Highest Paying Military Jobs and Ranks

FT Contributor  | 

Military jobs aren’t usually associated with high pay but if you put in your time and move up the ranks, you can earn a hefty salary. Additional perks to a military career include free education, training, healthcare, housing allowances, insurance, and other benefits. These should be factored into the “salary” a position earns, since they help with living expenses.

If you’re looking for the highest-paid military jobs, it’s important to understand that all branches of the military determine pay by rank and time spent serving. Therefore, there isn’t one military job that pays the most, but you can earn more money by putting in time and moving up in rank.

How Compensation in the Military Works

Enlistees Versus Officers

The U.S. military has two different pay scales: enlistees (E) and officers (O). Enlistees are ranked below officers and are required to follow officer commands. Enlistees are divided by rank, with E1 being an enlistee with the least experience and an E9 being an enlistee with the most experience and the highest rank. Every E1 with no experience earns the same base pay, which was $1,680.90 per month in January 2019.

Officers earn more money than enlistees, but are required to have bachelor’s degrees. When an officer continues serving time in the military, he or she moves up in pay grade and can also move up in rank. An O1 with the least experience made $3,188.40  monthly in January 2019.

Enlistment Bonuses

Military jobs in high demand may offer enlistment bonuses to recruit enlistees. This strategy helps the military fill the jobs that are in high demand and helps attract workers with specific skills. For example, the Army offers a $10,000 airborne enlistment bonus for eligible new enlistees.

Education Bonus

Military branches may also offer education bonuses. Qualifying applicants receive an education bonus when they enlist after completing secondary education. For example, the Army pays an education bonus to enlistees who have an associate’s degree or higher.

Military Benefits

When identifying the highest-paying military jobs, it’s important to look beyond base salary and potential enlistment bonuses. Consider additional benefits, such as room and board, which is paid for with a housing allowance. The more time you spend serving and the higher your rank, the more housing allowance you qualify for. You can also qualify for healthcare, insurance, and other benefits.

Highest Enlistment Bonuses by Branch

Enlistment bonuses are constantly changing and may vary by branch. These bonuses change based on open roles and the current occupational needs of the military. To qualify for an enlistment bonus with any military branch, you must complete all training for your role and serve at least one full term.

Air Force 

Enlistment bonuses for the Air Force vary based on the branch’s needs and your qualifications as an applicant. When you enter job counseling at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), a representative will discuss any enlistment bonuses you qualify for.

As a new enlistee, keep in mind that the Initial Enlistment Bonus (IEB) Program only applies to certain Air Force jobs and the amount can vary. Depending on your qualifications and current offers, you could receive an enlistment bonus for enrolling as a:

  • Basic Airman (E1).
  • Senior Airman (E4).
  • First Lieutenant (O2).
  • Major (O4).

If your enlistment qualifies you for a bonus, details are provided in your contract. You can obtain this bonus once you’ve completed training and are at your permanent duty station for at least 30 days.

Army

If you take on certain military jobs in the Army, you may be eligible for bonuses if you have special skills or meet education qualifications. For example, according to the Army’s official benefits website, you may qualify for a $5,000 Active Duty Education Bonus if you have an associate’s degree or higher and meet additional qualifications. The following roles may qualify for enlistment bonuses in addition to base pay:

Infantryman (11X):

  • Duties: Defend the country against land threats and combat enemy forces.
  • Requirements: Complete the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) with a combat score of 87 and train for 14 weeks.
  • Base pay: $33,652.
  • Potential bonus: $15,000 enlistment bonus.

Fire Control Specialist (13J):

  • Duties: Operate the communications and tactical data systems, manage the database, and process fire missions.
  • Requirements: Complete the ASVAB with a field artillery score of 93, complete 10 weeks of basic combat training and 19 weeks and two days of advanced individual training.
  • Base pay: $33,652.
  • Potential bonus: $12,000 enlistment bonus.

Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS/HIMARS) Crewmember (13M):

  • Duties: Troubleshoot electrical and mechanical assemblies and complete unit maintenance.
  • Requirements: Complete the ASVAB with an electronics score of 93, complete 10 weeks of basic combat training and seven weeks of advanced individual training.
  • Base pay: $33,652.
  • Potential bonus: $9,000 enlistment bonus.

Coast Guard

Several roles in the Coast Guard may qualify you for an enlistment bonus, including the following:

Food Specialists (FS):

  • Duties: Assist in food preparation.
  • Requirements: Complete FS Class A-School and recruit training.
  • Base pay: $46,595.
  • Potential bonus: $20,000 without a degree, $40,000 with an associate’s degree or higher.

Operations Specialists (OS):

  • Duties: Help with communications, planning, and response at control centers.
  • Requirements: Complete OS Class A-School and recruit training.
  • Base pay: $20,000.
  • Potential bonus: $10,000.

Machinery Technician (MK):

  • Duties: Operate, repair, and maintain machinery.
  • Requirements: Complete MK Class A-School and recruit training.
  • Base pay: $20,000.
  • Potential bonus: $5,000.

Marine Corps

The enlistment bonus you may qualify for with the Marine Corps varies, depending on your eligibility and the role you choose.

Electronics Maintenance Technician (MOS 2862):

  • Duties: Diagnose, repair, and modify ground data/communications equipment.
  • Requirements: Complete basic training and the advanced electronics course and electronics maintenance technician course.
  • Base pay: Varies.
  • Potential bonus: $8,000.

Satellite Communications Operator (MOS 0627):

  • Duties: Operate and maintain satellite terminal equipment.
  • Requirements: Complete basic training and already be qualified to be a Field Radio Operator (MOS 0621).
  • Base pay: Varies.
  • Potential bonus: $5,000.

Automotive Organizational Technician (MOS 3521):

  • Duties: Service, inspect, maintain, and repair motor transportation equipment.
  • Requirements: Complete basic training and apprenticeship.
  • Base pay: Varies.
  • Potential bonus: $4,000.

Navy

Navy enlistment bonuses can vary, depending on the military jobs available. If you qualify, you’ll receive your enlistment bonus in addition to your base pay once you’ve graduated from A or C school.

Air Rescue Swimmer (AIRR-ATF):

  • Duties: Save pilots of downed aircraft or civilian victims of natural disasters in treacherous waters.
  • Requirements: Complete basic training and pass the Navy Physical Screening Test (PST).
  • Base pay: Minimum of $18,646.
  • Potential bonus: $36,000.

Hospital Corpsman (HM-ATF):

  • Duties: Perform emergency and life-saving medical treatment on civilians and SEAL team members.
  • Requirements: Complete basic training and pass the PST.
  • Base pay: Minimum of $18,646.
  • Potential bonus: $25,000.

Cryptologic Technician Interpretive (CTI-ATF):

If you’re looking for the highest-paying military branch or job, find out if you qualify for any of these enlistment, education, or skill-based bonuses when calculating your potential pay.


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This post was updated November 12, 2019. It was originally published November 12, 2019.