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Military Workforce Structure

Military Workforce Structure

Military branches are similar in their division of personnel categories (e.g., enlisted vs. officer) but in most instances, that is where the similarities end. When thinking about how to best engage with service members and speak their language, considering their military branch and particular occupational classification is a great place to start.

Personnel Categories

Within all branches of the military, service members fall into three major personnel categories: enlisted, warrant officer, and officer. The primary differences among personnel in these categories is their education level upon entry to the service and the types of job duties they perform. Within each of the groups, service members are assigned both a military rank and a pay grade, both of which can help you, as an employer understand where they are in terms of career progression.

Military ranks are typically used to denote the level of responsibility the individual has for personnel, equipment, and mission. The rank structure is somewhat analogous to the civilian work force:

  • Enlisted personnel would be considered the first-line labor force,
  • Warrant Officers would be specialized technical consultants, and
  • Commissioned Officers would comprise the management and leadership teams.

Divisions of labor often overlap as Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and Senior NCOs (who are enlisted personnel) advance into leadership and management positions. They gain experience and responsibility, yet from an "organizational chart" sense, they remain subordinate in authority to officer-held positions.

Military Workforce Structure


  • Branches: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy
  • Primary Duties: Carry out the technical functions of the military
  • Armed Forces Percentage: 84%
  • Typical Education Upon Entry: High School Diploma or Equivalent
  • Pay Grades: E-1 to E-9

Enlisted Ranks, Pay Grades, and Insignia

Warrant Officer

  • Branches: Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy
  • Primary Duties: Highly specialized experts and trainers
  • Armed Forces Percentage: 1%
  • Typical Education Upon Entry: High School Diploma or Equivalent; College Degree
  • Pay Grades: WO-1 to WO-5

Warrant Officer Ranks, Pay Grades, and Insignia


  • Branches: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy
  • Primary Duties: Managers, leaders, problem solvers, planners
  • Armed Forces Percentage: 15%
  • Typical Education Upon Entry: College Degree
  • Pay Grades: O-1 to O-10

Officer Ranks, Pay Grades, and Insignia

Occupational Classification

Military branches use different classification structures to assign personnel to specific military occupational specialties. Each service has its own classification scheme and the schemes vary for enlisted personnel and officers. Every military occupation is assigned an occupation code (generically referred to as Military Occupation Code - MOC) that is a few characters in length and used for easy reference and classification when speaking about a job or group of jobs. The characters in these codes may include letters or numbers, depending on the service branch, and each code is matched with a specific occupational title.

Below, you can view the formal terms used by each service to categorize military occupations by personnel category. You can use these terms in conversation with veterans from a particular branch. Some examples are:

When speaking to a former Army Sergeant, you might say:
" What was your MOS? "

When speaking to a former enlisted Sailor, you might ask:
" What was your rating? "

If you are unsure, asking, "What was your military occupation?" is always a good approach.

Air Force

Commonly called


Occupational Categories

(Air Force Specialty Code;
Applies to both Enlisted and Officers)


Commonly called


Occupational Categories

(Military Occupational Specialty;
Applies to Enlisted)
(Warrant Officer MOS;
Applies to Warrant Officer)
(Area of Concentration;
Applies to Officer)

Marine Corps

Commonly called


Occupational Categories

(Military Occupational Specialty;
Applies to Enlisted and Officers)


Commonly called


Occupational Categories

(Applies to Enlisted)
(Applies to Officers)

Coast Guard

Commonly called

"Coast Guardsman"

Occupational Categories

(Applies to Enlisted)
"Chief Warrant Officer Specialty"
(Applies to Warrant Officers)
"Officer Specialty"
(Applies to Officers)


Each service branch offers full- and part-time service commitments to their members, dividing their forces into three subsets: active duty, which is full-time, and reserve and national guardsmen, which are part-time.

The active duty component is made up of service members whose full-time job is serving in the military, while reserve and National Guard components are made up of individuals who generally perform a minimum number of duty days per year and supplement the active duty military when necessary.

For civilian employers, the important differentiator between the full-time and part-time components is that individuals who serve in a part-time capacity (be they reservists or national guardsmen) typically hold full-time civilian jobs in addition to their monthly and yearly military obligations. This makes them potential candidates for jobs while they continue to serve in the military and gives them skills and experience gained in tandem from both their civilian job and their military job.

On the other hand, individuals who serve full-time in the active duty component will become potential job candidates upon transition out of the active component. This can mean that they are retiring or leaving the military after their term of service or are transitioning to a part-time service component (e.g., moving from active duty to being a reservist).

Active Duty

Branches: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy

A person who is "active duty" is in the military full time, may live on a military base, and can be deployed at any time. To assist in their career development—as well as meet national security needs—most military personnel move frequently from one geographic duty location to another. On average, officers move every two to three years and enlisted personnel move every four years.


Branches: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy

Each branch of the military has a Reserve component, which is under the command of their respective military branch (e.g., Army Reserve is under the command of the Army). The purpose of the Reserve is to provide and maintain trained, qualified units available for active duty when needed. This may be in times of war overseas, in a national emergency, or as the need occurs based on threats to national security.

Historically, the primary job of the Reserve has been to fill gaps in stateside service positions when active duty forces ship overseas. In recent conflicts, Reserve units have deployed directly to overseas locations. At a minimum, members of the Reserve are required to participate in training drills (AKA "Drill") one weekend each month and two consecutive weeks per year.

National Guard

Branches: Air Force, Army

The National Guard consists of the Army National Guard and the Air Force's Air National Guard. The National Guard is federally funded but is organized and controlled by the states under the authority of each state’s governor. In times of war or national crisis, the National Guard can become federalized and deployed by federal command authorities. During local emergencies, these units assist communities endangered by storms, floods, fires, and other disasters.

Specialized National Guard units deployed overseas are prepared for and may see combat action, but more traditionally Guard units are directed to work in humanitarian relief or peacekeeping roles such as building schools and hospitals or training local peacekeepers. As with the Reserve, the National Guard requires training drills one weekend a month and two weeks per year at a minimum.