Military humor can be difficult for the uninitiated, especially those who don't appreciate gallows humor crossed with sports jokes, all leavened with indecipherable-to-the-uninitiated military jargon. The humor – and the jargon - varies from branch to branch, specialty to specialty and even unit to unit. There are also a great many sayings that are indigenous, once again, to particular services or particular jobs within each branch; although I don't know SEAL humor, I understand it is so particular to those waterborne madmen that knowledge of even a bit acts sort of like a shibboleth: you can wear a Budweiser (Exhibit 1: The eagle with anchor and pistol, the symbol of SEAL-dom, is named after the emblem a beer company uses, and frankly, when you look at the two of them side by side, you see immediately why it is called that), know where the teams are based, and even know some of the more esoteric information about them, but any SEAL could tell another breed of military (or non-military) animal in about three seconds, just by virtue of the conversation…and that's if it isn't apparent by one's looks.
I guess SEALs are good for thing other than balancing balls on their noses (nota bene: Marine humor).
One saying I particularly remember was “Tough problem – Chuck it!” This may have been native only to a smallish, particular Marine infantry unit, which is strange, perhaps…both of the Chucks referred to were Air Force guys. And yet these two Chucks are so formidable, even if the still-extant one is pushing eighty, that it wouldn't have mattered if they had been members of the Mickey Mouse Club, the Jesuits or a Polish rap group, god forbid. Chuck Yeager, first man to break the sound barrier in level flight, ace of aces, a pilot so influential that many airline pilots raised in Malibu or on the Upper East Side find themselves affecting down-holler West Virginny accents was a man so formidable that the Germans knew precisely which Mustang was his, and knew that it was better to avoid it. General Yeager, who passed away at 97 in December of 2020, was a fan of the simple, straightforward, easy to maintain airplane. He was in particular an advocate of the simple fighter the F-5/F-20, by Northrup, a cheap, simple and in the right hands – his, for example – very, very formidable airplane. General Yeager attributed much of his success as a pilot to the fact that he was trained as an airplane mechanic first: he enlisted in the Army before there was an Air Force – 1947 is when they split – and first was a mechanic then a “flying sergeant;” in those long-gone days, an enlisted man would be trusted with one of Uncle Sam's warbirds, and from General Yeager's record, maybe we should go back there. He finished his Air Force career in 1975, before the A-10 became operational, but any man who shot down a German jet with his propellor-driven Mustang, became an ace in a day, and flew over three hundred different types of aircraft on the way from private to general…well, his opinion should count for something, and he was a fan of simple, robust, and operationally effective aircraft. Aircraft like the A-10.
The other Chuck, also an airman, although a security policeman and not a pilot before his martial arts and film career propelled him to household name status, is a strong proponent of the A-10. In fact, he and his wife are particular fans of the Warthog, and Chuck Norris and his wife have partnered with a private effort to save the A-10 called, reasonably enough, “Save the A-10.” You can read his reasons why he wants to help save it on www.wnd.com, but for a fighting man like Chuck – Chuck No. 2 – to appreciate a hard hitting, compact, hard to knock down and combat serviceable aircraft is not hard to divine…although it might be offensive to Mr. Norris, maybe instead of the shark mouth so often painted on the front of A-10's by artistic crew chiefs, there should be a picture of Chuck Norris, the Vulcan in the side of his mouth like a toothpick in an old West gunfighter's. After all, it has been called the “Chuck Norris of airplanes.”
On a serious note, though, both of these Americans, despite their fame and accomplishments, were (and are) good ol' boys with a good ol' boy way of looking at the world, Hollywood success aside. (Note: in the Right Stuff, a movie version of Tom Wolfe's book about the aviators who became the first astronauts, Sam Sheppard plays Chuck Yeager. But in the scene that takes place at Pancho's Flyy-Inn, the aviator's hangout next to the high desert Air Force base where the best pilots in the world did their thing in the era before rockets took over popular imagination – Muroc, now called Edwards – all of the guys are sitting around making fun of the space program, which they didn't like it because the “pilot,” as it were, had virtually no control over the capsule…heck, even the name – capsule – offended these guys, who Wolfe described (and I paraphrase) like this: young, serious men in Ban-Lon shirts, wearing sunglasses and hiding egos so large that they dwarfed those of the stars of film. Get this movie and watch it; it does a good job of showing the world how it was in those days, and how this world of aviation came about. Watch the scene in Pancho's carefully: you will see an old barman grinning directly at the camera, breaking down the third wall like it never existed, for this is a guy who never looked away from anything, with his 20/10 vision: General Yeager himself, in cameo, standing behind Sam Sheppard, who is doing a decent job of playing him…but playing him he is. As cool as Sam Sheppard looks, he never went head to head with a squadron of Me-262's and came out on top, or broke the sound barrier with a broken arm: yep, the night before the flight test, Chuck and his buddy Jack Ridley, after a bottle or two of tequila at Pancho's, decided nothing would do but take out a pair of decrepit Triumph motorcycles and race them, eye to eye, through the desert…until ass over teakettle went Chuck Yeager. Did he go to the infirmary? No, he and Jack Ridley retired to Chuck's shop, where they rigged up a broomstick operation that would allow Chuck to close the canopy of the X-1, and complete the flight.
Operational. Operational, damnit.
True: in my experience, fighter pilots think of themselves as warriors who do battle in the heavens, at speeds mere mortals cannot comprehend, for stakes that cannot be fathomed by the homme moyenne. And their mantra, the word they care the most about, is “operational.” If it doesn't work, shot-up, unmaintained, all day; if it has no loiter time – time over the target – and is a hangar queen by nature, these guys, so meek seeming until the tales are told and the hands turned into planes, demonstrating to members of the congnoscenti just how this pilot shot down this Russian or that German, will tell you, in a second – it ain't no damn good at all.
The A-10 was a plane Yeager would have approved of; Colonel Kim Campbell, called “Killer Chick,” was flying one on April 7, 2003, when she and her flight leader took ground fire from Iraqi units firing everything they had at these two birds of prey. With a football-sized hole in her right stabilizer and hundreds of holes all over her Hog, the fly-by-wire system failed, and she was forced to fly it manually…like when the power steering pump goes in your car, and it takes Schwarzeneggar to parallel park it. But A-10's were built for that, so then-Captain Campbell flew it the three hundred miles back to her base, put it down, and once again gave the truth to General Yeager's most famous saying:
“If you can walk away from a landing, it's a good landing. If you can use the airplane the next day, it's an outstanding landing.”
Now retired Colonel Campbell felt precisely that way: it was on the ground, she was on the ground, and it was – and this is not a salute to the SEALs, but it could be – time for a Budweiser. If she had gone down – which she didn't, because of her training and the incredible battleworthiness of the aircraft, no one would have been a happier sight. But she didn't need to, because she was flying the equivalent of an aerial M1A1 Abrams…a flying tank.
Reports are coming out of Ukraine that the amount of metal in the air has not been seen since the second world war; certainly it hasn't been seen in Europe, and the Russians evidently are regrouping right this moment. This writer is gathering his gear and making his apologies to his family and friends, some of whom…well, some of whom do not precisely agree with his decision to aid the Ukrainians in whatever fashion they will have him. But they do recognize that the Ukrainians have right on their side, and history bears this out: Poles, Lithuanians, Russians…everyone has wanted to own this black-soil paradise, a place that has agricultural qualities that rival the American Midwest, for centuries. We are helping them out, sending materiel piecemeal…but it is time to do what we know is right, and get serious: we need to send the Ukrainians what they need to make their fighting spirit into more than spirit.
We need to send them A-10's, instructor pilots and spare parts. We need to send them maintenance men and women, and we need to do so soon…because I suspect – and I will be sure to tell you if I am right – that one of the myths of bullies like Putin is a myth. Bullies are not weak, scared little boys in big boys bodies; rather, they are guys who have learned that the quickest way to get what they want is to start smacking people around. Bullies aren't stopped by resolutions or teachers coming out: bullies are stopped when someone hits them harder than they hit. And to do this, to deal with the bully, we need to give the Ukrainians what they need. “Peace in our time,” said Neville Chamberlin, thinking he had placated one of the bigger bullies of the twentieth century, when he acquiesced to Hitler taking the Sudetenland. On September 30, 1938, Britain and France signed a pact in Munich with Hitler, assuring him of peace – “peace in our time,” the famous phrase to come from this, and gave him the German-speaking Sudetenland and 3 million Czech citizens of German descent. In March of 1939, Hitler demonstrated the wisdom of placating bullies when replied, sotto voce, “Thanks for the time you gave me to prepare my armies,” and took the rest of Czechoslovakia. By this point he was armed and ready, and the rest, as they say, is history. Who knows what a firm stance, or arming the Czechs, would have done? Avoided the slaughter of millions?
All we know is that it really could not have been worse. So let us not repeat history, as do those who fail to remember it. Putin is not backing off; his ratings have risen 50% since he invaded Ukraine. He has appointed a new, aggressive general to head what appears to be a major invasion.
Now is the time…we can stop him now, or watch history repeat itself. And the a-number-one way to do so is by giving the Ukrainians the weapons and support they need to stop Putin before we find ourselves looking at Mr. Biden and seeing, in his place, Neville Chamberlin.
Give the Ukrainians what they need to stop the madness now, before it becomes another Gotterdammerung. Give them the A-10, the antiaircraft weaponry they need, the supplies, the training. Give them the support, before we find out exactly how many SVD agents really live in Brighton Beach.
The writer is a former military man, now researching and writing about the Ukrainian Conflict. Questions can be sent directly to firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to the discussion.