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Decode Common Military Abbreviations and Insignia

By Family Tree Editors Premium

Military records can be a rich resource when researching your family history. However, many of us don’t fully understand the different symbols for ranks or record acronyms, particularly across the various branches. Here, we’ve included two charts highlighting military insignia: one for enlisted soldiers, and the other for officers—along with some guidelines to understanding how ranking works. We’ve also included a table of some common military acronyms you may come across while researching your ancestors’ military records.

Military Insignia and Symbols

First, with the help of two charts from the official website of the US Army, we’ll explain the various ranks. Be sure to take some time to review the insignia of each branch’s ranks as well.

Understanding the insignia charts

There are a few key items to note when reviewing these handy rank and insignia charts.

You probably noticed the different headers, such as E-1, W-1 and O-1. These are actually the labels for the pay grades, which are primarily used to standardize compensation in the services.

  • “E” stands for “enlisted”
  • “W” stands for “warrant officer”
  • “O” stands for “commissioned officer”
  • The number following the assigned letter indicates the pay grade

Pay grades can have more than one rank

A change in rank doesn’t always indicate a change in pay grade. For example, in the Army and the Marines, both a Master Sergeant and a First Sergeant fall under the E-8 pay grade. Thus, one may have a higher rank but still receive the same pay.

Commissioned officers vs. warrant officers

In the US military, Officer ranks consist of commissioned officers and warrant officers. These ranks hold presidential commissions and are confirmed by the Senate. Army, Air Force and Marine Corps.

Commissioned officers

Commissioned officers are divided into:

  • Company grade officers – those in pay grades of O-1 to O-3
  • Field grade officers – those in pay grades O-4 to O-6
  • General officers – those in pay grades O-7 or higher
  • Equivalent ranks in the Navy

The equivalent officer groupings in the Navy are:

  • Junior grade
  • Mid-grade
  • Flag

Warrant officers

Warrant officers hold warrants from their service secretary. They specialists and experts in certain military technologies or capabilities. For these officers:

  • the lowest ranking warrant officers serve under a warrant. They receive commissions from the president upon promotion to chief warrant officer 2.
  • these commissioned warrant officers are direct representatives of the President of the United States.
  • they derive their authority from the same source as commissioned officers but remain specialists, in contrast to commissioned officers, who are generalists.

There are no warrant officers in the Air Force.

Common Military Acronyms

Confused by abbreviations in your ancestors’ military records? Here’s a guide to some of the most common military acronyms.

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
I
M
N
P
R
S
T
U
W

A

AAA—Anti-aircraft Artillery

AB—Air Base

Abn.—Airborne

AD—Active Duty or Armored Division

AFB—Air Force Base

Armd—Armored

Arty.—Artillery

B

BB—Battleship (USN)

Bde.—Brigade

BG—Bombardment Group

Bn.—Battalion

Bty./Btry.—Battery

C

Cav.—Cavalry

Co./CO—Company/Commanding Officer

CONUS—Continental United States

Corp./Cpl.—Corporal

CV—Carrier

D

DD—Destroyer (USN)

Det.—Detachment

DOS—Date of Separation

E

EAD—Entered Active Duty (date)

F

FA—Field Artillery

FG—Fighter Group

G

G.I.—Government Issue

Gp.—Group

I

Inf.—Infantry

M

MCAS—Marine Corps Air Station

MIA—Missing in Action

MOS—Military Occupational Specialty

MP—Military Police

N

NAS—Naval Air Station

NMCB—Naval Mobile Construction Battalion

P

PCS—Permanent Change of Station

Pfc.—Private First Class

Plt.—Platoon

PO—Petty Officer

Pvt.—Private

PW/POW—Prisoner of War

Q

QM—Quartermaster

R

Rcn.—Reconnaissance

RCT—Regimental Combat Team

Regt.—Regiment

S

Sgt.—Sergeant

Sig.—Signal

SN/SSN—Service Number/Social Security Number

Sq.—Squad or Squadron

T

TAD—Temporary Additional Duty

TAFMS—Total Active Federal Military Service (date)

TCG—Troop Carrier Group

TDY—Temporary Duty

U

USA—United States Army

USAAC/USAAF—United States Army Air Corps/ Army Air Force

USAF—United States Air Force

USMC—United States Marine Corps

USN—United States Navy

W

WIA—Wounded in Action

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