As military spouses we are called upon to learn a great deal. We have to learn to decipher a veritable dictionary of acronyms. Things like PCS, TDY and LES fast become part of our regular vocabulary. We learn what to do when the bugles play “Reveille,” “Retreat” and “Taps” and to stand anytime we hear the National Anthem. We learn to carry our military IDs at all times and how to navigate the intricacy of Tricare regulations. Our new secret superpower becomes the ability to find a left boot or cover at o’dark-thirty in the morning.
All new military recruits learn not only the names of the ranks, but the name of every person in their chain of command all the way up to the Commander in Chief before they finish basic training. If they can do it while learning the dozens and dozens of other things involved with being a professional soldier, sailor, airman or Marine, then we can certainly find the time to learn too.
Why Military Spouses Should Learn Rank Structure
Learning the Rank Structure Demonstrates an Interest in Your Spouse’s Career
Just like learning that a GI Party isn’t something to look forward to or that some promotions require extra training, learning the rank structure of our spouse’s branch gives us a better idea of the environment our spouses work in. Just like in a large corporation or civilian company, understanding the chain of command means you get it when your spouse talks about reporting to the First Sergeant or training with the Master Chief.
Knowing the difference between junior enlisted, senior NCO and commanding officer, is important for understanding career progression and responsibilities.
Plus, becoming familiar with ranks and their respective insignia shows your spouse you care about their career and are invested for the long haul, however long that may be. Few members of military leadership expect or require military spouses to understand rank, but it can only reflect well on your service member if you use your newly learned skills to expertly navigate the next unit event.
It’s A Matter of Protocol
I think most seasoned military spouses would agree that because we don’t wear the uniform, and hence don’t wear the rank of our service member spouses, that we should treat all members of our community with an equal amount of respect.
However, there are instances when understanding rank and insignia is important. Say, for example, when attending a military formal event. Part of the event generally includes a receiving line. Recognizing rank insignia helps you call the right person “Ma’am” or “Sergeant Major,” even if you have never met them before. Imagine the awkwardness that might ensue should a spouse unwittingly call a Master Sergeant “sir” or a general officer “private.”
It Helps You Navigate the Military Community
Rank and responsibility don’t stop just because a service member takes off his or her uniform for the day. Understanding that rank often dictates social behavior during off-duty hours is also important. For example, while spouses aren’t limited by regulation on who they can socialize with, military service member interactions are often governed by regulation.
If a spouse doesn’t understand rank structure and fraternization rules, a continued refusal for dinner from a neighbor might be taken as a slight, when in actuality, the decline is a result of unit, installation or service policy.
Understanding rank structure also helps keep you from earning an earful or ticket because you parked in the rank-specific reserved parking spots at the commissary. Plus, knowing whether your spouse is enlisted or officer can also save you an afternoon of baking for the wrong spouses’ support group.