By Laura Briggs

Should You Capitalize Military Ranks?

Are you new to learning about the military and want to make sure you’re doing everything properly? Are you interested in writing about military service or becoming a journalist following this beat? No matter what your goals are, plenty of people want to know: Should you capitalize military ranks? Following this query are tons of questions related to military etiquette that we’re about to answer for you. Most civilians and certainly those in the military want to follow proper protocol and avoid offending someone, but it can often be overwhelming to figure out how to proceed if you’re not familiar with the finer details of military etiquette, of which there are many. Below, you can explore more about some of the key respect and etiquette issues at play when you’re learning about how to refer to or salute those in the military.

What You Need To Know About Military Ranks

Whether you’re entering the military as an enlistee or as an officer, you’re watching a family member join, or you’re getting ready to serve as a military spouse, it's important to understand military ranks and some of the most common misconceptions around military ranks. It can be very difficult to identify all military ranks in the proper order because the Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps each have unique military rankings for service members. The Space Force uses the Air Force ranking system, and the Coast Guard and Navy have identical military rank structures. Military ranks help to show the hierarchy of the entire command, making it possible for people to recognize how they should speak to and treat people who are at ranks above them. This hierarchical structure is integral to how the entire military operates, and it’s a longstanding system that is greatly respected. While it might seem like a minor infraction to salute the wrong person or not know the answer to something as simple as “Should you capitalize military ranks?” this can cause embarrassing problems. If an infraction occurs, this can lead to consequences for a friend or loved one’s position in the military, as it’s seen as a sign of disrespect. This is why those who are in the military should certainly understand the rank structure and respect it, but there’s also a solid argument to be made about understanding this culture as a civilian.

What Does Military Rank Influence?

There’s more to military ranks than just knowing if you should capitalize them or not. Military rank not only indicates the service member's overall responsibility, but it also indicates their level of pay. The lowest enlisted military rank, for example, is E-1, meant to indicate enlisted level one. Opposingly, the highest military rank is O-10, which stands for officer level ten. In addition to these naming conventions for military service members, you can also identify someone's rank based on the insignia on their uniforms. Stripes, stars, chevrons, and bars all have different indications for the U.S. Armed Forces. As a person serves in the military, they will eventually rise on the promotion boards to ascend to the next rank. The person’s job, how long they’ve been in their current rank, and a slew of other factors will all influence how long someone stays at a certain rank. Most of the highest-ranking officials have significant service behind them, indicating their lengthy ascent through the military ranks.

Understanding Basic Ranks for the Army

  • E-1 through E-4 are enlisted ranks.
  • E-4 through E-9 are Army noncommissioned officer ranks.
  • W-1 through W-5 are warrant officer ranks.
  • O-1 through O-10 are Army commissioned officer ranks.

Understanding Air Force Ranking Systems

  • E-1 through E-4 are Air Force enlisted ranks.
  • E-5 through E-9/Special are Air Force noncommissioned officer ranks.
  • O-1 through O-10 are Air Force commissioned officer ranks.

Understanding Navy and Coast Guard Ranks

  • E-1 through E-3 are enlisted ranks.
  • E-4 through E-9/Special are noncommissioned officer ranks.
  • W-1 through W-5 are warrant officer ranks.
  • O-1 through O-10 are commissioned officer ranks.

Understanding Marine Corps Ranks

  • E-1 through E-3 are enlisted ranks.
  • E-4 through E-9/Special are noncommissioned officer ranks.
  • W-1 through W-5 are warrant officer ranks.
  • O-1 through O-10 are commissioned officer ranks.

Do You Capitalize Certain Military Ranks?

Have you ever found yourself asking, “Do I capitalize military ranks?” We’re here to alleviate your grammar fears! Military titles, such as captain, major, colonel, and general, are sometimes capitalized in news stories and publications associated with the Armed Forces. In most cases, however, these words should be capitalized only when they are used as part of a name or in place of a name. For example, if you were to refer to General Smith, you would capitalize “general,” but if you are referring to a group of four generals who report to a particular location, that would be lowercase. german shepherd

Do Military Dogs Have Ranks?

In understanding general military rank etiquette, you also might question whether or not military dogs have ranks. Every military dog is a noncommissioned officer, and working dogs typically rank one level higher than their handlers. One of the primary purposes of this was to prevent the mistreatment or abuse of dogs in the military. The highest-ranking military dog was Marine Sergeant Major Jiggs. He never saw active combat but was in the Armed Forces from 1922 to 1927.

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Understanding Saluting Protocol in the Military

Who salutes who in the military? What hand do you salute with in the military? Military protocol and etiquette have very specific rules about how this works, both for military etiquette and civilian saluting etiquette. Saluting is almost always done with the right hand unless the individual has lost their right limb or lost use of their right hand or limb. It can be difficult to figure this out if you are not familiar with the protocol. The courtesy of the salute is expected for all military personnel, whether on base or in public places, in civilian clothes or in uniform. Military service members indicate respect for people by standing when they enter a conversation or a room. When not saluting or at attention, officers are always given the position of honor at a table.

When To Salute

There are a number of different times when military personnel salute, including;
  • When they see the national colors outdoors uncased.
  • On ceremonial occasions.
  • Whenever the U.S. National Anthem, “Hail to the Chief,” “To the Color,” or any foreign national anthem is played.
  • When officers are in official vehicles.
  • When greeting officers of friendly foreign nations.
  • When rendering reports.
  • When turning over control of formations.
  • When relieving an officer.
  • During the sounding of honors.
  • When the Pledge of Allegiance is recited.
  • At retreat ceremonies or revelry during the raising or lowering of the U.S. flag.
Military service members generally do not need to salute indoors except when reporting to a superior officer. Salutes are unnecessary if any of the people are currently in civilian clothes and they do not recognize the other person as a superior officer. Civilians should feel free to salute troops. Some military personnel may interpret this differently, but in general, it is acceptable to salute military members so long as it is intended with respect. You can avoid a lot of possible faux pas and help support a friend or loved one in the armed forces by always treating them with respect and respecting any military traditions they follow. If you ever want more information about military ranks and what it’s like from the inside, ask an active-duty service member or a Veteran about their perspective. You might learn a lot more about rank structure and how they perceive various ranks, roles, and customs! Now you know the answer to not only “Should you capitalize military ranks?” but also a whole host of other military rank and military etiquette questions. If you know someone who is just about to enter into military life, share this guide with them as a handy tool to get them started on the finer intricacies of military protocol.



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