Thursday, March 13, 2008

Military Ranks and Insignia (and Other Trivia)

I thought I'd share one of my often-referenced sites on military ranks, insignias and abbreviations (Army does their shorthand differently than the other branches). This also shows lateral reference, i.e. an Army captain is not the same as a Navy captain. In fact, all the Navy (and Coast Guard) ranks are different than the others. It includes warrant officers, as well. For enlisted ranks see: Enlisted Ensignia Link. You may want to print a copy for your permanent reference materials.

Here's a little tidbit. At the top of the page, you'll see a series of links for W1, W2...O3, O4, etc. These are designation for rank. For instance, if someone says, "He's an O4 (oh four), they mean he's a Lieutenant Colonel (or Commander if Navy or Coast Guard). E1, E2, E3, etc. are enlisted ranks. O1, O2, O3 are commissioned officer ranks. W1, W2, etc. indicated warrant officer ranks. Using this jargon is good detail if your novels involve members of the military.

More trivia. A "full bird" is a colonel and designates a higher rank than a lieutenant colonel, though both are informally called "colonel." ("Full bird" refers to the eagle rank insignia for colonel.) A butter bar is a 2nd Lieutenant (newly commissioned officer), so dubbed for the single gold bar rank insignia.

It's interesting that a major outranks a lieutenant, but a lieutenant general outranks a major general.

You've heard a group of Army members say "Huah!" (or Hooah or Hwa!) That stands for Heard, Understood, Acknowledged. (Army has an acronym for everything.) It's generally used as an exclamation of support or enthusiasm for a statement made. Used in a sarcastic tone, it can also have a different meaning. (Head Up A**)


  1. When I went before the NCO board, Non-Commissoned Officer, to get my stripes, I used this handy phrase to keep my Army Generals in line.
    Brigadere - one star
    Major General - two stars
    Lt. General - three stars
    General - four stars.
    General of the Army - five stars.

  2. FUBAR - Fucked up beyond all repair.
    MOS - Military operations specialty
    TOC - Target operations center

    Another thing to remember when adding realism to your military characters, they never use first names when addressing one another. I didn't hear my first name for four years when I was in the Army, only when I called home.
    Sometimes a squad member or close buddy will tag you with a nickname. Often a shortened version of your last name. For instance, Smith might become Smitty or Jackson, Jack.

  3. Just an interesting little note on why a Lt. General outranks a Major General.

    Originally, the rank Major General was known as Sergeant Major, and was the rank below Leutenant General. However, the rank changed to Sergeant Major General when an enlisted rank of the same name was created. Over time, "Sergeant" was eventually dropped, and Major General remained.

  4. Thank you, Anonymous. That's interesting, and surprising, to know. I'd never heard of the Sergeant Major General designation. Some good info add to my military rank notes.


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