In Starship Troopers the recruits that are given leadership positions in boot camp are said to be given boot chevrons. I've never seen the term used elsewhere until I read the Starship Trooper-esque A Soldier's Duty by Jean Johnson.

My question is, was this term used by actual militaries, or did Heinlein invent it and Jean Johnson borrow it directly from him?

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    I think you should read "boot" in that context as a shorthand for "boot camp" which acts as a adjective modifying "chevrons". That is "chevrons awarded to nominal non-coms in boot camp units", rather than as a term which you would expect ton find written down in official documentation. Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 18:58
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    @dmckee the official term is "Acting <rank>". There are a multitude of published works with memories of life in boot camp, and many include slang terms. If the term was in any use prior to Heinlein some published example would be reasonable to expect. Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 19:26
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    @dmckee I understand the literal etemology of the term. I didn't assume recruits wore chevons on their shoes. The question is did Heinlein make it up, or did others use it in the military. Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 19:34

4 Answers 4


...You got me, it's a tip of the hat to Heinlein. I've put in several homages to my favorite authors and at least one nod to a television show so far...but yep, that's Heinlein.

However, the reasons the character Ia gives for boot chevrons during Basic Training in the first book, A SOLDIER'S DUTY, are the actual reasons the DoI (Department of Innovations) uses. Boot chevrons (in my series) are a way to train every single soldier for potential leadership positions, and to test them to see if they should be given potential leadership positions. This evaluation continues throughout a soldier's career in the Terran Space Force, but by starting in Basic, it gives the DoI a baseline measurement by which to compare the rest of a soldier's career.

And remember, in the TUPSF, pay raises are not dependent upon elevation in rank (though elevations in rank can give an incremental boost), but are rather dependent far more strongly upon years served and the danger of each type of duty post...so keeping a soldier a Private Second Class for twenty years because they have demonstrated zero useful leadership skills from Basic onward is not nearly the "punishment" one would think it would be.

So while the actual two words of the terminology used is in honor of Heinlein, I've definitely made the reasons and purpose behind it entirely my own. It's like calling extra-tough soldiers in some far-flung, interstellar-traveling future "space marines." The actual definitions will vary from story to story, universe to universe, but the name is just too cool not to use.

And the Rule of Cool always gets the higher pay grade. ;-)

~The Author

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    it diesn't touch on RAH's use/origination of the term. It's at best half an answer.
    – aramis
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 6:24
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    @Jean Thanks for dropping by the site to answer this. It's always a pleasure to have an author come by to shed provide additional insight into their works!
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 13:18
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    Well, I can't say I know what was going through Mr. Heinlein's brain at the time... (1. I definitely wasn't born yet when he wrote it, and 2. Reading minds without permission would be rude, lol.) I can only answer for my own reasons. I can also say I am very much looking forward to being done with the fourth book in my series, DAMNATION...because I am aware that all the military SF I've read and watched so far has had an influence on my writing (same as all my research into various militaries and their traditions, etc.)...and I want to actually get to read ON BASILISK STATION at some point!
    – Jean
    Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 1:21
  • @Jean On Basilisk Station is good, free from Amazon in Kindle format (if the offer hasn't expired).
    – jwenting
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 5:47
  • There is a rank in various military services called "lance corporal". In the US army it was used for privates serving as temporary non commissioned officers during the 19th and early 20th centuries.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lance_sergeant There was also a rank of lance sergeant for corporals acting as sergeants in various armies. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lance_sergeant "Boot chevrons" should be analogous to lance corporals & lance sergeants. P.S. the only U.S.A. lance sergeant I ever heard of was 12 years old. Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 18:50

Proving that something did not exist before "X" is logically near impossible. But a search in Goggle books for "boot chevrons" finds 4 hits the earliest being a 1959 entry about Heinlein. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction - Volume 17 - Page 133

It would be safe to assume that the term was first published by him, of course the concept is real.

Here is a book search for "boot chevrons".

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    That magazine story is an excerpt from Starship troopers, so simply a different printing. Commented Apr 19, 2013 at 19:32

An anecdotal answer: I've served in two branches of the U.S. military and worked closely with the other two and have never heard of the term "boot chevrons" or any variation of that term. During boot camp, some of the more capable recruits are appointed by the Senior DI (drill instructor, typically an E6) to leadership rolls within the recruit platoon. Such appointments are to either "platoon leader" (or Guide) who carries the platoon flag at the head of platoon marching formations or one of 4 "squad leaders" who leads their respective squad within the platoon. Fire-team leaders may also be appointed to lead their respective fire-teams within the squad.

None of these 'appointments' confer any rank or symbols of authority such as 'chevrons' (stripes) while in boot camp. If the recruit messes up, the appointment can be removed just as quickly as they can be bestowed. Typically though, the platoon Guide and possibly the squad leaders will receive accelerated promotion to E2 (1 stripe) upon completion of boot camp.

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    3-Chervron (Sgt) Brassards were in use at Dix in 1987. Acting SL's (including myself) wore them with our BDUs. I've seen photos of older eras with stripes hanging from the right fatigue pocket. Likewise, I've seen NCOA students wearing pocket-hung stripes on BDUs at Ft. Richardson in the early 1990s; I presume they were taking BNCOC.
    – aramis
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 6:29
  • @aramis, could you provide some supporting evidence? Bootcamp pictures, 'Military Times' articles, etc.
    – Morgan
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 15:17
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    I don't have any of Dix; us boots weren't allowed cameras. Nor of the NCOA on Rich (as I wasn't a student). They were worn ONLY on BDU uniforms. As for on Fatigues, the photos are in the records of the US Army - there are some buried in 1960's era records at the National Archives branch in Anchorage. (I used to work there.)
    – aramis
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 7:37

I didn't see any reference to boot chevrons on any of the military slang websites. If Heinlein didn't invent it, the term wasn't in particularly wide spread use.

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