|All Points West: Led by our tongues|
|March 18, 2016 Frank Marquez|
The Army prides itself on speaking in code and most certainly has developed its own lexicon with thousands of acronyms and unique phrases, enough to choke a linguistics professor. We in the Army, have built a rare language – many words and phrases having spilled over into daily or household use. Consider, being “good to go,” or “squared away,” both positive sounding phrases, which if you ever served in the Army, it often meant you received your drill sergeant’s blessing, and for that moment, you rose above being … well, you know, a maggot under the foot of someone’s boot. That blessing was often expressed as, “you are a GO at this station,” during basic training with “station” referring to a block of instruction, which is what the Army calls a class or course in civilian speak.
“Dress-right-dress” means everything is where it belongs, on the right hanger or folded the right way or marching straight in formation and not a gaggle. It’s often delivered as a command or order, as in, make everything “dress-right-dress.”
Then there are different ways to wake up. Long ago, lest I date myself, I watched a TV commercial in the late ‘80s which planted the seed for joining the Army. Since then, my career has become a long love-hate relationship. In the commercial, a young African-American private, after climbing a steep hill, looks up and says good morning to his cranky first sergeant, who grumbles something in return. The camera draws back as the Soldier sips from a tin coffee cup with the sun barely peaking above the horizon, revealing the high plateau, the day’s first light glowing on his face, a videographer’s wet dream. The narrator interjects with a slogan or catch phrase which obviously has stuck in my noggin these many years: “The Army does more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” Sadly, it rings true to this day – “Be all that you can be.” Often we rise before our bunks at “Zero Dark Thirty,” or “Oh Dark Thirty,” to do things other human beings could not match in their wildest dreams. This being a major accomplishment, because any accomplishment is a great accomplishment in the Army. There is no other word more versatile, though strangers who encounter the conversation might wonder if the word resembles more the early guttural utterances of man when he painted on cave walls. “Hooah” registers as a question, or an affirmation. Like the Navy’s “Hooyah” or the Marine Corps’ “Oooorah!” the Army keeps a subtle approach to celebrating a job well done, like firing a perfect score at the rifle range or making your bunk with pristine hospital corners, the blanket so tight, you can bounce a quarter off the bed’s center. The origin of “Hooah,” stems from the Vietnam era, or so I was told by a young Ranger captain who I met during my first active-duty tour in Panama in 1988. In some ways, I’d like to keep the word a mystery because saying it doesn’t belong in the mainstream. Who would understand me anyway? In other ways, I think it’s something Soldiers have earned.
While at annual training this year, I am working a 12-hour shift for a full nine days in a country which is technically still at war. The early 1950s conflict was stopped by an Armistice or truce which drew a dividing line called the DMZ or demilitarized zone between both the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or north, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) or south. There I believe was one of the birthplaces of the Army’s code, war, and its need for secrecy. In World War II, FUBAR was mentioned on more than a few occasions, and old veterans from that time can tell you; re-popularized for a brief two seconds in the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” one of the soldiers in the movie joked that it derived from German, frustrating a learned translator in this group of young heroes. The meaning later dons on the translator in the heat of battle, and accurately depicts most situations in war. Because we run a family newspaper, I can’t tell you what the first letter means, but the rest goes “… Up Beyond All Recognition.” A shortened version, is “cluster.”
There are other language differences between the services. You’ll never catch a Marine calling the “head” a “latrine.” Nor would any of us be going to take our meals at a dining facility when we can call it a DEFAC or a “chow hall,” or even a “mess hall.” Once there, at least during my basic training experience at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the KPs or Kitchen Police usually served something called SOS, and the letters didn’t mean you were sending out a distress call.
Here, we “augmentees,” mostly National Guard and Reserve soldiers, and from other branches of the military, have had the privilege of working with KATUSAs, or Korean Augmentees to the United States Army. Economy of language is my friend. We all have a tendency to think the letters are cool, maybe even poetic.
At the end of the day, and I mean that not in the metaphorical sense, it was “lights out.” At Camp Henry in Daegu, South Korea, where I have rested my head these many days, it has been lights out the entire time in our bunkhouses, lest we disturb someone who has worked all night. At posts or “military installations” in the old days, soldiers would stand watch. We called it “pulling CQ,” which stood for charge of quarters.
If you have been in as long as I have, approaching 21 years, for the record, you become accustomed to the language. It rolls off the tongue. It identifies you as having been there, done that. To quote a common marching cadence, “I have been around the world, and back again.” Getting back home was always my favorite part. But to come home, you have to go somewhere, and that I mean metaphorically.
You may not always understand us, but you get who we are.