Military Enlisted Paygrades By Ranks

Military Ranks: E1 - E9

Joint Service Color Guard
••• U.S. Military/Public Domain

When considering enlisting into the military, it is not unlike other professions where you will start at the bottom and through education, skills acquired, and hard work, you will advance through the ranks. The term "rank" and "paygrade" are used interchangeably within the military. The following information describes the differences and relations of both terms:

There are nine enlisted paygrades in the military, starting with E-1 and progressing up through E-9. The career path of a typical enlisted member will take 18-20 years to achieve the highest rank of the enlisted pay grades. However, in the Armed Forces, rank is generally determined by pay grade.

The following charts cover the pay grade and ranks, starting with the low-level (or Entry Level) pay grades. Service members in the first three pay grades are usually either in some kind of training status (basic training) or on their initial assignment after receiving job training.

Enlisted Pay Grades E-1 / E-2 / E-3

Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard


Air Force - Airman Basic [No insignia]

Army - Private [No Insignia]

USMC - Private [No insignia]

USN / USCG - Seaman Recruit (SR) [No Insignia]


Air Force - Airman (AMN)

Army - Private E2 (PV2)

USMC - Private First Class​ (PFC)

USN / USCG - Seaman Apprentice​ (SA)


Air Force - Airman First Class​ (A1C)

Army - Private First Class​ (PFC)

USMC - Lance Corporal (LCpl)

USN / USCG - Seaman​ (SN)

E-4 Through E-6:

In the mid-level enlisted ranks (E-4 through E-6) , there is a significant increase in leadership responsibility. At this point, there is formal recognition given of that increase in responsibility with the use of the terms "non-commissioned officer" (NCO) and "Petty Officer."

For rank and precedence within the Army, specialist ranks immediately below corporal. Among the services, however, rank and precedence are determined by pay grade.

An Air Force staff sergeant, an Army sergeant and a Marine corporal are considered NCO ranks. The Navy and Coast Guard NCO equivalent of petty officer is achieved at the rank of petty officer third-class.

Enlisted Pay Grades E-4 / E-5 / E-6

Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard


Air Force - Senior Airman​ (SrA)

Army - Corporal​ (CPL)

Army - Specialist​ (SPC)

USMC - Corporal​ (CPL)

USN / USCG - Petty Officer Third Class​ (PO3)


Air Force - Staff Sergeant​ (SSG)

Army Sergeant​ (SGT)

USMC - Sergeant​ (SGT)

USN / USCG - Petty Officer Second Class​ (PO2)


Air Force - Technical Staff Sergeant​ (TSgt)

Army - Staff Sergeant​ (SSG)

USMC - Staff Sergeant​ (SSG)

USN / USCG - Petty Officer First Class​ (PO1)

* Note regarding Navy & Coast Guard rank insignia for E4 and above -- a specialty mark in the center of a rating badge (between the eagle and the chevron(s) indicates the wearer's particular rating. 

For both the Navy and the Coast Guard, the sleeve insignia chevrons are red (or if in summer uniform, navy blue). In the Navy, however, if the petty officer has reached/obtained 12 years of continuous good conduct, the petty officer is required to wear gold chevrons. If the petty officer loses eligibility for future good conduct, s/he reverts back to red chevrons.

Enlisted Pay Grades E-7 / E-8 / E-9

Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard


Air Force - Master Sergeant (MSgt)

Army - First Sergeant

USMC Sergeant First Class (SFC)

USMC Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt)

USN / USCG - Chief Petty Officer (CPO)


Air Force - Senior Master Sergeant​ (SMSgt)

Army - First Sergeant

Army - Master Sergeant​ (MSG)

Army - First Sergeant​ (1SG)

USMC - Master Sergeant​ (MSgt)

USMC - First Sergeant​ (1st Sgt)

USN / USCG - Senior Chief Petty Officer​ (SCPO)


Air Force Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt)

Army - First Sergeant Command

Army - Chief Master Sergeant

USMC - Sergeant Major​ (SGM)

USMC - Command Sergeant Major​ (CSM)

USMC - Master Gunnery Sergeant​ (MGySgt)

USMC - Sergeant Major​ (SgtMaj)

USN / USCG - Master Chief Petty Officer​ (MCPO)

USN / USCG - Fleet / Command Master Chief Petty Officer

In the top-level enlisted ranks, there is an even more significant increase in leadership responsibility. As a whole, ranks E-8 and E-9 have between 15 and 30 years on the job, and are usually the commanders' senior advisers for enlisted matters.

Some of the rank insignia become dependent upon the job: At the E-7 level, the Air Force has two positions at the same pay grade, and that is reflected in the difference in the two insignia. Whether one is, for example, a master sergeant or a first sergeant in the Air Force depends on the person's job.

At the E-8 level, the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps have two positions at the same pay grade with differing rank insignia, and which rank one has depends on the job.

At the E-9 level, things get even more interesting. At a "primary" level, all branches have split positions (and different insignia) that depend upon the job. But there's one more level to the E-9 pay grade: that of the senior enlisted person in each service.

  • Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force
  • Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard
  • Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy
  • Sergeant Major of the Army
  • Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps

These individuals are the spokespersons of the enlisted force at the highest levels of their services.

Regardless of service, you will be required to learn the ranks of all the branches of service upon entering. The military is a joint operations world, especially in combat zones. Learning all the ranks and insignia is not just something people do out of courtesy, but rather because their boss may be from a different service branch.