Which U.S. Military Branch Pays the Most?

Joining the military is not only a big decision to make in one’s life, but it is a choice that will impact you based on the branch you choose to join. Each military branch offers a different career path. So, when researching the military, it’s important to consider what you want in a career and opportunity when putting on a military uniform.

The highest pays by branch are:
  • Army: $646.
  • Marine Corps: $750.
  • Navy: $750.
  • Air Force: $520.
  • Coast Guard: $805.


Which military branch pays the most?

All members of the military, regardless of which branch you serve in, are paid according to their rank, time in service, location of duty station, family members and job specialty. The lowest-ranking enlisted military service member, whether a U.S. Army Private or a U.S. Navy Seaman Recruit, has a pay grade of E-1. The highest-ranking officer, regardless of branch, carries a pay grade of O-10.

What are the branches of the U.S. military?

There are six branches of the U.S. military. They include:

U.S. Army

This is the main ground force of the United States and its primary function is to protect and defend the country with ground troops, attack helicopters, artillery, tactical nuclear weapons and other weapons.

U.S. Air Force

The youngest military branch, its primary function is to defend the United States and its interests via air and space and does so using fighter aircraft, light and heavy bombers, tanker aircraft, transport aircraft and helicopters. This is also the branch of the military that controls nuclear ballistic missiles and military satellites.

U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy is responsible for protecting U.S. interests at sea. The U.S. Navy handles operations on and under the sea, in the air and on the ground.

U.S. Marine Corps

The U.S. Marines specialize in assault, capture and control of beachheads. While the U.S. Marines specialize in amphibious operations, they have expanded to ground combat as well. It is primarily a self-sufficient branch with its own airpower of attack helicopters, fighters and bombers.

U.S. Space Force

The U.S. Space Force is the military service that organizes, trains and equips space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force. The U.S. Space Force maintains the military’s competitive edge on land, in the air and in orbit with specialized training and enhances its capabilities through the acquisition and development of next-generation space-based systems.

U.S. Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard is technically a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland and is primarily responsible for law enforcement, illegal immigration controls, boating safety and sea rescue in our domestic waterways.

Annual pay for each rank

The U.S. Armed Forces provide housing for all of its service members. If housing isnt available on base, the service member will receive a housing allowance (BAH – Basic Allowance for Housing) based on the pay grade and duty station. Service members are also paid a Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) based on whether you are an officer or enlisted service member. Special military pay can also be added to compensation, depending on the career field and location. For example, military personnel may receive hazardous duty pay, submarine pay, flight pay or career sea pay.

Here is a look at the different pay grades for military personnel (effective date January 1st, 2021 – source DFAS (Defense Finance and Accounting Service) Military Pay Tables 2021:

Branches that promote the fastest

The U.S. Army is generally the branch of the military that promotes the fastest. That said, your military job and the level of advanced education you have will impact your ability to be promoted. A college degree can help you get promoted more rapidly, regardless of the branch youre in. However, specialized career fields often dont promote quickly. The military typically promotes personnel when those in higher ranks are promoted or retire or when they need more people in a particular field.

Enlisted ranks

E-1: $1785 per month

This is the lowest enlisted rank and includes U.S. airman basic (U.S. Air Force), U.S. private (Army and Marine Corps), U.S. seaman recruit (U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy), fireman recruit, airman recruit or hospitalman recruit (U.S. Navy) and specialist 1 (U.S. Space Force). Base pay starts at $1,650 per month and after four months will increase to $1,785 per month.

E-2: $2070 per month

Service members automatically promote to E-2 within six months of service and become an airman (U.S. Air Force), private (U.S. Army), private 1st class (U.S. Marine Corps) or seaman apprentice (U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy), fireman apprentice, airman apprentice or hospitalman apprentice (U.S. Navy) and specialist 2 (U.S. Space Force).

E-3: $2,104 – $2,372 per month

Promotion to E-3 occurs automatically after 12 months, at which time the service member becomes an airman 1st class (U.S. Air Force), Private 1st Class (U.S. Army), Lance Corporal (U.S. Marine Corps), Seaman (U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy), airman, fireman or hospital corpsman (U.S. Navy) or specialist 3 (U.S. Space Force).

E-4: $2,330 – $2,829 per month

Service members who are an E-4 typically have served for at least two years. Your titles at this rank are senior airman (U.S. Air Force), specialist or corporal (U.S. Army), corporal (U.S. Marine Corps), petty officer 3rd class (U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard) or specialist 4 (U.S. Space Force).

E-5: $2,713 – $3,607 per month

At this rank, promotions are no longer automatic based on time served, although service members can reach this rank in as little as three years. Titles at this rank are staff sergeant (U.S. Air Force), sergeant (U.S. Army/Marines), petty officer 2nd class (U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard) or sergeant (U.S. Space Force). Service members usually spend three years at this pay grade although their pay will increase with their time served.

E-6: $3,188 – $4,297 per month

Generally, service members with this rank have served for at least six years. At an E-6, their titles are technical sergeant (U.S. Air Force), staff sergeant (U.S. Army and U.S. Marines), petty officer 1st class (U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard) or technical sergeant (U.S. Space Force). They typically will not achieve the next pay grade increase, an E-7, until they have served for 10 years.

E-7: $4,190 – $5,765 per month

Service members typically do not achieve the rank of E-7 until they have served for 10 years, although it can be accomplished sooner. Titles for this rank include master sergeant or first sergeant (U.S. Air Force), sergeant first class (U.S. Army), gunnery sergeant (U.S. Marine Corps), chief petty officer (U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard) or master sergeant (U.S. Space Force). A master, senior, and chief sergeant may be selected to be first sergeant. It is not considered a rank, rather a special assignment role for a senior-NCO. The first sergeant is typically assigned to a flight unit and reports directly to the deputy commander.

E-8: $4,819 – $6,581 per month

At E-8, service members are senior master sergeant or first sergeant (U.S. Air Force), master sergeant or first sergeant (U.S. Army/Marine Corps), senior chief petty officer (U.S. Navy and Coast Guard) or senior master sergeant (U.S. Space Force). They can reach this rank with as little as 12 years in service. Service members who retire as an E-8 at 20 years will take home $68,476 per year. If they stay enlisted beyond that, they receive raises every two years.

E-9: $5,637 – $8,753 per month

E-9s typically have 15-30 years of experience and their titles are chief master sergeant. (U.S. Air Force), sergeant major (U.S. Army), master gunnery sergeant,sergeant major (U.S. Marine Corps), master chief petty officer (U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard), or chief master sergeant (U.S. Space Force). Some branches allow E-9s to stay in the military for up to 32 years.

Warrant officer rank

Warrant officers hold warrants from their service secretary and are specialists and experts in certain military technologies or capabilities. The lowest-ranking warrant officers serve under a warrant, but they receive commissions from the president upon promotion to chief warrant officer 2 (CWO2). Warrant officers outrank all enlisted members, but are not required to have a college degree. Additionally, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force do not have warrant officer ranks.

W-1:$3,309 – $5,719 per month

Warrant officers are considered the tactical and technical experts of the U.S. Army. WO1 is the base-level rank, and primarily supports operations from team or detachment through a battalion. (U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy – WO1)

W-2: $3,770 – $6,293 per month

This rank is considered an intermediate-level technical and tactical expert. Your responsibility is to support levels of operations from team or detachment through a battalion. (U.S. Army – CW2; U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard – CWO2)

W-3: $4,261 – $7,475 per month

As a warrant officer of this rank, you are considered to be an advanced-level technical and tactical expert. Your role is to support operations from a team/detachment through a brigade. (U.S. Army – CW3; U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard – CWO3)

W-4: $4,666 – $8,691 per month

This rank is considered as a senior-level technical and tactical expert. Your primary duty is to support brigade, battalion, division and corps operations. (U.S. Army – CW4; U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard – CWO4)

W-5: $8,296 – $10.856 per month

This rank is considered a master-level technical and tactical expert. Your primary duties include supporting brigade, division, corps, echelons and command operations. You specialize in warrant officer leadership and representation responsibilities within their respective commands. (U.S. Army – CW5; U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy – CWO5)

Commissioned officer ranks

When a commissioned officer has prior enlisted service, they can start out at a higher pay scale than a regular O-1. Additionally, the pay starts at the four years of service mark, which means it is slightly higher than that of the O-1. The ranks for officers with prior service are O-1E, O-2E and O-3E. They are fondly referred to as a “Mustang.”

O-1: $3,386 – $4,261 per month

A freshly commissioned officer earns $3,386 per month in base pay, in addition to the tax-free housing and food allowances. Titles for O-1s are second lieutenant (U.S. Air Force/Army/Marine Corps//Space Force) or Ensign (U.S. Navy).

O-2: $3,901 – $5,399 per month

After two years of service, officers are automatically promoted to O-2. Your titles at this time are first lieutenant. (U.S. Air Force/Army/Marine Corps/Space Force) or lieutenant junior grade (U.S. Navy).

O-3: $4,515 – $7.345 per month

Officers receive an automatic pay increase after three years of service. Army officers achieve the next rank automatically at four years of service. At this rank, officers receive pay increases every two years. Titles at this rank are captain (U.S. Air Force/Army/Marine Corps/Space Force) or lieutenant (U.S. Navy).

O-4: $5,135 – $8,574 per month

By the time they reach a rank of O-4, military officers typically have 10 years of service. Your titles are major (U.S. Air Force/Army/Marine Corps/Space Force) or lieutenant commander (U.S. Navy).

O-5: $5,951 – $10,111 per month

Officers usually spend 17 years or more in the military before being promoted to O-5. When they reach their 18-year commissioning anniversary, theyll earn $9,556 per month and have the rank of lieutenant colonel (U.S. Air Force/Army/Marine Corps/Space Force) or commander (U.S. Navy).

O-6: $7,139 – $12,638 per month

Colonels (U.S. Air Force/Army/Marine Corps/Space Force) and U.S. Navy captains who have 22 years in service receive $11,513 per month. Officers must promote to general or admiral by their 30th year of service or they must retire.

O-7: $9,414 – $14,066 per month

Each rank, at this point, carries its own mandatory requirement, although officers must promote to the next higher rank or retire. Promotion to brigadier general or rear admiral (lower half) depends on job availability as well as a range of other variables. Officers who have served for 30 years and who have spent less than five years at the lowest flag rank must retire.

O-8: $11,330 – $16,333 per month

This rank includes major general (U.S. Air Force/Army/Marines/Space Force) and rear admiral (upper half) (U.S. Navy). At this point, they will be earning $195,988 per year and must retire after their 35th year in the military.

O-9: $16,013 – $16,608 per month

At this pay rank, the titles for the officers are vice-admiral for the U.S. Navy and lieutenant general for other branches.

O-10: $16,608 per month

This is the highest pay grade and once a military officer achieves a four-star rank of general or admiral, they will no longer receive pay increases, regardless of their time in service.


What military pays their soldiers the most?

1. USA. The US Army is one of the highest paid military in the world, which consists of the Army, Navy, Air force, Marine Corps, and the National Guard, which are all under the command of the department of defence.

Which branch of the military is the best?

Personnel in the Army and Marines receive the same pay for the same rank, experience and duties. This is because, like all members of the Armed Forces, they use the exact same pay tables.

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