Army code

by Jessie K on January 21, 2012

The Army is big into acronyms, so big that listening to two soldiers talk is like listening to two drunks try to recite the alphabet backwards:

“I took my APFT test then my NCO went AWOL. I took our ANCOC over at the AOO and then we all went out for KFC…”

I think the acronym OD is because the Army is, for better or worse, bloated and bureaucratic, instilling a need to make things seem more important and complicated than they are.

So instead of a “the gym,” the Army will call it something  like “the Physical Re-engineering Maintenance Facility,” or PRMF for short, even though “PRMF” is precisely two syllables longer than “the gym.”  And instead of “a backpack,” they’ll call it  an “all-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment,” or ALICE.  (“My back is killing me from carrying ALICE all day.”)

Nobody outside the military knows what the heck soldiers are talking about when they speak but maybe that’s the point. Perhaps acronyms are a deliberate form of code, a strategy for making the military seem more stealthy and secretive than it actually is.

I bring this up is because I received an email from Jake informing me that his “NCOIC for the FSD” has purchased a copy of my book, Rurally Screwed, for his wife.

I think this is good news….though I can’t be sure.

Regardless of the confusion, some acronyms have infiltrated the American lexicon that will never go away because they’re just that good.  (Readers with tender eyes may want to look away.)

Three of my favorites:

SNAFU:  Situation Normal: All F*&$ed Up   Sample sentence:  “There’s been another SNAFU with the mashed potatoes in the chow hall.”

FUBAR:  F*&$ed Up Beyond All Recognition     Sample sentence:  “Colonel Smith’s Power Point presentation was FUBAR, per usual.”

BCD:  Birth Control Device    See:  the Gomer Pyle-esque Army issue spectacles:

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad K. January 21, 2012 at 1:58 pm


If this was Navy, I would think NCOIC would be Non-Commissions (that is, senior enlisted) Officer In Charge.

FSD would be the facility, something-something-Depot, or something like that.

Since I left the Navy (1980), FUBAR has become Fouled Up Beyond All Repair, as well. And SNAFU is now Situation Normal, All Fouled Up. Another euphemism for the f-bomb is also “flame” or “flamed”. As in “Read the Flaming Manual” (RTFM), as advice to a new appliance or computer program owner.

After leaving the Navy I encountered work on a couple of government-related procurement projects. I believe the egregious naming is due to the byzantine and badly broken system we have for procuring material for the military. The contract, once negotiated by, overseen, audited, reviewed, and approved by various government offices, and the basis for annual review and advancement for various bureaucrats, becomes the significant identifier of that material. Thus “ALICE” would be for a class of item from a particular original contract, and would imply a specific dimension, closure, and pattern of construction, as well as the specific task codes and units authorized to place orders for, issue, and report lost, stolen, or damaged.

It isn’t the toilet seat that is plated in gold. It is the bureaucrats and the bean-counter-friendly, least-efficiency practices of Federal Acquisition Requirements. They would rather track costs than increase quality and usefulness, or to reduce cost. By act of Congress, building on the mess Robery McNamara invented under JFK. McNamara was appalled at the inefficiency of the procurement process that distinguished America from other nations, in WWII. And he fixed it, big time.

Be glad the Army lets their troops refer to a backpack as an “ALICE” and not the National Stock Number it goes by.

Jessie K January 22, 2012 at 10:26 am


Aaah, the CLEAN versions of Fubar and Snafu. Noted! Thanks!

deb January 22, 2012 at 7:09 am


We all had a good laugh when my Air Force daughter first debuted her BCD specs…..I believe they are the exact same frames….budget-minded unisex, obviously!

Jessie K January 22, 2012 at 10:25 am


Only the finest!

Jon P January 22, 2012 at 12:01 pm


We called the military issue glasses BCGs: birth control glasses.

Isabelle January 23, 2012 at 6:48 am


Wouldn’t it be fun to start our own mysterious culinary language? A SCC would be a Sugar Coated Cake, we could scream “who left a MITS?” (Mess In the Sink), or “Oh my God, an OCM again!” (Over Cooked Meat)… The possibilities are endless I fear!
NB: I kind of like the nerdy glasses. I swear there is something classy in them. Sort of.

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