What is the highest ranking officer in the US military likely to be in front-line combat?

Officers over a certain rank aren’t ordered to fight, or not fight. They’re ordered to achieve an objective - how they do it is up to them.

So, is there a reason the navy puts its very highest ranked officers at the pointy end and the army keeps the equivalent well away from the pointy end?

And it is understood that the officer will realize that he does not help achieve the objective by getting himself killed unnecessarily.

Probably because ships come in one lump. Very hard to make part of the ship hang back whilst the rest goes into battle. Multi-hundred million dollar (and up) assets with hundreds of crew demand a senior officer in charge.

Modern naval warfare is a difficult question. Nobody has fought a serious battle with modern ship technology. So we now have carriers that are basically too valuable to allow to be lost, and a huge fleet of support vessels that are intended to keep them safe. So there is perhaps an argument that the carriers are the safest place to be, and where the admirals get placed. But they are also the most juicy asset for the enemy, so if you are going to get into a shooting match with hypersonic missiles, the carrier is probably not the safest place to be. However, they will take a lot to sink.

Force projection with carriers into conflict zones has been a great idea for decades, but doesn’t make sense when you go head to head with a peer power. At that point I don’t think anyone really knows how things will be managed.

Right – a fleet carrier or LHD takes an O-6 (Navy Captain, equiv. Army Colonel) to run the vessel, and, well, by the nature of how navies work the skipper just has to be where his/her ship is.

And historically a fleet needed leadership at sea. Like there have been rear echelon leadership of Navies, Nimitz AFAIK didn’t serve on a ship during WW2, he mostly ran the Naval war from Pearl Harbor, but he was a strategic not a tactical commander.

Going back through history, a lot of it is just a matter of communications. Take 18th and early 19th century generals, while there are stories of many of them–even the highest commanders “getting in the thick of it”, it was rarely necessary and often deliberately avoided. With technology of the day, the highest-ranking generals could effectively command troops from a vantage point, and use signaling techniques of the era to convey commands to the field.

There sea is too large a battlefield, there is rarely going to be a “vantage point at a remove” from which an Admiral can observe and direct a naval battle.

At Jutland the commanders of the Grand Fleet and High Seas Fleet weren’t on ships in the thick of it for egotistical reasons, even with more advanced wireless technology of the time [while ships did have wireless radio comms, fleet-based orders ship to ship still largely used flag-based semaphore and ship lamps], it just wasn’t advanced enough that they could run a tactical fleet engagement from the shore, Jellicoe and Scheer needed to be there.

In WW2 this was still true, the U.S. Navy was so huge it had need of high level strategic guys like Nimitz who were running large aspects of the Naval war in the Pacific out of his office at Pearl Harbor, but in individual flights engaging with the enemy there still needed to be a flag officer (typically some rank of Admiral) to command the fleet. Communications was good in WWII compared to past eras, but still didn’t have enough feedback and speed for a guy sitting in an office 7,000 miles away to effectively command a fleet in battle.

For carriers, while a captain will be in command of the ship itself, the strike group is under the command of a higher ranked officer, typically a rear admiral. For example, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is commanded by Capt. Paul Lanzilotta, it is set for it’s first deployment under the leadership of Rear Adm. Gregory Huffman, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 12. Rear Admirals are flag officers with a rank O-7, the equivalent of a brigadier general.

In the book, IIRC, Moore discusses how later in the war, a lot of battalion commanders choose to supervise from helicopters above the action, but in his opinion that wasn’t as effective. It’s been 15 to 20 years since I read that, so I’m not 100% certain of this. Also, IIRC, he said that the only generals he ever saw coming to the check out the battlefields were Israeli generals who came for observation.

First, the Navy isn’t putting its very highest ranked officers in immediate harm. Rear admirals are flag officers, but not the highest ranked ones.

At the moment, a conflict which would have battalion or larger units fighting similar sized and trained enemies seems to be less apparent.

The highest-ranking Israeli officer ever killed in combat was Major General Yekutiel Adam, at the time the IDF Deputy Chief of General Staff (the second-highest ranking officer in the entire Israeli military), during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He was visiting the front, and commandeered a supposedly empty house on the outskirts of Beirut to get a look of the battlefield. He and his men were spotted and the house came under short-range mortar fire. Prudently, Adam and a member of his staff went down to the house’s basement to wait out the barrage; by sheer coincidence, a squad of Palestinian gunmen were also hiding in the same basement, and shot them dead as soon as they entered.

Israel has a strong “warrior ethos” when it comes to its officers. Being seen as fighters is important to their image - that’s why generals always carry assault rifles when in the field, even if they’re just observing a training exercise. It’s also why, in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, armor and infantry battalion commanders, usually Lt. Colonels, had the highest death rate of any MOS in the entire military.

Nitpick: Rear Admirals can either be O-7 or O-8. O-7 is Rear Admiral (lower half) and O-8 is Rear Admiral (upper half).

I don’t know the actual statistic, but experience tells me it’s nearly 50-50.

Hal Moore was a LTC at Ia Drang. That’s the rank I’d say qualifies as the best answer to your question, since battalion commanders in a modern fight could easily find themselves in a similar position as LTC Moore. A battalion commander in an Airborne infantry unit will jump into the fight along with the rest of his or her battalion and command the fight from what could be considered “the front line”. LTCs routinely circulate through the battle space and could easily find themselves in “front-line combat”. If we’re talking about operations similar to the latter years of Afghanistan and Iraq, it wasn’t unusual for General Officers to be out in the towns or villages for various reasons. Any of these visits could lead to a General getting attacked or otherwise caught up in a firefight. He/she wouldn’t be fighting, though. General Petraeus, in fact, would walk the streets with no body armor or weapon. Instead, the general’s personal security detail would be exhausting all efforts to protect and evacuate the general immediately. For such visits, there would always be at least an infantry company in the area who would be responsible for any combat that might erupt.

Thanks, Bear_Nenno.

I still object to these goofy naval titles. Bring back the rank of commodore!

I think you’re right- my uncle was the commander of 3/325 Airborne in Grenada as a Lieutenant Colonel, and while they didn’t jump, he was on the planes with the men that went into the Point Salines airfield. I’m pretty sure the colonels and generals followed a bit later.

Maybe not adding a great deal to the discussion, but the topic reminds me of one of Bill Mauldin’s old Stars & Stripes cartoons where a character said “We calls 'em garritroopers. They’re too far forward to wear ties, and too far back to git shot.”

Ha! Is the “garri” from “garrison,” do you think?

Nimitz was based in Peral Harbor until January, 1941 then moved his HQ to Guam to be closer to the action.

He actually served on a ship during WWII, although very briefly. The USS South Dakota was designated as his flagship for the surrender of Japan in Tokyo Bay (I know that place, somehow).

Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander of the Combined Fleet, also briefly made the battleship Yamato his flagship in the Battle of Midway, in the Main Fleet hundreds of miles behind the carriers. That was a terrible place for a strategic commander as he was unable to send updates prior to the attack because of the need for radio silence and then he was too far away to understand the tactical situation during the battle itself.