So, on 1 Sep 2010 the Army made a Major boo boo and promoted me to, well, Major! Ive been reflecting on that, trying to determine what, if anything, it means.
Militarily, it takes me from being a Company Grade officer to a Field Grade officer. So, I looked up some history on the differences. The below is from Wiki.
The basic unit of the medieval army was the company, a band of soldiers assigned (or raised) by a vassal lord on behalf of his lord (in later times the King himself). The vassal lord in command of the company was a commissioned officer with the rank of captain. Captain was derived from the Late Latin word capitaneus (meaning head man or chief).
The commissioned officer assisting the captain with command of the company was the lieutenant. Lieutenant was derived from the French language; the lieu meaning “place” as in a position; and tenant meaning “holding” as in “holding a position”; thus a “lieutenant” is somebody who holds a position in the absence of his superior. When he was not assisting the captain, the lieutenant commanded a unit called a platoon, particularly a more specialized platoon. The word is derived from the 17th-century French peloton, meaning a small ball or small detachment of men, which came from pelote, a ball.
The commissioned officer carrying the (infantry) company’s flag was the ensign. The word ensign was in fact derived from the Latin word insignia. In cavalry companies the equivalent rank was cornet. In English usage, these ranks were merged into the single rank of Second Lieutenant in the 19th Century.
Origins of higher ranks
As armies grew larger, composed of multiple companies, one captain was granted general (overall) authority over the field armies by the King. (National armies were the armies of the kings. Field armies were armies raised by the King to enter the battle field in preparation for major battles.) In French history, “lieutenant du roi” was a title borne by the officer sent with military powers to represent the king in certain provinces. A lieutenant du roi was sometimes known as a lieutenant general to distinguish him from lieutenants subordinate to mere captains. The sergeant acting as staff officer to the captain general was known as the sergeant-major general. This was eventually shortened to major general, while captain general was shortened to simply general. This is the reason why a major outranks a lieutenant, but a lieutenant general outranks a major general.
As armies grew bigger, heraldry and unit identification remained primarily a matter of the regiment. Brigades headed by brigadier generals were the units invented as a tactical unit, by the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus the second (“Gustav II Adolf”, dead at battle of Lutzen 1632). It was introduced to overcome the normal army structure, consisting of regiments. The so-called “brigada” was a mixed unit, comprising infantry, cavalry and normally artillery too, designated for a special task. The size of such “brigada” was a reinforced company up to two regiments. The “brigada” was a 17th century form of the modern “task force”. In some armies “Brigadier General” has been shortened to “Brigadier”.
Around the end of the 16th century, companies were grouped into regiments. The officers commissioned to lead these regiments were in fact called colonels (column officers). They were first appointed in Spain by King Ferdinand II of Aragon where they were also known as coronellos (crown officers) since they were appointed by the Crown. Thus the English pronunciation of the word colonel.
The first colonels were captains granted command of their regiments by commission of the King. The lieutenants of the colonel were the lieutenant colonels. In the 17th century, the sergeant of the colonel was the sergeant major. These were field officers, third in command of their regiments (after their colonels and lieutenant colonels), with a role similar to the older, army-level sergeants major (although obviously on a smaller scale). The older position became known as sergeant major general to distinguish it. Over time, the sergeant was dropped from both titles since both ranks were used for commissioned officers. This gave rise to the modern ranks of major and major general.
The full title of sergeant major fell out of use until the latter part of the 18th century, when it began to be applied to the senior non-commissioned officer of an infantry battalion or cavalry regiment.
Regiments were later split into battalions with a lieutenant colonel as a commanding officer and a major as an executive officer.
Officers are distinguished from other military members (or an Officer in Training) by holding a commission; they are trained or training as leaders and hold command positions.
Officers are further generally separated into four levels:
• General, Flag, or Air Officers
• Field or Senior Officers
• Company Grade or Junior Officers
• Subordinate Officer (Naval Cadet or Officer Cadet in the Canadian Forces)
Field or senior officers
Field officers, also called “field-grade officers” or “senior officers,” are officers who typically command units that can be expected to operate independently for short periods of time (i.e., infantry battalions, cavalry or artillery regiments, warships, air squadrons). Field officers also commonly fill staff positions of superior commands.
The term “field(-grade) officer” is primarily used by armies and marines; air forces, navies and coast guards generally prefer the term “senior officer.” The two terms are not necessarily synonymous.
Typical army and marine field officer ranks include Colonel (pronounced /ˈkɜrnəl/), Lieutenant Colonel, Major and, in the British army, Captains holding an adjutant’s appointment. In many Commonwealth countries the field rank of Brigadier is used, although it fills the position held by Brigadier General in other countries.
Naval and coast guard senior officer ranks include Captain and Commander. In some countries, the more senior rank of Commodore is also included. In others Lieutenant-Commanders, as equivalents to army and marine Majors, are considered senior officers.
Commonwealth air force senior officer ranks include Group Captain, Wing Commander, and Squadron Leader, where such ranks are still used.
So, this tells me I am now a “Senior Officer”, but what does that mean? I am held to a higher standard, expected to be a subject matter expert in some things. As the most junior senior officer in most places Ill be, I am back to being the coffee boy, just like a brand new butterbar. I found this on the history of the insignia at About.com (http://usmilitary.about.com/library/milinfo/armyorank/blltcmaj.htm)
1. All field grade officers were initially identified by the color of their hat cockades in a policy established by General Washington on July 23, 1775 when he stated: “…the field grade officers may have red or pink colored cockades in their hats,…”
2. In General Regulations of 1835, the leaf was first introduced to designate Lieutenant Colonels and Majors. It stated that it was embroidered on the shoulder straps of the frock coat, one at each end, each leaf extending 7/8 of an inch from the end of the border of the strap. The color for Lieutenant Colonels was to be the same color as the border. At this time infantry Lieutenant Colonels has a silver border and other Lieutenant Colonels had a gold border. For Majors, it was stipulated that the insignia would be the same design as the Lieutenant Colonel except the leaves would be silver where the border was gold and the insignia would be gold if the border was silver. This policy resulted in the use of both gold and silver leaves for both ranks.
3. In 1851, the border of all shoulder straps was changed to gold. As a result, the leaf for Lieutenant Colonel became silver and for Major it was gold for wear on the shoulder straps. No insignia was worn on the epaulettes and the grade of Major was distinguished from Second Lieutenants by the length of the fringe on the epaulettes. In 1872, the epaulettes were abolished and it was not until 1912 that the regulation defined the type of leaf used in the insignia. The regulation of 1912 for Lieutenant Colonel stated: “Oak leaf, point up, in the middle of loop, stem of leaf five-eighths inch from sleeve end of the loop.” For Majors, it stated that the oak leaf was to be worn in the same manner as the oak leaf for Lieutenant Colonels.
Again, informative, but hardly revelatory about my place in life. Perhaps the best I will be able to do tonight is this old, but often true, joke.
The young second lieutenant approached the crusty old first sergeant and asked him about the origin of the commissioned officer insignias.
“Well, LT, it’s history and tradition. First, we give you a gold bar representing that you’re valuable BUT malleable. The silver bar of a first lieutenant represents value, but less malleable. When you make captain, you’re twice as valuable so we give you two silver bars.
“As a colonel, you soar over military masses, hence the eagle. As a general, you’re obviously a star. That answer your question, LT?”
“Yeah, but what about major and lieutenant colonel?”
“Now, son, that goes waaaaaay back in history. Back to the Garden of Eden even. You see, we’ve always covered our pricks with leaves . . .”