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Army specialist ranks 1960's thru 1980's

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I confess I'm not an expert on the post WWII US Army specialist ranks. I've seen them on uniforms from the late 1950's up to today but I believe only spec 4 & 5 exist today. It seems they were originally designed to replace the WWII T-3 through T-5 ranks (conventional stripes with a "T" beneath) but were inverted and included the federal eagle in the center. Specialists held logistical, technical or support positions including radio operators and medics. I can understand spec 4 & 5 but I can't understand the reasoning behind spec 7, 8 & 9. Since specialists ranks carried no leadership responsibilities, why would they need such high specialist ranks? Spec 9 seems to me to be something like "ultra super special private first class". In other words, somewhat redundant. If anyone can shed more light on the early army specialist ranks, I would really appreciate it. Here are a few pics of the specialist uniforms I've ended up with over the years.

The first is a Spec 4 Ranger. This OG 107 shirt is dated 1971 but I believe it was used into the late 70's or early 80's.

BTW, I've covered all of the name tapes in these pics. Frankly, I don't want to deal with any monkey business from people who search names down. Not forum members but surfers & lurkers who would contact me and say I have their dad's uniform and they want it back.

 

 

EDIT: Photos are no longer available


Jeff Warner

Author/Technical Advisor

www.giconcepts.com

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Spec 9 color sleeve rank on a MAC-V OG-107 shirt. I don't recall ever seeing many of these ranks being used either in photos or original uniforms.

 

EDIT: Photos no longer available


Jeff Warner

Author/Technical Advisor

www.giconcepts.com

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Detail of the same shirt.

This is the last. Any info or personal experiences with spec ranks and their structure / use is welcome!

Thanks!

JW

 

EDIT: Photos are no longer available


Jeff Warner

Author/Technical Advisor

www.giconcepts.com

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Detail of the same shirt.

 

This is the last. Any info or personal experiences with spec ranks and their structure / use is welcome!

 

Thanks!

 

JW

Calling this guy a "ultra super special private first class" would have not been wise idea. These guys were specialists in their respective fields. This does not mean that a private has rank over them by any means. At the simple end a spec 4 would not take oeder from a pfc.


Son of

CW2 Bernard E Meister 2/14/70

334th AHC 69/70 189th AHC 67/68 155th AHC 67

TAC Officer 1968 Fort Wolters

USMC 1956-1959

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As the Army expanded for WWII a need for enlisted soldiers

with specialized technical skills was apparent, mostly

noted in the Army Air Corps. To simply the system,

technicians were picked from various grades and given

chevrons marked with a “T” in addition to their stripes. A

technician ranked immediately below a noncom of the same

rank, but ahead of a lesser noncom and technicians did not

serve in a command role. The increase of technicians caused

an inflation of the NCO ranks of WWII. This lasted until

1948, when the Army dropped the “T” designation and they

were appointed an NCO in the same grade. To recognize

combat leader NCOs from technicians, the stripes were of

different colors or backgrounds. The transition caused a

lopsided structure between the number of privates and NCOs.

Coupled with the top-heavy force and the reduced moral of

the combat NCOs, who had earned their stripes over many

years, caused a perceived loss of prestige.

In 1951 all enlisted insignia were standardized to one

color, further demoralizing combat leaders. The Army

entered the Korean War with NCOs making up over 32% of the

enlisted force. In 1953 a committee was formed to address

the perceived decline in attractiveness of military

service. It recognized that the military must “adopt

polices to restore the prestige of noncommissioned

officers” that would place a “premium on leadership and

command abilities.” The committee also recommended that

methods be developed to distinguish between command and

This document was downloaded from http://www.ncohistory.com

Short History of the Specialist Rank

By CSM Dan Elder

technical responsibilities. The Army developed a program to

separate specialists from NCOs, which gave birth to our

current specialist system we now know. This program, which

went in to effect 1 July 1955, grouped NCO grades E-4 to E-

7, which had a corresponding specialist position that

mirrored it. These new specialist would wear distinctive

insignia which is partially still in effect for the

Specialist (E-4/SPC) of today. Noncoms had special

considerations not afforded to specialists. These

considerations were not to reduce specialists privileges,

but augment privileges and prestige of NCOs. Leadership was

the NCOs primary roles and so noted. Specialists received

pay commensurate with his ability.

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. This

included an addition of two specialist ranks at E-8 and E-9

and proficiency pay was incorporated into the pay scales.

In 1968 when the Army added the rank of Command Sergeant

Major, the specialist ranks at E-8 and E-9 were abolished

without anyone ever being promoted to those levels. In 1978

the specialist rank at E-7 was discontinued and in 1985,

the specialist ranks at E-5 and E-6 were discontinued.

Today’s current rank structure only includes one specialist

rank, that at E-4. The Specialist is in the normal career

progression for enlisted soldiers in between the career

path of going from an apprentice enlisted soldier, to the

journeymen role associated with noncommissioned officers.

There is no current method to identify senior enlisted

specialists from those NCOs in a leadership position.


Son of

CW2 Bernard E Meister 2/14/70

334th AHC 69/70 189th AHC 67/68 155th AHC 67

TAC Officer 1968 Fort Wolters

USMC 1956-1959

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Detail of the same shirt.

I hadn't realized there was such a demand for Wool Shirts in USARV......

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This included an addition of two specialist ranks at E-8 and E-9

and proficiency pay was incorporated into the pay scales.

In 1968 when the Army added the rank of Command Sergeant

Major, the specialist ranks at E-8 and E-9 were abolished

without anyone ever being promoted to those levels.

 

Thanks very much for all the info.

 

Interesting, I wonder what the source of that is. Maybe somebody forgot to tell this guy there was never a spec 9. I've had this shirt for years and only paid a few dollars for it so I doubt anyone put it together to make money from it but who knows. It may have been a prop or costume.


Jeff Warner

Author/Technical Advisor

www.giconcepts.com

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I hadn't realized there was such a demand for Wool Shirts in USARV......

 

That occurred to me too. Why would anyone ever need a wool shirt in Vietnam? Possibly in the highlands I guess. I've seen original photos of guys in Vietnam there wearing M-65 field jackets. Anyway, that's how I found it.


Jeff Warner

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www.giconcepts.com

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Interesting post. I don't remember ever seeing a Spec rank above Sp-6 and that was on medics during my active time.


HHC 3/39th Inf. Bn., 9th ID 76-79
IAFF L-726 - retired.

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Emerson's book "Chevrons", pretty well explains all of this with illustrations. Copies are HARD to find, but a new and updated version is in the works. This subject has also been covered in several threads on this forum in the past. Those might be worth checking out.


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I would still love to see an explaination for the existance of the Spec 9 patch, as well as the nicely worn tunic... someone must have worn the paygrade. Also, there were ten years between the creation of the Spec 8-9 ranks and when it was abolished... surely multiple men wore these insignia!

 

I have learned a lot from this thread. Thank you.


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Emerson's book "Chevrons", pretty well explains all of this with illustrations. Copies are HARD to find, but a new and updated version is in the works. This subject has also been covered in several threads on this forum in the past. Those might be worth checking out.

 

Thanks! Actually, I could only find two previous threads, here;

 

http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/ind...ic=77971&hl

 

http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/ind...ic=12181&hl

 

Also neither had any pics of spec rank on uniforms and none described what specific jobs were held by spec ranks. So, I didn't think I was being redundant.

 

I just got an interesting e-mail off the forum about spec 8 & 9 ranks. It seems at least one person has a memory of seeing these worn in the early 60's. He remembered it brought about questions like "what kind of crazy new rank is that?" As he recalled, First Sergeants & Sergeant Majors had the option to wear the specialist rank patch of equal pay grade. In other words, an E-8 or E-9 First Sergeant or Sergeant Major had the option to wear "hard" Sergeant stripes or Specialist 8 & 9 stripes. He also recalled they had to have some specifically technical background to qualify. As he put it, infantry First Sergeants were the guys who made sure everyone had ammo & water and they did the platoon's paperwork. A technical First sergeant would be in charge of something like a special communications unit. He said he thinks the hard stripes and the spec stripes were worn to distinguish between the two.

 

He didn't recall if he personally saw a Spec 8 or Spec 9 being worn but he says he clearly remembered one of the two worn on a uniform. I can't imagine why an "old timer" like an E-8 or E-9 would rather wear a specialist rank instead of hard sergeant stripes but maybe some guys just wanted to be different. So, it looks like it may be true that no one in the army was ever actually promoted to the Spec 8 & Spec 9 ranks specifically, however it is possible that it may have been an option for non-infantry E-8's and E-9's to to wear them at their discretion.

 

I wouldn't be surprised if this option was very short lived and possibly only at a local level.

 

It's also interesting that the Spec 8 & 9 ranks are listed as abolished in 1965, yet army publications dated 1966 & 67 list them in the current rank structure at that time.

 

JW


Jeff Warner

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www.giconcepts.com

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I'll throw in my two cents' worth that comes from observation rather than experience. This may ramble but it does relate to Specialist ranks.

 

During the Vietnam War it seems like the rank of Corporal, which was the lowest NCO rank, virtually disappeared. Until 1968 the rank of Private (E-2) and Private First Class (E-3) were both represented by a single chevron. In May, 1968 the new insignia of one chevron with a rocker below was added for PFC (E-3).

 

I believe the standard policy was that any Private sent to Vietnam was automatically promoted to PFC upon arriving in-country. The question then became what to do if he was promoted again in-country which seems to have been more common then, at least in the infantry, than it is now. In looking through all of my father's Vietnam pictures and various orders (he was an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne in Vietnam), I have seen lots of promotions from PFC to Specialist 4 and then a few from Specialist 4 to Sergeant (E-5). I don't think I have ever seen any reference to a Corporal or a Specialist 5 or higher among the infantrymen (I know there must have been some but I just haven't run across any reference to them.) Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying an infantryman did not require a lot of specialized knowledge to do what he did, but I don't think that is what the Army had in mind when it created the Specialist ranks.

 

On the other hand, I think Specialist 5 was a fairly common rank for a combat medic and non-combat occupations that did require a lot of technical knowledge.

 

Maybe the idea was to use the Specialist 4 rank to allow combat troops to be promoted to E-4 without giving them the responsibility of being an NCO if they were promoted to Corporals and if they were later found to be deserving of being an E-5 in a combat unit they would necessarily have to be capable of a leadership role that went along with the rank of Sergeant.

 

I do know that when my father was selected to attend the Infantry NCO Candidate Class at Ft. Benning in 1967, all of the candidates were promoted to Corporal while they were students. Upon graduation they were promoted to Sergeant or in some extreme cases Staff Sergeant. Of course those individuals were actually given the responsibilities that went along with being an NCO. Most became team or squad leaders in Vietnam and many served as Platoon Sergeants and even temporarily Platoon Leaders. Students who washed out of the course or otherwise failed to graduate were not retained as Corporals but instead became Specialist 4's.

 

Maybe the idea was that because so many E-5 Sergeants were being put into the system as a result of graduating from the NCO course, a fact which really irritated a lot of old timer NCO's who had taken years to get their rank, most E-4's would be Specialists instead of Corporals, thus reducing the overall numbers of NCO's in the Army.

 

It seems like even today the rank of Corporal is still fairly rare and that Specialist is the most common progression for someone being promoted to E-4.

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Interesting post. I don't remember ever seeing a Spec rank above Sp-6 and that was on medics during my active time.

 

I remember seeing one Spec-7 during my active duty days and he was in the Medic Platoon, HHC, 3/33 Armor. Most, if not all, of our Armor MOS (19J20) Sergeants in that battalion were "acting jack" Spec-5 wearing hard stripe insignia. However, once they hit E-6, they were Staff Sgt rather than Spec-6.

 

Slang for Sp4 was "Speedy-Fours"


Judges 1:19- And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

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Detail of the same shirt.

 

This is the last. Any info or personal experiences with spec ranks and their structure / use is welcome!

 

Thanks!

 

JW

 

 

Me thinks you have a fantasy uniform there. The rank was never authorized or worn. It was made, but never used.

 

-Ski


In Memory Of......
Pte Harold Griffiths, 1805, 1/6th Manchester Regt, KIA June 4th, 1915 in Gallipoli
Cpl Isaac Judges, 40494, 6th East Yorkshire Regt, KIA October 3rd, 1917 in Ypres
May they rest in peace.....

MSgt - USAF Retired

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My own experience.....

 

After leaving active duty Marine Corps, I wanted to stay in the military, there was no really 'close' unit to me when I came back to Md, so I ended up enlisting in the Army reserves. I left the USMC as a Sergeant (E-5) but in '91, the Army took a paygrade from you, thus I became an 11B Sp4. Needless to say after wearing 'hard' stripes for years I was none too pleased about THAT, but was told once I "proved my leadership ability" I would be 'promoted' to Corporal after six months...which, in fact, I was. A year later I was promoted to Sergeant.

 

I've never seen a Spc9 being worn in all my years of collecting. That's the first one I've ever seen on a uniform, matter of fact. And I can't even imagine why a 'hard stripe' MSgt would convert to a Spc8 or whatever.


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After having a double bypass this past year, it's time to downsize and pass along much of my 'stuff'. I've had my fun, now it is someone elses turn.

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...During the Vietnam War it seems like the rank of Corporal, which was the lowest NCO rank, virtually disappeared. Until 1968 the rank of Private (E-2) and Private First Class (E-3) were both represented by a single chevron. In May, 1968 the new insignia of one chevron with a rocker below was added for PFC (E-3)...

 

True about the disappearance of corporals. Not true about E2s and E3s both wearing a single stripe. E1s and E2s had no insigina of rank until the 1968 addition of a rocker to the PFC stripe; at that time the single chevron formerly worn by PFCs became the E2 insignia of rank. This statement is based on my personal lightening fast rise through the enlisted ranks from E1 to E4 during the mid-60s.

 

As for specialist ranks, in my experience Sp4s were treated as senior PFCs, while Sp5s were for all practical purposes junior NCOs, and were often assigned supervisory duties. In three years I saw one Sp6, a fire control techie, who acted like and was treated like a SSG. At this time the PX was overflowing with Sp8 and Sp9 stripes--because there was no one of that rank to purchase them.

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I would still love to see an explaination for the existance of the Spec 9 patch, as well as the nicely worn tunic... someone must have worn the paygrade. Also, there were ten years between the creation of the Spec 8-9 ranks and when it was abolished... surely multiple men wore these insignia!

 

I have learned a lot from this thread. Thank you.

Paul, I know it seems strange to authorize an insignia and have it in place for almost 10 years and no one ever get promoted to that rank. However, you would have to understand the problem. In 1958 Congress allocated 2 new grades (at the time called the Supergrades) at E-8 and E-9 to all services. In the rush to develop insignia, the Army designed a Spec 8 and Spec 9, just in case. That addition of E-8/9 caused a problem in the Army where soldiers "lost a stripe" during a revamp of the structure. So to preclude the expected moral problem, soldiers were on two different rank insignia scales, one where soldiers of that era would claim you often could not identify a soldier by their stripes becuase of the two teir system,

 

According to the US Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Personal (the Army HR) reported in their 1967 "Enlisted Grade Structure Study" on page E-64 they reported on line 183. "The Ranks of Specialist Eigt and Specilaits Nine, though authorized in 1958, never have been used by the Army. No plans currently exist to use either rank in the future."

 

The Spec 8/9 were not the only one, there was also a Sergeant Major of the Army position approved in 1958, which was not used until 1966.

 

The reasons why of course were Vietnam. There were many changes and propsals that were rolled out and even deadlined for implementation, however wartime policies or concerns of morale in the force continued to push decisions until 1767-1968.

 

I have copies of official documentation if anyone is interested in the details, feel free to PM me.

 

Dan Elder

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post-943-1282061425.jpg

Here is a portion of an image posted in another topic on the website. One of the cooks at my mess hall on Okinawa in 1970 was a SP7. The Mess Sergeant was an SFC.

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Here is a portion of an image posted in another topic on the website. One of the cooks at my mess hall on Okinawa in 1970 was a SP7. The Mess Sergeant was an SFC.

 

The Specialist Seven rank, which according to the policies at the time the wearer was junior in seniority to the Corporal, was discontinued by the US Army in 1978.

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Since in theory it seems the Specialist ranks were intended to create some sort of parallel career path for enlisted men as opposed to NCO's and Warrant Officers are also meant to serve in specialized duties rather than than command positions, is there any equivalent career path for officers? I would imagine that some officer MOS's don't necessarily carry command responsibility, such as doctors and lawyers, but are all officers looked at equally in terms of promotability? For instance, are the criteria the same for an infantry officer and a JAG officer, both of whom are Majors looking to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel?

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The Specialist Seven rank, which according to the policies at the time the wearer was junior in seniority to the Corporal, was discontinued by the US Army in 1978.

I was a SP6 until late 1985 (when SP5 and 6 were discontinued), and, hocus-pocus, then I was a SSG. As a SP5 and a SP6 I was treated just the same as a SGT and SSG. In my Advanced NCO course, as a SP6, I was made Class Leader over SSG's because I was the E6 with the most time-in-grade.

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I was a SP6 until late 1985 (when SP5 and 6 were discontinued), and, hocus-pocus, then I was a SSG. As a SP5 and a SP6 I was treated just the same as a SGT and SSG. In my Advanced NCO course, as a SP6, I was made Class Leader over SSG's because I was the E6 with the most time-in-grade.

 

I served alongside Spc. 5 and Spc. 6 and I don't doubt that many were leaders and had great qualities, I only repeated a quote from an official US Army document from 1967-1968. Thanks for your service, atb!

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SP8 collar pin. Probably dates late 50's.

post-322-1282597341.jpgpost-322-1282597373.jpg

 

I bet there were a bunch of these (and Spec. 9) that were made and stockpiled in some quartermaster storage depot or something, but the facts show that no US Soldier officially wore the Spec. 8 or Spec. 9 insignia.

 

Sounds like a good collectible though. Best wishes

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