Steven Capps is a sergeant in U.S. Army National Guard
We’ve all seen it. Hollywood decides to make a war movie, but the actors look nothing like real soldiers. They act like a hardened veteran but talk like a damn civilian. With the recent epidemic of Stolen Valor cases, it’s not hard to notice when someone has never served.
When U.S. veterans hear a supposed “Army Captain” say Hoa-rah, we damn near have an aneurysm. If someone is going to portray our nation’s service-members the least they can do is have a basic understanding of our language.
Here’s a list of some common words and phrases that will let you know the next time someone is faking:
Marines pronounce this as, “Hoa-rah,” with two syllables. The Army pronounces it with only one syllable and no, “r.” This word can mean anything from, “Hell yeah,” to, “It’s not like a really have a choice here, do I, Sir?” Overuse of this word indicates that you’re either a Drill Sergeant, Fuzzy, or faker.
This is a synonym for the rank Private (E-1). Since the first rank in the U.S. Army does not have an insignia, the uniform is left with an open piece of fuzzy Velcro, thus creating this endearing, though slightly derogatory, name for the lowest rank in the Army.
Every enlisted man has been a Fuzzy, so we understand the struggle to have half a brain. Once a Soldier shows some initiative and competence, they are described as high speed. Sometimes this is also referred to as high-speed, low-drag. Essentially, this is a positive phrase that describes anything that does its job well.
The opposite of high speed would lead you to a soup sandwich. Imagine soggy bread and overall nastiness of trying to eat something this screwed up.
The core of this phrase is intended to be the literal concept of a soup sandwich, though it is almost always used to describe something else. Example: “B co is high-speed, but C co is more f***ed up than a soup sandwich.”
If your buddy is looking like a soup sandwich, it is your duty to square that bastard away. Squared away simply means fix. Yes, we understand that our phrase is longer, but the Army isn’t known for being logical. Keep your opinions to yourself.
Originally used as a derogatory term to describe an Infantryman, Grunt has become a compliment and its opposite, POG (Person Other than Grunt) has become the insult. Though many like to think that grunt is a reference to an Infantryman’s lack of intelligence, it actually stems from the Vietnam War.
Infantrymen are required to do long rucks with heavyweight. The runt is the audible sound all infantrymen make when donning a heavy pack for the first time.
This has both formal and informal usage and is generally posed as a question. SitRep stands for Situation Report or otherwise known as an update. In tactical situations, this is a radio report that has a standard format. In informal settings, it is like asking, “What’s up?”
An acronym standing for, “Estimated Time of Arrival.” Just as SitRep is often posed as a question, so is ETA.
Another acronym because the Army is full of them, NCO stands for Non-Commissioned Officer. This includes all of the ranks between Corporal and the Sergeant Major of the Army. Generally, NCO’s are subject-matter experts and are responsible for the hands-on supervision of the Junior Enlisted.
A term used to describe the Junior Enlisted ranks between Private and Specialist. Joe’s are the workforce of the Army, but are not considered terribly bright.
A reference to the senior leadership of a unit, though generally no smaller than a company. Since unit levels vary, Top can refer to a Captain all the way up to a General.
Fire for Effect:
This is primarily used to tell indirect fire elements such as artillery and mortars that they are on target and to continue using the previous adjustments. This is sometimes used in reference to other tasks simply as a way to say, “Keep doing the same thing.”
Zero Dark Thirty :
Though this focuses on time, it does not fit refer to a specific hour. In the simplest terms, it means, “really early,” though this could range from 0100 to anytime before sunrise.
A formal name given to a small unit of Soldiers. Generally, the total consists of 4-5 individuals and is led by a Corporal or Sergeant. This is the smallest element within the Infantry.
A modified position of attention in which a Soldier stand rigid with their hands clasped behind the small of their back. This is the appropriate position to speak to an NCO of a higher rank.
While this is used as a command in drill & ceremony, it is also used to correct behavior. Mistakes are considered a deviation of the group norm, so the term, “fall in,” is used to tell someone to stop causing problems.
This is another term that has many different meanings. On the surface, it refers to the area that targets occupy on a firing range. In a more colloquial sense, it is a reference to the future, specifically a deployment or other time of high pressure.
Boots on the Ground:
This is used in a similar context to, “downrange.” The primary difference is that this is often shorter term and refers to a direct event rather than a vague future. An example in terms of deployment is: “We’ll have boots on the ground in January.”
An acronym that stands for Forward Operating Base. This is pronounced exactly like the word, “gob,” but with an “f” instead of “g.” A FOB is the location that most troops are stationed in while they are deployed in a combat zone.
The boundary between a FOB and an unsecured combat zone.
Mike is a phonetic word assigned to the letter, “M.” In addition, it is used as shorthand to say minutes. Example: “B Company is en route, ETA 12 mikes.”
Derives from radio terminology, but is used widely in service. It is the equivalent of saying, “I understand.” This is similar to the word, “Roger,” though, “roger,” generally just means yes.
Another term used frequently for radio communication. “Out,” means that you are ending the conversation and do not expect another reply. Generally, this is initiated by whoever has control of the conversation.
A shorthand for the 9 Line Medical Evacuation. This is a standard format used to request medical assistance. Each of the 9 lines represents a set of required information necessary for medical and rescue personnel. Also called a CasEvac (Casualty Evacuation).
This is a light machine gun. Its complete name is the M249-SAW. SAW stands for, “Squad Automatic Weapon.” Generally, one person in every fire-team will have a SAW as their standard weapon.
This term is used to refer to a standard infantry company. Their organizational structure will match that outlined in standard infantry doctrine such as FM 3.21-8 (Infantry Field Manual). On average, a line company will have 120-150 Soldiers in it.
A flexible term that refers to any organization within the military. A unit can be any size though most commonly starts at the company level. Also, a unit refers to the people that a Soldier works with on a daily basis.
An element within a company that consists of 30-50 Soldiers. Two or more platoons are needed to create a company. They are led by a Lieutenant and a Sergeant First Class.
An element smaller than a platoon. A full squad in a line infantry company would ideally have nine members. It is led by a Staff Sergeant and two Sergeants that act as individual team leader. This is often the smallest element size that will conduct independent missions or patrols.
This name could not be more misleading. When comparing light infantry to its mechanized, and heavy infantry counterparts it is indeed light.
While the light infantry’s siblings use vehicles such as Humvees, Stryker’s and Bradley’s members of the light infantry walk. They often were rucks that weigh upwards of 75 lbs. and are the epitome of a grunt.
Slang term for ribbons and medals that are worn on a dress uniform. This term can be either applauding or insulting.
No matter how much the Army complains about the Air Force and their delicious food, damn near hotel-like barracks, and their far more applicable job skills, we know we need them. CAS stands for Close Air Support and has meant the difference between life and death for many grunts.
A derogatory term used to describe someone who has not deployed to a combat zone. While this is excusable for the early ranks, it is generally frowned upon once someone progresses into the NCO corp. While a deployment doesn’t make a great leader, who would want to follow someone who hasn’t been through the suck?
Both a derogatory and affectionate term for the Army’s E-4 rank, Specialist. The name stems from the shield-like shape of the rank’s insignia. At this point, a Joe has enough knowledge or time in service that they are not the bottom guy anymore. That said, they often are not given leadership positions, which means they have little responsibility. The word Sham Shield references the act of a Specialist using their position to avoid a work detail.
A derogatory term to describe a 2nd Lieutenant (O-1). Though the name derives from the fact that the golden bar for the rank looks like a stick of butter, it is only derogatory because many Enlistedman dislike the fact that someone with a college degree can join the Army as a much higher rank without ever serving before.
Rations that are used during emergency situations.
An affectionate term for a commissioned officer who has had prior service as an Enlistedman. Though Mustangs do not progress as far into the officer ranks as traditional officers, they often make great leaders and garner respect from both NCO’s and junior enlisted, because they know a Mustang has experienced their struggles.
An abbreviation for Commander. Though the actual rank of a CO changes depending on the unit, it is always the person with absolute authority of every one of their subordinates. Only commissioned officers can be a CO.
Technically, an XO is the number two person a unit, though often the senior NCO will preform the more of the second in command duties. XO stands for Executive Officer and their primary duties focus on the logistical side of a unit.
This is a word that describes active engagement with the enemy. While this doesn’t have to be an intuition of small arms fire, it often is. Simply watching an enemy from a concealed location is still considered contact, but is often called, “eyes on,” to avoid confusion.
Though there are several ways to tell a faker from the real deal, if you ever have a suspicion but don’t want to come out and say it. Try to steer the conversation towards one of these topics. If they are lost in sauce, then you have a pretty good idea you are talking to a fake.
A pollywog is a sailor who’s never crossed the equator.
These are systems that warn pilots about life-threatening situations. The phrase originated from anthropomorphizing GPS systems.
In all my time, I have never actually heard someone use this term in a conversation. Like everything in the Army, it is an acronym. FUBAR is a funny military acronym that stands for Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition and can be used interchangeably with Soup Sandwich.
This is a term that got its start during the Vietnam War and means out of whack or screwy.
Fragmentation Order is the actual term for this piece of slang. It essentially means a change of plans, though it can also be an addition to a previous mission. Regardless, they’re dumb and the only frago’s Grunts like are the one’s that somehow let us eat hot chow. We get tired of MREs, okay?
A rain locker is a shower, because of the shape and the fact that you’re standing with water pouring down on you – like rain.
Snivel gear refers to the clothing you’re issued for cold weather conditions.
Person-Other-than-Grunt. This is an extremely derogatory term when used by an Infantryman. It is essentially belittling all of the jobs in military that are not Infantry.
My personal opinion on the subject is that we were all part of the fight, and I am damn sure that if there weren’t people in finance getting me my paycheck, the would have been a whole hell of a lot of shit I wouldn’t have put up with as a Grunt.
This is the Marine Corps slang term for a pen.
Counselings are formal meetings between leaders and subordinates to discuss behavior. It is rare that anyone fills out extra paperwork unless something big happened. Though this can be either positive or negative, it is almost always negative.
A wall-to-wall counseling is used to describe the use of physical violence to punish a behavior. In my entire time, I have only heard of this happening once. Big Army does not take this kind of thing lightly, and it does end careers.
Birth Control Glasses (BCG):
When a recruit starts Basic Training, they go through a week of medical exams, if it is determined that they need glasses, they are given some massive 1980’s brown-rimmed goggles as their standard issue.
After a nuclear holocaust, these things will be chilling with cockroaches. The hideous aesthetics of BCG’s are proven to be 432% more effective than a double wrapped-condom. Ugly is the best birth control.
Life in the military is about being a member of the team, striving for a purpose bigger than yourself, and watching the backs of your friends on your left and right. Blue Falcon literally means, “Buddy F*cker.”
These types of people are selfish and are willing to throw their peers under the bus if it can somehow benefit them. I would rather be called the antichrist himself, than be seriously called a Blue Flacon.
Barney style stems from the old kid’s show. The lessons that they were taught were so dumbed down that a three-year old could understand. During my time as an instructor, this was one of the more common sayings. Barney style means an incredibly simplified lesson in order to unsure that Soldiers understand exactly what is being taught.
A way of doing things that is considered particularly strange.
Stay in Your Lane:
Upon assaulting an objective, infantrymen are taught to walk in a straight line rather than gaggling into the heat of the action. This keeps troops spread out and provides better security as the unit is covering a larger area. In a vernacular setting, “Stay in your lane,” is the same as telling someone to mind their own business.
Day(s) and a wake-up:
So many parts of the military are filled with sleeping in the cold, fighting mosquitoes the size of helicopters, and going weeks without a shower.
Though we often get used to these conditions, we almost always count the days before we get to do something else. The last day of an assignment generally only involves waking up, so the countdown is often phrased like, “2 days and a wake-up.”
Stealing. This simply means stealing. Though it is frowned upon, it is somewhat of a common occurrence with government property.
It is in extremely poor taste to tactically acquire equipment issued to someone in your own unit, and you’d be a Blue Falcon to steal someone’s personal property. Tactically acquiring another unit’s guidon (flag) is a completely different matter.
Living in the field, really means that you are living from a ruck. This means limited space, so every piece of gear has to be essential. Field stripping is the act of prepping all of your equipment until you only have the cannot-live-without essentials.
The scene from Black Hawk Down where the Ranger leaves his back plate at the FOB (horrible decision, as we all saw) is essentially a form of field stripping.
Another derogatory term, though is used to describe Soldier who deploys, but never leaves the wire. Though they are in country, being called a Fobbit means that you essentially did nothing for a deployment.
This is almost self-explanatory but with one humorous addition. Soldiers pull security in order to stay alert of any enemy threats. This mitigates ambushes and also allows our forces to capitalize on targets as they present themselves.
Since security is so important, it is always the right answer. If there is ever a tactical question a Private doesn’t know, the smart one’s will always answer, “Pull security.” Even if I was asking about the damn weather, I’d let an answer like that slide.
Full Battle Rattle:
When a Soldier dons every piece of equipment, ACH (Helmet), IOT-B (Vest), combat load (seven topped-off magazines), rifle, water, and pretty much anything else they could need on a mission, they are wearing Full Battle Rattle. This amounts to about 50-75 lbs. of extra weight, and is why Call of Duty is ridiculous. No one can run like that.
Make a hole:
The military is compromised of a massive amount of people. Trying to move through such a crowd is nearly impossible, so the phrase, “Make a hole,” means that everyone in the group should step aside to open a path in the sea of Soldiers.
Everyone knows that work has a set amount of hours. Mandatory fun is not work, because it does not occur during working hours, it does not deal with your job (usually it is like a dinner or picnic), but you are still required to attend these, “fun,” events.
Imagine a massive line of young twenty something’s as if they were going to play red rover. This line moves across an area of land looking for anything from trash to some lost NVG’s (one of the worst experiences in my service). This activity is called a police call, and it stems from how law enforcement will canvass a scene for evidence.
Hangfire means to wait for your next set of instructions or orders.
The formal use of this phrase means to use a smoke grenade, which will provide concealment for a unit’s movement. Often, this occurs when a unit is breaking contact (retreating) from an enemy. In everyday usage, “popping smoke,” means to sneak away before you get in trouble for something.
A derogatory term that describes a soldier who only does the right thing when an authority figure is present, this often indicates a lack of integrity with an individual.
Nut to Butt:
To form a tight, straight line in which everyone is close together…very close together. One’s nuts are extremely close to the butt of the man in front of them.
Secret Squirrel Mission:
There are some things that leaders shouldn’t ask their subordinates to complete. Stealing a Major’s PC is one of these tasks. If this task would be given, it is made clear that if the subordinate is caught then they were pulling the prank out of their own free will.
While secret squirrel missions have been the cause of many Article 15’s, successful ones often live in infamy for years to come.
A rainbow is a new recruit in basic training.
This is the formal name for a non-judicial punishment. This type of punishment can be as little as a bit of extra duty or it can involve a demotion, forfeiture of pay, and confinement up to 30 days. It isn’t uncommon for soldiers to be given an Article 15 at least once in their career.
This is a navy term that refers to a locked strongbox where sailors can submit anonymous suggestions.
Okay, so Alpha Charlie is a term derived from the military alphabet. (alpha meaning ‘A’ and Charlie being ‘C’). What does it mean? Well, it refers to an ‘ass chewing’ and means you’re being verbally reprimanded.
Cluster F***. Something is a complete mess.
This one’s pretty obvious. A bang bang is a firearm – either a rifle or a pistol.
A bird is a helicopter.
Oh boy, here’s one you don’t want to hear. If you hear ‘black’ in reference to a particular resource i.e. “we’re black on fuel.” it means you’re out of fuel. Black on ammo, no ammo left. Black on water…you get the idea.
This is a term that refers to your military base’s loudspeaker it warns about everything from attacks to ordnance disposal.
A Bullwinkle badge is another name for the Air Assault Badge.
Another navy term, a crank refers to a sailor who’s working in the kitchen.
This is kind of a sad one. A dear John refers to a boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse breaking things off with a member of the armed forces – hence the term ‘dear John letter’.
This is an army term that refers to radio operators who are trained to use Morse code.
Dope on a Rope:
An insult aimed at air assault troops, referring to them coming down on ropes.
Maintenance chief for the F-15 Eagle fighter planes, he’s the guy that leads the maintenance crews that work on the F-15s.
A fashion show sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Well…maybe not if you’re in the Navy. In the Navy, a fashion show is a punishment that sees sailors changing into each of their different uniforms over a period of time – usually a couple of hours.
A slang term for the display of ribbons and medals on a serviceman’s dress uniform.
Someone who spends a ridiculous amount of money on gear regardless of whether or not it’s needed…in other words, they focus more on being ‘tacticool’ than practical (they focus more on form and less on function).
We’ve all heard the phrase: “Elvis has left the building”. It stands to reason then that this refers to a soldier who’s gone missing in action; they’ve gone Elvis.
This refers to operations that play out the same way even when you try to change. The name, of course, comes from the movie of the same name.
This term refers to scavenging items from a working item and using them to repair something else.
A plane that’s kept aside specifically for extra parts for other planes.
Hit the Silk:
Ejecting from a plane and using a parachute.
Named after the desert-dwellers of Tattooine in Star Wars, a Jawa refers to a soldier posted to a desert area.
Left-Handed Monkey Wrench:
Let me ask you something, have you ever heard of a left-handed monkey wrench? No? Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist. Wrenches don’t have left or right-handed versions, they’re just wrenches.
The left-handed monkey wrench is often a prank that more experienced members will play on the less experienced guys. For example: “Can you find the upside-down screwdriver for me?”
What the heck is an upside-down screwdriver?! It’s a screwdriver; a piece of steel with one pointy end and a handle. There is no upside-down screwdriver.
An area where military personnel, infrastructure, and equipment are banned.
A digit midget is a countdown. Before a soldier goes on leave or retires from active duty there’s a countdown (i.e. 5 days ‘til Joe retires).
A klick is a unit of distance and represents 1000m.
Officer of the Deck:
An officer who’s been put in charge of a ship is called the officer of the deck. This can be any officer in the crew and he or she would still report to a superior officer (unless they’re the top dog, obviously).
Someone who is useless and/or talks too much is usually referred to as an oxygen thief because they don’t do anything constructive.
A shellback is the opposite of a pollywog; a sailor who’s crossed the equator. These men and women are in charge of making the pollywogs into shellbacks.
If you’re a member of the US Special Forces, you’re a snake eater.
An air force term for receiving an unsatisfactory grade on a training exercise. Kind of like in school, you’re aiming for, say, an A and you get a D or an F, well you just got a taco…and not a good one.
Let’s break this one down. Your target is the person or place you want/need to attack. Discrimination, in this context, is the ability to tell one thing from another. Target discrimination is, therefore, the ability of military guidance systems to differentiate between targets.
Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club:
A Navy term used to describe the U.S. Coast Guard. This is because the Coast Guard is mostly helping out marine wildlife and doing drug busts on boats. They use boats where the Navy uses ships.
This term can best be described as a “you don’t have to but” type of thing. A good example is your high school English teacher giving you a project. Now, you don’t have to do the project, it’s voluntary. On the other hand, if you want full marks, you’ll do the project.
“You don’t have to do the project but it’s 67% of your grade so if you want to pass…”
An insulting term for a Marine referring to their work – fighting on the front line. The term refers to a sandbag’s ability to catch bullets (that’s what sandbags are used for – to catch and stop bullets). If you’re on the front line, you’re catching and stopping bullets quite a bit.
Fast movers are jet fighters, so named because of how fast a jet fighter moves.
A trench monkey is a member of the army (although, the term can refer to any member of the armed forces). The term ‘trench monkey’ carries some negative connotations with it and is largely considered a derogatory descriptor.
Five-Sided Puzzle Palace:
A slang term that refers to the Pentagon. Why? Well, because it’s the Pentagon (it has five sides).
Warm and Fuzzy:
When someone understands something or is feeling good.
SNAFU, SUSFU, and TARFU:
SNAFU hit the mainstream a while back, it’s an acronym (obviously) that stands for Situation Normal, All F***ed up. There was even a series of cartoons about it called the Three Brothers series that was aired for the Navy and guess who makes a cameo…BUGS BUNNY!
SUSFU is another acronym but isn’t as widely used by civilians. The acronym stands for Situation Unchanged, Still F***ed Up.
TARFU is another acronym that isn’t really used by civilians (unless they know the term). This one has two meanings to it:
- Totally and Royally F***ed Up
- Things are Really F***ed Up
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Another term using the military alphabet (W, T, and F), the meaning is simple; what the f***.
When you’re going to go to sleep, you’re going to rack out.
Good Idea Fairy:
We’ve all heard of the tooth fairy, but have you heard of the good idea fairy? No? Well, the good idea fairy is someone who usually has bad ideas but offers an opinion anyway.
Okay…as funny as it sounds, this one refers to a fuel nozzle.
Unhealthy treats. Things like sweets or desserts, for example.
Take a Knee:
To rest or take a break.
Absent without leave. Another high school analogy: an unexcused absence.
A zoomie is someone who flies planes, in other words; a pilot. Why? Because when they’re flying they go zooming past everyone!
C Rats are your combat rations.
A good cookie is a medal given for good conduct.
A member of the Marine Corps.
A soldier who is unlikely or expected to die from sustained injuries.
FNG is an acronym that stands for F***ing new guy.
A jeep is the opposite of a rainbow. Where a rainbow is a recruit in basic training, a jeep is a soldier who’s just come out of basic training.
A helicopter pilot (because the blades on a helicopter are called rotors).
A John Wayne is a can opener that you get with your rations.
A naval term, people tank is a submarine.
Moving like Pond Water:
To move slowly. Pond water is typically still, so if you’re moving like pond water you’re moving very, very slowly.
This piece of paper is the Holy Grail for most service members. It indicates that a soldier has successfully completed their service, and is now a veteran.
My name is Steven Capps, and I am currently serving as an Infantry Sergeant in the U.S. Army National Guard. Don’t imagine some badass, because I’m far from it. If the skinny kid from Superbad (Michael Cerra Google tells me) played an NCO in Saving Private Ryan, you’d get SGT Capps. I have a B.A. in English: Writing from the American Military University and have been published in Fiction, The Bird & Dog, and been awarded an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest.