A Definition of a Military Rank Civilian


There are a number of federal pay systems in use today. Most are based on a hierarchy system of pay grades. For protocol reasons, these civilian pay grades have a military rank equivalent. The Geneva Convention uses this military civilian rank system for classification of civilians working alongside military service members. This rank equivalency is important especially during times of war, since it gives guidance for the treatment of civilians should they be captured. The State Department also uses it for protocol purposes. You can break these ranks down into five categories.

Federal Pay Categories

  • The federal government uses three civilian pay systems. The wage scale (WS) primarily equates to blue collar workers; the general scale (GS) to white collar workers; and the senior executive scale to senior leaders. These scales and grades have a military rank equivalent per the Department of Defense. However, according to the Office of Personnel Management, the GS scale accounts for 71 percent of federal employees, and it has a direct correlation to military rank.

Enlisted Rank Equivalencies

  • According to the Department of Defense, junior enlisted ranks (E-1 through E-4) are the equivalent of GS-1 through GS-4. Junior enlisted ranks are the backbone of the military workforce. These are the new recruits and technicians learning their particular job. The same is true for the entry-level GS positions. They are learning their particular trade. Noncommissioned and senior noncommissioned ranks of E-5 through E-9 are the equivalent of GS-4 through GS-6. These more senior enlisted and GS ranks are the technical experts and entry-level management ranks that perform jobs that require a higher degree of experience or education.

Warrant Officer Rank Equivalencies

  • In the military, a warrant officer is a specialized rank for particularly technical jobs such as helicopter pilots. These ranks are higher than enlisted ranks in the hierarchy, but lower than officer ranks. The ranks of W-1 through W-4 correspond to GS-7 through GS-9. In terms of protocol, these higher GS ranks may supervise lower-ranking civilians or military members.

Junior Officer Rank Equivalencies

  • There are three categories of officer rank; junior, or company-grade officers (O-1 through O-3); field-grade officers (O-4 through O-6); and flag or general offices (O-7 through O-10). Company grade officers correspond to GS-7 through GS-11. Field-grade officers correspond to GS-12 through GS-15. Protocol dictates that officers receive certain customs and courtesies. For instance, only officers can be commanders. Senior GS civilians routinely hold deputy or vice command positions with the same authority as their military counterparts.

General Officer Rank Equivalencies

  • Due to the distinctive and important nature of general officers' duties as the highest-ranking military members, their rank corresponds only to the senior executive service (SES) pay scale. Both general officers and SES civilians receive special protocol considerations. For instance, during ceremonies with multiple generals and SES civilians, flags are often placed on the stage in descending order of rank. A protocol official would place a flag for an SES civilian in the appropriate place depending on the ranks, military and civilian, of those present. This type of treatment isn't applied to GS employees.

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