MIGHTY CULTURE

6 common military signs that freak out civilians

The military is intentionally desensitized to danger. A big part of basic training is just teaching troops to bypass their emotional responses to things going crazy. But, when it comes to these signs, there's actually not a lot of imminent danger. Civilians just get scared because they don't know that "overhead artillery fire" and "FOD checks" are really no big deal.

The military is used to ignoring warning signs for things that aren't actually all that dangerous. After all, once you know how a military range works, you realize that only a couple thousand square yards of the range is actually dangerous, and "Overhead Artillery" just means whistling noises (unless someone really screws up).

These 6 signs are shrugged off by troops but make civilians panic.


1. "Overhead Artillery Fire"

Overhead Artillery

"Overhead artillery fire" sounds super scary, and the idea that you have to drive through artillery fire to get to a recreation area might seem crazy to civilians. But, for any familiar with artillery operations, this is no big deal.

Artillery rounds are dangerous and must be treated with care — but they follow predictable paths. As long as the crew doesn't screw up big time, creating a short round by using too little powder or calibrating the gun to an improper angle, then any artillery rounds passing over this road will be dozens or hundreds of feet above the road.

What civilians see: "There are live explosives in the air that could land here at any time!"

What service members see: "Someone gets to work way out here in the woods."

2. "Unexploded Ordnance"

It's actually shockingly safe to operate near unexploded ordnance — if you're careful. So, you know, watch your step, but don't lose your sh*t.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Shane M. Phipps)

Signs like these can be intimidating. After all, even if you don't know what ordnance is, "unexploded" implies that something explosive is present. And you're not allowed to leave the road because of the danger of the unexploded whatever-ordnance-is, so that's frightening.

And unexploded ordnance is a real danger. It can be anything from missiles to bombs to grenades and more. But these are basically dud missiles and bombs and whatnot. And, military explosives are actually pretty stable, so it takes a lot to set one off accidentally. So just, you know, don't go kicking anything you don't recognize.

What civilians see: "If you try to change a tire here, you will die."

What service members see: "If you're going to dig a latrine hole, do it carefully or somewhere else."

3. "FOD Check Point!"

FOD is literally just any debris that vehicles or people bring on the runway with them. It just means debris, and they're mostly talking about rocks and metal.

(U.S. Air Force Airman Ty-Rico Lea)

Gonna be honest, this one is only scary because civilians don't know what FOD is. Anyone rolling onto an Air Force runway is going to have to pass one of these signs, and for civilians they seem like a super serious warning about some mysterious danger.

But FOD stands for "foreign object debris," which basically just means trash or rocks. Jet engines are fairly fragile, and small rocks, loose bolts, tools, etc. can be sucked into the engine and destroy it. Remember, "The Miracle on the Hudson" happened when a plane struck a flock of geese and lost all engine power.

What civilians see: "An unknown danger, possibly dragon-based, is going to kill us all!"

What service members see: "Crap, we gotta get out and check the tires for rocks."

Fun Fact: The Air Force took this photo for an entire news story about this one spot on Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, where unobservant drivers can actually shut down a runway by driving down the road when it isn't their turn.

(U.S. Air Force Gina Randall)

This is basically just a traffic light for areas in which airplanes and cars operate close to one another. The big danger when planes are taxiing here or in similar places isn't that they'll crash, though. Air Force instructions require a ground guide walking under the wing to ensure the wing won't strike an object if a plane is taxiing within 25 feet of a significant obstacle or object.

So, it's mostly a formality. After all, the planes aren't taxiing on the actual road, just a nearby taxiway. But the plane has to stop if a car drives down the road at the wrong time, slowing airfield operations.

What civilians see: "Stop now, or a plane will turn on its engines and throw your whole car hundreds of feet with powerful jet wash."

What service members see: "Just wait a sec' or some bureaucratic nonsense will slow down our operations here."

To be honest, there's about 100 meters of "impact area" that's completely safe to walk through. And in the rest of the fenced-off area, just be careful where you step. You'll be fine. Probably.

(Kerry Raymond, CC BY-SA 4.0)

There is a live-fire range with actual bombs and lasers on the other side of this fence. And sure, bombs are dangerous. And modern lasers could damage your eyes if you look directly at them for too long.

But, really, the lasers don't do much damage, and the live bombs are typically a few old duds that failed to go off. Like the "unexploded ordnance" sign above, you really just need to be careful not to kick an unexploded bomb.

What civilians see: "On the other side of this fence, a steel rain falls on a landscape of live bombs. Sauron himself would not survive here for even a minute."

What service members see: "This isn't the entrance to the range. Walk around until you find it."

An MP poses with a checkpoint sign, because when it's historic it's somehow not cliche.

Military checkpoints of any kind sound frightening. "Armed troops are going to search our vehicles!?" But, really, the military police and random Joes assigned to gate guard and other checkpoints are spending more mental energy debating whether they're going to play Destiny 2 or Call of Duty tonight than they are on searching some random yuppie's Subaru Outback that might have weed hidden under the passenger seat.

Honestly, as long as there isn't an AT-4 in the vehicle, the occupants have little to worry about.

What civilians see: "Jack-booted thugs are going to search our little car and abduct our child because we don't have her birth certificate on us!"

What troops see: "You might have to get out of your car so the Blue Falcons can feel good about their job for five minutes."