The military does a lot of things, from humanitarian aid missions to security operations for the world’s shipping lanes, but without a doubt, the thing the military excels at is war-fighting. Specializing in such a dramatic and chaotic enterprise requires a great deal of preparation, planning, and above all else, communicating.
In fact, communication plays an integral role in just about everything the military does — from fire teams that need to “shoot, move, and communicate” in combat operations to policy level decisions that need to be relayed and enforced across a massive body of service members across dozens of different commands. At the end of the day, the military may use weapons to enforce America’s foreign policy, but it’s the communication from the top down and back again that really makes it happen.
Of course, communicating isn’t always easy — especially over great distances and in hectic environments. That’s why the U.S. military relies on numerous forms of communication systems, teaches common hand gestures in combat training, and instills the use of the phonetic alphabet, sometimes referred to as the “military alphabet” when communicating over radios or telephone lines.
The phonetic alphabet wasn’t originally intended for military use — back when a group of French and English language teachers led by Paul Passy invented it, the point was to have an international system of transcription. It didn’t take long, however, for the military to recognize its value in relaying letters across communication lines that were susceptible to background noise or interference in the signal.
Today, many service members are expected to memorize the phonetic alphabet (often at basic training) and use it commonly when communicating over the radio or telephone. As a result, it’s not all that uncommon to hear veterans continue to use it while talking on the phone — not as a means of holding on to their military pasts, but because the method has proven extremely effective when it comes to relaying the spelling of a name (for instance) over a phone line. While a listener might mistake a “B” for “P,” as an example, it’s pretty tough to mistake “Bravo” for “Papa.”
There have been changes to the phonetic alphabet over the years, bringing us to the most modern iteration in common use today among members of the U.S. military.
The Phonetic Alphabet is as follows:
|A||Alfa/Alpha||● ▬||AL FAH|
|B||Bravo||▬ ● ● ●||BRAH VOH|
|C||Charlie||▬ ● ▬ ●||CHAR LEE|
|D||Delta||▬ ● ●||DELL TAH|
|F||Foxtrot||● ● ▬ ●||FOKS TROT|
|G||Golf||▬ ▬ ●||GOLF|
|H||Hotel||● ● ● ●||HOH TELL|
|I||India||● ●||IN DEE AH|
|J||Juliett||● ▬ ▬ ▬||JEW LEE ETT|
|K||Kilo||▬ ● ▬||KEY LOH|
|L||Lima||● ▬ ● ●||LEE MAH|
|N||November||▬ ●||NO VEMBER|
|O||Oscar||▬ ▬ ▬||OSS CAH|
|P||Papa||● ▬ ▬ ●||PAH PAH|
|Q||Quebec||▬ ▬ ● ▬||KEH BECK|
|R||Romeo||● ▬ ●||ROW ME OH|
|S||Sierra||● ● ●||SEE AIRRAH|
|U||Uniform||● ● ▬||YOU NEE FORM|
|V||Victor||● ● ● ▬||VIK TAH|
|W||Whiskey||● ▬ ▬||WISS KEY|
|X||X-ray||▬ ● ● ▬||ECKS RAY|
|Y||Yankee||▬ ▬ ● ●||YANG KEY|
|Z||Zulu||▬ ▬ ▬ ▬ ▬||ZOO LOO|