Greetings, fellow members of the American electorate. Today we’re electing the next Commander in Chief of the greatest military in the history of the world. Plus, it’s Veteran’s Day on Friday, so it seemed only fitting that we step back from the dumpster fire that is our electoral process and enjoy a piping hot OTE Power Poll. This week, we pay tribute to the men and women of our Armed forces by examine the glamorous and not-so-glamorous aspects of military service. Happy Veterans Day! Here’s hoping we make it to Friday!
1. Bearded SOF Operator – Michigan
High: 1 Low: 2 Last Week: 1 FPV: 16 LPV: 0
You’re loud, ill-tempered, and an inveterate glory hog—a fan of special clothes and special treatment who can’t stand criticism. You know how to travel but don’t do it unless circumstances force you to suit up and go do the deed. You’re a lover of unique helmets and never fail to raise the ire of all your peers who don’t get the same publicity. Your best performers are steeped in myths that far exceed reality. Everyone who isn’t you hates you. But when it’s go time, by God, nobody can beat you. You’re swift, accurate, and totally merciless. You don’t just beat your enemies. You stomp them into the ground, salt the earth, and rifle through their stuff to find clues for who to go after next. Then there’s the tell-all book by Sergeant Peppers that lets everyone know he’s the real deal…even though he wasn’t on the operation and isn’t really that great of a shot anyway but it doesn’t matter because Zero Dark Thirty-yard Punt Return, sheeple. That’s right…Michigan is the bearded SOF operator of the B1G. Nobody’s hated more, nobody has a bigger ego, and whether you like it or not, nobody does it better.
2. M2 .50 caliber Machine Gun – Ohio State
High: 1 Low: 3 Last Week: 2 FPV: 2 LPV: 0
Reliability, thy name is Fifty-Cal. For more than a century, John Browning’s fire-breathing beast has been dishing out punishment to the foes of truth, justice, and the American way. This air-cooled, belt-fed, 84-pound chunk of steel was the panacea to General Pershing’s desire for a gun that could punch through German armor plating. Whether barking from atop a Sherman tank, blazing in a 6-gun fusillade from a P-51, or punching through walls in Mosul, the M2 has long been one of America’s favorite forms of diplomacy. Rain or shine, day or night, the .50 cal offers the unmistakable thump-thump-thump that says we’re not taking no for an answer. If you aren’t careful, though, things can get a bit wonky. Without a competent gunner checking the headspace and timing the output of fully-jacketed freedom can slow to a trickle. Tim Beck, it turns out, is not a competent gunner. He may not even be a good ammo bearer. Fortunately for OSU types, the Buckeyes did their pre-combat checks this week and shot the barrel out against a squad of Huskers in the open. They aren’t infallible, but in the right hands they’re nothing you want to go toe to toe with.
3. Engineers – Wisconsin
High: 3 Low: 4 Last: 3 FPV: 0 LPV: 0
They’re not the fastest, or the flashiest, or the most heavily armed. In an offensive sense, they’re not the best. But there’s almost no obstacle you can put in their way that they can’t reduce through brute force and stubbornness. Are we talking about the Engineers? Or Wisconsin? Yes and yes. Neither is known for glitz and glam. They both love red. They both have axes. When they’re not grinding, punching, trampling, or blasting their way through something, they’re setting up defenses that drive the other side mad. The only real difference in this hamfisted analogy is that the Engineers have a long and storied history stretching back to the Revolutionary War, when Colonial sappers entrenched Washington’s forces at Yorktown. Wisconsin’s history oddly stops around 1993. Modern day Engineers spend most of their time soaking up IED blasts as they fight to keep roads open. They rely on a six-wheeled Wisconsin lineman of a vehicle called the Buffalo, which conveniently wields a giant kitty litter scooper—crucial for getting away cleanly from the Wildcats.
4. UAS Pilots – Penn State
High: 2 Low: 4 Last: 5 FPV: 0 LPV: 0
UAS Pilots are a special breed, in that they have a massively overinflated sense of their own importance yet manage to also be completely derided by real pilots. For these guys, talent isn’t required. Penn Staters know that feel, fam. Sure, UAS “pilots” wear flight suits. They “fly” an “aircraft” and do “missions.” But the real blue bloods who soar on the wings of eagles don’t want to associate with those turkeys. Nonetheless, these guys occasionally blunder into moments of consequence and get to drop a missile on somebody important—and provided they don’t miss, they can do some real damage when those stars align. And if that happens, you’ll know it. I mean you’ll really know it. Because like Penn Stater, they’ll spend 20 years toiling for a single war story that gets bigger and bolder every time they tell it. They aren’t wrong, per se. They’re just desperate to hang out with the crème de la crème and yet no one wants to be their special friend.
5. Kiowa Warrior – Nebraska
High: 5 Low: 6 Last Week: 4 FPV: 0 LPV: 0
Near and dear to thousands who work down in the dirt, the venerable Kiowa Warrior was a tried and true stalwart that grew from humble mid-century roots into a fantastic manifestation of Cold War thinking. The US Army’s beloved day/night single-engine fair-weather freedom fighter was a child of the American century that came into its own in during the Reagan years—about the time that Tom Osborne and the Iron Sheik were becoming household names. Like Nebraska, the KW peaked in the 1990s, when the money was flush and the rest world hadn’t yet caught up or passed it by. Like Nebraska, the KW also punched above its weight well into the 21st century. But, like Nebraska, the KW lacked the innovation and the firepower for a serious fight. Though KW pilots never missed the chance to mix it up and didn’t back down from a fight, when things got real thick the KW couldn’t land a knockout blow. Unlike the Kiowa, the Huskers are still with us…but their hopes in the West are headed for the boneyard.
6. Minnesota – Woobie
High: 6 Low: 7 Last: 8 FPV: 0 LPV: 0
Everyone who’s spent a day in the service in the last 30 years has had a Woobie. Officially, it’s a poncho liner. Unofficially, it’s a deeply beloved nylon and polyester blanket that troops for generations have clung to for warmth and comfort. It’s not a great blanket. There are better blankets out there. Warmer blankets. Lighter blankets. Softer blankets. But the woobie is the blanket we have and so we stick with it, doggedly. It’s what we know and what we love and if we go changing it up, well by God we’re liable to get something worse. In short, the Woobie is the Tracy Claeys of blankets. It’s not worth getting excited over, but it’s just good enough to make us really think about whether it’s worth the hassle of replacing. After all, how warm do you need to be, anyway? If you fend off death from exposure, that’s really all you deserve anyhow. No need to get greedy. Yes, the Woobie has kept many a troop warm enough to earn a place in our collective hearts. At day’s end, it’s the Minnesota of our rucksacks: the worst thing that still has a pretty good record.
7. 0400 Piss Test – Northwestern
High: 5 Low: 9 Last Week: 6 FPV: 0 LPV: 0
Many a deep thought crosses a man’s mind as he tries fervently to fill a cup while his First Sergeant stares at what the good Lord gave him just to make sure he’s not executing a Soviet-style clean urine swap. Chief among those thoughts is the age old question of “How is this my life right now?” Northwestern’s season has left fans to face the kind of introspection normally reserved for a zero-dark-thirty urinalysis. How did a team with some much potential, sporting a running back who chews up yards and a nearly telepathic QB/WR combo lose to Western Michigan? And Illinois State?! Like the dreaded unit urinalysis, those losses seem like cruelly random events that only add insult to the injury of a 4-4 season. Plus, word on the street is that the bathrooms at Ryan Field are the only place worse to relieve yourself than under the watchful eye of a coworker.
8. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – Indiana
High: 6 Low: 10 Last Week: 9 FPV: 0 LPV: 0
What gleams as bright as a chrome helmet? The polished turd they call the F-35. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no opponent of the next big thing. The problem with being called the real deal, though, is that you eventually have to be the real deal. For years, anyone in the world of jet-powered go-fast machines has been told that the F-35 can do it all. It’s shiny, flashy, great in the offense and pretty good in the defense, too. It’s the brainchild of great minds. It can dominate the air and pound you on the ground. Then we find out it has no gun, and that’ll take a few years to fix. Oh, and when they said this year was the big year when we see what it can do, we meant next year. Or maybe the year after. One of these days, we promise. That’s a line that should sound eerily familiar to Indiana fans, who once again have a team that can kind of get it done now, but remains perpetually on the verge of really being a force to contend with.
9. Rusty Entrenching Tool - Iowa
High: 8 Low: 10 Last: 7 FPV: 0 LPV: 0
Why say “tiny stupid shovel” when you can use a big, stupid word? That’s your military in a nutshell. The entrenching tool, or E-tool as it’s known, is (spoiler alert) a really stupid and impractical shovel. The E-tool’s intended use is for digging—namely fighting positions and trenches to take a dump in. Its real uses are breaking, being rusty, and giving you something to sit on whilst you take said dump (in the trench you did not dig). In reality, it’s a heavy, annoying, black-clad anachronism. It harkens back to a day when slogging predictably through trenches ruled the battlefield—a day that modern thinking has long since surpassed. And yet, the military still spends untold millions on the same worn out old tool despite the knowledge that something much better could be had for half the cost. In short, the entrenching tool is the most Iowa thing ever.
10. Reflective Belt – Maryland
High: 7 Low: Last Week: 10 FPV: 0 LPV: 0
Bright. Flashy. Yellow. Yellowish. Or orange-ish. Or who knows what color, really. Even colors that make no sense. The reflective belt is de rigueur for all manner of deployment situations. Out for a morning run? Wear it. Walking to the chow hall? Wear it. Going to sit on your E-tool for your midday Harbaugh? You’d damn well better wear it. Despite a generation of veterans who know that an IED will toss a 10,000-lbs armored Humvee through the air like Perry Hills executing a textbook hip toss (did you know he wrestled?), Sergeants Major across the military remain certain that the greatest danger to any servicemember is being hit by a car in the dark. That’s why we spend years developing camouflage and then turn everyone into a walking eyesore with yellow safety belts. This high visibility testament to bureaucracy is the only way Maryland’s uniforms could get worse. Or maybe better. Your guess is as good as mine, but with the way that trip to Ann Arbor went, I doubt they want to draw any more eyes. Maybe they’d be interested in some camouflage instead.
11. Mandatory Fun – Illinois
High: 10 Low: 12 Last: 12 FPV: 0 LPV: 0
Mandatory fun is an affliction across the DoD, touching the life of everyone who dons the uniform. It’s Thursday morning, and whether you’re sweeping the hangar deck, or sweeping the motor pool, or sweeping the barracks, or sweeping any of the other million things we sweep for no good damn reason, your mind drifts to carefree pleasure of the coming weekend. Then you get word that the boss’s boss’s boss has decided that this Saturday calls for some mandatory fun. A battalion picnic! An officers’ call! An organizational day at the park! So instead of gallivanting through the Elysian fields of cheap beer and midnight doner kebabs in Kaiserlautern, you’re going to spend three hours being completely miserable and remembering all the reasons you should’ve made better choices in life. Mandatory fun, at its core, is Illinois football. Whether you’re an Illini fan doomed to watch Lovie sleep-walk through four quarters for a paycheck, or the fan who just realized you waited all week to see your team travel to Chambana, it just plain stinks. But every now and again—every once in a great while—it’s not so bad. Because sometimes the boss buys the beer. And sometimes, you beat Sparty.
12. Box of Grid Squares – Purdue
High: 11 Low: 14 Last Week: 13 FPV: 0 LPV: 1
For those who know neither the visceral thrill of calling for an artillery fire mission, nor the crushing misery of being lost in the woods with only a lensatic compass as your tool of salvation, allow me to explain. The military has divided the world in many ways: land and sea, commies and sorta-commies, bombed and under-bombed, etc. But for the purposes of navigation, we rely on the Military Grid Reference System. Think of it as a handy checkerboard laid over the Earth. It can help you navigate across the globe, accurately bomb some regimes, or a little of both if you’re feeling neo-conservative. This handy grid system breaks the whole pale blue dot we call home into a series of squares—grid squares. Bellicose uses aside, they’re also very handy for messing with the guy fresh out of basic training. Send said new troop to the biggest, meanest, most distempered sonofabitch in the unit to retrieve a “box of grid squares” and wait for the fireworks. Because a box of grid squares doesn’t exist…and neither does Purdue. And if they did, they’d be combing the MAC already for their next flop of a coach.
13. Frankfurter MRE – Michigan State
High: 12 Low: 13 Last Week: 10 FPV: LOL LPV: 2
The Frankfurter MRE. *Shudder* Veterans of a certain age will no doubt recall this shelf-stable hot dog hell, known far and wide as the Four Fingers of Death. The tide of MRE quality has risen steadily in the past decade or so, and thankfully these four proto-weiners managed to attain something akin to edibility. But there was a time when, as good leaders who ate last, young officers and senior NCOs rustled around in the depths of an exhausted MRE case to find only this nitrated misery awaiting them. To a starving soldier or Marine (or Air Force guy on a bi-annual field trip) there was no greater disappointment than the prospect of sating the gnawing hunger of a long day with this abomination. That kind of disappointment is something Dantonio’s Spartans know a little bit about these days. I’m not sure what’s worse…government issued tube steaks or losing to Illinois, but the Frankfurter meal at least offered the chance of some M&Ms in a commemorative Barcelona ‘92 package.
14. Rock or Something – Rutgers
High: 12 Low: 14 Last Week: 14 FPV: -infinity LPV: 14
The military is infamous for at least two things: bad food and dummy-proofing (“Joe-proof”) everything. These two traits ignominiously intersect in the chemical wonder we call the MRE heater pouch. To wit, a crude black and white diagram directs the hungry GI to carefully assemble the heater pouch, the chosen packet of slop, and its cardboard container into a makeshift microwave of disappointment. The final step on the journey to gastronomic distress is to lean the device on a “rock or something” until it’s piping hot. You can imagine the initial design probably only said “rock”. Then the big brains at the Pentagon found out some poor private didn’t eat for three days thanks to the absence of a rock, so they added “or something” for good measure. If any B1G team fits the bill of “Rock or Something” it’s Rutgers, though it could be argued that Rutgers isn’t a rock because a rock can at least beat scissors. Congratulations, Rutgers. You’re…really something.