Specialist: The Greatest Rank in the Army

Updated: June 7, 2012

Editor’s note: We stole Levi from his daily duties as the senior author and Director of Outreach at Veterans United Network so he could come over here and clown a bit. 

By: RU Contributor Levi Newman

The Army has a simple rank structure: Enlisted, Warrant Officer and Officer. Within these ranks there are different pay grades, expectations and responsibilities, and nearly every soldier strives to climb the ladder of success. Yet, one rank in the Army still caters to the lazy person in all of us — ­ the Specialist.

If you’ve served in the Army, you’ve most likely heard the terms “Sham Shield” or “E-4 Mafia.” You may have even been a ring leader at one point, I know I was. When I was deployed I would round up all the other Specialists and we would terrorize anyone who came near our living area. Any stray Private or NCO who didn’t have “back-up” would be gang tackled, duct taped to a cot and decorated with shaving cream.

So what is so special about pay grade E-4? Well, it’s simple really.

A basic fire team is led by a Sergeant (E-5). Thus, a Specialist generally isn’t given soldiers to lead, but is given just the responsibility of looking after oneself. You have no soldiers to lead and no leaders to hound you, so there you remain in limbo.

Here’s where the real fun begins. There are more Specialists in the Army than any other pay grade. And seeing as how promotion to Specialist is more or less automatic and based on time in service (if you can hold your liquor), you’re bound to get those that take advantage of the system know how to tactically maneuver within their job requirements.

Specialists are those who have done enough to move past the “detail” team, but not enough to show that they are competent leaders. This is ironic, considering Specialist shares a pay grade with Corporal. Rarely did I ever even see a Corporal in my 10 years of active duty service, but when I did I noticed two things. First, they were clearly “go-getters.” They worked hard, wanted to lead and loved telling Privates and Specialists what to do. Second, nobody liked them. While technically they’re an NCO, they aren’t getting paid more and nobody wants a double mosquito wing telling them what to do.

But I digress.

Specialist will always remain the best rank in the Army simply because it’s the one and only time you can use all of the skills you’ve perfected up to this point. You can still say, “I don’t know,” or “I haven’t been taught that yet.” You can take five extra minutes on your smoke break. You can decline to help, and if you are forced to, you can still delegate the work to a Private First Class. You’ve learned how to pretend to be busy better than anyone else. You’ve learned how to sleep standing up. You can blouse your boots like a Sergeant Major. You train to time, not to standard.

Above all, remember this. If you’re going to be a Specialist, you need to live the Creed: Always let others do the work for you, and when you become an NCO, forget everything I just said and keep those slacker E-4’s in check. They think you’re not paying attention.




  1. Drew Z.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:14 am

    As a former Specialist, I have to say that is pretty much on target!

    • Don T.

      June 8, 2012 at 9:28 am

      Drew, As a former Spec4; I agree and your spot on.

    • Bob Hillman

      June 8, 2012 at 11:26 am

      During the Viet Nam War if you were in combat believe or not there was rank of “Specialist 4th and 5th Class and MOS’S” that
      were specialized in training.

      • Steve

        June 8, 2012 at 8:04 pm

        i was a spec 5 demo spec

      • Joseph Mahadas

        June 9, 2012 at 8:54 am

        I remember when the specialist rank went to SP7/E-7. Most of the specialists I knew were E-4 & E-5. I’m sure it took a lot to make spec 6 & 7 (probably an act of God).

        • DocK

          June 13, 2012 at 7:35 am

          there were many medical SPC 6 and 7s- I was one of the last SPC 5s (they were phased out in the mid 1980s). I was lucky: 91Bs at the time needed 990 points for promotion to E5, but 91C (short course) only needed 450, and I was the only ’91C1F’ in the Army at that time (according to my BN CSM).

          Many of the senior medics I knew took retirement ASAP when the SPC7s were forced to convert to ‘hard stripe’ SFCs…
          and most of them rotated back as DAC senior LPNs and lab techs.

          The SPC6s were more often stuck converting to SSGs, as most of them didn’t have the time in service for early retirement.


      • LF

        April 1, 2013 at 8:28 pm

        SP5s were still pretty common for support MOSs when I was in during the early 80s. I even remember seeing a couple of SP6s.

  2. BluStarMom

    June 8, 2012 at 8:59 am

    I have to say it was true as far back as (cough cough) 1976. Points for making E5 in my MOS were stuck at 999, so I ended up with something like 3 years time in grade. Consequently, I promoted myself to Command Spec. 4 – and decorated my shield with oak leaf clusters 🙂

  3. Marcus

    June 8, 2012 at 8:59 am

    Nothing’s changed. He’s still proud to be sham shield bearer at work. Do some work, Levi!

  4. Pat Dennis

    June 8, 2012 at 9:09 am

    you’re full of it.
    When I was a SGT I would give my ranking Specialist orders to carry out while I was not there. At that time he was in charge of the rest of the squad. If he ever wanted to be a three striper he had to learn to lead. Specialists are not past the detail rank either. They go on details along with the privates. Specialist is not a sham rank. It’s the rank where you prove you are worthy to become a Non Commissioned Officer.

    • Jon Meyer

      June 8, 2012 at 11:13 am

      When i was in the army for my short lived un-needed 4 years of service. I spent 2 of them as an E-4. in those 2 years i was in Iraq and then PCS’d to Washington D.C. then entire time in DC all i did was mentor the Privates on how much they need to actually do their job. Which was not getting done in DC because we were just a dog and pony show for a lazy chain of command that didnt want their unit to get completely canx’d from the army. So naturally, the ones i mentored went on to become Special Forces troops, Green to Gold and became officers, or just PCS’d and got out with some experience. the ones that listened to their E-5’s naturally got stuck in a shitty unit with no experience then got out and now cant find a job because they spent a majority of their time up an E-5’s ass instead of bettering themselves.

    • Black_Sheep 5

      June 8, 2012 at 11:39 am

      You just don’t get it do you? The article is referring to that E-4 who is just waiting to ETS. Its the E-4 who knows they need a 3 man detail, and he’s number 4. It’s the E-4 who knows not to answer their phone between 0830-0930 on a Weekend, because they are looking for runners. Not every E-4 is SAMC material. Any NCO who doesn’t believe that is deluding themselves.

  5. larry Mason

    June 8, 2012 at 9:19 am

    I was a Specialist pulling an E5 slot. Never got the pay and never got the stripes, and didn’t care. I was happy to hold onto my E4 pay grade.

  6. Cliff S

    June 8, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Back in the day-Viet Nam era, I was a Spec 5-doesn’t exist anymore but then it went all the way up to Specialist 7

    • vinnyT

      June 8, 2012 at 5:39 pm

      cliff f i was a spec-5 also. in germany at a missile battalion in 1965, i did not know there are no more spec-5’s

      • Joe Mahadas

        June 9, 2012 at 11:10 am

        In 1986 the Army made all the SP5s, SGT in my unit. The Specialist ranks were good for those soldiers who deserved an increase in pay-grade based on merit as well as the point system. The Spec 5s were good soldiers who could not get the points & deserved the promotion. The Spec 5s I knew were the most likable guys and when they turned SGT … they started stressing & being jerks. Spec 5s were better team leaders than SGTs … the Specialist 4 & 5 knew the real moral and capabilities of his team. Heck … when it comes down to it we all try not to bleed red & fight for the same cause. The Specialist (E-4 through E-7) ranks gave units the ability to retain excellent volunteer soldiers.

  7. Mistrbill

    June 8, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Another Specialist but this time from the “Black Boot” Army days. I was a SPEC6 E-6 (permanent grade SPEC5- E-5) when I left the Army. I agree that the Corporals and SPEC 4 fit the above statement but you had to earn SPEC 5 and SPEC 6 and, yes SPEC 7. These were proficiency grades for those that knew their MOS and didn’t want to push troops but do their jobs, kept their noses clean and showed up when they were requested to.

    Having been “drafted” in 1967 I really didn’t want to be in the Army but having good work ethics I knew when to say “thank you” and “yes sir” went further than “frick off” or similar smart ass reply’s.

    One gets out of the military what one puts in. I didn’t want a career and refused OCS numerous times, including at mustering out. That reply was “frick no” and almost got me a court martial! I have no regrets and respect those in uniform and thank each one I see for doing a great job at whatever it is they do.

    God bless America and those that defend it!

  8. johnboy

    June 8, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Yep that was me !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Don S

    June 8, 2012 at 9:27 am

    I also was a ‘Specialist or Spec 4 as they say, I couldn’t agree more !

  10. roy rex

    June 8, 2012 at 9:37 am

    nop not me i was a spec4 wheel track and turrent mech. i did most of the e-5 work too from jan.1273 to jan9 76i was not a slaker i worked my bunns of but was funny post thanks

  11. Pfsilvas

    June 8, 2012 at 9:49 am

    As a Spec 4 in Hd co . i had E6 stripes and loved it, the quality of people changed with the rank and responsibility.

  12. Don Wirth

    June 8, 2012 at 9:52 am

    I was in Army Aviation from 12-62 to 12-65 and was a Spec 4 for a while and was in charge of the Stuttgart Army Airfield Alert Crew over in Germany. Came back to the land of the round doorknobs in 7-65 to Ft. Rucker, AL and made Spec 5. When my hitch was up in Dec, they promised me a big bonus and Sgt E6, but I had a wife and kid and thought I could hack it on the outside (I did). They tried the OCS thing on me in Basic, tried to get me into Army Intelligence when I enlisted.
    It’s true that you get out of the service what you put into it. I always found it a lot easier to keep squared away, do what I was told and keep my mouth shut. Worked for me. I don’t regret a minute of my three years.
    I wasn’t aware that there are no Spec 5s any more. Frankly I always thought the Warrant Officers had the best go of it. If I had gone in a year earlier, I could have probably ended up a Warrant Officer and a anon flying maintenance officer. I’m always late to everything.

  13. Ray

    June 8, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Love the article! Having spent 9 years in the Army and getting out as an E4 because I reached the maximum amount of time in grade was awesome! They called it involuntary seperation. I called it pulling a fast one on uncle sam! I still got an honorable discharge but I got a severance package; if I would have been promoted and got out at the same time I would have gotten nada!
    Everything that was said in this article was me 100% if not 110% percent. Don’t get me wrong I did do my job and at times did a great job but being in this position before moving to NCO; you have to take advantage of what being a specialist is all about…….thanks for sharing!

    • Robbie

      September 17, 2012 at 12:35 am

      Wow, you’re an idiot.

  14. Jim hegarty

    June 8, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Funny article and maybe true today (partly true in my day.) I was in the MP’s and our MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was frozen. I was a Spec.4 Ike was CIC and then JFK.I spent a lot of time as a desk sergeant in our MP station in Germany. There was no way up but it was great.

  15. T Howard

    June 8, 2012 at 10:27 am

    It’s interesting that when I was in I was a career Specialist because I enlisted with a degree. When I got to my first duty station I did more work and led(babysat) more soldiers then any Corporal I knew and I generally held them in contempt.

  16. Levi Newman

    June 8, 2012 at 10:30 am

    I’m glad you all enjoyed the story. I really enjoyed my time as a Specialist, that’s for sure. Becoming an NCO though, that was when the real fun began.

  17. The IO tollah

    June 8, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Congrats, Levi –

    Now go do some push-ups.

  18. Bob Eaton

    June 8, 2012 at 11:09 am

    It took me 5 years to make it up to Spec 5 and then after 2 years as luck and an empty slot and the NCO academy would have it while stationed in Germany I was converted to Buck Sgt. I’ll take the hard stripes any day over a specialist. In those days, 60s and 70s, hard stripes were preferable and not easily obtained and garnered respect as a leader not a follower or shamm artist especially in Germany. He is right about a lot of the Spec 4s being lazy, and figuring ways to get around their jobs. Each morning I would have to go down to the snack bar and roust them out of their coffee cups for work. After all I was a Spec 4 once too so the tricks were not new to me.
    Over all though the majority of the Specs were hard workers and I could depend on them to know what they were supposed to do without supervision. The Specialist makes the coffee, the Sgt drinks it.
    I wore the stripes both specialist and Sgt. and both in Nam but the gung-ho peace time garrison attitude was not my bag and I got out after 10 years in 1977 Sgt. stripes intact.

  19. joe jr

    June 8, 2012 at 11:19 am

    i think those clowns on top need to do away with the spec 4 and make them corporals and move on. too much detail in the same rank. in wwII they were technicians and years later specialists. give them the pride of nco’s (which they are) and build morale.

  20. James Shelton

    June 8, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Spec’s were good par grade , one time when i was over seas we only had the specialist rank except when a corporeal transferred to our unit, we had a formation and the ranking specialist was marching the platoon which we were all truck drivers and a corneal saw the corporeal in the formation he called the plt to halt put the corporeal in charge of the plt.

  21. alex

    June 8, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I held the title of consigliere in the E-4 Mafia. Still love the rank and the days.

  22. Thomas

    June 8, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Totally agree. The people in my unit all called me “Senior Specialist” because I had been one for so long that NCO would put some responsibilities in me but I was still that in limbo E-4.

  23. JOEY C,JR

    June 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    GREAT JOB!!!!!!!

  24. John A. Bruchhagen

    June 8, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Stereo typing people by rank is ridiculous. I was in a infantry squad, at least half of the squad wouldn’t touch an M60 much less carry it with it’s ammo during APC assault training. Some people earned their E4 rank and then some. If someone else had to pick up the weapon to save the rest of our butts I don’t believe anyone but the E6 squad leader could have managed to do it. This sounds like sour grapes, and it probably is, but when I read something like this it immediately turns into sour grapes and a bad case of heart burn. Straight ahead, God Bless America, Amen.

  25. Dave Hatfield

    June 8, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Levi, your article was very funny! I wasn’t a SP4 for very long and was on a very small team where rank didn’t matter much because we were all SP4s, but I spent 22 years observing soldiers, and there was a lot of truth to your story. Great writing!

    Dr. Dave
    CSM(D), US Army (Retired)

  26. Commander Ames

    June 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Coming from a former enlisted Navy PO3 (e4) and now Commander in the Coast Guard. Being an E4 is like middle management, just enough rank not to do s*@t, but not enough rank to take the blame when s*@t doesn’t get done or goes bad!

  27. Bob Zirkle

    June 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    I was a Spec-4 also and the only extra duty I pulled was CQ and of coarse my day job. I was in the Army as a Parachute Rigger, we wore the red baseball caps–1954–56. I always heard the best rank in the Army was CWO (chief warrant officer)”airborne all the way”…..

  28. Jim Zaccaria

    June 8, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I didn’t have long to experience and savor my time as a Spec-4 because I received it, along with an offer to re-enlist, something like 3-wks before I was to ETS [26Jul1973]. Having been a reluctant Draftee, you might imagine what my reply was… Absolutely! I suggested it be given to someone who would be around awhile and appreciate it. ;o)
    – Ultimately I was Glad I Had it Because the Bump in pay grade helped with my parting pay And upped my qualification for unemployment compensation during my ‘transition’ & job search after I was out.

    Truthfully, I had a Lot of ‘fun’ as a PFC working as an MP Desk Sergeant at Alpha Checkpoint at the Helmstedt/Marienborn Crossing between East & West Germany on the Road to Berlin…Especially when Officers would Challenge me about things they knew Nothing of. I did my job Professionally and Courteously, Even when I had to have the Brass come ‘straighten out’ the situation. Going to Berlin on My shift? Don’t Mess with me…an MP Brassard Trumps ALL Rank. Ahh those were the days…Power without Rank…Sometimes I wish I’d have stayed :).

  29. Jim Golden

    June 8, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    as a SP4, I had worked for the Big Three at Bn Hindquarters (Patriot ADA, Bn), no slacking there. Korea (Suwon) worked as (SPC4, still) Bn Land and Ammo NCO, then went to the FDC and ran two crews. My Polar Bears and my Fight Club. Platoon Mommy dragged my ass up to BN HQ for the promotion board, got me dressed as drunk as I was, I passed. I took PLC back in 1987 with my first unit (USAR, Medical/Clearing unit). Pinned on E5, but didn’t have the time left to get to PLDC. PLC didn’t count any more. I shammed my last year as a SP4, stomping around the motorpool looking pissed w/ a clipboard in hand doing ‘PMCS’. I shammed, I got shafted, I got what I deserved and I got out after 12 years. Man up, get the stripes. It’s worth it.

  30. Randall N.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    To go with everything else said above, I am currently stuck with the SPEC4,in a squad of spec4’s and 3 E-5’s preping to deploy. The “sham-shield” wearers are the ones that get good men and women killed to tell the truth,because a SOLDIER that slacks off on details also slacks off down range because they are just complacent enough to know that the minimum is their personal standard that is good enough to get by. But that standard slowly bleeds over into their dicipline that was hopefully (at least used to be) implanted into them by the former Drill Sgt’s,but now just E-6’s and E-7’s baby-sitting in basic training. Either way my point is, that the “shammers” will eventually not be paying attention to that wonderful jihad member sitting in a bush with an AK-47,RPK,and a couple IED’s and possibly a hit squad chilling not to far away with mortars and RPG’s waiting for the wonderful “shammer” to do what he does best and be complacent and get a whole squad,platoon,or even worst case company of Service Men and Women that were just moment’s before counting down the days till they get to go home and hold their loved ones in their arms, pick up their child for the first time, or the 100th time, or just simply come home. And yes granted they will get to go home thanks to that “shammer” that didn’t exceed the standard or even just simply meet the standard and didn’t see that jihadist that just killed them all and sent them home in a C130 full of boxes of remains, for their families,loved ones and children to place them in a ground and to be never seen again except for a rectangle stone with their name,rank,birth date and the date the “shammer” did his best to sham and got them killed. I feel that if you (unlike those whom were drafted) you joined willingly and to your left and right there is a brother,sister,husband,mother,father,wife,son, or daughter that YOU as an E-1 all the way up to a E-9 are charged to do your best to exceed every standard, commit to every United State Flag wearing, ruck sack carrying, riflemen and riflewoman, to at least DO the best that is possible to bring every single SOLDIER that rucked up,stood up and walked onto that C17 or C130 and flew into Iraq or Afganistan to serve their country proudly and come home as hero’s. I do understand that some don’t get to come home walking in person, BUT they always do come home hero’s.

  31. Richard Revell

    June 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    I was a SP/5 in Germany back in 1963 and we had a job to do and we did it well. Some of us never thought about not doing are job as we had a ADM mission and took it very serious. I was just as serious as a PFC as I knew we were a mission of national security, and had very little regard for anyone that didn’t treat it as such.

  32. Cpl.Carter

    June 9, 2012 at 1:49 am

    Strange enough there is a Guy in a NG unit that I know he
    has been a Spec4 since desert storm. I never got the chance to be a Spec4
    Jumped to Cpl. From Pfc.

  33. Charles Warden

    June 9, 2012 at 5:02 am

    I was a PFC by the time I got out of Basic Training, and a Spec4 in just over a year. I served Sep74 to Aug76, somehow got out with my NCOIC thinking enough of me to get me an ARCOM. PMOS was 64C, Driver-Courier, with a secondary of 75C. Back before Spell-check, I was the unit Spell-master for the Personnel section and was also the the last man in my unit when it was disbanded. Being responsible was something I did for myself, and the people I worked with on a daily basis. Some great people who I will always remember watched my back as well. Corporals always seemed to be former Buck Sergeants who had been busted, but that is another story.

  34. CMSrAAF Wise

    June 9, 2012 at 7:19 am

    Senior Airman. SAME Deal! and yep true to the word good at avoiding work when need be!

  35. Jeff Pardue

    June 9, 2012 at 8:21 am

    I was an E-4 promotable. Every month on my counceling statement my E-5 wrote,”Specialist Pardue has not signed up or volunteered to go to PLDC” (primary leadership development course). I always responded with ” E-4 is the best rank in the US Army. I am in charge of personnel however not responsible for thier actions.” This article sums it up perfectly!!!!


    June 9, 2012 at 3:59 pm


  37. Nutz

    June 9, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    I ets’d as a Specialist in 02 from the 82nd. I gotta say for awhile I had alot of E5 responsibilities and was excited about going to PLDC leading troops I was allready a team leader on a stinger team and loving it. I made E4 the earliest the army would allow with a waiver I wanna say 18 months but that’s an approximate. Honestly the E5’s and E6’s always on my and up my ass to take charge of lower enlisted and do alot of their own jobs for them was a bitch. I personally don’t like to lead or follow I’d rather work as an equal team. After enough shit I decided to ETS and go to college, go back with a commission and go to SFAS. But alas life got in the way. The point of my post is #1. I think the spec 5-7 thing is a great system. Some people just want to be good at their job accomplish their mission and leave the leadership up to the go getters. #2. at about 90 days out from ets I had that E4 short timers disease…..and it was great!

    • Don Carlos

      June 10, 2012 at 9:23 am

      In 1968,I made sp/4 in 6.5 months, skipped pfc.Got a waiver for meritorious promotion. Stayed sp/4 for 16 months, then made sp/5.
      That was the best rank in the army. Got more respect then a hard stripe e-5..there was alot of acting jack 5.s at the time.At Least with the top rocker over the bird,you knew I earned my rank

  38. Paul Burdette

    June 10, 2012 at 11:57 am

    I was in Germany for two years and was in a combat quartermaster unit where we supplied gas for the 7th US Army. You think that was not hard work. 24 hours a day to keep the rest of you fighting the war. At least I was a specialist at something. Proud to have given my service to my country. Go Sp 4.

  39. Wade Dufrene

    June 12, 2012 at 9:11 am

    should have got my E4 Before i left 2ID LRSD but we had no slots availible. got to Bragg 504th and got my E4 relitivly fast but sat at E4 for last 2 years. the S4 had 1 slot for E5 and after requesting to be moved ANYPLACE that needed a SUPPLY SGT i was denied all the wHILE E4 coming right out of COLLAGE was geting PLDC slots.. FK THAT i rolled OUT.. my last 6 months i was the poster child of SHAME SHIELD! and all i asked for to reup was PLDC i had the points i had the PT i had the awards… all i needed was the school! gotta love it when the chain keeps you down! SAD today i miss it and almost wish i would have found away to go around the system.. becouse when i got out i went into the Louisiana NG we had 6 Specailist holding 1 slot and an E6 supply sgt with 28years. LOL Since i came from LRS and the 82nd they figured they would get me to train the weekend warriors. E4 training NCO LOL gotta love it wasnt to bad. but i couldnt handle PFCs calling Sgts by 1st name or going up to TOP and talking to him like he was his fkin buddy! where i came from Rank ment somthing.

  40. James Rodgers

    June 12, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Don’t take it too seriously guys. It’s called humor. I am still serving as a DoD civlian after 25 years in the Army. Us old guys slip sometimes and say Spec4 instead of specialists. I swear we had a Spec8 in the finance that served my infantry battalion in the early 80’s! Don’t know if that’s right but that’s what I remember. Who remembers when a platoon sergeant put PSG (not SFC) in front of his name and the rank chart under E-7 said SFC/PSG?

  41. Porthos

    June 12, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    I had a degree when I enlisted and spent my entire three years as a SPEC-4. By the time my tour was over I had the promotion points to make E-6 and was actually filling an E-6 duty position, but getting promoted would have been silly. Why give up a bullet-proof assignment for $75 more a paycheck whe you’re only in for three years? I did a little shamming, but also worked my tail off.

  42. Skygod225

    June 14, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    When I was a member of the SPC4 Mafia, I was an NCO’s worst nightmare and best blessing…I was extremely competent as an 11B1P in a LRS unit and I knew all the shortcuts @ Bragg…then I was promoted and ended as a SSG where I became everyone’s worst nightmare and best blessing…I have been out for a while and former PVT’s of mine still call and email me for advice on everything…gotta love the SPC4 Mafia…

  43. Mike

    June 14, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Although I cherrish the E-4 mafia, E-5 is where it’s at! Being an E-5 in an infantry batt is the best position you can hold. Sure miss those days.

  44. skygod225

    June 14, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    When I was a card carrying member of the SPC4 Mafia in the 82nd, I was an NCO’s worst nightmare and his best blessing, I knew what to do to get over and I knew a lot of secret squirrel ways to accomplish the mission…as an 11B1P member of a LRS unit, I had lots of friends in DIV and I could get stuff done that others would wait days for…my best friend went from DIV to SF then to 10th MTN as a Squad Leader…he begged me to pcs to his company and be his senior fire team leader…as a medically retired SSG, I just became everyone’s worst nightmare and best blessing…hell I still have former PVT’S to LTC’s calling and emailing me for advice…

  45. GregPski

    June 14, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    Even though I wasn’t an E-4 long…. I do remember the jumping, hundred mile an hour taping, and forcing beer down E-1 thru E-3 throats

  46. CW

    June 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    No one gets away with more than I. I am a non Non-Commissioned Officer, a beast of burden. As a junior enlisted soldier I realize that I am a member of an under appreciated, much chastised group of soldiers which is known as the ribcage, or perhaps pancreas, of the Army.

    I am proud of myself and my fellow Specialists and will continue to bitch, whine and sham until the absolute last second regardless of the mission at hand. I will use my grade and position to avoid responsibility, accountability and any sense of presence of mind.

    Ignorance is my watchword. My two best excuses will always be on the tip of my tongue “I didn’t know,” and “It wasn’t me.” I will strive to remain invisible and unavailable for details. Never ever volunteer for anything is my rallying cry.

    I am aware of my role as a SPC and if you need me for anything, I’ll be on appointment. I know the other soldiers, and I will always refer to them by their first name or in some cases derogatory nickname. On weekends, or days off I will consistently drink myself into oblivion, and I will never answer my phone. I understand that for a person in my hierarchal position, rewards are going to be few and far between, and punishment will always be swift and severe.

    Officers of my unit will have maximum time to accomplish their duties, because I will be accomplishing them for them. I will kiss up to their face and badmouth them behind their back, just like everyone else. I will be loyal to those with home I serve, provided there’s something in it for me. I am the last bastion of common sense that stands between me and the Army philosophy of “Work Harder, Not Smarter.” My voice is a tool and my complaints are a weapon that I wield with unmatched skill and finesse. I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget, Specialist is the greatest rank in the Army and rank has its privileges.

  47. Jana

    June 28, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    As a Specialist and 91R I got to tell EVERYONE what to do, Soldiers & Civilians and paygrade didn’t matter! However, I also answered to two commands, Vet and Medical, and did the work of a SGT as an E2 and the work of a SFC as an E4, so maybe it wasn’t the best…. Yeah and my points to E5 were at 995 right after my promotion. The ARMY in its own special brand of sadism said “SO you want to go to Drill School?”

  48. Sandra

    July 10, 2012 at 8:45 am

    I got out in ’81 as Spec 5, & now I find out they did away with it, so does that mean I now have a vintage rank 🙂

  49. Warlord 80

    July 11, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    According to legend, U.S. Army Ranger specialists formed an unofficial, secretive organization in the 1970s. They called it the “Spec 4 Mafia,” and its purpose was to administer corrective action to deficient privates—making those privates better soldiers. It was created by Rangers, exclusively for Rangers. That was most likely the original Spec 4 Mafia, but during the 1990s, a new mafia was born.

    This new organization did not exist only in Ranger battalions. It was, and still is, Army-wide. The modern Spec 4 Mafia (S4M) quickly became an underground network of proud U.S. Army specialists who, as rumor has it, provide quality assistance to fellow specialists before providing for privates, NCOs, or officers. These new mobsters will occasionally “motivate” young, under-performing privates, but their primary mission is to take care of their own in their own way.

    Many of us are aware of this modern organization. However, it is next to impossible to find information about its beginning. Does anyone really know the true origin of the modern Spec 4 Mafia? I do.

    It started in Bosnia (Operation Joint Endeavor) during the spring of 1996 with four Military Police specialists. They were known as “The Four Horsemen.” Without naming names, their initials were MKM, JPR, JLK, and LO. In fact, three of them have ETSed and the fourth is currently (as of this writing) a U.S. Army senior NCO.

    After hearing one NCO jokingly tell another NCO about specialists’ power in numbers, two of the horsemen decided to run with the idea of numerous organized U.S. Army specialists being a force to reckon with. Of course, they weren’t serious. They were just entertaining active minds—playing a game, if you will. They brought the idea up to two of their squad members and viola, the modern, Army-wide S4M was born.

    They assigned fictitious titles and responsibilities to each other such as “Director of Intelligence and Propaganda,” “Director of Recruitment,” etc. They named themselves “The Four Horsemen” because it sounded cool. They also justified the name because three of them were gunners, and one was a driver; their HMMWVs were their horses.

    Many of the missions these specialists conducted involved convoy escort, route reconnaissance, and base-cluster defense. These duties allowed them to travel to all U.S. camps in theater. Recruitment was easy. Most other specialists they conversed with wanted to be a part of this game. Like I wrote earlier, this was just a game. It was a game that grew exponentially.

    By mid-summer, it was not uncommon to see “Spec 4 Mafia,” or “Spec 4 Mob” written on latrine walls in some camps. Once, during a promotion ceremony, one of the horsemen directed [asked] a soon-to-be-promoted specialist to hold out four fingers for four seconds to show respect for S4M during the ceremony. He did it, and a loud and thunderous “HOOAH” echoed through the battalion. There were a lot more dedicated mobsters in the battalion than the horsemen had previously realized. Needless to say, they were proud. Of course, the one who instigated the ordeal was chewed out by his squad leader and platoon sergeant for “desecrating an NCO induction ceremony.”

    The organization had NCO support. Sergeants, like the one mentioned above and others, wanted to remain in, or enter, this game. They were referred to as “supporters.” Their ranks precluded them from being full-fledged mobsters, but their loyalty granted them limited access to “the know.” I can only assume that NCO support of S4M still exists. After all, it’s difficult for most people to let go of something this cool, even after becoming a member of the NCO Corps.

    These supporters would occasionally render the four-fingered salute to groups of S4M soldiers as a sign of support. In return, the specialists would acknowledge them with the same. This salute was just a quick four fingers (horizontal) on the chest—similar to a gang sign. I don’t know if modern mafia still use this salute, but it was motivational at the time. Also, it’s important to understand that the salute didn’t distinguish between senior and subordinate, like military salutes do. It was a sign of mutual respect within the organization, and outside respect from supporters.

    During the winter of 1996, the horsemen, along with most soldiers of Operation Joint Endeavor (IFOR), redeployed to their home stations. These S4M soldiers took their organization with them and continued to operate as mobsters throughout Germany and CONUS.

    Today, we can read recent online posts written by Spec 4 mafia members. We know the organization is still alive. S4M mobsters can exist in any U.S. Army unit with at least one specialist assigned to it. A very few non-Rangers may claim that their S4M ways derive from a source originating pre 1996. I write “may” because, like I mentioned earlier, it’s next to impossible to find a written history of this organization. Well, I am confident in saying that most modern S4M septs can trace their lineages to The Four Horsemen.

    Those four MP specialists successfully organized, motivated, and deployed hordes of U.S. Army specialists with three things in common: they were soldiers; they were specialists; and they were proud Spec 4 mobsters.

  50. BuffaloSoldier

    August 3, 2012 at 9:20 am

    I remember when the Specialist went from E-4 thru E-9. The rank I was proudest of was when I made Sp6, E-6. I retired @ Sfc E-7 in 1985. Yes I was a “LIFER”. Love all branches of the military. Carry on troops!


    August 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    I was a sp4 for a month and then got sp5 ROTISOR during the nam war, rank was handed out just a tad slower than medals, but not much. as i cleared for ETS in phu bai during my enlistment appointment ‘sign off’ i was offered E6 hard stripes: regardless of length of time IN service/rank for a 6 year enlistment. i would be promoted BEFORE reup, get 2 months off-paid, come back for 6 mos. extension, get 3500 bonus, then rotate back to states. it wasn’t that i was a leader; it was that to train a soldier from basic to a 4 or 5 was more expensive and time consuming. i declined telling the reup that i had a bigger promotion: civilian and i could tell the generals to kma.

    perhaps having been and AF brat made my mind up NOT to make a career in the service. my dad was promoted one day and then told 1 week later that it was a ‘clerical error’. i did not trust the US army.

    i guess there is no more ‘lifer’ chants since all are volunteers.

    harvey steele
    phu bai 1-69 / 1-70

  52. Mary D

    August 7, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    I was also a specialist 5 in an Armored division.We worked hard, Studied hard to learn our job’s and be the best that we could be. My rank was not given to me,i studied and tested to advance. I worked hard,excelled at what was expected. My unit did not have those that did the minimum.

  53. Ryab

    August 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Great, funny piece. I’m an officer who has been in ten years and is just about to finish my obligation to the Army.

    Those who take what this guys says about E-4s shamming to mean they sham in combat or are ill-prepared clearly take things too personal and are the kind of Soldiers I avoid because they almost breed conflict. I’ve been around a lot of SF in my seville time and you know what most of them have in common? They dot take themselves too damn serious except when necessary.

    Shamming doesn’t necessarily mean not caring about your buddies or your life or their life. It has to do with avoiding the waste of time, pointless, tasks that are given you by angry, power hungry NCOs. As a commander I hardly ever ordered anyone to do something that insulted their intelligence as a human being unless a point had to be made. However, I saw many enlisted take out unexplained anger and poor emotional control on E-4s. I knew my E-4s shammed. Many people in the military do. Equating shamming with being worthless in combat as someone who gets people killed is just ridiculous and simply not true.

    Many laid back E-4s were great Soldiers. They shammes things like making coffee, being a CQ runner, pointless, mindless peace time garrison soul killers we all hate. I really liked it when I saw an NCO with common sense, compassion, concern, work ethic and sense of humor be in charge. Those well-balanced types are so rare in today’s Army. I knew that NCO would bring the right about of balance to the E-4 mafia. He would be stern when need be, and let things slide to keep morale high. That is the game of the military we all play and those who are just giant jerks all the time screaming at everybody just to flex are the way more dangerous people downrange, by far.


  54. Ryab

    August 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Great, funny piece. I’m an officer who has been in ten years and is just about to finish my obligation to the Army.

    Those who take what this guys says about E-4s shamming to mean they sham in combat or are ill-prepared clearly take things too personal and are the kind of Soldiers I avoid because they almost breed conflict. I’ve been around a lot of SF in my seville time and you know what most of them have in common? They dot take themselves too damn serious except when necessary.

  55. Danny

    August 16, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    Do anyone specialist attempt to be officers?

  56. Melinda Menendez

    September 7, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Sounds like a character from a video game. It kinda ruins the whole ranking system if soldiers do not undergo the same treatment as of the others.

  57. Steve D.

    October 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    This article is funny to those who did the 4 years and got out E-4. Coming from a soldier who was out in early 2011 and performed in an E-5 slot for a couple months, this is amusing. I was almost automatically promoted due to a shortage in the MOS, but I ETS’d before that could happen. It took 6 months to get a job when I discharged, but I don’t regret my time in or even getting out. It was a good experience. Nice, funny article here.

  58. Mike F.

    February 22, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    I enlisted into the Army in the summer of 1967, under the threat of being drafted, for a missile radar school. My goal was to receive as much training and experience in electronics as possible for three years of my life. I graduated from the school after one year and was promoted to SP5. The top half of the class made SP5 and the bottom half made SP4. Most of the Specialists I knew, especially SP5s, were very interested in learning and doing their job well. Most of us had no desire to be in charge of anyone. We wanted to do our job, be left alone, do our time, and get out. Usually, we were allowed to have this attitude, but a few career folks didn’t appreciate it.

  59. redc1c4

    April 1, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    SP4/SPC *is* the best rank in the Army.

    i should know: i went into the Retired Reserve with over 19 continuous years TIG as one. came in as a PFC, got promoted a year later and then nothing. no busts, no Art 15’s, just life in the CA ARNG.

  60. RW

    April 1, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    as a former HMFIC of the E-4 Mafia, this is spot on! Yes, SPCs do details and Yes, we do delegate and other petty work our SGTs dont want to perform, but we uphold our Creed daily. Shit, I delegated to officers once, and did it with such professionalism they had no clue I just told them what to do. If NCOs are the backbone or the Army, SPCs are the common sense everyone else forgot to use.

  61. Major Payne

    April 1, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    I enjoyed butter bar more than the sham shield. (I jumped from E4 to O1E. But as there are much less LTs than Specs, I guess I see your point.

  62. Oldud

    April 1, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    I proudly wore the shield of shame.

  63. Jeffrey Maxwell

    April 1, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    I lost my “P Status” when my PT Card info didn’t get updated on my ERB. Now all my friends that didn’t lose theirs are getting picked up because our points dropped and mine are sitting at “DA Select” 39. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me….lol….. (of course, I’m ETSing in a year and a half, I might feel differently if I was staying in, so I think I prove someone else’s point)…. I will do my best until I get out but I’m not kissing any asses…. In my company, the SPCs do all the work because the Privates aren’t licensed and the E5s are busy shamming….lol……

  64. Whisper

    April 1, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    Former 12B/89D here… I loved my time as a spec-4 it was sadly short as they bumped me to E-5 and sent me to ranger school…

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