Learning The Ropes: From Acronyms to Army Ranks

Sometimes the hardest part about being in this lifestyle is simply the lack of clarification. Everything has a symbol, acronym, or hidden lingo that is far from obvious for the rest of us. The first year that Kyle was in the military was a complete whirlwind. The sporadic schedule combined with formations I didn’t understand and debriefing for who knows what made me somewhat lost in the mix of everything.

I know how overwhelming it can be. There are rules about rules, from what shade of tan their under shirt is, to whether or not their pants are tucked into their boots correctly. And a lot of these methods and rules are hard to understand, because it’s unlike anything we’ve ever encountered. I often caught myself saying, “You have to do what?” Especially when Kyle was in AIT, where they’re testing your own capacity for discipline.  But over time, I got the hang of things a bit. I know a lot of us are familiar with different branches, but I think a lot of this is relatable across the board.



In the Army, ranks are divided up into 3 categories: Enlisted Soldiers, Warrant Officers, and Officers. Enlisted soldiers start with Private 1, which has no insignia, and go up to Sergeant Major. If they enter the Army after high school with no additional schooling, typically they’re Private 1 until basic training is complete. When BMT is over, they’re awarded “mosquito wings” which are known as Private 2. If they enter the Army with an Associates degree, they go to BMT as a Private First Class. If it’s a Bachelors degree, than they go in as a Specialist.

Warrant Officers are highly specialized individuals. They’re technical experts, combat leaders, instructors, and advisors. They often work with aircraft, and master in-flight combat routines.

Officers are the top of the chain of command, and often have 20+ years invested in the military. They help to organize, train, and prepare troops for all circumstances, especially deployments. They control all shipments that arrive and leave their post, and handle a majority of the media that circulates around military happenings. They’re often the face of the military itself.

Rank promotions are obtained through years of service, deployments, awards, and various other factors. This took me a long time to get the grasp of, and I’m sure all of this information is overwhelming. A lot of it has become second nature, but I still don’t fully recognize each rank when I see it. But luckily, Kyle knows them all and I tend to follow his lead.


When you’ve been away from your soldier for a long time, you tend to cling to the moments where you’re able to text, call, or see each other for a few minutes. But keep in mind a few rules:

Cellphone usage: Soldiers in uniform are not permitted to talk/text while walking.

Eating/Drinking: Soldiers in inform are not permitted to eat/drink while walking. Chewing gum is also discouraged.

PDA: Unless to escort women, any personal touches are not permitted.

Left Side Rule: While walking, it’s best to stay on the left side in case your soldier needs to salute.

One thing I’ve realized is that for each rule, there is a reason. Meaning somewhere along the line, someone gave them a reason to create the rule. Many of the rules do make sense, no matter how funny they sound.

Etiquette reaches beyond the soldier’s responsibility, especially as they obtain higher ranks. The behavior or husbands/wives of soldiers reflects upon them strongly with their coworkers/team. If there are issues that are displayed prominently, it can eventually hinder their career.


Most acronyms are similar for all branches, they just involve a slightly different procedure. The military has created an acronym for almost everything, which is one of the major things I had to adjust to. I felt like I never knew what anyone was talking about! You can find a full list of all of them here, and I have also included a few of the most common ones.

PCS: Permanent Change of Station. This is when a soldier/soldier’s family is being relocated to another base/duty station. It happens often, especially for those who have served for many years. PCS can be any location, even those outside of the U.S., depending upon what MOS slots need to be filled. A PCS is NOT a deployment, nor should anyone refer to it as one. Sometimes immediate family members are not cleared to join their soldier as they PCS, due to medical reasons, paperwork, etc. The separation may make it feel like a deployment, but it’s quite the opposite.

PT: Physical Training. This is one you’ve probably heard a million times by now. PT involves a series of exercises to test ability and ensure that soldiers are keeping up with requirements.

ACU: (depending on circumstance) Army Combat Uniform.

AWOL: Absent Without Official Leave. This means that the soldier was not at their place of duty during time of need, often during deployment. It’s grounds for punishment, and sometimes arrest.

MRE: Meal Ready to Eat. A least favorite of most soldiers, these are the sealed tan packs that carry various meals.

FOB: Forward Operating Base. These are typically referenced during deployment.

What acronyms or rules took a while to adjust to?

Published by Amanda N

Lifestyle blogger 🎗 Navigating life as a military spouse on the East Coast. Join our adventure!

15 thoughts on “Learning The Ropes: From Acronyms to Army Ranks

  1. Being only 5 months in to his career, I am still learning all the acronyms and *trying* to learn all the rank symbols. This is so helpful and a good reminder! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an excellent post! First of all, my husband is an E-4 so I don’t feel much pride over that because he hasn’t accomplished anything lolThat also means I didn’t know it’s rude to ask what rank someone is until a lady I worked with this summer said she didn’t like one of the new people because he asked what rank her husband was…


    1. Yikes! Yes, that can be a very touchy subject for some. I’ve met a few people who are extremely relaxed about it, and some that take it very seriously. I would say I’m more on the relaxed side because I just don’t dwell on it much. It’s crazy how everyone is different when it comes to that. Thank you for reading!


  3. Great post! My husband has been in 10 years- he served 6 enlisted (was actually in boot camp on 9/11!), got out as a Staff Sergeant after serving his time, went to college to get his Bachelors (we met during this time), then decided to go back in as an officer after he graduated. I literally knew nothing about the army & realized I probably should after he proposed, lol. I still ask him questions after three and a half years of marriage!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t imagine serving during 9/11.. That must have been so difficult for those who knew they were deploying as soon as they graduated basically. Kyle has only been enlisted for 2.5 years, so he has a long road ahead of him! The idea for this post came from him telling me he’s applying for OCS, which I now know to be Officer Candidate School, but at first I was clueless haha. I think I’ll always be a little lost, but atleast he knows what’s going on! Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you found it helpful! It’s definitely hard to memorize, especially when you’re put on the spot. The only ones I have down pretty well are the enlisted and the first couple officer ranks. Other than that, I need a lot of practice! Thank you for reading!


  4. Hi Amanda! I’ve been reading through your blog and I’m really enjoying it! Thanks for sharing this post! I’m new to military (army) life so this was extremely helpful with all of the symbols and terms!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, I’m so glad you’re enjoying it! I’m fairly new as well, I’ve been with my boyfriend for 5 years but he’s only been in the Army for about 3. So it’s definitely a learning process still, but that’s the great thing about connecting with other military bloggers!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You bet! I enjoy reading other military blogs it is interesting to hear everyone’s different experiences! I feel like there is a ton of things to learn about the military. My boyfriend is in the Army reserves so it’s not as pressing as if he was on active duty, but there’s always that possibility. Right now he is considering going to sapper school.


      2. My boyfriend is Army National Guard, so I totally know what you mean! It’s not as constant, but they all deploy the same and go through the same training. If he does, it’ll be an amazing experience. And he’ll definitely get some great opportunities. Best of luck to you both!

        Liked by 1 person

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