United States Navy Rank Structure

by Eric Strauss, Demand Media Google
    Navy officers wear these caps, while enlisted seamen wear different headgear.

    Navy officers wear these caps, while enlisted seamen wear different headgear.

    Although officers and enlisted personnel across all branches of the military have equivalent pay grades, they often have very different names, particularly among the enlisted personnel. However, the United States Navy's rank structure is quite different from the other three major branches of the armed forces, across the board, with equivalent officer ranks also having vastly different names. For instance, an Army captain is at the third step of the pay scale, while a Navy captain is a far more senior officer, at the sixth step. An officer in the Navy holds a "rank," while an enlisted man holds a "rate."

    Enlisted Rates

    The Navy's enlisted rates -- that is, pay grades -- have nine steps. The first three are "seaman" ranks, starting with seaman recruit, then seaman apprentice and finally seaman. Most sailors in the first three grades are either in training or on their first assignment.
    Then, a Navy sailor enters the ranks of the petty officers, or POs, which are rated simply petty officer third class, petty officer second class and petty officer first class. Finally, a sailor can earn the rates of chief petty officer and senior chief petty officer.
    At the ninth or final step of the enlisted scale, there are three different options, depending on a sailor's particular job. He normally may earn the rate of master chief petty officer or fleet or command master chief petty officer. But the Navy's single senior member of the enlisted ranks is dubbed the master chief petty officer of the Navy.

    Warrant Officers

    Warrant officer ranks among the Army, Navy and Marine Corps are similar in title -- the Air Force does not give warrants for officers, only commissions -- and consist of five steps. In the Navy, all warrant officer titles bear the initials USN to distinguish them from their Army and Marine equivalents. The first step is thus USN Warrant Officer 1 -- a title no longer in common use -- followed by USN Chief Warrant Officer 2, USN Chief Warrant Officer 3, 4 and 5, respectively.

    Commissioned Officer Ranks

    The Navy's commissioned officer ranks have six steps before an officer reaches the various admiral ranks, known as the flag officers. The first three ranks are considered junior grade officers, and the first step is ensign, the second is lieutenant junior grade and the third is lieutenant. The next three ranks are the mid-grade officers. The fourth step is lieutenant commander, followed by commander at the fifth step. Finally, the sixth step is captain.

    The Admiralty

    Flag officers all hold a rank that bears the word "admiral," and as with general officers in the other branches, these ranks are designated by star insignia. One- and two-star admirals are known as rear admirals, with one-star admirals designed the "lower half" and two-star admirals designated the "upper half." Three-star admirals are known as vice admirals. Finally, four-star admirals are simply called admiral; this is the rank held by the chief of Naval operations. A five-star admiral, or fleet admiral, is a designation used only in time of war.

    About the Author

    Eric Strauss spent 12 years as a newspaper copy editor, eventually serving as a deputy business editor at "The Star-Ledger" in New Jersey before transitioning into academic communications. His byline has appeared in several newspapers and websites. Strauss holds a B.A. in creative writing/professional writing and recently earned an M.A. in English literature.

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