Military Hierarchy

A number of threads have discussed the order of ‘partitions’ in the military, eg. companies, battalions, brigades, etc.

My question is: what it is the typical number of officers serving under other officers. For example, how many officers does a captain lead? How many officers are under the control of a major? of a colonel? etc.


It depends on the job the officer has. An Army lieutenant colonel at a desk at the Pentagon may not have a command, period, and does not supervise any other officers.

An Army lieutenant colonel who commands a battalion may have as his direct reports a major as his XO and four captains who run the attached companies. In turn, these companies may have first or second lieutenants as platoon leaders.

In short - it depends; there is no fixed rule to answer the question.

  • Rick

Well it depends…In my artillery battery we had four lts (or captains) per platoon. The battery commander was a captain and he had about 4 captains and 13 liutentants in the battery. He also had a XO that was a lt. The major I worked for was a the Birgade Fire Support Officer. He had control over one lt staffer, and nominal control over 3 captains in three Battalion headquarters. (Our battery had about 180-200 people in it at any one time. We were a headquarters unit, so most of our people would get assigned to different Infantry companies or Artillery Batteries when deployed.) Most of the Infantry companies usually had a less officers assigned to them per grunt. They generally had one officer per platoon (lt or captain), One commander (cpt) One xo(lt). A headquarters company generally has more officers and maintains equipment. They will generally maintain a Bn Headquarters that has a conel / lt conel that commands the companies, a S1, S2, S3, S4 that are usually majors or captains and his xo that is usually a major / lt cnl. (These are supply(S3), operations, intel(S2), and something else.) These majors usually have on lt or captain that work for them.

Note: The Military has downsized a bit since I was in. And this just off the top of my head… Plus this varies on company type.

Yeah, I hadn’t really thought it through enough to recognize that there may not be a lot of uniformity in the numbers depending on the nature of the command and its setting.

I had been interested in drawing a parallel between the staffing at a university teaching hospital and the military, and the differences in achieving a consensus (with doctors) versus ordering (with officers).

I head a division of fifty or so academic internists (?equivalent to captains and maybe even a few majors?). In turn, we work with about one hundred and forty or so medical residents (? equal to lieutenants and even a few captains?) and an even larger group of senior medical students. I had wondered as well what the likely rank would be of someone in the military who led a group of this many officers.

Under a normal command, very generally, the structure is like so:

2LTs usually command a platoon, a Captain will command a company of 4 platoons, overseeing the 4PLs and his XO, who is usually a 1LT. The structure is similar all the way up (LTC commands a battalion of companies and an XO, who is a major).


“… I had wondered as well what the likely rank would be of someone in the military who led a group of this many officers.”

Speaking for the Navy, this sounds relatively simple. You have to ask yourself how big his “command” is. Typically in my service, for something as small as a hospital, you have an 05 (Commander) or 06 (Captain) as the Commanding Officer in charge of the whole shebang. Beneath him is the Executive Officer, and then the Department Heads, who run things like Admin, Ops, Supply, Training, (in your case, Personnel, maybe?), etc… IMHO, it sounds like you’re talking about a Department Head, usually an 04 (Lieutenant Commander) or 05. One basic problem with what you’ve described, though, is that you’re trying to mix apples and oranges. The only time you’d ever see that many officers with no enlisted below them is in a training command (e.g., what the pilots are in during flight training). The rest of the Navy pretty much holds true to the concept of a few O’s in charge of a bunch of E’s.

A typical Civil War or Indian Wars cavalry regiment would have, on paper, one colonel, one lieutenant colonel, three majors, 12 captains, each commanding a company (troop after 1883), assisted by one first lieutenant and one second lieutenant (each commanding a platoon), one or two medical officers, and a regimental adjutant, probably assigned from among the company lieutenants, so, about 43 officers. Battalions (squadrons) were ad hoc groupings of companies during this period, commanded by the lieutenant colonel, one of the majors or a senior captain. Staff officers (in the modern sense), although appointed from the Line, were not in the chain of command leading to the commanding general of the army, but were responsible through their bureaus to the Secretary of War.

 In practice, these units would be chronically short of officers because of detached service, staff appointments, wounds, replacement policies and other reasons, so that, especially in the case of Civil War regular army regiments, the senior captain might command the regiment.

 After the Civil War ended, brigade, division, corps and army organizations ceased to exist, so that an officer aspiring to higher command would seek assignment to one of the geographic commands: a Military Division or one of its Departments or Districts, and command any troops assigned to that it.

 And any officer might be assigned to serve in his brevet or temporary Civil War rank, usually a few grades higher than his actual rank.

 After that, it gets complicated.