Wednesday, November 16, 2016

This is My Shit: Why Army Language Makes Sense


While I was in Iraq, I wrote about the word Shit as a pronoun. The post is here. Earlier today I was reading a book called The Zone by Sergei Dovlatov about life in Russian prison camps. Dovlatov wrote about a prisoner correcting a new camp guard about the guard's improper use of the word fuck.

When I wrote in 2009, it was about the difference in how soldiers use shit and bitch as a pronoun.  In that post, I noted that anything that will fit on a bunk is shit.  Anything larger is a bitch.

But I neglected the reason for the use of these pronouns.  From the moment a young soldier begins the process of enlisting, she is showered with acronyms and awash in the Latin-derived words of government bureaucracy.  Normal human beings cannot hear and retain hundreds of opaque new words and terms, so each soldier remembers a few new terms and for the rest says, "The sergeant told me some shit I was supposed to remember."

Then the soldier actually goes to basic training.  On the first day, soldiers file through supply and receive uniforms, boots, underwear, belts, packs, duffel bags, insignia, name tags, a helmet, and hundreds more bits of gear, large and small. These items could be identified by the nouns in the last sentence, but they are not.  The camouflage uniform is ACU: Army Combat Uniform.  The helmet is ACH: Advanced Combat Helmet. The belt and pouches for ammo and other equipment is our LBE: Load Bearing Equipment.  Our dress uniform is the ASU: Army Service Uniform.

When we were training for Iraq, our first sergeant would yell, "Line up outside in five minutes! ACH, LBE and weapon! Move!" My sleep-fogged brain would rebel and I would think as I pulled on my ACU pants, 'Why not call it a fucking helmet!'

For the 18-year-old, or the 56-year-old, hit with a blizzard of opaque terms the response is to identify ownership until we learn all the terms and think the Kevlar hemisphere on our heads is an ACH, not a helmet.  So we point to a pile of gear and say, "This is my shit." or  "That's your shit."

Later when the soldier is assigned a vehicle, a large-caliber weapon, or other piece of equipment that won't fit on a bunk or in a duffel bag, he will say, "That bitch is mine." I said that of my first Jeep.  A Jeep in the army could not be just a Jeep. It was a Truck, 1/4th Ton, Cargo.  Four decades later the Jeep's replacement was a Humvee or High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, HMMWV.

Either way, when I had a vehicle I could say, "That bitch was mine, I'm throwing my shit in it.


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