The Mayor has the floor
One of the many traditions of a fighter squadron is the ‘naming’ of a new pilot, one who has recently achieved “Mission-Ready” status, or a level of competence where is can go to war with the squadron and contribute beyond cleaning the floors or making coffee and popcorn. While often a new name just ‘sticks’ and becomes quasi-official based on some act of courage, humor, or stupidity, the more common norm is via a naming ceremony at a squadron roll call. Said pilot is paraded before the squadron, and people who have flown with him, socialized with him, and otherwise worked with him share stories meant to embarrass him while giving the squadron an idea of who this new pilot is.
More often than not, a naming ceremony involves alcohol to increase the creative skills of the squadron pilots, resulting in both creative and derogatory names. Names that highlight flight mistakes, stupidity after a few too many drinks, or simply plays on the individuals’ given name. Unlike “Top Gun” where everyone has a cool name that helps them scour the bars for fawning partners, many a pilot has had a name pegged to them that is difficult to explain to their mother, wife and children. Yes, it’s very sophomoric, but the naming plays a number of key roles in an organization where you need to count on your co-workers in a life and death way. You need to know if they will be there when you need them to be. It’s about ownership and embrace of who you are—good and bad—and your willingness to take a ribbing from those around you. I’ve seen many a naming ceremony where the chosen call sign or name was less than flattering, and the pilot in question did everything in their power to be called by their given name or something ‘cool’. They effectively rejected what their brothers and sisters in arms chose for them, and refused to accept the reality around them.
Often, that pilot struggles with feedback in general, with their working relationships among their peers, and in how they perform in the squadron. Their unwillingness to accept the feedback, how they take themselves too seriously, and most importantly their unwillingness to accept the situation in which they find themselves is an indicator that they don’t understand the life and death nature of their jobs and will struggle to become the best fighter pilot possible.
Does the name matter? Absolutely not. What matters is the acceptance of where they stand. We can’t control everything about our environment. We can only control our response, and how that situation makes us a better or worse person.
It reminds me of a favorite Johnny Cash song of mine named “A Boy Named Sue.” Sue’s father, who abandoned him at birth, insisted that his son be named Sue. The name was a curse for the boy all the way until adulthood. He was teased, bullied, and harassed to the point of hatred towards his father for naming him Sue. As he grew into manhood, he vowed to find and kill his father. When he felt he was ready he left home to find and kill the SOB that named him such a terrible name and ruined his life.
After a time (a verse in the song), he found his father and proceeded to fight with him to the death. After a lengthy scrap, he asked his dad why he named him Sue. His dad’s response was, “”Son, this world is rough, and if a man’s gonna make it he’s gotta be tough, and I know I wouldn’t be there to help you along. So I gave you that name and I said goodbye
I knew you’d have to get tough or die and it’s that name that helped to make you strong.”
Yeah! He said, “Now you just fought one hell of a fight and I know you hate me and ya got the right to kill me now and I wouldn’t blame you if you do. But you oughta thank me before I die for the gravel in your gut and the spit in the eye ‘Cause I’m the son-of-a-bitch that named you Sue.”
Sue’s dad was sage in his child-rearing techniques, even if he was a deadbeat. He wanted the best for his son, and knew that the only way he could contribute was to give him a name to make him sink or swim in life. Sue’s dad probably would have made a great fighter pilot. And his son unknowingly grew to be a great one too. A fighter pilot naming is not to help you pick up girls in the bar. It is to help make you tough in a line of work that does not give out second chances freely.