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US Army Insignia: Get to Know the Ranks

Knowing and understanding military ranks might be something of general interest, or it can serve as a means of better understanding how the command system of the United States military functions. Each member, from the newly-recruited private to the rarest five star general, has a specific set of duties to perform in order to make the military operations of the army function at their best.

Junior Enlisted Ranks

The junior enlisted ranks of the army are the entry-level ranks for recruits who enter directly out of civilian life and have not gone through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) or the military academy at West Point. These recruits typically advance in grade automatically based on time in service and time within their pay grade.

Private – PVT
Insignia: None
Grade: E-1
Responsibilities: To complete basic combat training or basics and graduate to the rank of private.
Qualifications for Rank: This is an entry-level rank and has only the basic qualifications of recruitment as qualifications. A higher-ranking soldier can be reduced to this rank for disciplinary purposes.
Formal Address: Private
Nicknames: recruit, cherry

 

Private Second Class - PV2
Insignia: Single chevron
Grade: E-2
Responsibilities: PV2s have the responsibility of applying knowledge and skills learned in basics in order to follow orders given by higher-ranking supervisors.
Qualifications for Rank: Six months in service at E-1 grade.
Formal Address: Private
Nicknames: mosquito wing

Private Second Class - PV2

Private First Class - PFC
Insignia: Single chevron closed by a single bar
Grade: E-3
Responsibilities: The primary responsibilities of PFCs are to complete assigned missions and carry out orders. They begin their training for leadership and/or start to learn specific technical skills for which they can earn the rank of specialist.
Qualifications for Rank: Twelve months in service and 4 months within E-2 grade.
Formal Address: Private
Nicknames: PFC

Private First Class - PFC

Specialist - SPC
Insignia: Eagle on a green field which is rounded at the top and comes to a triangular point at the bottom
Grade: E-4
Responsibilities: Help to manage lower-ranking soldiers as they assist them to complete their special technical skills. They are primarily focused on carrying out the specific duties of their specialty more than they are put into leadership roles, which go with the rank of Corporal. Recruits who enter as a civilians with a 4-year degree enter basics at the SPC rank.
Qualifications for Rank: Minimum of two years in service and the completion of a specific training school.
Formal Address: Specialist
Nicknames: Chicken in a frying pan, bird private

Specialist - SPC

Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs)

NCOs are selected for demonstrating leadership abilities during their term as junior enlisted soldiers. They advance based on need, performance and recommendation by supervising officers as well as time in service and time in grade.

Corporal - CPL

Corporal - CPL
Insignia: Two chevrons
Grade: E-4
Responsibilities: Though corporals hold the same grade as specialists, corporals are charged with leadership roles which include the individual training, personal appearance and cleanliness of the small units or teams for which they are given responsibility. They are the backbone of troop morale.
Qualifications for Rank: Twenty-six months in service, 3 to 6 months in E-3 grade, and security clearance appropriate for their rank.
Formal Address: Corporal
Nicknames: hard stripe

Sergeant - SGT

Sergeant - SGT
Insignia: Three chevrons
Grade: E-5
Responsibilities: This is the lowest rank where command is involved. A sergeant is a hands-on instructor who is responsible for individual training, personal appearance and cleanliness of the unit under his command of five soldiers. These leaders tend to have the most impact on the development of individual soldiers.
Qualifications for Rank: Specialists and corporals must have a command recommendation from a supervising officer, thirty-six months in service and eight months’ time in grade. They must graduate from a Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC) and hold a high school diploma, GED or college degree.
Formal Address: Sergeant
Nicknames: buck sergeant

Staff Sergeant - SSG

Staff Sergeant - SSG
Insignia: Three chevrons closed by a single bar
Grade: E-6
Responsibilities: Staff sergeants are responsible for the same responsibilities toward their subordinates as the other NCOs, but they tend to have a broader sphere of influence in equipping a large number of soldiers. Their primary focus is more of an administrative role than a hands-on leadership role. In the field they command a squad of ten soldiers.
Qualifications for Rank: Sergeants who want to become staff sergeants must have completed eight four months in service and ten months in grade. They also require a command recommendation, will have completed PLDC and will have the proper level of education.
Formal Address: Sergeant

Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO)

Though there is not an official distinction between junior NCOs and senior NCOs, there is definitely a higher level of responsibility and respect earned and given to senior NCOs. These are non-commissioned career positions which are awarded on the basis of need and merit via a selection process at the Headquarters of the Department of the Army (HQDA), rather than by unit commanders and supervisors.


Sergeant First Class - SFC
Insignia: Three chevrons closed by two bars
Grade: E-7
Responsibilities: The SFC is the primary assistant to the platoon leader who carries out the specific role of training, preparing and executing platoon functions. They direct two to three staff sergeants.
Qualifications for Rank: Six years minimum time in service.
Formal Address: Sergeant
Nicknames: platoon sergeant, plat-daddy (Vietnam)

Sergeant First Class - SFC

Master Sergeant - MSG
Insignia: Three chevrons closed by three bars
Grade: E-8
Responsibilities: Principal NCO at the battalion level. Though not given as much responsibility as a first sergeant, they are expected to perform at the same level of professionalism in dispatching their leadership role.
Qualifications for Rank: Eight years minimum time in service.
Formal Address: Sergeant

Master Sergeant - MSG

First Sergeant - 1SG
Insignia: Three chevrons closed by three bars with a diamond in the center
Grade: E-8
Responsibilities: First sergeants play the role of disciplinarian and counselor. They instruct the other sergeants in their unit, advise commanders at the battalion level and above and assist in ensuring proper training of all troops under their command.
Qualifications for Rank: Eight years minimum time in service.
Formal Address: First Sergeant
Nicknames: black diamond, first shirt

First Sergeant - 1SG

Sergeant Major – SGM
Insignia: Three chevrons closed by three bars with a star in the center
Grade: E-9
Responsibilities: Sergeant majors are the key enlisted elements on officer staffs above the battalion level. His or her leadership abilities are typically equal to those of a command sergeant major, but are limited to those directly under his command.
Qualifications for Rank: Nine years minimum time in service.

Sergeant Major – SGM

Command Sergeant Major - CSM
Insignia: Three chevrons closed by three bars with two sheaves of wheat around a star
Grade: E-9
Responsibilities: This rank is the highest professional rank achieved by a non-commissioned officer. These officers are expected to carry out the task of meeting the performance, training, appearance and conduct standards for all enlisted personnel. They are senior enlisted advisors to commanding officers.
Qualifications for Rank: Nine years minimum time in service.
Formal Address: Command Sergeant Major

Command Sergeant Major - CSM

Sergeant Major of the Army - SMA
Insignia: Three chevrons closed by three bars with an eagle in the center
Grade: E-9
Responsibilities: A position held by only one soldier at a time. The person selected to be sergeant major of the army oversees all enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officers.
Qualifications for Rank: Selected based on outstanding leadership, experience and ability to communicate up and down the chain of command.
Formal Address: Sergeant Major

Sergeant Major of the Army - SMA

Warrant Officers

Warrant officers are technical and tactical experts of the army who are appointed by the Secretary of the Army to perform specific advisory, training and administrative functions. They manage, maintain, operate and integrate systems across the entire spectrum of army operations.

Warrant Officer - WO1

Warrant Officer - WO1
Insignia: Single black block on a silver bar
Grade: W-1
Responsibilities: Technical training, leadership, management, maintenance and advice concerning specific equipment or operations.
Qualifications for Rank: Appointed by Secretary of the Army.
Formal Address: Mister or Miss
Nicknames: chief

Chief Warrant Officer 2 - CW2

Chief Warrant Officer 2 - CW2
Insignia: Two black blocks on a silver bar
Grade: W-2
Responsibilities: Intermediate tactical experts attached to battalion level operations.
Qualifications for Rank: Appointed by Secretary of the Army.
Formal Address: Mister or Miss
Nicknames: chief

Chief Warrant Officer 3 - CW3

Chief Warrant Officer 3 - CW3
Insignia: Three black blocks on a silver bar
Grade: W-3
Responsibilities: Advanced tactical experts attached to brigade level operations.
Qualifications for Rank: Appointed by Secretary of the Army.
Formal Address: Mister or Miss
Nicknames: chief

Chief Warrant Officer 4 - CW4

Chief Warrant Officer 4 - CW4
Insignia: Four black blocks on a silver bar
Grade: W-4
Responsibilities: Senior level tactical experts attached to operations at battalion level all the way up to division and corps level.
Qualifications for Rank: Appointed by Secretary of the Army.
Formal Address: Mister or Miss
Nicknames: chief

Chief Warrant Officer 5 - CW5

Chief Warrant Officer 5 - CW5
Insignia: Single black vertical strip on a silver bar
Grade: W-5
Responsibilities: Master level tactical experts who are attached to the highest level operations for advisement to upper echelon officers.
Qualifications for Rank: Appointed by the Secretary of the Army.
Formal Address: Mister or Miss
Nicknames: chief

Commissioned or General Officers

Officers are specially trained individuals who have undergone extensive training in an ROTC, military academy, or West Point. They are given the utmost deference from enlisted officers and personnel and are responsible for directing and delegating the operations of their particular commands. The lower three ranks of officers are considered company or grade officers, the middle three ranks are considered field grade officers (meaning they are still assigned to directing operations in the field) and those higher in rank tend to be in positions to the rear of the action. They are promoted based on need, time in service, merit and upon the recommendation of higher ranking commanders.

Second Lieutenant - 2LT
Insignia: Single gold bar
Grade: O-1
Responsibilities: Lead platoon-sized units consisting of a platoon sergeant and at least two squads (16-44 soldiers).
Qualifications for Rank: Graduation from an officer training program and appointment by the secretary of the Army.
Formal Address: Lieutenant
Nicknames: butter bar, company or grade officer, LT

Second Lieutenant - 2LT

First Lieutenant - 1LT
Insignia: Single silver bar
Grade: O-2
Responsibilities: Typically lead more technical weapons platoons rather than infantry.
Qualifications for Rank: 18 to 24 months in service.
Formal Address: Lieutenant
Nicknames: company or grade officer, LT

First Lieutenant - 1LT

Captain - CPT
Insignia: Two silver bars
Grade: O-3
Responsibilities: Instruct and train in service schools and combat training centers or serve as a staff officer at battalion level. Have command over company sized units (62 to 190 soldiers).
Qualifications for Rank: Appointed on the recommendation of a superior.
Formal Address: Captain
Nicknames: company or grade officer

Captain - CPT

Major - MAJ
Insignia: Gold oak leaf
Grade: O-4
Responsibilities: Primary staff officer for brigade and task force commands. Tend to manage personnel and logistical operations.
Qualifications for Rank: Appointed on the recommendation of a superior.
Formal Address: Major
Nicknames: field grade officer (FGO)

Major - MAJ

Lieutenant Colonel - LTC
Insignia: Silver oak leaf
Grade: O-5
Responsibilities: Command battalion-sized units of 300 to 1,000 soldiers. Has a sergeant major as an NCO command assistant. Can be appointed to staff at the brigade level as an executive officer.
Qualifications for Rank: Appointed on the recommendation of a superior.
Formal Address: Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel
Nicknames: light colonel, field grade officer (FGO)

Lieutenant Colonel - LTC

Colonel - COL
Insignia: Silver eagle with outstretched wings
Grade: O-6
Responsibilities: The highest-ranking field grade officers, which command brigade-sized units of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers. Their primary NCO command assistant is usually a command sergeant major. They may also serve as chief on division-level staffs.
Qualifications for Rank: Appointed on the recommendation of a superior.
Formal Address: Colonel
Nicknames: bird colonel, full bull, field grade officer

Colonel - COL

Brigadier General - BG
Insignia: Single silver star
Grade: O-7
Responsibilities: Brigadier generals serve as the deputy commanders of division commands. They oversee the planning and coordination of missions.
Qualifications for Rank: Appointed on the recommendation of a superior.
Formal Address: General
Nicknames: brigadier, one star

Brigadier General - BG

Major General - MG
Insignia: Two silver stars aligned side by side
Grade: O-8
Responsibilities: Major generals command division sized units of between 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers.
Qualifications for Rank: Appointed on the recommendation of a superior.
Formal Address: General
Nicknames: two star

Major General - MG

Lieutenant General - LTG
Insignia: Three silver stars aligned side by side
Grade: O-9
Responsibilities: Lieutenant generals command corps-sized units of 20,000 to 45,000 soldiers.
Qualifications for Rank: Appointed on the recommendation of a superior.
Formal Address: General
Nicknames: three star

Lieutenant General - LTG

General - GEN
Insignia: Four silver stars aligned side by side
Grade: O-10
Responsibilities: The most senior-level commanders in the officer corps. They tend to have more than 30 years of experience and command all operations within a geographical region.
Qualifications for Rank: Specially selected for advancement.
Formal Address: General
Nicknames: four star

General - GEN

General of the Army - GOA
Insignia: Five silver stars arranged in the shape of a pentagon
Grade: O-11
Responsibilities: This level is only achieved in times of war in order for the U.S. commander’s rank to be equal or superior to those commanders of allied nations. The last five star generals served during and right after WWII.
Qualifications for Rank: Four star general promoted under special circumstances.
Formal Address: General
Nicknames: five star

General of the Army - GOA