Food for Thought: What Makes a Captain – a Captain

The Navy is deeply rooted in its history and tradition. You can see it in our ship names, uniforms and even our rank structure.

Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz on social media about whether the cartoon character Cap’n Crunch is a captain.

Why? The debate started when someone noticed that he’s wearing three stripes on his sleeves instead of four. Why does this matter?

In the U.S. Navy, a commander wears three stripes  and a captain wears four stripes  – outranking the commander.

So, can a Sailor who doesn’t hold the rank of captain be called the captain of a ship? Yes.

Just look at this picture of the commanding officer – captain – of USS Freedom (LCS 1), Cmdr. Timothy Wilke (on the left).

Cmdr. Timothy Wilke, left, commanding officer of the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert, center give the Chief of Staff of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Adm. Kawano a tour of Freedom's bridge, May 15, 2013. Freedom is homeported in San Diego and arrived in Singapore as part of a deployment to Southeast Asia.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson/Released)

Cmdr. Timothy Wilke, left, commanding officer of the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert, center give the Chief of Staff of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Adm. Kawano a tour of Freedom’s bridge, May 15, 2013. Freedom is homeported in San Diego and arrived in Singapore as part of a deployment to Southeast Asia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson/Released)

According to the Naval Institute book Naval Ceremonies, Customs and Traditions by William P. Mack and Royal W. Connell:

“In a British order in council in 1748, the relative rank was settled with the Army by dividing Navy captains into three grades. It was deemed at that time that any officer in command was entitled to the title of captain while in command, regardless of rank.”

We don’t know Cap’n Crunch’s naval background. However, U.S. Navy Sailors are constantly deployed to preserve peace, protect commerce and deter aggression through forward presence.

There’s some food for thought.