The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 01-10-2010, 07:25 PM
Tim R. Mortiss Tim R. Mortiss is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Civilians addressing military folks

I am beginning a new project that will have me interacting with a lot of military people. I respect these people and want to treat them in a way that will reflect that respect, so, a couple of questions:

1) Is it proper to address an officer by his rank? I can read insignia, so it is easy enough to say, "Good morning, Colonel" or "Thank you, Major." I would assume this is a polite form of address. Am I correct?

2) Non-officers are not so easy. How are they politely addressed? "Mr." somehow feels inadequate. Almost condescending.

Thanks!......TRM (a civilian, obviously)

Last edited by Tim R. Mortiss; 01-10-2010 at 07:26 PM..
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 01-10-2010, 07:30 PM
silenus silenus is offline
Hoc nomen meum verum non est.
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2003
Location: SoCal
Posts: 39,362
Say "sir" or ma'am." They'll correct you soon enough if they don't like it.

Title is ok to start with, until you know them well enough to ask how they would prefer to be addressed. "Mr." would be just fine for anything other than sergeants among the enlisted ranks.

This data is old, since I haven't regularly interacted with Army types in years. But that's the way I addressed them.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 01-10-2010, 07:31 PM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: NoWA
Posts: 47,395
Address officers and enlisted by their ranks. 'Colonel Bogie', 'Lieutenant Longbottom', 'Sergeant Rock', etc. I understand Warrant Officers are called 'Mister'.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 01-10-2010, 07:31 PM
SkeptiJess SkeptiJess is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
If they are in uniform, use their titles, definately, if you know them. For the enlisted folk, too -- Corporal Smith; or Petty Officer Jones; or what have you.

And junior officers (Warrant Officers - 0-3) are commonly called Mr. (or Ms.). In the navy, anyway.

Last edited by SkeptiJess; 01-10-2010 at 07:35 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 01-10-2010, 07:40 PM
Chessic Sense Chessic Sense is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Only W-1s are called Mister or Miss. The rest are called "Chief". For everyone else, use their rank- that goes for everyone from General to Private. If you want to be more familiar, just use the person's last name. IME, civilians just call them by their first or last name anyway, so they'll tell you to use that before too long.

Last edited by Chessic Sense; 01-10-2010 at 07:41 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 01-10-2010, 08:09 PM
DesertDog DesertDog is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Mesa, Ariz.
Posts: 2,348
I once read of a Lt. Colonel who was attending some sort of function where a woman, intending to be polite but was not quite up to speed, kept addressing him as "Lieutenant." He told someone later he didn't mind that much -- at least she'd made the effort -- but he'd love to be around when she met a Rear Admiral.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 01-10-2010, 10:35 PM
Poysyn Poysyn is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Please don't call enlisted Sir or Ma'am. They don't like it and some (salty old dogs) may even find it insulting. If you are not sure, ask.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 01-10-2010, 10:40 PM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: NoWA
Posts: 47,395
Quote:
Originally Posted by Poysyn View Post
If you are not sure, ask.
Reminds me of the old joke: When in doubt, salute it.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 01-10-2010, 11:01 PM
Skylark Skylark is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim R. Mortiss View Post
I am beginning a new project that will have me interacting with a lot of military people.
Which branch, primarily? There's some nitty-gritties that work with one branch but are incorrect for another; for instance, in the Army a Warrant Officer is a Chief but the Navy already has Chiefs (and Warrants) and the Air Force has a Chief but no Warrants. Although, outside the specifics which you'll pick up soon enough anyway, there's some general rules of thumb that seem to work across the services.

Sir/Ma'am is overall good. Higher-level types like to be called by their rank, like Johnny L.A. already posted.


If you're around the real junior types, I've found Sir/Ma'am and saying "Mister" is a nice thing for them. No honors are lost, and Seaman Schmuckatelli will appreciate the gesture a lot.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 01-11-2010, 01:35 AM
Yeah Yeah is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
In general, civilians working for the military in any kind of white collar job are considered equivalent in rank to officers so you should address officers by their rank or rank and last name or Sir/Ma'am or by whatever they ask you to call them but it is hard to go wrong.

Enlisted should be addressed by their rank or rank and last name. I think you can also address them by their last name if you can't figure out their rank but I agree with Poysyn that Sir or Ma'am are not appropriate.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 01-11-2010, 07:17 AM
Shecky Shecky is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2001
As a rule, with officers it's Colonel Suchandsuch, Captain Whojamacallit. If they're on the same level as you, and address you by first name, you might as well call them by first name as long as they're not a Colonel or Light Colonel. For the warrant officers, Chief Blahblah is perfect, and just Chief will do until you know their name.
When writing them, just make sure you capitalize their titles. Captain is CPT, Colonel is COL, etc.

I communicate with military all the time. If I'm not addressed as Mr. Shecky, I assume we're on good enough terms that I can call you by your first name. That's possibly why the 3-star GEN refers to me as Mr. Shecky and my other counterparts by their first names.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 01-11-2010, 08:24 AM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2001
Quote:
Originally Posted by Poysyn View Post
Please don't call enlisted Sir or Ma'am. They don't like it and some (salty old dogs) may even find it insulting. If you are not sure, ask.
Oh, you'll get corrected soon enough if necessary with a "DON'T CALL ME SIR I WORK FOR A LIVING" right in your ear.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 01-11-2010, 11:12 AM
mbh mbh is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Posts: 2,577
With Army and Air Force personnell, you can often abbreviate the title:
Lieutenant Smith, Sergeant Jones.

Marines often insist on the full title:
Second Lieutenant Smith, Master Gunnery Sergeant Jones.

Although Gunnery Sergeants and Master Gunnery Sergeants often prefer to be addressed as "Gunny".

Naval non-comms are often referred to by job title. His chevrons may read Petty Officer 2nd Class, but he will be referred to as Widgetmaker's Mate 2nd Class. I have never seen a concise explanation of the details.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 01-11-2010, 11:27 AM
Alessan Alessan is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
You're not part of the chain of command. That means that you're the social equal of any officer or enlisted - as far as you're concerned, they're just human beings. If you address them by their rank, you do it out of politeness, not out of deference - it's simply an alternative to "Mr." or "Ms.", and just as arbitrary. If they call you by your first name, you do the same.
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 01-11-2010, 11:32 AM
Mr. Excellent Mr. Excellent is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Realistically - unless you're the very first civilian who's ever been assigned to your office, the military folks you're working with will expect you to inadvertantly salute office furniture, or something equally amusing. Be polite, take notes when someone says they'd rather be called such-and-such, and I'd imagine you should be fine.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 01-11-2010, 11:34 AM
Chessic Sense Chessic Sense is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skylark View Post
for instance, in the Army a Warrant Officer is a Chief
Again, no they're not. A Chief Warrant Officer is called Chief. A Warrant Officer (W1) is just "Mr."

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shecky View Post
When writing them, just make sure you capitalize their titles. Captain is CPT, Colonel is COL, etc.
For the Army, yes. For the Marines, however, it's "Pvt." or "Capt." I believe. A Marine might have to correct me on the letters, but the ranks are typically in title case, with a period.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alessan View Post
You're not part of the chain of command.
Well unless, of course, you are.

Last edited by Chessic Sense; 01-11-2010 at 11:35 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 01-11-2010, 12:08 PM
Saintly Loser Saintly Loser is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2002
Military personnel should be addressed formally by their rank (at least when they're acting as military personnel -- you don't have to call your old pal from high school "Captain" all the time). It's like "Doctor", or "Father" (for a priest), or "Officer" for a police officer. Basic rules of etiquette in more or less formal situations.

If you're not in the military, you don't owe a "Sir" or "Ma'am" to anyone, no matter what your relative positions in your organization. Are you required to address your supervisor at your (civilian) job as "Sir"? You're not. You're a civilian. Military rules do not apply to you.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 01-11-2010, 12:08 PM
davekhps davekhps is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2008
Reconsidered.

Last edited by davekhps; 01-11-2010 at 12:08 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 01-11-2010, 07:56 PM
bump bump is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alessan View Post
You're not part of the chain of command. That means that you're the social equal of any officer or enlisted - as far as you're concerned, they're just human beings. If you address them by their rank, you do it out of politeness, not out of deference - it's simply an alternative to "Mr." or "Ms.", and just as arbitrary. If they call you by your first name, you do the same.
Indeed. A friend of mine is an Army officer, and I call him by his first name, but having met a few of his enlisted soldiers, I didn't feel right calling both him and them by their first names even if they did introduce themselves that way, so it was first name for my friend, Sergeant X, Corporal Y and Private Z for the others, or just last names for everyone.

I'd probably follow his lead for any other officers I may meet around him- if he introduces me with something like "This is Captain John X", and Captain John X said "Hi- I'm John", I'd call him John, but if it was "This is Captain X", and no first names involved, it would be "Captain X" for me as well.

Last edited by bump; 01-11-2010 at 07:57 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 01-11-2010, 08:43 PM
Nunavut Boy Nunavut Boy is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Civilians calling officers 'sir' or 'ma'am' always struck me as a bit....brown nosey. (Unless they are ex-military). YMMV.
Reply With Quote
  #21  
Old 01-11-2010, 08:49 PM
cerberus cerberus is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2000
Unless there's a chain of command, you wouldn't, as a civilian, render a sir/ma'am in the same way as someone in uniform would. There are settings in which a mixture of civilian and military personnel work together, and in that case you would show sign of respect.
Reply With Quote
  #22  
Old 01-11-2010, 09:11 PM
Odesio Odesio is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nunavut Boy View Post
Civilians calling officers 'sir' or 'ma'am' always struck me as a bit....brown nosey. (Unless they are ex-military). YMMV.
I refer to eight year old kids as sir and ma'am where I work out of habit. If I call a buck private sir it's because that's just how I address our visitors.
Reply With Quote
  #23  
Old 01-11-2010, 10:35 PM
ChrisBooth12 ChrisBooth12 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
I work in retail so i call everyone sir or ma'am, military personal will get addressed as their rank or sometimes when writing cups (i work[ed] at Starbucks next to an armory) I will just write E3, E4, O3, I kinda do it jokingly but have never had anyone complain. The ones that come in with a jacket on covering their ranks on though through me off. Arent you not supposed to do that?
Reply With Quote
  #24  
Old 01-12-2010, 07:14 AM
steronz steronz is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Air Force NCO here. I'm going to buck the trend and say that I prefer being called by my first name. That's how things work in the civilian world, and that's how I expect a civilian to address me. Rank and last name works, but it's formal and sounds really wierd when all the civilians are on a first-name basis.

Sir also works, since in the Air Force we're taught that everyone from O-10 to E-1 is a Sir/Ma'am, and that tends to bear out in practice. But again, it's formal and not required.

The only thing that really rankles me is "Mr." If I'm in uniform I'm not a mister, so if you're going to go out of your way to be formal, at least get it right.


That being said, I'm a grunt and everyone uses my first name because everyone outranks me. It's different for a Colonel, for example, and you should probably stick with Col Lastname until you're clear on what he/she wants to be called. It depends on what the mix of rank is in the office, but you'll figure it out pretty quick based on context.
Reply With Quote
  #25  
Old 01-12-2010, 07:24 AM
steronz steronz is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Missed the edit window: The examples in the OP of "Good morning, colonel" and "Thank you, major" are subject to a lot of nuance given the relative roles of the addressor/addressee and the specific branch. In the Air Force, dropping the last name can sometimes carry a hidden meaning, and I make it a point not to do it. For instance, "L-T" as a term of address for a lieutenant can be respectful, but a senior NCO addressing a butterbar as "Lieutenant" can be an intentional put-down.

However, in the Army, dropping the last name is typical, but dropping the rank modifier is frowned upon. For instance, I'm a staff sergeant, but nobody calls me "Staff Sergeant steronz." It's just Sgt steronz, no matter what flavor of sgt it is. In the Army, it's rude to drop the "Staff."

There's probably books worth of material here, and I'm probably just confusing the OP. /shuts up
Reply With Quote
  #26  
Old 01-12-2010, 08:07 AM
Zsofia Zsofia is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2001
Quote:
Originally Posted by steronz View Post
Air Force NCO here. I'm going to buck the trend and say that I prefer being called by my first name. That's how things work in the civilian world, and that's how I expect a civilian to address me. Rank and last name works, but it's formal and sounds really wierd when all the civilians are on a first-name basis.

Sir also works, since in the Air Force we're taught that everyone from O-10 to E-1 is a Sir/Ma'am, and that tends to bear out in practice. But again, it's formal and not required.

The only thing that really rankles me is "Mr." If I'm in uniform I'm not a mister, so if you're going to go out of your way to be formal, at least get it right.


That being said, I'm a grunt and everyone uses my first name because everyone outranks me. It's different for a Colonel, for example, and you should probably stick with Col Lastname until you're clear on what he/she wants to be called. It depends on what the mix of rank is in the office, but you'll figure it out pretty quick based on context.
You most certainly are a mister, I'm afraid, to civilians. I'm sorry it offends you so, but most people in the civilian world have no idea what rank you are and if I'm introducing Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, and..... you, you're Mr. Steronz.
Reply With Quote
  #27  
Old 01-12-2010, 09:04 AM
robby robby is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: Connecticut, USA
Posts: 4,470
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zsofia View Post
You most certainly are a mister, I'm afraid, to civilians. I'm sorry it offends you so, but most people in the civilian world have no idea what rank you are and if I'm introducing Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, and..... you, you're Mr. Steronz.
No, he isn't a mister, not even to civilians. Just because civilians are ignorant of his title doesn't make it correct.

It is certainly excusable for a civilian to address a servicemember as "Mr. [LastName]" if they are unaware of their proper title. However, just like a physician, I would expect that the addressee would figure out a polite way of correcting the incorrect title, especially if they are likely to run into the person again. I would be embarrassed to incorrectly address a physician as "Mr. [LastName]" instead of "Dr. [LastName]", and would likewise be embarrassed to incorrectly address a sergeant as "Mr. [LastName]" instead of "Sgt. [LastName]."

Seeing someone in uniform and addressing them by the improper title is willful ignorance, IMHO. If you don't know what the person's rank is, there is no problem with simply asking them. A person certainly has no business actually introducing a servicemember to someone else by the incorrect title. That's simply rude and ignorant to boot. If you insisted on actually doing this, expect the servicemember to cut in with, "That's Sergeant [Lastname], actually."

Back to the OP, though. I worked with many civilians in my military career. One was even my boss. Others were peers. We all addressed each other by our first name, just like any other workplace. My civilian boss's supervisor was also a civilian, and I addressed him by his title ("Dean [LastName]" or just "Dean").

(This was at a military school, with both military and civilian instructors. I actually had a dual chain of command. For normal administrative matters, I reported to my civilian boss. For purely military matters, I reported to the senior military instructor. Both chains of command reported up to the Commanding Officer of the school.)
Reply With Quote
  #28  
Old 01-12-2010, 09:13 AM
steronz steronz is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
robby covered most of what I would say in response to Zsofia, but I just want to clarify that I don't expect to be anything but a "mister" if I'm out of uniform and outside of a military environment. What rankles me is when I'm in uniform, performing some official part of my duties, and people call me mister. Not for any reasons of pride or honor, but simply because it's both formal, which I don't prefer, and incorrect, which gets under my skin.

It'd be like talking about Mr. Petraeus in a news story.
Reply With Quote
  #29  
Old 01-12-2010, 09:37 AM
kenner116 kenner116 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Quote:
Originally Posted by steronz View Post
It'd be like talking about Mr. Petraeus in a news story.
Would you be rankled if someone referred to the president as "Mr. Obama"?
Reply With Quote
  #30  
Old 01-12-2010, 09:51 AM
steronz steronz is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Quote:
Originally Posted by kenner116 View Post
Would you be rankled if someone referred to the president as "Mr. Obama"?
No, because my understanding based on these threads is that Mr. Obama is a correct form of address in certain situations. Even if used incorrectly, it tends not to grate on my ears the same way Mr. Petraeus would.

Of course, those threads show that some people are bothered by it.
Reply With Quote
  #31  
Old 01-12-2010, 10:40 PM
electronbee electronbee is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Tim:

I'll agree with Robby. I have the same situation he had: dual chain of commands. Civilian for administrative matters and military for military matters.

I won't elaborate other than this: Feel out how the military chain-of-command perceives formalities. The reason being that being on a first-name basis can be seen by the military higher-ups as disrespectful (bad for you) or as fraternization (bad for the military you addressed).

If you are in charge of your side, just correct each person how you want to be addressed and let the military side know this. And, ask how they want to be addressed, especially for the "junior" folks.

eb
Reply With Quote
  #32  
Old 01-13-2010, 11:40 AM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is online now
SDSAB
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: At the Diogenes Club
Posts: 45,211
Yes, ask or find out what they prefer and then do that, whenever possible. Mutual respect and friendliness is best in any workplace environment.

Of course, in broader terms, the military in a democracy serves the civilian populace, not vice-versa. Civilian control of the military is written into the U.S. Constitution, which military personnel swear to preserve, protect and defend. But there's no reason to ever be rude about it, and the OP will apparently not actually be in the chain of command while working on his new project.
Reply With Quote
  #33  
Old 01-13-2010, 11:47 AM
Chessic Sense Chessic Sense is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
Of course, in broader terms, the military in a democracy serves the civilian populace, not vice-versa.
Of course, in broad terms, everyone serves everyone. The attorney is served by the bus driver who's served by the waitress who's served by the grocer who's served by the farmer who's served by the lawyer. I'd probably have to any civilian that actually suggested that they were in some supervisory role but not saying anything out of politeness.
Reply With Quote
  #34  
Old 01-13-2010, 12:00 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is online now
SDSAB
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: At the Diogenes Club
Posts: 45,211
My dad served honorably in the U.S. Army in the Fifties. I have friends now serving in the U.S. military and am second to none in my respect for them and their comrades. But the tone of some of the posts in this thread seemed to me, at least, to imply that a civilian working among military personnel has an obligation to use correct ranks and titles. Beyond simple courtesy and respect, which ISTM are more than sufficient reasons, I have to disagree.

A civilian who purposefully referred to coworkers who are military personnel as "Sam" or "Georgette" without being invited to do so, or who called everyone from a four-star general on down as "Private," would be a jerk and an asshole, and I would want nothing to do with him, but he would be within his rights to do so.

Last edited by Elendil's Heir; 01-13-2010 at 12:03 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #35  
Old 01-13-2010, 03:44 PM
robby robby is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: Connecticut, USA
Posts: 4,470
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
My dad served honorably in the U.S. Army in the Fifties. I have friends now serving in the U.S. military and am second to none in my respect for them and their comrades. But the tone of some of the posts in this thread seemed to me, at least, to imply that a civilian working among military personnel has an obligation to use correct ranks and titles. Beyond simple courtesy and respect, which ISTM are more than sufficient reasons, I have to disagree.

A civilian who purposefully referred to coworkers who are military personnel as "Sam" or "Georgette" without being invited to do so, or who called everyone from a four-star general on down as "Private," would be a jerk and an asshole, and I would want nothing to do with him, but he would be within his rights to do so.
I agree completely. There is absolutely no obligation beyond simple courtesy (which is why I said that above that failure to do so would be rude). A civilian is certainly not required to use proper titles for military personnel.

(Unlike a member of the military, who is indeed required to do so.)
Reply With Quote
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 12:32 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.