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Lieutenant colonel (United States)

U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Marine Corps insignia of the rank of lieutenant colonel. Style and method of wear may vary between the services.
See "lieutenant colonel" for other countries which use this rank.

In the United States Army, United States Air Force, and United States Marine Corps, 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. 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 of 1980. 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.


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
    • Modern usage 2.1
  • Notable American lieutenant colonels 3
  • In popular culture 4
  • References 5


While written as "Lt. Colonel" in orders and signature blocks, as a courtesy, lieutenant colonels are addressed simply as "colonel" verbally and in the salutation of correspondence. The U.S. Army uses the three letter abbreviation "LTC." The U.S. Air Force and United States Marine Corps use the abbreviations "Lt Col" and "LtCol" (note the space) respectively.

The U.S. Government Printing Office recommends the abbreviation "LTC" for U.S. Army usage, "Lt. Col." for the Air Force, and "LtCol" for Marine Corps usage.[1] The Associated Press Stylebook recommends the abbreviation "Lt. Col." for the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps.[2]

Slang terms for the rank historically used by the U.S. military include "light colonel", "short colonel", "light bird", "half colonel", "bottlecap colonel" (referring to the silver oak leaf insignia), and "telephone colonel" (from self-reference as "colonel" when using a telephone).


Lieutenant colonel rank insignia of the Confederate Army, used during the American Civil War.

The rank of lieutenant colonel was first created during the Revolutionary War,[3] when the position was held by aides to Regiment Colonels, and was sometimes known as "lieutenant to the colonel." The rank of lieutenant colonel had existed in the British Army since at least the 16th century. From 1784 until 1791, there was only one lieutenant colonel in the US Army (Josiah Harmar), who acted as the army's commanding officer. Prior to 1802, all army regiments were commanded by a lieutenant colonel.

During the 19th century, lieutenant colonel was often a terminal rank for many officers, since the rank of "full colonel" was considered extremely prestigious reserved only for the most successful officers. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, the rank of lieutenant colonel became much more common and was used as a "stepping stone" for officers who commanded small regiments or battalions and were expected, by default, to be promoted to full colonel once the manpower of a regiment grew in strength. Such was the case of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who commanded a Maine regiment as both a lieutenant colonel and later as a colonel.

After the regular army, but held the brevet rank of major general.[4][5]

The 20th century saw lieutenant colonel in its present day status although, during the 1930s, many officers again found the rank to be terminal as the rank of colonel was reserved for only a select few officers.

Modern usage

Army Service Uniform infantry shoulder strap with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel

In the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps, a lieutenant colonel typically commands a battalion-sized unit (300 to 1,200 soldiers/Marines), with a major as second-in-command and a command sergeant major as principal NCO adviser. A lieutenant colonel may also serve as a brigade, regiment, or task force executive officer, or principal staff officer, S-1 (administration and personnel), S-2 (intelligence), S-3 (operations), S-4 (logistics), S-5 (civil/military affairs), or S-6 (computers and communications). Usage of "The S-n" may refer to either a specific staff section or the staff officer leading a section. Lieutenant colonels may also be junior staff at a variety of higher echelons.

In the United States Air Force, a lieutenant colonel is generally a squadron commander in the operations group, mission support and maintenance groups, or a squadron commander or division chief in a medical group. Lieutenant colonels may also serve on general staffs and may be the heads of some wing staff departments.

Notable American lieutenant colonels

In popular culture


  1. ^ "Preliminary-cloth.indd" (PDF). Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  2. ^ Posted by Jack (21 May 2009). "AP Style Book". Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  3. ^ "History of the lieutenant colonel rank". 9 April 2012. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  4. ^ "Lieutenant-Colonel And Brevet Major-General George A. Custer, U.S.A". Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  5. ^ "Brevet Rank In The Civil War". Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
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