What is a Private First Class?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A private first class is a junior enlisted member of the United States Armed Forces. In the Army, a private first class falls between a private and a corporal in rank, while the United States Marines Corps places this rank between that of private and lance corporal. Junior enlisted automatically attain this rank after a set period of service, although the automatic promotion can be hastened in certain cases.

A private first class is a junior enlisted member of the U.S. military.
A private first class is a junior enlisted member of the U.S. military.

Under normal circumstances, someone attains the rank of private first class (PFC) after 12 months of service, and four months at the rank of private. He or she can be awarded this rank in a shorter period of time with some college education or a notable performance in boot camp. Achieving high ranks in organizations like the Eagle Scouts can also result in an accelerated advancement through the lower ranks of the military.

In the Army, the PFC is the third lowest enlisted rank, designated as E-3. In the Marines, the designation E-2 is used, reflecting the fact that the private first class is the second lowest enlisted rank. Enlisted men generally try to move quickly through the lower grades so that they can access better salaries and more interesting, challenging positions which will allow them to utilize the skills they learn in the course of their military service.

Members of the Army with a private first class ranking wear an insignia which includes a single chevron and a rocker. The rocker ensures that the rank is not confused with the lower rank of private. In the Marines, a single chevron is worn. As a general rule, the more insignia someone wears, the higher his or her military ranking; addition chevrons and rockers indicate a correspondingly higher rank. Members of the armed forces also wear additional uniform emblems including collar insignia, indicating specialties, and military decorations.

Under the NATO ranking system which is used to standardize and unify the armed forces of various NATO members, the private first class is known as an OR-3 in the Army, or OR-2 in the Marines. This ranking system is used to ensure that ranks are clearly understood across a diverse number of services, so that people serve in the appropriate positions when they participate in NATO missions. The OR-3 is comparable to ranks such as the Lance-Corporal in the United Kingdom, Kapral in Poland, and Seersant in Estonia, while the OR-2 is equivalent to the French Matelot breveté, the Canadian Ordinary Seaman, and the Danish Marineoverkonstabel.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


When I grow up, I want to be in the military, but I don't want my family to worry all the time. I wonder if I should go or not?


I had no idea that promotions in the military happened so quickly. I imagine they happen more slowly once you get high enough in rank.

I wonder if the twelve months includes training time?

I also didn't know that the Eagle Scout training was acknowledged by the military like that. I think that is an excellent idea though. Most Eagle Scouts I've met have been extremely capable and would be an asset to any kind of military company.


Ranking is extremely important to military officers and you had better get it right.

I knew a guy once who played a prank on his friend. They were playing pool in a bar where some marines were celebrating a promotion. The guy told his friend to go over and salute the "private" (who was clearly of a much higher rank). The friend did so, thinking he was being polite and friendly. The marines did not take it well.

Luckily the guy was willing to go over and explain the prank to the marines before they got too angry.

But it could have ended badly if they couldn't take a joke!

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