The original 'Top Gun' was a recruiter’s dream. The sequel will be anything but

Vultures' Row
(Paramount Pictures)

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

The new trailer for Top Gun: Maverick was everything an aviator or wannabe aviator could hope for. I'm a sucker for a good military action movie as much as the next guy, so of course I'll go see it. Even a longtime helicopter and tiltrotor pilot like me can appreciate that a Low Altitude Tactics (LAT) flight at 500 knots is pretty badass — and yes, even acknowledge that an F/A-18E Rhino might be almost as sexy as a V-22.

In 1986, Top Gun (or TOPGUN for purists) changed civilians' whole perception of the military in general, and the Navy and naval aviation in particular. Applications for Annapolis skyrocketed. So did enlistments, along with buyer's remorse when thousands of sailors realized the only need for speed they'd feel would be manning their brooms a little quicker during "sweepers."

Top Gun: Maverick will probably be a very entertaining movie. While the Navy definitely would have shit-canned Mav years ago, Xenu has come through for him big time. Tom Cruise will be at his Cruisiest. But while popcorn sales will be through the roof in 2020, recruitment numbers won't skyrocket like they did in 1986. In fact, I'd bet they won't even budge.


The impact that Top Gun had on enlistment was unusual for one simple reason: there hadn't been a big conflict since the end of the Vietnam War 13 years earlier. Despite all of the supposed belligerency of the Reagan era, the biggest fight of the era was 72 hours in Grenada, immortalized in the Clint Eastwood classic Heartbreak Ridge. As much as Top Gun s air-to-air engagements made fighter jocks seem like knights of the sky, the real action in the next major conflict, the 1991 Gulf War, involved mostly dropping bombs. Dogfighting is so rare today that a state-of-the-art F/A-18E splashing a museum-worthy SU-22 Fitter rates a Distinguished Flying Cross.

Against the backdrop of almost no actual fighting in the real world, the bloodless yet glamorous engagements of Top Gun were seductive, and signing up to work in naval aviation was a glamorous gateway to the amateur shirtless volleyball circuit. But n 1986, there weren't multiple conflicts occurring simultaneously around the world, and while I don't know the plot of Top Gun: Maverick yet, but I venture to say that the climax will not be a mission representative of 99.9% of modern American air warfare, where the danger of just landing the aircraft is greater than the danger posed by the enemy.

This isn't an exaggeration. Today, the real nature of air warfare is readily apparent to anyone who cares. It's making the doughnuts, except occasionally someone dies; it means going to sea for eight months and maybe getting to drop some ordnance if you're lucky. Is Top Gun: Maverick going to feature a $70 million fighter dropping JDAMS on tribal gatherings in Yemen? Is Mav going to spend 3 hours performing duties as pretty much a manned UAV, recording the "pattern of life" of Afghan villagers with a targeting pod?

Funny how there aren't so many takers — it's gotten so bad that the Navy has to bribe fighter pilots up to $175K just to get them to stay and fly mach two with their hair on fire.

Movies and pop culture shape society, and even the military, more than many admit. In the absence of real conflict, Top Gun shaped its own narrative. It defined conflict on Hollywood's terms. But after nearly two decades of conflict, even the dullest moviegoer knows that flying F/A-18s is more deliveryman than steely-eyed killer. High explosive deliveries to huts in the middle of nowhere may be tactically essential, but they aren't the stuff of summer blockbusters.

During a time of peace, a movie glamorizing war drove recruitment through the roof. Unfortunately, in a time of war, movies glamorizing war don't work as well. You can count the number of true war movies this year with one hand. All the big ones, Aftermath, The Last Full Measure, etc. are about wars from generations past.

Today's wars don't offer the simplicity and clear heroes and villains the medium requires. They've gone for 18 years, so it's clear that no ending suitable for a movie climax is anywhere in sight. In today's wars, the heroes aren't pretty boys with spiked hair, but hard men with ridiculous beards.

Carl Forsling is a senior columnist for Task & Purpose. He is a Marine MV-22B pilot and former CH-46E pilot who retired from the military after 20 years of service. He is the father of two children and a graduate of Boston University and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter @CarlForsling

The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.

Then the rhythmic clapping begins.

This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.

"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.

In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.

"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."



Well, I feel better. How about you?

On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.

"We do not know where they are," James Jeffrey told members of Congress of the 100+ escaped detainees. ISIS has about 18,000 "members" left in Iraq and Syria, according to recent Pentagon estimates.

A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."

"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.

President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.

"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."

The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."

Trump said that "small number of U.S. troops" would remain in Syria to protect oilfields.


Kade Kurita (U.S. Army photo(

Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.

"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.

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Editor's Note: This article by Matthew Cox originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The U.S. Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon effort looked a lot more possible this week as the three competing weapons firms displayed their prototype 6.8mm rifles and automatic rifles at the 2019 Association of the United States Army's annual meeting.

Just two months ago, the Army selected General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems inc., Textron Systems and Sig Sauer Inc. for the final phase of the NGSW effort — one of the service's top modernization priorities to replace the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units.

Army officials, as well as the companies in competition, have been guarded about specific details, but the end result will equip combat squads with weapons that fire a specially designed 6.8mm projectile, capable of penetrating enemy body armor at ranges well beyond the current M855A1 5.56mm round.

There have previously been glimpses of weapons from two firms, but this year's AUSA was the first time all three competitors displayed their prototype weapons, which are distinctly different from one another.

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The Minot Air Force Base main gate (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force is investigating reports that an airman consumed marijuana while assigned to one of the highly-sensitive missile alert facility (MAF) responsible for overseeing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

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