Lock and Load:  Famous Leader Commands

By | October 26, 2020

[October 26, 2020]  Since at least 1793, when flintlock weapons were ready to fire as “well locked and loaded,” the phrase Lock and Load has been used by both the military and in general society.  I first heard it while watching the John Wayne film Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) when I was about ten years old.  For some reason, it impressed me enough to remember the phrase.

Later, while attending Basic Combat Training in the U.S. Army, I again heard the command Lock and Load on the M16A1 Rifle qualification range.  Every trip to the firing range, regardless of small-weapon system, the command Lock and Load always seem to be there.  But it was many years later that the words gained real meaning when I went into combat.

Sitting in a small base camp, my Combat Engineer unit was preparing for our first trip “outside the wire.”  For nearly every member of our team, they were virgins when it came to war.  They had never seen combat, and no one knew what the next few hours would bring.  Everyone asked themselves the questions: “Will I be killed?” “Will, my friends, be wounded or killed?” and “Will I be a coward or a brave member of my team?”

We called it going into “Indian country;” we were about to face a real enemy with the will, intent, and firepower to destroy you.  Your pucker factor ramps up when someone is out there just waiting to kill you.  After getting a detailed convoy briefing, double-checking all our gear and vehicles, and lining up at the controlled exit point, we were told by our senior NCO to Lock and Load.

Lock and Load has been a leader command for several centuries, at least in the United States military.  The U.S. Army officially started using the phrase in 1940 and was printed in the U.S. Army Field Manual 23-5 for the M1 Rifle, caliber .30.

The phrase carries a less precise meaning in everyday use.  Even among us in the military or at home, some say “lock and load” to mean they are ready to do something of significance.  If going on a vacation, we might say we are locked and loaded.  This would mean we have everything packed and loaded in our vehicle, our car or truck checked out and ready, and every family member briefed on the trip.

This is a famous leader command.  And it carries real meaning.

Don’t forget to use the Search feature of my leadership blog to find other articles on Famous Leader Commands (see examples here, here, and here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

26 thoughts on “Lock and Load:  Famous Leader Commands

  1. Randy Goodman

    Another article worth my time to read and think about. I do like coming to read this website and despite not reading it daily, I do know that I can gain some insight into leadership. Sometimes that insight is small – like today – and sometimes big. Whatever I do gain, I am confident that it is correct and unbiased. Thanks to Gen. Satterfield and his small group of contributors (like Lynn Pitts and others) who help make the site better each day.

  2. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Used to show toughness, ambition, fear and other strong characteristics.

      1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

        Took it off the Urban Dictionary website. I thought it might add to the converation.

  3. Wendy Holmes

    Good point, Gen. Satterfield that the phrase “lock and load” carries additional meaning than the specific military phraseology. Like many military terms and phrases (e.g., the whole nine yards), we have a bleed-over into common language. It is always best to have an understanding of its military meaning and then find out how that translates into more common usage. It means getting ready and having all your stuff ready to go. Like the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared.”

  4. Stacey Borden

    I had no idea. Good article with positive message. Certainly is a relief being here in the US with such a contentious presidential election going on. I see so much negativity and hate (mostly from Democrats who claim the sky is falling – same old M.O.). I’m glad that each day I can come to this website and read about leadership and not have to have politics stuck into my brain. ✌

    1. Eric Coda

      Stacey, you’re right. This website of leadership is an island of sanity. I sure appreciate it and the polite and respectful folks in the comment forums. I learn so much from so many like Max, Lynn, Kenny, Georgie, and many many others.

    2. Karl J.

      I was thinking the same thing Stacey. I’m relieved to be here also. Thanks.

  5. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Hey, thanks Gen. Satterfield for the link to the M1 Garand rifle Army Field Manual. Great stuff to see and read what was written years ago about any weapon system.

    1. Max Foster

      Yep, here’s the Urban Dictionary definition. Just what Gen. Satterfield has written for us today.
      I do recommend that we all go out to read additional articles (and occasionally a book) on the topics that Gen. Satterfield brings us. That sort of follow up will enrich us to no end. That is what learning to be a good leader is about. Don’t just read a couple of webpages and think you are a leader. It takes hard work, loyalty, and determination.

  6. Georgie M.

    Another great short series that tells a story with a tidbit to learn. Thank you! 😊😊😊😊

  7. Kenny Foster

    “Indian country” – I’m sure you guys weren’t worrying about the PC police finding out and stopping you from using the phrase as you were about to fight the enemy insurgents. I’m sure the leftist, liberal, pinko, commie PC police (if they weren’t hiding in their parent’s basement) would have wet their pants if they’d been there with you.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Kenny, you’re killing me! I love your comment about the PC police wetting their pants if they were in the same situation as our military. Great job. 👍

      1. JT Patterson

        Hey Lynn, I’m looking forward to your next war movie review. Say hi to your family for me.

      2. Yusaf from Texas

        Yeah Lynn. What is the next article about? The Sands of Iwo Jima is the one I’d like you to review!!

        1. Lynn Pitts

          Hi guys and thank you so much for reaching out to ask about my next article. It’s nearly complete but I’ll let you stay in suspense until published. Thank you so much for asking me about it. Just remember that most of these movies I review are old enough to be found on either YouTube for free or on-demand for free or low cost.

      3. Danny Burkholder

        Yes, just go to the tab called WAR MOVIE REVIEWS at the top of the webpage.

  8. Newtown Manager

    Thanks Gen. Satterfield for another amazing article. This short, mini-series you have going on Famous Leader Commands is pretty darn good. Well written, to the point, and with a lesson for us to take away. I “shared” this article on social media with my friends and will be talking to some of my cousins in the military later this week. I’m sure they have something to say about it too.

  9. Army Captain

    Now that is definitely a big leader command.
    Lock & Load !!!!!!!!!
    Now I’ve heard it all. I never thought Gen. Satterfield would publish such a spot-on article. Thanks, sir.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      You got that right, Army Captain. I too was in the army and have heard this command repeatedly over the short time I was in. I can tell you from experience that when you hear the words “lock and load” that the pucker factor goes up a bit and you had better be paying really really close attention or you might be dead.

      1. José Luis Rodriguez

        You are The One, Valkerie. Make me laugh, ha ha ha ha ha …..


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