United States Army enlisted rank insignia

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The chart below represents the current enlisted rank insignia of the United States Army.

US DoD Pay grade E-1 E-2 E-3 E-4 E-5 E-6 E-7 E-8 E-9
Insignia No Insignia Army-USA-OR-02.svg Army-USA-OR-03.svg Army-USA-OR-04b.svg Army-USA-OR-04a.svg Army-USA-OR-05.svg Army-USA-OR-06.svg Army-USA-OR-07.svg Army-USA-OR-08b.svg Army-USA-OR-08a.svg Army-USA-OR-09c.svg Army-USA-OR-09b.svg Army-USA-OR-09a.svg
Title Private Private Private First Class Specialist Corporal Sergeant Staff Sergeant Sergeant First Class Master Sergeant First Sergeant Sergeant Major Command Sergeant Major Sergeant Major of the Army
NATO Code OR-1 OR-2 OR-3 OR-4 OR-4 OR-5 OR-6 OR-7 OR-8 OR-8 OR-9 OR-9 OR-9
1 SP4 is no longer an acceptable abbreviation for Specialist.

This chart represents the United States Army enlisted rank insignia with seniority increasing left-to-right inside a given pay grade. All enlisted ranks of corporal and higher are considered non-commissioned officers (NCOs).

The rank of specialist is a soldier of pay grade E-4 who has not yet attained non-commissioned officer status. It is common that a soldier may never be a corporal and will move directly from specialist to sergeant, attaining NCO status at that time.


From the creation of the United States Army to 1820, enlisted rank was distinguished by worsted epaulettes. An infantry corporal wore one epaulette on his left shoulder, a sergeant wore one on his right, while Quartermaster sergeants and sergeants major wore two epaulettes.[1]

The original Revolutionary War enlisted or NCO uniform jacket was dark blue with state-specific facing colors. This was worn with a white waistcoat and breeches and black shoes. Officers wore fawn-colored breeches and a crimson waist-sash under their swordbelt. All ranks wore a black tricorne hat with a black cockade, later a white cockade was inset to represent the American alliance with Bourbon France. From 1782 Regulars used red facings. Foot regiments (Infantry, Artillery, and the Support Arms) and General officers wore gold-metal buttons and lace. Horse regiments (Cavalry, Light Dragoons, and Horse Artillery) and Staff officers wore white-metal buttons and lace.

From 1810 the uniform changed to follow European trends. The tight-fitting and short-skirted double-breasted coatee replaced the single-breasted coat and the waistcoat was discontinued. Militia wore gray coatees (still worn as a ceremonial uniform at West Point today) and Regulars wore National Blue (dark-blue) coatees (except for musicians, who wore reversed red coatees with blue facings). For enlisted and NCO ranks the coatee was worn with a black stovepipe shako, white or gray trousers with matching button-up spats, and black short boots. Officers wore bicorne hats, fawn-colored trousers, and either black high boots (for Foot Troops and Subaltern Officers) or riding boots (for Horse Troops and Field Officers). Facings and buttonhole trim were discontinued in 1813.


Metal officer insignia are adopted for wear on the epaulets in the 1830s. They consist of one or two Bars for Lieutenants and Captains, an Oak-Leaf for Lieutenant-Colonels, an Eagle for Colonels, and one or more Stars for Generals. Insignia are originally in the same metal as the buttons and are in gold-metal for Foot units and white-metal for Horse units. Ensigns (Foot Second Lieutenants) and Cornets (Cavalry Second Lieutenants) had no epaulet insignia and Majors wore contrasting Oak-leaves that were the opposite of their button metal.

Metal Branch of Service insignia were first adopted in 1832; the Hunting Horn is adopted as the Infantry Branch's insignia. They are worn on the cap with the Regiment number inset in or just above it.

Rectangular shoulder straps were worn in the place of epaulets from 1836. They were a rectangle of navy blue cloth bordered with gold metallic lace. The officer's insignia was in yellow metal or embroidery for Lieutenants, Captains, and Majors and contrasting white metal or embroidery for Lieutenant Colonel and General. Colonel and General had the insignia across the strap, while those of the lower ranks of Lieutenant, Captain, Major, and Lieutenant-Colonel were on the ends and faced each other. They are still used today on the Officer's Mess Dress uniform.


The mark of rank used by the military, worn on the shoulder or lapel, is the chevron, a "V" shaped piece of cloth or braid that indicated NCO rank. From 1851 to 1920 the chevrons of the combat arms were in Branch of Service colors (e.g., Sky Blue for Infantry, Dark Green for Riflemen and Mounted Rifles, Orange for Dragoons (from 1851-1861), Yellow for Cavalry, Red for Artillery, and Green for the Medical Department). To distinguish between them, combat arm senior NCOs used arcs (called "rockers" - from their curved shape) under their chevrons and support service senior NCOs used flat bars under theirs.

From 1820 to 1903 the insignia was worn with the point down. From 1903 to 1905 there was some confusion and rank could be worn with the point either up or down. The War Department Circular 61 of 1905, directed that the points be placed up and designated certain colors for each branch of the military for uniformity.


During World War One troops overseas in France used standard buff stripes inset with trade badges in the place of colored branch stripes or rank badges. The seniority grades were numbered from top down, from General of the Army being graded "1" to the rank of Corporal being graded "19"; NCO ranks in seniority grades 13 through 19 were clumped together at each level. The confusing part was that the pay grades were different, with less senior ranks with a more technical training being paid more than senior staff NCOs.

On 22 July 1919, the military approved "an arc of one bar" (a trade badge over a single arc "rocker") for a private first class. This was later changed to a single chevron in 1920.


The Joint Service Pay Readjustment Act of 1922 (Public Law 67-235; June 10, 1922) divided the seniority grades into inverse "Pay Grades" for enlisted personnel (Grades 7 through 1) and "Pay Periods" (Periods 1 through 8) for officers. The pay rates would stay the same from July 1, 1922 to May, 1942.

In 1920, the rank system was simplified and the rank stripes were reduced to 3.125-inches wide. The rank of Sergeant Major was discontinued and the confusing myriad of trade badges and rank insignia were abolished. Branch-of-service colored stripes were abandoned in favor of standard buff-on-blue stripes. The use of bars under chevrons to designate senior support arm NCOs was abolished and all branches used arcs under chevrons for senior NCOs. The rank insignia were reduced to seven grades and eight ranks (First Sergeant was considered a senior grade of Technical Sergeant) and were numbered from "G1" for the highest rank (Master Sergeant) to "G7" for the lowest (Private Second Class). Subdued olive-drab-on-khaki stripes were created for wear with the Class C khaki uniform.

The rank of Specialist was adopted. It was Grade "G6" but received a pay bonus from $5 (Specialist Sixth Class) to $25 (Specialist First Class). Specialists had the same single chevron of a Private First Class but were considered between the ranks of Private First Class and Corporal in seniority. This was very confusing, as you couldn't tell the difference between a PFC and a Specialist and couldn't tell what their specialty was because trade badges had been eliminated. Unofficial insignia adopted by post commands granted Specialists one to six arcs under their chevron (ranging from one for Specialist Sixth Class to six for Specialist First Class) to indicate their grade and trade badges inset between their stripes to indicate their specialty.


In 1942, there were several overdue reforms. Pay was increased for all ranks for the first time in two decades and combat pay was introduced. The rank of First Sergeant was now considered a junior version of Master Sergeant and the confusing Specialist ranks were abolished. The Specialist ranks were replaced by the distinct ranks of Technician Third Grade (equivalent to a Staff Sergeant), Technician Fourth Grade (equivalent to a Sergeant), and Technician Fifth Grade (equivalent to a Corporal). Technicians were inferior to non-commissioned officers of the same grade but superior to all grades below them. They had the same insignia as the regular rank of their grade, but added a cloth "T" insignia inset between their stripes. The subdued insignia were abolished, but could still be worn with the Class C Khaki uniform until they wore out.


In 1948, the Technician's ranks were abolished and were absorbed into their equivalent rank. The ranks of Staff Sergeant and First Sergeant were eliminated and the rank of Technical Sergeant was renamed Sergeant First Class. All enlisted personnel below Master Sergeant were reduced in rank by one grade as a cost-saving measure. All Staff Sergeants were regraded as Sergeants and all First Sergeants were regraded as Master Sergeants. The pay grades were broken up into seven "E" (Enlisted and Non-Commissioned Officer), two "W" (Warrant Officer), and eleven "O" (Officer) grades.

Also in 1948, the old buff-on-blue insignia were abolished. In their place was a new system of smaller (2-inches wide) and narrower chevrons and arcs that were instead differenced by color called the "Goldenlite" system - with subdued dark blue stripes on bright yellow backing for combat arms and yellow stripes on dark blue for support arms. They were not popular. Combat arm NCOs found their stripes were hard to identify unless the viewer was very close, making it hard to rally and lead troops. Support arm NCOs found their stripes too small to be easily seen at a distance, making it hard to tell their seniority at a glance. When the US Army entered the Korean War, it was found that troops in combat abandoned the new insignia. They either used the support arm stripes, purchased the old larger buff-on-blue stripes from Post Exchanges or Army / Navy stores, or used expedient hand-cut or tailor-made copies. The small "Goldenlite" stripes were abandoned in February 1951 and the dark-blue-on-yellow insignia was abolished. Larger dull-gold-on-dark-blue stripes were adopted for servicemen.

In 1950, the WACs were issued new "Goldenlite" yellow-on-brown insignia for wear with the taupe WAC uniform. It was the same size as the men's small Goldenlite stripes. In 1951 they were assigned the surplus "Goldenlite" yellow-on-dark-blue stripes for wear with the Olive Drab or fatigue uniforms. Although men's insignia would be recolored in the future to match changes in uniform, WACs would wear recolored versions of the smaller insignia until the corps was abolished in 1978.

The 1950s brought a lot of changes. In 1951, the pay grade numbering was reversed, with the lowest Enlisted rank being numbered "1" and the highest Enlisted rank being "7". By 1955 (as stated in Army Regulation 615-15, dated 2 July 1954), new grade structures were announced reactivating the specialist rank: Specialist 3rd Class (E-4, or SP3), Specialist 2nd Class (E-5, or SP2), Specialist 1st Class (E-6, or SP1) and Master Specialist (E-7, or MSP). The Specialist insignia was the same smaller and narrower size as the old Goldenlite stripes to differentiate Specialists from Non-Commissioned Officers.

In 1956 the Army went over to polished black leather boots instead of the traditional unpolished russet leather and the Army Green uniform (with Goldenlite Yellow on green rank stripes) was adopted. As late as the early 1980s, older soldiers who had served prior to 1956 said they were in the "brown boot" Army.


In 1958, as part of a rank restructuring, two pay grades and four ranks were added. E-8, which included first sergeant and Specialist 8, and E-9, which included Sergeant Major and Specialist 9. In 1959 the Specialist insignia was made the same size and width as Non-commissioned Officer's stripes. In 1961 the Army Green uniform and large "Goldenlite" yellow-on-green stripes were adopted. In 1965, the ranks of Specialist 8 and Specialist 9 were discontinued and Private First Class was briefly termed Lance Corporal. In 1966 the rank of Sergeant Major of the Army was established as an assistant to the Army Chief of Staff. Considered a higher grade of Sergeant Major (or of Command Sergeant-Major from 1968), the Sergeant Major of the Army didn't receive its own unique rank insignia until 1979. In 1968, the rank of Command Sergeant Major was established as an assistant to the commanding officer at Battalion, Brigade, Division and Corps level. In 1978, the rank of Specialist 7 was discontinued. In 1985, the ranks of specialist 5 and specialist 6 were discontinued.[2]


In 2001, the black Infantry beret was adopted as the standard headgear in the place of the BDU cap, overseas cap, and visored cap. The black Ranger beret was replaced with a sand-colored beret similar to that of the British SAS. The beret was phased out in favor of the reintroduced patrol cap in 2011 for fatigue duty or field wear, but is still worn with the service or dress uniform. Enlisted personnel wear their unit's heraldic pin (a.k.a. "unit crest") on the beret flash while officers wear their rank insignia in the same location.

In 2006 the navy-blue Army Blue combination uniform was adopted to replace the Army Green uniform and the yellow-on-blue stripes were reintroduced. With slight modifications, the Army Blue uniform became the Army Service Uniform (ASU).

The Army White tropical dress uniform was discontinued in October, 2009. Although authorized since before World War II, the Army White uniform was owned by very few soldiers and rarely worn.

The new combination Army Service Uniform (ASU) is dual-purpose, consisting of a dark-blue jacket, white dress shirt, and blue trousers (or an optional dark-blue skirt for female personnel). The jacket has epaulets for enlisted men and non-commissioned officers and shoulder straps for warrant officers and officers. Non-Commissioned, Warrant, and Commissioned Officers' trousers have a wide yellow stripe down the sides and they wear dark-blue cloth sliders with embroidered yellow or white rank-insignia on their Class "B" dress shirt epaulets. It is a service uniform when worn with a dark-blue necktie; it is a Class "A" uniform when worn with the jacket and long-sleeved shirt and Class "B" uniform when worn without the jacket. It becomes an evening-dress or mess-dress uniform when worn with a dark-blue bow-tie. Female personnel wear the service and dress uniform with a white blouse and a navy-blue crossover tie.


In each command of company-sized units, there is assigned a senior enlisted who is the monitor and advocate of the enlisted personnel to the commanding officer. This position is known as the "First Sergeant", though the person carrying that title does not have to be the rank of first sergeant (it is the highest ranking enlisted person in the company). In a battalion or larger unit, the senior enlisted soldier is a sergeant major. The rank of sergeant major is usually carried by the senior enlisted person of the S-3 staff section in a battalion or a brigade, and in most staff sections in larger units. The command sergeant major performs an advisory function, assisting the commander of a battalion, brigade or higher formation in personnel matters. The Sergeant Major of the Army has a similar role assisting the Army Chief of Staff.

In terms of command, the rank of a person typically determines what job and command the soldier has within a unit. For personnel in US Army mechanized infantry, a Bradley infantry fighting vehicle (M2A2) is commanded by a Staff Sergeant, the gun is manned by a Specialist or Sergeant and the driver is Specialist or below. For the Armor, the Abrams main battle tank (M1A2) is commanded by a captain, lieutenant, sergeant first class or staff sergeant, the gunner is a staff sergeant or sergeant, the driver is a specialist, private first class, PV2 or PV1, and the loader is a specialist or below.


Formal terms of address specified in Army Regulation AR 600-20 Army Command Policy are: "Sergeant Major" for all sergeants major, "First Sergeant" for first sergeants, and "Sergeant", for Master Sergeants, Sergeants First Class, Staff Sergeants, and Sergeants. Corporals and Specialists are addressed by their rank. Privates First Class and Privates can all be addressed as "private".

In some cases, informal titles are used. "Top" is commonly used by NCOs as an informal address to first sergeants, or anyone serving as a company 1st sergeant. In field artillery units a Platoon Sergeant (usually an E-7) is informally referred to as "smoke" (from "chief of smoke," a reference to when units fired as whole batteries of between 4 and 6 guns, and the senior NCO position was "Chief of Firing Battery"). The junior E-7 position is designated as "Gunnery Sergeant" and similar to the USMC usage, is typically referred to as "Gunny." Field Artillery cannon sections are led by section chiefs (usually an E-6) are often informally called "chief." (This doesn't seem to be common in other section-based unit subdivisions such as staff sections.) Some section chiefs discourage this, as "chief" is also a common term of address for warrant officers. In some smaller units, with more tight-knit squads, soldiers might call their squad leader "boss", or a similar respectful term. A habit that has all but died out is the addressing of a platoon sergeant, in any unit other than artillery, being affectionately called a "platoon daddy" in casual conversation or in jest (but never in any official communication of any type). In training units (Basic Combat Training and AIT or OSUT), trainees are called "private", regardless of the rank worn. Special titles, such as "drill sergeant" and "gunnery sergeant" are specific to certain jobs (position title), and should not be confused for actual rank.

Other services differ, such as the Marines, who address each other by full rank.

Some terms are used jokingly when referring to a soldier's rank. For instance, specialists are sometimes jokingly referred to as "The E-4 Mafia", "Command Private Major", "Specialist Major," "Full-Bird Private" (from the eagle on their shield), "Sham shield" (from their stereotype of "shamming it", or malingering), "PV4", or "Spec-4" (in reference to the old specialist grades, which at one point went up to Specialist 7).

Private, PV2 (E-2), rank insignia are called "Mosquito Wings" (from the appearance of the single chevron). Privates, PVT (E-1), are called "Buck Privates" (because they are the lowest rank of Private). An E-1 Private may be referred to as "E-Nothing", "Drill Private", or "PV-Nothing" (as opposed to PV2, the next rank) due to their lack of rank insignia. E-1 Privates were also called a "Fuzzy" or "E-Fuzzy" during the War on Terror era due to the velcro patch-holders on the Army Combat Uniform (ACU). With the velcro fasteners now being phased out, the term will probably fade away.

See also


  1. p.160 Moore, Robert John & Haynes, Michael Lewis & Clark, Tailor Made, Trail Worn: Army Life, Clothing & Weapons of the Corps of Discovery Farcountry Press, 01/04/2003
  2. military enlisted rank history- Retrieved 2012-03 24