Does rank carry across branches of the US military?

While watching A Few Good Men for the zillionth time on TBS, something occurred to me… Kaffee (Cruise) is in the Navy, and at some point during the movie he asks Cpl Dawson (Who’s a Marine) “What happened to saluting when an officer leaves the room?” (or something like that)

So, having never been in the US military, I was wondering…

  1. Within reason, does higher rank (in the same branch) have absolute authority over lower rank? If so… Always? or just on Military matters?

  2. Do ranks in the US military have official equivilant ranks in other branches of the US military? (I guess grade level would be a starting place?)

  3. What protocols exist for commingling of military personnel from different branches?

straightdope salute -->> :smack:


  1. Yes!
  2. Yes!
  3. An O-3 (Level three officer) is a Captain in the Army but called something else in the Navy, Lt. Commander or something like that. I believe a Captain in the Navy is equivalent to a Brigadier General in the Army - an O-6. The level is whats important.
    Different branches are supposed to learn to recognize officers in other branches and, if over seas, officers in other militaries.
    US military personell are required to show the same respect to officers of the military of other NATO countries.

Being an enlisted soldier in the Army, I don’t pay much attention to the grade level, titles, or insignia of non-Army officers. It’s easy to tell that someone is at least an officer of some kind and EVERY officer out ranks me so I just salute and smile.

To answer your second question.

Well, that and the Marines are just a branch off the Navy. The recruits are told in Basic training that a Navy officer carries the same weight as a Marine officer.

Of course like Bear-Nenno said, it is required to show respect to any branch.

O-3 is an Army Captain or a Navy Lieutenant (0-2 is an Army First Lieutenant or a Navy Lieutenant (junior grade); 0-1 is an Army Second Lieutenant or a Navy Ensign); 0-6 is an Army Colonel or a Navy Captain.

For your first question… an officer in another service who is superior to me will get a salute and the proper courtesy deserving of his rank (e.g., I’m an O-3, so outside of a working relationship, I’m not going to go out of my way to make a Major happy, whereas I’m going to do my utmost to please a Colonel in another service). However, unless I’m at a unified command, chances are the other-service superior officer will have no direct authority, so to speak, over me, since he won’t be in my chain of command. So, if he wants to task me to do something, he’ll have to go through my direct superiors (chain of command) to do it.

For your third question, there are no such particular protocols I’m aware of for that sort of thing, aside from the general idea of not fraternizing between enlisted and officer. But if I want to hang out with an equivalent Marine officer, there’s no protocol that needs to be followed.

What reasoning is given for the no-fraternization rule between officers and non-coms?

“What reasoning is given for the no-fraternization rule between officers and non-coms?”

It’s not just between commissioned and non-commissioned officers; it’s between any two people of significantly different rank (e.g., more than one or two grades). The reason for avoiding fraternization between ranks is the same reason that well run business frown on fraternization between employees and their supervisors - it can create conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts of interest that can interfere with the orderly functioning of an organization that depends on a clear cut chain of command.

Umm… you’re not a policeman anymore?

Military ranks can vary a bit from service to service, but pay grades are a good way to compare things across the services, regardless of rank or uniform.

The enlisted ranks range from E-1 to E-9. Officers range from O-1 to O-10. there are special ranks beyond E-9 & O-10, but these are God ranks & you’d know when you encountered one by the thunder clouds & lightening bursts that always accompany them.

Having served in a lot of joint-service units in the military and having worked with lots of foreign militaries, you get used to the different services & ranks.

The bottom line within the US is, yes you are always subordinate to someone in another service who is at a higher pay grade/rank. If that person is not in your chain of command, they’re unlikely to give you an order to do something, but they are always free to correct your behavior, performance, etc. You always show them the respect their pay grade requires. If they should give you an order, you are legally obliged to obey.

When it comes to foreign militaries, it gets trickier, but in general you always show the respect their rank deserves. I’ll let someone else take that up, though.

If an army captain is on board a navy ship, is he still addressed as “Captain”? Seems like that could be slightly insulting to the captain of the ship…

My dad was an O-3 in the Navy, a Lieutenant. The grades are O-1, Ensign, O-2; Lieutenant Juniour Grade (LTJG); O-3, Lieutenant; O-4, Lieutenant Commander; O-5, Commander;, O-6, Captain; and then Commodore (if that’s in use at the moment) and the Admirals.

You know, I’ve been here long enough to know that I should read the whole thread before posting. :smack:

I don’t speak from personal knowledge, but I believe that an army captain is addressed as ‘Major’ while aboard a naval vessel-- and that a naval captain is addressed as ‘Commodore’ while aboard a ship other than his own command (and that the skipper is always addressed as ‘Captain’ even if his rank is lower.)


An Army Captain is addressed as either Captain or Sir or Ma’am when aboard a naval vessel. There are quite a few Navy Captains aboard a carrier, for example, at one time and each of them is addressed by either their rank or their courtesy title. That bit about addressing an Army Captain as Major is just fiction from the novel Starship Troopers.

Let’s try to keep this in the realm of facts, shall we?

Commodore nowadays is only a title, not a rank. It’s a Captain (O-6) who is in charge of multiple squadrons (air) or a squadron (ships).

And in the U.S. Navy, a Marine, Army, or AF Captain (O-3) aboard a ship will always be called “Captain,” just as in any other unified command. The term “skipper” is reserved for the Commanding Officer of a ship.

An Army O-3 on a Naval vessel would be lost. (mostly)

Interestingly, the Commanding Officer of a Company or Battery of Marines (usually a Captain, O-3) is often referred to as “Skipper” also. It is normally very clear from the context which Captain or Skipper is being referenced. The Captain of the ship is God on board. The Captain of Marines is slightly lower on the scale of Deities.

When my pay grade was O-5, the rank on my ID was given as commander, but when waiting for a space-a call at an air force base one day I was a bit startled to hear “Colonel Yeah” called over the P.A. system. Was that a mistake or is it common in the army, air force, and marines to use army/air force/marine ranks for navy ranks when only the pay grade, but not the rank or service is known? In other words, if I had walked up to the guy at the P.A. system in uniform, would he have been embarrassed?

An O-5 in the other services is, as you know, LtCol, or Lieutenant Colonel. They are commonly called “Colonel” as a sign of respect and for brevity, I assume. At the airfield they probably wrote down “O-5”, and did not know you were Navy, or made a mistake, it is neither common or correct to use another service’s name for your rank. He should have been embarassed if you walked up.

Yeah: The individual who called you “Commander” should’ve been embarrassed anyway since, along with the paygrade, one usually supplies the branch of service also.