Question for the military Dopers

Are there any things that would be obvious and well-known to a member of your branch of the service that might not be so obvious to an outsider, or even a member of another branch?

Say, for example, you were in a bar and some assneck at the next table was bragging loudly about his military exploits, and sounded fishy to you. Say, also, that he was claiming to be a member of the same branch of the military that you are (or were) in. Are there any simple questions you could ask that would be likely to trip up a faker, but any real soldier/sailor/Marine would be very likely to know?

Thanks in advance! (No, I’m not planning on going to a bar and bragging about my heroism; I’m writing a short story.)

You could ask where/ when he or she went to Boot Camp. The Navy used to have three basic training facilities, but only the one in Great Lakes is still operating. So if they said they went to boot camp in San Diego three years ago, that would be a tipoff.

Air Force questions:

  1. What was your AFSC? (AF version of an MOS)
  2. What bases were you at? (base names are important, and nearly every member of the AF knows most base names)
  3. Where did you go to tech school? (there are like 5 bases were you go) Did you get to go to tech school before basic? (no one does, in fact, it has NEVER happened)
  4. Were you a enlisted? Did you get to fly?

I can most certainly come up with more, but this has been my way of tripping up the fakers.

My youngest brother was a Navy SEAL and, later, a member of the Coast Guard’s TACLET team. He told me SEALs never wear T-shirts with all the hoo-rah stuff on 'em. In fact, the more heroic military folks – Special Forces, Delta Force, Marine Special Recon, etc. – are very low-key about their exploits. And, in general, vets don’t start swapping stories unless they know they’re among kindred folk.

Blowhards do tend to make themselves the heroes of their stories. Real vets know the best stories are the “No shit, I actually saw a guy do this” type or the “I was such a dumbass I almost killed myself” type. I’ve never heard anyone talk about how many lives he saved or how he earned the Silver Cross.

My own military service was so long ago I don’t remember any of the specifics. I was in communications, so not a lot of exploits involved. Lots of stories about what GIs do in the field when they’re bored out of their skulls, but nothing all that different from high school or frat house hijinks. Your best bet would be to find someone with real experience you want to write about and interview him or her.

Idea too late to edit: If the guy is totally off the wall, he may not be able to equate enlisted pay grades with ranks (O1 = 2d Lieutenant, etc.) and he wouldn’t know a damn thing about specific units unless he’d had some actual contact with them (Big Red One is 1st Infantry Division – still at Fort Riley, Kansas? Is Tropical Lightning still in Hawaii? Is the Quarter-Cav still in existence? Did the Americal Division get decommissioned?) Also, he’ll have trouble sorting out brigades, battalions, divisions, etc. (Hell, I had trouble keeping regiments and battalions straight when I was IN the Army!)

Same thing in the AF!

Many Airman


Major Air Force

Turns out, most people who inflate stories are veterans whose own service was quite humble. So they can often lay it on thick and fool lots of people.

It’s sad, really, since every genuine war hero I’ve ever met was deeply appreciative of REMFs like myself, and never insulted or disparaged their honorable service.

Is that a common occurance to encounter people bragging about a phony service record in a bar?

I don’t know whether or not it’s common, but I was inspired to start this thread by hearing a guy in a bar a month or two ago. He was talking about fighting in Iraq, and made himself and his unit sound pretty heroic. None of what he was talking about seemed implausible - no stories of killing 15 ‘ragheads’ with nothing but a pair of nunchaku improvised from two MREs and a shoelace or anything like that - it was him. He just didn’t carry himself like the military men I’ve known, even the young ones (he looked 25-28). I idly fantasized about having some shibboleth, some magic question I could ask him that would reveal him as a phony - something like Robert DiNiro asking Sean Bean (in Ronin), “What color is the boathouse at Hereford?”

But since I myself am not a military guy, and only superficially familiar with its practices and culture, I of course didn’t have one. So I came here with my ignorance. :smiley:

I am trying to imagine how someone would embellish their Navy Electrician Service. :wink: The closest thing to heroic would be firefighting & damage control. Nothing that would really sound impressive.

I could talk about how I was really great at completing the PMS on Switch Boards and Load Centers in record time for my ship and the Chiefs really appreciated it to the point of allowing and E4 to run these operations.
A) Only another EM would have a clue what I was talking about.
B) Who on earth, could I impress with a fact like this?

If I started talking out my ass about fighting in Kosovo in the nineties, anyone with Army experience should be able to determine I was full of shit, I would guess that a few questions from people that either knew about military weapons or Kosovo would trip me up quickly. I know my Nephew-In-Law would. He could however spin almost any reasonable tale about his days there and I would be clueless if he was full of shit.

I would not have a good clue what made someone an Army Hero or not, unless they made huge gaffs, like the mentioned ranks.

Once I ran across someone bragging about his service time on the USS Forrestal in Vietnam and several things he said ran very false. He did not know enough about how these carriers were designed for someone that was on flight deck crew. I served on a sister ship of the Forrestal, so I called him out on several pieces of his story. I am guessing that even someone that served on a destroyer would not have known what he was saying was wrong.


No offense, but coming from a military family (both my father and brother retired from the AF, we have military as far back as my lines run – shit, my last name even friggin means “warrior” and my husband is currently active duty guard) – uhm, anyone who fights in a war without committing war crimes and comes home alive is pretty much a hero in my book. What does it matter to you if his stories are or are not true so long as they don’t involve raping and murdering women or children? Honestly, what difference does it make in your narrow little worldview whether or not this guy (and his unit) actually did the stuff he claims they did?

I will never cease to be surprised by either the people who have to lie about their life/history to seem better than they are or by those who feel the need to “knock those people down a notch.”

My brother tells a lot of stories about his service that may or may not be true. He has a hell of a lot more that are true that he doesn’t tell very often. He did a lot for the AF while he was in – he chooses to tell some stories to some people who might be more impressed than others. Meh. What do I care? He has been on the front lines (communications/translations specialist) of every major (and most minor) conflict since like 1986 – he never committed war crimes and he came back alive. I would never admit it to him, but he’s a hero whether his stories are true or not. Get over your need to bring someone down to your level. Live and let live.


I think you may have misunderstood me. I didn’t take any offense at the details of his stories. I didn’t think he was military at all. I think he was spinning yarns to try and impress the guy and girls at his table. That’s what was offensive to me. I wasn’t going to get up and fight him. And if I did have some magic bullet question, I doubt I would have butted into his conversation to spring it on him (hence the words “idly fantasized.”)

I come from military people myself - hell, my Dad met my Mom’s family on one of his tours in Vietnam. And I agree with you that there’s a quiet, everyday heroism in serving in the military, doing a good job (even if that job is programming computers or flipping pancakes) and coming home safe, sound and sane. I was just buzzed and recreationally grouchy at the redneck putz at the next table whom I suspected of making up soldier stories to get laid.

Pit me. Or not. :slight_smile:

No pitting, just saying, let the kid have his stories, whether they’re true or not. One would never imagine that my brother were at any point in the military, let alone a retired service member. He has long hair, a big, fat beer belly and rides a Harley when he is stateside (He lives in Spain now). His mannerisms are not those that most people would think of as military. he sure as hell doesn’t come across as a veteran of several wars. Nonetheless, he is military.

I am just saying, why does it bother you so much that this kid doesn’t come across as military? I could introduce you to several people in my husband’s unit that don’t seem like they’re military, but who are decorated heroes. I guess it’s just my thing that I am unable to understand giving a shit about other people. Meh. Sorry if I came across as snarky, I don’t try to – it just comes naturally :smiley:

I’d like to have a buck for every phony war story I’ve heard, including from my brother. He was a bird farmer, on the Admiral’s staff yet, and did a couple of tours on Yankee Station. I think he does it because I was in country and there’s some sibling rivalry going on. I humor him, because he’s my brother.
I just ignore other guys, unless they start claiming Silver Stars, or a MoH, there are ways to deal w/ that. If you show them up in front of other people, they just might do something stupid, to prove themselves, instead of just shutting up.
For the record, I don’t lie, or embelish. I may get things confused sometimes, but that’s because it was almost 40 years ago.

Cheers. Now, let me tell you of my bold swashbuckling adventures aboard my pirate ship. I was a ninja. Yes, you heard me right: a pirate ninja. I could kill you silently with my hook hand - 22 different ways. :wink: :stuck_out_tongue:

Dude, that is sooooo cool. I once went out with this pirate-ninja – OMG, he was so amazing in bed, but I digress. Honestly, it has just never really bothered me that much for people to embellish around me. Believe me, I hear some doozies where I work.

I guess it’s just a sign of how little attention I actually pay to people that I have been known to say “really? how cool for you.” Based on the voice/tone of the other person’s words, and have no idea that they just said “yeh, so this one time, I was playing with my purple heart, when a meteor fell out of the sky that was about 4’ in diameter and I caught it – bare-handed, mind you and then stuck it in my backpack for safe-keeping.” Honestly, sometimes, people embellish the hell out of their stories around me, just to see if I have completely dropped out of the conversation. Meh. And Meh, again :slight_smile:

ETA: Funny side-note – I never even knew my dad had gotten the purple heart until after his death. That’s how little he talked about his service in the military.

OK, getting back to the OP – yeah, all vets tell stories, even Navy electricians, and for most of us the military was one of the most impressionable times of our lives. I was a commo man in a bridge bunny battalion, and we broke the world’s record for bridging a major river (Speyer, Germany, February 1976 – the Guiness people were there, dude!) and I still tell stories to my kids about how SMAG Cox dragged Compton out of the deuce-and-a-half and beat his ass with a jack handle while Ell-Tee Mazza told the rest of us it wasn’t really happening (Compton deserved it, to be sure.) Do I embellish the story? Hell yes! Maybe the SMAG didn’t really smack Compton with the jack handle, but it makes a better story if he did. But that’s not the OP’s point. The point is that no one who’s never been in the Army, in a combat engineer battalion, never actually watched a pontoon bridge go together, would know the sound the pontoons make when they’re pushed together. Nobody who’s never been in the Army would know about the deference young officers show to old sergeants major, or the absolute terror a sergeant major can wreak on a platoon of communication fuck-offs.

So, for the purpose of your short story, my original advice stands. Interview someone you trust and respect, who has military background. Write your story and then have your technical advisor vet it. It’ll work.

Depends on what particular unit the guy claimed to be in. The more specific the unit or more elite, the easier it would be to come up with a simple question that only a non-faker would know. Problem is, you wouldn’t know to ask it unless you happened to actually be in the unit he was talking about.

Generally, though, a total faker might be saying that he was with the “101st Airborne Division”, but won’t be able to name the specific Battalion he was in. The battalions aren’t simple answers like “Oh, the 2nd”. He would be able to tell you “3-187” or something like that. Those are pretty good indicators.

Or if someone claims to be a Green Beret or Special Forces. He might know what Group to say he was with, but he would probably stumble if you asked him what ODA he was on.

Tell me what kind of “soldier” you want the guy in your short story to be and I’ll help you come up with a good question and dialogue.

**Bear_Nenno ** has a great idea. When Aaron Sorkin wrote “A Few Good Men,” he gave the Marines at Gitmo a shoulder patch with a motto on it (I don’t recall what the motto was.) It was fictitious, of course, but that’s exactly the kind of thing military units do. When I was in 9th Eng Bn in Germany, our unit crest featured a gila monster because the unit was once posted on the Gila River. Our motto was “Asisterimos” which, I was told, was Latin for “We can help!” (Sort of reminds you of Home Depot, eh?) Part of our unit lore was that the Ninth had secured the Remagen bridgehead for the U.S. push into Germany during World War II. After we broke the world bridging record at Speyer, the battalion commander decreed that we would no longer greet our officers with “Asisterimos, Sir!” but with “Bridgebuilder, Sir!” The reason – nobody knew what the hell Asisterimos meant, and because we were bigawd the world’s best bridge builders. (The CO’s name, by the name, was Thiede (THEE-dee)).

All units have this kind of lore – since you’re writing fiction, you can make up your own unit with its own lore and go from there.

Personally I would never disparage a remf unless he was trying to pretend to be what he was not.

As to the O.P. in the Brit forces one way or another everyone knows at least of somebody who knows of someone they know .
For individual units its very easy to throw out an innocent test question plus there is the unit slang .

Believe it or not there are still people who try it on but they’re usually civvies bragging about fictional past glories.

Oh shit thats me ,I’ve just grassed myself up dammit!

With elite units the Walter Mitties tend to spout out stuff from the media which is more often then not complete tripe .
I recall an "ex member of the S.A.S "honest ,telling me how even the squads wife didnt know what unit he was in !I kid you not .

I think servicemen generally even across the Atlantic divide share many common thinking traits which I dont wish to go into as there is a phony so called ex U.S. serviceman who is a regular poster on these boards ,I sussed him almost immediatly as have others who have genuinlly served and I have no wish to help him in his lies.