U.S. Marine Corps Ranks Explained


The United States Marine Corps Ranking System provides essential information to those who serve as Marines. Understanding the different ranks can help you chart a course for success in the Marine Corps or better understand the experience and qualifications of someone who has served. There are several ranks you can move up to, especially if you are interested in a military career. In this article, we explain each position in the Marines.

Related: How To Join The Marines

The ranks of the Marine Corps spell out the authority and responsibilities of any Marine. Each rank is also associated with a pay level, so Marines gradually increase their annual income as they move up through the ranks. Understanding the different levels makes it easier to see how the Marine Corps defines leadership and where each individual fits in the overall hierarchy.

U.S. Marine Corps ranks

The following categories make up the Marine Corp ranking system:

  • Junior enlisted
  • Non-commissioned officers
  • Staff NCOs
  • Marine Corps Sergeant Major
  • Warrant officers
  • Officers

Junior enlisted

The enlisted US Marine Corps ranks begin with these three lower ranks, the last being reached by almost all Marines:

E-1, private

The Soldiers hold the lowest class in the ranks of the United States Marine Corps. Having recently completed training camp, these people are often referred to as “boots”. Those with an infantry military occupational specialty, or MOS, go into an infantry training battalion as soldiers. All other Marines in this rank attend infantry school, maritime combat training, and specialty school for their MOS.

E-2, private first class

To be promoted to the rank of Private First Class (PFC), an individual must have six months of duty time (TIS) with six months of duty time (TIG). Company commanders generally promote all enlisted soldiers on active duty after that period of service, provided they meet the basic criteria for promotion. A PFC is either at school or in the fleet. Their time is mainly spent on menial work or studying.

E-3, Lance Corporal

Promotion to the rank of Lance Corporal is possible once a person has completed nine months of SIT and eight months of SIT. By the time an individual reaches rank E-3, they are usually part of the fleet. Those in highly specialized roles may still have training to compete at this level. Since there are no promotion quotas in E-2 or E-3, this level is accessible to anyone who meets the basic criteria.

Promotion beyond Lance Corporal is competitive, so Marines at that rank must focus on self-education courses and related duties. They should also strive to demonstrate leadership skills to secure a desirable position available at a higher rank. Due to the competitive nature of the higher ranks, some Marines never exceed E-3.

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Non-commissioned officers

NCOs, or NCOs, hold leadership positions that place them in charge of the life and well-being of the Marines serving under their orders. Their responsibilities include the training, supervision, control and discipline of subordinates. They plan the daily operations of the unit, apply all military standards and are held accountable for the actions of their team, section or squad. Promotion to the rank of non-commissioned officer is competitive. There are a limited number of openings for NCOs in each MOS.

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E-4, corporal

A corporal has the lowest rank of non-commissioned officer, leading the enlisted junior Marines. To pass this level, you must have 12 months of TIS and eight months of TIG. Corporals typically serve as squad leaders overseeing two fire teams, each consisting of four Marines. At this level, Marines continue to self-train, enhance their leadership skills, and develop through mentoring opportunities with higher-ranking Marines.

E-5, sergeant

To become a sergeant, you must have 24 months of TIS and 12 months of TIG. You must also participate in the Marine Corps-wide Composite Score Competition to progress from Corporal to Sergeant. This is designed to ensure that only the best candidates advance through the ranks of the Marines. Sergeants perform the same basic duties as corporals, but oversee more Marines, equipment, and goods.

Staff NCOs

Promotion to the rank of staff non-commissioned officer is decided by a centralized selection committee which meets once a year. The board examines each candidate thoroughly before advancing them to the next rank in the United States Marine Corps.

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E-6, master sergeant

To become a Master Sergeant, you must be four years TIS and 24 months TIG. Staff sergeants typically serve as platoon sergeants, overseeing 40 to 50 Marines with one or more sergeants serving under their command. Some will serve as drilling instructors.

Staff sergeants work closely with junior officers, identifying those with the most potential and providing additional assistance to those having difficulty. A staff sergeant’s ability to develop and utilize the workforce at his disposal is a critical indicator of his success.

E-7, gunnery sergeant

To reach the rank of artillery sergeant, it takes six years TIS and three years TIG. Gunnery sergeants typically serve at the company level, although they can also serve at the battalion level or work with training units and recruiting stations as required. The responsibilities of an artillery sergeant include the training, supervision and discipline of subordinates, the development of fellow Marines and the application of all military standards.

E-8, master sergeant or first sergeant

The eighth rank of the US Marine Corps is shared by the roles of Master Sgt and First Sergeant. Although the two share a level of pay, they have separate responsibilities. For either rank, you need eight years TIS and four years TIG.

A master sergeant is a technical manager serving at the battalion, regiment or brigade level. The Master Sgt is an expert in their MOS and excels at acting independently. This person advises the major or lieutenant colonel on his equipment and programs and provides technical, tactical and administrative support.

The first sergeant assumes command advisory responsibilities, dealing more with personnel than equipment. A first sergeant serves at the company level as the senior advisor to captains and majors, providing information on the readiness of their personnel.

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E-9, master sergeant or sergeant major

A first sergeant is on track for promotion to the rank of sergeant major. A master sergeant may be promoted to master artillery sergeant. These positions have the same level of remuneration but different responsibilities. For either rank, you must be 10 years TIS and three years TIG.

A sergeant major is the primary advisor to commanders of the Marines. This person leads at the battalion level or higher and focuses on personnel management. They work closely with ranks ranging from majors to generals, advising on the readiness of their units.

An artillery master sergeant is a technical manager working at the battalion level or above. This person has exceptional mastery of their MOS with demonstrated supervisory and leadership abilities. They advise on the technical readiness of their units.

Marine Corps Sergeant Major

The Marine Corps Sergeant Major holds the title of Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Marine Corps Commander. This person typically serves a four-year term with the commander. This individual acts as the voice of the enlisted Marines and the eyes and ears of the commander, providing essential communications between the two.

Related: Marine Corps Promotions: How Enlisted USMC Promotions Work

Warrant officers

A warrant officer provides leadership and training to Marines in their MOS. The Secretary of the Navy must approve the terms of staff sergeants or non-commissioned officers to become warrant officers. Warrant Officers can also serve as Infantry Weapons Officers. This gives them the title of Marine Gunner. The Marine Bomb Exploding Gunner badge then replaces the Chief Warrant Officer badge on the collar.

The ranks of adjutant are:

  • W-1, warrant officer
  • W-2, Chief Warrant Officer 2
  • W-3, Chief Warrant Officer 3
  • W-4, Chief Warrant Officer 4
  • W-5, Chief Warrant Officer 5


Commissioned officers are university graduates appointed to the name of the President of the United States. They should start by completing basic school followed by training for their MOS. Although they have a college degree and enlisted authority, they should still seek advice from non-commissioned officers, as they have less experience in the military.

Officer ranks include:

Company grade officers

  • O-1, second lieutenant
  • O-2, first lieutenant
  • O-3, captain

Field officers

  • O-4, major
  • O-5, lieutenant colonel
  • O-6, colonel


  • O-7, brigadier general
  • O-8, major general
  • O-9, lieutenant general
  • O-10, general

Related: What’s the Difference Between the US Military and the Marines?](Https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/army-vs-marines)

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