5 military stock photos that are so awful, we're not even mad — we're actually impressed

Mandatory Fun
In Praise Of The Stock Photo Hero

Bad stock photos never hurt anyone, but they haven't done a lot of good either.

Sure, there are the occasional horrible stock images that perpetuate negative stereotypes about the U.S. military and veteran community, but those seem to be outliers. On the whole, they're just consistently bad in the same predictable, if not laughable, ways.

And look, it's tough to find that perfect shot. We get it, it's not like the Pentagon or subscription-based services and news wires have vast archives of images showing actual service members doing their jobs, wearing the proper uniforms, and conducting themselves in a way befitting of the service they're in. That'd be too easy. (On an unrelated note, check out DVIDS, the Associated Press, or Getty Images, among others if you're looking for photos of actual troops, doing actual "troop things.")

But sometimes a business, or ad agency, or political group, or misguided news site has to turn to stock photo archives for that one-in-a-million pic — or more than likely, the first one they see out of a sea of millions. And that's how you end up with gems like this:

Everything with that uniform is wrong.Screenshot via Veterans Legal Institute.

Pictures like the one above is why it's high time your fearless cyber sleuth returned to the bowels of online image databases looking for the crème de la crème of terrible military stock photos. If you're looking for our earlier round-ups, you can find Volume 1, and Volume 2, here.

Without further ado, here is your latest addition to our growing collection of the best of bad military stock photos. And yes, you're very welcome for my service.

So many questions; no good answers.


Did he accidentally click on a video playing Reveille or Retreat? Was this the end of a very high-stakes video conference call with his commanding officer, presumably in a war zone, given all that PPE? Or did he just get the ass chewing of a life time from his old lady for skipping out on family time to go play air soft with the boys?

Nobody will ever know, but it's fun to speculate.

Also: Those elbow pads and that awkward-as-fuck salute. Lol.

And then I said: "Mr. President, 'Space ISIS' isn't a real thing."


Accurately captioned "Happy senior veteran communicating on mobile phone while relaxing in his office with feet up on the table," this image could just as easily be a now-retired general kicking back at his house and regaling his also very retired general buddies with stories of his last day as a four-star.

That or he's reading the most recent news out of Afghanistan and saying "thank god I have my DD-214" just like the rest of us.

Join the Army: Become Jesus


Have you ever dreamed of serving your country, and being a paragon of heavenly might at the same time? Based on this stock photo, military service appears to come with a side order of sainthood.

Why hello there, off-brand action hero man


Nobody joins the military with the hope of being stuck on post anxiously waiting for some super secret squirrel operator to come creeping up behind you with a knife. No, we all want to be Metal Gear's Solid Snake, but that bar is a little too high, so sometimes you have to settle for the Safeway Select version.

On that note, discount Delta operator over here could use a refresher on weapons safety — that or he's about to have his first desk pop, given that his finger is on the trigger.

Looks legit to me


Sometimes you come across a stock photo that's gets everything so spectacularly wrong that you have to pause and wonder: Is this a really good practical joke that I'm just not getting?

This is that photo. From the bizarre decision to use a Navy or Marine Corps' style eight-point cover with an Army camo-pattern from the late 2000s and early 2010s; to the belligerently rolled sleeves; and the final touch, saluting with the left hand — this is so bad it's practically a modern art masterpiece.

Sailors from Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 1 conduct category III qualifications on the M2A1 heavy machine gun at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. CRS-1 is qualifying for future mobilization requirements. (U.S. Navy/Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma)

The Navy is considering giving Ma Deuce a quiet new update.

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A competitor performs push-ups during the physical fitness event at the Minnesota Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition on April 4, 2019, at Camp Ripley, Minnesota. (Minnesota National Guard photo by Sgt. Sebastian Nemec)

Despite what you may have heard, the Army has not declared war on mustaches.

The Army W.T.F! Moments Facebook page on Monday posted a memo written by a 3rd Infantry Division company commander telling his soldiers that only the fittest among them will be allowed to sprout facial hair under their warrior nostrils.

"During my tenure at Battle Company, I have noticed a direct correlation between mustaches and a lack of physical fitness," the memo says. "In an effort to increase the physical fitness of Battle Company, mustaches will not be authorized for any soldier earning less than a 300 on the APFT [Army Physical Fitness Test]."

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Task & Purpose

I don't always drop everything to spend a few hours with a short, squat Marine, but when I do, you can bet it's for Chesty.

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A U.S. Army Soldier assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, consoles a fellow Soldier after sleeping on the ground in a designated sleeping area on another cold evening, between training exercises during NTC 17-03, National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, CA., Jan. 15, 2017. (U.S. Army/Spc. Tracy McKithern)

The Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) is the largest official database of U.S. military media available for public consumption. It is also an occasional source of unexpected laughs, like this gem from a live fire exercise that a public affairs officer simply tagged 'Fire mortar boom.' In the world of droll data entry and too many acronyms, sometimes little jokes are their own little form of rebellion, right?

But some DVIDS uploads, however, come with captions and titles that cut right to the core, perfectly capturing the essence of life in the U.S. military in a way that makes you sigh, facepalm, and utter a mournful, 'too real.'

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The U.S. military does not need Iraqi permission to fly close air support and casualty evacuation missions for U.S. troops in combat, a top spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS clarified on Tuesday.

Army Col. James Rawlinson clarified that the Iraqis do not need to approve missions in emergency circumstances after Task & Purpose reported on Monday that the U.S. military needed permission to fly CAS missions for troops in a fight.

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