Old Pentagon Cartoons Joked About Army-Air Force Rivalry
Bulletins tried to keep bickering lighthearted
Ever since splitting the U.S. Air Force from the U.S. Army in 1947, the Pentagon has had to manage bickering and rivalry – sometimes playful and sometimes deadly serious – between the two services. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, one newsletter did all it could to try and keep everything lighthearted.
Among many things, the fighting in Southeast Asia had highlighted the importance of getting Air Force pilots to work with Army troops on the ground. Less than two months after the fall of South Vietnam to the communist North in 1975, the Pentagon set up the Air Land Forces Application Agency – a.k.a. the ALFA Agency – to get the two services to coordinate together.
Two years later, ALFA started publishing its Air Land Bulletin. Full of important updates and welcoming debate, the editors were clearly aware of their audience.
“WANTED: Sticky problems for joint resolution – and some ideas on how to help solve them,” read a box at the top of the fourth issue, which ALFA published in September 1977. “REWARD: Personal satisfaction in helping to achieve enhanced combat power required to cope with the Air-Land Battle.”
Adopted by the Pentagon as a central doctrine five years later, the Air-Land Battle concept envisioned a battlefield where the Air Force and Army operated together nearly seamlessly. At the same time, ALFA introduced their “staff officer team” of Major Pounder and Major Phlyboi.
“In times of yore many a frustrated man of the trenches has telephoned the ALFA “switchboard” seeking the true WORD!” the June 1982 issue declared. “These are really the guys to whom you are speaking.”
“They may not always be right, but they try harder,” the writers added.
A breakdown of the two comic characters poked fun at both the post-Vietnam force and common Army and Air Force tropes. The men had seen combat “from the Da Nang beaches to the Fort Walton beaches” in Florida, kept their perpetually bloodshot eyes away behind sunglasses and helmet visors and had “out of limits mustaches,” according to the chart.
Afterwards, the two fictional officers started popping up in comics at the end of the bulletins. The squat individuals lampooned the services and got cheap jabs in against the other.
Unfortunately, Pounder and Phlyboi were gone from the pages of Air Land Bulletin by 1985. We don’t know whether the pair fell victim to budget cuts, the ire of some officer or someone just “trying harder.”
But after their disappearance, the issues still gave the services opportunities to take shots at each other. The next year Army Maj. James Dunn, Jr. penned an article to help his Air Force cousins handle a shared working environment:
“Friendly” banter and inter-service ribbing probably began the first time military balloons were used to support ground maneuver forces and certainly increased when Close Air Support/Tactical Air Operations began in earnest. The cooperation and close working relationship between Army maneuver commanders and “operators” and their affiliated Air Force personnel … have been primary indicators of successful operations between the services for years. This cooperation is not always easily achieved nor maintained. Successful programs benefit both Services and require attention. This short article will describe some of the key points, from the “ground pounder” (although the author is actually a Mech/Armor type) perspective and demonstrate how effective working relationships can result in consistently outstanding performance.
Dunn even pointed out rivalries within the Army between armor and infantry officers in his introduction. The major then explained the Air Force’s reputation among his peers and “how to beat it!”
Breaking the imposed barrier of the reputation is necessary. It will not be a problem with Army troopers who have extensive experience with Air Force personnel but unexperienced [sic] soldiers, as in any situation, will rely on fiction until supplanted by fact.
Simple things aid in breaking down the barrier. Sharing living and eating arrangements can help. No one is asking you to be uncomfortable just because you can nor is anyone suggesting that one must sleep in the rain just because some Army guy forgot his tent – but it is a bit inappropriate to pull your Winnebago camper up next to an olive drab tent or to drive off … when your compatriots are in more austere quarters. If you are going to do the latter, be discrete and don’t boast of your accommodations. If you are going to do the former, be prepared to have your mobile home a point of discussion throughout the exercise.
Sharing the food of your host Army unit will become second nature after your first several gastronomic nightmares (i.e., your first few meals of MREs or “green eggs and ham”). Field chow is usually warm if not hot and you will find that a discussion over eggs in the morning may be your best time to coordinate with the leaders that you are supporting. The comraderie [sic] during rations is also a “bonding” exercise that will serve you well in the long run. In reality, you will probably have more frequent opportunities to make “Goodie Runs” than your peers, so this may be a chance to actually get on the good side of the “earth pigs” by providing a little “Class VI” support for them.
Socializing with your Army peers is also an effective way to show them that the “reputation” is just that. The Army social environment includes plenty of opportunities for “Beer Calls” (or whatever they are called in today’s alcohol-abuse sensitive service) which are an excellent forum to get to get to know your “green suiter” colleagues. Other social events, Hail and Farewells, Promotion Parties and Formal Dining-Ins, will also permit you opportunities to learn more about your Army “buddies.”
Dunn then explained the Air Force personnel were the experts in their domain before offering some parting thoughts about the Army for outsiders. Ever the “Treadhead,” the armor officer said that “crunchies (from the sound they make when run over)” was a common nickname for his infantry brethren.
In 1992, the Navy and Marine Corps became permanent members of ALFA, and the Pentagon renamed the organization the Air Land Sea Application Center, or ALSA. The office is still churning out newsletters, now called the Air Land Sea Bulletin, but without the comics or coarser commentary.