Short History of the Specialist Rank

By CSM Dan Elder

The Army developed a program to separate specialists from NCOs, which gave birth to our current specialist system we now know. This program, which went in to effect 1 July 1955, grouped NCO grades E-4 to E- 7, which had a corresponding specialist position that mirrored it. These new specialist would wear distinctive insignia which is partially still in effect for theSpecialist (E-4 / SPC) of today.

Noncoms had special considerations not afforded to specialists. These considerations were not to reduce specialists privileges, but augment privileges and prestige of NCOs. Leadership was the NCOs primary roles and so noted. Specialists received pay commensurate with his ability.

In 1958 the DOD added two additional pay grades to give enlisted soldiers more opportunities to progress to a full career with additional opportunities for promotion. This included an addition of two specialist ranks at E-8 and E-9 and proficiency pay was incorporated into the pay scales. In 1968 when the Army added the rank of Command Sergeant Major, the specialist ranks at E-8 and E-9 were abolished without anyone ever being promoted to those levels.

In 1978 the specialist rank at E-7 was discontinued and in 1985,the specialist ranks at E-5 and E-6 were discontinued.

Today’s current rank structure only includes one specialist rank, that at E-4. The Specialist is in the normal career progression for enlisted soldiers in between the career path of going from an apprentice enlisted soldier, to the journeymen role associated with noncommissioned officers.

There is no current method to identify senior enlisted specialists from those NCOs in a leadership position.


  1. I made E4 in the US Army in the US Army Europe, in 1966, and My pay was $168.00, a month. I was in the dental Corp, as a dental lab tech. I was drafted, and was offered E5, and $6000, to reenlist for 6 years, but said no. If I had done that, I would have made E5 faster that anyone in the history of my unit. When I got out I met a guy who I was in Basic with, and He made E5, in 16 months as a Meat inspector, who was also a drafted enlisted man. Went back to my old job and made $200 a week.

  2. I wore the SP/5 rank back in 1978. Coolest rank in the Army. No C.Q .or Sergeant Of The Guard. Plus you didn’t have to be a Squad Leader. No Leadership jobs, and still getting the same pay as the “hard stripers” !!!!

  3. I’ve seen specialist rank up to Sp/7 while I was in the Army in the 60s but never SP/8 or SP/9. In the 70s there seemed to be fewer SP/6s and 7s. I think there were only SP 4s and 5s.

  4. I was a SP/4 and Sp/5, but when I made E-6 I went to the stripes SSG E-6.

    1. I was in the mess service as a Spec 6 but when I made E-7 was converted to hard strips

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