Use of Terms A-Z

Military Community and Family Policy writing guidance aligns with The Associated Press Stylebook with a few exceptions. Definitions of military-specific terms appear below, along with editorial guidance for certain commonly used words for MC&FP and our programs. See additional writing guidance in the Writing Best Practices section. Find program-specific guidance in the Program Content Guides section.


call signs – Do not refer to individuals by call signs. Use full name and rank.

capital, capitol – Lowercase capital when referring to the city or location that is the seat of government, including the national capital or state capital, or when describing money, equipment or property that a business or corporation uses: They went to the capital to put up capital for the deal. Lowercase capitol when referencing state capitols in general (i.e., the buildings where legislative activity takes place). Use uppercase Capitol when referencing the building in Washington and the surrounding area, including the Capitol, the U.S. Capitol and Capitol Hill, or a specific state’s capitol building, such as the New York State Capitol.

carrier strike group – Capitalize when using with the name of a ship. It is acceptable to precede the name of strike group with “the”: The Enterprise Carrier Strike Group arrived in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations Dec. 9.

cease-fire, cease-fires – These are the forms for the noun and adjective. The verb form is cease fire.

Centcom – Down style is acceptable in headlines and in subsequent references to U.S. Central Command, a unified combatant command with headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

chaplain – Capitalize when using with a name, lowercase in other uses. For military chaplains, the rank goes in parentheses in first-reference-with-name style: Army Chaplain (Maj.) Joseph T. Smith. Use a chaplain’s religious affiliation only if it’s relevant to the story.

civilian titles – Use full name and title or job description on first reference. Capitalize the title or job description, and do not use a comma to separate it from the individual’s name when it comes first: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense John Smith attended the graduation ceremonies. Lowercase and use commas when titles follow the name: John Smith, deputy assistant secretary of defense, attended the graduation ceremonies. 

cities/datelines – For cities that stand alone, use the list of datelines in the AP Stylebook. Because of their strong Navy ties and frequent reference in news stories, Great Lakes, Norfolk, San Diego and Pearl Harbor can stand alone, without states.

coalition – Do not capitalize: U.S. and coalition forces took part in the event.

Coast Guard – Capitalize when referring to this branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, a part of the Department of Homeland Security: the U.S. Coast Guard, the Coast Guard, Coast Guard policy. Do not use the abbreviation USCG except in quotes. Use lowercase for similar forces of other nations.

Coast Guardsman – Capitalize as a proper noun when referencing members of a U.S. Coast Guard unit: He has spent his career as a Coast Guardsman. Lowercase guardsman when it stands alone.

commander in chief – Do not hyphenate. Once used both as the title for the president in the context of his authority over the armed forces and for commanders of the unified commands, it now applies to only the president. Use it only in context and not as a routine synonym for president. To apply the term to the president when he is acting in a nonmilitary capacity uses the term out of context. For example: The commander in chief asked Congress to ratify the treaty. An example of using the term in context: Using his authority as commander in chief, the president relieved the general of his command.

commanding officer – Do not capitalize unless using as a title preceding a name: Commanding Officer Capt. Tom Jones welcomed the distinguished visitors to the base. The commanding officer of the cruiser, Capt. Mary Smith, announced the ship would make a port visit to Key West, Florida.

composition titles – Apply the guidelines listed here to Department of Defense directives, instructions and service publications (for example, JCS Pub 1, “Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States”) and titles of articles, webinars, podcasts, books, computer games, movies, operas, plays, poems, albums and songs, radio and television programs, and lectures, speeches and works of art.

The guidelines:

  • Capitalize principal words, including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters.
  • Capitalize articles — the, a, an — or words of fewer than four letters if they are the first or last word in a title.
  • Put quotation marks around names of works that fall into the categories above. Exceptions include the Bible, reference materials — such as almanacs, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, gazetteers and handbooks — and software titles such as Windows.

comradery – Not camaraderie or comraderie.

courtesy titles – Refer to both men and women by first and last name, without courtesy titles, on first reference: Susan Smith or Robert Smith. Refer to both men and women by last name, without courtesy titles, in subsequent references. Use the courtesy titles Mr., Miss, Ms., or Mrs., only in direct quotations or after first reference when a woman specifically requests it: Mrs. Smith or Ms. Smith. See also military titles.

CONUS (continental U.S.) – Refers to the 48 continental, or contiguous, states and the District of Columbia. It excludes Alaska and Hawaii. It is acceptable to use CONUS upon first reference when writing for service members, families, service providers and leaders. If writing for an audience not as likely to be familiar with the term, for example the broad audience of the Friends & Family Connection eNewsletter, write it out fully upon first reference and use the acronym sparingly on subsequent references.

crew member – Use two words, consistent with service member.

cutlines – Write in historical-present tense, identifying recognizable people left to right with full name and title, and including the year in dates. Include the date the photographer took the image, the location (city, state and country, if outside the U.S.) and what is happening. Use a colon at the beginning of the lead sentence or commas in the body of the sentence to indicate a person’s relative position in the photo.

The form: Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, left, meets with Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith during U.S.-Australia Ministerial Consultations in San Francisco, Sept. 15, 2011. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey 

Left to right: Army Staff Sgt. Eric Anton, Spc. Leigh Clarke and Col. David Thiele of the North Dakota National Guard judge a Memorial Day weekend duck-calling contest on Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, May 30, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Yoshauna Gunn

cyberspace, cybersecurity – Follow the general rule for prefixes. No hyphen for cyberattack, cyberbullying, cybersecurity. Use Cyber Monday and cyber as a separate modifier: e.g., cyber shopping.