If you’re wondering about U.S. Army ranks, this post is for you. We break down the difference between enlisted and officer ranks and explain the Army rank structure. So how long does it take to rank up in the Army? That’s easier to ask than answer. Earning a new rank in any military service is a direct result of time in service plus effort expended. The more you put in, the more you’ll receive. The Army divides ranks into three groups. These include enlisted personnel, warrant officers, and commissioned officers.
Enlisted Soldiers are classified as either junior enlisted or non-commissioned officers.
Junior enlisted ranks include E1-E3.
E1 Private (Pvt.) New service members begin as Privates. There is no associated rank insignia for Privates.
E2 Private Second Class (Pv2) Most Soldiers become PV2s after finishing Basic Combat Training. To earn this rank, a Soldier needs to showcase they’re developing new skills and are able to apply them.
E3 Private First Class (Pfc.) After a year in service, a Soldier will most often be promoted to Pfc. In this role, they’re given a little more responsibility and work to carry out orders and complete unit missions.
Non-commissioned officer ranks include E4-E9. E4 to E6 ranks are considered “junior” NCO ranks, while E7-E9 are more senior roles.
E4 Specialist (Spc) or Corporal (Cpl) These two E4 ranks are very different. Specialists are considered junior to Corporals, even though their rank and pay are the same. Their role is related to the technical side of units rather than personnel management. Corporals are considered junior NCOs because of their leadership roles.
E5 Sergeant (Sgt) In addition to overseeing daily tasks, Sergeants usually have teams of five or fewer Soldiers who report directly to them. They lead by example and mentor junior Soldiers.
E6 Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Staff Sergeants are in charge of larger groups of Soldiers and have more property and equipment to maintain. Their primary duties include leadership development and mentoring.
E7 Sergeant First Class (SFC) A Soldier in this role generally has at least 15 years of military service. They act as a platoon leader.
E8 Master Sergeant (MSg) or First Sergeant (1Sg) Master Sergeants are often specialists in their MOSs and act as the main point of contact NCO for higher-level units like battalions or brigades. First Sergeants act as the principal advisor to the commander and conduct unit formations. They’re also responsible for mentoring and disciplining Soldiers in their unit.
E9 Sergeant Major (SgtMaj) or Command Sergeant Major (CSM) By the time a Soldier reaches the Army rank of E9, the job is largely admin related, and they serve as an integral staff member at battalion or higher levels. Both Sergeant Majors and Command Sergeant Majors lead and mentor Soldiers in their command. They also make recommendations to improve their units.
The Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) is the chief advisor to the Chief of Staff of the Army. The CSA is the highest-ranking offer who serves the Army and is a member of the National Security Council. The president appoints the CSA. Then, they’re confirmed by the Senate and they serve four years alongside the SMA. The Army’s current SMA has a lot to say and he’s not shy about expressing himself.
These tactical and technical experts help train Soldiers, organize and advise on missions, and serve as counsel to officers in units. Becoming a Warrant Officer involves passing both mental and physical tests. As a WO, you’ll spend the remainder of your career developing a specific skill set and level of expertise in a field. This means you’ll be in leadership positions for the duration of time in service.
W01 This starting point is the first Army rank of a Warrant Officer. In this role, a W01 supports their unit at battalion-level ops.
WO2 Chief Warrant Officer Two (CW2) CW2s are higher ranked than Warrant Officers. They have similar duties as a W01 and most often serve at the battalion level.
WO3 Chief Warrant Officer Three (CW3) This Army rank serves at the brigade level to achieve brigade missions.
WO4 Chief Warrant Officer Four (CW4) generally supports high-level efforts with leadership and technical skills.
(WO5) Chief Warrant Officer Five (CW5) supports high-level ops on the command level. They provide tech and tactical expertise as well as leadership and mentoring.
Commissioned Officer Ranks
Officers lead enlisted Soldiers. Duties vary depending on the environment and the needs of the Army. Often they include giving orders, planning missions, and assigning tasks and duties. A bachelor’s degree is a must. To advance in your career track, a master’s degree is necessary, too.
Just like enlisted ranks, the Army categorizes officer ranks. These include company-grade, field-grade, and general officers.
O1 Second Lieutenant (2Lt) – This is the rank a person commissions with following graduation from a four-year college program. Second Lieutenants generally serve as platoon leaders of up to 44 Soldiers.
O2 First Lieutenant (1Lt) – After serving for 18 to 24 months, second lieutenants promote to first lieutenant. This middle of the road company grade Army rank tend to serve in more specialized units or as staff officers to prepare for their next duty assignment.
O3 Captain (Capt) – A captain commands a larger unit of Soldiers. Depending on the needs of the Army, they can also serve as staff officers or instructors.
O4 Major (Maj) – Majors are primary staff officers for high-level commands. Most often, their key responsibilities are operational related.
O5 Lieutenant Colonel (LtCol) – This mid-range Army field grade rank serves in larger units like battalions, or they might work in a task force at the brigade level.
O6 Colonel (Col) – In addition to commanding brigades of up to 5,000 Soldiers, colonels can also be chiefs of division-level agencies.
O7 Brigadier General (BrigGen) This is the lowest Army general rank. Brigadier Generals serve below Major Generals at the brigade or division level.
O8 Major General (MajGen) This two-star general commands a division that can include up to 15,000 Soldiers.
O9 Lieutenant General (LtGen) O9s are responsible for corps-size units of 45,000 Soldiers or more.
O10 Generals (Gen) Four-star generals are the most senior officers in the Army. Generals usually have over 30 years of experience and command operations in an entire geographical region.
General of the Army (GA) is a wartime rank. There have only ever been five GAs. In its modern incarnation, the first GA was George Marshall and the last was Omar Bradley. The GA ranks above generals and is equivalent to a fleet admiral or an Air Force general. Speaking of Bradley, here’s how he was rated in 1943.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the top 3 ranks in the Army?
The top three field officer ranks are O5, O4, and O3. The top three enlisted ranks are E9, E8, and E7.
What Army rank do most enlisted soldiers retire at?
Everyone retires at different ages, depending on their own personal circumstances.
What is the lowest rank in the Army?
Newly enlisted Soldiers enter without a rank (Private) to Basic Combat Training.
What rank do college graduates enter the Army with?
After graduating college, a newly commissioned officer is a Second Lieutenant.