What would God think?
Ultimately, the degree to which a Christian chooses to participate in “traditional” fighter pilot activities must be based on several things. First of all, a Christian must consider God. This is essentially the “big brother” question that is asked every day in the Air Force. During a fighter pilot’s combat or training sorties he will be forced to consider what his leadership will think of his decisions and their potential outcomes. If he feels that his leadership would support him, perhaps even if he fails, then he’ll probably execute his decision. If he decides that he may not be able to “answer the mail” about his judgment, then he’ll probably forego it or choose to accept the potential negative consequences. The Christian’s leadership is God. Would God be pleased by the actions that a fighter pilot takes and the activities in which he participates? Do they glorify God? Are they edifying? In the now famous words of the Christian youth movement, what would Jesus do?
While this sounds like a canned Sunday School question that prohibits virtually any fighter pilot activity, remember the New Testament: Jesus ate with prostitutes, traveled with fisherman, and contended with the religious elite—all things that the religious authorities of the time (mistaken though they were) considered inconsistent with the character of God.
One of the more important (and unfortunate) things that a fighter pilot will discover in his military career is the preeminence of paperwork. One day a pilot may go out and save the world, but unless it’s documented on an official Air Force form, it’s as though it never happened. Like it or not, an officer’s career may live or die based on his Officer Performance Reports (OPRs), which are evaluations of his professional career. A pilot’s supervisor will be required to complete a report on him regularly; normally, every 12 months, but depending on the circumstances, from every six to 18 months. Pilot training and other formal courses create Training Reports instead of OPRs, so a young pilot could be well into his first operational assignment—more than two years after being commissioned—by the time he receives his first OPR. The first time one is coming due, a predictable thing will happen: his supervisor will ask him what he’s been doing for the past 12 months. In a perfect world, the leadership would monitor their subordinates’ successes and failures and document them accordingly. Unfortunately, in the real world the leadership will be so busy that unless the subordinates are being derelict they’ll likely go unnoticed. For that reason the leadership will ask those below them to provide bullet statements of the things that they have accomplished since the last time they received an OPR or training report. They’ll use this information to fill in all the “white space” on the report. Read more
From my arrival in Qatar in February until my departure in April, I spent approximately 70 days in what was classified as a combat area. During my entire stay I never experienced fear for my life, either in the air or on the ground. Our base was on a peninsula in the Persian Gulf, relatively distant from the fighting in Iraq and low even in potential terrorist threat. Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, a small civilian aircraft had approached the airfield undetected, much to the chagrin of the Patriot batteries ringing the base. During the war, the presence of a light aircraft near the base was the cause of the only increased threat condition during our stay. The base rapidly went from MOPP 0, a protective posture where no chemical protection gear is worn, to MOPP 4, where full gear—heavy overgarments, boots, gas masks, and gloves—is required. Whatever it was that approached the base turned out to be no threat, and there were no further reactions while we were there. In fact, a few days before I returned home they brought the base out of “lock-down” and allowed us to leave the base to see the local area. So our home was a fairly safe one, particularly when compared to the airbases further north that came under fire from SCUDs and other missiles and were in a MOPP 4 fairly frequently. Our route to and from the combat area was also a safe one. While we flew along the gulf we were in range of several other neutral countries, but we could virtually walk along the Navy sea craft from Qatar to Iraq.
The true threat only began once in Iraq, and even then the threat was minimal. Read more
One of the first and more dramatic examples of the fighter pilot culture that a new pilot will face is that of the traditional Naming. Done professionally and respectfully, a traditional “rite of passage” Naming could be considered a source of comradery and esprit d’corps. Unfortunately, the Namings in which I have participated have been more akin to fraternity initiations than events that call on the history and pride of a unit, the Air Force, or the country. Read more
Profanity is not the only vice with which a Christian fighter pilot’s senses will be bombarded. Standard fighter pilot lingo is laced with various forms of sexual innuendo, most through the use of linguistic games. The most frequent fighter pilot linguistic “skill” is the phrase “so to speak” (often written as “sts”). The phrase follows any sentence that can in any way, shape, or form be construed as a double entendre; the frequency of the phrase in a fighter pilot’s speech indicates how often he can come up with a sexual reference in virtually any combination of words in the English language. If a pilot uses a phrase that is worthy of a “so to speak” because of its potential double meaning, other pilots in the room will generally say “so to speak” and cajole those who do not.
Another less vulgar use of the “so to speak” phrase is in reference to the “misuse” of a pilot’s name. For example, in the movie Top Gun, Tom Cruise’s weapons system officer had the nickname Goose. If another pilot said that they had to “goose the power,” a fighter pilot would suffix the phrase with “so to speak” to acknowledge the use of Goose’s callsign.
Another fighter pilot linguistic skill is replacing certain words that have a possible sexual connotation with their generic or scientific equivalent. Read more
While I have never been in a position where fellow pilots have demanded profanity in my speech (some have even complimented my ability to form a grammatically correct sentence without it), I have been placed in positions where fellow pilots have insisted that I participate in singing fighter pilot songs. Unfortunately, the decisions surrounding pilot songs are more difficult to make. The F-16 B-course students were responsible for providing “entertainment” for the instructors at pilot meetings. This entertainment necessitated a pilot song or two. In other units, every fighter pilot event ended with stirring renditions of traditional fighter pilot songs. In each case, there was tremendous pressure to join in on the singing to “support my wingmen” and squadron mates. Regardless of the strength of tradition in fighter pilot songs, the profanity, vulgarity, and glorification of evil in fighter pilot songs makes them an anathema to the Christian spirit. Because of their content, I believe that a Christian should not participate in singing them.
The true question is how much he allows himself to be around other pilots who are singing those songs. Their vulgar lyrics are set to familiar and catchy tunes; what goes in, even if only passively, will invariably attempt to come out. Read more
One of the more clear-cut vices in the fighter pilot culture is profanity—including the use of God’s name in vain—which is rampant in the fighter pilot community. Profanity punctuates the hyperbolic bravado of every fighter pilot’s speech. Some consider it a requisite to being a fighter pilot, much like the Navy cliché of “cursing like a sailor.” Fighter pilots who do not curse do exist, though they are a rarity. In several cases I even knew fighter pilots who attended church regularly with their families but still used vulgar language. The temptation for any fighter pilot to use profanity will be strong, particularly if it was present in his past. Also, refusing to use profanity is difficult even for a strong Christian for one significant reason: constant exposure. Regardless of a Christian’s personal actions, the fighter pilots around him will still use profanity in their language and casual conversation. The continuous, daily bombardment of profanity leads to the greatest threat to modern Christianity: Read more
A Christian must have a life ministry and proactive faith to positively influence the world. There is a subtle underlying presumption to that truth, however: to effectively influence the world, a Christian has to be in it. By choosing to become a fighter pilot a Christian has elected to be deeply “in” the world, a choice that results in immense tension, a literal struggle between good and evil. A Christian in the fighter pilot world faces immeasurable pressure to compromise his convictions to conform, and he confronts the struggle of trying to be an effective Christian witness to the fighter pilots around him. The Christian fighter pilot’s eternal battle is how to be “in it but not of it”—to be different without necessarily being separate. God has called the Christian to be salt in the world, and his salt needs to be in the meal that is the fighter pilot community. Christians cannot separate themselves so far that their salt isn’t even in the same restaurant. Nowhere in the Bible does God command Christians to segregate themselves from sinners—quite the contrary: Read more