“What About Second Breakfast?” How “The Lord of the Rings” Mirrors Army Culture

By Jay Kirell

One of the biggest misconceptions about the Army is that everyone in it is a hardened warrior.

In reality most soldiers are more lapdog than sheepdog.
They like their time off, relaxing, watching movies, playing games, finding forms of entertainment to escape into whatever fantasy world they find a connection with.
For many soldiers the ultimate fantasy world is the one created by JRR Tolkien, World War I-era author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books which tells the story of unremarkable individuals tasked with extraordinary challenges while navigating a world filled with orcs, goblins, trolls and wizards.
Now, you don’t have to be a soldier to connect with the Lord of the Rings universe. The movie trilogy, which first came out in 2001, is one of the most beloved film series of all time. Millions of people around the world have connected with the characters, both human and non-human and the tale of adventure that results from packing up ones things and leaving home in search of finding their place in the wider world. It’s no wonder soldiers find a connection to the story of the brave little hobbit who left his hole to pursue a task greater than himself – it’s what every soldier did when they decided to raise their right hand and join the Army.
Having been one of those to raise their right hand and join up, I can certainly see the parallels to myself and Frodo, the main protagonist of the trilogy. Every soldier is the Frodo of their own Army career, the main protagonist in a story that lasts for years and either ends in separation, retirement or unfortunately, death.
But while we are all Frodo, everyone and everything else in the Army is some other character or setting. Given the expanse of the Tolkien-created universe, it’s not hard to find comparisons. So, here are a few of those that might make sense to those who’ve both served their time on this Earth and spent a fair amount of time escaping to Middle Earth.
Scout Snipers = The Elves
Scout snipers are elite infantry soldiers. They run faster, shoot more accurately and receive better equipment than their regular joe counterparts. Oftentimes they’re tall, athletic, and the model of how a soldier should look. The elves are tall, athletic and beautiful. They are also deadly warriors, skilled with a sword and bow. Legolas is basically the model scout sniper.
Mortarmen = The Dwarves
Mortarmen are everything scout snipers are not. They run slower than most regular line company soldiers, they’re shorter, squatter, built for digging a hole in a certain spot and staying there while attacking anyone who comes near. The dwarves are short, muscular and kinda ugly. They resent the elves and anyone who doesn’t appreciate what they do, which is practically everyone. Gimli is the model mortarman.
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Dare him to dig his mortar pit one more time, I dare you. (New Line Cinema)
Supply = The Orcs
Supply soldiers are the ones tasked with maintaining and handing out equipment. They’re not fighters, though they can fight when called upon (usually when things are going reeeally bad). They spend most of their day inside cages or rooms with no sunlight. They are generally bitter, angry little creatures because they live in fear of being responsible for lost inventory. The Orcs are not really great fighters, but they try. They live in the deep places where sunlight does not shine and grouse about how their time for respect will come.
Medics = The Hobbits
Medics treat wounded soldiers. They’re not here to take lives, but save lives. At great risk to themselves, they oftentimes charge into the thick of a fight to help their fallen brethren. They can seem a little strange and detached sometimes, but only because they tend to isolate themselves in their little medical tent and interact with others only when necessary. The Hobbits are creatures that like to keep to themselves as well, but will, when called upon, exhibit a level of bravery few thought possible for creatures who weren’t meant to be warriors. Samwise Gamgee is the model medic.
Officers = Wizards
Officers are the educated class of the military. They have studied the higher mysteries and attained the knowledge required to lead. They are distrusted somewhat by enlisted, but the military couldn’t function without them. Wizards are the weird pipe-smoking, spell-casting ancient beings of Middle Earth. There are three wizards in the LOTR universe and everyone knows an officer who fits a mold of one of them. Either a young, goofy wizard like Radagast the Brown, a playful, yet serious Gandalf the Grey, or a studious and joyless Saruman the White.
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Every officer thinks they’re Gandalf…they’re really more a mix of Radagast and Saruman. (New Line Cinema)
Warrant Officers = Tom Bombadil
What is a warrant officer? Who knows. Where do you find a warrant officer? Beats me. How do you explain what warrant officers do? Find a warrant officer and ask them, literally nobody else knows. They are mysterious. They come and go like the wind. Their rank structure looks like some ancient alien code. They are powerful, though. Tom Bombadil is a book-only character who plays a minor, but important role in the beginning of the story, has a cult following even though nobody can explain what he is, exactly. He pops up briefly and then you never see him again, just like warrant officers, who you might run across once or twice in your career, usually by accident.
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Pictured: both Tom Bombadil and a chief warrant office five.
Command Sergeant Majors = Cave Trolls
Command Sergeant Majors are the biggest, baddest MFers in an Army unit. They are the head enlisted and in charge of discipline and readiness and their personal favorite – punishment. They are scary looking and most haven’t smiled since 2004. Walk on their grass and see what happens. Park in a no-parking area and see what happens. Cave Trolls are giant beasts who strike fear into even the most valiant warriors. They are ancient, slow and thick-headed. They will eat you, if they catch you.
Public Affairs Officers = The Mouth of Sauron
Public Affairs Officers are the propaganda wing of the Army. They feed out information, tell everyone how great a job their unit is doing and how commanders are absolutely, positively, 100% positive that THIS TIME, we’re turning a corner in [insert country we’ve been in for years here]. The Mouth of Sauron appears in the extended edition of The Return of the King and is basically an ugly giant mouth that speaks for the dark lord and exaggerates how successful he’s going to be.
Corporals = Bill the Pony
Corporal is a rank between Specialist and Sergeant that is basically presented as a reward for being a trustworthy and loyal soldier that leadership sees as having great potential. In reality, it’s a whole bunch of extra work with absolutely no extra pay. Bill the Pony traveled all the way from Rivendell to Moria, carrying extra weight and helping everyone out, only to be sent away unceremoniously without so much as an apple as a thank you.
The E-4 Mafia = The Nazgul
The E-4 Mafia is a term used to describe a bunch of specialists in a platoon who gang up on new privates and make them do all the menial tasks they no longer have to do because they finally found someone they outrank. They used to be privates, but their heart has been corrupted by a tiny bit of power. The Nazgul are former men turned into heartless terrors who rove in packs and pick on those smaller and weaker than them. They also disappear from the movie for long stretches without anyone knowing where they went, just like an E-4.
The Barracks = The Mines of Moria
The barracks are where unmarried lower enlisted, live, sleep and generally misbehave. When unoccupied they are no different than a college dorm. When occupied, however, it is a dirty, foul-smelling labyrinth of unwashed laundry, empty beer cans, and dead things. Do not go into this place if you do not absolutely have to. The Mines of Moria were a dwarf stronghold that, when it was new, was beautiful and bright and full of life. Once occupied, however, it decayed rapidly and became infested with orcs and goblins.
Safety Briefs = The last 30 minutes of Return of the King
Safety briefs are usually given on Fridays or before long holiday breaks where dozens or sometimes hundreds of soldiers stand around while waiting to go home and listen to their leaders tell them all the things they know not to do because they’ve heard the same speech over and over and over and over. The last 30 minutes of The Return of the King is just a series of pointlessly repetitive montages that could have been cut down to five minutes if the director cared about the audience at all and the fact that they just sat through three hours of movie and their bladder is about to explode.
DD-214s = The Eagles
A DD-214 is the separation paperwork you get once you actually leave the military. It’s hard to describe the joy one experiences when actually handed this. Imagine you had spent way too long on a volcano that was about to explode and all of a sudden a giant eagle came and whisked you away to safety and freedom. It’s kinda like that.

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About the Author: Jay Kirell is a former Dwarf (mortarman) with the 101st Airborne. Follow him on Twitter: @JasonKirell


About the Editor: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.