Have you ever wondered about the ranks in the United States military? What is the difference between an Army captain and a Navy captain? Or how a lieutenant general differs from a major general? If you have, then this blog post is for you. First, a little about the history of military ranks. In ancient times, it was customary for leaders to be appointed by their superiors. This is why an Army captain typically reports to a lieutenant colonel, while a captain in the Navy reports to a commander. Over time, however, these hierarchical structures began to dissolve. By the 1700s, most militaries had adopted a system where officers were promoted based on merit and skill. This is why captains in the Army and Navy typically have more seniority than lieutenant generals and major generals.
Now that we have that out of the way let’s look at how military ranks are different in the United States. Before that, you need to know about military insignia and its importance. Insignia is a symbol that identifies an officer or soldier. In the United States military, the different ranks in the military have different rank insignia. For example, a major general has a silver star on his pocket square, while a lieutenant colonel has a single gold bar. Service branch insignia is another type of insignia, and it’s worn on the epaulets (the shoulder straps) of an officer’s uniform. It denotes the officer’s branch of service (Army, Navy, Air Force, etc.) and the officer’s rank.
Below, we will break down the different ranks in each branch of the military.
- The Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force use similar rank systems. The Navy and Coast Guard use a slightly different system, although there is considerable overlap.
- The lowest Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force rank is private. A private has very few responsibilities and does not hold any leadership position.
- The next rung up on the ladder is private first class. A private first class has completed basic training and holds more responsibilities than a private.
- A specialist is a soldier who has a skill that qualifies them for specific tasks, such as handling communications equipment or driving vehicles.
- Corporals and sergeants are considered non-commissioned officers (NCOs). Corporals and sergeants serve as leaders of small groups of soldiers.
- A staff sergeant is a leader of a work group that consists of several squad-sized units (9 to 10 soldiers).
- The next step up the ladder is sergeant first class. A sergeant first class typically leads two or more squads (18 to 20 soldiers).
- Master sergeants, first sergeants, and sergeants majors are considered senior NCOs. They typically have command over all the NCOs in their unit, as well as some lower-ranking soldiers. Command Sergeants Major are usually the highest ranking enlisted soldiers in their units. They report directly to the commanding officer.
- Warrant officers are specialists who have expertise in areas such as engineering, logistics, or medical care. Warrant officers outrank all enlisted soldiers and junior NCOs but report to senior NCOs or field-grade officers (majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels).
- The captain is the first Officer rank in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force. They typically lead companies consisting of 80 to 200 soldiers, but they may also fill senior staff positions at brigade level or above.
- Majors generally serve as staff officers at battalion level or above or as company commanders.
- Lieutenant colonels generally command battalions consisting of 500 to 800 soldiers, but they may also serve on division-level or corps-level staffs. Colonels typically lead brigades consisting of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers, but they may also hold senior positions on division-level or army-level staff.
Military ranks can be confusing because there are so many of them, and they vary slightly between branches of the military. However, understanding how military ranks work can give you a better appreciation for the dedication and experience required to attain certain positions.