navy life

How to Talk Navy: a glossary of terms

Do you know someone in the military? Do they seem to be speaking another language? Probably. Here is a general glossary of terms that may make communication just a smidge easier.

This will be a work in progress as I come upon new things that need explaining, or as folks ask me questions that I may need to answer more broadly. That being said, there is a lot of jargon in my everyday life that most people don’t understand or that I have stopped thinking of in terms of jargon. I’m going to share some of that here so that you, too, can translate some of the things coming out of your military friend’s mouth.

In No Particular Order:

  • Active Duty Service Member: 
    This is a full time military service member. The military is their “day job” if you will.
  • Reservist:
    This is a military service member who trains on a monthly basis but has a different “day job” the rest of the time. They can be activated and deployed as needed.
  • Orders:
    This refers specifically to the documents that spell out what the military member’s next assignment is. You may here them refer to “orders in hand” which means they literally have the physical copy of the assignment in their possession. Orders can change at any time. In my house we say they are written in Jello.
  • Billet:
    A specific position that an individual service member can be assigned to fill. So you get orders to fill a billet, if that makes sense.
  • PRD:
    Stands for “Projected Rotation Date” and is the day that the current orders expire and the military member is scheduled to go to the next duty station.
  • PCS:
    Stands for “Permanent Change of Station” and it means start taking inventory because guess what, honey, we’re moving. Again.
  • TDA/TDY:
    Stands for “Temporary Duty Assignment” and “Temporary Duty” and for our sake we can assume they are mostly interchangeable. If you want to get technical (which I’m sure some of you do) TDY is more typically used in the Army and Air Force.
  • IA:
    Stands for “Individual Augmentee” and is what you call the individual service member that is sent on TDA/TDY.
  • CONUS:
    The continental United States. This does not include Alaska and Hawaii.
  • OCONUS:
    Not the continental United States. This does include Alaska and Hawaii as well as any other international bases/ports/whathaveyou.
  • DFAS:
    Defense Finance and Accounting Service. It’s who pays the military bills, including pay to service members.
  • LES:
    Stands for Leave and Earnings Statement. It’s the monthly breakdown of a service member’s income, etc, including base pay, allowances (for housing, etc), taxes and other deductions, and any leave earned or used.
  • BAH: Basic Allowance for Housing. This is based on where the service member is assigned, how long they’ve been in service, and whether or not they have dependents.
  • Leave:
    Time off. Most active duty service members accrue 2.5 days of leave per month, which equates to 30 days a year.
  • Commissary:
    The military grocery store. They don’t charge tax there and often have items at reduced prices, though depending on where you are the selection may or may not be great. Bigger bases = bigger commissaries. (From personal experience, I used this way more OCONUS than CONUS.)
  • BX/PX/MCX/NEX:
    The Exchange, in different branches. (So, Base Exchange, Post Exchange, Marine Corps Exchange, Navy Exchange respectively.) Similar to the commissary but for non-food items. Think of Sears and Target and your local outlet mall kind of mushed together under one roof. You can buy cat food and Coach bags in the same store. I know.
  • Deployment:
    This one may seem obvious, but it changes depending on the branch of service your military friend is in, as well as the particular orders/duty station. It can be short (a few weeks) or long (over a year) but on average for the Navy it’s 6 to 9 months.
  • Sea Duty and Shore Duty:
    Okay, so this one is Navy-specific, but it’s exactly what it sounds like: Sea Duty means orders to a command that goes to sea (i.e. deployments) while Shore Duty means orders to a command that is always on shore (i.e. shipyards, instructor billets, etc).

By No Means Comprehensive

So, do you feel like you’ve got a handle on this? Let’s say your military friend comes to you and says: “I just got orders OCONUS and need to set up my PCS.” Can you translate? If you guessed: “I’ve been reassigned overseas somewhere and now they’re going to send movers to pack up all of my stuff” then you win!

Know that this isn’t by any means comprehensive, plus there are all kinds of terms that get thrown around that are slang, and I’m not going to try and suss those out here. If you really want to get into the nitty gritty you can check out this Glossary of Military Terms and Slang from Military.com, but know that the old adage about “swearing like a sailor” applies in triplicate to military members and their slang. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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