Superstitions in the U.S. Military can be found in every unit, from the battalion headquarters down to the fire team, the chief’s mess to the flight deck, or the cockpit of a fighter jet to the depths of a nuclear silo. Some are rooted deeply in military history, while others are born from a series of unfortunate events. 

Task & Purpose surveyed our audience to hear what superstitions service members carried with them while serving or even after leaving the service — and the stories we heard did not disappoint.

One of the best-known superstitions is that tankers will not allow apricots in their tanks. This belief is prevalent throughout any armor profession in the military, including U.S. Marine Corps amphibious landing vehicles. Having that devilish fruit on board is believed to cause equipment and gear failures, or even death. 

But wait, there’s more!  

No MRE spoon? Break a leg

Dr. Mike Simpson started his military career in 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, where he spent four years as an Airborne Ranger before moving on to his next unit. 

Sometime in 1985, he conjured up a superstition that not having a spoon with your Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) would lead to bad things happening. 

“A year later, we were in Honduras training, and one of the guys in the platoon had no spoon,” Simpson said. On their return flight, they executed a static line parachute drop onto Hunter Army Airfield in Savanah, Georgia. “He broke his leg on the jump back into Savannah.”

Simpson had almost forgotten about his little ruse to mess with his fellow Rangers, but ever since that jump, the MRE spoon is a superstition he’s never forgotten.

Dr. Pepper and Security Forces

U.S. Air Force Sr. Airman Austin Malin has been in Security Forces for over three years. He learned early on that you do not open a can of Dr. Pepper within the Base Defense Operation Center.

“If someone opens a Dr. Pepper in the BDOC, then shit hits the fan,” Malin said. “Last time someone did that on my shift, it was completely quiet beforehand, but after the crisp pop of that damn can of soda, we had nonstop 911 calls, among other stupid shit.” 

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Anyone who does this will receive the wrath of their fellow airmen. Malin recalled another time someone cracked a can open. They tried to keep thoughts of the curse of the Dr. Pepper can out of their head, but it didn’t take long before the superstition knocked on the front door. 

“We didn’t think anything would really happen until the floodgates opened,” Malin said.

Call after call came in for the remainder of their shift. It was the kind of 911 calls that can test your patience: people calling to ask for the pharmacy’s operating hours or drunk people doing stupid stuff. It’s a superstition that reverberates throughout the Air Force’s Security Forces.

Malin said it’s so prevalent that his tech school cadre banned Dr. Pepper for the duration of training. But everyone has that one guy in their unit who likes to tempt fate. For example, Malin said one of his fellow airmen liked to carry an unopened Dr. Pepper in his lunchbox. 

“I think it’s more like walking around with a grenade in your pocket,” Malin said. “Given that it’s probably a few years old, it’s a hairpin trigger on that soda.” 

Coast Guard bananas

Connor Graham has served in the U.S. Coast Guard for five years and had the pleasure of being underway for the first time at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. They would have to quarantine for 14 days before heading out to sea and then wear masks for the first 14 days underway. 

The pre-vaccine pandemic led to people conjuring all sorts of tinctures and foods to help their bodies be more resilient to COVID-19. Bananas were one of the foods rumored to help, because of their high amounts of B6. The boat’s chief culinary specialist brought bananas along for the patrol.

Graham and his fellow sailors wanted nothing to do with them while underway. 

“Many sailors are superstitious that having bananas on board before getting underway and while underway is bad luck. Either the patrol can be extended, or the ship will experience an unexpected equipment casualty.”  

During their pandemic patrol, they weren’t just extended but double extended. An already stressful 60 days at sea grew to 77 days. On a later patrol, Graham and his fellow sailors spotted a container of bananas on deck while loading the ship.

“We expeditiously disposed of those bananas,” Graham said. “We came home a day early on that patrol.” 

Coast Guard sailors often mess with their chefs, warning that bananas would bring banana rats and their ghosts aboard. The mischievous rats would cause all sorts of mechanical and technological issues on the ship. 

This superstition isn’t unique to the Coast Guard. A Navy diver responded to Task & Purpose’s call out, saying he wouldn’t allow bananas on his dive boats. But it’s not specific to military service, either. 

Bananas aboard a ship is a superstition deeply rooted in sailor culture and dates back to the early 1700s. As sailors transited unknown waters with their new fruits, they didn’t realize the bananas would break down and release a gas that made them ripen faster. In addition, they could break down into alcohol, creating a fire hazard that plagued ships. 

Bananas’ natural ability to float further bolstered the superstition among sailors along international trading routes. The hallmark sign of a sunken ship was a bunch of floating bananas on the ocean’s surface.  

A paratroopers beret

Christopher-Ian Reichel was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, where many superstitions float through the ranks. He isn’t sure if it’s unique to him or for other paratroopers, but he always carried his maroon beret with him regardless of whether they were training or on patrol during a deployment. 

During a static line parachute drop for training, Reichel’s fellow paratrooper broke an ankle in the drop zone. Reichel joined the team sent to pick up the injured paratrooper from the Womack Army Medical Center, where this superstition began.  

“Some POG NCO told him he had to wear his helmet outside until he returned to the barracks and got the proper headgear,” Reichel said. “Over time, it gradually went from a joke to a full-blown superstition. I even carried [my beret] sealed in a waterproof pouch during swamp or water operations.” 

Reichel wouldn’t go anywhere in uniform without his maroon beret, firmly convinced something terrible would happen if he didn’t have it on his person. He made sure he could physically touch it before every jump, too. Several years after his service in the Army ended, he still keeps it close by today. 

“Somehow, I still always keep my beret on one of my bookshelves where I can see it. I didn’t realize it until I shared the old superstition, but maybe I feel like it still keeps my apartment safe.” 

Another person who spent 23 years in the Army, with 10 years in airborne units, said they would avoid giving any good luck encouragement until they got the 30 seconds out warning from the jump master. Paratroopers may be among the most superstitious service members in the U.S. military. 

Say it out loud three times

Randy Hill served in the infantry for 15 years. He heard a common superstition while serving with 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment out of Ft. Drum, New York. In Hill’s platoon, grunts who said “rain” or “the rain god’s a pu—y” three times in a row would bring down torrential downpours. 

“Everyone in my platoon said it ‘98 to ‘05. Did it work every time? Nope,” Hill said. “It’s like sex panther cologne; it worked 60% of the time, every time.” 

A fellow grunt he identified as Spc. Van Dyke seemed to have a strange obsession with tough training. During a training mission through a swamp, Van Dyke said it three times, and the rain came. The whole platoon had to train in the extra-wet conditions through the night. Why he did it, no one truly knows. 

“Van Dyke enjoyed it more when things sucked, so he did it several more times,” Hill said. “Odd thing is, he re-enlisted to be a watercraft operator.” 

It’s a superstition Hill still holds today, though he said living in central Texas helps ward away the rain god. 

MRE zapplesauce

Dylan Kidd has served in the Marine Corps for several years and came across a superstitious belief while assigned to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. No one was “allowed to eat the zapplesauce” that came with certain MREs. 

Every time someone in the past ate it, something would go wrong. This superstition is seemingly scary but innocent at the same time. Kidd said it could cause a JLTV to flip (in this instance, there were no injuries, just a lot of hurt feelings) to torrential downpours during training. 

This lasted until one brave ‘boot’ decided to break the curse of the zapplesauce. During training at 29 Palms, a machine gun grunt chugged almost an entire gallon of the zapplesauce “to break the curse.” 

How anyone could chug that much apple sauce, let alone the bioengineered stuff in an MRE, is a world wonder. 

“Machine gun boots are made of some substance that science has yet to discover,” Kidd said. 

He said he still gets nervous today despite the curse having been previously broken. 

“Anytime I see one nowadays, it causes a similar effect of an abused spouse whenever someone talks too loudly,” Kidd said. 

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