Military Orientation - Enlisted Rank Structure (Lesson 2 of 3)
Now that you know about Order of Battle, and how Army units come together like a Matryoshka doll, it is time to learn about the personnel that constitute those units. There are two main subdivisions of military personnel – enlisted and officers. A third division, warrant officers, exists, but not all service branches have them, so they will be discussed as a footnote of sorts in Part 3.
Enlisted men used to be tradesmen. Your gunsmiths, tanners, welders, farmers, and wagon drivers served as foot soldiers and, perhaps eventually, sergeants, in the old days. The officers came from money or prestige, and since the dawn of military history, this class warfare has existed in which many officers who couldn’t shoot the broad side of a barn or lead a dog to a meat wagon held high rank, much to the chagrin of the enlisted ranks.
All enlisted soldiers are outranked by even the most junior of officers. This is a technicality of the Chain of Command and must be that way to preserve order and discipline, but no green Second Lieutenant would dare boss around a senior non-commissioned offer, whose boss is usually an officer high above that Lieutenant in the pecking order.
Rank commonly found in Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training (specialty training). Depending on credentials, a recruit may skip over this grade.
Marine Corps – Private
Air Force – Airman Basic
Space Force – Specialist 1
Navy – Seaman Recruit
Coast Guard – Seaman Recruit
Recruit may enter service at this rank depending on credentials. Commonly aged 18-22, and with good conduct, will not hold this rank for long. Assigned to tedious taskings and does not hold position that requires leadership of another.
Marine Corps – Private First Class
Air Force – Airman
Space Force – Specialist 2
Navy – Seaman Apprentice
Coast Guard – Seaman Apprentice
Private First Class (E-3)
Recruit may enter service at this rank with an associate degree. For others, this rank is achieved after a year of service and is not held for long given good conduct. Assigned to tedious taskings and does not hold position that requires leadership of another.
Marine Corps – Lance Corporal
Air Force – Airman First Class
Space Force – Specialist 3
Navy – Seaman
Coast Guard – Seaman
Specialist or Corporal (E-4)
Specialists hold the highest rank among “junior enlisted ranks.” Corporals, with two stripes for insignia, hold the same pay grade of E-4 but are considered non-commissioned officers (NCOs), in that they have assumed an officer’s role but through advancement through enlisted ranks without presidential commission. NCOs are potentially tasked with leading teams, squads, sections, platoons, and companies of soldiers as they are promoted, and serve as senior enlisted advisors in various positions beginning at Battalion level. NCOs occupy all staff section and are tasked with leading subordinates within them.
Marine Corps – Corporal (NCO)
Air Force – Senior Airman
Space Force – Specialist 4
Navy – Petty Officer Third Class (NCO)
Coast Guard – Petty Officer Third Class (NCO)
Sergeant is the first Army NCO rank held by most enlisted personnel. Sergeant, depending on performance and MOS (military occupational specialty) demand, may be achieved within a few years of enlistment. Sergeants typically lead teams in line (combat) units, consisting of a handful of junior enlisted soldiers.
Marine Corps – Sergeant
Air Force – Staff Sergeant
Space Force – Sergeant
Navy – Petty Officer Second Class
Coast Guard – Petty Officer Second Class
Sergeant Audie Murphy
Staff Sergeant (E-6)
Staff Sergeant is a rank often held by season NCOs who have led soldiers for years. With certain MOSs, promotion can slow due to gluts of leadership developing ahead of them and not retiring, or simply by operational tempo. Staff Sergeants typically lead squads in line units, which consist of two teams. They may also lead sections, which consist of two squads. Staff Sergeants are commonly called to service as Drill Sergeants and trainers.
Marine Corps – Staff Sergeant
Air Force – Technical Sergeant
Space Force – Technical Sergeant
Navy – Petty Officer First Class
Coast Guard – Petty Officer First Class
Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta
Sergeant First Class (E-7)
Sergeants First Class enter great responsibility and are called to serve as platoon sergeants in line units, meaning they serve as the senior enlisted man over at least 40 personnel. They are relied upon to develop new lieutenants who are the leaders (de facto commanders) of the platoon as commissioned officers. Promotion to this rank requires administrative skill, physical fitness competency, and leadership ability. A senior Sergeant First Class may be pressed into service as a company First Sergeant prior to promotion.
Marine Corps – Gunnery Sergeant
Air Force – Master Sergeant or First Sergeant
Space Force – Master Sergeant
Navy – Chief Petty Officer
Coast Guard – Chief Petty Officer
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (USMC) - Full Metal Jacket (fictional)
Master Sergeant or First Sergeant (E-8)
Master Sergeants and First Sergeants share the pay grade of E-8 but have different duties. Soldiers in pay grade E-8 have typically served in the staff position, found at battalion level and higher, of Master Sergeant, and as a First Sergeant. The First Sergeant is the senior enlisted man in a Company, which is commanded by a Captain and consists of several platoons. He serves as the enlisted advisor and enforcer to the Company Commander and provides mentorship to the senior NCOs within the company. First Sergeants are often nicknamed “Top,” thanks to their position in the Company NCO food chain. Promotion to the pay grade of E-8 generally takes at least 15 years.
Marine Corps – Master Sergeant or First Sergeant
Air Force – Senior Master Sergeant or First Sergeant
Space Force – Senior Master Sergeant
Navy – Senior Chief Petty Officer
Coast Guard – Senior Chief Petty Officer
First Sergeant Carwood Lipton, Band of Brothers
Sergeant Major or Command Sergeant Major (E-9)
Sergeants Major, like Master and First Sergeants, often serve in staff and leadership capacities. The staff position of Sergeant Major is found for the first time at Battalion level, under the supervision of the Battalion Operations Officer (S-3). That role is critical for training and operational success. Command Sergeants Major are also found for the first time at Battalion level, serving as the senior enlisted advisor to the Battalion Commander, a Lieutenant Colonel. He provides mentorship to all subordinate NCOs and is the ultimate authority for standardization within the Battalion. Command Sergeants Major are found at every echelon above Battalion, as are staff Sergeants Major. Sergeants Major are feared among the enlisted ranks.
Marine Corps – Master Gunnery Sergeant or Sergeant Major
Air Force – Chief Master Sergeant or First Sergeant or Command Chief Master Sergeant
Space Force – Chief Master Sergeant
Navy – Master Chief Petty Officer or Fleet/Command Master Chief Petty Officer
Coast Guard – Master Chief Petty Officer or Fleet/Command Master Chief Petty Officer
Sergeant Major Daniel Daly, USMC
Giant typo: the PFC (E-3) text is duplicated.
I was acting platoon sergeant as a corporal for about a month one time, it was so stressful!