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.”
- “[…] 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).