Late in the summer of 1991, not long after redeploying from the Gulf War, my battalion executive officer and I were catching up over morning coffee in his office. On his desk, he had a handful of challenge coins, including one for the fledgling 101st Corps Support Group. The group was on the tail end of a tumultuous two years that had seen the organization evolve from a garrison brigade to a provisional support group to a deployable corps-level sustainment group. The challenge coin featured a palm tree over crossed sabers, a reminder that the organization was “desert born” during a time of war. Now that we were home again, it was time to set the heraldry for the group, including a motto.

A Motto Planned Doesn’t mean A Motto Used

The group commander had petitioned units across the installation to offer suggestions. Even in the days before the internet, this could be both entertaining and problematic. With a gleam in his eye, the executive officer scribbled out his suggestion: Illegitimi non Carborundum. Like any good Catholic boy, I knew just enough Latin to be dangerous. Roughly translated, his suggestion equated to “don’t let the bastards get you down.”  We had a good laugh. He submitted his suggestion, and it was promptly ignored. Instead, the group selected Simul Eximus. Although the translation – “we go farther together” – seemed appropriate, the troops derisively adopted “simulate excellence” as their own motto. And it stuck.

Semper Supra – “always above”

So, it came as no surprise when the newly-formed U.S. Space Force chose as its motto, Semper Supra – “always above.” We like our mottos, and everybody likes a good Latin one.

  • We have more than a few good ones: Semper Fi (“always faithful”) and De Oppresso Liber (“to free the oppressed”)
  • Then there are some strange ones: Difficile est Summiso Esse (“it’s hard to be humble”) and Fatti Maschi Parole Femine (“deeds are manly words are womanly”)
  • We have some in French: Toujours Pret (“always ready”) and Suivez Moi (“follow me”)
  • Some in Hawaiian: Onipaa Mau Loa (“steadfast forever”)
  • And some in just plain English: Brave Rifles, Rendezvous with Destiny, and All the Way.
  • We even have one in Sioux: Okicize el Wakagapi (“builders in battle”)
  • And another in Blackfoot: Otatsiihtaissiiststakio Piksi Makamo ta Psswia (“normal is the cycle on a washing machine”).

Troops Will Be Troops When It Comes To mottos

But, what’s in a name? Semper Supra – as appropriate as the translation might be – is the kind of motto that evokes odd memories of South Park. It doesn’t inspire as much as it invites sarcasm. Just as soldiers three decades ago would offer a crisp salute and “simulate excellence”, I can’t help but think there will be more than a few “super-duper” salutes in Space Force. Maybe I’m wrong. But with a logo that appears to be a slightly more symmetrical version of the Federation of Planets symbol and a motto that seems overly alliterative, troops will be troops. Maybe To Infinity and Beyond was trademarked and To Boldly Go crossed the line on split infinitives, but if there was ever a time to reach into the suggestion box, this was it. Semper Supra might just be a little too super-duper for us all.

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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a co-founder and emeritus board member of the Military Writers Guild; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options; a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal; a member of the editorial advisory panel of Military Strategy Magazine; and an emeritus senior fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. He is the author, co-author, or editor of several books and is a prolific military cartoonist.