By the Way

On learning military jargon


Airmen stationed at Keesler Air Force base watch the Air Force Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron prepare to fly.
Airmen stationed at Keesler Air Force base watch the Air Force Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron prepare to fly.

When I moved to Mississippi to take over the Sun Herald's military beat, I really thought that my background in cops reporting would come in handy.

They both wore uniforms. And both had sergeants and lieutenants and captains and I was just as nervous about accidentally demoting someone in print while covering the military as I'd been covering police.

I was wrong. Phenomenally wrong.

In Iowa, I had learned the police jargon by hanging out in detectives' offices and bothering patrol shift commanders and from a public information officer who had a great heart but a less great filter.

Turns out there aren't nearly as many opportunities to hang around on base. Something about national security.

But after a year of asking various military officials to please not use military acronyms while translating other military acronyms, I've learned a few things.

  1. I learned Keesler Air Force Base is actually home to both the 81st Training Wing and the 403rd Wing. The 403rd Wing has underneath it the 815th, the 53rd and, to maintain both, the 403rd Maintenance Wing. The 403rd, which is a Reserve unit, also used to be associated with the 345th, which is an active duty unit. And the maintenance wing is getting a new unit called Detachment 1, which will be staffed by both TRs and ARs and will primarily be responsible for AMSX.
  2. Journalists are just as bad with all these numbers as you'd expect.
  3. If you ask enough times, officials will refer to the 815th as the Flying Jennies and the 53rd as the Hurricane Hunters but it takes a lot of asking and also makes me look a little silly. The officials will also sometimes switch to calling the two units “Red tails” and “Blue tails.”
  4. The two other military bases on the Gulf Coast are called the NCBC and the CRTC.
  5. At the NCBC, which is the Naval base, you're "on board" even if you're on dry land.
  6. I learned that in the Air Force, a First Lieutenant is ranked higher than a Second Lieutenant and both are lower than a Lieutenant Colonel. In the Navy, there are four ranks of Chief Warrant Officer.
  7. I also learned that on the Coast, in a community so steeped in military history, I get relatively little sympathy for any of this.

Have you had to adjust to whole new vocabulary since moving to a military community? I'd love to hear about it. Email