Since ancient times, warriors have gathered around the fire to recall battles fought with comrades over flagons of strong ale. Today, we keep this same tradition — except the storytelling usually happens in a smoke pit or dingy bar.
If you’ve been part of one of these age-old circles, then you know there’s a specific set of mannerisms that’s shared by service members, from NCOs to junior enlisted. The way veterans tell their stories is a time-honored tradition that’s more important than the little details therein — and whether those details are true or not. Not every piece of a veteran’s tale is guaranteed to be accurate, but the following attributes will tell you that it’s legit enough.
Just hear them out. Either out of politeness or apathy — your choice.
Beginning the story with “No sh*t, there I was…”
No good story begins without this phrase. It draws the reader in and prepares them to accept the implausible. How else are you going to believe their story about their reasonably flimsy military vehicle rolling over?
It’s become so much of an on-running trope in veteran storytelling that it’s basically our version of “once upon a time.”
But sometimes, you just have to tell the new guy that everything they just signed up for f*cking sucks.
Going into extreme (and pointless) detail
Whenever a veteran begins story time for a civilian, they’ll recall the little details about where they were deployed, like the heat and the smell.
Now, we’re not saying these facts are completely irrelevant, but the stage-setting can get a bit gratuitous.
If your story is about your time as a boot, everyone will just believe you… likely because your story is too boring to fact check.
(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)
Constantly reminding the listener that they can look it up
The military has paperwork for literally everything. Let’s say you’re telling the story of how you were the platoon guidon bearer back in basic training. If you tried hard enough, you could probably find a document somewhere to back that statement up.
As outlandish as some claims may be, nobody is actually to put in the work to fact-check a story — especially when you’re just drinking beers at the bar.
Maybe it was because I was boring, but I never understood why people felt the need to go overboard with hiding people in the trunk. Just say, “they left their ID in the barracks.”
(Photo by Senior Airman Ryan Zeski)
Citing someone that may or may not exist as a source
Among troops and veterans, it’s easy for most of us forget that people also have first names. This is why so many of our stories refer to someone named of ‘Johnson,’ ‘Brown,’ or ‘Smith.’ It’s up to you whether you want to believe this person actually exists.
If they start getting into the stories that will make grandma blush, fewer nudges are required.
(U.S. Army photo)
Tapping the listener’s arm if they lose interest
Military stories tend to drag on forever. Now, this isn’t because they’re boring, but rather because the storyteller vividly remembers nearly every detail.
Sometimes, those telling the story feel the need to check in on the listener to make they’re absorbing it all. Most vets do with this a little nudge.
Basically how it works.
(Comic by Broken and Unreadable)
Filling in the blanks with “because, you know… Army”
It’s hard to nail down every minute detail of military culture, like how 15 minute priors really work.
Some things can only be explained with a hand wave and a simple, “because, you know, that’s how it was in the service.”
Or they could just be full of sh*t. But who cares? If it’s a fun story, it’s a fun story.
(Meme via Pop Smoke)
Finishing the story in a way that fosters one-upsmanship
Veterans’ stories aren’t intended to over-glorify past actions — even if that’s how it sounds to listeners. Generations upon generations of squads have told military stories as a way of a team-building, not as a way for one person to win a non-existent p*ssing contest.
Whether the storyteller knows it or not, they often finish up a tale by signaling to the listener that it’s now their turn to tell an even better story. Just like their squad leader did for them all those years ago.