United States Army enlisted rank insignia

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The chart below shows the current enlisted rank insignia of the United States Army, with seniority, and pay grade, increasing from left to right. 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.

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.

In the beginning, US army enlisted rank was indicated by colored epaulettes. The use of chevrons came into being in 1821, with the orientation changing from point-down to point-up and back again, to the point-down orientation seen on Civil War soldiers. Around the turn of the 20th century, point-up wear was ordained and has remained so.



From the creation of the United States Army, to 1821, non-commissioned officer (NCO) and staff non-commissioned officer (SNCO) rank was distinguished by the wearing of worsted epaulettes. Corporals wore one green epaulette on the left shoulder, sergeants wore one red epaulette on the right, while SNCOs (i.e., sergeants major, quartermaster sergeants, drum majors, and fife majors) wore a red epaulette on each shoulder.[1] In 1780, the sergeant major insignia included a brass half-crescent placed on the skirt of the epaulette. From 1787–1821, NCO and SNCO ranks were indicated by either white or yellow epaulettes (white for foot regiments and yellow for mounted regiments). Corporals wore one epaulette on the left shoulder, while sergeants wore one on the right. SNCOs wore an epaulette on each shoulder, with the sergeant major receiving either a nickel (on white, foot regiment) or brass (on yellow, mounted) full-crescent on the epaulette's skirt.[2]

The original Revolutionary War enlisted uniform jacket was dark blue with state-specific facing colors. This was worn with a white waistcoat and breeches and black shoes. 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 had red facings. Foot regiments (infantry, artillery, and supporting units) wore gold-metal buttons and lace. Horse regiments (cavalry, light dragoons, and horse artillery) 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). Enlisted ranks wore the coatee with a black stovepipe shako, white or gray trousers with matching button-up spats, and black short boots. Facings and buttonhole trim were discontinued in 1813. By 1820, the wearing of a red sash and sword served as a badge of rank for first sergeants and above (from 1781, until 1833, the "first sergeant" was simply the senior sergeant in a company or battery and was not a separate grade of rank).[2]


Between 1821 and 1895, the U.S. Army insignia of rank for enlisted soldiers above the grade of private was the chevron—a "V"-shaped piece of cloth or braid, typically worn on the sleeve. From 1821 until 1847, non-commissioned officers (NCOs)—viz., sergeants and corporals—wore their chevrons point-down, while staff non-commissioned officers (SNCOs)—viz., sergeants major, quartermaster sergeants, drum majors, and trumpet majors, (as well as company grade officers from 1821 until 1836)—wore them point-up.

A new system of enlisted chevrons was introduced in 1847 that were to be worn point-up. (This new system also included the first use of horizontal bars, vice arcs, or "rockers", worn with the chevrons to distinguish sergeants major from support SNCOs—first used with the quartermaster sergeant insignia.) However, in 1851, the Army changed to point-down wear for all enlisted grades and directed that chevrons would be worn in the branch-of-service colors of: sky blue for the 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.

Metal branch-of-service insignia were first adopted in 1832—the hunting horn being adopted as the infantry's insignia. They are worn on the cap with the regimental number inset in or just above it.[2]


In 1895, the Army introduced a new enlisted rank system that became the basis for the system used in World War I. Smaller rank insignia that were to be worn point-up were introduced in 1903, but with the transition from the older, larger point-down insignia to the new versions, there was some confusion concerning the proper manner of wear of the new insignia. 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 I troops overseas in France used standard buff stripes inset with trade badges in the place of colored branch stripes or rank badges. Rank grades were numbered from top down, from general of the army, as number 1, to corporal, number 19; NCO ranks were grades 13 through 19. Confusingly, pay grades were different, less senior ranks with 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 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 in width. The rank of sergeant major was discontinued and the confusing system of trade badges and rank insignia was 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 to denote 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 G-6 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 the difference between a private first class and a specialist could not be determined at first glance, in addition to any specialty they may have had, as 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 with a cloth "T" 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 pay grades were broken up into seven "E" (enlisted and non-commissioned officer), two "W" (warrant officer), and eleven "O" (officer) grades. The technician's ranks were abolished and were absorbed into their equivalent line ranks. The rank of private was divided into the ranks of recruit (Grade E7), private second class (Grade E6) and private first class (Grade E5). Corporal was regraded as Grade E4. Sergeant (Grade E3) was a career soldier rank and its former three-chevron insignia was abolished and replaced with the three chevrons and an arc of the rank of staff sergeant. The rank of staff sergeant was discontinued and the rank of technical sergeant (Grade E2) was renamed sergeant first class. The rank of first sergeant (Grade E1) was absorbed into the senior rank of master sergeant (Grade E1).

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 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 3-inch-wide olive-drab-on-dark-blue stripes were adopted for servicemen.

In 1950, the Women's Army Corps (WAC) 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 2-inch-wide Goldenlite stripes. (Female personnel would wear the smaller 2-inch insignia until 1998, well after male personnel were issued larger, 3-inch-wide insignia in 1951.) In 1951, WACs were assigned surplus men's Goldenlite-Yellow-on-dark-blue stripes for wear with olive drab or fatigue uniforms. Also in 1951, the optional white WAC dress uniform was now authorized for wear by enlisted and NCO ranks[note 1] and 2-inch Goldenlite yellow-on-white stripes were created to be worn with it.

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 began wearing polished black leather boots instead of the traditional unpolished russet leather (as late as the early 1980s, older soldiers who had served prior to 1956 said they were in the "brown boot" army.), and the Army Green uniform (with Goldenlite-Yellow-on-green rank stripes) was adopted. The new enlisted rank insignia were then used on all Army uniforms (e.g., Green, Khaki, and fatigue). Enlisted rank insignia with a blue background was worn on the Army Blue Dress uniform.

In 1957, a 2-inch-wide set of Goldenlite-Yellow-on-blue stripes were worn with the new optional Army Blue WAC dress uniform. In 1959, a 2-inch-wide set of Goldenlite-Yellow-on-green stripes were worn with the new Army Green WAC duty uniform; they replaced the taupe WAC service uniform by 1961. Although the WAC was disestablished in 1978, the Army Green WAC uniform would be in use until 1985.

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 wearing of large Goldenlite-Yellow-on-green stripes was adopted for use on all Army uniforms (green, khaki, and fatigue) except for the Army dress-blue uniform, which used large insignia with a blue background. 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, its holder an assistant to the Army chief of staff. Considered a higher grade than sergeant major (or than 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. Also, that year the insignia of private first class received one arc under the chevron. In 1978, the rank of specialist 7 was discontinued. In 1979, brass enlisted rank pins were created for wear on black epaulets with the Army Green shirt and black "wooly-pully" sweater. In 1985, the ranks of specialist 5 and specialist 6 were discontinued.[3]


In 2001, the black Infantry beret was adopted as the standard headgear in 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. In 2011, the beret was phased out in favor of the reintroduced patrol cap, for fatigue duty or field wear; but the beret 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 epaulettes 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 outside of each trouser leg. There are dark-blue cloth sliders with embroidered yellow or white rank-insignia on the Class "B" dress shirt epaulettes. 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 a 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.

Command roles[edit]

The headquarters of each company-sized unit is assigned a senior non-commissioned officer (NCO) who, as the highest ranking enlisted person in the company/battery/troop, monitors the enlisted personnel and is their advocate with the commanding officer. This position is known as the "first sergeant," though the person carrying that title does not have to have that rank. In a battalion or larger unit, the senior NCO is a sergeant major. The rank of sergeant major is usually carried by the senior NCO of the S-3 staff section in a battalion, regiment, or a brigade, and in most staff sections in larger units. The command sergeant major fills an advisory function, assisting the commander of a battalion, regiment, 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 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.

Forms of address[edit]

Forms of address specified in Army Regulation AR 600-20 Army Command Policy are: "Sergeant Major" and "First Sergeant" for those holding those ranks, 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 first 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 four and six 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 does not 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 9).

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 bare velcro patch-holders on the Army Combat Uniform (ACU).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The white WAC uniform was originally issued in 1944 for tropical and hot weather wear by WAC officers.


  1. ^ Moore, Jr., Robert J; Haynes, Michael (2003). Lewis & Clark, tailor made, trail worn : army life, clothing & weapons of the Corps of Discovery. Helena, Montana: Farcountry Press. p. 160. ISBN 1560372389. 
  2. ^ a b c Perrenot, Preston B. (2011). United States Army Grade Insignia Since 1776 (Revised ed.). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1448656875. 
  3. ^ "History of Enlisted Ranks". Web.archive.org. 2010-06-29. Archived from the original on 2010-06-29. Retrieved 2017-04-30. 

External links[edit]