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Air Force Rank Structure
All About Air Force Rank and Insignia
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Commissioned Officers

Commissioned officers do not wear insignia consisting of stripes. In the Air Force, officers wear their rank insignia on their hats (enlisted personnel in the Air Force never wear rank insignia on hats). Additionally, while most enlisted wear their insignia on their sleeves, officers wear their rank insignia on the epaulets, or on the collar of the uniforms without epaulets. Beware, however, because the top three enlisted ranks may also wear their rank on the epaulets.

The subdued insignia, worn only on the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU), is made of cloth or metal for officers. The colors appear as follows: gold as brown and silver as dark blue.

Commissioned officers outrank all enlisted personnel. Even a brand-new second lieutenant "officially" outranks the highest-ranking enlisted member (the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force). Special note: However, because the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force works directly for the Air Force Chief of Staff, it would be a foolish lieutenant indeed who tried to impose authority over the CMSAF. The same practical guideline applies at lower levels of command, as well. For example, as the squadron first sergeant works directly for the squadron commander, it would be a foolish officer to try and impose authority over the first sergeant.

Enlisted personnel are required to salute all commissioned officers and commissioned officers are required to salue superior commissioned officers. Just like the enlisted corps, commissioned officers take rank and precedence over all airmen, NCOs and other commissioned officers according to rank. Within the same rank, the date of rank, Total Active Federal Military Service (TAFMS) date, total military service date, and date of birth determine the process. Responsibility and accountability increase commensurate with rank. Within each rank, responsibility for leading rests on the individual who is senior in rank.
Second Lieutenant (2nd Lt). Rank insignia is one gold bar. Pay grade is O-1. The "O" stands for officer. Terms of address are "Second Lieutenant" or "Lieutenant."
First Lieutenant (1st Lt). Rank insignia is one silver bar. Pay grade is O-2. Terms of address are "First Lieutenant" or "Lieutenant."
Captain (Capt). Rank insignia is two silver bars connected. Pay grade is O-3. Term of address is "Captain."
Major (Maj). Rank insignia is a gold oak leaf. Pay grade is O-4. Term of address is "Major."
Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col). Rank insignia is a silver oak leaf. Pay grade is O-5. Terms of address are "Lieutenant Colonel" or "Colonel."
Colonel (Col). Rank insignia is a silver eagle. Pay grade is O-6. Term of address is "Colonel."
Brigadier General (Brig Gen). Rank insignia is one silver star. Pay grade is O-7. Terms of address are "Brigadier General" or "General."
Major General (Maj Gen). Rank insignia is two silver stars in line. Pay grade is O-8. Terms of address are "Major General" or "General."
Lieutenant General (Lt Gen). Rank insignia is three silver stars in line. Pay grade is O-9. Terms of address are "Lieutenant General" or "General."
General (Gen). Rank insignia is four silver stars in line. The pay grade is O-10. Term of address is "General."

A little trick is taught in enlisted basic training to help remember the names of the four general officer ranks (Brigadier General, Major General, Lieutenant General, and General). Memorize the phrase, "Be My Little General."

Special Terms of Address

One is allowed to address doctors by either their military rank or "doctor." Address Chaplains by either their military rank or professional title (i.e. Chaplain, Father, Rabbi, Reverend, etc.).

 

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