Groundhog Day 2016
The Military Connection
February 1, 2016 by Jake Butler
Tomorrow a rodent named Phil will make his annual appearance in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to predict whether we’re in for six more weeks of winter or if spring will come early this year.
Taken at face value, Groundhog Day seems pretty silly: a group of men calling themselves the “Inner Circle” of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club dress up in old-timey tuxedos and top hats and pull a furry little animal out of hollow tree stump to check for its shadow.
And you may be wondering how the cloud cover – or lack thereof – on February 2 in Pennsylvania can possibly be a valid metric for predicting the weather across the country. It might reassure you to know he’s only right about 39% of the time. According to the National Climatic Data Center, “the groundhog has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years.”
But we shouldn’t let that spoil the party. Groundhog Day is all in good fun. It was immortalized in the 1993 comedy of the same name, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, written and directed by Harold Ramis. The film is the reason we now use the term Groundhog Day to describe situations or events that seem to happen repeatedly or continually.
And that’s where the military connection comes in. The term became widespread in the service to describe unpleasant, unchanging or repetitive situations. It was documented as early as September 1993 in an article in U.S. News & World Report about the USS America, where sailors said waking up aboard the ship each morning felt like they were reliving the same day over and over again.
Army Rangers deployed for Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia in 1993 were also known to use the phrase, comparing the themes of the film to the long, monotonous days spent between raids.
Similarly, in 1994, the crew of the USS Saratoga referred to their deployment situation during the Bosnian War as Groundhog Station. Many service members toured the Adriatic Sea on multiple deployments during the conflict, which really perpetuated the use of the phrase across the military. President Clinton even validated its use in a speech in 1996.
Finally, 14 years after the film was released, an article on NPR defined some common military slang. Groundhog Day was defined as “every day of your tour in Iraq.” The days are always long and hot, and events seemingly reoccur on a regular basis. In his Iraq War memoir, Maj. Roger Aeschliman drew parallels to the film to describe his work guarding dignitaries for an entire calendar year:
"the dignitary changes but everything else is exactly the same. The same airplanes drop them off at the same places. The same helicopters take us to the same meetings with the same presenters covering the same topics using the same slides. We visit the same troops at the same mess halls and send them away from the same airport pads to find our own way home late at night. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over until we are redeemed and allowed to go home to Kansas. Amen.”
Wherever you’re spending Groundhog Day this year, we hope you’re able to find creative ways to break the monotony and keep things interesting. And don’t worry, even if Punxsutawney Phil says we’re in for six more weeks of winter, there’s a 61% chance he’s wrong.