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By the Book: The Unofficial Language of the Military


Army.ca Legend
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This is US-based, but I've heard pretty much the same "terms" working with other militaries.

Words have meaning. When it comes to military language, some have more than one. Others, not so much.

In the late summer of 2005, I was in the final weeks of an assignment with the U.S. Army’s Battle Command Training Program, where I was part of a team running a proof of principle exercise in South Korea. After a year of organizing and training, we were finally demonstrating the value that a functional operations group could provide, assessing the performance of sustainment organizations during the annual Ulchi Focus Lens exercise. As the exercise progressed, units were reorganized as quickly as the situation evolved. During one such moment, a senior logistics commander ordered his staff to chop an organization from one command to another, something our operations group commander seized on.

“Hey, is chop a doctrinal term?’ he asked, looking in my direction. During much of the past year, I’d volunteered my time with several of the other operations groups, honing my skills as an observer/trainer. Along the way, I’d earned a reputation as the Doctrine Nazi, a derisive term reserved for someone who actually remembers what’s been documented in the Army’s seminal publications. In this case, the answer was pretty simple.

“No, sir,” I answered. “It’s not a doctrinal term.”

“Look it up, I want to be sure,” he replied.

“I’m telling you, sir, it’s not a doctrinal term. I don’t need to look it up. I know.”

“I don’t care,” he retorted. “Look it up anyway.”

I was never known for my patience, and I regretted my answer as soon as I said it. “How am I supposed to look something up that doesn’t exist? It’s not a doctrinal term.” Seeing his face start to change colors, I quickly added: “I’m sure he meant either OPCON or ATTACH. Let us check the order his staff issued to see how they interpreted it.” He stood there looking at me for a moment, mumbled something under his breath, and walked away.

Chop is a unique military term. Not a doctrinal term. Not a buzzword. But a term that’s generally understood by those who use it, misunderstood by those who don’t, and applied incorrectly by everyone else. Our military lexicon is filled with such terms. They’re so ingrained in our language that we often don’t realize we even use them. For example, nothing conveys the Leeroy Jenkins approach to problem solving quite like hit the ground running. Just dive in headfirst without any planning or preparation. It does, however, have the benefit of forcing everyone else to play catch up. But there are more. Many more. 

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