed on the situation, was quick to pin the blame on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, telling reporters: “I saw some press accounts today sort of saying it’s not clear who did it. Well, it wasn’t the Belgians. It wasn’t the Swiss. I mean, it was them. They’re the ones that did it. We’ve been warning about it.”

In early May 2019, the US began deploying military assets to the Middle East as a deterrence force in response to intelligence indicating that Iran was planning attacks on US interests. The US has so far sent a carrier strike group, a bomber task force, a missile-defense battery, and a number of other capabilities into the US Central Command area of responsibility.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Navy-trained dolphins could be roaming the seas with toxic dart guns

They may not be sharks with freaking laser beams attached to their heads, but they might be just as bad when roaming freely around the oceans. The U.S. Navy’s cetacean training program should come as no surprise to any naval warfare enthusiast. The Navy has been training sea animals to detect mines for decades.

What might surprise people is that some of those animals escaped in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and could be roaming the oceans as you read this.


The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

“… and thanks for all the fish.”

(U.S. Navy photo by Brian Aho)

The Navy trains animals like the California Sea Lion and Bottlenose dolphins to retrieve lost equipment and patrol certain seaways for individual swimmers who might be infiltrating military bases via the water. Dolphins are particularly useful due to their high intelligence and built-in sonar that allows them to detect people and objects they might not ever see. In the Global War on Terror, the Navy reportedly began training dolphins to shoot potential terrorists targeting Navy ships.

But a special investigator claimed that after Hurricane Katrina, a few of these deadly dolphin guards escaped, and the Navy has been looking for them ever since. He cites reports that the Navy had repeatedly assisted other groups in finding groups of dolphins, many wearing special harnesses, but refusing to release the dolphins to their owners before secretly examining them.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

That investigator, Leo Sheridan, says the Navy’s examinations were an attempt to find out if those dolphins belonged to an oceanarium or to the U.S. Navy.

“My concern is that they have learnt to shoot at divers in wetsuits who have simulated terrorists in exercises. If divers or windsurfers are mistaken for a spy or suicide bomber and if equipped with special harnesses carrying toxic darts, they could fire,” Sheridan told The Guardian. “The darts are designed to put the target to sleep so they can be interrogated later, but what happens if the victim is not found for hours?”

The alleged dolphin assassins were supposedly being held in training ponds near Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain and were controlled through radio signals transmitted to the animal via a special harness. The Navy has never admitted any of its dolphins escaped in the wake of Katrina or anywhere else.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The true history of the Medal of Honor

The nation’s highest medal for valor under enemy fire dates back over 150 years and has been awarded to well over 3,000 men and one woman in honor of heroic acts, including everything from stealing enemy trains to braving machine gun fire to pull comrades to safety.

This is the true history of the Medal of Honor.


The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott was one of Andrew’s Raiders and the first recipient of the Medal of Honor. Most of the other soldiers on the raid were eventually awarded the medal.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The idea of creating a new medal for valor got its legs when Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles suggested to Iowa Senator James Grimes that he author legislation to create such an accolade. The idea was that such an honor would increase morale among the sailors and Marines serving in a navy fractured by a burgeoning civil war. Grimes’s bill was introduced on Dec. 9, 1861, and quickly gained support.

The bill quickly made it through Congress and President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law on December 21. At the time, the president was authorized to award 200 medals to Navy and Marine Corps enlisted personnel. It would be another seven months, July 1862, before Army enlisted personnel were authorized to receive the medal — but another 2,000 medals were authorized at that time.

The first medal to be awarded went to a soldier, Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott, one of Andrews’ Raiders who stole a locomotive in Big Shanty, Georgia, and took the train on a 87-mile raid across Confederate territory in April, 1862. Parrott received the Medal first, but nearly all Army personnel on the raid eventually received it. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton presented the first six.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

The Navy was the first service authorized to present Medals of Honor, but the Army beat them to the punch. Still, hundreds of medals were awarded to deserving sailors for actions taken during the conflict, including this one presented to William Pelham for actions on the USS Hartford in 1864.

(Naval History and Heritage Command)

Although Andrews’ Raiders were among the first to receive the Medal of Honor, they were not the first persons to earn it. Recommendations for the award trickled in for actions taken earlier.

The earliest action that would earn an Army Medal of Honor took place in February, 1861, when assistant Army surgeon Bernard Irwin rescued 60 soldiers from a larger Apache force with only 14 men. The first naval action to earn the medal took place in October, 1862, when sailor John Williams stayed at his position on the USS Commodore Perry when it was under heavy fire while steaming down the Blackwater River and firing on Confederate batteries.

In 1863, the medal was made permanent and the rules were broadened to allow its award to Army officers. Soon after, in 1864, a former slave named Robert Blake became the first Black American to receive the Medal of Honor when he replaced a powder boy who was killed by a Confederate shell, running powder boxes to artillery crews while under fire.

In 1865, the first and only award of the of the Medal of Honor to a woman occurred. Dr. Mary E. Walker had served in the Union Army during the war and requested a commission. President Andrew Johnson refused but ordered that she be awarded a Medal of Honor in recognition of her bravery and service under fire even though she had served as a civilian and was ineligible.

Seven years later, the Civil War had ended but campaigns against Native Americans were being fought in earnest. It was during these Indian Wars that William “Buffalo Bill” Cody also received the medal despite being technically ineligible.

The medals for Walker and Cody were rescinded in 1917 but later reinstated. Walker’s was reinstated in 1977, Cody’s in 1989.

It’s sometimes noted that the Civil War-standard for the Medal of Honor was lower than the standard applied during World Wars I and II and more modern conflicts. The change in requirements began in 1876 after a surge of recommendations poured in following the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Additional recommendations came from the Legion of Honor, a group led by Medal of Honor recipients that would later become the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. In 1897, President William McKinley adopted new, higher standards that would later be applied during World War I.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

Air Force Capt. Jay Zeamer received a Medal of Honor of the Gillespie design featuring a blue ribbon with 13 stars, the word valor, and a wreath of laurels.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

While Civil War and Indian Wars-era Medals of Honor featured designs that incorporated a red, white, and blue ribbon and multiple clasps, in 1904, Medal of Honor recipient and Gen. George Gillespie introduced a new design with a blue ribbon carrying 13 stars. It also added a laurel wreath around the iconic star, added the word “VALOR” to the medal, and made a number of other, smaller design changes.

All Medal of Honor designs approved after 1904 are an evolution of this design.

In 1915, the Navy broadened its rules for the medal so that naval officers, like their Army counterparts, were eligible. In 1918, additional rules for the Army Medal of Honor required that the valorous action take place in conflict with an enemy, that the recommended awardee be a person serving in the Army, and that the medal be presented within three years of the valorous act.

Another change during World War I was that the Medal of Honor was officially placed as the highest medal for valor. While it had always been one of the top awards, it was previously uncertain if the Medal of Honor always outranked service crosses, distinguished service medals, and the Silver Star. In July 1918, the relative tiers of each medal were established, officially putting the Medal of Honor on top.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

U.S. Coast Guardsman Douglas Munro and his compatriots work to protect U.S. Marines on the beaches of Guadalcanal during a withdrawal under fire from Japanese soldiers.

(U.S. Coast Guard)

The other military services would later adopt similar restrictions.

The only award of the Medal of Honor to a Coast Guardsman took place during World War II after Signalman First Class Douglas Munro braved Japanese machine gun fire to rescue Marines and sailors during the Battle of Guadalcanal. He was shot in the head during the engagement and died soon after returning to U.S. lines.

Because no Coast Guard version of the medal had ever been designed, Munro’s family was presented the Navy version. A 1963 law allowed for a Coast Guard design but no design has been approved and no medals of such a design have ever been made.

The Air Force made its own design for the medal in 1956 and it was officially adopted in 1965. Prior to that, airmen received the Army award.

Today, there are three approved versions of the Medal of Honor, one for each the Army, the Air Force, and the naval services.

To date, the medal has been presented to nearly 3,500 people.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why this Russian helicopter is often the top ranked in the world

Best attack helicopter in the world? America built the first dedicated attack helicopter, the AH-1, and variants of it are still flying. So maybe that one? Or perhaps the MH-47s from Vietnam, highly modified cargo helicopters loaded with guns? Or America’s premiere, the AH-64 Apache, which can be equipped with air-to-air missiles? They’re all great, but there’s a surprisingly strong case for Russia’s Ka-52.


The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

The navalized Ka-52K has folding rotor blades and can carry an anti-ship missile capable of taking out tanker ships.

(Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Ka-52, in a nutshell, is an attack helicopter with a top speed of 196 mph, an 18,000-foot ceiling, and a 683-mile range. It can carry a few kinds of anti-tank missiles, an anti-aircraft missile, 80mm unguided rockets, and a 30mm main gun. It can also carry a dedicated anti-ship missile, the Kh-35 in its Uran configuration.

And a few of those stats make the Ka-52 seem way better than the Apache or other attack helicopters on paper. For one, the Ka-52’s anti-tank missiles can penetrate slightly deeper than the Apache’s Hellfire missile. Missiles are generally measured these days by how much armor they can pierce after getting past the explosive armor on an enemy tank.

The Hellfire can pierce a reported 800mm of armor by that measurement. But the Ka-52’s ATAKA can tear through 950mm, and the Vikhr can pierce 1,000mm of armor. But the Ka-52’s engines and wing mounts are limited, and so it can carry only 12 missiles against the Apache’s 16.

But the Hellfire’s penetration is still enough to pierce most any tank the Army is going to fly against, and its almost 5-mile range is much better than the ATAKA can do, but admittedly a little shorter than Vikhr which can fly almost 7.5 miles, reportedly.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

An armament diagram shows the weapons the Ka-52 can carry. Those last two diagrams under the center hardpoints of each wing are the missile racks. The helicopter can carry up to six anti-tank missiles from each of the two center hardpoints for a total of 12.

(KPoJluK2008, CC BY-SA 3.0)

So the anti-tank situation is basically a wash. Ka-52 has the edge if you need to penetrate some seriously hardened structures like good bunkers or kill stuff from further away, but the Apache can kill 33 percent more stuff with its missile armament than the Ka-52 can.

The Ka-52 does have one clear missile advantage in that it can carry a dedicated anti-ship missile, the KH-35. The Hellfire and its 16-pound warhead can be pressed into anti-ship service, but the Kh-35 has a much larger warhead at 320 pounds and an obscenely longer range at 80 miles. Basically, the Hellfire can take out small craft at short ranges, but a Kh-35 launched from Richmond, Virginia, can take out a tanker floating in Norfolk’s harbor.

Another small point in the Ka-52’s favor is that its rockets are a bit larger at 80mm instead of 70mm.

So you can give an armament edge to the Ka-52, and it is slightly faster at 186 mph instead of 173. But the Apache can fly 1,180 miles in straight and level flight against a mere 683 for the Ka-52. And it can fly higher, reaching 21,000 feet while the Ka-52 runs out of air at just over 18,000 feet.

And that 3,000-foot change can make a big difference in places like Afghanistan, but it also means that Apaches could protect American soldiers on Russia’s Mount Elbrus while the Ka-52 flitted uselessly well below.

So, yeah, the Ka-52 is a great helicopter. It can carry a wide range of weapons, it’s fast, and it has a decent range and flight ceiling. And if you ever have to fly against it or fight under it, watch out. Especially if you’re on a boat within 80 miles. It’s easy to see why the Ka-52 takes the top spot in a lot of lists.

But in most missions most of the time, the Apache is better. Oh, and the newest Apaches can bring drone sidekicks to the fight, something Russia’s bird can’t do. So expect it to climb to most people’s top spots over the next few years.

And that’s without addressing the potential for an armed version of the SB-1 Defiant or V-280 Valor emerging from the Army’s Future Vertical Lift Program. If either of those gets armed in the coming decades, expect them to carry more weight, fly at higher altitudes, and faster speeds than any other attack helicopter in the world, with a flight range that’s equal to or better than what’s out there now.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Harnessing your discontent in the military

When I arrived at my first C-17A unit, I was chomping at the bit. Finally, after years of education and training, I was ready to join the fight. The September 11th attacks had occurred during my senior year at USAFA, and I had felt like I was missing out by not serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

C-17 life could indeed be fantastic. The jet was amazing. I loved my coworkers, who were intelligent, mission-focused, dependable, and a lot of fun. My first C-17 trip was exhilarating: drinking German beer one day, and the next slipping on body armor, a helmet, and night vision goggles before descending into Iraq.


Yet I was also in for a rude awakening. The operations tempo came as a brutal onslaught. My office duties seemed designed purely to satisfy “the system’s” insatiable appetite for new PowerPoint products. Decisions from our C2 organization often seemed nonsensical. I saw colossal amounts of waste due to bureaucratic inefficiencies. As Iraq began its slow spiral into insurgency and then civil war, my naive idealism eroded. I felt confused, disoriented, and unhappy.

Discontent is a normal part of a military career. I have seen many, many servicemembers undergo a similar process of disenchantment. Some never recover; they descend into cynicism and bitterness, then escape at their first opportunity. Others, however, undergo a transformation. They still feel restless dissatisfaction with the status quo, but they find a kind of inner peace, reframe their journey as a positive quest, and channel their frustrations into a career-long effort to improve the institution.

I eventually realized that discontent is a two-edged blade. It is one of your most important assets, but you have to wield it well.

The Virtue of Discontentment

One definition of discontentment is a “restless aspiration for improvement.” That is what we are after.

The most important thing you can bring to military service is an ethic of integrity, professionalism, and excellence. You need to do what the institution asks of you, and you need to do it well. Everything builds on that foundation.

The second most important thing you can bring to military service is your discontent. Why? Because discontent is the motivator for the positive change you will introduce throughout your career.

When we are doing what the institution asks of us, we all largely look the same; most modern military forces are based on mass production of needed skill sets. However, our sources of discontentment are deeply personal, the product of our individual temperaments, interests, and unique life experiences. It is our discontentment–and our thirst for change–that brings our individuality and creativity into our military service. That ambitious individuality, multiplied across the entire military, is the galvanizing force that works against institutional decay, perpetually renews our Armed Forces, and prepares us for uncertain futures.

Discontent with the trench warfare of World War I is what led to revolutions in mechanized and maneuver warfare. Discontent with legacy thinking is what led to further revolutions in airpower, space power, and cyber power. Discontent with toxic leaders drives innumerable NCOs and officers to lead better, and to advocate for innovations in education, training, and evaluations that raise the bar for everyone. Discontent with family strain has fueled advocacy for spouse education benefits, easier cross-state licensing, and more stability and predictability over the course of military careers. Most value-adding innovations began with some individual soul who feels the strain of a problem and imagines ways to do better.

Productively harnessing your discontent is not automatic, however. You must master your discontent, or else it will master you. That means learning to manage your own emotions and steer your discontent into positive avenues of change.

Sources of Discontent

Our “restless aspiration for improvement” can originate in any number of ways. Here are a few that come to mind:


Disappointment
: We have such high hopes and excitement for our military careers, but often find the reality different. Any time we encounter a disappointment, we have an opportunity to make military service more invigorating, rewarding, and satisfying.

Underperformance: Military forces train and equip for one purpose: to perform at their absolute best in war. We should absolutely be discontent with underperformance, because it is a kick in the ass to do better.

Inefficiencies: Nothing is more infuriating to ambitious high-performers than bogging down in wasteful inefficiencies. Unfortunately, these are endemic in government organizations that are highly bureaucratic, overregulated, and lack market incentives.

Misalignments: Modern military forces are incredibly complex, with thousands of synchronized parts. Building such an organization takes decades, and change takes time. That means the organization always lags behind the world. It frequently falls out of alignment, creating dangerous gaps–whether we are talking about evolving technologies, new organizational management constructs, or the shifting nature of family and social life for our troops. Our discontent is a summons to bring our organization into line with the modern world.

Abuses: Unfortunately, particular leaders or organizations can do great emotional or even physical violence to their members. Sometimes these abuses are deliberate, perpetrated by toxic leaders, bullies, or sexual predators. Other times they are structural, such as unconscious racism or sexism. Our discontent calls us to speak for victims, remedy injustices, and stop malevolence.

Stages of Discontent

Discontent progresses through stages, like a mountain ascent. You have to climb through each stage to arrive at the next. A continued ascent is never guaranteed; many people reach a particular stage but do not advance further.

Helplessness: When you first encounter frustrations, you feel like the system is unimaginably powerful and therefore unchangeable. You look for individuals to blame, often commanders or staffs who “don’t get it.” You complain about how stupid and broken everything is, but could not even begin to articulate a fix.

Understanding: You begin to understand *why* these frustrations exist. You realize there is often no one to blame, because so many problems are structural–originating in miscommunications, broken processes, perverse incentives, or other bureaucratic realities. You begin to appreciate how much work has gone into the existing system, and the problems that it does solve. You might not have solutions yet, but you sense the *kinds* of changes that need to occur.

Solutioneering: As you master your career field and gain a deeper understanding of how your organization works, you see possibilities for specific, actionable improvements. At this stage you may not know how to actually implement these changes; your confidence and skills are still developing.

Communication: Now you step into the arena. You write a white paper, blog post, or journal article. You brief a commander or pitch at an innovation competition. If you do it well, you show an expert understanding of the problem and articulate specific, compelling solutions. A conversation begins, allies (and enemies) appear, and your idea gets challenged and evolves. A coalition begins to take shape.

Execution: After all those years, everything comes together. You have a deep understanding of a specific problem, and an actionable proposal that has benefited from vigorous discussion. You have an audience, and a coalition that wants your proposal to succeed. Now you learn the fine art of walking an idea through the bureaucracy, winning the support of the right leaders, garnering resources, and navigating and possibly changing regulations.

If you reach the summit, you will look down and see that your discontent–your restless aspiration for improvement–has culminated in a real change. You will also realize that you are not alone; an entire expedition team stands with you.

Once you reach that summit, the journey continues. After that first victory, you will chase other sources of discontent, finding other opportunities to improve things. As a leader, you will want to help others make their own ascents. You might even rearchitect your organization to make such ascents a routine part of organizational life.

Managing Your Ascent

Harnessing your discontent is not an easy journey. There will always be plenty to love about military service, but the frank reality is that negative energy is often what drives progress–the dissatisfaction again, the thirst for something to be different.

Learning to manage that negative energy is one of your most important battles, because there are so many ways it can hurt you.

First, develop inner disciplines to manage your own psychology. This is a major theme in my other writings mainly because it as a major theme in my life. Staying committed to a large organization can be exhausting, and you will have days when negative thoughts and emotions flood in. The challenges only compound as you make your ascent, because each stage introduces new pressures and difficulties. Negative emotions will overrun you if you let them, undermining your effectiveness, your leadership, and your personal happiness. Many wise leaders have gone before you, and have developed an arsenal of techniques to manage their inner journeys. Learn from them. You want to lead from a place of inner centeredness that brings peace, confidence, and satisfaction.

Second, always strive to keep climbing through the stages. Moving through each stage takes time, practice, and experience. Keep forging ahead. Whatever you do, don’t get stuck in helplessness. Bitching and moaning can be cathartic sometimes, but if that is the sum of your legacy, your military service was too small.

Third, know when and how to take your rests. A restless aspiration for improvement can deplete you, especially when you are fighting hard, sustained battles. You need to replenish by focusing on whatever or whoever gives you energy, joy, and meaning. That can come through family, friends, work, spirituality, nature, books, hobbies, service, or almost anything else.

Fourth, take your journey in community. The greatest joy in military service is the series of relationships you form along the way. At every stage, you will find mentors further ahead in the journey. Learn from them. You will also build a network of like-minded peers. Finally, mentor others. When you see subordinates or peers feeling helpless, coax them along the journey; help them develop the understanding and skills they will need going forward.

Conclusion

Mastering your discontent, and steering all that energy into productive change, is an essential part of your journey through military service. It is also essential for life. You can apply the same framework and skills to the private sector, your relationships, and other aspects of your life.

Discontent is a guiding compass that points to your unique insights and offerings. Discontent is your gift to the world, but only if you let it be.

MIGHTY TRENDING

WWII veteran to return to Normandy after 75 years

Jake Larson, a World War II veteran, will be returning to Normandy, France June 2019 after 75 years. Jake is the last surviving member of a unit that stormed Omaha Beach. Many men died during World War II, and Jake often questioned why he had survived.

Jake, 96, told the New York Times, “I never thought I’d be alive 75 years later. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”


He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and had only returned to France in his mind. His humble salary at a printing business never afforded such a luxury.

However, with the help of two women and an online fund-raising campaign, Jake can now return to France for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

“I can’t believe people would donate to me — they don’t even know me,” Jake stated.

Jake is planning to write a memoir and calls his trip to France the final chapter.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

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The 6 dumbest things I thought I knew about the military before joining

When I joined the military, I didn’t have a lot of time for things like “background research” or “making an informed decision about doing something that might affect the rest of my life.” I didn’t even look into which branch I should join. I just walked up to the line at the recruiters’ offices. Like a drunk stumbling through the streets late at night on the hunt for food, I went with whatever was open at the moment I got there.


The list of things I didn’t know is a mile long. Life in the military was like a big black hole of awareness to me. Like most civilians (maybe), I assumed that what I saw in television and movies was more than a little exaggerated. So, what it was really like to live that military life was as foreign to me as the Great Wall of China.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

You’ll never get with 1980s Cher in that outfit, guys.

1. Sailors wear crackerjacks all the time.

I’m pretty sure the Navy wanted everyone to think that sailors wore white crackerjacks 24/7 as a marketing gimmick. By 2001, when I was at Fort Meade, I didn’t know who the hell those people in the dungarees were.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

And the learning curve for calling these guys “Soldiers” is harsh.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

2. We were all Soldiers.

Yeah, I didn’t know any better and I still don’t blame civilians for not knowing that only Army troops are called “Soldiers.” I learned I would never be called “Soldier” when I got to Air Force basic training.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

Pictured: 20+ second lieutenants who all made more money than me on my best day. And have zero student-loan debt.

(Photo by Greg Anderson)

3. Enlisting is the only way to join.

There’s a difference between officers and enlisted people. That’s a no-brainer to me now, but back then, I seriously thought signing up at recruiter was the only way in. I knew the military paid for college, but I thought enlisting was the only avenue toward getting that benefit.

4. Enlisting is non-stop adventure.

If an airman’s additional duties count as “adventure,” then sign me up for the next squadron burger burn!

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you’re on a base full of airmen and it’s being overrun and there aren’t any airmen with berets on, you’re in deep shit.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Maurice)

5. Everyone wearing camo could end up in the infantry.

I didn’t know that every new recruit goes to technical training. Regardless of the branch you join, you’re more than just a generic troop. Even if you’re in the actual infantry, you still have a military specialty. It’s more likely that you’ll end up in a technical field than in the dirt.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

And for good reason.

(U.S. Air Force)

6. All airmen fly planes. That’s what we do.

The closest I ever got to the controls of any plane was taking video of the cockpit. Despite being in the Air Force and the new title of “Airman” I just earned, I would never, ever be taught to fly a plane.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why the Air Force rejected Boeing’s KC-46 Pegasus delivery – again

The United States Air Force has once again rejected taking delivery of new Boeing KC-46 Pegasus tanker jets after discovering foreign object debris (FOD) left inside the aircraft by Boeing workers. This is the second time the USAF has stopped accepting deliveries of new KC-46s this year for the same exact reason, Reuters reported.

The Air Force initially halted deliveries of the Boeing 767 airliner-based tanker planes for two weeks in early March 2019. At the time, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Will Roper, told reporters that debris such as tools was left in parts of the plane that could be a potential safety hazard, Defense News reported.

According to Reuters, the Air Force decided to halt deliveries again on March 23, 2019.


“The Air Force again halted acceptance of new KC-46 tanker aircraft as we continue to work with Boeing to ensure that every aircraft delivered meets the highest quality and safety standards,” a USAF spokesperson told the Air Force Times in an emailed statement. “This week our inspectors identified additional foreign object debris and areas where Boeing did not meet quality standards.”

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

A KC-46 Pegasus flies over the flightline of the 97th Air Mobility Wing.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jeremy Wentworth)

“Resolving this issue is a company and program priority — Boeing is committed to delivering FOD-free aircraft to the Air Force,” Boeing told Business Insider in a statement. “Although we’ve made improvements to date, we can do better.”

“We are currently conducting additional company and customer inspections of the jets and have implemented preventative action plans,” the Boeing statement went on to say. “We have also incorporated additional training, more rigorous clean-as-you-go practices and FOD awareness days across the company to stress the importance and urgency of this issue. Safety and quality are our highest priority.”

Boeing commenced deliveries of the KC-46 tanker in January 2019. The plane was originally slated for delivery to the Air Force in 2017. However, development delays pushed the plane’s entry into service back.

The KC-46 is expected to replace the USAF’s aging fleet of Boeing 707-based KC-135 tankers.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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The Air Force tried plucking soldiers off the ground at 125 mph during WWII

One of the most insane rollercoaster rides of World War II consisted of an airplane snatching a soldier off the ground and taking him from zero to 125 mph in seconds.


In July 1943, the Army Air Force decided it needed a way to pick up downed pilots. After all, this was long before helicopters and the only way to get home was with ground troops. The idea they came up with was a modification to a mail pickup system, where a plane could fly low and slow and pick stuff up off the ground using steel cable.

According to the CIA, the service did initial tests picking up weighted containers, which accelerated over 17 g’s — not exactly survivable for a human being. With modifications, this was brought down to 7 g’s, although the first live test (using a sheep) failed after the harness twisted and strangled the poor unsuspecting animal.

Luckily, the Army had crazy paratroopers in its midst that volunteered (or were voluntold, it is the Army after all) to give it a whirl. The first was named Lt. Alex Doster. The CIA writes:

Lt. Alex Doster, a paratrooper, volunteered for the first human pickup, made on 5 September 1943. After a Stinson engaged the transfer rope at 125 mph, Doster was first yanked vertically off the ground, then soared off behind the aircraft. It took less than three minutes to retrieve him.

The Air Force continued to improve the system, even developing a package containing telescoping poles, transfer line, and harness that could be dropped by air. The first operational use of the system came in February 1944, when a C-47 snagged a glider in a remote location in Burma and returned it to India. Although the Air Force never used it to pick up individuals, the British apparently did use it to retrieve agents.

The system evolved into the Skyhook system, a joint venture between the Air Force and the CIA.

Check out this video of some of the tests:

NOW: This monster aircraft was the helicopter version of the AC-130 gunship

MIGHTY CULTURE

Which special operators make the best CIA agents?

There are more rumors and myths floating around about the Central Intelligence Agency then there are actual facts. “The Agency” or “The Company” is charged with preempting threats and furthering national security objectives by collecting and analyzing intelligence and conducting covert action while simultaneously safeguarding our nation’s secrets. It’s a broad mission, and a lot of trust has been granted to them by the American people to carry it out.

But it takes a special kind of person to thrive in the CIA.

Who, or what, are they looking for? And do those who served at the tip of the spear while in the military have a competitive advantage? If so, is a U.S. Navy SEAL better than a U.S. Army Ranger? Or does a Green Beret’s experience hold more weight when competing for one of the few spots available as a gray man?


The CIA doesn’t publicly answer any of those questions, instead opting to keep their ideal candidate’s qualifications vague. So we reached out to a few veterans of the Agency to see if they noticed any trends.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

Hafer while deployed to Africa.

(Photo courtesy of Evan Hafer)

Evan Hafer, former CIA contractor

Evan Hafer is in the coffee business these days, but he started out as a U.S. Army Special Forces NCO (noncommissioned officer) before transitioning to contracting for the CIA. He’s deployed dozens of times around the world on their behalf, and he even assessed and trained those who were trying out for the Agency’s elite high-threat, low-visibility security force toward the end of his career.

“It all depends on what kind of officer you’re looking for,” Hafer said. “When you look at paramilitary operations, they have a wide variety of objectives. A good portion is working by, through, and with foreign nationals while conducting covert action. For a long time, Special Forces did a lot of covert action, so they made for the best agents in that respect.”

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

Hafer while deployed to Afghanistan.

(Photo courtesy of Evan Hafer)

Hafer went on to explain that there are different types of jobs at the Agency that require different skill sets. “Typically a good Ranger NCO will make a great guy for on-the-ground, high-threat, low-visibility security work. And Marines across the spectrum are pretty good at a lot of different things.”

Hafer made sure to note the difference between conducting direct action (DA) in the military’s special operations units and gathering intelligence for the CIA. “If you like blowing doors down, intel will bore the fuck out of you,” Hafer said. “It’s a lot of writing, and regardless of background, guys who enjoy DA might not like the intel job.”

“If you’re a hammer and every problem is a nail, then you won’t like being the pen.”

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

(Photo courtesy of Bob Baer)

Bob Baer, former CIA case officer

You may recognize Bob Baer from his work hosting investigative shows on the History Channel or delivering commentary on CNN, but before that he spent 21 years as a CIA case officer. He deployed around the world, speaks eight languages, and even won the CIA’s career intelligence medal.

“It’s almost always Special Forces,” Baer said about the ideal background for working operations in the CIA. “These guys are out in places training locals. I found the SF guys, especially the ones who have experience working in strange places, to be most effective.”

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

(Photo courtesy of Bob Baer)

He even went so far as to say that elite Tier 1 operators (that many would assume to be perfect for the job) often don’t work out. “For them, it’s so low-speed — there’s not as much excitement as they’re used to. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Delta or SEAL Team Six guy make the adjustment.”

Baer echoed Hafer’s sentiment toward the U.S. Marines, saying, “It seemed the Marines did a good job adjusting.” And admitted that he usually preferred a military background over a straight academic: “All in all, people who were in the military were best because they learned about dealing with government BS, while the least equipped were always the academics.”

We are the Directorate of Operations

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Robyn, former CIA case officer

Robyn, like Baer, was a case officer for the CIA and spent years running sources around the world — to include active combat zones. She asked that we not use her last name but was happy to offer her thoughts on not just the ideal military resume, but also what it actually takes to be a successful case officer regardless of background.

“At the end of the day, you’re selling a lemon. You’re convincing someone to commit espionage and provide intel against their country in exchange for whatever is valuable to them,” Robyn explained. “You have to convince them that you care, that their life matters — whether it does or not.”

“So the guys that do well are the guys that understand the human factor,” she continued. “They have to understand what makes someone tick and pretend to be concerned. People are not going to put their lives at risk for someone who doesn’t care. You have to care.”

Robyn recalled a former state trooper who she worked with that did well, noting that a law enforcement background laid a solid foundation for talking to people who can be difficult to extract information from, such as witnesses and victims.

“The militant guys don’t do well,” Robyn said, noting that there’s a difference between being militant and being from the military, and that it takes a unique person to operate in the gray for months or even years at a time. “They’ve gotta operate without mental, emotional, or personal boundaries. There’s no commander’s intent, and the mission isn’t always clear. A renaissance man will do better than the fire-breather, even if they both come from Special Forces. We need the guys who can jump between philosophy and tactics while maneuvering in all different environments.”

The one thing that Hafer, Baer, and Robyn all agreed on is that no single bullet point on a resume qualifies someone for the difficult work of the CIA. They all emphasized that it takes a special person, and the best people at the Agency often have certain intangibles that you either have or you don’t. It seems it takes much more than a trident or a tab to make it into the nation’s most elite intelligence agency — and that’s a good thing.

Trojan Footprint: Embedded with Special Forces in Europe

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This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This fighter pilot shot down more than 20 enemy aircraft, earning him the title ‘Quad Jungle Ace’

Sitting in the driver’s seat with his foot on the gas, Major Gerald “Jerry” Johnson drove to the Alert Tent in the early morning hours of Oct. 13, 1943, as jeeps carrying other pilots from the 9th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group, Fifth Air Force trailed in a column behind. On his mind were the names of other pilots who were lost in a mission the night before, friends of his with whom he had shared pancakes in the mornings and gambled his valuables away in late-night poker games. They were briefed on the mission and sat around for hours in boredom at Horanda Air Field, a large stretch of land that was formerly just another patch in the New Guinea jungle.

When Johnson and his squadron of eight P-38 Lightnings were alerted, they took to the air to intercept a massive aerial convoy of 18 dive bombers supported by 20 agile fighters. They were outnumbered and outgunned, but Johnson wasn’t entirely concerned about that as all he could focus on was reaching the enemy before they dropped their payload over Oro Bay, an advanced military shipping installation.


The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

9th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group. Squadron posing in front of a P-38 Lightning commemorating the first USAAF pilots to land and operate in the Philippines after the landing on Leyte, October 1944. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As his plane climbed through the clouds, the bombers came closer into his sights. He maneuvered his aircraft and issued orders over the radio to communicate their approach. The Japanese were unaware that they were being trailed in the air when Johnson and his squadron ambushed the enemy, walking his rounds from the nose of the aircraft into one of the dive bombers, igniting the plane’s fuselage.

Black smoke and a flash of flames burst through the plane’s side as the bomber plummeted out of the sky. The Japanese zeros peeled off, and an all-out dogfight ensued. On numerous passes, Johnson evaded the tracers shot by Japanese fighters, diving and climbing, rolling and tilting before his rounds struck and downed a second enemy bomber. Their surprise attack netted him three aerial victories, two bombers and one enemy fighter, a solid day’s work that impeded the enemy formation from reaching its target.

The 5 best military movies of the 1980s to watch while you’re stuck at home

A P-38 Lightning prepares to land after flying a heritage flight with the F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter April 3, 2016, during the Luke Air Force Base air show, 75 Years of Airpower. Photo by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller/U. S. Air Force, courtesy of DVIDS.

The large enemy force diverted away from their intended target as Johnson’s small but ferocious display of aerial finesse surprised and overwhelmed the Japanese. For his actions on this day he was awarded his first of two Distinguished Service Crosses. In his following tours, Johnson was a nightmare for the Japanese in the Pacific, earning 22 aerial victories with 21 probables to secure his status as a quadruple ace (five aerial victories are required to achieve “ace” status).

Sadly, while on a courier mission after the war, the B-17 or B-25 he was in entered severe weather, and a violent mixture of rain, lightning, and turbulence knocked out all radio communications. One of the passengers neglected to bring along a parachute, and knowing the consequences of giving up his own, Johnson handed it to the passenger, who then bailed out of the plane. Everyone with a parachute was rescued and survived, while Johnson fought with the controls until he perished. Accounts vary as to whether he was the pilot or a passenger on the plane.

Johnson’s remains were lost with the rest of the aircraft. Since he wasn’t on a combat mission, his heroic last act on Oct. 7, 1945, did not warrant a posthumous Purple Heart; however, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for heroism at the risk of life in a non-combat-related incident. A hero in the sky even on his final flight. Gerald R. Johnson is sometimes confused with Gerald W. Johnson, another ace pilot during World War II, but the latter’s aerial dominance was in the European Theater and not the Pacific.

Butch O’Hare: The Irish-American Who Became the US Navy’s First Combat Ace

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This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


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