What Does GI Mean in the Military? – Military Terms Explained

Blog Written by JOHN COTTON / Fact-checked by LOGAN MILLER

what does gi mean in the military

Whenever you watch war documentaries, have you ever wondered what does GI mean in the military? To put it simply, the GI abbreviation stands for “Galvanized Iron.”

Aside from its rich history spanning multiple significant wars, this term perfectly represents how tough these soldiers should be. While the term has various meanings, including “Ground Infantry” or “Government Issue,” GI remains the American military personnel’s number one call sign.

If you want to know everything there is to know more about what “GI” stands for in the military, we invite you to read the article to find out.

History and Etymology of the Term GI


The term “GI” has roots long before the First World War. Since the standard issue equipment used by American soldiers is usually made of galvanized iron, the letters “G.I” are usually stamped on them.

Since American soldiers usually see this term on their gear, they took a liking to it and adopted it as their own. In this regard, GI is a slang used by soldiers to address themselves, and it eventually had a life of its own.

Perhaps due to a lack of understanding of its roots, some soldiers eventually associated GI with the term “government issue” or “general issue.” These terms serve as self-deprecating humor that means American soldiers are like general issue equipment being produced.

In our contemporary society, the term has also been used for movies like GI Joe or GI Jane. So in case you’re wondering what the GI in GI Joe stands for, you now know where it came from and its meaning.

1. World War I


The first instance of “GI”, meaning “soldier”, was recorded during the First World War. Historians said that German artillery shells had the letters G.I. on them, so soldiers at that time took the term and applied it to mean “infantrymen.”

2. World War II


Dwight Eisenhower was one of the leading proponents of the term “GI” during World War II. The usual slang used to address American soldiers at that time was “Doughboys,” but through Eisenhower’s constant use of the term GI, it became the commonly used expression or slang.

The GI definition during WW2 pretty much didn’t change compared to how people used it during the First World War. Soldiers interpreted it as either “Galvanized Iron” or “General Issue” and were proud of the term.

3. Vietnam War


From 1955-1975, the term was hot again due to what GI stands for in Vietnam. However, this time, the battle GIs are fighting isn’t just in Vietnam since most people back in the United States are also opposed to the ongoing war.

The GI Movement was a cause dedicated to ending the war in Vietnam and bringing the US soldiers home. This movement’s methods involved publishing dozens of articles opposing the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, hoping to get them back and stop the war.

Groups like the GI Movement also affected the popularity of the term GI from the 1950s to the 70s.

American GI meaning: Why are US Soldiers Called GI?


American soldiers love to use slang to address various equipment and even their fellow soldiers. Other slang terms that US soldiers use are:

  • Jarhead – Refers to the clean and high haircuts soldiers use.
  • Grunt – Another word for “soldier.”
  • Leatherneck – A term for Marines. Possibly referring to the high collar used by the US Military before World War I.
  • Bang-bang – Pistols or any projectile weapon
  • Moonbeam – Flashlights
  • Rack – Beds.
  • People Tank – Submarines.
  • Tango Mike – A means of thanking your fellow soldiers.

The idea behind using slang terms for different things or people is to take the soldier’s mind away from the comforts of home. By doing this conditioning, you’re getting their minds ready to train for combat.

Another logic behind this propensity for slang terms is to keep each other’s minds entertained. US Army training is challenging, so using slang adds a layer of entertainment to hard training and quiet rest hours.

That said, the reason behind the GI military term is a mixture of many things. Soldiers might have taken a liking to the term to keep their minds entertained, or it’s a tactic to dissociate themselves from the gravity of the situation.


What does GI Mean in the military? Whether used as a term of endearment, or a self-deprecating title, it is already a part of the culture. In a way, this term gives soldiers an identity they can cling to whenever they can’t find the right words to describe who they are.

These are the rich stories behind the GI meaning in the army. Sometimes, knowing where these terms came from is good, so we can have a fresh appreciation for what they are. We trust that you’ll already know what it stands for the next time you face this term.

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