Friday, August 21, 2009


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.


Carioca Canuck said...

Having been a tanker in the armored corps for 7 years all I can say is that the description of those in the AF as 3 square meal a day clean sheet pussies (IMHO) has definitely been reinforced by the AFA reaction to this event.

Can't they take a joke ? We all know it is not true.....

Johnny boy said...

Too Funny!! They are jokingly called the "Chair Force" for a reason!

SCPO USN (ret) Bubblehead or Swabbie!

Ed Rasimus said...

Reports of our umbrage at Gen. P's comment are greatly exaggerated. Real world, the AF can take a joke. We've got great respect for the other players on the team and what they do. And, we have always felt pretty confident that the other players respect and value what we do as well.

billy.harvey said...

As a retired USAF fighter pilot I can honestly say, having got the t-shirt and been bought many drinks over the years by tough as nails ground pounders glad for what I could and had done for them, that I find the joke hilarious - especially in the circumstances and to the crowd to which it was told. Anyone weak sister too thin skinned to laugh about it should try to find a job where their sense of humor would be better appreciated - I hear the post office is healthy on comparison humor these days.

iODyne said...

The fly-boys need some jokes about how lucky the ground forces are to Have Mud To Stand ON - there being no mud (or anything else) in the sky.

Any jokes are important, in such a serious arena.

Paul Gordon said...

For God's sake!!!

I'm ex-Air Force, and I can tell you that we told jokes like that for ourselves.

To the AFA: WE have a sense of humor; please find one for yourselves.

To General Petraeus: Not bad, for an Army guy. :-)


Paul Gordon said...

To the AFA:

I'll even help you in your quest for a sense of humor...

Step # 1 - Don't take yourself so damned seriously!



Unknown said...

When they STOP telling jokes about you, then there's a problem.

Hell, my brother's a Marine and it's from him I hear the best Marine jokes:

A: You hear they had to stop callin' 'em Jarheads?
B: Really? Why?
A: You can put something in a jar.

tfhr said...

I'm from a USAF family but I'm in the Army (because one of us had to be in the military). We tell these kind of jokes around the dinner table whenever we can get together. They generally give as good as they get too.

Ed Rasimus and thrill pretty much spell out the ground truth. I'm guessing that my friends and family, if they've even heard of the AFA "complaint", would tell them to just shut the hell up.

TOF said...

I think the AFA may have lost it.

Retired Air Force Pilot Saved In a Horse-Back Riding Mishap

A wealthy retired Air Force pilot narrowly escaped serious injury recently when he attempted horse-back riding with no prior experience. He mounted the horse, unassisted, and the horse immediately began moving. As it galloped along at a steady and rhythmic pace, the pilot began slipping sideways from the saddle. Although attempting to grab the horse's mane he could not get a firm grip. He then threw his arms around the horse's neck but continued to slide down the side of the horse. The horse loped along, seemingly oblivious to its slipping rider. Finally, losing his grip, he attempted to leap away from the horse and throw himself to safety. His foot became entangled in the stirrup, and he was at the mercy of the horses pounding hooves as his head and upper body repeatedly struck the ground. Moments away from unconsciousness and probable death, a retired Navy pilot, working as a greeter at Wal-Mart to supplement his meager retirement, observed the situation and quickly unplugged the horse.

Navy pilots are cool in a crisis..

Paul Gordon said...


The last line in your main paragraph nearly cost me a keyboard.

(ex-USAF :-)


tfhr said...


Brown shoes and a blue vest - nice one.

Ken Prescott said...

Tim Russertinterviewing General Richard B. Myers, USAF, during the opening phase of OEF:

MR. RUSSERT: Two weeks earlier than that, at a Pentagon briefing, this is what Lieutenant General Newbold said, and I'll put it on the screen: "The combat power of the Taliban has been eviscerated."

Is that still operative?

GEN. MYERS: I think if you'd ask General Newbold today, he would probably choose another term. In fact, we were surprised that a Marine even knew what "eviscerated" meant."

William M. Briggs said...

I protest! We Air Force personnel (I'm ex now) have never had pony tails. We have our servants trim our hair daily, almost always at the same time we receive our manicures (hangnails are a bitch when you have to operate equipment with fine controls).

The rumor, that you might have heard, that we only work twelve hours weeks is also scandalously untrue. Well, for most of us, anyway.