best paying job in the military

Last Updated on 12/27/2023

Joining the Armed Forces could connect you with a rewarding career. As with most occupations, you’ll need to put in a few years to earn higher pay. Military base monthly payment is determined by your rank and years of service.

To qualify for military jobs that pay well, the biggest action that you can take is to pursue a career as an officer. Commissioned officers and warrant officers earn much higher salaries than enlisted personnel.

Compare these monthly salaries in 2021 taken from the military pay charts to see the difference.

  • E-9 (highest enlisted grade) with 10 years experience earns $5,637
  • E-9 (highest enlisted grade) with 30 years experience earns $7,938
  • O-10 (highest officer grade) with 20 years experience earns $16,608*
  • W-5 (highest warrant officer grade) with 20 years experience earns $8,296
  • W-5 (highest warrant officer grade) with 40 years experience earns $10,856

*Pay scale remains the same for O-10 officers with over 20 years of service.

Becoming a commissioned officer requires joining the military with a college degree. People with higher educations attend Officer Candidate Schools. Alternatively, people can become officers by joining the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at a civilian college or university. Both of these routes can lead to the highest-paid military jobs.

Even early in their careers, officers earn far more than enlisted service members.

  • O-1 (lowest officer grade) starts with a base pay of $3,386
  • E-1 (lowest enlisted grade) starts with a base pay of $1,650

Officers who excel in their work have the potential to rise to the best paying job in the military. People in the top ranks, such as Brigadier General or Rear Admiral, earn 6-figure salaries.

Best Paying Military Jobs

When considering a military career, you naturally want to know what is the highest paying job in the military? No single answer works for everyone. Your assessment scores and interests direct your career. Additionally, military priorities determine which specialties get incentive bonuses or special pay.

As with civilian careers, the top paying military jobs go to those with higher education or specialized skills. According to the data taken from Indeed, as of October 2021, military physicians and surgeons earn salaries over $230,144 a year plus benefits. Military dentists bring in over $148,144 a year plus benefits. US Navy captains make about $87,130 a year on average plus benefits.

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Opportunities for Enlisted Personnel

All branches of the military assess recruits to determine their aptitude for various occupations. Recruits take tests known as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. ASVAB test scores determine occupational choices for military recruits. Higher test scores qualify people to train for positions that could pay more.

The military uses codes to describe different occupations. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps apply military occupational codes, or MOS, to various jobs. The U.S. Navy uses the term NEC for navy classification codes. For the U.S. Air Force, it’s the AFSC for air force specialty code.

Each code describes a specific occupation. Although the military pays everyone according to their rank and years of service, MOS, NEC, or AFSC for demanding positions authorize extra payments. When it comes to the highest-paying jobs in the military and its generous bonuses, who gets extra pay is subject to change. Military branches reward occupations that they need the most and these needs could shift over time.

Enlistment Bonuses

How much money do you make in the military to the max? Enlistment bonuses may increase the pay presenting an immediate opportunity to earn money beyond base pay rates. The military pays substantial sums to people who join with critical skills or who can complete special training.

Positions with high enlistment bonuses according to Enlistment Bonus Program:

  • Satellite communications systems operator – up to $40,000 bonus
  • Cryptologic linguist – up to $40,000 bonus
  • Nuclear engineer – up to $40,000 bonus
  • Microwave systems operator – up to $24,000 bonus
  • Petroleum supply specialist – up to $21,000 bonus
  • Air defense battle management system operator – up to $18,000 bonus
  • Human intelligence collector – up to $18,000 bonus
  • Cryptologic cyberspace intelligence analyst – up to $18,000 bonus
  • RADAR repair technician – up to $18,000 bonus

Enlistment bonus structures are subject to change.

Special Duty Pay

Both enlisted personnel and officers have opportunities to develop their careers and earn higher salaries. Personnel assigned to jobs with duties and responsibilities beyond normal jobs qualify for Special Duty or Hardship Pay. Over 60 types of special or incentive pay have been authorized across the branches of the military.

According to Special Pay overview data, as of October 2021 examples of Special Duty Pay look as follows:

  • Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay = extra $225 per month
  • Diving Duty Pay = up to $340 per month for enlisted and up to $240 per month for officers
  • Flying Duty, Crew Members = extra $125 to $1000 per month depending on pay grade
  • Foreign Language Proficiency Bonus = extra $500 to $12,000 per year

What is the Highest Paying Branch of the Military?

To seek the highest pay, you don’t have to limit yourself to a certain branch of the service. Military jobs pay is consistent across the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard. Differences in pay arise from rank and time in the service. If you seek the best military career, the U.S. Army can become your one-stop-shop as the branch that promotes the fastest.

Two key factors can impact your rapid promotion to pass through the highest paying army jobs bar

  • military job performance; 
  • certain duty assignments;
  • advanced education level. 

A college degree is your stepping-stone to make the branch you are in the best paying military branch ever. But consider that some specialized military activities promote slowly. 

The military common practice is to promote higher ranked, ready to retire or to get commissioned personnel, or while engaging more people in particular fields. The highest four-star rank of general or admiral along with achieving O-10 pay grade discontinues pay increases, regardless of years in service.

Civilian Jobs With Matching Duties

More than 1.3 million people work as active-duty personnel in the Armed Forces. Many of them hope to transition to lucrative civilian careers.

When beginning your military service, research how your military job will match up with civilian work. Find out how to write a resume military to civilian. Your early decisions could lead to lifelong opportunities. 

The following list of the highest paying military jobs in the civilian world with a pay range taken from Glassdoor is a good example of careers where veterans often thrive.

Intelligence Analyst

intelligence analyst pay range

Pay range: $64,563 to $104,339

The noble objective of Intelligence Analysts is to help keep our country secure.  When it comes to national security, economic wellbeing, detection, prediction, and prevention of organized crime activities, including terrorist attacks, cybercrime, white-slave trading, as well as drug trafficking, the combat and analytical skills of ex-servicemen are unparalleled in assessing, evaluating, and interpreting intelligence data.

The job responsibilities include handling sensitive information, preparing intelligence reports, and providing recommendations on combating criminals. Their duties are to identify threats in advance, develop assessments using available information, collaborate with contacts of different levels and law enforcement communities, create battlefield reports and analyze developments in enemy positions, updating data regularly.

To become a top-notch Intelligence Analyst you should speak the language, know the history, and understand the culture of the regions where you work. Strong communication skills, superior analytical, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills along with a degree in political science, international, or a similar field makes this government and defense job one of the best jobs in the military and beyond it.

Management Consultant

management consultant pay range

Pay range: $103,853 to $120,557

Extensive management experience gained in the military proves useful for consulting. Management Consultant analyzes and evaluates day-to-day operations and employee duties within the business, improving company profitability and efficiency. If your previous experience at one of the highest paying military jobs allows you to stay motivated, you are ambitious to solve hard problems promptly and know hundreds of ways how to make a company operate better, consultancy is a good career choice. 

It is prestigious and marketable training for senior-level roles, that pays well. The core duties for management consultants are universal within different fields and industries. As a rule, they include identifying existing problems that harm profitability or the company’s brand image, analyzing financial data, search for inefficiencies within the business structures, evaluating management staff members’ efficiency, meeting with clients.

Businesses that hire management consultants look for professionals who have such skills and qualifications as analytical ability and mathematics, attention to detail, sales, strong management and communication skills. Most businesses require a bachelor’s degree in business management or a related field, some business owners want past business experience or previous successful business ownership.

Logistics Analyst

logistics analyst pay range

Pay range: $62,368 to $81,861

Any business needs a Logistics Analyst for handling supply chain processes to get the best money-saving solutions. Job duties for logistics analysts often depend on the industry, the products being shipped, and the steps involved in the process. But there are core responsibilities that are the same in all careers, for instance, collecting data, analyzing supply chain, monitoring shipments, tracing shipment routes, investigating delivery issues, giving recommendations to increase the company profit.

If you’ve displayed analytical thinking, problem-solving, attention to detail, advanced computer skills, communication skills, mathematics, ability to handle stress on service, you may transfer them to civilian life. A bachelor’s degree in logistics, transportation, business, industrial engineering, or a similar field is helpful to become a professional coordinator of procurement, inventory management, planning, and management of the supply chain.

Aviation/Aerospace Program Manager

aerospace program manager

Pay range: $96,347 to $149,054

US Air Force has taught you to apply technical knowledge and skills to the management of aviation industry operations and services. Now it’s high time to transfer your military airport background to civilian airport operations as a manager at an airport or an aircraft manufacturing company after getting acknowledged with related business aspects. 

The duties and responsibilities of an aviation manager depend on their special focus area. Whether it’s ground traffic direction, ground support, flight line, passenger, cargo or security operations, or flight safety, senior managerial responsibilities to coordinate the whole process unite these roles. As an aviation manager, you can be in charge of hiring and firing staff, negotiating contracts, and coordinating the work carried out by the various departments.

Strong organizational skills, ability to work under pressure, communication skills, critical thinking, problem-solving are fundamental to succeed as an aviation manager. You shouldn’t forget about possessing a strong knowledge of the aviation industry and its processes, formalities, and legal requirements. Your military experience and qualification have already provided a significant amount of on-the-job training to build the relevant base knowledge. Nevertheless, most aviation manager roles will also require a bachelor’s degree in business management, administration, or the law.


pilot pay range

Pay range: $97,168 to $128,000

If you are the lucky guy who used to work at one of the highest-paying jobs in the Air Force, you can continue enjoying flights as an airline pilot after your transition. A great deal of training and plenty of hours of flight experience you have had are enough for flying commercial airplanes, helicopters, and other types of aircraft. You choose which company to work for, whether to transport people and cargo, fly on a fixed schedule, or work on charter flights, take part in rescue operations, or make aerial photography.

Depending on the industry the duties and responsibilities may vary, but preflight duties (checking the weather throughout the flight path, flight schedules confirmation, checking fuel system, engines, hydraulics, and electronics, determining and avoiding risks that may occur) and daily tasks (takeoffs, navigation, staying in touch with the control tower, and landing) are the common things.

Along with the license to fly an aircraft and a college degree (a degree in aircraft engineering, or a similar field, is welcomed), pilots also need particular skills and qualities. That means excellent communication, teamwork, strong problem-solving skills, good judgment with the ability to react quickly to hazards, attention to detail, adaptability, task management, and professional demeanor.

Plan for Career Success

To qualify for good-paying military jobs, you’ll need to be willing to pursue extra training on the job. Take time to recognize the scope of knowledge, skills, and abilities you acquired in the military, appreciate what else you need to get the highest-paid military jobs, and focus on gaining your achievement and advancement goals. Ask commanders for opportunities or pay attention to notices that offer special pay for certain duties.

Think in advance about what you will need for the transition from the military into civilian life, identify the positions equivalent to best-paid military jobs with similar duties and get enough competence to apply for. Though your next career move can be exciting, it needs tough decisions about your development and will take preparation, whether for meeting your financial goals or making you continue your education.

If you need more information read related articles: 

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Professional resume writer Linda R. BedfordLinda R. Bedford

Linda is a Professional Resume Writer and Military to Civilian Transition Specialist. Her expertise range across a large spectrum of industries. She loves coaching with people and helps job-seekers in transitioning to their next and best chapter.
  1. Avatar

    I don’t see Nuclear Engineer, which has a $40,000 signing bonus. And it’s the highest paid out the gate….

    1. Daniella Epstein
      Daniella Epstein

      Thank you for mentioning this!
      We’ll improve and update our articles with time.

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