On November 16, 2017, residents of Okanagan, Washington looked up to a penis in the sky. It was several miles long, drawn with the exhaust of an EA-18G Growler. After taking tons of photographs, one distressed young mother told local television station KREM, she was worried she “might have to explain what it was to her children.” KREM showed only the shaft during the nightly news, calling the complete drawing, “offensive.”
Vice Admiral Mike Shoemaker, Chief of Naval Air Operations, shared their concerns. After admitting the aircraft, pilot and weapons system officer were assigned to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, he said, “The American people rightfully expect that those who wear the Wings of Gold exhibit a level of maturity commensurate with the missions and aircraft with which they’ve been entrusted. Naval aviation continually strives to foster an environment of dignity and respect. Sophomoric and immature antics of a sexual nature have no place in Naval aviation today.”
The skywriting made world headlines. It also came during the birth of the #MeToo movement. Harvey Weinstein was mouthing half-assed apologies, admitting he had “a long way to go…to conquer his demons.”
In an article published the next day, the Washington Post raised the ugly specter of sexual harassment: “If the skywriting over Washington is determined to be sexual harassment aimed at someone in the same squadron, service members involved could be subject to formal counseling, negative fitness reports that hurt careers, administrative punishment, or court-martial and separation from the service.” The Post did not explain, however, how those clouds could maintain their phallic shape, or any shape at all, during the 100-mile drift back to Whidbey Island.
These penises are not unprecedented. In August 2017, a Royal Air Force pilot sketched one 34-miles long over the skies of northern England. A few years before that, another RAF pilot drew one in Scottish airspace. And what looked suspiciously like one was left over Germany last April, but the Air Force denies the thing with two testicles, a shaft, and a rounded head was really a penis. They “were simply mission-related contrails,” Air Force officials said.
Not to be outdone, last Monday a Marine Corps T-34C pilot from MCAS Miramar drew not one, but two, penises over the Salton Sea in California’s Mojave desert. According to Major Josef Patterson, a spokesman with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, “We’ve opened an investigation that is underway as we speak.”
What is there to investigate?
I can tell the Marine Corps what happened. Fighter pilots, young males with type-A personalities assigned to stateside bases, were screwing around. This is a predominantly male profession. Less than five percent of pilots, civilian and military, are women.
Fighter pilots are America’s first line of defense. They protect our freedom. The propensity to engage in these acts is hard-wired into the young people we train to perform one of the world’s most dangerous jobs. A 2010 Doctoral Dissertation at Florida State University by Katie Ragan confirms this: ”Fighter pilots scored significantly higher than the general population on gregariousness, assertiveness, activity, excitement-seeking, ideas, competence, and achievement striving. Fighter pilots scored significantly lower than the general population on anxiety, depression, vulnerability, straightforwardness, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness.”
In short, fighter pilots are gutsy risk takers who worry far less about danger than others. They feed off adrenaline. They bore easily.
And with the gauntlet thrown, these penises will keep appearing overhead. The Florida study suggests fighter pilots readily accept challenges. I wager the impetus for these acts of sky artistry were double, or perhaps even triple, dog dares.
What do we expect from these young guys? They train to kill people under the most challenging of conditions. Political correctness may be in vogue with college students who cannot fathom why people don’t take their gender studies curriculum seriously, but not with fighter pilots. They don’t give a damn about being “progressive.” These guys are warriors.
But if you need close air support, who would you call?
I’ll take the pilot with the balls to draw a penis in the sky. I want Maverick, even knowing he got his ass chewed out for that flyby. The snowflakes can stay in safe spaces hugging gender-neutral therapy dolls.
“Fighter pilots are gutsy risk takers who worry far less about danger than others. They feed off adrenaline. They bore easily”
Right now at Miramar, a senior officer is disciplining a young pilot for doing something the senior did when he was in his twenties. I am not suggesting there should be no punishment. A pilot cannot take a seventy million dollar aircraft on a joyride. But nobody got hurt. Everyone I spoke to thought the sky penises were either funny or not important. They even spawned humorous twitter responses, such as the tweet that complimented the naval artistry over Okanagan and noted the drawing of the shaft “was the hardest part.”
The two Navy officers received the military version of a wrist slap. They now teach sensitivity to other pilots. I would love to sit in on that class. I hope the Marine Corps follows suit.
As a boy, I lived near Naval Air Station Los Alamitos. Along the fence separating the airfield from Lampson Road, a sign read, ‘Pardon our Noise. It’s the Sound of Freedom.”
Pardon that Penis. It’s the Price of Freedom.
E. (Mark) Johnson is a retired colonel of the United States Army Reserve, an Iraq War veteran, and a graduate of the United States Army War College.
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