Loyalty between soldiers is idealized as an emotion that promotes cohesion and combat effectiveness. However, little empirical work has examined how military personnel understand, feel, and enact loyalty. We use a symbolic interactionalist informed frame to explore the lived experience of 24 retired Australian Defence Force members via in-depth semi-structured interviews. Our analysis revealed three core themes: (1) Loyalty as reciprocity, where there was an expectation that loyalty would be returned no matter what. (2) The importance of emotional connection for cohesion. (3) Loyalty as a prioritizing process, where a soldier’s loyalties gave them a way of choosing between competing demands. Loyalty is a moral emotion that enabled sensemaking. Close interpersonal loyalties tended to trump wider/diffused loyalties. Respondents understood their loyalties to fellow soldiers within wider social constructs of mateship and professionalism. The findings show the risks that come from a reliance on loyalty for combat cohesion.