I served my military time in the U.S. Air Force. Now, because of that, I am often subjected to jabs from fellow veterans who served their time in other branches of the service. I’ve been called a zoomie; sometimes a flyboy (which is funny because I never once flew on an Air Force plane). I get kidded about my Air Force dress blues – they’re often referred to as the mailman’s uniform. And I’d have to agree that it does remind me of the uniform that postal employees once wore, before they were allowed to sport those snazzy Bermuda shorts and knee-high socks. The Air Force hasn’t gone there yet. But you never know.
Marines in particular kid me about that “grueling” physical test the Air Force required every year – run 1 ½ miles in 30 minutes and do 25 push-up and 25 sit-ups. Thirty years later, I do twice that every morning, while many vets my age can’t get off the couch quickly enough before they wet their pants. But I like this banter among the services. It’s a measure of camaraderie. And pride. Ya just gotta have thick enough skin to take the ribbing – and be able to give back what you get.
Now in the realm of military jargon, the uninitiated civilians among you may hear a number of terms that we throw at each other. Some are common; others not so much. A lot of the early jargon was born out of WWI and WWII. The slang term “doughboy”, for example, was used to define U.S. soldiers during the Mexican-American War and World War I. Depending on your source, “doughboy” can refer to the state of their brains, their diet, their earlier professions, or 65 other things. It’s usually an Army term. In World War II, the word “doughboy” gave way to a more sophisticated term – “dogface”. I think it fits many of my Army compadres, even today. But you can only imagine where that term came from… I’m not aware of any recent terms that have sprung up for my Army pals. I generally say “hey, you!” when I cross them. Most simply respond “Huh?” It works…
Navy guys have always been known as “swabbies”, from a stereotypical claim that they are always swabbing the deck of a ship. Truthfully, I don’t know many sailors these days who even know what a mop is, so that term must be dying out. They’re also called “squids”, another connotation to their time at sea, and a term I really like – you can do a lot with a word like “squid”. However, when you really want to be cruel to a sailor, you call him seaman – with heavy emphasis on “sea” followed by a quick “min”. Try it! Now that’s truly disgusting… But it fits the aura of camaraderie.
If you serve in the Coast Guard, you take as much ribbing as the Air Force and the Navy for not being “tough ground troops”. And that’s true, because…you weren’t. Neither were we. That’s not your mission. But of all people, Navy guys likes to rib you further by referring to the Coast Guard as the “brown water navy” or the “shallow water navy”. Which I actually think is quite clever wording, implying, of course, that you never really ventured far from shore. Then again, that’s where all the beaches and bikinis are, you lucky dogs…so what does the Navy really know?
And the Marine Corps? Well, that’s an exclusive little club, much smaller than all the other branches. And they seem to have a lot more jargon, and toss many more jabs. In World War II, they were commonly called “leathernecks”, because the South Pacific sun, beating down on the back of a neck tended to give that appearance. These days, the term “leatherneck” is rarely used. There are a few other words to describe them but, unless you’re a Marine, you really shouldn’t call them “jarheads”, unless referring to the movie of that name. After all, jars come in many sizes and shapes. And there are at least three stories about the origin of “jarhead”; a couple of them are just way, way out there. You could confuse a whole battalion of them by telling too many stories.
One term that offends many Marines is referring to them as “soldiers”. It’s common for civilians to think that all those serving can be lumped together under that term. But here’s the real scoop – the word “soldier” applies to someone in the Army. Someone in the Marines is known as…well, a Marine. Now both branches certainly have “grunts” – those are the infantry guys. And they’re the ones to whom I bow lowest – the guys whose primary job is on the ground, in the trenches, going door-to-door and sometimes hand-to-hand in combat. No disrespect to other jobs in the service, but the grunt earns my highest respect. Even as I mercilessly kid him, about being dumb enough to be a grunt in the first place.
Every branch has its own reserve units. The Air Force and Army also have National Guard units, whose primary mission is to help with emergencies in the states where they reside. These Guard and Reserve units are collectively known as “weekend warriors”, because most of them are part-time, drilling every other weekend and spending their two-week summer vacations training in exotic locations – like Missouri and Kansas. These days, you won’t hear them called “weekend warriors” much – they’re as full-time as their “regular army” cousins, humping those same sand dunes in the Middle East… Al-Qaeda can’t tell the difference.
Each branch has its own primal scream, of course. The Marines grunt “ooh-rah” to just about anything. The Army has a variation that sounds like “hoo-ah”. And I’m told the Navy says “hoo-yah”, although I get a lot of quizzical looks when I tell that to Navy guys. While there are many stories about the origin of this hallowed military term and its variations, the Hebrew word “oorah” means “awaken” and, in my book, fits just about any branch of the military. Except the Air Force, of course, which sticks with “okey dokey” as its battle cry, or so the joke goes. The things we put up with for being the youngest military branch.
And that, my civilian friends, is you primer on military jabs & jargon. From a “zoomie” whose grandfather was a WWI “doughboy”, whose namesake uncle was a WWII “squid”, and whose son is a “jarhead”. But a word to the wise – be very thoughtful if you intend to use any of these terms on veterans or current servicemen or women. Some of them might not be as thoughtful in return, as they lunge for your neck in an insulted fit of rage. I guess that’s the nature of exclusive clubs. Okey dokey?
God bless our troops! At least that’s one term to which every military branch can relate.
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