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

History
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.’”

WATCH NEXT:

U.S. Army Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain is captured in this photo during a media opportunity while serving as backup crew for NASA Expedition 56 to the International Space Station May, 2018, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. (NASA photo)

NASA is reportedly investigating one of its astronauts in a case that appears to involve the first allegations of criminal activity from space.

Read More Show Less
New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen of the 24th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (CST) and 106th Rescue Wing prepare to identify and classify several hazardous chemical and biological materials during a collective training event at the Plum Island Animal Disease Research Facility, New York, May 2, 2018. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Harley Jelis)

The Department of Homeland Security stored sensitive data from the nation's bioterrorism defense program on an insecure website where it was vulnerable to attacks by hackers for over a decade, according to government documents reviewed by The Los Angeles Times.

The data included the locations of at least some BioWatch air samplers, which are installed at subway stations and other public locations in more than 30 U.S. cities and are designed to detect anthrax or other airborne biological weapons, Homeland Security officials confirmed. It also included the results of tests for possible pathogens, a list of biological agents that could be detected and response plans that would be put in place in the event of an attack.

The information — housed on a dot-org website run by a private contractor — has been moved behind a secure federal government firewall, and the website was shut down in May. But Homeland Security officials acknowledge they do not know whether hackers ever gained access to the data.

Read More Show Less
A U.S. Marine with Task Force Southwest observes Afghan National Army (ANA) 215th Corps soldiers move to the rally point to begin their training during a live-fire range at Camp Shorabak. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Luke Hoogendam)

By law, the United States is required to promote "human rights and fundamental freedoms" when it trains foreign militaries. So it makes sense that if the U.S. government is going to spend billions on foreign security assistance every year, it should probably systematically track whether that human rights training is actually having an impact or not, right?

Apparently not. According to a new audit from the Government Accountability Office, both the Departments of Defense and State "have not assessed the effectiveness of human rights training for foreign security forces" — and while the Pentagon agreed to establish a process to do so, State simply can't be bothered.

Read More Show Less
The Topeka Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Public domain)

The Kansas City VA Medical Center is still dealing with the fallout of a violent confrontation last year between one of its police officers and a patient, with the Kansas City Police Department launching a homicide investigation.

And now Topeka's VA hospital is dealing with an internal dispute between leaders of its Veterans Affairs police force that raises new questions about how the agency nationwide treats patients — and the officers who report misconduct by colleagues.

Read More Show Less
Jeannine Willard (Valencia County Detention Center)

A New Mexico woman was charged Friday in the robbery and homicide of a Marine Corps veteran from Belen late last month after allegedly watching her boyfriend kill the man and torch his car to hide evidence.

Read More Show Less