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Wild Blue Yonder on the Air - Ep. 23 - Maj. Frank Martinez, Drs. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton and James Sandy on the Marvel Universe and Diversity and Inclusion Recruiting.

  • Published
  • By Maj. Frank Martinez, Drs. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton and James Sandy

Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the Air University, the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, or any other US government agency.

Major Frank Martinez: I'm Major Frank Martinez. I'll be the moderator of today's panel, "The Marvel Universe and Diversity and Inclusion Recruiting." I am a recent graduate from Air Command Staff College, and I am joined by Dr. Ducksworth-Lawton from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, and Dr. Sandy from the University of Texas at Arlington. I'll have each of them introduce themselves, starting with Dr. Ducksworth-Lawton.

Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton: My name--Selika Ducksworth-Lawton. I have a PhD from Ohio State -- Go Bucks! And, I am the African American and military historian here for, not just UW Eau Claire, but for the Northwood Battalion for the Wisconsin Army National Guard and Air National Guard. I have a book coming out on the 24th Infantry Regiment in Korea and a second book coming out on veterans in the civil rights movement in Louisiana, the Deacons for Defense and Justice. So, I believe Dr. Sandy?

Dr. James Sandy: Hey everybody. My name's Dr. James Sandy, I'm an assistant professor at UT Arlington, the biggest school you've never heard of, and I'm a military and cultural historian. I teach a slew of military history courses and pop culture courses. This is right up my alley. I'm writing a book about war-centered comic books in the 1950s, sixties, and seventies, so super excited to be a part of this.

Martinez: Awesome. So for this panel, I will discuss my research about the Marvel Cinematic Universe first. Then I'll pass it over to Dr. Sandy to provide some historical context, and then Dr. Ducksworth-Lawton will provide further goals, causes, and background on the expanded Marvel Cinematic Universe. I wrote my research paper entitled, "Reaching a New Audience Capitalizing on the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Strengthen the United States Air Force," as part of Dr. Terino's the Air Force and Fact, Fiction, and Film elective at ACSC. Getting to be in a class where you watch classic movies about the Air Force is pretty awesome, but Dr. Terino really did an excellent job in illuminating the history of the Air Force-Hollywood relationship. It was what made me think about the Air Force's current collaboration with Marvel Studios. I'm a huge MCU fan, and we all consistently hear about the success of its movies.

I'm sincerely skeptical about there ever being a series of connected movies with the success of the MCU, so the Air Force needs to be a little bit more aggressive about supporting this pop culture phenomenon. In my research paper, I argue that Ironman and Captain Marvel are some of the most effective modern-day, electronic Air Force public opinion tools for three reasons: iconic scenes with Air Force assets and characters; critical and monetary reception; and diverse recruitment and acceptance effects. I then provide some recommendations where the Air Force can work with Marvel Studios to increase support for films that prominently feature diverse characters with an Air Force background to bolster diversity and inclusion initiatives. Ironman's considered to be the keystone movie of the MCU. The support the DoD gave Ironman was instrumental to the film success, which jump-started the MCU series of films. Captain Marvel was Marvel's first female-led superhero movie, and the film was an incredible opportunity for the Air Force to highlight a superhero with an Air Force fighter pilot background.

There's actually a very aggressive marketing campaign the Air Force did with Captain Marvel called “Origin Story,” which reached a massive and diverse audience. Both of these movies did so much to reach all corners of the United States and they are shining examples of what is possible when the Air Force and Marvel Studios work together to create widespread entertainment. So, now that we know a little bit about how impactful MCU can be for the Air Force, I'll quickly review some of my recommendations that I wrote about in my paper. First, the Air Force should run an ad campaign with the release of The Marvels (the sequel to 2019’s Captain Marvel) on 17 Feb, 2023, just like they did with Captain Marvel. Second, we need to provide DOD support to the production of Armor Wars on Disney Plus, which features War Machine as the main character, who's another Air Force fighter pilot.

Third, continue to promote former Air Force pararescue man Samuel Wilson, also known as the Falcon and the new Captain America. Fourth, use Benjamin Grimm, also known as The Thing in the Fantastic Four, to show the excellence of an Air Force pilot career in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, which is a great opportunity since the last few Fantastic Four movies have been kind of terrible. And finally, aggressively approach Marvel Studios to see if an original movie proposed by the Air Force based on a Marvel character is possible, maybe such as Monica Rambeau as a new Captain Marvel with flashbacks about her mother, Maria Rambeau's career as an Air Force pilot. That's my research in a brief nutshell, since I'd really like to hear our expert thoughts. And now, I'd like to hand it over to Dr. Sandy to provide some detailed historical context.

Sandy: Thanks, Frank. I want to thank Major Martinez for a really interesting paper and perspective on this link between the Air Force and the MCU. Like I said, I'm a historian and professor of both military history and pop culture, so this is really right in my alley. Forgive me everyone involved for bringing up something about the Navy and not the Air Force, but I think it's only right to start with this really relevant and successful example of pop culture in military aviation with Top Gun. As the sequel, Top Gun Maverick is currently smashing the box office, and according to some sources, revitalizing American cinemas. We have perhaps one of the best opportunities to link popular culture phenomena and their impact on military recruiting image and interest. Direct impacts and consequences can be tricky to grasp and tricky to quantify. But, as the Navy is currently, probably hoping for a rush of fresh eager faces and an image update for everyone ready to be the next Maverick, Phoenix, or Warlock, it's just too easy and fun for me not to bring up right now.

Immediately after the original films' released in 1986, the Navy reported a nearly 500% increase in recruits from the previous year. According to a 1993 Navy recruiting survey conducted in the wake of the original film, more than 30% of new recruits indicated that television shows and movies like Top Gun had a strong influence on their decision to join the Navy, although, that same survey indicated that physical brochures were the actual leading influence on recruits deciding to join, I think this is still significant. However we view movies like Top Gun and this red-hot sequel, which some predict to top $600 million at the domestic office, which would be a middle-of-the-road Marvel release... I do think films are really important, and your plan to more effectively utilize the Air Force's relationship with Hollywood to bolster institutional image and future recruiting is a good one.

One more piece before we leave Tom Cruise, I saw the new Top Gun relatively early on in its release in a packed IMAX theater. I found it really interesting that the last regular commercial before the movie preview started was a rather long, aggressive and semi-amorphous advertisement for the USAF. It was the very last thing that played, and it was a bunch of fighter planes and an Air Force personnel doing what they do best. I'd be really interested to know how common that was across theaters. I don't know if that was an opening day thing or not, but I thought it was poignant that the last thing you see before any other movie was a really well-done advertisement for the Air Force.

Frank, I'd point you to Michael Paris's 1995 book, From The Wright Brothers to Top Gun: Aviation, Nationalism and Popular Culture. It's a really interesting canvasing of the relationship between film and aviation specifically, not only the production relationship, but also the imagery and things like that. It deals extensively with this relationship you're looking upon. It starts with Wings, which you rightfully mentioned at the outset of your paper. I teach an intro to pop culture class, and I always show parts of Wings. And I think I'm doing my part in having the undergraduates of America introduced to this really wild movie that came out almost 100 years ago. There's this long and established connection between Hollywood and military aviation that I think you're right on the money with. Now, to something a little more relevant.

I'd like to briefly discuss the history of comic books and representations of the American military. As the American comic book industry really came into its own at the end of the 1930s with the birth of Superman, images of warfare and American military personnel quickly followed. Both large and small publishing houses built their businesses partly around this genre of war comics. From the superhero tales of Captain America, Sergeant Rock and Sergeant Fury, both DC and Marvel used the second World War as a simple and popular story device. It's really a no-brainer. Our Army at War, Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat emerged as the leading war comic series, selling the Army, Navy and Marines to a diverse array of young Americans. The military quickly became one of the primary audiences for these war comics. And as the Cold War escalated, American PXs at home and abroad stocked the latest comic book issues from both big and small publishers. Less familiar comic houses, like Charlton, made military-centered comics the central pillar of their business, with a slew of titles. Fightin' Army, Fightin' Navy, Fightin' Marines. And yes, starting in 1956 Fightin' Air Force.

By the early 1960s, war comics as a genre were selling nearly the same number of copies as DC and Marvel's front runners, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and even Spiderman. This genre was something that sold as well as the superheroes in their heyday, but something changed. As the Vietnam war dragged on and Americans became more critical of conflict and America's martial actions, these war titles started losing their popularity, with nearly all of the titles and some of the publishers ceasing production by the mid-1970s. They didn't go down without a fight though. As the American cultural landscape changed with the Vietnam war as its backdrop, comic publishers pushed themselves to create a more relevant and often more inclusive product and image. Sergeant Rock, DC Comics’ leading man on the front lines, and the subject of a soon-to-be finished book by me, found himself openly questioning conflict while his storylines increasingly spoke to issues of racial discrimination, genocidal violence, and other relevant topics of the day.

Joe Cooper, the famous director of DC's publications during the decade, affixed a simple, yet powerful logo at the end of every war story after 1965. It read, "Make war no more." New titles popped up seeking wider audiences. DC's short lived Men at War was the first DC war comic to star an African-American soldier, Ulysses Hazard, code name Gravedigger. Cooper and the DC team are on the record that Gravedigger represented a direct attempt to diversify their cast of characters. The title lasted just three short years, but represents a powerful diversification by one of the two big comic houses in their war-centered titles.

Paul Hirsch wrote a book in 2021 called Pulp Empire, and it's really relevant as we talk about the manipulation and use of popular culture, especially comic culture by governmental agencies and branches of the American military. Hirsch offers one of my absolute favorite definitions in the field. As he refers to comics as trash, trash culture. It's sticky. It's overlooked. It's dismissed as non-serious, but it hangs around. It's always popular amongst a wide and diverse audience. It's easy to access. It's easy to pass on. In the middle of the 1950s, when comics were at their heyday, comic publishers publicized this internal theory, this is how they counted their impact, that every issue sold found its way through five separate hands before it was discarded, and, maybe that's real. Maybe that's a way to say that their stories and their issues reached wider audiences. Either way, I think it's interesting. Hirsch, in this fantastic work out of the University of Chicago, presents this governmental relationship with comic books from the mid-1950s through the mid-1980s, as a vital piece of Cold War information campaigns. Hirsch argues that comics and their culture were inherently useful and threatening.

Government agencies used comic books as propaganda devices with foreign populations, literally hiring both state-owned and then privately-owned publishing houses to publish and disseminate comic books presenting America in a positive light, and simultaneously trying to censor the subject material of comics here at home trying to change the way comics presented America to Americans. Hirsch's compelling argument shows how powerful the American government has viewed this type of material in the past, and is more evident by what Major Martinez is discussing here. And I would ask, how compelling is this path to the USAF currently? Are you suggesting an increase to an already decided upon position? Or is this something bigger and broader than the Air Force has done to this point?

Now, to comment quickly on your recommendations. It seems like the upcoming slate of MCU movies and television shows already includes a good deal of USAF related characters and story arcs, and is a ripe environment for the USAF to offer support, consultation and corresponding materials of their own. Characters like James Rhodes and the Rambeau family are going to occupy center stage in the universe's next iteration. And, highlighting their careers and lives as Air Force officers seems almost too easy. There are other comic titles that I'd be interested if you had any thoughts on that could come into play here, from the other large house, DC Comics and the BlackHawk series. I don't know if you're familiar with that one or not. This ragtag group of American and European fighter pilots born out of the fires of World War Two are ripe for a reboot, channeling these Thunderbird-esque uniforms in an ethnically-diverse cast of characters, whipping through the skies in sleek fighter planes. There has been a rumored reboot of this film by Steven Spielberg for a number of years, but I'd be interested to see if you had any other thoughts. All in all, I think Frank hit the nail in the head here. And as the USAF looks to present its modern identity, polish its reputation, and even bolster recruiting in the 21st century, I think partnering with pop culture behemoth like Marvel and DC is a no-brainer. So, I'd ask you to expand with this brief question here, in which of these areas do you believe the greatest benefit exists for the USAF going forward? And maybe expand a bit on how you think the Air Force can achieve that. And with that, I'll pass it on to Selika.

Ducksworth-Lawton: Always an adventure to go last. I do have to say that I'm in a mixed marriage here. My husband is DC and I'm Marvel. This does give me a little bit of a chance to geek out. And unfortunately, for you all, you all will hear it. So, I want to start by saying that for multicultural people and diverse people, who I believe are the targets of the recruitment, especially across gender, that Major Martinez talks about, the military and especially the Air Force, and I really emphasize the Air Force here, have been bastions that prove competence, confidence, masculinity for men, and for women, a different type of femininity. It's one of strength and smart, but it's the idea that you prove and you earn and deserve your citizenship by fighting for the country.

And that's reflected in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I'd also point out Wonder Woman as a throwaway, really with her connections to USAF, also talks about this alien coming down here and being in many ways seduced by the ideas of liberty and justice for all of the US Constitution. Now, this sets us up for these movies to be really a good antidote to the major problem for recruitment for the USAF. I did a little bit of this work at RAND Corporation when I was there. And that is, how do you recruit high-quality youth from marginalized backgrounds when they are suspicious of the military and government?

This ambivalent relationship between marginalized groups with the branches is expressed in some ways through pop culture. And the evolution of that pop culture shows the evolution of that ambivalence. In the 1970s, Jimi Hendrix, Bill Withers, et cetera, a number of our pop icons were military veterans. While today, there are very few pop icons who are veterans. When you look at the 1970s, there's a huge amount of movies that are about the military experience, whether they're positive or negative. When you come today, the movies are a little more sparse and a lot more ambivalent. While the movies have been vehicles for integration, the biggest question they have had to answer is the philosophical question, why fight for a country where majority the people get away with discriminating against your group?

And, here we see comic books and movies stepping up to really address those issues. By fighting stereotypes, by showing marginalized people as competent and confident, and by normalizing integration, these movies capture imagination, they help to change the pop culture, but they also, in that way, become a fertile recruiting ground for diverse peoples. Now, when we look from the Dirty Dozens' fanciful integration in World War Two, which didn't happen, to movies about the Tuskegee Airmen, to the romanticization of Chappie James, to the civil rights movement lauding of the 361st Black Panther Tank Battalion, which has a medal of honor, to the 442nd Regimen, the Nisei regiment in World War Two, to the 65th Puerto Rican, diverse communities have been a source of high quality youth to the USAF up to 2010.

Part of that is because the US integrated in 1949, being the first one to integrate and being seen as the most friendly to integration. Part of it is its technological needs attracts youth who want to be proficient in STEM and STEAM. But, a major problem today is a culture that does not see the military as a natural route for marginalized youth and new competition from private and governmental actors, private industry, and especially for the Air Force, your competition is the Navy in terms of technological support. I liked your paper, but what I really wanted to do is go deeper into the how and how it meets the goals a bit more, if this makes sense. So, I want you to encourage this history. I especially want you to read Nalty's Strength for the Fight, but we have some more modern pieces as well, and I'll talk about them throughout this.

Many of the characters in the Avengers Universe that you talk about originated in the 1960s, their raison d'etre, such as Black Panther, was to talk about integration. While you focused on Falcon and the others who were explicitly USAF, I'd like for you to start looking at some of the ones who are more subtly warriors, but who can also point to the USAF. Does that make sense? While talking about how Falcon moves to Captain America is good, and Ms. Marvel moves to Captain Marvel, you need to talk about the why, and that's where you use the history, not just the comic book history and not just the canon. Because, ironically, the canon does help you. You have to decide whether you want the comic book nerds or not, but it does help you. Ironman, for instance, by canon, there's an African-American Ironman coming up because Tony Stark is now passed away. If you're looking at the canon, if the MCU follows the canon. One of his bodyguards picks up the suit. So that would be an opportunity because that person is ex-military in canon. You want to talk about that, but you also want to answer one of the big questions of the cold war, and it isn't answered by the Avengers. It's answered by the X-Men. And, Dr. Sandy is smiling because he knew X-Men had to show up some day. So looking through, I really want you to talk a little bit more about the issues the US Air Force faces in these recruits. That should be in your background. There's a huge amount of information on that, barriers to recruiting high quality youth. I actually have my name on a much older document and it's called the pipeline, which is the recruitment and retention of gender and racial minorities. But there's huge literature on that, so I really want you to make the case that they need to do it. And right now, you're glancing over it, but you get a hard-tailed senator, that hard-tailed senator's going to look at you and say, "So what?" So make that case.

But, I'm also going to suggest that on top of Ironman and on top of fighting Thanos, we come back to one of the most popular of the icons for the multicultural universe, and it's Shuri. I couldn't get the big Shuri, because my 15-year-old daughter threatened to let me have it if I took it out of her cold, dead hands. That gives you an idea of the attraction of Shuri. For young girls with multicultural and majority backgrounds, European and other groups, Shuri is an attraction. She as the Aja-Adanna and as the future Black Panther, offers a pathway to encourage young girls into STEM because she's a scientist. So you open up your pool of recruits, but she also offers a way to give young girls opportunities to practice STEM. Does this make sense? So Shuri connects science and culture and self-defense, and she does it within a pop culture reign that is cool. She has coolness. Does this make sense? And, if you were looking to cross the gender lines, you should look at Shuri. She also continues that discussion of, what does it mean to defend a country and why should marginalized people fight for a country? Does this make sense? Because that's your big argument that you really have to deal with. Shuri also encourages men who move into the military to see women as effective and worthy of respect and encouragement, as well as making the idea of making defensive weapons cool to newer groups. Right now, there's a lot of discussion on weapons and the ethics of how we use weapons, especially drone warfare.

Now, moving from Shuri, if you expand to working with the X-Men universe, you're going to be hitting the ideas of the skepticism of the US government, the military, and illegal surveillance head on, which are three of your big barriers. And that leads you to a different character, my avatar on Facebook, Storm. It also leads you to Professor Xavier and to Magneto. And, while many people think they were based on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and if you look on the web there's a huge number of comparisons, enough to make you sick, they're really based on David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin. Magneto was a survivor of Auschwitz, while Professor X was a survivor of  domestic violence. But, the Magneto-Professor X argument is an argument over how do we integrate? There's it's mutants, here it's marginalized groups, and it was explicitly written to fit some of the issues that we have today and to fit that suspicion. What will the role of a marginalized group be? Nonviolence versus violence. Magneto really in some ways represents black supremacy. Not black power, black supremacy. They're two different groups. It's the difference between the Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers. Does this make sense? Because the Black Panthers wanted self-control within a US government orientation. They wanted something that looked like the reservations we have, like Native American nations which is why they were treated as they were. Whereas black supremacists, if you're looking at somebody like Louis Farrakhan, if you're looking at somebody like the Black Israelites, that's what you're looking at with Magneto. And Magneto felt that the only way to be safe was to have power. Magneto really represents, on one side black supremacists, but on the other side, white supremacists. The only way they can be safe is to put down the people they see as inferior. Professor X says, "No, the way to be safe is to cooperate with everyone." By hitting that and looking at how in that worldview you have mutants who are working together and using advanced science, to save the world and protect weaker populations, you have an argument that's been known to help recruit, but also to cross race barriers.

And then you have Storm, the daughter of a queen and a reporter, who is orphaned during the Arab-Israeli wars, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, who grows up on the streets, and who walks through the desert, makes it back to her country and becomes a queen. And, then she's persuaded to use her mutant powers to protect those who are weaker than her. Isn't that the story of why we go into the military, to find out the narrative that you go into the military to find out to be the best you are, to be the best you can be? It parallels the Captain Marvel story, where her problem is not that she had to grow and acquire powers. Her problem was that she had to recognize what was holding her powers back and to trust herself and to trust her competence. And this is an arc we see in a number of comic books. We see also as archetype in American literature. Top Gun, the hero suffers from some sort of crisis of confidence, and it is only after undergoing stress and strain, that they find themselves.

Martinez: Thank you both so much for all the recommendations and for your thoughts, that was absolutely incredible because I get to learn a lot more about this. And I was actually... To answer your question, Dr. Sandy, about, which of these areas the greatest benefit exists for the USAF going forward and how can the Air Force achieve that? I actually wanted to expand my research on DC and even the Hasbro Cinematic Universe, Transformers, those things like that. Because I think, again, the Air Force needs to paint with a broad brush in this respect. It shouldn't just be the MCU. I do think there are fascinating opportunities, like Blackhawk series in DC, for the Air Force to continue to try and make awesome movies that can recruit marginalized groups and underrepresented groups within the US armed forces.

But my question for you, Dr. Sandy first. How feasible do you think it is for the Air Force to form a real and continuing relationship with Hollywood, to not only create MCU movies, but other movies that can spur Air Force D&I recruiting? So, you gave Top Gun Maverick as an example, there's also a Combat Controller movie coming out in the future for the Air Force. But, do you think that the Air Force needs to be more aggressive? Should they create a separate organization to spur some more relationship or a stronger relationship?

Sandy: It's a really interesting question. I don't want to speak too far outside my knowledge base here, but I think... And again, I hate to keep going back to Top Gun, but it's just this really fascinating example. You hear all these stories coming out, that the Navy supposedly charged the film crew, it was like $11,000 an hour for the filming with their jets. Which I don't understand the economics of that, but I'm going to go ahead and say that that's probably pretty cheap. I don't know what the motivating factor there is. You have this original, built-in cultural base with the original, that was this no-brainer sequel. While certainly there is a great deal of history and tradition with the Air Force and Hollywood, it's from an older era.

You have, what is it? The Iron Eagle films from the eighties and certainly a great deal of Air Force and Hollywood relationship from the 1950s with the Cold War, nuclear arms races, things like that. Thinking of films like Fail Safe, and maybe less positive representations of the Air Force in things like Dr. Strangelove. The direction with MCU, I think is a really great idea with other built-in, popular IPs.  If you're looking to achieve the things we're talking about here, I think the Air Force needs that standalone, standout piece of IP that is centered around the Air Force. What I think makes Top Gun work so well, besides people seem to like jets flying really fast, close to cameras on film, is that the Navy culture is really present in the Top Gun films. It's presented as really attractive for a number of reasons, originally to young men, but in the second one, I think it was a much more diverse appeal to it, which I think was definitely done on purpose.  I think it needs that one standout piece of pop culture phenomenon that grows into something of its own. And while I think the MCU and DC, I like the idea of the Hasbro Universe as well. But, the idea of having something that is centered solely around some type of Air Force story, in a modern sense, again, the way Top Gun did it. Again, there's a reason I can't stop talking about it.

Martinez: Absolutely. That makes perfect sense. I agree, I think that would be awesome to have original IP for the Air Force. I think that'd be a great thing. Dr. Ducksworth-Lawton, thank you so much. Your recommendations are awesome. Shuri, that didn't even come up with me. Princess of Wakanda, yeah, she's huge. She's hugely popular, and she would be an awesome avenue to bridge that gap for the entire armed forces. She's awesome. So, I appreciate that. And X-Men, of course. That's a huge source of themes that you presented and stuff like that. I think that's some amazing stuff.  Do you think it's even feasible for the Air Force to come up with original IP? Or should we more lean on these existing IPs, like Shuri, like X-Men, like Magneto, Professor X, Storm? What do you think?

Ducksworth-Lawton: Well, there's a whole series of historical figures, and these are the ones I hide because I don't let my kids near them. Here, this is the Tuskegee Bomber. Like I said, this is geek household. What did I say? Still in the box, Tuskegee Airmen Fighter Pilot, still in the box. They've barely scratched that surface, and I will say Red Tails really didn't do it justice. So, just to start looking at that history and pull some of the stories from that history would make sense.  Eugene Bullard is wonderful. Bessie Coleman, who wound up training the Tuskegee Airmen. There's so many ways you can go just delving into the history. I think to create its own MCU, that's something that, while I'd like to see it, I'm not sure that the people over in the communications and PR command... I'm not sure I trust them to do that.

I think there's enough stories out there with the existing stories. I would say that, as well as doing this, I am a giant sci-fi fan. And, what's ironic is the Air Force is often a hero when you're looking at sci-fi and dystopian history, and especially military academies for saving kids from the streets. So, I would say expand to start looking at some of those science fiction series, especially where people are military. They don't have to turn into werewolves. They don't have to turn into witches, although that's pretty prominent in that. But there's a lot of stories to be told there that the branches really could jump on, especially with these themes of honor, competence, confidence, success, and mentoring. I would say that theme of mentoring, within the military, is far more explicit and far more effective. Does that make sense?

Think of Louis Gossett Jr. way back in the day, An Officer and a Gentleman. There are people who crave for those kind of ideas. I know that's probably before your time. My father-in-law was Army first and then Air Force. He's a two-service individual, finished in 1963 - World War Two and Korea. So, those I think would be stories that people would really love to see, as long as it remains rooted in the idea that these are people who want liberty, justice and are fighting discrimination. And as long as the military continues to state very clearly that they're anti-discrimination.

Sandy: I thought it was a really great addition. I would like to just jump back in here and add on to something you just said. Also, it's very fortuitous, you talked about your book on the 24th Infantry in Korea. I just started a side project about the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company in Korea, which was an all-black special forces unit. I think talking about the Air Force as the... not the instigator obviously of integration, but one of the more effective and early on integrators in the American military in the late forties and early fifties. You've got this half generation, not a World War II, not a Vietnam, Korea in the shadow of the greatest generation.  The generation that actually integrates the military, that comes in after '47, is come and gone by Vietnam or is in positions of authority. That's the generation where the military integrates. It's also the generation that builds the Air Force. So you've got, what I'm imagining is a slew of individuals and stories. This project I'm working on, I'm putting together this digital history archive of this very small army company in Korea, and 30 of them go on to serve full careers in the army and lieutenant colonels and majors. They become special forces, advisors, and helicopter pilots. They do all these incredible things, because they're the first generation of African- American men allowed to be full members of the military. And while I haven't done it, I guarantee you the Air Force is front and center in that story.

Ducksworth-Lawton: The story of Chappie James would be so compelling. And I think it would be compelling in the same way that the stories of the three women who were the mathematicians (Hidden Figures) were. And I think it would be explosive in that kind of way.

Martinez: Absolutely. Distrust and unease with the government is a big thing. How do you avoid losing the audience selling out with pop culture being entwined with the military?

Ducksworth-Lawton: That I think is why for the diverse characters it's the ideal placement. Because that idea of fighting... If you've ever seen the TV show with the talking car, you all are probably too young for it. I can't remember the…

Sandy: Knight Rider.

Ducksworth-Lawton: Knight Rider, thank you. Think about the way the characters have to fight corruption in government, but they're fighting corruption in government for love of the country. And, that unease with the government is real. That unease with illegal surveillance is real, but is there a movie out there where they're not binging multiple servers to make sure people can't find their IP? I don't think distrusting government will cause them to lose their audience. If the theme is cleaning government or ending corruption, that would be very popular. Especially, if it's a small group within the military that's tasked with fighting that corruption, which somehow sounds a lot like X-Men. Does it always come back to X-Men?

Sandy: The X-Men aren't a bad place to come back to. I think it's an interesting question, because, especially, as you mentioned, distrust with the military and the government, especially among marginalized groups becomes this very vocal, powerful piece of the latter half of the 20th century. I'm primarily a historian of the Vietnam War. Gender and race are put on full display and the issues of those arenas are front and center with the military during the Vietnam War. And there are stories of perseverance and success, but those are often met in multiple with stories of discrimination, harassment, and the non-protection of marginalized individuals.  I think it's a very careful selection of story and presentation that can't be honest enough.

I think that is how these stories are really effective. Major Martinez, you talked a lot about reputation. And, I think the Air Force has the benefit of being... Well, until recently, has the benefit of being the newest branch. So it has less of a history of discrimination and things to catch up to it, which I think isn't its favorite, doesn't mean it's not there. But, I think the careful selection of narrative and story and placement and message, I think is the way you do it. I've been thinking about this the whole time, I think the Air Force is really perfectly built because of its connection to technology and education and its rather forward-leaning stance in its entire history on the leading edge of whatever it wants to be on. I think it's ripe for what we're talking about here.

Ducksworth-Lawton: Jim Brown and a number of other actors made their meat by focusing on the culture, the brotherhood, the sisterhood, the training they got in the military, and coming out into the civilian world and translating those skills to fight corruption. Some of them, and that's where Knight Rider and a couple of other TV shows come in, use those skills within the context of the military. If we're looking at the seventies, we're thinking The Six Million Dollar Man. But, you have this theme of negotiating the institution, but protecting the institution by trying to get rid of corruption, fighting it. So, that narrative though that emphasizes the culture of teamwork, the narrative that emphasizes the culture of competence, and a narrative that emphasizes using your competence in creative ways to protect the public and to protect everyone else. Those would be powerful narratives towards recruitment. No one goes into the military for, we'll give you a gun and you'll shoot people. They go into the Air Force, like two of my cousins who are Air Force colonels, because they want to protect people. They want to take care of people. And because they love the institution and they want to maintain the culture of the institution.

I could see you definitely influencing some of the Star Wars canon, now that I'm thinking about it because a lot of the heroes of the Star Wars canon are pilots, if you think about it. And, it's a diverse world. It's a very diverse set of worlds.

Martinez: Yeah, absolutely. That would probably be a perfect recruitment ground for Space Force or Air Force,

Sandy: Just because I thought of it. If we're talking reboots and we're talking about the eighties, I'd love to see a new Last Starfighter. That would be-

Ducksworth-Lawton: Oh my God.

Sandy: It seems pretty perfect.

Ducksworth-Lawton: Stargate.

Sandy: I love that.

Ducksworth-Lawton: Stargate SG-1, got to get another one. For me, I think Major Martinez you're on the right track, I think that in this competition for these small cohorts, and I didn't go into the fact that we have far smaller cohorts today and that's not going to ease up. So the Air Force has to begin to think about how it's going to compete in the world. But this is where, on behalf of Dr. Sandy and I, I think the Air Force should look to its history, and maybe they can repackage some of the narratives of their histories. Maybe they could reboot a comic strip series. The best comic books handle the nuances of the real world, and the best graphic novels do that as well. Look at the success of the Triple Nickels. I would love to see the Air Force go in those directions.

Martinez: That's a great note to end on. Thank you so much, Dr. Ducksworth-Lawton and Dr. Sandy for providing your expert input on the subject of the Marvel Universe and D&I recruiting. I'd also like to thank Dr. Sankey and her team along with Air University for setting up this research showcase and allowing us opportunity to discuss our research. Finally, I'd like to thank Dr. Terino from ACSC for inspiring me with an excellent elective course.

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