Military Ranks and a U.S. Army Infantry Company Deconstructed
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Military Ranks and a U.S. Army Infantry Company Deconstructed

This article describes the meaning of the standard military ranks and pay grades, and introduces some basic examples of the responsibilities of various soldiers.

When we think of the military, we usually picture a soldier with a rifle or a Marine performing rifle drill in a dress uniform. In truth, infantrymen comprise only a portion of the military, and even regular infantry exist in many different forms. Neither does rank necessarily imply the sort of tasks that a servicemember performs, although generalizations can be made (and often are). Instead, a soldier's tasks and skills depend upon the component that he or she is a member of, the branch or M.O.S. (Mission Occupational Specialty) that he or she is a part of, the soldier's rank, time in grade, experience, and even the unit that the soldier belongs to.

While ranks do not tell all about a military servicemember, they are important for understanding the structure of the military. All branches of the military have both enlisted members and commissioned officers. In the past, the separation between the ranks was greater (the American Civil War is a perfect example), and officers were considered of the gentleman class while enlisted soldiers consisted of the poorer laborers and uneducated citizens. No such distinction exists between the ranks today, and while enlisted personnel are required to salute commissioned officers, the relationship between them is not merely one of superiority of rank, but also a team atmosphere in which various levels of experience and ability are combined into cohesive units. In order to receive a commission, a 4-year degree is required, but many enlisted soldiers have also attained 4-year degrees.

Rank charts can be found easily all across the internet, but just what they mean is a slightly different story. Each branch of the military has a slightly different name for various ranks. The Department of Defense compensated for these variations by establishing grades, which are a numbering system that increases with rank. For example, an E-3 is a soldier with the 3rd enlisted grade. This soldier is referred to as a Private First Class in the Army, a Seaman in the Navy and Coast Guard, an Airman First Class in the Air Force, and a Lance Corporal in the Marines. All are paid at the same rate and can be expected to perform roughly similar tasks and have similar levels of responsibility.

Enlisted ranks proceed in number from E-1 to E-9. Upon achieving E-5 grade, enlisted members are referred to as non-commissioned officers, which reflects their increasing level of responsibility. Standard officer grades are from 0-1 to 0-6 (2nd Lieutenant to Colonel in the Army) with the general ranks proceeding above that, from 0-7 to 0-10 (Brigadier General to General). There is also a set of ranks referred to as Warrant Officer grades. These ranks proceed from W-1 to W-5 (Warrant Officer 1 to Chief Warrant Officer).Warrant Officer grades reflect individuals selected for vocational proficiency within their field, such as mechanics and aviators. Warrant Officers are considered the experts of their professions.

The most common and easily understandable model of the structure of the U.S. Army is the standard infantry line company. A company typically consists of one commanding officer (an 0-3 Captain), one executive officer or XO (an 0-2 1st Lieutenant), and three to four platoon leaders (all 0-1 2nd Lieutenants). By this, you can see that a standard company has ranks which progress in responsibility as they increase. Company officers in command positions (the commander and platoon leaders) do not have direct leadership responsibilities over soldiers, however. This responsibility is delegated to an enlisted soldier who works directly beside each officer. For the commander, this is the First Sergeant (E-8).  For the platoon leaders, this is a Sergeant First Class (E-7). The enlisted NCO's are responsible for the soldiers, while the officers typically handle planning and paperwork. Each platoon is further divided into four squads which are led by a Staff Sergeant (E-6). Each squad is divided into two units which are referred to as teams and typically led by an E-4 or E-5. A standard company typically has from 200-240 soldiers in it. So, the company is managed through progressive levels of responsibility. It is easy to see from the above example that enlisted soldiers comprise the backbone of the Army, as our sample company has 6 officers and approximately 235 enlisted soldiers.


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