An O-4 is a strange military bird. Majors are no longer “one of the boys.” They’re middle management. They’re the adult supervision. Making major is like going from single-A baseball to AAA. It’s kind of a big deal, but you’re still not in the major leagues just yet. Making captain requires a pulse; making major requires a functional cerebellum. It’s the stage when officers either stall out and crash, career-wise, or set themselves up for reaching the next level. Because of this, it doesn’t necessarily make once normal individuals into lobotomized morons, but it often reveals the moron inside. Promotion to major breaks up the once mighty pack of company-grade officer peers into several distinct breeds, each with unique characteristics. Here’s Task & Purpose’s illustrated guide to the six types of majors you find across the military.

The Superstar

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As much as everyone hates majors, we have to admit that some of them actually know some things. The Superstar knows
everything. What’s worse, he knows he knows everything. He’s the one guy who did Top Gun or WTI or Ranger School or flew the space shuttle, and everyone knows he deserved it. Everyone hates that SOB anyway, but they also feel guilty for hating him, because they realize he actually deserves his good fortune. It’d almost be better if he sucked. That way everyone could hate him without feeling guilty about it.

The Superstar’s path is not necessarily for everyone. Most people aren’t willing to take multiple deployments, do all the right schools, go to the Pentagon, and then shuffle back to the operating forces again. But as with the stations of the cross, the Superstar knows he must pass through all that suffering for the greater good. After suffering through the staff jobs, one day he will ascend to heaven with an office in the E-ring, probably while Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” sounds in the background. Yeah, screw that guy.

The Company Man

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The Company Man believes that if he does everything right, he still might make it to the top. He does all the field-grade duties, from filling any white space in a schedule with “hip-pocket” PME to speaking…his….punctuation, period (speaking one’s punctuation aloud being an early side effect of frontal lobotomies). However, comma, he’s not a natural like the Superstar. The Superstar can be hard on people because everyone knows he’s awesome. The Company Man is hard on his people, especially about rules and procedures, but his people often can’t stand it because his chief talent is knowing the rules.

The Company Man is a xerox of the Superstar. At first glance it looks like he has his act together — and he does, on paper, at least. But it’s a flat copy of the original. Something is just slightly off. It’s the uncanny valley of military excellence.

He will most likely succeed, though; for if nothing else, the the military loves people who follow rules. While many of his contemporaries crash and burn with their sundry improprieties, the Company Man walks the righteous path.

The Burnout

The burnout isn’t truly a case of DGAF because he actually does give a fuck, but he wants other people to give that fuck for him. He has brought the mission order to a whole new level: “I don’t give a fuck what you do. I just don’t want the colonel yelling at me. If he yells at me, I yell at you, understand? Now get started, it’s almost 1400 and for some reason I’m still here.”  

The burnout’s energy level makes Jabba the Hut look like Richard Simmons. That’s because he’s tired. He’s deployed so much that his kids think they have an uncle named Jody. He knows he can’t keep going like this. He’s got to turn himself around and become a Company Man or something, or else he’ll become The Passed-Over For Promotion.

The Passed-Over For Promotion

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The Passed-Over may be the way he is for any number of reasons. Maybe he’s a former Superstar who crashed and burned. Maybe he was a Burnout who never recovered. Maybe he was a talented officer who didn’t know how to play the game. Or maybe he just sucked all along.

Nevertheless, assuming he’s reached sanctuary and has his retirement locked up, he’s reached a nirvana few officers ever truly reach: actually, truly running out of shits to give. The military may be screwing him, but he’s taking advantage of his dire straits so he can lay back and enjoy it. They won’t send him back to a line unit. If he plays his cards right, he can get that choice gig working for the base or something, and joining the ranks of the “in by 09-ish, PT at 1100, out by…eh…1500-ish, give or take an hour.”

Sure, his pride took a hit in the shorts when he read the promotion list and didn’t find his name on it. But since then, the liberation from giving a shit has been, well, liberating. The first time it happened, it kind of sucked to have his former subordinates calling him by first name, but now he’s realized that being the military’s version of Van Wilder suits him. The senior NCOs, the lieutenants, the captains, and even his commanding officer ask for his opinion all the time now. Not giving a shit is his superpower. He sometimes wonders whether, if he had stopped giving a shit much earlier, things might have been better.

The Mustang, aka Methuselah

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The Mustang has more Good Cookies (Good Conduct Medals) than a box of Chips Ahoy, and he’s an officer. He has campaign medals that no one even recognizes. Where the hell is Kosovo, or for that matter “Southwest Asia,” anyway?

The junior enlisted troops love the Mustang. They think it’s cool as hell that someone went from enlisted to officer. The senior enlisted troops are not nearly as enamored, because the Mustang doesn’t fall for their bullshit. “It doesn’t take all day to do that, gunny. If you need time off, how about you just freakin’ say it?”

The Mustang is not, objectively speaking, that much older than his contemporaries. But whatever happened during those seven or eight extra years of enlisted service, it sure looks like it got to him. As they say, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” Apparently the Mustang hasn’t just been around the block, he’s been around the planet. Twice.

The Weirdo

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The Weirdo was just a little bit off when she was a captain. Sure, she liked video games more than most, and for some reason she attended renaissance fairs in full costume, but she wasn’t that bad. She was a strange deployment roommate, but other than the whole ordering-drinks-with-umbrellas thing, she was an okay person.

No one was surprised when she earned a prestigious fellowship to study an obscure field that none of her former colleagues could name, much less understand. She disappeared for five years and came back… well, not that different from before, but different enough.

Before she went away for her fellowship, advanced degree, or sabbatical, her weirdness was okay, because she was as tactically proficient as her peers. Now, though, even the lieutenants know more about the weapon systems and her unit operations. And one of those lieutenants also wants to stab the Weirdo in the eye because she kicked back the training schedule twice for corrections because it didn’t use “Lean 6-Sigma” principles and show awareness of the “theory of constraints,” whatever the hell those are.

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