Lieutenant colonel (United States)

Lieutenant colonel (United States)

:"Please see "Lieutenant Colonel" for other countries which use this rank"

In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and the United States Air Force, lieutenant colonel is a field grade officer rank, with the pay grade of O-5. Lieutenant colonel ranks above major and below colonel. Lieutenant colonel is equivalent to the rank of commander in the other uniformed services.


The rank of lieutenant colonel was first created during the Revolutionary War, 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.

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 of 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 Civil War ended, those officers remaining in the U.S. armed forces found lieutenant colonel to again be a terminal rank, although many lieutenant colonels were raised to higher positions in a brevet status. Such was the case with George A. Custer, who was a lieutenant colonel in the regular army, but held the brevet rank of major general.

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. Such was not the case during World War II, when lieutenant colonel became one of the most commonly held officer ranks in the U.S. Army.

Modern Usage

In the U.S. Army, a lieutenant colonel typically commands a battalion-sized unit (300 to 1,000 soldiers), with a Command Sergeant Major as principal NCO assistant. A lieutenant colonel may also serve as a brigade or task force Executive Officer. In the Air Force, a Lieutenant Colonel is generally a director of operations or a squadron commander in the operations group, a squadron commander in the 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.

In the 21st century U.S. military, the rank of lieutenant colonel is usually gained after 16–22 years of service as an officer. As most officers are eligible to retire after 20 years active service, it is the most common rank at which career officers retire.

Rank insignia

The insignia for a lieutenant colonel is a fanned cluster of silver oak leaves, although there are subtle design differences between the Army and Air Force version from the insignia used by the Marine Corps.


While written as "Lt. Colonel" in orders and signature blocks, as a courtesy, Lieutenant Colonels are addressed 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.

Irreverent slang terms for the rank in the U.S. military are "Luey Colonel", "Light Colonel," "Short Colonel,","Light Bird", "Half Colonel" and "Bottlecap Colonel," referring to the silver oak leaf insignia (compared to the eagle insignia of an 0-6).

Famous American Lieutenant Colonels

* Matt Urban (US Army)
* Joshua Chamberlain (US Army)
* Robert G. Cole (US Army)
* James H. Doolittle (US Army Air Forces)
* Rick Francona (US Air Force)
* Gus Grissom (US Air Force)
* Edison Riggleman Jr. (US Air Force)
* Oliver North (US Marines)
* Ronald Speirs (US Army)
* Earl Woods (US Army)
* Larry J. Chelsey (US Air Force)
* Ralph Peters (US Army)
* Robert L. Bacon (US Army)
* John C. Fremont (US Army)
* Hal Moore (US Army)
* Gus Kohntopp (Air National Guard)
* Gerald Lambert (US Army)
* Tony Garman (US Army)
* John Paul Vann (US Army)
* David J. Anason (US Air Force)

In Fiction

* Lt. Col. Henry Blake of the film and television series M*A*S*H, portrayed by Roger Bowen and McLean Stevenson, respectively.
* Samantha Carter was promoted to this rank in the eighth season of the television series "Stargate SG-1" (portrayed by Amanda Tapping).
* John Sheppard was promoted to this rank in the second season of the television series "" (portrayed by Joe Flanigan).
* Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell of the television series "Stargate SG-1", portrayed by Ben Browder.
* George Peppard famously played Lt. Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith on The A-Team. Although he was usually referred to as a Colonel, but his rank was clarified in many episodes as Lt. Colonel.
* Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore in the 1979 film "Apocalypse Now", portrayed by American actor Robert Duvall".
* Lt. Col. Robert Neville of the 2007 film "I Am Legend", portrayed by American actor Will Smith. The movie is based on the book of the same name, "I Am Legend", from 1954.
* Lt.Col. Sarah MacKenzie was promoted to this rank in the fifth season of the television series "JAG", portrayed by Catherine Bell.
* Al Pacino portrayed Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in the film Scent of a Woman in 1992.
*Sean Connery portrayed Lt. Col. Alan Caldwell in the film The Presidio in 1988
* Wells in Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men purports to have been a Lt. Col.
* Lt. Col. Joan Burton of the Lifetime television series "Army Wives", portrayed by Wendy Davis. The series is based on the book of the same name, "Army Wives" by Tanya Biank.

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