Skip to main content

Main Area


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.

    ALSO: 34 military terms and their meanings

  • Private (E-1)

    Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 46,806

    Army: Private

    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.


  • Private (E-2)

    Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 71,437

    Army: Private

    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

    Navy: Seaman

    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).


  • Corporal/Specialist (E-4)

    Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 255,718

    Army: Corporal/Specialist

    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.


  • Sergeant (E-5)

    Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 213,867

    Army: Sergeant

    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

    Navy: —

    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.  


2018 All rights reserved.