Air-Minded: Walk My Elephant, Airman

Last I checked, the generic term for US Air Force personnel is airman, regardless of gender. When I write about my time in the cockpit of fighter aircraft, I usually describe myself as an aviator, but I’ll make more of an effort to use airman … I’m Air Force, after all, proud of it, and really should be using the right word.

There are many who feel the USAF should acknowledge gender by using airman and airwoman, but so far the service is sticking with airman, and with its enlisted rank titles of airman basic and airman. By the way, the FAA also uses airman. The Army has soldiers and the Navy has sailors, nice unisex terms, but the USAF (and the FAA) has airmen. Frankly, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a to-do over this, but I’m content to remain a neutral observer. And an airman.

A couple of days after Iranian general Qassem Suleimani was killed by a USAF drone strike in Iraq, this appeared in several media outlets:

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Fifty-two F-35s. Get it? Coupled with Trump’s earlier threat to attack 52 Iranian sites “important to Iran & the Iranian culture,” this bit of sword-brandishing was clearly symbolic. Fifty-two: one for each American hostage taken by Iran and held for 444 days between November 1979 and January 1981.

Thousands of airmen worked hard to stage this elephant walk: mechanics, weapons loaders, fuels personnel, schedulers, crew chiefs, egress specialists, pilots … I’m leaving out a lot of other specialties. Like, for example, the airman in the cherry picker they parked in front to take the photo. And what purpose did all this effort serve?

Far be it from me to question the training and readiness benefits of recalling personnel, generating aircraft, loading weapons, breaking out the frag, scheduling and briefing missions, and staging a mass launch. That’s a wartime scenario, one we constantly practice for with operational readiness exercises and inspections.

Except OREs and ORIs generally do not include lining up combat assets in orderly rows for publicity photos. Oh, well, at least one Air Force general thought this was worth the enormous expenditure of taxpayer dollars and effort, and maybe he’ll get another star out of it.

© 2020, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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One thought on “Air-Minded: Walk My Elephant, Airman

  • Paul, I’ve recently stumbled onto your blog and really enjoy what you do here.

    I can make a few comments on last year’s “elephant walk” here at Hill AFB (officially termed a combat capabilities demonstration).

    First of all, it was not a novel event. Similar exercises are conducted from time to time at our Korean bases at least, and perhaps elsewhere. At Kunsan in 2012 I assisted with an effort to generate dozens of F-16s, each with full combat load. Of course, PA office widely publicizes these, because it would defeat one of the main purposes if our enemies were not to see what we can do.

    I can confirm that the number of F-35s was pure coincidence. President Trump May have deliberately chosen to mention 52 targets for symbolic connection to the 52 hostages; I can’t speak to that. But Hill’s F-35 squadrons simply generated every aircraft possible. If we could have launched 53, 54, or more, we would have. 52 happened to be the number we could achieve that day.

    As far as the gender-specific term Airman, I too am a little surprised there has not been more of a fuss raised, given today’s rampant political correctness movement. Hopefully, we will not see some ridiculous directive to specify airmen vs. airwomen, or worse yet, settle on something like airpersons.

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