Military history

Glossary of Military Terms

AK-47 — A gas-operated assault rifle used in many Eastern Bloc and Arab countries. Cheap and easy to maintain, this rifle was used by Iraqi security forces, private contractors, and insurgents alike.

Battalion — A Marine infantry unit composed of three rifle companies, one weapons company, one headquarters company, and a small company staff. Usually around 1,200 men in total.

Call sign — The name a person uses when talking over the radio. For security reasons, the call sign is never the same as the person’s real name.

Cammies — Marine slang for camouflage utility uniforms.

CO — Commanding officer.

Company — A Marine infantry unit composed of three rifle platoons and one light weapons platoon. Usually around 170 men.

Company gunnery sergeant — The enlisted Marine responsible for all of the company’s training and logistical support. Called “company gunny” for short, this person is usually one of the two most senior enlisted Marines in the company.

Corporal — The lowest-ranking Marine noncommissioned officer. Usually has between three and five years of enlistment in the Marine Corps.

Enlisted — Any Marine who has not received a formal commission into the officer ranks. Usually, but not always, these Marines do not have a college degree.

EOD — Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Experts in the defusing and disposing of bombs, these men are called in every time a unit discovers an explosive device.

Fire team — A four-man unit consisting of a team leader, a SAW gunner, an assistant SAW gunner, and a grenadier armed with an M-203 attached below his M-16. Three fire teams make up a squad.

Flak — The Marine term for Kevlar vests that we wear in combat. With a pair of ceramic small-arms protective insert (SAPI) plates inside, the vest is capable of stopping AK-47 bullets. Without the plates, the vest will stop only shrapnel. Together, the plates and vest weigh almost seventeen pounds.

HQ — Headquarters.

IED — Improvised explosive device. The signature weapon of the Iraq war, the IED is a homemade bomb consisting of an explosive component—usually an old artillery shell or mortar round—and a remote detonating device, which can be anything from a length of communication wire to a cellphone receiver.

Kevlar — The Marine term for the Kevlar helmets that we wear in combat.

M-16 — Short for M-16A4. The brand-new version of the assault rifle used by U.S. Marines in Iraq. Unlike the previous version, the M-16A2, the M-16A4 features a rail system that runs the length of the rifle’s handgrips and upper receiver.

M-203 — A tubular attachment to the M-16A4 that enables the weapon to launch 40mm grenades, which closely resemble large, fat, stubby bullets. It can be found just underneath the M-16’s barrel.

M-249 SAW — Squad automatic weapon. A light machine gun carried by three Marines in every infantry squad.

NCO — Noncommissioned officer. The enlisted Marine leaders, the NCO corps is often referred to as “the backbone of the Marine Corps.”

OCS — Officer Candidate School. A ten-week program that screens college students for commissioning as Marine officers.

Officer — A Marine formally commissioned into the officer ranks. All officers must pass a screening board and must have a college degree.

Platoon — A forty-three-man Marine infantry unit composed of three infantry squads, a platoon sergeant (usually a staff sergeant), and a platoon commander (usually a lieutenant).

Platoon commander — A Marine platoon’s only officer and the man responsible for everything his men do or fail to do. He is the platoon’s formal leader.

Platoon sergeant — A Marine platoon’s senior enlisted leader and the platoon commander’s right-hand man. He is usually responsible for the platoon’s logistic and administrative issues, and he often advises the platoon commander before, during, and after operations.

PT — Physical training. The civilian version of the term is “workout.”

ROTC — Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. A program that offers college scholarships in return for military training during college and a military commitment thereafter.

RPG — Rocket-propelled grenade. The most common system is the RPG-7, a man-portable, shoulder-fired, muzzle-loaded antitank grenade launcher. A favorite of the insurgents, the RPG-7 consists of two pieces: the rocket warhead and a reusable launch tube. The warhead looks much like a half-sized American football with a finned cylinder protruding about a foot and a half out of one end.

SAPI — Small-arms protective insert. Ceramic plates inserted into specially designed pouches on the front and back of our Kevlar vests. Roughly as big as a man’s chest and stomach, these plates are capable of stopping most rifle bullets.

SMAW — Shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon. The U.S. version of the RPG-7, this system consists of a man-portable, reloadable firing tube and the rockets themselves. Much more cumbersome to carry than the RPG-7.

Squad — A thirteen-man infantry unit. Consisting of three four-man fire teams and one leader, the squad is usually the smallest unit that is deployed independently in the USMC infantry in Iraq.

2/4 — 2d Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.

USMC — United States Marine Corps.

XO — Executive officer. Usually the right-hand man of a unit’s commanding officer and the person responsible for the training and logistical resupply of the company.

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