*Before the hysterical comments of those mouth breathers, who get triggered and offended by everything and will comment without reading past the lede, start pouring read on, as this has nothing to do with anyone’s sex, self-identification, nor anything else that overpopulates our news today.*

The troops in the military love to dig at each other especially when they’re talking about the difference between grunts and POGs. Some of the slurs can get downright hilarious as testified by the number of memes and gifs on social media. 

Unless you’ve never been in the military, everyone has heard of the term POG (Personnel Other than Grunts). If you are in the infantry in either the Army or Marines, everyone else is a POG. 

Under the POG system, this Marine is considered a POG
Under the POG system, this Marine is considered a POG. However, he could be a former action guy (F.A.G.). (DoD)

Origins of the POGs and Grunts

POGs

Like everyone else, I have always wondered where the terms grunt and POG originated from.

Many believe (and a Navy bud told me) that the term dates to the Civil War and originated from the numerous Irish immigrants who came to the U.S. and fought for the Union. It began with the Gaelic word “pogue” which meant a kiss. The reason was that Navy sailors of Irish descent were upset at other sailors who would never leave the shore and get to stay home and kiss all the ladies while they were out to sea and doing all the fighting.

U.S. Marines and Army units quickly picked up the practice of naming the non-combat troops POGs. The Air Force not so much: With the exception of pilots and special operators, everyone in the Air Force was a POG. 

Grunts

The term grunt was thought to be a Vietnam-era term for the troops beating the bush searching for that elusive guy named “Charlie.” But the word grunt came from World War II and was initially given by — of all people — POGs. 

With the massive amount of casualties in the war, replacements were constantly pushed into line units. Many were young, green, and barely trained. So, some POG decided to call them (because everything in the POG world has to have an acronym) “General Replacement Unit, Not Trained,” or grunts. 

Yet, in WWII, POGs were more commonly referred to as “REMFs” (Rear Echelon Mother F***ers), or in the “rear with the gear.” POGs/REMFs liked to fashion themselves as grunts whenever possible, but never wanted to be permanently assigned as a grunt.

(My father was a tank destroyer commander in Europe. He had a camera and took hundreds of before and after photos of action against the Germans. A buddy who was a REMF used to do him a favor and got all of his pics developed for him. Little did he know he made two copies of all the pics and was selling them to Stars and Stripes with the photo credit being given to the REMF. Buddy is a two-part word.) 

So, we have grunt, POGs, and REMFs…. confused yet? Oh, it gets a new twist courtesy of the Special Operations Command. 

A Special Operations Vocabulary to Transcend POGs

With the advent of the Special Forces Branch and the creation of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), all SOF operators were put under one umbrella making joint operations a seamlessly easy task. 

But alas, it also created a slew of personnel slots for POGs/REMFs. These troops took particular delight in being assigned to units that go by the term “Quiet Professionals” meaning they don’t discuss operations or units to non-members. 

The POGs/REMFs were easy to spot for the true SOF guys, as they’d go everywhere telling people that they were assigned to “Special Ops.” They also took great pride in the SOF Truths penned by BG David Baratto many moons ago. And the fifth truth states:

“Most Special Operations Require non-SOF Assistance”

And things got complicated when Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and Air Force Special Operations folks (Marine Raiders came later in 2006) started being assigned to HQs and instructor jobs that would normally be filled with POGs. While they were still operators/grunts, the close proximity to the POGs required clarification. 

Marines reading minds? Corps pushes for Psychological Operations

Read Next: Marines reading minds? Corps pushes for Psychological Operations

So, some Special Forces NCOs attempted to streamline the acronyms and clarify the difference between POGs and Non-POGs. Now it is time for our second public service announcement to calm the easily triggered.

*At the time of these acronyms being created, combat arms were still closed to women. So, the term “Guy” shouldn’t be misconstrued to exclude women who are now serving in Combat Arms and Special Operations units. So, in terms of brevity, we’ll dispense with the Guy/Gal, he, she, they, B.S. The terms represent all of those who encompass the troops mentioned in the acronyms, and that means men and women. Simply used for brevity.*

So, back to the task at hand. These hardy individuals came up with a naming system that perfectly encompasses the entire SOF force. They broke the troops down into R.A.Gs, F.A.Gs, and N.A.Gs. 

SFAS candidates in training to become Army Green Berets. (U.S. Army photo)

R.A.Gs

These are the grunts of the SOF world, (Real-Action Guys). Nuff said. These are the Green Berets, SEALs, Rangers, Delta/SEAL Team Six, Air Force Special Operations, and aircrews that make SOCOM what it is. 

If you are a member of an A-Team, SEAL Team, etc., then you are a R.A.G. Nuff said. Being assigned to the HQs of one of these units doesn’t make you a R.A.G., any more than a clerk typist assigned to an Airborne Infantry Brigade would make him/her a grunt. 

F.A.Gs

Again, this has nothing to do with sexual proclivity (or a cigarette, if you’re British). It denotes that the individual is no longer a Real Action Guy (R.A.G.), but is now a F.A.G. (Former Action Guy). These operators may have been assigned to HQs in the Puzzle Palace or being levied as instructors at the various schoolhouses for the different units, many times against their will. 

While their assignments would put them in close proximity to the POGs they will never be associated with “those timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Some of them are operators who are recovering from injuries or have done their time and opted for retirement. So, being a F.A.G. could be a temporary status or a permanent one. But R.A.Gs and F.A.Gs are one and the same, and respect is there among them. 

N.A.Gs 

These are the POGs of the Special Operations community. The acronym stands for Non-Action Guys. They may be assigned to the command and be around the hub of activity during operations, but they aren’t going to be on aircraft or vehicles during said operations. 

However, as the fifth SOF Truth states, without logistical, intelligence, engineer, and technical support, most SOCOM operations would never get past the planning phase. N.A.Gs are integral members of the unit and have their jobs to do. Their vast majority (although anyone who was assigned to 3/7 in Panama back in the day would list Finance as the outlier) do an exemplary job.

While the R.A.Gs are the tip of the spear, the spear can’t be thrown without being affixed to a wooden shaft first. The N.A.Gs are that wooden shaft. The plain truth of the Army is that it takes a lot of guys in the rear echelon moving the beans, bullets, and bandages up to R.A.Gs to enable offensive operations. In World War II, the logistics tail of the Army was 90 percent of the troops in the field. Yeah, you read that right, 90 percent of the Army in WWII were N.A.Gs and never fired a shot in anger.

Now, it is important to note that R.A.Gs can become F.A.Gs and vice versa. And although a F.A.G. is no longer a R.A.G., he will never be a N.A.G. But it should also be noted that many N.A.Gs, after being around R.A.Gs and F.A.Gs for a length of time, volunteer to become R.A.Gs by attending one of the Selection courses offered by the military. 

So, while I now count myself among the F.A.Gs, I long for the days of yore of being a R.A.G. And the R.A.Gs of today, despite what you’ll see in the cherry-picked negative stories in the mainstream media, are doing an outstanding job. As are the N.A.Gs. 

As Paul Harvey used to say…” now you know… the rest of the story.” 

DOL

Book suggestions on “Military Culture”:
A Civilian’s Guide to the U.S. Military: A comprehensive reference to the customs, language and structure of the Armed Fo rces
The Culture of Military Organizations

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