One of the best pieces of advice, for people in careers both in and out of service, is to learn to deal with things or take the bad in stride.
But the military, famed for its ability to turn a phrase or ruin anything with an absurd acronym, came up with its own colloquialism for making the best of any situation: “Embrace the suck.”
Though it’s impossible to trace back the phrase definitively to its first user, it became popularized in 2003 by Marines in Iraq.
Retired U.S. Army Reserve Col. Austin Bay authored a book in the mid-2000s called “Embrace the Suck,” in which he explains the meaning of the phrase.
“The Operation Iraqi Freedom phrase ‘embrace the suck’ is both an implied order and wise advice couched as a vulgar quip,” Bay wrote.
He likens the slang phrase back to legendary military strategist Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz and his views on “friction.”
“Clausewitz went to war when he was 12 years old,” Bay wrote. “Over the last few decades, critics have argued that his treatise ‘On War’ is a bit dated in terms of theory. However, everyone with military experience agrees that Clausewitz understood ‘the suck.’ He called it ‘friction.’”
For Clausewitz, it’s this “friction, or what is so termed here, which makes that which appears easy in war difficult in reality.”
Troops, in their resilience, in effect, mitigate the chasm of difference between training or planning and the often harsh realities they face on the ground. And they do it with aplomb, because they must.
A real mantra, “Embrace the suck” has become such a popular contemporary phrase that it’s all over YouTube, used in corporate boardrooms and even titles a number of books.
“This is one of my personal favorite expressions,” wrote retired Army Officer Guy McCardle on Quora. “I’ve told more than one soldier more than one time to ‘embrace the suck.’ I’ve run the phrase over and over in my head innumerable times to help me keep driving on through tough situations.”
So go on, embrace the suck — hold it tight. It’ll keep you warm on long duty nights.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.