Military rank can be very confusing for the uninitiated.

Each country uses it’s own standards for military rank. Within each country, the Army, Navy, and Air Force often use different naming standards.

Finally, military rank naming standards differ over time. For example, the United States only utilizes certain military rank designations in time of war.

Classes of Military Rank

Traditional armies were made up of Officers and Enlisted men. The officers were the patrician leaders and the enlisted men were their plebian followers.

This model does not translate well to the requirements of the modern battlefield. Because of this, new rank hierarchies have been devised, which include:

  • Commissioned Officers
  • Warrant Officers
  • Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO’s)
  • Petty Officers
  • Enlisted Men

Military Rank vs. Pay Grades

In the United States Armed Forces, it is much easier to understand the complex system of military rank if you compare it to the more practical system of military pay grades.

In the United States Armed Forces, your pay depends upon your pay grade, your years of service, and any adjustments for type or location of service.

Enlisted Ranks in the United States Armed Forces

Pay Grade Army Navy Air Force Marines
E1 Private Seaman Recruit Airman Basic Private
E2 Private Seaman Apprentice Airman Private First Class
E3 Private First Class Seaman Airman First Class Lance Corporal
E4 Corporal
Petty Officer Third Class Senior Airman Corporal
E5 Sergeant Petty Officer Second Class Staff Sergeant Sergeant
E6 Staff Sergeant Petty Officer First Class Technical Sergeant Staff Sergeant
E7 Sergeant First Class Chief Petty Officer Master Sergeant
First Sergeant
Gunnery Sergeant
E8 Master Sergeant Senior Chief Petty Officer Senior Master Sergeant
First Sergeant
Master Sergeant
First Sergeant
E9 Sergeant Major
Command Sergeant Major
Sergeant Major of the Army
Master Chief Petty Officer
Fleet/Command Master Chief Petty Officer
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy
Chief Master Sergeant
First Sergrant
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
Sergeant Major
Master Gunnery Sergeant
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps

Warrant Officer Ranks in the United States Armed Forces

Pay Grade Army Navy Marines
W1 Warrant Officer 1   Warrant Officer 1
W2 Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chief Warrant Officer 2 Warrant Officer 2
W3 Chief Warrant Officer 3 Chief Warrant Officer 3 Warrant Officer 3
W4 Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chief Warrant Officer 4 Warrant Officer 4
W5 Chief Warrant Officer   Warrant Officer 5

Commissioned Officer Ranks in the United States Armed Forces

Pay Grade Army Navy Air Force Marines
O1 Second Lieutenant Ensign Second Lieutenant Second Lieutenant
O2 First Lieutenant Lieutenant Junior Grade First Lieutenant First Lieutenant
O3 Captain Lieutenant Captain Captain
O4 Major Lieutenant Commander Major Major
O5 Lieutenant Colonel Commander Lieutenant Colonel Lieutenant Colonel
O6 Colonel Captain Colonel Colonel
O7 Brigadier General Read Admiral Lower Half Brigadier General Brigadier General
O8 Major General Rear Admiral Upper Half Major General Major General
O9 Lieutenant General Vice Admiral Lieutenent General Lieutenent General
O10 Army Chief of Staff
General of the Army
Chief of Naval Operations
Fleet Admiral
Air Force Chief of Staff Commandant of the Marine Corps
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