Understand Ranks and Insignia Across US Military Branches

Understand Ranks and Insignia Across US Military Branches

Genealogists often seek out their ancestor's military records not only to learn about their time in the service, but also for details on marriages, pensions, and much more. Understanding the various ranks across the branches can be helpful to your research, and we're here to help you do just that.

Military records can be a rich resource when researching your family history. However, many of us don’t fully understand the different ranks, particularly across the various branches. 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.
Understand Ranks Insignia Across US Military Branches

Understanding the 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.
Understand Ranks Insignia Across US Military Branches width=

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.


Freebie: How to Find Your Ancestor’s US Military Records

Video Download: US Military Records

Blog: 4 Ways to Honor Your Military Ancestors

Podcast: Maximizing Military Records: Family Tree Magazine Podcast Episode 97

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