STRAC, a military acronym — and backronym

While reading Robert Crais’s detective novel L.A. Requiem, I came across an unfamiliar word (italics in the original):

First thing McConnell noticed was that this young officer was strac. His uniform spotless, the creases in his pants and shirt sharp, the black leather gear and shoes shined to a mirror finish. Pike was a tall man, as tall as Krantz, but where Krantz was thin and bony, Pike was filled out and hard, his shirt across his back and shoulders and upper arms pulled taut.

What followed the mention of strac implied its probable meaning, but to satisfy my curiosity I had to look it up. First port of call was Jonathon Green’s Chambers Slang Dictionary, which says it’s a US military acronym for Strategic Army Corps. I might have guessed this had the term been used in upper case.

United States Coast Guard Academy graduationStrac gave rise to stract – the headword in Green’s entry – a US prison usage from the 1990s meaning “neat and clean in appearance and dress”. Wiktionary’s glossary of military slang suggests an overlap, saying STRAC is US Army slang for:

“a well organized, well turned-out soldier, (pressed uniform, polished brass and shined boots).” A proud, competent trooper who can be depended on for good performance in any circumstance.

Chambers has a helpful note on the term’s history, quoting Dave Wilton on the American Dialect Society email list:

“STRAC.” Originally an [sic] 1950s acronym for Strategic Army Corps, a group of four elite divisions maintained at a high readiness for overseas deployment. It began to be used as an adjective, to be “STRAC” was to be prepared […] After the demise of the Corps, the adjectival use hung on. A new, unofficial backronym was formed for it, “Skilled, Tough, Ready, Around the Clock.” It was very common in the US Army of the 1980s.

There’s no entry in the American Heritage Dictionary or Shorter OED, while offerings in the usual online spots are meagre. Urban Dictionary has two entries for “Skilled, Tough, Ready Around the Clock”, and one for “Strong, Tough, Ready Around the Clock”. For STRACT, Wikipedia offers “Strategically Ready And Combat Tough”, and says STRAC units

were those designated to be on high alert to move anywhere in 72 hours or less; as slang, means tight, together, by the book; when said with sarcasm by a combat unit about a REMF (rear echelon mother fuckers) unit it refers to stupid soldiers without combat experience.

There are even more alternatives listed at the Acronym Finder, some presumably backronyms, including “Standing Tall Right Around the Clock” and “Strategic, Tactical and Ready for Action in Combat”.

But the narrower, appearance-related meaning – phonetically suggestive of strict, sharpstraight, smart and strapping – is an interesting development. UD’s sole entry for stract has negative connotations: “overly concerned with standards and minute detail”, but these may not extend beyond one person’s impressions.

[image of U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation from Wikimedia Commons]

73 Responses to STRAC, a military acronym — and backronym

  1. John Cowan says:

    I think this last stract is from abstract, according to an AAVE pattern of dropping unstressed initial syllables in hifalutin words. There is a story about a black American protester in the 60s who, when asked why he ran from an unarmed process-server, replied They was gonna strain me, i.e. ‘serve me with a restraining order’, where strain was homophonous with AAVE strain ‘beat’. Sometimes the initial syllable is wrongly restored and given separate stress (from the perspective of Standard English), as in re-gusted ‘disgusted’.

  2. Stan says:

    John: I wouldn’t rule out apheresis, but I don’t see a sufficient connection in meaning.

    • John Cowan says:

      I meant the negative UD version, “overly concerned with standards and minute detail”, i.e. abstracted from Real World concerns like staying alive. But I certainly may be overdoing here.

  3. wisewebwoman says:

    Happy 2013 Stan and I always learn something when visiting your blog!
    STRAC I’m not and never would want to be.

  4. Dawn in NL says:

    My thought when I read your first line was the Dutch Strak. Here is the Van Dale translation dictionary’s definition:

    strak (bijvoeglijk naamwoord, bijwoord)
    1 zonder bochten/plooien
    tight (bijwoord: tightly)
    touw, zeil taut
    ▲ context
    een touw strak aantrekken/aanhalen
    pull/stretch a rope taut
    (honkbal) een strakke bal
    a line drive, a liner
    (figuurlijk) iemand strak houden
    keep a tight hand on someone, keep someone on a tight rein
    de snaren strakker spannen
    tighten the strings
    strak trekken
    stretch, pull tight
    strakker worden
    tighten, be drawn tight
    (honkbal) een strakke worp
    a fast ball

    2 onafgewend
    fixed (bijwoord: fixedly)
    set, intent
    ▲ context
    iemand strak aankijken
    fix (one’s gaze on) someone
    met strakke blik keek hij me aan
    ook he gazed at me intently, he looked hard at me
    ze hield haar blik strak op het podium gericht
    she kept her eyes fixed/nailed to the stage
    strak voor zich uit kijken
    sit staring (fixedly)

    3 geen gevoelens uitdrukkend
    fixed (bijwoord: fixedly)
    streng stern
    gespannen tense
    ▲ context
    (figuurlijk) een strakke bouwstijl
    an austere style of architecture
    met een strak gezicht
    unsmiling, with a stony face
    een strakke glimlach
    a fixed/set/stern/tense smile
    (figuurlijk) strakke lijnen
    in kunst enz. taut lines/outlines

    4 onverzettelijk
    rigid (bijwoord: rigidly)
    ▲ context
    strak aan iets vasthouden
    stick to something, keep rigidly to something

    5 (informeel) geweldig
    well cool

  5. marc leavitt says:

    Hi Stan:
    When I was in the army in Europe during Viet Nam, “strac” had morphed into “straight troop,” used to a soldier who was hyper-neat about his uniform and gear.

    • James Currie says:

      Yes, I was Airborne, stationed in Germany and referred to as “strac” when I won battalion soldier of the month a few times.

  6. Stan says:

    WWW: Many happy returns. Strac is not a condition I’m normally to be found in, either!

    Dawn: Yes, Dutch strak is etymologically related to English stretch and various other Germanic words.

    Marc: Interesting. But did it come from strac somehow or do they just overlap in meaning, I wonder.

    • marc leavitt says:

      I kept coming back to “STRAC” during the day, and I realized that the fog of memory was in play. We didn’t refer to “straight troops”; we referred to “crack troops.” Apparently our ears translated the “str” consonant cluster into “cr.” Hadn’t thought about the phrase in years, al;though on reflection, I remembered that I often jokingly have referred to people as “crack troops.”

  7. Speaking of ‘crack troops’ I remember hearing the term crackerjack used as an adjective growing up, to mean those same sorts of things – extremely skillful.. dates back to 1893 according to this entry:

  8. Stan says:

    Marc, Claire: Yes, that sense of crack appears also in crack hand, crack shot, crack regiment, etc. The OED says it dates to the late 18th century.

  9. […] this month I wrote about the military acronym strac, which I came across in Robert Crais’s novel L. A. Requiem (1999). Something else I noticed in […]

  10. CatoRenasci says:

    The term “strac” was certainly in use when I was at military college in the late ’60s and on active duty in the US Army in the mid-1970s. Unlike the acronyms from WWI such as SNAFU and FUBAR, I’m pretty sure the Chambers explanation is correct, and that the other references are “backronyms” (nice one that).

    It was almost always used in the context of military appearance – the fellow who looked the part of the perfect soldier with a very short ‘high and tight’ haircut, shoes or boots spit-shined to a mirror finish (in which one could (and I have) literally shave), perfectly tailored, starched and pressed uniform, superb military bearing, and, usually, punctilious about military courtesy.

    It had something of a dual context: those who were “super military” used it as a compliment, their highest accolade for the parade ground soldier. But for a larger number who were more combat oriented, or who were simply not as into ‘spit and polish’ the term had a slight pejorative meaning, implying a bit too much emphasis on the military externals and too little attention to the essence of soldiering.

    • CatoRenasci says:


      Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, writing about garrison life in the Strategic Army Corps (STRAC) in the early 1960s, said the acronym became Army slang for a well-organized, well turned-out soldier, but that style ended up overrunning substance.

      “STRAC was a state of being, a sharpness, a readiness and esprit de corps … [but] as often happens in the Army, we over did it,” he said. “Being STRAC came to mean looking sharp more than being combat ready.”

      This certainly squares with my impression in the ’60s and ’70s.

      • Bill Hirni says:

        Right on, thats what I remember, I was in 101st Airborne, a STRAC #1 Co. ready to go anywhere, NOW 1958 thru. 1961 There was a differents between reg. and STRAC Co’s Sharp and Prideful.

        • Ron Cooper says:

          I will echo what you have said and add from my experience, having also served with the 101st Abn. – 2/506 Abn. Inf. 63 thru 66. As memory serves when we were at Ft, Campbell we always had one battalion on lockdown, restricted to base/barracks for the duration of their designation as the Division STRAC force – meaning they were ready to be deployed to anywhere they were needed within a 24 hour period.

          And, as I recall, Strac also implied that they were the creme de la creme in looks and performance. To wit: The 101st as an Army Division was considered to be a Strac Force and the Company or Battalion who was designated to be at a state of heightened readiness and restricted to the base/barracks was considered to be the STRAC force. The duty was rotated and you knew there would be no passes when it was your Company’s turn. I hope that makes sense? Bear in mind I’m 73 now and can barely remember my own name.


    • Stan says:

      Cato: That’s very helpful. Thanks for your thoughts on the nuances of strac‘s meaning and the slightly conflicting senses it gained.

    • Mike Rankin says:

      I was writing an email to a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy who graduated in the early 80’s concerning a project and wanted to use the term STRAC (I capitalize it even as a slang term). I then had second thoughts and wondered if he would recognize the term. I was also Vietnam era with 6 yrs active and 14 NG retiring with my 20 in 1983. My understanding of the term was never just spit and polish. “Skilled, tough, ready around the clock” simply meant someone or a unit that totally GI, fully ready for anything, etc. The guys I hung with never used it pejoratively. It was used as a complimentary description of a soldier or even a unit, e.g.,” Sergeant Watson’s platoon is really STRAC” or “Lt. Fuzz is hard charging. He is really STRAC.”

  11. The first citation I could find is from Current Slang, a primarily college-generated publication, of 1971: ‘Strac trooper, n. A very military-looking soldier.‘ I assume it was picked up from on-campus ROTC members. I also note (though did not cite) this entry in G.R. Clark Words of the Vietnam War (1990): Strac (Strak, Strack) Military slang for a neat, clean, professional appearance or one who adheres to military rules, regulations and formalities. The st[r]ack trooper had spit shined shoes, sharp creases, a spotless uniform and every item in place. Sometimes referred to as ‘being squared away’ or ‘having your shit together’

    • Stan says:

      Jonathon, thanks a lot for these additional notes. Between the references I checked and the comments this post has received, I’ve learned a lot about the term.

  12. OJo says:

    STRAC, STRACed, STRAC’d…following the miltary’s preference for making acronyms plural, past tense, possessive (or whatever verb tense it needs to fit on the ppt slide). Verbally, ‘he’s STRACed’ or ‘that Command is really STRAC(ed?)’ would sound like stract

  13. G-Man says:

    I recall seeing something like “Be STRAC” at US Army Airborne school in the mid-80’s. If you do a search in google with airborne and strac you will find a variety of references. Wikipedia notes regarding the 101st Airborne the following: “In 1958 the US Army formed the Strategic Army Corps consisting of the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and the 1st and 4th Infantry Divisions with a mission of rapid deployment at a moment’s notice.” That’s why STRAC was above the entryway of the airborne school because the goal was to go to an airborne unit following the training (ie the 82nd or the 101st).

    Another site ( notes the following:

    “STRAC was a designation given to the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1958. The designation was, in reality, the assignment of an additional mission rather than a true designation. The additional mission was to provide a flexible strike capability that could deploy worldwide on short notice without declaration of an emergency. The 4th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington, and the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, were designated as STRAC’s first-line divisions, while the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, and the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg were to provide backup in the event of general war. The 5th Logistical Command (later inactivated), also at Fort Bragg, would provide the corps with logistics support, while Fort Bragg’s XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery would control artillery units.

    Although the STRAC mission was to provide an easily deployable force for use in a limited war or other emergency, its ability to deploy overseas was limited by airlift constraints. Without the declaration of a national emergency, the required lift assets would not be released to support a STRAC deployment.

    Other Definitions
    STRAC is Army slang term for “a well organized, well turned-out soldier, (pressed uniform, polished brass and shined boots).” A proud, competent trooper who can be depended on for good performance in any circumstance.

    Gear clean and tight; Weapon clean and ready; Mind clear, organized, and ready for action. S- skilled T- tough R- ready A- around the C- clock. STRAC”

  14. When I was in the U.S. Army in the 1980s, in the hallway of the company offices we had a poster of a squared-away looking soldier, and it read “STrategically Ready And Combat Tough!”

  15. LoboSolo says:

    Strac was common when I was in the Army in the 80s … Ft. Riley and the Berlin Brigade … I recall that the RAC … was Ready-Around-the Clock … I think the ST was Skill’d and Tuff.

    A fetching sidenote is that, by hap, the Old English stræc means: strict, severe, rigorous, stern, hard

    • Stan says:

      Thanks, LoboSolo. That’s interesting about Skill’d and Tuff: though deliberately misspelled, they would be pronounced just like the correct versions. A bit like journalists’ jargon with its graf, lede, etc.

  16. Jim Green says:

    When I was at Ft Campbell with the 101st (1957-58) they told us it stood for “STategic Retaliatory Airborne Commannd’.

  17. Charlie Marlow says:

    when I was in the army during Nam, STRAC was Strong, Tough, Ready, Able, Capable.

  18. D says:

    Used that term a lot during my time at VFMA

  19. Ken Ikenberry says:

    “Strac” was in use when I was on active duty in the early ’60s. I think your explanation of its origin is right on—probably stemmed from strategic army corps. You’d hear it said of a guy when he looked real good for inspections.

  20. LAB says:

    When I was in AIT in the mid-90’s (98G) the unit gave awards for STRAC, TRAC and RAC. STRAC was the highest level. The S stood for skills, which was determined by academic scores (95% or higher), the “T” stood for “tough” which was determined by PT score (290/300 or better) and the “RAC” stood for “ready-around-the-clock” which was a subjective assessment by the cadre of the soldier’s overall quality (assessed by uniform presentation, etc). I don’t know how it was applied in other units, but it was a big deal in AIT for us.

    Most everyone received at least RAC status, a handful got TRAC status and only one got STRAC (me). Haha.

  21. Len says:

    Served ’58-“60 1st Armored Rifle Battalion, 6th Infantry. STRAC to us was STRategic Army Command. “24 hours any place in the world”. Only “REAL” deployment was when Gary Powers was shot down. We constantly trained…in the “field” 1-3 months straight at a time.

  22. Karen W says:

    As an Army MP in the early 1980’s I recall we used the term to describe one’s appearance, as well as, one’s professional proficiency. You could look STRAC or be STRAC. To be STRAC was to be highly tactically and technically proficient–thoroughly prepared–in addition to looking as sharp as possible.

  23. Elliot Lake says:

    As an Army ROTC ‘kadidiot’ in the early ’70s I heard the term, a lot. We all knew STRAC meant squared away, sharp, neat, regulation, precise, the very epitome of adherence to military chickenshit-ism. Curious, one day in the Arms Room, I asked our quartermaster what it really meant. IMMEDIATELY SSG Willy replied “Scared, Terrified, Running Around in Circles.” Then he laughed & told me it was left over from the ’50s and the initials meant “Strategic Readiness Army Command, er sumthin’ like that.” As a Viet Nam combat veteran infantryman, who’s ‘Twenty’ was about to come due, he would have known, and experienced, both. Our cadet understanding of high calibre soldierly turnout, bearing, and deportment was accurate. These STRAC parade ground attributes did not extend to field training and performance. I believed the truth of both of Sergeant Willy’s explanations, and remain certain they were situationally dependent.

  24. Willie Green Sp 4 168sig. bat. Ft. Bragg NC says:

    Skilled tough ready around the Clock. STRAC units were ready to ship out on a moments notice during the 1960s

  25. Rev. Mary Muennig says:

    Huh! Well I’m 58 years old and I was a military spouse and I did not know that I formation until just now! Hmm, you learn something new every day huh? Thank you very much–I appreciate that information!

  26. AFSP7482 says:

    When I was stationed in New York during my first Air Force assignment (’74=[78) I heard “STRAC” from some Army Reservists from Massachusetts who came to visit on their way to Fort Drum. They came to the Security Police armory while I was on duty, to ask if they could “borrow” some 30-round magazines to use during their training at Drum. (SPs, at least stateside, were just transitioning from 20 to 30-round mags.) I think it’s far enough in the past that I can say I gave them some magazines, but don’t recall getting them back. (I did know which police department one of them worked for, in his life outside the reserve. I lived near that city before I enlisted.)
    STRAC seemed to be a term of admiration for them, and somewhere along the way I found out (maybe from them) that it stood for “Sharp, Tough, Ready Around the Clock.”

  27. […] those two sections, let me say that I have always been one to follow rules. I was called a “STRAC trooper” (STRAC is US Army slang for “a well organized, well turned-out soldier, pressed uniform, […]

  28. dan says:

    I was in the 5th Cavalry (mechanized) for a big 3 months in early 1964 or 65 in Ft. Devans Mass. It was made clear to us that “STRAC” was derived from a combination of the TACTICAL army and the STRATEGIC air command. It was ready to move from Devans to Nam via the Air Force in a matter of hours. It was assigned the job of supporting units of the regular army when they were threatened with serious casualties by the enemy. Because of the time and distances involved, we were ordered not to be more than 1 hour from Devons at any time. The unit was nicknamed the Red Devels after the red diamond insignia we wore.
    Nothing was good enough in the 5th. Strac was better than perfection, and we would be told so daily. I was lucky to sent to my home unit in the reserves just a month or so before the 5th was dispatched to Nam.

  29. Ltc G says:

    I believe STRAC is an acronym for “Strategic Army Command”, not “….Corps”. The GI’s love to make jokes and said that STRAC was an acronym for “scram,the Russians are coming”. They joked, but all were proud to be part of our nation’s first line of defense

    • Stan Carey says:

      Thank you. A few people have suggested “…Command” rather than “…Corps”. It may be impossible to say definitively. The number of variations is truly impressive, and the “Russians” one is a good backronym!

  30. shedguy says:

    I last encountered STRAC in boot camp at Ft. Ord in 1971. The platoon had marched up in ranks and was at attention for inspection. First Sargeant Watai, a man of few but pointed words, eyed us balefully, (this was at the tail end of the draft,) and announced. “You troops look STRAC! S, H. I. T. STRAC!” Nobody giggled.

  31. Vincent Barbour says:

    Stationed in the 3rd Inf Div in Germany in 1966, we were very aware of the mission and the readiness of the STRAC units, but did know what the acronym stood for. In a discussion on what it might be on one guy came up with “Shit The Russians Are Coming”

  32. Ron Johanson says:

    STRAC came about in the 1950s. The USAF, formerly USAAF, had become
    the ONLY way to deliver atomic ( or STRATEGIC) weapons. Gen. Curtis LeMay was placed in command of the branch to deliver these weapons, called the STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND (SAC). This outfit, like the Navy Nuclear Program under ADM. RICKOVER, took only the best and brightest the service had to offer.

    The US ARMY felt left out of the nuclear pie. It proposed, and developed, ways to deliver, nuclear weapons on the battle field.Nuclear ROCKRTS,not missiles to targets Redstone. Jupiter, Little John, Honest John’s, Davy Crockett,, nuclear land mines, Man packed, atomic, demolitions (MADs) and the ATOMIC CANNON. To distingush them from regular Army troops, who had waaayyy less training, the US Army wanted folks to know they also were atomic capable, named them STATEGIC ARMY CORP, or STRAC, to piggy back on USAFS SAC legend. Membership in STRAC was voluntary, open ONLY to the best and smartest troops, considered to be elite troops, higher than RANGERS. Regular Army troops, especially draftees, considered them right up there with ” Lifers”. NCOs and Officers who recommended soldiers for the program, got “points”, if the trooper was accepted. Thus a common thing
    became heardd at inspectoons, “Soldier, you are ONE STRAC LOOKING , MF!!! YOU WILL GO FAR IN THIS MANs ARMY!!” Needless to say, it became a derogatory term when used by the troops, to denote soldiers who had airs to better then selves, while playing soldier, to be, “ALL THAT YOU CAN BE!!”. So, STRAC was both a a high complement, and a terrible comment, depending on who was using it. STRAC terms carried over through 1963 and the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the public thought of nuclear weapons that might be in local armories, and the Vietnam War.
    The public was not aware that nuclear warheads were still under the control of the US ARMY in thier own backyards. Nike air defense bases, local ANG bases and ARMY bases along all coasts and borders had nuclear tipped interceptors to blow enemy bomber fleets from the skies, well into the 1990s. RUBE GOLDBERG ideas at thier best, from Davey Crockett, nuclear hand grenades, bazooka rounds. Never mind if used the would have killed the user, just carrying the around could kill you because lead weighs a lot, and shielding weight could be used for more ammo. They would probably be dead from combat anyways, so radiation poisonings long term ramifications didn’t make the “Top Ten Concerns” list. “CANNON FODDER”

  33. Tom Smith says:

    STRAC soldiers were skilled, highly motivated. squared away soldiers when I was in the Army. I took it as the highest of compliments when my flight platoon leader said I was one STRAC trooper with a bada** bird.

  34. Rich K says:

    I last heard this term used in the mid-90s, when I was a ROTC cadet, by one or more of the senior training NCOs. Both were what my generation would call high-speed, squared away infantrymen. Sergeant Major Booker was AIrborne, Ranger tabbed and had made E-9 in record time. He had about 15 years in. Master Sergeant Slaughter (that was his name, for real) was Airborne, Pathfinder and he filled in his 20+ and retired some time during my sophomore year around 96-97. Sergeant Slaughter would use the term as a complement regarding appearance and military bearing. But then he had a sly, sarcastic sense of humor and I often got the sense that he was being facetious to us soup sandwiches when he laid it on thick with the complements, so I guess he was might have been using it as both a complement and mild pejorative at the same time? SFC Medina, who came to replaced SGT Slaughter, was a homegrown Batt Boy straight from 2nd Ranger Batt and he spoke strictly Ranger. He never used Old Army slang like STRAC. I don’t think I ever heard anyone use the term in my Army years to follow after SGM Booker and MSG Slaughter left us.

  35. Russ says:

    As a soldier in the Berlin Brigade 287th MP Company in 72 to 75 we had to be STRAC and go through 2 guard mounts before we were released for duty/patrol. We were the law east of the Elbe.

    • Russ says:

      We also had a monthly alert where we escorted combat units into the Grunewald (Berlin forest) including the 40th Armor (tanks). We (Berlin Brigade) had a joke that the East Germans/Russians wouldn’t attack because we were already imprisoned. They’d just put POW signs around the inside of the wall.

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