Explain the concept of an "acting Sergeant"

My grandfather, as a Corporal in Korea, was made an “acting Sergeant.” What the hell does this mean? The best and only explanation I ever got of it from him was “you have the powers of a Sergeant, but you’re not one.” How can someone have this? Why wouldn’t they just make you a Sergeant instead of having some intermediary rank?

The Wikipedia article on the Sergeant ranking did not clarify this for me, so maybe one of the military posters here can.

It sounds to me as if it is roughly the equivelent of a field commission. There was not a sergeant available at the time, so he was made acting sergeant until one showed up. Once a real sergeant took over, he would be a regular corporal again.

If you need someone in a position, you can’t always wait until rear echelon sends you one. So you give a qualified person of a lower rank a temporary, field, brevet promotion to fill the position until the brass send you a replacement, or confirm the promotion. The neat thing is that if you serve at a higher rank for a given period of time, it can become permanent. Or at least it used to. Any number of corporals got their sergeant’s stripes that way. Great way of skipping ahead on the promotions list. :smiley:

Also, a person wouldn’t normally wear the higher rank either. For instance, when I Company Loses a 1st SGT and they can’t replace the position right away, the senior E-7 will become Acting First Sergeant. Everyone will call him 1sgt, but he’ll still wear E-7 rank.
The reason they don’t “just promote him to SGT”, is that there are certain standards and prerequisites to meet. A person needs a certain amount of Promotion Points, a certain Time in Service and Time in Previous Rank. Then they have to go to a promotion board, which is like every two months maybe.
And even then, the promotion takes time. It takes about 60 days to promote a qualified person to the next rank.

Why don’t they just give him the position without promoting him?

After all, if - say - a Captain told a Sergeant to obey the orders of a Corporal, wouldn’t he have to do it?

It can, and does, happen that way, particularly during training. An Airman can give orders to officers under those circumstances.

An “acting” sergeant simply means that you are assuming the duties of the person previously holding those duties. It has nothing to do with rank, per se. You are simply performing the duties of a sergeant.

In a slightly different way, the Canadian Forces and their cadet programs sometimes use the ‘acting’ designation when a member has most of the qualifications for promotion and has demonstrated the aptitude, but some on-paper requirement is not yet complete. The acting rank is worn by the member, but may be withdrawn if the requirements are not met by some deadline.
For further confusion, Second-Lietenants in the maritime forces are called “Acting Sub-Lieutenants”, an artifact of naval tradition. This isn’t really an “Acting Rank”.

Conversely, in some branches there exist “Qualified” ranks, for when a member has all of the qualifications for promotion and has demonstrated the aptitude, but there isn’t room in the member’s unit structure for the member to be promoted (like, you’re only allowed so many Petty Officers Second Class in a corps). Sometimes special rank insignia exist for the Qualified ranks. It should be noted that I can’t recall ever seeing qualified ranks used in the Forces themselves, but only in the cadet programs.

My Dad was acting sergeant (MP) in the army for about 8 years just as silenus mentioned. He was promoted due to lack of personal and didn’t have to follow the ‘normal’ route of exams and such to get promoted later.

I’ve even seen First World War medal groups from Canada and the UK with “Acting” ranks, usually noncoms like “A/Sgt,” but I’ve also seen some with “A/Maj,” etc. It can often indicate that the recipient was killed in action, as the medals were not given out until after the war–and “acting” ranks were either confirmed or rescinded by then.

The British and Canadian armies were very fond of using the “Corporal, Acting, unpaid” sort of thing in both world wars. You got the responsibility level out of the man for no extra pay, after all! (These designations were made at a unit level, it should be noted, and were often used to “groom” likely candidates for promotion. Acting officers were often found in WWI, particularly the infantry, where they suffered a remarkably high attrition rate; there were some young Lieutenants who wound up as acting Colonels for short periods by default.

Oh, yes–the members of the “Canadian Army Show,” for example (which included Wayne and Schuster, who later set the record for most appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show), were all made Acting Sergeants, so that they could enjoy the benefits of eating in Sergeant’s messes in the different Army camps they played in in Canada and Europe.

“Emote, you maggots!”

Thanks, I’m here all week.

Something like that happened recently on the Navy base where I work. The command requires a Captain as CO and the retiring CO wanted to nominate a colleague to replace him. The colleague, who was a Commander and the time, was made acting Captain until his commission came through.

They will, temporarily. But somewhere out there is a deserving E-7 who is ready for a promotion. Or an existing E-8 who is transferring to that area in need of a position. If they just gave away those positions, then deserving people would not get the promotion.

I understand, although I don’t see how the person in question is any less “deserving” than anyone else (if he’s proven himself capable of a job, why not give it to him permanently?). My question is: why do you need to give a rank along with a position? Will the world come to an end if a Lieutenant were in charge of a company?

Bear in mind, I’m not talking from an American viewpoint. In the Israeli army, positional authority is everything, while rank is just a formality deriving form training and seniority. Soldiers even refer to their commanders by their position rather than their rank - we’d say “the Company Commander” instead of “the Captain.” I’ve seen some pretty strange formations over the years - such as a sergeant commanding a squad full of sergeants - and the chain of command always seemed to work.

The Army can be very picky about maintaining its promotion lists. As previously noted, they have set rules for time in grade, evaluations, etc. before promotions will be granted. They like things nice and neat. If field commanders go around promoting competent people willy-nilly, why, the next step would be Chaos! :eek:

Thus, “acting sergeant.”

I’d think this would be essential in war. If in combat the unit sergeant gets killed, and a corporal radios this to the upper command, they are just gonna promote someone on the spot as acting sergeant. In the heat of battle there is no time for debating such things.

A Lieutenant is a military, paramilitary or police officer.

The word lieutenant derives from French; the lieu meaning “place” as in a position; and tenant meaning “holding” as in “holding a position”; thus a “lieutenant” is somebody who holds a position in the absence of his superior.

But to WHOM has he proven himself capable? As stated, his field commander may feel that he is qualified, but a full review by the rear brass may find that the field commander was in error, and that the man does not yet deserve a permanent promotion. Authority is delegated to lower ranks, but not all types of authority.

Let’s look at it this way: Let’s say the board of directors of your company fires all of the upper management. They ask you, a lower-level manager, to fill in as CEO until further notice. But you’re only an acting CEO, so you aren’t going to get the same salary, stock options, and other benefits of a real CEO. But you still have to take on the full workload and responsibility of a CEO.

Are you going to be happy with that arrangement? Probably not. Let’s not forget that the military is a job, and things like rank determine your current pay grade and your retirement benefits, among other things. If it was known that lieutenants were forced to work as company commanders as a matter of course, many many officers would become unhappy very quickly, and see less incentive to stay in the service.

See, that’s what I don’t understand. Most Lieutenants I know would love to command a company, even for no extra pay - the more people you have under your command, the more power, the more important you are. Junior officers are nothing if not power-hungry.

Basically, the promotion itself has to be decided by people farther in the rear. The person who becomes an “Acting Sergeant” or an “Acting Company Commander” might not necessarily gotten the job because any of his superiors thought he was good for it so much as that all his superiors were otherwise removed from the process of being able to do it themselves (ie: if they are wounded or killed in combat is a big one) Also, sometimes there just isn’t anyone better for the job, and the superior has to give it to somebody.

And on the subject of the promotions becoming official, if you read about WWII, especially the bomber crews (who took tremendous casualties during the war, the 8th Air Force flying out of England lost more men than the US Marine Corps did fighting in the Pacific) then you find lots of guys with ranks well beyond their years. A guy in his mid-20’s was “The Old Man” and often found himself holding the rank of major or higher in that situation.