So, you want to include military characters in your fictional work?

On the right is Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt) Hartman, played by retired United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant (SSgt) R. Lee Ermey, in the 1987 film “Full Metal Jacket.”

Fall in recruits!

This morning is the start of a glorious day in the Size Force! A day in the Size Force is like a day on the farm. Every meal’s a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I LOVE the Size Force!

Now listen up, we ain’t got time to waste. I am Master Sergeant Solomon G, your senior drill instructor. You are here today because you want to join my beloved Size Force. As we all know, the Size Force is the world’s preeminent team of size-fetish creators who include military characters in their fictional works.

Why does the world need the Size Force? Well, many size-themed works have featured airmen, Marines, sailors, and soldiers in their narratives. To give only a few examples, the following feature military personnel: Aliessa’s Magnification Mishaps, Columbia Picture’s “The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock,” DreamTales “Mega Bikini Bomb Blast,” Giantess Club’s “Project Overman,” Jeff Leroy’s “Giantess Attack!”, Nightveil Media’s “The Amazing Colossal Woman Part Two,” etc.

However, creators often do not accurately represent uniformed service members. For example, check out Specialist Thompson from Giantess Club’s “Project Overman”:

What is wrong with her appearance? #1 – She should not be wearing a hat (or cover) indoors, #2 – Her uniform should not have what looks like officer rank insignia, #3 – Specialist rank insignia is missing, and #4 – This looks like the sleeve insignia for a U.S. Navy Lieutenant, but would never be worn by a U.S. Army Specialist.

Also, she should not be wearing open-toed shoes and lastly she should be wearing a shirt under her service coat. (NOTE: Although, given the lovely lady’s generous bosom, I can appreciate the decision to omit a breast-covering dress shirt.)

Project: Overman is set in World War II so Specialist Thompson should look more like these World War II-era soldiers:

Women’s Army Corps (WAC), Randolph Field, Texas, 1944.

Now, before we proceed further, you may question my knowledge on this topic. You might ask “What makes you qualified to teach this topic?”

First off, how dare you speak when at Attention!? You were given the command “Fall In,” which means assume your position in the formation. In formation you stand at “Attention.” The position of Attention means that you stand up straight, with heels together and feet turned out to form a 45 degree angle, arms at your sides, fingers cupped with thumbs alongside the seams of the trousers or sides of the skirt, eyes facing forward, and most importantly you are silent!

Regarding my qualifications, I served twenty years in the U.S. military. During that time, I worked with other service members from every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. The only exception being the Space Force because it was not established until December 20th, 2019. That was a few years after my retirement. Furthermore, I interacted with members from several Asian, European, and Middle Eastern militaries.

However, my credentials are not truly important because I will provide sources. Look for those official sources in the “Additional Reading” section at the bottom of this post. Trust those official sources to answer questions. For example, one important source is U.S. Army Training Circular (TC) 3-21.5, formerly Field Manual (FM) 3-21.5, which covers drill and ceremonies. Reference TC 3-21.5 to learn drill commands such as Fall In.

Each service has their own instructions for drill and ceremony, but there is a great deal of commonality. To put that another way, if a U.S. Marine Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) gives the command “Parade Rest” to U.S. Army junior enlisted soldiers then the soldiers will stand at Parade Rest, meaning left foot 12 inches to the left of the right foot and with hands clasped behind their back with palms to the rear, just like Marines would. Bottom line, drill commands are basically the same for each military branch.

Additionally, the intent of this article is not to assert that creators must always immaculately render service members. I won’t lie, the thought of immaculately rendered uniforms makes my nipples harder than depleted uranium! Yet, such effort may only yield minimal returns. While it hurts me deep in my soul to see a soldier drawn with a combat badge more than 1/4 inch above his ribbons, I understand that others may not be passionate about minutiae. Thus, the intent of this article is to help creators represent the military to a reasonable level of accuracy without too much effort.

You may respond “Why bother? Isn’t it sufficient to create size-fetish media and other details are unimportant?”

Bullshit! Those details make it easier to connect and relate to your creation. It is a given that some aspects of your size-fetish creations will be unrealistic. There is no way to make people change size to become giant or tiny. That’s according to my understanding at least, perhaps I missed a SITREP (Situation Report).

However, despite inescapably fantastical elements, those stories can be made relatable by depicting other aspects, like soldiers, in the same manner that they appear in real life. For example, if you depict a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office that functions smoothly and quickly serves its customers then you’re going to take me right out of the story! An efficiently run customer service would prevent suspension of disbelief! (NOTE: That’s just a joke. Stand down aggrieved DMV workers!)

My point is that by placing the incredible in the middle of routine circumstances of which we are familiar it makes those extraordinary elements, like a woman becoming a giantess, all the more believable, yet still impressive!

Hollywood also agrees with that sentiment. Military technical advisers such as Dale Dye and Paul Biddiss helped movie studios bring a touch of realism to science fiction films such as “Invaders from Mars,” “Starship Troopers,” and “The Puppet Masters.” Those had unbelievable elements such as alien slugs, arachnid warriors, and Martian mind control. Yet, despite those unearthly aspects, the producers still felt it would be beneficial to use the expertise of former service members to guide their efforts. Those aforementioned films included unearthly aspects, yet the producers still spent money and directors took time to make the military aspects of those films realistic. I make this point to preempt objections that size-fetish stories deal with unreal topics and thus need not make other aspects of their narratives resemble real life.

E-1 is the lowest enlisted pay grade, shown on the left, and E-9 is the highest, shown on the right. Note that the pay grades are universal and can be used to quickly determine seniority between members of different branches. Ergo, an individual of any service holding pay grade E-4 would outrank an E-3 from any service. Check out this link for a complete listing showing both enlisted and officer ranks:

Enlisted ranks constitute the lowest tier, then warrant officers, and lastly commissioned officers constitute the highest tier. (NOTE: The Air Force has not included warrant officers in its ranks since the last warrant officer retired from the Air Force Reserve in 1992.) In the Army, private is the very lowest rank and four-star general is the very highest rank. (NOTE: The five-star general rank was only awarded during World War II and is reserved for wartime use.)

Of course, different countries use different insignia. However, it’s also easy to find reputable data for foreign militaries. For instance, below are a few charts from other countries:

This snippet about the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) was taken from their official web site.
This was found at the Russian Ministry of Defence web site, but I’m not super keen on leaving a permanent link to the Russian military on my blog. So, I’ll leave it up to readers to search for Russian military ranks.

I’m not going to list insignia for every country in the world and every branch of their military, but suffice to say that reputable information is available without cost for many countries.

Next, we’ll go over some basic practices to craft believable military characters. (NOTE: The following section was updated in November 2022.)

Before we get started though, let me make two things clear. First, I have no interest in hearing that someone’s brother is in the Navy and grew his hair out while on leave. Similarly, if your cousin’s wife’s friend is in the Army and regularly puts his hands in his pocket while in uniform and out in public, I don’t give a fuck. People are people, even in the military, and they break the rules sometimes. Especially if there aren’t any zealous NCOs nearby.

Second, despite widespread belief, there is no law forcing creators to purposely depict military personnel inaccurately. Nonetheless, I received an e-mail with the following erroneous text:

By law, when an actor portrays military personnel in a movie or TV show they are required to be what the military calls “out of uniform”.  For example, ribbons or medals out of order, or improper insignia on clothing or hats.  This is so that technically they are not impersonating military personal.  

(NOTE: This inaccurate statement was copied from the “Goofs” section under IMDb’s “Area 88” entry. Area 88 was a manga, meaning a comic made in Japan, which was later turned into an animated series. I do no accept anonymous IMDb comments as authoritative and strongly suggest that no one else accept them as authoritative either. Also, is this “law” an American law? American laws do not apply in Japan.)

To be fair, there is 10 U.S. Code § 772 which states:

(f) While portraying a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Space Force, an actor in a theatrical or motion-picture production may wear the uniform of that armed force if the portrayal does not tend to discredit that armed force.

Accordingly, in December 1967 when actors protesting the Vietnam War staged a street play unfavorably depicting soldiers they were charged and convicted under that law. However, that conviction was overturned in 1970 by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in the Schacht v. United States decision. So, bottom line, if I had received the e-mail in the late 1960s maybe it would been convincing. (SIDE NOTE: Granted I was not yet born in the 1960s and e-mail did not exist. Setting those issues aside, maybe I would have been swayed.) Instead someone sent me the e-mail over 50 years after SCOTUS declared that fictional works can depict military members in whichever manner, favorable or unfavorable, they so choose. If anyone still believes the tired myth that there is a law forcing military members to be depicted inaccurately then tell me which law. Use a better source than unnamed IMDb users.

(NOTE: For additional reading on this topic, check out the following articles: No, Hollywood is not required to screw up military uniforms and This is why movies get military uniforms WRONG! Also research the Schacht v. United States case.)

With those two points made, it should also be made clear that the following guidelines are not intended to deal with every possibility. These are not able to apply to all situations. Instead, these guidelines serve merely to convey important information without wasting a lot of time with unnecessary details.

Guidelines For Depicting Military Characters

#1) In general, depict men with short hair and without beards. Any mustaches should be modest and not extend beyond the corners of their mouths. Additionally, hair on the sides should not touch their ears. When in uniform, women’s hair should not extend below the bottom edge of their collar and their bangs or side-swiped hair should not touch their eyebrows.

According to Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2903 Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel, male and female hair:

Will be clean, well-groomed, present a professional appearance, allow proper wear of headgear, helmet or chemical mask and conform to safety requirements. Will not contain excessive amounts of grooming aids (e.g. gel, mousse, pomade, or moisturizer), appear lopsided, touch either eyebrow, or end below an imaginary line across the forehead at the top of the eyebrows that is parallel to the ground. If applied, dyes, tints, bleaches and frostings must result in natural hair colors. Examples of natural hair colors are brown, blonde, brunette, natural red, black or grey. All Airmen are authorized to wear hair in a natural color regardless of their natural born hair color. Prohibited hair color examples (not all inclusive) are burgundy, purple, orange, fluorescent or neon colors. Commanders may temporarily authorize cancer patients to wear approved caps (black/tan) due to a temporary medical condition (i.e., radiation/chemotherapy).

#2) Put hats on when they’re outdoors and take hats off when they’re indoors.

According to Marine Corps Order (MCO) 1020.34H MARINE CORPS UNIFORM REGULATIONS:

c. When outdoors, Marines should remain covered, including during invocations and other religious portions of military ceremonies (i.e., changes of command, ship commissioning, military burials, etc.). Marines will uncover outdoors when so ordered or during religious services not associated with a military ceremony. Chaplains will be guided by the customs of their respective religious organizations with respect to wearing head coverings.
d. Headgear is normally removed indoors. Marines in a duty status and wearing side-arms or a pistol belt will remain covered indoors except when entering a space where a meal is in progress or religious services are being conducted. Headgear will be worn in Government vehicles, except when doing so would present a hazard to safe driving. Wear of headgear in privately owned vehicles is not required.

Above excerpt taken from Chapter 3, section 3005 of the MCO.

You might want to say “But wait Sergeant Solo, what about that screenshot at the very top of this page? The screenshot in which GySgt Hartman is wearing a campaign hat indoors.” Yes, there are exceptions, such as Drill Instructors wearing their cover while indoors because they are considered to be “in a duty status.”

Furthermore, many military installations also have outdoor “No-Hat/No-Salute” areas. However, those exceptions are not the norm and these are general guidelines. Also, note the connection between wearing hats and saluting.

#3) Show rank insignia for your characters and use a variety of ranks.

Military units normally contain personnel with different ranks, outside of situations such as initial entry training for new recruits, a.k.a. boot camp. In practice that looks like a pyramid. Many junior enlisted (airmen or privates or seamen) on the bottom, some NCOs (sergeants or petty officers) in the middle, and a few commissioned officers (ensigns, lieutenants, majors, admirals, etc.) at the top.

How to implement this? Well, let’s say that you’re drawing a page with a Marine infantry squad, all enlisted. Put private and corporal stripes on most of their upper arms and then put sergeant stripes on the last one as their leader. That’s it, you’re done!

Use these stripes taken from one of the charts above.

There’s no need to utilize every enlisted rank from the chart. Showing a few however makes the visual storytelling more realistic and serves the additional purpose of establishing who is the leader. I’m confident that most people, even those who have never met a service member, understand that more stripes equal more authority.

Presumably, these two were meant to be Staff Sergeants, based on the rank insignia. As stated in guideline #2, they should be wearing cover since they’re outdoors. This was taken from “Mega Bikini Bomb Blast,” produced by DreamTales.

Also, take care to depict those stripes correctly. That’s opposed to the image above in which the Marines (or soldiers, it wasn’t stated) have only two chevrons pointing up. Staff sergeant rank insignia for the Army and Marines consists of three chevrons pointing up and one rocker underneath. Examples of Staff Sergeant insignia can be seen below, in the second column from the left.

If the two were actually meant to be sailors then the rank insignia is totally incorrect.

Additionally, if a writer identifies a person as a specific rank, like general, then they should ensure that the character wears the rank insignia for that rank, like stars on a general.

This character was previously identified as a general officer in the comic. In that case, she should have at least one star on her shoulder epaulets, but there was nothing. The image was taken from “Aliessa’s Magnification Mishaps” Issue 2.

Her uniform should look more like this:

Please note that this U.S. Army Brigadier General has one star on each shoulder epaulet. This was taken from the official photo of a female general officer and depicts the uniform as it was worn in the early 1990s.

Basically, American soldiers should look like the following:

Note the variety of ranks and the fact that these men also wore name and service tape on their uniforms. This scene was set in the late 1950s and thus they are wearing era-appropriate garb. This screenshot was taken from 1959’s “The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock.”

#4) Don’t show service members with hands in their pockets.

Does this sound stupid? Yes, yes it does. Do service members themselves think it’s stupid? Yes, yes they do. Check out the following for proof:

The comic above can be found at this link. It was drawn by Maximilian Uriarte, a former Marine.

Is it impossible to find photos of generals with hands in their pockets? Fuck no!

If senior officers can put their hands in their pockets does that mean that junior enlisted can? Fuck no!

While dumb, no hands in your pocket is enforced in the enlisted ranks nonetheless. Technically, it applies to everyone, but when it comes to telling officers that they shouldn’t then we find ourselves in “different spanks for different ranks” territory.

#5) Never depict someone wearing both enlisted and officer rank at the same time.

This does not happen in the military. Seeing it on screen immediately makes a film much less credible. Nonetheless, it happened in 2016’s “Independence Day: Resurgence” and the TV show “Stargate SG-1.”

This Stargate actor is wearing gold oak leaves on his shoulders which indicate the rank of Major. However, he is also wearing stripes which indicate the rank of Staff Sergeant. He should only hold one of those ranks, not both.

That’s it for the guidelines; hopefully, they will get you started on the right path.

There are lots of details which I purposely side stepped. For one, military ranks can get confusing. For example, Staff Sergeant equates to E-6 in the Army and Marines, which use similar, but not exactly the same, chevrons. However, Staff Sergeant equates to E-5 in the Air Force and the insignia is significantly different. Scroll up to the Enlisted Rank Insignia chart to see what I mean.

Additionally, the rank of “Captain” equates to officer pay grade O-3 in the Air Force, Army, and Marines, but equates to pay grade O-6 in the Coast Guard and Navy.

Captains in the Air Force, Army, and Marines could call Navy billeting when staying on Naval installations and casually mention their rank. There’s a chance that the receptionist will mistakenly believe that the caller is an O-6 and give them better quarters than an O-3 would normally earn. Not that I’ve ever seen that happen in real life 😉

One last example, if a military member was called “Chief Solo,” with no other information, then that is also rather ambiguous. Chief Solo could refer to a Chief Petty Officer (E-7) in the Navy, or Chief Solo could refer to a Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) in the Air Force, or Chief Solo could refer to a Chief Warrant Officer (W-2) in the Army. So, yeah, understanding the military hierarchy can be difficult.

A recommended approach is to choose a military branch, a setting, and a time period. For the first example scenario, let’s pick U.S. Army soldiers in the field during 2020. A quick way to cobble together a reasonable representation is to review the “Uniforms of the United States Army” entry on Wikipedia. Looking under the heading for “Current designs” you will see a few paragraphs about the Army Combat Uniform and a photo of a solider wearing that uniform.

The two yellow arrows indicate placement of this soldier’s rank. Looking at his rank insignia and then cross-referencing the Enlisted Rank Insignia chart tell us that this soldier holds the rank of Staff Sergeant (SSG).

Now that you have some guidance and an example of what a soldier looks like in 2020 while wearing a uniform appropriate to a field setting, you can make your characters resemble him and vary their ranks as suggested in guideline #3.

Let’s try a different example scenario. In this scenario we’ll pick U.S. Navy sailors in an office setting during World War II. We’ll once again look to Wikipedia, but this time we’ll read the “Uniforms of the United States Navy” entry. This is an office setting so utility or working uniforms may not be appropriate. Instead, we’ll go with something more formal. Let’s try the service dress khaki uniform. While currently not in use, it was used in World War II. Once again, there is an example photo.

The white arrows indicate placement of their rank. Looking at their rank insignia and then cross-referencing the Officer Rank Insignia chart tell us that these sailors hold the rank of Commander (CDR), on the left, and Lieutenant (LT), on the right. Note that they’re outside and thus are wearing hats. If they went inside then their cover would be removed.

If you got the time to dig deeper, then read the pertinent documentation below or ask a veteran.

Military training often emphasizes life-or-death consequences.

Notably, we haven’t delved into awards and decorations or badges. They tell the history of a person’s achievements and experiences. For example, the following are some of the awards and decorations which can be worn by Airmen. (NOTE: These are the ribbon forms, not the medals.)

The most significant award, the Medal of Honor, is at top left. The other awards are listed in decreasing order of significance. An individual’s most significant award is always worn on the top left from an observer’s perspective. These ribbons would appear above the left breast pocket or over the left breast if there is no pocket. This snippet shows some, but not all of the awards given to airmen. It was taken from Airman magazine’s “The Book,” published in 2008.

Next are some of the qualification insignia which are worn by Coast Guard members:

This was taken from United States Coast Guard Commandant Instruction Manual (CIM) 1020.6K UNIFORM REGULATIONS.

Further clarification concerning awards and decorations or badges can be gleaned from the links below.

This concludes today’s training. Now, that you’ve completed this initial course you should be able to not only “talk the talk,” but also “walk the walk.” Check out the additional reading or comment below if you want more information. Now get out there and create some amazing stories!

Fall out!

Additional Reading

Barroso, A. (2019, September 10) The changing profile of the U.S. military: Smaller in size, more diverse, more women in leadership.

Cole, D. (2007, November) The Survey of U.S. Army Uniforms, Weapons and Accoutrements. (2019, January 22nd) The Ex-Para Adding Authenticity To Military Movies.

LaGambina, G. (2017, January 31) What Does a Senior Military Advisor Do? A Conversation with Captain Dale Dye.

Military One Source. The Basics of Military Uniforms.

U.S. Army Training Circular (TC) 3-21.5 Drill and Ceremonies.

U.S. Department of Defense. U.S. Military Rank Insignia.

Uniform Regulations for the U.S. Armed Forces

United States Army Pamphlet (PAM) 670–1 Guide to the Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia

United States Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2903 Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel

United States Coast Guard Commandant Instruction Manual (CIM) 1020.6K UNIFORM REGULATIONS

United States Marine Corps Marine Corps Order (MCO) 1020.34H MARINE CORPS UNIFORM REGULATIONS

United States Navy Personnel (NAVPERS) 15665I Uniform Regulations

United States Space Force Uniform Regulations This newest military branch has not finalized their uniforms as of the time of this writing. They generally wear U.S. Air Force uniforms with some minor differences.

NOTE: The regulations listed above have changed before and undoubtedly will change in the future. For example, AFI 36-2903 replaced Air Force Regulation (AFR) 35-10 in the mid-1990s. Similarly, MCO 1020.34H cancelled MCO P1020.34G in May 2018. However, the above links should be valid for a significant amount of time, and searching for the regulation titles should also return newer versions if or when the current versions are replaced. Lastly, as a heads-up, they are lengthy and contain several hundred pages.

All Rights Reserved.

5 thoughts on “So, you want to include military characters in your fictional work?

  1. Thank you, thank you for this. I too am a vet and get quickly taken out of movie of any genre that messes up simple things like uniforms. Keep up the good work sir!

    Liked by 1 person

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