Sergeant Major

Sergeant Major

A Sergeant Major is a rank or appointment in many militaries around the world. In Commonwealth countries, Sergeants Major are usually appointments held by senior non-commissioned officers or warrant officers. In the United States, there are various degrees of Sergeant Major (Command SGC, Sergeant Major of the Army), but they are all of the same paygrade.


Canadian Forces

In the Canadian Forces, Sergeant-Major is not a rank, but the senior non-commissioned appointment in an army unit. The sergeant-major of a unit is normally directly responsible to the Commanding Officer (CO) for all matters pertaining to dress, deportment, discipline, and morale of the non-commissioned members (NCMs) of that unit.

The Regimental Sergeant-Major (RSM) is the senior appointment in a battalion-sized unit, including infantry battalions and artillery, armoured, engineer, and signal regiments; this appointment is normally held by a Chief Warrant Officer (CWO).

In company-sized units, the Company Sergeant-Major (CSM) generally holds the rank of Master Warrant Officer (MWO), although in some cases it may be held by a Warrant Officer (WO). In artillery batteries, this appointment is known as Battery Sergeant-Major (BSM), while in units with a cavalry heritage (armoured, combat engineer, and signals "squadrons"), the term is Squadron Sergeant-Major (SSM).

In company-sized sub-units of battalions or regiments, the CSM (or equivalent) normally answers both to his or her Officer Commanding (OC) for matters pertaining to the Company in particular, and to the RSM on matters of concern to the RSM. Thus, in a Signal Regiment, the SSM of 1 Squadron (1 Sqn) would be report to the OC of 1 Sqn for all activities within that Sqn; he or she would also be responsible for drill, dress, etc matters to the RSM, who is responsible for such matters regiment-wide.

CSMs and their equivalents are normally addressed as "Sergeant-Major" or by rank; by subordinates they are thereafter as "Sir", "Ma'am", or "Warrant" (WOs) as appropriate. "CSM" ("BSM", "SSM") is a title normally reserved for use by the CO.

RSMs are never addressed as "Sergeant-Major"; they are addressed by rank or as "Mr (Surname)" or "Ms (Surname)", and thereafter by subordinates as "Sir" or "Ma'am". "RSM" is reserved for use by the CO.

In some unusual cases, a Chief Petty Officer 1st or 2nd Class may succeed to a Sergeant-Major position, especially in units which are not part of Land Force Command (such as Communication Reserve units), or units with a large number of "purple trades", such as service battalions. The forms of address generally remain the same, except that Chief Petty Officers are never addressed as "Sir" or "Ma'am", but as "Chief".

Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Sergeant Major is a rank in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. While technically it is the 6th level of rank, below Corps Sergeant Major and above Staff Sergeant Major, it, along with the other two, are specialized ranks and not part of the normal progression, which would proceed from Staff Sergeant to Inspector.


In the Commonwealth tradition, Sergeant Major is an appointment held by senior Specialists (non-commissioned officer-equivalents in the Singapore Armed Forces) or Warrant Officers. A Sergeant Major appointment exists in each military unit from company to division/formation. Their main job is to assist the commander in the discipline and welfare of the enlisted men. Being expert at parades and ceremonies, their authority and responsibility extends to officers on the parade square.

United Kingdom

Sergeant Major is no longer a rank in the British Army and Royal Marines, although it may be used in the title of various appointments held by Warrant Officers. In particular, the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) (WO1) is the senior WO of a battalion or regiment, equivalent to a Command Sergeant Major in the United States. The Company Sergeant Major (CSM) (WO2) is the senior WO of a company, equivalent to a US First Sergeant. Equivalent terms are Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM) and Battery Sergeant Major (BSM), and REME have Artificer Sergeant Major (ASM). There are various other designations of Sergeant Major at both levels.

For the use of "Sergeant Major" as a form of address, see the articles on Regimental and Company Sergeants Major, and that on Staff Sergeants.

United States

Sergeant Major insignia
(U.S. Army)

Command Sergeant Major
rank insignia
(U.S. Army)

Command Sergeant Major
collar insignia
(U.S. Army)

Sergeant Major insignia
(U.S. Marine Corps)

United States Army

In the U.S. Army, Sergeant Major refers to both a military rank and to a specific administrative position. The rank refers to the highest enlisted rank, just above First Sergeant, with a pay grade of E-9.The leadership position, Command Sergeant Major, is the senior enlisted advisor to the commanding officer and carries with it certain ceremonial functions such as caring for the unit's colors (flag). Additionally, they serve as monitors for, and advocates of, the enlisted men in the command. This position exists in units of battalion size and larger.

Because the Command Sergeant Major represents all of the enlisted soldiers in the command, he or she does not wear the collar insignia of his or her career specialty (e.g., infantry, quartermaster, intelligence, "inter alia"), but instead wears the Command Sergeant Major (formerly "branch immaterial") collar insignia. The insignia is a gold-color rendering of the coat of arms of the United States; like the branch of service insignia of all U.S. Army enlisted soldiers, it is placed upon a gold-colored metal disk, one inch in diameter.

An alternative usage of Command Sergeant Major is the senior NCO of a headquarters unit at battalion level or above; the soldier filling this position should carry the rank of Sergeant Major, but personnel shortages may, from time to time, force this sergeant major position to be held by a senior First Sergeant or Master Sergeant both E-8.

A SGM or CSM is referred to, and addressed, as "Sergeant Major".

The Sergeant Major of the Army is a separate and unique position.

United States Marine Corps

In the United States Marine Corps, Sergeant Major is the ninth and highest enlisted rank, just above First Sergeant, and equal in grade to Master Gunnery Sergeant, although the two have different responsibilities. Sergeant Major is both a rank and a military "billet." Marine Corps Sergeants Major serve as the senior enlisted Marine in the Corps' units of battalion, squadron or higher echelon, to assist the unit's commander and to handle matters of discipline and morale among the enlisted Marines.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps is a separate and unique position.


In the 16th century, the sergeant major or Sargento Mayor was a general officer. He commanded an army's infantry, and ranked about third in the army's command structure; he also acted as a sort of chief of staff to the army's commander.

In the 17th century, sergeants major appeared in individual regiments. These were field officers, third in command of their regiments (after their colonels and lieutenant colonels), with a role similar to the older, army-level sergeants major (although obviously on a smaller scale). The older position became known as sergeant major general to distinguish it. Over time, the "sergeant" was dropped from both titles, giving rise to the modern ranks of major and major general.

The full title of sergeant major fell out of use until the latter part of the 18th century, when it began to be applied to the senior non-commissioned officer of an infantry battalion or cavalry regiment.

It is about this time that the U.S. and British histories of the title diverge, with the American Revolutionary War.

United States

The first official U.S. use of the term was in 1776, when a sergeant major was appointed to the headquarters of each infantry battalion of the Continental Army. The rank was in use by both the Union Army and the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. At that time, it was the highest enlisted rank, being just above Quartermaster Sergeant. The same rank insignia was used by both armies. Both armies varied the color of the stripes by assigning red for artillery, yellow for cavalry, and blue for infantry. Some Confederate militia units varied these colors even further and had other colors including black stripes for various units. In 1920, with the standardization of the army's enlisted pay grades, it ceased to be a title of rank or grade. However, it survived as the job title of the senior NCO of a battalion, and was re-introduced as a rank in 1958 when Congress authorized the E-8 and E-9 pay grades. The appointment of Sergeant Major of the Army was created on July 4th, 1966. Command Sergeant Major got separate insignia in 1968.

The U.S. Marine Corps' first sergeant major was Archibald Sommers, appointed on January 1, 1801. This was originally a solitary post, similar to the modern Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, but by 1899 there were five Sergeants Major. The title was abolished in 1946, but re-introduced as a rank in 1954. The post of Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps was established in 1957, as the senior enlisted advisor to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. [cite web|url= |title=Sergeants Major of the Marine Corps|publisher=Marine Corps Legacy Museum|accessdate=2006-11-12]

chevrons were introduced as badges of rank, he wore four, later under a crown.

In 1813, cavalry regiments introduced the Troop Sergeant Major to replace the Quartermaster as the senior NCO of a troop; this required the existing position to be explicitly redesignated the Regimental Sergeant Major. Later, the rise of the squadron as the principal sub-regimental unit saw the corresponding introduction of the Squadron Sergeant Major (SSM). The infantry, however, hung on to the undifferentiated, one-per-battalion sergeant major until the eve of the First World War, when the introduction of the Company Sergeant Major forced them to adopt the RSM title as well. (As an infantry regiment could be, and usually was, made up of a number of battalions, one would logically expect the new title to be "Battalion Sergeant Major" rather than "Regimental Sergeant Major". Perhaps the infantry felt this would imply a lower status than their cavalry equivalents.)

In 1881, the cavalry RSM and infantry Sergeant Major were among a number of senior non-commissioned positions that were confirmed with warrants, making them warrant officers. This was extended and rationalised in 1915, with the introduction of the new ranks of Warrant Officer Class I (WOI) and Warrant Officer Class II (WOII). RSM became an appointment of the former, CSM and SSM of the latter.

The Royal Marines continued to use a single rank of Sergeant Major, equating to Warrant Officer Class I, until after the Second World War, when they adopted the Army system.

ee also

* Military rank
* Sergeant
* Warrant officer
* Comparative military ranks
* U.S. Army enlisted rank insignia
* U.S. Marine Corps enlisted rank insignia


* [ History of the Sergeant Major (US)] by CSM (Ret.) Dan Elder

External links

* [ Official Site of the Chief Warrant Officer of the Army (Canada)]
* [ Official Site of the Sergeant Major of the Army (U.S.)]
* [ Official Site of the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps (U.S.)]
* [ Former Sergeants Major of the Army discuss the position]
* [ U.S. Army Enlisted Rank Insignia - Criteria, Background, and Images]

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