Military rank is more than just who salutes whom. Military rank is a badge of leadership. Responsibility for personnel, equipment, and mission grows with each increase in rank.
Do not confuse rank with pay grades, such as E-1, W-2 and O-5. Pay grades are administrative classifications used primarily to standardize compensation across the military services. The “E” in E-1 stands for “enlisted” while the “1” indicates the pay grade for that position. The other pay categories are “W” for warrant officers and “O” for commissioned officers. Some enlisted pay grades have two ranks.
The Army, for example, has the ranks of corporal and specialist at the pay grade of E-4. A corporal is expected to fill a leadership role and has a higher rank than a specialist even though both receive the same amount of pay. In the Marine Corps, master gunnery sergeants and sergeant majors are E-9s, but the sergeant major has the higher rank.
Officer ranks in the United States military consist of commissioned officers and warrant officers. The commissioned ranks are the highest in the military. These officers hold presidential commissions and are confirmed at their ranks by the Senate. Army, Air Force and Marine Corps officers are called company grade officers in the pay grades of O-1 to O-3, field grade officers in pay grades O-4 to O-6 and general officers in pay grades O-7 and higher. The equivalent officer groupings in the Navy are called junior grade, mid-grade and flag.
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. These commissioned warrant officers are direct representatives of the president of the United States. They derive their authority from the same source as commissioned officers but remain specialists, in contrast to commissioned officers, who are generalists. There are no warrant officers in the Air Force.