Conflict & Justice

"Spartan" soldiers take page from "300"


A concrete blast wall with spartan banner.


Ben Brody


About six years ago, I was a soldier in 3rd Infantry Division's Spartan Brigade. Some of the imagery associated with the brigade featured a Spartan helm, and the unit prided itself on its austerity and no-nonsense soldiering. There are at least three brigades in the Army named Spartan, and it was just another martial name until the graphic novel-based 300 hit the theaters in 2007.

At Forward Operating Base Pasab in Kandahar, soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division's Spartan Brigade have festooned their concrete blast walls and plywood office buildings with banners featuring the movie's oiled-up, man-scaped actors. The posters exhort their troops to return with their shield, or on it. According to their commander, during training in Louisiana they would be woken at 6 a.m. to Gerard Butler's King Leonidas shouting over loudspeakers, "Spartans! Prepare for glory!"

Now I thought 300 was a really entertaining movie, like Starship Troopers or the insanely violent Sin City. But the movie is also inescapably silly, and only works because it rarely takes itself too seriously. If the base's posters are going to feature a shrieking comic book character wearing leather hot pants, writer Becca Cahill has two fine suggestions for potential motivational slogans:

"Bodies make a great retaining wall."
"I want to ride a war elephant."

I'm all for the military taking itself a little less seriously. Bring on the camouflage hot pants!