In December of last year, President Joe Biden signed the Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act providing $816.7 billion for the Defense Department. The act included a 4.6% pay hike for the 3.4 million military and civilian personnel of the Department of Defense. Of that number, 1.3 million are active-duty service members. (Here’s how many women compared to men serve in each branch of the U.S. armed forces.)
As in business, military members are paid based on their rank (entry level vs. four-star general) and how long they have served. And while in the first few years the pay is equivalent to that of many entry-level civilian positions, it can increase considerably higher up the ranks and with more years of service.
To find the military pay grades that pay the most, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2023 basic pay tables from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service for the Department of Defense. Pay grades are ordered by the maximum possible annual base pay (we used the monthly pay to calculate annual pay). Comparable ranks for each pay grade also came from the DOD. Coast Guard ranks are mostly the same as Navy ranks.
The Defense Department classifies pay grades using letters and numbers. An “E” stands for enlisted, while “W” means warrant officer, and “O” corresponds to commissioned officer. A number after the letter classification represents the level of pay. For example, “1” means an entry-level pay grade. So an E-1 in the Army signifies a private. O-1E to O-3E officers – those with previous enlisted active-duty service – get paid extra in acknowledgement of their service time and experience.
A newly signed Army private makes a little over $23,000 a year. That is less than a fast-food cook at $25,490, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that is just base pay, and enlisted personnel receive additional pays and benefits, including housing allowance, travel pay, health care, special and incentive pays – such as hazardous duty and hardship duty pays – and more.
Further, the pay increases the longer someone serves and moves up the ranks. The base pay of a sergeant with 10 years of service is $46,220, excluding additional pays and benefits. The mean annual wage for all occupations at all levels is $58,260. (What about government service? Here is what every governor is paid in every state.)
People who join the military often do so to serve their country rather than pay. Still, after several years they can pull a decent salary, especially in the higher ranks. A four-star Army or Marine Corps general receives an annual base salary of $212,101 after 20 years in service, which is not far off from the mean annual compensation for CEOs at $213.020.
Click here to see how much members of the US military are paid at every pay grade.
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