A well-organized insurgency group is attacking an outpost. The peacekeepers that are garrisoning the outpost are outnumbered and about to be overrun. The only person that can reinforce them in time is an admiral not too far away from the outpost. He was in the middle of training officers with a unit of marines when the SOS came through. So the admiral radios HQ and states that he will be taking a temporary commander's role (An acting rank) to lead his unit in reinforcing the peacekeepers. The admiral is a hardened veteran in warfare and his marine unit is also high in combat experience. There are no other officers capable enough to lead his unit, and no one else will come in time. But being an admiral leading ground troops I would think that would rub the army the wrong way, other than being court marshaled can he do it

Question: Would HQ allow him to change roles like this even if it’s only temporary.

Would like to know if I can do this in my book under real world law. If you answer with a real life example, please add the date when this happened and the county that allowed it.


closed as primarily opinion-based by bendl, Vincent, Aify, Marshall Tigerus, JBH Jul 12 '18 at 20:16

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The question seems nonsensical or confusing in several respects. Examples: Peacekeepers during an active insurgency. Lack of air support. A flag officer (of any service) commanding a small combat unit. Confused chain of command in a combat (er, 'peacekeeping') zone. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jul 12 '18 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ @user535733 the peacekeepers have suffered many casualties already and there commanding officers are dead or cut off from the main group. the fighting is at an outpost next to a city, so air support would not be the best option. $\endgroup$ – Creed Arcon Jul 12 '18 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ Please fix your grammar & spelling, as it is, half the sentences come out... mangled, leading to the confusion. $\endgroup$ – Trish Jul 12 '18 at 16:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is this question about worldbuilding? Different real world armies would handle this issue differently. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 12 '18 at 16:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I tried desparately to answer this question, but alas, it truly is too story-based. Your admiral was training officers with a marine unit. Where were their commanding officers? What apocalyptic conditions exist that could possibly justify an Admiral leading a platoon of younger, stronger jar heads into combat? The only answer I can come up with is, "this can work, but it's 100% story dependent. No rule of your world would ever permit it. Your story must create the circumstance to justify it.") And that makes it off-topic, too story-based. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jul 12 '18 at 20:16

Some historical examples:

In the 19th century every state and territory in the United States could have two different armies. The state or territorial militia of part time soldiers, the ancestor of the modern National Guard, and in emergencies state or territorial volunteer units. During the Civil War the federal government had two different armies, the United States Army, the regular army, and the United States Volunteers, which were state and territorial volunteer units mustered into federal service.

George Cadwallader (1816-1879) was a Philadelphia aristocrat who rose to the rank of brigadier general and then major general in the Pennsylvania militia. During the Mexican War he was appointed a brigadier general in the Regular Army but resigned when the war was over. In the Civil War he was appointed major general of Pennsylvania volunteers in 1861 and major general of United States Volunteers in 1862. Thus George Cadwallader became a general in four different types of armies in the United States.

And those were all what are called substantive ranks. In the 19th century there were also brevet ranks which were more or less honorary, to oversimplify. A number of Civil War era generals were commissioned 8 times; as both brigadier general and major general, in both substantive and brevet ranks, and in both the United States Volunteers and the United States Army.

Obviously a major combat unit like a field army might contain units of the United States Volunteers, the United States Army, and militia units. Therefore the rule was that among officers of the same rank, regular officers had seniority over volunteer officers who had seniority over militia officers.

The Civil War involved considerable combat on inland waters and thus considerable cooperation between army and navy officers. An ancestor of mine was an infantry enlisted man who served for a time on a gunboat in the James River. And no doubt there were rules for the command rights of army and navy officers.

John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859 was fought by a company of Virginia militia. On October 17 President Buchanan sent a company of Marines under 1st Lt. Israel Greene to Harper's ferry. Buchanan sent Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee of the 2nd US cavalry to command the operation to defeat and capture Brown's men.

So that is an example of a regular army officer commanding Marines and state militia in a military operation.

At the First Battle of Bull Run July 21, 1861, a Marine Corps Battalion of 4 companies under Major John G. Reynolds was part of the First Brigade under Colonel Andrew Porter which was part of the Second Division under Colonel David Hunter which was part of the army under Brigadier General Irwin McDowell. So Marine Corps officers and men were fighting alongside and under army officers and men.

In 1899-1900 French expeditions were sent to the Lake Chad area to fight the warlord Rabah Zubeir. The Foureau-Lamy Mission was sent south from Algeria, the infamous Violet-Chanoine Mission was sent east from Senegal, and the Bretonnet Mission, followed by the Gentil Mission, north from the Congo. Rabah wiped out Bretonnet's force in the Battle of Togbao 17 July 1899. The Violet-Chanoine Mission, now the Joalland-Meyneir mission, united with the Foureau-Lamy Mission in 1900. They linked up with the Gentile Mission on 21 April 1900 and Major Lamy took command of the joint forces. At the Battle of Kousseri 22 April 1900 they defeated and killed Rabah and recovered the three cannons captured from Brettonet. Lamy was killed at Kousseri and Emile Gentil became the commander of the French forces.

Both Lieutenant Henri Bretonnet and Captain Emile Gentil were naval officers, commanding and fighting alongside army officers. Abd ar-Rahman Gaourang II (c. 1858-1918), the Sultan or Mbang of Bagirmi, fought as a French ally at Togbao, where he was wounded before escaping, and at Kousseri. Thus the war against Rabah involved an allied leader as well as French officers from different services.

During British wars of the 19th century, mostly colonial wars, naval brigades of sailors and marines were often sent ashore to fight alongside army units. Wikipedia lists 16 wars in which that happened.


And of course, when both sailors and soldiers were in a force, either an army officer or a naval/marine officer would be in command of the entire force, and thus command officers and men of another service.

In the Second Seminole War of 1835-1842, there was naval and Marine participation.

Late in 1836, Major General Thomas Jesup, US Quartermaster, was placed in command of the war. Jesup brought a new approach to the war. He concentrated on wearing the Seminoles down rather than sending out large groups who were more easily ambushed. He needed a large military presence in the state to control it, and he eventually brought a force of more than 9,000 men into the state under his command. About half of the force were volunteers and militia. It also included a brigade of marines, and Navy and Revenue-Marine personnel patrolling the coast and inland rivers and streams.[68]

The Navy sent its sailors and marines up rivers and streams, and into the Everglades. In late 1839 Navy Lt. John T. McLaughlin was given command of a joint Army-Navy amphibious force to operate in Florida. McLaughlin established his base at Tea Table Key in the upper Florida Keys. Traveling from December 1840 to the middle of January 1841, McLaughlin's force crossed the Everglades from east to west in dugout canoes, the first group of whites to complete a crossing.[78][79] The Seminoles kept out of their way.


At the Battle of Seattle, 26 January 1856, Marines from USS Decatur landed to assist the townspeople, and the ship shelled the hostile positions. And as far as I know none of the settlers complained about the naval assistance on the grounds that only the US army was supposed to fight Indians.

As for your admiral commanding a small force coming to the aid of an endangered outpost, admirals usually command fleets. Fleets that can bombard shore positions with cannons and missiles.

Perhaps your admiral is a former navy aviator instructing naval aviators and leads a squadron of naval planes to assist the outpost. Or maybe the admiral is a former special forces operative and is training a unit of special forces and is the most experienced officer available to lead them.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ clap clap a well done answer. "The admiral is a former Special Forces operative and is training a unit of Special Forces and is the most experienced officer available to lead them". That is what happened in my book; the admiral had that background and was training them because he was one of them. The county the admiral is fighting for just came out of a civil war with a lot of the military command were ether killed or were traitors, Hence the peacekeepers. The reason for not adding that to my question was to make it short, seems to have backfired $\endgroup$ – Creed Arcon Jul 13 '18 at 2:21
  • $\begingroup$ The primary issue is the chain of command and the level of command: an Admiral would be training Captains and Commodores, and if SoF, training them in the strategic use of Special Forces. Coming to the aid of an outpost with a team of staff officers and senior commanders is probably not the most effective use of resources. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jul 14 '18 at 6:45

Source: I have not served in the military, but I work around many who do. This is based on aggregating what I have heard from them.

The chain of command is incredibly important in the military. And, in basically all cases I know of, the chain of command is within a branch. A navy person takes orders from a navy person. An army person takes orders from an army person. That's how it works. Espirit de corps.

(Edit: from my discussion with user535733, the rules are more nuanced than I thought. A member of the armed forces is expected to follow the lawful orders of any member of the armed forces, regardless of rank, if they are duty bound to do so. The chain of command is important because orders issued by superior officers generally may be assumed legal unless you have knowledge otherwise. However, as it turns out, that is not the only path lawful orders may travel. Chain of command is still incredibly important, but the full story is just more nuanced than that.)

There have been talks of situations where an individual from another branch may need to "issue orders" to someone in another branch. For example, an army individual may want to be able to "order" fire from a navy gun. Typically this is done by having a navy person in charge of the gun, and they have specific orders from their CO to treat this army person as though they were a CO in specific circumstances.

That being said, if there's one rule I know of in war it's that there are no rules. If army command thinks a battle is lost unless they bring a navy admiral in, they will bring in the admiral to get the job done. The key to making this legal would be that the army CO issues a legal order to the unit ordering that unit to treat the admiral as one would treat a commanding officer.

However, there are a few things you should be careful with:

  • The way you go about fighting in the different branches is very different. Just because you have a battle hardened admiral does not mean he has a clue how to organize a ground team. Make sure his backstory includes something out of the ordinary which explains why he's a good match for that role.
  • An admiral would not be training a small unit. That is simply not how the military works. Admirals do not train small units. That's what delegation is for. A rear admiral, the lowest ranking one, would be in charge of several ships and merely hundreds of men. Maybe just maybe he might be able to sneak away and train a small group. Practically speaking, if he's training a small group, he's training a small group of officers. A higher admiral simply has too many bigger things to think about. They are responsible for thousands of sailors and hundreds of billions of dollars with of hardware.
    • If you are being swayed by movies or TV shows where a high ranking officer issues commands to individual enlisted men, erase that image from your memory. Every person I have talked to who has served in a military says that not only is this not done, but it is not-done with such ferocity that watching shows make mistakes like that actually make them feel ill to their stomach. Yes, an admiral who only has access to a team of 5 privates and corporals will issue them direct orders. According to those with first hand experience, an admiral would never ever ever put themselves in that position by choice, such as in a training exercise. It would only happen when the excrement has hit the rotating oscillating air mover, and everyone is already defecating building materials.
  • This kind of situation would be tremendously unusual. As such, I would expect the soldiers in the unit to treat this as a one-off. The army may issue orders to them to follow this Admiral, and they will technically obey, to the letter of the law. How well they obey beyond this legally binding minimum will be dependent on how well the Admiral can convince the soldiers that he is, indeed, the best chance they have of surviving this encounter. That's a personal thing, not a army structure thing. The best way to do that would be to convince the sergeants that his command is a good idea, and let the sergeants do their job to manage the enlisted personnel. Typically this would be done by convincing/ordering the officers, such as Lieutenants, and having them take care of the sergeants (assuming there are any Lieutenants. There should be, but this is clearly a "everything went wrong" scenario)

An interesting related case you may be interested in is the concept of a "5 star general." We do not have 5 star generals in any modern military in peace time. However, there are interesting related ranks such as "General of the Army" and the more nuanced "General of the armies" which deal with the need to be able to ensure an officer can pull rank (or have the proper pairty in rank) to accomplish the goals set forth.

Also, you ask for times where this has happened. I highly doubt you will find a moment in history which aligns with your exact situation which made it to the history books. Things would be so bad by that point that everyone is probably about to die, and there wont be anyone to tell the historians what happened. However, there is one story from the British Navy which is similar. Alas I cannot find my reference again, so I have to quote it from memory, but it's a fascinating story.

On sailing ships, "warrant officers" were used for many tasks. A commissioned officer had to be a gentleman, and gentlemen rarely knew how to keep a ship running. But they needed a class who could issue orders like an officer, so they created the class of "warrant officers." Now this particular warrant officer was on the ship of an admiral, in charge of the entire fleet. This made this ship the "flag ship." A round of cannon fire managed to kill off every single commissioned officer on the ship, including the admiral. By the rules of the day, the highest ranking officer on the flag ship was expected to command the fleet. This poor warrant officer was now the highest ranking officer, so he began issuing orders to the other ships. Needless to say, this goes poorly. A warrant officer does not have much experience in strategy.

I cannot remember if they beat off the attackers with heavy losses, or if they were beaten and permitted to live, but either way, they went back to England in pieces. When they got to England they sought to court marshal the warrant officer and hang him for issuing orders to captains when he was a mere low ranking warrant officer. The fleet had plenty of great strategic minds who could have done far better than the warrant officer had. They court marshalled him, but in the end the verdict was that the warrant officer had done exactly what his duty stated he had to, and he should not be punished, even though he caused great damage and death.

I asked around about this scenario. Not a single person had issues with members of one branch taking orders from members in another. However, they all bristled at the idea of an admiral doing this kind of work. For some of them, it was so unrealistic that this could occur that my words didn't even make sense to them. I might as well have been quoting Jabberwocky (T'was brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, / And the mome raths outgrabe.). So I would be very very very concerned about that part.

Once they were done retching, and I was able to ply them for more useful information, I did come across something that will be useful to you. One of them recounted an experience as an army corporal where he issued orders to a navy sergeant responsible for some 6 inch guns. The process was smooth. He asked his command for advice. They told him to contact the correct individual in the navy, an admiral. That admiral had the authority to give command of the guns. The admiral heard the request, agreed that it was a good idea, and issued orders down the chain of command to support this corporal. The orders eventually stopped at a Sargent. He, as an army corporal, would issue orders to a navy Sargent, who then tasked the gun crew. So that is a real life example of issuing orders not only to other branches, but issuing orders to a higher ranking individual.

This was, of course, in the presence of a proper chain of command. The other tidbit he gave me was that in situations where communication to the chain of command was broken, the soldiers would be given explicit orders as to what to do (typically "keep doing what you were last doing"). If there was no chain of command for your ground troops to receive orders from, they would be expected to interpret whether or not they have a duty to listen to the admiral with respect to these final orders. If, for some reason, they were given exotic and unrealistic orders like "do not take orders from any individual outside of your chain of command," then they would be duty-bound to tell that admiral to pound sand. But the situations where such an order could be given were so unrealistic that the person I was talking to couldn't think of a single hypothetical situation where it would occur.

  1. Officers (and Sergeants) are expected to exercise initiative and to assume command when required. That's precisely why they have the rank in the first place.

  2. Military justice is a tool of the Commander to ensure good order and discipline and to protect folks from arbitrary or capricious Command punishments. That means the Commander can make often exceptions and exercise discretion if the circumstances warrant.

  3. Inter-service rivalry is greatly overestimated - nobody cares about which shade your uniform is when it really matters. We all bleed red.

If the Admiral assumed command, came to the rescue of the outpost, and decisively defeated the insurgent forces, then there would be no foolish talk of punishment or bad feelings or court-martial. The Admiral will be properly decorated.

If the Admiral failed to assume command when peers thought he should have, then he might be court-martialled for that unwise decision...or simply permitted to quietly retire.

If the Admiral assumed command and lost the battle (and survived), then the ensuing investigation would determine if he broke any laws worth crying about. He would likely NOT be punished for assuming command but might be punished for other decisions that contributed to the loss.

In no case would a Flag officer sit and wait for a higher HQ to make a (completely obvious) decision. That would be inexcusably bad judgment, and grounds for immediate relief from their current posting.

USA soldiers are trained to accept the Admiral as their superior officer and are required to do so by both their Oath of Enlistment and by Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

  • $\begingroup$ Would an army enlisted consider themselves compelled by oath to follow the Admiral's orders in such a situation, or would they simply follow because of the practical value of it, and have to sort out any legal questions after the fact? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 12 '18 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ Of course they would obey, and obey promptly. See #3. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jul 12 '18 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ My question is not whether they would obey, but whether they would be compelled to treat the admiral as a superior officer, whether they like it or not. I'm thinking of a case where the admiral issues an order the army soldiers feel is poor judgement, would they feel they are compelled to follow that order as-if it came from a general, simply because of the number of stars or number of stripes on his coat, or if they would handle such orders more organically. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 12 '18 at 15:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @FoxElemental It is the best way to learn about military structure (which, incidentally, is why I'm poking at the question I asked him here... I felt I understood how the military worked, but arrived at a slightly different answer. I want to learn whether I am splitting hairs on a non-issue, or if I have an incorrect understanding of how the military works) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 12 '18 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon edited the answer to address your question. Take a look at both links. Any Airman who failed to obey an Admiral would be punished under Art 92. There's a separate issue of rank vs. positional authority to issue a lawful order...but you settled that in the original question. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jul 12 '18 at 15:58

From personal experience in the Cadets, military ranks between the branches have equivalents. A Flight Sargent is the same rank as a Staff Sargent for example. Where this changes was whose jurisdiction the situation was. Whilst the two Sargents are of equal rank, the Flight Sargent would have authority in all matters associated with the Air Force, whilst the Staff Sargent would have authority with the Army.

Using this as an example, your Admiral doesn't even need to ask for permission, he will just be treated like an Army General if there isn't one around.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ have you heard this ever happening in a combat scenario $\endgroup$ – Creed Arcon Jul 12 '18 at 15:05

Quite a lot of your depends on the laws and traditions of the specific nation.

  • The USMC was historically subordinate to the USN. That means a Marine would be familiar with the idea that the senior Marine officer on a ship takes orders from the senior Naval officer. A Marine private would expect his orders to come from a Marine officer, however.
  • Other forces have or had naval infantry, who are sailors with ground combat training. Formally they are still in the Navy, not in a separate branch.
  • The United States has the concept of Joint Task Forces, where the commander from one service regularly commands troops from other service, that's what makes the task force joint.

  • That being said, I don't see the Admiral temporarily taking a different rank. He is using his existing rank to take charge.
    This is not much different from a bunch of Army troops from different units finding themselves in a tight spot, and asking "who is the senior officer and taking command?" That would happen e.g. if a mixed-up force is encircled by the enemy and somebody has to command the breakout.

  • Acting rank happens when a junior officer is temporarily given rank to do a certain job, without the administrative hassle and long-term effects of a permanent promotion. That means after the war is over, the acting Brigadier General becomes a Major again, and takes the job of a Major -- as a battalion executive officer, perhaps, even if he used to be a division chief of staff during the war. This would be formally ordered by his superiors.
  • On the other hand, a Sergeant might "inherit" the position of battalion commander if nobody more senior is available, but that would not make him an officer.

My father was in the Royal Australian Air Force. There are many instances of cooperation between the different Services. It is not unheard of for command to be transferred readily as the situation demands. New force organisations/commands are regularly established to promote inter-service tasks, and they do interact and indeed are expected to collaborate.

For instance, in a flight situation, the Captain or pilot of the aircraft is in command of the aircraft, and all on board, including for instance a Wing Commander or other high ranking officers even of a different service, obeys his/her instructions. This is for safety of the aircraft.

In your situation it would be negligent of any commanding officer to not act appropriately and intervene, especially if given allowance to do so by his/her 'HQ', and the rescued servicemen/women will not feel ill about such an intervention.

Chain of command is still paramount in the armed forces, except when expediency is necessary to accomplish a successful mission or if safety is at risk.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.