Military Terms, Abbreviations, Acronyms, etcetera

Acronym/Term Definition
AATTV Australian Army Training Team Vietnam
airburst Explosion of a munition in the air
Air Cav Short for Air Cavalry, referring to helicopter-borne infantry and the helicopter gunships that supported them.

Advanced Individual Training; the period following Basic Training, specialized training given each soldier based on his MOS (Military Occupational Specialty)

AK-47 The Soviet- or Chinese-made assault rifle used by the NVA and Vietcong; not as accurate as the M-16, but much more reliable. Also known as a Kalishnikov after its inventor.
alpha-alpha Automatic Ambush - a series of claymore mines configured to detonate simultaneously when triggered by a trip-wire/battery mechanism.
APC Armored Personnel Carrier. A tracked vehicle carried over from WWII and Korea. APC bodies were mounted on 5-ton truck beds in Vietnam to create convoy-protecting "gun trucks".
ARC Light Ops ARC LIGHT OPERATIONS: code name for the devastating aerial raids of B-52 Stratofortresses against enemy positions in Southeast Asia, the first B-52 Arc Light raid took place on June 18, 1965, on a suspected Vietcong base north of Saigon. In November 1965, B-52s directly supported American ground forces for the first time, and were used regularly for that purpose thereafter.
ARCOM Army Commendation Medal
Article 15 Summary disciplinary judgement of a soldier by his commander, may result in fines, extra duty, restrictions, or short-term confinement in the stockade. Refers to Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Arty Artillery
ARVN Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South). Also, used to refer to a soldier in the South Vietnamese army.
ASEAN Association of South East Asian Nations
Ash & trash Helicopter missions hauling brass, mail, food, entertainers
ATF Australian Task Force. Also, acronym for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which confiscated a lot of weapons Americans attempted to send home as souvenirs.

BAC SI: Vietnamese term for medical corpsman; doctor

banana clip

banana shaped magazine, standard on the AK-47 assault rifle

base camp

semipermanent field headquarters and center for a given unit usually within that unit's tactical areas responsibility. A unit may operate in or away from its base camp. Base camps usually contain all or part of a given unit's support elements.


organizational institution in the Army and Marine Corps. Commanded by a lieutenant colonel, an infantry battalion usually has around 900 people, and an artillery battalion of about 500 people. During the Vietnam War, American battalions were usually much smaller than that.

Battle King Artillery codeword for an artillery barrage on a specific location just before the insertion of ground troops. See also "mad minute"

A direct-fire artillery round which incorporated steel darts (fleshettes), used as a primary base defense munition against ground attack


Any aircraft, usually helicopters


Infantryman. Also, grunt, ground-pounder.

bouncing Betty

A landmine that, when tripped, is thrown upward about four feet into the air and then detonates. Intended to cause maximum schrapnel wounds to the chest and head.


Basic military organizational institution. During the Vietnam War, a division was usually organized into three brigades, with each brigade commanded by a colonel. A division consists of approximately 20,000 people.

bring smoke To direct intense artillery fire on an enemy position. Also used to refer to any intense response. "If you get stoned and get caught, the man will bring smoke on your ass."
Cav Nickname for Air Cavalry. See also: Air Cav
CIA Central Intelligence Agency; main US spy organization
COSVN Central Office for South Vietnam (communist coordinating body).

Command and control. The infrastructure that supports communications to and among military units.


Also, Charles or Chuck: Vietcong--short for the phonetic representation Victor Charlie


A new troop replacement.

chicken plate

Chest protector (body armor) worn by helicopter gunners

church key

Bottle opener.


Firing device ('exploder') for triggering claymore mines and other electrically initiated demolitions.


Popular fan-shaped antipersonnel land mine; designed to produce a directionalized, fan-shaped pattern of fragments.

comic books

Also, FUNNY BOOKS: military maps


Organizational institution commanded by a captain and consisting of two or more platoons; varied widely in size according to mission.

cracker box

Field ambulance.

C's: C-rations, C-rats, Charlie rats, or combat rations-- canned meals used in military operation
DMZ Demilitarized Zone; a narrow strip of land along the 17th Parallel that was the border between North and South Vietnam from 1954 to 1975
DRV Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North)

Stylized, ritualized manner of shaking hands, started by African-American troops

Dapsone Small pill taken periodically by US troops, ostensibly to prevent malaria but actually meant to prevent Leprosy.
Donut Dolly Female Red Cross volunteer
dope Marine term for the adjustments made to weapon sights; term for marijuana and other illicit drugs.

Indigenous personnel who cannot be categorized as either Vietcong or civil offenders; suspect personnel spotted from ground or aircraft

dustoff Nickname for a medical evacuation helicopter or mission.

Escape and evasion.


Electronic countermeasures, such as jamming, deception, and detection.

elephant grass Tall, sharp-edged grass found in the highlands of Vietnam
EM Enlisted man.
FNG Somebody with less time in-country than you, especially if they are newly arrived to your unit. Does not stand for "friendly new guy."
fighting hole Foxhole with sandbag protection and sometimes an elevated roof of sheetmetal, reinforced with sandbags. Sized for one or two troops, fighting holes might be dispersed around a company or battery area for defensive use during a ground attack

Artillery round incorporating many small bomblets which are ejected over a target area and explode in 'bouncing-betty' fashion almost simultaneously; name comes from the fast popping sound (best heard at a distance).


Exchange of small arms fire between opposing units.


Fragmentation, as in fragmentation grenade.


Assassination of an officer or senior non-commissioned officer by his own troops, usually by means of a grenade or other fragmentation device.

freedom bird

Any aircraft that took you back to the "world" (U.S.A.).


U.S. troops, allies, or anyone not on the other side.

friendly fire Euphemism used to describe air, artillery, or small-arms fire from American forces mistakenly directed at American positions.

Starlight scope; light amplifying telescope, used to enhance night vision.


Popular nickname for an infantryman in Vietnam; supposedly derived from the sound one made from lifting up his rucksack

Hanoi Hilton

Nickname American prisoners of war used to describe the Hoa Loa Prison in Hanoi


House, living quarters or a native hut

hot LZ A "hot LZ" had nothing to do with temperature. It meant that a Landing Zone (LZ) was not secured or not known to be secured or could not be trusted as secured and you could be taking enemy fire as you came in or immediately after you hit the ground.

To slog around on foot


Being in Vietnam

irregulars Armed individuals and groups not members of the regular armed forces, police, or other internal security forces
ICP Indochinese Communist Party

Killed In Action

klick, K

Kilometer (.62 miles)

lay chilly

Lie motionless


Marine (Marines wore a leather neckband from 1798-1880 for protection of the neck during sword combat.)


Career soldier

light up

Fire on the enemy

LZ Landing zone
M-16 Standard US infantry weapon; relied on firing a large number of small calibre bullets; early models not as reliable as the AK-47 as they had to be kept very clean
MACV Said as 'Mac-Vee'; Military Assistance Command: Vietnam [US military coordinating body]
mad minute Concentrated fire of all weapons for a brief period of time at maximum rate
MIA Missing in Action
Muzzleburst A "muzzleburst" is an occupational hazard of the field artillery cannoneers. A rare occurrence, thankfully, but it happens when an armed fuze and HE (high explosive) round leaves the artillery tube and bursts immediately. This often results in fatalities to the gun crews. Fort Sill taught about it. In Vietnam, you lived with it.
newbie Any person with less time in Vietnam than the speaker. See also "FNG"
NLF National Liberation Front (Vietcong)
Number One Good.
Number Ten Bad.
Number Ten-Thousand Very bad.
NVA Army of North Vietnam; also known as PAVN: People's Army of Vietnam
OSS Office of Strategic Services; forerunner of the CIA
Out-country The Southeast Asian conflict outside South Vietnam. (i.e., Laos, North Vietname, Thailand, Cambodia, China).
platoon Approximately 45 men belonging to a company. Commanded by a lieutenant, a platoon is an organizational unit composed of two or more squads.
POW Prisoner of War
PRP People's Revolutionary Party; South Vietnamese Communist Party
PTSD Post-traumatic stress disorder
PRP People's Revolutionary Party; South Vietnamese Communist Party
pucker factor Assessment of the 'fear factor', as in the difficulty or risk involved in an upcoming mission
recon Reconaissance
red LZ Landing zone under hostile fire
rock n'roll To put an M-16 on automatic fire. Also, to launch out on a mission.
R&R Rest-and-recreation. Vacation taken during a one-year duty tour in Vietnam. Out-of-country R&R could be taken at places like Bangkok, Hawaii, Tokyo, Australia, Hong Kong, Manila, Penang, Taipei, Kuala Lampur, or Singapore. In-country R&R locations were at Vung Tau or China Beach.
RPG Rocket-propelled grenade
RVN Republic of Vietnam (South)
sappers Commandos with special skills in demolition explosives. The NVA and Vietcong used them against U.S. basecamps, firebases, and other guarded facilities. Sappers are also U.S. Army engineer unit commandos with a similar set of skills.
SAR Search and rescue mission.
SEATO Southeast Asia Treaty Organization
search & clear Offensive military operations to sweep through an area to locate and attack the enemy.
search & destroy Offensive operations designed to find and destroy enemy forces rather than establish permanent government control; also, called "Zippo missions"
shake 'n bake An officer straight out of OCS (Officer Candidate School).
skate To goof off. Also, gold-brick.
sleeper Undercover agent. Sometimes Vietnamese civilians working on U.S. bases were actually enemy spies and saboteurs.
slick Non-gunship helicopters, with door gunners armed with M-60 machine gun hand-held, on bungie chords, or external mounts.
Sortie One aircraft making one takeoffand landing to conduct specific mission.
SRV Socialist Republic of Vietnam; united Vietnam after 1975
stand down A period of rest and refitting during which all operational activity, except security, is suspended.
the World The United States
VC Vietcong. Also, just Cong
Vietminh Viet Nam Doc Lap Don Minh Hoi, or the Vietnamese Independence League
white mice South Vietnamese police. Nickname came from their uniform's white helmet and gloves.
WIA Wounded in Action
xin loi Vietnamese for "too bad," applied when somebody got the short end of a deal they could do nothing about.
Zippo Flamethrower, after the popular cigarette lighter brand name.
Zippo mission Search and destroy mission.
zulu Casualty report. Also, the phonetic pronounciation of the letter 'Z'.