21 Signs That Someone Has Served in the Military

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Military service members often develop habits during their service that go unnoticed by most civilians, yet are clear indicators to fellow veterans.

Commitment to Physical Fitness


Physical fitness is not just a routine but a commitment for those who have served in the military. They often maintain rigorous exercise schedules, with morning runs and structured workouts being the norm. This dedication is largely due to the military’s emphasis on peak physical condition as a readiness requirement. 

The Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), a staple in military training, periodically evaluates both physical and mental readiness. This test is a critical part of the Army’s holistic approach to maintaining soldier fitness, ensuring they remain prepared and resilient. The consistent fitness discipline observed in many ex-military personnel is a direct reflection of the demanding training and the high standards set by military programs.

Absurd Politeness


The military instills a level of politeness that can sometimes seem excessive in civilian life. The consistent use of “sir” and “ma’am,” along with a formal tone—even when speaking to a cashier—reflects the disciplined communication style that is integrated into service members from day one

This ingrained courtesy is a testament to the structured, respectful environment of military training, often making service members stand out for their formal interactions.

Adapting to Noisy Sleep Environments


In need of a quiet, cozy corner for a good night’s sleep? For those with a military background, that luxury often doesn’t exist. Adaptability is key, as they learn to snooze in less-than-ideal conditions (like a noisy field rather than a tranquil bedroom).

This honed alertness to even the slightest changes in their environment is a survival tactic that could indicate past life in the service.

Using Their Left Hand To Carry Things


For many military personnel, using their left hand to carry items is not a preference but a necessity. Trained to salute with their right hand, they habitually use their left hand for carrying objects to keep their right hand free. 

This practice ensures that they can salute properly without the awkwardness of juggling items, which could be seen as disrespectful or improper. This adjustment in hand usage, while small, is a clear indicator of a person’s military background and showcases the ingrained respect for protocol and etiquette that service life demands.

Choosing Practical Over Stylish 


Ever notice someone frequently opting for cargo shorts regardless of the occasion? This preference often goes beyond simple fashion. Ex-military individuals typically favor cargo shorts for their functionality and abundant pocket space. 

This choice reflects a former lifestyle where practicality and readiness were a necessity, indicative of their days in uniform.

Eating Quickly


The speed at which someone eats can reveal traces of a military past. Former soldiers often consume their meals quicker than their civilian counterparts. This habit stems from their experiences where time is a precious commodity, and meals are often a rushed necessity rather than a leisurely activity. 

This tendency to prioritize efficiency even at the dining table is a clear residue of the structured and time-conscious lifestyle of their service.

Valuing Punctuality 


If you’ve ever been told to arrive exactly on time, you might be dealing with someone from a military background. In the armed forces, timely arrival is imperative for effective operations (not just a courtesy). 

Being even slightly late can be perceived as disrespectful or negligent. This strict approach to time management, developed through years of disciplined routines, often continues in civilian life, emphasizing the importance of respect and efficiency in daily interactions.

A Fast Walking Pace 


Veterans are often recognizable by their fast walking pace. During their service, rapid movement was frequently required, whether responding to emergencies or moving quickly to meet objectives. 

This practice of swift walking transitions into civilian life, becoming a lifelong habit. Even in non-urgent scenarios, veterans might find themselves pacing faster than the average civilian—a residual effect of years spent in environments where speed could literally equate to survival.

Signature Hairstyles 


Breaking away from the traditional high and tight haircut? You’re left with options like the fade or the classic “officer or pilot hair.” 

From a neatly styled fade to the slightly longer officer cut, these choices often hint at a military background.

Displaying National Pride 


Retired military personnel often exhibit a deep-seated reverence for the national flag, a symbol of the freedoms they once pledged to protect. It’s not uncommon to spot a small flag affixed to their car or outside their home—a gesture of enduring nationalism. 

This practice (a contrast to civilian habits) is a visible sign of their commitment and pride in their country, reflecting a lifetime of service where the flag held a place of honor.

Synchronizing Movements 


Try as they might to stroll casually, military personnel often find themselves instinctively falling into step with each other. 

This synchronized walking is a telltale sign of a group’s military past (even in the most relaxed settings!)

Scanning Surroundings 


At any social gathering, you might notice someone who keeps a watchful eye on the entire room, often positioning themselves for a clear view of all entrances and exits. This behavior—constantly scanning the crowd—is a habit ingrained from their military training. 

The military teaches its personnel to always be alert and aware of their environment, preparing them to respond quickly if something seems off. This heightened vigilance helps ensure safety but can also mean they’re more likely to address suspicious behavior directly—a reflection of the protective mindset honed during their service years.

Being Unbelievably Patient


Patience is a virtue strongly embedded in veterans, particularly when faced with bureaucratic or administrative delays. Accustomed to the often slow and paperwork-heavy processes within the military (especially when manpower is limited), they learn to wait their turn without undue frustration or complaint. 

This calm demeanor is particularly advantageous in civilian life, where the ability to handle delays with grace rather than impatience is valued. Veterans often bring this patience into their daily interactions, displaying a composed attitude that stands out in today’s fast-paced society, where patience is all too rare.

Reverence During the National Anthem 


For those with a military background, the national anthem evokes a deep sense of respect and patriotism. Veterans typically exhibit profound reverence during the anthem, standing attentively with their hand over their heart. 

This act is a reflection of the deep-seated values instilled during their service—values that emphasize honor, respect, and loyalty to their country.

A Commanding Presence


Noncommissioned officers and officers can often be spotted by their distinctive poses—like a “thumbs through the belt” stance or standing with “crossed arms and not leaning against anything.” 

These postures are powerful in projecting authority and control—a carryover from their days of commanding attention and respect without uttering a single word.

Maintaining Rigid Postures 

Confident businessman in formal cloths drinking coffee and reading news in the kitchen
Illustration. Image credit: Depositphotos

The posture of a person can be a telling sign of their past in the military. Veterans often exhibit an upright stance (when standing or sitting) with shoulders pulled back, maintaining a posture of readiness and respect. 

This ingrained habit of maintaining a straight posture even in casual settings speaks to the rigorous physical training and discipline emphasized in the military, where a proper and commanding presence was always cultivated.

Always Wearing Sunglasses


Even on cloudy days, many veterans stick to wearing sunglasses—a habit that goes beyond mere function. 

The frequent use of sunglasses can be a nod to their military discipline and preference for maintaining a certain level of readiness and anonymity.

Direct Communication 

Illustration. Image credit: Shutterstock

For those adept at conveying their thoughts clearly and concisely, it could be a sign of military training. Individuals from a military background often adopt a communication style characterized by directness and efficiency, using the fewest words possible to express their message. 

This method, honed in environments where clarity and brevity are critical, typically leaves little room for ambiguity. Such straightforward communication can be a telltale sign of former military service, as it reflects the disciplined and purpose-driven nature of military training.

Respect for Authority


A profound respect for authority is a hallmark among those who have served in the military. Veterans often place significant importance on hierarchical structures and are known for their meticulous adherence to orders and protocols. 

This deference to authority figures extends beyond their service years into all areas of life, influencing their professional interactions and often enhancing their ability to function within organized systems. 

A Sensible Approach 


Individuals with military backgrounds are known for their methodical and efficient problem-solving skills. Trained to get from point A to point B with minimal fuss, their strategies are designed to be clear and precise, reducing the chance for misunderstandings. 

This focused approach helps them execute tasks with the utmost clarity and efficiency. Such precision ensures that every action is purposeful and every decision is made with the end goal in sight, reflecting the disciplined nature of military training where there is little room for error.

Using Acronyms


Acronyms are a staple in military communication, where brevity and clarity are essential. Service members are trained to use numerous acronyms, transforming complex terms and phrases into manageable, bite-sized words. This practice allows for rapid and clear communication—critical in high-pressure scenarios. 

Common acronyms include A-1 (Assistant Chief of Air Staff for Personnel), ACofAS (Assistant Chief of Air Staff), and OWM (Office of War Manpower), among others. In everyday interactions, such as email communications, you might notice the use of “v/r” (very respectful).

A Necessary Use of Language


The pervasive use of acronyms in military settings creates a linguistic divide between service members and civilians, with many acronyms being unfamiliar to those outside the military sphere. This specialized vocabulary is designed to condense lengthy information into digestible, quickly communicated snippets—a necessary adaptation in environments where every second counts. 

For ex-military individuals, this habit of speaking in acronyms often persists, subtly marking their conversations with the precision and efficiency of their training.

Kate Smith, a self-proclaimed word nerd who relishes the power of language to inform, entertain, and inspire. Kate's passion for sharing knowledge and sparking meaningful conversations fuels her every word.