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U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan R. Waldman

Here’s a familiar scenario for most enlisted Marines: You’re walking along when you see an older Marine barreling toward you with an immaculate eight-point and a shit-ton of black stripes and rockers on his collar. As you get ready to greet the fast-approaching staff NCO, you realize you can’t read his rank. The black chevrons have perfect concealment among the foliage of his woodland MARPAT uniform. He’s 15 feet away, then 10, then five. Oh shit, is he a first sergeant, no a gunny, no a master serg— Too late, so you spit out the first words that come to mind: “Good morning first sergeant.” Phew, nailed it.

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U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Smith

The job of first sergeant, or “top sergeant” as it was once called, is perhaps one of the most rewarding positions for enlisted personnel in the Army. The first sergeant is the arbiter for all enlisted-soldier matters within the company. He or she is the senior noncommissioned officer of the company, with considerable influence over the unit’s culture.

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