Colonel (United States)

In the United States Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, colonel (/ˈkɜːrnəl/) is the most senior field grade military officer rank, immediately above the rank of lieutenant colonel and immediately below the rank of brigadier general. It is equivalent to the naval rank of captain in the other uniformed services.[n 1] The pay grade for colonel is O-6.

The insignia of the rank of colonel, as seen on the right, is worn on the officer's left side (a mirror-image version is worn on the right side, such that the eagle always faces forward to the wearer's front; the left-side version is also worn centered on fatigue caps, helmets, Army ACU & ECWCS breasts, inter alia). By law, a colonel must have 22 years of service and a minimum of three years of service as a lieutenant colonel before being promoted.[1]

US-O6 insignia shaded
Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force garrison insignia of the rank of colonel. Style and method of wear may vary between the services.
US-O6 insignia subdued
Subdued colonel rank insignia, as worn on the current USMC Combat Utility Uniform and previously worn on the former Desert Camouflage Uniform and Battle Dress Uniform.
Country United States
Service branch
AbbreviationCOL, Col
NATO rankOF-5
Non-NATO rankO-6
Next higher rankBrigadier general
Next lower rankLieutenant colonel
Equivalent ranks
U.S. Army dress blue insignia of the rank of colonel in the Infantry branch. Style and method of wear may vary between the services.
US Marine O6 shoulderboard
U.S. Marine Corps insignia of the rank of colonel. Style and method of wear may vary between the services.
US Air Force O6 shoulderboard rotated
U.S. Air Force insignia of the rank of colonel. Style and method of wear may vary between the services.
US Army O6 shoulderboard rotated
U.S. Army "Class A" insignia of the rank of colonel, used from September 1959 to October 2015.


Colonel William Few
William Few in the uniform of a Continental Army colonel

The insignia for a colonel is a silver eagle which is a stylized representation of the eagle dominating the Great Seal of the United States (which is the coat of arms of the United States). As on the Great Seal, the eagle has a U.S. shield superimposed on its chest and is holding an olive branch and bundle of arrows in its talons. However, in simplification of the Great Seal image, the insignia lacks the scroll in the eagle's mouth and the rosette above its head. On the Great Seal, the olive branch is always clutched in the eagle's right-side talons, while the bundle of arrows is always clutched in the left-side talons. The head of the eagle faces towards the olive branch, rather than the arrows, advocating peace rather than war. As a result, the head of the eagle always faces towards the viewer's left.

However, when worn as a single insignia with no matching pair, such as on the patrol cap, garrison cap/flight cap, or the front of the Army ACU, there is a split between the services on which mirror image of the eagle should be worn. In the United States Army and United States Air Force, the eagle is always worn with "the head of the eagle to the wearer's right," with the olive branch clutched in the eagle's right hand talons (see Department of the Army Pamphlet 670-1, paragraph 19-6 (a)(1)). In the United States Marine Corps, United States Navy, United States Coast Guard and NOAA, the eagle is worn with "the head facing forward" on the wearer's right side of the garrison cover (see Marine Corps Order P1020.34G, Uniform Regulation, paragraph 4005d(1)). Since respective service's officer insignia is worn on the left side and the rank insignia is worn on the right hand side of the Marine, Navy, Coast Guard and NOAA garrison caps, the eagle is facing to the eagle's left with the olive branch clutched in the eagle's left hand talons, which is a mirror opposite to the wear of the single eagle for Army and Air Force officers.


The United States rank of colonel is a direct successor to the same rank in the British Army. The first colonels in the U.S. were appointed from Colonial militias maintained as reserves to the British Army in the North American colonies. Upon the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, colonial legislatures would grant commissions to men to raise a regiment and serve as its colonel. Thus, the first U.S. colonels were usually respected men with ties in local communities and active in politics.

With the post-war reduction of the U.S. Army, the rank of colonel disappeared, and was not re-introduced until 1802.

The first insignia for the rank of colonel consisted of gold epaulettes worn on the blue uniform of the Continental Army. The first recorded use of the eagle insignia was in 1805 as this insignia was made official in uniform regulations by 1810.

19th century

A shoulder strap from an infantry colonel in the Union Army
Union Army colonel rank insignia
A shoulder strap from an infantry colonel in the Union Army

The rank of colonel was relatively rare in the early 19th century, partly because the U.S. Army was very small, and the rank was usually obtained only after long years of service. During the War of 1812 the Army grew rapidly and many colonels were appointed, but most of these colonels were discharged when their regiments were disbanded at the war's conclusion. A number of other colonels were appointed by brevet - an honorary promotion usually for distinguished service in combat.

The American Civil War saw a large influx of colonels as the rank was commonly held in both the Confederate army and Union Army by those who commanded a regiment. Since most regiments were state formations and were quickly raised, the colonels in command of the regiments were known by the title "Colonel of Volunteers," in contrast to Regular Army colonels who held permanent commissions.

During the Civil War, the Confederate Army maintained a unique insignia for colonel, three stars worn on the collar of a uniform. Robert E. Lee wore this insignia due to his former rank in the United States Army and refused to wear the insignia of a Confederate general, stating that he would only accept permanent promotion when the South had achieved independence.

After the Civil War, the rank of colonel again became rare as the forces of the United States Army became extremely small. However, many colonels were appointed in the volunteers during the Spanish–American War, prominent among them Theodore Roosevelt and David Grant Colson.

20th century

A U.S. Marine colonel (center) during the Vietnam War.
Sustad JI
Colonel Jeanette Sustad as Director of Women Marines.

World War I and World War II saw the largest numbers of colonels ever appointed in the U.S. military. This was mostly due to the temporary ranks of the National Army and the Army of the United States, where those who would normally hold the rank of Captain in the peacetime Regular Army were thrust into the rank of colonel during these two wars.

The Military Promotion System was revised and standardized for all the services in 1980 as a result of passage of the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act.

21st century

Modern U.S. colonels usually command Army infantry, artillery, armor, aviation or other types of brigades, USMC regiments, Marine Expeditionary Units or Marine Aircraft Groups, and USAF groups or wings. An Army colonel typically commands brigade-sized units (4,000 to 6,000 soldiers), with another colonel or a lieutenant colonel as deputy commander, a major as executive officer, and a command sergeant major as a senior non-commissioned officer (NCO) advisor. An Air Force colonel typically commands a wing consisting of 1,000 to 4,000+ airmen with another colonel as the vice commander and a command chief master sergeant as principal senior NCO enlisted adviser. Some USAF colonels are commanders of groups, which are the four major components of wings. Colonels are also found as the chief of staff at divisional level-(Army) or Numbered Air Force-level staff agencies.

In the modern armed forces, the colonel's eagle is worn facing forward with head and beak pointing towards the wearer's front. Of all U.S. military commissioned officer rank, only the colonel's eagle has a distinct right and left insignia. All other commissioned officer rank insignia can be worn on either the right or left side.

Colonels are sometimes referred to (but not addressed as) full colonels, bird colonels, or full bird colonels because lieutenant colonels are also referred to and addressed in correspondence as "colonel." Referring to an "O-6", a colonel's pay grade, also may differentiate colonels and lieutenant colonels.

Almost all Army colonels have attended a war college or a senior staff college equivalent to study joint warfare and war itself. Most Army colonels receive postgraduate level senior joint professional military education (JPME) at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania[2] prior to promotion. The 2009 graduating class was 336 including 198 army officers and the rest divided among other military branches, domestic inter-agency representatives and other foreign military leaders.[3] The highest concentration of USAF colonels graduate from the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama via in-residence at Maxwell AFB. This program will include participation by officers from various other branches. Marine colonels may graduate from the Marine War College or, like all other branches, may receive credit via non-resident attendance at another installation, via correspondence, or will be graduates of an equivalent senior JPME program sponsored by the National Defense University or one of the other U.S. military services.[4]

Honorary colonels

Some people known as "colonels" are actually recipients of honorary colonel ranks from a state governor and are not officers of the U.S. military. In the 19th century the honorary colonels were military appointments and they still are nominally appointed to a governor's staff, but without military rights or duties. Famous honorary colonels include Colonel Harland Sanders of KFC fame, a Kentucky colonel; Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, who received the honor from a Louisiana governor; and Edward M. House, known as Colonel House, a Texas honorary colonel and adviser to President Woodrow Wilson.

Famous colonels

Famous U.S. Army colonels
Famous USAF colonels
Famous USMC colonels
Famous Continental Army colonels
Famous Confederate colonels


  1. ^ The other United States uniformed services include the United States Navy, United States Coast Guard, and the commissioned corps of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and United States Public Health Service.


  1. ^ "Air Force Colonel". Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-06-15. Retrieved 2010-03-13.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Archived 2011-06-15 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-01-12. Retrieved 2008-12-31.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

External links

Media related to Colonels of the United States at Wikimedia Commons

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Ahern Glacier is in Glacier National Park in the U.S. state of Montana. The glacier was named after George Patrick Ahern. Ahern Glacier is situated on a ridge between Ipasha Peak to the north and Ahern Peak to the south at an elevation between 8,800 feet (2,700 m) and 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level, immediately east of the Continental Divide. Meltwater from the glacier feeds Ahern Glacier Falls, a waterfall which descends an estimated 1,680 feet (510 m) in one sheer drop to a talus slope below en route to Helen Lake. Between 1966 and 2005, Ahern Glacier lost 13 percent of its surface area.

Alfred A. Sanelli

Brigadier General Alfred A. Sanelli, Pennsylvania Guard (May 1, 1921 – December 12, 2005). (Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army.) Brigadier General Sanelli was a graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy, Class of 1939. Following Valley Forge, he attended the University at Buffalo, but his education was interrupted in 1942 with the outbreak of World War II. He returned to college in 1946 and received a bachelor's degree in English. He later earned a master's degree from Columbia University.

BG Sanelli was a member of the English Department at Valley Forge in 1947 and returned to active duty in 1948. During his US Army career, BG Sanelli served in various capacities as a commander and staff officer, stateside and overseas. In 1952 he was assigned as Assistant Professor of Military Science at the University of Wisconsin. In 1958 he was appointed Assistant Professor of English at West Point. His last Army assignment before retiring in 1965 was as Professor of Military Science at Valley Forge.

After his retirement, BG Sanelli was an Associate Professor of English at West Chester University. In 1967 he returned to Valley Forge as the Dean of the Academy, with the rank of Brigadier General, Pennsylvania Guard, a position he held for 17 years before assuming his post as Chaplain and Assistant to the President in 1984. During that period he was also the Dean of the College for two years. In addition, he served as an adjunct instructor of First Class English in the Academy and was an adjunct Professor of Ethics at the College.

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Cal Hobson served in the United States Air Force in both active duty and reserve capacity from 1969 until his retirement at the rank of colonel (United States) in 1999. Hobson is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He currently resides in Lexington, Oklahoma on a fifth generation-owned family farm.


Colonel ( "kernel"; abbreviated Col., Col or COL) is a senior military officer rank below the brigadier and general officer ranks. However, in some small military forces, such as those of Monaco or the Vatican, colonel is the highest rank. It is also used in some police forces and paramilitary organizations.

Historically, in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a colonel was typically in charge of a regiment in an army. Modern usage varies greatly, and in some cases, the term is used as an honorific title that may have no direct relationship to military service.

The rank of colonel is typically above the rank of lieutenant colonel. The rank above colonel is typically called brigadier, brigade general or brigadier general.

Equivalent naval ranks may be called captain or ship-of-the-line captain. In the Commonwealth air force rank system, the equivalent rank is group captain.

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He was in the Indiana University, A.B., 1938 and from the same university law school, LL.B. (J.D.), 1940.

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He served as colonel, United States Army Reserve, retired.

He served as vice-chairman of the Lincoln Sesquicentennial Commission, 1958, and co-sponsored the legislation in Congress creating the commission.

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Lieutenant colonel

Lieutenant colonel (pronounced Lef-ten-ent Kernel (UK & Commonwealth) or Loo-ten-ent Kernel (US)) is a rank of commissioned officer in the armies, most marine forces and some air forces of the world, above a major and below a colonel. The rank of lieutenant colonel is often shortened to simply "colonel" in conversation and in unofficial correspondence. Sometimes, the term, 'half-colonel' is used in casual conversation in the British Army. A lieutenant colonel is typically in charge of a battalion in the army.

Lieutenant colonel (United States)

In the United States Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force, a lieutenant colonel is a field-grade military officer rank just above the rank of major and just below the rank of colonel. It is equivalent to the naval rank of commander in the other uniformed services.

The pay grade for the rank of lieutenant colonel is O-5. In the United States armed forces, the insignia for the rank consists of a silver oak leaf, with slight stylized differences between the Army/Air Force version and the Navy/Marine Corps version.

Promotion to lieutenant colonel is governed by Department of Defense policies derived from the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) of 1980 for officers in the Active Component and its companion Reserve Officer Personnel Management Act (ROPMA) for officers in the Reserve Component (e.g., Reserve and National Guard). DOPMA guidelines suggest 70% of majors should be promoted to lieutenant colonel after serving a minimum of three years at their present rank and after attaining 15–17 years of cumulative commissioned service.

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