A flag officer is a commissioned officer who is senior enough to be entitled to fly a flag to represent where he exercises command. The term usually refers to the senior officers in a nation's navy, specifically those who hold the rank of commodore or any of the admiral ranks. However, it can apply to general officers in the US Army, US Air Force and US Marine Corps, as those officers are permitted to fly their own flags.
The generic title of flag officer is used in several modern navies and associated units to denote those who hold the rank of rear admiral (or its equivalent) and above, also called "flag ranks"; in some navies, this also includes the rank of commodore. Flag officer corresponds to the generic terms general officer (used by land and some air forces to describe all grades of generals) and air officer (used by other air forces to describe all grades of air marshals and air commodores). The term flag officer is only commonly used for naval officers.
A flag officer generally has an officer, called a flag lieutenant or a flag adjutant, attached to him as a personal adjutant (like an aide-de-camp) regardless of any staff under his command. In the Royal Navy, this officer is often known as "Flags". In the US Navy, this officer is often referred to as "loop" or "the loop," a reference to the braided cord worn by the aide on the left shoulder of the uniform.
In the Canadian Forces, a flag officer (French: Officier général, "general officer") is the naval equivalent of a General Officer of the army or air force, and is composed of the ranks of Admiral, Vice-Admiral, Rear-Admiral, and Commodore (though technically a Commodore only has a broad pennant and not a flag). A flag officer's rank is denoted by a wide strip of gold braid on the cuff of the service dress tunic; one to four gold maple leafs over crossed sword and baton, all beneath a royal crown, on slip-ons or epaulets; and two rows of gold oak leaves on the peak of the service cap.
In the Royal Navy, there is a distinction between "flag officer" and "officer of flag rank". All rear-admirals and above are officers of flag rank, but only those officers of flag rank who are authorised to fly a flag are called "flag officers", and have different flags for different ranks of admiral. Of the 39 officers of flag rank in the Royal Navy in 2006, very few were "flag officers" with entitlement to fly a flag. For example, Commander-in-Chief Fleet flies an admiral's flag whether ashore or afloat and is a "flag officer"; his chief of staff (support), a rear admiral, is not entitled to fly a flag and is only an "officer of flag rank".
Formerly however, all officers promoted to flag rank were considered to be "flag officers".
In 1857, Congress created the title of "flag officer" as an actual rank of the United States Navy. The rank of flag officer was bestowed on senior Navy captains who were assigned to lead a squadron of vessels in addition to command of their own ship. During the American Civil War, the Confederate States Navy also used the term. The 19th century rank of flag officer was considered strictly temporary and became obsolete upon the creation and widespread usage of the equivalent naval rank of Commodore; however, the term is still in use today to denote a category of naval officers equivalent to general officers. In 1862, Congress finally authorized the first American use of the title Admiral.
In the US, the term flag officer generally is applied to all general officers (rank O-7 and above) in the US Army, US Air Force, and US Marine Corps (as well as in the US Navy) as general officers are also authorized to fly their own command flags. However, as a matter of law, Title 10 of the United States Code makes a distinction between general officers and flag officers. Non-naval officers usually fly their flags from their headquarters, vessels, or vehicles, typically though only for the most senior officer present. In the United States, all flag and general officers must be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate; each subsequent promotion requires renomination and reapproval. In the US Navy, Rear Admirals (Lower Half), Rear Admirals (Upper Half), Vice Admirals, and Admirals are also known by the number of stars on their shoulder boards (one, two, three and four, respectively).
- ↑ See e.g.King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions Volume I 1913., §192
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 .Flag Officers of the US Navy
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 §101 of Title 10, US Code on law.cornell.edu
- ↑ Military and Associated Words. US Department of Defense, 2003. Answers.com 11 Jun. 2008.
- ↑ Army Regulation 840-10, Flags, Guidons, Streamers, Tabards, and Automobile and Aircraft Plates
- ↑ Department of the Army Institute of Heraldry website on General Officer Flags