17 Common Military Terms Most People Don’t Know

Some military terms are more well-known than others and have permeated popular culture. However, many terms that are commonly used by service members are rarely understood by the public. Here are 17 of those common military terms that most people aren’t familiar with.


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“Absent Without Leave,” or AWOL, refers to service members who are absent from their post or duty but have not deserted. The Military Justice Center notes, “While going AWOL is less serious than desertion, it is still an issue that could lead to significant repercussions.”


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This acronym stands for “Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition,” describing a situation that has gone terribly wrong. Originating in World War II among American soldiers, the term was part of the lexicon of management consultants by the 1970s.

Bravo Zulu

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IAEM defines Bravo Zulu, a naval signal, as “conveyed by flag-hoist or voice radio, meaning ‘well done,’ and notes that “it has also passed into the spoken and written vocabulary.” Derived from the NATO phonetic alphabet, where “Bravo” and “Zulu” represent the letters “B” and “Z,” this phrase has extended into civilian use.


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LZ stands for “landing zone,” an area designated for aircraft landing, especially in combat and hostile environments. The zone is carefully chosen to minimize exposure to enemy fire and often to accommodate specific aircraft with preparatory bombardments to ensure safety.

Oscar Mike

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This military slang means “on the move” and, like Bravo Zulu, originates from the NATO phonetic alphabet. Using the term indicates that a unit or individual is moving from one location to another or is actively progressing on a mission. It can be used in various operational scenarios, from repositioning troops on the battlefield to convoys moving supplies.


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The “rules of engagement,” or ROE, are defined by Britannica as “military directives meant to describe the circumstances under which ground, naval, and air forces will enter into and continue combat with opposing forces.” ROE is designed to minimize collateral damage and prevent unlawful conduct during military operations and can vary greatly depending on the mission.


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Originally a nautical term for a cask of drinking water, scuttlebutt is now used to mean rumors or gossip within the military community. The term evolved from referring to a water tank to conversations around it, like modern-day water cooler chat in the office.

Tango Mike

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Chicago Communications defines Tango Mike as meaning “thanks much.” This term, derived from the NATO phonetic alphabet, is a quick, efficient way to express gratitude and is often used in radio communications and casual conversation among military personnel. The term is commonly used in both formal and informal settings.


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This term is used to denote targets, points, or individuals and is derived from the NATO phonetic alphabet for the letter “X.” X-ray is used in various contexts, for example, when identifying specific locations on a map or particular individuals in a unit.

Zulu Time

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Time and Date defines “Zulu Time as the military name for UTC and is used primarily in aviation, at sea, and in the army.” Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is used to avoid confusion across time zones and ensures synchronization of operations, planning, and logistics in a global context where multiple time zones are involved.

Charlie Mike

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This military term means “continue mission,” derived from the NATO phonetic alphabet. It is used to confirm that the task or mission should proceed as planned despite difficulties or unexpected interruptions.


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An echelon formation is a diagonal arrangement of units. Collins Dictionary defines it as “a military formation in which soldiers, vehicles, ships, or aircraft follow each other but are spaced out sideways so that they can see ahead.”

Five by Five

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This term is used to indicate that a radio transmission has been received clearly and loudly. The term originates from a scale used to rate the quality of radio communications, where “five” is the highest rating for both clarity and volume, and has permeated popular culture.


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This slang term for pilot is often used affectionately or informally within the aviation community of the military. Jocko applies to both fixed-wing aircraft pilots and helicopter pilots, reflecting the close-knit community and unique culture among military aviators.


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Indeed defines “klick” as “a term used by the military to denote one kilometer or 1,000 meters, 0.6214 miles or 3,280.84 feet.” Commonly used in ground operations, this term facilitates quick, concise communication, which is especially important during movements or engagements.


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Standing for “meal, ready-to-eat,” an MRE is a self-contained, individual field ration contained in lightweight packaging bought by the U.S. military for its service members. Typical components of an MRE include an entrée, side dish, bread, spread, dessert, beverage, and a flameless ration heater.


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This acronym stands for “person other than grunt,” slang for military personnel who are not infantrymen. Military.com notes that “the term comes from the word ‘pogue,’ which is Gaelic for ‘kiss,’” originating as a term used by sailors of Irish descent during the American Civil War to describe soldiers who never left shore.

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