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Military Glossary

Language is an important part of the Military, from official names and acronyms to the colorful slang that has developed in each Service branch. Learning some of this terminology can not only help you understand what service members are talking about, it can teach you a lot about the history and culture of the Services.


Active Duty
Full-time duty in the Military.

Air Refueling
Refueling an aircraft in flight using a special plane with an extendable fuel boom.

Air Strike
An attack from the air by fighter, bomber or attack aircraft on an offensive mission.

Aircraft Carrier
A Navy warship designed to support aircraft, complete with runway and maintenance facilities. Each carrier has its own ZIP code.

Unloading personnel or materiel from aircraft in flight, generally by parachute.

An area prepared for the storage, maintenance and flight of aircraft (including any buildings, installations and equipment).

AIT (Advanced Individual Training)
Training a service member receives in his or her assigned military career field. Also called MOS School in the Marine Corps, "A" School in the Navy and the Coast Guard and Technical Training in the Air Force.

Amphibious Assault
An operation on a hostile (or potentially hostile) shore that involves both water and land forces and/or targets.

Amphibious Vehicle
A wheeled or tracked vehicle capable of operating on both land and water.

An individual applying to join a Service but who has not yet enlisted at MEPS.

Armed Forces
A term used to describe the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard including Active, Reserve and Guard components.

Army Combat Uniform (ACU)
A digitally patterned work uniform worn by Soldiers. The uniform includes a jacket, trousers, a patrol cap, a moisture-wicking T-shirt and boots.

ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery)
A multiple-choice exam that helps determine which careers are a good fit for an individual.


BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing)
Tax-free funds a service member receives to cover off-base housing expenses. The amount varies based on a service member's local cost of living and whether the service member has dependents.

On-base housing for service members, often similar to college dormitories.

Base Pay
A service member's take-home pay, not including allowances or special pays.

Basic Training
A program that prepares recruits for all elements of military service. Called Basic Combat Training (BCT) in the Army, Recruit Training in the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, Boot Camp in the Navy and Basic Military Training (BMT) in the Air Force.

Beach Party
A Navy unit that facilitates ship-to-shore movement and provides initial combat support and combat service support to the landing force.

Black List
An official list of enemy collaborators, sympathizers and intelligence suspects.

Boatswain's Mate
A rating used in the Navy and Coast Guard for members who are masters of seamanship. Boatswain's Mates supervise the ship's deck force, and they are experts at navigation and small boat operations.

Bona Fides
"In good faith" in Latin. Information that serves to guarantee a person's reputation.

Boot Camp
Another term for Basic Training, especially in the Navy.

BRM (Basic Rifle Marksmanship)
A course during Basic Training in which service members learn how to operate a rifle.

Buffer Zone
An area in which disputing forces cannot operate, often controlled by a peace operations force.

BX (Base Exchange)
A store where service members can buy, among other things, household items, electronics and clothing. Also known as a Post Exchange (PX) on Army posts, Navy Exchange (NEX) on Navy installations, Marine Corps Exchange (MCX) on Marine Corps installations and Coast Guard Exchange (CGX) on Coast Guard installations.


To remove usable parts from one piece of equipment and use them in another.

A watercraft similar in design to a barge, but longer and narrower, designed to assist in the discharge and transport of cargo from other watercraft.
CBRN Defense (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense)
Measures taken to minimize the effects of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident on service members and civilian populations.

A small division within a larger organization.

A piece of paper that makes a request, such as asking for a day off.

The authority that a commander in the Armed Forces has over subordinates by virtue of rank or assignment.

Commercial Items
Products made for civilians but bought for military purposes.

Commercial Vehicle
A vehicle made for civilians but bought for military purposes.

A military grocery store that sells items to service members tax-free and close to wholesale cost.

Ships or vehicles traveling together for any reason, including support, safety or a shared destination.

A response by a defending force intended to seize the initiative from the attacking force.

A person in charge of a small boat or craft.


Moving forces into a formation for battle or relocating service members and equipment to an operational area.

Participants in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP), in which recruits commit to a Service but delay Basic Training for up to one year.

Direct Commission Officers (DCOs)
Officers who are commissioned without having to go to Basic Training because of their specialized skills or professional degrees.

Drill Weekend
The weekend each month during which some reservists and Guard members train.

A land, sea or air vehicle that is operated by remote control or programmed to run automatically.


Field Artillery
Equipment, supplies, ammunition and personnel involved in the use of cannon, rocket or surface-to-surface missile launchers.

Field Training Exercise (FTX)
An exercise in which training units are pitted against actual forces to learn warfare skills.

An organization of ships, aircraft, marine forces and shore-based fleet activities all under the same commander.

Flight Deck
The upper deck of an aircraft carrier that serves as a runway.

The line where two opposing forces meet.


Guided Missile
An unmanned missile whose trajectory can be altered by an external or internal mechanism.


HMMWV (High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle)
A light diesel-powered, four-wheel-drive vehicle that can be used over all types of roads, in all weather conditions. Also called a "Humvee."

An all-purpose military battle cry that stands for "Heard, Understood and Acknowledged."

A cannon that combines certain characteristics of guns and mortars.


IED (Improvised Explosive Device)
A homemade bomb that is designed by insurgents to destroy, incapacitate, harass or distract.

Service members who specialize in land combat.

The organized use of subversion and violence by a group or movement that seeks to overthrow or force change upon a government.

IRR (Individual Ready Reserve)
Service members who have completed the active portion of their service obligation, but may be recalled to Active Duty in times of need until their eight-year total commitment has expired.


JAG Corps (Judge Advocate General)
The judicial branch for each of the Services.

Activities, operations or organizations in which elements of two or more Services participate.

The person who commands paratroops from the time they enter the aircraft until they exit.


A basket or frame used to transport injured people.

An Air Force technician qualified to plan and supervise loading and unloading of aircraft.

Planning and executing the movement and support of forces.


An assault rifle that has been used in combat since the 1960s and can switch between semiautomatic and automatic modes. Recruits train with the M16 during Basic Training and may later use it during a mission.

All of the items that equip, operate, maintain and support military activities.

MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station)
A joint-Service organization that determines an applicant's eligibility as set by each branch of military service. Qualified applicants swear an oath of enlistment and become recruits at the end of their visit to a MEPS.

MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit)
A Marine air-ground task force that can respond to a crisis immediately and engage in limited combat.

Assembling and organizing resources, including people and equipment, to support missions in time of war or other emergencies.

MOS (Military Occupational Specialty)
The official term for a service member's job in the Army and the Marine Corps. Referred to as "rate" in the Navy and Coast Guard and "specialty" in the Air Force.

MPs (Military Police)
Police on base who protect fellow service members, enforce laws and respond to emergency situations.

MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat)
A prepackaged meal that comes with a Flameless Ration Heater (FRH) so service members can have a hot meal quickly, without fire.


National Security
A collective term for both national defense and foreign relations of the United States.

NCO (Noncommissioned Officer)
Higher-ranking enlisted personnel who lead, train and advise lower-ranking enlisted personnel.


OCS (Officer Candidate School)
Essentially the equivalent of enlisted Basic Training for those interested in becoming officers. Also called "Officer Training School (OTS)" in the Air Force and "The Basic School (TBS)" for the Marine Corps.

Explosives, chemicals, pyrotechnics and similar stores, e.g., bombs, guns and ammunition, flares, smoke or napalm.


Pararescue Team
Specially trained personnel qualified to penetrate an area by land or parachute, render medical aid and rescue survivors.

A detachment of ground, sea or air forces sent out to gather information or carry out a mission.

The sum of the weight of passengers and cargo that an aircraft can carry.

Military operations designed to facilitate a cease-fire, truce or other such agreement and to support diplomatic efforts.

Personal Effects
All privately owned, moveable, personal property of an individual.

PIR (Pass-in-Review)
An exercise for all Services in which service members march past a commander for an inspection.

A recruit who has enlisted but who has not yet shipped to Basic Training.

Post-9/11 GI Bill
An education benefits package for veterans that provides tuition and benefits, a living stipend and an allowance for books and supplies.

PT (Physical Training)
A term describing the daily exercises that service members perform to stay fit.

Pugil Sticks
Large sticks with padding on each end that recruits use to learn fighting skills during Basic Training.


Rest and recuperation. Time off work given to service members so they can relax and replenish.

Where Sailors sleep and store their personal items.

A service member's seniority level (for example "Private," "Sergeant" or "Lieutenant"). Terminology for each rank varies by Service.

The official term for a Sailor's occupational specialty in the Navy and Coast Guard.

A mission to gather information about the activities and resources of an enemy or adversary.

An individual who has visited MEPS and has qualified for service but who has not yet graduated from Basic Training.

Service members who are not typically on full-time active service but who are subject to be called to Active Duty if needed.

The bugle call that wakes up service members in the morning.

ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps)
A program offered at many colleges and universities that prepares undergraduates to become officers in the Military.


Service members in a Navy Construction Battalion (CB).

SEALs (Sea-Air-Land)
Navy special operations forces that train to handle the toughest of missions, ranging from counterterrorism operations to underwater demolition.

A recruit who goes straight to Basic Training after MEPS.

Shore Party
A group formed to facilitate the landing and movement of troops, equipment and supplies.

Space Available Travel
A program that allows service members and their immediate families to fly for free when seats on routine military flights are open. Also called "Space A Travel."

Special Forces
Military forces organized, trained and equipped to conduct special operations with an emphasis on unconventional warfare capabilities. For example, Navy SEALs or Army Rangers.


Tactical Air Control Party
Air control specialists who advise ground commanders on the best use of air power.

Task Force
A temporary grouping of units for the purpose of carrying out a specific operation or mission.

Training Unit
An organization established to provide military training.


Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
Vehicles that can fly automatically or be piloted by remote control surveillance or combat missions.


Warrant Officers
A service member assigned officer status for advanced skills in his or her career field.

An aviator who flies behind and helps protect a section leader during an Air Force mission.


Zulu Time
Another term for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), a standard time that applies for all time zones. This information is often used by air traffic controllers and is crucial for coordinating combat missions.