If anyone understands the value of sober discipline, it’s those in the military. They’re sometimes asked to confront and endure unthinkable horrors with superhuman courage and composure. But even veritable fighting machines succumb to immature and sometimes idiotic whims. And as you’re about to see, that can result in flagrantly inappropriate antics.
10A Young Arnold Schwarzenegger (Allegedly) Instigates A Dangerous Tank Race
Members of the armed forces know full well not to use tanks as playthings. But every so often, a rascally soldier takes one of those mechanized death-mobiles out for a high-octane joyride. One of those military imps was Arnold Schwarzenegger.
During an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the Terminator-turned-Governator-turned-Terminator-again regaled the audience with a story about the time he supposedly embarked on a late-night tank race as a soldier in the Austrian Army. The future film icon challenged a friend to speed downhill in two different models of tank to see which was faster. The pair plowed blindly into bushes and trees toward nowhere in particular.
But as irresponsible an escapade as this already was, according to Schwarzenegger, the insanity of the competition was punctuated by his own act of incredibly reckless endangerment. The star—who of course won in his telling—also recalled, “I beat him even though he had the more modern tank, but I realized the whole infantry, 15 guys that were standing on top of the tank, I totally forgot to tell them to get off. They were holding on and then they were falling off. I heard the screams the whole time.”
For his careless tank play, the future Mr. Universe was forced to trudge through a mud obstacle course for six hours. After attaining celebrity, Schwarzenegger sought out and purchased the vehicle that got him into trouble and made a point to show it off at charity events.
9Multiple Soldiers Steal Military Vehicles
Ex-military celebs aren’t the only people with over-the-top driving stories. Sometimes, the part of vehicular thrill-seeker is played by an average Joe with above-average boldness. And sometimes, that boldness ends in a well-deserved arrest.
Take, for example, a certain 18-year-old soldier at Camp Hohne in Germany. In 2009, the British Army soldier one day had too many drinks and too little supervision. He commandeered a tank-like reconnaissance vehicle called a Scimitar but quickly totaled it. Then he went back, stole another Scimitar, and began driving toward the Lower Saxon city of Bergen. The soldier’s drunken drive turned sour when he nearly ran over a civilian and then crossed paths with a patrol vehicle. After running the police car off the road, he careened into a tree, halting his Bergen-bound rush. He was immediately arrested.
He isn’t the first soldier to pull such a crazy heist. In 1987, an Army private at Colorado’s Fort Carson base teamed up with a retired soldier to steal a 27-ton, self-propelled howitzer and lead police on a 120-kilometer (75 mi) chase. Motivated by the retiree’s desire to “go to war,” the duo hopped into a metal behemoth and fled the base. With dozens of police cars on their tail, they reached Denver before their vehicle went kaput. At the end of the great howitzer hijacking, the culprits were cuffed, and the vehicle was ticketed by a good-humored policeman.
8California’s National Guard Okays A Helicopter Joyride Under The Golden Gate Bridge
An HH-60 Pave Hawk is a repurposed Army Black Hawk helicopter employed in rescue missions by both the US Air Force and National Guard. They have a minimum cloud ceiling of 200 meters (700 ft), so when clouds hang lower than that, it’s safer to keep those iron hummingbirds grounded. But according to footage from an NBC News investigation, on a foggy day at San Francisco Bay, 40 members of California’s National Guard rode five Pave Hawks under the Golden Gate Bridge through a thicket of fog.
For perspective, California’s most iconic landmark stands just 227 meters (746 ft) tall and leaves a scant 75-meter (245 ft) air buffer between the roadway and the unforgiving ocean below. According to a veteran military pilot asked to weigh in on the flight, flying under the bridge in foggy weather was risky and unnecessary. Almost as disconcerting was the alleged reason for this helicopter outing. According to anonymous sources, the National Guardsmen were on an “incentive flight,” which is a pat on the head for exemplary work. That metaphorical gold sticker was doled out by two senior leaders of the group.
Commanding officers Thomas Keegan and Matthew Wenthe, who guided the helicopter quintet under the Golden Gate, saw no consequences beyond a letter of reprimand to Wenthe. Both were later promoted. According to NBC’s findings, this kind of leniency was part of a larger permissiveness corroding the integrity of California’s National Guard. Despite having a resplendent history of service, the organization also seemed to have a pattern of failing to address sexual harassment, sexual assault, and racism within its ranks.
7German Soldiers Mock The Dead
There are few occasions outside of Halloween and Hamlet when a human skull makes for an entertaining prop. A war zone is not one of them. So it’s no surprise that in 2006 German troops stationed in Afghanistan infuriated Germans at home when they were shown engaging in macabre photoshoots with human remains from a mass grave.
Leaked by German tabloid Bild Zeitung, the pictures told a story of blithe indifference to death. In one image, a soldier is seen kissing a skull balanced on his flexed bicep. In another, a skull is mounted next to a serviceman’s jauntily exposed penis. In various other photos, bones are positioned to spell out the names of soldiers. That kind of behavior flew in the face of the German military’s reputation for discipline and humanitarian endeavors, and the public was incensed.
The 2006 scandal wasn’t a behavioral outlier. Over the three years German troops had been deployed to Afghanistan, posing with human remains became a not only a popular pastime but a social rite. According to one soldier, refusing to join in would brand a serviceman as overly squeamish. Soldiers from other nations were also alleged to have taken part. Germany’s government, however, was unsympathetic to concerns of peer pressure and furthermore feared that such blatant disrespect to the dead would invite retaliatory violence from terrorists.
Two soldiers were suspended, and Germany’s conspicuously vexed chancellor, Angela Merkel, promised severe penalties for the misconduct. But as an American Iraq War veteran commented on Deutsche Welle, corpse defilement is par for the course for people in war zones. Punishing that would be like “handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.”
6Military Personnel Cause Airport Security Scares
Most of us would probably dismiss the urge to stage an airport security breach as hopelessly stupid. That wasn’t true for Matthew Monaghan. In 2008, the 19-year-old British Army soldier intentionally caused a ruckus at Edinburgh Airport using fake weapons and poor forethought. At the time, he and three friends were concluding a prank-filled trip to Scotland. Looking to go out with a humorous bang, Monaghan and another friend planted a water gun and a toy pistol in the luggage of their two travel buddies. Airport security somehow failed to notice the gun-shaped objects during baggage screenings, so Monaghan decided to draw the worst kind of attention to them.
Monaghan yanked the water gun from his friend’s bag and waved it around. Security officers descended on the four men, at which point Monaghan proudly announced that his other buddy “[had] a gun, too,” without specifying that the gun was a toy. The airport responded to this jest by booting Monaghan and friends off their flight. Monaghan was also jailed for three days.
Joining Monaghan on the list of airport patrons who should really know better was US Air Force airman Jeremy Sawyer. In September 2013, just five months after the Boston Marathon bombing, the 30-year-old entered Boston’s Logan International Airport to discover that the United Service Organizations (USO) lounge was closed. Miffed and evidently feeling mischievous, Sawyer quipped, “What am I supposed to do with this pressure cooker?” before launching into a rant about the Boston bombing and military leave.
Sawyer was arrested and released on $2,500 bail. A judge later let Sawyer off the hook after he owned up to his dumb outburst.
5West Point Cadets Turn A Pillow Fight Into A Minor Blood Bath
West Point Military Academy prides itself on producing both great soldiers and great leaders. Its list of esteemed alumni includes historical juggernauts like Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Dwight Eisenhower. Given such bona fides, it’s natural to expect that West Point enrollees are superlatively responsible or at least not the sort to wail on each other with helmets for fun. But during a school-sanctioned pillow fight gone awry, that’s precisely what happened.
West Point’s tradition of having cadets bop each other with head cushions dates back to 1897. The fight is used as a freshman-year bonding exercise that punctuates a summer of arduous basic training. For most of the school’s history, the tradition hasn’t had a problem with injuries. When conducted properly, pillow fights are generally low-risk affairs. West Point’s 2015 freshman class, however, turned the event into a bloody scrum.
Some cadets, heeding the instructions of upperclassmen who were supervising the event, wore protective helmets or even came clad in body armor. But others stuffed their helmets into pillow cases to wield as makeshift cranium-crackers. At least 30 freshmen were injured; 24 ended up with concussions. Multiple cadets were clocked unconscious or suffered dislocated shoulders and, according to some participants, one left with a broken leg.
Despite serious injuries, some cadets reveled in the brutality. One upperclassman doted on a freshman who, despite getting knocked out, got up swinging. In the words of one freshman, “If you don’t come back with a bloody nose, you didn’t try hard enough.” While students were plenty vocal, school officials remained tight-lipped. In the end, no cadets appeared to have been punished, unless you count the self-inflicted loss of brain cells.
4A British Soldier Pulls Over Unsuspecting Drivers In An Overdone Prank
Aydn Walster was a 22-year-old lance bombardier in the British Army who had served in Afghanistan. But in addition to being a dutiful young soldier, he was a real stickler about driving. In fact, Walster’s passion for road safety drove him to jokingly halt fellow soldiers at his barracks when he deemed their driving subpar. Unfortunately, the joke didn’t end at the border of his social circle. Instead, after pranking his friends Walster started targeting random civilians.
Because lance bombardiers aren’t exactly known for their ticketing powers, Walster passed himself off as a cop. To bolster the guise, he purchased some flashing blue lights on eBay and fitted them to his Saab. With his car convincingly accessorized, Walster began stopping allegedly delinquent drivers on the road, going so far as to record their names and addresses in a notebook. He even once asked a driver to take a seat in the back of his “cop” car as if being detained.
The soldier might have been milking this joke for every last yuck, but everyone else had already stopped laughing. A skeptical driver following Walster in a separate car reported him to the police, who promptly arrested the bombardier for impersonating a police officer. Walster was later fined £835 and was confronted with the extremely unfunny prospect of being ousted from the military.
3An Idle Sergeant Blows Up An ATM
In 1988, Russel Spahr of White Oak, Pennsylvania, was a newly minted sergeant in the US Army. Over the course of a six-year career, he had impressed superiors with a winning combination of smarts, diligence, and dependability. He was, in the words of his commanding officer, a “solid soldier” who was well on his way to reaching the upper echelons of the Army. But Spahr’s stellar aspirations were permanently eclipsed when he exploded a bank ATM for fun.
It was summer, and Spahr was at home on leave. The sergeant had been drinking and sagely decided that blowing a cash machine to kingdom come was “just the thing to do.” Luckily for him, he had conveniently smuggled a grenade simulator off base. A firecracker packed with black powder, the device served as a stand-in for actual hand grenades during training exercises. And Spahr was about to test its potency in a civilian environment. At about 2:00 AM, he moseyed down to a local bank and chose an automated victim.
The explosion obliterated the ATM and blasted a hole in one of the bank’s walls. Spahr’s career was the only casualty. He was discharged from the army, much to the dismay of those who had hoped to promote him. He was also slapped with five years’ probation and ordered to cover the bank’s $4,275 repair fee.
2A Soldier’s Fire Extinguisher Prank Has Horrible Repercussions
It’s often said that tragedy plus time equals comedy, but in 2006 a moment of instant slapstick created lasting tragedy. Like many of the antics on this list, the disaster of this entry was inspired by an alcoholic muse, but the consequences were unforeseeable. Welsh Army private Gavin Williams got royally blitzed off booze during a regimental ball and unloaded a fire extinguisher on the guest of Captain Mark Davis. That drunken trespass ultimately cost Private Williams his life.
The morning after his infraction, Williams was called in to see Captain Davis, but there was a catch. Davis wanted Williams physically spent for their meeting, allegedly to make the potentially aggressive private more docile. According to some witnesses, Davis demanded that Williams be brought before him “panting like a dog.” Purportedly, that request was an unofficial blessing to subject Williams to a “beasting,” a grueling workout implemented as punishment in an unofficial capacity.
Three officers marched the 22-year-old at a quick pace for an hour in the summer sun while he toted a cumbersome rucksack. The soldier was then forced to do a half-hour of intense gym exercises. So overtaxing was Private Williams’s ordeal that his body temperature rose 5 degrees Celsius (9 °F) above normal. Imploding under the strain, he collapsed repeatedly and pleaded for relief. But even then he was forced to do overhead thrusts with a gym bag while marching to the hospital for treatment. The soldier later died of heat stroke.
Captain Davis and the officers in charge of Williams’s lethal workout were charged with manslaughter, but all were eventually cleared. In 2014, an inquest was opened to detail the circumstances of the private’s unceremonious passing.
1Australian Special Ops Commandos Take Ridiculous Risks In Afghanistan
Pop culture tells us that war is a series of epic battles interspersed with moments of somber reflection, heartwarming friendship, and intense fear. Rarely do we imagine the outtakes of these real-life horror shows to involve the kind of brazen tomfoolery you’d see on Jackass. But a DVD series featuring members of Australia’s Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) showed that soldiers in perilous circumstances can handily outdo Johnny Knoxville.
Elegantly titled The Fist, the DVD series was created by a former SOTG commando who had gone into video and film production. It features servicemen stationed in Afghanistan while at their most debauched and dangerously playful. Liquored-up commandos are seen fighting, fishing with grenades while swimming, and hitting golf balls while potentially vulnerable to enemy attack. At various junctures in the videos, they exercise or sun themselves in enemy territory without protective armor. In one particularly egregious stunt, the commandos sent a boulder rolling downhill into a civilian road.
This cavalcade of immaturity and bad decisions may not have been costless. According to a member of Australian National University’s Strategic Defense Center, inattention to procedure cost the Australian forces at least two lives in Afghanistan. Yet despite wantonly jeopardizing their own and fellow soldiers’ safety, the rambunctious servicemen appear to have gotten off scot-free. The Australian Army claimed some commandos were duly disciplined, but a Defense Ministry probe showed that to be blatantly untrue. Of course, when one’s job is to live through hell, even horrific misconduct might seem rather forgivable.