Everyone who has ever been in or around any military branch knows how heavily they rely upon jargon. The military has unique names from everything from ink pens (ink sticks) to workout clothes (PT Gear) to bedtime (Lights Out). Here is some of the military jargon you are most likely to hear around an active-duty servicemember or veteran.
1) Embrace the Suck
The meaning of “embrace the suck” is probably easily guessed by the public. It means that while the situation you’re in is difficult, embrace the difficulty and figure out how to thrive. In the military, this could be that you are deployed and aren’t going home for another couple of months. If so, embrace the suck of being deployed with your fellow brothers and sisters in uniform. In your workplace, it could be that it is Monday at 0700 and you know that your day is full of meetings and drama. Embrace the suck that at least you are at work and earning a paycheck. At home, it could be that your kids are being little hellions and driving you nuts. Embrace the suck and be thankful that you are blessed with kids that can drive you nuts.
I use or consider this military jargon on a nearly daily basis; it helps put situations back into perspective.
Former Navy SEAL commander and now popular podcast host and author Jocko Willink has his own unique way of saying embrace the suck. Jocko says, “Good!” Is it 0430 and you’re up for a workout while still suffering from last night’s hangover? Good! This workout will create extra mental toughness that a regular workout simply wouldn’t have.
In all things, learn how to embrace the suck. Once you do, you’ll be equipped to handle anything that comes your way.
2) Bravo Zulu
Bravo Zulu is a military jargon term that isn’t as clear-cut. Bravo Zulu means “well done,” but why in the world would it mean that? After all, isn’t the point of some of these saying to shorten the time it takes to convey these messages? Well, as in much of the military jargon one could hear, this phrase is steeped in tradition.
According to the Navy, the popular term comes from the Allied Naval Signal Book created by NATO as a system of signals displayed by either a flag hoist or voice radio to communicate and relay messages back and forth between various naval vessels.
The system is comprised of letters and/or numbers that are represented by flags and pennants which have meaning either by themselves or in different combinations. Bravo Zulu is simply the combination of the Bravo and Zulu flags that when used in tandem means “Good job.”
Does it make a ton of sense in 2021 to say Bravo Zulu rather than just saying “good job?” Nope. Is it a term of endearment that fellow veterans can say to one another to show their appreciation for a job well done? Yep!
3) Terminal Lance
Terminal Lance is one of my favorite military jargon terms on this list. Terminal lance refers to a Marine Corps lance corporal who thinks that he runs his unit. This lance corporal is a man or woman who is (often) in his/her second enlistment (years five-eight) and still rocking those lance corporal chevrons.
Often, a terminal lance is someone who got into trouble as a corporal or above and was demoted to lance corporal as part of the punishment. Other times the person is just a sh*tbag who is too incompetent, fat, or dumb to get further promoted.
When I was in the Marine Corps, Terminal Lance wasn’t exactly a term of endearment, though, oddly enough, some of those terminal lance corporals would certainly believe that it was.
Because some of these men and women have more experience than those who hold a greater rank within their unit, they tend to get a bit bossy and on occasion can be considered know-it-alls. Additionally, the term refers to the fact that many of these lance corporals are destined to exit the Marine Corps as an E-3; a feat that takes some serious effort or maybe just one epic screw-up.
If the first thing that you think of when you hear the term “woobie” is that it sounds like a creature you’d find in a densely populated forest in the Pacific Northwest, then you aren’t alone. What it actually is, however, is a poncho liner used in the field as a comfy jacket/blanket. The liner is constructed with polyester batting encased in two layers of quilted nylon. A good woobie can be more than worth its weight in gold.
In recent years, there has been something of a cult resurgence for woobies. Many veterans purchase them either for their function or just for the nostalgia to remind themselves of using one when they were young and still full of vim and vigor. Woobies purchased online now take the form of blankets, coat liners, hoodies, duffle bags, jackets, and even flags.
So, the next time you are sitting around a campfire and need just a little something extra to keep yourself warm, ask your friends to excuse you so you can go grab your woobie, and standby for their reaction.
5) Getting Smoked
Any veteran knows what a smoke session is. A civilian may think that the expression refers to a group of people standing around in a group enjoying a cigarette. Yet, its actual meaning can be loosely translated to “pain and misery.”
In the military, a smoke session follows an epic screw-up. Did you just ND (negligently discharge)? You’re about to get smoked. Did you miss morning PT because you hung out at the Brass Bell the night prior until closing time? You’re about to get smoked. Did you just call a colonel by his first name in public? You’re about to get smoked. You get the picture.
A smoke session is usually a punishment for something that you cannot get into REAL trouble for (as in NJP’d). Are some of the stuff that precedes a smoke session punishable with an NJP or a court-martial? Sure, but a smoke session is more commonly used when other forms of official punishment would be more inappropriate.
I remember being included in a number of smoke sessions in the sand pits at MCRD San Diego and Camp Pendleton. One of the most depressing smoke sessions I ever experienced occurred in the hills of Camp Pendleton. We were in the latter stages of boot camp and we were starting to feel a bit like we had made it. We hadn’t, and the drill instructors were about to show us just how special we weren’t. I didn’t know what, but we had done something to piss off our DIs in epic fashion. They immediately sent us out to a nearby sandpit for a good smoke session. Once in that pit they PT’d us mercilessly. Typically a smoke session would last an unremarkable — but very difficult — five or 10 minutes. This one lasted nearly 30, and we soon found out why.
Prior to getting smoked, we were putting the finishing touches on a full barracks “police call” (yet another commonly used military jargon term that means “we cleaned up”). During this cleaning session, though, we disinfected the floor with PineSol and bleach and scrubbed it clean with toothbrushes. Yes, that’s a real thing. We cleaned the barracks for nearly two hours and we even finished the cleaning by spraying a little of that boot camp cologne they gave us all around the squad bay because yes, a barracks full of 50+ guys’ gear smells atrocious. Our barracks was fresh. Then, either for some good reason or maybe for no reason at all, we got into trouble and it all went downhill from there.
Unbeknownst to us, while we were getting smoked outside, the drill instructors were taking canteen cups full of sand into the barracks and dumping it both into and onto all of our stuff, and throughout our squad bay. When they secured the smoke session, we returned to a barracks that was dirtier than it was when we started cleaning. You’ve never seen a bigger group of guys that at that moment needed to fully embrace the suck. They gave us two-three minutes to then undo everything they had done. To this very day, it is one of the meanest things someone has done to me.
6) Each Branch’s Motto
The final military jargon terms that I’ll talk about here are the official motto of each military branch and its meaning.
I’ll start with the Marine Corps since that one hits closest to home for me. The Marine Corps’ slogan is “Semper Fidelis“ and it means “Always Faithful.” According to the Marine Corps’ official website, the motto was established in 1883 and it “distinguishes the bond developed and shared between Marines. It goes beyond words that are spoken, as it is a warriorhood that is lived.”
The next motto I’ll demystify is that of the U.S. Coast Guard; “Semper Paratus,” which means “Always Ready.” It is unclear when the Coast Guard officially started using this motto, but there are reports that it was used by a newspaper named The New Orleans Bee as early as 1836.
Officially adopted just in 2010, the U.S. Air Force’s motto is “Aim High…Fly, Fight, Win.” No real translation is needed for this one, but it is said that the Air Force adopted the motto as both a nod to former Airmen and a measuring stick for current Airmen to shoot for.
On its website, it calls the new motto, “An enduring statement of Airmen’s pride in their service, the motto is a two-part expression — a call to action, with a response of commitment.”
The U.S. Army’s motto is perhaps my favorite of the group. It is “This We’ll Defend.” It is simple, practical and it just sounds like a boss of a statement. It is also believed to be the first used motto by any of the military branches, and was first used by the War Office of the Continental Army during the American Revolution in 1778.
The new U.S. Space Force motto sticks with the common Marine Corps and Coast Guard theme. It reads “Semper Supra” which means “Always Above.” That motto perfectly describes the service. According to an article discussing the new motto, “the word ‘Always’ was chosen because just as space is unending in time and depth, so too is the Space Force’s commitment to uncompromisingly protect and monitor space and U.S. satellites. ‘Above’ was chosen to be symbolic of both the act of looking up and wondering what is beyond in space, as well as the Space Force’s value of excellence.”
Finally, we’ll discuss the motto of the U.S. Navy. Officially, there is no Navy motto. Unofficially, many sailors give a nod to the phrase “Non sibi sed patriae,” which means “Not self, but country.” According to USO.org, “This unofficial motto invokes the spirit of sacrifice that so many sailors and members of our Armed Forces carry with them through their service.”
The Benefit of Military Jargon
In all, these are but a handful of commonly used military jargon you’ll hear in and around U.S. military bases. When you aren’t used to it or haven’t heard it in a while it sounds bizarre. But it helps military personnel further mentally comprehend that they are in a distinct unit, branch, or group.
Everything you knew before you entered the service is behind you. Full commitment to your branch and your country is what becomes important.
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