|NATO rank code||OF-5|
|Next higher rank||Brigadier general|
|Next lower rank||Lieutenant colonel|
In the United States Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Space Force, colonel ( // ) is the most senior field grade military officer rank, immediately above the rank of lieutenant colonel and just below the rank of brigadier general. It is equivalent to the naval rank of captain in the other uniformed services. By law, an officer previously required at least 22 years of cumulative service and a minimum of three years as a lieutenant colonel before being promoted to colonel. With the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 (NDAA 2019), military services now have the authorization to directly commission new officers up to the rank of colonel. The pay grade for colonel is O-6.
When worn alone, the insignia of rank seen at right is worn centered on headgear and fatigue uniforms. When worn in pairs, the insignia is worn on the officer's left side while a mirror-image reverse version is worn on the right side, such that both of the eagles’ heads face forward, to the wearer's front.
The insignia for a colonel is a silver eagle which is a stylized representation of the eagle dominating the Great Seal of the United States (which is the coat of arms of the United States). As on the Great Seal, the eagle has a U.S. shield superimposed on its chest and is holding an olive branch and bundle of arrows in its talons. However, in simplification of the Great Seal image, the insignia lacks the scroll in the eagle's mouth and the rosette above its head. On the Great Seal, the olive branch is always clutched in the eagle's right-side talons, while the bundle of arrows is always clutched in the left-side talons. The head of the eagle faces towards the olive branch, rather than the arrows, advocating peace rather than war. As a result, the head of the eagle always faces towards the viewer's left.
However, when worn as a single insignia with no matching pair, such as on the patrol cap, garrison cap/flight cap, or the front of the Army ACU, there is a split between the services on which mirror image of the eagle should be worn. In the United States Army and United States Air Force, the eagle is always worn with "the head of the eagle to the wearer's right," with the olive branch clutched in the eagle's right hand talons (see Department of the Army Pamphlet 670-1, paragraph 19-6 (a)(1)). In the United States Marine Corps, United States Navy, United States Coast Guard and NOAA, the eagle is worn with "the head facing forward" on the wearer's right side of the garrison cover (see Marine Corps Order P1020.34G, Uniform Regulation, paragraph 4005d(1)). Since respective service's officer insignia is worn on the left side and the rank insignia is worn on the right hand side of the Marine, Navy, Coast Guard and NOAA garrison caps, the eagle is facing to the eagle's left with the olive branch clutched in the eagle's left hand talons, which is a mirror opposite to the wear of the single eagle for Army and Air Force officers.
The United States rank of colonel is a direct successor to the same rank in the British Army. The first colonels in the U.S. were appointed from Colonial militias maintained as reserves to the British Army in the North American colonies. Upon the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, colonial legislatures would grant commissions to men to raise a regiment and serve as its colonel. Thus, the first U.S. colonels were usually respected men with ties in local communities and active in politics.
With the post-war reduction of the U.S. Army, the rank of colonel disappeared, and was not re-introduced until 1802.
The first insignia for the rank of colonel consisted of gold epaulettes worn on the blue uniform of the Continental Army. The first recorded use of the eagle insignia was in 1805 as this insignia was made official in uniform regulations by 1810.[ citation needed ]
The rank of colonel was relatively rare in the early 19th century, partly because the U.S. Army was very small, and the rank was usually obtained only after long years of service. During the War of 1812 the Army grew rapidly and many colonels were appointed, but most of these colonels were discharged when their regiments were disbanded at the war's conclusion. A number of other colonels were appointed by brevet – an honorary promotion usually for distinguished service in combat.
The American Civil War saw a large influx of colonels as the rank was commonly held in both the Confederate army and Union Army by those who commanded a regiment. Since most regiments were state formations and were quickly raised, the colonels in command of the regiments were known by the title "Colonel of Volunteers," in contrast to Regular Army colonels who held permanent commissions.
During the Civil War, the Confederate Army maintained a unique insignia for colonel, three stars worn on the collar of a uniform. Robert E. Lee wore this insignia due to his former rank in the United States Army and refused to wear the insignia of a Confederate general, stating that he would only accept permanent promotion when the South had achieved independence.
After the Civil War, the rank of colonel again became rare as the forces of the United States Army became extremely small. However, many colonels were appointed in the volunteers during the Spanish–American War, prominent among them Theodore Roosevelt and David Grant Colson.
World War I and World War II saw the largest numbers of colonels ever appointed in the U.S. military. This was mostly due to the temporary ranks of the National Army and the Army of the United States, where those who would normally hold the rank of Captain in the peacetime Regular Army were thrust into the rank of colonel during these two wars.
The Military Promotion System was revised and standardized for all the services in 1980 as a result of passage of the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act.
Modern U.S. colonels usually command Army infantry, artillery, armor, aviation or other types of brigades, USMC regiments, Marine Expeditionary Units or Marine Aircraft Groups, and USAF groups or wings. An Army colonel typically commands brigade-sized units (4,000 to 6,000 soldiers), with another colonel or a lieutenant colonel as deputy commander, a major as executive officer, and a command sergeant major as a senior non-commissioned officer (NCO) advisor. An Air Force colonel typically commands a wing consisting of 1,000 to 4,000+ airmen with another colonel as the vice commander and a Chief Master Sergeant (a “Command Chief”) as principal senior NCO enlisted adviser. Some USAF colonels are commanders of groups, which are the major components of wings. Colonels are also found as the chief of staff at divisional level-(Army) or Numbered Air Force-level staff agencies.
In the modern armed forces, the colonel's eagle is worn facing forward with head and beak pointing towards the wearer's front. Of all U.S. military commissioned officer rank, only the colonel's eagle has a distinct right and left insignia. All other commissioned officer rank insignia can be worn on either the right or left side.
Colonels are sometimes referred to (but not addressed as) full colonels, bird colonels, or full bird colonels because lieutenant colonels are also referred to and addressed in correspondence as "colonel." Referring to an "O-6", a colonel's pay grade, also may differentiate colonels and lieutenant colonels, who have a pay grade of "O-5".
Almost all Army colonels have attended a war college or a senior staff college equivalent to study joint warfare and war itself. Most Army colonels receive postgraduate level senior joint professional military education (JPME) at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvaniaprior to promotion. The 2009 graduating class was 336 including 198 army officers and the rest divided among other military branches, domestic inter-agency representatives and other foreign military leaders. The highest concentration of USAF colonels graduate from the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama via in-residence at Maxwell AFB. This program will include participation by officers from various other branches. Marine colonels may graduate from the Marine War College or, like all other branches, may receive credit via non-resident attendance at another installation, via correspondence, or will be graduates of an equivalent senior JPME program sponsored by the National Defense University or one of the other U.S. military services.
Some people known as "colonels" are actually recipients of honorary colonel ranks from a state governor and are not officers of the U.S. military. In the 19th century, the honorary colonels were military appointments and they still are nominally appointed to a governor's staff, but without military rights or duties. Famous honorary colonels include Colonel Harland Sanders of KFC fame, a Kentucky colonel; Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, who received the honor from a Louisiana governor; and Edward M. House, known as Colonel House, a Texas honorary colonel and adviser to President Woodrow Wilson.
The Commendation Medal is a mid-level United States military decoration presented for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service. Each branch of the United States Armed Forces issues its own version of the Commendation Medal, with a fifth version existing for acts of joint military service performed under the Department of Defense.
Military ranks are a system of hierarchical relationships in armed forces, police, intelligence agencies or other institutions organized along military lines. The military rank system defines dominance, authority, and responsibility in a military hierarchy. It incorporates the principles of exercising power and authority into the military chain of command – the succession of commanders superior to subordinates through which command is exercised. The military chain of command constructs an important component for organized collective action.
Lieutenant commander is a commissioned officer rank in many navies. The rank is superior to a lieutenant and subordinate to a commander. The corresponding rank in most armies and air forces is major, and in the Royal Air Force and other Commonwealth air forces is squadron leader.
Brigadier general or brigade general is a military rank used in many countries. It is the lowest ranking general officer in some countries, usually sitting between the ranks of colonel and major general. When appointed to a field command, a brigadier general is typically in command of a brigade consisting of around 4,000 troops. In some countries a brigadier general is informally designated as a one-star general (OF-6).
Sergeant major is a senior non-commissioned rank or appointment in many militaries around the world. In Commonwealth countries, the various degrees of sergeant major are appointments held by warrant officers. In the United States, there are also various grades of sergeant major, all of the same pay grade of E-9; however, the Sergeant Major of the Army and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, as their respective service's Senior Enlisted Advisor, receive a special rate of basic pay that is higher than all other sergeants major.
Wing commander is a senior commissioned rank in the British Royal Air Force and air forces of many countries which have historical British influence, including many Commonwealth countries but not including Canada and South Africa. It is sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in countries which have a non-English air force-specific rank structure. It ranks immediately above squadron leader and immediately below group captain.
Chief warrant officer is a military rank used by the United States Armed Forces, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Pakistan Air Force, the Israel Defense Forces, the South African National Defence Force, the Lebanese Armed Forces and, since 2012, the Singapore Armed Forces. In the United States Armed Forces, chief warrant officers are commissioned officers, not non-commissioned officers (NCOs) like in other NATO forces.
The Air Force Commander's Insignia is an insignia of the United States Air Force and United States Space Force, that has been in existence since 2002. Also known as the USAF Commander's Badge, the Air Force Commander's Insignia is awarded to any Air Force officer who holds an established command billet within the United States Air Force.
Commandant is a title often given to the officer in charge of a military training establishment or academy. This usage is common in English-speaking nations. In some countries it may be a military or police rank. It is also often used to refer to the commander of a military prison or prison camp.
The peaked cap, service cap, barracks cover or combination cap is a form of headgear worn by the armed forces of many nations, as well as many uniformed civilian organisations such as law enforcement agencies and fire departments. It derives its name from its short visor, or peak, which was historically made of polished leather but increasingly is made of a cheaper synthetic substitute.
In the United States Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, major is a field grade military officer rank above the rank of captain and below the rank of lieutenant colonel. It is equivalent to the naval rank of lieutenant commander in the other uniformed services. Although lieutenant commanders are considered junior officers by their respective services, the rank of major is that of a senior officer in the United States Army, the United States Marine Corps, and the United States Air Force.
In the United States Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force, lieutenant colonel is a field grade officer rank, just above the rank of major and just below the rank of colonel. It is equivalent to the naval rank of commander in the other uniformed services.
In the United States Armed Forces, a lieutenant general is a three-star general officer in the United States Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Space Force.
In the United States uniformed services, captain is a commissioned-officer rank. In keeping with the traditions of the militaries of most nations, the rank varies between the services, being a senior rank in the naval services and a junior rank in the ground and air forces. Many fire departments and police departments in the United States also use the rank of captain as an officer in a specific unit.
In the United States Armed Forces, a brigadier general is a one-star general officer in the United States Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Space Force.
In the United States Armed Forces, a major general is a two-star general officer in the United States Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Space Force.
The uniforms of the United States Air Force are the standardized military uniforms worn by airmen of the United States Air Force to distinguish themselves from the other services.
Lieutenant commander (LCDR) is a mid-ranking officer rank in the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps, with the pay grade of O-4 and NATO rank code OF-3. The predecessors of the NOAA Corps, the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey Corps (1917–1965) and the Environmental Science Services Administration Corps (1965–1970), also used the lieutenant commander rank, and the rank is also used in the United States Maritime Service and the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps. Lieutenant commanders rank above lieutenants and below commanders, and rank is equivalent to a major in the United States Army, United States Air Force, and United States Marine Corps.
A general officer is an officer of high military rank; in the uniformed services of the United States, general officers are commissioned officers above the field officer ranks, the highest of which is colonel in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force and captain, in the Navy, Coast Guard, Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps (NOAACC).
In the United States Army (USA), U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), U.S. Air Force (USAF), and U.S. Space Force (USSF), captain is a company grade officer rank, with the pay grade of O-3. It ranks above first lieutenant and below major. It is equivalent to the rank of lieutenant in the Navy/Coast Guard officer rank system. The insignia for the rank consists of two silver bars, with slight stylized differences between the Army/Air Force version and the Marine Corps version.
Media related to Colonels of the United States at Wikimedia Commons
|Pay grade / branch of service||Officer|
|Army||CDT / OC||2LT||1LT||CPT||MAJ||LTC||COL||BG||MG||LTG||GEN||GA ||GAS |
|Marine Corps||Midn / Cand||2ndLt||1stLt||Capt||Maj||LtCol||Col||BGen||MajGen||LtGen||Gen|||||
|Navy||MIDN / OC||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RDML||RADM||VADM||ADM||FADM |||
|Air Force||Cdt / OT||2nd Lt||1st Lt||Capt||Maj||Lt Col||Col||Brig Gen||Maj Gen||Lt Gen||Gen||GAF |||
|Space Force||Cdt / OT||2nd Lt||1st Lt||Capt||Maj||Lt Col||Col||Brig Gen||Maj Gen||Lt Gen||Gen|||||
|Coast Guard||CDT / OC||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RDML||RADM||VADM||ADM|||||
| No universal insignia for officer candidate rank; Navy candidate insignia shown|
 No official insignia and not currently listed by the Army as an obtainable rank. John J. Pershing's GAS insignia:
 These ranks are reserved for wartime use only, and are still listed as ranks within their respective services
 Grade is authorized by the U.S. Code for use but has not been created
 Grade has never been created or authorized
| Army || |
| Marine Corps || |
| Navy || |
| Air Force || |
| Coast Guard || |
| PHS Corps |||||||||
Grade is authorized for use by U.S. Code but has not been created