18 Phrases Only People in the Military Will Understand

By Aaron Stone

Understanding military jargon and phrases can be challenging for those outside the armed forces. From slang to specialized expressions, the military community has developed its own language that reflects its unique culture, experiences, and challenges. This article will explore and decode common phrases used in the military, shedding light on their meanings and origins.

“15 minutes prior to 15 minutes prior”

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Military personnel are expected to arrive early to everything, including official formations. This is known as “15 minutes prior to 15 minutes prior,” meaning individuals should arrive 15 minutes earlier than those in the next rank.

“A good piece of gear”

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Don’t call your civilian coworkers this military phrase! It is only acceptable to refer to a coworker or employee as a “good piece of gear” within the context of military service.

“Check your six”

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More commonly used in the Air Force, “Check your six” is said as a warning to watch out for any enemy aircraft or missiles approaching from behind at the 6 o’clock position. This phrase can also be used outside of the military setting, such as in bars or crowded areas, to discreetly tell a friend to check behind them for any potential threats.

“Civvies”

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“Civvies” is slang for “civilians” or anyone who has never served in the military. It also describes any off-duty military clothes a normal civilian would wear on the street.

“Days and a wake-up”

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A “wake-up” refers to the last day of one’s stay at a particular place, usually during a deployment. So, if a service member goes to bed on Sunday and leaves that Friday, they would say they have “four days and a wake-up” to indicate the remaining time until they leave.

“Embrace the suck”

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Military service is not for everyone. Some people think it’s nonstop action-packed training. Still, it actually involves safety briefs, mundane tasks, and a strict rank structure most of the time. “Embrace the suck” describes getting through these typically “boring” but required tasks.

Fobbit

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A “Fobbit” is a term used for a service member who intentionally avoids patrolling and stays within the relative safety of a forward operating base (FOB). The term combines FOB and “hobbit,” a small human-like species most commonly known from “The Lord of the Rings” book and movie series.

“Full battle rattle”

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“Battle rattle” is a term used for the gear soldiers must carry when they leave their base. It usually includes a flak jacket with protective plates, Kevlar, 180 rounds of ammunition, water, rations, and a rifle. This gear is called “battle rattle” because it often makes a lot of noise when soldiers move around while wearing it.

“Good initiative, bad judgment”

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This phrase refers to a situation where someone tries to solve a problem but uses an ineffective solution. Despite this, it shows good initiative on the part of a service member trying to solve a problem.

“Make a hole”

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Instead of saying, “Excuse me,” military service members will say, “Make a hole!” to tell a group of people to get out of their way. So, if you hear someone in their civvies using this term, it’s safe to say they served in the military.

“Mandatory fun” or “Mandofun”

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You know that moment when you’re told about your workplace’s holiday party that everyone must attend? In the military, this situation is described as “Mandatory fun” or “Mandofun” because there’s no getting out of these get-togethers!

“Pop smoke”

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When troops use smoke to signal a helicopter’s arrival, it’s referred to as “Pop smoke.” In military vernacular, this term means to leave quickly or in a hurry.

“PowerPoint ranger”

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Service members known as “PowerPoint Rangers” are tasked with creating presentations for briefings. These presentations are typically overly complicated, with unnecessary animations and sound effects.

“Smoking and joking”

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This military phrase literally translates to moments where you’re being unproductive while smoking with your service buddies. It can also mean moments when you’re “horsing around” and joking with each other.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (WTF)

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“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” or “WTF,” is a phrase that has been used by the military for a long time. Military officers use it to express surprise, disbelief, or frustration without being too offensive over communication devices. Most notably, the term became mainstream with the 2016 film, which used the same name.

“Get Some Skin in the Game”

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Encouraging someone to “Get some skin in the game” motivates them to take initiative and contribute to the team’s success. Those who choose not to get involved let their teammates down and deprive themselves of valuable development opportunities.

“We Train Low, We Fight High”

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It’s common knowledge that military service members often face extremely stressful situations. “We train low, we fight high” serves as a reminder that their intense training will pay off in real-world scenarios.

Hotel Six

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“Hotel Six” is military slang for a dangerous or uncertain situation, referring to the sixth position on a compass where visibility is limited. This term is used to prompt soldiers to be more cautious and prepared in certain situations where they must remain on high alert.

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