7 Interesting Facts about the Military You Probably Don't Know

Aaron Waller Aaron Waller / Published Feb 28, 2020, 5:43 PM / Modified Apr 22, 2022, 9:29 AM

The US Armed Forces has a fascinating history filled with interesting tidbits. But a lot of these aren't well-known. We recently discovered several of these facts that we thought were too cool not to share with you.

So, without further ado, here are seven interesting details you might not know about the US military:

1. A Supercomputer Built from Playstation 3s

Glowing blue supercomputerThat's right! Those video game consoles are quite useful, and the Department of Defense knows it. Back in 2010, they officially unveiled the Condor Cluster, which is made from 1,760 Sony Playstation 3 consoles.

But why would you make a supercomputer with them?

Well, the Condor Cluster can analyze ultra high-resolution images at fast speeds, and the console's graphics capabilities can identify those blurry, flying objects in space better than other previous computers.

Additionally, it's capable of performing 500 trillion floating point operations per second (TFLOPS), which makes it the fastest interactive computer for the Department of Defense.

It was also extremely cost effective. When it was being built, PS3s cost approximately $400 each and comparable technology would've been $10,000 per unit. In total, the Condo Cluster cost about $2 million, which is only about 5-10% of what it would've cost to build a supercomputer with other computer parts.

In addition to its cost, the supercomputer is energy efficient. It only consumes 10% of the power that similar supercomputers do.

The system is located in Rome, New York, and it's used by the Air Force for radar enhancement, satellite imagery processing, and artificial intelligence research.

2. Tracking Santa Claus

Little boy wearing a Santa hat talks on the phone with someone from NORAD Tracks Santa According to tradition, the NORAD Tracks Santa tradition started on November 24, 1955, with a misprint in a Sears ad that was featured in a Colorado Springs newspaper. The misprinted phone number was Colonel Harry Shoup's number.

The story has different variations, but according to Shoup's children, his phone rang and he heard a soft voice on the other end of the line asking if he was Santa. Shoup thought it was a joke and was, according to the story, a little annoyed.

It's important to remember that this was the Cold War era (tensions were high) and Col. Shoup didn't know about the Sears ad. But then he heard crying on the other end, so he talked with the kid (pretending to be Santa), gave him some ho-ho-hos, and asked if he had been a good boy this year.

After the initial call, children kept calling, so Col. Shoup put a couple of airmen on the phones to act like Santa for the night, and that's how the tradition was born.

Now, the NORAD Tracks Santa operation consists of many volunteers to help out by answering phone calls, emails, and maintaining the website and social media pages. The project receives phone calls from children in over 200 different countries.

3. Most US Presidents Served in the Military

Four US presidents wearing their military uniforms Most of our presidents (31 out of 45) have come to office as veterans. Fifteen came from the Army or Army Reserves, nine from state militias, six from the Navy or Naval Reserves, and two from the Continental Army. Here's a list:

  1. George Washington – Continental Army
  2. Thomas Jefferson – Virginia Militia
  3. James Madison – Virginia Militia
  4. James Monroe – Continental Army
  5. Andrew Jackson – Tennessee State Militia, Continental Army, Army
  6. William Henry Harrison – Army
  7. John Tyler – Virginia Militia
  8. James K. Polk – Tennessee State Militia
  9. Zachary Taylor – Army
  10. Millard Fillmore – New York State Militia
  11. Franklin Pierce – Army
  12. James Buchanan – Pennsylvania State Militia
  13. Abraham Lincoln – Illinois State Militia
  14. Andrew Johnson – Army
  15. Ulysses S. Grant – Army
  16. Rutherford B. Hayes – Army
  17. James Garfield – Army
  18. Chester A. Arthur – New York State Militia
  19. Benjamin Harrison – Army
  20. William McKinley – Army
  21. Theodore Roosevelt – Army
  22. Harry S. Truman – Missouri Army National Guard, Army, Army Reserve
  23. Dwight D. Eisenhower – Army
  24. John F. Kennedy – Naval Reserve
  25. Lyndon B. Johnson – Naval Reserve
  26. Richard Nixon – Naval Reserve
  27. Gerald Ford – Naval Reserve
  28. Jimmy Carter – Navy
  29. Ronald Reagan – Army Reserve & Army Air Corps (which branched off to become the Air Force later on)
  30. George H. W. Bush – Naval Reserve
  31. George W. Bush – Texas Air National Guard & Air Force

And here's some additional trivia for you: James Buchanan is the only president that served as an enlisted man who did not go on to become an officer.

4. The FLIP Vessel

Image of the Navy's FLIP vesselIn 1962, a collaboration between the Marine Physical Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research designed a ship known as FLIP, which stands for Floating Instrument Platform.

The ship is one-of-a-kind because it goes from being a regular, horizontal ship to a standing vertical object. It's 355 feet long, and when it's vertical, 300 feet of it are submerged in water. It takes about 28 minutes for the ship to alter its position.

FLIP is used for oceanic research. Because of its ability to go vertically, it can take accurate readings of waves, water temperature, and acoustics.

However, because there can't be any interference with its measurements, FLIP doesn't have any engines or other means of propulsion. So when it needs to go out to sea, FLIP has to be towed out to open water.

In order for the crew to be able to navigate the ship no matter what orientation it's at, FLIP was designed to have two doors for every room. That way, there's an access point when the ship is in both positions. Even the bed bunks, gas stoves, and the toilets are designed to swivel.

5. An Interesting Addition to the Survival Kit

Picture of a survival kitThere's one particular item of interest found in every United States Military Standard Issue Parachute Pack Survival Kit (SRU-16): a non-lubricated condom.

But it's not for what you think.

Aside from its standard use, a condom can hold up to 1 liter of water, and, of course, it doesn't take up any room. Basically, it's included as a kind of condensed, back-up water bottle.

6. Ray Bans

Servicemember wearing RayBan AviatorsEver wonder where the stylish sunglasses company came from? Ray Ban was founded by the medical company, Bausch & Lomb, in response to an Army Air Corps Colonel's needs.

In 1929, US Army Air Corps Colonel John Macready asked Bausch & Lomb to come up with glasses that would block out the sun and its reflections.

The first glasses, known as Anti-Glare, were issued for military use in 1936. They had green lenses that were effective in cutting out glare without hindering visibility. The glasses then took on a metal frame for public consumption in 1937, and the style became known as the Aviator.

7. Wooden Ships

Large wooden naval shipsThe Navy still uses wooden ships. Why? To sweep for mines. The ships, known as Avengers, are made of oak, Douglas fir, or Nootka cypress and are coated in glass-reinforced plastic. The Navy built 14 of these between 1987–1994.

These ships are used to ensure the safety of major waterways and are designed to be durable enough to cope with shock waves from mines detonated nearby. The wooden structure also reduces the ship's weight and lowers its magnetic signature, so they're less likely to activate magnetic mines.

What Do You Think?

We limited this list to seven, but there are many interesting facts out there about the military. Comment below if we missed one of your favorite military facts!