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Glossary of war-related terms

A sampling of terms that may appear in wartime stories:

Amphibian: A small craft that moves via propellers and wheels or air cushions on both land and water.

Barrage: Fired munitions that are designed to destroy an area rather than be aimed at a given target.

BDU: Battle dress uniform; the camouflage utility uniform worn with combat boots.

Blue on blue: Another term for "friendly fire," an inadvertent attack on a comrade.

On U.S. military computer displays showing the array of forces, the icons that represent American forces are blue, so an attack on an ally is "blue on blue."

Command and control: The exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander over forces in the accomplishment of a mission.

Decapitation strike: The U.S. attempt to kill Saddam Hussein in the bombing of Baghdad that began the war. This was originally a Cold War term, according to David Wilton, a former arms control negotiator and creator of the Web site. A military strategy during the Cold War suggested you could win a nuclear war with a limited number of bombs if you managed to kill a country's leadership, depriving the nation of decision-makers with the authority to launch a counterattack.

Detachment: Part of a unit separated from its main organization for duty elsewhere. Also, a temporary unit formed from other units.

Ground fire: Small arms ground-to-air fire directed against aircraft.

Jump speed: The airspeed at which paratroopers can jump from an aircraft with comparative safety.

MRE: Meal ready to eat in the field.

Ordnance: Military supplies, including weapons, ammunition and combat vehicles. Also can refer to a service of the Army charged with procuring, distributing and safekeeping such supplies.

Point of no return: The point along an aircraft route beyond which it won't be able to return to base without refueling.

Q-message: A classified communication regarding navigational dangers, such as mined areas.

Residual forces: U.S. troops that are ready to go into combat but have been held in reserve.

Rules of engagement: The circumstances under which troops will initiate and/or continue combat.

Squad: The smallest Army unit, with as many as 12 soldiers; led by a sergeant.

Supporting fire: Fire delivered by supporting units to assist or protect another unit in combat.

War game: A simulation of a military operation involving two or more opposing forces using rules, data and procedures designed to depict a real-life situation.

Zulu time: During a military operation, all units operate according to the same time zone. The world is divided into 24 time zones, each designated by a letter of the alphabet. The "clock" at Greenwich, England, is used as the standard for many activities that cross time zones and is designated Z. Military time usually is stated in a 24-hour format. Thus 1830Z is pronounced, according to the phonetic alphabet, as 1830 Zulu.


Source: Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms; reporting by Richard Chin, St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press; Knight Ridder research.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.