9 Facts You May Not Know About the Navy on its 239th Birthday

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens cut a birthday cake with the most junior sailor in attendance to celebrate Navy's 239th birthday. Navy photo by  Peter D. Lawlor

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens cut a birthday cake with the most junior sailor in attendance to celebrate Navy’s 239th birthday. Navy photo by Peter D. Lawlor

Steadfast to the bitter end, Navy tradition isn’t all rum punch and pollywogs. On its 239th Birthday, here are nine things you may not know about the United States Navy:

1. Bravo Zulu means “well done”

Through World War II, sailors who did well were told “Tare Victor George,” which was code for “well done.” After the war, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed and it standardized communications. NATO created a system of B-flags for administrative communication. The last B-flag was BZ. The Allied Naval Signal Book created the phonetics for each letter and BZ became Bravo Zulu.

2. So explain gun salutes …

Sailors fire a 40 mm saluting cannon. Navy photo

Sailors fire a 40 mm saluting cannon. Navy photo

Often confused with the three-volley salute seen performed at military funerals, the 21-gun salute is a different ceremony entirely. Performed with cannons, the gun salute originates in the days of wooden ships and broadside cannons, when if a ship fired a volley in salute, it was powerless to defend itself for as long as 20 minutes while it reloaded the battery. When approaching ships fired a volley, shore batteries and forts would know the ship represented no threat. In time, this grew to become a gesture of respect, with both land and sea batteries firing odd-numbered volleys back and forth.

Today, the Secretary of the Navy has the final say on which ships and stations may fire gun salutes. A national salute of 21 guns is fired on Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day and to honor the President or heads of foreign states. Additionally, ships may — with approval from the office of the Secretary of the Navy — provide gun salutes for senior officers using the following protocol:

  • Admiral: 17 guns
  • Vice Admiral: 15 guns
  • Rear Admiral (upper half): 13 guns
  • Rear Admiral (lower half): 11 guns

All gun salutes are fired at five-second intervals and total an odd number.

3. Fouled anchors


CPO_collarIf an anchor is fouled, it means the line or chain is wrapped around the shank and fluke arms. This indicates the anchor is no longer suitable for use. These retired anchors are usually displayed for decorative purposes on base or in Navy communities. The symbol is also part of the Chief Petty Officer rank insignia. When used in body art, the fouled anchor represents a tour across the Atlantic Ocean.

4. The story behind the art

Though tattoos are discouraged in today’s Navy, sailors for hundreds of years tattooed themselves as souvenirs to show where they’d been and what they’d gone through. Here is a short (and far from comprehensive) list we collected from sources around the Web of imagery you may encounter among saltier sailors, along with what each item means.

  • Swallows: Home (each denotes 5,000 miles at sea)
  • Compass/Nautical Star: Never losing one’s way (each denotes 10,000 miles at sea)
  • Trident: Special warfare
  • Rose: A significant other left at home
  • Twin screws or props on one’s backside: Propels one forward through life
  • Rope: Deckhand
  • 
Octopus: Navy diver
  • Dolphin: Wards off sharks
  • Sharks: Rescue swimmer
  • Polar bear: Sailed the Arctic Circle
  • Dragon: Sailed the Pacific
  • Fouled anchor: Sailed the Atlantic
  • Turtle: Crossed the equator
  • Gold dragon: Crossed the International Dateline
  • Gold turtle: Crossed the International Dateline and the Equator where they intersect
  • Emerald fouled anchor: Crossed the Prime Meridian
  • Emerald turtle: Crossed the Prime Meridian and the Equator where they intersect
  • Full-rigged ship: Sailed around Cape Horn
  • Helm: Quartermaster
  • Pin-up girls: Company at sea/port call
  • Hula girls: Sailed to or ported in Hawaii
  • Dagger through a swallow: Signifies a lost comrade
  • Pig and chicken: Superstition to keep from drowning
  • The words “HOLD FAST”: Signifies a deckhand’s tight grip on the lines

5. Mind your Ps and Qs

Sure, you want to write your lowercase letters correctly, but this wasn’t originally a grammar warning. Instead, according to the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, it was a way of keeping bar bookkeepers — and their seafaring patrons — honest in waterfront taverns. In centuries past, sailors often had bar tabs on credit, with barkeepers making marks next to each patron’s name under P for pint and Q for quart. Minding one’s Ps and Qs meant both settling up and also staying somewhat sober as to keep an accurate count on what one had consumed.

6. A sign inside the camo

Navy tests a new lookMuch like the Marine Corps camouflage pattern upon which the Navy version was developed, Navy “digis,” as they are often called, have tiny Navy emblems printed inside the pattern. Next time you’re close to a sailor, see if you can spot one.

7. Tossing a Dixie Cover under the Bridge

For many a short-timer, crossing under the Coronado Bridge (or any other bridge near home port) marks a moment of reflection. Should the sailor stay in or get out? Because sailors are often superstitious, many leave the decision up to the sea, tossing their cover into the deep. If it floats, the sea is asking them to stay. If it sinks, it’s time to move on.

8. In the Navy there are no windows, walls or bathrooms

The Navy has rich diction, but don’t get it mixed up. Ships don’t have walls; they have bulkheads. They don’t have windows; they have portholes. Your left side is your port side and the right side is starboard. The mess deck is where you eat and the deck is where you walk. Above your head is an overhead, not a ceiling or roof. If you need a toilet, you will find that in the head, and the rack is where you sleep.

9. The Legend of Bill the Goat

United_State_Naval_Academy_Logo-sportsBill the Goat has been the Naval Academy mascot since the early 1900s. Legend has it that a Navy ship once had a goat for a pet, and on the way home to port the goat died. Two ensigns were entrusted to have the goat stuffed, but got distracted by a Naval Academy football game. One of the ensigns allegedly dressed up in the goatskin and pranced around at halftime. The crowd loved it and Navy won the game.

Sesame Street / USO Experience for Military Families Cast Members Share Their Favorite Tour Memories

Grover, Cookie Monster, Katie, Elmo, Honker and  Rosita sing and dance for service members and their kids during The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families which kicked off April 7, 2012 at Scott Air Force Base. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

Grover, Cookie Monster, Katie, Elmo, Honker and Rosita entertain service members and their kids during The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families on April 7, 2012 at Scott Air Force Base. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

Since 2008, the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour has made unforgettable memories for military children and their families all around the world. The longest-running annual USO tour has delivered moments to hundreds of thousands of military children and their parents through more than 735 shows at more than 144 military bases in 11 countries.

In the spirit of the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign — and in preparation for entertaining the tour’s 500,000th audience member — members of the 2014 cast and crew shares some their favorite Sesame Street/USO Experience memories.

Here’s just a small sample of the amazing stories they had to tell:

“My favorite moment actually happened in Spain. … A little girl came up, she gave me a picture to give to Elmo. I brought it backstage, gave it to Elmo, and the picture said, ‘Thank you Elmo for coming all the way across the sea to Spain, just to see me.’ And I think it really brought home exactly how important it is for these kids to see this show.” — Stephanie Harmon, performance director

“I have many favorite moments, but one that happens every single day [is] when hundreds of kids and parents walk out with huge smiles on their faces, holding onto their Elmo spinning lights, telling me how much they enjoyed the show, and they constantly say thank you to me. Its a stream of ‘thank you’s. And since I think the show is our way of saying thank you to those same military families, it’s great to just get that cycle of thank you.” — Nicole McClendon, tour manager

Want to learn more about the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families or see if a show is coming near you? Find out more here.

7 Air Force Facts for the Service’s 67th Birthday

Members from the 36th Airlift Squadron walk Aug. 11 during Red Flag-Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Air Force photo

Members from the 36th Airlift Squadron walk Aug. 11 during Red Flag-Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Air Force photo

As the Air Force celebrates its 67th birthday, here’s seven things you may not know about the most recently formed branch of the U.S. military.

1. The Air Force shares its birthday with the CIA. Both were founded on September 18, 1947.

So, can we come in? A "roof stomp" (which is nowdays often a "porch stomp") at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. Air Force photo

So, can we come in? A “roof stomp” (which is nowdays often a “porch stomp”) at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. Air Force photo

2. A “roof stomp” is an Air Force tradition where airmen welcome new commander or celebrate a special occasion by climbing up on the commander’s roof and make noise while others are bang on the windows and doors. The commander then opens the door to welcome in the group for refreshments. (In recent years, some airmen have modified the tradition to a “porch stomp.”)

3. Before the Air Force became its own branch of the military, it was a part of the Army. On Aug. 1, 1907, the U.S. Army Signal Corps formed the Aeronautical Division, which later evolved into the Air Force.

Air Force combat ace Robin Olds and his famous 'stache. Photo via commons

Air Force combat ace Robin Olds and his famous ‘stache. Photo via commons

4. Each March, some airmen participate in a Mustache March, a tradition where airmen grow mustaches to honor Air Force legend and triple ace Brig. Gen. Robin Olds.

5. Johnny Cash, Morgan Freeman and James Stewert are just a handful of the celebrities who have served as airmen. Stewart – who won an Oscar for “Philadelphia Story” before flying missions in World War II and Vietnam – rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve.

6. In 1947, then-Air Force Capt. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 rocket-powered aircraft, beginning a new era of aeronautics in America.

7. Two U.S. presidents — Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — served as airmen. Reagan’s service came when the branch was still the Army Air Forces. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard before transferring to the Air Force Reserve.

Fact or Fiction? On Patrol’s New Issue Tackles Things You May Not Know About the Military

Where did dog tags come from? What do all those statues with generals on horses signify? And how hard is boot camp, really?

ImageThere are thousands of things the average person – and even some members of our armed forces – don’t know about the military. On Patrol, the magazine of the USO, set out to change that in their Spring 2013 issue.

“After working with the military in some form or fashion for more than a decade, it hit me as long as I’d worked around the military there were still things about it that baffled or fascinated me,” said Samantha Quigley, the magazine’s editor in chief. “It seemed reasonable to think that other civilians might not understand what a soldier is saying if they’re not versed in milspeak, how much preparation goes into the military’s participation in a presidential inauguration or how prominent dogs’ roles in the military are.

“Despite some serious, and even heart-wrenching stories, this issue was fun from the perspective that even the staff learned something.”

The Spring issue – which arrived in USO centers and subscribers’ homes around the United States earlier this month – debunks military myths, shares some captivating stories and is filled with trivia that could win you a bet or two at the officer’s club.

The “Fact or Fiction” feature challenges basic perceptions people have about the military like the assumed cruelty of drill sergeants, the aforementioned question about boot camp and how hard it is for women to actually climb the ranks. There’s a look at how military operations actually get named, how to understand military speak, and a piece on celebrities who worked for Uncle Sam before they got their big breaks.

You can check out the full issue online here, get a free subscription to On Patrol here, follow them on Facebook here and on Twitter at @USOOnPatrol.

—Story by Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development

In the Name of Love, USO of Illinois Connects Military Couples

Long deployments away from home can put a strain on military marriages.

To help couples communicate and stay connected, the USO of Illinois wanted to provide an opportunity for some local troops to share a romantic getaway with their spouses.

This center, made up of six locations, came up with a video challenge.

The “How Do I Love Thee?” Valentine’s Day Getaway contest asked troops and spouses to create a creative, compelling video about why they love their valentine.  Contestants entered on Youtube, and the USO of Illinois put the top three videos online for voting.

Today, they announced the two winning couples on their website. Congratulations to Lindsey and Curt Borjas of the U.S. Marine Corps and Mindy and Mark Maroon of the National Guard!

Watch Lindsey and Curt’s winning video:

Watch Mindy and Mark’s winning video:

The lucky couples won a weekend getaway including a romantic carriage ride at the Eaglewood Resort and Spa in Itasca, Illinois.

Thanks to Media, Marketing, and Public Relations Director, Beth Polio and Programs Manager, Dayna Malow, for organizing the contest and making the arrangements with Eaglewood.

The USO of Illinois’ Valentine’s Day contest is just one example of how USO centers around the world work hard to keep military couples and their loved ones connected.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of America’s troops and families! – Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist