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Breaking down the 24 ranks of the U.S. military

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    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

  • Susan Krawczk // Wikimedia Commons
    2/ Susan Krawczk // Wikimedia Commons

    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.

     

  • U.S. Dept. of Defense // Flickr
    3/ U.S. Dept. of Defense // Flickr

    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.  

     

  • John Kennicutt // Wikimedia Commons
    4/ John Kennicutt // Wikimedia Commons

    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).

     

  • Lance Cpl. Ismael Ortega // Wikimedia Commons
    5/ Lance Cpl. Ismael Ortega // Wikimedia Commons

    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.

     

  • Staff Sgt. Amanda Smolinski // Wikimedia Commons
    6/ Staff Sgt. Amanda Smolinski // Wikimedia Commons

    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 Sgt. Amanda Smolinski // Wikimedia Commons
    7/ Staff Sgt. Amanda Smolinski // Wikimedia Commons

    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.

     

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    8/ Mark Mauno // Flickr

    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.

     

  • Master Sgt. Joanna Hensley // Wikimedia Commons
    9/ Master Sgt. Joanna Hensley // Wikimedia Commons

    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.  

     

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    10/ The Old Major // Shutterstock

    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.  

     

  • Capt. Jason Sweeney // Wikimedia Commons
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    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.  

     

  • Staff Sgt. Anna Rutherford // Wikimedia Commons
    12/ Staff Sgt. Anna Rutherford // Wikimedia Commons

    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.

     

  • SSgt Ashley Reed // Wikimedia Commons
    13/ SSgt Ashley Reed // Wikimedia Commons

    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.

     

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    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.

     

  • Spc. Paige Behringer // Wikimedia Commons
    15/ Spc. Paige Behringer // Wikimedia Commons

    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.

     

  • Cpl. Tia Dufour // Wikimedia Commons
    16/ Cpl. Tia Dufour // Wikimedia Commons

    2nd Lieutenant (O-1)

    Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 22,874

    Army: 2nd Lieutenant

    Navy: Ensign

    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.

     

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    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.

     

  • XantherSZ // Wikimedia Commons
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    Captain (O-3)

    Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 73,176

    Army: Captain

    Navy: Lieutenant

    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.

     

  • D. Myles Cullen // Wikimedia Commons
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    Major (O-4)

    Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 42,229

    Army: Major

    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.

     

  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers // Wikimedia Commons
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    Lieutenant Colonel (O-5)

    Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 27,104

    Army: Lieutenant Colonel

    Navy: Commander

    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.

     

  • U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp // US Army
    21/ U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp // US Army

    Colonel (O-6)

    Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 11,305

    Army: Colonel

    Navy: Captain

    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.  

     

  • Staff Sgt. Michelle Gonzalez // dodlive.mil
    22/ Staff Sgt. Michelle Gonzalez // dodlive.mil

    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.   

     

  • Spc. Torrance Saunders // Wikimedia Commons
    23/ Spc. Torrance Saunders // Wikimedia Commons

    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.

     

  • Staff Sgt. John Strong // U.S. Air Force
    24/ Staff Sgt. John Strong // U.S. Air Force

    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.

     

  • United States Department of Defense // Wikimedia Commons
    25/ United States Department of Defense // Wikimedia Commons

    General (O-10)

    Active duty personnel (excluding Coast Guard): 37

    Army: General

    Navy: Admiral

    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.

     

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