Recruits with college degrees and officer candidates
New recruits enlisting into the United States Army who have earned a four-year degree, and as of 2006 those with civilian-acquired job skills, will enter as a specialist. Typically, newly recruited officer candidates hold the rank of specialist when enlisted and during BCT (basic combat training) prior to their official enrollment into OCS (Officer Candidate School) they will be administratively promoted to the pay grade of E-5 but hold a rank of officer candidate (OC), not sergeant (SGT).
Trades and specialties
In 1920, the Army rank and pay system received a major overhaul. All enlisted and non-commissioned ranks were reduced from 128 different insignias and several pay grades to only seven rank insignias and seven pay grades, which were numbered in seniority from seventh grade (lowest) to first grade (highest). The second grade had two rank titles: first sergeant, which was three stripes, two rockers, and a lozenge (diamond) in the middle; and technical sergeant, which was three stripes and two rockers. By World War II, the rank of first sergeant had been elevated to first grade and a third rocker was added, with the lozenge in the center to distinguish it from master sergeant. The wearing of specialist badges inset in rank insignia was abolished, and a generic system of chevrons and arcs replaced them.
From 1920 to 1942, there was a rank designated "private/specialist" (or simply, "specialist") that was graded in six classes (the lowest being sixth class and the highest being first class). They were considered the equal of a private first class (PFC), but drew additional specialist pay in relationship to the specialist level possessed on top of their base PFC (grade six) pay. The classes only indicated experience, not seniority, and a private/specialist did not outrank a PFC.
Officially, specialists wore the single chevron of a PFC, because no special insignia was authorized to indicate their rank. Unofficially, a private/ specialist could be authorized, at his commander's discretion, to wear one to six additional rockers (one rocker for sixth class, and a maximum of six rockers for first class) under their rank chevron to denote specialty level.
On 8 January 1942, the rank of technician was introduced to replace the private/specialist rank, which was discontinued by 30 June 1942. This gave technical specialists more authority by grading them as non-commissioned officers rather than senior enlisted personnel. They were parallel to pay grades of the time, going in seniority from technician fifth grade, technician fourth grade, and technician third grade. A technician was paid according to his grade, was outranked by the corresponding non-commissioned officer grade but was senior to the next lowest pay grade, and had no direct supervisory authority outside of his specialty. To reduce the confusion this caused in the field, an embroidered “T” insignia was authorized for wear under the chevrons on 4 September 1942. The rank was finally discontinued on 1 August 1948.
Specialist 9 rank insignia (U.S. Army)
Specialist 8 rank insignia (U.S. Army)
Specialist 7 rank insignia (U.S. Army)
Specialist 6 rank insignia (U.S. Army)
Specialist 5 rank insignia (U.S. Army)
Specialist 4 rank insignia (U.S. Army)
On 1 July 1955, four grades of specialist were established: specialist three (E-4), specialist two (E-5), specialist one (E-6), and master specialist (E-7). In 1958 the DoD added two additional pay grades to give enlisted soldiers more opportunities to progress to a full career with additional opportunities for promotion. Thus the recognition was changed to six specialist ranks, and the paygrade was tied into the rank designation: specialist four (E-4), specialist five (E-5), specialist six (E-6), specialist seven (E-7), specialist eight (E-8) and specialist nine (E-9). CSM Daniel K. Elder goes on to explain, "In 1968 when the Army added the rank of command sergeant major, the specialist ranks at E-8 and E-9 were abolished", because they were notional rather than actual. "In 1978 the specialist rank at E-7 was discontinued and in 1985, the specialist ranks at E-5 and E-6 were discontinued."
These specialist ranks were created to reward personnel with higher degrees of experience and technical knowledge. Appointment to either specialist or non-commissioned officer status was determined by military occupational specialty. Different military occupational specialties had various transition points, for example in the band career field (excluding special bands at D.C. and West Point) a bandsman could not achieve non-commissioned officer status until pay grade E-6 was attained. In some military occupational specialties, a soldier was appointed either a specialist or non-commissioned officer depending on which particular position or "slot" that he filled in his organization. Cooks were specialists, while a mess steward held the rank of sergeant (E-5 through E-7).
Specialist grades paralleled the corresponding grade of non-commissioned officer (E-4 through E-7) only in terms of pay. The specialist grades, although they outranked the enlisted grades (E-1 to E-3), were outranked by all non-commissioned officers (E-4 to E-9) and lacked the authority conferred on them. This is the major differentiation between a specialist and a "hard striper".
When the so-called "super grades" (E-8 and E-9) were introduced in 1958, the specialist grade titles were changed to specialist four through specialist seven; and the new grades specialist eight and specialist nine were added as well.
Only the lowest specialist grade survives today, as the higher grades were gradually phased out. Specialist 8 and specialist 9, were eliminated in 1968. specialist 7 was abolished in 1978 and specialist 5 and specialist 6 in 1985. At that time, the rank of specialist 4 simply became known as "specialist," which is how it is referred to today. While the official abbreviation was changed from "SP4" to "SPC" upon the elimination of the SP5 and SP6 ranks, the SIDPERS database was initially authorized to continue using SP4 until such time as the change could be made at little or no additional expense in conjunction with other system upgrades. The continued use of SP4 on automatically produced documents (transfer orders, leave & earnings statements, unit manning reports, inter alia), hampered the adoption of the new abbreviation (and, to a lesser extent, the absence of "-4" in the non-abbreviated rank) by individual soldiers who naturally viewed the computer produced documents as the final word on what the proper term was. While extremely rare, SP4 is still used. One reason for the stubborn continuance of the use of the "4" is that some soldiers see the SPC as looking too similar to SFC, sergeant first class, and the "4" differentiates it better. SPC is what should be the abbreviation used by the Army.
Today, the rank of specialist is the typical rank to which privates first class are promoted after two years of service, although PFCs may be waivered into the rank of specialist after 18 months time in service and 6 months time in grade. It is granted far more often than corporal (E-4), which is now reserved for personnel who have either passed the leadership development course or have been assigned low-level supervisory (with two or more soldiers under direct command).
Specialists were informally called "specs" (pronunciation IPA: /spek/ ) plus the numerical grade of their rank. Thus, a specialist 4 was called "spec 4".
United States Navy
Between 1943 and 1944, the United States Navy maintained an enlisted rate of specialist in the petty officer pay grade structure. A seaman would typically be known as a specialist followed by a letter indicating what field the specialty was held. For instance, a specialist (C) served as a "classification interviewer," while a specialist (T) was a "navy teacher," among several other specialist designations.
The Navy's use of the specialist grade was eliminated in 1948, when the World War II specialist positions were merged into the standard rate structure.