For those who have served in the military, it’s easy to spot another member or veteran. They can do it from a mile away. Once you eat, sleep, and breathe the service, it becomes part of your DNA.
While many non-military folks may never understand, for veterans, these things have become sort of second nature to them. Next time you see someone doing any of the following, it might just be because they picked it up while doing their service.
Anything’s a Bed
Once you’ve spent a few years in the service, you can basically fall asleep anywhere. No, not basically, you can fall asleep anywhere. Civilians toss and turn when they’re forced into a situation where they’ve got to sleep uncomfortably.
If it's over 110 degrees outside and we’re on the ground in the middle of the desert? No problem. Someone who’d served in the military could be sleeping like a log, while the civilians around them lie awake wondering if they’re in hell.
All the Lists
If you served in the army, you’re probably pretty used to creating a little thing known as a chore list. In the service, these lists are the things that direct everyone to do their respective daily duties. And, when soldiers get out, creating lists can be an easy way for them to remember what they need to do for the day.
Lists lying around on the kitchen counter that says things like “clean the gutters, fix the dishwasher, etc.”? That’s definitely something an ex-military member might do.
High and Tight
Each branch of the service has its own rules and regulations about dress code, which includes haircuts. Female service members typically have to have hair that’s no longer than their lower collar line. Males can choose from one of a few haircuts, none of which can exceed three inches in length. At least, those are the Marine Corps’ regulations.
Sometimes, ex-military members are just so used to wearing their hair a certain way that it’s a hard habit to break. Also, if you’re in the barbershop one day and hear someone use the phrase “high and tight,” they were probably in the service. Then again, others can’t wait to grow their hair out (or dye it blue, or whatever.)
Spot the Difference
Normal civilians would never be able to identify black paint and boot-topping apart. If you’ve never served in the military, you probably have no idea what boot paint is. And why would you?
It’s not like it’s something that we need out here in the civilian world.
Scanning the Crowd
Like the walk, you may be able to tell an ex-service member from the way they survey a room or situation. When they’re in the military, they’re taught to read every room like a book, so they can be vigilant and spot any danger.
When they get out of the service, however, this often translates to staring intimidatingly at everyone. But hey, the good news is, if anyone really is threat, ex-soldiers will be the first to know.
You know how in some movies and TV shows, someone will toss a smoke bomb and disappear into the night without a trace? Well, military members actually have some experience doing just that. “Popping smoke,” means to throw a smoke grenade to create a distraction to be able to escape and extract other soldiers from a certain area.
In the civilian world, 'to pop smoke' is a slang term that means to leave a given situation or place. Ex-service members will likely still use this term to mean just that. And, if you’ve ever wondered where the phrase comes from, now you know!
Ten Minute Lunch
While you may get a half an hour or hour break to eat lunch on your job, if you’ve served in the military, you probably don’t need anywhere near that amount to actually scarf down your food. Nope, you need 5-10 minutes max to put down that burger, large fries, and a side salad, plus drink the entirety of your drink.
Eating super quickly is a handy skill to have in the service. No one’s spending time enjoying their MRE’s. Sure, the socializing and sitting down may be nice, but nobody has time for that when they’re on a mission. Once they get out, it can be tough to learn to slow down and actually savor each bite.
Do you happen to be visiting a new friend’s house? Or perhaps you had to stop by a coworker’s place to grab some paperwork and you’re wondering if they may have been in the service? If you see things like this stuck up on their refrigerator, you’ll know they have. You may see pictures, medals, awards, or anything of the like.
They may also have some stuff framed and stuck up on a mantle. Just take a look in the obvious places where people keep the things they are most proud of on display. Of course, sometimes they may also have all of that stuff tucked away out of sight.
The Phonetic Alphabet
The phonetic alphabet is used in the military. Police and other emergency units use it as well, so that they make sure to get things like license plate numbers and addresses right the first time. Whoever is transmitting will use full words for each letter. For instance, Alpha = A, Romeo = R, and so on.
For a former service member, especially those who worked in a radio job, it’s probably something that’ll be in the back of their mind for life. But hey, if they ever enter into a new career where it’s used, they’ll have a very easy transition into their new role. At least, as far as radio code is concerned.
They Walk the Walk
When you enter the military, you’re completely broken down in boot camp and built back up again to the military’s standards over the course of your career. This ends in ex-military members walking away (literally) with a sort of confidence that only comes from the kind of rigorous training and experiences that you get in the service.
The thing is, if a Marine and an ex-soldier happen to walk past each other in a bar, they’d likely recognize each other as former service members. Maybe that’s because they all walk like they’re on a mission. They might even be able to point out exactly which branch the other served in, just by observing their walk (seriously.) But there are plenty of other traits that give them away.
They Like to Stay in Shape
Working out is a daily staple in the military, one that’s programmed into each member from the very first day of boot camp. If you’ve ever wondered why those boot camp-style workout videos are so popular, it’s because it really does whip your butt into shape.
Most former service members still like to do some kind of tough workout to stay fit, and just because it’s hard for them not to do. Then again, there are probably others who can’t wait to not have to do that every single day.
One thing that always gets me when I watch an episode of NCIS or something similar, is when someone tries to impersonate a military member on base. If this actually happened, they’d be called out almost immediately. Likely because they wouldn’t be wearing their uniform properly and up to code.
If your collar isn’t on point, or your creases are non-existent, someone is going to say something. And that’s not the only thing that would get an imposter pointed out in a matter of minutes.
They Talk the Talk
There are certain words and phrases that military members in each branch learn during their service. Some are common throughout the entirety of the military, while others are specific to the branch. If two people at a bar say “Semper Fi,” to each other, it’s because they’re both Marines.
Some phrases sound close but are actually slightly different. For instance, “oo-rah,” is a Marine Corps motivational term, while the Army’s “hoo-ah,” and the Navy’s, “hoo-yah.” There might be other words and phrases that an ex-service member will use on a daily basis, too, including saying things like “negative,” instead of “no.”
The main aspect of bed-making in the military is the ever-important (or so they say,) “hospital corners.” Hospital corners are created by tucking the top drape of the sheet over the bottom at a 45-degree angle.
This may be a hard habit to break at first, but then again, others probably can’t wait to be able to make their bed the way most civilians make it. This is by hurriedly tucking in the corners and lightly laying the comforter over it, so it looks nice, but it’s also easy to crawl underneath.
While it’s true that service members put their own lives on the line for everyone in the country, they may feel a little closer to that sacrifice when they’re living with it in a combat zone for several months. Once you’ve been through times of war with someone, it’s got to be hard not to feel a special bond with them.
Even if they haven’t deployed yet and are just living together in the barracks and working in the same building – it means they’re around each other a lot. A lot. It also means they’re used to living and working in extremely close quarters. What may make a civilian uncomfortable is just any other day for a service member.
The National Anthem has caused a huge stir lately, as opposing political forces argue about the importance of civilians standing for it during sporting events. But one group that you’ll always catch standing is former service members. Like the flag, they’ve got innate respect for everything to do with the country they served.
Of course, they may not give two hoots about whether or not you choose to do so. Each typically has their own opinions and feelings on the matter, and some don’t care. As an ex-Army buddy recently said, “I fought for people to be able to make their own choices, not for them to have to stand for the Anthem.”
Keeping Your Car in Top Shape
When these eighteen-year old’s join the military fresh out of high school, the discretionary income they start to see burns a hole in their pocket. So, what’s a teenage service member to do? Put a down payment on a Mustang, of course. Just take a cruise around any military town and take a look at all of the car dealerships lined up around the neighborhood (among other staples.)
Unfortunately, many times, service members will end up either having to sell or trade those cars back for something more affordable and practical. The good news is that no matter what they’re driving, they’ll likely take good care of it. That’s because they’ve been trained to respect all of their possessions and keep an eye on them to make sure nothing goes wrong.
Shine Those Shoes
In boot camp, everything from your former life is taken away from you, and you’re handed very few things to begin your new one – one of which, is your new pair of combat boots. These boots are now entrusted into your care, and you’re expected to take excellent care of them. After all, the military teaches you respect, so what better what to show that you respect your appearance by keeping it flawless?
This, of course, includes keeping your boots spotless. As you progress through your career, you get your dress boots, tool, which must be polished, on top of keeping clean. When you get out, it’s sort of just instinctive to keep things clean – especially the things you wear.
The mess, which is also known as the mess hall, is where service members gather to eat their meals. The word actually stems from when “mess” had a different meaning that dirty, like it does today, but rather, it meant “food for one meal.”
The area is also called the chow hall in other branches, like the Marine Corps. If your former service member friend calls your kitchen “the mess,” remind them that your food is going to destroy whatever they ate in their cafeteria.
They Keep to Themselves About It
Usually, former service members don’t like to talk a whole lot about the time they spent in the military. This is especially true for those who have deployed to a war zone and been in combat.
Never, ever, ask a veteran about their time at war. If they want to talk about it, they’ll bring it up, but chances are, they’d rather talk about the microbrews that are on tap or the game that you’re watching at the bar. Or maybe they’d just prefer to drink that brew and watch the game, instead.
Posture is one of the easiest ways to spot a former Marine or another service member. They may walk the walk, but when they stop walking, they typically stand like this. That’s because the “at ease” position is a must in the service. And, as it turns out, one that’s inherently tough to break once you’re back in the civilian world.
Some other stances military members are all too familiar with include "at attention" and "parade rest". Luckily, they’re mostly in “rest” mode when they’re out in civilian land. But if you do happen to see someone standing on the street in one of these types of stances – you know why.
Keeping an Eye on Things
Service members are trained not to leave their backs facing an open room, where an enemy can sneak upon them. This one sort of goes hand-in-hand with how they scan rooms. In fact, positioning themselves against a wall, or in some other area where they can see around them entirely is definitely ex-military behavior.
As a civilian, having your back against the wall may translate to feeling like you’ve got nowhere to go. It can also feel like you’re sliding into wallflower territory. But veterans see it as a way to protect themselves, and the people they’re with. Although they may not actually mean to do it sometimes, it’ll just happen anyway.
Knowledge of the Flag
As far as what the American flag means to each individual service member is up to them alone. But each will agree that it represents freedom – and they’ll probably be able to tell you a whole lot more than that. You know how each thing a service member touches in the service is to be treated with loads of respect? Well, the flag is right up there as a symbol of why they’re even there to begin with.
In each branch, a color guard performs the raising and lowering of the flag each day, and it becomes second nature for service members to salute it. Of course, there are some people who haven’t served that will salute a flag, too, but the majority of the people you see doing it are likely ex-military.
The Way They Lace Their Boots
Boot shining and boot lacing are two entirely different things, although they’re both important in the military. An ex-service member will likely lace their boots a certain way. That’s because they’ve been trained to do it this way, and only this way.
Actually, there are a few different ways that are acceptable. To tie your boots tactically, you’ll use one of three styles: ladder lacing, Army lacing, and straight-bar lacing. All of these ensure your shoes stay attached no matter what external chaos you’re facing – not really a bad thing to have out in the civilian world.
Video Games vs Reality
Playing video games is one of the most popular pastimes around the barracks. After all, it doesn’t require standing, it’s fun, and you can do it while you drink beer. Why wouldn’t it be a favorite among military members?
Civilians may wonder why service members want to spend their free time playing a shooting game, but the truth is, even though the game is based on the concept of war, it’s far from being anything like real life. Everyone can get lost in a game since it’s all in good fun. They’re just a little better at determining what’s actually realistic in the game world.
In the military, service members are taught to use “sir” and “ma’am” to address their superiors, as a sign of respect. Unfortunately, these days, those words can really get you in trouble in civilian land. Even before gender became such a hot-button issue, calling someone “sir” or “ma'am” can make them feel offended since they feel like it’s being said because of their age.
It’s best to stick with a simple “yes” or “no,” or maybe “thank you,” rather than adding anything extra. Of course, in the military when they don’t use it, they get called out, so it can be confusing for them.
If you’ve been in the military, you’ve got no trouble telling time according to the 24-hour clock. In fact, it can be a tough habit to break once you’ve had it pounded it to your head for years. For the civilians around them, after they get out, this can be a little confusing.
Out in the civilian world, there are very few occasions when military time is used – although they do exist. Airlines and other public transportation companies use it to ensure there’s no confusion about a.m/p.m. Other businesses use it when dealing with a large base of international clients so that everyone can be on the same page.
Being late when you’re in the military is deemed completely unacceptable. In fact, expect to face some serious consequences from your higher-ups if you decide to show up a few minutes late one morning. Because of this, most veterans will typically arrive early to almost everything, just to avoid being late.
Plus, when they’re going to attend an interview, or going to work, they see it as a sign of respect to show up earlier rather than right on time. It’s usually not a bad thing to show up early – not unless the person who’s expecting you is still busy, of course!
My Rifle is Human
Each military branch takes its weapons training very seriously, but the Marines are particularly close to their rifles. That’s because, no matter what specialty each Marine ends up being given, they are first and foremost trained as a rifleman.
But, during basic training, each Marine is trained with basic rifle skills, and learns the “Rifleman’s Creed.” The full creed is pretty lengthy, but it starts out with, “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.” Thus, they basically treat their weapons as an extension of themselves.
Getting Up Early
To a civilian, waking up at six or seven o’clock is plenty early. That’s about what time those who work a 9-5 job will wake up to prepare for their day. So, “sleeping in” to a civilian means staying in bed until at least nine, and possibly up until noon or so! But if an ex-service member who recently got out says they want to sleep in – they’re still going to be up way before you.
In the service, they’re used to waking up around four or so, to go and run and do a bunch of physical training before their actual workday even begins. So, sleeping until six or seven is actually what sleeping in means to them. Most will eventually retrain their bodies to work along with their new, civilian schedules, though!
When you’re crawling through the dirt in boot camp, the drill instructors aren’t exactly coddling you by calling you things like, “sweetie.” No, you’re being called things, all right, but most of them would get bleeped out of a radio edited song.
So, you can imagine that when someone gets used to hearing and saying those things for years on end, it can be hard to let go. Of course, not every ex-service member (still) swears like a sailor, but hey, even if they do – who the (insert expletive here) really cares?
They Put That (Bleep) on Everything
Okay, it may not be Frank’s Hot Sauce, which is whose catchphrase that title is, but a lot of ex-military members do have an obsession with a certain hot sauce. If your friend or family member keeps wanting to know if there’s any Tabasco in the house, this is why.
When they’re in the field, service members eat MRE’s (ready to eat meals.) If you’ve never had one before, lucky you, because they’re pretty awful, for the most part. Because of this, they each come with a little of Tabasco sauce to douse everything with and make it more edible. Hence why many former military members will crave the stuff long after they’re out.
According to one retired Staff Sergeant from the U.S Army, knife hands are used to control the troops and inspire fear, awe, and respect. As soon as they arrive at boot camp, new recruits are introduced to the knife hand, which is typically accompanied by lots of yelling and being pointed at them in a variety of ways.
In more recent years, the knife hand has come under fire for being a bit too much. Naysayers argue that there are better ways to lead the troops. But they’ve been a staple for many years, which is why it’s so common to see an ex-military member use them (even if they’re not doing it intentionally.)
If you see someone standing like this, chances are pretty good they’ve served before. The “power stance,” is popular among military members who are used to using it in their daily lives. To the soldier, it’s nothing new, just the way they stand now. But it can look a little odd to those who haven’t experienced military life.
Just think about if you saw someone looking across the room at you like this. It would feel a little strange, right? To a former service member, it’s just something they do naturally. They probably don’t mean for it to come off as intimidating (though that’s how it may feel to an outsider.)
Wouldn’t you be a little confused if some car randomly honked at you while backing up? That’s actually common practice in the military. Everyone is trained to honk twice (honk, honk) when they’re about to move in reverse to avoid any collisions.
In some road tests in the civilian world, such as the CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) test, honking twice before backing up is a requirement. Some modern vehicles actually do this on their own now. Does that mean that an ex-military member may end up honking four times on accident until he or she gets the hang of the new truck? Possibly. But if does happen, at least you’ll know why!
Whistle While You Work
Days and nights in the military can be long and boring. So, it’s only natural that service members would try and find ways to keep themselves entertained. There are probably former battalions who could whistle you a full-blown concert if they got back together.
So, if you’re on the job with something who seems like they’re preparing to audition for America’s Got Talent with a whistling act, it may be that they’ve recently gotten out of the service. Of course, it could also mean that they’re just bored, or maybe even having a great day and can’t contain their excitement.
Staying in Line
Lining up is a big part of life in the military. After having it drilled into your head and doing it for so long – it becomes second nature. And, while drills are happening, no one is usually talking among themselves.
So, if you find yourself in line for something (like a movie) with a veteran, you might have to prompt them to talk. They’ll likely feel compelled to stand silently with their hands behind their back. Chances are pretty good that they will be staring straight ahead, too.
Pointing Out Flaws in Films
Just like in any other field, if you’re an expert at something and you see a film that butchers your profession – it’s going to upset you. In a lot of cases, the films will portray soldiers doing something outrageous that no actual service member would actually do. For instance, take the scene in Jarhead when the Marines all fire their weapons off into the sky.
First of all, real Marines would know how dangerous that would be (and completely avoid doing it so they don’t accidentally kill their fellow service members,) and also, that would get all of then prosecuted by the military and brought up on serious disciplinary charges. And that’s just one of many scenes like it.
They Salute You
Salutes are used in the military organizations to show respect to a superior or the flag. Let's be honest, while they're reserved for soldiers, they do look pretty cool.
Some male service members salute females as a sign of respect, even if they’re not military members themselves. Usually, however, the only civilians a service member would salute are figures like the president. But, if someone does happen to salute you, take it as a sign of respect!
They’re Not Huge Fans of Fireworks
Well, this may be on a case-by-case basis, although no soldier who has lived in the middle of a war zone is likely to want to go with you to the 4th of July fireworks. That’s because PTSD is all too common among former service members.
In fact, between 11-20% of veterans who serve wind up with some form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.) This state will make them feel like they’re actually reliving the moments that caused them the original trauma. It’s probably best to just skip the display and find something else fun to do, instead.