U.S. Military Ranks and Pay Grades In Order 2022

To become a service member in the United States military, you need to grasp the rank and pay grade systems. However, it is found that the U.S. Military Ranks and Pay Grades might be tricky and complicated to understand. Therefore, our article will give you a brief overview about ranks and pay grades in the armed forces. 

 

1. U.S. military ranks

 

us military ranks
U.S. Army Ranks & Insignias

The U.S. Military ranks are regarded as a system of hierarchical relationships within armed forces which define dominance, authority, and responsibility in a military hierarchy to create the military chain of command. Besides, the ranking system is highly appreciated for military operations, in particular with regards to logistics, command, and coordination. 

The rank of any military member represents their position, hierarchy in the rank-based chain of command. Besides, a service member’s military ranks will determine both his/ her level of responsibility and pay. Therefore, each service’s ranks are tied to paygrades in an “enlisted,” “warrant officer” and “officer” number system, written as the letters “E,” “W,” “O” and a number. For instance, the lowest military enlisted rank is considered as  “E-1,” while the highest military officer rank in use is represented by  “O-10.” Therefore, the higher rank you get, the increased pay-grade you deserve and the more  responsibility you take. 

The U.S. Military ranks in order appears to be tricky for many people because some of the military services – The Army, Air Force and Marine Corps possess their own enlisted military rank structures. Furthermore, as of late 2022, the U.S. Space Force rank system is based on the U.S. Air Force ranks. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard and Navy generally share the same rank system. 

It should be noted that although each service sets their own rank structure and may call them something different,  they all can be boiled down to “E” and “O.”

A military member’s rank is determined via a combination of competitive exams, record reviews, and other processes. To be eligible for promotion at both enlisted and officer levels, you need to be within a certain top percentile of the exam-takers and meet a set of military branches requirements of each branch including physical fitness criteria, off-duty education, and other areas. Especially, particular insignia affixed to the uniforms typically denote the bearer’s rank

There are main categories of rank or rate as follows: 

 

1.1.  Enlisted Military Ranks

 

Service members who are in training status or serving in initial assignments are in pay grade E-1 through E-3. They have taken part in the training including basic training or boot camp to help you take insights into military culture and values and learn the core skills their branch of service requires.

Junior enlisted members go to an advanced technical school for their job after basic training. Job fields are categorized by military occupational specialties or MOS in the Army and Marines, by rates in the Navy and by specialties in the Air Force and Space Force.

 

1.2. Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Ranks

 

A non-commissioned officer (also known as a NCO), a military officer who has not pursued a commission,  typically earns their position of authority by promotion through the enlisted ranks. Meanwhile, almost all commissioned officers usually enter directly from a military academy, officer candidate school (OCS), or officer training school (OTS) after holding a post-secondary degree.

Noncommissioned officers (NCO), appointed by commissioned officers, generally supervise enlisted soldiers and aid the commissioned officer corps. 

NCOs typically function at the rank of sergeant and sometimes serve as corporals and petty officers (in the navy) and receive advanced military training. 

In the NCO corps, there are different classes including junior (lower-ranked) non-commissioned officers (so-called JNCO) and senior/staff (higher-ranked) non-commissioned officers (so-called SNCO).

These commissions include first and second lieutenants, captains, majors, colonels, lieutenant colonels, and generals. 

All commissioned officers outrank non-commissioned officers (e.g., a sergeant). The most significant difference between commissioned and non-commissioned officers is their level of authority over other service members.

 

1.3. Warrant Officer Military Ranks

the us military ranks
 Joining the warrant officer ranks after completing Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS)

Warrant officers have considerable expertise in certain fields, technologies or capabilities such as helicopter pilot. Unlike commissioned officers, one of the main responsibilities of warrant officers is to provide knowledge and instruction to enlisted members and commissioned officers.

A warrant officer whose grade W-1 to W-5 is ranked as an officer above the senior-most enlisted ranks, and officer cadets as well as officer candidates, but below the officer grade of O‑1 (NATO: OF‑1). 

Take note: There are no warrant officers serving in the Air Force.

 

1.4.  Commissioned Officer Military Ranks

 

The highest in the military is the commissioned ranks holding presidential commissions with confirmation at their ranks by the U.S. Senate. 

There are some differences between Warrant Officers and Commissioned Officers you should know. Specifically, on the one hand, Warrant Officers outrank all enlisted members, but are not required to have a college degree. On the other hand, Commissioned Officers outrank Warrant Officers and enlisted service members, and earn a minimum of a four-year bachelor’s degree.

Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Space Corps officers consist of company grade officers in the pay grades of O-1 to O-3, field grade officers in pay grades O-4 to O-6 and general officers in pay grades O-7 and higher. 

Meanwhile, the Navy officers are called junior grade, mid-grade and flag respectively.

 

2. The military grades

 

Although your pay grade has a close relationship with your rank, it is not considered your rank specifically. The pay grade is regarded as an administrative label  that helps to process thousands of paychecks issued every month to every Private First Class, every four-star General  and others in between.

Additionally, pay grades are assigned to enlisted members, officers, and warrant officers. For instance:

  • An enlisted member who has an E-1 pay grade is at the bottom of the ladder of both rank and pay.  
  • A Second Lieutenant, the lowest officer rank, holds the pay grade O-1. Meanwhile,  a First Lieutenant who holds a higher rank than a second one would also be considered an O-1
  • A Captain is an O-2
  • A Major  is O-3, etc.

The term “Grade” in the military involves personnel and pay functions. “Rank” or “rate” can be used interchangeably in different services, but the term “grade” is a universal descriptor across the branches. Furthermore, depending on rank or rate and time-in-service, military personnel across the services will receive the same base pay. 

  • For enlisted members, the pay grade designation begins with a “E”
  • For officers, the pay grade designation begins with a “O” 
  • For warrant officers, the pay grade designation begins with a “W.” 

Let’s take a gander at the following examples. As you know, an airman basic,  the lowest enlisted rank in the Air Force, is in the grade of E-1 and receives the same basic pay as an E-1 in the Army, who has the rank of private. A Navy ensign is an O-1 pay grade, the same grade as a second lieutenant in the Army.

Besides, an E-3 earns a bigger salary than an E-1. Therefore, the higher the number within the pay grade, the higher the salary. What’s more, as I mentioned above, commissioned officers have the highest rank in the military so they outrank warrant officers which outrank enlisted members. Hence, a commissioned officer in the grade of O-1 would outrank an Army sergeant major in the grade of E-9. 

 

3. The primary difference between “Rank” and Grade” 

 

The terms “Grade” and “Rank” in the military are often confusing. More specifically, “Grade” is considered as a major step in the promotion structure or program. For example, “Captain” or “Major” are grades and several individuals can place at the same grade. Meanwhile, “Rank” is regarded as seniority between two service members of the same grade such as date of rank. It should be noted that no two persons in a grade have the same rank – one is always senior to the other.

 

4. U.S. Military Ranks and Pay Grades by Branch

 

There are five branches of the U.S. military, represented to the government by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Each branch of service has their own respective U.S. Military Ranks to represent authority level. These military branches are:

Enlisted Personnel

Pay Grade Army and Marine Corps ranks Navy and Coast Guard Air Force Ranks Total

number

E-1 Private Seaman Recruit Airman Basic 49,046
E-2 Army: Private (PV2)

Marines: Private First Class

(PFC)

Seaman Apprentice

(SA)

Airman

(Amn)

70,517
E-3 Army: Private First Class

(PFC)

Marines: Lance Corporal

(LCpl)

Seaman

(SN)

Airman First Class

(A1C)

183,394
E-4 Army:

Specialist

(SPC)3

Corporal

(CPL)

Marines: Corporal

(Cpl)

Petty Officer, Third Class

(PO3)

Senior Airman

(SrA)

252,961
E-5 Sergeant

Army:

(SGT)

Marines:

(Sgt)

Petty Officer, Second Class

(PO2)

Staff Sergeant

(SSgt)

218,457
E-6 Staff Sergeant

Army:

(SSG)

Marines:

(SSgt)

Petty Officer, First Class

(PO1)

Technical Sergeant

(TSgt)

157,201
E-7 Army:

Sergeant First Class

(SFC)

Marines: Gunnery Sergeant

(GySgt)

Chief Petty Officer

(CPO)

Master Sergeant

(MSgt)

First Sergeant

(––)

87,672
E-8 Master Sergeant

Army:

(MSG)

Marines:

(MSgt)

First Sergeant

Army:

(1SG)

Marines:

(––)

Senior Chief Petty Officer

(SCPO)

Senior Master Sergeant

(SMSgt)

First Sergeant

(––)

26,562
E-9 Army:

Sergeant Major

(SGM)

Command Sergeant Major

(CSM)

Marines:

Sergeant Major

(SgtMaj)

Master Gunnery Sergeant

(MGySgt)

Master Chief Petty Officer

(MCPO)

Fleet/Command

Master Chief Petty Officer

(––)

Chief Master Sergeant

(CMSgt)

First Sergeant

(––)

Command Chief Master Sergeant

(––)

10,607

Special Grades

E-9 Sergeant Major of the Army

(SMA)

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps

(SgtMajMC)

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy

(MCPON)

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard

(MCPOCG)

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force

(CMSAF)

5
TOTAL ENLISTED 1,055,972

Warrant Officers

W-1 Warrant Officer 1

Army:

(WO1)

Marines:

(WO)

DISCONTINUED 1975 NO WARRANT 2,526
W-2 Chief Warrant Officer 2

Army:

(CW2)

Marines:

(CWO2)

Chief Warrant Officer 2

(CWO2)

 

NO WARRANT 6,842
W-3 Chief Warrant Officer 3

Army:

(CW3)

Marines:

(CWO3)

Chief Warrant Officer 3

(CWO3)

NO WARRANT 5,445
W-4 Chief Warrant Officer 4

Army:

(CW4)

Marines:

(CWO4)

Chief Warrant Officer 4

(CWO4)

NO WARRANT 2,732
W-5 Chief Warrant Officer 5

Army:

(CW5)

Marines:

(CWO5)

Chief Warrant Officer 5

(CWO5)

NO WARRANT 762
Total Warrant Officers 18,307

Commissioned Officers

Cadets/Midshipmen 12,176
O-1 Second Lieutenant

Army:

(2LT)

Marines: (2ndLt)

Ensign

(ENS)

Second Lieutenant

(2d Lt)

25,118
O-2 First Lieutenant

Army:

(1LT)

Marines: 1stLt

Lieutenant Junior Grade

(LTJG)

First Lieutenant

1st Lt

27,986
O-3 Captain

Army:

(CPT)

Marines:

Capt

Lieutenant

(LT)

Captain

(Capt)

75,984
O-4 Major

Army:

(MAJ)

Marines:

Maj

Lieutenant Commander

(LCDR)

 

Major

(Maj)

42,934
O-5 Lieutenant Colonel

Army:

(LTC)

Marines:

(LtCol)

Commander

(CDR)

Lieutenant Colonel

(Lt Col)

27,278
O-6 Colonel

Army:

(COL)

Marines:

(Col)

Captain

(CAPT)

Colonel

(Col)

11,364
O-7 Brigadier General

Army:

(BG)

Marines:

(BGen)

Rear Admiral Lower Half

(RDML)

Brigadier General

(Brig Gen)

407
O-8 Major General

Army:

(MG)

Marines:

(MajGen)

Rear Admiral

(RADM)

Major General

(Maj Gen)

312
O-9 Lieutenant General

Army:

(LTG)

Marines:

(LtGen)

Vice Admiral

(VADM)

Lieutenant General

(Lt Gen)

141
O-10 Chief of Staff of the Army

Commandant of the Marine Corps

General

Army:

(GEN)

Marines:

(Gen)

Chief of Naval Operations

Commandant of the Coast Guard

Admiral

(ADM)

Chief of Staff of the Air Force

General

(Gen)

38
Special Grades
5 Stars General of the Army Fleet Admiral General of the Air Force ––
TOTAL COMMISSIONED OFFICERS 223,738
TOTAL OFFICERS 242,045
TOTAL PERSONNEL 1,298,017

Start your enlistment and achieve your desire ranks and pay grade right now by score high on your ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) Test. Practice with ASVAB Test Pro to measure your current level.

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