What Are the Differences Between Ranks in the U.S. Military?


Quick Answer

Ranks in the United States military are differentiated first by military branch (whether Army, Air Force, Navy/Coast Guard or Marine Corps) and second by type. The types of rank are enlisted (E), noncommissioned officer (NCO), warrant officer (W) and commissioned officer (O). Enlisted ranks are entry level, potentially leading to the noncommissioned officer and commissioned officer ranks.

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What Are the Differences Between Ranks in the U.S. Military?
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Full Answer

Warrant officer ranks, which feature in all branches of the military except the Air Force, do not necessarily require rank-by-rank progression to attain. Aside from having several years of experience as an enlisted member of the military, warrant officers must be recommended by their commander for the post and subsequently approved by a selection board. Warrant officers are specialists in specific fields.

Aside from the hierarchical differences between ranks, there is also a difference in pay grade. This follows a fairly straightforward structure, starting at the pay grade of E-1 for entry level positions and progressing to O-10 for the highest officer positions. In the Army and Marine Corps, this represents a progression between the ranks of private and general, and in the Air Force, from airman basic to general Air Force chief of staff. Members of the Navy typically start out in the rank of seaman recruit, potentially progressing to the rank of admiral chief of naval operations or, in the Coast Guard, commandant of the Coast Guard.

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