It was a typical Thursday morning until your friendly Pentagon correspondent asked his boss for permission to write about the U.S. military’s obsession with penises.
Oriana Pawlyk from Military.com had just broken a story that an Air Force commander who led the – wait for it – 69th Bomb Squadron had been fired because his airmen drew dong doodles on their B-52s’ mapping software. An Air Force official confirmed to Task & Purpose the story was accurate.
Lt. Col. Paul Goossen is the fifth military aviator to be caught up in a Penis-Gate scandal in the past year. Two Navy aviators were punished administratively after drawing a sky dong over Washington state in November 2017. Two Marine Corps pilots were grounded this year after flying in a penis-shaped pattern, which was noticed by a Twitter user.
It is unclear whether penis-related incidents are on the rise within the military or if more service members are being disciplined under the Defense Department’s new sexual harassment policy that was released earlier this year.
“We expect all service members to act in a professional manner at all times in order to maintain an atmosphere of dignity and respect and ensure an environment free from discrimination, harassment, and assault,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “By identifying and addressing problematic behaviors early, we hope to prevent them from escalating.”
Your friend and humble narrator is getting a little tired of writing about sky phalluses and other depictions of male genitalia, but the time has come to talk about why U.S. service members worship the wang. (Did the military really need to name its biggest buster bunker the “Massive Ordnance Penetrator”?)
You don’t hear doctors, lawyers, or Nobel Laureates use the term “broke d**k” to describe something that doesn’t work. Not even bachelorette parties produce as many tributes to balls and shafts as infantry Marines and soldiers.
To find out what is driving the military’s fixation with phallic idols, this reporter reached out to a prominent think tank in Washington, D.C. Within minutes, they called back asking if the email that your correspondent had sent them was spam.
To quote George Takei: “Oh my.”
Fortunately, yours truly was able to connect with Ramon Hinojosa, a sociology professor at the University of Central Florida, who has studied masculinity in the military. He said imagery of the male sex organ is symbolic expression of power and dominance, especially in a “hyper-masculine” environment such as the military.
“The core of a military identity is tied into this warrior ethos of being strong and tough,” Hinojosa said. “This notion that being tough and strong and having a sexual prowess is just a core part of what we as Americans see masculinities are. That translates across institutions, at least as far as the military is concerned, into strong, tough, heterosexuality. Of course, the depiction of a penis just sort of boils that right down to the essence of the masculine norm.”
An alternative theory is that when troops draw phalluses, it is not inherently a sexual act, said former Army Staff Sgt. A.J. Merrifield, creator of “BOB on the FOB Comics.”
“Rather, it’s the taboo nature of it, the childish desire to do something naughty, especially in such a restrictive environment, that draws the attention of the wannabee phallic artist,” Merrifield told Task & Purpose. “In fact, some of the most prolific penis drawers I ever encountered in the military were female! Add to that the constant desire to outdo the other services, especially when it comes to drawing giant penises in the sky, and you can pretty much guarantee every service is going to do it.”
Much about military life centers on conformity, so military humor revolves around what makes service members different: Troops’ individual bodies, said Max Uriarte, creator of the “Terminal Lance” comic strip and author of the graphic novel “White Donkey.”
“You get a lot of jokes about the things that make you unique in a situation where you’re all homogenized,” Uriarte told Task & Purpose. “Somehow, d**ks are always funny.
“The first thing that comes to mind when a Marine gets a pen in his hand and there is a wall or there is a jet vapor trail, or there is some kind of rock formation that you can build, a d**k is always the first thing Marines go to. I don’t know if there is a scientific reason for that, but it always seems to be the case.”
Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 13 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at [email protected] or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.