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 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
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.
AD—Active Duty or Armored Division
AFB—Air Force Base
CONUS—Continental United States
DOS—Date of Separation
EAD—Entered Active Duty (date)
MCAS—Marine Corps Air Station
MIA—Missing in Action
MOS—Military Occupational Specialty
NAS—Naval Air Station
NMCB—Naval Mobile Construction Battalion
PCS—Permanent Change of Station
Pfc.—Private First Class
PW/POW—Prisoner of War
RCT—Regimental Combat Team
SN/SSN—Service Number/Social Security Number
Sq.—Squad or Squadron
TAD—Temporary Additional Duty
TAFMS—Total Active Federal Military Service (date)
TCG—Troop Carrier Group
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
WIA—Wounded in Action