The United States Marine Corps is a distinguished U.S. military branch responsible for amphibious warfare. It is one of the most competitive branches of the armed forces, requiring outstanding physical, mental and moral strength.
The origins of the Marine Corps date back to 1775 with the establishment of the Continental Marines during the Revolutionary War.
U.S. Marine Corps ranks are comprised of three main groups: enlisted, warrant officer and officer ranks.
The letter and number represent the rank title and pay grade of the Marine. It’s important to note that rank is different from the pay grade and signifies the level of job duties and leadership responsibilities. Marines wear insignia on their uniforms which signifies their rank.
Promotions up to the rank of lance corporal are based on time served and performance. Above that rank, other factors are taken into account, including fitness tests, proficiency ratings and continuing education/skills courses.
Enlisted Marines are divided into four levels: junior enlisted, noncommissioned officers, staff noncommissioned officers and warrant officers. Recruits are required to have a high school diploma or equivalent education. The military occupational specialty (MOS) is established during the junior enlisted ranks and is a crucial part of the Marine’s career.
Most new recruits enter the Marine Corps as privates, which is the lowest rank. The private’s main purpose is to learn how to be a Marine and how to follow orders. Privates’ job duties mostly entail basic guard duty and cleaning.
Private First Class (PFC/E-2)
Privates are usually promoted to private first class after six months of active duty, as long as their performance evaluations, including rifle scores and conduct, are satisfactory. Their days are filled with school and menial labor.
Lance Corporal (LCpl/E-3)
After eight months as a private first class, a Marine with satisfactory evaluations may advance to lance corporal. Promotions become highly competitive after this level, so Marines who want to advance must develop leadership skills, continue their education and obtain secondary duties.
They must also attend a “Lance Corporal Leadership and Ethics Seminar,” which helps them develop leadership skills such as critical thinking.
Noncommissioned Officers (NCOs)
Noncommissioned officers act as management to the junior enlisted ranks. Duties include administrative, supervisory and disciplinary tasks.
Promotion to the rank of corporal is not based strictly on acceptable performance and time in service but on a composite score that includes a fitness test, a proficiency rating, education and more. This is a leadership role, with many corporals leading squads of four Marines while continuing their education and developing their skills.
Sergeants have increasing leadership responsibilities. Their squads are usually larger (eight Marines rather than four), and they may act as platoon sergeants of three to five squads. Sergeants continue to develop their leadership skills and their proficiency in MOS. The top performers may become drill instructors. Fitness reports (FITREP) and time in service determine a Marine’s eligibility for this promotion.
Staff Noncommissioned Officers (SNCOs)
Staff noncommissioned officers are senior-ranking noncommissioned officers with even greater responsibility for leadership and administrative duties. They work with the commanding officer to ensure the welfare, morale and discipline of all junior ranks.
Staff Sergeant (SSgt/E-6)
Staff sergeant is the first staff noncommissioned officer, a status typically achieved after 10 years of service. Expertise in interpersonal and technical skills develop as platoon leader of 40-50 Marines. The staff sergeant takes on more of a mentoring role, grooming junior enlisted officers or advising those who are struggling. A staff sergeant who has made it as a drill instructor will earn a “green belt” or work toward the “black belt,” which is worn by the senior drill instructor.
Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt/E-7)
The gunnery sergeant is often in charge of unit training or company logistics. A gunnery sergeant may advance to either master sergeant or first sergeant, which are equal in rank.
Master Sergeant (MSgt/E-8)
Gunnery sergeants who are experts in their MOS may be promoted to master sergeant, which is a technical specialist role. They serve as higher-level staff (battalion level or higher) NCOs and advise the commander on technical issues, including equipment and tactics.
First Sergeant (1Sgt/E-8)
The first sergeant is the personnel expert in a platoon or company. As the senior enlisted advisor of a platoon or company, they act as the liaison between command and enlisted Marines. They are involved in training and determining the readiness of their units.
Master Gunnery Sergeant (MGySgt/E-9)
Master gunnery sergeants are experts in their fields. They lead at the higher level (battalion level and higher) and advise the top-ranking officers, including generals, on equipment and program readiness.
Sergeant Major (SgtMaj/E-9)
Sergeant major is the personnel equivalent to the master gunnery sergeant. Like their technical counterparts, they lead at the higher level (battalion level and higher), but they advise the senior officers on personnel issues.
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps (SMMC/E-9)
The sergeant major of the Marine Corps is appointed to a four-year term by the commandant of the Marine Corps. They tour the fleets and assist with personnel issues, including discipline and morale, and act as a liaison between the enlisted Marines and the commanders.
Warrant officers are special assignments that a Marine with technical expertise can apply to. It is a highly competitive field.
Warrant Officer One (WO1/W-1)
Warrant officers are appointed by the secretary of the Marine Corps. Interested Marines submit a written application, which is considered along with other eligibility criteria, including years of service and experience. Accepted candidates complete training at the Warrant Officer Basic School.
Chief Warrant Officer Two (CWO2/W-2)
Chief warrant officer two fulfills an intermediate-level technical role. While commissioned officers have more authority, chief warrant officers have more technical expertise and tactical knowledge. They lead at a battalion level, often in roles including career recruiters or supply officers.
Chief Warrant Officer Three (CWO3/W-3)
A Marine with two years of experience as a chief warrant officer two may be promoted to chief warrant officer three, although advancement is competitive They often work in team to brigade levels, providing supervision. support and advanced expertise in their fields.
Chief Warrant Officer Four (CWO4/W-4)
At this senior level, a chief warrant officer four has a high level of technical expertise in technical and field operations. They mentor junior warrant officers and counsel commanders about issues that arise at higher-level commands.
Chief Warrant Officer Five (CWO5/W-5)
A chief warrant officer five performs many of the same duties as lower-ranked chief warrant officers but with a master level of skill in both the technical and tactical fields. They also have additional leadership and mentorship duties and serve in an advisory capacity in higher-level commands.
There are three levels of commissioned officers: company-grade officers, field-grade officers and generals. Officers must be “commissioned” officially by the president of the United States.
Second Lieutenant (2ndLt/O-1)
Second lieutenants begin their new rank by attending the Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, Virginia, for months of combat training. Second lieutenants are assigned a MOS when they graduate. They will continue their education further in their assigned MOS, which can include infantry, artillery or law, after which they will lead a platoon of up to 50 enlisted Marines.
First Lieutenant (1stLt/O-2)
A second lieutenant may be considered for promotion after about two years. They may continue to lead a platoon of two or more squads or may become company executive officers, who are second-in-command of up to 250 enlisted Marines. They have more responsibility than second lieutenants but similar duties.
Captains often lead companies of up to 190 Marines and may even serve at the battalion level following further training at advanced school. They mentor junior officers and often serve as instructors at combat school.
In order to be promoted to the rank of major, captains must submit an application to the approval board. They must have demonstrated a high skill level in both leadership and operations. Majors serve at higher-level command roles, including as battalion executive officer or weapons company commander.
Lieutenant Colonel (LtCol/O-5)
Lieutenant colonels often act in such key decision-making roles as battalion commanders or brigade staff members. They may lead as many as 1,000 Marines. Reaching this rank can take as long as 22 years of active service.
Colonels have similar responsibilities as lieutenant colonels, but they serve in more senior roles, including as brigade executive officers or regimental commanders.
Brigadier General (BGen/O-7)
A brigadier general, like all generals in the Marine Corps, is nominated to their position by the president of the United States, and their appointment is confirmed by the Senate. Brigadier generals are one-star generals and often serve as advisors to the deputy commander to a major general. They may command up to 15,000 Marines.
Major General (MajGen/O-8)
A major general is a two-star general. In peacetime, this is the highest permanent Marine Corps rank. Major generals usually command at the division level, leading up to 15,000 Marines. They may also take on roles as staff officers at combatant commands. Unless they are further promoted, major generals face mandatory retirement after five years at this rank or 35 years of service, whichever comes first.
Lieutenant General (LtGen/O-9)
The rank of lieutenant general, which is a three-star general rank, is a temporary position for one tour of duty. They command at the highest level, such as a corps of up to 45,000 Marines, or as senior staff officers.
The most-senior rank in the Marine Corps is the four-star general, and there can never be more than three at any given time. Two of them are the most senior officers in the Marine Corps: the commandant of the Marine Corps and the assistant commandant.
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