ustas_fish (just_ustas) wrote,

Writing US Military Characters

This is a non-exhaustive list of some common ‘quirks’ or habits that can give away a character’s military experience. Wrote it up for myself and it’s particularly useful when I want to show instead of tell. These are based on first person accounts from several vets! Thought others might like to use it too for a reference :D Ones with * or ** came up particularly often.

Like any guide, it’s just that - a guide, not a set of rules! A character is unlikely to do all of these, and other factors like ADHD, trauma, or just personality might effect what sticks. People are endlessly diverse!

Eat, Drink, Dress, and Rest

  • * High tolerance for physical discomfort

  • ** Eat very fast, and aren’t picky about the taste

  • ** Can sleep anywhere - on a helicopter, in enemy territory, up high, underground, when it’s loud, when it’s quiet

  • * Can operate effectively without sleep for over 24hrs, or with erratic and limited sleep for days

  • ** Wake up early, 0500-0700; Wake up quickly and ready for action

  • * Hair cut regularly. Beards stay clean shaven (alternatively some may avoid shaving when out of uniform)

  • ** Dress practically and neatly, jackets buttoned/zipped up, ironed, polished

  • Take hat off indoors

Organization and Talents

  • Gearhead

  • Gun nut

  • Detail oriented

  • ** Pockets are meticulous. The same thing always goes into the same pocket, for easy reach. Pockets never full to bulging. Carry multitool.

  • ** Hands stay out of pockets - ready. (Hands in pockets is forbidden in the military. Some Special Forces may keep their hands in pockets, as their ‘grooming’ rules are less enforced. Because they can)

  • Always carry things with left hand (and ”southpaws” must learn to use standard right-handed weapons)

  • ** Know how to clean house and keep it organized (may choose not to out of uniform)

  • ** Can make bed and shower fast

  • Organize clothes to be able to dress and maneuver their own space in pitch black (Navy specifically)

  • Know how to sew basic repairs (i.e. a button)

  • Layout items before packing. Tight roll clothes. Pack efficiently

  • ** Can read maps effectively, may prefer them to a GPS, use landmarks

  • Deadlines not always considered concrete (There is a military mantra, “Hurry up and wait.” Often one would be told to complete something or arrive somewhere at a certain time, but nothing would happen due to someone else’s task meant to be finished earlier still being incomplete)

  • ** Alternatively (or in tandem), arrive 5-30 minutes early to every event

  • Things kept packed securely in the car, “ready for sea” and “heavy rolls” (Navy specifically)

Routines and Social

  • ** Respect for the “Other” or “Them” - other religions, cultures, races, and ethnicities - had to work crammed together with a diverse group that may have strongly opposing viewpoints, and learn to trust each other to have their backs in dangerous situations (For many, military is their first real experience with different cultures and beliefs)

  • * Respect Like. Will go above and beyond for a respected leader, even if they are disliked

  • Deeply suspicious of red tape, bureaucracy, and bosses on power trips, and will only do the minimum required for these

  • ** Low tolerance for slacking/job skirting

  • * Volunteer other people for tasks, and willing to be volunteered for things

  • Don’t ask people to do things they aren’t willing to do themselves

  • Still follow orders of bosses they dislike. Still have the backs of coworkers they dislike

  • ** Like clear orders, responsibilities, chain of command, and penalties

  • * Have Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C

  • Actions matter more than ceremony; definite respect for processions, but excessive reverence for the flag/anthem/etc viewed as posturing rather than true patriotism

  • High tolerance for boredom

  • ** Adaptable, high stress tolerance, work efficiently, self reliant

  • ** Avoid having their back to an opening (windows/doors/etc) or sitting anywhere someone can sneak up on them from

  • * Avoid loud, crowded areas, check perimeters, barricade doors, sleep last in a group (may coincide with PTSD)

  • Always walk on the right side of a road/grocery aisle/etc

  • Stand at parade rest, walk cadence, walk fast

  • * Walk quietly, even in boots, sneak quickly (military crouch run)

  • De-escalation in violence - in protective armed situations the standard is: 1) multiple warnings, 2) warning shots, 3) shoot to incapacitate. Shoot to kill is a last resort. (not following these steps could get an ally or potential ally killed) In verbal disagreement, resolve an issue before it escalates

  • * Wariness toward and tendency to feel Other’ed by civilians

  • * Immediate acceptance toward other military, expectation of shared values


  • Observe before speaking in a situation, only speak if it seems significantly important to

  • Refer to people as “Sir” or “Ma’am”

  • ** Speak directly, make direct eye contact (sometimes comes off as rude, often intimidates)

  • * Don’t take criticism or disagreement personally, expect others not to, either, and will point out flaws even to superiors (but again, orders are respected)

  • ** Clear communication, acknowledge messages by replying, even if that’s just a thumbs up or down

  • ** Swearing. Lots of swearing. Every other word is swearing

  • ** Dark sense of humor, and racist/sexist jokes - not indicative of individual’s actual belief system or violent tendencies

  • Unbothered by angry yelling, angry quiet people are more concerning

  • ** Point with ‘knife hands’, not just a single finger

  • ** Use a 24 hour clock instead of a 12 am/pm; i.e. 0800 hours, not 8am (Called ”Military Time” in the US)

  • Describe locations by o’clock directions, i.e. dog standing at 6 o’clock

  • * Write out dates as day-month-year (US usually does month-day-year) i.e. 21Oct57

  • ** Use phonetic alphabet to spell things out, or at least have it memorized

  • ** Habitually use military terms or sayings, including:

  1. Good to go - Mission ready, ready to proceed

  2. Squared away - Compliment indicating exemplary service

  3. Popping a smoke - Need to get out of here [From using smoke grenades to call helicopters for extraction]

  4. “Sir yes sir” [A ‘sir sandwich’]

  5. FUBAR - F*cked up beyond all recognition

  6. SNAFU -  Situation normal, all f*cked up

  7. TARFU -  Things are really f*cked up

  8. BOLO - Be on the lookout

  9. ATL - Attempt to locate

  10. IAW - In accordance with

  11. Civilian - Non-military person

  12. Roger - Message received and understood

  13. “Say again your last.” - What?

  14. Firearm- Gun

  15. Ruck - backpack

  16. March - walk

  17. Double time - running

  18. PT - working out

  19. Rally point - meetup

  20. Field day - Spring Cleaning (Navy specifically)

  21. Get smoked - Laps, pushups, etc as punishment

This lowkey reads like an advertisement for the military, so here’s a few more things I’ve noticed working with and dating military folks!

* “above my paygrade” / “not my job” – ex-military folks are literally who I learned the “above my paygrade” phrase from. They don’t slack on the things they’re responsible for, but they also don’t pick up ANYTHING they’re not explicitly told to
* heavy reliance on routines (esp enlisted folks): if they take out the trash after counting the register, they ALWAYS take out the trash after counting the register
* normalization of lying: this one may be a sample-size thing, but the ex-military folk I’ve known have all a sort of easy acceptance of falsehoods? Like, hearing that someone lied just didn’t really bother them, and they would advise me to lie in turn (which I can’t do for beans). My guuuuess is that it’s related to opsec being a thing???
* dismissal of hardship because it’s NOT the kind of shit they themselves have dealt with: I’m not denying that military service can be tough, but other things can also be tough. A military person blowing off someone else’s ptsd from sexual assault or waving away their fatigue from chronic illness? VERY consistent with what I’ve seen
And lastly,
* No one ever remembers the coast guard

And always remember that your characters are individuals! These traits (both lists) are things that *tend* to happen in this population, but individuals vary! Maybe your character is lazy! Maybe they’re clever! Maybe they’re adhd and putting things in the same pocket is only done when they know a drill sergeant is gonna come along and check them! These are good for inspiration, but cater it to your needs. :)

Notes for writing Frank Castle. )))))

I'll add that military is generally very dismissive of police.

Tags: daredevil
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