If people matter, then selling military culture merits the same attention as the money.

My recent essay “Bomber Command” (noticed as far off as Taiwan) elicited commentary from a friend in the Navy Department, an organization that knows something about visual details and marketing:

     “Bomber Command” is similar. “Bomber” itself is kind of blubbery and round, and it takes a little bit of thinking about context to place its merits as a term. But add that “Command” and that just adds up instantly to a sweeping thought about a vast black omnipresent prowess.

     Meanwhile, “Global Strike Command” is clearly shooting for a similar theme, but only manages a tepid clinicalism. Cybernetic, clean-cut blue-suiters come to mind when imagining GSC. Maybe even a missile silo in the third-order afterthoughts.

     But “Bomber Command” is ceiling fans in steamy rooms, massive paper maps on the walls and tables, aviator sunglasses worn inside the dimly illuminated planning rooms. You know that there’s a bottle of whiskey, bourbon, or maybe a scotch in every metal desk drawer. And lit cigars everywhere—a thick blue haze invoking even more intensely stifling heat and deliberation.

     “Bomber Command” would send a better message than the rather fey “GSC”.

As I noted in that earlier essay, the culture of the Strategic Air Command did ultimately work corrosion upon the whole of the US Air Force. With that momentum, in the bureaucratic Sixties and Seventies, USAF leaders worked hard to hunt down and kill whatever organizational culture they could find. They even hated Robin Olds’ mustache. Then, in the 1980s, the Tactical Air Command under General Bill Creech brought all that glory back to general acclaim. He even re-emphsized the importance of ground crews in the process. A lot of total quality and realistic training also brought back TAC, but the patches and the flight jackets mattered.

Fast forward a bit. Just about two years ago, Space Command under General William Shelton did away with those flight jackets, to “standardize uniform wear… in a resource-constrained environment,” and to “to create synergy among all personnel across the command.” The move was estimated to save $670,000. There are few things more contentious in the military than who gets to wear a flight jacket or brown shoes or certain colors of beret. The questions matter, and the answers are not obvious. But synergy? And to save what?

These are not academic arguments, where the battles are intense, as Henry Kissinger once said, precisely because the stakes are so low. Names and imagery matter because recruits sign up and veterans stay for more than the variable housing allowance and that twenty-year retirement. They also come and stay because they value the culture, the purpose, and the esprit de corps. So the imagery and the very names of the outfits leaders lead are worthy of top-level attention. There are worse efforts out there than Global Strike Command, and Eighth Air Force is still pretty resonant. As my colleague August Cole likes to remind us, speculative art and fiction are needed for imagining how we will deliver security in the future. This business of realigning sixty-some B-1Bs is a separate reminder that marketing matters in how we sustain the business of security today.

James Hasík is a senior fellow in the Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security.