For many Americans, the opportunity to serve one’s country is viewed as the ultimate symbol of patriotism. There of course exists many misconceptions surrounding the lives of service members, as well as the different military components in which they serve.
These inaccuracies are not only perpetuated by Hollywood, the media, the public, and your over-protective Grandma, but even among the service members themselves.
As of 2015, over 3.5 million Americans and legal immigrants were serving in the armed forces. Each branch of the military is unique and comes with its own rich history, culture, and tradition–all of which vary greatly between one another.
As a Sailor who currently works in a joint-service environment, I myself have come across these strange myths and rumors regarding Navy life.
In fact, communities like Shit My LPO Says have gained popularity because we as service members recognize and enjoy laughing over these common misconceptions as well as the various levels of stupidity encountered on a daily basis. It is the ability to laugh at the insanity of life in the military which unites all service members across the branches.
Over the years I have come to realize that the perception that the public has of the military is just as skewed, if not more so. Whenever I tell people that I am in the Navy I usually get looks of surprise, sometimes followed by a statement along the lines of:
You don’t look like you are in the military, you seem so normal and intelligent.
Well, what does that even mean? What aspect of my military service makes me so not-normal? In light of this, I would like to attempt to set the record straight based on my own perspectives.
Naturally, I can’t even come close to listing all of the myths, nor can I speak for every other sailor, but I can at least list my “favorite” myths about Navy life and attempt to debunk them. So, in no particularly order:
1. If you are an idiot or a possible criminal, at least the military is always an option.
During the 80’s and 90’s, Hollywood beat the guy-joins-the-military-to-avoid-jail-time trope to death. Today, movies like Zero Dark Thirty and American Sniper have done a lot to elevate the perception of military members from that of its post-Vietnam depths, and shed some light on the caliber of men and women serving. However the belief that the military will accept criminals into its ranks still lingers.
Depending on what job you are vying for in the Navy, sometimes even excessive parking violations can bar you from service. On top of that, many fields within the Navy require security-clearance eligibility, which excludes those with criminal records.
Other movies like Chasers, Down Periscope, or In the Army Now (a personal favorite of mine) have portrayed those who enlisted as hapless idiots who joined the military because they didn’t have any better options at the time.
I once even had a Lieutenant on my ship say to me,
You know, you are too smart to be enlisted, you should have gone officer.
Eight years ago I was mistakenly flattered by this statement, but today’s reality is that this “intelligence” gap between officers and the enlisted has narrowed considerably. During the days of yore, Naval commissioned officers came from esteemed families and well-to-do backgrounds.There was an established division between that of the gentry officer and those who enlisted.
Today however, the only thing that really separates an officer from an enlisted member is a 4-year degree.
The amount of Sailors with under-graduate degrees has doubled since 1995, whereas those who possess, at the minimum, a high-school diploma or some college experience totals to about 92%. The 2008 economic downturn saw an influx of military enlistees, many who had already obtained their higher-education prior to enlisting.
2. You will probably get raped my roving gangs of homosexuals
I vividly remember, back in 2006, calling my aunt after I had sworn into the Delayed Entry Program to tell her that I was joining the Navy. She responded with:
What?! Oh my god, you are going to get raped by lesbians on a submarine!!!!!
After calming her down, I had to explain that women were not allowed on submarines, and service members were not allowed to serve while openly gay.
Rape and sexual assault are not problems solely faced by members of the military. It continues to be a problem in our society–and the world as a whole. The military has come under fire in recent years regarding how it has handled rape cases in the past, which has prompted a change of perspective as to how victims are regarded and treated.
Sailors are mandated to attend sexual assault awareness and prevention training at least once a year. As this training has evolved over the past decade, I have noticed a marked shift in the way the Navy now deals with these crimes.
Of course it isn’t a perfect system, but unlike current laws where victims must continuously prove their victimization, the Navy’s zero tolerance policy is light years ahead of the game.
As for homosexuals serving in the military, sexual orientation may have been a reason for barring someone from serving in the past, but today, with the repeal of the misguided Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, sexual orientation is no longer a factor.
After the recent legalization of gay marriage, all service members and their spouses, regardless of orientation, are entitled to the benefits that they have worked hard for.
Those who still cling to the perception that men may end up raped by gay men (or women by lesbians) conveniently forget the fact that rape is not solely sexual in nature. It is a violent attempt to show dominance and gain power over a victim, a.k.a, one of the ultimate acts of cowardice.
3. Women don’t get very far in the Navy
To me this stands as one of the most ridiculous myths surrounding woman who serve in the military. Spewed from the mouths of disgruntled members who still believe that women have no place in the military. Sadly enough, this mindset still permeates military culture, spread by men and women.
Ironically enough, sometimes this perception is reversed. I have had several discussions with male colleagues who felt that my achievements in the military were solely due to my being a female minority. I find this to be doubly-ironic since the perception that women have to work harder than men to achieve the same results prevails in the civilian sector.
While some aspects of military service are still restricted to women (at least until the end of the year), the Navy itself has lifted the ban on women in submarines, and other services like the Army have afforded women the opportunity to try out for their elite Ranger School.
As for the success of minorities, just taking into account Navy women like Michelle J. Howard the first woman and African-American to reach the position of a 4-star Admiral, and Rear Admiral Bette Bolivar being the first Filipina to head US Naval Command, one can say that women and minorities continue to break barriers–and receive equal wages.
From left to right: Rear Admiral Bolivar, Admiral Howard. US Navy.
Based on demographics alone, women comprise over 15% of active duty members in the military. With the Navy’s recent push to equalize the amount of men and women serving the military the only disparity men and women will face in the coming years will be based solely on their hard work and merit, not by what doesn’t dangle between their legs.
4. Navy girls are whores who are after your husbands
One day while walking the corridors of my ship, the spouse of a coworker stopped me and told me that she saw me in a photo on FaceBook wherein I was posing with about 5 other friends and her husband. She promptly accused me of trying to “get at her man” and warned me to stay away from him–or else.
Naturally I was taken aback, however I wasn’t sure which part of that remark had insulted me the most. The fact that she thought I was after her husband, or that she would have the audacity to think that I would lower my standards, like she had, for a chubby, smelly guy whose farts smelled like a dirty diaper fermented in skunk juice.
I’m certainly not the first or last woman to experience such levels of backlash from other women for serving in the Navy. Funnily enough, after the Navy announced its decision to open up submarine duty for women, the majority of complaints and concerns that filtered came from the wives of sailors as opposed to the sailors themselves.
Unfortunately, our society still places value upon the “hotness” of a woman and not by her achievements. Until people realize that what a woman does with her body and who she does it with is wholly her own business, slut-shaming will continue to be an aspect of womanhood that we all will have to bear.
I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen who are threatened by us women, but we are too busy fighting for our country and for your rights to care what you think of us.
5. Sailors are a bunch of drunks who spend all their money on booze and hookers
I do realize the irony and hypocrisy of bringing up this drunken aspect of the Sailor culture since I myself have contributed to it on several occasions early on in my career, however it is an image which the Navy has gone to great lengths to distance itself from.
De-glamorizing alcohol and promoting programs that steer sailors away from drinking or provide them with resources to battle alcoholism have been in effect for decades.
Many sailors from different commands have created initiatives to give each other the opportunity to find a way to blow of steam at liberty calls in ways that don’t involve getting shit-faced at a bar.
Once upon a time, the joke that you couldn’t make Chief without getting a DUI use to be widespread, but today’s reality is that the Navy levies heavy restrictions on service members who get DUI’s.
These punishments can not only lead to reduced pay and rank, but a less than honorable discharge from service as well. Those repercussions haven’t even included the civil and legal penalties those sailors will face through the judicial system.
Another unsavory image of male sailors is their supposed penchant for prostitutes. Now of course I am not going to act like it wasn’t something that I saw men who I served with engage in, but they were certainly the exception.
Prostitution is illegal in the military and is punishable by the Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) and the UCMJ (Uniformed Code of Military Justice).
Whether the woman that the sailor payed to have sex with comes from a Backpage ad or a South-East Asian port doesn’t change the fact that there are those who are willing to pay for sex and will continue to do so, regardless of whether they serve in the Navy or not.
Awareness remains the only really effective tool against deterring those who would otherwise engage in this form of human trafficking.
In the end…
Serving in the Navy, or any other branch of the military, is difficult and not for everyone. Though many people have their own personal reasons for enlisting, be it for patriotism, a better life, or the opportunity to travel the world, we who serve can agree that it is a sacrifice that we make willingly.
Regardless of what perception people have of the Navy, the current culture of tolerance and dedicated work-ethic has moved leaps and bounds away from its old image of a frat party gone awry.
It has morphed into a professional war-fighting machine that not only recognizes the soldiers and sailors who fuel this machine are people with their own dreams and aspirations, but welcomes and values all forms of their diversity.
After all, we are all working towards the same goal—protecting our nation.
*This story is not sponsored or endorsed by the military, or representative of the opinions of the Navy and is solely based on my personal thoughts and experiences while serving in the military. For a link to all statistics use within this story, click here.
Have you come across any insane misconceptions about the military? Share them in the comments section below.