WHAT IS A UNITED STATES AIR
FORCE FLAG RANK?
All military services have flag ranks. Simply stated, a USAF Flag Rank is any officer in the United States Air Force that has a flag designated for that position. The flags designated are also known as positional colors. All officers designated a flag are also known as flag officers. Only senior Air Force officers are designated a positional color. Therefore, a flag officer is synonymous to the position of general. Some of the flags assigned to senior officers in the USAF are as follows:
Figure 1: Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) is a four-star general or admiral. This position is not necessarily always a United States Air Force General. All military services occupy this position depending upon who is nominated by the President of the United States and approved by the Senate. Generals and admirals in the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines have been assigned to this position since the inception of the position in 1949. The first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was General Omar N. Bradley of the United States Army sworn in on 16 August 1949. Though the position of Chairman did not exist until 1949, the JCS began during World War II as a high level organization that would shape and coordinate global military strategy and operations.
United States Air Force generals that have occupied the position of Chairman of the JCS up to 1995 are: General Nathan F. Twinning, USAF 15 August 1957 to 30 September 1960; General George S. Brown, USAF 1 July 1974 to 20 June 1978; and General David C. Jones, USAF 21 June 1978 to 18 June 1982.
Figure 2: Vice-Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) is a four-star general or admiral. The information on the position of Vice-Chairman is the same as that for Chairman. The Vice-Chairman is appointed by the President of the United States with the approval of the Senate. However, the Vice-Chairman and the Chairman of the JCS do not have to be from the same branch of service.
Figure 3: United States Air Force
Chief of Staff
The US Air Force Chief of Staff is a four-star general. The Chief of Staff is the senior USAF uniformed officer over the entire service and is also a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). As the Chief of Staff, this person is responsible for the administration, training and equipping of the entire combined active duty, Air National Guard, Air Reserves and civilian force associated with the Air Force in the United States and around the globe. As a member of the JCS, the Chief of Staff, along with other service chiefs, functions as principal military advisors to the Department of Defense (DOD), National Security Council and President of the United States.
The United States Air Force Chief of Staff to 1995 are: General Carl A. Spaatz, USAF 26 September 1947 to 29 April 1948; General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, USAF 30 April 1948 to 29 June 1953; General Nathan F. Twinning, USAF 30 June 1953 to 30 June 1957; General Thomas D. White, USAF 1 July 1957 to 30 June 1961; General Curtis E. Lemay, USAF 30 June 1961 to 31 January 1965; General John P. McConnel, USAF 1 February 1965 to 31 January 1969; General John D. Ryan, USAF 1 August 1969 to 31 July 1973; General George S. Brown, USAF 1 August 1973 to 30 June 1974; General David C. Jones, USAF 1 July 1974 to 20 June 1978; General Lew Allen, Jr., USAF 1 July 1978 to 30 June 1982; General Charles A. Gabriel, USAF 1 July 1982 to 30 June 1986; General Larry D. Welch, USAF 1 July 1986 to 30 June 1990; General Michael J. Dugan, USAF 1 July 1990 to 17 September 1990; General John M. Loh, USAF (Acting) 18 September 1990 to 29 October 1990; General Merrill A. McPeak, USAF 30 October 1990 to 25 October 1994; and General Ronald R. Fogleman, USAF 26 October 1994 to 1 September 1997.
Figure 4: United States Air Force
Vice-Chief of Staff
The US Air Force Vice-Chief of Staff is a four-star general. The Vice-Chief of Staff assists the Chief of Staff and is also a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The Secretary of the Air Force, Undersecretary of the Air Force and Assistant Secretaries of the Air Force also have flags assigned to their positions. However, these are not uniformed military personnel but rather appointed civilians over the USAF.
Figure 5: General of the Air Force
You probably will not see this flag officially in use since, at present, there are no United States Air Force five-star generals. In matter of fact, there are no five-star generals existing in any military branches of the United States. The only US Air Force five-star general came out of World War II.
A fifth star can only be awarded to an individual during an officially declared war. There have been no officially declared wars since World War II. The fifth star, as an official position, was created and used for the first time during World War II. The need for a fifth star arose out of the practical necessity of having a higher-level general. Due to the fact that the Allied Forces had a higher rank, Field Marshall, within their military services, it was necessary to create a five-star general. The only five-star generals/admirals in United States military history are: General George C. Marshall, USA; General Douglas MacArthur, USA; General Dwight D. Eisenhower, USA; General Omar N. Bradley, USA; Admiral William D. Leahy, USN; Admiral Ernest J. King, USN; Admiral Chester Nimitz, USN; Admiral William F. Halsey, USN; and General Henry Hap Arnold, USAF who was the only US Air Force general to hold the position. General of the Army Omar N. Bradley, USA was the last retired officer holding the position and he died in 1981. There are no longer any five-star generals.
However, there were two generals in United States Military History that outranked five-stars, at least by official military title and position. The two men are General John J. Blackjack Pershing, USA and General George Washington. Both men held the official military position of General of the Armies of the United States.
Figure 6: General
General is the most senior rank used by the United States Air Force and is also known as four-star general or full general. A general commands a major area of responsibility. They will be found in charge of the major commands of the US Air Force such as Air Combat Command, Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, Air Training Command, Air Materiel Command, Military Airlift Command, Air Force Systems Command, Air Force Space Command, Continental Air Command, Air Defense Command and Air Logistics Command amongst others.
Figure 7: Lieutenant General
Figure 8: Major General
Figure 9: Brigadier General
Generals are issued appropriate rank flags and an American flag or National Colors. These flags become the property of the general until the general retires or is promoted to a higher rank in which another flag is issued. In the past, early days of the US Air Force, some general officers had rank flags with organizational symbols. A command flag with its organizational symbol belongs to the unit and is passed on at the change of command ceremony.
Figure 10: Major General Clements McMullen in front
Of his rank flag and National Colors
Note the organizational symbol in between the general stars on the rank flag. This photo was taken around 1953. General McMullen was the commanding general in charge of the San Antonio Air Materiel Area (SAAMA), Kelly Air Force Base, Texas. SAAMA was under the direct command of the US Air Force Air Materiel Command.
1 September 2006
Bro. John Schlund, SM