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What Makes Up a U.S. Army Salary? (2023 Guide)

what makes up a u s army salary

A career in the US Army is a great idea if you are looking for an opportunity to study (a bonus is you won’t have to pay for your tuition fees) and a secure future with incredible job security. In order to provide service personnel with a stable income, the U.S. Army offers a wide variety of incentives and pay schemes, including a living allowance, wage benefits, and exceptional retirement programs.

In addition, whichever field of study you choose, it is more than likely the army has a training program for it. This includes anything from an infantry foot soldier to linguists, signal corps to cryptologists, cartographers to military police, and even jobs in finance, amongst many, many others. In addition, once you have completed the training programs, you will be guaranteed a job for the rest of your career.

We are off to a good start! So, let’s find out what the U.S. Army offers in the form of wages and salary components, from basic pay to retirement pay and everything in between, in my in-depth look at What Makes Up a U.S. Army Salary?

How does the U.S. Army payment system work?

Over 70 different forms of payment are included in the military compensation system, and depending on factors such as department, rank, and allowance criteria, the U.S. Army pays a specialized compensation that is unique to each member. 

The complete wage of service personnel encompasses many distinct elements. The base pay, excluding benefits or allowances, is what makes up the first portion of a soldier’s compensation and varies according to rank. 

Read more: How to Become a Private Investigator?

For example…

A major (category 04) with less than two years of experience is at the top of the basic pay scale for commanding officers at $61,621 a year. Whereas a private (category E1) with less than two years of experience starts at $19,660. 

But, when you include the wage benefits that are linked to the military occupational specialty (MOS) of a soldier, the base pay becomes significantly higher. These include bonuses and allowances. For instance, a sergeant with an artillery or infantry MOS will earn more money than someone working in the information technology or intelligence fields. 

What are the elements that make up a U.S. Army salary?

What are the elements that make up a U.S. Army salary?

U.S Army salaries vary depending on rank, job requirements, and experience. They include:

  • Basic Pay
  • Drill Pay
  • Specialty Pay
  • Allowances
  • Bonuses
  • Health Benefits

Let’s go through them…

U.S. Army – Basic Pay 

Basic pay makes up a portion of the total military salary and is the base compensation for active-duty service members. Comparable to many civilian occupations, basic pay is distributed electronically on the first and fifteenth of every month, and increases according to rank and years of service.

The Army’s overall compensation plan factors in all additional benefits, allowances, and incentives, and adds them to the basic pay as a starting point. The payment for each enlisted rank varies. 

On an annual basis, basic pay is currently as follows:  

  • Private (E1) – $21, 420 
  • Private (E2) – $24,008 
  • First Class Private (E3) – $25,246 
  • Corporal (E4) – $27,964
  • Sergeant (E5) – $30,499
  • Staff Sergeant (E6) – $33,292

These figures indicate the enlisted personnel’s basic pay after two years of service, with wage increases after four and six years. For example, E1s who have less than two years of experience earn $19,660 annually. Plus, for the initial four months of service, the salary is marginally less. 

The pay structure for commissioned officers is similar, with lower-ranking officers earning less than their higher-ranking counterparts. For example:

  • A Second Lieutenant (O1) – $40,629 a year
  • A First Lieutenant (O2) – $46,814 a year
  • A Captain (O3) – $54,176 per year
  • A Major (O4) – $61,621 per year. 

Drill Pay

Part-time drill pay is offered to members of the U.S. Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve. This is for training purposes which takes place one weekend a month. 

The pay scale for drill pay takes experience, rank, commissioned, or enlistment status into account, starting with enlisted soldiers who have less than two years of experience. It ends with commissioned officers who have attained the rank of major (O4):

  • Private (E1): $3,748 a year
  • Private (E2): $4,201 a year
  • First Class Private (E3): $4,418 a year
  • Corporal (E4): $4,893 a year
  • Sergeant (E5): $5,337 a year
  • Staff Sergeant (E6): $5,826 a year
  • Second Lieutenant (O1): $7,110 a year
  • First Lieutenant (O2): $8,192 a year
  • Captain (O3): $9,480 a year
  • Major (O4): $10,783 a year

Specialty Pay

Specialty Pay

This is what the U.S. Army provides for a particular MOS, for example, airborne infantry or military police, and is another component of a soldier’s pay structure and additional benefit. In addition, specialist pay is affected by rank. This is because soldiers with higher MOS rankings are compensated for their specific skill sets.   


A variety of allowances are also offered as part of a soldier’s earnings, such as a food and housing allowance. Those with families normally receive a sizable family allowance to cover expenses such as insurance and transport. The amount of the allowance is determined by marital status and the size of the soldier’s household.

They also offer an allowance for living expenses if your mission requires you to live off-post. These include additional pay for lodging, food, uniforms, and relocation costs.


The American Army provides a range of incentives and bonuses to active service members who vary according to their division, such as security, law enforcement, or medical. 

For example, bonuses given to recruits who join the airborne infantry, infantry, or military police, may be considerably higher than those given to certain other MOS recruits. 

In addition, the U.S. Army provides several enlistment bonuses totaling up to $20,000 simply for signing up! Examples of these bonuses include:

  • An extra $1,000 a month (and $6,000 per year) if you can speak an additional language deemed useful to the military. 
  • A $5,000 bonus may be given to an operator of heavy construction machinery
  • For aspiring chefs or those who love to cook, a $12,000 bonus
  • A $15,000 enlistment bonus for signals intelligence analysts who decipher foreign transmissions 
  • An additional monthly income is also given to aviators, medical professionals, and divers.

Health Benefits

Health insurance is provided to U.S. Army personnel, without exception. Soldiers are entitled to a number of benefits, including family medical insurance, maternity leave, medical and dental insurance, and accident protection. On-base and in-network family medical care is also offered. 

Qualifications needed to join the U.S. Army

To be considered eligible to work in the U.S. Army, you will need a GED, a high school diploma, or you must currently be enrolled in high school (or the equivalent). However, if you do not meet these criteria, the army has specific programs available to help applicants obtain the necessary qualifications. 

Other factors that could influence your earnings

Other factors that could influence your earnings

Soldiers who have special talents or work in areas that involve more risk and responsibility are compensated differently. For instance, parachuting instructors and combat controllers are eligible for extra monthly pay, ranging from $75 to $450. 

Soldiers that are stationed in areas with poor living conditions receive an additional $50 to $150 a month. In addition to development and promotion, there are also certain other elements which will affect your salary. They include:

  • How long you serve; the wage increases roughly every two years
  • Based on location – an increase in the basic housing allowance and cost of living allowance
  • Promotions
  • Basic subsistence allowance 
  • Yearly pay increase
  • Additional pay based on specific occupations such as flight, combat, or hazardous duty. 

What about retirement?

Soldiers receive retirement pay after they have served in the U.S. Army. The retirement allowance is based on both rank upon retirement and the number of years served. The retirement pay structure allows veterans to deposit money, buy property, and make investments, and retirees can contribute to their retirement savings through the Thrift Savings Plan.

Want to be in the Military Elite?

Then take a look at our informative guide on How to Become a Navy SEAL?

Or, if you happen to have had a bit of a misspent youth, find out Does The Army Accept FelonsDoes The Marine Corps Accept FelonsWhat Military Branch Accepts FelonsCan Felons Join The National Guard, as well as Can a Felon get on a Military Base?

Or you may be interested in Government Agencies With Remote Jobs And Flexible Work, or in finding out How to Become a Police OfficerHow to Become a FirefighterHow to Become a DetectiveHow to Become a CIA AgentHow to Become a Correctional Officer, or our guide to the Crime Scene Investigator Job Description for further options.

What Makes Up a U.S. Army Salary – Final Thoughts

Joining the U.S. Army is an excellent career choice. They offer excellent benefits for a lifelong route to financial security and success, including free health and medical insurance, and specialized training. Plus, the need for military recruits almost never decreases. This is due to their long-term objective to continually have forces in place to combat, deter and resolve threats and conflicts.

Taking into account what the U.S. Army salary entails, including benefits from education subsidies, housing grants, promotions, and bonuses, right up to retirement allowances, you can’t go wrong. In addition, the expense of attending college is constantly rising, which makes choosing to join the army an appealing career option.

All the best with your Army career, and thank you for your service.

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