The Mysterious Origins of ‘HOOAH,’ The Army’s Beloved Battle Cry

Staff Sgt. Rick Hurt, a new graduate of the Drill Sergeant Course at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy, calls cadence for the Soldiers of class 008-016 as they exit the Post Theater at Fort Jackson, S.C. after a graduation ceremony, June 22.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton/ released)

To a civilian, “hooah!” can sound like a completely nonsensical utterance, the guttural wail of an unhinged man on the verge of defeat. But to a soldier in the U.S. Army, it’s a fearsome battle cry that's heard on battlefields and among battalions deployed around the globe.

The meaning of the battle cry is difficult to describe: According to the Army’s Brief Guide to Modern Military Jargon, “hooah” can mean anything aside from no, and dropping the magic word “can do anything from getting a Soldier off the hook to earning him or her pushups,” the guide cautions. But while some Navy units have adopted “HOOYAH” and the Marine Corps now lays claim to “OOHRAH,” the characteristic road belong, always, to the Army.

But how did the primal roar became a mainstay of Army vernacular? For decades, the answer has remained a mystery even to the most devoted soldiers, and military message boards have surfaced theories about historical origins of the favorite battle cry. Here are the top four answers — as well as some real-keeping from a retired general:

It was first uttered by a Seminole tribal chief.

According to E. Kelly Taylor’s 2009 history “America's Army and the Language of Grunts: Understanding The Army Lingo Legacy,” one theory suggests that hooah originated with the Seminoles in Florida in the early 1800s, where tribal Chief Oseola was unable to say the words of a formal toast during a meeting with Army commanders and instead dropped a solid ‘Hooah!’”

Sounds like a stretch, but it’s a rumor that’s made the rounds in one form or another. One Snopes commenter swore in 2005 that they’d heard something similar on an American Forces Network broadcast:

A group of soldiers (esp. one specific general, but I'll be damned if I remember who) sat down to eat with a group of Native Americans. (When or where, I cannot remember. Why am I writing this?) Anyway, when they said hello to the Chief, he replied, "Hooah." Supposedly, he was trying to say hello back, but didn't speak English, so he messed it up.

We call shenanigans on this one — especially since Osceola (that’s the accepted spelling) probably spoke pretty good English; his birth name was Billy Powell. And conflicting reports suggest it was not Osceola, but a Chief Coacoochee who instead mispronounced “how do you do.”

It’s Vietnamese.

“Vâng” in Vietnamese translates to “yes,” but it’s pronounced “u-ah.” Service members and veterans on Snopes message boards often cite this as the origin of the battle cry, derived from years of fighting in the Vietnam War. Supposedly, because the Vietnamese soldiers answered “u-ah” in place of “yes,” American troops began to pick it up as shorthand for an affirmative.

This jives with Taylor’s own interpretation of hooah as “acknowledgment or agreement with hooah meaning “yeah,” “okay,” “sure,” “that’s right,” or “whatever.”

And our personal favorite: It’s an acronym.

The Army, nay the entire military, loves acronyms. And as far as ”hooah” goes, there are a few rumored explanations. The first reportedly comes from the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II, whose soldiers would reply to orders from their commanding officers with “HUA,” an acronym for “heard, understood, acknowledged.”

But across various chat boards, other origin explanations crop up: HUA really stands for “head up ass,” or HOOA, for “head out of ass.” It kind of reminds us of Mattis and the origin of his call sign (CHAOS, not Mad Dog).

It’s a Union thing.

A fourth, less mentioned theory documented by Taylor suggests the term dates all the way back to the Civil War, wherein soldiers supposedly shouted “hoozah.” But this explanation is also difficult to verify, as few other historical resources cite this as the answer to the hooah origin question.

The Army’s answer: Who cares?

In truth, there is no definitive proof of any of these “hooah” origin stories (the Army did not respond to multiple inquiries from Task & Purpose for confirmation). But even though soldiers aren’t learned in the historical birth of their battle cry with with any real authority — or even how to spell it correctly — they still know damn well what it stands for when they’re rushing into battle.

"I don't know how exactly to spell it, but I know what it means," former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan told The Balance. "It means we have broken the mold. We are battle focused. Hooah says — ‘Look at me. I'm a warrior. I'm ready. Sergeants trained me to standard.’”


The Pentagon will implement an "operational pause" on the training of foreign students inside the United States as the military undergoes a review of screening procedures, according to senior defense officials.

Read More Show Less
In this Nov 24, 2009, file photo, a University of Phoenix billboard is shown in Chandler, Ariz. The University of Phoenix for-profit college and its parent company will pay $50 million and cancel $141 million in student debt to settle allegations of deceptive advertisement brought by the Federal Trade Commission. (AP Photo/Matt York)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The University of Phoenix, which is owned by Apollo Education Group, has agreed to pay $191 million to settle charges that it falsely advertised close ties with major U.S. companies that could lead to jobs for students, the Federal Trade Commission said on Tuesday.

The University of Phoenix will pay $50 million to the FTC to return to consumers and cancel $141 million in student debt.

Some of the advertisements targeted military and Hispanic students, the FTC said.

Read More Show Less
Shane Reynolds, UCF Research Associate demonstrates an AR/VR system to train soldiers and Marines on how to improve their ability to detect improvised explosive devices. (Orlando Sentinel/Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda)

As UCF research associate Shane Reynolds guides his avatar over a virtual minefield using his iPad, small beeps and whistles reveal the location of the scourge of the modern war zone: Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs. He must take his time to sweep every last inch of the playing field to make sure his character doesn't miss any of the often-deadly bombs.

Despite his slow pace, Reynolds makes a small misstep and with a kaboom! a bomb blows up his player, graphically scattering body parts.

Read More Show Less
US Navy

The Navy has posthumously awarded aviator and aircrewman wings to three sailors killed in last week's shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

"The selfless acts of heroism displayed by these young Sailors the morning of Dec. 6 are nothing short of incredible," Chief of Naval Air Training Rear Adm. Daniel Dwyer said in a statement.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Melissa I. Ugalde)

Ah, Heartbreak Ridge, the creme de la' creme of moto-movies that gave us such gems as: "Recon platoon kicks butt!" and the tried-and-tested method of firing a bunch of AK rounds at your Marines and calling it a teachable moment.

Read More Show Less