An Honorable Title
Contrary to popular belief the honorable title of "Colonel" was never intended to be used by the US military, nor had it been used in the military well into the Revolutionary War by the Continental Army and provinces to form militias. The title originated in the 13 colonies as a non-military one, it was always an honorable title that was granted to recognize the gentry and civilians which organized companies (organizations) under British Provincial rule, it can be found in history in use up to 100 years prior to the American Revolution.
Wikipedia says, "Modern usage varies greatly, and in some cases, the term is used as an honorific title that may have no direct relationship to military service."
In its original use in the 13 colonies, colonel was the highest ranking official of a non-military company and likewise later of civilian militias as the sponsor of a regiment. A colonel could appoint or deputize one or more lieutenant colonels as his own military official designates. Lieutenant-Colonels usually became colonels by promotion or when they retire, often said, "once a colonel always a colonel."
As an honorary title it was adapted for use in companies established for land settlement for the founding of towns, cities, and forts, it was also used by companies in charge of commerce, international trade, and shipping. As the highest ranking official of his company, a colonel could commission others members of his company as fellow colonels under the commission of the first.
The ideals of the civilian colonel should not be confused with those of the military rank which evolved after the founding of the United States and was introduced as a title in the US Army in 1802. Read more about Colonels.
Titles of Honor and Esteem
There are many titles of honor and esteem used today around the world. Our order tracks the status the better-known titles that we recognize as official titles, which may qualify to become an honorary colonel in our most prestigious order.
A Matter of Honor and Tradition
Only colonels can appoint, commission, designate, or nominate another colonel according to the history and tradition of the order.