US Service Calls: Hooah, Hoorah and Hooyah

Service Calls: The Meaning of Hooah, Oorah and Hooyah

If you have been through basic training then you are overly familiar with your service call. However, new spouses or spouses of a particular service may be unfamiliar or confused by what they are hearing.

The United States Army, Marines and Navy SEALs each have their own variation of a term that sounds a lot alike.  Used as affirmations of sorts, the Army’s “Hooah”, the Marines “Oorah”, and the Navy SEALs’ “Hooyah” may be whispered, called in cadence, or shouted out. There is no formally accepted definition for any of these terms, and no one agrees on their spelling or origin. More so, is each word unique in origin, or are ‘Oorah’ and ‘Hooyah’ adaptations of an original ‘Hooah’? A strange aspect of service calls is their lack of usage in the Air Force and Navy. Though an accepted Navy-wide term is “Aye, Aye”, and according to one commenter to this blog, the Air Force says “Huah”, though not as frequently as its variant is used in the other services and mostly amongst enlisted soldiers.

Many organizations have attempted to define these terms. For example, ‘Hooah’ has also been spelled HUA and huah, and is defined as follows:

  • “[…] refers to or means anything except no.”
    (The Department of Military Science and Leadership, University of Tennessee)
  • “[…] an all-purpose expression.”
    (Absolutely American: Culture War at West Point )
  • “Phonetic spelling of the military acronym HUA, which stands for “Heard Understood Acknowledged.” Originally used by the British in the late 1800’s in Afghanistan. More recently adopted by the United States Army to indicate an affirmative or a pleased response.”
    (UrbanDictionary.com)
  • “[…] an affirmation that I fully agree with and support the idea or intent expressed by the person to whom I make that response… It applies not only to the letter of what was said, but to the spirit of what was said.”
    (Quote by Maj. Gen. F.A. Gorden, Military District of Washington commander; from “Origins of Hooah” by Rod Powers, usmilitary.about.com)
  • “[…] It means we have broken the mold. We are battle focused. Hooah says Look at me. I’m a warrior. I’m ready. Sergeants trained me to standard. I serve America every day, all the way.‘”
    (Quote by Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan; from “Origins of Hooah” by Rod Powers, usmilitary.about.com)

Opinions vary as to the usefulness or appropriateness of service calls. Some consider service calls useful, such as in cadences, creating cohesion in basic training and instilling a sense of history and tradition in a unit. Some soldiers use the term for any affirmation in any circumstance. The Navy has even discussed officially adopting Hooyah.  Other soldiers may go their entire career without using their service call once. Some find it silly, downright stupid, macho, or outdated.

Whatever the personal opinions about the usefulness or absurdity of service calls, they are a part of the military culture. And, although the terms are not singularly defined, their meaning and use is well understood and, for the most part, accepted. They each are meant to instill a sense of unity, motivation, confidence in success, and preparedness for the mission at hand.

Speculation around “Hooah” 

Derived from foreign languages:

  • War cries from various languages: Danish, Swedish, Dutch, Russian and Prussian words are contenders, as are the Mongolian “Hurree” from the 13th century and the Turkish “Ur Ah” roughly translated as “Come on, Hit!”
  • The Vietnamese word for ‘yes’, pronounced “u-ah”, during the Vietnam War
  • Predates the American Revolution, perhaps originating from French or Germans serving with American or British forces

Derived from the British “Huzzah” or “Hoosah” (originally huzza, and “hurrah” or “hooray” in modern English, as in “Hip, Hip Hooray!”):

  • British infantry in 18th and 19th centuries shouted “Huzzah” three times before a bayonet charge
  • Appears in literature since at least Shakespeare’s time
  • Variation on “huzzah” and “hurrah”, predating the American Civil War
    • The Southern song Bonnie Blue Flag has the term in verse: “Hurrah, Hurrah, For Southern rights, Hurrah, Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag which bears a single star…”
    • Northern troops yelled “Hoosah” during battle

Derived from the British military acronym HUA or “Hear. Understand. Acknowledge” used during their time in Afghanistan in the 1800s.

Derived from misunderstandings:

  • Originates from the Second Dragoons time in Florida during an 1841 attempt at peace negotiations with Seminole Indians when Indian Chief Coacoochee attempted to say “how do you do?” (after his interpreter explained this was the general meaning behind several banquet toasts) and said “hough”
  • Originates from D-Day 1941 when General Cota’s thought the Rangers from 2nd Bat said “Hooah!” in response to his calling out ”Lead the way, Rangers” as he jogged down a beach to locate the commanding officer, though reportedly they had shouted “Who, Us?”

There are dozens more…

Speculation around “Oorah”

Derived from “Hoorah”.

Derived from a foreign language:

  • Originates from the Aussie colloquialism for “Farewell” or “Until Then” which was picked up by Marines medivacked to Australia during WWII

Derived from a Turkish or Russian battle cry.

Originates from the 1956 film The DI when actor jack Webb as T/Sgt Jim Moore tells his platoon “Let me hear you ROAR, tigers!”

Speculation around “Hooyah”

Derived from “Oorah”

Derived from British military acronym HUA for “Hear. Understand. Acknowledge”.

Derived from the commonly used term “Yahoo!” of the 1950s and 1960s.

Several additional theories discussed on a page in The Warrior Elite: The Forging of Seal Class 228 by Dick Couch, Capt, USN (Ret).

33 thoughts on “Service Calls: The Meaning of Hooah, Oorah and Hooyah

  1. Bill Hindenlang

    I’m a Navy vet myself. But I’m told that the Service Call for the Coast Guard is “Yay!”, and the Service Call for the Air Force is “Yippee!”.

    Hooyah!

    Reply
    1. Matt Thiessen

      I’m a Rescue Swimmer Chief in the USCG and all through RS school and beyond it’s been “HooRah” for us. Not sure of the origin but I think, for all of the calls is pretty much just what happens to be the sound that comes from a man(or a damn tough woman) when he/she is at the edge about to step off. Anybody repeating it is trying to emulate and understand or harness thoes emotions for motivation.

      Reply
      1. Military Spouse Post author

        Very well said. I don’t remember what I screamed when I repelled down a wall for the first time at an ROTC FX in college but whatever it may have been, (probably an expletive…) it was definitely called for.

        Reply
      2. Chet Scheel

        I laud you and your MOS. It puts you in harms way to a far greater extent than most people (including Bill Hindenlang as evidenced above) can even imagine. FWIW my Daddy was a “Coastie” (enlisted, not officer) flying sub patrol on “Pig Boats” in the Gulf of Mexico during WWII. Fished the Gulf Coast offshore myself (for some time) in a 25 foot Mako out of POC and always felt assured that should the need arise the C.G. would be there for us. From my long gone “Old Man” HooRah!!!

        Reply
  2. Jam Mac

    US Military Slang responses (based on joint service operations and DoD time):
    ARMY: HUA. Pronounced differently by the Army’s various corps (Ordnance, Combat Arms, etc.) mainly understood to be an acronym for Heard, Understood, Acknowledged.
    MARINE: OORAH. Translates to “Well, chaps, shall we be off and kill some Tangos?”
    REGULAR NAVY: BZ or Bravo Zulu. Translates to “Well Done,” or “Outstanding,” source unknown. “Aye, Aye” is not slang, it is required. Akin to “Roger Wilco”
    SEALS: What ever is written above works for me.
    GREEN BERETS: Regular Army HUA is pretty much forbidden. Sign at Fort Bragg SF operations area states “HUA Free Zone.” Besides, one never hears them coming for you before it’s too late.
    AIR FORCE: Multiple choice: “Fore!,” “May we play through,” “What time does the O’ Club open?”
    (I can state as such, Air Force Vet married to Air Force Vet

    Reply
        1. Chelsea Hunter

          I believe we all fought for the same country. And as a former Air Force Crew Chief, all jobs are important. If I didn’t do my job B-52s wouldn’t fly to drop bombs…

          Reply
    1. David m

      21 year air force veteran. i never heard any one use these service calls; however I think jam Mac is spot on.

      Reply
  3. Jason Duncan

    Every military around the world has some version of this, as do martial artists and hand to hand combatants and tennis players. It’s a physiologically beneficial tightening of the muscles and exertion of breath combined with loud unnerving scream while striking. Ours are derived from colonial Hurrah from British Huzzah.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiai

    Reply
  4. Bryce M

    […]we do too have our own version of the yell in the Air Force: Huah! It’s not as frequently used as in the other branches (from my experience, it’s more of an enlisted thing, while the Air Force is much more officer-heavy than the other branches), but I’ve heard it plenty.

    Reply
  5. Stony

    Was kind of hard getting through basic training in the Army without some NCO or Officer tryhard ending a speech, block of instruction or rant without calling “Huah” and expecting the same affirmation.

    I personally think it’s stupid, but a lot of others really got into it. Had a guy at my unit who took it a step further and referred to everybody as “battle”. Short for battlebuddy. It annoyed nearly all of us to no end.

    Reply
    1. Honor Flight

      There’s always that 1 person who takes it to another level: a bit too eager, asks too many questions, runs and tells everything to your instructor or Sarge, forgets they’re a slick sleeve like the rest of us, etc.
      At some point in basic, each person had to pull night guard duty at least once for our flight. Nobody likes it because you’re on edge and worried that your T.I. will walk in on you falling asleep. But there was 1 female who got off on it. After our T.I. left for the evening, she had the audacity to stick metal thumb tacks on the bottom of her boots so you can hear the taps as if a T.I. was walking around. Everybody knows that if you hear taps, you better be squared away and maintain your bearings because a T.I. is about to make an appearance. She walked around with those tacks on her boots all night long and we weren’t always sure if it was her doing rounds or our T.I. checking in on us so we couldn’t yell at her from our bunks to knock it off because, well, we wanted to live.
      We gave her the stink eye for a few days after that but we all agreed that she was “that 1 person”. No one snitched on her but someone did go into her drawer and stole her thumb tacks before she got assigned guard duty again. We slept pretty well that night.

      Reply
  6. Michael Sargent

    It’s not about the various services, nor historical battle cries. It is meant to instill unity, esprit d’corps, and loyalty to the people in your unit.

    The yells I remember were “MEDIC!” and “CORPSMAN!”

    SSG “Mick” Sargent, U.S. Army Veteran (1968-1972)
    Special Forces Counter-Insurgency Group, MACVSOG

    Reply
  7. VicB

    Just FYI, I’m a retired Navy chief, and we do use Hooyah throughout the Navy. The frogmen do use it more often. It has no correlation whatsoever to “aye-aye” which is an acknowledgement to a command or order.

    Reply
  8. Honor Flight

    Ah, the tried and true Air Force jokes and slander. Gotta love it!

    From what I recall in Basic, we used to say “Ah-roo!” and VERY rarely “Huah!” when our flight was in formation and our TI expected us to affirm what was stated but I don’t recall hearing a chant/call after that during my full time in. I’ll admit I use “Oorah!” when giving positive feedback or acknowledging any service member no matter the branch and especially now as a Vet. When I look back on it, “Ah-roo!” sounds rather lame and it’s probably why this is the 1st and last time I’ll ever speak on it. But trust and believe, there was nothing lame about my TI. She’s the 2nd toughest woman I know, the 1st being my mom.

    All the best to every service member, their spouses/partners and their families. When we serve, you serve with us even when we can’t tell you where we are or when we’ll be back.

    Reply
  9. J. LaVoice

    What if by chance it is Hebrew? ruwa` roo-ah’ a primitive root; to mar (especially by breaking); figuratively, to split the ears (with sound), i.e. shout (for alarm or joy):–blow an alarm, cry (alarm, aloud, out), destroy, make a joyful noise, smart, shout (for joy), sound an alarm, triumph.

    Reply
  10. El Rico

    When a Navy Sub sounds the alarm- aaoogah… that real gritty, screaming alarm meaning ‘battle station ready now!” … ‘take cover’ and so on. Apparently the Marines…being a part of the Navy implemented this sound but with it’s own twist; oorah !

    Reply
  11. Maureen

    My oldest brother who passed away 12/1/15 was a Marine (once a Marine, always a Marine, right?) explained this to me years ago. He was so special to me so oorah holds a particular importance. But hearing any one of them warms my heart. After all: Dad & uncle served Navy in WWII; VietNam, oldest brother Marines, 2nd oldest Navy, many friends Army, cousin retired Navy Captain; Gulf War, 2 youngest brothers Air Force & Navy; post-9/11, cousin Army Ranger lost in helicopter crash over Afghanistan. 2 youngest brothers re-upped Air National Guard, Kandahar. Nephew, Iraq, currently serving Marine Major. Other family currently serving. So, have had many sleepless nights! Every time I put my hand over my heart & sing the National Anthem I cannot get through it w/o getting choked up, EVERY time! Ooh Rah!!

    Reply
    1. David

      Maureen,
      Your comment touched an old Marine’s heart. I served in Vietnam with Marine RECON. I was there 24 months and lost 78 men under my direct command as we entered places we weren’t, but had to be. I am proud to have served my country even though the climate in my home country was one of hatred for anyone in uniform by a lot of left wing jerks and those who cried “Peace! Peace! Not war! Stop the fighting!” as well as being called some names I never dreamed of, such as the one that still hurts the most until this very day…Baby Killer! My dress uniform was ruined by these “peaceful” protesters because they threw rotten fruit and vegetables at me, as well as blood.
      Thank you and your family for your dedication to our country, the greatest country on earth! PERIOD!!! If you get this reply, please extend my gratitude to every single one of your family and friends from an old “Once and always a Marine”
      Our family is small, but my Dad served in the Marines in WWII and hit the beaches of just about every island in the Pacific until he ended up in China. And, his youngest brother served during the Vietnam War with the 101st Airborne. The rest of the brothers were too young or old during any wars but they were at home supporting the war efforts by working in the coal mines, steel mills, factories making weapons or parts, whatever it took to help keep our men and women safe and bring them back home. Even so, they all say they didn’t do anything like those of us who were in actual life and death situations in far away countries. But, they risked their lives by going underground, working around molten steel, stamping tools that can take an arm off or kill a person so quickly they would never know what hit them.
      I grieve for your losses, but know they did what they felt they had to in order to keep our country safe and secure and the most prosperous, friendliest, happiest country on earth.
      When you think of those who died while serving, please say a prayer and mention that my family appreciates their sacrifices and I pray they are in a better place and are at peace, no longer having to have anything to do with conflict of any type.
      I am a Christian and I hope I don’t offend you or your family, but I just want to say God bless you and your friends and family. And have a “MERRY CHRISTMAS” and a happy new year. Not “Happy holidays”.
      Sincerely,
      David

      Reply
      1. Jason

        Thank you and your Family for all you have sacrificed for the rest of us, so that we may be free and continue the fight when called to do so!

        Reply
    2. Barbara Plunkett Turner

      Maureen, THANK YOU and your family for all y’all have sacrificed for all of us. RIP Daddy, Semper fi, Korea, Merchant Marines-age 16, Philippines, Okinawa; plus over 1,000 other of our family’s military Vets from our original 25 in the Amer. Rev. War. 2 on the Viet Nam wall; 2 who perished on the USS Arizona; many many decorated heroes and 6 of my direct Uncles who all served in WWII, Granddaddy P who fought the Germans in Germany in WWI, yes one, Daddy’s older brother 1Lt. U.S. Army, lost his best friend and over 1/2 his btn. at Normandy, Omaha and Italy. I had 6 Uncles total who served during WWII, we had 56 serve in that war, 14 served their entire tours in Europe. We had a 19 yr. old co-pilot who was shot down with his crew over Germany and imprisoned at the infamous Stalag Luft III prison camp – made famous by the movie “The Great Escape” and later they were liberated by the Russians in April 1946. We also had a few spies down through the ages. God bless them all for our freedoms. We have many decorated heroes and my mother’s cousin Gloria was a Supv. in the Rosey the Riveter program. We had 25 Plunketts who fought, suffered and some died in the Amer. Rev. War here in VA. We had over 160 from 9 states who fought, suffered and some died and some imprisoned during the un-Civil War. I was married to a Viet Nam Vet U.S. Army Photographer, top Sec. Crypto S.I. clearance 2 Generals down from the Pres. and I myself “heard the call” and served as best I could as a volunteer in the Civil Air Patrol, SouthSide Sqdn, ’77-’79. We thank all of them for our Freedoms!

      Reply
  12. High Ground

    A Marine of 35 yrs, I have heard all of the above! What must be understood is that, when you hear any of the above, that service person is affirming one of many things, most commonly, the fact that….. “I’m giving it my ALL”, regardless of the anticipated or unexpected outcome! Hero’s were formed based on grasping their inner – strength, and bravery! At the moment you hear these words murmured, or shouted, you can rest assured that he or she is very serious about the challenges that lie ahead, or how well the previous challenges were executed. It also affrms their loyalty to their comrades!

    Normally, this battle cry is mustered from the pit of your diaphragm and passes through your wind pipe with a resounding bass tone.

    35 yrs later, I still get riled when facing a major objective, or a successful outcome has been achieved, by the very sound.

    I would like to take this moment to say it’s a pleasure serving with those whom are on the line, and a great deal of thanks to those whom support the very fabric of the service men and women of this amazing country!!!!

    OOOOO RAH

    Capt. Owens

    Reply
  13. Pingback: Army Hooah: All You Need To Know - Citizen Soldier Resource Center

  14. Subsailer665

    when you enter a room full of mixed service veterans and want to find out if any were past submarine sailers (tubers), just let out with a big base tone ooogahhh, which is the sound of klaxon, announcing a submarine about to dive (or emergency surface) and you will get a similar response, much the way an active sonar ping reverberates when it makes contact or the way kids played the game “Marco Polo”, when I was a child. That specific ooogahhh sound is pretty unique to the Submarine Service.

    Reply

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