A Civilian’s Primer on Military Rank and Insignia

The insignia of a military rank is used as a visual identifier for that individual’s status and position in the chain of command. By understanding what these symbols mean, you can see how they have evolved over time.

The “military chevrons” are a type of badge that is worn on the uniform to indicate rank. They are also known as “chevrons”. The military chevrons come in three types: Officer, Warrant Officer, and Enlisted.

If you’re a regular ol’ civilian like me, you may appreciate the military, but you have little knowledge of military culture. For instance, consider military rank. I’d picked up a little about how ranking works in the different branches of the military services thanks to television, books, and movies, as well as just collecting information from the ether by living in America my whole life. But I just had a rudimentary understanding of the subject. I could tell you that a general’s shoulder was marked with stars, and that a single chevron on the sleeve indicated a private, but that’s about it.

You might think that knowing military rank isn’t necessary if you’re not in the military, but as someone who reads a lot of biographies and military history books, I’ve found myself befuddled by the various ranks thrown around, the significance of moving from one rank to the next, and the authority that a certain figure had or didn’t have over another. 

So I decided to do some research and learn about the various ranks in the United States Armed Forces, their corresponding insignia, and where to look on uniforms to find this insignia. I’ve got to admit, it’s been one of the most useful, knowledge-building activities I’ve done in a long time; my historical reading is already paying off. It’s also reassuring to know that if I come across a member of the military, I’ll be able to tell where they belong in the chain of command at a look. 

During my investigation, I noticed that there wasn’t a ranking guide out there that I considered to be sufficiently thorough and informative. As a result, I decided to make my own and share it with all of you ignorant citizens. Ten-hut! Also, do some research.

Ranks and Insignia of the United States Army

What to Look For

The placement of rank insignia on the body in all branches of the military is determined by two factors: 1) the kind of uniform (combat, dress, etc.) and 2) whether the person is an enlisted or an officer.

In terms of both factors, all of the branches follow a similar pattern, although there are some minor variances.

Uniform for Combat

Combat soldier with badge on his chest.

On a battle uniform, the Soldier’s rank will be shown on a patch in the centre of the chest, whether he is an officer or an enlisted soldier.

Uniform for the Service

Soldier with Service Dress Uniform.

Both sleeves have been enlisted.

Officer with ranking pins on his shoulder.

Shoulders, officers. The Army, like the Navy, employs shoulder boards to denote officer rank, but the Marines and Air Force use pins on the shoulders of their uniforms to signify officer rank. They’re cloth pieces with the officer’s rank sewn on them. 

Ranks and Insignia for Army Enlisted Personnel (from lowest to highest)

Rank Insignia
Private A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
First-Class Private 1636374604_515_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Specialist 1636374606_854_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Corporal (All levels below corporal are considered non-commissioned officers.) Unlike commissioned officers, who are given power by the President via a commission, non-commissioned officers are given authority only by their rank.) 1636374607_938_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant 1636374609_336_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant on Staff 1636374610_262_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
First Class Sergeant 1636374611_595_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Major Sergeant 1636374613_665_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant 1st 1636374615_347_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Major Sergeant 1636374616_277_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Major Command Sergeant 1636374617_733_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Army Major Sergeant Sergeant Major Sergeant Major Sergeant Major Sergeant Major Sergeant Major 1636374619_990_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia

Ranks and Insignia of Army Officer-in-Charges

Warrant officers are professionals and technical leaders. Intelligence, aviation, and military police all have warrant officers. They take the same oath as commissioned officers, although they are not rated as high as them.

 

Rank Insignia
Officer-in-Charge 1636374620_257_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Two Chief Warrant Officers 1636374621_475_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Three Chief Warrant Officers 1636374623_341_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Fourth Chief Warrant Officer 1636374624_455_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
5th Chief Warrant Officer 1636374625_59_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia

Ranks and Insignia for Commissioned Officers in the Army

Commissioned officers are sworn in by the President of the United States and undertake executive leadership training.

It’s worth noting that the Army’s highest rank, Army Chief of Staff, or “five-star general,” is only available during warfare. It is no longer used in the United States military and hasn’t been held since the mid-twentieth century. The Air Force Chief of Staff and the Admiral of the Fleet of the United States Navy are in the same boat.

Rank Insignia Board for the Shoulders
Lieutenant 2nd class 1636374626_806_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374628_110_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Lieutenant (First) 1636374629_766_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374630_187_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Captain 1636374631_769_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374633_237_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Major 1636374634_612_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374635_446_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Colonel-in-waiting 1636374636_327_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374637_553_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Colonel 1636374638_7_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374640_268_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General Brigadier 1636374641_74_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374642_679_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General Major 1636374644_921_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374645_866_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General Lieutenant 1636374646_656_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374648_165_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General 1636374649_337_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374650_894_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General of the Army 1636374652_563_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374653_426_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia

Ranks and Insignia of the United States Marine Corps

What to Look For

Uniform for Combat

Officer with combat uniform pin on collar shouting at company.

Collar for enlisted and officers. The rank insignia is put on the collar of the battle uniform for both enlisted and officers. The rank insignia for enlisted soldiers is black metal. In garrison, officer rank insignia are polished pins; in the field, they are muted black. 

Uniforms for Service 

Illustration of soldiers with pin on their shoulders.

Both sleeves have been enlisted.

Officer wearing uniform having pins on both jacket epaulets and both shirt collars.

Pins on both jacket epaulets and/or both shirt collars for officers.

Blue dress, blue-white dress, red dress, and evening dress uniforms all follow the same routine. Officers wear pins on their shoulders, while enlisted Marines wear emblems on their sleeves.

Ranks and Insignia for Marine Enlisted Personnel (from lowest to highest)

Rank Insignia
First-Class Private 1636374659_397_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Corporal Lance 1636374660_361_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant on Staff (From here on out, all ranks are considered non-commissioned officers.) 1636374661_294_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant 1636374663_453_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Staff Sergeant 1636374664_10_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant of Gunnery 1636374666_55_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant Major 1636374667_364_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant 1st 1636374669_742_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant Master Gunnery 1636374670_437_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant Major 1636374672_375_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Marine Corps Sergeant Major (Sgt. Maj.) 1636374673_771_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia

Ranks and Insignia of Marine Warrant Officers

Rank Insignia
Warrant Officer 1636374675_479_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Two Chief Warrant Officers 1636374676_175_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Three Chief Warrant Officers 1636374677_553_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Fourth Chief Warrant Officer 1636374678_387_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
5th Chief Warrant Officer 1636374679_883_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia

Ranks and Insignia of Marine Commissioned Officers

Rank Insignia Strap over the shoulders
Lieutenant 2nd class 1636374626_806_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374680_351_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Lieutenant (First) 1636374629_766_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374682_448_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Captain 1636374631_769_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374684_575_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Major 1636374634_612_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374686_929_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Colonel-in-waiting 1636374636_327_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374687_22_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Colonel 1636374638_7_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374688_390_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General Brigadier 1636374641_74_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374690_820_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General Major 1636374644_921_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374691_74_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General Lieutenant 1636374646_656_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374692_572_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General 1636374649_337_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374694_53_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia

Ranks and Insignia of the United States Air Force

What to Look For

Uniform for Air Combat

Black embroidered patch of the enlisted Airman's rank.

Enlisted: A black embroidered patch denoting the enlisted Airman’s rank will be sewn onto both sleeves.

Rank insignia is embroidered on both sides of the collar.

Officer: Both sides of the collar have embroidered rank insignia.

Uniform for the Service

Officer with blue and white patch on both the upper sleeves of the uniform.

Both sleeves have been enlisted. A blue and white patch may be seen on both upper sleeves of the outfit.

Officer with pin on his shoulder.

Shoulder pins for officers. 

Ranks and Insignia for Air Force Enlisted Personnel (from lowest to highest)

Rank Insignia
Airman 1636374701_971_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
First Class Airman 1636374703_928_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Air Force Senior Airman 1636374704_270_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant on Staff (From here on out, all ranks are considered non-commissioned officers.) 1636374706_536_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant-Technician 1636374707_380_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant Major 1636374708_133_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Master Sergeant Senior 1636374710_53_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Sergeant Major-General 1636374711_602_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Chief Master Sergeant of the Command 1636374712_556_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force is a position in the United States Air Forces. 1636374714_640_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia

Ranks and Insignia of Air Force Warrant Officers

The Warrant Officer rank was abolished by the Air Force in 1958.

Ranks and Insignia of Commissioned Officers in the Air Force

Rank Insignia Strap over the shoulders
Lieutenant 2nd class 1636374626_806_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374715_453_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Lieutenant (First) 1636374629_766_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374716_696_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Captain 1636374631_769_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374718_698_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Major 1636374634_612_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374720_783_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Colonel-in-waiting 1636374636_327_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374721_82_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Colonel 1636374638_7_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374722_297_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General Brigadier 1636374641_74_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374724_64_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General Major 1636374644_921_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374726_792_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General Lieutenant 1636374646_656_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374727_539_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General 1636374649_337_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374729_417_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
General of the Air Force 1636374652_563_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374731_765_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia

Rates and Insignia of the United States Navy

What to Look For

The Navy has several slight variances in how it displays rank, notably on the dress uniforms of officers, because to its strong maritime tradition.

 

Working Uniform for the Navy 

Officer with patch at the center of chest giving instructions.

Patch in the middle of the breast for enlisted and officers. An emblem patch is sewed into the middle of the breast of both enlisted Sailors and officers’ working uniforms. 

Service Uniform for the Navy

Navy soldier in uniform with ranking pins on both collars.

Pin shirt collars on enlisted and officers. When in service uniform, both enlisted Seamen and officers wear their rank on the collar of their shirt.

Blue Service/Full Dress

Solider wearing uniform with patch on the left sleeve.

Patch on the left sleeve for enlistees.

Chief petty officers having patch on the left sleeve.

Patch on the left sleeve for Chief Petty Officers.

Officer have strips on the bottom of the service jacket sleeves.

Stripes on the bottom of both jacket sleeves for officers.

White Service/Full Dress

Solider wearing white uniform with patch on the upper left sleeve.

Enlisted: Enlisted patch on upper left sleeve.

Chief petty officer in uniform has pins on both sides of the collar.

Pins on both sides of the collar, Chief Petty Officer.

Officer wearing white uniform with boards on shoulders.

Officers: Shoulder boards.

Enlisted Rates and Insignia in the Navy (from lowest to highest)

Rank Insignia on the Sleeve Collar Bracelet
Apprentice Seaman 1636374743_627_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374744_730_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Seaman 1636374745_593_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374746_373_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Third-class petty officer (All ranks are considered non-commissioned officers from here on out.) 1636374748_923_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374749_553_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Second Class Petty Officer 1636374751_488_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374752_587_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
First Class Petty Officer 1636374754_406_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374756_43_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Petty Officer 1st Class (Chief Petty Officers are non-commissioned officers who serve in the Navy as a distinct group.) Before a Seaman may become a Chief Petty Officer, he or she must pass a series of specialist examinations, a peer review procedure, and even congressional approval.) 1636374758_666_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374759_576_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Chief Petty Officer Senior 1636374761_813_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374762_28_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Petty Officer-in-Charge 1636374764_217_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374765_432_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Senior Chief Petty Officer (Command) 1636374767_146_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374762_28_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Master Chief Petty Officer (Command Master Chief Petty Officer) 1636374768_279_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374765_432_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Master Chief Petty Officer, Fleet/Force 1636374769_51_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374765_432_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
The Navy’s Master Chief Petty Officer 1636374770_938_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374772_479_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia

Rates and Insignia for Navy Warrant Officers

Rank Insignia Board for the Shoulders
Two Chief Warrant Officers 1636374773_502_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374775_108_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Three Chief Warrant Officers 1636374776_151_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374777_145_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Fourth Chief Warrant Officer 1636374779_751_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374780_153_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
5th Chief Warrant Officer 1636374781_255_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374783_391_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia

Rates and Insignia for Navy Commissioned Officers

Rank Insignia Board for the Shoulders (Dress White) Cuffs on the sleeves (Dress Blues)
Ensign 1636374626_806_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374784_850_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374786_920_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Lieutenant 1st Class 1636374629_766_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374788_751_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374789_14_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Lieutenant 1636374631_769_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374790_176_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374791_442_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Commander, Lieutenant 1636374634_612_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374793_36_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374794_588_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Commander 1636374636_327_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374796_124_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374797_512_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Captain 1636374638_7_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374799_103_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374800_287_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Admiral Rear (lower half) 1636374641_74_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374801_431_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374803_955_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Admiral Rear 1636374644_921_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374804_747_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374806_569_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Admiral (Vice) 1636374646_656_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374807_715_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374809_560_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Admiral 1636374649_337_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374810_525_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374811_715_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia
Fleet Admiral 1636374652_563_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374812_102_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia 1636374814_519_A-Civilians-Primer-on-Military-Rank-and-Insignia

Ranks and Insignia of the United States Coast Guard

It’s extremely similar to the Navy’s insignia and grades, with a few stylistic differences to distinguish the two branches.

 

 

The “how to address navy ranks” is a primer on military rank and insignia. The article includes how to address the ranks of officers in the United States Navy.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get military rank on insignia?

A: The rank of military insignia is what you would expect. Its a representation of the persons position in their particular branch of service. Some ranks are also given as higher than others, so it got that sort of hierarchy too.

What are the symbols for army ranks?

A:

What does rank insignia mean?

A: Rank insignia are the little yellow and blue triangles above your avatars head in Beat Saber. They indicate to other players how well you have been doing on a song. In general, they go from one color (yellow) to three colors (blue.)

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