Army Talk (Part One)

A young 1LT in BDUs.

This is the first of a three-part series.  To view Part Two, click here.  To view Part Three, click here.

Only the in the Army would c-a-r be spelled p-o-v.

On my second day of active duty, I was told to Autovon my post/camp/station to my SJA to learn whether the BOQ was available once I PCSed.

I had to learn fast.  This sentence meant: call (using the Army’s world-wide, toll-free phone network) to your boss at your new job to see if temporary housing is available once you move there.

The military (known in the biz as “DoD”) has it own lingo.  The Army (“DoA”) is further sub-specialized.  Here are some aspects of Army culture and Armyspeak that I find amusing:

Making a phone call — In the Army, all phones are treated like radios (walkie-talkies).  Therefore, special terms apply.  In garrison (at a post, as opposed to out in the field) the following salutation is common: Bravo Company, First of the Forty-third; Specialist Snuffy speaking; this line is not secured; how may I help you, Sir or Ma’am?  During the call, there are lots of responses to the tune of roger (“I understand”), copy (“I have accurately received the information”) and wilco (“I will exectute”), whether you’re talking about battle plans (only over a secured line, please) or ordering coffee.  As I was leaving the Army, mobile subscriber service (cell phones) was creeping in.  I was not around long enough to gauge its impact.  In any case, all Army phone conversations end with the same curt farewell: out (a cut-off version of “over and out”).  There is no “good-bye.”

Telling time — You’ve all heard this in war movies.  It’s really not hard to understand.  Thirteen hundred hours (1300) = 1 p.m.  Twenty hundred hours (or 2000) = 8 p.m.  0630 = 6:30 a.m.  You get the idea.  If the hour number is greater than twelve, subtract 12 from it and put a “p.m.” at the end.  Thus, 2359 = 11:59 p.m.  It gets harder when Zulu time is involved.  During operations (such as a battle), all forces must be on the same time, regardless of time zone.  Therefore, everyone uses “Zulu time” (Greenwich Mean Time) no matter where you are located.

Dont mind us, were just here to do a little landscaping.

Going to the store — It’s different on post.  First off, as each military reservation is officially outside of the state, country or territory that it geographically sits in, there’s no sales tax (sweet!).  And, you have to show ID to get in (think of Sam’s Club and B.J.’s).  This is true at both the PX (Walmart) and the commissary (A & P, Safeway, Pathmark, Wegmans, Kroger, etc.).  At the commissary, there is a revolutionary system in which there is a single line and a traffic control at the front (either a retiree in tennis shoes or an electronic board) that tells you which cashier is now available.  Why this system has not been adopted everywhere is totally beyond me?  There are also special lines designed for personnel in uniform.  As I have suggested in the past, this should also be in place everywhere.

A young soldier also quickly learns the difference between BAS (tax-free subsidy for food) and BAQ (tax-free subsidy for housing).  AAFES (Army & Air Force Exchange Service) Store is where you go to get your uniform squared away. But, only buy the medals and ribbons you have earned.  The worst possible insult is “AAFES Ranger” which implies that you have given yourself a voluntary promotion of one sort or another.  Finally, no trip to an Army post is complete without a stop at Class 6 (the liquor store).  The military gives every item a numbered class.  Luxury items (such as booze) fall within Class VI.  Sometimes, Class 6 is the only place in the entire county or surrounding dry counties where alcohol may be legally purchased (e.g., Fort Knox, Kentucky).

Post v. base — Careful readers may have noticed that I have not used the term “base” to describe an Army installation.  That’s because they’re not bases.  In the Army, you have posts, camps or stations.  During WWII, when the Army put up installations ASAP, there were a lot of camps.  In these  post-BRAC (Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission) days, the smaller and less permanent camps and stations have tended to go away.  Nowadays, most Army posts are forts.  Strangely, the South lost the Civil War but won the right to name Army posts after its generals  (Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, Fort Lee, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Jackson, Fort Stewart, etc.).  There is no Fort Grant or Fort Lincoln.  There is a Fort Meade.   There was a Fort McClellan and a Fort Sheridan.  They are now closed.  If I had my way, I would rename the posts named for Confederate generals to honor more recent heroes:  Fort Bradley, Fort Eisenhower, Fort Patton, Fort Powell, Fort Schwarzkopf.    Bases are for those lesser services: Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Fedex, UPS, etc.

That magical land called TDY — Temporary duty (TDY) means travel.  You get to go somewhere new on your rich uncle’s dime.  Your transportation, food and lodging are covered.  However, there are strict limits.  Every soldier on TDY knows down to the penny how much per diem allowance they will receive.  You do everything you can to avoid exceeding this amount (except in bars).

The Army is a southern installation — No question on this one, folks.  The Navy tends to have a New England flavor (there are exceptions, such as Admiral Chester Nimitz from Fredricksburg, Texas).  The Air Force is western.  The Marines come from under rocks.  The Army walks, talks, eats and jokes southern.  A trip to any DFAC (dining facility a.k.a. “chow hall”) will confirm this.  Low fat?  High fiber?  Not likely.  It’s all grits, collard greens, chicken fried steak, catfish and macaroni and cheese.  Wash it down with sweet tea.  The emPHAsis is on the wrong syLABle: veHICle, INsurance, CIment.  MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) tends to rent out a lot of horse shoe kits and bass boats.

Yeah, buddy!

Am I seeing stars?

Titles —  Obviously, rank and titles are very important.  All soldiers must know and recognize rank.  Officers who outrank you are addressed as “Sir” or “Ma’am” and must be saluted.  The salute is held until the superior returns it.  All enlisted personnel are technically outranked by officers.  Thus, you can have the preposterous situation in which a Sergeant-Major with 35 years of service is saluting and Sir-ing a green Second Lieutenant on his first day in the Army.

Most people do not realize that saluting is only done outside.  Hollywood gets this wrong all the time.  The Army has spawned some wonderful nicknames: First Sergeants are always affectionately referred to as Top.  Warrant Officers (a sort of hybrid between officers and enlisted with specialized knowledge, i.e. computer specialists or helicopter pilots) are referred to as Chief.  In my role as a Judge Advocate, I was sometimes called Judge.  I loved that nickname.  Another thing Hollywood got wrong: never address a Sergeant as Sarge.  You will quickly be corrected.

The hat on the right has a very rude nickname.

Other customs — hats (known as headgear) are worn outside exclusively.  Thus, upon leaving a building, the military head is covered.  Upon entering, it is uncovered.  These rules are suspended in the field and in the theater of combat.  There is a narrow strip of real estate known as the curtilage, which rings the building.  This is considered part of the interior, and headgear wear and saluting are not required.  Soldiers frequently congregate in these areas to smoke and joke.  Often, as an enlisted soldier gains years and experience in the service, his or her definition of the curtilage expands in a like manner.  Another interesting custom is the practice of walking slightly behind and to the left of your superior officer.  This usage goes back to the olden days when the superior’s sword hand (right side) had to be kept free for defensive purposes.

— The Major


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anna on April 19, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    The one-line cashier system that you described at the commissary is currently in use at Trader Joe stores across the country! 🙂


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