Specialist (rank)

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Specialist is a military rank in some countries’ armed forces. In the United States Armed Forces, it is one of the four junior enlisted ranks in the U.S. Army, above private (PVT), private (PV2), and private first class and is equivalent in pay grade to corporal. In the U.S. Space Force it consists of the four junior enlisted ranks, prior to the rank of sergeant. [1]



Regular forces

In the Royal Danish Navy and Royal Danish Air Force, the rank of specialist is used branch specific; "Naval specialist" and "Air force specialist" (Danish : Marinespecialist, Flyverspecialist) respectively. The ranks are placed below corporal and above private first class (Overkonstabel). They are rated OR-3 within NATO [2] and has the grade of M112 within the Ministry of Defence's pay structure. [3]

NATO codeOR-3
Naval Ensign of Denmark.svg  Royal Danish Navy [4] Rank insignia of marinespecialist of the Royal Danish Navy.svg
Flag of Denmark (state).svg  Royal Danish Air Force [5] Danish-Airforce-OR-3.svg
Danish Pay Grade [3] M112
Home guard

In 2018, new specialist ranks were introduced to the Danish Home Guard. These new ranks were created to remove the need for leadership training at the lower ranks, as the selected functions no longer require actual leadership. [6]

Home Guard specialists
Shoulder boardArmy Denmark-HGArmy-SPC1.svg Denmark-HGArmy-OR-2.svg
Navy Denmark-HGNavy-SPC2.svg Denmark-HGNavy-SPC1.svg
Air Force Denmark-HGAirForce-SPC2.svg Denmark-HGAirForce-SPC1.svg
DanishHjemmeværnsspecialist 1Hjemmeværnsspecialist 2
EnglishHome Guard specialist 1st classHome Guard specialist 2nd class


Taiwanese specialist rank insignia Taiwan-army-OR-3.svg
Taiwanese specialist rank insignia

Specialist (Chinese :上等兵shàngděngbīng, "upper-rank soldier") is a rank in the Republic of China Army next to the rank of corporal, and has NATO equivalent code of OR-3.

United States

United States Army

Trades and specialties (1902–1920)

USA zvania 1914.gif

In 1920, the Army rank and pay system received a major overhaul. All enlisted and non-commissioned ranks were reduced from 128 different insignias and several pay grades to only seven rank insignias and seven pay grades, which were numbered in seniority from seventh grade (lowest) to first grade (highest). The second grade had two rank titles: first sergeant, which was three stripes, two rockers, and a lozenge (diamond) in the middle; and technical sergeant, which was three stripes and two rockers. By World War II, the rank of first sergeant had been elevated to first grade and a third rocker was added, with the lozenge in the center to distinguish it from master sergeant. The wearing of specialist badges inset in rank insignia was abolished, and a generic system of chevrons and arcs replaced them. [7]

Private/specialist (1920–1942)

From 1920 to 1942, there was a rating (not a rank) for men of the sixth and seventh grades designated "private first class, specialist", or "private, specialist," that was graded in six classes (the lowest being sixth class and the highest being first class). They were considered the equal of a private first class or private in authority, but drew additional pay in relationship to the specialist level possessed on top of their base pay. The classes only indicated competency, not authority, and a specialist did not outrank another man of his respective non-specialist rank.

Officially, specialists wore the single chevron of a private first class because no special insignia was authorized to indicate their rank. Unofficially, a specialist could be authorized, at his commander's discretion, to wear one to six additional rockers (one rocker for sixth class, and a maximum of six rockers for first class) under their rank chevron to denote specialty level. Such insignia was commercially available through catalogs or the base Post Exchange (PX) and could also be ordered with inset trade badges.

Technician (1942–1948)

1st grade2nd grade3rd grade4th grade5th grade6th grade7th grade
US Army WWII 1SGT.svg US Army WWII MSGT.svg US Army WWII TSGT.svg US Army WWII SSGT.svg US Army WWII T3C.svg US Army WWII SGT.svg US Army WWII T4C.svg US Army WWII CPL.svg US Army WWII T5C.svg US Army WWII PFC.svg No Insignia
First sergeant Master sergeant Technical sergeant Staff sergeant Technician Third Grade Sergeant Technician Fourth Grade Corporal Technician Fifth Grade Private first class Private
1st Sgt.M/Sgt.T/Sgt.S/Sgt.T/3.Sgt.T/4.Cpl.T/5.Pfc.Pvt.

On 8 January 1942, the rank of technician was introduced to replace the private/specialist rank, [8] which was discontinued by 30 June 1942. Initially, this gave technical specialists more authority by grading them as non-commissioned officers. However, confusion and lowered morale among senior NCOs led to the Army reversing this stance in late 1943, after which technicians no longer held non-commissioned officer status. [9] Beginning 4 September 1942, technicians wore a block "T" insignia under their chevrons for easier identification.

Technicians were addressed the same as the corresponding non-commissioned officer at the same pay grade: a technician fifth grade was addressed as corporal, a technician fourth grade as sergeant, and a technician third grade as staff sergeant. [8] [9] The technician ranks were discontinued in 1948. [8]

Specialist (1955–present)

E-9 - SPC9.svg E-8 - SPC8.svg E-7 - SPC7.svg E-6 - SPC6.svg E-5 - SPC5.svg Army-USA-OR-04b (Army greens).svg
Specialist 9 rank insignia (U.S. Army)Specialist 8 rank insignia (U.S. Army)Master Specialist / Specialist 7 rank insignia (U.S. Army)Specialist 1st Class / Specialist 6 rank insignia (U.S. Army)Specialist 2nd Class / Specialist 5 rank insignia (U.S. Army)Specialist 3rd Class / Specialist 4 / Specialist rank insignia (U.S. Army)
Spec/9 (1959–1968)Spec/8 (1959–1968)MSP
Specialist 5 Dwight H. Johnson receiving the Medal of Honor from President Johnson Lyndon Johnson decorates Dwight Johnson with MOH 29-2621M.JPG
Specialist 5 Dwight H. Johnson receiving the Medal of Honor from President Johnson
President Johnson presenting a then-Specialist 6 Lawrence Joel with Medal of Honor and Certificate Lawrence Joel.jpg
President Johnson presenting a then-Specialist 6 Lawrence Joel with Medal of Honor and Certificate
Photo of a U.S. Army Specialist 7 Spc7chris.jpg
Photo of a U.S. Army Specialist 7
Example: Spec/4 or SPC brass collar rank insignia (worn from 1974-present) US Army Specialist Rank Insignia-Brass Pin On.png
Example: Spec/4 or SPC brass collar rank insignia (worn from 1974–present)

On 1 July 1955, four grades of specialist were established: Specialist third class (E-4 or SP3), specialist second class (E-5 or SP2), specialist first class (E-6 or SP1), and master specialist (E-7 or MSP). The insignia was yellow on a dark blue background. It[ clarification needed ] was the same smaller size as women's NCO stripes—to differentiate specialists from NCOs, the stripes were the same shape as NCO stripes—but were inverted to distinguish them, and the General Service Army Eagle was set in the center. The senior specialist ranks of SP2 (E5), SP1 (E6), and MSP (E7) were indicated by one, two, or three yellow arcs over the eagle, respectively.

In 1956 the Army Green uniform was adopted. The enlisted stripes were changed from yellow on a blue backing to Goldenlite Yellow on a green backing. The specialist insignia was redesigned to be larger, broader, and more rounded.

In 1958 the DoD added two pay grades to give enlisted soldiers more opportunities to progress through a full career with additional opportunities for promotion. Thus the recognition was changed to six specialist ranks, and the pay grade was tied into the rank designation: specialist four (E-4), specialist five (E-5), specialist six (E-6), specialist seven (E-7), specialist eight (E-8), and specialist nine (E-9). [10] The "Super Grades" of Spec./8 and Spec./9 were respectively given one and two Goldenlite chevrons below the eagle.

CSM Daniel K. Elder goes on to explain, "In 1968 when the Army added the rank of command sergeant major, the specialist ranks at E-8 and E-9 were abolished", [10] because they were notional rather than actual. "In 1978 the specialist rank at E-7 was discontinued and in 1985, the specialist ranks at E-5 and E-6 were discontinued." [10]

These specialist ranks were created to reward personnel with higher degrees of experience and technical knowledge. Appointment to either specialist or non-commissioned officer status was determined by military occupational specialty (MOS). Different military occupational specialties had various transition points. For example, in the band career field (excluding special bands at D.C. and West Point), a bandsman could not achieve non-commissioned officer status until pay grade E-6 was attained. In some military occupational specialties, a soldier was appointed either a specialist or non-commissioned officer depending on which particular position or "slot" that he filled in his organization. A cook was a specialist, while a mess steward held the rank of sergeant (E-5 through E-7).

Specialist grades paralleled the corresponding grades of non-commissioned officer (E-4 through E-7) only in terms of pay. The specialist grades, although they outranked the enlisted grades (E-1 to E-3), were outranked by all non-commissioned officers (E-4 to E-9) and lacked the authority conferred on an NCO. This was the major differentiation between a specialist and a "hard striper".

The Medal of Honor was awarded to SP4 Michael J. Fitzmaurice by President Richard Nixon at the White House, 15 October 1973. The Medal of Honor recipient Specialist Four Michael J. Fitzmaurice.tiff
The Medal of Honor was awarded to SP4 Michael J. Fitzmaurice by President Richard Nixon at the White House, 15 October 1973.

Only the lowest specialist grade survives today. The rank of specialist 4 became known simply as "specialist", as it is known today. While the official abbreviation was changed from "SP4" to "SPC" upon the elimination of the SP5 and SP6 ranks, the SIDPERS database was initially authorized to continue using SP4 until such time as the change could be made at little or no additional expense in conjunction with other system upgrades. [11] The continued use of SP4 on automatically produced documents (transfer orders, leave and earnings statements, unit manning reports, inter alia) hampered the adoption of the new abbreviation (and, to a lesser extent, the absence of "-4" in the non-abbreviated rank) by individual soldiers who viewed the computer-produced documents as the final word on what the proper term was.

Today, the rank of specialist (E-4) is the typical rank to which privates first class are promoted after two years of service, although PFCs may be waived into the rank of specialist after 18 months' time in service and 6 months' time in grade. It is granted far more often than corporal (also E-4). Those specialists who are graduates of the Basic Leader Course (BLC) and who have been recommended for promotion become corporals before further promotion. [12] [13] This change in Army culture applies to the Active Army and the National Guard as of 1 July 2021, and to the Army Reserve; the Army Reserve change takes place 1 October 2021. [12] Corporal is now reserved for personnel who have passed the BLC. [13]

Specialists were informally called "specs" (pronunciation IPA: /ˈspɛk/ ) plus the numerical grade of their rank. Thus, a specialist 4 was called "spec 4". [14] [15] As of July 2016 the rank of Specialist is the most common rank in the U.S. Army, being held by 115,033 of the Army's 473,844 soldiers. [1]

Recruits with college degrees and Officer Candidates

New recruits enlisting into the United States Army who have earned a four-year degree, and as of 2006 those with civilian-acquired job skills, will enter as a specialist (pay grade E-4). [16] Typically, newly recruited officer candidates hold the rank of specialist when enlisted and during BCT (basic combat training) prior to their official enrollment into OCS (Officer Candidate School) where they will be administratively promoted to the pay grade of E-5 but are referred to as "officer candidate" (OC) as opposed to sergeant (SGT).

United States Navy (1941–1974)

Specialists (1941–1948)

Between 1941 and 1948, the United States Navy maintained an enlisted rate of Specialist in the petty officer pay grade structure. [17] This was to absorb directly appointed civilian experts needed in the rapidly expanding Navy. A seaman would typically be known as a specialist followed by a letter indicating what field the specialty was held. For instance, a Specialist (C) served as a "classification interviewer", while a Specialist (T) was a "navy teacher", among several other specialist designations.

The concept was first proposed in late 1941 and was approved by the Secretary of the Navy sometime in November or December of that year. The Navy started with four specialties in February 1942, expanding to twenty-two specialties and their associated sub-specialties by the war's end in 1945. The Coast Guard added an additional five exclusive specialties in 1943 (D, CW, PR, PS and TR); four were awarded double letters to avoid duplication. The WAVES added Specialist (U) for "Utility"—a general purpose title that was abolished in 1944 and merged with the similar Specialist (X), for "Specialist (Not Elsewhere Classified)".

The trade badge was an embroidered diamond-shaped border inset with the specialty letter and set between the US Navy Eagle and the rank chevrons. Specialists 3rd, 2nd, and 1st Class (Grades 4, 3, and 2; equivalent to Petty Officers 3rd, 2nd and 1st Class) had 1 to 3 downward red chevrons. A Chief Specialist (Grade 1; equivalent to a Chief Petty Officer) had the US Navy Eagle perched on a red rocker over three red chevrons, with the diamond trade badge inset between the stripes.

Specialties (1942–1948)

Source: [18]

  • Specialist A: Athletic Instructor, Physical Training Instructor
  • Specialist C: Classification Interviewer
  • Specialist CW: Chemical Warfareman (USCG)
  • Specialist D: Dog Handler (USCG), Horse Handler (USCG), Dog Patrol (USCG)
  • Specialist E: Recreation and Welfare Assistant, Motion Picture Service Booker
  • Specialist F: Fire Fighter
  • Specialist G: Gunnery Instructor, Aviation Free Gunnery Instructor, Anti-Aircraft Gunnery Instructor
  • Specialist I: I.B.M. Operator, Punch Card Accounting Machine Operator
  • Specialist M: Mail Clerk
  • Specialist O: Inspector of Naval Material
  • Specialist P: Photographic Specialist, Motion Picture Technician, Photo Laboratory Specialist, Photogrammetry Specialist
  • Specialist PR: Public Relations (USCG)
  • Specialist PS: Port Security Patrolman (USCG)
  • Specialist Q: Communications Specialist, Cryptologist, Cryptanalyst, Radio Intelligence Technician, Registered Publications Clerk
  • Specialist R: Recruiter
  • Specialist S: Entertainer [1942], Shore Patrol and Security [1943–1948], Master-at-Arms (WAVE), Personnel Supervisor (WAVE)
  • Specialist T : Teacher, Instructor
  • Specialist TR: Transportationman (USCG)
  • Specialist U: Utility (WAVE) [1943], Stewardess (WAVE) [1943]
  • Specialist V: Transport Airman
  • Specialist W: Chaplain's Assistant
  • Specialist X: Specialist (Not Elsewhere Classified) [1943–1948]. Air Station Operations, Artist, Cartographer, Intelligence, Key Punch Operator, Pigeon Trainer, Plastics Expert, Public Information, Special Projects, Strategic Services (OSS), Switchboard Operator, Topographic Draftsman, Visual Training Aids.
  • Specialist Y: Control Tower Operator

Emergency Service ratings (1948–1974)

The Navy's use of the specialist grade was reorganized in 1948 to integrate them into the petty officer structure. The assigned letters and job titles changed several times in the rank's history.

Some positions were reclassified as Emergency Service Ratings (ESRs) from 1948 to 1957 and Emergency Ratings (ERs) from 1957 to 1965. All personnel holding an Emergency Service rating were members of the Naval Reserve subject to activation only in time of war or national emergency. Their specialty letters had a prefix of "ES" added and were different than that of those in regular service.

A pruning and absorption or discontinuing of specialty ratings commenced between 1957 and 1964 and nearly all of the remaining specialties were discontinued in 1965. The sole remaining specialty was ESK (ES Specialty (K) – "Telecommunications Censorship Technician"). It was renamed "Information Security Specialist" in 1972 and disestablished in 1974.

United States Space Force

Specialist ranks for the United States Space Force
pay grade
Rank insignia USSF-E-4.svg USSF-E-3.svg USSF-E-2.svg USSF-E-1.svg
TitleSpecialist 4Specialist 3Specialist 2Specialist 1

On 1 February 2021, the United States Space Force established the rank of specialist for paygrades E-1 to E-4. Specifically, the rank of specialist 1 replaced airman basic (E-1), the rank of specialist 2 replaced airman (E-2), the rank of specialist 3 replaced airman first class (E-3), and the rank of specialist 4 replaced senior airman (E-4). Specialist 4 ranks beneath sergeant. [19] Verbal address for all four grades is just Specialist. [19] On 20 September 2021, new rank insignias for all enlisted guardians, including the specialists, were revealed. [20] [21] [22] These new insignias will replace the U.S. Air Force enlisted rank insignias that have been worn by enlisted guardians since the foundation of the Space Force on 20 December 2019.

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A non-commissioned officer (NCO) is a military officer who has not pursued a commission. Non-commissioned officers usually earn their position of authority by promotion through the enlisted ranks. In contrast, commissioned officers usually enter directly from a military academy, officer candidate school (OCS), or officer training school (OTS) after receiving a post-secondary degree.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sergeant</span> Military rank

Sergeant is a rank in many uniformed organizations, principally military and policing forces. The alternative spelling, serjeant, is used in The Rifles and other units that draw their heritage from the British light infantry. Its origin is the Latin serviens, 'one who serves', through the French term sergeant.

Corporal is a military rank in use in some form by many militaries and by some police forces or other uniformed organizations. The word is derived from the medieval Italian phrase capo corporale. The rank is usually the lowest ranking non-commissioned officer.

Private first class is a military rank held by junior enlisted personnel in a number of armed forces.

Staff sergeant is a rank of non-commissioned officer used in the armed forces of many countries. It is also a police rank in some police services.

A master sergeant is the military rank for a senior non-commissioned officer in the armed forces of some countries. This is a NATO ranking.

Sergeant major is a senior non-commissioned rank or appointment in many militaries around the world. In Commonwealth countries, the various degrees of sergeant major are appointments held by warrant officers. In the United States, there are also various grades of sergeant major, all of the same pay grade of E-9; however, the Sergeant Major of the Army and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, as their respective service's Senior Enlisted Advisor, receive a special rate of basic pay that is higher than all other sergeants major.

Lance corporal is a military rank, used by many armed forces worldwide, and also by some police forces and other uniformed organisations. It is below the rank of corporal, and is typically the lowest non-commissioned officer (NCO), usually equivalent to the NATO Rank Grade OR-3.

The chart below represents the current enlisted rank insignia of the United States Air Force.

The chart below shows the current enlisted rank insignia of the United States Army, with seniority, and pay grade, increasing from right to left. The enlisted ranks of corporal (E-4) and higher are considered non-commissioned officers (NCOs). The rank of specialist is also in pay grade E-4, but does not hold non-commissioned officer status; it is common that a soldier may never hold the rank of corporal, and instead be promoted from specialist to sergeant, attaining junior NCO status at that time.

Petty officer third class is the fourth enlisted rank in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, above seaman and below petty officer second class, and is the lowest rank of non-commissioned officer, equivalent to a corporal in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Petty officer third class shares the same pay grade as senior airman in the Air Force, which no longer has an NCO rank corresponding with E-4. Specialists in the Army are not recognized as NCOs either, even though they are also in the E-4 pay grade.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">British Army other ranks rank insignia</span> Enlisted rank insignia of the British Army

"Other ranks" is the term used to refer to all ranks below officers in the British Army and the Royal Marines. It includes warrant officers, non-commissioned officers ("NCOs") and ordinary soldiers with the rank of private or regimental equivalent. Officers may, in speaking, distinguish themselves from those "in the ranks".

The term used in the Royal Air Force (RAF) to refer to all ranks below commissioned officer level is other ranks (ORs). It includes warrant officers (WOs), non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and airmen.

Before Unification as the Canadian Armed Forces in 1968, the Canadian military had three distinct services: the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Canadian Army. All three services had a Regular (full-time) component and a reserve (part-time) component. The rank structure for these services were based on the services of the British military, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, and the British Army. The change to a "Canadian" rank structure meant that many of the traditional (British) rank titles and insignia were removed or changed.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Warrant officer (United States)</span> Ranks in the U.S. Armed Forces

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">United States Army enlisted rank insignia of World War II</span> Ranks Of the United States Army during the second World War

The U.S. Army enlisted rank insignia that was used during World War II differs from the current system. The color scheme used for the insignia's chevron design was defined as golden olive drab chevrons on a dark blue-black wool background for wear on "winter" uniform dress coats and dress shirts or silvery-khaki chevrons on a dark blue-black cotton background for wear on the various types of field jackets and "winter" uniform fatigue shirts. An unauthorized variant that nevertheless saw wide use was olive drab chevrons on a khaki cotton background for wear on the "summer" uniform dress coats and dress shirts. This scheme of rank insignia was established by War Department Circular No. 303 on 5 August 1920 and would see two significant changes in 1942. The usage of this style of insignia was ended by Department of the Army Circular No. 202, dated 7 July 1948, which provided for significant changes in both rank and insignia design.

First sergeant is typically a senior non-commissioned officer rank, used in many countries. In NATO armed forces the rank is on OR8 level.


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  2. Military Committee Land Standardization Board (13 January 2021). STANAG 2116 (7th ed.). NATO Standardization Agency. pp. E-2, F-2.
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  10. 1 2 3 Elder, CSM Dan. "Short History of the Specialist Rank" Archived 14 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine .
  11. "Army Command Policy" (PDF). Retrieved 16 February 2013.
  12. 1 2 Harm Venhuizen (7 Jun 2021) All soldiers must now serve as corporals before promotion to sergeant
  13. 1 2 Joseph Lacdan, Army News Service (4 June 2021) Soldiers to pin on corporal after BLC
  14. Sessum, Peter (23 June 2012). "The Spec-4 Mafia, If You Ask You Lose All Deniability". The Dog Tag Chronicles.com. Archived from the original on 1 November 2013. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  15. "Replace Specialist with Corporal Army Wide". Military Times. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
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  17. BLUEJACKET.COM Navy Specialist Ratings Archived 24 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
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  19. 1 2 Cohen, Rachel S. (29 January 2021). "Space Force to Adopt 'Specialist,' Other New Ranks Feb. 1". Air Force Magazine. Retrieved 29 January 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  20. SpaceForceDOD Twitter, "Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force Roger A. Towberman announced today the new design of the #SpaceForce's enlisted rank insignia."
  21. Hadley, Greg (20 September 2021). "Space Force Reveals Insignia for Enlisted Ranks". airforcemag.com. Air Force Magazine. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  22. Toropin, Konstantin (20 September 2021). "The Space Force Finally Has Its Own Rank Insignia". Military.com. Retrieved 21 September 2021.