How many people does a ‘troop’ make?

Journalists take notice—troops and soldiers are not interchangeable terms.

Journalists take notice—troops and soldiers are not interchangeable terms

Somebody out there, help me: What do the media mean by troops?

Whether I’m listening to all-news radio or watching the nightly news, every so often a report comes on about a military conflict overseas, and I’ll hear that four troops were killed, or we’re sending in more troops, or 23 troops were injured.

I don’t have a military background, but invariably, I find myself wondering: How many people are we talking about?

What constitutes a troop? An individual? I’m not so sure. You don’t typically hear about a single troop.

  • The U.S. has sent a troop to Iraq. Nah.
  • The U.S. has sent another troop to Iraq. Uh-uh.
  • The U.S. has sent more troops to Iraq. Bingo.

I’ve done a bit of investigating to try to answer my question. So far I’ve learned that, in the 2008 fiscal year, the U.S. Army had a combined strength of 1,097,050 soldiers. This includes the Army National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve.

What I could not uncover was how many troops it had.

I consulted my good friend Webster, as in “Webster’s New College Dictionary,” which defines troop as: a group of things; a group of soldiers; military units; a unit of cavalry; a great many. You get the idea. Anyway it slices it, Webster’s considers troop as more than one.

I then referred to my buddy Roget, for whom troop is a military unit, a company or a group. Again, plural all the way.

I got to Googling, which led me to this Wikipedia pronouncement: A troop is a military unit, originally a small force of cavalry, subordinate to a squadron and headed by the troop leader.

Digging deeper, I learned that a troop comprises three to five platoons. The platoon contains from two to four squads or sections, each of which could have anywhere from eight to 14 soldiers. Which means the platoon might have more than 50 soldiers, which means a troop might include as many as 250.

Nowhere did I find a declaration that troop could designate a person, a single soldier. Why oh why, then, do the media favor using troops when they most probably mean the individual?

  • Four troops were injured when a bomb exploded beneath their truck

That’s one big truck, folks. In contrast:

  • Four soldiers were injured when a bomb exploded beneath their truck.

Now, I get the picture—and I can empathize, because we’re talking about individuals vs. masses.

Journalists have an obligation to report news accurately, objectively and fairly. The English language offers an ample array of words to enable them to paint a distinct picture, to tell a precise story. We consumers of news depend on them for just that. Especially in times of war, most of us have no choice but to rely on reporters to learn what’s going on—and to whom and how many. Therefore, why not be clear?

As far as I can tell, troops and soldiers are not interchangeable terms, and “four troops” is far different from “four soldiers.”

We deserve better reporting. And so do our troops.

Denise C. Baron is a director of global communications with Merck & Co., Inc.


9 Responses to “How many people does a ‘troop’ make?”

    Dr. Patricia Adelekan says:

    As an educator and researcher, I try to give and promote clarity and accuracy. Because this terminology (troop, troops) have confused and baffled me, I decided to do my own research and discovered this response by you. Thank you, and I agree wholeheartedly about your findings, comments and conclusions. Let us writers, especially reporters, be as accurate as possible to convey clarity and not confusion.
    Thank you, again

    Vellia kurtz says:

    Thank you for all of your research regarding defining Troop/Troops> I have had several discussions with my children(whom are adults) and others of what is the correct terminology of Troop/Troops a few people would agree with me that troop/troops is plural I can’t wait for the next time any of my children come to visit and settle the terminology of Troop/Troops I’m going to show them my findings of your research Thank you again your research is appreciated.

    Don Wood says:

    I was at Gettysburg National Battleground recently and I noticed on several monuments, both North and South, when Troops were listed, there was never a Troop J. The designations would always skip from I to K. I found that rather odd. Why is that?

    Gentry E Newsom says:

    I’m just shootin from the hip but I would think a troop is a group of warriors that are performing a certain objective that is needed to advance in the outcome of the comand? So a troop could be any number of warriors that is needed to get the job done. As a comander you dont want to have an exact number as that might jeperdize your objective…kapish..Gentry

    Analytical Chick says:

    It sounds like a troop is the same thing as a company. A company is 3 to 5 platoons. There’s usually 4 or 5 squads to a platoon. Those are the rows when you fall in to line up. Squad leader is first. Daily Headlines

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