Thursday, November 6, 2014

Military Terms, and Acronyms, and Rank Structure, Oh My!!

My book club read and discussed Heart of Annihilation last month. It was an interesting night full of great on/off topic discussions and plenty of laughs. However, a lot of my book club friends are not what I would consider my target audience. Some were not big science fiction or action/adventure fans. Others knew very little about the military and if there's one thing my book does well it's accurately describe a military setting. This is great for authenticity, but really hard on a reader who may not know anything about rank structure, or what all those little letter/number things are that people tend to shoot with. And don't get me started on the acronyms...!

So today I'm going to give a brief tutorial of military acronyms used in the book as well as other possibly confusing military terms and relevant rank structure. Rank is super important in any military book so pay attention! Remember, this is Army rank, which is almost completely different from the other branches of the service.

Military terms:

Civilian: Anyone who is not military. Sort of like a Muggle. A lot of you reading this are civilians. Clothing that is not a uniform is referred to as "civvi's."

Armory: Traditionally used to store weapons and ammo. Nowadays the "armory" often refers to the building that is the headquarters for certain unit. This includes a CTA (see below), offices, classrooms, latrines, storage space, and, yes, even an actual armory.

CTA: Company Training Area. Large area where the company can gather for formation (ie: standing in neat rows of squads and platoons) in order to take care of formal company business and ceremonies. Also used to gather gear, clean weapons, eat, and whatever else a functioning company wants to use it for.

HMMV: High Mobility Muti-terrain Vehicle. Also known as a Humvee or a Hummer. Different from the shiny, civilian-type Hummers, these are slow, practical, powerful and can even drive partially underwater and be fine. Very reliable and sturdy.

Deuce: A Deuce and a Half, or affectionately known as a Deuce, is a large military transport truck. They usually have two long, splintery benches in the back for sitting and are covered by a pioneer-wagon-style canvas tarp.

Round: For lack of a better word, this is a bullet, except that it is actually a combination of the bullet (think metal projectile that shoots from the gun), and the brass casing that holds the "bullet", and the gunpowder. All together it is called a round. These are the things you load into a magazine (see below).

Tracer round: Basically it is a bullet that glows brightly when shot, making if visible to the naked eye. They are very cool. The round Rose carries around is a Tracer. I pulled this information off of Wikipedia because it explained it better than I could.
 Tracer ammunition (tracers) are bullets or cannon caliber projectiles that are built with a small pyrotechnic charge in their base. Ignited by the burning powder, the pyrotechnic composition burns very brightly, making the projectile visible to the naked eye. This enables the shooter to follow the projectile trajectory to make aiming corrections.

Magazine: This is not something that has home decorating tips or celebrity gossip. It is the square-ish metal thing you load your rounds into so that you can snap the whole thing into your weapon and be able to fire constantly until the ammo runs out. I would carry a half a dozen of these in my utility belt when we were out training so I wouldn't have to bother loading them.

Weapons: (note: soldiers know to call these things weapons, not guns. A rifle is a rifle, while a pistol is a pistol. Calling them all weapons is easiest. I mean, just try to call your rifle a gun when a Drill Sergeant is nearby... You'll only do it once.)

M-16: Big ol' awesome rifle, although surprisingly light and has very little kick. It is wickedly accurate, especially in the hands of a pro. I used the M-16 A2 (which is the 2nd version of the rifle) when I was in basic training. It can fire a single shot at a time (one trigger pull, one shot) or has a function where you can fire a 3 round burst (one trigger pull, three shots). The M-4 is what is used most in the military now. This is the weapon we switched to when I joined my Special Forces group. It's very similar to the M-16 and the civilian version (AR-15), but has a retractable butt. I could go on and on. There are books written about these things. If you want more information check out Wikipedia's page here.

M-249 SAW: Light machine gun. Used by a single gunner. When I was in the service we were still using the M-60, also known as the "pig". It's similar to that. It can mount on top of a Humvee, or be carried. You can shoot it from your shoulder, but I wouldn't recommend it, despite what Rambo does. And I dare you to fire it with the ammo belt wrapped around your shoulder. Ouch! Learn more about the SAW from Wikipedia here.

9mm: Small, reliable handgun. A pistol (which means is uses a magazine). Standard army issue.

.50 caliber machine gun: Big, freakin' heavy machine gun. Has to be fired from a vehicle mount or from the ground on a tripod. Butterfly trigger (meaning you use both your thumbs to fire it), and has rounds as long as your hand. I have a pen made from a .50 cal brass casing. It's totally wicked. I sign books with it sometimes. Learn more here.

An M-16 A2 hard at work. The blocky thing sticking out of the bottom near his hand is the magazine. It is filled with rounds.


There are rank names for the pay grades. For enlisted personell this is their E-grade (E stands for enlisted), or pay grade (how much they get paid compared to others). For officers it is an O-grade (O for officer). Officers always outrank enlisted no matter how high the enlisted person or how low the officer.

NCO: Noncommissioned Officer. These enlisted soldiers have gone through an intensive Leadership Training course and are fit to lead soldiers under their command. They are smart and hard-working, but always need to answer to the officers over them. They are made up of Corporals and Sergeants. (Learn more about enlisted rank structure below.)

Officer: Trained separately from enlisted soldiers and are taught to lead while enlistees are trained to follow. They always outrank an enlistee, even a high ranking NCO. (Learn more about Officer rank structure below.)

Private (PVT): Very lowest in the military. E1-E3  Private E1 is the lowest of the low. They don't even wear a rank insignia on their uniform. Private E2 is just above that, and then Private First Class(PFC) is an E-3. Luginbeel is a Private E-2, just out of basic training. Poor, little peon... He probably just got his mosquito wings (see rank insignia below).

Specialist (SPC): E4, just above Private First Class. Kris Rose is a Specialist. It sounds special but it's really just the name of a rank, and not a very high one at that.

Corporal (CPL): Also an E4. However a Corporal is considered an NCO(see above). Therefore, he outranks a Specialist even though they have the same pay-grade. Thurmond is a Corporal. I like that it almost makes him and Rose equals.

Sergeant: Sergeants come in all shapes and sizes. They make up the rest of the "enlisted" soldiers. The first is your average Sergeant (E5-SGT), or "Buck Sergeant". Sergeant Sanderford is an E5. Then is a Staff Sergeant (E6-SSG). Wichman is a Staff Sergeant. Then Sergeant First Class (E7-SFC), Master Sergeant (MSG) and First Sergeant (E8-1SG), and then the highest of the enlisted Sergeant Major (SGM), Command Sergeant Major(CSM) and Sergeant Major of the Army (E9-SMA).

Rank Insignia

I don't deal with a whole lot of Officers in Heart of Annihilation, but the ones I do are important. Check out where Justet and the commander fit. It might surprise you.

Lieutenant: 2nd Lieutenant (O1-2LT) is the lowest of the officer rank. Often referred to as a Butter Bar (see rank insignia below). 1st Lieutenant (O2-1LT) is just above that. Justet is a 2nd Lieutenant. He's bottom of the barrel, probably just out of a college ROTC program and knows very little about what an enlisted soldier goes through for training. Technically, however, he still outranks any of the enlisted soldiers, although a wise 2nd Lieutenant will always defer to the advice of his NCOs. You can also see why Sanderford refers to him as "LT". It's subtly disrespectful.

Captain(CPT): O3.

Major(MAJ): O4. The commander (Major Jaimie Kuntz) holds this rank. "The commander" is an unofficial title used for the officer who is commanding a particular unit. Any officer could hold that title, not just a Major.

Lieutenant Colonel(LTC): O5.

Colonel(COL): Full bird Colonel. O6.

Brigadier General(BG): O7.

Major General(MG): O8.

Lieutenant General(LTG): O9.

General(GEN): O10.

General of the Army(GA): We'd call him a 5 star. No O-grade. There is only one of these in the Army. The lower Generals are also extremely limited.

Officer Rank Insignia

Then there are Chief Warrant Officers (CWO) O1-5. I'm not going to get into those because I know little about them and they are not relevant in my books. If they ever become relevant I will do the necessary research. Although I did know a guy once who went from being a Master Sergeant to a CWO....

So there you have it. By no means a comprehensive list (you'd have to go through Boot Camp to learn all that). If there are any in the book that I missed, or that you're simply curious about, let me know and I'll add them to my list.