These are the enlisted ranks when I was in the Army 1963-66, showing their
names, chevrons (that are sewn onto both sleeves midway on the upper arm),
the pay grade (such as E-4, meaning Enlisted grade 4), and a typical monthly
salary at the time (these can vary according to the calendar year and with
the service member's years of service). The salaries are low by civilian
standards because all of a soldier's basic needs — shelter (barracks,
bed, lockers, tent), food (mess hall or field kitchen), clothing (uniforms),
medical care (dispensary and military hospital) — are provided free of
charge. Soldiers who are married get an additional housing allowance to
live off-base with their families "on the economy" or on-base in Army
housing rent-free and if they have children, of course schooling is
available and free as well.
The Army also had Warrant Officers (WO) and Commissioned Officers
(Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Colonel, General) but I didn't have much to do
with them so let somebody else make those tables!
In the table above, the top row shows "command" grades, meaning those
that confer authority or the lack thereof. An enlisted man (EM, who can
also be a woman)* with chevrons in the first row may give orders to enlisted
persons of lower ranks; for example, a Sergeant E-5 can be a team leader, a
Sergeant E-6 can be squad leader. The higher level sergeants have
responsibility for larger groups (platoons, companies, regiments, etc) but
it is shared with officers. For example a company of about 100 or 200
soldiers might have a captain or major as commander who (in peacetime) sits
in an office all day and occasionally attends drills or assemblies, and also
a first sergeant who deals with the troops on a daily basis. Privates (E-1
through E-3) have no authority. Corporals and Sergeants, who do have
authority, are called Noncommissioned Officers (NCOs). Specialists are
The second row shows the Specialist levels. Specialists could rise in rank
and paygrade, but have no authority over others. This allows service
members who are skilled in a given (usually technical) area to rise in
rank and pay and continue to do what they're good at without having to
transfer to management.
Promotions from E-1 to E-2 to E-3 were automatic but I had to go before a
promotion board in 1964 for promotion to "Spec 4".
Ranks, abbreviations, insignia, titles, and chevrons change periodically.
In fact they have changed at least thirteen times since 1920. All the
Specialists except E-4 were elimated between 1965 and 1985.