How Much Do You Know About Military Rank?


By: John Miller

5 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Without rank, the military would be a hodgepodge of people running around pointlessly shouting at each other. How much do you really know about American military rank?

What is a military ranking?

Armed forces operate best when there's a clear ranking system. That is, the relationships between everyone in the service are clearly defined with a hierarchical system. In short, generals do the ordering; privates do the following.


True or false: Do silver insignia outrank gold in the Army?

Gold might be more valuable than silver, but it's the latter that makes up the more precious insignias in the Army. Generals get silver stars … not gold.


What is a "pay grade"?

In the military, you hear the phrase "pay grade" quite often, denoted by a letter and number (i.e. "E-6" or "W-2"). Each rank receives a specific pay grade; career soldiers typically do everything they can to advance up the pay scale.


In the Army, which rank has a two-bar insignia?

Only one rank in the Army has two bars, and that's captain. In the Army, captain is abbreviated as "CPT," but in the Marines it is "Capt."


What's the word for "rank" in the Coast Guard and Navy?

In the Navy and Coast Guard, "rank" is "rate." So if you're on a ship, you'd never mention the word "rank" unless you want to put your ignorance on display.


What is the highest possible rank in the U.S. Army?

The General of the Army is the top dog of the U.S. Army. This person is not only a competent military mind, but he or she has a lot of political savvy, too.


Most of America's military "borrowed" its rank insignia from which other force?

America's military was born in the ashes of the American Revolution. And of course, it was a society born of British systems and values … so the military used many rank insignia from English customs.


Army majors have an insignia in the shape of a leaf from which tree?

Oak leaf insignias are incredibly powerful in the Army. These insignias represent the ranking of major, which sits at the O-4 pay grade.


"Airman" is a rank that's found only in the ______.

An airman, of course, is found in the Air Force. Airman basic is the lowest ranking in the Air Force.


"SGM" is an abbreviation for which rank?

SGM stands for Sergeant Major. SGMs are non-commisioned officers at the E-9 pay grade.


Which branch of the U.S. military has a ranking system that's very different from the other branches?

The Army, Marines and Air Force mostly follow similar ranking conventions. But in the 1800s, the Navy (and Coast Guard) began branching out with its ranking system, and it uses some unique terms to denote rank.


What's the most common rank in the U.S. military?

Specialists number at roughly 260,000, making them the most common rank the military. They are sometimes jokingly called the "E-4 Mafia."


What's the official abbreviation for the Specialist rank?

Abbreviations run rampant in the U.S. military. And because there are so many Specialists, one common abbreviation is "SPC."


What is the Navy equivalent of an Army general?

Admirals are the generals of the Navy. Both generals and admirals have the same pay grade -- O-10.


A pay grade of W-4 goes to which ranking in the Army?

The ranking of Chief Warrant Officer 4 receives a pay grade of W-4. The top ranking for a CW is 5, or CW5.


What is the Navy equivalent of an Army colonel?

Captains are the colonels of the Navy. These O-6 officers are often in charge commanding ships at sea.


Which of following Army ranks is the highest?

In the Army, there are a whole lot of sergeant rankings. In our examples, the right answer is Sergeant Major, or SGM.


Until 1857, captain was the highest rank in which branch of the American military?

Captain used to be the Navy's highest rank. In 1857, Congress created flag officers, which eventually resulted in the rank of Admiral and Commodore.


What is the insignia for a United States colonel?

Colonels are so lucky -- they're the only ones in the service granted an animal-based insignia. The silver eagle is a coveted symbol of leadership.


There are NO Chief Warrant Officers in which branch of the military?

All branches but the Air Force feature a Chief Warrant Officer ranking. Many Chief Warrant Officers are men and women with extreme technical expertise reflecting years of dedicated service.


In the Army, specialists have the same pay grade as _____.

Specialists are one of four junior enlisted ranks in the Army. The E-4 grade has the same pay grade as a corporal.


What is the Marine equivalent of Army private first class?

Private first class is an E-2 ranking. It's the equivalent of a Lance Corporal in the Marines.


True or false: Do lieutenant generals outrank major generals?

It's true, lieutenant generals outrank major generals. This is based on British military ranking traditions.


In which branch of the military would you find a rank of Chief Petty Officer?

The Navy and Coast Guard often use "petty" in their rate (rank) system. That's where you'll find the CPO rate, which sits at the E-7 pay grade.


What's the pay grade for a Navy Seaman?

Seaman sit at E-3 on the pay grade. They rate above Seaman Recruits and Seaman Apprentices.


How long must a sailor serve in the Navy to earn a single sleeve stripe for his or her uniform?

For every four years of service, a sailor earns a stripe for his or her Navy uniform. The Army, on the other hand, awards stripes for every three years of service.


Where would you find the rank of Gunnery Sergeant?

The Marines are famous for the Gunnery Sergeant ranking, which is equivalent to the Army's Sergeant First Class. Everyone just called them "gunny."


Which of the following ranks is no longer used in the U.S. Army?

In the earliest days, the Army featured a rank of cornet, which was a commissioned officer based on the British rank system. The rank of cornet, along with ensign, was ended in 1815.


The rank of ensign first started in which branch of the military?

The Army was the first branch to use the ensign rank … but then gave it up. Now, ensigns are found only in the Navy and Coast Guard.


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