The Phonetic Alphabet

Last updated:
Tuesday, July 6, 2004 8:27 AM

The phonetic alphabet was originated to make radio transmissions easier to understand. The version immediately below was used in Viet Nam and was adopted in the late 50s. The changes were made by international convention, primarily for ease of use by aircraft when English was adopted as the standard language of aviation. It's use  was sometimes carried to extremes, however. One vet from the 2/14 Infantry (25th Division) tells of receiving an urgent request from a unit in the field for an emergency resupply of Tango Papa. After digging frantically thru the SOI (Signal Operating Instructions, the bible for radio communications), he finally had to call the requesting unit for clarification - turns out they wanted toilet paper! Some of the older alphabet uses were too far entrenched to change - Willie Peter was still used for WP (White Phosphorus), for example. This alphabet is still in use.

A - Alpha
F - Foxtrot
K - Kilo
P - Papa
U - Uniform
B - Bravo
G - Golf
L - Lima
Q - Quebec
V - Victor
C - Charlie
H - Hotel
M - Mike
R - Romeo
W - Whiskey
D - Delta
I - India
N - November
S - Sierra
X - X-ray
E - Echo
J - Juliet
O - Oscar
T - Tango
Y - Yankee
Z - Zulu
Each unit, company size or larger had a unique radio call sign of two words which were changed monthly (or more often), along with the radio frequency, for security reasons. The call sign followed by a suffix was used to denote the subunits: the unit CO was 6; the XO: 5; the Platoons Leaders: 1, 2, 3, and 4 (Bridge); Romeo the radio operator; Sierra the Platoon Sgt (or Squad Leader); Squads: 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, with the first number denoting the platoon # and the second the squad #. Usually in 'Nam, "correct" radio procedure was ignored, and only the first word of the call sign was used. There were exceptions: when A Co was assigned "Purple Plague", the CO went ballistic and refused to answer to anything except "Plague 6"!
The Phonetic Alphabet: WW II
A - Able
F - Fox
K - King?
P - Peter
U - Uncle
B - Baker
G - George
L - Love
Q - Queen
V - Victor?
C - Charlie
H - How
M - Mike?
R - Roger?
W - Willie
D - Dog
I - Item
N - Nan?
S - Sugar?
X - X-Ray?
E - Easy
J - Jake?
O - Oboe?
T - Tare
Y - Yoke
Z - Zebra?


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