What does the Swiss army have to do with learning Swiss German? Simply put, if you want to learn a language, it‘ s easiest if you understand the culture and system of your host country. That is why we explore this subject in this article. You will see; even in this area, Switzerland is a little different.

What is the Swiss army?

Die Schweizer Armee
The Swiss army

Switzerland has two armed forces that form the Swiss army: the army and the air force. As Switzerland is a landlocked country, it doesn’t need a marine force. The only water at the borders are the lakes and they are patrolled by the engineer corps of the army and/or the cantonal police.

The defence division in charge of the army is part of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS). It is the backbone of the Swiss Army and responsible for all planning, leading and administration. Switzerland has four official languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh) and, hence, also four different names for the army. In the German part of Switzerland, the Swiss army is called Schweizer Armee; in the French part, Armée Suisse; in the Italian part,  Esercito svizzero; and in the Romansh part, Armada svizra. In case you wanted to know what the army is known as in English speaking countries – it’s called the Swiss Armed Forces.

Mandates of the Swiss Army

The mandates of the Swiss army are stipulated in the federal constitution (Here is a copy in German) and, more specifically, in the Swiss Military Code. For instance, “d’Schwiizer Armee” (en.: Swiss Army) has the mandate to prevent war and contribute to maintaining peace. Furthermore, the army has to defend Switzerland and its citizens as well as contribute to international peace keeping efforts

Frieden - Das will die Schweiz
Peace – That’s what Switzerland wants

Finally, the army is also mandated to assist civil authorities in case of severe threats to domestic security and manage both domestic and foreign crises. Our army is not just equipped to wage war, but is primarily engaged in keeping the peace.

Militia system

Under Switzerland’s militia system, only 5% of soldiers in the army are professional soldiers. The rest of the armed forces are made up of conscripts or volunteers between the ages of 20 and 34. All Swiss men must attend a military conscription eligibility screening. One of many abilities tested at this “Ushebig” (en.: roundup) are the sports abilities of the candidate. Everyone found suitable for service (not “UT” untaughlich) is assigned to a unit and, usually upon completion of an apprenticeship or other education, must ”Ihrucke” (en.: mesh) into the “RS” (en.: recruit school). Recruits undergo basic training for a period of 18 to 21 weeks. After this basic training, soldiers are drafted into the ”WK” (Wiederholungskurs – en.: repeat course) which they attend on a yearly basis for 3 weeks until they have completed their commission of 300 days.

Since the army reform XXI was adopted, it is also possible to complete one’s military service in one block. Single term conscripts absolve all their WKs directly after basic training and so are “im Tenue grüen” (en.: green clothes) for nearly a year.

As all young men deemed fit to serve are conscripted, some wonder why young women would want to join the army as they don’t have to. It is, however, a rather special experience for all who go and many look back with some fondness to recruit school. It’s definitely a life experience and many friendships that start in recruit school last for life. Certain expressions like “Lilö” (Lichterlöschen – en.: lights out) or”Sbg” (Suchen bis gefunden – en.: seek until found) stay forever and can still cause a chuckle or two.

Women in the army

Military service in the Swiss Armed Forces is not mandatory for women. In contrast to men who, as described above, “ihrucke müend” (en.: have to mesh), women only join up if they want to. In the past, they were not allowed to join the fighting forces, but, in these more enlightened times, women are free to serve in all units of the armed forces. For nine years now, they also have had to be as physically fit as the men and perform the same duties.

The army offers women in Switzerland the opportunity to learn new things and gain experience through their service to the community and in the safeguarding of Switzerland. Female soldiers in the Swiss Armed Forces are confident, committed and independent and make up approximately 0.6% of the army.

Military equipment

Every Swiss soldier is equipped with a Sturmgewehr 90 (SIG550). Exceptions to the rule are military police grenadiers, canine handlers, medics and command support secretaries who carry 9mm pistols Pistole 75 (SIG SAUER P220). Officers and higher non-commissioned officers also carry these pistols which are slowly being replaced by the Pistole 03 (SIG SP 2009).

Ausrüstung eines jeden Schweizers - Taschenmesser von Victorinox
Every Swiss soldier carries a Victorinox pocket knife

Another nifty gadget that every Swiss soldier receives and gets to keep is a Swiss army knife. This “Sackmesser” (en.: penknife) has to be kept clean and usable at all times; this is regularly checked by the higher ups!

Don’t miss the opportunity of getting one for yourself at a special price!

Swiss neutrality

“Die chli Schwiiz” (en.: the little Switzerland) has a reputation for being neutral and objective. In fact, neutrality is one of the most important principles of Swiss foreign policy. It means that Switzerland does not engage in armed conflict with and between other nations. However, Switzerland is not the only country in Europe that is neutral; The Principality of Liechtenstein, the Vatican State, Austria, Sweden, Malta and Monaco all follow a policy of neutrality.


Now you know quite a bit about the Swiss Armed Forces, which still have an essential role to play within Swiss society.

If you would like to learn Swiss German easily and online, take a look at our course at Learn-Swiss-German.ch. We offer the perfect path to integration within Switzerland.

The Swiss Army
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