Tag Archives: army

“Never strike the last match,” 

“Never strike the last match,” 

Willie: O-o-okay, here’s another one that came from, um…Vietnam, it’s “never strike the last match.”

Me: What’s that one mean? 

Willie: Okay, that means if you have one match left in a book, don’t strike it. Cause people in Vietnam, what- what used to happen is, they used to smoke, right? 

Me: Uh-huh.

Willie: And it would be nighttime, and they’re in the jungle, and they light a match, and then people know where they are, so people start shooting where the match is.

Me: Ohhh. 

Willie: So there’s a saying, don’t light the last match…or, don’t strike the last match…They say it’s bad luck.

My dad heard this from a few different neighbors growing up, ones that had served or were close to people that had served in the U.S. army during the Vietnam War. In the context of war, it was rather literal in its meaning, given that revealing your location could very easily get you killed; but in regular life it would be used as a way of saying don’t ruin your plans before they unfold. I couldn’t find anything online about this phrase, but the closest thing I could find was the saying “three on a match,” which means if three soldiers light their cigarettes on the same match, one of the three of them would die. Considering the meanings are pretty different, I wouldn’t say they’re the same saying with different words, but they probably evolved from one or the other.

Military Ball Grog

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (GK).

GK: “I’m a member of the US Army. And we have a tradition at our balls, well I’ve never been to our balls because I’m a new member, but I’ve heard about it from my lieutenant. At a lot of the balls, a bunch of people come to these balls, hundreds and hundreds with their significant other, depending on the unit a lot of times they will have like a huge, a cauldron isn’t a good word, but like a barrel, and they’ll fill it with the grog. Depending on the unit they will put a bunch of things in it, usually alcoholic but they put other things in it as well. So like if a unit had certain historic deployments, like say they fought a battle at a certain place in france, then one of the things that they would put in the Grog would be like a wine that was made from that town in France, or Italy, or Germany. But it’s not necessarily a wine it could be a whisky or anything like symbolizing that area and time where that unit fought. Like I think the 101st, the Screaming Eagles who are like a really distinguished unit, I believe they have like some sort of whiskey that was really popular from the era in WWII. And some people just put some really nasty shit in there too, and they used to drink it after like basic training, or other ceremonies. After the hardest part of basic training they used to just drink a really disgusting grog, but they can’t do that anymore, obviously because of people being underage and whatnot. So there’s usually enough for one person to have a shot, like at least a shot per person.”

CB “So what do you think is the point of the grog?”

GK “Um… to get drunk definitely. But it’s a little bit more than that because it’s definitely a big tradition. And usually people will just throw a lot of gross stuff into it for fun, and it’s definitely for fun and a little bit of tradition. Also honoring, like usually they’ll do it with a toast to the president or someone in the unit who did something very distinguished that year, like for example is someone won the medal of honor.”

Background:

My informant just graduated from basic training, and is now at a military base waiting to start further training and specialization. He grew up with an older brother in the army and has learned a lot about army culture from him, and then from his superiors at basic training. However, he has not yet been in the army long enough to participate in a lot of the traditions. Because of this, he is more of a passive bearer with this tradition. The military ball is an annual event for a specific unit. They are commonly hosted right before or after deployment. It can act as a final farewell, or a celebration of their safe return.

Context:

I called my informant to interview him over the phone, and recorded the interview on my laptop. I had often asked him about his experiences since enlisting, and so my questions were fairly normal for him. It was a casual comfortable conversation with the occasional input from his roommate.
Thoughts:
A large part of the goal of a military ball is a celebration of life and accomplishment, as well as a way to offset the horrors of deployment. The grog itself is a way to ensure that the event stays lighthearted and fun. It would be very easy for an event right before or after deployment to turn somber as they think about their uncertain future or remember those they lost. The grog helps unite the attendees in the moment. It also helps overcome the divide between the dates and the unit itself by having everybody engage in the tradition. For my informant, the military ball and all the traditions that go along with it provides him with something to look forward to. When surrounded by so much death and uncertainty, it can be difficult to believe in a future for yourself. However, my informant would joke with his friends, discussing all of the gross things they might put in the grog once they get their chance. This provides a sense of hope for their future.

For another variation of military ball grog, see Rebecca Alwine’s article, “What Really Happens at a Army Ball” on VinePair. https://vinepair.com/articles/army-grog-bowl/

Army Proverb; Play Stupid Games. . .

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (GK).

GK: “A really common saying was ‘Play stupid games and you’ll win stupid prizes’”

CB: “And who would say that to you?”

GK: “the person getting you in trouble [laughs]”

CB: “So, like you’re superior?”

GK: “Yes”

CB: “Okay. And what did it mean to you?”

GK: “What does it mean to me? It means someone else fucked up and I’m getting punished for it [laughs]. No but, like thats actually what it means to me, but I guess you could say that it means that people try to act stupid all the time. They’ll be like ‘oh I didn’t know I had to do this’ or ‘you didn’t say I had to do that so I just blah blah blah blah’ when really common sense dictates, like in the real world you might be able to get away with that stuff because it wasn’t explicitly stated, but in the army they don’t care about that shit, you’re gonna get fucked up” 

CB: “Why do you think they say it?”

GK: “Its definetly like an esay way to remind people whenever they’re thinking of doing something dumb. Like ‘play stupid games I’m gonna win stupid prizes’ like you know, so you have to weigh the decision the next time you think about doing something stupid”

Background:

My informant just graduated from basic training, and is now at a military base waiting to start further training and specialization. He grew up with an older brother in the army and has learned a lot about army culture from him, and then from his superiors at basic training. As a newer member of the military, he has no rank and is often scolded and bossed around by all of those around him.

Context:

I called my informant to interview him over the phone, and recorded the interview on my laptop. I had often asked him about his experiences since enlisting, and so my questions were fairly normal for him. It was a casual comfortable conversation with the occasional input from his roommate.

Thoughts:

Once deployed, a mistake by a soldier can be fatal for himself or others. The military places a huge emphasis on the importance of following orders and trusting your superiors. This proverb serves as a warning against questioning or disobeying those orders. By using it when someone has made a mistake, it forces the listeners to associate that phrase with the punishment. When repeated, the proverb then acts as a perfect reminder of the punishment they might get should they make a mistake.

Army Movie Star Game

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (GK).

CB: “Okay so, do you play any games”

GK: “There are a lot of different games that people in the armed services play to keep themselves entertained during long extended hours of boredom. So one is like you name a movie star, and then you would go back and forth naming someone they were in a movie with. So like if I said Angelina Joli, you could say Brad Pitt, and I would have to say Angelina Joli and someone else. And you just go back and forth until someone loses the game, for hours.”

CB: “Where did you hear about this game?”

GK: “We played it at basic.”

CB: “What do you think is the point of this game?”

GK: “To stay awake”

CB: “What does the game mean to you?”

GK: “That life can be very dull and that you should never take for granted the entertainments provided to you by modern technology.” 

Background:

My informant just graduated from basic training, and is now at a military base waiting to start further training and specialization. He grew up with an older brother in the army and has learned a lot about army culture from him, and then from his superiors at basic training. A lot of basic training is about preparing the soldiers for any possible situation. This calls for staying awake for hours on end while engaging in mind-numbing tasks. It was in these situations that games such as the one described would be played.

Context:

I called my informant to interview him over the phone, and recorded the interview on my laptop. I had often asked him about his experiences since enlisting, and so my questions were fairly normal for him. It was a casual comfortable conversation with the occasional input from his roommate.

Thoughts:

My first thought when I heard this game was that it sounded incredibly boring. But I guess that is also a part of the appeal. The game is meant to be just enough to keep the players awake and engaged, without being mentally or physically tiring. In the military, your fellow soldiers can come from all over the country with different life experiences and cultures. The game provides a way for the players to engage with one another without calling for too specific of cultural knowledge. Celebrities and pop culture is accepted to be known by nearly everyone, and so it acts as a way to bridge the cultural gaps between two people.

Zzam-Tiger

Original Script: 짬타이거

Phonetic (Roman) Script: Zzam tiger

Transliteration: Leftover tiger

Translation: Leftover cat

Main Piece:

The following conversation was translated from its original language Korean.

All Korean men have to serve in the military, so there’s a lot of military specific stuff and language that most men know. One thing that I remember is the zzam-tiger. “Zzam” is a shortened word for “zzanban” which means leftover food. Zzam tigers are cats that roam around army bases and eat leftover food. They are called tigers because I think it’s a cuter nickname, and Koreans just love anything that have to do with tigers. Most zzam-tigers are stray cats, but quite often there are upper ranking officers who bring their own pet cats to their bases, so it’s a mixed bag. But either way, no soldier is supposed to harm or even remotely be rude to the cat. Besides risking insulting your officer’s pet, why would you just be a dick to a cat? That’s mean. Most soldiers are really nice to these cats, because they’re cute. Most zzam-tigers are treated as mascots of those bases, and all bases have at least one zzam-tiger. It’s like having a communal pet. And it’s really therapeutic to have a cat around, because these cats are really friendly. They can also get rid of rats, if your base has any. Similarly, if your base has a dog, they are called zzam-wolf, and seagulls near navy ships are called zzam-phoenix. The part of the joke is to call them stronger than they really are. It’s part of the fun.

Background:

My informant is a Korean man in his mid 20s, who had just been discharged from his mandatory service about a year ago. His base also had a stray cat that was beloved by him and his fellow soldiers. Military jargon and tales are very a large part of Korean culture, especially for Korean men, as mandatory military service is an almost-universal experience for them. It is a unifying thing that most Korean men share, and a frequent conversation starter.

Context:

The conversation took place over the phone. My informant was at his house in Seoul, Korea, and he was alone in a comfortable setting.

My thoughts:

It is common to find stories of animals living amongst soldiers all around the world. Most U.S. bases in foreign countries allow soldiers to have pets, and historically most navy ships and submarines had cats on board to get rid of rats. Animals are known for providing therapeutic presence, and for soldiers who have high stress occupations, having these animals around seem like an effective way to help them.