If you have never been in, or aren’t around people who’ve been in, I would dearly love to give you a few pointers.
Let me preface this: I love it when people write military fics (be they AU or canon-fic). I love the characterizations, the story arcs you create, and the love with which you create the stories.
But I’d like to help you make the actions of military personnel as accurate as possible, so someone who’s actually in doesn’t start to read your fic and roll their eyes at some of the things you unknowingly write.
-First off, you do not salute in civilian clothes. It’s actually unauthorized. There are only two exceptions to this rule: the President is allowed to salute in civvies, and if the national anthem is playing outdoors, combat veterans are now allowed to salute. (That came about in 2010, for accurate reference.)
-Do not salute indoors, unless during a formation (but I doubt people who don’t have intimate knowledge of drill and ceremony would bother writing about a formation, so that point is mostly just thrown in for shits and giggles).
-The army and air force do not say, “sir, yes sir”. That’s a marine thing (I’m not sure about the navy, since I’m not in the navy, but I’m sure someone else could help out if there’s a question about it).
-Saying “black ops” isn’t really something we do. For the army, you’ve got SF (which is how we refer to special forces–the guys you’re probably thinking about (”green beret” is an old term for them that’s not really used anymore)) and Rangers for the two big special operations forces. SEALS are the navy force, and I apologize, but I don’t know the other branches’ special forces. Again, ask someone who’s served in that branch.
-People don’t usually refer to themselves (or others) by their ranks. Exceptions are usually made if hanging out with people from your unit speaking about a superior, such as “Yeah, LT and I were talking the other day and …”.
-Sergeants are not referred to as “sarge”. You have no idea how many people got the shit smoked out of them in basic for that error.
-Army goes through Basic Training (or Basic Combat Training now; BCT for short), and marines go through Boot Camp. Yes, there is definitely a difference in terms. Army people tend to refer to their initial training as simply “basic”. I don’t know about marines or other branches.
-Calling someone “Soldier” is really something only done on TV/film. It’s usually mocked by people who are in.
-In the army, it is against regulation to just stick your hands in your pockets. We mockingly call them “Air Force gloves”, though I don’t know if they typically put their hands in their pockets. There is also a big stigma against wearing “snivel gear”: the poly pro cold-weather protection gear worn underneath your uniform.
-The everyday Army uniforms are called ACUs (Army Combat Uniform). They are never called anything else, but especially not fatigues. If you’re going back to 2003 or earlier, the uniform was BDUs, or the Battle Dress Uniform. The tan uniforms worn during the Gulf War and first few years of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF; Afghanistan) were called first chocolate chips (gulf war-era) and then DCUs (Desert Combat Uniform).
-The dress uniform is called something different depending on what time period you’re going for. Saying “dress uniform” is usually a good bet, because you’ve also got Class A’s, Class B’s, ASUs, Dress Blues, Khakis, etc.
-Typically when meeting someone else who’s in, the first things you ask are, “What’s your MOS (military occupational specialty–your job)? Where were you stationed?” Giving out rank and deployment backgrounds out of the blue don’t usually happen.
-Time spent in the military is usually referred to as simply being “in”. “How long were you in for?” is heard way more often than “how long did you serve for?” That question is usually asked by civilians.
-There are enlisted, and there are officers. Enlisted are those who start out as privates, work their way up through the NCO, or non-commissioned officer ranks: sergeant (called “buck sergeant” in a derogatory term for someone who has been freshly promoted), staff sergeant, sergeant first class, and eventually get to first sergeants and sergeants major after fifteen to thirty years in. Officers also usually start out as privates and specialists, then graduate from college and commission as second lieutenants (the derogatory term is “butter bar” and is usually used in reference to said officer’s lack of experience and knowledge) before working up to first lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel (”light colonel”), and colonel (”full bird”). The general timeline is making captain (”getting your railroad tracks”) after about 5-8 years for competent officers, and spending 5-10 years as a captain.
-We do not stand at parade rest unless forced. Ever.
-Or at attention.
-When talking to an NCO, a lower enlisted will stand at parade rest. When talking to an officer, an enlisted will stand at attention.
-The highest ranking NCO is lower ranking than the lowest ranking officer.
-If you want to throw in some humor, if there is a lower enlisted (E-4 (specialist) or below) joking with an NCO, and the lower enlisted says something, the NCO can snark back with, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you because you weren’t standing at the position of parade rest.” It’s a dick move usually to call people out for that, but it happens often enough that if you put that in a fic, someone who’s in will likely laugh at that for a few minutes.
-There is a term for a slacker in the army called POG (pronounced “pohg” with a long o). It stands for Personnel Other than Grunt, meaning everyone who’s not infantry. The term has transformed to mean anyone who shirks their duty or is kind of a shitbag and should be kicked out.
-There’s also a bit of a stereotype that infantry are made up of dumb guys, because you don’t need a high GT score to get that MOS. Their nomenclature for their MOS is 11B (eleven bravo), which is often referred to as an “eleven bang-bang” when trying to insult them.
-If someone is making someone else do push-ups, they do not say “drop and give me x number”. They’ll tell them either to push, or tell them to get in the front-leaning rest. The front-leaning rest position is the starting position for the push-up.
-Usually referring to basic training and AIT (advanced individual training, where you learn your military occupational specialty), you get “smoked” on a regular basis. This refers to PT (physical training), usually in the form of push-ups, flutter kicks, and sprints. It’s not fun. One of the least favorite phrases to hear in basic is, “Platoon, attention! Half-left face! Front leaning rest position, move. In cadence! Exercise!” Because that is the full command for getting people to do push-ups. There is literally no other reason for the half-left face movement. It honestly exists only for push-ups.
-It is awkward as fuck to be told “thank you for your service”. It’s wonderful that people want to show their support, but it is very difficult to respond to that without sounding like a douche.
I know I said a lot about basic training in there, but that’s because I tend to read a lot of fics that are either about basic or about deployments. I can give some pretty firm answers on basic, but everyone’s deployment is different, and I also could be violating a shit-ton of OPSEC (operation security) by telling you guys specific details about deployments. Everything I’ve told you is information you can look up on your own on the internet, but this is a bit more insider’s culture for you to help make your stuff more accurate.
And if you ever find yourself writing a military fic and have questions, by all means, inbox me. I’ve been in for almost nine years and I do have one deployment under my belt, so I can give you accurate army info. I’ve never served in any other branch, though, but I can probably give you a little bit more accurate info than what the movies do if you’ve got general questions.
Also, if you’ve got questions about PTSD, I can help with that. It’s not the cake walk that a good deal of fics portray it as, and it doesn’t always involve nightmares and aversion to touch. It can present as depression, intense anger issues, pulling away from loved ones, driving in the middle of the road, freaking out over pops, bangs, crashes and other unexpected noises, being easily startled by things other than noises, hypervigilance, the inability to sit with one’s back to the room, sudden bouts of anger, depression, tears, silence, or mood swings, among many others.
-Also, please, please, if you’re going to write about someone with a disability, or something that gave them a medical discharge, talk to me about the VA first, unless you’ve got a lot of knowledge about them. Not only am I in, but I’ve also worked professionally for the VA, some of that time in enrollment and eligibility, so I know a lot about disability pensions, who would qualify, what type of benefits they would qualify for, etc. I also know the ways that people can accidentally get screwed over from the VA. (It’s actually one of my long-term professional goals to change some of those things, so I am very passionate and very knowledgeable about it.)
TL;DR: I know shit about the military and the VA. Ask me if you have accuracy questions.
“As part of Enduring Freedom, in March 2002 a joint military operation named “Anaconda” was mounted in Paktia province to surround and defeat Taliban forces hiding in the area. On the third day of Operation Anaconda an Army MH-47E Chinook helicopter was fired upon as it attempted to land on a ridge on Takur Ghar mountain. Taking heavy fire, the helicopter lurched and attempted to take-off to extricate itself from the field of fire. When the Chinook lurched, one of the Navy SEALs on board, Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts, fell from the rear ramp. Too damaged to return for Petty Officer Roberts, the Chinook landed further down the mountain.
“A second MH-47E attempted to land and rescue Roberts, but it too was fired upon and forced to leave the immediate area. The third MH-47E to attempt a landing on what became known as Roberts’ Ridge was hit with automatic weapons fire and rocket-propelled grenades while still 20 feet in the air. The helicopter, containing an Army Ranger Team and Technical Sergeant Keary Miller, a Combat Search and Rescue Team Leader from the 123d Special Tactics Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard, hit the ground hard. Within seconds, one helicopter crewman, the right door gunner, was killed, as were three Army Rangers. The 17-hour ordeal that followed would result in the loss of seven American lives, including Petty Officer Roberts.
“Technical Sergeant Miller not only managed to drag the wounded helicopter pilot to safety, but also orchestrated the establishment of multiple casualty collection points. In between treating the wounded, Miller set up the distribution of ammunition for the Army Rangers who were taking the fight to the enemy. For his extraordinary life-saving efforts while putting himself in extreme danger under enemy fire, Technical Sergeant Miller was awarded the Silver Star by the U.S. Navy, one of the few members of the Air National Guard to be so honored.”
The entire operation is detailed in “Not a Good Day to Die” by Sean Naylor, one of the best accounts of military non-fiction I’ve read.
AFGHANISTAN (July 7, 2009) An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Stingers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 113 conducts an Operation Enduring Freedom mission over the Helmand River Valley in southern Afghanistan. VFA-113 is part of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14 and is embarked aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Erik Etz/Released)
Watching in real time from the TOC as an MRAP is on fire, the platoon sergeant you just briefed hours earlier, and he’s stuck inside. Hearing his name come over the radio as KIA. His best friend a Sergeant First Class losing it and an E5 is getting him to keep his composure because we need fire missions..