United States Marine Corps rank insignia

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Various Marine and Navy rank insignia (as well as other devices) left at the summit of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.
Navies Armies Air forces
Commissioned and Non-commissioned officers
Admiral of
the fleet
Marshal or
Field marshal
Marshal of
the air force
Admiral General Air chief marshal
Vice admiral Lieutenant general Air marshal
Rear admiral Major general Air vice-marshal
Commodore Brigadier or
Brigadier general
Air commodore
Captain Colonel Group captain
Commander Lieutenant colonel Wing commander
Major or
Squadron leader
Lieutenant Captain Flight lieutenant
Sub-lieutenant Lieutenant or
First lieutenant
Flying officer
Ensign Second lieutenant Pilot officer
Midshipman Officer cadet Flight cadet
Enlisted grades
Warrant officer or
Chief petty officer
Warrant officer or
Sergeant major
Warrant officer
Petty officer Sergeant Sergeant
Leading seaman Corporal Corporal
Seaman Private Aircraftman

Marine ranks in ascending order, with tables indicating abbreviations in the style used by the United States Marine Corps, pay grades, and rank insignia:

Commissioned officers[edit]

Commissioned officers are distinguished from other officers by their commission, which is the formal written authority, issued in the name of the President of the United States, that confers the rank and authority of a Marine Officer. Commissioned officers carry the "special trust and confidence" of the President of the United States.[1] Commissioned officer ranks are further subdivided into general officers, field-grade officers, and company-grade officers. The highest billets in the Marine Corps, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps are, by statute, four-star ranks, as the Marine Corps is a separate naval service under the Department of the Navy.[2]

Officer Company-grade officers Field-grade officers General officers
Second Lieutenant
First Lieutenant
Lieutenant Colonel
Brigadier General
Major General
Lieutenant General
US DoD Pay Grade O-1 O-2 O-3 O-4 O-5 O-6 O-7 O-8 O-9 O-10
NATO Code OF-1 OF-2 OF-3 OF-4 OF-5 OF-6 OF-7 OF-8 OF-9
US-O1 insignia.svg
US-O2 insignia.svg
Captain Insignia USMC.png
US-O4 insignia.svg
US-O5 insignia.svg
US-O6 insignia.svg
US-O7 insignia.svg
US-O8 insignia.svg
US-O9 insignia.svg
US-O10 insignia.svg
Marine Service Uniform Insignia
US Marine O1 shoulderboard.svg
US Marine O2 shoulderboard.svg
US Marine O3 shoulderboard.svg
US Marine O4 shoulderboard.svg
US Marine O5 shoulderboard.svg
US Marine O6 shoulderboard.svg
US Marine O7 shoulderboard.svg
US Marine O8 shoulderboard.svg
US Marine O9 shoulderboard.svg
US Marine 10 shoulderboard.svg

"Tombstone promotions" [edit]

The Act of Congress of March 4, 1925, allowed officers in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard to be promoted one grade upon retirement if they had been specially commended for performance of duty in actual combat. Combat citation promotions were colloquially known as "tombstone promotions" because they conferred all the perks and prestige of the higher rank including the loftier title on their tombstones but no additional retirement pay. The Act of Congress of February 23, 1942, enabled tombstone promotions to three- and four-star grades. Tombstone promotions were subsequently restricted to citations issued before January 1, 1947, and finally eliminated altogether effective November 1, 1959. The practice was terminated in an effort to encourage senior officer retirements prior to the effective date of the change to relieve an overstrength in the senior ranks.

Any officer who actually served in a grade while on active duty receives precedence on the retirement list over any tombstone officer holding the same retired grade. Tombstone officers rank among each other according to the dates of their highest active duty grade.[3]

Warrant officers[edit]

Warrant Officers provide leadership and training in specialized fields and skills. Unlike other nation's militaries (which rank warrant officers as Staff NCO equivalents), the United States military confers warrants and commissions on its Warrant Officers and classifies them into a separate category senior to all enlisted grades of rank (including officer candidates), cadets, and midshipmen. As Warrant Officers are officer-level technical specialists they generally do not exercise command outside of their specialty. Warrant officers come primarily from the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO) ranks.

A Chief Warrant Officer, CWO2–CWO5, serving in the MOS 0306 "Infantry Weapons Officer" carries a special title, "Marine Gunner", which does not replace his rank. A Marine Gunner replaces the Chief Warrant Officer insignia on the left collar with a bursting bomb insignia. Other warrant officers are sometimes informally and erroneously referred to as "Gunner".

Warrant Officers
Infantry Weapons Officer
"Marine Gunner"
Warrant Officer
Chief Warrant Officer-2
Chief Warrant Officer-3
Chief Warrant Officer-4
Chief Warrant Officer-5
US DoD Pay Grade W-1 W-2 W-3 W-4 W-5
NATO Code WO-1 WO-2 WO-3 WO-4 WO-5
USMC CWO Gunner (Dress).png
USMC WO1.svg


Enlisted Marines with paygrades of E-4 and E-5 are non-commissioned officers (NCOs) while those at E-6 and higher are Staff Noncommissioned Officers (SNCOs).[4] The E-8 and E-9 levels each have two ranks per pay grade, each with different responsibilities. Gunnery Sergeants (E-7) indicate on their annual evaluations (called "fitness reports") their preferred promotional track: Master Sergeant or First Sergeant. The First Sergeant and Sergeant Major ranks are command-oriented Senior Enlisted Advisors, with Marines of these ranks serving as the senior enlisted Marines in a unit, charged to assist the commanding officer in matters of discipline, administration, and the morale and welfare of the unit. Master Sergeants and Master Gunnery Sergeants provide technical leadership as occupational specialists in their specific MOS. First Sergeants typically serve as the senior enlisted Marine in a company, battery, or other unit at similar echelon, while Sergeants Major serve the same role in battalions, squadrons, or larger units.[5]

The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps is a billet and with it carries a special rank insignia, conferred on the senior enlisted Marine of the entire Marine Corps, personally selected by the Commandant of the Marine Corps.[6] It and the Marine Gunner are the only billets which rate modified rank insignia in place of the traditional rank insignia.[citation needed]

Enlisted Junior enlisted Non-commissioned Officers (NCOs) Staff Non-Commissioned Officers (SNCOs)
Private First Class
Lance Corporal
Staff Sergeant
Gunnery Sergeant
Master Sergeant
First Sergeant
Master Gunnery Sergeant
Sergeant Major
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps
US DoD Pay Grade E-1 E-2 E-3 E-4 E-5 E-6 E-7 E-8 E-9
NATO Code OR-1 OR-2 OR-3 OR-4 OR-5 OR-6 OR-7 OR-8 OR-9
Insignia no insignia

Different styles of rank insignia are worn on different Marine uniforms:

L to R: Evening Dress coat, Dress Blue coat, Service Dress coat, Service Dress "B" and "C" shirt, and combat utility pin-on insignia for a Staff Sergeant

The gold stripes on red flash are worn on the Dress Blue uniform coat, green stripes on red flash are worn on the Service uniform coat; the rank insignia are worn on the upper sleeve of both blouses. The khaki uniforms use green stripes on khaki flash, and again are worn on the upper sleeves of both long and short-sleeved service blouses. Utility uniform rank insignia are black metal pins and are worn on the collars, or black embroidered insignia sewn into patches of material when wearing a flak. Musicians in the United States Marine Band wear insignia with lyre in the center as opposed to the crossed rifles, to denote their lack of a combat mission; full-service Marines who are attached to the 10 field bands of the Operating Forces and Supporting Establishment continue to wear their normal rank insignia.[7]

Forms of address[edit]

Marines address all enlisted personnel by rank, and all commissioned officers with "sir" or "ma'am". Warrant officers, regardless of rank, are addressed just as commissioned officers are, but may also be addressed as "Warrant Officer" or "Gunner", although the latter is sometimes considered improper unless the officer is an Infantry Weapons Officer (MOS 0306). During recruit training, recruits are indoctrinated to address all superiors as "sir" or "ma'am". Addressing a commissioned officer (or any rank) as "Mister" has long been considered a grievous insult towards the individual. The most junior ranks between pay grades E-1 and E-3 (privates, privates first class, and lance corporals) are commonly referred to by their last name only, using their rank only in a formal situation. "Marine" is also a common form of address for junior Marines.

During recruit training, recruits are not considered Marines until they graduate and must address all Marines who have completed recruit training, including instructors, as "sir" or "ma'am". Incoming recruits must also refer to themselves in the third person (i.e., "this recruit"), and their rank is replaced with the word "Recruit". This usually continues until the last week of recruit training when, in most instances, recruits are then considered Marines. Likewise, during officer training, officer candidates are not yet commissioned Marine officers and must refer to themselves as "this candidate" or "the candidate", even though some officer candidates may hold an enlisted rank. During Officer Candidate School, each candidate is referred to as "candidate" and not "Marine." Unlike their enlisted counterparts, officer candidates refer to enlisted Marines, including their instructors, by their full and proper rank; only commissioned officers are addressed as "sir" or "ma'am".

Informally, some enlisted ranks have commonly used nicknames, though they are not official and may be improper for use in formal situations. The acceptability of nickname use by juniors is at the discretion of the individual rank holder. A gunnery sergeant is typically called "Gunny" and occasionally "Guns", a master sergeant is commonly called "Top", and a master gunnery sergeant is "Master Gunny" or "Master Guns". Differing from the Army and Air Force, all ranks containing "sergeant" are always addressed by their full rank and never shortened to simply "Sergeant" or "Sarge". A private first class is usually referred to as a PFC, instead of simply "private"; similarly, Lance Corporal is not shortened to "Corporal". Senior officers may informally address junior officers by first name. Marines of the same rank may also address each other by first name when among peers only and never in the presence of junior or senior Marines.

Finally, Marines consider it a grievous insult to be called a "soldier", as soldier is an army-specific appellation, except in the Marine Corps nom de guerre "Soldier(s) of the Sea" or its variation "Sea Soldier(s)" and in the highly generic sense of referring to any member of the military, especially those members performing ground combat missions such as Navy SEALs and Air Force special operations and Security Forces personnel. Additionally, while Marines often are collectively called "troops", it is never appropriate to address Marines individually or collectively as either a "troop" or "trooper(s)", as these terms are only properly used by the Army (originally in cavalry units but in modern use extended to armor and airborne or air assault units) and US state police forces; the proper term is always Marine. When writing journalism or scholarly references to the Marine Corps, its elements, and individual Marines, the correct attribution is Marine(s).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Estes, Kenneth W. (2000). The Marine Officer's Guide, 6th Edition. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-567-5. 
  2. ^ 10 U.S.C. § 5043 & 10 U.S.C. § 5044: Commandant of the Marine Corps & Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.
  3. ^ United States Navy Regulations, 1920 with changes up to and including No. 19 1938 Article 1668(3)
  4. ^ "Marine Corps Ranks". United States Marine Corps website. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  5. ^ http://work.chron.com/sergeant-major-jobs-descriptions-21426.html. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  6. ^ "Sergeants Major of the Marine Corps". Marine Corps Legacy Museum. Retrieved 2006-10-04. 
  7. ^ "Chapter 6: Musical Units". Marine Corps Uniform Regulations. Marine Corps Systems Command. Retrieved 31 December 2011. 

External links[edit]