November 23rd, 2006, 10:44 PM
Does anybody know why the US stripes/markings point upwards, i.e. for sergeant:
as opposed to the UK/Commonwealth pointing downwards, i.e.
Cheers in advance.
November 23rd, 2006, 11:00 PM
cos they have to be bloody differnt thats why
November 24th, 2006, 09:04 AM
Yes, they are trying to do everything diffrent just to stick it to us all.
November 24th, 2006, 11:05 AM
This article from US DOD explains they used to have them the right way up- but then changed for some reason!
Insignia: The Way You Tell Who's Who in the Military
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON -- One big problem throughout military history has
been identifying who's in charge.
From the earliest days of warfare to the present, special rank
badges meant survival. In the heat of battle, knowing who to
listen to was as important as the fighting skills soldiers and
sailors developed. They had to know at a glance whose shouted
orders to obey.
In the earliest times, rank was not an issue. "Do what Grog
says" was enough so long as everyone knew Grog. As armies and
navies started growing, however, that kind of intimacy wasn't
possible. The badge of rank, therefore, became important.
Today's Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard rank
insignia are the result of thousands of years of tradition.
Through the ages, the badge of ranks have included such symbols
as feathers, sashes, stripes and showy uniforms. Even carrying
different weapons has signified rank. The badges of rank have
been worn on hats, shoulders and around the waist and chest.
The American military adapted most of its rank insignia from the
British. Before the Revolutionary War, Americans drilled with
militia outfits based on the British tradition. Sailors followed
the example of the most successful navy of the time -- the Royal
So, the Continental Army had privates, sergeants, lieutenants,
captains, colonels, generals, and several now-obsolete ranks
like coronet, subaltern and ensign. One thing the Army didn't
have was enough money to buy uniforms.
To solve this, Gen. George Washington wrote, "As the Continental
Army has unfortunately no uniforms, and consequently many
inconveniences must arise from not being able to distinguish the
commissioned officers from the privates, it is desired that some
badge of distinction be immediately provided; for instance that
the field officers may have red or pink colored cockades in
their hats, the captains yellow or buff, and the subalterns
Even during the war, rank insignia evolved. In 1780, regulations
prescribed two stars for major generals and one star for
brigadiers worn on shoulder boards, or epaulettes.
The use of most English ranks carried on even after the United
States won the war. The Army and Marine Corps used comparable
ranks, especially after 1840. The Navy took a different route.
The rank structure and insignia continued to evolve. Second
lieutenants replaced the Army's coronets, ensigns and
subalterns, but they had no distinctive insignia until Congress
gave them "butterbars" in 1917. Colonels received the eagle in
1832. From 1836, majors and lieutenant colonels were denoted by
oak leave; captains by double silver bars -- "railroad tracks";
and first lieutenants, single silver bars.
In the Navy, captain was the highest rank until Congress created
flag officers in 1857 -- before then, designating someone an
admiral in the republic had been deemed too royal for the United
States. Until 1857, the Navy had three grades of captain roughly
equivalent to the Army's brigadier general, colonel and
lieutenant colonel. Adding to the confusion, all Navy ship
commanders are called "captain" regardless of rank.
With the onset of the Civil War, the highest grade captains
became commodores and rear admirals and wore one-star and two-
star epaulettes, respectively. The lowest became commanders with
oak leaves while captains in the middle remained equal to Army
colonels and wore eagles.
At the same time, the Navy adopted a sleeve-stripe system that
became so complex that when David Glasgow Farragut became the
service's first full admiral in 1866, the stripes on his sleeves
extended from cuff to elbow. The smaller sleeve stripes used
today were introduced in 1869.
Chevrons are V-shaped stripes whose use in the military go back
to at least the 12th century. It was a badge of honor and used
in heraldry. The British and French used chevrons -- from the
French word for "roof" -- to signify length of service.
Chevrons officially denoted rank in the U.S. military for the
first time in 1817, when cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at
West Point, N.Y., wore them on their sleeves. From West Point,
chevrons spread to the Army and Marine Corps. The difference
then was chevrons were worn points down until 1902, when Army
and Marine Corps enlisted personnel switched to the present
points up configuration.
Navy and Coast Guard petty officers trace their insignia
heritage to the British. Petty officers were assistants to the
officers aboard ship. The title wasn't a permanent rank and the
men served at the captain's pleasure. Petty officers lost their
rank when the crew was paid off at the end of a voyage.
In 1841, Navy petty officers received their first rank insignia
-- an eagle perched on an anchor. Ratings -- job skills -- were
incorporated into the insignia in 1866. In 1885, the Navy
designated three classes of petty officers -- first, second and
third. They added chevrons to designate the new ranks. The rank
of chief petty officer was established in 1894.
During World War II, the Army adopted technician grades.
Technicians of a given grade earned the same pay and wore the
same insignia as equivalent noncommissioned officers except for
a small "T" centered under the chevrons. Technicians, despite
the stripes, had no command authority over troops. This evolved
into the specialist ranks, pay grades E-4 to E-7. The last
vestige today survives plainly as "specialist," pay grade E-4.
When there were such people as specialists 7, they wore the
current eagle symbol surmounted by three curved gold bars --
often called "bird umbrellas."
When the Air Force became a separate service in 1947, it kept
the Army officer insignia and names, but adopted different
enlisted ranks and insignia.
Warrant officers went through several iterations before the
services arrived at today's configuration. The Navy had warrant
officers from the start -- they were specialists who saw to the
care and running of the ship. The Army and Marines did not have
warrants until the 20th century. Rank insignia for warrants last
changed with the addition of chief warrant officer 5. The Air
Force stopped appointing warrant officers in the 1950s and has
none on active duty today.
Other interesting rank tidbits include:
o Ensigns started with the Army but ended with the Navy. The
rank of Army ensign was long gone by the time the rank of Navy
ensign was established in 1862. Ensigns received gold bars in
1922, some five years after equivalent Army second lieutenants
o "Lieutenant" comes from the French "lieu" meaning "place" and
"tenant" meaning "holding." Literally, lieutenants are place
o While majors outrank lieutenants, lieutenant generals outrank
major generals. This comes from British tradition: Generals were
appointed for campaigns and often called "captain generals."
Their assistants were, naturally, "lieutenant generals." At the
same time, the chief administrative officer was the "sergeant
major general." Somewhere along the way, "sergeant" was dropped.
o Gold is worth more than silver, but silver outranks gold. This
is because the Army decreed in 1832 that infantry colonels would
wear gold eagles on an epaulette of silver and all other
colonels would wear silver eagles on gold. When majors and
lieutenant colonels received the leaves, this tradition could
not continue. So silver leaves represented lieutenant colonels
and gold, majors. The case of lieutenants is different: First
lieutenants had been wearing silver bars for 80 years before
second lieutenants had any bars at all.
o Colonel is pronounced "kernal" because the British adopted the
French spelling "colonel" but Spanish pronuniciation "coronel"
and then corrupted the pronunciation.
o While rank insignia are important, sometimes it isn't smart to
wear them. When the rifled musket made its appearance in the
Civil War, sharpshooters looked for officers. Officers soon
learned to take off their rank insignia as they approached the
o The Air Force actually took a vote on their enlisted stripes.
In 1948, then-Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg
polled NCOs at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington and 55
percent of them chose the basic design still used today.