10 Military Habits That Make Service Members Stand Out

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DoD photo by Justin Connaher

We all know the tell-tale signs of a military service member: high-and-tight haircut, camo backpack, polo shirt and cargo shorts combination, unit t-shirts or hats, decals on cars, and of course, “Affliction" t-shirts. These are all easy ways to spot military folks in public places. And while many of us try not to stand out, there are still subtle indicators. Most civilians would never notice these things, but they are dead giveaways to those who have served. Here are the top ten.


1. Walking fast. You might be doing a great job of blending in to your civilian surroundings, but your walk is always going to give you away. Military personnel walk with a purpose, as if their trip to the grocery store is actually a Pentagon press briefing.

2. Hair. Broke your habit of getting a high and tight? Good for you. But that leaves you two options: the fade and the classic “officer or pilot hair." Yes, we see you pushing the edges of the “three inches on the top" rule as proscribed in Army Regulation 670-1.

3. Eating fast. Habits are hard to kick. And rarely in the military did you ever have ample time to appreciate your food even if you wanted to.

4. The power stance. Noncomissioned officers and officers are easy to spot: Just look for the person attempting to own the room through the “thumbs through the belt power" stance or the “crossed arms and not leaning against anything" stance.

5. Jargon. Just try not to say “roger" or “negative" in conversations. Just try. Eventually, your language will out you.

6. Walking. There is no way that a group of military members can take a casual stroll down a sidewalk without eventually falling into step. Even if you try not to, you will.

7. Sunglasses. Congratulations, you're not wearing Oakleys or G.I. frames. Well done. But you're still wearing sunglasses all the time. Even when it is cloudy out.

8. Absurd politeness. You can easily pick out service members by their over usage of “sir" and “ma'am." It is a credit to the military's discipline that a cashier receives the same clipped tones and politeness a four-star general would.

9. Scanning crowds. Go to a party and you're bound to see the one person who is constantly scanning usually somewhere where they can see the whole room. And God help the person acting suspicious because the military promotes being confrontational.

10. Sleeping anywhere. Military personnel can sleep approximately anywhere, in any weather, on anything. They also come out of it rapidly and coherently, which paid dividends for the people aboard the Paris-bound train with the gunman aboard who was overpowered by two U.S. service members.

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