Better Understanding of US Military Rank and Abbreviations

The US military rank system includes 7 branches, which are responsible for protecting the United States and serving in active duty during warring times. Some branches may work hand-in-hand with other divisions in order to complete their objectives; while others take a more specialized approach to service. Of the seven, there exist 3 main divisions, which are often referenced with the use of military rank abbreviations. The Army, Air Force and Marine Corps use military rank abbreviations frequently as a point of reference to the chain of command. US military ranks specify an individual’s level of importance, duties and authority throughout each of these divisions. 3 main categories provide a foundation for referencing the chain of command, enlisted personnel, warrant officers and commissioned officers. Commissioned officers take precedence over warrant officers and enlisted officers follows warrant officers.

Air Force stands apart from the Army and the Marine Corps military rank abbreviations in that it has no warrant officers to reference. Instead, the number of enlisted personnel is increased to fit about the same number of positions held in each other division.

US Military Ranks and Abbreviations for the Army

US military ranks and military rank abbreviations are handled differently with respect to each division. The Army begins with the lowest individuals in the chain of command, enlisted personnel. A Private or PVT marks the beginning of the list, PV2 follows and Private First Class or PFC closes the enlisted personnel category. A specialist (SPC) can be considered above a PFC but isn’t necessarily included in the category of enlisted personnel. Military rank abbreviations for the Army in respect to warrant officers are listed with the same level of authority as enlisted personnel and are as follows: Warrant Officer 1 through Warrant Officer 4 and ending with Master Warrant Officer 5 (WO1 through WO4 and WO5, respectively). The 2nd Lieutenant (2LT) opens the category for commissioned officers and General of the Army (GEN) ends the list.

US Military Ranks and Abbreviations for the Air Force

The Air Force uses completely different military rank abbreviations, as they label each of their positions and US military ranks separately. Enlisted personnel for the Air Force Begins with Airman Basic (AB), progresses to Airman (Amn), Airman First Class (A1C), progresses through the Sergeant (Sgt) ranks and ends with the Chief Master Sergeant (SMSgt). The Air Force does not assign any military ranks for the ‘warrant officers’ category. Instead, the list picks up with commissioned officers. The 2nd Lieutenant or 2d Lt Heads off the list, followed by the 1st Lieutenant or 1 st Lt. the Chief Master Sergeant, CCMSgt completes this category for the Air Force’s military rank abbreviations.

US Military Ranks and Abbreviations for the Marine Corps

The Marine Corps approaches rank in the same manner as the Army. Heading off the enlisted personnel is the Private or Pvt., following chains of command: Private First Class (PFC), Lance Corporal (LCpl), Corporal (Cpl), Sergeant (Sgt), Staff Sergeant (SSgt), Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt), Master Sergeant (MSgt), Sergeant Major (SgtMaj) and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps (SgtMajMC). The Marine Corps handles the category of warrant officers in much the same way as well, for instance the leading officer is the Chief Warrant Officer 5 CWO-5 and the lesser position among the ranks is Warrant Officer (WO-1). As for the commissioned officers, the order begins with the 2nd Lieutenant (2ndLt) and progresses to the Commandant of Marine Corps (Gen). The Marine Corps does not assign an unofficial rank for an individual of authority in non-war times. The ranks remain the same throughout peace and wartimes.

8 Comments on “Better Understanding of US Military Rank and Abbreviations”

  1. tiffany said:

    god bless our military

  2. AF Retiree said:

    As for the Air Force portion above, it is wrong….totally. I’m not about to give a tutorial here, but a quick Google search will confirm that that paragraph is all screwed up.

  3. Mark said:

    While placing flags on graves of veterans our Scout Troop found a marker that we believe read: C 231’ NY RS.S. *** (The * indicate illegible markings). Does anyone know what the RS.S. stands for and if we have the right numbers for a regiment in NY?

  4. Khristina said:

    I did a google search & came up with the following information from

    SS can stand for the person’s military unit (SS = sharpshooters) or for a medal/award (SS=Silver Star or Silver Star Medal).

    I’m not sure what the ‘C 231’ stands for. Sorry.
    I hope the other information helps. =)

  5. Scott said:

    Air Force Chief Master Sargeant is CMSgt (E9)…SMSgt is E8 Senior Master Sargeant. Have a great day…

  6. Linda Brown said:

    in a battalion daily log at the bottom of each paragraph they list the day’s casualties: KIA–killed in action; MIA–missing in action; WIA–wounded in action. There is one I don’t know what it is. It’s abs sk. Does anyone know what that stands for?

  7. Tom Atwood said:

    abs sk stands for “absent sick.”

  8. wrong said:

    So i find this very inaccurate. First off you left out master gunnery seargent for the mc. Then the army along with every other branch of the military being coast guard navy af mc and all reserve branches have an e1-e9 thenthey have o1-o10 get your info straight before you start posting erroneous things about our military

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