U.S. Army Ranks: A Guide for Federal Defense Contractors

16 mins read

In the federal government’s 2022 budget, the Department of Defense received the lion’s share of it. With an increased budget allocation for contract projects, more and more government contractors are vying for a defense contract win. If you are a government contractor who wants to do business with the Department of Defense or other defense departments, you must understand how these organizations are structured.

The U.S. Army is the nation’s fighting force against threats on the land. They safeguard America’s land territories, resources, and people. To help you get to know this branch of the Armed Forces, here is a comprehensive list of the U.S. Army ranks in order, along with a brief description of their duties and responsibilities.

The U.S. defense departments, such as the navy, air force, and army observe varying military rank systems, which can be confusing to many. 

What are Army ranks in order?

Enlisted (E-1 to E-3)

The Enlisted Service members of the U.S. Army are those who are still in their respective training courses or are currently deployed for their initial assignment. During their training, the Enlisted Service members will be immersed in the culture and values of the United States Army. After completing their basic training, they will undergo advanced training for their military occupational specialty.

There are 13 enlisted Army ranks: private, private second class, private first class, specialist, corporal, sergeant, staff sergeant, sergeant first class, master sergeant, first sergeant, sergeant major, command sergeant major and sergeant major of the Army.

Private (E-1)

The Private (PV1) is the most junior member of the army ranks. As soldier trainees undergoing Basic Combat Training, the PV1 is responsible for carrying out orders issued to them.

After completing their training for the next six months, the PV1 will be promoted to PV2.

Private 2 (E-2)

After the PV1 complete their Basic Combat Training, they are promoted to Private 2 (PV2). As the second-most junior member of the army ranks, they will apply their learnings during their BCT in fulfilling orders given to them. PV2 is the first rank in which a soldier can wear an insignia.

Furthermore, the PV2 will be eligible for promotion after four months in rank and completing 12 months in service.

Private First Class (E-3)

There are two ways to qualify as a Private First Class (PFC): get promoted from PV2 or enter the army with prior military training experience.  As a (PFC), the enlisted soldier will develop technical and leadership skills by carrying out their given orders.

The Private First Class will become eligible for promotion to Specialist once they have six months in rank and 24 months in service.

Specialist (E-4)

The Specialist (SPC) rank is the highest junior enlisted rank in the army. As SPC, they can start managing the enlisted soldiers of the lower rank, specifically the Private soldiers. Individuals may enlist directly as specialists if they graduate with a four-year college degree or possess specific specialized skills.

Specialists share the same pay grade with a corporal but have fewer enlisted personnel leadership responsibilities. They will be eligible for promotion after 11 months in rank and 47 months in service.

Army ranks: Non-Commissioned Officers

Corporal (E-4)

The Corporal (CPL) shares the same pay grade with the Specialist, but their duties and responsibilities differ in the area of leadership. Also referred to as a “Junior Noncommissioned Officer,” the Corporal oversees the training and appearance of lower-ranked enlisted personnel.

Sergeant (E-5)

The Sergeant (SGT) is the first line of leaders. The Army Sergeant directly leads enlisted soldiers, especially green privates, in fulfilling their orders and daily tasks. Usually, an SGT leads a  four-soldier team and ensures that their command will receive proper MOS training while maintaining a professional appearance.

Aside from longevity of service, eligibility for promotion is based on a competitive point system that considers several factors, such as physical fitness and education level.

Staff Sergeant (E-6)

Compared to the Sergeant, who only manages a small faction, the Staff Sergeant (SSG) leads a bigger squad comprising 8-16 soldiers and one or more Sergeant. The SSG enforces army standards, develops, and trains enlisted officers and lower NCO ranks in MOS and unit missions. As their squad leader, they are responsible for unlocking and harnessing the full potential of the soldiers under their command.

Sergeant First Class (E-7)

The Sergeant First Class (SFC) is a key assistant and adviser to the platoon leader, or “Platoon Sergeant.” The SFC is in charge of training and overseeing soldiers and their staff sergeants.

Furthermore, only soldiers with more than 15 to 18 years of military experience can qualify for this rank, especially given how heavy their leadership responsibility is.

Master Sergeant (E-8)

The Master Sergeant (MSG) is a principal non-commissioned officer at the battalion level or higher. The MSG is not tasked with handling the same amount of leadership workload compared to sergeants, but they are still on top of leading their soldiers who are directly under their command.

First Sergeant (E-8)

The First Sergeant (1SG) is a senior non-commissioned officer of batteries, companies, and troops. The 1SG is considered the life-blood of a company, serving as its wise counsel, disciplinarian, and provider. They command sergeants under their care and help them train all instructed soldiers under them.

Furthermore, the 1SG also assists officers at the company level, which is usually comprised of 60-200 soldiers.

Sergeant Major (E-9)

The Sergeant Major (SGM) is well regarded as an expert in their chosen technical field. As the senior enlisted adviser to a primary staff officer at a battalion level, the SGM harnesses their expertise to provide regulatory guidance, analytical review, and policy development.

Their skills and expertise rival the Command Sergeant Major, but the SGM’s responsibilities lie primarily in senior enlisted advisers to a primary staff officer. The SGM assists battalion officers who manage 300 to 1000 soldiers.

Command Sergeant Major (E-9)

The Command Sergeant Major (CSM) is a senior NCO who oversees the training along with other assisting officers at a brigade level, enforces military policies and standards, and maintains their command’s decorum. The CSM is expected to perform their duties professionally and effectively without supervision.

Furthermore, the CSM offers guidance to other assisting officers who command a brigade, which is usually composed of 1,500 to 32100 soldiers.

Sergeant Major of the Army (E-9)

Displaying peerless leadership, communication, and technical skills, the Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army (SMA) oversees them all. Since only one SMA can serve the army at a time, they must be a shining role model for all current and aspiring sergeants. They set an example of the army’s standards by overseeing the entire NCO.

The SMA will serve as a senior enlisted adviser and consultant to the Chief Of Staff of the Army.

The Warrant Officers are field specialists who is instrumental in any battlefield.

Warrant Officers

The Warrant Officers are the specialists of the U.S. Army warrant. Compared to commissioned officers who are generalists, warrant officers are well regarded for their specializations in different military capabilities and technologies.

Warrant Officer 1 (W-1)

The lowest rank among the Army’s warrant officers, Warrant Officer 1 (WO1) is a service member selected by the Army Secretary. The WO1 uses their technical and tactical training to carry out their various duties, ranging from technical leader to adviser.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 (W-2)

Commissioned by the president of the United States themselves, the Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) is a technical and tactical expert in their chosen field. These intermediate-level field experts perform their duties and responsibilities at a battalion level.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 (W-3)

The Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CW3) are advanced-level technical and tactical experts who are primarily in charge of providing leadership support. The CW3 helps subordinates execute their duties by offering guidance, resources, and counsel. Usually, a CW3 handles teams or detachments through brigades.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 (W-4)

The Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CW4) are senior-level experts who offer their expertise to various army levels—battalions, brigades, corps, divisions, and echelons. Compared to other warrant officers, the CW4 also provides special mentorship to its lower-ranked warrant officers and offers counsel to commanders in dealing with issues related to warrant officers.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 (W-5)

The Chief Warrant Officer 5 (CW5) boasts their master-level technical and tactical expertise in the field. As the leader in offering expert advice, development opportunities, and mentorship, the CW5 supports brigades, divisions, corps, echelons above corps, and —major command operations.

The Commissioned Officers are in charge of planning, strategizing, and training their soldiers under their command.

Commissioned Officers

The Army’s commissioned officers are relegated to a crucial task—ensure that the country’s people and resources are protected against on-ground threats. The Commissioned Officers are the key decision-makers who lead enlisted soldiers through every situation imaginable. They plan and strategize missions, instruct people under their command, and delegate tasks to their soldiers.

The Commissioned Officers’ ranks are confirmed by the Senate. And they also have the capability to receive presidential commissions. Furthermore, the Army Commission Officers are further divided into three salary grades:  company grade officers (O-1 to O-3),  field grade officers(O-4 to O-6), and general officers (O-7 and higher).

Second Lieutenant (O-1)

The Second Lieutenant is the lowest ranking commissioned officer. Although it is considered an entry-level commissioned officer rank, the Second Lieutenant is in charge of leading platoons (16 to 44 soldiers), along with their respective platoon sergeants.

First Lieutenant (O-2)

The First Lieutenant is a hardened commissioned officer with more than 18 to 24 months of service. Compared to the Second Lieutenant, the First Lieutenant is responsible for leading specialized weapons platoons and indirect fire computation centers.

Captain (O-3)

The Army Captain commands and controls company-sized units, which are usually made up of 60 to 200 soldiers, together with their principal NCO assistants. Furthermore, the Captain also shares their technical expertise by instructing at service schools and U.S. Army combat centers. They are often selected as staff officers at the battalion level, handling roughly 300 to 1000 soldiers.

Major (O-4)

The U.S. Army Major is the primary staff officer for brigade and task force command. They are in charge of commanding personnel, operational, and tactical missions.

Lieutenant Colonel (O-5)

The Lieutenant Colonel works hand-in-hand with the Command Sergeant Major to command and oversee battalion-sized units, which are usually composed of 300 to 1000 soldiers. Furthermore, the Lieutenant Colonel is eligible to be appointed as the brigade and task force Executive Officer.

Colonel (O-6)

The Colonel, together with the Command Sergeant Major, oversees brigade-sized units, which are made up of 1,500 to 3,200 soldiers. Additionally, the Colonel is typically selected as chief for divisional-level staff agencies.

Brigadier General (O-7)

The Brigadier General acts as the deputy commander of a Major General who oversees division-sized units (10,000 to 16,000 soldiers). As the deputy commander, the Brigadier General oversees the unit’s mission planning and coordination.

Major General (O-8)

The Major General commands division-sized to perform major tactical operations and carry out sustained battles and engagements. As the commander of the army divisions, the Major General leads roughly 16,000 soldiers to complete major missions.

Lieutenant General (O-9)

Similar to the Major General, who leads their command into major operations, the Lieutenant General is in charge of leading corp-sized units, which are typically made up of 20,000 to 40,000 soldiers.

General (O-10)

This 4-star commissioned officer is the most senior ranking member of them all. As the General, they are in charge of all the military operations within their geographical area.

The U.S. Army Generals are seasoned veterans who have served the country for more than 30 years.

General Of The Army (Reserved during wartime) (O-10)

A General Of The Army is only appointed whenever the country is in war. To match the adversaries’ commanding officers, the U.S. selects its General Of The Army to be in charge of the country’s warfighting strategies.

The last General Of The Army was appointed during WWII. The five officers who were selected ever since the implementation of the 1944 version of the General Of The Army were: George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and Henry H. Arnold.

Check here the ranks of the other military branches:

U.S. Marine Corps Ranks: List of Ranking in Order

U.S. Coast Guard Ranks: A Guide For Defense Contractors

What Are the U.S. Air Force Ranks?

U.S. Navy Ranks: List of Ranking

U.S. Space Force Ranks: List of Ranking in Order

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