13 U.S. Army Enlisted Ranks (Descriptions, Duties and Pay Grades)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 22, 2021 | Published January 3, 2020

Updated September 22, 2021

Published January 3, 2020

The United States Army follows a clearly defined ranking system for enlisted soldiers below the level of officer. Enlisted personnel generally perform specific occupational specialties while officers have more command responsibilities. Understanding U.S. Army ranks may help you set your own goals for service or better understand the accomplishments and responsibilities of soldiers. In this article, we discuss the 13 enlisted ranks, pay grades, leadership levels and responsibilities.

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U.S. Army enlisted ranks

U.S. Army enlisted ranks are listed by title starting with the least experience. The designation after the title denotes the rank’s 2021 pay grade. Pay grades may be the same for several ranks based on time in service.

Read more: Top 7 Benefits of Joining the U.S. Army

Junior enlisted ranks

Enlisted ranks with E-1 to E-4 pay grades are classified as junior enlisted ranks. Soldiers in those ranks are automatically promoted based on their time in service (TIS) and time in grade (TIG).

Private (E-1)

Private (PV1) is the lowest rank in the U.S. Army and is primarily for recruits in basic combat training (BCT). They are typically automatically promoted to private second class after six months TIS. However, soldiers may be demoted to private as part of disciplinary action.

The E-1 grade pay range is $1,785 per month.

Related: What To Expect in Army Basic Training

Private Second Class (E-2)

Most enlisted soldiers are promoted to private second class (PV2) after completing BCT. Completing the U.S. Army’s Future Soldiers Program or having prior military training college credit may allow a soldier to enter service as a PV2. Primary duties are applying what they learned in BCT and learning how to follow orders. They are automatically promoted to private first class after four months TIG or 12 months TIS.

The E-2 grade pay range is $2,001 per month.

Private First Class (E-3)

As a private first class (PFC), an enlisted soldier begins carrying out orders and developing technical and leadership skills. The rank is usually earned at a soldier’s first duty station after BCT and advanced individual training. Those with experience or prior military training may start basic training as a PFC.

They are automatically promoted to specialist after two years TIS and six months TIG. Promotion to corporal, a noncommissioned officer rank, also requires a leadership position, such as a team leader. Also, a security clearance is required for their military occupational specialty (MOS).

The E-3 grade pay range is $25,247 to $28,462 per year.

Specialist (E-4)

Specialist (SPC) is the highest of the junior enlisted ranks and can manage enlisted soldiers of lower rank. Their duties are focused on technical expertise. Enlisted soldiers with a four-year college degree or certain specialized skills may start BCT as an SPC. They can be promoted to sergeant after 11 months TIG and 47 months TIS. They hold the same pay grade as a corporal but have fewer personnel leadership responsibilities.

The E-4 grade pay range is $27,965 to $33,948 per year.

Noncommissioned officer ranks

Pay grades E-4 through E-6 are classified as noncommissioned officer (NCO) ranks. Noncommissioned officers obtain their position by promotion through the enlisted ranks while commissioned officers usually graduate from a military academy, Officer Candidate School or Officer Training School after earning a post-secondary degree. NCO training and education include leadership and management along with MOS and combat training.

Corporal (E-4)

A corporal (CPL), referred to as a “junior NCO,” is the lowest NCO rank. They serve as team leaders for small U.S. Army units responsible for soldiers’ training and appearance. There are two paths to promotion to sergeant. One requires 36 months TIS and at least eight months TIG. The other requires 18 months TIS and six months TIG.

The E-4 grade pay range is $27,965 to $33,948 per year.

Sergeant (E-5)

A sergeant (SGT) is typically the NCO who oversees a group of soldiers, especially new privates, in daily tasks. An SGT typically leads a four-soldier team, the smallest element in the U.S. Army organizational structure. They are the first-line leaders with the most direct impact on soldiers. Sergeants are responsible for ensuring those in their command receive MOS training and maintain a professional appearance.

Promotion is based on a competitive point system for firing range scores, performance evaluations, physical fitness, education level, awards and promotion board ranking. To be eligible to compete for promotion, they must have:

  • Command recommendation

  • Three years TIS

  • Eight months TIG

  • High school diploma, GED or college degree

  • Primary leadership development course (PLDC) graduation

The E-5 grade pay range is $30,499 to $43,283 per year.

Staff Sergeant (E-6)

A staff sergeant (SSG) typically leads a squad made up of two to three teams or eight to 16 soldiers with one or more sergeants. They are often directly responsible for privates, specialists and lower-ranked NCOs. SSGs are responsible for developing, maintaining and using a soldier’s full range of potential. Staff sergeants develop and train their soldiers in their MOS, enforce military standards and lead unit missions.

Promotion is based on the same competitive point system for sergeants. To be eligible to compete for promotion, they must have:

  • Command recommendation

  • 84 months TIS

  • 10 months TIG

  • High school diploma, GED or college degree

  • PLDC graduation

The E-6 grade pay range is $33,293 to $51,566 per year.

Related: How To Become a Squad Leader in the Army

Senior noncommissioned officer ranks

Those in pay grades E-7 through E-9 are referred to as “senior NCOs” and their higher NCO ranks have more responsibilities. While they only have three pay grades, there are six separate ranks for senior NCOs. Promotions within these ranks come from the Headquarters of the Department of the Army (HQDA). There is no minimum TIG, but candidates must meet TIS requirements.

Sergeant First Class (E-7)

A sergeant first class (SFC) is a senior NCO who typically serves as a key assistant and adviser to a platoon leader. This is a duty position, not a rank. Also known as “platoon sergeants,” they lead the platoon in the commanding lieutenant’s absence. A platoon usually has two to four squads with 16 to 44 soldiers. Depending on their assignment, they may be the NCO in Charge (NCOIC). An SFC is responsible for training and overseeing soldiers and staff sergeants in their crews, squads or small units. SFCs generally have 15 to 18 years of military experience.

Promotion is based on the competitive point system. However, they must have at least six years TIS to be eligible to compete for promotion to master sergeant or first sergeant.

The E-7 grade pay range is $38,491 to $69,185 per year.

Master Sergeant (E-8)

A master sergeant (MSG) is the principal NCO at the battalion level or higher. Although not assigned with the same amount of leadership responsibility as sergeants first class, master sergeants still effectively lead soldiers directly under their charge.

Promotion is based on the competitive point system. However, they must have at least eight years TIS to be eligible for promotion to first sergeant.

The E-8 grade pay range is $55,375 to $78,977 per year.

First Sergeant (E-8)

A first sergeant (1SG) is the senior NCO in a company, troop or battery. At the company level, they assist officers overseeing 60 to 200 soldiers. A first sergeant trains enlisted soldiers, instructs other sergeants and serves as an adviser to the commander.

Promotion is based on the competitive point system. However, they must have at least eight years TIS to be eligible for promotion to sergeant major.

The E-8 grade pay range is $55,375 to $78,977 per year.

Sergeant Major (E-9)

A sergeant major (SGM) is a subject matter expert in their technical field and a primary adviser regarding policy development, analytical review and regulatory guidance. They serve as the senior enlisted adviser to a primary staff officer at the battalion level (300 to 1,000 soldiers) or higher.

The E-9 grade pay range is $67,644 to $105,030 per year.

Command Sergeant Major (E-9)

A command sergeant major (CSM) is the training professional who oversees training within a unit. As a senior NCO, they are responsible for assisting officers at the brigade level (1,500 to 3,200 soldiers) or higher. Duties include advising the commander and staff while maintaining policies and standards and overseeing the training and conduct of enlisted personnel.

A CSM is expected to function completely without supervision. This is the highest rank that can be held by more than one person at a time.

The E-9 grade pay range is $67,644 to $105,030 per year.

Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army (E-9)

There is only one sergeant major of the U.S. Army (SMA) at a time. The SMA oversees all NCOs and serves as the senior enlisted adviser and consultant to the U.S. Army’s chief of staff. This rank is held by the most senior member of the enlisted ranks based on experience, leadership and communication skills. The SMA is appointed to serve as a spokesman to address the issues of enlisted soldiers. Exact duties vary depending on the chief of staff,

The E-9 grade pay range is $67,644 to $105,030 per year.

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