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Slang changes with the times, and the military’s is no different. Soldiers fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have developed an expansive new military vocabulary, taking elements from popular culture as well as the doublespeak of the military industrial complex.
The US military drawdown in Afghanistan — which is underway but still awaiting the outcome of a proposed bilateral security agreement — is often referred to by soldiers as “the retrograde,” which is an old military euphemism for retreat. Of course the US military never “retreats” — rather it conducts a “tactical retrograde.”
This list is by no means exhaustive, and some of the terms originated prior to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But these terms are critical to speaking the current language of soldiers, and understanding it when they speak to others. Please leave anything you think should be included in the comments.
Big Voice: On military bases, loudspeakers broadcast urgent messages. When incoming rocket or mortar fire is detected by radar systems, the Big Voice automatically broadcasts a siren and instructions to take cover. The Big Voice will also warn of scheduled explosions, usually to destroy captured weapons.
Bird: Helicopter. “Chopper” is rarely used, except in movies, where it is always used. A chopper is a kind of motorcycle, not an aircraft.
‘Black’ on ammo, fuel, water, etc: Almost out.
Blowed up: Hit by an IED. Example: “I been blowed up six times this year.”
Bone: The B-1 bomber.
Charlie Foxtrot: Clusterf*ck.
CHU: (pronounced choo) Containerized Housing Unit. These small, climate-controlled trailers usually sleep between two and eight soldiers and is the primary unit of housing on larger bases. A CHU Farm is a large number of CHUs together. A Wet CHU is a CHU that has its own bathroom, usually reserved for generals and other high-ranking individuals. CHUs are unarmored and very vulnerable to rocket attacks.
COP: Combat Outpost. A small base, usually housing between 40 and 150 soldiers, often in a particularly hostile area. Life at a COP is often austere and demanding, with every soldier responsible for both guard duty and patrolling.
DFAC: (pronounced dee-fack) Dining Facility. AKA Chow Hall. Where soldiers eat. At larger bases the meals are served by contracted employees, often from Bangladesh or India. These employees are called TCNs, or Third-Country Nationals.
Dustoff: Medical evacuation by helicopter. For example, “Dustoff inbound” means that a MEDEVAC helicopter is on the way.
Embed: A reporter who is accommodated by the military command to observe operations firsthand. Security, food, shelter and transportation is provided by the military for the embed.
FAN: Feet, Ass and Nuts. Used to describe a smell common to military tents and barracks.
Fast Mover: Fighter jet.
Fitty: The M2 .50 caliber machine gun.
FOB: Forward Operating Base. Bigger than a COP, smaller than a superbase. A FOB can be austere and dangerous, but is more commonly provisioned with hot, varied meals, hot water for showers and laundry as well as recreational facilities.
Fobbit: Combination of FOB and Hobbit. Derogatory term for soldiers who do not patrol outside the FOB. Replaces the Vietnam-era REMF, or Rear-Echelon Motherf#@&er.
Geardo: (rhymes with weirdo) A soldier who spends an inordinate amount of their personal money to buy fancy military gear, such as weapon lights, GPS watches, custom rucksacks, etc. Generally refers to a soldier with little tactical need for such equipment. See: Fobbit.
Green Bean: A civilian-run coffee shop common on larger bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, often the locus of the base social scene, such as it is.
Green Zone: In Iraq, the heavily fortified area of central Baghdad where most government facilities are located. In southern Afghanistan, refers to the lush, densely vegetated areas following rivers which Taliban fighters defend vigorously. As opposed to the Brown Zone, which refers to the more barren mountains.
Groundhog Day: From the Bill Murray movie, the phrase is used to describe deployments where every day proceeds the same way, no matter how the individual tries to change it.
Gun: A mortar tube or artillery piece. Never used to refer to a rifle or pistol. Military-issued pistols are usually called 9-mils.
Hajji: A derogatory term for Iraqis, used widely during the Iraq War. A Hajii Shop was an Iraqi-run shop on the base, often selling pirated DVDs, or Hajii Discs. Rarely used to describe Afghans.
IED: Improvised Explosive Device. The signature weapon of the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, IEDs are low-cost bombs that can be modified to exploit specific vulnerabilities of an enemy. They range in size from a soda can to a tractor trailer and are initiated by anything from a pressure sensor to a suicidal attacker.
IDF: Indirect Fire, or simply Indirect. Mortars, rockets and artillery. Term generally used to describe enemy action.
Inside/Outside the Wire: Describes whether you are on or off a base.
JDAM: (pronounced jay-damn) A bomb dropped from a US aircraft, ranging from 500 to 2,000 lbs.
Joe: Soldier. Replacement term for GI.
Kinetic: Violent. Example: The Pech Valley is one of the most kinetic areas in Afghanistan.
Man Love Thursday: Soldiers use this phrase to half-joke that on Thursdays in southern Afghanistan men customarily have sex with each other so that they will not be distracted by lustful thoughts on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer. Sexual relationships between boys and men are notorious in Kandahar, but the stories of Man Love Thursday are likely apocryphal. A regional proverb goes
Like little stars.
World's best pie apple. Essential for Tarte Tatin. Has five prominent ribs.
So pretty. So early. So ephemeral. Tastes like strawberry candy (slightly).
My personal fave. Ultra-crisp. Graham cracker flavor. Should be famous. Isn't.
High flavored with notes of blood orange and allspice. Very rare.
Jefferson's favorite. The best all-purpose American apple.
New Hampshire's native son has a grizzled appearance and a strangely addictive curry flavor. Very, very rare.
Makes the best hard cider in America. Soon to be famous.
Freak seedling found in an Oregon field in the '60s has pink flesh and a fragrant strawberry snap. Makes a killer rose cider.
Ben Franklin's favorite. Queen Victoria's favorite. Only apple native to NYC.
Really does taste like pineapple.