These Military Phrases Are Harder To Say Than Their Meaning

Humor
A soldier talks on the radio near the scene of fighting between Iraqi security forces and renegade members of the Sons of Iraq in the Al-Fadhel neighborhood of eastern Baghdad, Iraq, March 29, 2009.
Photo by Staff Sgt. James Selesnick

In the military, we tend to pride ourselves on our efficiency. We simply don’t have time to spell everything out, so we invent an acronym for just about everything. It’s a testament to how seriously we take our time, at least when we’re not raking pine needles with pine branches, mopping the water off sidewalks when it’s raining or cutting the imaginary grass in asphalt cracks with scissors. But every once in a while, we screw it up and the acronym, or its moniker, turns out to be longer than the word or phrase we’re trying to describe. In order of ascending inefficiency, here are 10 phrases that take longer to say than what they actually mean.


Related: 7 Phrases You’ll Want To Keep Using After The Military »

1. Charlie Foxtrot. Also known as a cluster fuck. Somewhat worse than just a cluster, calling something a charlie foxtrot implies that it is not only disorganized, there is also very little hope that whatever the objective is will be reached and there is a very high probability that everyone will regret their involvement later. As a phonetic expression, it is not particularly egregious, as it only adds one syllable, but keeps the conversation PG if sensitive ears are present. We’ll call this one a wash.

2. DONSA (dawn-za). Meaning day of no scheduled activities. On the surface, this one appears to save us some time, but here’s how the conversation normally goes.

Commander:“Alright guys, Friday is a DONSA, so make sure you do your long weekend counseling before COB on Thursday.”

New guy: “What’s a DONSA?”

Commander: “Day of no scheduled activities.”

New guy: “Oh, so like, a day off then?”

Commander: “Yeah. In hindsight, I probably could have just said ‘day off.’”

3. Licky Chicky or Lima Charlie. Loud and clear. On one of those rare days when atmospheric conditions are just right and you can actually hear your tactical operations center crystal clear from a whole two kilometers away, you may be tempted to respond to a radio check with “licky chicky,” expending that extra syllable because you’re excited and, well, rhymes sound cool.

4. P.O.V. Aka, personally owned vehicle. This three-syllable acronym is widely used as a replacement to the much shorter and more universally recognized term, “car.” Try telling your first sergeant that you’ve just completed doing “car inspections” on your unit and watch the wheels turn. “Car? What do you mean by car? Are you talking about P.O.V. inspections?” “Yeah, sure, Top. I meant P.O.V. inspections.”

5. L.P.C. Leather personnel carriers. Another one that sounds like a pretty decent acronym, until you consider that leather personnel carriers are just boots. Just say boots.

6. M.K.T. Or the mobile kitchen trailer. This one sounds shorter, but let’s be honest, we could call it the kitchen, or the mess much faster. Either way, it’s the place where the cooks are boiling a giant bag of “scrambled eggs with coloring” for you right now.

7. Bravo Zulu. Well done. Taken from naval signal manuals, which use two-letter abbreviations to introduce or respond to messages, the signal for the letters “B” and “Z” happens to mean “well done.” If we just said, “Bee Zee,” there wouldn’t be much to talk about, other than using a two-letter acronym completely unrelated to the two-word phrase it replaces. However, our insistence on using the phonetic alphabet on top of it has created a four-syllable acronym to replace a two-syllable phrase. “Bravo Zulu, Navy.”

8. November Golf. No Go. There’s nothing more enjoyable to a badge holder than dragging out the news that some tester just charged the M240B machine gun with his palm down instead of up during the Expert Infantryman’s Badge test, so he adds a couple extra syllables by saying, “November Golf” instead of just, “No Go.”

9. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. What the fuck? A perennial favorite, exclaimed every time a higher headquarters cuts an order that takes excessive liberties with the one-third, two-thirds rule, every time one of your privates brings you an authorization form to start his housing allowance and you didn’t even know he was dating anyone (he wasn’t; he just married that stripper from Doll House on Friday so he could move out of the barracks), and just about every time an RPG zips past your head. This six-syllable phrase doubles the three syllables of the original, but hey, at least it’s a little more polite, right?

10. Sierra Hotel or sometimes Hotel Sierra. Meaning shit hot. When that new lieutenant makes it through his first field training exercise without getting his platoon lost, you’ve got a sierra hotel lieutenant. If he gets them lost every day and then accidentally calls for fire on his company headquarters, he’s hotel sierra. Either way it’s a few extra syllables, but worth it if you don’t want him to know what you’re saying.

Gen. Chuck Horner (ret.) commanded the air campaign of Desert Storm (Task & Purpose photo illustration)

When Air Force Gen. Chuck Horner (ret.) took to the podium at the dedication of the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial site in Washington D.C. last February, he told the audience that people often ask him why a memorial is necessary for a conflict that only lasted about 40 days.

Horner, who commanded the U.S. air campaign of that war, said the first reason is to commemorate those who died in the Gulf War. Then he pointed behind him, towards the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where the names of over 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam are etched in granite.

"These two monuments are inexorably linked together," Horner said. "Because we had in Desert Storm a president and a secretary of defense who did the smartest thing in the world: they gave the military a mission which could be accomplished by military force."

The Desert Storm Memorial "is a place every military person that's going to war should visit, and they learn to stand up when they have to, to avoid the stupidness that led to that disaster" in Vietnam, he added.

Now, 29 years after the operation that kicked Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army out of Kuwait began, the U.S. is stuck in multiple wars that Horner says resemble the one he and his fellow commanders tried to avoid while designing Desert Storm.

Horner shared his perspective on what went right in the Gulf War, and what's gone wrong since then, in an interview last week with Task & Purpose.

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