By Joseph Andrew Lee
Editor’s note: The author served 10 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Eleanor Roosevelt is rumored to have once described Marines as having “the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals” she had ever seen.
Whether or not she actually said that, and whether or not those things are true about Marines is largely debatable, but here are 22 facts most Marines won’t debate:
1. Marines have their favorite words – “Outstanding” is by far any Marine’s favorite adjective. It’s often used to describe the type of day a Marine is having, but the limits of its usage are tested daily by Marines everywhere looking to add a little motivation into their diction.
2. CHAOS is more than a theory – Defense Secretary James Mattis’ nickname CHAOS is actually an acronym that stands for “Colonel Has An(Another) Outstanding Solution.” The tongue-in-cheek nickname was first given to Mattis while he was a colonel at Twentynine Palms, California.
3. Marines don’t use their pockets – Whether in cammies or dress blues, Marines definitely have lots of pockets in their uniforms, but they don’t dare use them. Items in their pockets create a bulky, sloppy appearance, so Marines will go to any length to not use their pockets, even to the point of carrying things in their socks.
4. Nicknames are kind of a thing – If your name is too long or difficult to pronounce, it’s likely that drill instructors will rename you “Alphabet.” If you wear glasses, it’s likely drill instructors may rename you “portholes.” Luckily, nicknames assigned in boot camp aren’t likely to stay with a Marine into the Fleet.
5. The Fleet – The FMF (Fleet Marine Force) is the name Marines give to the “real life” Marine Corps beyond the “pipeline” that includes Marine Corps Recruit Training and MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) school.
6. Marines don’t steal; but they do acquire – Rumor has it there was once a single thief in the Corps, and ever since then Marines have occasionally found the need to ‘acquire’ his or her things back. The cycle is never-ending.
7. Marines are tough as nails – In 1959, Marine Lt. Col. William Rankin is the only known person to survive a fall from the top of a cumulonimbus thunderstorm cloud. He ejected from his plane at 47,000 feet and fell 40 minutes through the middle of the storm and survived.
8. If they’re not cheating, they’re not trying – Mission accomplishment is a Marine’s top priority, and nothing frustrates a Marine more than when arbitrary rules get in the way. Ernest “Boots” Thomas, one of the U.S. Marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, enlisted in spite of being color blind by memorizing the results of another recruit’s test.
9. It wasn’t always, “Always Faithful” – Semper Fidelis was adopted in 1883 as the motto of the Corps. Before that, there had been three mottoes, all traditional rather than official. The original was “Fortitudine” (“With Fortitude”).
10. Mmmmm … BLT – The most delicious sandwich ever created is also the acronym that describes the Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Battalion Landing Team – the Marine infantry unit designed to be sent into combat first and are often referred to within the Marine Corps as the very tip of the spear.
11. What’s a Good Cookie? – A quick way to tell if a Marine has been on his or her best behavior is to locate the Good Conduct Medal on their chest. If worn by a Marine officer, the presence of this medal indicates the officer was once an enlisted Marine.
12. Field Day is not fun and games – The term field day in the Marine Corps has a very specific meaning – cleaning for inspection. Many civilians hear this term and think of three-legged races and barbecues. This is not the image conjured up by Marines.
13. They were born again – After the Revolutionary War, the Marine Corps was disbanded and went dark for 15 years. When it returned on July 11th, 1798, it celebrated it’s birthday on that date until 1921, when Maj. Edwin North McClellan sent Commandant John A. Lejeune a memorandum requesting the original November 10th date be declared as a Marine Corps holiday.
14. Stand up, Marine – Marines, whether on active duty, retired or veteran, always stand at attention during the playing of the Marines Hymn.
15. POGs and Grunts – Though every Marine is a trained rifleman, infantry Marines (03XX MOS) lovingly call their non-infantry brothers and sisters POGs (pronounced “pogue,”) which is an acronym that stands for Personnel Other than Grunts. POGs call infantrymen Grunts, of course.
16. EGAs EGAs Everywhere! – Marines’ uniforms are adorned practically everywhere with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor symbol. It’s hidden inside their combat uniform’s camo pattern as well as being branded on the heels of their combat boots.
17. “It pays to be a winner” – A common expression used to push Marines and sailors to their maximum potential during Physical Training, the phrase incentivizes the winner of an exercise or a relay race to take a break, complete training or remove a piece of gear.
18. Marines love their Poncho Liner – While the Army has given it a special name — “woobie” – Marines are no less in love with this particularly critical piece of field gear, especially in cold weather.
19. Taco Rice and Cheese – A favorite dish on the island of Okinawa where many Marines get stationed, Marines are especially critical of how this dish is prepared.
20. Where’s my Hooch!? – While Marines may have a reputation with regard to alcohol being born in a pub, a Marine looking for his ‘hooch’ isn’t missing his or her flask. A hooch is what Marines call their tent, or their place to sleep while in the field.
21. Shower Shoe – Most of us have heard the term “boot” applied to someone new in the Corps, but for those Marines who are newer than new and don’t even rate the term “boot,” the term “shower shoe” (a flip-flop worn in the shower) is lovingly applied.
22. Salty Cammies – Every Marine has at least one pair of cammies that have been washed and worn so many times that the dye begins to fade away and the material softens. These are a Marine’s favorite pair of cammies, both because they are worn as well as to impress upon the “boots” and “shower shoes,” how long he or she has served.
-This story first appeared on USO.org in 2014. It has been updated in 2019.