‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Shows Americans the Military We Want and Need

Yea, verily; much has been written about the success of Top Gun: Maverick and what it means about our nation, the times in which we live, and the cultural turmoil we have been facing. What follows is just one Veteran’s point of view on...well, all of that.

I completed 20 years and six months of service in the U.S. Navy. I am a former Officer and Naval Aviator who flew the A-6E Intruder and the FA-18 A/B/C/D “legacy” Hornet.

Thirty-six years ago, in Spring 1986, I saw the original Top Gun and, like many others with whom I served, I was highly motivated to join the Navy, to say the least. Fifteen years after retiring from active duty, I routinely reflect on the honor and privilege to have worn the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States, to have served our country, and to have deployed in the aircraft carriers, the squadrons, and the carrier air wings that projected American power across the globe. Thirty-six years ago, it was my most earnest desire to do all that and to be a part of that which was innately understood to be something greater than myself.

How does the saying go? “It’s not bragging if you’ve done it.” And “Been there, done that, got the patch(es).” Ah, but with time and reflection, comes humility as well.

Although I never went to the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, now famous as Top Gun, I had the privilege to serve alongside many superlative leaders and fighter pilots who did attend it, many of whom still serve today. I am better for having known them, having shared the bond of military service with them, and being able to call them “sisters” and “brothers.”

Top Gun: Maverick is a thrilling depiction of Naval Aviation and a portrayal of the supreme professionals who ensure its success on any given day. To me, it is also an accurate representation of the great Americans who serve in today’s professional military force and the necessary meritocracy that has been institutionalized in military service since our nation’s founding.

Top Gun: Maverick reminded me why I revere our country, military service, and those who serve: our nation’s military is a cross-section of America itself. The faces of the professionals depicted in the movie represented nearly every demographic, race, and ethnicity of our American citizenry. If identities were what one was looking for, they were well-represented—and what one sees in the movie accurately depicts those who serve throughout the military as well as those found in the squadron Ready Rooms. The depth of heart, character, and capability portrayed was in line with my own experiences, both past and present.

There was no assertion of “systemic” oppression; there was no portrayal of a “patriarchy” that sought its own gain at the subjugation of women; only rank— earned through merit and achievement—retained real or perceived privilege. There was little if any political correctness but, instead, the eminently talented Aviators, “the best of the best,” were a tough crowd who exuded an esprit de corps, confidence, and adherence to the highest standards of performance needed to accomplish the mission at hand. To have been tasked to join that select group, to have been in the same room breathing the same rarified air, meant you earned the distinction, belonged there, and could complete the mission.

In short, what was portrayed was a meritocracy, where one was accepted based on one’s accomplishments, achieved results, and demonstrated success in the toughest of environments. Nothing less can be accepted.

Throughout my experience, the “competition” and enmity between individuals, which was depicted in the original Top Gun between Maverick and Ice Man, bordered on hype, mere imagination, and “creative license” by those who were never close to the action but who felt such “conflict” was necessary to heighten the drama. Without a doubt, being a member of an elite team of fighter pilots requires thick skin because every training mission is fully debriefed. Each individual’s judgment, decisions, and execution are closely scrutinized and evaluated. In the Navy, every carrier landing is graded and debriefed face-to-face. However, the spirit and intent are to make the individual and the team better, to gain and apply lessons learned, because as “Viper” said in the first Top Gun, “The tip of the spear best be sharp.”

Standards of performance and behavior exist that must be adhered to and if necessary, enforced. A culture of honor and integrity, with the courage and commitment to take on the tough jobs and, if necessary, be held accountable, are vital to the ethos of military service at all ranks.

Maverick’s line to “Charlie” Blackwood in the first Top Gun, “If the government trusts me, maybe you should too” may be one screenwriter’s idea of a great pick-up line, but it speaks to a deeper truth: A great trust exists between a free country’s citizenry and its warriors. If we are going to place a multi-million-dollar or a billion-dollar national asset and its deadly weapons in your hands, we must be able to trust you.

Top Gun: Maverick reminds us all that freedom must be defended every day. It reminds us that, for that freedom to be adequately defended, women and men of honor, courage, and commitment must have been taught throughout their childhood and their military training that these are essential, inviolable traits.

Many Veterans have opined recently, as have I, about the current pressures being exerted upon our military to embrace destructive leftist ideologies. That we Veterans are willing to step into the open and reveal ourselves to a potential foe should be cause for Americans to take notice. It is not only Veterans who need to be heard, but we all have a stake in the success of our military because our children, brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends are serving and sacrificing on our behalf.

An FA-18C from my squadron in 2002 on USS JOHN F KENNEDY (CV-67), preparing for catapult takeoff. From the author's collection.

We are more than concerned. We are calling out our elected government, whose leaders appear to be more interested in a particular ideology and agenda than in conscientious service to the country and its military. We are calling out those appointed by our elected government to preserve the timeless and eternal values that have made our military the finest, most accomplished, and most lethal in human history. We are calling out our current military leaders to preserve the best of what our armed services represent and to stop the overhaul or “reset” we are currently witnessing.

Top Gun and Top Gun: Maverick are movie entertainment to be certain, but they are also reminders of what is best about America and what America can be when individuals are motivated to strive greatly and achieve all the greatness that their gifts, talents, and abilities allow. These movies (and many others) remind us of the special nature, mission, and composition of our armed services, and they remind us that those who serve must have our unqualified and unfailing support. So, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, well, dadgum, get your butt in gear and go!

The secret to the success of our nation’s military and to our country is trust; trust that is honored and remains untainted. Which trust, when violated, demands uncompromising accountability.

Fly Navy!!

Jeff M. Lewis is a Christian, a husband and father, and an imminently grateful Veteran who remains a servant to Naval Aviation instructing future Naval Aviators in South Texas.

Image: Top Gun: Maverick theatrical release poster. Fair use.

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