Navy Traditions and Customs

Why is the Colonel Called "Kernal"?
The Origin of the Ranks and Rank Insignia Now Used by the United States Armed Forces


The armed forces does not have a handy booklet explaining the origin and history of the ranks and insignia of the military. The recently established Project Warrior and the Air Force Logistics Command's Heritage Program have sparked interest in this area of military history.

Raymond Oliver, in answering a request from a colonel as to why her title was pronounced "kernal" and where her eagle insignia originated, began this booklet to trace development of general categories of ranks. Mr. Oliver produced the original booklet independently, but when requested to have it printed as a special study, eagerly cooperated. A few minor editorial changes and corrections have been made to the original draft, first published in 1982. The booklet, in the interest of space, is not footnoted but a list of sources follows the narrative.
The military, it is hoped, will have a deeper appreciation for his or her insignia and wear it proudly. Civilians unfamiliar with the rank structure of the military will find this booklet helpful in answering questions of what can be confusing to the neophyte.

Chief, Office of History