How do you make sense of 2017? Maybe you don’t. But you can’t deny that it was a defining year for the United States military, which got a shiny new chain of command, renewed interest from the U.S. public at large, and a whole lot of weird news day after day. Task & Purpose asked you, our readers, what you thought our community’s biggest stories were this year, and these are the results.
21. The Navy “Sky Penis”
Well, it was literally a big story, inscribed on a big sky. They did it. They knew it was going to get them in trouble, but they did it anyway. Maybe because we all needed a sophomoric laugh, maybe because we actually were interested in the history of military personnel drawing very large dicks in the heavens. Either way: Thank you, cock-riders in the sky.
20. “Passing my fitness test”
It’s a perennial concern for all the soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen out there. And it’s no small thing, since the particular standards may have gotten harder this year, or easier, or just more interesting and weird. Fortunately, on-base DFACs and “active designs” for walking and biking paths are making it harder than ever for troops to be a lazy fatbody. Thanks, Pentagon!
19. The military’s UFO sightings and extraterrestrial research
The truth is out there — out there like these Navy Hornet drivers and this former DoD staffer, whose outfit spent $22 million to investigate alien space threats to earth. But, hey, even if those extraterrestrials never materialize as more than fast glowing dots on a heads-up display, at least we’re still working on a Star Trek holodeck for the Marine commandant.
18. Army remembers how to play football
“Pride, power, and not much passing”: That’s how we described the normally hard-to-watch Army–Navy matchup this year. But pride comes first, especially for the cadets of West Point, who have managed to string together a two-win streak against Navy for the first time since Bob Dole ran for president. Win or lose next year, they’re already doing better at football than at pacifying Afghanistan.
17. “That guy peeing on the family at the Metallica concert?”
You thought it was an important veteran story. Who are we to disagree?
16. The transgender service fight
As with gay and lesbian service members and women in combat roles in previous years, 2017 turned the Pentagon into a battleground over a vital cultural question: Should openly transgender people be allowed to serve their country? In the ranks and even in the administration, there’s been bitter disagreement. But one thing’s for sure: Tweeting your opinion doesn’t make it so.
15. Marines United and the turning tide in sexual harassment and assault cases
The internet is awful. That doesn’t mean our military needs to be. Revenge porn, wanton misogyny, shitty troll memes: In 2017, acting like a knuckle-dragging shitheart on the web left Marines on the wrong side of the commandant and Defense Secretary James “Chaos” Mattis. Which is not to say there isn’t still a ton of work to be done, but there are encouraging signs of progress nonetheless.
14. Bowe Bergdahl
13. American pilots score their first air-to-air kill since 1999
12. The Army gets a new pistol
Say hello to your M17 Modular Handgun System, soldiers — aka the Sig Sauer P320, a striker-fired 9mm hand cannon that’s going to replace the ol’ double action M9. Oh, sure, Sig’s fat, half-billion-dollar contract didn’t sit well with competitor Glock, but judging from the excited reaction among soldiers (and Air Force, Navy, and Marine leadership), you may want to start range-practicing now anyway.
11. Women join the Marine infantry
It started with a wave of enlistees on infantry contracts in Parris Island at the beginning of 2017. It continued with the integration of three female infantrymen — a rifleman, mortarman, and machine-gunner — into the Fleet Marine Force a month later, and it culminated with the September minting of the Corps’ first female infantry officer. In a year packed with new horizons for women in uniform, none may have been as significant as women’s admission to the tough — and privileged — ranks of the Marine grunts.
10. Service members get a decent pay raise
2.4% — that’s how much more salary the troops are earning next year. It’s a bigger raise than President Donald Trump got from Congress in the 2018 defense budget — he ended up boosting military salaries again in a Christmas executive order — and it’s lower than the overall rate of economic growth. But, hey, it beats the 1.3% bump Trump’s predecessor gave the military in 2016, and it’s the biggest raise in eight years — largely thanks to Congress’ recent sequestration and budget-squeezing. Now, on to fixing that issue for disabled veterans who keep having to return their separation pay to Uncle Sam.
9. America gets a new commander-in-chief
The story of the year, one of you said, was getting a “new commander in chief who cares about his folks and lets them handle business not what the UN thinks.” Or, as another of you put it, “A PRESIDENT WITH BALLS.” Whatever you think of President Donald Trump, his former four-star chief of staff, his former four-star defense secretary, his former three-star former national security advisor, and his penchant for “goddamned steam,” the military is getting a lot more attention these days, a lot more work, and huge-ass challenge coins.
8. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (extremely retired)
We’ll just let the headlines tell his story:
Lt Gen Flynn Confirms He Was A Foreign Agent During The 2016 Campaign
Mike Flynn Made A Lot More Money In Russia Than He Disclosed Before
Flynn Stopped Military Plan Turkey Opposed — After Being Paid As Its Agent
How Flynn Became The Shortest Serving National Security Advisor Ever
Now Even The Pentagon Is Investigating Retired Lt Gen Michael Flynn
Even Republicans Are Saying Retired Lt Gen Mike Flynn Broke The Law Now
Retired Lt Gen Michael Flynn Charged With Making False Statements To FBI Over Communication With Russian Ambassador
Mike Flynn Offers To Be interviewed By FBI In Exchange For Immunity
Intel Officials Knew Flynn Vulnerable To Blackmail But Still Shared Sensitive Info With Him
Flynn Pleads Guilty On Russia Charge, This Shit Is Real, So Get A Helmet
7. Uniform changes
Goodbye, blueberries! Goodbye, gray PT uniform and hello, sexy black-and-yellow PT thing. Also, a hearty howdy to the new light jungle cammies, the mysterious black operator jammies, and the $28 million worth of forest camouflage utilities ordered for the rag-tag U.S.-trained defenders of a nation that’s 2% forest. Shoot, that money could’ve bought a lot of Army pinks and greens. Let’s roll our sleeves up and figure this all out.
6. Marines and Crayolas
Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, burn. Thanks for reminding us of that, reader!
5. Dangerous training and the rise in non-combat fatalities
Perhaps you recall 2017’s deadly spike in Marine aircraft mishaps, punctuated by the loss of 16 naval personnel in a July C-130 crash over Mississippi, just after the service’s top pilot said the Corps was short on maintainers. Perhaps you’re still haunted by the horrific, fatal collisions at sea of the USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain, just two of four serious underway incidents in 2017 for the forward-deployed (and arguably sleepy) Pacific-based 7th Fleet. But there have also been dangerous oxygen-supply problems in Air Force and Navy cockpits; an amphib fire that injured more than a dozen Marines and sailors; a bomb-range mishap on Fort Bragg that killed a special operations soldier and injured eight more; and a troubling rise in parachute deaths among elite operators. Some people started blaming vast conspiracies, but the truth was simpler: High global optempo, force overstretch, and fatigue are leading to more training-related and stateside fatalities in the service; it’s a trend the community continues to watch closely going into the new year.
4. The fall of Mosul, Raqqa, and ISIS
After years of heavy bombing that left lots of collateral damage, the U.S.-led rout of the Islamic State pretty much killed the jihad group’s pretenses of being a global caliphate. But you can’t kill an idea; the big questions — like what comes next in Iraq and Syria, where the bad guys got their guns, or how you keep those routed fighters from becoming suicide bombers in busy cities worldwide — are still without answers.
3. We are still at war, 16 years after we started
Osama bin Laden is shark poop. ISIS is wrecked. And yet. And yet, and yet… we have no new real blueprint for winning America’s longest war and no long-term vision for what comes next in Syria and Iraq. The new administration’s strategy in Afghanistan — a war that’s now old enough to drive in all 50 states — is “do more, quicker” with Defense Secretary James Mattis and his new rules of engagement, but that (and the Mother Of All Bombs) is hardly enough to impress experts and veterans, one of whom went back to Afghanistan nearly a decade after his deployment to give T&P readers the ground atmospherics. Let’s… just agree not to completely privatize this conflict quite yet, even if the forever war has become an everywhere war, too.
2. The troubling, murky situation with SOCOM in Africa
Most Americans started 2017 not realizing that there was a significant U.S. military presence in Africa. In fact, there are more special operations forces there than in any other theater outside the Middle East — a “quiet” front in the War on Terror that punctured the American consciousness in unfortunate ways this year. First, there was the ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers, precipitated a presidential meltdown and media shitfest, and still hasn’t been fully or adequately explained by authorities. Then there was the bombshell revelation that two Navy SEALs allegedly strangled a Green Beret to death in Mali, possibly over government financial discrepancies. The widening anti-terror front, the quiet operators, the shadow war all seem to be leading to greater risk for U.S. troops, and less transparency for taxpayers.
1. North Korea
It’s hard to believe sometimes that an existential nuclear threat could emanate from an obese man-child in charge of a broken-down dictatorship that can barely electrify its territories for night-lighting. But North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, locked in an eternal trollfest with the always-tweeting American president, has pushed his regime into nuclear-power status with a couple of workable bombs, some pared-down intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the kind of trash talk that’s more suited to Sportscenter segments than global geopolitics. It doesn’t help that Congress and the U.S. administration seem inclined toward military options with the hermit kingdom, most of which end with Seoul in rubble. Will there be a military destabilization next year? Hopefully not, but it’s unlikely the media will quit freaking out and signal-boosting the tinpot dictator with some fissile bombs anytime soon.