What’s in a saber?

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Does anyone know, or care, what a USAF officer’s dress saber looks like?  I’m not sure if they do.  And, I’m not sure its important. 

But maybe it is.

What started me on this train of thought is two things. First, I managed to purchase a very nice, but badly maintained USAF Academy cadet dress saber (before and after pictures above).  I always wanted one of these but after losing two USMA cadet sabers in football bets with the USAFA I gave up on it.   It cleaned up very well and I am very happy with how it looks and especially that I got it for a small fraction of the price of what a new one costs (though I would rather have won it in a bet as per the original plan).  

Second, my oldest daughter is now in AFROTC and looking at eventually a commission in the USAF. 

That got me wondering what a USAF saber, not a cadet saber, looks like.  After a bit of research I found out that the two sabers are essentially the same.  Actually, the USAFA saber is the  USAF saber.  The only difference is that on the blade the USAFA saber has etched “U.S. Air Force Academy,” while the USAF saber says “U.S. Air Force.”  From this I can draw a couple of conclusions.

1.  The USAF, as an institution, does not put a premium on its history.  If it did, why would it adopt a ceremonial weapon that is not related to its (the USAF) history?  A ceremonial saber is a way that members of a service connect with their past, and it reminds them they represent the history of the future.  Both perspectives are important to sustaining morale and esprit in military organizations.  The RAF has its own unique saber and their history and linage is no more important than that of the USAF.

2. The USAFA saber design compliments the mission and role of the USAFA and USAF (in the details of the design) and includes a nod to the institutional history of West Point (which saber the overall style closely replicates) which was used as an early model for the concept of the USAFA.  These are understandable and in fact laudable characteristics of the USAFA saber.

3.  Probably the USAF copied the USAFA saber design because it was easy and cheap. 

4.  Because something is easy and cheap doesn’t mean that its right.  In fact, most often it means that a more difficult right is being avoided.

5.  The USAF, if it truly values its history should design and contract for a ceremonial officer’s saber that represents the USAF, not the USAFA.

Interestingly, the Naval Academy, and Navy officers share the same sword.  However, unlike the USAF, the USNA adopted the standard naval officer’s sword, rather than the other way around.  Thus, the USNA and the USN officer’s sword share the history of the USN.

My recommendation is that the USAF adopt a unique USAF  officer’s ceremonial saber.  That its design be loosely based on the U.S. Army’s officer 1902 dress saber (as a nod to the 40+ years the the service was part of the army) and the RAF saber, but modified to be distinctly American Air Force.  The modifications would include a USAF script on the blade, a blue/grey wire wrapped sharkskin hilt, and a carved eagle pommel.  Such a saber would be unique and truly indicate not only that the USAF was a seperate service deserving of its own ceremonial regalia, but also it would demonstrate that the USAF had a unique and proud history –one that today’s USAF honors and perpetuates for the future.

This might seem an inconsequencial issue with two wars going on and the country in an economic tailspin (note the aeronautical reference :).  But in the USAF’s multi-billion dollar budget it probably would cost a few thousand dollars to have Weyersberg, Kirschbaum & Co (WKC) design the sword.  USAF officer’s would privately purchase them.  So, for almost nothing, the USAF create’s a part of history which, like the sabers of the other services, will be passed from airman to airman  for centuries.  That’s a good deal in any economy!

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Since the USAF came from the Army Air Force and the Army Air Corps and I believe the Signal Corps at the very beginning any ceremonial piece such as a saber for parades and etc, should acknowledge the past. Although the U.S. military does a very poor job of maintaining traditions, I would think that a USAF or USAFA saber (if needed) should be based upon some link to the Army past. Creating an entirely new ceremonial piece with no connection to that past in form or engraving just negates the purpose and service history.

  2. The USAF has adopted the US Army officer’s 1902 Dress Saber, but only for ceremonial duty as prt of the USAF Honor Guard. The saber is worn by Honor Guard officers on sword/saber details.

  3. The information concerning the saber is actually incorrect. AF Officer’s wear the Model 1902 calvary saber, while enlisted personnel wear the “Air Force Sword” (before mentioned USAFA saber knockoff). About 10 years ago enlisted personnel wore a nickel plated version of the 1840 NCO sword. The change was likely financially motivated, but I can’t help but feel that this is a step down.
    These misconceptions are VERY common and WKC seems to be at the heart of it. As a matter of fact USAF OTS graduates wear the enlisted sword during the parade. (I know I was one of them). I brought discrepancy to the attention of the MTIs who were aware but stated that “this is what we have, so this is what we use”. The heart of this entire issue falls back to one thing. The Air Force does not have a distinctive Manual of Arms. Instead our instructions reference the Army’s. I believe that the best course of action would be to publish a distinctive manual of arms, ending once and for all the question of what sword/saber our airmen are to use.

    I’d be interested in talking to you more about this if you’re interested. Please drop me an email.


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