- March 1, 2010
Ask America’s 1stSgt Edition 3.
“Why are First Sergeants called TOP – CI Roller Dude always calls you TOP.”
In the old days the term Top was reserved for the top sergeant in the company. If I understand correctly this is still done in the Army. In the Marine Corps First Sergeants are no longer addressed as Top although some Master Sergeants are. I say some because referring to a MSgt in the Marine Corps as Top is a risky venture at best. It implies a sense of familiarity that you may not have with the MSgt. I know MSgts who will point out in no uncertain terms they do not spin on their heads.
On occasion a Soldier will mistakenly address me as Top. I figure it isn’t meant in disrespect so I usually let it pass. Some old time WWII Marines will still address me as Top as well. Maj Rick Spooner is an old WWII Marine who owns the Quantico restaurant The Globe & Laurel . Every time I see him he calls me Top. If you think I’m going to correct a Marine who took part in battles in Tinian, Saipan, and Okinawa you are all kinds of mistaken.
Sometimes (just not in the Marine Corps) the 1stSgt is known as the First Shirt. Now days this is primarily associated with the Air Force. One of origins of the term comes from a time when work details would remove their shirts while performing manual labor. The guy in charge of the detail would keep his shirt on since he was not doing any of the work. Thus if you were looking for who was in charge you would look for “the shirt”.I once visited a doctor who was caring for one of my Marine Sergeants. She was an Air Force Major whom I suspect had little experience dealing with Marines. I was meeting with her and my Sergeant to discuss his further treatment. At one point I made a comment and she said:”What did you say Shirt?” Out of the corner of my eye the Sergeant visibly started in his chair like an attack dog that really wanted to bite someone but hadn’t been given the command. Later he was indignant: “1stSgt, she can’t call you that! It isn’t right!” In between the growling and snapping I was able to bring him back down explaining she was just using her crazy Air Force talk and didn’t know any better.
As a general rule it is always wise to simply address Marines by their rank. Unlike the Army, Marines do not refer to all Staff Non Commissioned Officers as Sergeant. Unless you want to be flogged to death on the spot you will never ever call a Marine Sergeant “Sarge”.
Of course, it is always safe to address me as: