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What NOT to call your Service Member?

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Are you a ‘newbie’ to the military? Do you often feel overwhelmed by all the new military jargon and terminology? Don’t feel bad! The June 2020 edition of the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms has over 360 pages – and that doesn’t include the 1000s of informal acronyms and phrases service members use daily (see shortlist below).

Learning military lingo can be like learning a new language, but you can quickly hold your own in a conversation with your service member with practice. A great place to start is by understanding the differences in military titles. Each of the five (six if we include the Space Force) has its unique titles, such as Sailor, Marine, and Soldier.

Here is a list of titles that will keep out of hot water!

  • Soldiers: Members of the Army

  • Sailors: Members of the Navy

  • Airmen: Members of the Air Force

  • Guardsmen: Members of the Space Force

  • Coast Guardsmen (or Coasties): Members of the Coast Guard

  • Marines: Members of the Marine Corps

  • Reservists: Members of the Reserve

Want to really impress your recruit after graduation? Here is an official list of acronyms, phrases, and a bit of slang.

"I loved getting postcards from my family 3x a week. And after I graduated! I loved sharing photos from home."
Jay-len, US MARINE

Official acronyms

  • AWOL– Absent With Out Leave: not at one's place of duty and not authorized to be absent

  • CDR – Commander

  • CO – Commanding Officer

  • CONUS – Continental United States

  • COB – Close Of Business: the end of the day or duty shift

  • CoS – Chief of Staff

  • DD or DoD – Department of Defense

  • IAW – In accordance with

  • ICO – In case of, in care of

  • IED – Improvised Explosive Device

  • IRT – In reference to

  • GWOT – Global War On Terror

  • NCO – Non-Commissioned Officer: an enlisted person with command responsibility over soldiers of lesser rank

  • NCOIC – Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge

  • OEF – Operation Enduring Freedom: official name used for the War in Afghanistan

  • OIF – Operation Iraqi Freedom: official name used for the War in Iraq

  • OND – Operation New Dawn: new name for the War in Iraq starting in September 2010 to reflect reduced role of US troops

  • MOS – Military Occupational Specialty: job or career specialty (e.g., infantryman, intelligence analyst, operating room specialist, military police, etc.)

  • OCONUS – Outside the Continental United States

  • POC – Point Of Contact: the person to liaise with on a given matter

  • ROTC – Reserve Officer Training Corps (often pronounced "ROT-SEE")

  • R/S – Respectfully Submitted: used as an end greeting in written communication or email

  • SOP – Standard Operating Procedure: the routine manner of handling a set situation

  • TDY – Temporary Duty Yonder

  • V/R – Very Respectfully: used as an end greeting in written communication or email


  • Battle assembly – new term used for Army Reserve weekend drills, unit training assemblies, or multiple unit training assemblies

  • Boots on the ground – to physically be in a location (some may use this to say that they want "boots on the ground" for a particular project, which means they want everyone physically in the office, rather than having people call in.)

  • Drill – preparation of military personnel for performance of their duties through the practice and rehearsal of prescribed movements; members of the National Guard and Reserve are required to attend one weekend drill a month (sometimes starting Friday night until Monday morning)

  • Extended drill – extended time for drill in preparation for a deployment

  • Liberty – authorized free time ashore or off station, not counted as leave, also known as a "pass"

  • Ma'am – proper method of addressing female officers in particular and women in general

  • Sir – proper method of addressing male officers in particular and men in general

  • Tour of duty – time period during which a particular job or assignment is done (e.g., my tour of duty is 8am-5pm)


  • Above my/your pay grade – expression denying responsibility or authority (indicating that the issue should be brought to higher-ranking officials)

  • Civvies – civilian clothing

  • Down Range – physically in a combat zone

  • In-Country – physically in a war zone

  • Quarters – (a) military family housing, or (b) doctor's direction to stay home from work (e.g., I'm confined to quarters.)

  • Say again (your last) – request to repeat a statement, question, or order, especially over a radio

  • Stay in your lane – stay within your boundaries; do your job as commanded and trust that you will know what you need to know when you need to know it

  • Wilco – Will comply

Don't forget to send your recruit or service member a motivational postcard! will print, stamp, and mail your postcards 3x a week using USPS Priority Express mail. An easy way to keep your recruit 😃 smiling.

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