Army Officer Ranks & Insignia: The Complete Guide

U.S. Army photo

U.S. Army officer ranks can be confusing for those who are unfamiliar with the branch. There are essentially three different groups of people who serve in the U.S. Army uniform, in addition to Army civilians.

The first and most prominent group are enlisted service members. These are U.S. Army soldiers who enlist into the U.S. Army. In other words, they tell the Army that they will serve for a certain period of time and they sign a contract which stipulates not only how long they will serve, but in what military occupation.

This is the most common type of soldier and they are considered the backbone of the Army. Their ranks range from private (E-1) to sergeant major (E-9).

The next group of personnel are called warrant officers. Warrant officer grades run the range from W-1 to W-5. Warrant officers are officers that are higher ranking than the top of the senior enlisted ranks, or higher than sergeants major. However, they are below the officer grade of O-1, or second lieutenant.

Warrant officers are highly skilled, single-track specialty officers, and who are appointed by warrant by the secretary of the Army. They are adaptive technical experts, combat leaders, trainers, and advisors. Through progressive levels of expertise in assignments, training, and education, the warrant officer administers, manages, maintains, operates and integrates systems and equipment across the full spectrum of operations, according to the U.S Army.

Warrant Officer One is the base-level rank, and primarily supports their team through battalion-level operations.

For chief warrant officer ranks (W-2 to W-5), warrant officers are commissioned by the president of the United States and take the same oath as regular commissioned officers (O-1 to O-10, or second lieutenants through general).

Warrant officers can and do command detachments, units, activities, vessels, aircraft, and armored vehicles as well as lead, coach, train, and counsel subordinates. However, the warrant officer’s primary task as a leader is to serve as a technical expert, providing valuable skills, guidance, and expertise to commanders and organizations in their particular field.

Technically, warrant officers are to be addressed as “Mr. (last name)” or “Ms. (last name).” However, many enlisted personnel do not use those terms, but instead say “Sir,” “Ma’am,” or most commonly, “Chief” and “Warrant.”

Photo by Sgt. Jonathan C. Thibault

One of the more popular ranks in the U.S. Army aviation branch is that of chief warrant officers.

The commissioned Army officer ranks are the highest in the U.S. military and in the U.S. Army. These officers hold presidential commissions and are confirmed at their ranks by the U.S. Senate.

Army officers in the paygrades of 0-1 to O-3, that is, second lieutenants to captains, are called company grade officers. Officers in the paygrades of O-4 to O-6, or in the ranks of major through colonel, are field grade officers. Lastly, Army officers in the paygrades O-7 to O-10, that is, from brigadier general to general of the Army, are considered general officers.

Below is a list of all the Army officer ranks of the U.S. Army. The list starts at the top and works its way down the Army officer ranks. Their paygrades are in parenthesis.

General of the Army
This is only used in time of war where the commanding officer must be equal or of higher rank than those commanding armies from other nations. The last officers to hold this rank served during and immediately after World War II.

U.S. Army photo by Michele Wiencek

General (O-10)
Addressed as general, this army officer rank is represented by four stars and they are introduced as “general.” This most senior level of commissioned officer typically has more than 30 years of experience and service. Commands all operations that fall within their geographical area. The chief of staff of the Army is a four-star general.

Lieutenant General (O-9)
Addressed as general, but introduced as “lieutenant general.” These general officers typically command corps-sized units of 20,000-45,000 soldiers. Their army officer ranks are represented by three stars.

Photo by Maj. Patrick Connelly

Major General (O-8)
Addressed as general, but introduced as “major general.” These general officers typically command division-sized units of 10,000-15,000 soldiers. Their army officer ranks are represented by two stars.

Brigadier General (O-7)
Addressed as general, but introduced as “brigadier general.” These general officers typically serve as deputy commanders to the commanding general for Army divisions. They assist in overseeing the staff's planning and coordination of a mission. Their army officer ranks are represented by a single star.

U.S. Army photo by Jessica Dambruch

Colonel (O-6)
Addressed as colonel. Typically, a colonel commands brigade-sized units of 3,000-5,000 soldiers, with a command sergeant major as principal NCO assistant. They are also found as the chief of divisional-level staff agencies. Their army officer ranks are represented by an eagle.

Lieutenant Colonel (O-5)
Addressed as lieutenant colonel or colonel. Typically commands battalion-sized units (300-1,000 soldiers), with a CSM as principal NCO assistant. May be selected for brigade and task force executive officer. Their army officer ranks are represented by a silver oak leaf.

Major (O-4)
Addressed as major. Serves as primary staff officer for brigade and task force command regarding personnel, logistical and operational missions. Their army officer ranks are represented by a gold oak leaf.

Captain (O-3)
Addressed as captain. Commands and controls company-sized units of 60 to 190 soldiers, together with a principal NCO assistant. Instructs skills at service schools and Army combat training centers and is often a staff officer at the battalion level. Their army officer ranks are represented by two silver bars side by side.

First Lieutenant (O-2)
Addressed as lieutenant. A seasoned lieutenant with 18-24 months of service. Leads more specialized weapons platoons and indirect fire computation centers. As a senior lieutenant, they often are selected to be the executive officer of a company-sized unit of 110-140 personnel. Their army officer ranks are represented by a silver bar.

Second Lieutenant (O-1)
Addressed as lieutenant. These officers typically are the entry-level rank for most commissioned officers. They lead platoons consisting of the platoon sergeant and two or more squads or about 16-44 soldiers. Their army officer ranks are represented by a gold bar.

Additionally, there is also a unique group of commissioned officers in the Army officer ranks. They are prior enlisted officers. They are identified using the paygrades O1-E through O-3E to denote the fact that they receive special pay for being prior enlisted personnel. They are addressed as noted above in the Army officer ranks of second lieutenant through captain.

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.