best paying job in the military

Last Updated on 12/12/2019

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 pay 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 taken from the 2019 military pay grades and see the difference.

  • E-9 (highest enlisted grade) with 10 years experience earns $5,308.20
  • E-9 (highest enlisted grade) with 30 years experience earns $7474.80
  • O-10 (highest officer grade) with 20 years experience earns $15,800.10*
  • W-5 (highest warrant officer grade) with 20 years experience earns $7,812.60
  • W-5 (highest warrant officer grade) with 40 years experience earns $10,223.40

*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 $3,188.40
  • E-1 (lowest enlisted grade) starts with a base pay of $1,680.90

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. Military physicians and surgeons earn salaries over $150,000 a year plus benefits. Military dentists bring in over $180,000 a year plus benefits. Ship and boat captains can expect to make about $150,000 a year 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. 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

Enlistment bonuses present 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:

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

Examples of Special Duty Pay:

  • Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay = extra $224 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 $110 to $250 per month depending on pay grade
  • Foreign Language Proficiency Bonus = Up 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.

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 civilian jobs are examples of high-paying jobs where veterans often thrive.

Intelligence Analyst
Pay range: $75,000 to $120,000

Management Consultant
Pay range: $80,000 to $200,000

Logistics Analyst
Pay range: $50,000 to $85,000

Aviation/Aerospace Program Manager
Pay range: $90,000 to $155,000

Pay range: $70,000 to $160,000

Plan for Career Success

To qualify for good-paying military jobs, you’ll need to be willing to pursue extra training on the job. Ask commanders for opportunities or pay attention to notices that offer special pay for certain duties.

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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