July 23, 2019

Air Force Ranks

The United States Air Force ranks as one of the five service branches making up the U.S. military and has, like all branches of the military, it’s own hierarchy of ranks, pay grades, and insignia.


Military rank, which is directly associated with pay grade is the same for all branches. Designations, however, can vary from one to another, although base pay, according to step level, will be the same. All are made up of three classifications: enlisted ranks, warrant officer ranks and commissioned officer ranks. While the Air Force (A.F.) has the ability to appoint warrant officers just as in the case of the other services, those positions have not been utilized for several decades.

Air Force Ranks

All those who enter the A.F. as an enlisted person do so at the rank of E-1, which stands for enlisted step level one. Air Force E-1s are referred to as Airmen, while in the Army and Marine Corps they’re called Privates and in the Navy and Coast Guard they’re referred to as Seamen. this first step up the ladder in the enlisted ranks is the only one that doesn’t carry a rank insignia emblem to be worn on the uniform.

While the term Airman refers to anyone currently serving in the A.F., it is also a designation of the first four ranks/pay grades in the enlisted system. There are a total of nine grades, spanning from E-1, basic Airman, up to E-9, Chief Master Sergeant. Designations making up the other Airman ranks are: E-2, Airman, one stripe; E-3, Airman First Class, 2 stripes; and E-4, Senior Airman, 3 stripes.

Total A.F. monthly salary depends on time in service, pay grade, marital status, where you live, plus various pay incentives and allowances. Monthly salary for a newly inducted E-1 starts at about $1450 per month. Promotion to E-2 follows successful completion of basic training, assuming there are no disciplinary problems encountered.

Those with ranks between E-5 and E-9 are called non-commissioned officers (NCOs). E-5 and E-6 are NCOs and E-7 through E-9 are Senior NCOs. The top pay for an E-9 with 38 years of service, not including incentives, is more than $7,000 per month. Interestingly, that’s just about what a Major with 20 years service brings home. Step increases after the E-5 level is reached include various testing and different requirements for specific educational and technical schooling.

Complete designations for all NCOs include: E-5, Staff Sergeant, 4 stripes; E-6, Technical Sergeant, 5 stripes; E-7, Master Sergeant, 6 stripes; E-8, Senior Master Sergeant, 7 stripes, and E-9, Chief Master Sergeant, 8 stripes. Placements higher than Chief Master Sergeant but at the same pay grade also exist. These include Command Chief Master Sergeant and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.

Commissioned officers start at O-1 or Second Lieutenant and go up to O-10 or General of the Air Force (5-star). Pay rates for officers start at about $2750 per month for a 2nd LT and go as high as nearly $19,000 per month for a General with 40 years service. Following are all Air Force ranks for Officers: 2nd LT, 1st LT, Captain, Major, LT Colonel, Colonel, Brigadier General, Major General, Lieutenant General, General and General of the Air Force.


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