Preventing friendly fire with a deck of cards



Tate Farinacci ’25 retails how the US Military is educating Ukrainian soldiers via playing cards.

Tate Farinacci, The Carroll News

There’s no need to fear friendly fire with the newest edition of the Pentagon’s playing cards. The war in Ukraine is extremely daunting and the overwhelming support from numerous countries is a net positive, but there is concern that the Ukrainians may be unable to distinguish friend from foe with the new equipment given to them. However, the United States is using decks of playing cards and the strong comradery between Ukrainian soldiers to prevent friendly fire. 

Earlier this week, the “New York Timesspoke with Maj. Andrew Harshbarger, a spokesman for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. Maj. Harshbarger conveyed that the purpose of the creation of the deck of cards, with 52 different weapon systems on them, is to give soldiers the ability to “identify enemy equipment and distinguish the equipment from friendly forces.” Harshbarger did not claim the cards were aimed at helping Ukraine fight the Russians; rather, he feels they could be used throughout military services and aid in the identification of NATO equipment that has been given to non-NATO countries. Per the Times, the Pentagon’s idea behind these cards is that soldiers can “familiarize themselves with elements of warfare over a hard-fought game of spades, hearts or poker.”

Notably, the influx of weapons, vehicles, and other military assets (from mostly NATO member countries) has been a main element in the success of the Ukrainian military. The Kyiv Post reports that Ukraine has received nearly $68 billion in military equipment and aid. Unfortunately, some of these new weapon platforms are unfamiliar to Ukrainian soldiers, something that could potentially cause these soldiers to mistake friendly forces for the enemy. The Times articulates that the “cards will be printed over the next month, and officials said it’s expected they will be made available to American, NATO, and Ukrainian troops.” 

Nevertheless, proper identification of enemy equipment is crucial as the Ukrainians are being trained on most of the weapon systems in the deck, or they have already received them. It is important to note that this is not a new concept from the Pentagon, with the first instance of playing cards going as far back as WWII. The earliest deck showed Allied and Axis fighter planes, while later decks featured Chinese, Russian, and Iranian equipment. Ironically, during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein was the ace of spades.  

I’m happy to see this implemented, especially with the number of friendly fire incidents in Ukraine. These cards will keep the brand-new NATO standard weapons in the back of soldier’s minds, and at the end of the day, these defenders of democracy won’t fall to their own comrades.