Military Language is Like Secret Code to Civilians
Editor’s Note: When I asked Sergeant 1st Class Tyrone Marshall to write a story using as much “Milspeak” as he could, I did so confident that after more than a decade of working with the military, I’d have very little problem translating it. Sometimes the little challenges we create for ourselves prove the importance of the continual pursuit of knowledge. I hope you enjoy our little experiment. – Samantha
TM: Beginning service in the military can be comparable to the first day of college when you realize you’re standing at the cusp of plenty of daunting and unimaginable challenges.
There are so many things, people, places and protocols to learn, not the least of which is all the new terminology. You can liken it to having to learn a different language just to take a class.
Translation: Army Sergeant 1st Class Tyrone Marshall is right, for civilian or troop the first day with the military is much like first stepping foot on a college campus. Regardless of your background, you’re in a whole new world and the first thing you notice is the folks in this world don’t speak the same language as the folks in your hometown.
For Marshall, this meant learning Milspeak just to become a soldier. As you can see in his story, he’s become quite fluent. Some of the acronyms in Marshall’s story might not seem so foreign anymore as they’ve become part of the modern lexicon. However, if you don’t speak Military, or it’s been awhile since you conversed in your second language, here’s a rough translation.
TM: This was the case when I joined 25th ID, and then 25th CAB, as a PAO and prepared to deploy in support of OIF.
As I took on the operational tasks involved with a combat tour in preparation for one of two trips to COB Speicher, it was apparent I had a daunting lexicon to learn. Our COB, not to be mistaken with a smaller FOB, was the headquarters for MND-N.
Translation: Marshall’s foray into learning Military began when he joined the Army’s 25th Infantry Division as a public affairs officer. While with the unit, he prepared to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The mission rehearsal exercise to get Marshall and the unit ready for deployment included Warrior Task Training, where soldiers practiced all the necessary combat skills to survive in a deployed environment.
Once in theater—sorry—once in Iraq, Marshall called Contingency Operating Base Speicher, the headquarters for Multinational Division-North, home. A contingency operating base shouldn’t be confused with a smaller forward operating base.
TM: After completing WTT, our MRX, and heading to Iraq, I began working the nightshift and with lighter manning, the DCHOPS was the ultimate authority. Every RTQ or RFI we had was vetted through him. It didn’t matter if it was a SWO report or updates on a SWT headed to a TIC—if it happened, he knew.
Needless to say, it made life a lot easier once I picked up the “language.”
Translation: During the deployment, he worked the nightshift for the deputy chief of operations who oversaw every response to query or request for information. He was completely in the know—from staff weather office reports to updates on a scout weapons team heading out to back up troops in contact with the enemy.
TM: Following a 15-month tour, we returned home to Hawaii and USARPAC, which was under the MACOM, PACOM. From there, I transitioned to PAO for the CAB. If learning terminology at the division level was a new language, pilot speak is an obscure dialect!
Translation: After 15 months in Iraq, he returned to Hawaii and U.S. Army Pacific, which falls under Pacific Command, the major command with authority over U.S. Army Pacific.
Then it was on to serve as a public affairs officer for the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, which offered an education in an obscure dialect of Military—Pilot!
TM: Life became a haze of deciphering serious incident reports and learning what an LZ was, what unit the SCO led and the mission of the ASB. The CAB also had its own version of an MRX, called a CTE. It did NTC rotations and gave me the chance to see the big island of Hawaii during training at PTA.
Translation: Through the haze of learning to interpret serious incident reports, figuring out that LZ stands for landing zone, which unit the squadron commanding officer led and the mission of the aviation support battalion, Marshall mastered the dialect. Of course, a different dialect often means unfamiliar labels for familiar items, like the aviators’ version of a mission rehearsal exercise—a culminating training exercise. Through these exercises, he got to participate in National Training Center rotations at Pohakuloa Training Area on the big island of Hawaii.
TM: PTA was a fascinating contradiction. It was in Hawaii, but it was cold and mountainous, which I never really considered until I flew in zero degree temperatures there! You knew immediately it was training time when you landed at BAAF and the temperature was less than the comfy 80 degree weather we all knew and loved.
Translation: Pohakuloa may be in Hawaii, but its mountainous terrain was cold—something that became apparent when Marshall landed at Bradshaw Army Airfield.
TM: Training consisted of pilots learning to conduct dust landings at less than desirable LZs, ASB troops working on convoy ops where they navigated using BFTs, fretted missing SP time and aimed for making their TOT without fail.
Translation: Here, pilots learned to land in less than desirable landing zones amid a cloud of dust while the aviation support battalion worked to figure out navigation via Blue Force Tracker, a system that lets military commanders keep tabs on friendly forces, as well as the enemy. The concerns—other than honing skills—were missing the start of patrol and consistently making time on target.
TM: Often training paused as we ate MREs on hillsides with hopes of making it back for at least one hot meal that day at the DFAC. We moved from marksmanship training to practicing missions such as ECP operations, which would be a tasking when we returned to what would become USD-N at the COB we had been stationed at once already.
As with any unit working with aircraft, our troops set up a DART to rehearse rescuing incapacitated flying platforms and did IED training whenever possible. At the end of the training rotation, we’d do an AAR and return home to continue preparations for deployment.
Translation: Training paused for Meals, Ready to Eat—the hope was always to get back to the dining facility for a hot meal. They moved from one exercise, like marksmanship, to another, like practicing entry control point operations. The latter would become crucial when the unit returned to what had by then become United States Division-North at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq.
The rigorous training saw the unit establish a downed aircraft recovery team to practice rescuing incapacitated flying platforms—aircraft—and conduct training on detecting and avoiding improvised explosives.
TM: There was still CLS training, support to other deploying units with HALO jumps, and HAZMAT training to ensure we didn’t leave our bases any worse for wear.
Translation: With the end of the training came an after-action review and the trip home to prepare for deployment. Oh, and more training in the form of Combat Lifesaver courses, providing support to other units through High-Altitude, Low-Opening jumps from helicopters and hazardous materials training to make sure the troops didn’t leave the bases any worse than they found them.
TM: After learning many new things with the CAB, we deployed again to serve in OND for USD-N at COB Speicher. Coincidentally, during my first deployment with 25th ID, I’d found myself on a BTT mission with the CAB. We covered 808 miles of ground, pounding in HMMWVs with a mix of soldiers and Marines. Another life experience to say the least!
Translation: The education Marshall got with the combat aviation brigade served him well when the unit deployed to Contingency Operating Base Speicher in support of Operation New Dawn. Coincidentally, during his first deployment to Speicher with the 25th Infantry Division, Marshall had gone on a border transition team mission with the same combat aviation brigade he was serving with during his second deployment. The mission covered 808 miles in High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles and a mix of soldiers and Marines offered Marshall an education in yet another dialect of Military.
TM: Following this second tour of service in Iraq, my unit returned and quickly began ramping up for a deployment ISO OEF. This meant more trips to PTA for HAMET training with our helicopter pilots as Afghanistan loomed. I didn’t have the opportunity to go, but knew the Afghans would be in good hands.
The difficulty of learning and re-learning the vernacular of these units was tough, and I did come to consider it the equivalent of learning a new language or dialect when I took a new job. But what I learned from the opportunities to serve with many different units and troops with diverse skill sets was a valuable education.
What would I call these service members I came into contact with and learned from? Fittingly, one word describes them all—STRAC!
Translation: The end of this second deployment brought a trip home, followed by a quick ramp-up to a deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, though Marshall didn’t go. It also meant more training at Pohakuloa Training Area to gain skills in High Altitude Mountainous Environmental Training with helicopter pilots.
In the end, one of the biggest takeaways for Marshall was what he learned from his fellow soldiers, including that they are all STRAC—Skilled Tough Ready Around the Clock!
–Samantha L. Quigley is the editor in chief of On Patrol.
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