Precedence or “who outranks whom” remains an important issue in matters of protocol. All military personnel understand the significance of rank.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff outranks all other officers, followed by the Chiefs of Staff (who are ranked by their date of appointment). They are followed by active duty four-stars (by relative rank; in the Air Force this is a General), retired four-stars, active three-stars, retired three-stars, active two-stars, etc. At wing level, the commander and vice commander take precedence over other colonels in the wing, even though the other colonels may be senior by date of rank. At dual wing bases, the host commander should take precedence. Order of precedence for other wing colonels should by done by date of rank.
At official functions where participants are not all military, determining precedence is more complicated.
Normally, you determine precedence of spouses based upon their military member’s rank or position. However, precedence for Officer or Enlisted wives club functions are based upon the position of the spouse in the organization. At dinners hosted by the clubs, the military member would be seated based upon their spouse’s position in the organization.
Below are images showing, from left to right, the Air Force Rank Insignias, U.S. Military Enlisted Insignias, and U.S. Military Officer Insignias (click images to enlarge):
U.S. Military Rank Chart (PDF)