Enlisted Ranks of the Army Explained

There are a lot of jokes out there about the different ranks of the Army. What I’m fixin’ to do is lay it down for all you Army hopefuls and Army family members. Let’s start from the top and go down.

Sergeant Major of the Army (There can be only one)


CSM Daniel A. Dailey is THE CSM of the Army. Only one person holds this position. This rank and position can go either way. Currently, it’s going the way the soldiers want it to. It hasn’t always been this way and won’t always be this way. What I mean is, CSM Dailey is a soldier’s soldier. He’s the top Pimp Daddy of them all. He answers to VERY few people and can do pretty much what he wants. Now, it is a bit political, but you wouldn’t see that in CSM Dailey. He listens to “Joe” and tries to do what’s best for Joe and give Joe want Joe wants. Joe likes that. He’s cool with tattoos and that means he’s cool with Joe. The CSM of the Army is only operational if HE/SHE chooses to be operational. They are the mother hen over the enlisted flock. He’s the Godfather of the enlisted corps. Other than that, there’s not much to say about this position.

Command Sergeant Major E-9


This position is relevant at the Command, Corps, Division, Brigade and Battalion levels and is a leadership position. A battalion Command Sergeant Major could be breaking bread with the Corp Command Sergeant Major and they both get paid the same; even though the Corp CSM could bury the battalion CSM. Not likely it would happen, but it could. Years is service is the only thing that separates the pay for the two. This rank is another Pimp Daddy rank but not the “top Pimp Daddy” rank. In 1996 we were on our way to Kuwait via Tower Air out of Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia. It was a long flight, as one would imagine. All the sudden we hear the Brigade CSM come over the loud-speaker on the plane. I don’t remember exactly what he said word for word but it was something to the fact that we were in international waters and the flight is now a smoking flight. If you wish to smoke, move to the rear of the plane. He was an avid smoker. Then, the flight attendant came on and stated that not everyone could go back at the same time because it threw the plane’s weight and balance out of whack. Point is, the CSM still has some pull. Think Sam Elliot in We Were Soldiers. It’s a cool rank to obtain if some disease or age doesn’t kill you first.

Sergeant Major E-9


This is an admin position. Not a leadership position. Most of the time you’ll find a SGM in some sort of Operations Cell (OPS Cell). The help the Major run the show. Like the S3 SGM at the battalion level. The pay is the same as the CSM but the responsibility is different. Not quite pimp daddy but the cat still has some serious pull. You may not walk on their grass.

First Sergeant E-8


This is a leadership position and is only relevant at the Company, Troop or Battery level. This person is the top ranking enlisted soldier in that unit. Sometimes referred to as “Top”, but be careful. Some would consider them the secretary for the Commander but, depending if you are Combat Arms, Combat Support of Combat Service Support, I’d be careful saying that. The 1SG typically has over 15 years in the Army and the Commander is sitting around 3 or 4 ish since the CO position is a Captain. I’ve had some turd 1SG’s and have had some pipe hitting hard sons-a-bitches. The first one I had on Active Duty was a former Delta Force guy. A true water walker. This position is a great one. By this time you’ve got some years under your belt, you’ve got rank and you’re making mad cash. Sure, there is responsibility, but if you’re a smart one you task things out to your Platoon Sergeants which still gives you ample time to play with the troops if your heart so desires. OR! You can micromanage and walk around correcting soldier malfunctions. What ever floats your boat. The ones who get “Frocked” (put into the position as an E-7) tend to be a bit more “serious”. It’s that old salty Master Sergeant who are the really memorable ones. True story… When I was a Platoon Sergeant in Germany my 1SG asked me and another PLT SGT to accompany him to the “woodline” with a Sergeant who “needed to be put in check”. So, SSG Ramirez and myself looked at each other, smiled slyly and complied. I’ll never forget the look on the SGT’s face when 1SG Kennedy took off his blouse and hung it on a branch once we were out of sight of others. 1SG went straight Ghetto on this guy. It was kind of hard not to laugh but needless to say, that SGT reoriented his moral compass and corrected himself. There were never any issues out of him after that. Hmmmm….

Master Sergeant E-8

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This is not a “leadership” position, per se, but many MSG’s are in leadership positions. Again, you will find them in the OPS Cell such as the battalion S-3 shop, the chow hall as the “Mess Daddy” or the motorpool as “Big Wrench”. It’s their house. The salty ones are the best to learn from. MSG’s are also very common in the Special Forces community. They are the “Team Sergeant” on an ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha). All-in-all this rank just looks cool. The ole “3 up 3 down” is still pimp status in my book.

Now this is where it starts to get more interesting…

Sergeant First Class E-7


SFC is an interesting position due to the responsibility factor. This is a leadership position as well as admin. These guys are still kids at heart and want to play but are torn between doing what they SHOULD be doing and doing what they WANT to do. They still enjoy blowing stuff up and shooting things but are usually reserved for leading a platoon and “directing” their squad/section leaders. In combat, it’s not uncommon to see these guys kicking doors with their boys. But in garrison, back home, it’s another story. They will usually have some sort of “Leader’s Book” with them and be sitting in an office. Think, “Assistant to the Regional Manager”. The Regional Manager being the First Sergeant. You will usually find a couple of these at the Company level and find a plethora of them at Brigade levels and higher. Of course, at that level, they are almost treated like “Buck Sergeants” again due to the fact that they are swimming in waters full of higher ranking NCO’s. Soldiers are torn at this level. “Should I stay or should I go” is common when speaking of retirement. They often refer to the “E-8 List” as a deciding factor. Politics is starting to become a real factor.

Staff Sergeant E-6


Now the party is starting. This is, usually, a leadership position as a Squad Leader or Section Chief. As a Staff Sergeant you KNOW how to work the system. You’ve “been around”. You have a full understanding of the Army and it’s systems but are literally still a little too young to act your age. You usually are the guy who adds too much explosive to the set, jumps the HUMMWV (Hummer), breaks things, can out drink most people and still score a 290 or above on the PT Test and many other sought after skills. Many SSG’s have had at least one Article 15. I’ve had 2 Company Grades. There’s just so much to say about these guys. They are usually subject matter experts and legends in their own minds. I really enjoyed the rank of SSG. Hell, I was one for 14 years. It seems that new Lieutenants prey on these guys to try to flex some officer muscle but that usually backfires on them when the LT’s kit or Gortex jacket goes missing. The SSG controls the underground, and from the shadows, they control the E-4 mafia.

Sergeant E-5


This rank just kinda sucks. This is also a leadership position. You are the Chief Executive Private. You get tasked with leading all the Shit Details. Stuck with Private Dipshit on Extra Duty, in charge of Head Count, made to sign for items, work long weekends, etc. etc. You think it’s great to FINALLY be a Sergeant, but that bubble is quickly busted. The Sergeant is usually a Team or Squad Leader. You are starting all over again, just like when you were a Private. More meetings that you’ll have little input on. For me, I was actually a Platoon Sergeant as an E-5 due to certain circumstances within my Cavalry Troop. Baptism by fire. You can try to flex your muscle around the “Lower Enlisted” but that usually doesn’t get too far. Staff Duty is only fun on the weekends when the single soldiers bring people they shouldn’t bring back to the barracks. What happens in the barracks only Quentin Tarantino could write a movie about. Seriously.

Corporal/Specialist E-4


The CEO of the “E-4 Mafia” resides here. The E-4 Mafia is a real thing. If you’re a Sergeant of some sort and absolutely, positively need something you can’t get, call these guys. Don’t ask how, but they can make anything happen. Now, there is a difference in Corporal and Specialist. The SPC is actually cooler than CPL. Nobody likes the CPL. They were one of the guys then got laterally promoted to CPL which is a Non-Commissioned Officer. They actually have some say so but not many people but Privates listen to them. Even then, it could go either way. The CPL is a rank out of necessity. It’s a rare rank. I was a CPL for only 5 months or so. I made the cutoff score for E-5 Sergeant and was awaiting PLDC (old school SGT school). The SPC emulates the SSG in that they know more than you think about their job and how the Army system works. They know how to work things in their favor or in favor of the Mafia. They are the leaders of the “Lower Enlisted” soldiers. E4 Major or Specialist Major is commonly heard. I was an E4 for 4 years cause I really didn’t want any responsibility and just wanted to party with the boys. My bros. In the barracks. Doing things we weren’t supposed to be doing. Back in the day these guys would hide their weed or guns in a VCR in their barracks rooms. They usually had cars they couldn’t afford, attended strip clubs often and were on a first name basis with the owner of many local pawn shops. They are poor but sure know how to party. Straight up gangsters in combat.

Private First Class/Private E-3/E-2


I’ve grouped these two together cause they are basically the same thing. Worker bees. They have no noticeable significance. They know very little about the Army but are learning; usually the hard way. They are young and still have zits on their faces. Many don’t even need to shave but do anyway. It’s typical that your standard issue Mama’s Boy who has never watched an R rated movie, said a curse word or even seen someone smoke in public are the ones who will grow up to be great SSG’s. Usually, within a few months, they’ll be tattooed, smoking, dipping and a raging alcoholic. They’ll have their share of extra duty and shit details. They become masters of cutting grass, flipping over rocks in the gravel motorpool, Range Police, Area Beautification, sweeping parking lots, guarding something in the middle of nowhere and all other events that is typical in new Army life. They are fresh out of Basic Training and know nothing. Some think they do but are quickly corrected. No one wants to hear from them other than their little buddies. They miss home, their girlfriend and look forward to getting out. They Snapchat, Instagram and whatever else these kids are doing nowadays. They are merely maggots; because they were only pupa in Basic Training. They are valuable, however. They are also still part of the team. An E-4 Mafia representative will usually take them under their wing to guide and teach them. The sky is the limit for these young Thundercats.

In closing, everyone is important. We are all part of one large family. One team one fight. I wrote all of this having some fun but I wouldn’t change a thing. I love the Army, I love our country. I will always have the utmost respect for anyway who has chosen to put aside their personal life to serve this great nation. I love all my fellow soldiers, even those from other branches. One nation, under God.

-“Dictated but not read”

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