Websites all over the internet that promise transitioning veterans advice about finding work in the private sector often target language first.  While just about every social niche develops its own unique take on contemporary vocabulary, the military may be the worst.  With acronyms and gibberish sounding titles littering our every sentence, and curse words filling in most of the rest, being in the military is almost like learning an all new language – one the internet is quick to remind you that most hiring managers won’t be fluent in.

First of all, that might be true in some cases, but if you think a civilian can’t wrap his or her head around a common phrase like “good to go,” you’re insulting the veteran you’re advising and around three hundred million civilians that you may be surprised to learn have experiences that reach beyond their cubicles.  Your average American has seen plenty of war movies, and while they may not know that I had to spend the better part of seven years of my life calling stairways “ladder wells,” they can almost certainly survive a stray “roger that” being tossed their way from time to time.

Demanding that veterans cleanse their vocabulary of the language they spent their adult lives learning isn’t good advice – it’s adding to the giant pile of anxiety service members have about transitioning back into the “real world.”  Most veterans don’t have any trouble communicating with non-veterans of our same species and nationality – so while you should probably tone down the “oorahs” and the cursing in your new workplace, you shouldn’t walk into an interview sweating about whether or not you’ll accidentally yell “Kill!” in the affirmative when asked your sex.  Just pay attention to what they’re asking you, respond thoughtfully, and you’ll be fine.

Of course, some of the terms we use in the military can come off as confusing or nonsensical to the uninitiated, and as such, those words or phrases will need to be either purged from common conversation or carefully explained to those who are interested – but some of the stuff we say in the military fills voids in the American nomenclature, expresses feelings or thoughts in a more efficient way, or simply rolls off the tongue better than non-military wording would.  These terms remain in my vocabulary to this day; not because I’m that crazy veteran yelling about “the war” from a four-way intersection (yet) – but because language is an ever evolving means of communication, and I don’t change my dialect just to fit in with folks that likely won’t care if I do think my new laptop is pretty “high speed.”

So without further ado (or needless explanation), here are four words or phrases I learned during my time in Uncle Sam’s Gun Club that continue to serve in everyday conversations years after I hung up my boots.

Roger that.  It’s simple, it’s easy, and it explains only as much as I need it to.  If I’m given a task I’m not especially psyched about doing, I can respond with “roger that” without expressing any of those misgivings.  If I’m excited about something but don’t necessarily want to show my hand – again – “roger that” says that I received your message without describing how I feel about it.  It’s simple and conclusive: you relayed information to me, I received it, now we can move on with our day.  If I want to elaborate about my feelings, or you’re interested in learning more about them, we can choose to go on from there.

Use in a conversation:

Manager: I need you to work this weekend.

You: Roger that. (while secretly screaming curse words in your mind)

Squared away.  I like simple things.  Although I can be awfully wordy, I truly appreciate efficiency in language, and like “roger that,” squared away expresses a wide variety of situations simply and decisively.  You can square away your laundry, your taxes, your relationships, and your diet – all in the same day if you want to.  Squaring away simply means transitioning something from a negative or unhelpful state, into a constructive or useful one.  After I write this article, SOFREP’s team of editors will square it away by translating my rambling into something that looks like a smarter guy wrote it, and I’ll spend that time squaring away my research for my next article.

Use in a conversation:

Your coworker: Wow, your desk is getting pretty messy, man.

You: Yeah, I know it – I’m gonna stay late tonight to get it squared away.

Voluntold.  You know that sense of dread you experience when your manager or supervisor announces a new filing system, and you just know that she’s going to peg you with the responsibility of making the transition?  She approaches you with a compliment like, “no one is better suited to do this arduous task than the one and only (insert your name here),” and you smile pleasantly and accept that your day is about to be spent amid a pile of old documents and secret longing for your childhood job cleaning horse stables.  You were just voluntold to do something: it was presented as though you had the option to decline, but you and she both know you had no choice.  In fact, when I get done with my work today, I’m heading to the grocery store – not because I want to – but because I was voluntold to make dinner tonight by my wife.

Use in a conversation:

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Coworker: Why are you still here?  I thought you had plans with Cheryl from accounting tonight?

You: I did – until I got voluntold to square away the numbers on the Stevens account.

The lance corporal underground.  Okay, technically I don’t use this one exactly.  In the Marine Corps, the lance corporal underground is your source of information that hasn’t been corroborated by official channels yet; in other words, it’s the low-level employee rumor mill, and things like that exist in every professional and social setting.  When I hear something from another writer, or from a source, and I can’t technically confirm it’s true… I say it came from the journalist or social media underground.  For those familiar with the term, it’s a quick and easy way to say, “listen, I heard this thing, but take it with a grain of salt because I can’t be sure it’s true yet.”  The information you get from the underground isn’t always accurate, but it is often enough to value the early warning it provides.

Use in a conversation:

Coworker: Did you hear there might be another round of layoffs?

You: Word in the HR underground is that the layoffs won’t reach our department.

Coworker: Roger that, I better get my paperwork squared away anyway though, before I get voluntold to take an unscheduled vacation.

At that point, the two of you high-five and celebrate the bridging of cultures you’ve accomplished in the workplace.

See?  Transitioning out isn’t so bad after all.  It just takes a bit of getting used to – and learning when it’s not okay to shout “make a hole!” in crowded hallways.


Of course, if you’d rather just work with people who speak you own language, you can always look into working for a company like SOFREP.