Honorary Colonel in the Alabama State Militia


Most people are familiar with the institution of Kentucky Colonels through the most famous Kentucky Colonel, Colonel Harland Sanders. Another famous Colonel is worth mentioning is Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager. He received his commission from the Governor of Louisiana in 1948. He proudly bore the moniker for the rest of his life. Kentucky Colonels even have a non-profit organization for benevolent activities and to promote the Commonwealth of Kentucky. What many people may not know, however is that many states, especially in the South, also maintain similar, but less high-profile traditions of Honorary Colonels.

I have recently had the privilege of being commissioned an Honorary Colonel in the Alabama State Militia. There was no fanfare nor trip to the State Capitol for this recognition, but I am very proud to be amongst such an elite cadre. I received a certificate from Governor Robert Bentley’s office that stated the following:

Jeremy B. Blevins, having been deemed of meritorious character, is hereby commissioned as an Honorary Colonel in the Militia of the State of Alabama. He is, therefore, carefully and diligently to discharge the duties of the office to which he is appointed by doing and performing all manner of things thereunto belonging. And I do strictly charge and require all Officers and Soldiers under his command to be obedient to his orders ad directions, from time to time, as he shall receive from me, or the future Governor of the State of Alabama, or of the General or other Superior Officers set over him, according to the laws for the regulation and government of the Alabama State Militia.

So what is an Honorary Colonel in the Alabama State Militia?

Composition and Administration of the State Militia Generally

To determine what an Honorary Colonel in the Alabama State Militia is, how one is appointed, and what one’s duties are, the reader must dissect the sections of the Alabama Code pertaining to the militia in general. The “laws for the regulation and government of the Alabama State Militia” are cataloged in Title 31 of the Alabama Code: “Military Affairs and Civil Defense”. § 31-2 is the military code for the State of Alabama. § 31-2-2 states:

The militia of this state shall consist of all able-bodied male citizens, and all other able-bodied males who have declared their intention to become citizens of the United States, between the ages of 17 and 45, and who are residents of the state, and of such other persons, male and female, as may upon their own application, be enlisted or commissioned therein pursuant to any provisions of this chapter, subject, however, to such exceptions and exemptions as are now, or may hereafter be created by the laws of the United States, or by the Legislature of this state, it being specifically provided that, in the event federal laws or rules and regulations promulgated pursuant thereto authorize and permit service in units or organizations of the organized militia, as defined in this chapter, by persons of more than 45 years of age, such persons are hereby authorized to continue to serve in the organized militia for so long as may be allowed by such laws, rules or regulations, all other conditions, qualifications or requirements as to eligibility for service being complied with. All affairs pertaining to the state military forces shall be administered by the State Military Department, which shall be headed by the Adjutant General, who shall be responsible to the Governor as Commander in Chief.
(Acts 1957, No. 591, p. 828, §1; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §2.)

This provides a basis for the well regulated Militia as mentioned in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution within the context of the citizenry of the State of Alabama.  § 31-2-3 further defines this well regulated militia into organized and unorganized components:

The militia of the state shall be divided into the organized militia, the retired list and the unorganized militia, which together shall constitute the state military forces. The organized militia shall be composed of: an army national guard and an air national guard which forces, together with an inactive national guard, shall comprise the Alabama National Guard; the Alabama Naval Militia; and the Alabama State Guard, whenever any such force is organized by the Governor pursuant to existing laws. The National Guard, army or air, shall consist of such organizations and units as the commander in chief may from time to time authorize to be formed, all to be organized in accordance with the laws of the United States affecting the National Guard, army and air, and the regulations issued by the appropriate Secretary of the Department of Defense.
(Acts 1957, No. 592, p. 829, §2; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §3.)

Note that the Alabama State Guard (the Alabama State Defense Force, “ASDF”) is included in the organized militia. There is no additional definition of the unorganized militia here, but § 31-2-5 more clearly defines the opening sentence of  § 31-2-2:

The unorganized militia shall consist of all able-bodied male resident citizens of the state and all able-bodied resident males who have declared their intention to become citizens of the United States, between the ages of 17 and 45, and of such other persons, male and female, as may, upon their own application, be enlisted or commissioned therein, subject to any existing law, who are not serving in any force of the organized militia and who are not on the state retired list.
(Acts 1957, No. 592, p. 829, §3; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §5.)

Given that the text of the commission never uses the words “State Guard” or “State Defense Force” it is understood that the title of Honorary Colonel exists within the context of the unorganized Militia, and does not automatically place one in the organized ranks of the ASDF. The cadre of the ASDF muster at regular intervals, train, and have a rank structure patterned after the United States Army.

Uniforms and Decorations

§ 31-2-17 – 21 deal with the issue of the wearing of a uniform, which summarized says that an individual is not to wear  a uniform of the United States armed forces if they are not entitled to, and when off-duty, under specific circumstances. Note should also be made with reference to State Defense Forces and the requirement that their uniforms meet a criteria that they “shall include the distinctive mark or insignia prescribed by the Secretary of Defense to distinguish such uniform from the uniform of the United States armed forces” (§ 31-2-17). Were the unorganized militia to be ordered up, they would fall under the ASDF and then be subject to § 31-2-17.

Further down in the code, § 31-2-77 : “Service Medals and Decorations Authorized for Wear with National Guard and Naval Militia Uniforms” defines the wear of decorations on the uniforms of the National Guard and the Naval Militia. The ASDF has its own regulations (ASDF 670-1) as to the wear of decorations that follows Department of Defense Instruction 1334.01 “Wearing of the Uniform”, as well as service-specific manuals such as Army Regulation 670–1 “Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia”. One would assume that if a uniform is allowed for Honorary Colonels, that it would follow this regulation as well. As a veteran of the Alabama Army National Guard, I have both federal and state decorations that I would be proud to wear on an authorized Honorary Colonel uniform, but the wear of awarded decorations is authorized on civilian clothes per AR 670-1 §30-1b:

For civilian attire, individuals may wear only those awards, decorations, or insignia authorized by this regulation for wear on civilian clothing, in the same manner and approximate location as the equivalent military uniform.

Also AR 670-1 § 30-6:

Retired personnel and former members of the Army (as described above) may wear all categories of medals described in this regulation on appropriate civilian clothing. This includes clothes designed for veteran and patriotic organizations on Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and Armed Forces Day, as well as at formal occasions of ceremony and social functions of a military nature. Personnel may wear either full-size or miniature medals. Personnel who wear medals on civilian clothes should place the medals on the clothing in approximately the same location and in the same manner as for the Army uniform, so they look similar to medals worn on the Army uniform.

I am not certain what the guiding regulation is for other branches of service, but I am confident in saying that they are surely similar. Military decorations can look outstanding on a tailcoat for an white tie event. The Department of Veterans Affairs has also encouraged veterans to wear their decorations on Memorial Day. This practice is carried out frequently by organizations such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who wear decorations and other patriotic emblems on the sides military-style head gear.

I am aware of other states’ Honorary Colonels having official dress uniforms, which bear some resemblance to a mess dress uniform as worn by the Army. I understand that some Kentucky Colonels wear such a uniform to the Kentucky Derby. Stephen Lautens is a Kentucky Colonel sporting such a uniform. The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels mentions uniforms on their site.

In relation to uniforms, § 31-2-78 protects the private military property of an individual:

The personally owned uniforms, arms and equipment, required by laws or regulations of every commissioned, warrant and noncommissioned officer, musician and enlisted man of the armed forces of the state, shall be exempt from sale under any execution or other process for debt or taxes.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Code 1940, T. 35, §105; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §79.)

Commissions and the holding of Public Office

The next section to deal with the unorganized militia, though indirectly is §31-2-36:

Any citizen of this state may accept and hold a commission or warrant or enlisted membership in the armed forces of the state and reserve components of the United States without vacating any civil office, position or commission held by him. The acceptance or holding of any such military or naval commission or membership and the receipt of pay therefrom shall not constitute such holding of an office of privilege and trust under the government of this state and of the United States as shall be incompatible with holding of any civil office, executive, legislative or judicial, or position or commission under the government of this state.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Code 1940, T. 35, §37; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §37.)

Most states, if not all, have a similar provision. One can look to Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to see this. According to his Senate web site: “Graham continues to serve his country in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and is one of only three U.S. Senators currently serving in the Guard or Reserves. He is a colonel and is assigned as a Senior Instructor at the Air Force JAG School.“. By the definition of the unorganized militia in § 31-2-2, it is clear that §31-2-36 applies to there as well.

The unorganized militia in active service

The next portion of the Code to deal with the unorganized militia is § 31-2-46, which states:

The commander in chief may at any time, in order to execute the law, suppress riots or insurrections, or to repel invasion, or for the purpose of aid and relief of citizens in disaster, in addition to the active National Guard, the inactive National Guard and the Naval Militia, order out the whole or any part of the unorganized militia. When the armed forces of the state, or a part thereof, are called to duty under the Constitution and laws of the United States or the Constitution and laws of this state, the Governor shall first order out for service the National Guard or Naval Militia, or such part thereof as may be necessary, and, if the number available be insufficient, he may then order out such part of the unorganized militia, as he may deem necessary.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Code 1940, T. 35, §54; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §47.)

§ 31-2-47 continues defining the use of the unorganized militia for active service:

Whenever any part of the unorganized militia is ordered out for active military service, or other service which may be necessary in the discretion of the Governor, it shall be governed by the same rules and regulations, and be subject to the same penalties, as the National Guard or Naval Militia. The Governor, in his discretion, may appoint and commission emergency officers in the state militia at any time. Such commissions shall expire at the end of five years from the effective date thereof.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Acts 1939, No. 509, p. 774; Code 1940, T. 35, §53; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §48.)

The verbiage in the commission for an Honorary Colonel has no time limitations, this commission is clearly different in that it has a five year expiration.

§ 31-2-48 deals with the creation of units and appointment of officers if the unorganized militia is ordered out:

The Governor shall, when ordering out the unorganized militia, designate the number. He may order them out either by call for volunteers or draft. The unorganized militia may be attached to the several organizations of the National Guard or Naval Militia, or organized into separate divisions, brigades, regiments, battalions, companies or detachments as the Governor may deem best for service. He shall appoint the commissioned officers and warrant officers in the same manner as provided in this chapter for the appointment of officers and warrant officers of the National Guard and Naval Militia.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Code 1940, T. 35, §55; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §49.)

With regards to Honorary Colonels, there are two issues to address here. One is that this deals with appointing officers after the unorganized militia has been ordered up, and the second is that the Governor will appoint officers in the same manner as he would officers of the National Guard and Naval Militia. That process is defined in § 31-2-69: 

Officers of the armed forces of the state, including the Adjutant General, shall be appointed, and shall be subject to suspension, discharge, removal or compulsory retirement as such solely on the basis of military proficiency, character and service, as determined by Department of Defense regulations and the military usages sanctioned by the military laws of the United States. The qualifications of personnel of the federally recognized National Guard shall be as prescribed in pertinent regulations and policies of the United States Department of Defense.
(Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §70.)

Given that National Guard officers are commissioned through the Reserve Officer Training Corps or Officer Candidate School, § 31-2-48 does clearly does not apply to Honorary Colonels. It might be within the prerogative of the President, Governor, or a field grade officer to conduct a field commission of an individual, but for the past several decades, such a practice has fallen out of precedent. 
Next, § 31-2-49 states:

If the unorganized militia is ordered out by draft, the Governor shall designate the persons in each county or city who are to make the draft and prescribe rules and regulations for conducting the same, which shall conform as nearly as possible to the selective service machinery that is now or may hereafter be provided for by the government of the United States in a national crisis.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Code 1940, T. 35, §56; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §50.)

Given the advent of the Department of Homeland Security, this function of the unorganized militia would appear to be superseded.What FEMA cannot handle alone, the National Guard most assuredly could handle.

§ 31-2-50 penalizes those who would refuse duty in the circumstances outlined above:

Every member of the militia ordered out for duty or who shall volunteer or be drafted, who does not appear at the time and place ordered, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Code 1940, T. 35, §57; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §51.)

§ 31-2-79 protects members of the militia while in active service:

Members of the militia in the active armed forces of the state shall not be arrested on any process issued by or from any civil officer or court, except in the case of a felony or a breach of the peace, while going to, remaining at or returning from any place at which he may be required to attend for military or naval duty; nor in any case whatsoever while actually engaged in the performance of his military or naval duties, treason and murder excepted, unless with the consent of his commanding officer.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Code 1940, T. 35, §106; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §80.)

If § 31-2-79 protects, then § 31-2-83 allows for punishment:

Whenever any portion of the militia shall be called into the active service of the state to execute the law, suppress a riot or insurrection, repel invasion, protect lives and property or in aid and relief of citizens in disaster, the law, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the acts of Congress and rules and regulations of the Department of Defense and the regulations prescribed for the United States armed forces shall be enforced and regarded as a part of this chapter until said forces shall be duly relieved from such duty. As to offenses committed when such laws are so in force, courts-martial shall possess, in addition to the jurisdiction and power of sentence and punishment vested in them by this chapter, all additional jurisdiction and power of sentence and punishment exercised by like courts under such laws, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice and acts of Congress and rules and regulations of the Department of Defense and the regulations or laws governing the United States armed forces or the customs and usages thereof; but no punishment under such rules and regulations authorizing the taking of life shall in any case be inflicted except in time of war, invasion or insurrection, declared by a proclamation of the Governor to exist, and then only after approval by the Governor of the sentence inflicting such punishment. Imprisonment other than in a guardhouse shall be executed in county or city jails or other prisons designated by the Governor for that purpose.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Code 1940, T. 35, §113; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §84.)

There are many other sections of the Code that deal with the ordering out of soldiers, with most oriented toward the National Guard. Bear in mind that all discussion of active service with regards to active service and Honorary Colonels is purely academic. Honorary Colonels, having their commission in the unorganized militia, upon being ordered up, would become organized militia, and thus would receive a commission as an officer of the ASDF. They would not forfeit their honorary commission, but hold two, much as was the case in the wars prior to World War I.

Role of the Governor as the State’s Commander in Chief

§ 31-2-51 states:

The Governor of Alabama, or any other person lawfully administering the duties of the Office of the Governor of the state, shall be commander in chief of all the military and naval forces of the state, except when they shall be called or ordered into the service of the United States, and he shall have the power to embody the militia to repel invasion, suppress insurrection and enforce the execution of the laws, but shall not command personally in the field unless advised to do so by resolution of the Legislature.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Code 1940, T. 35, §58; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §52.)

The Governor, as Commander in Chief of the militia forces of the state leads in the same capacity that the President does as Commander in Chief of the United States armed forces, as a civilian who empowers his Generals to execute his commands.
The Governor’s duties with this regard are defined in § 31-2-52, which states:

(a) The Governor of Alabama, as Commander in Chief, shall have power and is hereby authorized and directed to alter, increase, divide, annex, consolidate, disband, organize or reorganize any organization, department or unit, so as to conform as far as practicable to any organization, system, drill, instruction, type of uniform or equipment, or period of enlistment now or hereafter prescribed by the laws of the United States and rules and regulations promulgated thereunder by the Secretary of Defense for the organization, armament, training and discipline of the militia or national guard, or by the Secretary of the Navy for the organization, armament, training and discipline of the Naval Militia. For that purpose, the number of officers, warrant officers and enlisted men of any grade in any organization, corps, detachment, headquarters or staff may be increased or diminished and the grade and number of such officers, warrant officers and enlisted men may be altered to the extent necessary to secure, as far as practicable, such conformity.

(b) The Governor, as Commander in Chief, shall have the power in case of war, invasion, insurrection, riot, tumult, breach of peace, natural disaster or imminent danger thereof, to call or order all or any portion or class of the armed forces of the state into the active military or naval service of the state, to increase the land and naval forces of this state and to organize the same in accordance with the existing rules and regulations governing the armies of the United States, or in accordance with such other system as the Governor may consider the exigency to require, and such organization and increase may be either pursuant to, or in advance of, any call, draft or order of the President of the United States.

(c) The Governor may authorize all or any part of the National Guard or Naval Militia to participate in any drill, parade, review or other public exercise, or to engage in service for escort duty, and may prescribe all regulations and requirements therefor, and such expenses incidental thereto as he may authorize shall be paid as provided in this chapter for the militia in the active military or naval service of the state.

(d) The Governor of Alabama, as Commander in Chief, is hereby authorized and empowered to do and perform all acts, and to make and publish such rules and regulations, and to organize and maintain the National Guard and the Naval Militia of Alabama in every respect up to the standards required by the laws and regulations of the United States now existing or which may hereafter be enacted for the benefit of the National Guard and Naval Militia of the United States.

(e) The Governor, as Commander in Chief, is authorized to call out all or any such portion of the National Guard as he may deem advisable, upon his determination that a state of emergency exists.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Code 1940, T. 35, §59; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §53; Acts 1980, No. 80-360, p. 480.)

Having established the powers and authorities of the Governor as Commander in Chief, § 31-2-53: provides the basis for commissioning Honorary Colonels:

The personal military staff of the Governor shall consist of one officer with the rank of colonel and as many other officers as the Governor may consider appropriate with the rank of lieutenant colonel or commander, all of whom shall be appointed and commissioned by the Governor and shall hold office at his pleasure. All such officers shall be commissioned in the State Militia as aides-de-camp to the Governor, but no such officer shall be barred, by reason of being a member of the staff, from holding an active commission in the Alabama National Guard or the Alabama State Guard or a reserve commission in the Armed Forces of the United States or any civil office or employment under this state or any agency or political subdivision thereof. No member of the staff shall by virtue of such membership exercise any command or control over any part of the Alabama National Guard.
(Acts 1939, No. 509, p. 774; Code 1940, T. 35, §61; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §54.)

While not using the term “Honorary Colonel”, this section states several things to lead to that conclusion. The personal military staff hold their office “at his pleasure”. They are not barred from holding an active commission in the National Guard, State Guard, or United States armed forces. And finally, they cannot exercise command over any part of the National Guard.

§ 31-2-69 delineates the appointment of officers per DoD regulations:

Officers of the armed forces of the state, including the Adjutant General, shall be appointed, and shall be subject to suspension, discharge, removal or compulsory retirement as such solely on the basis of military proficiency, character and service, as determined by Department of Defense regulations and the military usages sanctioned by the military laws of the United States. The qualifications of personnel of the federally recognized National Guard shall be as prescribed in pertinent regulations and policies of the United States Department of Defense.
(Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §70.)

This wording conflicts with the commissions “at his pleasure” in the section previously mentioned, thus clearly excluding individuals commissioned under § 31-2-53 from the provisions outlined in § 31-2-69.

Unauthorized Military Organizations

While not directly related to Honorary Colonels, pretender, or rump, militias are dealt with in § 31-2-125:

Any two or more persons, whether with or without uniform, who associate, assemble or congregate together by or under any name in a military capacity for the purpose of drilling, parading or marching at any time or place or otherwise take up or bear arms in any such capacity without authority of the Governor, must, on conviction, be fined not more than $1,000.00. This section does not apply to any school or college where military training and instruction is given under the provisions of state or federal laws, nor to the order of Knights of Templar, Knights of Pythias, Patriarchs Militant or Uniform Rank Woodmen of the World.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Code 1940, T. 35, §176; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §126.)
 

There are some who debate the constitutionality of such a clause and that argument made is elsewhere. In the historical context, and given the definition of the unorganized militia previously stated, this section of the Code would seem to refer to groups intent on the overthrow of state or federal government. The leaders of these organizations, acting only in the capacity of private citizens, set up for themselves a private military structure. One can wonder why these individuals, if they want to serve, wouldn’t just join the federal armed forces, the National Guard, or their state’s State Defense Force (Note: not all states have a SDF)? 

Powers and Duties of Honorary Colonels

§ 31-2-70, in dealing with powers and duties of National Guard and Naval Militia officers, states:

In addition to the powers and duties prescribed in this chapter, all officers of the National Guard and Naval Militia of Alabama shall have the same powers and perform the same duties as officers of similar rank and position in the armed forces of the United States insofar as may be authorized by federal law. They are authorized to administer oaths in all matters connected with the service.
(Acts 1936, Ex. Sess., No. 143, p. 105; Code 1940, T. 35, §82; Acts 1973, No. 1038, p. 1572, §71.)

This section clearly enumerates powers of National Guard and Naval Militia officers and does not appear applicable to other officers of the organized or unorganized militia. The next several sections of the Code are likewise inapplicable with regards to Honorary Colonels. There is nowhere in the Code that identifies the powers and duties of Honorary Colonels. As they personal military staff of the Governor, and his aides-de-camp, their powers and duties are whatever the Governor deems them to be. 

The greatest clue as to what these powers might be is in the name: “Honorary Colonel”. Just as an honorary doctorate does not mean that the individual has actually done doctorate-level research, an honorary colonelship does not mean the recipient has the years of service required to lead troops.

Conclusion

While never explicitly using the term “Honorary Colonel” in the Alabama Code, the office past and present has a clear place in the heritage of the great State of Alabama. The Governor’s prerogative to appoint such individuals is codified in § 31-2-53.

Looking back at the Kentucky Colonels, the post is ceremonial and they serve as goodwill ambassadors for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Likewise, the Honorary Colonels in the Alabama State Militia are goodwill ambassadors for the State of Alabama. They are individuals that the Governor has determined to present this honor to. I am very proud to have received such an honor.

Update: 19 July 2012

Since I originally created this post, I have been contacted by several individuals interested in Alabama Colonelcy. Given the dearth of information on this subject that is available online, my discussion on the matter seems to draw some attention.

I’d like to share some information that I received from Kelley Lee, the the Governor’s Proclamations Officer, on the subject. With regards to who can receive the honor, the Proclamations Office “only supplies Honorary Colonel certificates to U.S. citizens, specifically Alabama citizens and residents. “. Following that, I asked if there were any authoritative resources on the topic, to which the reply was: “It is simply something that is done for ‘fun’. They hold no official title or authority, and will most certainly never be commissioned or called upon by the Governor.” I’m a little befuddled by the “never be commissioned” statement, given that the text of the certificate specifically refers to it as a commission. It is understood that this isn’t a military commission, yet it is an honorary commission nonetheless.

However, anyone expecting military command from an Honorary Colonelcy will be as disappointed as Lord Grantham was on Downton Abbey. Lord Grantham (aka Hugh Bonneville) was devastated to learn that his Honorary Colonelcy was just that, a symbolic gesture. He could raise no troops under his command, but he did get to wear a nifty uniform and attend some great dinners.

Update: 2 August 2012

I received a phone call from Ms. Lee pertaining to a letter I had written the Governor on Honorary Colonelcy, which I had actually mailed prior to the email from her referenced above. She reiterated that the commission is “just for fun” and added that it had “always” been just for fun. I am aware of individuals who had been commissioned by other governors who believe that there was a little more to it than just for fun when they received their honor. Ms. Lee also said that she has had communication with her peers in other states and that is their view of Honorary Colonelcies as well. I’ll have to take her word on that. I don’t want to antagonize her on the issue, but I would take issue that this has always been “for fun”. I will concede and throw out another broad assumption that “no one” believes that this is a military commission that imparts on them any military authority.

So let’s look at what some of Alabama’s neighbors require for their highest honors:

Update: 1 February 2013

I’ve noticed that this particular post consistently ranks as the first or second hit in a major search engine and at this juncture in time has been viewed over 500 times. Since our topic is “just for fun”, below are the Google trends for the search terms “honorary colonel”, “Alabama colonel”, and “Alabama state militia”:
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[Note: all emphasis in quoted text was done so by the author of this post.]

47 thoughts on “Honorary Colonel in the Alabama State Militia

  1. I may have missed it, well apparently I did. But how exactly were you chosen for the Honorary Colonel rank? My father has a certificate as well, and I cannot imagine why.

    1. Mr. Saumure,

      I didn’t post how I became an Alabama Colonel because I didn’t want to diminish what the honor has meant in years past. The way I became an Honorary Colonel was to send an email to the Governor’s Office asking what it took to become an Honorary Alabama Colonel. Instead of a reply, what I received in the mail a few weeks later was a certificate commissioning me an Honorary Colonel in the Alabama State Militia. A bit anticlimactic, to be sure.

  2. My father was African American and lived in Tuskegee; I just found his certificate signed by George Wallace in 1986. I know he did not write the Governor for it. He was a Medical Research Biologist and a community leader. There has to be some process in which someone for some reason other than fun is sent this certificate. I am baffled!

    1. Mr. Davis,

      I’ve heard similar comments from individuals who received this honor in the 70s and 80s. It was in the past regarded as the highest honor a governor could bestow on a citizen of his/her state. I wish I had better information on when in Alabama history being commissioned an Honorary Colonel was debased to its current state.

  3. I too am a Aide-d-camp Lt Colonel and I got this trying to help educate students for jobs, young and old. I have never received anything but the award which I framed and I do think this group should be recognized by some pin or medal or even a uniform type add on or something for those special occasions. Mine was back in the 80’s as well. I also do think the people who receive them should always put Alabama first. Never let partisan get in the way.

  4. In reply to the question of what sorts of activities might warrant this award: I received one of these commissions from Gov. Guy Hunt subsequent to visiting the Soviet Union (back when it was still called as such) and participating in various official “goodwill” and “cultural exchange” activities on behalf of the USA and the state of Alabama. I believe all of us who participated in these activities received this honor.

    1. I think anyone who has received these honor should have a pin or metal something to wear and be invited as a good will ambassador for the state regardless of the party and the Gov and be a good spokesperson for all.

      1. From what I understand the criteria for award of this honor is less strenuous that it may have been in past years, and it is also my understanding that there is no authoritative list of who all the honor has been bestowed upon.

  5. I would be very interested in purchasing a cap with an appropriate insignia for colonel in the Alabama State Militia, however I would like it more ‘militant’ than the ones I see available online. I think it should include the Alabama flag, as well as a colonel insignia, be it an eagle or three stars of a colonel in the CSA. I can see merit in either, but I have also thought that if it were an eagle, perhaps it should be somewhat different than the eagle currently in use by the US Military. I was an officer in the Army (not a colonel though) and I don’t want anybody to think I am impersonating a rank I never held.

    1. To my knowledge, there is no approved insignia for an honorary Alabama Colonel. I know that when the ASDF was active its Colonels wore the same rank insignia as the U.S. Army, with the differentiator being the ASDF name tape and Alabama flag shoulder patch on the utility uniform and a red plastic name plate on dress uniforms.

  6. I received my Honorary Commission back in 2002 as a high school student. I had a rare opportunity to meet Gov. Siegelman during the Alabama Boys State event and mentioned to him how I had enlisted at 17, just months after 9/11, and had received a scholarship to West Point just a few weeks prior to our meeting. I felt it was a great honor, and it still hangs on my wall with my other certificates. I, too, would be interested in seeing this honor endowed with a little more fanfare.

    1. Fanfare would be nice, but I would like to see an organization of Honorary LTCs and COLs.

      1. For what it’s worth, there is a Yahoo Group (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Alabama_State_Militia/info) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alabama-State-Militia/228480220518721), although neither represent a recognized organization. The Alabama Code allows for what is known as an Unincorporated Nonprofit Association (http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/alcode/10/3B), which would be a good starting point for such an organization, should enough of us Alabama Colonels be interested. I’ve mentioned this in the past in the Yahoo group, but I don’t think anyone is serious yet. I’m up for it if anyone else is game.

        Jeremy

  7. I think we should organize on our own maybe via facebook group and then petition the state to be recognized.

  8. I received my Commission as an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Aide de Camp to the Late Governor George C. Wallace for my services as a recruiter for citizens of Alabama to serve in the United States Navy. I retired from the U. S. Navy as a Chief Petty Officer. I consider my honorary Alabama State Militia Commission to be one of the greatest honors of my life (I will be 72 years old in four months). I certainly do not believe that Governor Wallace awarded this significant Alabama State honor to me “just for fun”. I wonder if there is any record of speeches ever made by Governor Wallace when he awarded this honorary State of Alabama commission to someone? Also, my commission bears the Official Seal of the State of Alabama and is signed by the Adjutant General of the State of Alabama, in addition to Governor Wallace. I fail to see how these leading officials of the my great native state, Alabama, would stoop to putting the State’s Great Seal and authenticating a document with their signatures “just for fun”. I think we need to be very careful about the source of our information about the great honor that we have received from our state and not allow people who have no historical background to denigrate this honor, as someone once did to me by saying that my Lieutenant Colonel Aide de Camp to the Governor of Alabama commission, “Doesn’t mean anything!” I totally reject that. From: Lieutenant Colonel (Honorary) Marshall “Butch” Abuwi, Eldest living male descendant of The Honorable Dr. Booker T. Washington, Founder of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1881,

    1. Dear LTC (Hon) Abuwi,

      Thank you for your comments, and it is an honor to make the acquaintance of a descendent of The Honorable Dr. Washington, one of my favorite figures in Alabama history. As a fellow Veteran, I also thank you for your service.

      I share your frustration with the apparent debasement of honorary commissions, but I am afraid that it is endemic of the society we live in today. It seems everywhere one might turn there is a general nonchalance toward honor and tradition. I am proud that your honorary commission still means something to you, and I assure you, it means something to me as well.

      I’d like to also invite you to visit another blog I have started recently: http://societyofsoutherngents.org. I’d love to have other Southern gentlemen such as yourself contribute content for all our edification.

      Jeremy B. Blevins

      1. Thank you very much, Colonel (Hon). Blevins, for your supportive and honorable comments. I willl definitely be happy to enroll in your esteemed organization. My very best wishes to you, Sir. Sincerely, LTC (Hon.) Marshall Washington Cabiness Abuwi, Aide de Camp to the Governor, Sovereign State of Alabama Constitutional Militia.

    2. LTC (Hon) Mabuwi,
      I agree with you that the highest award offered by The Great State of Alabama should not be considered as a trivial thing.

  9. After reading up on the various states in the South that does this, Georgia surprised me. I believe their certificate of appointment is the only one which does not include ‘Honorary’; it simply lists it as “Lieutenant Colonel, Aide De Camp Governor’s Staff”.

    Unlike the Alabama appointment, the Georgia appointment wording is extremely similar to that of a commissioned officer in the military, and includes the phrasing “formed for the defense of the state of Georgia for repelling every hostile invasion thereof, to take rank as such from date of this Commission and to hold such office under the conditions prescribed by Law.”

    After digging a little deeper, 38-2-11 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated states:

    “The Governor´s personal staff shall consist of one chief of aides-de-camp, with rank of brigadier general; two assistant chiefs of aides-de-camp, with rank of colonel; all other aides-de-camp shall be appointed with the rank of lieutenant colonel. The selection of aides-de-camp shall be without regard to previous military service, sex, or age limit; and the commissions of all of these officers shall expire with the expiration of the term of the Governor making the appointment. All appointments will be in either the army or air force. Officers of the National Guard shall be eligible to appointment to any of the ranks or the offices of aide-de-camp provided for, but such appointments shall not vacate or affect their status as commissioned officers in the National Guard in which they are serving. The aides-de-camp shall perform such personal and ceremonial duties pertaining to their office as may be required of them by the Governor.”

    In the Alabama State Code, the wording used is: “All such officers shall be commissioned in the State Militia as aides-de-camp to the Governor”

    While in Georgia it states: “All appointments will be in either the army or air force.”, and does not include any section similar to “No member of the staff shall by virtue of such membership exercise any command or control over any part of the Alabama National Guard.”

    While I’m sure this is a purely ceremonial commission with no duties, responsibilities or command, it nevertheless seems to be a genuine commission to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in either the army or air force by the governor of Georgia.

    Which also makes me wonder, going off the official verbiage on the certificate of appointment and 38-2-111 of OCGA, could the Governor of Georgia call on such an individual to “perform such personal and ceremonial duties pertaining to their office as may be required of them by the Governor”?

    1. I wonder, at some time in the past, if honorary State of Alabama commissioned military officers ever wore some type of uniform at official state functions, That would seem to have been appropriate at receptions at the Governor’s Mansion when state honors were presented. From Lieutenant Colonel (Honorary) Marshall Washington-Cabiness Abuwi-commissioned by His Excellency, Governor George C. Wallace, 1983.

    2. “All appointments will be in either the army or air force.”

      I wonder what the distinction between “army and air force” used in this part of the code, and ‘Army’ and ‘Air Force’ used in other sections within the Georgia code.

  10. I received my appointment from Gov. George Wallace and later by Gov. Lurleen Wallace in the 1960’s while I was stationed at Gunter AFB, in Montgomery. I lived just a few houses from the Gov. Mansion on South Perry Street. I think it would be great to establish a Facebook Site for all Alabama Militia Officers. Please keep me in the loop if there is any future activity.

  11. I’m proud to say that on the 10th day of April 2015 Gov. Robert Bentley awarded me a commission as an Honorary Colonel in the Alabama State Militia. Upon my written recommendation, on the 14th day of September 2015 Gov. Bentley awarded commissions as Honorary Colonels to my brother and my brother-in-law.

    I fully realize that this commission is simply available for the asking these days, and that fact alone diminishes the honor but only for those that simply ask for and receive the commission.

    As for the commissions received by me and my brothers, they were not simply “asked” for. Instead, to avoid cheapening of the honors, our names were submitted “for the Governor’s consideration” and included brief yet detailed and laudable reasons why me and my brothers should be considered by the Governor for the commissions which we received.

    Sure, chances are good that the Governor (or his staff) didn’t even bother to read the full body of the requests made. Still, a proper request for consideration was made and the Governor given reasons for the awards of commission.

    To the comment made by Username:banks on 16 March 2015, quote “…it is also my understanding that there is no authoritative list of who all the honor has been bestowed upon.”

    Requests for Honorary Colonel Appointments, and Commissions of Honorary Colonels, are recorded and upon the end of the Governor’s terms those records are placed with the Alabama Department of Archives and History. By example, if you visit the link below you will see for Governor Wallace –

    Container Date (1971/01 – 1972/02), Container Contents (Request for Honorary Colonel Appointments), Container Number (SG029269)

    Container Date (1972/03 – 1977/03), Container Contents (Request for Honorary Colonel Appointments), Container Number (SG029270)

    Container Date (1977/04 – 1978/12), Container Contents (Request for Honorary Colonel Appointments), Container Number (SG029271)

    Container Date (1971 – 1972 ca.), Container Contents (Honorary Colonels (from Bowick’s Files) [24.0.39]), Container Number (SG029331)

    Resource – http://www.archives.alabama.gov/findaids/v33203.htm

  12. To begin, I just realized that the posters’ names on this board appear beneath their comments, and not above. A such, I accidentally attributed to Username: banks a concern that was actually brought forward by Col. Blevins, and for that error I apologize for the confusion.

    To answer your question, only a few weeks ago I came across a link online to a page listing contents of papers from governors of Alabama stored in archives. Unfortunately, I did not make record of that link and I am having a difficult time locating it again.

    If I happen to come across that link again, I will make it a point to share it on this blog.

    Bear in mind that written correspondence to and from government agencies, unless restricted by law, becomes matters of public record and government offices may be required to retain certain types of records in archives. I would suspect that honorary appointments or commissions made by the Governor would fall into the category of records to keep.

    Obtaining a comprehensive list of individuals commissioned as Honorary Colonels in the State of Alabama may be as simple as submitting a request to the Governor’s office under the Freedom of Information Act.

  13. After reading suggestions online, I have established a Facebook Closed Group for individuals commissioned as Honorary Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels in the Alabama State Militia. All such commissioned officers are invited to join the Order of Honorary Colonels ALSM.

    Note that this is an exclusive group for Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels ONLY. After clicking the Join button, one of the admins will contact you via Message and request that you send a digital copy of your Letter Patent via Message. Only AFTER providing a copy of your Letter Patent (the Certificate you received from a Governor of Alabama) will prospecting members be added to the group.

    Group Link – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1664017530537195/

  14. Col. Blevins, you have done an exemplary job of explaining Alabama Code as it pertains to the commissions of Honorary Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels in the Alabama State Militia. I would like your permission to reproduce in document form that portion of this page where you provide and explain the Alabama Code so that I may make it available to members of the Facebook group “Order of Honorary Colonels ALSM”. Of course, you would be given full credit in the document, as well as a return link to your web page here.

    Col. Roy D. Pope, Jr., ALSM

    1. Col. Pope,

      Please feel free to do so. I’s also invite you to visit and contribute to the Society of Southern Gentlemen. This is another site I curate that is focused on the values of traditional Southern Gentlemen. If you’ll write a blurb for me, I’ll create a post to mention the Order of Honorary Colonels ALSM.

      Jeremy B. Blevins

      1. I’ll get that blurb out to you shortly, and thank you very much for your permission to use your content and the offer to help promote the Order of Honorary Colonels ALSM.

  15. I received my commission as Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Aide-de-Camp in the Alabama State Militia on 4 Jan 1985, as a junior in high school, most likely for my involvement in the high school band, although it could have been because of involvement with the Scholars’ Bowl team. It was signed by Gov. George Wallace as Commander-In-Chief and countersigned by Maj. Gen. William A. Hornsby of the Adjutant General’s office.

    I decided to start researching the issue because I have always wondered at the value of this commission ever since I received it, and if it would be appropriate to list on a resume or my LinkedIn account as an award and possibly add some prestige to my background. It really bothers me that the state bureaucrat told you these are issued “just for fun”, which means that the frame I bought for this and the space on my wall that I reserve for this are worth more than the actual Letter Patent, including the paper and ink used to produce it.

    Thank you for the time you put into producing this space and the information you have researched. I just wanted to share a little of my story regarding my commission.

    1. I object to the honor of being commissioned a Honorary Colonel in the Alabama State Militia being referred to as ‘just for fun.’ It is the highest civilian award awarded by the State.

  16. Greetings,

    I too am a Honorary Lieutenant Colonel. I recieved my commission on March 25, 1986, signed by Governor George C. Wallace and Major General William A. Hornsby. My father has been commissioned as well. I believe this honor is more than “just for fun”. I commend you for your work and have requested to be a member of the Facebook page. I like to help in anyway possible.

  17. Hello Everybody… Im the Recruiting Officer and PAO for our non-profit, non-political,all volunteer organization “THE ALABAMA SERVICE CORPS”, whose primary mission is ot be a force -multiplier by assisting First Responders (Red Cross..EMS..Law Enf..etc,) during times of natural and man-made disasters through the State of Alabama. We assist during times of hurricanes, tornados, floods, chemical spills, train wrecks, winter weather, earthquakes, etc, and when requested to assist elsewhere. Our secondary mission is to operate and man shelters..serve on food lines and hand out bottled water..go on SAR missions assisting with rescue opns…collect Toys4Tots..deliver meals to seniors during meals-on-wheels routes, and we also lay wreaths on graves at cemeteries.

    We wear the US Army ACU Uniform, and have our own Commanding General, and train according to the ethics of the US Army, while adhering to their standards.

    We WELCOME veterans,,,handicapped…husband-wife teams, blue collar workers..fast food help, High School to degreed professionals…male and female…aged 18 to 78. We train one Saturday per month for approx five hours, and we assign members as close to their home as possible in one of our five Brigade Headquarters. We try to bring veterans in with the same rank they last held while on active duty… Promotions then start from THAT point.

    If you are interested in working with us and helping the citizens of Alabama (we don’t go outside the State of Alabama, but we certainly DO accept members from outside the State), please send an email to Drvrcop2@aol.com or drop a line to POB 232, Fruithurst, Alabama 36262. Your will receive an response within 24 hrs after receipt.

    Thank you.

    1. Thank you for the two responses received thus far from Honorary Colonels in Alabama. We certainly would like to receive others from as many grandfathers…uncles…nephews..sons…daughters… and any other relatives, who might be interested in joining us (‘THE ALABAMA SERVICE CORPS”). Disasters WILL happen, and we need as many members in many arenas as possible…just to be on the safe side. And, don’t forget, we accept anyone without a felony on their record, age 18 to 78…..you are NOT too old….we have jobs available both outside where there is a lot of action, and inside answering phones, or typing, or handling mail, or greeting persons, or making coffee and sandwiches, or doing just what ever comes up. During disaster times, anything and everything done to counter the effects is welcome.

      I would certainly love to be able to upload photos of our past performances, but for some reason I can’t seem to get them uploaded on this “reply” section. We also have brochures and newsletters…please ask your relatives…and friends…and clergy…and fellow workers…and lawyers/doctors/nurses/ police officers…firemen…butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers to contact us with a view toward joining with us. No matter WHAT they do for a living….or…what they DON’T do, we can use them in one way or another. Contact us at Drvrcop2@aol.com…….or….activate THIS link (by typing it out…it will turn blue when activated) and then click on it and it will show you our logo, and will bring up a one page questionnaire to be filled out (simply by checking blocks)…very simple… then hit “send” on page two and it will come directly to our recruiting section. This is the link: http;//form.jotform.com/63504738615156

      Honorary Colonels, we love you! Non- “Colonels” we love YOU too! and please remember, you DO NOT have to have served in the military to join our organization..being former military is NOT a requirement, but if you DID serve, you will be brought in with the last rank you held when you served…!! So don’t forget, you are NOT too old, nor are you too overweight, to join with us. We have no weight requirement… Meet with us once a month, on a Saturday, and train for five hours. Thank you soooooo much!

      RAY BREEDING, Col (ASC)
      Drvrcop2@aol.com
      Alabama Recruiter
      ALABAMA SERVICE CORPS

      ‘WEAR THE US ARMY UNIFORM AGAIN”

      You do NOT have to resign from ANY present military related organization (AmVets..American Legion..etc) to be eligible to join with us.

      1. Honorable “Honorary Colonels and Lt Colonels”….This email is just to inform you of my page on facebook, wherein it shows photos, and comments concerning our organization “THE ALABAMA SERVICE CORPS”. Again, we encourage your entire organization to join with us here in Alabama. Love to hear from all, or as many of you who are interested in WEARING THE US ARMY UNIFORM AGAIN. Please click on THIS link on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.pjp?id=100014974813519. Thank you soooooooo much!! Alabama Service Corps, Recruiting Section.

  18. Oops!..I made a typing error in the link provided to you on my 1 Feb 17 1645 pm post. Since I dont have a clue how to make a correction on the post I am now reposting it with the correct link: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100014974813519
    …..also…if you want to sign up with our organization, please also click on THIS link. It will take you direct to a very short questionnaire: https://form.jotform.com/63504738615156. Thank you…Ray Breeding, Alabama Service Corps

  19. I received Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Aide-de-Camp in May 1986 after attending a Reservist of the Year ceremony in 1985, where I showed an interest as the Commanding Officer of the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Mobile, AL had the honor.

  20. COL (Hon) Blevins, e.g. al:

    I received my commission from Governor Bentley, but since it lapsed when he left office, I would like to contact someone in Gov. Ivey’s office for the purpose of obtaining a new one.

    Have you any idea who I should contact?

    John R. Somers, COL (Hon)

    1. There is a web site for contacting the governors office via e-mail. I recently did it a week ago requesting to be included with the new governor’s administration. Haven’t heard back yet. I received mine under George Wallace and then his wife, Lurleen.

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