Much ado about ‘hooah,’ ‘ooh-rah’ and ‘airpower’

Issue Date: December 16, 2002

Much ado about ‘hooah,’ ‘ooh-rah’ and ‘airpower’

By Vince Crawley
Times staff writer

It may sound like so much “hooah” to some, but a lot of folks in uniform take their guttural war cries quite seriously.

So ground-pounders all over the planet are up in arms about an Air Force suggestion that airmen should be shouting “airpower!” in place of the more earthy “hooah!”

The phonetically spelled battle cry “hooah” — or its Marine Corps equivalent, “ooh-rah” — often is barked when troops want to voice approval or a sense of esprit de corps. Its full meaning is primal and difficult to define, for it also echoes the hardships faced by those in uniform.

Soldiers tend to prefer “hooah.” Marines say there is a separate and distinct “ooh-rah.” Not only that, they claim theirs was first. While the Army can trace “hooah” back only to the Second Seminole War of 1835-42, Marines cite Revolutionary War battle cries and even Russian and Turkish precedents for “ooh-rah,” which holds tremendous meaning and significance for most leathernecks.

Just listen to Gunnery Sgt. Glenn Holloway, a combat correspondent based at the Navy Annex in Arlington, Va.:

“Ooh-rah comes from the places in our hearts that only Marines understand. It is conceived in sweat, nurtured with drill. It is raw determination and gut-wrenching courage in the face of adversity. It is a concern for fellow Marines embodied by selfless acts of heroism. It cannot be administrated. It is not planned and put into action. It cannot be manufactured. Ooh-rah must be purchased. Ooh-rah is Marine.”

The Navy, generally satisfied with its own time-proven “aye, aye, sir!” — which reaches back to Elizabethan times — remains on the sidelines of this debate.

Air Force Col. Jay DeFrank, director of Pentagon press operations, said he’s unaware of a top-level push to promote “airpower” over “hooah” in the Air Force. But he said he has heard a lot of “airpowers!” bandied about lately, usually in conjunction with Air Force gun-camera footage taken over Afghanistan and northern Iraq.

In November, the idea of adopting “airpower” as the service’s battle cry was presented to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper by a group of security forces airmen, according to Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Tyrone “Woody” Woodyard.

Jumper “clearly is an advocate of air power,” but he has no preference when it comes to his airmen shouting “airpower” or “hooah,” Woodyard said. “General Jumper supports anything that unifies, inspires and motivates a unit to complete its mission.”

E-mails bouncing between the Air Force and Army special-operations communities shed light on the unfolding debate.

A message out of an Air Force special-operations command in the Persian Gulf region in September lays it out: “By now, most of you have heard that the term ‘hooah!’ is not encouraged in our Air Force. If you are looking for something to say in those times of great excitement and agreement when ‘hooah!’ seemed to fit right in, try a good solid ‘airpower!’ Airpower will always be uniquely Air Force.”

This led to predictable Bronx cheers from the rank and file. “Why would a simple word that means so much to so many take up the time of people who have so much more to worry about?” asked one seasoned Air Force member who signed his message: “HOOAH!!”

Army Pvt. Ramon Gomez said he approves of the Air Force’s “airpower” slogan, saying it sets the service apart.

But Army Sgt. Todd Wilson has a different opinion.

“That’s weak,” said Wilson, a senior instructor at the basic noncommissioned officers course at Fort Benning, Ga., who likened the phrase “airpower” to something that might come from the Powerpuff Girls, heroines of a popular TV cartoon.

These days at Fort Benning, spiritual home of the Army’s infantry, enlisted soldiers, officers and even civilians “hooah” one another at meetings, in the hallway or during training.

“I even heard a Marine say hooah,” Wilson said.

Marines, however, would beg to differ. Their “ooh-rah,” they claim, is uniquely their own and exists as a separate and distinct word.

Its origin is uncertain. Some like to say the term originates from a Turkish or Russian battle cry that was adopted by Marines. Others claim it was adapted from the “hip, hip, hooray” cry favored by the British during the American Revolution.

But the most commonly held — and most likely — theory is that the term originated in the Corps’ elite Force Reconnaissance community in the 1960s.

Retired Col. John W. Ripley, director of the Marine Corps History and Museums Division, was among the Marines of 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company in the days when the modern “ooh-rah” was born.

Force Recon Marines often trained aboard submarines in those days, and they “became very, very good friends with submariners,” Ripley said. “They were very good to us.”

Soon enough, Ripley said, the Marines were imitating the noise the sub’s klaxon made while diving: “AAARRRRUUUGGAH!”

“The ‘arrugah’ sound became a chant for recon Marines when they were running,” Ripley explained. “Eventually, it was a response in addition to a chant.”

“Arrugah” became a shout of greeting, acknowledgment or otherwise positive response among Force Recon Marines and expanded to the rest of the Corps in the Vietnam War — but by that time it had become “ooh-rah.”

While the word still is sacred to Marines by and large, some more cynical leathernecks say it doesn’t hold the same allure it once did.

“Some people say it very sincerely, but some people, like me, say it with a bit of sarcasm,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, with II Marine Liaison Element at Camp Lejeune, N.C. “When people say it to me like, ‘Ooh-rah, devil dog,’ I kind of look at them and say, ‘What’s wrong with this guy?’”

Navy people generally are uninvolved in all this hooah-upsmanship.

“Nah, we don’t say hooah,” one Navy officer explained, barely uttering the word above a thin whisper.

Contributing to this report were staff writers Lance Bacon, Gina Cavallaro, Rob Colenso Jr. and Christian Lowe.

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