There’s no doubt the US has the most powerful military in the world, with almost 1.5 million active personnel and billions of dollars’ worth of equipment and weaponry.
And after nearly 250 years of existence, the US military boasts a rich history full of heroism, sacrifice, and some fascinating trivia—like these 15 interesting facts you probably didn’t know:
1. The military uses secret Velcro
While civilians have to contend with the loud rip of traditional Velcro, the US military uses a secret, nearly silent version of the material that’s unavailable to the public. It’s too bad—US consumers would definitely appreciate Velcro that reduces the ripping noise by over 95%.
2. Army-owned land could be its own state
Army bases and other Army-owned property scattered across the country add up to about 24,000 square miles of land. If combined into one area and declared a US state of its own, it would be the 42nd-largest in the country, between West Virginia and Maryland.
3. Parachute survival kits include an interesting dual-purpose item
Among the expected items in a standard-issue parachute pack survival kit—matches, a compass, stainless steel wire, etc.—the US military includes one non-lubricated condom. The primary function is to hold up to 1 liter of water, while the secondary function goes without saying.
4. US military bases refuse pennies
Businesses in the US might be law-bound to accept pennies as currency, but stores and restaurants on US military bases around the world want nothing to do with them because they’re too heavy and expensive to ship stateside.
5. Top Gun led to an explosion in Navy recruitment
Although Top Gun is not exactly an accurate portrayal of life as a Navy pilot, the 1986 movie cast quite a spell. After the film’s release, the US Navy said the number of new recruits eager to become Naval Aviators surged by 500 percent as everyone seemed to want to fly the F-14 Tomcat like Maverick.
6. George Washington picked the current colors of the Army dress uniform
No, Washington’s ghost didn’t return to dictate military fashion—the current color scheme is the original one chosen by our first president in 1779. The Army experimented with various colors in the ensuing years, but went back to the original colors in 2010.
7. Ray Ban sunglasses were originally made for the US Army Air Corps
As airplanes became vital to the US military in the early 20th century, pilots were desperate for a way to reduce the headaches and nausea caused by high-altitude exposure to the sun.
That’s why US Army Air Corps Lieutenant General John MacCready asked New York-based medical equipment manufacturer Bausch & Lomb to create aviation sunglasses that would block (or ban) the sun’s rays. The result was the now-famous Ray Ban sunglasses.
8. Most US Presidents served in the military
Although the size and scope of the US military has changed over the course of its history, one thing remains a tradition: it has a tendency to produce future presidents.
Out of 45 Presidents, 32 have served in the military: 15 in the Army or Army Reserve, 6 in the Navy or Navy Reserve, 9 in state militias, and 2 in the Continental Army.
9. Sea lions and dolphins are part of the military too
You might have to be 18 to enlist, but there’s apparently no limit to which species can work for the US military. The US Navy Marine Mammal Program utilizes the advanced intelligence and training capability of sea lions and dolphins to perform tasks such as ship and harbor protection, equipment recovery, and even mine detection and clearance.
10. The Coast Guard seizes roughly $9.6 million worth of drugs daily
Just because the Coast Guard sticks close to home doesn’t mean they don’t see action. On average, the Coast Guard seizes about 170 pounds of marijuana and 300 pounds of cocaine daily. That adds up to about $9.6 million worth of the drugs.
11. The Pentagon is purposely marble-free
If you visit the Pentagon, you might notice that unlike other government buildings, there is no marble to be seen. And it’s not a style choice—the main source of the decorative rock is Italy, which was an enemy country when the Pentagon was built during World War II.
12. The nickname “Leatherneck” has deadly origins
You might have heard the common nickname for Marines—Leatherneck—but you probably don’t know its origin. Long ago, early Marines wore a stiff leather band around their necks to ensure upright posture — and to protect their jugular vein against saber blows.
13. One of the Air Force’s fighter jets was inspired by bees
The Air Force’s now-retired F-117 aircraft, also known as the Nighthawk, was the first operational aircraft to be designed around stealth technology. Even more impressive is its design origins—the aerodynamics of the craft were based on research into how bumblebees fly.
14. The Department of Defense bought 1,700 PlayStation 3’s
Although the DoD might have plenty of gamers in its ranks, it didn’t purchase 1,700 PlayStation 3’s in 2010 for the latest Call of Duty release. Instead, they used the consoles to build a supercomputer because it was more cost efficient and friendlier to the environment than building a computer from the ground up.
15. The military boasts several A-list celebrities in its historical ranks
Everyone knows the story about Elvis joining the Army, but he’s far from the only major celebrity to serve in the armed forces. The Army also claims Mr. T, Leonard Nimoy, and Hugh Hefner. Former Navy members include Paul Newman, Humphrey Bogart, and Johnny Carson. The Air Force boasts Johnny Cash, Morgan Freeman, and Chuck Norris. And the Marines claim Gene Hackman, Bea Arthur, and Montel Williams.