When I first sat down to watch Top Gun with my dad back in the 8th grade, I didn’t know the difference between an F-22 and a 777, and I could probably count on one hand the number of service members I was acquainted with at the time. It took me another 3 viewings just to understand what branch Maverick was in because I was under the impression, like most Americans, that the Navy sailed ships, the Air Force flew planes, the Army marched on foot, and the Marine Corps...well, they were an elusive branch that were just more hard core than the rest. Even though Top Gun was a little before my time, I can easily say that Top Gun shaped my adolescence and taught me valuable lessons about the military lifestyle that was so different from my own.
Lesson 1 - Every branch is versatile and offers a vast array of job opportunities
Growing up, we tend to think of the military as GI Joe types kicking down doors with M-16's strapped to their backs. And while that group definitely exists within the military, there’s a multitude of other jobs that are necessary to sustaining our powerful defense. From pilots to mechanics, the USS ENTERPRISE (the aircraft carrier featured in Top Gun) is full of military personnel that make a mission successful. The Fighter Weapons School (fondly known as Top Gun) wouldn’t have been possible without military intelligence officers, teachers, medics, and a vast array of other specialty jobs that made these pilots their best. In the military, there's a place for everyone.
Lesson 2 - Military families serve their country, too
Possibly one of the most tear jerking scenes in the movie is when Carole, Goose’s wife (played by Meg Ryan) cries on the shoulder of Maverick (Tom Cruise) about how much her husband loved flying. Goose had a real passion for his job, and she supported him through it all. Through training, schools, and deployment, she was a rock in the family, taking care of their son and holding down the fort back home while he went after his dreams. She made sacrifices within her own life, knowing that by doing so, her husband was able to serve and defend the country. And in the end, she suffered through the ultimate sacrifice. Our military families give so much to our country, much of which is unseen and unrecognized. Their suffering is masked with patriotism, and the movie gave me an entirely new perspective of the military family unit.
Lesson 3 - Trust is the key to a successful mission
In order to be successful, each and every one of those pilots had to trust each other. It was a hard road in some cases (i.e. Ice Man and Maverick) and instant in others (Goose and Maverick), but the only way they had a chance of success in their mission against the MIG’s was by totally and completely putting their lives in the hands of their brothers in arms and trusting that they would have each other’s 6. While it always helps to be a big, strong, tough individual, the most successful military will always be the one that can work together as a team. This lesson is also one that transcends the military. As Americans, I hope we can always remember the wise words of Viper - “Just remember, when it's over out there, we're all on the same team.”