Pay & Salary

Military Pay: Which Military Branch Pays the Most?

February 22, 2021

The military offers a wide variety of jobs that allow you to build a great career while serving your country and they pay great too. Compensation includes base pay, housing allowance, food allowance and other Special Military Pay. If you are considering a military career, income could be a compelling factor in your decision. In this article, we answer the question of which military branch pays the most, which promotes the fastest and list the different pay grades and titles.

What are the branches of the military?

There are five branches of the military. They include:


This is the main ground-force of the United States and its primary function is to protect and defend the country with ground troops, attack helicopters, artillery, tactical nuclear weapons and other weapons.

Air Force

The youngest military branch, its primary function is to defend the United States and its interests via air and space and does so using fighter aircraft, light and heavy bombers, tanker aircraft, transport aircraft and helicopters. This is also the branch of the military that controls nuclear ballistic missiles and military satellites.


The Navy is responsible for protecting U.S. interests at sea. Navy ships can attack land targets from miles out at sea using cruise missiles and heavy guns or deploy submarines that allow for a stealth attack. Navy ships can also supplement Air Force airpower.

Marine Corps

The marines specialize in assault, capture and control of beachheads. While the marines specialize in amphibious operations, they have expanded to ground-combat as well. It is primarily a self-sufficient branch with its own airpower of attack helicopters, fighters and bombers.

Coast Guard

The Coast Guard is primarily responsible for law enforcement, illegal immigration controls, boating safety and sea rescue.

Which military branch pays the most?

All members of the military, regardless of which branch they serve in, are paid according to their rank, time in service, location of duty station, family members and job specialty. The lowest-ranking enlisted military service member, whether an Army private or a Navy seaman recruit, has a pay grade of E-1. The highest-ranking officer, regardless of branch, carries a pay grade of O-10.

Branches that promote the fastest

The Army is generally the branch of the military that promotes the fastest. That said, your military job and the level of advanced education you have will impact your ability to be promoted. A college degree can help you get promoted more rapidly, regardless of the branch you're in. However, specialized career fields often don't promote quickly. The military typically promotes personnel when those in higher ranks are promoted or retire or when they need more people in a particular field.

Annual pay for each rank

The U.S. armed forces provide housing for all of its service members. If housing isn't available on base, the service member will receive a housing allowance based on the pay grade and duty station. Service members are also paid a basic allowance for subsistence based on whether they are an officer or enlisted service member. Special Military Pay can also be added to compensation, depending on the career field and location. For example, military personnel may receive hardship duty pay, flight pay or career sea pay.

Here is a look at the different pay grades for military personnel:

  • E-1: $1732 per month
  • E-2: $1,942 per month
  • E-3: $2,043-$2,302 per month
  • E-4: $2,262-$2,746 per month
  • E-5: $2,467-$3,501 per month
  • E-6: $2,693-$4,172 per month
  • E-7: $3,114-$5,597 per month
  • E-8: $4,480-$6,389 per month
  • E-9: $5,472-$8,497 per month
  • O-1: $3,287-$4,136 per month
  • O-2: $3,787-$5,241 per month
  • O-3: $4,383-$7,131 per month
  • O-4: $4,985-$8,324 per month
  • O-5: $5,777-$9,816 per month
  • O-6: $6,931-$12,270 per month
  • O-7: $9,351-$13,971 per month
  • O-8: $11,254-$15,388 per month
  • O-9: $15,905-$19,730 per month
  • O-10: $18,186-$22,362 per month

E-1: $1732 per month

This is the lowest-enlisted rank and includes Airman Basic, Army Private, Seaman Recruit. Base pay starts at $1,554 per month and after four months will increase to $1,681 per month.

E-2: $1,942 per month

Service members automatically promote to E-2 within six months of service and become an Airman (Air Force), Private (Army), Private 1st Class (Marine Corps) or Seaman Apprentice (Navy).

E-3: $2,043-$2,302 per month

Promotion to E-3 occurs automatically after 12 months, at which time the service member becomes an Airman 1st Class (Air Force), Private 1st Class (Army), Seaman (Navy) or Corporal (Marines).

E-4: $2,262-$2,746 per month

Service members who are an E-4 typically have served for at least two years. Their titles at this rank are Senior Airman (Air Force), Specialist/Corporal (Army), Petty Officer 3rd Class (Navy) or Corporal (Marines).

E-5: $2,467-$3,501 per month

At this rank, promotions are no longer automatic based on time served, although service members can reach this rank in as little as three years. Titles at this rank are Staff Sergeant (Air Force), Petty Officer 2nd Class (Navy), Sergeant (Army/Marines). Service members usually spend three years at this pay grade although their pay will increase with their time served.

E-6: $2,693-$4,172 per month

Generally, service members with this rank have served for at least six years. At an E-6, their titles are Technical Sgt. (Air Force), Staff Sgt. (Army and Marines) and Petty Officer 1st Class (Navy). They typically will not achieve the next pay grade increase, an E-7, until they have served for 10 years.

E-7: $3,114-$5,597 per month

Service members typically do not achieve the rank of E-7 until they have served for 10 years, although it can be accomplished sooner. Titles for this rank include Master Sergeant (Air Force), Sgt. 1st Class (Army), Gunnery Sgt. (Marine Corps) and Chief Petty Officer (Navy).

E-8: $4,480-$6,389 per month

At E-8, service members are Senior Master Sgt. or 1st Sgt. (Air Force), 1st Sgt. or Master Sgt. (Army), Senior Chief Petty Officer (Navy) or Master Sgt. or 1st Sgt. (Marines). They can reach this rank with as little as 12 years in service. Service members who retire as an E-8 at 20 years will take home $64,488 per year. If they stay enlisted beyond that, they receive raises every two years.

E-9: $5,472-$8,497 per month

E-9s typically have 15-30 years of experience and their titles are Master Chief Petty Officer (Navy), Chief Master Sgt. (Air Force), Sgt. Maj. (Army), Master Gunnery Sgt. or Sgt. Maj. (Marines). Some branches allow E-9s to stay in the military for up to 32 years.

O-1: $3,287-$4,136 per month

A freshly commissioned officer earns $3,188 per month in base pay, in addition to the tax-free housing and food allowances. Titles for O-1s are 2nd Lt. (Army/Marines/Air Force) or Ensign (Navy).

O-2: $3,787-$5,241 per month

After two years of service, officers are automatically promoted to O-2. Their titles at this time are 1st Lt. (Air Force/Army/Marines) or Lt. j.g. (Navy).

O-3: $4,383-$7,131 per month

Officers receive an automatic pay increase after three years of service. Army officers achieve the next rank automatically at four years of service. At this rank, officers receive pay increases every two years.

O-4: $4,985-$8,324 per month

By the time they reach a rank of O-4, military officers typically have 10 years of service. Their titles are Maj. (Air Force/Army/Marine Corps) or Lt. Cmdr. (Navy).

O-5: $5,777-$9,816 per month

Officers usually spend 17 years or more in the military before promoting to O-5. When they reach their 18-year commissioning anniversary, they'll earn $8,998 per month and have the rank of Lt. Col. (Air Force/Marines/Army) or Comdr. (Navy).

O-6: $6,931-$12,270 per month

Colonels and Navy captains who have 22 years in service receive $10,841 per month. Officers must promote to general or admiral by 30 years of service or must retire.

O-7: $9,351-$13,971 per month

Each rank, at this point, carries its own mandatory requirement, although officers must promote to the next higher rank or retire. Promotion to brigadier general or rear admiral depends on job availability as well as a range of other variables. Officers who have served for 30 years and who have spent less than five years at the lowest flag rank must retire.

O-8: $11,254-$15,388 per month

This rank includes Maj. General (Air Force/Marines/Army) and Rear Adm. (Navy). At this point, they will be earning $184,572 per year and must retire after their 35th year in the military.

O-9: $15,905-$19,730 per month

At this pay rank, the titles for the officers are Vice Admiral for the Navy and Lieutenant General for other branches.

O-10: $18,186-$22,362 per month

This is the highest pay grade and once a military officer achieves a four-star rank of general or admiral, they will no longer receive pay increases, regardless of their time in service.


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