Ranks & Ratings

Places & Roles while alone at sea or on shore

Ranks & Ratings

To understand the ranks of the officers and the ratings of the enlisted men, we must first consider the organization of those who served on the SHIELDS.


SHIELDS, like all Fletcher class destroyers, was wonderfully designed to perform a wide variety of tasks.  Her main battery of five inch guns could bombard the shore or shoot down aircraft aided by her 40 mm mounts.  Her torpedoes could sink the largest enemy vessel.  Her depth charges could send an enemy submarine to the bottom.  SHIELDS was a versatile man-of-war capable of performing a wide variety of tasks as directed by her captain, and as assisted by her executive officer.  To carry out these tasks her other officers and men were assigned to a variety of departments.


The gunnery department was the only reason for the SHIELDS.  That department was responsible for maintenance and operation of her guns, torpedoes and depth charges and the means to direct them referred to as “fire-control”.

The operations department provided intelligence for strategic and tactical purposes.  The officers and men of this department handled operational matters including: communications, keeping track of “bogies” (un-identified air craft) and “skunks” (unidentified surface contacts).

The engineering department was responsible for moving SHIELDS through the ocean to a place where the gunnery department could do its job.  Secondary tasks were: providing fresh water; keeping food refrigerated; maintaining the two motor whale boats and much other auxiliary machinery.

The supply department was responsible for making life on board as comfortable as possible.  Tasks included: feeding the crew; washing uniforms and linens; checking the health of the crew; cutting hair, and last but not least paying wages.

The duties of each department were far broader than outlined above, but this hopefully gives an idea of the areas of responsibility of each department making it better able to understand the ratings.


Commissioned officers have ranks; enlisted men have ratings.  One can tell the rank of an officer by looking at the number of gold stripes on his sleeve, more stripes mean higher rank.  One can tell the rating of an enlisted man by looking at the patch on his left arm; more stripes mean a higher rating.  The presence of an eagle on the shoulder of an enlisted man means he is a petty officer, also called a “non-commissioned officer”.  Some sailors refer to becoming a petty officer as “getting a crow on my shoulder”.  The bird is, of course, an eagle, not a crow, but this minor amount of disrespect is always tolerated.  Underneath the talons of the eagle is a symbol of the rating.  For example the symbol for a boatswain mate (BM) is two crossed eighteenth century anchors.

Officer Ranks

Navy officers wear their rank devices in different places on their uniforms, depending upon the uniform. The three basic uniforms and the type of rank devices are: khakis (a working uniform) -- pins on the collar; whites -- stripes on shoulder boards; and, blues -- stripes sewn on the lower sleeve. Shoulder boards are also worn on bridge coats and reefers. The collar devices are also worn on the right side of the garrison cap (a miniature officer's crest is worn on the left) and slightly larger devices are worn on the epaulets of the raincoat and working jacket.

Additionally, line officers wear a star above the stripes of the shoulder boards or sleeves but staff and warrant officers wear specialty insignia.

Pay Grade Rank Abbreviation Collar Shoulder Sleeve
O-1 Ensign ENS
O-2 Lieutenant
Junior Grade
O-3 Lieutenant LT
O-4 Lieutenant
O-5 Commander CDR
O-6 Captain CAPT
O-7 Rear Admiral
(lower half)
O-8 Rear Admiral
(upper half)
O-9 Vice Admiral VADM
O-10 Admiral ADM
O-11 Fleet Admiral* FADM

* The rank of Fleet Admiral has been reserved for war time use only. The last Fleet Admirals were in World War II. Fleet Admirals during that war were Chester W. Nimitz, William D. Leahy, Ernest J. King, and William F. Halsey.

Pay Grade Rank Abbreviation Collar Shoulder Sleeve
W-1* Warrant Officer WO1
W-2 Chief
Warrant Officer
W-3 Chief
Warrant Officer
W-4 Chief
Warrant Officer
W-5* Chief
Warrant Officer

* The grade of Warrant Officer (W-1) is no longer in use. W-5 was established in the Navy in 2002.