U.S. Marine Corps ranks are comprised of two main groups: Enlisted Ranks and Officer Ranks. Enlisted Ranks include Junior Enlisted, Non-commissioned Officers, and Staff-Non-commissioned Officers. Officer Ranks include Commissioned Officers (Company and Field-Grade) and General Officers.
The letter and number represent the rank title and paygrade of the Marine. It’s important to note that rank is different from the paygrade and signifies the level of job duties and leadership responsibilities, designated by the insignia shown on the uniform. Promotable opportunities vary as a Marine progresses in their career. In general, physical evaluations, continuing education/skills courses, and good conduct benefits those who seek to establish a career in the Corps.
Learn about the USMC ranks and insignias below.
Enlisted Marines are divided into three levels: Junior Enlisted, NCOs, and SNCOs. Recruits are required to have a high school diploma or equivalent education. The Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) is established during the Junior Enlisted ranks and is a crucial part of the Marine’s career.
Private is considered Junior Enlisted rank, the lowest rank upon entry into the USMC. Privates are expected to go to a School of Infantry immediately after boot camp to learn how to be a Rifleman. From there, Privates can branch off into two areas of study: the Infantry MOS at an Infantry Battalion or Marine Combat Training followed by a school for MOS. Job duties during this time include only basic guard duty and cleaning, as most of the Private’s responsibility is to learn the practices and formalities in the Marines.
Private First Class (PFC/E-2)
Private First Class is the second-lowest rank after enlistment. Duties are similar to that of the Private with school and labor tasks. PFCs can usually obtain promotion into this rank within six months of entering after evaluation of their composite score. The calculation is based on PFT evaluations, rifle scores, conduct, and education.
Lance Corporal (LCpl/E-3)
LCpl is a non-commissioned enlisted rank. Service and knowledge are imperative as Lance Corporal as many begin to compete for NCO status. This means that a large part of an LCpl’s responsibility is displaying strong leadership skills, continuing education, and obtaining secondary duties (e.g. Fire Team Leader.)
Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs)
NCOs act as the management to Junior Enlisted ranks that includes administrative, supervisory, and disciplinary duties.
Corporal is the lowest grade as a Non-Commissioned Officer in the USMC. A Cpl is likely to fill supervisory roles at this point, with many leading “fire teams” (four-person squads consisting of a Team Leader, Automatic Rifleman, Assistant Automatic Rifleman, and Rifleman) or a weapons crew. Continuing education, self-discipline, and mentorship with higher ranks is key to establishing a career in the Marines.
Sergeant is the fifth position in Enlisted ranks. Leadership expectations grow at exceedingly high standards. Sgts typically lead a squad of approximately eight marines, and in some cases, may serve as Platoon Sergeant leading 3-5 squads. Sergeants are also expected to achieve proficiency in MOS with only the best performing Marines going on to become Drill Instructors. During this time, a Sergeant will undergo combat and weapons training. Fitness Reports (FITREP) are performance evaluations beginning at Sgt rank and are used in place of composite scores when a Marine is up for promotion.
Staff Non-Commissioned Officers (SNCOs)
SNCOs are senior ranking non-commissioned officers with even greater responsibility for leadership and administrative duties. They work with the commanding officer to ensure the welfare, morale, and discipline of all junior ranks.
Staff Sergeant (SSgt/E-6)
Staff Sergeant is the sixth Enlisted rank and is the first Staff Non-Commissioned Officer, a status typically achieved after 10 years of service. Expertise in interpersonal and technical skills develop as Platoon Leader (40-50 Marines.) The SSgt takes on more of a mentor role, grooming Junior Enlisted Officers or advising those who are struggling. A Staff Sergeant that has made it as a Drill Instructor, will earn a “green belt” (around 25 hours of training) or work towards the “black belt”.
Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt/E-7)
This is the seventh Enlisted rank. Gunnery Sergeants are portrayed famously for their firm command as Drill Instructors. They lead at command level and are responsible for material and personnel readiness. A GySgt may fill an officer role at a recruiting or training station. During the annual FITREP, a GySgt may make the choice to pursue either a Master or First Sergeant leadership role.
Master Sergeant (MSgt/E-8)
This is a senior Non-Commissioned Officer position. Master Sergeant is equal to rank with the First Sergeant but is considered a technical specialist rather than a personnel specialist. They may serve at the Battalion level or above, using highly proficient MOS to advise officers on equipment and programs.
First Sergeant (1Sgt/E-8)
First Sergeant is equal to MSgt and acts as a senior Enlisted non-commissioned Officer in the USMC. As mentioned, their focus is on command leadership duties which include advising readiness of units at a Company level.
Master Gunnery Sergeant (MGySgt/E-9)
This is the ninth and highest Enlisted rank. They hold the same rank as a Sergeant Major but the job tasks differ. As the name suggests, MGySgts are highly qualified in their occupational MOS, and advise higher-ranking officers on equipment and programs at a Battalion level.
Sergeant Major (SgtMaj/E-9)
Sergeant Major is considered a senior non-commissioned rank in the USMC. They hold the same rank as Master Gunnery Sergeant. However, instead of maintaining their MOS, a SgtMaj switches to a command-related MOS for a leadership assignment typically at a Battalion level.
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps (SMMC/E-9)
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps is the highest enlisted rank in the USMC, appointed by Commandment of Marine Corps. The SMMC typically serves a four-year term touring to Fleets. They are in charge of maintaining the morale and welfare and act as a representative to all enlisted Marines.
Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/ SEAC
The Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the main advisor to the chairman and plays a pivotal role in decision-making for the enlisted joint force. The role was originally created in 2005.
Warrant Officers are special assignments that a Marine must apply to, but it is a highly competitive field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 1% of military personnel are Warrant Officers.
Warrant Officer 1 (WO1/W-1)
Enlisted Marines who wish to further their careers in specialized fields must go through a thorough application process to be considered for Warrant Officer 1 rank. Eligible applicants have a number of years in service as determined by the route of choice (e.g., a minimum of 8 years experience as a Sergeant or 16 years as a Gunnery Sergeant for the Machine Gunner program.)
An ideal candidate meets professional and fitness standards, can provide a record of good standing, and has a score of at least 110 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Electrical Composite test. Upon acceptance, the candidate trains at a 13-week Warrant Officer Basic Course before making rank and receiving the first assignment duty.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CWO2/W-2)
Chief Warrant Officer 2 is the second lowest Warrant Officer rank appointed by the Secretary of the Marine Corps. The CWO2 assumes their first duty assignment usually at a Batallion level. Higher ranking officers have authority, but the CWO2’s purpose is to lend their expertise at an intermediate level. For instance, a special position in Infantry Companies called the “The Gunner” are masters of all weapons in the USMC and train Marines in tactics development and major combat operation.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CWO3/W-3)
The Chief Warrant Officer 3 is the third rank in the Chief Warrant Officer chain. Promotion is dependent upon the decision of selection boards and record review opens for eligibility after two years. The CWO3 fulfills a supervisory and support role in technical and tactical operations. Their expertise is considered advanced at this point and work in a team or brigade.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CWO4/W-4)
Chief Warrant Officer 4 is considered a senior-level expert appointed by the Secretary of the Marine Corps. Mentorship to other junior Warrant Officers is a significant aspect of their role. They also work as a counsel between commanders about WO issues that may arise at a battalion, brigade, division, or corps.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 (CWO5/W-5)
Chief Warrant Officer 5 is the highest Warrant Officer rank in the USMC. In general, the CWO5 performs the same Chief Warrant duties but at a mastery level for technical and tactical fields. On top of regular duties, the CWO5 has additional leadership and advisory duties at a battalion, brigade, division, or corps.
Commissioned officers are made up of three levels: company-grade officers, field-grade officers, and generals. Obtaining any of these levels requires a “commission” issued officially by the President of the United States.
Second Lieutenant (2ndLt/O-1)
Second Lieutenant is the lowest Officer rank in the USMC commissioned by the President. All new 2ndLts attend The Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, VA. TBS involves six months of combat training such as weapons and fire team training, land navigation, practice landings in Ospreys, and ride in military-grade vehicles. Upon graduation from Quantico, 2ndLts are designated their MOS based on preference and performance ranking. MOSs can include Infantry, Field Artillery, Flight School, or Law leading a Platoon of up to 50 Enlisted Marines. The assignment lasts approximately two years before being eligible for promotion.
First Lieutenant (1stLt/O-2)
First Lieutenant is the second-lowest rank amongst Officers in the USMC. At this point, the 1stLt is established in the Fleet with up to two years of experience and one deployment. They share the same leadership duties as 1stLt within the Platoon or move onto a Company Executive Officer position (second in command of up to 250 Marines.)
Captain in the USMC is the third rank in the Officer chain. Capts are adeptly trained as leaders to direct tactical fire teams under volatile conditions. They provide exceptional mentorship and guidance to Junior Officers, as well as manage leadership and training for the unit. At some point in the two-year position, a Captain will need to attend advanced school to become a Company Commander, Battalion-level staff Officer, or a Platoon Commander of Special Forces.
Major is the fourth rank in the Officer chain and designated as a Field-Grade Officer. The Maj role requires them to be consistently striving for the best by learning, leading, and mentoring. Some assignments include Battalion Executive Officers, Weapons Company Commanders, and Regimental or Brigade Staff Members.
Lieutenant Colonel (LtCol/O-5)
Lieutenant Colonel is the fifth Officer rank in the USMC. Advancing to the next step is steadfast at this status. Lieutenant Colonels typically assume roles such as Battalion Commanders, Regimental Executive Officers, or Brigade Staff Members.
Colonel is the sixth Officer rank before eligibility to Brigadier General. Colonels have similar duty expectations as a LtCol, but will lead at higher positions such as a Regimental Commanders, Brigade Executive Officers, or Division Staff members.
Brigadier General (BGen/O-7)
A Brigadier General holds one-star as a General Officer in the USMC. In order to make promotable, a BGen candidate must be screened by a promotion board and nominated by the Defense Secretary and President of the United States. BGens usually lead as Brigade Commanders or Division Executive Officers, sometimes overseeing up to 20,000 Marines. Currently, Brigadier Generals serve approximately 5 years or 30 years, whichever comes first, before mandatory retirement unless promoted beyond BGen or appointed to remain in rank.
Major General (MajGen/O-8)
A Major General is a two-star General Officer and the highest permanent peacetime rank in the USMC. Major Generals may take on leadership roles like Division Commanders or staff Officers at Combatant Commands. MajGens can serve up to 5 years or 35 years, whichever comes first, before mandatory retirement or appointment of higher ranks.
Lieutenant General (LtGen/O-9)
Lieutenant Generals holds a three-star General Officer rank and is a temporary position appointed by the President. They either lead the highest Marine Corps Commands or are deputies of Combatant Commands.
A four-star General is the highest military position in the USMC. Gens have over 30 years of experience when they begin serving a tour. When the term expires, a General can choose to retire with four-stars assuming the Gen completed three years of exemplary service.
The United States Marine Corps is a distinguished U.S. military branch responsible for amphibious tactic forces. Becoming a Marine is one of the most competitive fields amongst the military branches which requires outstanding physical, mental, and moral strength. The origins of the Marine Corps date back to 1775 with the establishment of the Continental Marines during the Revolutionary War.
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