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What does a Corporal do?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Corporal is a military rank. The corporal designation is given to a soldier who has attained the status of a non-commissioned officer, or NCO. A corporal is given the responsibility of overseeing a squad and assuring the squad's readiness for combat or battle. This is the lowest level of NCO and as such, the corporal is often tasked with overseeing clean-up duties as well as physical training, or PT.

In the United States military, the rank of corporal is given many of the privileges of a NCO; the corporal, however, is often just an assistant to a sergeant. The sergeant is responsible for assuring training is completed and typically assigns certain duties to the corporal in order to prepare and train the assistant to advance to the rank of a sergeant. In the U.S. Army, the designation of E-4 is given to a soldier holding the rank of corporal as an NCO. This designation can also be given to a soldier holding the rank of specialist or Spec-4. The Spec-4 is not given the same duties or respect and privilege as that of an NCO.

Enlisted ranks are those from E-1 to E-3: private, private second class and private first class. These are the troops who complete the grunt work and menial tasks of the day-to-day military life. These soldiers are overseen by the NCOs. As an NCO, orders come down from the commissioned officers who are lieutenants and above; the NCO is given the task of making sure the orders from the officers are carried out. The lowest rank in the NCO structure is typically given the job of completing the order and picking the enlisted personnel to carry out the order. That NCO is a corporal.

The sergeant, or E-5, is arguably the work horse of the army. As such, the sergeant is tasked with training raw recruits, creating a fighting force and building troop morale. Given such a daunting task, the sergeant is permitted to have assistants to whom they can delegate some tasks. These tasks are typically given to the lowest in the NCO chain, the E-4. In certain combat situations, the E-4 will be given a squad and will in all matters be treated with the same respect as a sergeant.

The E-4 NCO is perhaps the perfect rank in the military. While not being made to perform menial tasks like an enlisted man or private, the responsible soldier in the event of a foul-up is typically the sergeant or E-5 or above. This affords the E-4 NCO to operate at an almost risk-free manner while gaining valuable leadership experience.

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Discussion Comments

By anon324764 — On Mar 12, 2013

You said some things that made sense, but being an E4 team leader is actually very tough because you must carry out the duties of an NCO but you don't get respected as one. That makes it very hard to get stuff done for your joes.

By anon251397 — On Feb 29, 2012

Okay, obviously this has been written by someone who has little to no experience with the actual way that the military rank structure works. A corporal is, in fact, one of the roughest positions that an E-4 can "advance" to. Your actions are very closely scrutinized and the mistakes of those under you fall on you, not on your e-5.

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