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

In the United States Army, Air Force, and 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 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.


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 Mainemarker 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 the rank consists of a silver oak leaf, with slight stylized differences between the Army/Air Force version and the Navy/Marine Corps version.


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 and "Lt. Col." for Air Force and Marine Corps usage.

Famous American lieutenant colonels

In fiction


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