Active duty officers have a military pay chart which can be just as confusing as the military pay charts for enlisted people. In fact, officer pay is more complex because it includes the pay scales for Warrant Officers and for officers who started their careers as enlisted personnel.
For those considering serving in uniform, the first hurdle to understanding officer pay is to know the difference between a commissioned officer (also known simply as an officer) and a warrant officer. The definition of a warrant officer includes the following;
"Warrant officers possess a high degree of specialization in a particular field in contrast to the more general assignment pattern of other commissioned officers."
Warrant officers have their own, separate training schools and their own pay scale. Warrant officers with less than two years in service make slightly less than their commissioned officer, but that pay difference is so small it's hardly worth mentioning and shouldn't be considered a "deal breaker" when it comes to deciding whether to go in as a commissioned officer or a warrant officer.
HOW THE COMMISSIONED OFFICER PAY CHART WORKS
Much like enlisted personnel, the commissioned officer military pay chart is based on time in service and rank. A commissioned officer with less than two years of service at the lowest rant (0-1) earns the lowest pay. As officers move up in rank and increase their time in service, their pay goes up accordingly. There are pay chart entries every year for the first four years of an officer's career, then the chart changes to every two years after year four.
An officer who doesn't get promoted out of the lowest rank by year three doesn't get any additional pay raises. This is both an incentive to get promoted and to illustrate how the military sets expectations for its officers. The same principle applies for other ranks (0-2 and 0-3) but become effective later over a 20-year career. Officers who hold 0-2 ranks longer than six years won't see another pay increase until they get promoted to 0-3. Officers who hold 0-3 longer than 14 years also won't get another pay increase.
COMMISSIONED OFFICERS WITH PRIOR SERVICE
Commissioned officers with four years or more active service as an enlisted members or warrant officers have a much different pay scale. The lowest ranks do come to a point where their pay "flatlines" if they don't get promoted, but even at the lowest ranks that doesn't happen until they have served 14 years or more.
HOW WARRANT OFFICER PAY CHARTS WORK
Warrant officer pay charts work the same as the commissioned officer charts, but warrant officer pay doesn't "flatline" even at the lowest ranks until the 20 year mark. Warrant officers can go an entire career at the same rank with no "penalty". This is due in part to the fact that unlike officers and enlisted members, warrant officers only have five ranks, W1 through W5.
Military pay charts for officers, warrant officers, and enlisted members, are subject to change. Every year the Defense Authorization Act includes a pay raise--the minimum annual raise in military basic pay is calculated using the Department of Labor's Employment Cost Index. The pay chart you use today won't be the same next year, which is why a new chart is issued shortly before the start of the new year unless the government has difficulty agreeing on or passing the new Defense Authorization act.
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