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Military Enlisted Rank Structure

EnlistedRank

When it comes to enlisted pay grades and ranks, what you should first know is that pay grades range from E-1 to E-9, with the "E" standing for "enlisted." What follows is the summary-style breakdown of these pay grades and what they mean. Further information can be found at the individual service pages as linked below.

Air Force

Enlisted Air Force ranks are unique in that the Air Force is the only one of the five armed service branches of the U.S. military where NCO status is achieved at the grade of E-5.

Airman Ranks (E-1 through E-4): Promotion from rank E-1 to E-3 is fairly straightforward, and responsibility is greatly increased at the E-3 and E-4 ranks. The average Air Force-wide time in service (TIS) for promotion to the rank of E-3 is 16 months, and 3 years for E-4.

Pay Grades: Airman Basic (E-1), Airman (E-2), Airman First class (E-3), Senior Airman (E-4)

Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Ranks (E-5 and E-6): Air Force enlisted members E-5 and E-6 are referred to as NCOs. The average Air Force wide TIS for promotion to the rank of Staff Sergeant is over 4 years, and 12 years for Technical Sergeant.

Pay Grades: Staff Sergeant (E-5), Technical Sergeant (E-6)

Air Force Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO) Ranks (E-7 through E-9): Air Force enlisted members E-7 and above are referred to as SNCOs. Like the NCO ranks, Senior NCOs are rated by their "Skill Levels."

Only one percent of the Air Force enlisted personnel can hold the grade of E9 at any one time. To be eligible for promotion to E-9, and E-8 must have a minimum of 14 years TIS and 21 months of time in grade (TIG).

Pay Grades: Master Sergeant (MSgt), Senior Master Sergeant (E-8), Chief Master Sergeant (E-9), Command Chief Master Sergeant (E-9).

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force: The Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (CMSAF) represents the highest enlisted level of leadership in the Air Force. The CMSAF is appointed by the Air Force Chief of Staff (AF/CC) and serves as the senior enlisted advisor to the Air Force Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force on all issues regarding the welfare, readiness, morale, and proper utilization and progress of the enlisted force.

Army

Enlisted Army ranks are broken down into three groups: Junior Enlisted Ranks (E-1 through E-3), Non-Commissioned Officers (E-4 through E-6), and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (E-7 through E-9).

Junior Enlisted Ranks (E-1 through E-3): Promotion through E-3 is fairly automatic, while advancement to E-4 requires having two years TIS and attending a specific training class.

Pay Grades: Private (E-1), Private 2nd Class (E-2), Private First Class (E-3)

Non-Commissioned Officers (E-4 through E-6): Like the other branches of the Armed Forces except for the Air Force, the United States Army considers all ranks E-4 and above to be NCOs. Corporals (E-4) are referred to as junior NCOs.

Pay Grades: Corporal (E-4), Sergeant (E-5), Staff Sergeant (E-6)

Army Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (E-7 through E-9): Although the Army does not make the official distinction in the rank structure, enlisted ranks of Sergeant First Class and above (E-7 – E-9) are generally referred to as Senior NCOs.

SNCO ranks actually cover six separate ranks or designations – Sergeant First Class (Platoon Sergeant), Master Sergeant, First Sergeant, Sergeant Major, Command Sergeant Major, and the Sergeant Major of the Army. The Sergeant Frist Class generally has 15 to 18 years or more of military experience. A First Sergeant holds formations, instructs platoon sergeants, advises the Commander, and assists in training of all enlisted members. The Sergeant Major is the key enlisted member of staff elements at levels higher than battalion.

Pay Grades: Sergeant First Class (E-7), Master Sergeant/First Sergeant (E-8), Sergeant Major (E-9)

The Sergeant Major of the Army: The Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) is a rank held by only one enlisted Soldier at a time. The SMA is the senior enlisted advisor to the Army Chief of Staff and is selected based on his (or her) outstanding leadership, extensive experience, and ability to communicate both up and down the Army chain of command.

Coast Guard

Enlisted Coast Guard rates are broken down into three levels: Non-rates, or members without a designated occupation (E-1 through E-3), Petty Officers (E-4 through E-6), and Chief Petty Officers (E-7 through E-9).

Non-rates (E-1 through E-3): At this point in their career, most Coast Guardsman have not yet attended formal resident training program ("A" School) or completed a formal On-the-Job training program (Striker program) to become rated. The Coast Guard is the only service that automatically advances members to E-2 when upon graduation from basic training (boot camp). In some cases they are eligible for promotion up to E-3 upon graduation from boot camp, based on either enlisting for six years, or prior military experience.

Pay Grades: Seaman Recruit (E-1), Seaman Apprentice (E-2), Seaman (E-3)

Petty Officers (E-4 through E-6): Coast Guard Petty officers are the technical workforce of the service. Petty Officers have responsibility for subordinates in terms of work performance, morale, professional development, and more.

Pay Grades: Petty Officer Third Class (E-4), Petty Officer Second Class (E-5),  Petty Officer First Class (E-6)

Chief Petty Officers (E-7 through E-9): Coast Chief Petty Officers are held in high esteem and to a higher standard than enlisted Coast Guardsman of lesser pay grades.

Pay Grades: Chief Petty Officer (E-7), Senior Chiefs Petty Officer, (E-8), Master Chief Petty Officer (E-9)

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard: The Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (MCPOCG) is the most senior enlisted member of the U.S. Coast Guard and the senior enlisted advisor to the Commandant.

Marine Corps

Enlisted Marine Corp ranks are broken down into three levels: Junior Enlisted (E-1 through E-3), Non-Commissioned Officers (E-4 through E-5), and Staff Non-Commissioned Officers (E-6 through E-9).

Junior Enlisted (E-1 through E-3): The average TIG is six months for promotion from E-1 to E-2, and is virtually automatic. An E-2 is requires nine months TIS and eight months TIG.

Pay Grades: Private (E-1), Private First Class (E-2), Lance Corporal (E-3)

Non-Commissioned Officers (E-4 through E-5): NCOs are responsible for the lives of their men in or out of combat situations.

Pay Grades: Corporal (E-4), Sergeant (E-5)

Staff Non-Commissioned Officers (E-6 through E-9): The major difference between the E-5 and the E-6 is in the increased scope of responsibility. An E-8 in the Marine Corps can be a Master Sergeant or a First Sergeant. The First Sergeant has a command advisory responsibility while the Master Sergeants has more technical responsibilities.

The E-9 Sergeant Major is the principal enlisted advisor to Marine Commanders. The Master Gunnery Sergeant is the technical expert in their MOS.

Pay Grades: Staff Sergeant (E-6), Gunnery Sergeant (E-7), Master Sergeant or First Sergeant (E-8),  Master Gunnery Sergeant or Sergeant Major (E-9)

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps: The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps acts as the Commandant's eyes and ears when it comes to enlisted affairs and other leadership matters. The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps is selected by the Commandant of the Marine Corps and normally serves a four-year term with them.

Navy

Enlisted Navy rates are broken down into three levels: Apprenticeships (E-1 through E-3), Petty Officers (E-4 through E-6), and Chief Petty Officers (E-7 through E-9).

Apprenticeships (E-1 through E-3): Advancement in these ranks are fairly straight forward, and virtually automatic, though the move to E-3 may require certain Professional Qualifications or Apprenticeship Exams before becoming eligible, and expects a minimum performance level.
Pay Grades: Seaman Recruit (E-1), Seaman Apprentice (E-2), Seaman (E-3)

Petty Officers (E-4 through E-6): Promotions to the rates of Petty Officer Third Class (E-4) through Chief Petty Officer (E-7) are based on a limited number of vacancies, and are competitive.

Pay Grades: Petty Office Third Class (E-4), Petty Office Second Class (E-5), Petty Office First Class (E-6)

Chief Petty Officers (E-7 through E-9): These pay grades have advanced requirements, such as the Senior Chief Petty Officer Selection Board for E-8, which assesses professional service at sea and education, and the Master Chief Petty Officer Selection Board.

Pay Grades: Chief Petty Officer (E-7), Senior Chief Petty Officer (E-8), Master Chief Petty Officer (E-9)

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy: The Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) is the most senior enlisted member of the U.S. Navy. He or she is appointed by the Chief of Naval Operations to serve as a spokesman to address the issues of enlisted personnel to the highest positions in the Navy. As such, he or she is the senior enlisted advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations as well as the Chief of Naval Personnel.

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