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What are the Different Ranks in the U.S. Army?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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In the United States, the ranks in the army are numerous, and where one is ranked can depend upon a variety of factors. Those who enlist in the army when they are 18, and who do not have officer training, begin with few opportunities to command others. In fact, the first of the ranks is Private E-1, usually assigned to those in basic training.

Ranks in the army can also depend upon years served, promotions, extraordinary service and continuing education. These ranks establish a chain of command and serve as a pay scale. The highest rank, General of the Army, has been held by only a few people and has been a vacant position for numerous years.

Also, there is distinction in the ranks of the army between commissioned officers and non-commissioned ranks. While many non-commissioned officers, called warrant officers, as well as enlisted soldiers can have control of other soldiers, commissioned officers hold command. One can become a commissioned officer in the army by one of four ways: through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), Officer Candidate School (OCS), the United States Military Academy at West Point, or an officer training program for adults who have previously earned a degree. The most basic difference with a commissioned officer is that he or she has earned a degree and undergoes additional leadership training. Generally, a commissioned officer is commissioned and recognized by the US Senate. Positions like general, colonel and captain all are commissioned status.

A subset of ranks in the army is those given to warrant officers. Warrant officers tend to have specialized knowledge, either from army training or college education in certain fields. They may be expert scientists, or have particular knowledge in a rare field. They can command those with a lower rank, and are often considered equivalent to many of the lowest ranks in the army of commissioned officers. However, the only time a warrant officer is commissioned is if he or she becomes Chief Warrant Officer.

The following are the ranks of commissioned officers from highest to low:

  • General of the Army
  • General (GEN)
  • Lieutenant General (LTG)
  • Major General (MG)
  • Brigadier General (BG)
  • Colonel (COL)
  • Lieutenant Colonel (LTC)
  • Major (MAJ)
  • Captain (CPT)
  • First Lieutenant (1LT)
  • Second Lieutenant (2LT)

Those who serve in a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), as on a college campus may be given the rank of cadet or officer candidate. When they enlist after completing college, they almost always are given the lowest of the commissioned ranks in the army, Second Lieutenant. However, those who have specialized knowledge may instead be assigned ranks in the office that are Warrant Officer Ranks.

Warrant Officer ranks are the following, listed from high to low:

  • Chief Warrant Officer 5 (CW5)
  • Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CW4)
  • Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CW3)
  • Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2)
  • Warrant Officer 1 (W01)

Those who enlist without a commission, and without a college degree begin their careers as privates. Non-commissioned ranks are listed as follows from high to low:

  • Sergeant Major of the Army
  • Command Sergeant Major (CSM)
  • Sergeant Major (SGM)
  • First Sergeant (1SG)
  • Master Sergeant (MSG)
  • Sergeant First Class (SFC)
  • Staff Sergeant (SSG)
  • Sergeant (SGT)
  • Corporal (CPL)
  • Specialist (SPC)
  • Private First Class (PFC)
  • Private E2 (PVT2)
  • Private E1 (PVT)
Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon1514 — On Jun 01, 2007

what are the various formations in the army and their size of personnel i. e.,division and how many personnel in it etc

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia...
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