I enjoyed reading William J. Broad's "Inside the Black Budget" in today's New York Times, even though in the end I think the title is a little misleading (there's also an accompanying slideshow). The article is an imperfect mashup between a soft piece on the Bush White House, the Pentagon's black budget and Trevor Paglen's new book I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me (Brooklyn, Melville Publishing House, 2007; ISBN: 9781933633329). I found the patches aspect to be the most interesting angle, even though the black budget and its increase under this administration is a news-worthy topic of significant importance.
Soldiers, veterans and defense contractors know that patches, both official and unofficial, are a ubiquitous part of the visual culture of the military and the industries that support it. As the article notes, patches and their heraldry "are real if often unofficial efforts at building team spirit." They are sometimes also vehicles for advertising, and for satire and social commentary, aspects that go unaddressed in Broad's article.
I was surprised that there was no effort to decode a patch that's mentioned prominently:
One patch shows a space alien with huge eyes holding a stealth bomber near its mouth. “To Serve Man” reads the text above, a reference to a classic “Twilight Zone” episode in which man is the entree, not the customer. “Gustatus Similis Pullus” reads the caption below, dog Latin for “Tastes Like Chicken.”It's just a guess, but I don't think that's a patch for a unit that flies stealth aircraft.
And then there's "semper in obscurus," featuring a big mushroom. This is blandly captioned by the Times (presumably following Paglen) thus: "Special Projects Office: Oversaw F-117A stealth fighter support." Can our intrepid researcher and reporter not have heard the standard line -- ubiquitous in defense circles -- about being treated like a mushroom?:
They keep me in the dark and feed me bullshit.I don't think that one's got a straightforward positive morale message.
Somewhere I've still got a very unofficial patch that started circulating among active-duty personnel at Grissom Air Force Base in the early 1990s, shortly after its realignment to the Air Force Reserve was announced. It features an individual in BDUs reclining in a desk chair with his feet up on the desk and his hands clasped behind his head. A box on the desk, labeled "IN", is piled high with papers; there's a spiderweb in the "OUT" box. The caption is an acronym: FITBIC. There was more than one expansion widely offered for that acronym. The one intended for anyone senior who asked was: "Faith, Integrity, Trust. Because I care." I'll leave it to you, gentle readers, to puzzle out the other supplement.