How to tell military rank

Written by liz frazier
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How to tell military rank
Each military branch has an enlisted and officer rank structure. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Understanding military rank is a crucial skill because how you are addressed, special privileges and your potential assignments all depend on rank. While each branch has a different uniform, the location of rank insignia is consistent. Enlisted personnel wearing service coats have their rank insignia sewn onto the left sleeve of their jacket. Commissioned officers display their rank on the shoulder boards of their service jacket. On all other uniforms, both enlisted personnel and commissioned officer display their rank insignia on their collars.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Instructions

    U.S. Army

  1. 1

    Look at the soldier's collar device. If there are one or more chevrons (an upside down "V"), then the soldier is enlisted. If the collar device contains no chevrons, go to Step 4.

  2. 2

    Determine if the soldier is junior enlisted. If the collar device consists of one chevron, then the soldier is a private. If there is a chevron and a rocker (an wide, "U" shaped bar), then the soldier is a private first class. A corporal has two chevrons.

  3. 3

    Determine if the soldier is a noncommissioned officer (NCO) or senior NCO. Sergeants have three chevrons while staff sergeants have three chevrons and one rocker at the bottom. Sergeants first class have three chevrons with two rockers.

    The sergeant first class insignia has three chevrons and two rockers. The last two ranks have three chevrons and three rockers, but the sergeant major also has a star.

  4. 4

    Determine if the soldier is company grade officer. Second lieutenants have one gold bar and first lieutenants have one silver bar. Captains have two silver bars.

  5. 5

    Determine if the soldier is a field grade officer. The insignia for a major is a gold oak leaf. Lieutenant colonels have silver oak leaves and full colonels have a eagle with shield.

  6. 6

    Determine if the soldier is a general officer. Brigadier, major and lieutenant generals have one, two and three stars, respectively. An officer with four stars is a general.

    U.S. Navy

  1. 1

    Look at the sailor's collar device. If there are one or more diagonal stripes or one or more chevrons (Navy chevrons point downward) with an eagle and anchor, then the sailor is enlisted. Otherwise, go to Step 5.

  2. 2

    Determine if the sailor is junior enlisted. Seaman recruits, seaman apprentices and seamen have one, two and three stripes, respectively. Petty officers third class all have one chevron with an eagle and anchor on top.

  3. 3

    Determine if the sailor is an NCO. Petty officers second and first class have two and three chevrons respectively.

  4. 4

    Determine if the sailor is a senior NCO. The chief petty officer insignia has one rocker (facing downward) over its three chevrons with an eagle and crossed anchors. The senior chief petty officer has one star above the eagle and anchors while master chiefs have two.

  5. 5

    Determine if the sailor is junior officer. Ensigns have one gold bar and lieutenants, junior grade have one silver bar. Lieutenants have two silver bars.

  6. 6

    Determine if the sailor is a field grade officer. The gold oak leaf is the insignia of the lieutenant commander while the full commander has a silver oak leaf. Captains have an eagle with shield.

  7. 7

    Determine if the sailor is a general officer, consisting of rear admirals (lower half), rear admirals (upper half), vice admirals, admirals and, during wartime, a fleet admiral. These officers have one through five stars, respectively.

    U.S. Air Force

  1. 1

    Look at the airman's collar device. If there are one or more stripes, then the airman is enlisted. If the collar device contains no chevrons, go to Step 4.

  2. 2

    Determine if the sailor is junior enlisted (airman basic through senior airman). Basic airmen in boot camp have no stripes. Airmen, airmen first class and senior airmen have one, two and three stripes respectively.

  3. 3

    Determine if the airman is a senior NCO. Staff sergeants have four stripes while technical sergeants have five. At this point, additional stripes found at the higher ranks are positioned above the previous five and point upward. The master sergeant has five downward pointing stripes and one upward pointing stripe on top. The insignia for the senior master sergeant and a chief master sergeant have two and three upward pointing stripes, respectively.

  4. 4

    Go back to Section One, Step 4 to identify the Air Force officer's rank. The Air Force uses the same rank insignia structure as the Army.

    U.S. Marine Corps

  1. 1

    Look at the Marine's collar device. If there are one or more chevrons (upside down "V"), then the Marine is enlisted. If the collar device contains no chevrons, go to Step 4.

  2. 2

    Determine if the marine is junior enlisted. In boot camp new Marines have no insignia while privates first class have one chevron. Lance corporals have one chevron with two crossed rifles between them and corporals have two chevrons with crossed rifles.

  3. 3

    Determine if the Marine is a non commissioned officer. Three chevrons over crossed rifles signifies a sergeant. A staff sergeant has an insignia containing three chevrons over crossed rifles and one rocker at the bottom.

  4. 4

    Determine if the Marine is a senior NCO. Gunnery sergeants have three chevrons and two rockers while master sergeants have three of each. The first sergeant has the same insignia as other master sergeants, but instead of crossed rifles, he has a diamond. The master gunnery sergeant has three chevrons and four rockers with a bomb in the centre while a sergeant major has the same number of chevrons and rockers as a master gunnery sergeant with a star in the centre.

  5. 5

    Go back to Section One, Step 4 to determine the Marine officer's rank. The Marine Corps uses the same rank insignia structure as the Army.

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