What is an overview of military titles and ranks?


Quick Answer

Military titles vary according to the branch of service, but they all share the same rank groupings or designations: E-1 to E-9 for enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officers, W-1 to W-5 for warrant officers, and O-1 to O-10 for officers. Non-commissioned officers are those who have risen through the enlisted ranks but haven't received a commission. The top designations and the titles differ, but the overall pattern for each is straightforward.

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Full Answer

Titles for the various rank designations differ from the lowest rank. An enlisted soldier enters as a Private in the Army or Marines, as a Seaman Recruit in the Navy, and as an Airman Recruit in the Air Force. For civilians, these title differences can be confusing, especially when a title in one branch is the same in another branch but for different pay grades. For example, Private First Class is the title for an enlisted soldier at pay grade E-3 in the Army and at E-2 in the Marines.

Although certain terms, such as Sergeant, appear with different prefixes and specialties across the branches, the movement upward through the ranks is straightforward. From the lowest levels of Private and Recruit, soldiers move up the ranks in similar fashion, even if the titles are dissimilar across branches.

In general, enlisted soldiers with seniority may become non-commissioned officers but stay within the enlisted ranks. Warrant officers become officers not through governmental commission but by being recognized as specialists, technical or otherwise. Officers are those with commissions who have bachelor's degrees or higher or who have attended Officer Candidate School or Officer Training School in the Air Force. At the highest levels, there are different titles for admirals in the Navy and for generals in the Army, Air Force and Marines.

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