Welcome to the first installment of my new series: Military Friday’s! Each Friday I’ll try to offer some advice for how to write military characters or scenes in your books, using my own experience as a rifleman in the United States Marine Corps.
This week, I’m going to stick to the basics and tell you a few common terms used by grunts and what we called our gear. Getting these little details right is crucial to an enjoyable read. Keep in mind though that when I say “we” I’m talking about Marines, and specifically infantry Marines. If you’re writing about Army soldiers, some terminology might be slightly different.
First, an example of something we do NOT say: we never call grenades “nades”. I read this repeatedly in World War Z, an otherwise phenomenal book, and I died a little inside each time. No one says that, and how that got into such a wildly successful book is beyond me.
Now, onto some things we DO say. The helmet is called simply a Kevlar, and body armor was called a flak. So if your character is getting ready to go on patrol or something, he might be told to “flak up” or “grab his Kevlar”. Night-Vision Goggles are NVG’s, though I think the Army calls them NOD’s (Night Optical Devices).
And this one may seem pedantic, but we never said bullets. It was always rounds, as in “how many rounds you got” or “incoming rounds”. If I’m reading a book and a military character keeps saying bullets it’s a tad jarring.
Now for a bit of slang, the M16A4 rifle is often derisively called a musket, because of its unwieldy length when compared to the shorter M4 carbine. So a Corporal might complain to his buddy about having to carry a musket, and wonder when he’ll get an M4.
Ready for a pretty fun piece of slang? The US military has a semi-automatic grenade launcher that fires six 40mm grenades like a revolver. It’s official Name is the Mk-32, but we grunts simply called it the Doom Gun. Oh, and a grunt wouldn’t say “forty millimeter”, but rather “forty Mike-Mike”, because M in the NATO phonetic alphabet is Mike.
I’ll wrap this post up with a piece of slang not used by grunts, but used by tank drivers to describe grunts. While talking to a couple tank drivers in Afghanistan, I learned to my displeasure that they called us infantryman “crunchies”, for reasons I’m certain you can surmise.
Any words or phrases you’d like help with? Tools or equipment that you’re unsure what to call? Leave a comment below, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org! And thanks for reading 🙂