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Enlisting in the Navy & Entering as an E3

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Traditionally, men and women enlisting in one of the four U.S. military branches normally enter service holding paygrade E-1. In the Navy, for example, enlistment means attending recruit training at Great Lakes, Illinois, as an E-1 seaman recruit. The Navy enlisted paygrade structure runs from E-1 to E-9 and is meant to gradually build on a sailor's skills and experiences. However, the Navy also offers several ways for prospective sailors to begin their naval service at the E-3 paygrade.

Initial Navy Paygrade

The majority of hopeful Navy sailors begin their careers in paygrade E-1 and are addressed as "seaman recruit" while in boot camp. In the military, enlistees are generally promoted from E-1 to E2 after approximately nine months of service, though meritorious promotion may shorten that time period. However, like its three sister services, the Navy wants to ensure enlistees receive an appropriate enlistment paygrade based on various achievements. For example, hopeful Navy sailors can enlist at paygrade E-3, or seaman, for college credits earned.

Advanced Paygrade Programs

The Navy offers a way to enlist at the advanced paygrade of E-3 based on certain life experiences. For example, hopeful sailors with 48 semester hours or 72 quarter hours of college credit are eligible for enlistment at the E-3 paygrade. Other experiences that make you eligible for Navy enlistment at the E-3 paygrade include attainment of Eagle Scout status or Girl Scout Gold Award status. Service as an E-3 in your high school's JROTC program also qualifies for enlistment as a Navy E-3.

Recruiting and Referrals

Most Navy enlistees spend several weeks or months in the service's delayed entry program (DEP) before heading to boot camp. Ambitious Navy enlistees waiting in the service's DEP can achieve promotion to E-3 by referring qualified applicants who subsequently enter the Navy as well. While you're in Navy DEP you can achieve promotion to E-3 if you refer four people who also sign enlistment contracts. The Navy also promotes DEP enlistees to E-3 for referring two people who enter as commissioned officers.

Advanced Career Fields

There are several Navy advanced career fields offering enlistees a chance to enter at paygrade E-3 and then achieve rapid promotion to E-4. Entry into the Navy as an E-3 seaman is possible if you qualify to enlist in its advanced electronics field, for instance. Also the Navy's advanced technical field, or ATF, and nuclear field or NF programs promise enlistment at the E-3 paygrade. All Navy advanced career fields require high aptitude test scores and certain high school or college courses before entry.


Tony Guerra served more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy. He also spent seven years as an airline operations manager. Guerra is a former realtor, real-estate salesperson, associate broker and real-estate education instructor. He holds a master's degree in management and a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies.

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