Scrawled on the inside doors of latrines were dozens of instances of one singular phrase: “63 days and a wake-up.”
10 days and a wake-up.
36 days and a wake-up.
If deployed, 414 days and a wake-up.
Initially, I remember being very confused by the term, because I rarely heard it spoken, I only read about it in bathroom stalls, porta-johns, in wooden shacks at the rifle range, and in soldiers’ wall lockers. Wherever I found it, the phrase sat there, etched with the kind of certainty and legendary wisdom that colors most military language that keeps outsiders at bay.
Eventually, other new soldiers began using the phrase themselves and I wondered how they were clued in on what it means, exactly, themselves. I figured that most new recruits were just as clueless about the intricacies of military culture as I was, and the first place they encountered the phrase must have been in the bathroom as well.
This is a recurring theme of military service – wondering if everyone else knows what’s going on (they don’t).
The phrase is a way for soldiers to count down the days left of a tour, whether it be combat or training. If a soldier has 22 days left before the end, and he is leaving on the 22nd day, he has 21 days and a wake-up. I always figured instituting the “wake up” was a way of making the event seem shorter, even if only by a single day. It’s also true that on the “final” day of a rigorous training school or deployment, the excitement of it ending is enough to erase the day’s monotony and pain.
A few cursory searches of the term suggest it originated in Vietnam. I don’t know how prevalent the phrase is today, but I still hear it thrown around every now and then, so it’s still alive.