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Primer: How To Read Military Time

Like the old saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Well, in the world of military time, this saying falls flat on its face. Why? Because as we’re sure you’re all aware, military time flushes the civilian “AM, PM” down the drain in favor of a more direct and – honestly understandable – way of telling time. In fact, origins of the first uses of military time can be traced backed to the ancient Egyptians, though is wasn’t until 1920 that the system was eventually adopted by the US Navy and then the Army during WWII in 1942 as methods of communication became more advanced.

It’s because of the military’s penchant for getting things right the first time – working to eliminate confusion from their strategy – that the 24-hour method of telling time was adopted. Consider the consequences of misunderstanding the time as which an advancement or strategic attack is scheduled and you begin to comprehend why military time is of the utmost importance. But for the rest of us civilians, deciphering this system can be a bit complicated if we’re not used to the 24-hour time-keeping method. With that in mind, we decided to present a brief overview on how to tell military time, so the next time your enlisted or veteran friend attempts to make plans with you via this model, you won’t come off as dumbfounded.

Military Watches

2 Systems, 1 Day

12 vs. 24 Hour Time Telling

In the contemporary world, there are two accepted methods of time telling: the 12 and 24-hour systems – obviously based on the length of time it takes for the earth to rotate 360-degrees on its own axis. The 12-hour system divides the 24-hour day up into two parts: ante meridiem (A.M) and post meridiem (P.M) in which noon (12:00 p.m) serves as the transitionary point. For the 24-hour time systems, there is no transitionary period. Instead, the clock begins a zero hour and counts up to 23:59, whereupon striking the 24th hour, the process begins all over again. In essence, military time functions as a timer in and of itself, restarting once the 24th hour is reached.

Looking at both systems, it becomes clear why the 12-hour system of telling time isn’t without confusion, due specifically to the fact that the same time is reached twice a day. Also, it can take a longer time to calculate the duration of an event with the 12-hour system while the 24-hour system of telling time is more direct in this regard. Currently, the 24-hour system is the international standard, though in North America it’s typically reserved for military, emergency response, aviation, and navigation. Basically, any job duty that requires a concise understanding of the time or a planned event uses the system because these individuals have more to worry about than whether or not who ever’s in charge meant (A.M or P.M).

How To Tell Military Time

Telling Time

Reading and Pronunciation

Now, onto reading and proper pronunciation of military time. For starters, it may seem a little confusing. However, it’s nothing just the slightest bit of practice can’t fix. To get started -and as mentioned above – understanding the military clock as a sort of timer will help you grasp the notion of military time. The best part? Half of the work is already done for you. After resetting at midnight (0000 in military time) all the a.m hours (with the exception of the midnight hour, are essentially the same. For instance 1:30 a.m is the read as 0130. This follows suit all the way up to 1259 which in civilian time is, you guess it, 12:59 p.m. Easy stuff, right?

The confusion arises once the clock strikes 1:00 p.m (or 1300 in military time) since the “timer” here keeps ticking up until the next midnight. From here, every hour is the counted in its respective time since the timer started at the beginning of the day. So, for example, 2:30 p.m. (1430) is then understood as 14 hours and 30 minutes into the day.

Pronouncing these terms, for the most part, is even more straightforward. Here, the civilian “o’clock” is replaced by “hours” in some cases when the hour and minutes are stated in unison. For example, 0830 would be stated as “Zero-Eight-Thirty,” or “Zero-Eight-Thirty hours” just as 1645 would be stated as “Sixteen-Forty-Five,” or “Sixteen-Forty-Five hours” depending on the branch and individual. And for the midnight hour, 0030 (known as 1230 a.m. in civilian time) would be pronounced as “Zero-Zero-Thirty.”

As a side note, saying the term “hours” after the time is, again, branch dependent, though in most settings people will understand 1600 as 4:00 p.m. without needing to add “hours” into the mix.

Conversion: Not as Difficult as You May Think

While converting these times – especially the afternoon hours – may appear difficult, the process is surprisingly easy. All you need are some rudimentary math skills that you probably picked up in third grade. Just keep in mind that it all revolves around the 1200 hour.

That is, since civilian time restarts after the noon hour all you need to do to convert civilian into military time is to add 1200 to the current time.

In essence, 2:30 p.m easily becomes 1430, 5:30 p.m becomes 1730, and so on.

Conversely, if you’re looking to switch back, simply subtract 1200 from the afternoon hour. So 1530 then becomes 3:30 p.m. Not too difficult once you get the hang of it.

Zulu Time

Basic Phonetics

Often times, in war movies no doubt, we hear the term Zulu stated after military time is given. For example, “we’re set to land at 1445 Zulu.” Now while this may sound confusing at first, the reasoning is quite simple. It’s because modern warfare and campaigns take place over different time zones that a base time needs to be established for comprehension across all channels of communication.

In this case, the term “Zulu,” – the last letter in the phonetic alphabet – refers to what we civilians recognize as GMT or Greenwich Mean Time, the time that regulates the world’s clocks. In the US, it’s the Department of the Navy that serves as our nation’s official timekeeper and if you’re ever interested in checking out the Master Clock itself, it’s located in U.S Naval Observatory in Washington D.C.

Essential Tactical Watches for Your Collection

Now that you have the time down, be sure to pick up that military-inspired tactical watch you’ve always wanted. This list should get you started.