Corporals in the Army: My Thoughts on the Topic

The NCO Corps is known as the backbone of the Army for a reason. I, for one, am extremely thankful for my NCOs and for the NCOs I have had the pleasure of working with. I am also thankful that I got to serve as an NCO before I went to OCS. My enlisted years have greatly influenced my leadership perspectives and goals for the rest of my career. I think very fondly of my time as an enlisted Soldier, and I hope I never to forget where I came from, as well as to remember it as I look forward to where I am going.

One rank that we don’t see a whole lot of, but that has been a part of the Army since it was established, is the rank of Corporal. It is equal in pay to Specialist (E-4), but is considered to be one of the NCO ranks. This is very special, because not everyone gets the privilege of being a Corporal before they are promoted to Sergeant.

Only those who demonstrate the most potential get selected to become a Corporal, and for good reason. Essentially, a Corporal is an NCO in training (for lack of better terminology). By the time you make Sergeant, your leaders will expect you to know what you are doing. Hopefully, you have good mentors. The same is expected of ALL Sergeants, however, as a Corporal, you will get a head start on your Specialist peers.

I personally think that Corporal rank should be utilized like the Marine Corps uses it – as a junior NCO rank, that has to be earned by everyone. An E-4 promotion should not be automatic anymore. The Army doesn’t have “specialists” in the literal sense of the word anymore, which is how that rank came about after the Korean War.

While this could be a beneficial thing in some units (non-combat arms, or units that wouldn’t have the old green tabs), the majority of the Army could be better served by having Corporals. I don’t think we need as many E-4s as we have currently. Make Privates earn that E-4 rank, it is something to be very proud of.

It is a stepping stone to Sergeant, and those Soldiers are given a lot of NCO type tasks anyway (Especially when there aren’t a lot of NCOs in that particular platoon). If Soldiers had to work harder to earn a coveted Corporal spot, and if it were treated a lot like going to the board for Sergeant, I think it would improve things greatly.

I do not think this is a combat arms only thing either (although the Corporal rank is VERY necessary in those units). In the FSC, particularly in my platoon, we made a couple of our high speed Specialists into Corporals because it was necessary. We didn’t have enough Sergeants and they were more than stepping into those roles and excelling. Making a Soldier an NCO gives them more authority and sets them apart from their peers when they are in a leadership position. I am a huge advocate for the Corporal rank, when necessary.

My husband also believes in the use of Corporal rank. He thinks that team leaders are the ones who really make things happen in a platoon. He remembers his days as a Corporal, his leadership skills were forged in Iraq in 2004, and that foundation absolutely led to his success later on.

Half of what he had to do wouldn’t have been as effective if he had worn the Specialist shield, especially when he was given 2 new Sergeants that showed up over halfway through the deployment and weren’t infantry by trade. He was responsible for training them on top of his other duties.

The bottom line is that the Corporal rank is very important and I think the Army should treat it that way.

What do you all think about the Corporal rank, and my suggestions?

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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13 thoughts on “Corporals in the Army: My Thoughts on the Topic”

  1. I will agree with using the rank of corporal to push a young man or woman further than he or she thought they could go, in preparation for the rest of their life and career.

    If it is obvious they don’t want to be a leader, or are not ready, then they need to evaluate that and decide what they want to do with their life.

    You can’t stay in the service and avoid being a leader. Fact is, you will be a leader in life whether you like it or not.

    You will either be a good one or bad one, but you will influence somebody at all times.

  2. I actually had to read this twice. What? The Army skipping steps? Blasphemy! I have to agree with Greg: ranks were put in place for a reason. They are stepping stones and should be well-oiled cogs in the machine. Skipping a step robs you from experience and time needed to acclimate. That’s not to say get cushy and soft in a position before you move on. A good soldier and leader will always want to strive for more and take on the extra responsibility. Here is my perception: the Army is created for readiness. If you have soldiers who haven’t had upwards or forward movement then they are no longer in readiness mode. Like Chuck said – Get them motivated or get them out.

    1. Additionally, there are not “NCO’s in training”. They are NCO’s. Period. All military personnel are constantly in a state of training/learning. Education and experience never stop, it is not relegated to any ranks.

      1. Candace Ginestar

        Yes…you are right on all counts…thanks for calling out my choice of wording. I meant to say what you just expressed, 100%.

  3. Candace Ginestar

    Thanks Greg, and Chuck. I agree completely (of course, since I wrote the original post!) I think that corporals should be utilized way more, and put in greater positions of responsibility. I consider corporals to be the ‘rabid dog’ of the NCO corps. You should be the one making all the corrections, if your superiors have to make corrections, YOU are wrong.

    I agree with the point you made, Chuck, about giving someone more responsibility and watching them grow and mature, sometimes because they fail. I think this is essential to developing leaders.

    E-1 to E-3 should be automatic, as it currently stands, and then Corporal should have to be earned the same way you earn Sergeant. Not everyone earns that rank, and Corporal should be the same way. Spots should be coveted and competitive.

  4. I am in full agreement with Candace on this issue. When I was in the Army (early 1980’s), the Corporal rank was used much more. It was more difficult to “jump” ranks. It is my personal opinion that the ranks were made for a reason. They are steps like a ladder. If a person is climbing a ladder and they skip steps, it is much easier to fall. I believe soldiers should have to hit each and every step. Very good post.

  5. I, for one, have never been a fan of the Specialist rank. The Army has more Specialists than it knows what to do with. And VERY few of these folks want to lead or have the skills to do so. I’m not knocking people that are Specialists. I was a Specialist at one time too.

    I think the Army should do exactly what the Marines does and entrust younger Soldiers with MORE responsibility. The Marines has a Corporal do what the Army has a Staff Sergeant do. In the Marines, you will often see a young Corporal as a SQUAD LEADER. Yet, the Army normally reserves that for Staff Sergeants.

    I think the Army should encourage people to “man up” or “woman up” much sooner than they do. I mean, there are Soldiers (Specialists) who have been in the ARNG or USAR TEN YEARS. Give me a break. If after 10 years in the Army you haven’t been promoted to Sergeant, or don’t want to be one, it’s time to move on and find a new career.

    I think if Soldiers had a couple years experience as a Corporal, they would be a much better Sergeant when they got promoted again.

    The bottom line is that people normally rise to the level of expectation you place on them. Give someone responsibility and watch them grow and mature quicker (or get rid of them).

    What are your thoughts?

    1. I must say a big Amen to that.

      Back when I was in, you just didn’t see the Specialist as much. I don’t know if it should be done away with, but there should be a hard look at the amount of time a soldier is in the Specialist category.

      My personal opinion goes back to the ladder. If a person doesn’t make the next rung in a certain amount of time, they get dropped down a rung.

      Just my opinion, but I believe you would see some big changes in attitudes with that system.

        1. Yes, I believe it would to. The only issue with that is the amount of people that would yell discrimination or something on those lines. Instead of looking at the exact cause of their being dropped back, it would be blamed on race, sexual preference, age, gender, or something else. I still wish though that they would go with a program such as this.

          Lets here some other opinions on this….

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