View Full Version : Army Officer Protocol

12-17-2012, 07:10 AM
Okay in my story, I'm currently working on having a contingent of the military show up in my post-apocalyptic fic, and I was wondering, is there a specific way a general would introduce him/herself? Because I know the military is big on formality and protocol and all that, but I can't seem to find anything despite scouring Wikipedia.

12-17-2012, 07:23 AM
A general in uniform generally (no pun intended) doesn't need to introduce him/herself. The rank insignia will be sufficient, but nearly all the time a general officer is accompanied by lower-ranking aides, colonels, major, captains, who take care of such niceties. And woe be unto any lower ranking serviceperson who doesn't render the appropriate courtesy that gets drilled into everyone as the first lesson of basic training.

Upon seeing the general officer personage, if you are lower on the rank scale you snap to attention, salute, and say something like "Good day, sir." The general returns the salute, and then proceeds to state whatever business needs stated.


12-17-2012, 07:50 AM
I should clarify: in my story, the character is introducing himself to a civilian.

12-17-2012, 09:49 AM
Is he in uniform? If not, what does his military position mean to this civilian? If it's an important matter, something as simple as "Hello, I'm General John Smith, U.S. Army." should suffice.


12-17-2012, 10:04 AM
I have a good family friend who's a general now :) I'll try to ask soon what he does, anyway. He may be exceptionally vain about it (he's very proud) ;) Dunno. I don't think I've ever met another.

12-17-2012, 08:47 PM
Is he in uniform? If not, what does his military position mean to this civilian? If it's an important matter, something as simple as "Hello, I'm General John Smith, U.S. Army." should suffice.


This. And a handshake, more than likely. Sometimes they even forgo the rank and just introduce themselves by their first name, since that's what most civilians use when addressing each other. When it comes to formality's and protocols and such, military people don't expect it from civilians, only from other military members.

12-17-2012, 09:11 PM
There's a big difference between an O7 and O10. Location and context also make a huge difference. An O7 might be in charge of an entire base or unit in one context and be a god in that realm, or might be just another bum in another (as in the Pentagon).
In the civilian world, a general is still just a citizen, and if he's not acting in an official capacity, will introduce himself just like any other person.
If he's acting in an official capacity, then it depends on the situation (and again, if we are talking O7 or O10). Is he there to help or conquer? How does the civilian world play into the mission? Just like not all generals are created equal, not all civilians will be treated the same. A governor or someone with significant influence over the population will be treated differently than a ditch digger.

12-18-2012, 12:09 AM
There's a big difference between an O7 and O10.

This is correct, but for most people unfamiliar with Army rank structure, the O-level pay-grade designations don't have much meaning. Translated into prose labels, the U.S. Army general officer ranks, in rising order, are:

O-7 - Brigadier General (1 star)
O-8 - Major General (2 stars)
O-9 - Lieutenant General (3 stars)
O-10 - General (4 stars)

But as a less formal matter, common usage in address is just to refer to any of these ranks as "General Smith".

Currently there are no 5-star rank officers, which have the designation of General of the Army. The last of these ranks were worn in WWII, and included such people as Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and Omar Bradley.

In WWI, John Pershing wore 6 stars, and was designated General of the Armies. To my knowledge he's the only person in U.S. history to have been accorded that rank.


Michael Davis
12-19-2012, 05:49 PM
I worked in support of the military many years before I retired. I've met with, briefed, and attended meetings, seminars, etc, and never remember any GO introduce himself, except for one that eventually ran for political office and lost (thank God, cause he was a jerk). In your scenario (collapse of society) my take would be, if he's a pompous ass, in or out of uniform, he'd refer to himself with his full rank (e.g. Major General vs just General) to a civilian, whether in or out of uniform. If he were an honorable man (like all I knew except for one) out of uniform they never referred to themselves as General in a none formal setting (like a party). As for use of first name, never had a GO refer to himself when in uniform with his first name, Out of uniform I have, especially after retirement.

12-19-2012, 06:17 PM
I don't think I've ever seen a general in person, but I've met a few colonels at official events. I know that they're colonels because the rank was used when we were introduced. A couple of times the introductions were done by a liaison officer (a captain, I think). One the senior officer introduced himself, and it was "Hi, I'm Colonel Kennedy, thanks for coming out.".

12-20-2012, 05:04 AM
I haven't been able to find out how my general does it. He does not put BG on his Facebook page, though :) He does on his online genealogy page, and of course in military publications.

I've seen him meet a ton of people before in a completely civilian capacity and he never gave any rank then, so I'd expect he still doesn't.

Linda Adams
12-21-2012, 03:51 PM
First, it would be very likely the general would be expected. They don't just show up as a surprise -- everything is usually coordinated long in advance. Even if the people he is meeting with don't know what he looks like, they would find out -- you can go online to the military sites and find official biographies with pictures.

Then, since the general is visiting, one of your civilian would be waiting to show the general and his executive officer and aides where to go. The civilian waiting would simply say something like, "It's right in here," and open the door.

The civilian meeting the general would introduce himself/herself first, and other people in the room. The general would not need to introduce himself. There would be hand-shaking, some small talk, and then they sit down and get to business.

BTW, proper address form of a general is "Yes, General," rather than "Yes, sir."

For any lower enlisted troops the general might meet, the general would greet them, probably ask a question (i.e., "Where are you from?"), and then move onto the next soldier. He would not comment on troop deportment. We had a general visit my army unit many years ago, and one of the soldiers had his hands stuck in his pockets and another was chewing gum. The general didn't say anything (at least not to the soldier), but the squad leader most definitely did afterwards. We all heard that one.

12-21-2012, 06:45 PM
It so much depends upon the circumstances and the individual. Even with the individual, it changes from circumstance to circumstance.

My daughter served as a legalman in the Navy, where she had significant contact with higher ranking officers. When this happened, she was a Petty Officer 2nd class (E-5). She was stationed in Djubuti.

While getting her lunch at the one and only galley on the base, she noticed an admiral and his aide, a useless Lt. Jg., show up, and was not announced. (Courteous thing for the admiral to do -- if he was announced everybody would have to stand and stop their lunch.) The admiral got into the shortest line, just like any other sailor.

My daughter, realizing the admiral was new to the base, went over to him and said, "Excuse me, Sir, but do you realize you're in the desert line?"

The admiral looked up at the serving table, said, "Crap," glared at the useless Lieutenant. My daughter said, "It's the line over there, but you should go to the front of the line."

The admiral responded, "No, thanks, I can wait like everybody else."

Later that day, when the admiral arrived at the command building, he was piped on board, attention on deck was ordered, and full military honors were rendered.

The individual and the circumstances and what impression is being created matters. There is no one answer.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Carlsen Highway
12-23-2012, 10:11 AM
The things to get right is not how the general relates with the civilians, but get the nuances right of how he relates to the other military men with him.
In general, people will not speak unless spoken to, everyone will stand when he enters the room etc.
In my Navy unit we had the Admiral visiting and with all formalities and including a mess dinner. Afterwards a female civilian photographer was to take a picture of the Admiral with other officers. She got the other officers set up and then when she wanted the Admiral in the picture she turned and beckoned him over by crooking her forefinger.
I overheard him say to someone quietly: "even when they make you an Admiral people can still crook their fingers at you."

12-23-2012, 12:23 PM
BTW, proper address form of a general is "Yes, General," rather than "Yes, sir."

Not if you're military, not in the U.S. Army I served in. You never addressed a higher-ranking officer by rank. That was a violation of military courtesy. You used "sir", period.


Linda Adams
12-23-2012, 04:13 PM
Not if you're military, not in the U.S. Army I served in. You never addressed a higher-ranking officer by rank. That was a violation of military courtesy. You used "sir", period.


It might be a difference in how civilians address generals versus military. Protocol can be strange. I've seen things that make utterly no sense, but are what they are -- and sometimes they're even done because of the personal preferences of the individual (at least that's my best guess at some of the weirdness). This is easy to research though -- there are books on Protocol and proper address in conversation for the civilian world.

12-23-2012, 09:13 PM
The situation has a major bearing on it. One thing, you never call out that an officer is in the Chow Hall/Galley. This is one area of base that is considered neutral territory, where rank is, to a degree, irrelevant.
While the Admiral had the right to enter line, he earned major respect from the sailors by waiting his turn.
When meeting civilians, senior officers typically don't use their ranks, unless it's a politician, and they're trying to curry favor.
Addressing them by their rank 'yes, general' or 'yes admiral' can actually fluctuate from officer to officer. I've dealt with those that were fine with 'yes sir,' and those that LOVED hearing their rank.
HOWEVER, the OP indicates this is an apocalyptic scenario.
Now, the rules change. If it's martial law, he will most certainly use his rank, because that rank will make it quite clear to any civilian he meets that 'I'm from the government, and you'll do as I say' clout.
Nor will there be any salutes. Salutes are dropped on a battlefield/hostile environment, because it can point out the officers, thus making them targets.
For anyone to actually answer the question correctly, it would depend on the situation as a whole.