The Best Military Cadences

In the armed services, a military cadence or cadence call is a traditional call-and-response work song sung by military personnel while running, marching or working. In the US, these cadences are sometimes called Jodies, after Jody, a recurring fictional character who first started appearing in older traditional cadences.

Cadences have a call and response structure. One soldier initiates a line, and the remaining soldiers complete it, thus instilling teamwork and camaraderie for completion. The cadence calls move to the beat and rhythm of the normal speed march (80 beats per minute) or running-in-formation (120 beats per minute). This serves the purpose of keeping Soldiers, Sailors or Airmen “dressed”, moving in step as a unit and information, while maintaining the correct beat or cadence and looking sharp.

Who is this guy Jody anyway? 

This name “Jody” refers to a recurring civilian character, the soldier’s nemeses. This Jody fellow was afraid to join the military and now stays home to a perceived life of luxury. He drive the Soldiers’ car, dates the Sailors’ girlfriend, hangs out with the Airman’s friends, and eats the Marine’s mom’s great cooking.

Jodys have been seen in popular movies such as Stripes, An Officer and a Gentleman, and Full Metal Jacket.

Common themes in Jodie Calls include:

  • Homesickness
  • Gripes about military life
  • Insults of other units, services or the enemy
  • A humorous reference
  • A Chance to make fun of a fellow peer
  • Battles, exploits, or events specific to one’s own unit

While obscene, offensive and violent jody calls were previously the norm, they are now nearly unheard of. Previously “R” rated Jodies have been cleaned up and modified making them acceptable for a wider audience.

To my knowledge there are no female versions of Jodies, other females who take the female soldier’s boyfriend, ect…, I expect one will materialize soon. Other suggested names are Jenny, Jacky, or Jane.

While US Army does not officially recognize Cadence Calls or Jody’s, they are well ingrained in the fabric of all military services and are even heard in police services and fire departments.

The two primary types of cadence calls are the marching cadences at 80 beats per minute, and running cadences which move at 120 beats per minute. While one is often subtitled for the other, it is much easier to speed up a marching cadence for running rather than slowing down a running cadence for marching. 

History of Cadences  

The first use of a beat based marching tool seems to of been started during the Revolutionary War. According to Sandee Johnson, soldiers who had difficulty marching were ordered to attach a stack of hay to one foot and a piece of straw to the other.  Therefore when marching the drill instructor would call out “Hay-foot, straw-foot, Hay-foot” and so on. This hay-foot, straw-foot technique persisted until the end of the civil war.

One of the first recorded history of a cadence call was documented in the spring of 1944 by Colonel Bernard Lentz. Colonel Lentz was the fort’s commanding officer at the time and published a well referenced account of the events.

…as a company … was returning from a long tedious march through swamps and rough country, a chant broke the stillness of the night.  Upon investigation, it was found that a Negro soldier by the name of Willie Duckworth, on detached service with the Provisional Training Center, was chanting to build up the spirits of his comrades. 

            It was not long before the infectious rhythm was spreading throughout the ranks.  Foot weary soldiers started to pick up their step in cadence with the growing chorus of hearty male voices.  Instead of a down trodden, fatigued company, here marched 200 soldiers with heads up, a spring to their step, and smiles on their faces.  This transformation occurred with the beginning of the Duckworth Chant.

            Upon returning to Fort Slocum, Pvt. Duckworth, with the aid of Provisional Training Center instructors, composed a series of verses and choruses to be used with the marching cadence.  After that eventful evening the Duckworth Chant was made a part of the drill at Fort Slocum as it proved to be not only a tremendous morale factor while marching, but also coordinated the movements of close order drill with troop precision

It is believed that this very first cadence by Pvt. Duckworth went something like this:

Call: ‘Sound-off’ 
Response: ‘1-2’ 
Call: ‘Sound-off’
Response: ‘3-4’
Call: ‘Count Ca-dence’
Response: ‘1-2-3-4-1-2 [break] 3-4 

This “Duckworth chant” as it first became known, did not just stop at Fort Slocum. Col Lentz saw the great utility in keeping moral and raising soldiers spirits that he ordered these Duckworth chants recorded and sent throughout the military force.  

Benefits of Cadences 

There is nothing better than a great military cadence! It’s a great feeling coming back from a long march, or morning run when a fellow soldier or sailor yells out a good cadence. It gives me energy, motivates, and increases unit esprit de corps.

On top of the physiological effects that cadences produce, they also produce significant physical effects. Singing a cadence while running or marching helps soldiers keep their heads up, take deeper breaths and exhale more forcefully. This increases oxygen to the lungs and gives the body more energy. 

The best part of a cadence is they can be modified to any command, any situation and any personality.  Marching through base it’s pretty easy to take that PG-13 cadence, and change a few words into a G-rated cadence. Likewise when you’re on that march in the countryside, you can open it up and make your cadences a bit racier. 

My favorite part of a cadence is the ability to modify it to make the cadence specific to your unit.  Calling out a buddy for last night shenanigans, the cook for a crummy meal or your First Sergeant are all fair game when singing cadences.  The closer they resemble your units personality the better they are. 

A word on Copyrights 

The actual cadences in this book are not copyrighted and remains in the public domain.  As per the US Copyright Office “Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship” are not able to carry a copyright. Additionally, any works produced by the US Government is also not held under copyright protection.

However, I realize that all military cadences are created by someone, and I am willing to respect your desires regarding your cadences. If you can prove original authorship of a cadence and wish it either removed or would like credit please contact me. For further Copyright related information please visit the US Copyright office.