Glossary of Military Terms

Updated July 10, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

  • Alliance
  • Axis of Evil – In President Bush's 2001 State of the Union Address, he identified Iran, Iraq, nad North Korea as an axis of evil, meaning these countries supported terrorist and had weapons of mass destruction
  • Casualties – Casualties comprise both dead and wounded.
  • Decapitation – To "decapitate" the Iraqi regime means to kill or otherwise remove from power Saddam Hussein and other senior officials.
  • Enemy combatant – Anyone fighting on the enemy side is an enemy combatant.
  • POW – A POW, or prisoner of war, is an enemy combatant who is part of a regular military force, identifiable, for example, by a uniform and subject to a military command and control arrangement.
  • Illegal enemy combatant – An enemy combatant who, if captured, would not qualify for POW status because he or she does not fit the criteria laid out in the Geneva Conventions.
  • Embeds – The Pentagon has embedded journalists in its military units. These reporters have become known as "embeds."
  • Mother of All Bombs – A nickame the Air Force gave to its 22,000-pound MOAB – Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb.
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom – Pentagon name for the U.S. military-led operation in Iraq.
  • "Shock and Awe" – The phrase means a bombing campaign designed to terrify an enemy into submission. In its current usage, it dates to 1996, when a group of retired generals assembled by the Pentagon came up with the idea and its name.
  • Troops – Generic term for members of the U.S. military:
    • soldiers are members of the U.S. Army
    • sailors are members of the U.S. Navy
    • airmen are members of the U.S. Air Force; the term is used regardless of gender
    • Marines are members of the U.S. Marines
  • Command – A military unit having a broad, continuing mission, composed of forces from two or more services, typically organized geographically. The U.S. Central Command area of responsibility stretches from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia; it has responsibility for the war in Iraq, known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. "USCENTCOM" is a command headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. Its commander, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, reports to the secretary of defense, who in turn reports to the president. USCENTCOM has no fighting units permanently assigned to it. Instead, the four armed services provide USCENTCOM with component commands.

U.S. Army Military Units

  • >Field Army – A tactical and administrative military unit consisting of a headquarters, two or more corps and auxiliary forces under the command of a full (four-star) general.
  • Corps – Consists of three to five divisions, two of them in the "attack echelon," a third in reserve and available to provide flexibility for the attacking divisions. A corps is commanded by a lieutenant (three-star) general.
  • Division – Consists of three brigades, totaling 10,000 to 18,000 soldiers, commanded by a major (two-star) general.

Types of divisions active in the U.S. Army

  • Brigade – Consists of three or more battalions totaling 2,500 to 5,000 soldiers, commanded by a colonel.
  • Battalion – The Army's basic fighting unit, consisting of three to five companies, about 500 to 900 soldiers, commanded by a lieutenant colonel.
  • Company – Consists of three to four platoons, perhaps 100 to 200 soldiers. The company is the lowest administrative unit and is commanded by a captain.
  • Platoon – Consists of three to four squads, perhaps 16 to 40 soldiers, commanded by a lieutenant.
  • Squad – Four to 10 soldiers commanded by a staff sergeant.

Types of Divisions Active in the U.S. Army

  • Light Infantry – Designed to quickly deploy soldiers in fast-moving vehicles. The U.S. Army's two active light-infantry divisions are limited in their firepower and anti-armor capabilities.
  • Air Assault – The Army's one active air-assault division, which relies heavily on helicopters, is well-suited for fast-paced operations. The division has strong anti-armor and strategic-lift capabilities.
  • Airborne – The Army's one active airborne division has capabilities similar to that of an infantry division, but it can be deployed by air parachute.
  • Armored – The Army's two active armored divisions are equipped with the largest number of M1 Abrams tanks. These divisions boast powerful firepower and require massive amounts of fuel.
  • Mechanized Infantry – Three mechanized infantry divisions are active in the Army. These divisions are equipped with fewer Abrams tanks than an armored division but have more Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
  • Infantry – The Army's one active infantry division offers a robust combination of capabilities from other divisions.

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