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NEWS | March 25, 2019

Respect for our civilian Airmen

By Toby R. Housey Director, 628th Air Base Wing Equal Opportunity office

Customs and courtesies are integral components of navigating a military organization. They aid in promoting dignity and respect among the grades/ranks. With our civilian counterparts, we sometimes forget to extend the appropriate customs and courtesies because they do not wear their grade/rank on their shoulders or collars.

Typically in a military environment, a subordinate military member would never refer to a senior military member by his/her first name—with a few exceptions. The same rule of thumb should be applied to our civilian counterparts unless otherwise noted. This may be a challenge for some individuals if they are not familiar with the rules of engagement for interacting with our civilian team members.

To assist with this gap, I would like to offer some pointers.

The appropriate greetings for civilian members are Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Dr., if applicable. Some personnel are comfortable with operating on a first name basis. If that is their preference, it is completely appropriate. However, allow your civilian team member to grant you that permission; do not take it upon yourself to decide for them. Also, be familiar with the audience and forum you are in when operating on a first name basis. For example, it might be fine to operate in this informal capacity one-on-one, but it may not be appropriate in an official email, staff meeting or other public event. The action could be perceived as insubordination.

Another barrier to rendering appropriate greetings to civilian personnel is not recognizing their grade or gender immediately when looking at their names on emails or other type or written correspondence. Never draw conclusions about an individual’s gender based on a name alone. While cultures sometimes associate names with genders, this method can be dangerous and lead to negative interactions or false conclusions. If you are not easily able to identify an individual's rank or gender, sir/ma'am would be appropriate in the greeting.

To provide a visual to understand the military to civilian grade equivalents, check out, which provides the conversions for each branch of service. For example, you will see that a GS-11 civilian is equivalent to an Air Force Captain or a Navy Lieutenant.

Remember, our civilians serve and earn their grades too! As such, they should be extended the appropriate respect by way of customs and courtesies.