Breaking down the 24 ranks of the U.S. military
Breaking down the 24 ranks of the U.S. military
The United States Armed Forces consists of five military branches: the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, the latter of which serves under the Department of Defense during peacetime. However, the Coast Guard can be moved to the jurisdiction of the Navy during times of war. Across all five branches, there are 24 pay grades, which are represented by a letter and a number, like E-1 or O-2. Each pay grade corresponds to one or more ranks, which often have different names depending on the branch.
Enlisted personnel, who may become non-commissioned officers, have the least authority. Warrant officers are in the middle, and commissioned officers, who are appointed by a commission, are at the top.
Using the most recent comprehensive data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released February 2017, Stacker developed a list of all 24 pay grades along with the number of personnel who serve at each grade and the ranks that are included. The ranks are described, including what they entail, and how the chain of command progresses from bottom to top. It's important to note the title in all 24 slides is the Army name for each rank.
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 46,806
Navy: Seaman Recruit
Air Force: Airman Basic
Marine Corps: Private
Coast Guard: Seaman Recruit
Across all branches of the military, recruits enter the service at the E-1 grade. Privates belong in the lowest enlisted rank, and they wear no insignia. They begin their basic training, where they learn the fundamentals of their branch, the code of conduct, and professional and physical standards they are expected to follow. They have no responsibility other than training and learning to follow orders.
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 71,437
Navy: Seaman Apprentice
Air Force: Airman
Marine Corps: Private First Class
Coast Guard: Seaman Apprentice
In the Army, the rank of E-2 private is known as private second class to differentiate them from newly enlisted privates. However, they remain the most basic level of soldier. This holds true in other branches like the Navy, where there is little difference in the daily life of E-1 and E-2 enlisted personnel. One of the key differences across all branches is that advancement to the E-2 grade earns you an insignia on your uniform.
Private First Class (E-3)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 186,366
Army: Private First Class
Air Force: Airman First Class
Marine Corps: Lance Corporal
Coast Guard: Seaman
A private first class is the highest-ranking private in the Army and is a member of the organization's most populous rank, where they're expected to master individual duties and begin preparing for supervisory responsibility upon graduating to the next grade. In the Marines and the Navy, the grade of E-3 represents the most senior of the junior enlisted classification, and it's where they'll begin competing for the rank of non-commissioned officer (NCO).
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 255,718
Navy: Petty Officer Third Class
Air Force: Senior Airman
Marine Corps: Corporal
Coast Guard: Petty Officer Third Class
In the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard, the rank of E-4 represents a graduation from each branch's entry-level classification. In the Coast Guard, a seaman becomes a petty officer. In both the Navy and the Marines, junior enlisted personnel become NCOs. In the Army, there are two classifications associated with the grade of E-4. Specialists remain enlisted soldiers, but corporals are bumped up to the classification of NCO.
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 213,867
Navy: Petty Officer Second Class
Air Force: Staff Sergeant
Marine Corps: Sergeant
Coast Guard: Petty Officer Second Class
By the time they've reached the E-5 grade, all military personnel across all branches are no longer members of their organization's junior classification. They are now officers, and as such, they're expected to be proficient in their skills, lead, and set an example for junior enlisted members. At this rank, members of the Air Force move from enlisted airman to NCO. In the Marines and Army, they're sergeants who lead squads and teams.
Staff Sergeant (E-6)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 155,091
Army: Staff Sergeant
Navy: Petty Officer First Class
Air Force: Technical Sergeant
Marine Corps: Staff Sergeant
Coast Guard: Petty Officer First Class
In the Marines, E-6 represents a jump from NCO to staff NCO. They're now career Marines charged with running platoons of 40 to 50 people. In the Coast Guard, the grade of E-6 brings the power to act as law enforcement or a federal customs officer.
Sergeant First Class (E-7)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 88,472
Army: Sergeant First Class
Navy: Chief Petty Officer
Air Force: Master Sergeant
Marine Corps: Gunnery Sergeant
Coast Guard: Chief Petty Officer
In the Navy, E-7 represents a jump from NCO to senior NCO. More exceptional and experienced than standard chiefs, they have more responsibility and more clout. In the Coast Guard, the move to E-7 means a bump in classification from petty officer to chief petty officer.
First Sergeant/Master Sergeant (E-8)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 25,894
Army: First Sergeant/Master Sergeant
Navy: Senior Chief Petty Officer
Air Force: Senior Master Sergeant
Marine Corps: First Sergeant/Master Sergeant
Coast Guard: Senior Chief Petty Officer
In the Army, E-8 could be a master sergeant or a first sergeant, the latter of which generally requires more than 15 years of service and is recognized as the most tactically and technically proficient leader in a company. In the Marines, the dual ranks are the same, with first sergeants and master sergeants being equal in rank. However, first sergeants are responsible for personnel and master sergeants are technical managers.
Sergeant Major (E-9)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 9,880
Army: Sergeant Major
Navy: Master Chief Petty Officer
Air Force: Chief Master Sergeant
Marine Corps: Sergeant Major/Master Gunnery Sergeant
Coast Guard: Master Chief Petty Officer
There are three possible ranks at the E-9 pay grade, the most senior of which is the highest-ranking enlisted officer in the entire organization. This is true across all five branches: the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines.
Warrant Officer 1 (W-1)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 2,366
Army: Warrant Officer 1
Air Force: —
Marine Corps: Warrant Officer 1
Coast Guard: —
The Air Force doesn't have warrant officers and both the Navy and the Coast Guard have no W-1 grade. In both the Army and the Marines, however, the rank of Warrant Officer 1 means you're the most technically and tactically proficient at your given specialty—even beyond master gunnery sergeants in the Marines.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 (W-2)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 6,955
Army: Chief Warrant Officer 2
Navy: Chief Warrant Officer 2
Air Force: —
Marine Corps: Chief Warrant Officer 2
Coast Guard: Chief Warrant Officer 2
Unlike many other nations, warrant officers in the United States Armed Forces occupy a rank classification that's uniquely their own. They are senior to the all enlisted grades up to E-9, but subordinate to commissioned officers. In the Navy and Coast Guard, W-2 is the entry level grade for warrant officers.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 (W-3)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 5,511
Army: Chief Warrant Officer 3
Navy: Chief Warrant Officer 3
Air Force: —
Marine Corps: Chief Warrant Officer 3
Coast Guard: Chief Warrant Officer 3
The rank of chief warrant officer 3 is reserved for those with even more expertise and experience than chief warrant officers. In the Army, they can serve with teams as small as seven all the way up to brigades of 5,000 soldiers.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 (W-4)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 2,740
Army: Chief Warrant Officer 4
Navy: Chief Warrant Officer 4
Air Force: —
Marine Corps: Chief Warrant Officer 4
Coast Guard: Chief Warrant Officer 4
W-4 warrant officers are the most knowledgeable and capable technical experts in their field and they're charged with complex and important tasks. In the Army, for example, a chief warrant officer 4 might be ordered to integrate forces across the organization, like armor, infantry, and aviation.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 (W-5)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 775
Army: Chief Warrant Officer 5
Navy: Chief Warrant Officer 5
Air Force: —
Marine Corps: Chief Warrant Officer 5
Coast Guard: —
Chief warrant officer 5 is probably the rarest rank in the U.S. Army. Any soldier who makes E-5 is a proven leader, innovator, and undisputed master of his or her specialty.
2nd Lieutenant (O-1)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 22,874
Army: 2nd Lieutenant
Air Force: 2nd Lieutenant
Marine Corps: 2nd Lieutenant
Coast Guard: Ensign
The most junior commissioned officer in the Coast Guard and Navy is called an ensign. In the Navy, ensigns must serve for two years before being promoted and might spend that entire time training if they want to be pilots, SEALs, or submariners. In the Army, 2nd lieutenants can be commanders or staff officers.
1st Lieutenant (O-2)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 29,477
Army: 1st Lieutenant
Navy: Lieutenant Junior Grade
Air Force: 1st Lieutenant
Marine Corps: 1st Lieutenant
Coast Guard: Lieutenant Junior Grade
The O-2 grade is a more experienced, more capable junior officer than O-1. They generally have served at least one deployment and have commanded a group of personnel. In the Marines, aviators generally join their first squadron as 1st lieutenants.
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 73,176
Air Force: Captain
Marine Corps: Captain
Coast Guard: Lieutenant
In the Army, captains command company-sized elements. About 1 in 3 active duty Marine Corps officers are captains, and captains in the Air Force arrive at that rank after serving four years as an officer. Whether they're called lieutenants or captains, the O-3 grade comes with enhanced responsibility and the expectation of mentoring junior officers.
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 42,229
Navy: Lieutenant Commander
Air Force: Major
Marine Corps: Major
Coast Guard: Lieutenant Commander
Majors are field officers who serve in battalion- or brigade-sized elements. The Army often sponsors and pays for them to go to graduate school or professional development school in exchange for greater service. They generally serve as executive officers and operations officers.
Lieutenant Colonel (O-5)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 27,104
Army: Lieutenant Colonel
Air Force: Lieutenant Colonel
Marine Corps: Lieutenant Colonel
Coast Guard: Commander
Generally, lieutenant colonels are charged with commanding Army or Marine battalions. In the Coast Guard, commanders are the lowest senior officer. No matter the branch, O-5 comes with significant authority and responsibility.
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 11,305
Air Force: Colonel
Marine Corps: Colonel
Coast Guard: Captain
Colonels in the Army command brigades or regiments in the Marines. They are the ultimate authority on everything that happens in their elements and they are ultimately responsible for everything their personnel do or do not do.
Brigadier General (O-7)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 406
Army: Brigadier General
Navy: Rear Admiral (Lower Half)
Air Force: Brigadier General
Marine Corps: Brigadier General
Coast Guard: Rear Admiral (Lower Half)
In the Coast Guard, a rear admiral lower half is a seasoned, proven officer who commands a small flotilla of vessels. The same officer would also command a group of ships in the Navy. In both branches, O-7 represents the lowest rank of flag officers. In the other three branches, it's the lowest rank of general officer.
Major General (O-8)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 300
Army: Major General
Navy: Rear Admiral (Upper Half)
Air Force: Major General
Marine Corps: Major General
Coast Guard: Rear Admiral (Upper Half)
Like all generals, Army major generals are sometimes called by the number of stars in their insignia. At O-8, that is a two-star general. As division commanders, they are among the most respected and influential officers in the military and carry some of the heaviest responsibility.
Lieutenant General (O-9)
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 136
Army: Lieutenant General
Navy: Vice Admiral
Air Force: Lieutenant General
Marine Corps: Lieutenant General
Coast Guard: Vice Admiral
It is an honor for any officer to be appointed to the rank of lieutenant general. In most cases, the promotion is granted because the officer is appointed to a post that requires the rank by regulation, like Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 37
Air Force: General
Marine Corps: General
Coast Guard: Admiral
Although they are still general officers, generals are unique and distinct in that they are the only general officers to be addressed as "General." They hold the highest commands in the Army and may serve as members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.