Explaining U.S. Military Rank Structure

Since the time of the Revolutionary War, the United States military has had a formal structure. Over time, that has helped it develop from a stoic collection of patriots with a cause to the world’s most powerful armed forces. Over time, new branches of the Armed Forces have been added to the United States Army and Navy, and its structure has been altered, but the tradition of proud service has not abated.

Military Rank Charts

This is a series of charts depicting the ranks and insignias for the enlisted personnel that join the military. There are several notable similarities between different branches of service.

NATO CodeBranchInsigniaAbbreviationRankNotes
OR-1ArmyPvtPrivateThe lowest Army rank. Most soldiers start at this rank.
USMCPvtPrivateMarine Privates must follow orders and learn for six months before progressing.
Coast GuardSRSeaman RecruitTwo separate pay grades exist at this rank. Higher pay scale for recruits with four months of service.
Air ForceABAirman BasicEligible for promotion to airman after six months.
NavySRSeaman RecruitMay be a seaman/hospitalman/fireman/airman or constructionman recruit based on assignment.
NATO CodeBranchInsigniaAbbreviationRankNotes
OR-2ArmyPV2Private Second ClassUsually attained after six months in service.
USMCPFCPrivate First ClassAttained after six months in service. Must continue to learn and develop new skills.
Coast GuardSASeaman ApprenticeActual title and color group depends on assignment.
Air ForceAmnAirmanCan enlist at this rank after two years of Junior ROTC or 20 college semester credit hours.
NavySASeaman ApprenticeMay have completed requirements for a rating (designated strikers) or be ‘undesignated’.
NATO CodeBranchInsigniaAbbreviationRankNotes
OR-3ArmyPFCPrivate First ClassUsually attained after a year of service. Associate degree graduates and Eagle Scouts may enter service at this pay grade.
USMCLCplLance CorporalMost common rank in the USMC. Awarded based on time in service, conduct, and time in grade.
Coast GuardSNSeamanMost commonly seaman rate, but hospitalman, fireman, or airman also exist.
Air ForceA1CAirman First ClassOn promotion to this rank after basic, recruits get back-pay at this pay grade.
NavySNSeamanMust be selected for a rating before being eligible for advancement, if not already rated.
NATO CodeBranchInsigniaAbbreviationRankNotes
OR-4ArmyCplCorporalFirst non-commissioned officer rank. May direct activities of other soldiers.
ArmySPCSpecialistNot considered junior NCOs.
USMCCplCorporalLowest grade of NCO. Generally lead four-man fire teams.
Coast GuardPO3Petty Officer Third ClassFirst NCO rank in US Coast Guard. Advancement typically dependent on performance.
Air ForceSrASenior AirmanMust attend six-week Airman Leadership School.
NavyPO3Petty Officer Third ClassFirst rank of NCO. All PO3s have a rating and should be technical experts.
NATO CodeBranchInsigniaAbbreviationRankNotes
OR-5ArmySgtSergeantTypically command fire teams (around 5 soldiers). Oversee and set a standard for lower ranks.
USMCSgtSergeantBackbone of the Marine Corps. May serve as squad leader.
Coast GuardPO2Petty Officer Second ClassServes as technical expert and leader.
Air ForceSSgtStaff SergeantUS Air Force’s first NCO rank. Promotion gained on competitive basis.
NavyPO2Petty Officer Second ClassEach rating has an official abbreviation to which the petty officer level is usually appended in common practice (e.g. GM2 for gunner’s mate).
NATO CodeBranchInsigniaAbbreviationRankNotes
OR-6ArmySSGStaff SergeantCommands a squad (9-10 soldiers). May also lead Sergeants.
USMCSSgtStaff SergeantNormally achieved after 4 years of service. Leads 8-27 Marines in platoons.
Coast GuardPO1Petty officer first classNormally, leading petty officer of a division.
Air ForceTSgtTechnical SergeantTakes between 10 and 12 total years service to attain.
NavyPO1Petty Officer First ClassRequires three years in rate as PO2, recommendation for advancement, and an established performance mark average.
NATO CodeBranchInsigniaAbbreviationRankNotes
OR-7ArmySFCSergeant First ClassMay command up to 40 soldiers, depending on platoon. Senior tactical advisor to the platoon leader.
USMCGySgtGunnery SergeantSupervisory position for up to 94 in a platoon. Advises officers, mentors subordinates.
Coast GuardCPOChief Petty OfficerMost significant enlisted grade promotion. Officer takes on more administrative duties.
Air ForceMSgtMaster SergeantFirst senior NCO role. Operational leader.
NavyCPOChief Petty OfficerTransition more to leadership than technical expertise. Gain privileges to separate living and dining areas.
NATO CodeBranchInsigniaAbbreviationRankNotes
OR-8ArmyMSGMaster SergeantTypically a battalion-level NCO.
Army1SGFirst SergeantPrincipal NCO of a company. Administrates and develops junior NCOs and soldiers.
USMCMSgtMaster SergeantGenerally operations chief of a weapons company.
USMC1stSgtFirst SergeantSenior enlisted adviser to a commander at company, battery, or detachment level.
Coast GuardSCPOSenior Chief Petty OfficerRank requires time in service, superior eval scores, and peer review.
Air ForceSMSgtSenior Master SergeantSuperintendents for enlisted members and mentors for NCOs/junior COs.
NavySCPOSenior Chief Petty OfficerAdvancement to this rank contingent on opinion of a board of master chiefs.
NavyCMDCSCommand Senior Chief Petty OfficerRating introduced in 2015, to give chiefs opportunity to experience command.
NATO CodeBranchInsigniaAbbreviationRankNotes
OR-9ArmySGMSergeant MajorChief admin for an Army HQ. Work at battalion level or higher.
ArmyCSMCommand Sergeant MajorSenior enlisted advisor for a commanding officer at battalion level or higher.
ArmySMASergeant Major of the ArmyUnique role overseeing all enlisted soldiers in the Army. Consultant to Army’s Chief of Staff.
USMCMGySgtMaster Gunnery SergeantProvide military leadership and mastery of a Military Occupational Specialty.
USMCSgtMajSergeant MajorUnit commander’s senior enlisted advisor. Handles discipline & morale among enlisted Marines
USMCSMMCSergeant Major of the Marine CorpsUnique role overseeing all enlisted Marines in the USMC. Consultant to the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Coast GuardMCPOMaster Chief Petty OfficerTechnical experts in their fields, serving in commands of all sizes.
Coast GuardCMCCommand Master ChiefDesignated directly by either the Commandant of the Coast Guard or the MCPOCG.
Coast GuardMCPOCGMaster Chief Petty Officer of the Coast GuardUnique role overseeing all enlisted seamen in the Coast Guard. Consultant to the Commandant of the Coast Guard.
Air ForceCMSgtChief Master SergeantManages all enlisted personnel in their unit/subsection, or at higher HQ levels, run major staff functions.
Air ForceCCMCommand Chief Master SergeantSenior advisor to key level commander on all enlisted matters.
Air ForceCMSAFChief Master Sergeant of the Air ForceUnique role overseeing all enlisted airmen in the Air Force. Senior enlisted advisor to the Air Force Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force.
NavyMCPOMaster Chief Petty OfficerThe technical experts in their fields, serving in commands of all sizes.
NavyCMDCMCommand Master Chief Petty OfficerSenior enlisted person at a command. Liaises between CO and the ranks.
NavyFORCM/FLTCMForce Master Chief Petty Officer/ Fleet Master Chief Petty OfficerResponsibilities similar to a CMDCM, but for a larger force command, or fleet command.
NavyMCPONMaster Chief Petty Officer of the NavyUnique role overseeing all enlisted sailors in the Navy. Senior enlisted advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chief of Naval Personnel.

Record Your Military Service History and Ranks

Together We Served has recorded the military service history of over 2 million veterans including those from the Second World War, Korean war, Cold War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, OIF and OEF eras. If you served reconnect with people you served with and record your own military service history, including all your ranks and promotions, on Together We Served.


Tags: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Revolutionary War, Together We Served, United Stated Navy, United States Army, United States Marine Corps, United States Military, Veterans


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