I saw Kathryn Bigelow interviewed about her film "Zero Dark Thirty" – it's nominated in five categories at the 85th Annual Academy Awards show this coming Sunday – and she told the interviewer that zero dark thirty means 30 minutes past midnight.
Say what? Thirty minutes past midnight?
I used the term "zero dark thirty" many times during my Marine Corps career. My fellow Marines always understood me when I used it. I understood them when they used it. But we never understood it to mean 30 minutes past midnight.
"Awright, Marines! Hit the rack! I'll see you at zero dark thirty!"
That simply meant: "Go to bed and get some rest, people. I'll be back before the sun is up and shining on your young butts."
The Marine Corps gives its men and women plenty of opportunities to rise before the sun. During annual rifle requalification week, for example, we jarheads have to get up at zero dark thirty in order to chow down, draw our rifles from the armory and be on the 200-yard line of the rifle range at the crack of dawn.
Here's another good example. When I arrived at my first permanent unit after boot camp, infantry training and reconnaissance school, I was initiated by being assigned to a few weeks of mess duty. That's the same as KP. I had to get up in the wee hours to get to the mess hall, or chow hall, by 4:30 or 5 a.m. – that's zero four thirty or zero five hundred – to start preparing to help serve breakfast. In other words, I had to get up at
zero dark thirty to be at the chow hall by zero dark thirty.
You see, in the Corps, zero dark thirty is any time in the wee, dark hours of the morning or maybe the middle of the night but certainly before there is even a hint of approaching daylight.
I don't know the origin of Bigelow's "30 minutes past midnight" explanation, but I did find that interpretation during an Internet search. However, most interpretations of zero dark thirty sound like my understanding of the term.
Why should I care, right? I know; it sounds silly. Unless you're a diehard gyrene. When I said, "I'll see you at zero dark thirty, 1st Platoon," my troops always knew they had to arise early the next morning, before the sun could shine, but not at half-past midnight!
Speaking of early, care to catch a few catfish tomorrow morning? Just remember that the early bird catches the fish, so I'll pick you up pretty darn early. Better set you're alarm for zero dark thirty.