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United States Army soldiers in Baghdad, Iraq in 2006
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A soldier is a person who is a member of an army. A soldier can be a conscripted or volunteer enlisted person, a non-commissioned officer, or an officer.


The word soldier derives from the Middle English word soudeour, from Old French soudeer or soudeour, meaning mercenary, from soudee, meaning shilling's worth or wage, from sou or soud, shilling.[1] The word is also related to the Medieval Latin soldarius, meaning soldier (literally, "one having pay").[2] These words ultimately derive from the Late Latin word solidus, referring to an Ancient Roman coin used in the Byzantine Empire.[1][2]

Occupational and other designations

In most armies, the word "soldier" has a general meaning that refers to all members of any army, distinct from more specialized military occupations that require different areas of knowledge and skill sets. "Soldiers" may be referred to by titles, names, nicknames, or acronyms that reflect an individual's military occupation specialty arm, service, or branch of military employment, their type of unit, or operational employment or technical use such as: trooper, tanker (a member of tank crew), commando, dragoon, infantryman, guardsman, artilleryman, paratrooper, grenadier, ranger, sniper, engineer, sapper, craftsman, signaller, medic, or gunner, among other terms. Some of these designations or their etymological origins have existed in the English language for centuries, while others are relatively recent, reflecting changes in technology, increased division of labor, or other factors. In the United States Army, a soldier's military job is designated as a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), which includes a very wide array of MOS Branches and sub-specialities.[3] One example of a nickname for a soldier in a specific occupation is the term "red caps" to refer to military police personnel in the British Army because of the colour of their headgear.

Infantry are sometimes called "grunts" in the United States Army (as the well as in the U.S. Marine Corps) or "squaddies" (in the British Army). U.S. Army artillery crews, or "gunners," are sometimes referred to as "redlegs", from the service branch colour for artillery.[4] U.S. soldiers are often called "G.I.s" (short for the term "General Issue"). Such terms may be associated with particular wars or historical eras. "G.I." came into common use during World War II and after, but prior to and during World War I especially, American soldiers were called "Doughboys," while British infantry troops were often referred to as "Tommies" (short for the archetypical soldier "Tommy Atkins") and French infantry were called "Poilus" ("hairy ones").

American and French soldiers during a water obstacle training exercise, 2022

Some formal or inflormal designations may reflect the status or changes in status of soldiers for reasons of gender, race, or other social factors. With certain exceptions until the last century or so, service as a soldier, especially in the infantry, had generally been restricted to males throughout world history. By World War II, women were actively deployed in Allied forces in different ways. Some notable female soldiers in the Soviet Union were honored as "Heroes of the Soviet Union" for their actions in the army or as partisan fighters. In the United Kingdom, women served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and later in the Women's Royal Army Corps (WRAC). Soon after its entry into the war, the U.S. formed the Women's Army Corps, whose women soldiers were often referred to as "WACs." These sex-segregated branches were disbanded in the last decades of the twentieth century and women soldiers were integrated into the standing branches of the military, although their ability to serve in armed combat was often restricted.

Race has historically been an issue restricting the ability of some people to serve in the United States Army. Until the Civil War, Black soldiers fought in integrated and sometimes separate units, but at other times were not allowed to serve, largely due to fears about the possible effects of such service on the institution of legal slavery. Some Black soldiers, both freemen and men who had escaped from slavery, served in Union forces, until 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation opened the door for the formation of Black units. After the war, Black soldiers continued to serve, but in segregated units, often subjected to physical and verbal racist abuse. The term "Buffalo Soldiers" was applied to some units fighting in the 19th century Indian Wars in the American West. Eventually, the phrase was applied more generally to segregated Black units, who often distinguished themselves in armed conflict and other service. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order for the end of segregation in the United States Armed Forces.[5]

Motivation and career

U.S. Army paratroopers and Indian Army soldiers after a simulated patrol, 2013

Soldiers in war have various different motivations for fighting including protecting their stated homeland, personal interests, and ideological goals. Some soldiers have reported not fighting for any national interests or ideological goal, but rather the friendship and connection with their fellow soldiers.[6][7]

The RAND Corporation published the results of a study in a book titled Life as a Private: A Study of the Motivations and Experiences of Junior Enlisted Personnel in the U.S. Army. The study found that "soldiers join the Army for family, institutional, and occupational reasons, and many value the opportunity to become a military professional. They value their relationships with other soldiers, enjoy their social lives, and are satisfied with Army life." However, the authors cautioned that the survey sample consisted of only 81 soldiers and that "the findings of this study cannot be generalized to the U.S. Army as a whole or to any rank."[8]


Norwegian Army soldiers, conscripts, and officers during a NATO exercise in Latvia, 2015

Some soldiers, such as conscripts or draftees, serve a single limited term. Others choose to serve until retirement; then they receive a pension and other benefits. In the United States, military members can get retirement pay after 20 years.[9] In other countries, the term of service is 30 years, hence the term "30-year man".

See also


  1. ^ a b Mish, Frederick C., ed. (2004). "soldier". Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. ISBN 0-87779-809-5.
  2. ^ a b Harper, Douglas (2010). "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 17 August 2010.
  3. ^ "Army MOS List". U.S. Army Basic. 29 December 2011. Retrieved 27 January 2023.
  5. ^ "Black Americans in the U.S. Army". Retrieved 23 January 2023.
  6. ^ Verweij, Desiree (6 December 2007). "Comrades or Friends? On Friendship in the Armed Forces". Journal of Military Ethics. 6 (4): 280–291. doi:10.1080/15027570701755398. S2CID 144653282.
  7. ^ Connable, Ben; McNerney, Michael; Marcellino, William; Frank, Aaron; Hargrove, Henry; Posard, Marek; Zimmerman, S.; Lander, Natasha; Castillo, Jasen; Sladden, James (9 December 2018). "Will to Fight: Analyzing, Modeling, and Simulating the Will to Fight of Military Units". RAND Corporation EBooks. The second type of cohesion at the unit level is social cohesion. Mission accomplishment develops bonds. Social cohesion is bonding based on friendship, trust, and other aspects of interpersonal relationships. The essential argument here is that soldiers fight because of the close interpersonal bonds formed in their primary social group through shared experience and hardship. Social cohesion includes both horizontal (peer) and vertical (leader) bonds in the so-called standard model of military group cohesion.67 Some research on U.S. military forces after the Vietnam War questioned the primacy of social cohesion, but it is consistently emphasized in contemporary scholarship.68
  8. ^ Helmus, Todd C.; Zimmerman, S. Rebecca; Posard, Marek M.; Wheeler, Jasmine L.; Ogletree, Cordaye; Stroud, Quenton; Harrell, Margaret C. (2018). [Helmus, Todd C., S. Rebecca Zimmerman, Marek N. Posard, Jasmine L. Wheeler, Cordaye Ogletree, Quinton Stroud, and Margaret C. Harrell, Life as a Private: A Study of the Motivations and Experiences of Junior Enlisted Personnel in the U.S. Army. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018. Also available in print form. Life as a Private: A Study of the Motivations and Experiences of Junior Enlisted Personnel in the U.S. Army]. RAND Corporation. {{cite book}}: Check |url= value (help)
  9. ^ "20-Year Retirement". Retrieved 8 March 2012.

External links

  • Media related to Soldier at Wikimedia Commons
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