Terms: The Bundeswehr from A to Z
Many terms that are used in the Bundeswehr can be confusing for civilians. For example, what is a first sergeant? What does IBuK stand for? And what does “Bravo Zulu” mean? We have collected the most common military terms and compiled this glossary. These Bundeswehr terms are:
Admiral is a navy rank in the general rank category, the highest level of the military hierarchy. From lowest to highest ranks, there are: rear admirals (lower half) (OF-6, one star), rear admirals (upper half) (OF-7, two stars), vice admirals (OF-8, three stars) and admirals (OF-9, four stars). In the Medical Service, the equivalent ranks are rear admiral (lower half), Medical Corps (OF-6, one star), rear admiral (upper half), Medical Corps (OF-7, two stars) and vice admiral, Medical Corps (OF-8, three stars). There is also an equivalent rank for pharmacists (Admiralapotheker, OF-6, one star).
An air base is a military aerodrome. Combat, transport or helicopter wings and units with unmanned systems are based there. The size and setup of the facilities vary depending on the formation’s aircraft type.
All air bases can be approached under instrument conditions. There are usually several kilometres separating the air base from the accommodation and administration area.
As is customary worldwide, all German air bases have a four-character ICAO code. It starts with ET to indicate a military site in Germany, followed by an N for “Air Force North”, an S for “Air Force South” or an M to indicate a Navy site. The last character is assigned individually for the relevant air base. For example, Büchel air base in the Eifel region has the ICAO code “ETSB”.
The Air Force is one of the Bundeswehr’s three armed services and comprises the conventional air forces.
The armed services originally covered the three different areas of warfare: the Army on the ground, the Air Force in the air and the Navy at sea. The responsibilities of the armed services can no longer be differentiated that easily. There are Army Aviation, Air Force force protection and Naval Aviation. In addition, the Bundeswehr has set up the major organisational elements: the Joint Support and Enabling Service, which combines the support services, and the Joint Medical Service, which is responsible for medical care.
The Army is the largest of the Bundeswehr’s three armed services. Conventional land forces are the core of the Army.
All military personnel, whether military service volunteers or future officers, start their military careers with basic training. Basic training usually takes three months and covers the basic military skills that all military personnel must master.
The battalion is the military echelon above the company. At the same time, it is the Bundeswehr’s smallest tactical force. A battalion combines several company-size units of one branch with some different, complementary equipment into an organically composed force. A battalion comprises up to 1,200 troops.
The beret is a type of headgear that has been part of uniforms since 1971. Berets are mainly worn by personnel in the Army. Only a few subareas of the Air Force and the Navy wear berets. The colour of the beret and the metallic badge indicate which area of the Bundeswehr the wearer belongs to.
The beret badge on the left side of the beret indicates the wearer’s affiliation with a certain branch or major international unit. For example, the beret badge of the armoured infantry is an infantry fighting vehicle with two crossed carbines, framed by an oak wreath with the German flag.
The six beret colours group the branches or specialty series into categories. Infantry personnel such as light infantry and armoured infantry personnel wear green berets. Maroon is the colour of the paratroopers, the Special Operations Forces Command (SOFCOM) and Army Aviation. The armoured forces, including reconnaissance forces, wear black. Units of combat support branches such as artillery, air defence, engineer corps, CBRN defence, PsyOps, supply corps, military police and signal corps wear coral-coloured berets. Officer candidates wear navy blue berets similar to those of the Air Force force protection personnel or the naval protection forces.
A bivouac is an improvised shelter in which military personnel camp out in the open. In the Bundeswehr, there are bivouacs for various training purposes such as the combat bivouac during which military personnel learn the basic principles of action on the battlefield.
Branches are different areas in the Army and the Joint Support and Enabling Service in which military personnel serve. There are, for example, the armoured, artillery and infantry forces. All of them perform specific tasks to accomplish their common mission. The arm-of-service colour, beret colour, beret badge and braid indicate which branch military personnel are affiliated with.
Braids (width: 0.4 centimetres) are strips of cloth in the colours of the collar patch. They are worn on the shoulder straps of the field uniform. Radio operators, for example, have yellow braids.
Bravo Zulu is an international naval signal used within the NATO naval forces. It means “well done”. Originally a signal that was meant for official use only, Bravo Zulu has found its way into the vernacular of many servicemen and women.
The brigade is the smallest major military formation of the Army, the Joint Support and Enabling Service and the Joint Medical Service. It consists of several battalions, regiments and partly separate brigade troops. An Army brigade has the combined arms combat capability.
A camp provides safe accommodations for military personnel in theatre. It is therefore the base for some or all parts of the contingent and its equipment. Container buildings and smaller structures in which personnel live and work, as well as the camp fence that encloses the grounds, are typical of camps.
There are three phases until a camp is fully set up: Initially, tents are used as accommodations before they are replaced by container buildings in the next step. After that, an infrastructure with permanent buildings and roads is built.
The Chief of Defence is the highest-ranking soldier and at the same time the administrative superior of all Bundeswehr military personnel as well as military advisor to the Federal Government. They hold the rank of a (four-star) general or admiral and are Chair of the Chiefs of Service Council, the highest military body in the Bundeswehr. In addition, the Chief of Defence is responsible for the planning, preparation, command and control and after-action analysis of operations.
Chiefs of service are the highest-ranking soldiers and administrative superiors of an armed service or a major organisational element of the Bundeswehr.
The chief of the boat is a noncommissioned officer on ships, usually with the rank of a chief petty officer or higher, who deals with personnel matters. They support the executive officer in running the internal administration. They are comparable to the first sergeant in the Army or the Air Force.
The collar patch is on the collar of Army and Air Force service dress and shows the wearer’s branch and rank category. In the Navy, it is not part of the uniform.
An Army collar patch has two braided stripes. The officers’ braids are silver-coloured, those of the senior noncommissioned officers are gold-coloured and those of the junior NCOs and nonrated personnel are grey. There are collar patches in the various arm-of-service colours. The patch for the Air Force has a wing framed by an oak wreath on a golden yellow background. There is one type of collar patch each for generals and for general staff officers: generals have special golden embroidery on a bright red background, and general staff officers have bullion embroidery on a carmine red background.
A company is a military unit that comprises an average of 150 troops and consists of several platoons. It is led by an officer holding the rank of captain or major. In the Air Force and Army Aviation, companies are called squadrons; in the artillery, they are called batteries.
Compulsory military service was an integral part of the Bundeswehr for decades. More than eight million men have served for the Federal Republic of Germany because of it. The length of service varied but did not exceed 18 months. The last period of service, amounting to six months, was the shortest in history. On 1 July 2011, compulsory military service was suspended, but it remains anchored in the Basic Law.
The Legal Status of Military Personnel Act (Section 12) calls for comradeship among military personnel, meaning solidarity. Fellow soldiers should always support and help each other, which is also in the interest of their official duties. Comradeship is essential to life in the military community.
The corps is a major command. Today’s corps are usually multinational. One example is the European Corps in Strasbourg. It consists of several divisions and separate corps formations. Their permanent staffs and command support forces can provide headquarters for NATO or EU missions. The divisions, however, are not assigned to the staffs until they are on operations.
The division is a major military formation in the Army. It consists of several brigades and additional division troops, which are from the artillery, reconnaissance, engineer, logistics and command and control support areas.
During drills, servicemen and women learn the basic elements of military life that are essential to day-to-day routines: military salutes, marching, reporting and lining up. Drills are mainly conducted during basic training.
In the Navy, the common name for service dress is “Erste Geige” (first violin).
The success story of the Esbit brand began in 1936 with the invention of solid fuel tablets by Erich Schumm. Esbit is a German abbreviation for “Erich Schumm’s fuel in tablet form” (“Erich Schumms Brennstoff in Tablettenform”). Other products soon followed, such as the pocket stoves.
The Esbit stove is included in the equipment of every serviceman and woman. Using the approximately ten-by-ten-centimetre pocket stove, military personnel can prepare hot meals and drinks in the field.
A military exercise is as close to reality as possible. It may involve the use of blank ammunition, simulation technology and even live ammunition. Exercises often take place in training areas or in specific training airspace.
In seafaring, the term manoeuvre refers to a measure to change the movement or position of a ship. On ships, man overboard manoeuvres are performed to rescue people who have gone overboard. At sea, the RAS (replenishment at sea) manoeuvre is regularly carried out for supply purposes.
Field dress in disruptive pattern material is the uniform for the day-to-day routines of the Army and the Air Force as well as some naval facilities. It consists of the field trousers, field undershirt, field shirt, combat boots and headgear (field cap, beret or side cap).
Field-grade officer is a rank category between the captain/lieutenant ranks and the generals. It comprises the ranks of major and commander, junior grade/lieutenant commander (both OF-3), lieutenant colonel and commander (both OF-4), and colonel or Navy captain (both OF-5).
The first sergeant, sometimes also called the “mother of the company”, is an official function in companies. Servicemen or women holding the rank of sergeant first class (Army) or master sergeant (Air Force; both OR-7) and above are usually chosen for this role in which they do the groundwork for the company commander. First sergeants wear a gold braid on their right shoulders.
The general belongs to the rank category of the same name, which is the highest level of the military hierarchy. Rising in rank, there are the brigadier general or air commodore (OF-6, one star), major general (OF-7, two stars), lieutenant general (OF-8, three stars) and general (OF-9, four stars). In the Medical Service, the equivalent ranks are brigadier general, Medical Corps; air commodore, Medical Corps or surgeon general (OF-6, one star), major general, Medical Corps (OF-7, two stars) and lieutenant general, Medical Corps (OF-8, three stars). Personnel can also achieve the rank of brigadier general, brigadier or air commodore in the Pharmacy Corps (OF-6, one star). The general ranks are used in the Army and the Air Force. In the Navy, there are admirals.
Military guards usually perform their service in front of and inside barracks and other Bundeswehr sites. They monitor the entry and exit of vehicles in order to prevent disruptions to the day-to-day routine, as well as attacks and espionage.
The abbreviation “IBuK” (Inhaber der Befehls- und Kommandogewalt) refers to the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. In peacetime, this is the German Federal Minister of Defence. According to the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, this power of command devolves upon the State Secretaries in the absence of the Federal Minister of Defence. In a state of defence, the power of command rests with the German head of government, the Federal Chancellor.
Every serviceman or woman in the Bundeswehr wears an identity disc around their neck. It allows precise identification of military personnel, for example in the event of their death. It is engraved with their military identification number and information on their nationality, blood type and in some cases also religious affiliation.
The Bundeswehr’s Joint Medical Service is a major organisational element and was established in 2000. All medical areas and tasks have been combined in it. Army, Air Force and Navy personnel serve in the Medical Service.
In addition to the three armed services of the Bundeswehr, the Joint Support and Enabling Service is an independent major organisational element that mainly performs support tasks at home and abroad. In-theatre support is a particular point of focus for the Joint Support and Enabling Service. Army, Air Force and Navy personnel serve in this major organisational element.
Kaleu, short for the German title “Kapitänleutnant”, is the traditional colloquial address for a lieutenant in the Navy (OF-2).
Leadership development and civic education provide the fundamental values underpinning responsible action in the Bundeswehr. All members of the Bundeswehr are also citizens – with all the associated rights and duties. Leadership development and civic education are the Bundeswehr’s leadership philosophy. This philosophy includes the guiding principle of the “citizen in uniform”.
In addition to the armed services (Army, Air Force and Navy), the Bundeswehr has the major military organisational elements: the Joint Support and Enabling Service, Cyber and Information Domain Service and Joint Medical Service. Servicemen and women from the armed services are employed in all three major organisational elements, yet the major organisational elements are independent of the Army, Air Force and Navy. During their time in these elements, the servicemen and women are described as Army, Air Force or Navy service personnel since the three major organisational elements do not have their own uniforms.
The marksmanship lanyard is an award for outstanding shooting performance in the Bundeswehr. It is given in bronze, silver and gold. It is worn on service dress, but only by nonrated personnel and noncommissioned officers.
The mess is a lounge area on ships. The crew members spend their leisure time or have their meals there. There are separate messes for officers, noncommissioned officers and nonrated personnel.
Military pay is remuneration for service conscripts and military service volunteers. Temporary-career volunteers and career service members get a salary similar to that paid to civil servants. Reservists receive benefits in accordance with the Benefit Payment and Dependents Maintenance Act, i.e. the regular reserve duty bonus with the option of the enlistment allowance.
The Bundeswehr’s military police are known as “Feldjäger”, a historical term that originally referred to light infantry. The military police branch is part of the Joint Support and Enabling Service and has a wide range of tasks: military law enforcement, traffic control and performing security tasks are just a few of the fields in which the military police are active.
During mustering, volunteers are examined thoroughly to determine whether they are fit for service in the armed forces. Mustering comprises a medical examination and computer-assisted tests (assessment of school knowledge and cognitive abilities).
In the Navy, the term “muster” also refers to when personnel line up and, for example, their presence and physical condition are checked (morning orders). This corresponds to the roll call in the Army and the Air Force.
The German Navy is the smallest of the Bundeswehr’s three armed services, and it comprises the conventional naval forces.
Noncommissioned officers are divided into two rank categories in the Bundeswehr: junior and senior noncommissioned officers. Junior noncommissioned officers first are promoted to sergeant or petty officer (both OR-5) and after that to the senior grade of sergeant, staff sergeant or petty officer (all OR-5, senior grade). Senior noncommissioned officers are sergeants, staff sergeants or technical sergeants or petty officers first class (all OR-6) who can rise to the senior grade of these ranks (OR-6, senior grade) or to sergeant first class or master sergeant (OR-7), (senior) master sergeant (OR-8), and chief master sergeant or sergeant major (OR-9) in the Army and the Air Force, or to petty officer first class, senior grade (OR-6, senior grade), chief petty officer (OR-7), senior chief petty officer (OR-8) or master chief petty officer (OR-9) in the Navy. They are mainly employed in line service, but are also employed in the specialist service, for example in technical fields.
Nonrated personnel are the lowest rank category in the Bundeswehr. In the Army, recruits start with the entry rank of, for example, “Schütze” (rifleman; depending on the branch). In the Air Force, the entry rank is called “Flieger” (basic airman), and in the Navy it is called “Matrose” (seaman recruit). After that, the recruits can be promoted to private E-2, airman or seaman apprentice (OR-2), private first class, airman first class or seaman (OR-3) or the senior grade of these ranks (OR-3, senior grade), corporal, senior airman or petty officer third class (OR-4) or the senior grade of these ranks (OR-4, senior grade). The OR-4 ranks, however, can only be attained by temporary-career volunteers.
The obstacle course is part of military training. Here, servicemen and women have to overcome obstacles such as the scaling wall. It is an important element of each soldier’s training as it trains physical fitness. Mastering the challenge as a group also reinforces the feeling of solidarity.
Officers are the Bundeswehr’s command personnel. They comprise four different rank categories: lieutenants (including ensigns), captains (Army/Air Force), field-grade officers and generals. Temporary-career volunteers in the officer’s career generally enlist for thirteen years. As career service members, officers can be promoted to the field-grade officer rank category if they are suitably qualified. In some cases, they even go on to the rank of general.
At regular intervals, military personnel cover certain routes or cross unknown terrain either by vehicle or on foot. The main objective is to reconnoitre areas and make their presence felt.
Peaked caps are an element of uniforms and can generally be worn in combination with service dress by noncommissioned officers and officers of all armed services and major organisational elements. While the beret is now common in the Army, as is the side cap in the Air Force, the peaked cap is still standard in the Navy. However, one peculiarity of this armed service is that, aboard ships or boats at sea, only the commanding officer wears the white peaked cap.
The petty officer ranks only exist in the Navy; they are in the senior noncommissioned officer rank category. Rising in the hierarchy, there are the petty officer first class (OR-6), petty officer first class, senior grade (OR-6, senior grade), chief petty officer (OR-7), senior chief petty officer (OR-8) and master chief petty officer (OR-9). The petty officer ranks are equivalent to the sergeant ranks in the Army and the Air Force.
The platoon is the subunit above the squad. It usually comprises several squads and consists of up to 40 troops.
A platoon leader exercises command and control over military subunits to which up to 40 troops are assigned. Platoon leaders are usually officers. A military platoon comprises several squads.
The solemn pledge is the recruits’ affirmation of their commitment to the free democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany. Military service volunteers or service conscripts pledge and temporary-career volunteers swear to “[...] loyally serve the Federal Republic of Germany and bravely defend the rights and freedom of the German people”.
The Portepee was originally a ribbon or cord at the hilt of a sword, sabre or rapier. Looped around both the wearer’s wrist and the hilt, it was intended to prevent the weapon from being knocked out of the hand. Over the course of time, the Portepee developed into a kind of military rank insignia. In the Bundeswehr, the sergeant and petty officer ranks are still referred to as noncommissioned officers “with Portepee” (senior NCOs) to this day.
The ranks of the Bundeswehr are divided into a total of seven rank categories. Rising in the hierarchy, there are nonrated personnel, junior noncommissioned officers, senior noncommissioned officers (sergeant and petty officer ranks), lieutenants/ensigns, Army and Air Force captain ranks (and further Navy lieutenant ranks), field-grade officers and generals.
Recruits are servicemen and women at the beginning of their military training. In the Army, they hold the entry rank of, for example, “Schütze” (rifleman; depending on the branch), in the Air Force, the entry rank is called “Flieger” (basic airman), and in the Navy, it is called “Matrose” (seaman recruit).
A regiment is a military formation above the battalion level.
The reserve is made up of all citizens who have served in the Bundeswehr. In a state of tension, they can be called up for service in the armed forces again.
Tactical reserves are military personnel who are not immediately brought in. A military leader initially retains them in order to decide the battle by deploying them at the right moment.
At a roll call, the servicemen and women of a unit line up to receive orders or information from their superiors. In most of the military units, the morning roll call takes place every day, for example to check whether everyone is present. In the Navy, the roll call is called “muster”.
The sergeant ranks are in the senior noncommissioned officer rank category. Rising in the hierarchy, there are the sergeant, staff sergeant or technical sergeant (OR-6), the senior grade of these ranks (OR-6, senior grade), sergeant first class or master sergeant (OR-7), (senior) master sergeant (OR-8) and sergeant major or chief master sergeant (OR-9). The sergeant ranks are equivalent to the petty officer ranks in the Navy.
Service dress is a type of Bundeswehr uniform that varies depending on the armed service and sometimes also on the rank category. In its basic form, it is a dress uniform that is generally always worn outside of military facilities. In some agencies, it is worn as a duty uniform. There is a basic form of service dress with different variations. In the Navy, service dress is called “Erste Geige” (first violin).
It comprises the service trousers, service shirt with tie, service jacket and service coat as well as the headgear. In summer, a short-sleeved service shirt without a jacket and tie can be worn. The semi-dress uniform (only for the Army and Air Force) is worn on special occasions like the grand tattoo. Low shoes are replaced by combat boots and the trousers over them are folded inwards. In addition, a black leather belt is worn over the service jacket. In cold weather, the coat can be worn over the service jacket. Personnel can also be ordered to wear combat helmets as their headgear.
Shipboard and battle dress is the uniform generally worn by Navy personnel aboard a ship. In the naval facilities, the uniform is worn by nonrated personnel and junior noncommissioned officers. It consists of dark blue trousers and a light blue shirt made of fireproof material with combat boots, shipboard shoes or seaboots. Personnel can also wear a dark blue shipboard jacket or sweater.
The side cap is a type of headgear and part of uniforms. In German, its name means “little ship” because of its shape. In the Air Force, it is, with a few exceptions, the general headgear for service dress and may also be worn in combination with field dress. In the Navy, the side cap is the usual headgear for shipboard and battle dress, field dress and service dress (provided that neither jacket nor coat is worn).
The Air Force side cap is blue, and the Navy one is dark blue. In the Air Force, nonrated personnel and noncommissioned officers wear side caps with a yellow-orange border, while the borders of officers’ side caps are silver and those of generals are gold. In the Navy, all officers holding the rank of chief petty officer (OR-7/OR-8) or higher wear a side cap with a gold border.
A squad is the military subunit above the team. It comprises six to fifteen troops.
A squad leader exercises command and control over a squad as a subunit and is responsible for up to fifteen troops. The position of squad leader is usually held by junior or senior noncommissioned officers.
Student companies can be found at the Bundeswehr’s training institutions. They are similar to companies within the forces.
The tattoo is of great importance to the Bundeswehr because it gives notice that personnel should retire for the night. Despite the similar name, it is not to be confused with the grand tattoo, a ceremony that is usually held in honour of important figures or special occasions.
The team is the Bundeswehr’s smallest military unit. It consists of at least two people. It either has a specific ability or is assembled for a special task as required.
The troop dining facility is a central messing facility for the Bundeswehr’s military and civilian personnel, that is, where they can eat their meals. The saying “an army marches on its stomach” highlights the important role of the troop dining facility, because routine duty is difficult to master without a nutritious meal.
On duty, servicemen and women wear uniforms that are appropriate for the activities they perform. There are, for example, service dress, field dress, shipboard and battle dress and physical sports dress.
The Army (grey), Air Force (blue) and Navy (dark blue) have their own distinctive uniforms, or service dress to be precise, whereas the personnel in the major organisational elements are referred to as Army, Air Force or Navy service personnel. This is because the Joint Support and Enabling Service and the Joint Medical Service do not have their own distinct uniforms. Instead, the personnel who work in them wear the uniform of the armed service to which they first belonged or to which they are assigned.
A wing is an operational flying unit or surface-to-air missile unit in the Air Force or Navy. In terms of hierarchy, it is comparable to a regiment. It is led by a wing commander holding the rank of colonel. The subunits of a wing at the battalion level are called squads, which in turn are subdivided into squadrons at company level.
In the Navy, a wing is also a combatant force with warships of the same kind. It can also be a formation assembled specifically for an operation.