Enlisted Marine Corps Ranks

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U.S. Marine Sgt. Bryan Early leads his squad of Marines to the next compound while patrolling in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Dec. 19, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Austin Long)
U.S. Marine Sgt. Bryan Early leads his squad of Marines to the next compound while patrolling in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Dec. 19, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Austin Long)

Enlisted Marine Corps ranks are broken down into three levels -- junior enlisted, non-commissioned officers and staff non-commissioned officers. As a Marine moves up the ladder, his or her responsibility and contribution to the mission increases. This also means that those who have earned higher rank have a special responsibility to look out for the welfare of their subordinates.

Marine Corps Ranks: Junior Enlisted (E-1 through E-3)

Junior enlisted Marines are as vital to the Marine Corps mission as any other ranks, but their focus is on learning new technical skills and developing followership and leadership abilities. Being a good Marine means following orders and looking out for their peers. This is the time for junior enlisted Marines to become productive members of the Corps.

Private

Upon graduating from basic training, young Marines earn the rank of private (E-1). Most enlisted Marines hold this rank for six months before they are promoted to private first class. The private's responsibilities are to follow orders and learn how to be contributing members of the Marine Corps. Simply put, they are to do what they are told, when they are told and how they are told.

Moving up the Marine Corps Ranks: Company commanders have the authority to promote active-duty enlisted privates (E-1) to the rank of PFC (E-2) once they have completed six months of service. This promotion is virtually automatic for those who meet the basic promotion criteria.

 

Marine Corps Private First Class (PFC) insignia

Private First Class (PFC)

Private first class is the second enlisted rank in the Marine Corps. The rank of PFC was established in 1917 to mirror a similar rank added to the Army structure.

Private first class is the first promotion toward becoming an integral part of the Marine Corps. PFCs are the backbone of the Marines. The PFC's job is to apply their new technical skills while continuing to learn and develop new skills.

Moving up the Marine Corps Ranks: Like the promotion to process to PFC, Marine Corps company commanders have the authority to promote active-duty enlisted Marines to the rank of lance corporal (E-3) when they have completed nine months ' time in service (TIS) and eight months' time in grade (TIG). Like achieving PFC, this promotion is virtually automatic for those who meet the basic promotion criteria.

 

Marine Corps Lance Corporal (LCpl) insignia

Lance Corporal (LCpl)

Lance Corporal is the third enlisted rank (E-3) in the Marine Corps. The rank of lance corporal was established permanently in 1958, but the term dates back to the early 1800s.

The rank of lance corporal (LCpl) was first used by the Marines in the Indian Wars of the 1830s. Lance corporal is your next step in becoming an integral part of the Marine Corps. Lance corporals are expected to continue to apply thier technical training, in addition to learning and developing leadership skills.

Moving up the Ranks: Unlike the ranks of PFC and LCpl, to be worthy of the title "non-commissioned officer," you must demonstrate that you are capable of handling the demands of the next higher grade by meeting basic eligibility requirements and competing in a Marine Corps-wide, Composite Score competition, which is intended to promote the best qualified candidates.

Marine Corps Ranks: Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) (E-4 and E-5)

The Marine NCO ranks of corporals and sergeants hold a special position in the Corps. NCOs are responsible for the lives of their men in or out of combat situations. These Marines are leaders of men and much more. They represent the unwavering traditions of duty and dedication to their assigned mission. The Marine Corps NCO creed is short and to the point:

I am an NCO, dedicated to training new Marines and influencing the old. I am forever conscious of each Marine under my charge, and by example will inspire him to the highest standards possible.

I will strive to be patient, understanding, just, and firm. I will commend the deserving and encourage the wayward.

I will never forget that I am responsible to my Commanding Officer for the morale, discipline and efficiency of my men. Their performance will reflect an image of me.

Some of the specific NCO duties you will normally be expected to perform are:

  • Training subordinates in their MOS and basic military skills
  • Being accountable for the actions of their squad, section or team
  • Enforcing the standards of military and physical appearance
  • Ensuring supervision, control and discipline of subordinates
  • Assisting in personal and professional development of fellow Marines
  • Providing communication link between the individual Marine and the organization
  • Planning and conduct the routine and day-to-day unit operation within the policies established by your senior officers
  • Maintaining appearance and condition of unit billeting spaces, facilities and work areas
  • Maintaining serviceability, accountability and readiness of assigned arms and equipment
  • Maintaining the established standards of professionalism and job performance for the Marines, the NCO's, the SNCO's and the Corps
  • Supporting, following and implementing policy established by officers

 

Marine Corps Corporal insignia

Corporal (Cpl)

Corporal (E-4) is the most junior of the non-commissioned officer NCO ranks. However, that does not lessen the authority or responsibility the rank carries. Corporals are required to exercise an ever-increasing degree of maturity, leadership and professionalism. To a large extent, accomplishment of the ultimate mission -- success in battle -- depends on the corporal's development as a small unit leader and his or her professional abilities.

Moving up the Marine Corps Ranks: Corporals demonstrate that they are worthy of being "NCOs." To move up to sergeant, they must prove that they are capable of meeting the increased demands of the next higher grade by meeting basic eligibility requirements and competing in a Marine Corps-wide, Composite Score competition, intended to promote only the best qualified candidates.

 

Marine Corps Sergeant insignia

Sergeant (Sgt)

The Marine Corps rank of sergeant (E-5) closely parallels that of the corporal in duties and responsibilities. In fact, the basic duties and responsibilities of all the non-commissioned officer (NCO) ranks never change. The major difference between the sergeant and the corporal is that the sergeant is in daily contact with larger numbers of Marines and generally has more equipment and other property to maintain.

Marine Corps sergeants are required to exercise an ever-increasing degree of maturity, leadership and professionalism. To a large extent, accomplishment of the ultimate mission -- success in battle -- depends on the sergeants' leadership and professional abilities.

Moving up the Ranks: The promotion process tightens up as Marines move up the enlisted ranks. Unlike the corporal (Cpl) and sergeant (Sgt) promotion process, the staff NCO (E6-E9) promotion process includes a centralized selection board. The board completes a thorough review of each applicants record to ensure only the best and brightest move up to staff NCO.

Marine Corps Ranks: Staff Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO) (E-6 through E-9)

The Marine Corps Staff NCOs are those career Marines serving in grades E-6 through and including E-9. The ranks include staff sergeant (E-6), gunnery sergeant (E-7), master sergeant/first sergeant (E-8) and master gunnery sergeant/sergeant major (E-9). Marine SNCOs hold a position with special responsibilities, and they are due a greater level of respect.

 

Marine Corps Staff Sergeant insignia

Staff Sergeant (SSgt)

The rank of staff sergeant (SSgt) is the entry point to the Staff NCO ranks. There are significant differences as you step up from the NCO to the staff NCO levels.

The major difference between the staff sergeant and the sergeant is in the scope of responsibility. The staff sergeant has a greater level of responsibility and accountability. Understanding these differences is vital. As a staff sergeant, you will be expected to use your greater experience to lead Marines and lesser-ranked sergeants.

The staff sergeant normally will have one or more sergeants who work under their direct leadership. SSgt's are responsible for the continued successful development of their sergeants as well as all Marines in their section, squad or team.

The complexities of the staff sergeant job increase as their responsibilities broaden. The staff sergeant's professional competence is measured by how well they develop, maintain and use the full range of human potential of their subordinate Marines.

 

Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant insignia

Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt)

The rank of gunnery sergeant is considered the backbone of the Marine Corps Staff NCO (SNCO) ranks. Marine Corps gunnery sergeants are expected to bring their years of experience to bear in quick, accurate decisions that are in the best interest of the mission and their Marines. GySgt's set the example of leadership and professionalism for their subordinates.

Specifically, Gunnies are charged with ensuring their subordinate SNCO and NCO's are equipped, motivated and trained to:

  • Train and motivate their subordinates
  • Be held accountable for the actions of their subordinates
  • Enforce the standards of military and physical appearance
  • Ensure supervision, control and discipline of subordinates
  • Personally and professionally develop fellow Marines
  • Provide communication links between the individual Marine and the organization
  • Plan and conduct the routine and day-to-day unit operation within the policies established by senior officers
  • Maintain the appearance and condition of unit billeting spaces, facilities and work areas
  • Maintain serviceability, accountability and readiness of assigned arms and equipment
  • Maintain the established standards of professionalism and job performance for the Marine, the NCO's, the SNCO's and the Corps
  • Support, follow and implement policies established by senior officers

Moving up the Ranks: Eligible Gunnies must indicate on their "fitness reports" whether they wish to be considered for promotion to master sergeant or first sergeant.

Marine Corps Master Sergeant insignia
Marine Corps First Sergeant insignia

First Sergeant (1stSgt) and Master Sergeant (MSgt)

Although they share the same pay grade (E-8), they have different roles and responsibilities. The first sergeant has a command advisory responsibility while the master sergeant has more technical responsibilities.

The first sergeant is the principal enlisted adviser to the unit commander. The 1stSgt's primary and foremost requisite is outstanding leadership, combined with an exceptionally high degree of professional competence and the ability to act independently as the principal enlisted assistant to the commander in all administrative, technical and tactical requirements of the organization.

The master sergeant is the technical expert in their field. The MSgt's primary prerequisite is an outstanding proficiency in the assigned MOS, combined with an exceptionally high degree of leadership and supervisory ability and the ability to act independently as an enlisted assistant to the commander in all administrative, technical and tactical requirements of their occupational specialty.

Moving up the Ranks: A first sergeant is eligible to be promoted to a sergeant major while a master sergeant would be on the promotional track for master gunnery sergeant.

Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant insignia
Marine Corps Sergeant Major insignia

Master Gunnery Sergeant (MGySgt) and Sergeant Major (SgtMaj)

Like the ranks of master sergeant (MSgt) and first sergeant (1stSgt), master gunnery sergeants (MGySgt) and sergeant majors (SgtMaj) are paid the same; however, they have significantly different roles.

The U.S. Marine Corps first used the title sergeant major in 1801. It was originally a rank held by only one person, like the current sergeant major of the Marine Corps. By the late 1800s, there were five sergeants major. The rank was eliminated in 1946 and brought back in 1954.

The sergeant major is the principal enlisted adviser to Marine commanders. Like the 1st Sgt, their primary and foremost requisite is outstanding leadership, combined with an exceptionally high degree of professional competence and the ability to act independently as the principal enlisted assistant to the commander in all administrative, technical and tactical requirements of the organization.

The rank of master gunnery sergeant has been in use off and on since the Spanish-American War era. Like many other Marine Corps ranks, master gunnery sergeant was established permanently in the late 1950s. The MGySgt is the technical expert in their MOS. The master gunny's primary prerequisite is an outstanding proficiency in the assigned MOS, combined with an exceptionally high degree of leadership and supervisory ability and the ability to act independently as an enlisted assistant to the commander in all administrative, technical and tactical requirements of your occupational specialty.

 

Marine Corps SMMC insignia

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps

The post of sergeant major of the Marine Corps was established in 1957 as the senior enlisted adviser to the commandant of the Marine Corps. Originally created as the sergeant major in the late 1800s, today's rank of SgtMajMC holds a significant position of authority and respect. The sergeant major of the Marine Corps acts as the commandant's eyes and ears when it comes to enlisted affairs and other leadership matters.

The sergeant major of the Marine Corps is selected by the commandant of the Marine Corps and normally serves a four-year term with them.

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