19 February 2010

Acronym Soup

The military loves acronyms, and each branch of service has to have its own flavors of alphabet soup. Come Thanksgiving, the extended Sherpa family table welcomes Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Army National Guard, all sitting together, making nice, giving thanks, and rarely understanding what the heck the other guy is going on about.

Mostly, that has to do with language. Or maybe it's dialect. Whatever you call it when someone has a different word for practically everything under the Government Issued sun.

If we can't understand each other, how can we possibly fight? The enemy, I mean.

Of course, we do it to ourselves, too. Each service has apparently run out of good acronymns, because now we're recycling them. Consider, for example, my surprise when called to a recent meeting about answering our unit's "RFI," or "Requests for Information." That's what the Army calls formal questions asked on behalf of an entire unit. There were about eight of us in the room, four of whom seemed to want to talk of nothing but uniforms, boots, coats, sweaters and the like. It turned out that the supply guys and gals had been the ones to call the meeting. They wanted to discuss the "Rapid Fielding Initiative."

Same planet, different worlds.

There are other instances, of course. Nearly every year, for example, U.S. National Guard soldiers go on two or three weeks of Active Duty for Training (ADT). In the National Guard, there are also any number of Agribusiness Development Teams (ADT) deploying to assist Afghans with agricultural production and marketing. The Iowa National Guard--both Army and Air--will deploy one such unit later this year.

So, pausing a moment to do some acronymal math: It is theoretically possible for "a deploying ADT to issue an RFI about RFI during ADT."

Got it?

In my current Army training course, a Kentucky Army National Guard officer described his deployment to Iraq with this anecdote. "When they said they needed someone to go as an FSO, I jumped at the opportunity." The gentleman is in the Field Artillery branch, in which "FSO" means "Fire Support Officer."

"It turns out they meant 'Food Service Officer,'" he laughed.

Ouch. Pass the salt?


  1. Acronyns were the first thing I was hit with when we made the transition into the military. I have never seen so many! And some of them are spoken with various tenses --PCS, PCS'ing, PCS'ed. I actually found a "cheat sheet" so that I could decipher some orders once.

  2. The military isn't the only line of service that has acronyms that confuse. I am a Registered Nurse and was being oriented to a new job. On the board it was posted that every 6 hours we performed ICP's (inter-cranial pressure measurements) on various patients. I was very impressed as this is usually an activity done in ICU (intensive care unit) on head trauma patients with a bore hole in the skull to measure the swelling of the brain. This unit is a rehabilitation unit, so we deal with head trauma patients but I thought they were past the brain swelling stage. It actually meant ICP (intermittent catheterization program) to drain the bladders of stroke patients who couldn't pee on their own. Long story to say the same stuff. Thank you for writing about your experiences and hope you can continue through your deployment. lorraine

  3. @ lorraine: Your "ICP" observations stuck with me, and I couldn't figure out why that acronymn also sounded family to me as a Army radio-operator. Then I figured it out: While not a military acronym, the term "Incident Command Post" figures into nearly every flood, tornado, and other "Defense Support to Civil Authorities" (DSCA) mission we perform in the National Guard.

    Any DSCA mission is great but grueling work, and it never seems to end. Next time I get to participate in such a mission, however, I'm going to remember the catheterization "ICP"--I'm sure my buddies will think their Nat'l Guard duty a cakewalk compared with the medical alternative!

    Thanks for the good word! (In more ways than one ...)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.