In my two plus years of covering the Army, I have learned a lot. And I mean a lot — some of which I probably would have been fine living my entire life without knowing.
But how in the world, after all the conversations I’ve had with soldiers, and all the emails I’ve received from readers, has no one mentioned to me that the nickname for the 1032nd Transportation Company of the Virginia National Guard was….Hillbilly Express?
That’s just one of the hundreds of other nicknames Army units have had over the years, all collected by the U.S. Army Center of Military History. The nicknames, called Special Designations, are officially approved by the CMH and “recognized through a certificate signed by the Chief of Military History.”
We know the classics: the Night Stalkers, Old Ironsides, Hell on Wheels, and The Harlem Hellfighters, who only recently had their long-standing nickname made official. By contrast, others sound more like high school mascots than they do names for military units: the Bobcats, the Fighting Eagles, the Arctic Wolves, the Broncos.
But some of these are a bit more….creative. See for yourself.
- The Wizards of War (11th Military Intelligence Company) — Unsurprisingly, the intention of the nickname was to refer to the company’s “special skills in technical intelligence.” But it still sounds awesome.
- The Polar Bears (31st Infantry Regiment) — The nickname was ostensibly chosen “from the fearsome predator that Soldiers would encounter in Siberia where they guarded rail lines, warehouses, and supplies in Vladivostok during the Russian Revolution in 1918.”
- The Tornado Brigade (69th Troop Command) — I just like this one, sue me.
- Tough ‘Ombres (HHC, 90th Infantry Division) — This one has its origins in World War I, back when the division insignia had a “T” and “O” on an olive background because “most of its original personnel were drafted from Texas and Oklahoma.”
- Les Terribles (128th Infantry Regiment) — This nickname also came about during World War I after the 38th French Corps Commander, General de Mondesir saw the 32nd Division “clearing the Germans out of their powerful positions with regularity and determination,” at which point he exclaimed “Oui, Oui, Les soldats terrible, tres bien, tres bien!'” at least, that’s what a 32nd Division website tells us.
- The Can Do Crew (36th Engineer Detachment) — I love the energy here: wholesome, encouraging, pure.
- Shrimp Boats (179th Aviation Company) — I’m confused by this and I love it.
- Snortin’ Bull (107th Engineer Battalion) — I have no words.
- Mars Men (124th Cavalry Regiment) — Based on the unit’s official history, the regiment made up the Mars Task Force in 1944, which “was given the mission of clearing Northern Burma of Japanese forces and opening the Burma Road for truck traffic to China.” So it’s likely not in reference to, you know, Mars the planet.
- We Give A Damn (187th Personnel Service Company) — In 1994 the company was reflagged as the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 510th Personnel Service Battalion, based in Mannheim, Germany; members provided “expert personnel support,” which I mean, obviously. They give a damn!
- One Of The Originals (47th Support Battalion) — This sounds a bit like something someone said while debating nicknames not meaning for it to be considered, and then whoops, it stuck.
- Widowmakers (75th Cavalry Regiment) — That’s dark.
- The Communicators (141st Signal Battalion) — Simple. Clear. To-the-point. Almost too to-the-point…are we sure they’re Army?
What’s your favorite — or least favorite — Army unit nickname and why? Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org