How to Address Active-Duty Military?

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   1. Formula For
       How to Address     
   2. Use of Rank by
       Retired Military    

   3. Q&A on
       How to Address
       Retired Military   
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How to Address / Forms of Address
United States Armed Services

Questions & Answers, Frequently Asked Questions, and Blog

Site updated by Robert Hickey on 14 May 2020

How to Abbreviate Ranks: Periods? No Periods?       
How to Address an Officer with an Honorary Rank?

How to Address an Officer Selected for Promotion?       
May I Use an Officer's Signature Block as His Address on a Letter?     

How to List an Officer on an Invitation?               

How to Address an Officer with an Academic Degree?     
How to Address an Officer Couple, both with a Academic Degrees?             
How to Address an Officer with an MD in a Salutation?   
How to Address an Officer with an MD on an Invitation?     
How to Write the Name of an Officer with an MD on a Program?             

How to Address Enlisted Personnel?          
How to Address Officers When You Are Not on Active Duty Yourself?          
How to Address a Medal of Honor Recipient?            

How to Address a Reservist?     

How to a address any (specific rank), look here     

How to write the names of military personnel on invitations,
or how to address invitations to military personnel, look here 

How to Address Retired Military Personnel?
Questions about how to address retired officers and enlisted personnel are among the most frequent questions I get. Check out either of the two pages for additional information:

Link to Q&A just on how to address retired military personnel     

Link to Q&A just on use of rank by retired military & veterans    

Link to Q&A just on Joint Forms of Address
       (Specifically military personnel and their spouses)     

Looking for Joint Forms of Address? (Two Names in the Address)
Link to Q&A just on Joint Forms of Address

May I Use An Officer's Signature Block as a
Form of Address for that Officer on a Letter?

       I am working on reply letters for my boss to send to different individuals including several active Army personnel.  One of them is the current commanding officer at a nearby military installation.  His signature block on official letterhead is:
              (Rank), US Army

       At the top of the letter, it states, reply to attention of Office of the Commander.  So would the return letter be addressed as the following or some other format:
              (Name) (Rank), US Army
              Office of the Commander
              Department of the Army
       And for the salutation:
              Dear (Rank) (Last Name):
-- DH in Nevada

Dear DH:
1) No ... don't use their e-mail letter block to address a letter.
       Use the form of address for the particular rank I have on my guide to offices.   
       Find the rank ... and follow the format.
       In my book I cover invitations, place cards, name badges, introductions. what to call them in conversation, etc, if this sort of thing comes up often. But on this site I just provide the basics for business envelope, business letter's address block and salutation.
2) If you are in Nevada, and this Office on the Commander is nearby, I doubt he is the commander of the entire Department of the Army.

       He must be a commander of something much smaller .... like a base or installation .... so it's going to be something like:
              (Rank) (Full Name), USA
             Office of the Commander
              (Name of base, installation, etc.)

3) Your salutation looks fine.
              -- Robert Hickey

How To Address Current Officers
If You Are Not on Active Duty Yourself?

       I am a retired enlisted Marine and but in my current position I still interact with military officers. Is it proper to address an active-duty officer as Sir or Ma'am as if I was still enlisted?
        -- LeRoy Costello

       I am a civilian working for the Department of Defense. Am I required to address the officers as Sir or Ma'am like the enlisted personnel do?  I don't call anyone Sir or Ma'am in my normal life.
        -- Linda Bridgeman

Dear Mr. Costello and Ms. Bridgeman:
        It's appropriate to address active-duty personnel by Rank+Name ... first ... then switch over to Sir/ma'am.
        It's the tradition in the military culture and addressing another person with respect is not a sign subservience.
        In the civilian world, Sir and Ma'am often seem excessively formal: when a young person addresses me as Sir ... I know he or she thinks I'm old! 
       So if using
Sir/ma'am seems too deferential, why not address them as Rank+Name the first time and not use anything after the initial greeting?  Then you won't be saying Sir/Ma'am all the time
        All this assumes they are addressing you as Mr. Costello or Ms. Bridgeman. Within the privacy of the office everyone might be on a first-name basis, of course.
        -- Robert Hickey

How to Address an Officer Selected for Promotion?
     We are in the middle of addressing envelopes for our wedding invitations and your website has been very helpful and has answered many of our questions. I do have one question that remains unanswered. How do I address an envelope to a Naval officer that has recently been promoted to Captain but is not yet wearing the rank of Captain?  In the past I've seen (sel) after the rank but I'm not sure if this is necessary for a social invitation.
      This is my guess:
            Captain (sel) John Doe and Mrs. Doe
      Thank you for your time.
-- Patrick in Charleston, South Carolina

Dear Patrick in Charleston:
    Congratulations on your upcoming wedding.
    You may have seen someone acknowledging an officer's pending promotion with  ... Rank (sel). 
or some variation.  There is a process in the armed services that one is selected for a promotion, but the actual promotion will be at a future date.
    Being selected for promotion is an exciting accomplishment, but 
Rank (sel) is definitely not a official form of a service member's official name as suggested by Department of Defense guidelines, or a form you would see on official correspondence -- business or social.  Those selected for promotion, but the promotion has not yet occurred, are understandably excited about their promotion.  But neither The Pentagon nor a commanding officer would include (sel) as part of the name on official communications.
    If an officer has not been promoted yet, it is correct to address the invitation to the officer's current rank
not his future rank.  
    As a backup to what's in the style manuals, I checked with some active-duty officers, and they said they've seen it informally .... but all three said "but I wouldn't do it myself."   

       -- Robert Hickey

How to Write A Naval Chaplain's Name in a Program?
     Barry C. Black, Rear Admiral (RET), Chaplain of U.S. Senate will be the speaker at a local event.  How do I properly write the names of other local active and retired naval officials on invitations to attend the event?

           -- ICW

Dear ICW:
    I have a chapter in my book just on forms of address for the US Armed Services. There are two forms of address in Department of Defense Style Manuals suggested for writing the name of armed service personnel ... a social form ... and an official form.
    Chaplains are formally addressed by their rank: So it is most formally (Rank)(Name) not Chaplain (Name)
    There are two types of rear admirals ... rear admiral, upper half and rear admiral, lower half. When you abbreviate the rank using service-specific abbreviations, the abbreviations are different. Since you don't mention if he is upper or lower, you can avoid the issue by just spelling out the rank. If you find out his an
upper or lower, let me know and I will get you the right abbreviation.
    I am going to assume you will use official forms. Assuming you are mailing invitations in envelopes, then ...
    Active Duty -- official form:
     (Rank) (Full name), (Abbreviation for branch of service)
   Rear Admiral James Wilson, USN
    Retired -- official form:
     (Rank) (Full name), (Abbreviation for branch of service), Retired
   Rear Admiral Barry Black, USN, Retired
       (Rank) (Full name), (Abbreviation for branch of service), Ret.
       Rear Admiral Barry Black, USN, Ret.
            -- Robert Hickey

Do I Use Periods with Abbreviated Military Ranks?
      We are a non-profit that has a lot of retired military officers on our board, as well as donors to our organization.
      Should I use  a period (.) in my abbreviations for the ranks or not? I’ve seen it done both ways, and I just want to make sure I have it correct. Thank you so much.
              -- CAM, Director of Development,  McLean VA

Dear CAM:
    The service-specific abbreviations used by the armed services for ranks and ratings are always written without periods and are upper and lower case specific:
        USAF Captain       Capt
        USN  Captain        CAPT
        USA Captain         CPT

    FYI, your question is answered in my book on pages 91-98. I include all those abbreviations.

              -- Robert Hickey

      Thanks for your response! My predecessor didn’t know anything about the military so, in many instances, she left off rank, branch of service, etc., or used a mish-mash of one or the other. I’ve been spending a good chunk of my time in the past few months just cleaning up the database.
              -- CAM, Director of Development,  McLean VA

How to Use an Academic Degree with a Rank?
    I am wondering the proper way to format a military rank and academic degree on a resume.  In question is a gentleman, "John Smith," who is a currently a Captain in the USMC who holds a masters degree in HR business administration... and MBA.
           -- GB in Career Counseling

Dear GB:
    No sort of post-nominal abbreviation ... professional, academic, religious .. is ever used with a rank.
    He is Captain John Smith, USMC.
    Note in a his bio (or resume) that he holds a Masters in Business Administration from (Name of) University in a section on education.
               -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Military Couple
with Academic Degrees?

     How would I properly address a husband and wife who are both officers with PhDs?
           Col John and Col Jane Doe, PhD, USAF
     And what would be a proper salutation for them?
           Dear Colonels Doe,
                   -- Confused Near The Base

Dear CNTB:
    Lots of points to make here!
    1) When a person has a special title ... in these instances Colonel ... he/she gets his/her (Rank) + (Full name) as a complete unit, not mixed up with another person's name . So, combining them as Col John and Col Mary is not correct.
    2) Ranks are never used with academic post-nominal abbreviations. Never.
    3) Col in those CAPS & lower case, and no punctuation IS the correct USAF abbreviation style. But it's O.K. for civilians to spell it out fully – Colonel – or to use Col. with the period.
    4) Department of Defense guidelines say branch of service – in this case USAF – is only used with the name on official correspondence, not social correspondence.  So if you are writing them officially regarding their military duties, include USAF. If this is a social letter, leave it off.
) So most formally for a social letter they would be:
        Col John Doe
    and Col Jane Doe

    6) The salutation could be: Dear Colonels Doe,
    Lots of points to cover!
             -- Robert Hickey

How to Address Military Personnel
With Academic Degrees On an Invitation?

    My fiance has a friend who is a medical doctor who is also on active duty with a rank of Captain in the Air Force, where he practices medicine.  How should we address the wedding invitation? 
          -- Carol B.

Dear Carol B.:
    All active-duty armed service personnel are addressed as:
            (Rank) + (Name)
    For a written address, there are different forms for "official" and "social" correspondence: I cover that in detail in my chapter on Forms of Address for US Armed Services in my book.  Here's the answer:

    On social correspondence post-nominal abbreviations are not used ... thus there no USAF and MSC with his name.
    A wedding invitation's mailing envelope uses the social form:

            Captain William Blake
    If you are using inside envelopes, the form is to use you would call him, and most formally that would be:
              Captain Blake
    He might identify himself as Dr. as he enters an exam room where the patient sits in a backless paper gown ... But in the military, the etiquette is to address all personnel by rank ... one's rank is the most important information: how one serves is important, but is of secondary importance.

          -- Robert Hickey

How to List Military Personnel
With Academic Degrees In a Program?

recently attended a funeral for a retired Rear Admiral who was also a Navy doctor. Was it proper to refer to him in on the cover of the program as:

RADM (name), M.D.

      Was that correct?
              -- Vic M. in Pew #44
Dear Vic M.:
Correct by U.S. Department of Defense guidelines would have been:
   RADM (full name), Medical Corps, USN
     1) Abbreviating "Rear Admiral" to the military abbreviation RADM is standard at military events.
     2) In the official form of address, branch of service follows the name, in this case -- Medical Corps, USN.
     3) There's a rule no academic degree is used with a military rank -- so M.D.
-- or any other academic post-nominal abbreviation never follows a name preceded by a rank. ... so never use Captain (full name), MBA,  General (full name), JD or Major General (full name), PhD.
     4) Finally, in the armed services everyone is addressed and identified by rank. How they serve is important (in this case as a doctor) but by their rank is how their name is written.
           -- Robert Hickey

How to Address an Officer with an Honorary Rank?
    It is not unusual for the various state national guards to give honorary promotions to worthy officers upon retirement. These promotions are not federally recognized and do not entitle the recipient to increased pay in retirement. How should one address an
officer who received an honorary promotion upon retirement?
    -- BG Charles K. Hendershott

Dear General Hendershott:
    If the promotion is honorary, not federally recognized, and does not entitle one to benefits ... it must be something granted informally and internally.  Protocol officers I spoke to (two at the Pentagon and two at bases) suggest use of such a honorary rank be limited to verbal use within the granting organization.
      -- Robert Hickey

How to Address Enlisted Personnel?
    I am engaged to a member of the Marine Corps and have invitations that I'm trying to address to active duty enlisted personnel. I have a couple of guests for whom I am unsure how to address their outer envelopes. I know that enlisted Navy personnel have ranks (such as PO2) instead of an actual rank, but do not know how you use this on the invitation.
        -- Katie (and Todd)

Dear Katie (and Todd),
    I cover each of the branches of service in my book's chapter on U.S. Armed Services. Both officers and enlisted personnel are addressed the same way on social correspondence: {Rank/Rating} + {Full Name}.
    The most formal way to address an envelope is to do so without abbreviations, spelling out every word.:
           Petty Officer Second Class (Full Name)
    A formal joint form of address would be to give the service member his/her own line on a line by itself and to put their guest on the next line:
           Petty Officer Second Class (Full Name)
                and Mrs. (Surname)
    Or if the guest is a woman, and their guest is a man:
           Petty Officer Second Class (Full Name)
              and Mr. (Full Name)

    One more thing: You will see the 'service specific' abbreviations used (especially within the Armed Services) but technically they are less formal.:
           PO2 (Full Name)
Using the abbreviations can be useful when a name gets very long and space becomes an issue.
    What about their branch of service?
    USA/USMC/USN/USCG (the post-nominal abbreviation for the branch of service) are not included after a name on social correspondence. BUT when a letter is to the active-duty personnel is related to their service the formula is
{Rank/Rating} + {Full Name}, + {Abbreviation for branch of service}.
            -- Robert Hickey

How to Address a Medal of Honor Recipient?
    How do you address a Medal of Honor recipient in writing?
     -- Cindy

Dear Cindy,
    Those who have been awarded the Medal of Honor don't receive a special form of address.
    That they are a recipient of the Medal of Honor would be mentioned after their name, e.g., in an introduction, as would any special honor or decoration.

    They do receive other courtesies, but nothing in the way their name is written. 
                     -- Robert Hickey

Not Finding Your Question Answered?
(1) At left is a list offices/officials covered and (2) below are other topics covered in my blog. Between the two I probably have what you are looking for.
     But after checking both lists if you don't see your question answered send me an e-mail. I am pretty fast at sending a reply: usually the next day (unless I am traveling.)
      If I think your question is of interest to others, I will post the question & answer – but I always change the names and specifics.
      -- Robert Hickey

Mr., Miss, Jr., III, & Names        
Married Women       
Deceased Persons         
People with Two Titles
Post-Nominal Abbreviations and Initials         
Sequence Post-Nominal Abbreviations: Sr., Jr., etc.    
Couples: Private Citizens / Joint Forms of Address 
Couples: U.S. Military / Joint Forms of Address     
Couples: U.S. Officials / Joint Forms of Address      

Former Officials            
Professionals and Academics        

United States Federal Officials, Currently In Office             
United States State Officials, Currently In Office              
United States Municipal Officials, Currently In Office             
       All About The Honorable with U.S. Officials         
       Former United States Officials of all types             
United States Armed Services
       Addressing Active Duty Personnel              
       Addressing Retired Personnel      
       Use of Rank by Retired Personnel      
       Use of Rank by Veterans      

Tribal Officials 
Clergy and Religious Officials           
Canadian Officials         
Australian Officials          
British Officials, Royalty, and Nobility        
Diplomats and International Representatives
Foreign National Officials and Nobility        

Author's Name on His/Her Book       
Business Cards, Names on
Introductions, Names in
Invitations: Names on
Invitations: Names of Armed Service Personnel on        
Name Badges & Tags            
Names on Programs, Signs, & Lists            
Naming a Building or Road            
Place Cards            

Plaques, Awards, Diplomas, Certificates, Names on    
Precedence: Ordering Officials 
Tombstones, Names on      

Site updated by Robert Hickey on 14 May 2020


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Robert Hickey is the author of Honor & Respect:
The Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address
Published by The Protocol School of Washington®
Foreword by Pamela Eyring

Available in   Hardcover   /  Kindle   /  Apple Book

Copyright © 2020 Robert Hickey.     All Rights Reserved.
Book Photo: Marc Goodman.