Arnold Schwarzenegger’s filmography is filled with movies where he portrayed policemen, strongmen and soldiers. We see him as one of the toughest action heroes in Hollywood history, but did he actually go through formal army training that could’ve prepared him for such roles?
Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the army. He grew up in Austria, where one year of military service was required by law for all 18-year-old males. The Terminator star did his duty by serving in the army, but broke a couple of rules along the way.
Stick around to learn more about Schwarzenegger’s stint in the Austrian army, and how it impacted his bodybuilding career going forward.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in 1947, two years after World War II came to a close, but its impact could still be felt throughout Europe. Back then, it was still mandatory for Austrian males to complete a year of military service after turning 18. Schwarzenegger joined a year earlier thanks to his father’s military connections, and hoped this experience would expand his horizons.
Army service set well with the young Arnold, because it fed his hunger for strength, power and control. He was underage when he was assigned to be a tank driver, and his love for tanks persists to this day. Schwarzenegger still had a couple of smudges on his record – such as crashing a jeep and sneaking out of the base – and ended up being honorably discharged in 1965.
Arnold Schwarzenegger did serve in the army, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a model soldier. He was too passionate about pursuing his dream of becoming a bodybuilder, and his military service wasn’t going to stop him from transforming it into reality.
Arnie wasn’t allowed to leave the base to compete in bodybuilding competitions, but that was one army rule he simply couldn’t follow. He went AWOL and hopped on a train to Stuttgart, where he won the Junior Mr. Europe contest.
“Participating in the competition meant so much to me that I didn’t carefully think through the consequences. When I got to Stuttgart, I was all confused. I forgot my posing routine, I had to borrow posing trunks, but I still won!” Schwarzenegger later recalled.
Needless to say, his commanding officers weren’t happy after learning he snuck out of the base. He was stripped of his tank driving duties, and ended up being sentenced to seven days in army jail, but officers changed their tune after seeing his trophy. They let him out two or three days later, and helped him work towards his goals by creating a makeshift gym where he could train.
Schwarzenegger’s army days are long behind him, but his love for tanks is still solid. In his autobiography, Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder, he explained that tank driving “appealed to the part of [him] that has always been moved by any show of strength and force.”
Even once his army days became a distant past, the Terminator star had never forgotten his first tank. He came up with the idea to reunite with it, and jumped through many hoops to make it possible. Schwarzenegger contacted the Austrian army in 1991 asking if he could have his M-47 Patton tank back. His political connections made it easy to get permission to ship the tank to the US, and he cashed out $20.000 in the process.
Schwarzenegger’s initial idea was to use the tank for a good cause. He was hoping to give disadvantaged inner-city schoolchildren from the Los Angeles area rides in his tank to encourage them to work hard and stay in school. Back in 2014, he told Jimmy Fallon he managed to raise over a million bucks for after school programs by driving people in his tank.