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An Overview of United States Military Ranks

In the military, enlisted service members of all three branches are subject to a rank hierarchy indicating their status, experience, and pay grade. Each branch of the military has a separate hierarchy, with each separate category having its own authority structure. Rank is more than just an indicator of who salutes whom, but rather a badge of leadership and responsibility.

The basic hierarchy of military personnel are as follows:

  • Enlisted
  • Warrant Officers
  • Officers

While nearly all branches follow a similar ranking system, the Air Force does not have a Warrant Officer status and skips from Enlisted directly to Officer Status. Each of these three categories has its own substructure of pay grades, marked by a letter and number code. Enlisted ranks begin at E-1 and continue through E-9, the highest of the enlisted pay grades. If promoted further, the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps have a Warrant Officer hierarchy, coded as W-1 through W-5. Even further promotion leads to the Officer category, coded as O-1 through O-10, which signifies the highest echelon of military service.

Some pay grades have multiple ranks within them, even though they receive the same pay. For example, the Army’s E-4 pay grade includes the Specialist and the Corporal, though a Corporal is given higher authority over a Specialist. Similarly, Sergeant Majors within the Marine Corps are given a higher rank than Master Gunnery Sergeants, despite the fact that both are marked as E-9.

For more information on the different ranks within the military, visit the United States Department of Defense’s website.

Need Legal Help? Call (254) 870-3623

At Barbara Weaver, Attorney at Law, we regularly assist military members and their spouses with various types of family law issues, including child custody during deployment, military divorce, and spousal support. If you are a service member or military spouse in need of legal assistance, our firm’s Killeen military family law attorneys can provide the results-driven representation you need.

To find out more about what our 20+ years of experience can do for you, contact our office online or request a free consultation today!


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