What Military Branch Pays the Most?

Honor. Pride. Sense of duty. These are just a few things that come to mind when thinking about members of the United States military. But for some people, it’s a job like any other. Think about someone who loves military planes. They don’t care about serving, but they do care about working on these marvels of engineering. And the military is the only way for them to do so.

Other people are just looking for a job that pays well and offers good stability with great benefits.

So, if you’re thinking about joining the military and money is your primary motivator, you’re probably wondering which branch pays the most. That way, you can prepare to join that specific branch to get that sweet, sweet dosh.

Getting into the military is no easy feat, and that’s why preparation is crucial. Some branches have grueling physical tests, others have high academic requirements, which is why it’s so important to know what you’re getting into before making any decisions.

In this article, you are going to learn which military branches pay the most, and how to get into them. We will also look at how you can best prepare for the admission test, and how to get a long, fruitful career in them.

The U.S. Military Branches

While pay is important, it’s crucial to understand what are you getting into with each branch. They all have different missions, goals, and cultures.

There are five military branches in the United States:

  • Army — this is the largest branch, with over 500,000 soldiers. The U.S. Army is the main land force of the United States Military. It’s responsible for ground combat operations as well as securing strategic locations. The Army also provides support to other branches during times of need.
  • Navy — the navy has over 320,000 personnel. The U.S Navy is responsible for maritime security and power projection. This branch operates all over the world, in some of the most hostile environments imaginable.
  • Air Force — the air force has over 300,000 active personnel. The U.S Air Force is the aerial warfare branch of the military. They are responsible for operating and maintaining all aircrafts used by the other branches.
  • Marines — the marines have almost 200,000 personnel. The U.S Marine Corps are known as an amphibious force, which means they are able to operate both on land and water. They provide support for the Army during land operations, but can also operate independently during sea-based missions.
  • Coast Guard — the coast guard has over 50,000 active personnel. The Coast Guard is a multi-missioned branch that falls under the Department of Homeland Security. They are responsible for maritime law enforcement, search and rescue, icebreaking, and much more.
  • National Guard — the national guard has over 450,000 personnel and is responsible for providing support to civilian authorities in times of need. Ironically, this is the only army branch mentioned in the Constitution.

All of them have different requirements for entrance.

Which Military Branch Has the Best Pay and Benefits?

This is where things get complicated. All branches offer the same basic pay, as pay grades have been standardized across the army. However, each branch has specific jobs from within (think aircraft maintenance for the air force, or working on submarines for the navy) that offer higher pay.

Other options are becoming a doctor or nurse in the military. These pay differently than in a civilian setting, and also come with different benefits.

The best way to maximize your earnings in the military is to do your research, talk to a recruiter, and find out what the best options are for you and your career goals.

In general, the jobs that are the most dangerous or require the most training and education tend to offer the highest pay.

The way to earn more money in the military is to advance in grades. These are separated by time in service and training. The higher your grade, the more money you’ll make.

Each branch has its own grades and ways to advance.

Grades in the U.S. Military

The U.S. military operates on a system of grades. The higher your grade, the higher your pay. There is a further separation between enlisted soldier, commissioned officer, and warrant officer.

Enlisted soldiers are the lowest ranking members of the military. They make up the majority of the force, and their pay grades range from E-1 to E-9.

Commissioned officers are the next step up. They have a college degree, and they hold leadership positions within the military. Their pay grades range from O1-E to O3-E.

Warrant officers are the highest ranking members of the military. They have specialized skills, and their pay grades range from W-1 to W-5.

For example, here is how the grade system works for enlisted soldiers:

  • Private (E-1)
  • Private Second Class (E-2)
  • Private First Class (E-3)
  • Specialist or Corporal (E-4)
  • Sergeant (E-5)
  • Sergeant First Class (E-6)
  • Master Sergeant or First Sergeant (E-7)
  • Sergeant Major (E-8)
  • Command Sergeant Major (E-9)

This works for all enlisted soldiers in all branches—be it the army, navy, or marines. Although the names will be different, the grades and pay will be the same if you compare them with their respective branches.

The pay is different for commissioned and warrant officers. But they also follow a similar grading system that goes from W-1 to W-5 for warrant officers, and from O-11 to O-3E for commissioned officers.

And of course, the higher your grade, the higher your pay. A Command Sergeant Major earns way more than a Sergeant First Class, and a W-5 warrant officer earns way more than a W-1 one.

Editor’s note: There are jobs that are specific to each branch, and some of these can be very lucrative. Take aircraft mechanics for example. Aircraft mechanics in the air force make an average of $56,098 per year, which is about 18% higher than the army median.

Issues with Calculating the Most Profitable Military Branch

The issue isn’t much with salary,  as all branches offer the same base pay. The problem is with bonuses, allowances, and other benefits that each branch offers.

For example, the air force offers a Housing Allowance (BAH) to its personnel. This isn’t offered in the other branches. So when you factor in this allowance, the air force starts to look a lot more attractive.

The navy also offers its personnel a signing bonus of up to $40,000, depending on the position. This is a one-time payment that is offered to those who enlist for six years or more.

When you factor in all these benefits, the most profitable military branch changes. And it’s not always the one that offers the highest base pay.

And, don’t forget about ‘special pays’. These are given to personnel who have specific skills or perform hazardous duties. For example, air force pilots receive a ‘flight pay’ of $125 per month, on top of their regular salary.

Other important special pays include hardship pays,  sea pay, and danger pay. These are offered to personnel who serve in difficult or dangerous conditions.

And last, while not direct pay, veteran benefits are another factor to consider.  All veterans are eligible for healthcare, education benefits, and home loans.

So, when you factor in all these different types of pay and benefits, the most profitable military branch is…

The air force! When you factor in all the different types of pay and benefits that each branch offers, the air force comes out on top.

But of course, you have to get into the military first.

How to Get Into the Military

The first step is to decide which branch you want to join. Once you’ve done that, you need to research the requirements for that particular branch.

For example, the Army has different requirements than the Air Force. The Army requires you to have a high school diploma or GED, while the Air Force requires you to have a college degree.

You also need to meet the physical requirements of the branch you want to join.

For example, the Army has different physical requirements than the Air Force. The Army requires you to be in good physical shape and have excellent vision, while the Air Force requires you to have 20/20 vision and be able to pass a physical fitness test.

Editor’s note: you might have heard horror stories about the army’s physical fitness test. But those atrocious stories are mostly about the navy seals,  not the regular army. The physical fitness test for the regular army is not that bad. In fact, it’s pretty easy.

Contact a Recruiter

Once you’ve done your research and you’re sure you meet the requirements, then you need to contact a recruiter.

Recruiters are the people who will help you through the entire process, from start to finish. They’ll help you with paperwork, answer your questions, and guide you through every step of the process.

The recruiter will also be the one to give you your ASVAB test.

The ASVAB is a test that determines which jobs you qualify for in the military. It’s important to do well on this test, because it will determine what job you do in the military, and thus how much money you make.

After you’ve taken the ASVAB and met with a recruiter, then you’re ready to start the enlistment process.

Get Enlisted

The first step to get enlisted is to go to MEPS.

MEPS is the Military Entrance Processing Station. This is where they will do your medical and physical evaluations, as well as your background check. Here is where the army will see whether you are a good fit for it.

If you pass all of those tests, then you’ll be sworn in and officially become a member of the military.

Once you’re a member of the military, then you’ll go to basic training.

The Basic Training

Basic training is where you will learn everything you need to know about being a soldier. You’ll learn how to shoot a gun, how to march, how to use all of your gear, and how to follow orders.

You’ll also learn a lot about military history and the Army’s core values. This is where you will really start to become a soldier.

After you graduate from basic training, then you’ll go to your permanent duty station.

After you’ve completed basic training, then you’ll be sent to your first duty station.

Your First Duty Station

This is where you will start your career in the military. You’ll be assigned to a unit, and you’ll start working towards your career goals.

This is when you will actually start earning money. You’ll be paid based on your rank and your job.

The higher your rank, the more money you’ll make. And if you have a dangerous or difficult job, then you’ll also get hazard pay or combat pay, which is extra money that is added onto your base pay.


So, which military branch pays the most? It depends on a lot of factors.

But in general, the Army and the Air Force are the two highest-paying branches. The Army offers the highest base pay, while the Air Force offers more opportunities for special pay.

So, it really depends on what you’re looking for in a military career. If you want to make the most money possible, then the Army is probably the best branch for you.

But if you’re looking for more opportunities for special pay, then the Air Force might be a better fit.

Whatever you decide, just make sure you do your research and talk to a recruiter before you make any decisions. But, most importantly, don’t join the army just for the money.

One, the money the army pay isn’t even that good. Any job from a reputable college degree is going to be worth much more money. Two, you’re going to be working a lot harder than you ever have in your life.

So, only join the Army if you’re willing to make the commitment and you’re passionate about serving your country. Otherwise, you’re just going to end up wasting your time (and the army’s time).

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