How Long In The Military At The Lowest Rank

As I was reading the other thread about good conduct medals I thought about this.

I don’t know anything about the military so correct me if I’m wrong. I’m gonna use the army as an example but please feel free to substitute any other military branch.

When you enter the army you go in as a private (correct?) Then you go to basic and take test and become Private First Class. Eventually you work your way up through the ranks.

My questions is what is the LOWEST rank you could stay at. Is it possible to stay in the army for like 20 or 30 years and never make it past a Private. (or whatever rank in other branches of the service)

Or would they say “Look you haven’t made it past Private yet, get out”

I am not referring to getting busted down. Like if you were a Sargent and got busted down to Private. I’m talking entering at the lowest rank and staying there?

The United States Army has something called “Retention Control Points”. If you have not reached the proper rank in the allotted amount of time, you may not reenlist. I don’t think you get “thrown out”, but you become ineligible to reenlist when your current contract expires.
They are currently set so high as to be non existant. The only way I could see a person not reaching his RCP is due to losing rank from misconduct.

As of November, the lowest rank you can do 20 years at is SGT§. It used to be SSG.

These guidelines change with the times. I read *From Here to Eternity *and was completely confused by the rank and promotion system at the time. It was nothing like when I was in in the late nineties, and I wasn’t able to figure out exactly how it worked.

I also get the idea that people in the reserves can stay low-ranking for a lot longer.

Also, you don’t have to go in as a private E1. I went in as a specialist E4, but I don’t know what they’re doing today. And there’s no written test in the Army for promotion, at least there wasn’t when I was in.

Private is actualy 2 ranks. Private (E-1) with no stripes, i.e. chevrons, an Private (E-2) with one stripe. You are promoted to E-2 automatically at 6 months, unless you are promoted sooner on merit. Then there is Private First Class (E-3) to witch you are promoted automaticaly at 1 year. There again unless you are promoted earlier.These amount to little more than pay raises. After PFC comes Specialist (E-4) witch comes automatically at 2 years. Almost everyone makes Spec 4 before 2 years, and is the first rank with any real authority or responsibility.You may get promoted to Corporal (E-4) witch is not a pay increse but is more responsibility and witch is considered a Non Commissioned Officer. Very few ever become a Corporal. In order to become a Sargent (E-5) you must have earned enough promotion points and pass the Promotion Board. If you are not on the Promotiom List by 6 years you will not be allowed to reenlist. There is also reenlistment cutoffs for Sargent First Class (E-6) and Platoon Sargent (E-7). E-7 is the end of the line for most because there are few slots open for First Sargent or Master Sargent (E-8). First Sargent is a leadership position wile Master Sargent is a staff position. You must be a First Sargent to stay in more than 20 years. After E-8 comes Comand Sargent Major (E-9). The very cream of the Enlisted crop is Comand Sargent Major of the Army of witch there is only one.

All of this is from when I was in way back in the 80’s.

I would suggest you look upthread for updated RCP’s. Bear Nenno’s. Also, there is no real promotion list for E-5 or E-6. If you make points for that month, you get promoted. Also, as a note, E-6 is Staff Sergeant. E-7 is Sergeant First Class.

I got the idea that it was a Reserve Unit and that you got a rank to go with your job. This is, since the hero of the story, I forget the guy’s name, wanted straight duty, and there are a lot of Privates who could do straight duty, there was no need to promote him until he had proven himself and been evaluated as a leader. Had he been a boxer or IIRC a bugle player, he could have been promoted to CPL because of the status and the skill of these jobs.

SSG Schwartz

Sorry about the E-6 ,E-7 thing I misremembered after 20 years of civilanitis. Also Bear_Nenno posted wile I was typeing. I’m sorry for any confusion.

Just wanted to make sure you had the Straight Dope! Hooah.

SSG Schwartz

I think the question was can you stay an E-1.

Answer is no. E-2 should be automatic if you are not given an E-2 promotion you are on your way out.

This answers a question that I’d always wondered about the US military. In the Canadian Forces, there was (is? I’ve been out a long time) a system in which if you missed three promotion “opportunities” you were mustered out. Also, IIRC, you had to reach certain ranks by certain ages to stay in. I don’t remember anyone officially ever telling me any of that, but a Sergeant explaining to me that he’d had to get special permission to retain his rank (and thus his preferred job) without getting kicked out.

Way back in about 1970, I was stationed with a guy who had 18 years at that point and was sporting E-3 stripes. During his career, he’d been busted multiple times for fighting, however. The Navy may have an “up or out” program in place at this point, but couldn’t say for sure. People without any motivation or work ethic, who just stay at E-2 or E-3 would probably be given an administrative discharge.

No one has touched on this, but this is not invariable – some folks enter the Army as officers.

That suggests the question: can you enter the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant, and then stay at that rank until retirement? I’m thinking not, but I don’t have the specifics at hand.

No. Officers are under considerably more pressure to continue to advance. An officer elligible for promotion who is not selected has a brief window to try again, after which they will be processed for separation. (Full details in AR600-8-29).Officers also are not allowed the promotion-demotion cycle that enlisted can sometimes find themselves in.

The easiest way to be a long-time low ranking member of the services is to enlist into a National Guard unit. Reservists and NG enlisted members are under much less pressure to promote or perish.

My wife’s uncle, who is in his 50’s, has actual brain damage from a childhood accident that rendered him borderline retarded. He served in the Air Force all of his life until retirement until a few years ago. He never made it past an E-2 or an E-3 and served as a file clerk and never got transferred after the initial years. He delivers pizzas now. I was in Air Force ROTC for a while and learned the enlistment and officer structures but I never could figure that one out but it is apparently possible. He did “earn” a college degree while in just because he stayed with it and the professors knew he tried so maybe he was counseled on some weird loopholes and regulations by someone.

I’ve never really understood “up or out” promotion systems. I’d think you’d want to keep an otherwise-qualified and capable soldier at the rank he chose to remain at, if he genuinely didn’t want more responsibilities, was really good at what he did, or was ill-suited for a higher rank. Raise his pay, give him more leave time, boost his pension for eventual retirement, sure, but why force him out? Not everyone is naturally ambitious.

How far up the officer’s chain until one can “cruise home” to retirement? For instance, I can see where 2LTs who aren’t hacking it for whatever reason are weeded out. But surely someone can serve 20 years as a Brigadier General … right? Or no?

Then from there, you’d work backwards – 20 years as a Colonel? Lt. Colonel? Major?

Great info guys.

I was referring to the LOWEST rank whatever that is. I do realize some people enter as officers, but I wanted the LOWEST rank.

So to rephrase my original question.

I was like wondering if you enter as a PFC, could you stay that rank for the next 20 years. From what I read the answer is NO. So that means you’d have to go to the next level of a Private, whatever that is? OK could you stay at that level till you retire 20 or 30 years from now. If not then what is the LOWEST rank you could stay at and continue in a career in the army, without getting stopped from re-enlisting.

Sorry if that doesn’t make sense, I can’t think of a way to explain it better

Bear answered that in post #3. The lowest rank you can do 20 at is SGT§.

Like I said, my wife’s (marginally retarded) uncle stayed at the equivalent of a private in the Air Force for well over 20 years and maybe even closer to 30. I always wondered about how he did that but I saw him in uniform up until a few years ago. Any casual conversation with him lets any person he meets knows immediately that something is wrong but he managed to stay in as an office clerk which isn’t really a bad idea in the overall scheme of things. He is just a simple-minded person who can learn simple jobs well and he is trustworthy and dependable. There shouldn’t be any compelling reason to push him out just because he isn’t promotable. Apparently, it can be done. I think he got in when they were in desperate need of troops and he just managed to stay in. I always thought that was not possible.

Nearly… the lowest rank that you can reenlist after 20 years at is SGT§. The RCP is a consideration for reenlistment eligibility. I believe the maximum active duty re-enlistment is 6 years, so a SPC§ could theoretically reenlist for 6 at their RCP of 15 years and retire a SPC with 21 years. This does not happen often (if at all).

Someone with actual retention experience could provide a much more detailed answer.