Do soldiers have to obey orders from any other soldier of superior rank?

Sorry if this questions sounds trivila for the dopers experienced in the military, but I don’t really know a lot about how military herarchies work. My question is: Is any soldier obliged to obey orders from any soldier of superior rank? I mean, would for example a Captain who is on duty be obliged to obey orders from a Major he happens to meet while on service, or would it be necessary that this Major is superior to him in the chain of command of the unit he serves in?

I guess it’s the latter, but then I wonder why we need those detailed hierarchies of ranks if it’s not the rank that really counts, but the position as leader of a particular unit.

Related question: A read a bit about military ranks and organizations, and it seems that the commanders of units of similar size are usually headed by officers of similar ranks (for example, as I read in Wikipedia, a battalion in the US Army is typically commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel). It seems to me that the number of levels of military units (platoons, companies, battalions, divisions, whatever) is smaller than the number of ranks there are. Does, for example, a Private First Class have any priority or authority over an ordinary Private if they serve in the same unit, of which someone else is commander?

A private doesn’t need to “obey” a private first class, unless that PFC is in charge of him by position. The private needs to obey SGTs that regardless of what that SGT’s position is. However, the SGT must be mindful of the private’s chain of command and NCO support channel. It is not proper to go bossing around privates who don’t belong to you. And if one requires some sort of discpline, the SGT should talk to the SGT in charge of that private. It’s all about staying in your lane. The last thing you want to see as a SGT, is some other guy fucking with your soldiers.

Commissioned Officers hold a little more weight. Regardless of their position, you’d better listen to what they say now, and question it through your chain of command later. It’s the officers who actually have the authority to take your rank and take your pay, and to give you extra duty. The SGTs can request such things, but it’s the officers with the power to do so. With that said, even officers don’t want to get outside their lane unless it’s something important. And even then, they will simply bring things to the attention of the soldier’s chain of command - but with more mojo. If a Lt from some other battalion comes to my captain and says I disobeyed him, I’m fucked. If some Sergeant First Class does the same thing, I wouldn’t be too concerned.

Of course it all depends on what the order was. Pretty much if there is a reason for some officer or NCO outside of your chain of command to issue you and order, there is good reason to obey it.

As for the second part of your OP:
Assuming a fully staffed battalion, the positions would be as follows -

Rifleman - Pv1, Pv2, PFC
Grenadier - Pv2, PFC, SPC
SAW Gunner - PFC, SPC
Team Leader - CPL, SGT
Squad Leader - SGT, SSG
Platoon Sergeant - SFC
First Sergeant - 1sg

Platoon Leader - 2LT, 1LT
Executive Officer - 1LT
Company Commander - Capt
Battalion Executive Officer - Major
Battalion Commander - Lt Col
Brigade - Col
Division - 1 or 2 Star

And there’s pleanty of staff jobs along the way.

In addition to the above, Medical and Legal officers don’t have command authority. Or at least they didn’t used to.


So what kind of command authority does the Surgeon General of US have?

The Bear is absolutely right when it comes to the enlisted ranks. And he’s right that officers can, and do, take rank, priviledge and money. However, officers also know that they don’t mess with each other’s units.

There is an unspoken code within the officer ranks that you come to the officer in charge with a problem about someone in their unit. Exceptions abound: obvious emergencies, military police, etc. In the case of exceptions, superior rank makes the rules.

The case of officers is more rare. Officer problems are not generally public ones, and are usually handled behind closed doors. However, if a unit commander gives a lower ranking officer an order publicly, it is obeyed. Rarely, however, does a superior officer who is only 1-2 paygrades above a junior throw his/her weight around just because they can. Remember, these people have to work together. Paybacks are a…

As a senior enlisted, I never took advantage of my rank. It just ain’t cool. As a junior officer, I took a lot of grief. But I never used my rank as a weapon with someone else’s group. I generally handled enlisted problems with senior NCOs; that was much more painful for the offender.

The Office of The Surgeon General is part of the US Public Health Service in Health and Human Services. It isn’t a military position.

I’ve always been curious: what does it take to countermand orders? For example, let’s say that PFC Jones has been given an order by a 2nd Lieutentant to watch this supply depo and make sure that no one else takes its contents. Who has the authority to counter-mand that order and remove the goodies? Within the unit and outside it?

Obviously, if it was an immediate emergency, I could see PFC Jones trusting his own judgement. If tanks are coming down, the immediate issues take precedence, even if it means emptying and evacuating the depo. What about ordinary peacetimne stuff, though?

Only the Commander of the Relief, the Officer in Charge or some other person with knowledge of the “Parole Word”.

If a PFC is ordered to guard supplies and his Special Instructions are to “make sure that no one else takes its contents”, then not even a General can tell him otherwise. The PFC should just tell that General to contact the Officer in Charge if he wishes to access the facility.

Here’s another question that I hope isn’t a hijack: Is a rank a rank, no matter the branch?In other words, if a Naval Admiral tells an Army private to drop and give him fifty, does he have to? Would the Army people present treat him more or less like a Army man of the same rank, or is it a “I’ll salute him but he’s not my boss” deal?

I’m curious about this too.

Although the basic premise in the military, is that you are subordinate to all person of
greater rank, it doesn’t always work that way. For example an enlisted man, of any
rank, guarding a restricted area where a security clearance is required, must deny
entry to anyone w/o the proper clearance, usually established by special ID.
The military police (or shore patrol/air police) often patrol civilian bars and other
civilian establishments in areas of high military concentration. They may arrest and
detain any military member, in or out of uniform, of any rank for violations of the
UCMJ, including such things as public drunkenness, improper wearing of the uniform,
In a basic combat platoon the composition goes something like this: The fire team is
made up of a team leader (E-2/E-3) and three others (E-1/E-2). The squad is made
of three fire teams ( A Marine squad includes a grenadier making 13 people). The
senior fire team leader is the squad leader (this may be an E-4). Two or more squads
form a platoon (usually 3+) and there will be a platoon sergeant and platoon
commander, two or more platoons form a company.
Each individual will understand their position in the chain of command and will
assume the job of person directly senior if the need arises. This is called unit integrity.
Units act in concert and orders begin at the highest level and filter down so that the
squad, fire team and finally each individual understands their role. Of course the first
rule of battle (operations), is that things will change. This is where unit integrity comes
into play and why the chain of command is essential.
The military is not always as regimented and rigid as many civilians sometimes
believe. Orders can be countermanded and while it’s usually by someone of superior
rank, even that is not always true.
Rank is rank, no matter the service, and, all else being equal, you must obey the
orders of anyone senior to you, even if they are in another branch of the military,
often even from another country.
Among the U.S. military services there are different customs and courtesies. In the
sea services (Navy, Marines, Coast Guard) you never salute “uncovered” (w/o a
hat), but in the Army and Air Force they do salute uncovered.
As has been addressed in another thread, the sea services may salute left handed
(under certain limited circumstances) the Army/Air Force do not do this.
Even in the same service there are certain units that may be more or less rigidly
military. Flight crews and sub crews tend to be a bit more casual about strict military
courtesy, but a combat regiment or a military police unit will be far more strict.

Hell, if an ADMIRAL of a friendly foreign country told a US Army Private to drop and give him fifty, he’d better do it!!!

The question, though, is why would he do that? I can’t think of when or why an Admiral would do that. It just doesn’t work like that in practice. To put the question in better context, we would need to discuss a reason for the leaders in one branch disciplining the subordinates in another.
In the real world, something warranting immediate discpline like that would be seen by NCOs from that soldier’s branch. And they would jump in and take care of business. After all, discipline is NCO business.

Let’s say an admiral was walking by and some Army privates were just sitting around smoking cigarettes and didn’t render the proper courtesy. The Admiral would probably just stop and say something to them. It would be something wise and tolerant. Something that let them know they did something wrong, but didn’t really harm them emotionally or physically. But if an NCO happened to witness such a thing, he’d run over there and smoke the shit out of them - regardless of who the soldiers belonged to.

A lot of this is going to be affected, too, by the specific circumstances.

I never rose above an E-4, however I have given orders to officers, as well as senior enlisted personnel, because of the situation: I was a radcon specialist, and during both drills and (if it ever happened) a radcon situation, I would have the authority to order personnel about to direct their decontamination, treatment, and evacuation. No matter what their rank.

Now, this isn’t to say that the senior couldn’t give me orders I would be wise to obey. “PO Loki, I order you to clear me first,” would be an order I’d never expect to hear, because barring life-threatening situations, my attention would be on clearing senior personnel, first. However, being told, “PO Loki, I don’t have time to play with your little drill, so I order you to release me from this holding area,” would actually contradict other standing orders for my department. I might call over one of my senior personnel to see who got to play the pissing match game, but it never got that far in my experience.

Similarly, as an enlisted man, some of my watchstanding would be on what were known as roving watches: I’d be nominally on watch in the engineroom, but I would have several related engineering spaces I might have to go to, as well. During these times, it is conceivable that a senior enlisted, or officer might take it in his mind to order the blueshirt to help with some task at hand. In that case, I wouldn’t obey, but explain I was on watch, and going about my duties. Likewise, orders that are counter to safe operation of the reactor plants were not just orders I didn’t have to obey, but orders I was trained to know when to disobey them. And why. And to try to explain to personnel who may outrank me, but were trying to do something stupid anyways.

This last is, from what I’ve gathered from some of the other military and former military I’ve spoken with, a bit unusual. Certainly those of us on my ship trained in nuclear power plant operations were regarded as something of a breed apart. Not better, or necessarily smarter - but in some ways less subordinate than other rates, or branches would tolerate or want.

An aircraft pilot is the sole judge of what is or is not proper with respect to the operation of the aircraft. No one’s orders, irrespective of rank, can supercede the pilot’s judgement as to what is or is not a safe course of action. It used to be that a Command Pilot (wings with a star in a wreath) was considered to be in command of any plane that he (and in those days it was always a he) was on no matter who was doing the actual flying. I am told that is no longer the case.

I think the same thing is true of the captain of a ship, regardless of rank. When a ship is the flagship of an operation with the fleet commander aboard the fleet commander doesn’t order the ship’s company around. He gives orders to the flagship just like he does other ships in the fleet and the ships captaim carries them out as best he can. I’m quite sure that the fleet commander would never even consider giving a direct order to any member of the ship’s company to do anything.

Likewise I don’t think the Commander of a Carrier Air Group (CAG) has any authority to give orders to any member of the carrier’s ships company.

A CAG is certainly not going to give orders that would interfere w/ the operation of
the ship, nor countermand the Captains orders, but they are still Naval officers and
could exercise their authority over those subordinate to them, ship’s company or not.
A Fleet commander normally forms Task Forces, the Task Force Commander,
usually a lesser Admiral, would be the one on the flag ship directing Task Force
Operations, but you’re correct that he does not Con the ship.
As an aside, there was an interesting incident, well publicized at the time, that
occurred during the cold war. A Navy task force was being dogged by Russian
“fishing trawlers” (actually electronic spy boats). These incidents had become bolder
over time and these trawlers were actually in among the ships of the Task Force. The
Admiral commanding the Task Force ordered that a message be sent to all ships, in
the clear (not coded), to begin high speed maneuvers in X number of minutes. The
trawlers immediately departed from from the area.

Generally speaking, courtesies are granted to the rank, not the purpose. Although technically, “rank” is really grade or rate. Rank proper is time within grade or rating: rank is seniority. Grade or rating is level.

Orders within the professional military occur within a context. One respects the chains of command, both from above and below. A particular regimental commander won’t generally give orders outside of his/her/its’ regiment.

Actually, I think there would be 2 responses from your Captain:

  1. OK, I’ll deal with that disobedient soldier. . .

  2. But what the hell was the emergency that required you to be giving orders to my troops?
    Your Captain would be sure to point out to this Lt. that it is NOT proper military procedure to give orders to soldiers outside your chain of command, except in emergencies.

The proper procedure would have been for that Lt. to have spoken to your Lt., pointing out what you were doing wrong, and then let your Lt. give you orders to correct it. (Or more likely, tell your Sgt. to tell you to correct it.)

That’s not true at all (well, maybe a little). While the Aircraft Commander is ultimately responsible for the aircraft and will have the final say, the crew is required to provide input during situations. For instance, there is something known as the Halo Complex, where the pilot is so experienced and you are less so, so when you see something happening that ought not happen you are afraid to say anything because he’s so experienced that he must know what he is doing. Does the AC have the sole authority to judge in that case? No, because when it comes down to safety-of-flight issues the Airman Basic in the back has as much input into the situation as the AC. Basically, it comes down to “He’s the boss, unless…”. Being on the airplane does not imply that we signed onto a suicide pact.

It’s not as cut-and-dried as maybe it used to be. I have called an AC on stuff in the past, and it has generally been appreciated. Since we fly together and we die together, a good AC will accept input from eveybody and will never be too proud to admit a mistake or act on somebody else’s recommendations.

Even in the “good old days” before all of the modern avionics it was only a stupid pilot who would ignore inputs from others. However, it is the pilot’s decision that prevails and I don’t believe that anyone has the authority order the pilot to do something that in his or her opinion jeapardizes the safety of the aircraft. Presumeably that opinion is the result of experience, skill and inputs from the operators of the aircraft equipment although that might not always be the case. Strange as it may seem, pilots have been known to screw up.