Military Ranks: Everything You Need to Know

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Military ranks colors parade.
(U.S. Marine Corps/Asia J. Sorenson)

Understanding military ranks can be tricky, especially when it comes to knowing the military ranks in order.

Some of the military services -- the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps -- have their own enlisted military rank structures; the Coast Guard and Navy generally mirror each other; and, as of late 2020, the Space Force relies on the Air Force rank system.

A service member's military rank doesn't just determine his or her level of responsibility, but also their pay. That's why each service's ranks are tied to paygrades in an "enlisted," "warrant officer" and "officer" number system, written as the letters "E," "W," "O" and a number.

For example, the lowest military enlisted rank is "E-1," while the highest military officer rank in use is "O-10." While each service may call them something different, they all can be boiled down to "E" and "O." The only rank names and abbreviations that are exactly the same across all services who use them are those for warrant officers.

Related: Calculate your military pay

These military ranks are displayed on service member uniforms through a series of symbols, such as chevrons, stripes, stars and bars.

Military Ranks Chart

What are the military ranks?

To learn the military ranks, you need to know what each service specifically calls the E and O levels, their abbreviations and how they look in the symbols, also known as insignias. For officers, Air Force, Army and Marine Corps symbols are largely the same, while the Navy and Coast Guard generally mirror each other.

The rank symbols can vary broadly for enlisted troops, with the Marine Corps and Army having many commonalities, and the Coast Guard and Navy once again mirroring each other.

Additionally, while all the military services stick to the same paygrade structure, the Navy and Coast Guard organize their enlisted ranks in a "rate" system. Learn more about Navy enlisted rates and Coast Guard enlisted rates.

What is the highest military rank?

The highest military rank is O-10, or "five-star general." It is symbolized by five stars for each of the military services. Although it is currently a part of the military service rank system, no officer has been promoted to it since World War II, when the rank was created. Only nine Americans have ever held this rank -- four as Fleet Admirals of the Navy, five as Generals of the Army and one as General of the Air Force.

The last living five-star general was Omar Bradley, who died in 1981.

Army Ranks

The best way to understand Army ranks in order is to see each paygrade paired with what the service calls the rank and the abbreviation used by the Army. You can also read more details for Army enlisted ranks and Army officer ranks.

Paygrade

Rank

Military Rank Abbreviation

Army Enlisted Ranks

   
E-1 Private (Recruit) PVT
E-2 Private PV2
E-3 Private First Class PFC
E-4 Specialist SPC

Army Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) Ranks

   
E-4 Corporal CPL
E-5 Sergeant SGT
E-6 Staff Sergeant SSG
E-7 Sergeant First Class SFC
E-8 Master Sergeant

First Sergeant

MSG

1SG

E-9 Sergeant Major

Command Sergeant Major

SGM

CSM

E-9 (special) Sergeant Major of the Army SMA

Army Warrant Officer Ranks

   
W-1 Warrant Officer 1 WO1
W-2 Chief Warrant Officer 2 CW2
W-3 Chief Warrant Officer 3 CW3
W-4 Chief Warrant Officer 4 CW4
W-5 Chief Warrant Officer 5 CW5

Army Commissioned Officers Ranks

   
O-1 2nd Lieutenant 2LT
O-2 1st Lieutenant 1LT
O-3 Captain CPT
O-4 Major MAJ
O-5 Lieutenant Colonel LTC
O-6 Colonel COL
O-7 Brigadier General BG
O-8 Major General MG
O-9 Lieutenant General LTG
O-10 Army Chief of Staff (special)

General

GEN

GEN

Air Force Ranks

The best way to understand Air Force ranks in order is to see each paygrade paired with what the service calls the rank and the abbreviation used by the Air Force. Unlike the other services, the Air Force does not have warrant officers. You can also see more specifics for Air Force enlisted ranks and Air Force officer ranks.

Paygrade

Rank

Military Rank Abbreviation

Air Force Enlisted Ranks    
E-1 Airman Basic AB
E-2 Airman Amn
E-3 Airman First Class A1C
E-4 Senior Airman SrA
Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Ranks    
E-5 Staff Sergeant SSgt
E-6 Technical Sergeant TSgt
E-7 Master Sergeant MSgt
E-8 Senior Master Sergeant SMSgt
E-9 First Sergeant (Chief Master Sergeant)

Chief Master Sergeant

CMSgt
Special Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force CMSAF
Air Force Commissioned Officer Ranks    
O-1 2nd Lieutenant 2d Lt
O-2 1st Lieutenant 1st Lt
O-3 Captain Capt
O-4 Major Maj
O-5 Lieutenant Colonel Lt Col
O-6 Colonel Col
O-7 Brigadier General Brig Gen
O-8 Major General Maj Gen
O-9 Lieutenant General Lt Gen
O-10 Air Force Chief of Staff (special)

General

Gen

Coast Guard and Navy Ranks

Both maritime services, the Navy and Coast Guard use a rank structure that mirrors each other. While the symbols for the ranks used on their uniforms are different shades of blue, if you learn to recognize the ranks for one, you'll know the ranks for the other. You can also see more specifics for Navy enlisted ranks, organized by rates; Navy officer ranks; Coast Guard enlisted ranks and rates; and Coast Guard officer ranks.

Paygrade

Rank

Military Rank Abbreviation

Coast Guard and Navy Enlisted Ranks    
E-1 Seaman Recruit SR
E-2 Seaman Apprentice SA
E-3 Seaman SN
Coast Guard and Navy Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Ranks    
E-4 Petty Officer Third Class PO3
E-5 Petty Officer Second Class PO2
E-6 Petty Officer First Class PO1
E-7 Chief Petty Officer CPO
E-8 Senior Chief Petty Officer SCPO
E-9 Master Chief Petty Officer MCPO
Special (Navy)

Special (Coast Guard)

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard

MCPON

MCPOCG

Coast Guard and Navy Warrant Officer Ranks    
W-1 Warrant Officer 1 W01
W-2 Chief Warrant Officer 2 CW02
W-3 Chief Warrant Officer 3 CW03
W-4 Chief Warrant Officer 4 CW04
W-5 Chief Warrant Officer CW05
Coast Guard and Navy Commissioned Officer Ranks    
O-1 Ensign ENS
O-2 Lieutenant, Junior Grade LTJG
O-3 Lieutenant LT
O-4 Lieutenant Commander LCDR
O-5 Commander CDR
O-6 Captain CAPT
O-7 Rear Admiral (Lower Half) RDML
O-8 Rear Admiral (Upper Half) RADM
O-9 Vice Admiral VADM
O-10 Chief of Naval Operations (special)

Commandant of the Coast Guard (special)

Admiral

ADM

Marine Corps Ranks

The best way to understand Marine Corps ranks in order is to see each paygrade paired with what the service calls the rank and the abbreviation used by the Marine Corps. You can also read more details for Marine Corps enlisted ranks and Marine Corps officer ranks.

Paygrade

Rank

Military Rank Abbreviation

Marine Corps Enlisted Ranks    
E-1 Private Pvt
E-2 Private First Class PFC
E-3 Lance Corporal LCpl
Marine Corps Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Ranks    
E-4 Corporal Cpl
E-5 Sergeant Sgt
E-6 Staff Sergeant SSgt
E-7 Gunnery Sergeant GySgt
E-8 Master Sergeant

First Sergeant

Mgst

1stSgt

E-9 Master Gunnery Sergeant

Sergeant Major

MGySgt

SgtMaj

Special Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps SgtMajMarCor
Marine Corps Warrant Officer Ranks    
W-1 Warrant Officer W01
W-2 Chief Warrant Officer 2 CW2
W-3 Chief Warrant Officer 3 CW3
W-4 Chief Warrant Officer 4 CW4
W-5 Chief Warrant Officer 5 CW5
Marine Corps Commissioned Officer Ranks    
O-1 2nd Lieutenant 2ndLt
O-2 1st Lieutenant 1stLt
O-3 Captain Capt
O-4 Major Maj
O-5 Lieutenant Colonel LtCol
O-6 Colonel Col
O-7 Brigadier General BGen
O-8 Major General MajGen
O-9 Lieutenant General LtGen
O-10 Commandant of the Marine Corps

General

Gen

 

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