Specialist is a military rank in some countries' armed forces. Two branches of the United States Armed Forces use the rank. It is one of the four junior enlisted ranks in the United States Army, above private (PVT), private (PV2), and private first class and is equivalent in pay grade to corporal; in the United States Space Force, four grades of specialist comprise the four junior enlisted ranks below the rank of sergeant.[1]


Regular forces

In the Royal Danish Navy and Royal Danish Air Force, the rank of specialist is branch-specific; "Naval specialist" and "Air force specialist" (Danish: Marinespecialist, Flyverspecialist) respectively. The ranks are placed below corporal and above private first class (Overkonstabel). They are rated OR-3 within NATO[2] and the rank has the grade of M112 within the Ministry of Defence's pay structure.[3]

NATO code OR-3
 Royal Danish Navy[4]
 Royal Danish Air Force[5]
Danish Pay Grade[3] M112
Home guard

In 2018, new specialist ranks were introduced to the Danish Home Guard. These new ranks were created to remove the need for leadership training at the lower ranks, as the selected functions no longer require actual leadership.[6]

Home Guard specialists
Shoulder board Army
Air Force
Danish Hjemmeværnsspecialist 1 Hjemmeværnsspecialist 2
English Home Guard specialist 1st class Home Guard specialist 2nd class


Taiwanese specialist rank insignia

Specialist (Chinese: 上等兵 shàngděngbīng, "upper-rank soldier") is a rank in the Republic of China Army next to the rank of corporal, and has the NATO equivalent code of OR-3.

United States

United States Army

Trades and specialties (1902–1920)

In 1920, the Army rank and pay system received a major overhaul. All enlisted and non-commissioned ranks were reduced from 128 different insignias and several pay grades to only seven rank insignias and seven pay grades, which were numbered in seniority from seventh grade (lowest) to first grade (highest). The second grade had two rank titles: first sergeant, which was three stripes, two rockers, and a lozenge (diamond) in the middle; and technical sergeant, which was three stripes and two rockers. By World War II, the rank of first sergeant had been elevated to first grade and a third rocker was added, with the lozenge in the center to distinguish it from master sergeant. The wearing of specialist badges inset in rank insignia was abolished, and a generic system of chevrons and arcs replaced them.[7]

Private/specialist (1920–1942)

From 1920 to 1942, there was a rating (not a rank) for men of the sixth and seventh grades designated "private first class, specialist", or "private, specialist," that was graded in six classes (the lowest being sixth class and the highest being first class). They were considered the equal of a private first class or private in authority, but drew additional pay in relationship to the specialist level possessed on top of their base pay. The classes only indicated competency, not authority, and a specialist did not outrank another man of his respective non-specialist rank.

Officially, specialists wore the single chevron of a private first class because no special insignia was authorized to indicate their rank. Unofficially, a specialist could be authorized, at his commander's discretion, to wear one to six additional rockers (one rocker for sixth class, and a maximum of six rockers for first class) under their rank chevron to denote specialty level. Such insignia was commercially available through catalogs or the base Post Exchange (PX) and could also be ordered with inset trade badges.

Technician (1942–1948)

1st grade 2nd grade 3rd grade 4th grade 5th grade 6th grade 7th grade
No Insignia
Master sergeant[8] First sergeant[9] Technical sergeant Staff sergeant Technician Third Grade Sergeant Technician Fourth Grade Corporal Technician Fifth Grade Private first class Private
M/Sgt. 1st Sgt. T/Sgt. S/Sgt. T/3. Sgt. T/4. Cpl. T/5. Pfc. Pvt.

On 8 January 1942, the rank of technician was introduced to replace the private/specialist rank,[10] which was discontinued by 30 June 1942. Initially, this gave technical specialists more authority by grading them as non-commissioned officers. However, confusion and lowered morale among senior NCOs led to the Army reversing this stance in late 1943, after which technicians no longer held non-commissioned officer status.[11] Beginning 4 September 1942, technicians wore a block "T" insignia under their chevrons for easier identification.

Technicians were considered superior in rank to all NCOs and Enlisted of a lower paygrade, but inferior in rank to an NCO of equal or senior paygrade. For example, a Technician Third Grade outranked Sergeants (Grade 4) and below, but were outranked by Staff Sergeants (Grade 3) and above.

Technicians were addressed the same as the corresponding non-commissioned officer at the same pay grade: a technician fifth grade was addressed as corporal, a technician fourth grade as sergeant, and a technician third grade as staff sergeant.[10][11] The technician ranks were discontinued in 1948.[10]

Specialist (1955–present)

E9 E8 E7 E6 E5 E4
Specialist 9 rank insignia (U.S. Army) Specialist 8 rank insignia (U.S. Army) Master Specialist / Specialist 7 rank insignia (U.S. Army) Specialist 1st Class / Specialist 6 rank insignia (U.S. Army) Specialist 2nd Class / Specialist 5 rank insignia (U.S. Army) Specialist 3rd Class / Specialist 4 / Specialist rank insignia (U.S. Army)
Spec/9 (1959–1968) Spec/8 (1959–1968) MSP
Specialist 5 Dwight H. Johnson receiving the Medal of Honor from President Johnson
President Johnson presenting a then-Specialist 6 Lawrence Joel with Medal of Honor and Certificate
Photo of a U.S. Army Specialist 7
Example: Spec/4 or SPC brass collar rank insignia (worn from 1975–present)[12]

On 1 July 1955, four grades of specialist were established: Specialist third class (E-4 or SP3), specialist second class (E-5 or SP2), specialist first class (E-6 or SP1), and master specialist (E-7 or MSP). The insignia was yellow on a dark blue background, with the General Service Army Eagle set in the center. It was the same smaller 2-inch wide size as women's NCO stripes.[13] To differentiate specialists from NCOs, the stripes were the same shape as NCO stripes—but were inverted to distinguish them. The senior specialist ranks of SP2 (E5), SP1 (E6), and MSP (E7) were indicated by one, two, or three yellow arcs over the eagle respectively.

In 1956 the Army Green uniform was adopted. The specialist insignia was redesigned in 1958 to be larger, broader, and more rounded. The enlisted stripes were changed in 1961 from yellow on a blue backing to Goldenlite Yellow on a green backing.

In 1958 the DoD added two pay grades to give enlisted soldiers more opportunities to progress through a full career with additional opportunities for promotion. Thus the recognition was changed to six specialist ranks, and the pay grade was tied into the rank designation: specialist four (E-4), specialist five (E-5), specialist six (E-6), specialist seven (E-7), specialist eight (E-8), and specialist nine (E-9).[14] The "Super Grades" of Spec./8 and Spec./9 were respectively given one and two Goldenlite chevrons below the eagle.

CSM Daniel K. Elder goes on to explain, "In 1968 when the Army added the rank of command sergeant major, the specialist ranks at E-8 and E-9 were abolished",[14] because they were notional rather than actual. "In 1978 the specialist rank at E-7 was discontinued and in 1985, the specialist ranks at E-5 and E-6 were discontinued."[14]

These specialist ranks were created to reward personnel with higher degrees of experience and technical knowledge. Appointment to either specialist or non-commissioned officer status was determined by military occupational specialty (MOS). Different military occupational specialties had various transition points. For example, in the band career field (excluding special bands at D.C. and West Point), a bandsman could not achieve non-commissioned officer status until pay grade E-6 was attained. In some military occupational specialties, a soldier was appointed either a specialist or non-commissioned officer depending on which particular position or "slot" that he filled in his organization. A cook was a specialist, while a mess steward held the rank of sergeant (E-5 through E-7).

Specialist grades paralleled the corresponding grades of non-commissioned officer (E-4 through E-7) only in terms of pay. The specialist grades, although they outranked the enlisted grades (E-1 to E-3), were outranked by all non-commissioned officers (E-4 to E-9) and lacked the authority conferred on an NCO. This was the major differentiation between a specialist and a "hard striper".

The Medal of Honor was awarded to SP4 Michael J. Fitzmaurice by President Richard Nixon at the White House, 15 October 1973.

Only the lowest specialist grade remains, with the rank of specialist 4 known simply as "specialist". While the official abbreviation was changed from "SP4" to "SPC" upon the elimination of the SP5 and SP6 ranks, the SIDPERS database was authorized to continue using SP4 until the change could be made at little or no additional expense in conjunction with other system upgrades.[15] The continued use of SP4 on automatically produced documents (transfer orders, leave and earnings statements, unit manning reports, inter alia) hampered the adoption of the new abbreviation (and, to a lesser extent, the absence of "-4" in the non-abbreviated rank) by individual soldiers who viewed the computer-produced documents as the final word on the proper term.

The rank of specialist (E-4) is the typical rank to which privates first class are promoted after two years of service, although PFCs may be waived into the rank of specialist after 18 months' time in service and 6 months' time in grade. It is granted far more often than corporal (also E-4). Those specialists who are graduates of the Basic Leader Course (BLC) and who have been recommended for promotion become corporals before further promotion.[16][17] This change in Army culture applied to the Active Army and the National Guard as of 1 July 2021, and to the Army Reserve; the Army Reserve change was scheduled to take place on 1 October 2021.[16] The rank of corporal is reserved for personnel who have passed the BLC.[17]

Specialists were informally called "specs" (pronunciation IPA: /ˈspɛk/ ) plus the numerical grade of their rank. Thus, a specialist 4 was called "spec 4".[18][19] As of July 2016 the rank of Specialist is the most common rank in the U.S. Army, being held by 115,033 of the Army's 473,844 soldiers.[1]

Recruits with college degrees and Officer Candidates

New recruits enlisting into the United States Army who have earned a four-year degree, and as of 2006 those with civilian-acquired job skills, will enter as a specialist (pay grade E-4).[20] Typically, newly recruited officer candidates hold the rank of specialist when enlisted and during BCT (basic combat training) prior to their official enrollment into OCS (Officer Candidate School) where they will be administratively promoted to the pay grade of E-5 but are referred to as "officer candidate" (OC) as opposed to sergeant (SGT).

United States Navy (1941–1974)

Specialists (1941–1948)

Between 1941 and 1948, the United States Navy maintained an enlisted rate of Specialist in the petty officer pay grade structure.[21] This was to absorb directly appointed civilian experts needed in the rapidly expanding Navy. A seaman would typically be known as a specialist followed by a letter indicating what field the specialty was held. For instance, a Specialist (C) served as a "classification interviewer", while a Specialist (T) was a "navy teacher", among several other specialist designations.

The concept was proposed in late 1941 and was approved by the Secretary of the Navy sometime in November or December of that year. The Navy started with four specialties in February 1942, expanding to twenty-two specialties and their associated sub-specialties by the war's end in 1945. The Coast Guard added an additional five exclusive specialties in 1943 (D, CW, PR, PS and TR); four were awarded double letters to avoid duplication. The WAVES added Specialist (U) for "Utility"—a general purpose title that was abolished in 1944 and merged with the similar Specialist (X), for "Specialist (Not Elsewhere Classified)".

The trade badge was an embroidered diamond-shaped border inset with the specialty letter and set between the US Navy Eagle and the rank chevrons. Specialists 3rd, 2nd, and 1st Class (Grades 4, 3, and 2; equivalent to Petty Officers 3rd, 2nd and 1st Class) had 1 to 3 downward red chevrons. A Chief Specialist (Grade 1; equivalent to a Chief Petty Officer) had the US Navy Eagle perched on a red rocker over three red chevrons, with the diamond trade badge inset between the stripes.

Specialties (1942–1948)


Emergency Service ratings (1948–1974)

The Navy's use of the specialist grade was reorganized in 1948 to integrate them into the petty officer structure. The assigned letters and job titles changed several times in the rank's history.

Some positions were reclassified as Emergency Service Ratings (ESRs) from 1948 to 1957 and Emergency Ratings (ERs) from 1957 to 1965. All personnel holding an Emergency Service rating were members of the Naval Reserve subject to activation only in time of war or national emergency. Their specialty letters had a prefix of "ES" added and were different than that of those in regular service.

A pruning and absorption or discontinuing of specialty ratings commenced between 1957 and 1964 and nearly all of the remaining specialties were discontinued in 1965. The sole remaining specialty was ESK (ES Specialty (K) – "Telecommunications Censorship Technician"). It was renamed "Information Security Specialist" in 1972 and disestablished in 1974.

United States Space Force

Specialist ranks for the United States Space Force
pay grade
E-1 E-2 E-3 E-4
Rank insignia
Title Specialist 1 Specialist 2 Specialist 3 Specialist 4
Abbreviation Spc1 Spc2 Spc3 Spc4

On 1 February 2021, the United States Space Force established the rank of specialist for paygrades E-1 to E-4. Specifically, the rank of specialist 1 replaced airman basic (E-1), the rank of specialist 2 replaced airman (E-2), the rank of specialist 3 replaced airman first class (E-3), and the rank of specialist 4 replaced senior airman (E-4). Specialist 4 ranks below sergeant.[23] Verbal address for all four grades is just Specialist.[23] On 20 September 2021, new rank insignias for all enlisted guardians, including the specialists, were revealed.[24][25][26] These new insignias replaced the U.S. Air Force enlisted rank insignias that had been worn by enlisted guardians since the foundation of the Space Force on 20 December 2019.

See also


  1. ^ a b "DoD Personnel, Workforce Reports & Publications". Department of Defense. Archived from the original on 10 March 2017.
  2. ^ Military Committee Land Standardization Board (13 January 2021). STANAG 2116 (7th ed.). NATO Standardization Agency. pp. E-2, F-2.
  3. ^ a b "Historik". forpers.dk (in Danish). Ministry of Defence. Archived from the original on 27 August 2018. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  4. ^ "Søværnets Gradstegn" (PDF). forsvaret.dk (in Danish). Danish Defence. 2018. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  5. ^ "Flyvevåbnets Gradstegn" (PDF). forsvaret.dk (in Danish). Danish Defence. 2021. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  6. ^ Hjemmeværnskommandoen (17 August 2018). "Nye distinktioner til specialister og menige på vej" (in Danish). Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  7. ^ "History of Enlisted Ranks". Archived from the original on 29 June 2010. Retrieved 30 April 2017.
  8. ^ The rank of Sergeant Major was abolished in 1920 and was not reestablished until 1958. This made Master Sergeant the highest NCO rank. The senior Master Sergeant on a Battalion or Regimental staff performed the functions of the former Battalion and Regimental Sergeant Major ranks.
  9. ^ The rank of First Sergeant, the seniormost NCO in a company, was originally considered a senior grade of Technical Sergeant (Grade 2) and had 2 rocker stripes. In 1942 it was changed to a junior grade of Master Sergeant (Grade 1) with three rocker stripes.
  10. ^ a b c Ward, Leroy Allen (2013). Army Fire Fighting: A Historical Perspective. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-4685-2369-0.
  11. ^ a b Fisher, Ernest F. (2001). Guardians of the Republic: A History of the Noncommissoned Officer Corps of the U.S. Army. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stockpole Books. p. 260. ISBN 978-0-8117-2784-6.
  12. ^ History of U.S. Army Enlisted Grades; The Institute of Heraldry, Department of the Army; last accessed 21 February 2023
  13. ^ In 1948 the US Army adopted the controversial Goldenlite stripes. They were subdued Blue stripes on a Goldenlite Yellow background for Combat troops and Goldenlite Yellow on Blue backing for Support and Service troops. They were 2-inches wide, making them narrower than the earlier 3.25-inch wide stripes worn from 1920 to 1948. When the Korean War broke out, the stripes were universally unpopular. The combat stripes were too indistinct to clearly identify in low light and the more visible Support stripes were too small to see at a distance. They were recalled and replaced by new 3-inch wide stripes in golden yellow on navy blue backing. In 1951 the Goldenlite Combat stripes were sold off as surplus, but the Women's Army Corps received the stores of Goldenlite Support stripes for wear on their uniform. So WACs wore narrower 2-inch-wide insignia on their uniforms (like Service Taupe and Dress White). This continued even after the WAC was folded into the regular Army in 1978. In 1998 female NCOs were finally given the same size insignia as their male counterparts.
  14. ^ a b c Elder, CSM Dan. "Short History of the Specialist Rank" Archived 14 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ "Army Command Policy" (PDF). Retrieved 16 February 2013.
  16. ^ a b Harm Venhuizen (7 Jun 2021) All soldiers must serve as corporals before promotion to sergeant
  17. ^ a b Joseph Lacdan, Army News Service (4 June 2021) Soldiers to pin on corporal after BLC
  18. ^ Sessum, Peter (23 June 2012). "The Spec-4 Mafia, If You Ask You Lose All Deniability". The Dog Tag Chronicles.com. Archived from the original on 1 November 2013. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  19. ^ "Replace Specialist with Corporal Army Wide". Military Times. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  20. ^ "US Army Website". Goarmy.com. Archived from the original on 14 August 2010. Retrieved 16 February 2013.
  21. ^ BLUEJACKET.COM Navy Specialist Ratings Archived 24 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ "U.S. Navy: World War II Enlisted Rates: Specialists". uniform-reference.net. Archived from the original on 1 May 2018. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  23. ^ a b Cohen, Rachel S. (29 January 2021). "Space Force to Adopt 'Specialist,' Other New Ranks Feb. 1". Air Force Magazine. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  24. ^ SpaceForceDOD Twitter, "Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force Roger A. Towberman announced today the new design of the #SpaceForce's enlisted rank insignia."
  25. ^ Hadley, Greg (20 September 2021). "Space Force Reveals Insignia for Enlisted Ranks". airforcemag.com. Air Force Magazine. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  26. ^ Toropin, Konstantin (20 September 2021). "The Space Force Finally Has Its Own Rank Insignia". Military.com. Retrieved 21 September 2021.