The three general military categories of rank are Enlisted, Warrant Officer, and Commissioned Officer. Each rank comes with a distinct set of responsibilities that enable service members to fully contribute their talents to the military. Understanding these designations will help you to map out your military career.
There are two distinct career paths in the military: Commissioned Officers and Enlisted. The pay scales for each reflect their varying degrees responsibility.
Each military service has its own names for the various enlisted ranks (Navy and Coast Guard are the same), however, the pay grades are equal throughout all the services. Most enlisted members enter the military at the lowest pay grade (E-1) and climb the pay scale to higher positions with greater pay. Enlisted pay grades range from E-1 through E-9 ("E" represents Enlisted).
To gain the pay advantages of a Commissioned Officer, some enter the military with a higher education degree and begin their military careers through one of the Officer Candidate Schools; some are high school graduates who attend a service academy or a civilian college while participating in an ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program.
Officer or enlisted, basic pay is the start of your military income. Basic pay is expanded by the many military allowances designed to provide compensation for necessities such as housing, childcare, clothing and more. Some military allowances are tax exempt, so you can use your after-tax military paycheck for necessities, even luxuries, while your military allowances cover more of your basic needs.