Getting close to some alpha warriors

My family is going to a reception tonight at which we’ll get to meet the Blue Angel fliers.  (Although this is not an event affiliated with the Navy League, I learned about it through friends in the Navy League, so the NL still gets the nod.)  As the reception has drawn near, I’ve learned something interesting:  women and kids are thrilled to hear that we’re going, and are envious; men . . . well, less so.  I’d come to the conclusion that, perhaps, the desk jockeys in my world might find it intimidating to meet real alpha warriors.  When I broached Don Quixote, he was quite honest about it, saying that, were he to meet one of the fliers, he would worry that the pilot was looking down on him precisely because he is an office worker, and not a warrior.

I’d love to hear your opinions on this.

Blue Angels

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  • suek

    Well…they’re not exactly warriors – they’re sky jockeys. Would the men feel the same way about meeting some alpha car drivers? or racing jockeys?

    Don’t get me wrong – these are highly skilled young men with the superior reflexes of cats on a hot tin roof (actually, I can’t think of anything that has a requirement for such excellent reflexes!) but they’re not warriors – they’re exhibitors. Their exhibition is dangerous – when you think of the speed and closeness! – but nobody is shooting at them.

    My guess is that they only perform for a relatively short time – 3-5 years I’d guess to be max. After than, I’d bet their reflexes slow down enough that it would be dangerous for them to be maneuvering those monsters so closely – but I don’t actually have any knowledge about the length of career.

    So tell your male desk jockeys to ease up – they too were once young and athletic – and those guys in the blue jets will one day be desk jockeys too! If they’re lucky…!

  • Deana

    Very interesting point.

    I would not have thought there would be that tension but it makes sense that there is. I’ve suspected for some time that many men these days feel slightly “unfulfilled” because our lifestyle and culture have removed them from their original roles of provider, warrior, etc.

    Of course, I’m NOT advocating that we return to the days when men had ultimate power over women. But I believe it also is not good for boys to be raised in such a female dominated environment, as they are now. It results in “neutered” boys and later on, a “neutered” culture.

    That being said, I’m completely JEALOUS of you getting to meet the Blue Angels. Wow!!! Can’t wait to hear about it.

  • suek

    >>I’ve suspected for some time that many men these days feel slightly “unfulfilled” because our lifestyle and culture have removed them from their original roles of provider, warrior, etc.>>

    Good point. And very true, I think. In fact, I suspect that some of the unacceptable aggression we see on the streets today (the after school fights that appear on youtube, for example) are the result of the same thing – undirected male testosterone seeking an outlet.

    The old “no difference between male and female except for nurture” is so stupid – all they have to do is look at virtually any four legged animal and see behavior differences between male and female. No nurture factors there! But differences – definitely.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    That is an excellent point. I’ve long posited that the rise in X-treme sports is because they are socially acceptable ways for boys to be boys.

  • Yankee Bruce

    These men are warriors. Their current duties are to provide a contact with the civilians that they are sworn to protect and defend. Once their tours with the Angels are done, they go back to the combat units and share the skills they have developed with their peers.

    The reluctance of the men to meet with the Angels may come from not being able to relate to them at their level, much as people are reluctant to meet with senior managers in their corporation, wealthy people, college professors, or political leaders. “I can’t relate to them. They must think completely different from me and would have no interrest in me.” That’s my guess anyway.

  • Oldflyer

    Book, can’t resist. This little gem gets passed around from time to time among Naval Aviators. It is also popular among their wives and folks from other services who think it is hilarious. (Sorry I could not paste the original, which is in a format suitable for framing.)

    NAVAL AVIATORS

    THE AVERAGE NAVY PILOT DESPITE THE SOMETIMES SWAGGERING EXTERIOR, IS VERY MUCH CAPABLE OF SUCH FEELINGS AS LOVE, AFFECTION, INTIMACY, AND CARING.
    THESE FEELINGS JUST DON’T INVOLVE ANYONE ELSE.

    So, remember this when you meet the Blues. (By the way that is what they are called by “insiders”. No one would actually mistake them for Angels). Keep in mind also the characteristics that differentiate them from the average fleet pilot are perfect smiles and the ability to hold their liquor at events such as the one you will attend. Just kidding. Everyone in the fleet is proud of them, and most every Naval Aviator would love to be in their shoes.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Wonderful, Oldflyer. I had a good laugh — and I’ll remember that they’re the “Blues.”

  • Doug

    For the record it’s a two year rotation, and then they go back to being shot at. They’re all very experienced pilots, and we’ve been at war for eight years now, so every one of them has quite a bit of combat experience.

    #3 and #5 are currently flown by US Marines. Do you seriously think there’s any US Marine who’s not a warrior? Give me a break.

    Check out the bios even of people like their events coordinator, who flew 33 combat missions. These folks are the real deal. You can read more about them at http://www.blueangels.navy.mil/officers.htm

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Re Doug #8: That probably reinforces the fact that the suburban guys I know — all of whom are good people, good men, good parents, and contributors to society — might be a bit intimidated.

  • gpc31

    Yes, of course there is a hierarchy, even within the pilot ranks (from lowly tankers to fighters to carrier jocks). See the “Right Stuff”. But I don’t know where the Blue Angels are in the pyramid.

    Kind of like the medieval three orders: those who farm (today’s office workers), those who pray, and those who fight, except that those who rule today don’t fight and God forbid that anybody should pray. Other than that it’s an exact parallel (!)

  • gpc31

    Picking up on BW’s post (#4), it has also seemed to me that much of the hyper-macho attitude pervasive on Wall Street (“take no prisoners”, “rip their faces off”) originated from guys who dodged the draft in the Vietnam War (“Mad Dog” Jeff Beck is a prime example). Male Boomers of a certain age can’t seem to help themselves from fabricating or embellishing war experiences (see Joseph Ellis, historian; Senators Tom Harkin and yes, John Kerry); and for those too honest to make up war stories out of whole cloth, there is often a significant amount of transference going on (“business is war”).

    Maybe there was something to that St. Crispen’s Day speech after all.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    When I broached Don Quixote, he was quite honest about it, saying that, were he to meet one of the fliers, he would worry that the pilot was looking down on him precisely because he is an office worker, and not a warrior.

    I’d love to hear your opinions on this.

    I believe I’ve actually already addressed this very topic in the Compassion thread.

    The dichotomy between civilian and military are very diverse and manifold, complete with the relationship hurdles of any direct connection between disparate groups of human beings.

    Their exhibition is dangerous – when you think of the speed and closeness! – but nobody is shooting at them.

    The same skills used in that kind of coordination is used in dogfighting and instrument flying/navigation. Combat reflexes are important, though much of that is through conditioned experience and not simply youth.

    I’m not surprised that the Navy only chooses tested combat pilots for such roles. It would be a major PR issue if a plane crashed or exploded because of pilot error. At least with the combat gigs, you know any pilot error would have resulted in their deaths or the destruction of their plane. Which is often why experimental planes seek combat pilots as well.

    might be a bit intimidated.

    They should be taking instruction from such. Combat psychology and the psychology of killing is every bit as important to a soldier as it is to a civilian. The difference is that a chain of command gives you orders and puts you in situations where you have to get things done, whereas in civilian life, you put yourself into situations where you then have to get out of.

    However, while that should be the goal, there are hurdles here. Things such as small talk and social etiquette are not really taught for civilian to military relationships. At most, people see civilians in the supplicant’s position of only providing thanks and gratitude to the military, while the military does the heavy lifting. The uniform acts as a barrier, especially socially. Still, there are ways to resolve such issues.

    For one thing, rely on the women and the children to break the ice, if you don’t want to initiate the small talk. They’ll be effervescent and will serve your purpose, admirably. Just sit back with a tolerant expression and have them lead from the front.

    As for substantive discussion afterwards, there is always the standard line of talking points for the event, whatever it may be. Not exactly small talk, but not personal issues either.

    If it is more comfortable relating to people, you can talk about their hometowns and connect by connecting through where we live, which may be similar. This brings the conversation to the civilian venue, if you are more comfortable with such.

    But I would recommend people probe the military mind and their combat experience. If you are interested in those things, you can ask them about what they learned in Aviation school, what their first flying experience was like, what they think of Colonel Boyd, what they think of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz in relation to Military Aviation, and various issues like that. As with most diplomatic encounters with a relatively foreign culture, it pays to study up ahead of time.

    It’s actually not a strange thing, suek, for people to believe that presentation and polish must automatically come at the expense of substance and ability. For much of human history, militaries that have focused too much on parades and formations were indeed rather lacking in actual combat experience. However, the elite military units have always prided themselves on a certain tradition of appearance as well as effective combat preparation. Military formations, after all, were originally designed not for the parade grounds but for actual field operations once.

    One doesn’t normally need spit and polish to be combat effective, but part of increasing a unit’s pride is in getting them to look after their appearance to take pride in a certain appearance. I say certain since militaries of other culture have had different preferences for quality appearance. The Spartans, for example, valued a certain hair style which they would make sure was presentable before battle, something the Persians saw and deemed effeminate. Whatever works, as they say.

    Have fun, Book. If our husband is there and he gets tongue tied, just remember some of the stuff here!

  • gpc31

    One final point. Anybody who talks like me is clearly not an alpha warrior, or anything else.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    Oops, your, not our.

    I saw Dr. Helen’s polyamorous episode concerning different complexities of relationships, so you can blame it on her.

  • colorless.blue.ideas

    Thanks for the post. Some of the comments brought back memories of my active duty days (Navy, submarines). There may be a hierarchy, but it is probably of arrogance, not “bravery” or the like. (My recollection is that the Blues were the top of the VF (fighter) community, but that the attack guys (VA community) had the lock on, er, ego. Of course, we submariners were ten times as humble as any of the “airdales” . . . . :-) (It was called the Silent Service for a reason.)

    All kidding aside, each of the different Naval communities — not to forget the Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard — brings its own special skills to the mix. There’s a lot of friendly rivalry, to be sure, but most of us had a lot of respect for those who were different.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    The rivalry serves similar purposes to small team hazing and intimidation. It’s there to keep everyone updated on who the weak link is. The team has an interest in successfully finishing the team goal, they don’t want anybody dragging everyone else down.

    At the same time, people may recognize they are all on the same side, but they don’t accept and trust each other until people have passed some specific tests. In small combat teams, that may be teasing or nicknames or the various things RangerUp did to his buddy Ranger in a war zone. In inter-service rivalries, it may be attempts to test how cool someone is when it comes to defending their pride in their branch of the service. You don’t want someone who blows up and is unstable and insecure in their own service, because you can’t count on those to be there when you need their help, from another service. So people try to gauge a member’s confidence in their own service, as a sort of barometer to determine how reliable that service will be when the dirt hits the reactor.

    A person that has supreme confidence in their service’s capability and superiority, while at the same time calm and collected, is an asset to a joint operation, as that person will try extra hard not to let down his own branch which would mean his branch will be pulling their weight. If they fail, it won’t be because they slacked off.

    A person that badmouths their service, won’t defend their fellow brothers and sisters in arms, is not a person you want to be your back up when the bullets start flying. A person that badmouths their country and talks about how they love their country, but never defends it only attacks it for its weaknesses, is also someone you should avoid. And for the same reasons.

  • Oldflyer

    Just to touch on one of the issues brought up.

    The team members are indeed chosen from fleet pilots. For those who differentiate between fighter and attack pilots, it was never an issue in the selection process. But, now that the only front-line Navy tactical aircraft is the FA-18, the issue would be moot. All Navy/Marine squadrons are dual mission as Fighter/Attack squadrons because the airplane is dual mission.

    The primary criterion is that the pilot must have served in a fleet (or fleet marine) squadron, and be on a normal shore rotation.

    Many other criteria come into play. Flying ability is certainly high on the list. But, the ability to represent the service on the ground also ranks high. Has anyone ever seen an ugly Blue Angel or Air Force Thunderbird? I made light of the smile and the ability to hold ones’ liquor; but they in fact do attend a great many social functions and cannot embarrass themselves or the service.

    Not surprisingly, compatibility of personalities within the team is very important. They not only fly very close together, but they live very close together for an extended time in a pretty high pressure situation. One factor of the Blues, is that every practice flight and every performance is critiqued by a ground observer, and within the team itself. The critiques are quite candid, and you better have a thick skin. Of course you likely would never get through flight training without one; because military flight instructors historically lack touchie-feelie skills.

    The rotation is typically 2 or 3 years and then back to a line squadron. Typically, one or two pilots will rotate out each season. It is hard duty for married pilots who have come from a sea tour and would normally be at home; but instead are involved in a brutal travel/show schedule before going back to sea.

    Obviously, it is very competitive. I had a bright young fellow in the jet training squadron I commanded who aspired to join the team. He used every opportunity for over a year, to show up wherever the team was performing, to get acquainted with the individuals and lobby. He had excellent flying skills, was good looking and had a pleasant personality, but did not make the cut. Soon after he left the Navy and eventually became a Captain for the country’s most successful airline.

    This is long, but hopefully sheds a little light on the subject.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    A lot of the touchie feelie stuff is designed to accommodate people’s weak self-confidence and character strength.

    For people that are already strong and well qualified under stress, it goes from inefficient psychotherapy to ridiculous.

  • http://www.christmasghost.com christmasghost

    I was fortunate enough to meet the crew in the mid eighties and they were the nicest most modest guys around. At the time we were preparing for a grand prix event [equine] and they came over to watch us warm up. I was so nervous having them watch…I mean, these guys fly jets and do the impossible every time.After my warm up round I rode over to the fence where they were sitting and all of them were just shaking their heads. Me, assuming I had screwed up somewhere in the round, took off my helmet and asked them what was up…..hoping that they hadn’t seen me doing something stupid.
    The captain said “You couldn’t pay us any amount of money to do what you just did”
    That just floored me…so I pointed out that what they did was a thousand times more dangerous and he disagreed by pointing out that his jet always did what he expected and that horses don’t…
    I countered by pointing out that even when the horse didn’t cooperate all I was going to do was fall or be ejected about 6 feet….or at worst be wearing an oxer instead of my usual teeth.I wasn’t going to be flying through the air at high speeds with the ability to fall thousands of feet.
    He just smiled and said “I’ll still take the jet anyway”
    I even offered them a ride and they wouldn’t take me up on it…..one of them pointing out that the dutch warmblood I was on was “enormous” and didn’t look very friendly. Later she proved them wrong by styling one of the guy’s hair….she licked him.
    They are great guys [I know it will be a different bunch now] but you will really enjoy their company. Talk about class……

  • Jose

    The Blue Angels are undoubtedly very good at what they do, and they will probably be going into combat at some point in their careers. Are they warriors? Ask the grunts on the ground in Khandahar. The grunts don’t fly home to air conditioning and recliners in the evening.

    Here are a couple of ancient jokes, which contain some grains of truth.

    Q: How do you know there is a fighter pilot at your party?
    A: He’ll tell you.

    Q: What is the difference between God and a fighter pilot?
    A: God doesn’t think he’s a fighter pilot.

    The fact is, if these guys weren’t confident, alpha males, they couldn’t do the job. The military cultivates those attitudes. Those who meet the public will be able to keep it under control, but none of them have inferiority complexes.

    As a former enlisted guy, I put up with (and resented) a certain amount of attitude from some pilots. In the AF, they think everyone else is there to work for them, which happens to be true most of time. However, some pilots forget that everyone is doing something important. Those are the ones who stir resentment.

    Yes, the rest of us guys can be a bit intimidated. Yes, sometimes pilots will look down their nose. But most importantly, remember that “alpha warriors” are where you find them. And they may be the guys wearing stripes in the background, who drove convoys through Iraq. Or the gate guards screening for suicide bombers. Or the mechanics who had to retrieve a bombed out vehicle. Or the administrative specialist who worked grueling hours waiting for the next rocket attack.

    So have a great time, but remember the Blue Angels are human. And don’t pass up a chance to meet someone who isn’t wearing wings on their uniform.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    Dr Johnson: “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea.”

    (1778)

  • SJBill

    Should members of the Blues return to the VFA squadron (and they do), they are above average Airdales, which makes them amongst the best in the world at what they do. The really gooduns (like Lex) go on to teach tactics out to your east at Nellis.

    As far as Grunts on the Ground, God bless every last one of them, Jose! We need boots/eyes/minds/guns on the ground as much as they need CAS or aerial attack.

    What differentiates us from all the others is the extent of dependency of all the pieces we have on all the others: AEW, EW, ASW, etc. It’s a great team concept. Did I mention we are the most mobile forces on the planet? Question 1: “Where’s the nearest carrier?”

  • Oldflyer

    Nice story Christmasghost. My daughters did combined training (Pony club) and there is no way I would
    have taken a horse over those cross country fences. They loved it and threw their big hearts, in little bodies, over the fences, and hoped the horses followed. Sometimes they did; sometimes they didn’t; and worst of all a few times they went half way over.

    It is all in what you love.

    SJBill, the answer to your question is the nearest carrier is where ever American interests are threatened.

  • Oldflyer

    I am weighing in quite a bit more than I probably should, but new posts generate new thoughts.

    Just before I retired, I had occasion to participate in a peace time exercise in a headquarters staff that included Marines, Airborne and Special Forces Officers. I took quite a ribbing from the SF and Troopers about going to war and sleeping on sheets every night and eating off of table cloths.. I assumed it was good natured; but I certainly wasn’t going to take offense with those guys. There is no question that they live a much harder life; except of course for those aviators who slept every night in the Hanoi Hilton year after year..

    On the flip side; when I was a young sprout a few years after the Korean war, I participated in a fire power demonstration, followed by a static display for a War College group. As I stood beside my big old dive bomber I don’t know how many Army officers came up and told me that airplane had saved his . . .bacon. . . in Korea.

    Same team; different suits and different jobs..

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    http://www.rangerup.com/wharefrfo.html

    If you want an example of how people in the infantry like to prank each other, check this out.

  • http://www.christmasghost.com christmasghost

    Oldflyer….ah yes,cross country….. I aged about 10 years on one cross country course….I chose the wrong bit for the wrong horse on the wrong day; a snaffle on a 18 hand dutch warmblood that was as fresh as a march hare. I tell you….coming down off the embankment and then over a five foot stack of logs into the water hazard….well, I have the gray hairs to show for it.Plus I think my arms are actually longer now than they were before the course; it was like riding a runaway locomotive!
    Isn’t pony club great for kids? Tell your daughters to keep it up…someday they may be on the A circuit and get to meet all sorts of interesting people. Not to mention all the great dental work they’ll get to have done…Heh.
    I have a great video of my oldest son when he was only 5 years old on a dutch warmblood and my trainer picked up a lunge whip…we had switched horses for the demonstration and hadn’t mentioned it [you would think he would have noticed] and this particular horse was really freaked out by any whips. Well, picture it; as a parent standing there watching this little head bobbing around like a doll as the horse leaped about five feet in the air and started bucking. The little monkey stayed on though…that’s my boy!

  • SJBill

    I’m normally a serious kinda guy when it comes to aviation and fighter pilots. (Sometimes I’m not!). This AM, Lex, the jovial host over at http://www.neptunuslex.com, linked to an article which details the history of fighter pilots and displayed some of the lore and artifacts associated with the trade. It’s worth the read ;-)

    http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Fighter_pilot

  • Oldflyer

    Oh Christmasghost, at the risk of using Book’s bandwidth for a private conversation, I have to confess that my baby daughter is 45 years old. (The emphasis in my user name is on the “Old”)

    We have experienced the pony club parent’s night mare of watching our then 12 year old on a borrowed horse when the two of them had a disagreement on how to do an option jump. They both ended up on the ground with the mare rolling over part of daughter. We could hear the jump judge on the radio calling for vet and medical help. But, as I was running toward the fence, daughter got up, shook off the judge and another woman, checked the horse over, mounted and rode off. I cut across the course and met them coming back. She gave me a thumbs up and kept going. Disqualified for time faults and too sore to ride the jumping test the next day. But, I knew that day I had a little warrior, and she has never proved me wrong.

    As I said; jet planes, horses or whatever you love. You will find a way to do it if you have the will.