A while back I wrote an article for The Havok Journal entitled: “Why Gallows Humor is Essential in the Military.” It covered some of the background of this form of humor and the fact that outsiders often find it highly offensive. And it’s also true that there are many elements of military life and tradition that the civilian populace finds distasteful and sometimes even brutal. Their perceptions just illustrate how ignorant they are regarding what happens in the military of other nations, and how truly brutal some of them really are. It also shows their ignorance of what military life was like all over the world in previous eras.
But some people, like well-meaning overprotective helicopter mothers and vote-pandering politicians looking for airtime to prove they are working for their constituents, just have to stick their noses into things they don’t understand and make things worse. Yep, they think they are making things better, but they aren’t. Well, I guess they are making things better – for themselves. They are diminishing and canceling traditions that build morale, esprit de corps, and a sense of belonging and replacing it with vanilla corporate values and slogans. It makes me want to vomit.
Here’s a little uncomfortable secret for those who don’t understand the role of the military. Our job is to show our country’s potential enemies that it’s not a good idea to attack us or our allies. And if they do, they will experience pain and violence in greater measure than they inflicted. You might love the peaceful corporate PR image of red, white, and blue Thunderbirds F-16s performing choreographed aerobatics, maintained and flown by athletic people with looks worthy of a top Madison Avenue advertising campaign. All so clean and neat. All so sterile. So beautiful. But it’s designed to be a killing machine. Consider what it can carry (not all at once):
Gun: M61A1 Vulcan 6-barrel rotary cannon, 511 rounds.
Rocket pods: 4 × LAU-61/LAU-68/LAU-5003/LAU-10.
Air-to-air missiles: 6 × AIM-9 Sidewinder, 6 × AIM-120 AMRAAM, 6 × IRIS-T, 6 × Python-4/5.
Air-to-surface missiles: 6 × AGM-65 Maverick, 2 × AGM-88 HARM, AGM-158 JASSM, 4 × AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon.
Anti-ship missiles: 2 × AGM-84 Harpoon, 4 × AGM-119 Penguin, Joint Strike Missile.
Bombs: 8 × CBU-87 Combined Effects Munition, 8 × CBU-89 Gator mine, 8 × CBU-97 Sensor Fuzed Weapon, 4 × Mark 84 general-purpose bombs, 8 × Mark 83 GP bombs,
12 × Mark 82 GP bombs, 8 × GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, 4 × GBU-10 Paveway II, 6 × GBU-12 Paveway II, 4 × GBU-24 Paveway III, 4 × GBU-27 Paveway III, 4 × Joint Direct Attack Munition, Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser, B61 nuclear bomb, B83 nuclear bomb.
Why am I bringing all this up? It’s just to show that the military is here to be a ravenous pack of angry apex predators. Yes, even that young pimple-faced E-2 in Finance who didn’t have hair in his armpits four years ago. He is a cog in the machine. And when outsiders start messing with the machine, it’s like giving your Ferrari to a six-year-old to do a tune-up.
That was all a very long lead-in to tell you about a common Air Force tradition called, “The Passover Party.” The Air Force promotes to the next rank in cycles and people compete against their peers via testing and other elements where they gain promotion points. The USAF only promotes a certain percentage based on personnel needs, so some make it, and others don’t. It’s a happy time for those who make it, but a sad and frustrating time for those who didn’t. Celebrations for the winners and celebrations for the losers. Yes, you heard that right. Those who don’t make it may get a group Passover Party (Passed Over for promotion) with a cake as you see in the picture. For those who don’t get it, the cake illustrates the next stripe that they didn’t get. Sometimes instead of a cake it’s an award certificate or a humorous gift.
Nonmilitary folks will probably view this as harsh, hazing, and uncaring. Believe me, it’s just the opposite. In a corporate office, everyone would be avoiding the person and uncomfortably mumbling some sympathetic words. The Passover Party brings it all out into the open and the losers are surrounded by their friends talking about the time they failed and telling them they will make it the next cycle. Everyone laughs and jokes and then it’s over. They follow this methodology with lots of life-changing events. Divorce is another one. Nobody mopes around giving the victim a shoulder to cry on and time to deal with their feelings. In essence, we tell them it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. The party often ends with an NCO telling everyone to get back to work because there is a job to be done. Airplanes aren’t going to fix themselves. Civilians would be aghast, but it works.
I saw my four-year-old grandson fall down the other day. He cried a little, but it wasn’t that bad, until a pack of women surrounded him asking if he was ok, where it hurt, and that it was bleeding, and he must be really hurt. In his little mind, since everyone around him was worried that he was hurt, then that meant he must really be hurt. He then collapsed on the floor and started wailing. As his mother carried him away, I said to the group: “Well he wasn’t in critical condition until you all convinced him that he was.” When my wife asked me what I would have done I nicely said, “Nothing. He fell, cried a bit, and was almost done when the emergency moms team arrived. He was fine until you all made him worse.” Nobody appreciated my input, but they didn’t argue either. In any case, I suspect there we some thoughts of, “Well there’s another clueless heartless man who knows nothing about raising children.”
Sadly, many well-meaning civilians are forcing the military to make the kids weaker by removing traditions that make them tougher. A toughness they will need in order to survive if they ever find themselves in a real shooting war. Yes, these folks with good intentions may end up contributing to the unnecessary deaths of some of these kids. So, if you want your kids to have the best chance of surviving a war, keep your nose out of the military. And when little Hunter or Meagan calls home crying about how tough things are, don’t call the unit commander or your Senator. It’s guaranteed that the rest of their unit will find out that mommy or daddy called, and then they will never live it down. Instead, tell your spawn that they are a big boy or big girl now and to suck it up, rub some dirt in it, slap some duct tape on it, take a Motrin, and get on with being a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman, or Guardian. Tell them it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things and you have complete confidence in them to deal with it on their own.
(Caveat. I’m not saying this should be applied in the cases of sexual assault and other criminal acts under the UCMJ. That’s one thing I dislike about writing, to have to be constantly qualifying things because there is always someone who either puts words in my mouth, raises exceptions, or takes things beyond the context.)
On a closing note, let me ask this question to those of you who became senior NCOs and raised children. Did you find that being a parent helped you lead your troops, and vice versa? I sure did. But it was tough when officers way younger than my kids were assigned to me. That was just too weird. Sometimes I just wanted to send them to their room and tell them they were grounded.
Dave Chamberlin served 38 years in the USAF and Air National Guard as an aircraft crew chief, where he retired as a CMSgt. He has held a wide variety of technical, instructor, consultant, and leadership positions in his more than 40 years of civilian and military aviation experience. Dave holds an FAA Airframe and Powerplant license from the FAA, as well as a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science. He currently runs his own consulting and training company and has written for numerous trade publications.
His true passion is exploring and writing about issues facing the military, and in particular, aircraft maintenance personnel.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.