Service Stripes and Admiral Michael Mullen

I saw an interview today with the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen. In the interview, he mentioned over 40 years of service in the Navy. My understanding of service stripes (confirmed by this Wikipedia article) says that sailors get one stripe for every four years of service, and they’re worn on the left sleeve of the dress uniform. However, if you look at a current picture, you’ll see three regular stripes, a fat stripe, and a star. The whole ensemble is worn on both sleeves.

So what does this collection of stuff mean?

I’m not in the military, but the Wikipedia article to which you linked mentions that service stripes are worn only by enlisted personnel. So the stripes in his sleeves are something else (given that he’s an officer).

Service stripes are for enlisted. It’s a way to show experience. For example, this uniform pic of a Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate (your Popeye, deck ape type) has 5 service stripes, indicating at least 20 years of Naval service.

What ADM Mullen is displaying there, and all other Naval officers, are stripes which show his rank. You’ll notice that picture does not have four stars on his collar, like many other services (other Naval officers do wear a uniform with shoulderboards, but not that uniform).

This is actually the best graph I could find on a short Google search. It doesn’t do a very good job, but basically you start out with one stripe with Ensign (O-1), Captain (O-6) has three big stripes, Admirals have a superbig stripe and however many stripes on top of that.

<Monty Python voice>Four, sir!</MPv> (Three is for a Commander)

To amplify a bit, the star above Admiral Mullens’ stripes show he is a line officer (i.e. able to be commanding officer of a fleet [in the admiral’s case] ship, or base). There are also staff corps officers who have other devices above their stripes. The skinny stripes denoting Lt (jg) and Lt Cdr are called half-stripes. I dunno what an admiral’s wide stripes are called – I never got to ask one.

On the Senior Chief’s uniform, the fact the service stripes are gold indicates at least the past twelve years’ service were exemplary. Sailors who have had some sort of punishment (Captain’s mast or a full blown court martial) are stuck with red stripes until twelve years has passed from the incident. Less than twelve years service the stripes are red regardless.

I once saw on display a Master Chief’s uniform of a man who had entered the Navy at the age of fifteen (shortly before World War I) in some sort of apprentice program, and retired at seventy-something. The service stripes went up past the elbow.

Some amplifying information:

Service stripes are used to recognize periods of enlistment. In the U.S. Navy, one stripe recognizes four years of enlisted service.

Officers do not enlist in the Navy; instead, they receive a commission that is indefinite. As others have stated, officers do not receive service stripes; indeed, there is no indication on an officer’s uniform that shows how much time they have served.

The service stripes for enlisted personnel in the Navy are gold if they have 12 years of “honorable and faithful service” (meaning no non-judicial punishments, disciplinary infractions, or court martial offenses). Otherwise, the stripes are red. Enlisted personnel also receive Good Conduct Medals for every 3-year period of good service. (It was 4 years before 1996, to match the criteria for service stripes, but they changed it to 3 years to match the criteria for the other services.)

Officers are not recognized for good service, as they are expected to always demonstrate exemplary service. An officer who does not have good service will fail to promote, and will be involuntarily separated from the Navy for failure to promote.

An enlisted person who commits an infraction may also fail to to be advanced, but can still re-enlist.

Another link to browse:

Further information about red vs. gold stripes for Navy Enlisted personnel: the gold stripes are for 12 years of continuous unblemished Naval service. Those with a break in service are also required to wear red.

Some Navy uniforms do require the Commissioned Officer to wear collar devices which are the same as those of the other services for the same pay grade (example: Eagle for O6).

Missed the edit window.

The star above the sleeve insignia is also used by Limited Duty Officers in the US Navy. The are not in the line for command of ships; however, they may command units of their specialty such as an LDO who was commissioned from one of the admin ratings can rise in rank and command a Personnel Support Activity.