Translating Corporate Jargon for the Military Audience

During my summertime internship adventure in nonprofit land, I’ve found myself working at what may be the most corporate NPO in existence. This post’s featured photo with the sticky notes on the glass wall? I attended a meeting where we actually did that!

In addition to this clichéd “brainstorm” meeting, I started noticing all of the corporate buzzwords and jargon, writing them down both for my own education and amusement at the fact that the Army isn’t the only workplace enamored with trendy terminology.

What follows are a handful of those terms accompanied by what I think are more-or-less equivalent Army phrases.


Army translation: In-processing or Reception

My first day or so on the job was spent “on-boarding.” Talking with HR, getting my computer situation squared away, getting oriented to the organization’s office procedures, and meeting folks whose names I still can’t remember.

No surprise what this is in uniform: “Welcome to Fort Wherever. Now sit through a bunch of briefings.”

And if you’re lucky enough to be a new Army recruit, there’s even a team of caring, professional mentors to shepherd you through your initial Army “on-boarding” time. (via

Sometimes you just call it in-processing, sometimes you lump it all into a category you call “reception” or “replacement” stuff. Either way, it means the stuff you do when you get to a new duty assignment and/or unit.


Army translation: Operational Area (OA)

When discussing the geographic area from which my internship organization recruits, my more permanent coworkers have used the term “ecosystem.” As in, “we need to conduct a proper analysis of the ecosystem to better understand the demographic makeup of our recruiting pool.”

To me, “ecosystem” feels like a very crunchy version of “Operational Area.” Perhaps the biggest difference is that the Army’s definition of OA generally includes killing people and blowing things up within that space. Hard to imagine a nonprofit with such a kinetic “ecosystem.”

Action Items

Army translation: Due-outs or Taskings

Actually, “action items” is already a term that feels like it could fit right into the Army lexicon. But, thankfully for once, Army terminology doesn’t let an exciting word like “action” creep into what amounts to administrative tasks. Instead soldiers, particularly staff types, will have “due-outs” and “taskings.”

I say “thankfully” above, because I can see how incorporating “action items” into the Army vocabulary could lead to equal over-exaggeration elsewhere. Safety briefings become “danger discussions.” Flu shots become “epidemic avoidance injections.” Slideshows become “power points.” Wait….


Army translation: Another f*cking meeting

This place loves to use the word “debrief,” and here’s my take on that:


The best I can figure, what my coworkers mean by “debrief” is to have another meeting during which they talk about a meeting they just had. It might even be a “back brief” from a subordinate to a manager.

The funny thing is, this is not an entirely foreign concept in the Army. I’ve sat through many meetings to talk about meetings. And meetings to plan more meetings. Meetings that very often end with you wondering if anything substantial was just discussed, and why the hell couldn’t that have been done via email? But those are not “debriefs.”


Army translation: Narrative or maybe IO Campaign

Maybe not the most nuanced messaging, but sometimes simpler is better.

As I may have mentioned before, much of the work I’m doing with this internship is expanding the existing program to a previously unserved veteran population. That entails marketing and recruiting efforts. And of course no recruiting effort can be effective without crafting the right message.


Of course the Army worries about messaging, but I don’t think that specific language is used. In fact, there’s a whole wing of the Army that deals with Information Operations (IO) and units like the 1st Information Operations Command, not to mention the Public Affairs branch plus the whole Recruiting thing. I recommend checking out the latest edition of the Pen and the Sword, the Military Writers Guild podcast, “On the battle for the narrative” to learn from smarter folks than me.

Coalition Building

Army translation: Staffing

This is the single best and loftiest phrase I’ve heard so far. I get the sense that it’s used somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but by Christ it is a real thing. Partly because of the more egalitarian nature of a rank-less civilian workplace, and partly because of the granola-flavor of the nonprofit aspect, getting just about anything done requires the herculean effort of getting everybody on board and in agreement with the initiative. You feel like you’re genuinely putting in the effort to diplomatically negotiate a coalition of the willing.

In the Army, we call that staffing. Sure there’s some salesmanship that has to be done with some key leaders if you want to do something unorthodox, but what we mostly see is a more bureaucratic approval process. Either that, or key leaders just institute their idea.

SMA Dailey and GEN Milley pose with SPC Mitchell and his rolled sleeves. Would you call this part of a “coalition building” effort? (Photo by SFC Charles E. Burden, via


To be fair, however, even Army leaders engage in the kind of “coalition building” I discuss above. We live in a democratic society where those on the lowest rungs of the ladder feel more included when the higher-ups poll for opinions. Take, for instance, the Army’s sleeve-rolling pilot that just concluded at Fort Hood. General Milley could have easily given the change a green light, but the initiative was put through a testing phase first, with opinions solicited from the Army masses via social media and from senior leaders through more formal channels. The lesson here (at least for me) is that “coalition building” goes one step beyond staffing by developing buy-in from the “coalition.”

Identifying cultural differences outside of the military never ceases to entertain me. If you have any examples of similar phrases, feel free to share in the comments or on social media.

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