Tag Archives: military

What’s the BLUF?

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 50
Occupation: JAG Military Lawyer
Residence: Arlington VA
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/16/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Abstract:

This piece is about the BLUF acronym that is used in the military law career when giving information to commanders.

Main Piece:

I had a career in the military, in the Army as a lawyer, and one of the things in the Army is that there is not always a lot of time for like long explanations or details when you’re working with a commander and what they always say is “what’s the BLUF?” And BLUF is bottom line up front. So basically, you might want like as a lawyer three pages of analysis, but they’re like “give me the BLUF.” And that’s just like “okay. Yes you can do it and here’s why.” And you always have to put the BLUF at the beginning of any papers you write or any information you give.”

Context:

The informant has had a 25 year long career in the JAG branch of the Army and picked up this lingo as part of her job. She has worked under many commanders and used quick lingo such as BLUF in daily language at the offices. The subject has lived all over due to her military career, from Hawaii, Kansas, Virginia, and Germany. She is originally from Buffalo New York. She says she remembers this particular acronym and saying because it was used so often.

My Interpretation:

Growing up in a military family as well, I definitely see how this phrase/acronym could be used in daily language. My parents would speak in codes that seemed like a different language. Hearing one of the phrases explained is interesting for me, almost like learning a definition for a word you should know, but were always too afraid to ask because it seems like common knowledge. I think if you are around this kind of phrase everyday, then it is just common knowledge. For civilians, I never hear this phrase being used in the work environment.

Shellback Initiation – A Navy Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese
Age: 50
Occupation: Financial Management Analyst
Residence: Ewa Beach, HI
Date of Performance/Collection: April 14, 2019
Primary Language: Vietnamese
Other Language(s): English

Item:

T: So that’s a- that’s where you crossing- you ride the ship til you’re crossing the equator.

Q: Uh-huh.

T:  So once you cross the equator you see King Neptune, you have to do the ceremony to become a shellback.  Once you become a shellback, next time, when you cross the equator with the new sailors, you’re gonna make them do things, so they have to go through the initiation, like, similar to that to become a shellback.  Like you have to wash the deck.  What we did is we.. what I did was we.. crawl through the ship, crawl through got sprayed water on, got jumped dunked in the water, all the stuff to become a shellback.  When you become a shellback, you better not lose your certificate or else you cannot prove it.

Q: There’s a certificate for it?

T: Yup.

T: If you cross the equator at the International Dateline, then you become a golden shell back.

Q: Is there like a worse initiation for that?

T: No, it’s the same, it’s just that you’re crossing the International Dateline instead of other place.

Q: What does the certificate look like?

T: Big.  You carry the ID card too.  I don’t know where I put my ID card.  If I go back to the ship, I have to do it again. [Laughs]

T: Back when- when it was 2013 on my deployment, I was a shellback so I was getting other people to go through it to become a shellback.  Make them dress funny, make them do things, spray water on them.  Dump into a blue- green water.  Yenno the neon sticks, the glow stick?  You break that stick into a water tank and make that water turn green.

 

Context:

I collected this piece in a conversation with a retired Senior Chief Petty Officer of the U.S. Navy about his experiences during active duty.  He recalled the shellback initiation above as a humorous tradition amongst those who are stationed on a ship that crosses the equator.  The informant mentioned how those who were too humiliated to participate would not watch the initiation; they would sit in their rooms and watch TV instead.  The informant has clearly participated in the initiation before, as both an initiate and as a shellback initiating others, and clearly holds respect for this Navy tradition since he joked about how he would have to do it again since he misplaced his ID card.

 

Analysis:

Initiation rites and traditions in groups, including but definitely not limited to the military, serve to introduce individuals to a group or legitimize their membership in it.  While conducted, they can establish comradery.  For the shellback initiation, those crossing the equator for the first time may not always be new sailors.  Vice versa, the shellbacks may not always be the higher-ranking officers.  As such, it puts initiates and shellbacks on more equal standing, either in rank or authority, in the space of this tradition regardless of official rank designations.  For the prior shellbacks, they would all have a right to participate in the initiation process by spraying water or making funny requests of the initiates.  For the initiates, once they have completed the process, they would have another facet of their ship experience that they share with each other and with those who came before them.  On the other hand, initiation traditions can also alienate individuals, but in the case of those who chose not to participate as told by the informant, it can be a personal choice.  An interesting part of the shellback initiation tradition, though, is the presence of ID cards and certificates to commemorate the event.  In most initiation rites, the process itself is the sp;e legitimizing factor in becoming a particular new identity.  In this case, there is also physical documentation.  I believe this may be because of the nature of military service.  The group an individual crossed the equator for the first time with may not necessarily be the group that they cross with the next time.  As such, there needed to be another form of documentation to be able to prove one’s shellback title.  Overall, the shellback initiation tradition in the U.S. Navy is a humorous and entertaining example of how initiation rites and traditions provide the means of earning a new identity.

 

Annotation:

For examples of the shellback initiation tradition, please see pages 74-76 of Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions written by retired U.S. Navy Commander Royal W. Connell and retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral William P. Mack.

Connell, Royal W., and William P. Mack. Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions. 6th ed., Naval Institute Press, 2004.

Halloween on Military Bases: Trunk or Treat

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: NA
Residence: Arlington, Virginia
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/18/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): NA

Genre: Folk tradition/ritual, holiday

 

Nationality: American but takes place in other countries

Location: Germany

Language: English

 

Abstract: CB describes how Halloween is celebrated in American military families overseas by going trunk to trunk of cars instead of door to door in houses.

 

Background: CB is from a military family, and she spent a portion of her life in Germany while her dad was stationed there. She experienced this tradition every Halloween while she was overseas. The topic of conversation was brought up, at first, during a class section, then further discussed after.

 

The tradition:

 

Every Halloween (October 31st), CB would go to her father’s military base and join all of the other families in a Halloween celebration. Instead of walking around neighborhoods and ringing doorbells like Halloween in America, families on the base would bring their cars, decorate them, and walk around getting candy from the trunks of vehicles. Everything, including costumes, was the same. The only real difference was the smaller scale of who was celebrating and the place where the candy was located (in cars).

 

S: So, have you ever done this in the United States or in bases back in America?

CB: Not really, actually, I would say that it is more popular like outside of the US. Probably because, ya know, no one else really celebrates Halloween even though they might have similar versions.

 

Interpretation: While CB attributes the Halloween tradition of Trunk or Treat to the fact that surrounding areas do not celebrate the holiday, there is also another reason for the international twist. For soldiers overseas serving their contracts, Trunk or Treat provides them with a little taste of home. Living another life in a different country cause for America’s warriors to become nostalgic and miss the small things from back home. Celebrating halloween in their own way brings them back to recognize what they are fighting for and give them motivation to finish their service to get back home. The reason for the cars having to be used is because there is not the neighborhood/house atmosphere on a military base. The cars provide opportunities for decorations where one might see the typical orange and black colors with spiders, witches, blood, and pumpkins. Transporting this holiday across seas also means that young children of soldiers are able to still experience the childhood of typical Americans which will make the eventual transition back to America easier. On American bases, Trunk or Treat is not as popular because the soldiers stationed usually have houses outside the bounds of the military fences which allows for the typical house to house Halloween.

 

 

The Mail Buoy – A Practical Joke on New Sailors in the Navy

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Vietnamese
Age: 50
Occupation: Financial Management Analyst
Residence: Ewa Beach, HI
Date of Performance/Collection: April 14, 2019
Primary Language: Vietnamese
Other Language(s): English

Item:

T: With new sailors, we go out and say “Hey! Watch out for the mail buoy so we can pick up our mail!  Keep an eye out for that mail buoy, if you’re not gonna get that mail buoy, we’re not gonna get our mail!”

Q: So the new sailors would go out and they would look for it?

T: Yep.

Q: So how long is it gonna take them before they find out it’s a joke?

T: [Laughs] They will never know unless somebody tells them.

 

Context:

I collected this practical joke in a conversation about the informant’s time in the U.S.  Navy; I asked him about a few of the traditions I had heard about before and he also told me about a few others including the mail buoy joke.  The informant is denoted by the pseudonym ‘T’ and I am ‘Q’ in the exchange above.  The informant served in the U.S. Navy for 26 years before retiring as a Senior Chief Petty Officer in 2017.  He learned this joke from other sailors in 2002 when he was stationed on a ship for the first time since enlisting in 1990.  He never got this joke played on him since he was more experienced when he was first on a ship, leading others to believe he had been stationed on a few before, nor did he play it on other sailors, mentioning how there were plenty of younger sailors to play pranks on the new seamen fresh out of boot camp.  He remembers this joke as a humorous part of the time he spent stationed on a ship, and also mentioned other funny rituals and jokes played on new sailors later on.

 

Analysis:

The mail buoy prank on new sailors is a classic example of practical jokes played to establish who is in and who is out of a particular identity, further distinguishing who has the knowledge and experience from who doesn’t.  In this case, the mail buoy practical joke is a way of legitimizing the change in identity from a new to a seasoned sailor.  Particularly in the military where a power structure determined by rank already officially exists, these kinds of practical jokes and other initiation rituals serve as a further distinguisher between those of different power, experience, and knowledge levels.  There are also other identities that transcend the official structure, such as being a sailor in the Navy since members may not always be initially stationed on a ship.  When the more knowledgeable, higher power, or more experienced individuals initiate the joke, they display the fact that they are in that particular identity (though it may not yet be known to those the joke is being played on).  Once the other individuals learn about the joke, though, or get the punchline in other words, they are now also in on that group.  In the mail buoy joke, seasoned sailors would know that mail is not actually delivered in a buoy to the ship, but the seamen straight out of boot camp may not and actually take the warning to find the buoy seriously.  The fact that the new seamen would believe in the buoy would clearly mark them as new sailors.  The humiliation of realizing the mail buoy is not a real thing would serve as an initiation ritual to the group of seasoned sailors and the recognition of the joke would be an internalization of this new change in identity.  These types of practical jokes, particularly in the military, are significant ways in which people ritualize a change in their identity and studying them, like in the mail buoy piece above, can indicate what change is occurring.

Shoe Polish: A Folk Insult?

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 58
Occupation: Attorney
Residence: Tiburon, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/20/18
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

You don’t know shit from Shinola.

According to the Informant, he heard this phrase growing up from his father. It was typically said by Person A in situations in which Person B doesn’t know what’s going on or for general naivety. It’s not exactly a proverb, because it ridicules those without wisdom instead of imparting wisdom. It can be said to be a folk insult. He said he heard this insult so many times, but it took until about the millionth time for him to realize that yes, it was true. He hadn’t the slightest clue what Shinola was.

This folk insult reportedly originated as commander-to-soldier vulgarity during WWII. The original form of the phrase involved a second verse. In the 1940’s, when is started popping up in military barracks, the full-length piece stated: “You don’t know shit from Shinola, and that’s why your shoes don’t shine.” This oicotype clearly allows anyone, using context clues, to decipher that Shinola is brown shoe polish. It’s interesting that the actual product named Shinola is long-gone, but it lives on in an insult.

It turns out that many insults without authors come from the military. “He doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground,” is another example of the same category that can be traced back to the military. Once we know the meaning behind the parts, it’s easy to see the meaning of the whole. Shinola would obviously be the choice pick over shit to shine shoes. Only a truly naïve person would use the two interchangeably.

This phrase always gets a smile out of me, regardless of context. This can possibly be regarded as the Informant’s catch phrase. In a way, it’s a passed-down insult, from my father’s father, that the majority of people today would be clueless to understand the meaning of. This fact, for a phrase meant to mock a person’s naivety, is just the icing on the cake.

 

“Blood Makes the Grass Grow”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: February 2015
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Informant: I’m from Oklahoma, and back home at football games, we always chant, “Kill, kill, blood makes the grass grow” whenever we’re winning or, like, about to make a big play.

Me: Like at professional games?

Informant: No, mostly at high school ones. And some college games.

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California and loves to attend and participate in sporting events.

This chant, in the context of football games, seems to mean that a brutal victory over an opponent will serve to make the field look better during the next game. However, variations of the chant also seem to be associated with the US military; it receives a nod in the title of author Johnny Rico’s memoir—and account of the year he spent fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan—Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America. Another version of this chant appears in the 1987 war film Full Metal Jacket. The Sergeant asks, “What do we do for a living?” To which the platoon replies, “Kill, kill, kill!” The Sergeant continues with, “What makes the grass grow?” And his men reply, “Blood, blood, blood!”

Citation 1: Rico, Johnny. Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America. New York: Presidio, 2007. Print.

Citation 2: Full Metal Jacket. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Prod. Stanley Kubrick. By Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, and Gustav Hasford. Perf. Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Lee Ermey. Warner Bros., 1987.

You Owe the Lot!

--Informant Info--
Nationality: US
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 23FEB2015
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Steele is one of my friends I train in the ROTC program. Very interesting character. He is a freshman at USC. In his spare time he reads The Prince by Machiavelli on the Realism; an International Relations school of thought. He dates 5 women at a time and loves clash of clans.

Steele fell victim to an old navy tradition a few days ago. In the military, we wear what is called a “cover”. In the civilian world you would call it a hat or cap. The military is known for its discipline, stiffness, and tidiness. We keep our quarters spotless and smelling good. There’s also a high level of respect. When a military personnel leaves their cover (cap) on a table it’s considered disrespectful. The way you take your hat off before entering a building, or close a wet umbrella before walking in. Anyone can call you out for leaving your cover on the table. If you’re caught, for the painful disrespect you have befallen, you owe who ever is in the room a round of drinks. Let’s just say when Steele got caught, he said that it was a very expensive (potential buy). Luckily in the program, not all of us are 21 yet so they can’t hold us to it unless they’re keeping a tab.

Analysis: One of the navy’s oldest traditions. When you think Navy, you think “Drunken Sailor” on an old rustic sail ship. That’s where the tradition comes from. Sailors spent gruesome, cruel hours under and on the poop deck of a ship maintaining the large wooden object for sea. But when they weren’t hoisting the colors, or manning the helm, they had to do something. Many of today’s drinking games and chanties come from the world’s finest Navy.

Military Acronyms

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 20
Occupation: Student, US Miltary Member
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 13, 2015
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Korean

Informant E was born in Korea and moved to El Centro California when she was 4. Before she came to USC she found that she was accepted into the school but also enlisted in the military. She put school on hold and deferred for a semester and went to training at the age of 17, and was one of the youngest soldiers to graduate. And after her experience with boot camp she came back to USC and started school and contracted to army ROTC. She has been deployed over the summers to Korea. She studies Psychology and Linguistics as a double major and a Forensics Criminality minor combined with dance as well. She wants to use her schooling and military experience to be in the FBI one day.

In the military we have a lot of acronyms we use throughout like AR, PT, APFT, UCMJ, MJP, EAS, basically ROTC and the army is just full of acronyms. I feel like when we get together we talk about these things and we know what they all stand for and the abbreviations but other people really don’t and there’s this specific one called the CNN. And CNN is like a news network and we call it the Cadet News Network so its basically like the rumor mill you know like what only the cadets know. And so in the military there’s the cadets and then there’s the cadres who are like the people in charge of us and then there’s the NCOs, Non-Commissioned Officers, that’s an acronym right there, and none of them are aware of the CNN. That’s only within like our group. Especially when its something so tailored, it can really exclude everyone else and they have like no idea what’s going on. So we might say like, ‘Oh did you hear about cadet so and so doing this on the weekend?’ then we’ll say like oh I heard through the CNN that he was over here or here and like none of the people above us will understand what were talking about. It all stays within the CNN. We all kind of know what’s happening on the outside all within this professional setting, and to us its almost like an inside joke and were not supposed to talk about this outside occurrence. Were supposed to be integrating into the actual army so if someone found out about the kinds of stuff we talk about it could be really bad. They expect us to be professional and its kind of hard to balance that, you know like being a soldier but also a college student too. We try to keep them separate but we all live kind of the same lives and its funny when these mix and someone usually gets in trouble, which is why we try and keep it usually within the CNN. It happens though.

So we have this thing too, its kind of vulgar, called the Blue Falcon and the B in Blue stands for Buddy and the F in Falcon stands for…you know…basically and we use that acronym to label or address people who get their friends in trouble. Especially in the military when were doing stuff that we would be evaluated on, the Blue Falcon would be like ‘hey you forgot to do this’ like right in front of everyone and so we would address them as the Blue Falcon. Everyone else then would understand that this guy is like a Buddy uhhhhh, and everyone would understand what that meant. And the person would probably know that they’re the Blue Falcon like someone would say to the person like ‘Hey you’re being a Blue Falcon right now’. It’s kind of a universal military term, like everyone knows what that means. The military is about the group, and they use mass punishment too. So like if one person does something wrong then we all have to do like pushups and so we would call that person who got us all in trouble the Blue Falcon because they screwed their buddies over. In the real world you don’t see much of mass punishment where everyone hates on 1 person for getting everyone in trouble. It’s a specific military thing.

 

Analysis:

Here informant E talks about some of the specific vernacular that the military uses. Some of these acronyms may have come out of the need in the military to do specific things quickly and efficiently.  She explains how it separates the out-group from the in-group and also helps them balance the 2 different sorts of lives they live. The military expects them to be extremely professional while often college students are casual and crude.  These acronyms allow them to remain professional, while alluding to some other crude things, like maybe what the did on the weekend, or even just in the acronyms itself.  She also talks about how they can call out members of the in-group, which actually serves to bring the group closer together. Community and support are extremely important in the military, which explains this strong emphasis on the in-group and not getting their friends in trouble.  The military emphasizes unity and cohesion which is why the term Blue Falcon might be so popular across the military, because someone who is a Blue Falcon is deviating from the norm of unity and should be called out for doing so.

The Legendary Cadet

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 20
Occupation: Student, US Military
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 13, 2015
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Korean

Informant E was born in Korea and moved to El Centro California when she was 4. Before she came to USC she found that she was accepted into the school but also enlisted in the military. She put school on hold and deferred for a semester and went to training at the age of 17, and was one of the youngest soldiers to graduate. And after her experience with boot camp she came back to USC and started school and contracted to army ROTC. She has been deployed over the summers to Korea. She studies Psychology and Linguistics as a double major and a Forensics Criminality minor combined with dance as well. She wants to use her schooling and military experience to be in the FBI one day.

There was this one cadet and his name was Cadet D. So we have these FMs, which are Field Manuals, and it’s where all the army rules and regulations are and it literally has everything. And its very thick and detailed, there’s so many different aspects. So Cadet D, and I don’t know if he memorized the entire thing, but he would always know what to address. So we would be talking about like ‘Oh this is the right way to do this’ and someone would say ‘No its like this’ and he would put his little finger up and say ‘Well according to FM bla bla bla dash blab la, it says,’ and he would recite it off the top of his head. And he had this really nasally voice. And so today even some of the cadets that don’t know him if they’re having like a smart aleck moment they’ll put their little fingers up and say, ‘Well according to blah blah balh,’ and they’re being sarcastic but everyone knows who he is, even if they’ve never met him.   I knew of him, I didn’t know him too well though. But everyone has heard about him and will all do the same mannerism as him. It’s a fun, teasing thing. Its remarkable he memorized the entire thing and knew what to reference but it was also sort of funny because who has time to do that as a college student? No one really wants to have no life and memorize the entire manual, it’s not negative but it’s a joking playful kind of way. When things get stressful or tense sometimes someone will say ‘Well according to…’ and everyone will bust out laughing because they know who he’s all referring to and everyone will take a step back, laugh about it, and then come back and compromise and agree to do the specific thing. This legend will keep going through I think. People below me have carried on his tradition.

 

Analysis:

Here informant E talks about a legend in the military about a cadet who went above and beyond the already large demands of the military to memorize the entire field manual. She talks about how the stories of this cadet have already taken a life of their own and are likely to continue even after she’s left USC. Imitating this person also serves to lighten the mood and release tensions while fondly remembering a cadet who went above and beyond.  The military can be very tense and stressful, and its important sometimes to have a way to lighten the mood so everyone can work more effectively, and it also helps to bring the community together through humor.

Veteran’s Day Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 20
Occupation: Student, US Military
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 13, 2015
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Korean

Informant E was born in Korea and moved to El Centro California when she was 4. Before she came to USC she found that she was accepted into the school but also enlisted in the military. She put school on hold and deferred for a semester and went to training at the age of 17, and was one of the youngest soldiers to graduate. And after her experience with boot camp she came back to USC and started school and contracted to army ROTC. She has been deployed over the summers to Korea. She studies Psychology and Linguistics as a double major and a Forensics Criminality minor combined with dance as well. She wants to use her schooling and military experience to be in the FBI one day.

So in the military we have a lot of military balls we have a lot of Veterans Day dinners and banquets where everyone comes up in their nice dress uniform. But specifically we had this one Veterans Night/Dinner/Ball put on by USC and it happens every year but it’s a tradition that the very youngest cadet and the very senior oldest cadre member come together to cut the dessert cake together. It’s been an ongoing thing not just within USC Veterans Day dinner but also balls outside of USC. And I think it symbolize the fact that the youngest and the oldest and everyone in between is a part of this ceremony. I have a very late birthday and I joined the military at the age of 17 which is the absolute youngest and so the first couple years it was me that was cutting the cake with this like 5 star general and personally it was such an honor and it made me feel really important. Like I was a part of this ceremony with this amazing phenomenal general who was in several wars, and just to stand beside him and doing this together symbolizes the fact that we are one, an army of one, one fight, one team. I don’t think I’m ever going to forget that and I know that every year we have this and it’s a new younger cadet and a new older senior personnel every time and I know kind of what exactly they feel. It’s a huge honor and its very humbling too. Everyone’s watching you do this and what it signifies. It’s an amazing tradition. This is one night that everyone who has served beside you comes together and everyone comes together out of this stressful environment, everyone just comes together and has a good time.  I do find it nostalgic and it makes me proud too because some of these cadets I’ve mentored and taken under my wing growing up and now they’re up there doing this thing and I know the experience they’re having. Its really humbling and it’s a moment of joy and pride and its very nostalgic because I was once up there too.

Honoring those who came before is very important. Before every function we have this table we set for our Prisoner of War and Missing In Action brothers and sisters in arms. It’s very specific. We have this table set and the tablecloth signifies that they’re not here with us, the empty chair signifies that they’re not here with us, there’s a plate set out because were waiting for them to come. There’s a slice of lemon on this plate to symbolize their sour fate and there’s some salt to symbolize all the tears that we’ve cried waiting for them to come home. And after everything we say that we remember and we toast to them in the end. I think it’s another tradition before we start all these functions that we still remember them and we still honor them even when they’re not here with us.

 

Analysis:

The military places a strong emphasis on community and unity. This tradition with cutting the cake symbolizes that everyone from the oldest to the youngest is a valued member and is honored in this ceremony. This helps unite the military together even more.  Even those who are not currently present are honored as well because they are still included in the community.  The military also emphasizes honoring and remembering those who have came before.  The informant mentions how humbled she was to have the opportunity to cut the cake and how proud she felt to stand next to this celebrated general and to be a part of the military.