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Crossroads of the Marine Corps

‘Frocking’ tradition dates back to Navy frock coats

28 Mar 2013 | Mike DiCicco Marine Corps Base Quantico

As early as 1802, Navy regulations have recorded instances of sailors assuming the uniform and duties of the next higher rank before getting the pay raise that comes with the promotion, according to the Naval Historical Center website. The early uniform for Navy lieutenants included a frock coat, likely the origin of the modern term, “to frock” although the expression may have evolved from an ornament common on early military uniforms called the “frog.”

In today’s Marine Corps, the most common ranks to be frocked into are the E8 and E9 grades, said Master Sgt. Michael Duran, chief of Manpower for the base. It’s a move reserved for Marines taking positions of high visibility, where they will lead policy changes or work with other services or agencies, he said. “It’s for authority and to let people know, hey, this guy is in charge.”

In a typical example of Marine Corps frocking, 1st Sgt. James Vealey, who is currently standing in as sergeant major for Headquarters and Service Battalion, will be frocked to sergeant major on May 6, the day before he transfers to Marine Corps Base Hawaii to be the Combat Logistics Battalion 3 sergeant major.

“I have to come in wearing the rank to assume the position so that there’s no confusion,” Vealey said.

His number for an actual promotion won’t come up until around July, but until then, he said, “when I interact with other sergeants major, I’ll be on level ground.”

The circumstances into which enlisted personnel are usually frocked are when they are transferring to a position in a joint command, when they take on a billet with significant liaison responsibilities with other services or agencies, or when, as in Vealey’s case, they will serve as principal assistant to a commander.

Similarly, officers can be frocked when moving into joint duty assignments or the immediate staff of the president or vice president, or when taking the titles of attaché, executive officer or commanding officer, Duran said.

“But when it comes to officers, frocking is very rare,” he added. “In 20-plus years, I’ve only seen two officers get frocked.”

One reason is that there are limits on how many officers can be frocked, Duran said. Only 1 percent of majors and lieutenant colonels, and 2 percent of colonels, can be frocked into those positions. There is no such limit on the frocking of generals, but they can only be frocked by the commandant up to four months before their pay grade promotion, Duran said, adding that the commandant is only likely to make such a move when absolutely necessary.

Frocked officers do not get an increase in their disciplinary powers or the entitlements of their new grade, such as a parking spot, he said.

But a frocking does bestow the respect that comes with the new insignia.

“People tend to listen to you when you’ve got a little more rank sitting on your collar,” Vealey said.

— Writer:

Marine Corps Base Quantico