Subdued (black) Military Rank Insignia

Not long ago I was watching a military breifing on one of the cable news outlets. The title graphic gave the officers name and rank below his picture. His was a Major, but I forgot his name (and it isn’t all that important for my question anyway).

This guy was US Army and wearing the ‘desert-style’ camouflage BDU with the subdued rank insignia. In his case he had a flat black colored oak leaf centered on his cap. Because of the graphic shown on the screen I knew he was a Major. I then wondered how (if at all) one would distinguish between a Major (gold oak leaf) and a Lt. Colonel (silver oak leaf) when the rank insignia is the subdued version.

I’ve looked this up on Google and haven’t found a quick answer, so I thought I’d toss it out here. I know I’ll find an answer here.


Verbal communication is the key.

The isignia for Major is green. For Lt Colonel, black.

No, actually, for DCU’s (the desert stuff), Major is brown. 0-5 (LtCol) is black. Basically, anything silver in the subdued color is black. So, 0-3 (LT, for me) is black. 0-4, which is a gold oak leaf, is brown in the subdued color. 0-5, which is a silver oak leaf, is black in the subdued color.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Tampa at CENTCOM, where everyone, including myself, is in DCU’s, so I’ve had plenty of time to figure all this out.

Three possibilities that I see, in order from most likely to least:

1 – The dark brown oak leaf can look a lot like the black oak leaf in the right lighting, especially on a light background (hell, I frequently couldn’t distinguish the gold leaves from the silver on BDU caps outside, but had no such trouble with the gold and silver Lieutenant bars).
2 – The graphic was wrong. Either because the chyron guy hosed it up, or because the officer in question was frocked to LTC or recently promoted.
3 – Temporary solution. MAJ Spokesguy lost his cap soon before the cameras went on and had to borrow one. Or his rank broke off some time before, and all that was available was LTC – when none of your current rank is available, you use the next higher and make damn sure that everyone around you is clear on why.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Tampa at CENTCOM, where everyone, including myself, is in DCU’s…”

Why is that? Don’t you work in air conditioned offices? Why don’t you wear normal “office” uniforms? Does the post commander (or whoever) think DCUs look cool on TV or is this so you don’t have to wear insignia that set off metal detectors? If so, what kind of belt buckle do you wear with DCUs?

Combat commands generally wear BDUs/DCUs all the time, so it is their normal “office” uniform. I spent seven years in the Army before wearing anything but BDUs to work.

As for what sets off metal detectors, the boots usually have enough metal for that, and we wear metal insignia on the caps anyway.

There is a “mind set” that goes with the clothes you wear. So many people in the new computer-related fields stayed away from suits and other formal wear so that they didn’t get a “suit mentality”. Engineers frequently do the same for the same reasons–and have done that for centuries.

If you are a combat-oriented command headquarters, there is great advantage to dress as do the members in the subordinate combat units–it gives a sense of command-wide empathy; and the subordinates who visit the commmand’s hqs aren’t alienated by a bunch of “headquarters types”.

Subdued majors’ leaves are a bronzy-brown–ugly as sin. :stuck_out_tongue: I don’t ever remember having any trouble distinguishing them from the black insignia, though.

Unless you’re really into the rank thing, it is possible to forget that you’ve just been promoted. It is very easy for your subordinates to either not notice or to forget that you’ve just been promoted–even if they are looking right at you.

It’s easy for reporters to just plain “not give a rat’s a##” what your rank is. :wink:

Stankow: “. . . frocked to LTC . . . .”?? Is this a US Army thing?

It’s Gen Tommy Frank’s (Commander in Chief, Central Command) call as to what uniform he wants his people wearing. I’m assuming, since people can just as easily find themselves forward in theater as opposed to the rear at Tampa, the most practical thing is to have everyone, forward and rear, in DCU’s.

He could have folks dress in their respective organization’s “work” uniforms, but it’s much easier, I think, the way it is. This is not to say I couldn’t have worn my khakis while working there… no one would have said anything if I had, but I would have looked out of place, and cammies are more flexible and comfortable than my khakis.

I’m not sure I should be talking about what protective measures they take in the building, but I will say we do wear metal belt buckles… I wear the same belt/buckle I wear for my jungle cammies.

Sea Sorbust, we do the “frocked” thing in the Navy too.

Thanks, but what is “frocking”.

I seem to recall the term “frocked” being used with someone who was about to retire: Rank of Lt.-Col. the day before retirement; rank of Colonel from the day of retirement onward. (It helped to compensate for low-pay during active-duty.) I think, tho, that this ‘one last promotion’ method for retirees was scrapped a very long time ago. :confused:

When someone takes an assignment that puts him in the public eye or requires a lot of work with other nations, he can be frocked to the next higher rank, if he’s been selected for promotion to that rank and is just waiting for the promotion to take effect (which may take as long as eighteen months, depending on seniority).

Frocking allows the soldier to wear the higher rank, but that’s about it. His ID card will still carry the old rank, he’ll still be paid as the old rank, and he accrues no seniority in the rank to which frocked.

So in the case cited by the OP, I was just spitballing that maybe
A) he’d just been frocked to LTC recently, or
B) the chyron guy found out the guy had been frocked and decided to screw with him, or maybe even
C) the guy didn’t want to be frocked and was perfectly happy being a Major and introduced himself that way despite his boss ordering him to wear the Lieutenant Colonel insignia.
Don’t laugh at that last one – I know a guy who did that when his Battalion Commander frocked him to Captain, despite not having the authority to do so. He was a purist, so he introduced himself as “Lieutenant Frocked to Captain Snuffy.”

By the way, typing “frock” that much really plays with your mind.

And Sorbust, the terminology used on that last-day promotion thing was inaccurate – it was an actual promotion. And no, that sort of thing isn’t done anymore.

Thanks stankow: The bells of rememberance are starting to chime in my head. I think that it all started with the board-selection of bn cdrs and the post-Viet Nam slow-down in promotions. Someone didn’t want very, very senior majors as a bn cdr yet the time-window for command was TIGHT–too tight to wait for someone’s promotion orders.

All has been made clear, I think. Thanks again.