Military Lingo for New Military Spouses

Military Lingo for New Military Spouses
A close-up photo of a man putting a wedding ring on a woman's finger. (Stock Photo)

On the first day of foreign language class in high school, my teacher walked in and started talking entirely in Spanish. My classmates and I looked at each other nervously, wondering if we would ever get the hang of this.

That’s kind of how I felt when my husband came home from boot camp and started talking about the logistics of military life. PCS, Tricare, TMO, TI, leave, LES, A1C, commissary, BX and PT.

Huh? Back up, Teach, I’m already confused.

Even after 10 years, I still stop my husband in the middle of a story about his day and say, “Wait, wait, what?! What does that even mean?” Thankfully, he’s a patient person, because it happens all too often. For example, military time? Don’t get me started, it still baffles me. Everyone always screams at you to simply subtract 12, but, you know what’s even easier? Using my Military Time Converter app on my phone.

(No judging.)

For newbie spouses, though, there are several words, phrases and acronyms (I loathe acronyms, thanks to the military; I rarely even use "ASAP" anymore, because I’m so sick of acronyms!) that will make adjusting to military life easier if you just learn them in the beginning.

I’ll start with some of the good ones.

Military Lingo for New Military Spouses

Leave: Glorified word for “vacation.” Our spouses belong to the military so, when they are granted permission, they are allowed to leave and go where they want. Depending on the installation commander, troops under a certain age may need to fill out additional paperwork, or have extra restrictions, but for the most part, being on leave = freedom. Just, make sure to come back. If they don’t, then they’re AWOL: Absent Without Leave. And, that’s bad.

PCS: You’ll wonder how three little letters can inflict so much emotion. You’ll get excited, nervous, scared, sad, anxious, worried, excited again, nervous again and then exhausted. And that’s just in the first day after your spouse comes home with the news that, yep -- you’re moving again. They’re getting a Permanent Change of Station, and you’ll be headed across the state, country or world. This is the ‘travel’ part of the military everyone is always talking about. Love it or hate it, it’s happening. So, might as well try to love it.

Making rank: Promotion! Time to break out the champagne, because your spouse is moving on up to the big time! This mean extra pay and extra responsibilities. And maybe another PCS. Oh, and cake! But, did we mention extra pay?

LES: This is a Leave and Earnings Statement. It tells your spouse everything they need to know about their pay monthly. It details their taxes, their available days of leave and any allotments (automatic withdrawals from their paycheck to any place they might designate) they may have. It’s also something you’ll want to learn to figure out so you can make sure things are correct.

Related: How to Read a Military LES

Commissary: This one is easy, and not just military related. It means the grocery store. Just, don’t go on payday, trust us.

Shoppette: Think a Wawa, Sheetz, Circle K kind of place. Often they have a gas station and over-priced milk for when you’re in a jam. Sometimes they have random office supplies and laundry detergent. Oh, and the place to buy wine (and liquor, beer, chips and snacks). This is also referred to as the 7-day store or the Troop Store -- depending on the branch and the age of the service member or spouse you’re talking to.

Class Six: This is a wonderful place where you can buy booze. This is very important to know. Why is it called that? Well, here’s why: in the military, supplies are broken down into 10 classes, and the sixth class is for personal demand items sold in military exchanges. Alcohol certainly fits this category of in-demand items.

DFAC: This is what we used to call a mess hall, and is officially referred to as the Dining Facility. Why do you need to know this? Because when you’re spouse is deployed or on temporary duty (TDY) they may eat there. They also serve a kicking Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinner. And sometimes fun things like Mother’s Day Brunch.

Bonus tip -- here's a military word you're going to really hate:

Deployment: You’ve never wanted to cuss out a word until you hear this one fall out of your spouse’s mouth. It’s inevitable but never welcomed. This is any time away from their permanent duty station in a hostile environment overseas. It can last any length of time, depending on the branch and job and deployment detail.

Every other word can be gotten used to, made better by taking a different perspective, or enjoyed after the experience (truly, you can learn to enjoy the commissary, I promise, just not on payday!).

You will learn to navigate this strange new world of going through gates guarded by military police before making it to your house, and whole sentences full of acronyms and weird words. Before you know it, you’ll be using those weird words yourself, and your family will look at you strangely and ask for a translation.

Welcome to military life. We’re weird. And awesome.

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