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Q: This one’s a little bit old school, but I’ve heard some of the junior officers around here called “shave tails.” What’s up with that?

A: While not heard quite so often anymore, the term “shave tail” used to be nearly synonymous with a freshly commissioned junior officer, particularly one that joined a wartime unit during its deployment.

The origin of the phrase is quite simple, really. Back in the day (think the first half of the 20th century), the Army made abundant use of its pack mule corps. And any time they brought in a new, untrained mule, they shaved the mule’s tail as a way to inform animal handlers that the new four-legged creature was fresh to the service.

Soon enough, the moniker was being attached to young leaders fresh to the service.

The nickname also has been used for cavalry troopers who have yet to earn their “spurs.” The story has the same roots, but in this version is used to refer to a member who hasn’t yet been inducted into the Order of the Spur, a long-standing cav tradition.

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