United States Army officer rank insignia

United States Army officer rank insignia

This chart represents the U.S. Army officer rank insignia oriented as they are used on shoulder loops.

The structure of U.S. ranks has its roots in British military traditions. At the start of the American Revolutionary War, uniforms, let alone insignia, were barely affordable and recognition of ranks in the field was problematic. To solve this, Gen. George Washington wrote:

"As the Continental Army has unfortunately no uniforms, and consequently many inconveniences must arise from not being able to distinguish the commissioned officers from the privates, it is desired that some badge of distinction be immediately provided; for instance that the field officers may have red or pink colored cockades in their hats, the captains yellow or buff, and the subalterns green."

From 1780, regulations prescribed two stars for major generals and one star for brigadier generals, worn on epaulettes.

The period of 1821 to 1832 witnessed a brief period of using chevrons to identify officer grades, a practice that is still observed at West Point for cadet officers.

Colonels received their eagle in 1832, and four years later lieutenant colonels were using oak leaves and captains and first lieutenants their respective double and single bars. Both majors and second lieutenants had no specific insignia. A major would have been recognizable as he would have worn the more elaborate epaulette fringes of a senior field officer but without insignia. The color of insignia was gold on silver epaulettes in the infantry and vice versa in the other branches until 1851 when insignia became universally silver on gold for senior officers and gold for the bars of captains and first lieutenants. The reason for the choice of silver eagles over gold ones is thought to be one of economy; there were more cavalry and artillery colonels than infantry so it was cheaper to replace the numerically fewer gold ones.

From 1872 the majors received oak leaves in gold to distinguish them from the silver of lieutenant colonels and the bars of both captains and lieutenants became silver. In a similar fashion, 1917 saw the introduction of a single gold bar for second lieutenants. These changes created the curious situation (in terms of heraldic tradition) of silver outranking gold. One after-the-fact explanation suggested by some NCOs is that the more-malleable gold suggests that the bearer is being "molded" for his or her responsibilities -- as a field officer (second lieutenant) or staff officer (major). However, this explanation may be more clever than correct, for while the insignia for second lieutenant and major are gold "colored" they are actually made of brass, and brass is a base metal while silver is a precious metal. The rank order thus does not actually conflict with heraldic tradition.

The rank of General of the Armies is the most senior rank in the United States Army. It has only been held by two officers: George Washington and John J. Pershing. No insignia was prescribed for Washington when he was posthumously awarded the rank in 1976. Pershing, who received the rank in 1919 before that of General of the Army was created during World War II, was allowed to choose his own insignia. He chose to use four gold stars. While conjectural designs for the rank using six silver stars were proposed when the promotion of Douglas MacArthur to the rank was considered, no design has been authorized to date.

ee also

* United States Army enlisted rank insignia
* United States warrant officer rank insignia
* Ranks and insignia of the Confederate States
* Ranks and insignia of NATO armies officers

External links

* [http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/ROTCMiscNGB/Silver%20and%20Gold%20Insignia.htm Use of Silver and Gold Officer Insignia of Rank] The Institute of Heraldry
* [http://www.gasdf.com/rank-insignia.htm US Army Rank and Insignia] Courtesy of Georgia State Defense Force [http://www.gasdf.com]
* [http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/insignias/officers.html Department of Defense Rank Insignias — Officers Rank]

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