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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Please see Regular Army (disambiguation) for countries other than the United States that use this term

In contemporary use, the term Regular Army refers to the full-time active component of the United States Army, as opposed to the Army Reserve or the Army National Guard.


Civil War

Officers during the American Civil War were known either by the rank suffix "of Volunteers" or, if Regular Army, by the rank suffix "USA". Thus, a state regiment Colonel would be known as "Colonel of Volunteers" while a Regular Army Captain would be known as "Captain, USA". Regular Army officers of the Civil War could accept commissions in volunteer forces and could also be granted brevet ranks (higher ranks than the permanent commission). In some cases, officers held as many as four ranks: a permanent rank (called "full rank") in the Regular Army, a full rank in the Volunteers, and brevet ranks in both as a result of battlefield promotion, meritorious service or Congressional action. The officers typically would only refer to themselves by the highest rank they held. An example is union officer James Henry Carleton who was a "full" Captain, brevet Major, in the regular army, and a Colonel of volunteers, brevet Brigadier General.

After the Civil War ended in 1865, the term Regular Army was used to denote an officer's permanent rank only when a brevet commission had also been received. Such was the case with George Custer who was a brevet Major General of Volunteers and a brevet Regular Army Brigadier General while holding the permanent rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Regular Army. If no brevet rank was held, the officer was simply referred to by their permanent rank and the suffix "USA". Enlisted personnel could not hold brevet ranks and were all considered simply as United States Army personnel.

World War I

During World War I, with the founding of the National Army, the term Regular Army was used to describe a person's peacetime rank in contrast to the commissions offered to fight in the First World War. The Regular Army, as an actual U.S. Army component, was founded in 1920 when the large draft force of the National Army was demobilized and disbanded. The remaining Army force was formed into the peacetime Regular Army and was augmented by the Officer Reserve Corps (ORC) and Enlisted Reserve Corps (ERC), both predecessors to the United States Army Reserve.

Interwar years

During the 1920s and 30s, the Regular Army was badly under-funded and ranked 16th in the world. Promotions within the Regular Army were also very slow and it was not uncommon for officers to spend ten to fifteen years in the junior grades and enlisted personnel to never rise above the rank of Private. Dwight Eisenhower, for instance, spent sixteen years as a Major before being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1936.

World War II

During World War II, the Regular Army served as a corps of professionals who formed the leadership of the Army of the United States. Regular Army officers typically would hold two ranks, a permanent rank in the Regular Army and a temporary rank in the Army of the United States. Promotions within the Army of the United States were also very rapid and some officers were known to hold the permanent Regular Army rank of Captain while serving as a Colonel in the Army of the United States. Army of the United States rank could also be revoked (sometimes known as "loss of theater rank") meaning that an officer would revert to Regular Army rank and, in effect, be demoted.

Enlisted personnel did not hold dual ranks; rather they were soldiers either in the Regular Army or the Army of the United States. To be a Regular Army soldier was also seen as a point of honor because they had voluntarily enlisted rather than being drafted. Enlisted Regular Army personnel were known by the “RA” abbreviation before their service numbers in contrast to the “AUS” of the Army of the United States.

Post-war years

After the demobilization of the Army of the United States in 1946, the United States Army was divided into the Regular Army (RA) and the Army Reserve (USAR). During the Korean War, the Army of the United States was reinstated but had only enlisted draftees. Officers after this point held Regular Army rank only, but could hold an additional "temporary" rank in addition to their permanent rank. Temporary Regular Army ranks were not as easily revoked as the former AUS ranks.

Since the Vietnam War officers' permanent rank is their RA rank. Active duty officers can hold an RA commission and rank and may also hold a higher rank with a USAR commission. Reserve officers hold only a USAR commission, but may serve in either the reserve component or on active duty. That is, all non-permanent ranks (including theater rank, temporary rank, battlefield promotions, etc.) are handled through USAR commissions. Those officers without RA commissions do not have a permanent rank. Enlisted ranks are all permanent RA ranks.

After Vietnam, most Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and Officer Candidate School (OCS) graduates, and those receiving direct commissions were commissioned as RA, US Army Reserve (USAR), or into the Army National Guard (ARNG) of a specific state. USAR officers could be assessed into the basic USAR component, that is Officers who served one weekend a month and two weeks a year for training, or as an Other Than Regular Army (OTRA) officer. RA and OTRA officers were those who came on active duty and were expected to serve their full commission service obligation or until retirement. At promotion to Major, OTRA officers had the option of requesting integration into the RA or remaining OTRA. If not selected for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, OTRA Majors were required to retire at 20 years unless the Secretary of the Army authorized further service as part of the Voluntary Indefinite (VOLINDEF) program. In the late 1990s, as part of a series of officer management regulatory changes, upon promotion to Major all OTRA officers were required to integrate into the RA or exit service within 90 days. Recently, OTRA is rarely used with virtually all new officers being commissioned RA, USAR, or into the National Guard as appropriate.

After the abolition of the draft the Regular Army became the primary component of the United States Army, augmented by the Army Reserve and Army National Guard of the United States. In the early 1980s, the use of temporary Regular Army ranks was suspended.
Since passage of the US 2005 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) all active duty officers are commissioned in the regular army. Eligible commissioned officers serving on active duty were automatically converted to RA on/or after Veteran's Day, 11 November 2005.[1]


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