From the Soldier side: Many years ago I was proud to be a US Army Specialist E-4. The US Army came up with the “Specialist” rank structure in the 1960’s I guess. It was a strange system that used to start at the E-4 pay grade and at one time, went all the way up to E7. The weird thing about this rank system is it was parallel to the “hard stripe” rank system. In other words they also had Corporal E4, Sergeants E5 through E7.
CI Roller Dude when he was neither CI or Roller, but 11Charlie
In those days, they gave the “specialist” ranks to soldiers who were not in the infantry (with some exceptions) …like clerks, cooks, medics etc. However, I was in the Infantry, (81MM Mortars) and they made us Specialist. The odd part was, if for example a Spec Five was in a squad and there was a Corporal E4 as the squad leader, even though the Corporal was paid less, he’d be in charge. In some ways this was a good system…as for example when we were doing training in the States for Iraq and we'd often get mixed in with a bunch of other soldiers for training…and because the Cook Sergeant First Class (E7) was the highest ranking person in the group, he’d be put in charge.
I’m sorry, I know I’m going to hurt somebody’s feelings, but I will NEVER EVER want a friggen’ cook in charge of me ever again. If we'd been in combat, we'd all been killed! ...some stupid...bla bla bla...
Anyway, when I was in Berlin in the 70’s, I arrived as a Private E-2. That gave me one little skinny stripe on my collar. My goal was to be a “Specialist” E4 as soon as possible. However, they told me that since my first enlistment was only for 2 years, that it would take 18-24 months before I could be an E-4, so I’d likely never get promoted beyond Private First Class (E3).
Wrong. I was promoted to E-4 after about 11 months in service—mostly because I could both read and write (neither was a requirement in the Infantry in those days.)
The Army did away with the “Spec” ranks above E4. However, they still have both Corporals and Specialist. A Corporal is always considered a Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) but a Spec 4 can be either “enlisted” or and NCO, depending on the needs of the minute.
With all the jokes you can make about any rank in the Army, whenever I went to a new camp in Iraq and needed something, it was ALWAYS a Specialist who got me what I needed and showed us what we needed. I called these “Command Specialist”