While the military keeps trying to debunk Jade Helm 15 rumors, there are plenty of other military myths that have gotten ridiculous. WATM has covered Army and Marine Corps specific myths before. Here are 6 more urban legends from around the Department of Defense.
1. The Army has more aircraft than the Air Force and more boats than the Navy.
This is something that gets passed around Army circles with pride and is occasionally mentioned by other services with embarrassment. Well, buck up little sailors and airmen, the top rankings actually do go to their respective services.
The Army has 5,117 aircraft which is surprisingly high, but the Air Force still wins with 5,199 according to the 2015 Aviation Plan from the Department of Defense. Sometimes, the myth says the Navy has the most aircraft, but even when counting the Marine Corps helicopters and planes, the Department of the Navy comes in third with 3,847.
As for watercraft, the Army had the largest seagoing fleet in World War II, but now has only 118 watercraft in total. While the Navy certainly has more vessels than this, some semantic bastards will insist that most Navy vessels are "ships," and so the Army could still have more "boats." Well, the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command has 354 craft (page 6). The smallest are its Zodiac inflatable boats and the largest are its 85' MK VI patrol boats. Also, there are the 700 craft of Naval Special Warfare, mostly 81-foot boats and smaller. So, yeah, the Navy seems to have this in the bag.
2. Military recruits are people who couldn't hack it in the real world.
While this claim offends service members for a few reasons, the crux of the idea is that the average recruit joins the military because no one else will take them. Different recruits sign for different reasons, but military recruits are more likely to have a high school diploma than civilians. One of the Department of Defense's biggest challenges now is finding recruits that are smart, fit, and disciplined enough to join the military. The mental and physical rigors of military service are actually so great, organizations of retired military leaders are worried there won't be enough eligible recruits to fill military ranks in the future.
3. There is no gold at Fort Knox.
This is one of the claims we can't outright debunk, but it's still ridiculous. The story goes that at the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky, there is actually just an empty vault. A former head of the mint claims the gold is all there and points out that a full audit in 1953 found that all of the gold was present, a visit by Congressional leaders and the news media in 1974 found nothing suspicious, and annual inspections by the Treasury Department and the U.S. Mint always report that the gold is in place.
Conspiracy claims that the vault in Fort Knox is empty generally fail to explain how the gold was smuggled out of the vaults and through the active Army base that surrounds the mint. It took an armed train and a cavalry brigade to get the gold into the vault.
4. At base flagpoles, there are items to destroy the flag with honor in case the base is overrun.
The story goes that military installation flags are supposed to be destroyed if a base is overrun, and there is a kit with each flagpole to accomplish the task. The items stored at the flagpole change depending on who's telling the story. Generally, there is a razor or match for destroying the flag, a set of printed instructions, and a pistol round. Either these items are in the truck, the ball at the top of the flagpole, or they are buried in a footlocker nearby. There is supposedly also a pistol, almost always in a buried footlocker, that the service member uses with the pistol round to kill themselves when they're done destroying the flag.
This is insane for a few reasons. First, if a base is being overrun, the military has bigger problems than the flag. Flags are important symbols, but the tanks, ships, classified documents, and personnel on military bases are typically more important. The military Code of Conduct orders service members to resist the enemy as long as they can, so they should use the pistol round to kill the enemy rather than themselves. Finally, as a military historian pointed out to Stars and Stripes, few service members would actually be able to climb the flagpole which can be as high as 75 feet tall.
5. There are self-destruct buttons on bases and ships.
The idea that military bases, ships, or manned vehicles have self-destruct buttons likely comes from Hollywood, which uses the trope a ridiculous amount. Some foreign military vehicles have had self-destruct charges in rare instances, but the U.S. military typically guards its secrets in other ways.
Navy ships can be scuttled and the Air Force can bomb any downed airplanes or damaged vehicles. Modern computers can be "zeroized" to get rid of sensitive information. Any infrastructure on a military post that might need to be quickly destroyed could be destroyed with incendiary grenades nearly as quickly as with a built-in self-destruct mechanism.
But, some U.S. weapons and unmanned vehicles do have remote self-destruct mechanisms. DARPA is working on electronics that will automatically self-destruct after a certain time or when exposed to certain conditions.
6. Extraterrestrial life at Area 51
Like the gold at Fort Knox, this one can't be firmly disproven. Those who want to believe that aliens landed in the desert in Nevada will continue to believe while the rest of us make jokes.
But, government agents have confessed to creating UFO hoaxes in the desert in order to keep classified aviation projects secret. Area 51 and other U.S. bases in the deserts were selected for secret projects during the Cold War due to their geographic isolation.