Enlisted v. Officer: What’s the Difference?

People ask all the time “what rank is your husband/boyfriend/wife/etc?” And you tell them and they go “ok.” I once went to a doctor’s office, the woman checking me in looked at my ID (I gave her my military dependent card), she saw my husband’s rank and said, “Oh, 2nd lieutenant, that’s high up right?” It was hard to explain that yes, he was an officer, which some see as higher than enlisted, but in the scheme of officers he was the bottom of the food chain. So let me see if I can explain the difference…(also check out the glossary for a quick look at how the ranks break down)

I asked my husband to help me out on this one and this is his super simple explanation, comparing enlisted and officers to restaurant employees:Junior enlisted (Private through Specialist/Corporal) are like the waged employees, they do one or two tasks, at times they have a specialty, but they are always supervised.

Senior enlisted (Sergeant to Sergeant Major, also known as NCOs) are direct supervisors, really hands-on in training and professional development. They really look after the Soldiers they work with from everything from morale to job performance.

Officers (2nd Lieutenant through General) are like the store manager. They are in charge of running the “store” aka unit, they decide policy, make sure everything is running efficiently, but are not directly ordering the employees.

Warrant Officers are the technical specialists. They have spent their entire career mastering a skill: be it flying, working with radios, etc.

This is a very basic explanation. There are nuances between ranks within each of those categories. There are differences depending on the type of unit you are in. So basically, this is the down and dirty explanation.

Something that I think is very important to point out is that I used to think that enlisted guys didn’t have college degrees, since it’s required for officers, but this is most definitely NOT the case. Senior NCOs often have multiple graduate degrees. Many Soldiers work on their bachelor’s while they are serving. Officers are sent to graduate school at certain points in their career. So education is definitely important, from your job skill to college.

How do you explain what rank your significant other is? Anyone have a great explanation to share?

2 responses to “Enlisted v. Officer: What’s the Difference?

  1. First in all seriousness, than you for supporting your husband and thank your husband for his service to the country.

    Disclaimer: I was Air Force so I don’t know if the terms translate between the branches. They are used as terms of endearment.
    Enlisted=sweaty or trunk monkey
    Officer=zero or doughnut

    Pilot to the Loadmaster. “Get that pallet loaded, you trunk monkey!”
    Flight Engineer to pilots. “Me and my two favorite zeros.”

    This is a true story.
    The C-130 Loadmaster was leading some Marines across the ramp to the exit. The ramp is a no hat area.
    Marine Colonel stopped the Loadmaster. “Sergeant, where is your cover?”
    The Master Sergeant replied. “In my pocket, sir.”
    The Colonel asked. “Why isn’t it on your head?”
    The Sergeant stated. “Because I can’t get my head in my pocket.”

    I was a zero but I will go to war with a sweaty every day and twice on Sunday.

    • Thank you for your service! And for the look into Air Force life. I haven’t heard those terms of endearment in the Army, but they do have their own I know. Starting out with the basics on the blog, but will eventually get to slang I am sure. Thanks for reading!

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