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10 Common Military Code Words and Phrases

military code words and phrases

For many of us, the world of the military is not only a place of unbreakable spirits and dauntingly brave hearts, but it's also a world rich with a unique language and culture. Military code words and phrases have permeated popular culture through movies, books, and documentaries, but their real significance lies in their use during operations.

In this blog post, we will share the meanings behind 10 common military code words and phrases that every military enthusiast should know listed in numbered, but no particular order.

1. "Roger That"

"Roger that" is one of the most well-known phrases used in the military, but what does it really mean? The term "Roger" harkens back to the days of wireless telegraphy and is spelled out in the phonetic alphabet as "Romeo." It was initially used in the NATO phonetic alphabet to represent the letter R but eventually took on the meaning "received." When someone says "Roger that," they're acknowledging that they've received and understood a piece of radio communication. It’s a signal to the sender that their message has been successfully transmitted.

However, the phrase has made its way into non-radio conversations between military personnel. An NCO can issue a directive verbally to which a subordinate might reply, “roger that,” which means they understand and accept the directive.

“Roger that” is likely the most widely used of military code words and phrases.

2. "Unass"

This phrase is a favorite of the ranks because of its flexibility of usage as a verb. For example, a troop leader can tell a group of personnel “Alright, unass and let’s get moving.” That means, in plain English, stand up and follow me. However, when used in the palaver of military code words and phrases, it can also mean something else.

If someone orders “unass that” it means get rid of it. For example, in the movie “Apocalypse Now,” an Army colonel on board a helicopter orders the soldiers inside the helicopter to “unass that shit,” referring to a flare that has been thrown into the helicopter.

3. "Oscar Mike"

When a military or radio operator says "Oscar Mike" it means that the unit he is in is on the move. The two-word phrase saves a lot of time and avoids confusing because just about every military person out there knows that Oscar Mike means on the move.

4. "Charlie Foxtrot"

Our list of military code words and phrases continues with this hugely popular term.

Without devolving into less polite language, this code phrase uses the phonetic alphabet for the letters "C" and "F" to stand in for a more colorful term. "Charlie Foxtrot" is a euphemism for a mistake or for disorganization, much as the services would use the term "SNAFU." The use of the phonetic alphabet in this way helps to maintain professionalism and decorum while still communicating that something has gone wrong.

It is also a way to communicate something negative without triggering the concern of the uninitiated.

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5. "Eyes on Target"

When someone in the military states they have 'Eyes on Target,' they are communicating that they have acquired visual contact with the specified objective or enemy. This phrase often indicates a critical development in a mission, allowing for coordinated actions among unit members. Visual confirmation helps to ensure that targets are correctly identified, and it's one of the most crucial aspects of success in military operations.

However, military personnel who pick this phrase from the military code words and phrases list can also have a good time with it. Asking a buddy to meet for wings, a service member might text his battle buddy that he has arrived at the bar and that he has “eyes on target.”

6. "Go-Code"

A 'Go-Code' is a set of predetermined criteria, instructions, or information that, when given, authorizes and prepares a unit to commence a mission or exercise an order. These orders could range from a planned airstrike to a rescue mission. The term underscores the cut-and-dried nature of military decision-making, where yes/no responses can carry life-or-death weight.

7. "MOS"

No military code words and phrases list could be complete without “MOS.”

In military vernacular, 'MOS' stands for 'Military Occupational Specialty.' It's an alphanumeric code that defines a service member's job or military occupational classification, much like a civilian job title. MOS designations are instrumental in assigning tasks, training, and promotions, and they help ensure that every individual's skills are used optimally in the war effort.

8. "Bug Out/Bugging Out"

'Bug Out' made its way onto the military code words and phrases list during the Vietnam War. It usually refers to the emergency retreat or withdrawal of a military unit. As mentioned, the phrase was popularized during the Vietnam War where it was used to describe the sometimes hasty and always challenging process of moving away from a dangerous or compromised area. In casual conversation, though, it can refer to any sudden, rapid departure, not just military operations.

For example, an NCO might ask, “Where’s the lieutenant?” and a soldier can answer, “He bugged out at 1630 hours, sergeant major.”

9. "Blue on Blue"

This phrase is as ominous as it sounds. 'Blue on Blue' describes an incident where one element of the military mistakenly engages another, often because of a misidentified target. The term comes from the historical practice of using the color blue to represent friendly forces. These incidents are incredibly hazardous and can result in significant injuries or deaths, along with strategic confusion and chaos.

10. "Wilco"

Short for "will comply," "Wilco" is a response to an order indicating that it has been understood, and the individual not only acknowledges it but will also execute the order without requiring further instruction. This term is particularly significant in situations demanding quick responses and immediate action, as any delay could have serious repercussions.

Understanding these common military code words and phrases offers a glimpse into the precise, efficient, and sometimes cryptic language of the armed forces. For enthusiasts and professionals alike, this knowledge helps to decode the immersive world of military operations and communication.

Remember, while these terms have broken into everyday speech to connote urgency or duty, their original meanings are a testament to the deeply disciplined environment in which they originated.

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