The Desert Storm veterans have been discussing military time. Some still use it 25 years later. My father uses it off and on, though he was never in the military.

Military time is 24 hour time. That is, once you hit 1:00 in the afternoon, military time continues the numbers, so 1:00 becomes 1300. It’s pronounced thirteen hundred hours.

There are probably two reasons behind it:

  1. It’s easy to mix up the times. In most cases in civilian life, context is kind of obvious. If you have a doctor appointment at 10:00, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s probably in the morning. But during Desert Storm, the airwar started at 0300, so 3:00 wouldn’t have had any context.
  2. The 24 hour time further moves the soldier into the military culture and forces her to think differently than the civilian world.

When I first entered Basic Training at Fort Dix (I enlisted about now, 25 years ago), the drill sergeants immediately got us onto the 24 hour time.

It was hard for me because I was always have to add the time up in my head to translate it into 24 hour time. I had sort of landmarks, like 1600, which is 4:00 p.m. That was because I watched the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which had an episode called “The Sky’s on Fire.” In it, the submarine crew has to fire a missile at the Van Allen Radiation Belt to keep a fire from burning up the world. Guess what time they had to fire the missile?

Then there’s 2000 hours (twenty-hundred), which I’ve always associated with 10:00 p.m. because of all the zeroes I guess, but 10:00 p.m. is actually 2200 hours.

What no soldier ever wanted to hear was the phrase “Oh-dark-thirty” coming out of a first sergeant’s mouth. The first sergeant is kind of a personnel manager, but he also serves as a parent to the younger soldiers. “Oh-dark-thirty” tended to me something like, “I’d better not be coming at oh-dark-thirty to bail your ass out of jail.”

The time never really took for me in a way that stuck. It probably was because I never really wrote it down a lot, which would have etched it more solidly. But I always knew I wasn’t going to stay in the military forever, and a lot of times I was trying to get away from it when I was not on duty.

The result:

  1. On duty, I thought civilian time, mapped it in my head, and used the military time aloud. This wasn’t as hard as it sounds. We started work at 6:00 a.m. and ended worked at 5:00 p.m. Most of the harder times were after that, and I always knew that getting off work was at 1700!There are priorities.:)
  2. Off duty, I reverted to civilian time.

And when I got out, it was easy to go back to civilian time.

But times have changed. You can now go online and use a time converter!