Enlisted soldiers in the U.S. Army start out as privates (E-1) and can rise to the rank of sergeant (E-5 to E-9). The annual salary soldiers receive increases as they climb in rank and gain years of experience. In addition to basic pay, soldiers receive a number of benefits whose combined value may equal or exceed their salary. Soldiers’ pay is subject to income tax but most Army benefits are tax-exempt.
Enlisted Base Pay
The annual salary for a Private (E-1) as of 2011 starts at $17,611, according to GoArmy.com. An advancement to Private Second Class (E-2) raises the soldier's salary to $19,739. If a soldier advances to Private First Class (E-3) his pay increases to $20,758, rising to $23,400 after four years. Corporals and Specialists (E-4) earn $22,993 annually, rising to $26,770 after four years and to $27,911 after six years.
Sergeants (E-5) start at $25,081 annual pay, riding to $29,380 after four years and to $31,442 after six years. Staff Sergeants (E-6) start at $27,374, rising to $32,742 after four years and to $34,088 after six years. A Sergeant First Class (E-7) starts at $31,648, rising to $37,620 after four years and to $38,988 after six years. The top two Army enlisted ranks, Master Sergeant (E-8) and Sergeant Major (E-9) aren’t awarded unless the soldier has at least eight years of service, according to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Army’s paymaster. A Master Sergeant's pay starts at $45,528, while a Sergeant Major's starts at $55,608.
Basic Pay Raises
Automatic annual increases in enlisted soldiers’ basic pay are linked to increases in civilian pay as measured by the U.S. Employment Cost Index, but Congress can authorize larger basic-pay raises. In 2011, enlisted personnel saw a basic-pay increase of 1.4 percent across the board. Enlisted members are paid on the 1st and 15th of each month, similar to many civilian employers’ pay schedules. If a payday falls on a Saturday, Sunday or federal holiday, pay is distributed on the preceding workday.
Enlisted soldiers receive many benefits. They have access to free on-base barracks housing, free meals, free uniforms and free health care. As they rise in rank and years of service, soldiers also get allowances for family housing and food and can earn special pay for dangerous or unusually hard duty, or for special skills such as foreign language proficiency. For instance, a typical Sergeant (E-5) with four years of service and a family of four gets $29,380 in basic salary and $1,800 in special pay, plus family health care and allowances for family housing and food worth another $22,780.