Active Duty

How Does a Military Promotion Work?

How Does a Military Promotion Work?

contributed by Melissa Lucas, senior staff writer

A military promotion is a major achievement for a service members. It’s a nod to their commitment, how well they do their job, and their leadership capabilities. As service members move up in rank, the military promotions tend to become more meaningful. 

Like all other industries, higher rank means increased responsibility and usually a bump in pay. But the conditions which must be met and the process that must be followed for military promotions are different than climbing the ladder in civilian careers. Understanding the significance and impact of a service member’s promotion can help you prepare for this important milestone.

Military Pinning Ceremony

Many service members receive a new rank insignia during the military promotion ceremony, also known as a pinning on ceremony, which civilian loved ones are often welcome to attend. The military pinning ceremony protocol is symbolic, and how they play out varies by rank and service branch. In most cases a loved one is granted the honor of pinning the promotion insignia onto the service member’s uniform for the first time. Tip: If you are asked to participate, take a practice run in advance so you know what the pin feels like and where it belongs on the uniform

Military Promotions and Pay Grades

Military titles and ranks vary by service branch. However, pay grades – the amount a service member is paid based on their rank and length of service – are standardized. These grades are E-1 to E-9 for enlisted service members and O-1 to O-10 for commissioned officers. Each branch of the military has a rank that qualifies for each grade. For instance, an Air Force Staff Sergeant, Army Sergeant, Coast Guard or Navy Petty Officer Second Class, and Marine Corps Sergeant are all paid on the E-5 pay scale.

Overview of Military Ranks

Enlisted Soldiers

Enlisted soldiers comprise the majority of our armed forces, and as such are seen as the backbone of the military. These are the service members who execute tasks and complete missions based on orders given to them. 

Non-Commissioned Officers

These enlisted personnel are soldiers with more tenure and expertise. Non-commissioned officers often oversee lower ranking personnel, providing them with assignments and orders. 

Commissioned Officers

Commissioned officers, by contrast, are essentially the military managers. They are the people who plan the missions, give the orders, and assign the tasks. They comprise just 17% of United States military personnel. 

How to Get Promoted in the Military

Also similar to civilian promotions, military promotions tend to occur faster when earlier in a service member’s career. The frequency of promotion slows after service members reach the status of a non-commissioned officer, a rank usually commensurate with the E-4 pay grade. After this, promotions become more challenging. This is because the number of service members permitted at E-4 or above is determined by Congress, meaning service members promoted to these grades and ranks are always filling a vacancy. 

Army Promotions

Army soldiers receive “duty performance points” anytime they demonstrate core qualities expected of the next rank such as competence, military bearing and leadership. Soldiers are qualified for the next rank and Army pinning after collecting a certain number of duty performance points. 

Marine Promotions

Marine promotions past the rank of Lance Corporal occur solely based on need and suitability. Suitability is determined by a point system based on factors such as rifle marksmanship, physical fitness, and conduct rating. 

Navy Promotions

Naval advancement to the rate of Petty Officer Third Class and above are based on need and merit. To qualify for a promotion a sailor is evaluated on several factors including score on their promotion exam, time in service and at current rate, and possession of the skillset required for the new position. 

Air Force Promotions

Airmen seeking a promotion to a non-commissioned officer are expected to exemplify a specific set of personal qualities and possess the proper skill level. From there, they are ranked using a point system that includes fitness score, specialty knowledge, awards, time in service, and performance evaluations.

Coast Guard Promotions

Coast Guard advancement past the rank of Seaman is based on basic eligibility requirements as well as a Coast Guard wide competition, time in rate and service, recommendation of Commanding Officers, and completion of predetermined training programs.

Military Officer Promotion

While not identical, the process of promoting commissioned officers is very similar to that of enlisted service members, although the military officer promotion ceremony tends to involve a little more pomp and circumstance. Officers receive a performance evaluation which is submitted to a board that assesses readiness for promotion. Also considered is the officer’s time in service as well as current rank, overall performance, and willingness to take on leadership responsibility. 

Everything You Need to Know About Military Ranks

Military ranks denote seniority, authority and responsibility. As you’ve seen, a pay grade is tied to military rank, but doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing across all service branches. Learn more about the individual ranks within each service branch and the associated insignia, here. And don’t forget to subscribe to our military blog so you never miss another post.


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