The Chain of Command Quiz: Who Ranks Supreme?



By: Deborah Beckwin

6 Min Quiz

Image: fstop123/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

You probably know the phrase "run it up the chain" – and that refers to sending an issue or concern to someone's immediate supervisor or manager. This concept comes from the military. The chain of command is in place to maintain order and to carry out duties effectively. Because of its importance, as a recruit, the chain of command is one of the first things that is taught and tested on. And, depending on the military branch, this can be fairly easy to very complicated to understand.

The chain of command is a two-way street. Military members have someone they have to answer to and receive orders from, and it's the same person who listens and responds to their questions or concerns. But that makes the chain of command a rather narrow street. Due to this stringent hierarchy, breaking the chain is highly unusual – when a superior would give direct orders to someone of a lower rank not directly under their command, or when a subordinate gives their concerns to a commander above their own. So are you ready to test your knowledge on the chain of command? We hope you have fun taking this quiz! Good luck!

What's the lowest rank within the military?

This is the lowest rank that you can get, being a recruit into the military. The chain of command differs with each military branch, but for the most part, everyone starts off as a recruit and enlists into the military.


Who is considered to be the deputy commander-in-chief of the U.S. military?

The Secretary of Defense is essentially second in command of the U.S. Armed Forces. The person in this rolle has control and command (known as C2) of the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Marine Corps – and, when C2 is transferred to the Department of Defense, the U.S. Coast Guard.


Which military officer holds the highest ranking in the armed forces?

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) is an appointed role by both the president and the secretary of defense. But this person has had a career within the military. The CJCS reports to the president and secretary of defense.


Which of the following roles would NOT be considered a part of the combat chain of command?

Chain of command is especially important in combat situations. But the military has various specialist positions including legal and medical. Although they all fall under the umbrella of whatever military branch they belong to, they have their own special commands and units.


A captain or major typically commands what kind of unit?

A captain or major will command a company, which has 80 to about 150 soldiers and is typically made up of three to six platoons. A company is typically found in the Army or the Marines.


There are helpful people to know who may not be in one's chain of command. For Coast Guard service members, which of the following roles fall into that category?

Besides someone's direct supervisor, the command master chief can help an enlisted service member with issues such as morale, job satisfaction and support for one's family. They can take that information to their superiors to help create policies that better serve seamen and petty officers.


Which military formation is commanded by a general?

There are are different types of generals, but typically, if you hear the term "general", then this person is leading a field army. A field army is made up of a few corps with sizes ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 soldiers. Field armies haven't been used in battle since World War II.


Under what military department does the Coast Guard fall during peacetime?

The Coast Guard is one of five armed forces, but is under the newer Department of Homeland Security as of 2003. During times of war, the Coast Guard will fall under the purview of the Department of Defense.


In the Navy, chain of command can be a lot more complicated than in the other branches. Who is the military head of the Navy?

The Chief of Naval Operations, a four-star admiral, is a part of the administrative command of the U.S. Navy. The civilian head of the Navy is the Secretary of the Navy.


In basic training, an Air Force recruit belongs to what kind of group during boot camp?

An airman's element is a group of fellow recruits. It's like the boot camp version of belonging to a section, where two or more airman are grouped together.


As an Air Force recruit during basic training, which of the following is NOT a possible leadership role?

The flight guidon is responsible for carrying for the basic training flight anytime the flight marches, which is a highly visible role. The dorm chief makes sure that fellow recruits are doing what they need to be doing when their flight instructor isn't there. Element leaders help the dorm chief with making sure recruits carry out orders.


What military leader usually commands a battalion?

A battalion has at least two batteries, troops or companies. There are typically 300 to 1,200 soldiers within a battalion.


In which military branch will you find a drill sergeant?

A drill sergeant is probably one of the most familiar and recognizable positions in the military. They're responsible for helping shape civilian recruits into battle-ready soldiers, and they do so with a lot of loud and memorable authority.


In the Air Force, next to being in a section, what is the smallest group that you can belong to?

In the U.S. Air Force, a flight can have up to 100 people. The flight commander is typically a captain and the flight non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) or flight chief is a sergeant.


Which of the following roles acts as the spokesman for enlisted sailors in the Navy?

After sailors and other Navy service members expressed their concerns that leadership had been out of touch with their needs, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MPCON) role was created in the 1960s. This senior enlisted advisor (SEA) advises both the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chief of Naval Personnel on enlisted member matters.


In the Navy, which of the following leadership positions is NOT a part of the command triad or "Big Three"?

The commanding officer (CO), executive officer (XO) and the command master chief (CMC) make up the Big Three or command triad of a Navy ship. They're basically the ship's leadership team. The CO and XO are a part of the naval chain of command, but the CMC is typically not.


What is the legal term for a military service member who breaks the chain of command?

If a service member breaks the chain of command, they could be charged with insubordination – and this is toward any superior officer. Acts of insubordination includes assault, disrespectful treatment or disobedience.


Which of the following roles is considered to be a senior enlisted advisor?

Being a senior enlisted advisor (SEA) involves advising a commanding officer. They provide a crucial link between commissioned officers and enlisted service members. Others include Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard.


The Commandant of the Marines is the highest ranked officer of the U.S. Marine Corps. Who does the Commandant directly report to?

The Marine Corps does not have its own separate secretary. So for the chain of command, the Commandant reports to the Secretary of the Navy because the Marine Corps is under the Navy's umbrella.


In which military branch will you find a drill instructor?

Marine recruits will get to know their drill instructor (DI) pretty well, as their boot camp is 13 weeks long. But do not call a Marine DI a drill sergeant. That is for the Army only.


A recruit division commander is typically the supervisor of what kind of recruit?

The Recruit Division Commander (RDC) was formerly called a company commander. A Petty Officer Second Class or above may hold this position.


As an Army recruit, the chain of command typically includes 10 people. Who is the command right under the Chief of Staff of the Army?

TRADOC is short for Training and Doctrine. This command is responsible for the recruitment, training and equipping of Army servicemembers.


For an airman in the U.S. Air Force, who will be their direct supervisor?

An airman typically reports to a non-commissioned officer, such as a staff sergeant. An airman will also have a second line supervisor called a technical sergeant or another senior non-commissioned officer, which is an airman's supervisor's supervisor.


Which military leader typically commands a squad?

Depending on the branch of the military, a corporal (or a sergeant or a staff sergeant) is put in command of a squad. A squad usually consists of eight to 14 servicemembers, so around three to four fireteams lead by corporals or lance corporals.


A colonel commands what group of soldiers?

Depending on the military branch, a colonel (or a brigadier general) may lead regiment or a brigade. This military unit typically has around 1,000 to 5,000 soldiers.


Which branch of the military allows a service member to bypass the chain of command when filing a complaint about a superior?

Article 138 is Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and allows service members to file a complaint if they believe they've suffered a grievance from a superior. The Air Force allows a service member to bypass chain of command, but the Army states that the complaint must be addressed to their immediate superior's commissioned supervisor. The Navy and Marines stipulate that the complaint has to go up the chain of command.


A fireteam is commanded by what type of military leader?

A fireteam is the smallest military unit, with two to four military members. You'll primarily see these in the U.S. Army or the Marines, along with the Navy Seabees, which make up the construction battalion.


A major general commands what kind of military unit?

A division typically contains around 10,000 to 25,000 servicemembers. These divisions usually have specialties, such as the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, which has had as many as 35,000 soldiers.


Who is the only general to have been named General of the Armies while on active duty?

John Pershing was a World War I five-star general and was given this promotion after he held command of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). The size of the AEF was around 2,000,000 men. The rank was created to honor him for his WWI service and is noted by four gold stars (instead of four silver stars).


A platoon is the smallest military group commanded by a commissioned officer. What would be that officer's title?

A platoon is made up of two or more squads, with about 10 to over 100 soldiers total. A platoon leader is usually a second or first lieutenant.


A lieutenant general typically leads what group of soldiers?

In the U.S. military, field corps are formed as necessary and are not usually permanent formations. Currently, there are only a few corps in existence, and they come from the corps formed in World War I and World War II.


Which kind of officer commands an Army group or front?

An army group (or a front) is comprised of at least two field armies, and has up to a million soldiers. Army groups have been used in World War I and World War II. A five-star general is also called the General of the Army.


Who is permanently the most senior of all generals in the U.S.?

To honor George Washington at America's bicentennial, the U.S. Congress and President Gerald Ford posthumously gave him the permanent role of General of the Armies of the United States. This honor was made retroactively effective on July 4, 1976.


Who is at the top of the chain of command in the U.S. military?

At the top of the chain is the president of the United States. The official military title is "Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces."


Which commander leads a region?

The commander-in-chief commands a region, which holds at least four army groups which is at least around 750,000 soldiers. In the U.S. military, the CINCs are called combatant commanders since the president is the only commander-in-chief. Currently, regions refer to unified combatant commands (UCCs), and the U.S. has 10 of them, all of which involve at least two military departments.


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