Rank and Seniority


As a protocol practitioner I always keep in mind the career status of the guests of the ceremonies that I have to plan and execute.

When there are guests who are Ambassadors, we have to respect the diplomatic rules that are applied to these high dignitaries; the same applies to guests who are university professors and we have to follow the academic protocol to order them.

Following the same rationale, when guests are military, we have to apply the general armed forces’ rules to order them. General military are ordered by rank and within the same rank by seniority. However, sometimes we face situations that are somehow ambiguous; nevertheless there is always one who is the senior military. Therefore, my purpose is to share with our readers some situations that should be clarified before we order military guests.

Rank and Seniority

The designations of the ranks in the services are different. Normally the Navy is different from the Army and the Air Force. Furthermore, there are countries where Army ranks are different from Air Force ranks. So the first thing to do is to order the military from different services by rank. The most common mistake for those who are not familiar with military ranks is to confuse an Army Captain with a Navy Captain. A Navy Captain is in fact the equivalent to an Army Colonel.

Then, we need to order the military by seniority, verifying the date of promotion to the current rank. If we have two or more military with the same seniority, we have to check the date of promotion from the previous rank, and we continue to do this until we have a difference in dates. In the end, if there is no difference in any of the dates of promotion, we order them by the grade of his or her initial training to join the armed forces. If even so, we have a tie, the oldest is considered to have seniority.

In order to have a broader knowledge of the several insignias and ranks of the armed forces around the world, please visit this Wikipedia link: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_comparative_military_ranks).

Although the basic rule is to order military by rank and respective seniority, there are some exceptions, depending on of course, the rules of each country.

For example, in the Portuguese armed forces, it was established that the Deputy Chiefs of Staff of the Navy, Army and Air Force, automatically have seniority over all three-star Generals within their respective branches, therefore taking precedence.

In Portugal there are some civilian positions within the Public Administration which can be fulfilled by military. In this situation the military takes on the precedence of the position. For example, a General Director of the Portuguese MoD is given precedence over a three-star General/Vice Admiral. So if a Major General or a Rear Admiral is assigned to a position of General Director of the Portuguese MoD he is entitled to precedence over three-star Generals or Vice Admirals.

*About the author

José Lucena is a Portuguese Navy Officer, with the rank of Commander. His present post is Protocol Adviser to the Chief of General Staff of Portuguese Armed Forces. Since 2010 his tasks have been related to protocol, diplomacy (Defence Attachés) and Military Ceremonies.