Thanks to movies and TV, we’re all familiar with the premise behind military time. Unlike in the civilian world, where the day is divided into two sets of twelve hours, military time treats each day as a single 24-hour cycle, eliminating the need for clarifying if a time is A.M. (Ante Meridiem) or P.M. (Post Meridiem).
Why do we use Military Time?
There are few occupations with as much inherent risk as war fighting. Whether it’s in a training environment or on the battlefield, even the slightest miscalculation or misunderstanding can hinder a unit’s ability to accomplish its mission, and worse, could potentially result in death. On a grander scale, miscommunications and misunderstandings can have even greater consequences, with a misunderstood order potentially creating an international incident that could lead to an otherwise avoidable bloody conflict.
In short, the stuff our military does each day is often not only dangerous for the individuals involved, but has far reaching implications in America’s national security strategy. Being accurate is essential, and using a form of time keeping that uses the same label for two entirely different times of day (say, 10:00) is really an unnecessary risk.
Instead, the U.S. military (as well as the military forces for Great Britain and other nations) relies on a 24-hour clock that eliminates any possible confusion; 1300 is always the same part of the day, with no need to delineate between whether it’s morning or afternoon. Although the system is meant to eliminate confusion, it can sometimes be tough to adjust to.
“Not too long ago, I missed a meeting because I misread the time sent in an email,” said Airman 1st Class Zach Wodaege, 87th Air Base Wing Judge Advocate military justice paralegal, hailing from Maple Valley, Wash.
“I feel as though it is a common mistake because military time doesn’t come naturally to everyone. I certainly feel more comfortable with the system as I have grown in my service.”
How to easily tell Military Time
The simplest way to tell military time is not necessary the quickest. When telling military time, the first hour after midnight is considered 0 (zero), and each hour thereafter goes up in sequential order by one. In other words, the day starts with 0 at the strike of midnight, 1:00 a.m. is 0100, 2:00 a.m. is 0200, and so forth.
It stays the way all the way up to 1259, where your traditional time keeping method is likely telling you the next hour to come up is 1:00 p.m. In military time, however, 1259 is followed (very logically) by 1300. The next hour is 1400, and so forth.
So, with that understanding, just replace earlier morning 12-hour (midnight through 12:59) with 00 followed by the number of minutes. 12:15 a.m. is 0015. 12:39 a.m. is 0039.
Once you get to 1:00 a.m., all you have to do is add a 0 up front (to make it a four digit time) and remove the colon. 1:22 a.m. then is 0122. 1:48 a.m. is 0148. You’ll do the same for each hour thereafter all the way through the noon hour of your day. 12:15 p.m. is just 1215.
Things get a little more complicated when you reach 1:00 p.m. This is where the 24-hour cycle comes in. Instead of 1:00 p.m., military time dictates that it’s the 13th hour of the day, so it’s 1300. 2:00 p.m. is the 14th hour, so it’s 1400.
Military Time Conversions
Tips and tricks
If you’re having trouble telling military time when you look at a traditional clock, or figuring out what time your platoon sergeant means when he says to be in formation by 1645, there are a few tips that can help.
- Use times you know for sure to give yourself context. If you know 1630 is 4:30 p.m. because that’s when you get off work, use that to help you figure out what time 1800 is. If 1600 is 4:00 pm. and 1800 is two hours later, add two hours to 4:00 and you get 6:00 p.m.
- For afternoon times after 1200 (noon), simply subtract 2 from the second digit in the hour, and the single digit you’re left with is the time. Example: The second digit in the hour of 1600 is 6. Subtract 2 from 6 and you have 4. 1600 is 4:00 p.m. This trick works up through 1959, but stops working at 2000 (8:00 p.m.).