General David Petraeus is in hot water with (some) of the boys and girls in blue.
Seems the CENTCOM boss told a joke--at the Air Force's expense--during a recent speech at the annual Marine Corps Foundation Association dinner. Here's the story; see if you agree with the Air Force Association (AFA), which described the remarks as "beyond outrageous:"
"A soldier is trudging through the muck in the midst of a downpour with a 60-pound rucksack on his back," Petraeus began. "'This is tough,' he thinks to himself. Just ahead of him trudges an Army Ranger with an 80-pound pack on his back. 'This is really tough,' he thinks. And ahead of him is a Marine with a 90-pound pack on, and he thinks to himself, 'I love how tough this is,' " Petraeus said to appreciative cheers from his audience.
"Then, of course, 30,000 feet above them, an Air Force pilot flips aside his ponytail," he added to howls of laughter and applause from the Marines. "— I'm sorry, I don't know how that got in there I know they haven't had ponytails in a year or two — and looks down at them through his cockpit as he flies over. 'Boy,' he radios his wingman, 'it must be tough down there.' "
In fairness, we should note that General Petraeus also took shots at his own service (the U.S. Army) and said "all kidding aside" after his joke about the USAF. But that wasn't enough to placate the AFA, which claims that the CENTCOM commander "belittled" the service's contribution to the joint fight, or something to that effect.
Phuleeze. As former blue-suiters, we've heard variations on this joke for years. One version (in cartoon form) shows an Army grunt in a foxhole, up to his neck in water, as rain beats down on his helmet. "This sucks," he says.
In the next panel, there's a Ranger, in the same type of water-logged foxhole, with a grin on his face. "I like the way this sucks," the Ranger beams.
The third panel shows a Green Beret, also in water, gnawing on an unfortunate snake. "I wish this would suck more," is the caption.
The fourth panel shows an Army aviator, looking out the window of his chopper at the quagmire below. "It must really suck down there," he opines.
In the last panel you see an airman, lounging in his TDY hotel room (probably at the Hyatt or Radisson), TV remote in hand. There's a look of anguish on the blue-suiter's face: "What, no cable?" he asks. "This really sucks."
I guess the AFA would be offended by that one, too. C'mon guys, grow up and get real. Everyone who counts in DoD appreciates (and values) USAF contributions to the GWOT, or whatever the Obama Administration is calling it this week. And certainly, General Petraeus knows its the Air Force that provides intra-theater and strategic airlift for his troops; blue-suiters fly most of the CAS and BAI missions for our forces on the ground, and it's airmen who provide much of his real-time intelligence through UAVs and other airborne platforms.
General Petraeus is also aware of the role played by USAF transporters, who handled many of the convoy routes during the worst days of the Iraq War. He's met our security forces specialists who protect our largest installations and patrol outside the wire. He knows about the contributions of Air Force EOD, combat controllers, pararescuemen, terminal attack controllers, and countless other airmen who are in the thick of the fight, day in and day out.
I think most airmen took the general's joke as it was intended--a good natured dig, based on some of the long-standing cultural "differences" between the services, no matter how inaccurate they might be. As for the AFA, they've picked the wrong fight. A sense of humor can be a valuable commodity, both on the battlefield and among organizations who lobby for the services. By expressing "outrage" over General Petraeus's joke, the Air Force Association is actually playing to some of the worst stereotypes lumped upon the service--stereotypes that many of us have worked long to overcome.