Morale: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


February 27, 2008: The recent U.S. Navy "kill" of a spy satellite, using one of its SM-3 anti-aircraft missiles (modified to knock down ballistic missiles) gave the sailors something to be proud of. In the past, destroying something usually resulted in some kind of symbol being painted on the ship superstructure, or the aircraft. But of late, there have been few events that justified painting little ship or aircraft silhouettes near the bridge or on the sides of warplanes. In fact, the impressive knock down of a space satellite (the first for a navy ship) put the spotlight on the recent practice of putting symbols on the ship representing administrative achievements. These can often be seen painted on the bridge wings (those long "porches" that extend from the windowed top deck of the superstructure, or the "bridge"). These different colored "E"'s representing superior combat readiness, engineering readiness, supply readiness, deck crew readiness, whatever. Some ships have put up symbols for shooting down target drones with their missiles.

We tend to forget that's been a long time since the U.S. Navy or Air Force has killed much in the air or on sea. It's the down side of being top dog. No one wants to mess with you in a big way. So sailors are reduced to keeping track of how many ships they have boarded (searching for terrorists or contraband), or target drones they have shot down, or "readiness" awards they have received. It's worse for the aviators. No aces on active service, and few living ones left. No new aces since Vietnam. The navy has sunk a few warships in the Persian Gulf in the past two decades, but nothing that would pass for any kind of "naval battle." It's all sort of a, "the best of times, the worst of times."


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