What’s a Company Grade, Field Grade, and Flag (General) Officer?
In the U.S. Armed Forces, leadership is an admired, yet important skill. While leadership training begins the moment someone signs up for military service, the act of carrying out leadership responsibilities often rests on the shoulders of military officers. There are three types of officers — commissioned, non-commissioned, and warrant officers. All types of officers have their own leadership path as well as unique training and experience requirements.
If you have your heart set on becoming an officer in the military, you should know a thing or two about company grade, field grade, and flag (general) officers. And it all begins with understanding military structure, grade, and rank.
What You’ll Learn Today
In this article, you’ll discover:
- Military Organization Structure
- Military Grade: Explained
- How Military Rank Works Within Grades
- The Grades of Military Officers
- Civilian Equivalents: Company, Field Grade, and General Officer Grades
Military Organization Structure
Military terms like platoon, company, battalion, brigade, squadron, group, wing, and a host of others may or may not sound familiar to you.
Before we dive into those officer grades, we must let you in on a little secret — the key to defining a company, field grade or general officer comes with knowing the different types of military units or formations. Basically, there should be some sort of understanding of the military organization structure.
Branches of the military are organized hierarchically into progressively smaller units commanded by officers of progressively lower rank. Historically, the prototypical units of each branch are based on those of the army, the oldest, largest, and most senior branch of the military.
Different armed forces, and even different branches of service of the armed forces, may use the same name to denote different types of organizations. An example is the “squadron”. In most navies, a squadron is a formation of several ships; in most air forces, it is a unit; in the U.S. Army, it is a battalion-sized cavalry unit.
As pointed out by the Council on Foreign Relations, below is a basic overview of how military units break down in terms of size based on the army’s structure
A small military unit consisting of ten to eleven soldiers, normally led by a staff sergeant.
A platoon is four squads: generally, three rifle squads and one weapons squad; normally armed with machine guns and anti-tank weapons. Lieutenants lead most platoons.
Company-sized units, 130 to 150 soldiers, are normally commanded by captains. They consist of four platoons, usually of the same type, a headquarters unit, and some logistical capabilities. Companies are the basic elements of all battalions. In the artillery corps, a company would be called a battery. Cavalry units refer to this unit level as a troop.
A battalion, usually about 400-strong, consists of three rifle companies, a combat support company, and a headquarters company. Battalions often blend companies with different fighting specialties to take on tasks no existing unit is properly configured to tackle. Battalions are usually led by a lieutenant colonel.
Formerly a major organizational unit, the regiment was eliminated from the force structure of the U.S. Army in 1957. The U.S. Marine Corps, however, does still operate regimental units, comprising five battalions—about 2,000-strong.
Traditionally, the brigade provides mobility, counter-mobility and survivability, topographic engineering, and general engineering support to the largest unit—the corps—and augments the corps’ various divisions. Brigades can range from 3,000 to 5,000 troops, generally, three-plus battalions, led by a colonel.
Divisions perform major tactical operations for the corps and can conduct sustained battles and engagements. One division is made up of at least three maneuver brigades with between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers, depending on the national army involved. American divisions are normally commanded by major generals and tend to be on the lighter side of the headcount.
The corps is the largest tactical unit in the U.S. Army. The corps is responsible for translating strategic objectives into tactical orders. It synchronizes tactical operations, including maneuvering, the firing of organic artillery, naval firing, supporting tactical air operations, and actions of their combat support, bringing together these operations on the battlefield. Each corps has between two and five divisions, and specialized brigades depending on the mission. Corps are typically led by lieutenant generals.
Take some time to review the organizational structure for the Navy, Air Force, and Marines, by clicking on Military Units by the U.S. Department of Defense.
There, you’ll notice that a “battalion” in the Army, Marine Corps and Navy is equivalent to a “squadron” in the Air Force. If you’re looking for the U.S. Space Force, always remember that Space Force officer ranks mirror those of the Air Force.
Military Grade: Explained
The armed forces are hierarchical organizations with clearly defined levels of authority. The different levels for officers are called grades and are defined by law, while rank refers to the order of precedence among those in different grades and within the same grade. For instance, someone who has been a Major (O-4) for three years outranks someone who has been a Major for two years.
This can be confusing because it is common for the term rank to be used interchangeably for the term grade. Then, pay grade is an administrative classification that determines rates of pay, but it is sometimes used to indicate grade as well. For example, a Captain in the Air Force is referred to as an O-3.
When it comes to rank, the commissioned officer ranks consist of commissioned officers and warrant officers, making up roughly 18% of the armed forces. The commissioned ranks are the highest in the military, holding presidential commissions with confirmation at their ranks by the U.S. Senate. Commissioned officers are the part of the management of each branch. They give junior officers and enlisted members their missions, assignments, and orders.
How Military Rank Works Within Grades
The commissioned officer ranks are divided into 10 pay grades — O-1 through O-10. Officers in pay grades O-1 through O-3 are considered company grade officers (CGOs). In the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, these pay grades correspond to the ranks of second lieutenant (O-1), first lieutenant (O-2), and captain (O-3). In the Navy, you have ensign, lieutenant junior grade, and lieutenant.
Officers in the next three pay grades (O-4 through O-6) are considered field grade officers (FGOs). In the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, these pay grades correspond to the ranks of major (O-4), lieutenant colonel (O-5), and colonel (O-6), and in the Navy, lieutenant commander, commander, and captain.
The highest four pay grades are reserved for general officers in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, and flag officers in the Navy. The ranks associated with each pay grade are as follows: in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force, brigadier general (O-7), major general (O-8), lieutenant general (O-9), and general (O-10); in the Navy, rear admiral-lower half, rear admiral-upper half, vice admiral, and admiral.
For more insight on rank, check out Empire Resume’s understanding military rank.
The Grades of Military Officers
Even though Warrant Officers are considered officers, for purposes of this article, our primary focus will be on company grade, field grade, and general officers.
As stated by the Department of Defense, officers in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps are called company grade officers in the pay grades of O-1 to O-3, field grade officers in paygrades O-4 to O-6, and general officers in paygrades O-7 and higher. The equivalent officer groupings in the Navy are called junior grade, mid-grade, and flag.
We’ve provided a breakdown of these three levels of officers below
Company-grade or Junior-Grade Officers (O-1 to O-3)
These officers usually lead units with several dozen to several hundred people. They make up about 56% of the officer corps.
“Company grade” officers are junior executives in the grades of lieutenants (second and first at O-1 and O-2) and captains (O-3). Traditionally, as noted in the military structure above, “companies” are commanded by captains with lieutenants serving as platoon leaders or second in command.
Field-grade or Mid-Grade Officers (O-4 to O-6)
These officers lead units with several hundred to several thousand personnel. They make up about 36% of the officer corps. The number of officers in these grades are determined by federal law.
“Field grade” officers are mid-level executives in the grades of major (O-4), lieutenant colonel (O-5) and colonel (O-6). Traditionally, companies were organized into regiments commanded by colonels.
Once upon a time, regiments were the primary field units of their parent brigades (commanded by one-star, brigadier generals) and divisions (commanded by two-star, major generals). This is how colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors became known as “field grade” officers.
About half of all company-grade and field grade officers, except for second lieutenants (O-1) serve on headquarters’ staffs as either primary or assistant staff officers, as advisors and liaison officers, as aides to general officers and senior civilian officials, as instructors or students in service schools and staff colleges, or in other “special duty” assignments.
General or Flag Officers (O-7 to O-10)
These officers lead units with several thousand to hundreds of thousands of personnel. They make up less than 0.4% of the officer corps and the number in these grades are also determined by federal law.
The most senior officers in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps are known as general officers. The most senior officers in the Navy are known as flag officers. General and flag officers for higher level to all officers in pay grades O-7 through O-10, including one-star, two-star, three-star, and four-star generals.
Senior naval officers with a pay grade of O-7 and above are known as Flag Officers while senior officers in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps with a pay grade of O-7 and above are known as General Officers.
In the Army, Brigadier Generals (one-star generals) typically serve as Deputy Commander to the Commanding General of a division and assist in overseeing the planning and coordination of a mission. In an infantry brigade (4,000 to 6,000 members) not attached to a division, a Brigadier General (BG) serves as the unit’s commander, while a colonel serves as deputy commander.
Similarly, Air Force, Brigadier Generals command large operational Wings with colonels serving as deputy commanders. Both services’ Brigadier Generals serve as senior primary staff officers of a corps or higher-level staff. BG and its equivalents currently serve as the commandants and deans of the United States Service Academies.
At any given time, there are about 1,000 general and flag officers serving on active-duty.
Can Warrant Officers Be Field Grade Officers?
Warrant Officers exist between enlisted members and commissioned officers. Although they are considered officers, they fall directly underneath Second Lieutenants (O-1).
Civilian Equivalents: Company, Field Grade, and General Officer Grades
Since we’re a military-to-civilian resume writing company, we couldn’t leave without sharing some civilian equivalents for our fellow Veterans who are transitioning into the civilian workforce.
In my experience as a certified professional resume writer who is an Air Force Veteran, many of my clients (Veterans and civilians) hear the terms company officer, field grade officer and general officer, and really don’t know what they are. That’s why we did a lengthy walk-through above that should aid in better understanding what they are and why they are called those terms.
During the job search, it’s important not to get caught up in military rank itself. Focus on sharing the function of the job title. The below equivalents should be helpful:
Company Grade Officer Civilian Equivalents (O-1 to O-3)
- Operations Manager
- Program Supervisor
- General Manager
- Department Head
Field Grade Officer Civilian Equivalents (O-4 to O-6)
- Executive Manager
- Deputy Director
- Assistant Director
- Operations Director
- Program Director
General Officer Civilian Equivalents (O-7 to O-10)
- Executive Director
- Chief Operations Officer
- Chief Executive Officer
For more civilian equivalents, refer to the bottom of the above-mentioned article, understanding military rank, and check out Empire Resume’s rank charts by branch:
- US Air Force Rank Civilian Equivalent
- US Army Rank Civilian Equivalent
- US Marine Corp Rank Civilian Equivalent
- US Navy Rank Civilian Equivalent
- US Coast Guard Rank Civilian Equivalent
- US Space Force Rank Civilian Equivalent
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Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for both professionals and service members transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and was responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a Ph.D. in Finance.