BY BLAKE STILWELL – WEARETHEMIGHTY.COM
This is another post in a series about how branches of the military hate on each other. We’ll feature all branches of the U.S. military, written by veterans of that branch being brutally honest with themselves and their services.
The branches of the U.S. Military are like a very large family. They deal with one another because they have to, not because they always get along.
The differences don’t stop at uniforms. Each branch has its own goals, mission, and its own internal culture. At the upper levels of the services, they compete for funds and favor from civilians in DoD. In the lower ranks, they compete for fun and favor from civilians in bars and strip clubs (especially in North Carolina). The branches are like siblings, competing for the intangible title of who’s “the best” from no one in particular.
“The Soviets are our adversary. Our enemy is the Navy.” —Gen. Curtis LeMay, U.S. Air Force
Of course, when it comes to joint operations downrange, a lot of that goes out the window. But when the op-tempo isn’t as hectic and frustration has time to build, the awesome Army platoon who saved your ass last month become a bunch of damn stupid grunts who steal everything you don’t lock down and leave their Gatorade piss bottles everywhere. Parsing out the best and worst of our services isn’t hard if we’re honest with ourselves.
Here’s how the other branches hate on the Air Force, how they should actually be hating on the Air Force, how the Air Force hates on the Air Force, and why to really love the Air Force.
The easiest ways make fun of the Air Force
The quickest way is to talk about how nerdy or weak airmen are. Until a few years back, Air Force basic training was only six and half weeks long. Airmen will always emphasize the six and a half. During that same time, once in the active Air Force, the physical fitness test was taken on a stationary bike which resulted in so many invalid scores, the Air Force had to replace it.
This is also why the Air Force keeps getting the blame for the Stress Card myth, despite having nothing to do with what really happened at all. By 2010, airmen responding to the waist tape portion of the new PT test was to “hope Air Force leaders would ditch the tape test altogether.” 1/5 of the Air Force couldn’t pass the new test. Still, the main form of exercise for airmen is probably playing basketball at the base gym.
Many, many Air Force career fields are office jobs, hence the name “Chair Force.” Many, many more aren’t office jobs, which rubs aircraft maintainers and other flightline personnel the wrong way for some reason. Airmen will hate on each other for this, with those who work in shifts on the flightline calling those who don’t by the derogatory term nonners, or Non-Sortie Producing Motherf–kers (a sortie is an air mission with one take off and one landing). Nonners hate that and no one cares. One more thing to argue about.
The new Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) was the Air Force answer to the Marines’ MARPAT uniforms and the Army’s ACUs, without the effectiveness, purpose, or realistic uses of either. Washing ABUs with brightening detergent actually makes the uniform MORE VISIBLE, especially to night vision equipment. All the other branches ever see is green boots and the regular morale shirt Friday mantra of “Are airmen allowed to wear red shirts?”
We learned nothing from the red shirts.
The Air Force is also the youngest branch, formed after WWII, and with the most opposition possible. Politicians and the other branches were so dead set against an Air Force, one general was court-martialed for being a pest about it and airmen have been whiny and annoying ever since, which pretty much proved everyone right. Every other branch says the Air Force has no history and no one argues with them, because airmen don’t care to. They remember William Pitsenbarger, John Levitow, maybe Robin Olds, and WWII when WAPS testing time comes around.
Also, Air Force Band members start at E-6 and their music videos cost more than a Marine Corps barracks.
Why to actually hate the Air Force
The U.S. Air Force as an organization is a lot of things: expensive, cynical, and sociopathic. It’s more like a uniformed, evil corporation at times. The biggest concern of the Air Force is the most expensive weapons system ever conceived by man, which doesn’t work, and if it did, would only help the Air Force get more money to maintain it while it could be spending that money replacing nuclear missile launch computers made in the 1960s. Our jet costs so much, the Marines can’t get up-armored Humvees but the beds in Air Force billeting are too soft for the USAF brass to lose sleep over it. The Air Force doesn’t even know how much its new long range bomber will cost, but it promised to let us know soon.
Airmen can be the most condescending a–holes this side of the wild blue yonder. They will turn on each other faster than a hungry bear. If you don’t believe me, go read a forum thread where airmen are talking about Spencer Stone’s STEP promotion.
Though USAF basic training is much more difficult now and the Air Force acquired a real fitness test, it’s still not as difficult as training to join the Coast Guard but Airmen will make fun of the Coast Guard anyway. They will still talk sh-t and when you throw the Chair Force thing in their face, they immediately throw Air Force pararescue jumpers back at you, even though most of them have never even seen a PJ. Also, the Air Force has a lot of fighter pilots, but everyone talks sh-t about them behind their backs, even airmen who’ve never met any pilot ever, which is 100 percent possible.
The Air Force has a lot of jobs which require higher ASVAB scores and educational requirements. They will never let you forget that even though a lot of airmen are as dumb and as smart as any soldier or sailor. This is why its ICBM teams are cheating on their proficiency tests and no one noticed until they started texting each other answers.
The only regulation most Air Force people know by heart is AFI 36-2903, the dress and appearance regulation. When anyone in the Air Force wants to appear as if they have things memorized, they will “quote” from this Air Force Instruction, because they all like to pretend they know it by heart, but its the only numbered AFI most of them know, whether they’re 100 percent sure what the standard actually says or not.
Airmen generally deploy the least of any branch. At the height of the Global War on Terror in 2009, the Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC — Air Force job function) with the longest average enlisted deployment was Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) at 119 days, just over 3 months. The longest officer deployment (for electronic warfare specialists) was 214 days, or 7 months, or par with the Marine Corps, but shorter than the Army. Yet, Airmen deploying to al-Udeid would complain just as much as Airmen going to Bagram.
From around the Air Force:
“Merry Christmas to all those who didn’t get axed in 2014… last year’s force shaping message initially advertising massive cuts scheduled for 2014 was made public on Christmas Eve.” “Most of you joined the USAF because it was more laid back, had better facilities and treated people better than the USA or the USMC. Admit it. You didn’t become an Air Force pilot because the other services wouldn’t take you.”
“I absolutely hate it every time I see a MSgt lecturing a junior enlisted about how “hard” the civilian world is.. this coming from a loser lifer who joined right out of high school and decided to spend the next 20 years of his life kissing ass and dedicating his life to the Air Force (and losing a few marriages along the way usually) Dude has no idea what the civilian world is even like and clung to the one way he knew for dear life and never let go.”
“I knew I was getting out the instant I joined.”
“A friend of mine was overworked in an mxs unit after 9/11 turning jets on an insane, unhealthy schedule. He wanted to get out because he didn’t want to be a jet mechanic all his life. But he didn’t want to let his shop down. Thing is, is after he ended up leaving, they replaced him. Just like he replaced someone before him. The AF doesn’t care. They will recall you after you separate if they need you. They will RIF you if they don’t. They will reclass you if they want. The AF takes care of the AF #1.”
“My CDCs do not make me a better technician”
“Two sacred USAF rules: 1) You do not embarrass your chain of command 2) You do not ‘give a sh*t’ when it’s not your day to ‘give a sh*t’, especially about stuff way above your pay-grade… When junior officers insist on running head-first into well-marked closed doors, they will be made to disappear.”
“From a recent Commander’s Call, what many NCO’s took away from that mass discussion is to learn to back stab a fellow airman to get on top.”
“Don’t rush to finish your degree either associated, bachelor, master, once you become a MSgt and above you need to have a doctorate.”
“Take care of your people but remember when they get promoted they are going to be competing against you.”
“Make sure that you get a lot of LOA, coins and documentation for everything you do to prove that you’re a 5 or 4. Don’t just let your supervisor write your EPR, QC his/her work before they route it up the chain.”
“Having left the military with two of these [CCAF] “degrees” I can say that literally no one outside of the USAF gives two squirrel poops about it. I happened to get both in the course of completing my bachelors, so I’m not even sure what the “degree” is even for. I never went to anything other than tech school and ALS, yet somehow this counts as an associate’s degree?”
“The USAF isn’t the Third Reich, but sometimes you really just want to shout Uber Alles to these crotchedy two-faced generals.”
“Would we as individuals have been cut the same amount of slack if we spent SIX years trying to figure out force shaping initiatives? How about the idiocy with uniforms? Reflective belts? What about one of the most expensive airframes ever being grounded for five months?”
“Calling the AF corporate is a HUGE part of the problem. We don’t even call them Airmen anymore. Our newest “development” tool refers to us as “employees”. (Ref the AF Portal).”
“I’ve seen how they decide who promotes, who gets BTZ, who gets retained. I’ve seen how people climb that ladder to Chief. I’m glad I’m not a part of it any more.”
“With the help of our squadron intel officer, I presented a CONOP for improved AC-130 operations to my deployed mission commander, a USAF Lt. Col. and well-respected gunship pilot. He tried to critique the new CONOP but quickly became frustrated with my counter-arguments and finally told me to ‘Stop worrying about the conventional guys… only the stupid ones are being killed.'”
“Honestly, what difference does it make if a Security Forces SSgt can tell you who the first pilot was? (It doesn’t.) It [the PDG] is useful as a guidebook, in case you have a quick question about discipline, uniforms, benefits. Other than that, it makes a nice paperweight.”
“Get rid of 90% of the bands the AF has. This isn’t the 40’s, I get more entertainment from my Ipod. Use that money to book a half way decent band to perform”
“When my wife had our twins…it really would have been nice if she had a little more time to get closer to being in reg. Not sure what the magic number is but it would have been nice. Her unit didn’t even say hello to her when she came off of leave, just walked her into the scale and failed her.”
“I mean the guy who was appointed as the head of the sexual assault program sexually assaulted a woman and that guy just got reassigned.”
“Apparently the USAF doesn’t trust anyone to determine on a personal basis the suitability for promotion. At least the army has boards, even if they are convoluted and focused on the wrong things.”
“the Air Force awarded a foreign military sales contract worth more than $100 million to a company that submitted a past performance record of about $150,000, doing unrelated work.”
“Current culture states petting puppies at the animal shelter, holding bake sales and holding meetings where you discuss with your peers where and when these things can be done is held in higher esteem and considered more important than doing the best you can at your job.”
“they’re bribing me to stay, because they’ve failed at replacing me.”
From a 27-year CMSgt: “The real, honest core values, that a person needs to live by to succeed in the Air Force in 2015 are: 1. Self before Service 2. Excellence in all our PT 3. Integrity third”
“The General should be held to the same or higher standard than the A1C when it comes to punishment. They aren’t.”
“I will never forget after taking questions from a bunch of angry, know-it-all Captains for the better part of an hour, the Colonel simply told us “YOU have to allow YOUR Air Force to make mistakes.”
“Stop with the re-branding of the AF every year. I don’t feel like a “warrior” so stop trying to convince me that I am one by reciting the Airmans Creed at every event!”
“5 things I hate the most about the Air Force:
1- Closed for training on (insert day here).
2- Sexual assault training.
3- The 10 different offices that you can complain to: ig, chaplain, meo, sarc, afrc what do these people do all day?
4- The term “standby to standby”.
5- Senior Ncos, they usually have bad haircuts and no real purpose in life.”
“You seriously are telling me that people TESTED the PT uniform? With the cardboard tshirts that don’t breath and shorts that would look home in a certain brightly colored San Francisco parade? Or the ABU with it’s billion pockets and winter weight fabric (and that’s overlooking the abortion that is it’s camo pattern).
Or blues mondays? As a flier that can be tasked at any minute why am I not showing up to work prepared to fly at any minute? Oh to “support the war fighter” I am wearing the least war like uniform. That makes sense.”
Why to love the Air Force
Airmen may not be able to capture and occupy an enemy area on their own but they will make damn sure those who can will be able to do so with the least possible resistance. Nuclear arsenals aside, no one is better at killing the enemy en masse as the Air Force is and airmen will stay awake and working for days on end to make sure passengers, wounded, supplies, and bombs keep going where they need to be. For example, during Operation Desert Storm, airmen on the ground worked tens of thousands of sorties in 38 days.
Almost everything in a war zone, from water to helicopters, is shipped via USAF, loaded and flown by airmen who are running on Rip-Its and Burger King.
Airmen, despite their cynicism, can be really, really funny. They know their reputation among other branches and are usually game to play along and give all the sh-t thrown at them right back to the soldiers, sailors, and Marines giving it. Aircrews are also generous with their flight pay when buying drinks.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is beloved by everyone (except Air Force generals).
The Air Force has a great quality of life. An Air Force Base makes the average Army post look like a very large homeless shelter. Most of the time in joint communities, any military member has access to Air Force Morale, Welfare, and Recreation services, which can even put similar civilian services to shame. This is especially true when deployed.
When you’re deploying to the Middle East, having to stop at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar for any reason is a great day. Swimming pools, A/C, ice cream, Western restaurants and fast food joints, a legit fitness center and base exchange along with three beers a day make for a great visit before reality sets in and you have to go back to a real deployment.
Also, all that money the Air Force spends on tech really does pay off. The Air Force is developing tech to automate weapons systems, put lasers on fighter planes, and allow troops to control drones with their minds. Historically, much of the tech developed by the Air Force end up with civilian uses.
The flip side of the Air Force being like a corporation is airmen tend to focus on their Air Force specialty, rather than just the particulars of being in the military (like being a rifleman, for example). This means when any one from any branch has to deal with an airman, they will more often than not be meeting with someone who is confident, knowledgable, and professional in their work center. Airmen are (traditionally) so good at their jobs, Army officers who have needs they can get from the Air Force instead of the Army will go to the Air Force for those needs.
Airmen are also incredibly generous with their time and money. Aside from making volunteer work a de facto criteria for annual Enlisted Performance Reports (EPR), Airmen will volunteer their time for causes beyond what’s expected by the Air Force’s “total Airman concept” and squadron burger burns. Airmen also donate millions from their paychecks to the Combined Federal Campaign and Air Force Aid Society charities.
And yes, Pararescue Jumpers are awesome human beings.
Blake Stilwell is a traveler, writer, and adventurer with degrees in design, television & film, and international relations. He is a veteran US Air Force Combat Photojournalist who has worked for ABC News, NBC, and HBO. Blake is based in Hollywood, but often found elsewhere.
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