Ranks, Insignia, and Uniforms
Since 1976 the MINFAR's system of military ranks has been basically patterned after that used by most Western armed forces. Prior to that time, the system of ranks was far from conventional, a factor that complicated relations with the Soviet military, which pressed Cuba to carry out such changes as part of its professionalization. In about 1998, a minor revision to the FAR's rank insignia was made when chevrons were reintroduced to replace the stars on the insignia of junior officers. Two decades earlier, in 1978, the stars had replaced the chevrons. Another minor change, also made in 1978, was the creation of a new rank, adding the warrant officer class for all three services.
The lack of conventionality in the MINFAR's system of ranks may be traced to the earliest days of the Revolution, and may be understood as a gesture that reflected the rebels' egalitarian nature. Following the victory of the Revolution in 1959, this unconventionality continued, and the only military ranks recognized were those inherited from the Rebel Army. They consisted of lieutenant, first lieutenant, captain, and major (comandante). At that time, three dozen men-nearly all of them Rebel Army veterans-held the rank of comandante, including Fidel Castro (even though he was clearly recognized as the others' superior).
Between 1959 and 1973, no sweeping overhauls were carried out, but new ranks were gradually introduced. In late 1959, the rank of second lieutenant was the first addition to the military echelons. Between 1963 and 1973, other new ranks were added, including brigade commander, division commander, corps commander, army commander, and commander-in chief. First-class officers included the ranks of first commander, commander, and major; and junior officers, the ranks of first and second lieutenant and first and second captain.
In November 1976, Law No. 1315 created the system of ranks that remained basically unchanged for the next twenty odd years. These ranks are held by personnel assigned to the FAR and by personnel under the Ministry of Interior. Personnel assigned to the Revolutionary Army, the DAAFAR, and the Ministry of Interior may have similar rank titles, differentiated only by their uniforms and insignia colors. Fidel Castro holds the rank of commander in chief; his brother, MINFAR Minister Raul Castro, as army general (general de ejircito), is the second ranking officer in the hierarchy of the armed forces. Minister of Interior Abelardo Colome Ibarra, as army corps general (general de cuerpo de ejircito) , is the third-ranking officer. The vice ministerial slots within the MINFAR as well as the commands of the FAR's general staff and of its three territorial armies are filled by officers having the rank of division general (general de division). The remaining rank at the general officer level is that of brigade general (general de brigada).
First-class officer ranks are composed of, in descending order, colonel (coronel), lieutenant colonel (teniente coronel), and major (mayor); junior officers' ranks include captain (capitan), first lieutenant (primer teniente), lieutenant (teniente), and second lieutenant (subteniente). The noncommissioned ranks of warrant officers and enlisted personnel include, in descending order, senior warrant officer (primer suboficial) and warrant officer (suboficial), master sergeant (sargento de primera), sergeant first class (sargento de segunda), sergeant (sargento de tercera), private first class (soldado de primera), and private (soldado).
Establishing comparability for the highest ranks of MGR personnel remains somewhat difficult inasmuch as the Cuban rank of almirante (admiral) is the equivalent of the United States rank of vice admiral. The MGR rank of vice almirante (vice admiral) is comparable to the United States rank of rear admiral, upper half. A contra almirante (rear admiral), in turn, is comparable to the United States rank of rear admiral, lower half (the rank formerly known in the United States Navy as commodore). First-class officers include, in descending order, the ranks of ship captain (capitan de navio), frigate captain (capitan de fragata) , and corvette captain (capitan de corbeta), which correspond to the United States ranks of captain, commander, and lieutenant commander, respectively. Junior officers include, in descending order, the ranks of ship lieutenant (teniente de navio), which is comparable to the rank of lieutenant in the United States Navy, as well as frigate lieutenant (teniente de fragata) and corvette lieutenant (teniente de corbeta), which are both considered comparable to the single rank of lieutenant junior grade in the United States Navy. The rank of ensign (alferez) is comparable for both the United States Navy and the MGR.
In terms of noncommissioned personnel in the MGR, the most senior rank is that of first sergeant major (primer suboficial), which is comparable to a United States Navy master chief petty officer. Confusingly, however, an MGR sergeant major (suboficial) corresponds to two United States ranks, senior chief petty officer and chief petty officer. The ranks of sergeant are divided into three classes: A first sergeant (sargento de primera) and second sergeant (sargento de segunda) correspond directly to the ranks of petty officer, first and second class, respectively. The MGR rank of third sergeant (sargento de tercera) corresponds to the two United States Navy ranks of petty officer, third class, and seaman. The ranks of seaman, first class (marinero de primera) and seaman (marinero) in the MGR correspond to the United States Navy ranks of seaman apprentice and seaman recruit, respectively.
With respect to uniforms, the olive-drab fatigues made famous by Castro continue to be the standard field uniform for the FAR's ground and air forces. Other uniforms issued to FAR personnel include various styles of service, parade, and ceremonial parade uniforms. The parade uniforms of the Revolutionary Army are olive-drab; those of the DAAFAR are blue; and those of the MGR are either blue-black, for winter, or white, for summer. Notwithstanding changes that might be ordered by commanders, summer uniforms are generally worn from mid-March through mid-November. In addition, special uniforms are also issued. For the ground forces, they include paratrooper, chemical warfare, and tanker uniforms. For the DAAFAR, special pilot uniforms include an antigravity uniform and a pressurized uniform.
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