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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

Filipino Australian Army soldiers in Victoria, Australia during World War II, 1941 Filipino soldiers in Victoria, World War II.jpg
Filipino Australian Army soldiers in Victoria, Australia during World War II, 1941

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-specialties. [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 archetypal soldier "Tommy Atkins") and French infantry were called "Poilus" ("hairy ones").

American and French soldiers during a water obstacle training exercise, 2022 U.S. Army and French Soldiers Participate in Marara 22 7193591.jpg
American and French soldiers during a water obstacle training exercise, 2022

Some formal or informal designations may reflect the status or changes in status of soldiers for reasons of gender, race, or other social factors. With certain exceptions, 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 female 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 U.S. 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]



Norwegian Army soldiers, conscripts, and officers during a NATO exercise in Latvia, 2015 Norwegian soldier during Saber Strike 2015.jpg
Norwegian Army soldiers, conscripts, and officers during a NATO exercise in Latvia, 2015

Throughout history, individuals have often been compelled by force or law to serve in armies and other armed forces in times of war or other times. Modern forms of such compulsion are generally referred to as "conscription" or a "draft". Currently, many countries require registration for some form of mandatory service, although that requirement may be selectively enforced or exist only in law and not in practice. [6] Usually the requirement applies to younger male citizens, though it may extend to women and non-citizen residents as well. In times of war, the requirements, such as age, may be broadened when additional troops are thought to be needed.

At different times and places, some individuals have been able to avoid conscription by having another person take their place. Modern draft laws may provide temporary or permanent exemptions from service or allow some other non-combatant service, as in the case of conscientious objectors.

In the United States, males aged 18-25 are required to register with the Selective Service System, which has responsibility for overseeing the draft. However, no draft has occurred since 1973, and the U.S. military has been able to maintain staffing through voluntary enlistment. [7]


Soldiers in war may have various motivations for voluntarily enlisting and remaining in an army or other armed forces branch. In a study of 18th century soldiers' written records about their time in service, historian Ilya Berkovich suggests "three primary 'levers' of motivation ... 'coercive', 'remunerative', and 'normative' incentives." [8] Berkovich argues that historians' assumptions that fear of coercive force kept unwilling conscripts in check and controlled rates of desertion have been overstated and that any pay or other remuneration for service as provided then would have been an insufficient incentive. Instead, "old-regime common soldiers should be viewed primarily as willing participants who saw themselves as engaged in a distinct and honourable activity." [8] In modern times, soldiers have volunteered for armed service, especially in time of war, out of a sense of patriotic duty to their homeland or to advance a social, political, or ideological cause, while improved levels of remuneration or training might be more of an incentive in times of economic hardship. Soldiers might also enlist for personal reasons, such as following family or social expectations, or for the order and discipline provided by military training, as well as for the friendship and connection with their fellow soldiers afforded by close contact in a common enterprise. [9] [10]

U.S. Army paratroopers and Indian Army soldiers after a simulated patrol, 2013 Indian Army soldiers and U.S. Army paratroopers evaluate a recently concluded simulated combat patrol at Fort Bragg, N.C..jpg
U.S. Army paratroopers and Indian Army soldiers after a simulated patrol, 2013

In 2018, the RAND Corporation published the results of a study of contemporary American soldiers in 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." [11]

Length of service

The length of time that an individual is required to serve as a soldier has varied with country and historical period, whether that individual has been drafted or has voluntarily enlisted. Such service, depending on the army's need for staffing or the individual's fitness and eligibility, may involve fulfillment of a contractual obligation. That obligation might extend for the duration of an armed conflict or may be limited to a set number of years in active duty and/or inactive duty.

As of 2023, service in the U.S. Army is for a Military Service Obligation of 2 to 6 years of active duty with a remaining term in the Individual Ready Reserve. [12] Individuals may also enlist for part-time duty in the Army Reserve or National Guard. Depending on need or fitness to serve, soldiers usually may reenlist for another term, possibly receiving monetary or other incentives.

In the U.S. Army, career soldiers who have served for at least 20 years are eligible to draw on a retirement pension. The size of the pension as a percentage of the soldier's salary usually increases with the length of time served on active duty. [13]

An illustration of a children's singing game about a woman's attempts to court a soldier, 1890 Singing games - Soldier, Soldier, will you marry me.jpg
An illustration of a children's singing game about a woman's attempts to court a soldier, 1890

Since the earliest recorded history, soldiers and warfare have been depicted in countless works, including songs, folk tales, stories, memoirs, biographies, novels and other narrative fiction, drama, films, and more recently television and video, comic books, graphic novels, and games. Often these portrayals have emphasized the heroic qualities of soldiers in war, but at times have emphasized war's inherent dangers, confusions, and trauma and their effect on individual soldiers and others.

See also

Related Research Articles

The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. The armed forces consists of six service branches: the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard. The president of the United States is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and forms military policy with the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), both federal executive departments, acting as the principal organs by which military policy is carried out. All six armed services are among the eight uniformed services of the United States.

Military science is the study of military processes, institutions, and behavior, along with the study of warfare, and the theory and application of organized coercive force. It is mainly focused on theory, method, and practice of producing military capability in a manner consistent with national defense policy. Military science serves to identify the strategic, political, economic, psychological, social, operational, technological, and tactical elements necessary to sustain relative advantage of military force; and to increase the likelihood and favorable outcomes of victory in peace or during a war. Military scientists include theorists, researchers, experimental scientists, applied scientists, designers, engineers, test technicians, and other military personnel.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military rank</span> Element of hierarchy in armed forces

Military ranks are a system of hierarchical relationships, within armed forces, police, intelligence agencies or other institutions organized along military lines. The military rank system defines dominance, authority, and responsibility in a military hierarchy. It incorporates the principles of exercising power and authority into the military chain of command—the succession of commanders superior to subordinates through which command is exercised. The military chain of command constructs an important component for organized collective action.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military recruit training</span> Initial indoctrination and instruction given to new military personnel

Military recruit training, commonly known as basic training or boot camp, refers to the initial instruction of new military personnel. It is a physically and psychologically intensive process, which resocializes its subjects for the unique demands of military employment.

Morale, also known as esprit de corps, is the capacity of a group's members to maintain belief in an institution or goal, particularly in the face of opposition or hardship. Morale is often referenced by authority figures as a generic value judgment of the willpower, obedience, and self-discipline of a group tasked with performing duties assigned by a superior. According to Alexander H. Leighton, "morale is the capacity of a group of people to pull together persistently and consistently in pursuit of a common purpose". Morale is important in the military, because it improves unit cohesion. With good morale, a force will be less likely to give up or surrender. Morale is usually assessed at a collective, rather than an individual level. In wartime, civilian morale is also important. Esprit de corps is considered to be an important part of a fighting unit.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Desertion</span> Abandonment of military duty without authorization

Desertion is the abandonment of a military duty or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning. This contrasts with unauthorized absence (UA) or absence without leave, which are temporary forms of absence.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) personnel are able to serve in the armed forces of some countries around the world: the vast majority of industrialized, Western countries including some South American countries such as Argentina and Chile in addition to South Africa, and Israel. The rights concerning intersex people are more vague.

A service number is an identification code used to identify a person within a large group. Service numbers are most often associated with the military; however, they may be used in civilian organizations as well. National identification numbers may be seen as types of service numbers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Reservist</span> Member of a military reserve force

A reservist is a person who is a member of a military reserve force. They are otherwise civilians, and in peacetime have careers outside the military. Reservists usually go for training on an annual basis to refresh their skills. This person is usually a former active-duty member of the armed forces, and they remain a reservist either voluntarily, or by obligation. In some countries such as Israel, Norway, Finland, Singapore, and Switzerland, reservists are conscripted soldiers who are called up for training and service when necessary.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military recruitment</span> Recruitment for military positions

Military recruitment refers to the activity of attracting people to, and selecting them for, military training and employment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military reserve force</span> Military organization composed of citizens

A military reserve force is a military organization whose members have military and civilian occupations. They are not normally kept under arms, and their main role is to be available when their military requires additional manpower. Reserve forces are generally considered part of a permanent standing body of armed forces, and allow a nation to reduce its peacetime military expenditures and maintain a force prepared for war.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military personnel</span> Members of the armed forces

Military personnel are members of the state's armed forces. Their roles, pay, and obligations differ according to their military branch, rank, and their military task when deployed on operations and on exercise.

Operation Gyroscope was a United States Army program implemented between 1955 and 1959 during the Cold War that modified the replacement system so that entire divisions were rotated out of overseas service together rather than as individuals. The program also applied to smaller nondivisional units, and was primarily used to exchange units between the United States and forces stationed in Germany under United States Army Europe. The system aimed to increase retention rates by boosting morale and unit cohesion with the added incentive of improving military family stability through keeping soldiers together for most of their careers. The program initially increased morale, but the Army was unable to keep its promises to soldiers and thus expected benefits failed to materialize, resulting in the early termination of the program after just one of the planned-three year rotation cycles had been completed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military sociology</span> Subfield within sociology which studies the military as a social group

Military sociology is a subfield within sociology. It corresponds closely to C. Wright Mills's summons to connect the individual world to broader social structures. Military sociology aims toward the systematic study of the military as a social group rather than as a military organization. This highly specialized sub-discipline examines issues related to service personnel as a distinct group with coerced collective action based on shared interests linked to survival in vocation and combat, with purposes and values that are more defined and narrow than within civil society. Military sociology also concerns civil-military relations and interactions between other groups or governmental agencies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Women in the military by country</span>

The recent history of changes in women's roles includes having women in the military. Every country in the world permits the participation of women in the military, in one form or another. In 2018, only two countries conscripted women and men on the same formal conditions: Norway and Sweden. A few other countries have laws conscripting women into their armed forces, however with some difference such as service exemptions, length of service, and more. Some countries do not have conscription, but men and women may serve on a voluntary basis under equal conditions.

The reserve components of the United States Armed Forces are military organizations whose members generally perform a minimum of 39 days of military duty per year and who augment the active duty military when necessary. The reserve components are also referred to collectively as the National Guard and Reserve.

Unit cohesion is a military concept, defined by one former United States Chief of staff in the early 1980s as "the bonding together of soldiers in such a way as to sustain their will and commitment to each other, the unit, and mission accomplishment, despite combat or mission stress". This concept lacks a consensus definition among military analysts, sociologists and psychologists, however.

Unit cohesion in the United States military it has been the subject of dispute and political debate since World War II as the United States military has expanded the categories of citizens it accepts as servicemembers. Unit cohesion is a military concept, defined by one former United States Chief of staff in the early 1980s as "the bonding together of soldiers in such a way as to sustain their will and commitment to each other, the unit, and mission accomplishment, despite combat or mission stress". The concept lacks a consensus definition among military analysts, sociologists, and psychologists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Officer (armed forces)</span> Person in a position of authority

An officer is a person who holds a position of authority as a member of an armed force or uniformed service.

The Israeli military consists of the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Border Police, both of which engage in combat to further the nation's goals. Israel's military is one of the most accommodating in the world for LGBT individuals. The country allows homosexual, bisexual, and any other non-heterosexual men and women to participate openly, without policy-based discrimination. Transgender men and women can serve under their identified gender and receive gender affirming surgery. No official military policy prevents intersex individuals from serving, though they may be rejected based on medical concerns.


  1. 1 2 Mish, Frederick C., ed. (2004). "soldier" . Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. ISBN   0-87779-809-5.
  2. 1 2 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. "Countries with Mandatory Military Service 2023". World Population Review. 2023. Retrieved 29 January 2023.
  7. "Selective Service". USA.GOV. Retrieved 29 January 2023.
  8. 1 2 Cozens, Joe (October 2017). "review of Motivation in War: The Experience of Common Soldiers in Old-Regime Europe". Reviews in History. Retrieved 31 January 2023.
  9. 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.
  10. 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
  11. 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)
  12. "Service Commitment". Retrieved 1 February 2023.
  13. "Retirement & Pension Plans". Retrieved 1 February 2023.