What is Military Service Number?

When you’re searching for information about military personnel, you may try to find their military service number as a means to discover the information you are looking for. However, using this service number will only work for older veterans. Find out more about MSN and how it can help verify a member of the armed forces and veterans.

What are Military Service Numbers (MSN)

Military Service Number

Military service number was first introduced with the establishment of military personnel records in 1918 following World War I. For more than 50 years, from 1918 until 1974, MSN served as the primary method of identification for military personnel in the United States.

All enlisted members of military forces and its branches were assigned a unique service number upon enlistment which can be requested through the Freedom of Information Act and obtained from the National Personnel Records Center or the National Archives.

As opposed to social security numbers, MSN are considered to have public availability under the law and are not shielded by privacy acts such as the Privacy Act of 1974. The MSN is a vital document for both military personnel and veterans. It plays an essential role as an official military personnel file confirming military service, as well as serving as identification and verification.

This is especially true for veteran’s military records that may be present before Social Security Numbers were established; the MSN can be used to access veteran benefits and aid with job applications.

Furthermore, genealogists commonly use this service number system to track military record history and build connections between generations of war veterans. With a military records request, individuals can access their files, which often provide details of military records and associated awards and medals. As a sign of respect and honor, some branches further deploy the MSN as part of official insignia or crest.

Types of Military Service Number

Although some branches of the United States Army make an effort to distinguish between the officer and enlisted personnel in their service number format, they don’t always achieve that goal and it is not unusual for service members from different branches to be assigned the same MSN. It is also not rare for a military member within the same branch to receive identical service numbers.

In military records and service member identification, the Army leads the military branches in order of service numbers starting at 1. This is a special distinction that other military branches do not have—the Marine Corps begins its officer numbers at 1, but enlisted personnel service numbers begin after 200,000.

Other military branches, like the Navy and Air Force, utilize four-digit officer service number formats beginning at 0000 for officers or 3000 for enlisted personnel according to a Department of Defense source. For each service branch, the total range of available service numbers starts at 00000 and goes up to 99,999,999.

The only military departments with service numbers higher than 10 million are the Air Force and Army; the Air Force Academy used these high-range numbers exclusively for their use. Prefixes and suffixes are also used in the numbering system to identify a service member’s branch vary. Below are some types of MSNs in regard to their prefix and suffix according to their branches:

  • Army A prefix of W, A, F (among others) and a suffix of AP, AF, AR, or AG
  • Navy/Marine Corps– The prefix and suffix of W
  • Air Force – The prefix AR, AW, W (among others) and a suffix or A, AF, A, (among others)

Army and the air force have a wealth of numbering systems, prefixes, and suffixes to identify service members of different ranks and units.

How to Find Your Military Service Number

As we said, the usage of service numbers is from years prior to the introduction of Social Security numbers, so if you are an active duty servicemember or a veteran, you can find your MSN through different sources.

Before World War I

The National Archives has the military records of individuals who served in the U.S. Armed Forces before World War I. To find your service number, you will need to submit a request to them directly with proof of your identity and relationship to the servicemember/veteran.

World War I to Present

The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) houses a vast trove of service records, including the Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), which captures many details pertaining to a veteran’s military service. This includes but is not limited to dates of enrollment or appointment, duty stations and assignments, educational and experience backgrounds, responses to complaints, and any awards they may have achieved.

How to Obtain MSNs and Military Records

If you are a Veteran or a family member of a Veteran, you have the option of creating an online request to obtain copies of your military records. This request is free of cost and can be done by sending a letter along with the document Standard Form 180 (SF-180) by mail, fax, or email.

 For a deceased veteran in particular, families can request service records using their deceased veteran’s enlisted service number. If a former veteran is still alive, survivors or representatives with authorization can request records pertaining to them as well.

Non-Veterans or next of kin will only have access to restricted amounts of non-archival data; records created around 62 years ago that were never kept in archives. As such, members of the public and academic scholars will need to take into consideration enlisted service numbers, requests pertaining to service date, and if there is no surviving spouse before they proceed in obtaining these records.

Uses/Purposes of Military Service Number

Aside from verification, service numbers are primarily used as an identifier when conducting personnel management and other administrative functions, like pay and billing. It is also beneficial when availing privileges and benefits from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that may include:

  • Housing and education assistance
  • Medical and disability benefits
  • Insurance policies (life insurance)
  • Burial and memorial services
  • Tax exemptions

Service numbers are also used in tracking military personnel’s performance, awards, or decorations. It can be used as a reference to know an individual’s grade or rank within the armed forces.

MSN may be used in conjunction with DD 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Duty), DD 215 (Request for correction on DD 214), and a report of separation to provide proof of service and confirm veteran status. These documents are necessary to provide evidence when applying for benefits or other services offered by the VA.

I forgot my Military service number, how do I find it?

If you served in the military prior to the transition to SSN as a form of identification, your service number would be listed on your DD Form 214. The request pertaining to records availability should be made if it isn’t possible for the requestor to locate their DD Form 214.

Dependent on where you served and when various dates apply; Army and Air Force changed in 1969; the Navy and Marine Corps changed in 1972; Coast Guard changed in 1974. In the event that your DD214 is lost, a request can be put forth to request a new copy from the NPCR; such requests made through NPRC are free of charge.

Additionally, if you served in the US military after 1974, your SSN would serve as your service number. Individuals can alternatively contact their local VA office to locate their MSN.


Military Service Numbers are a critical form of identification and tracking service members’ records. It’s a form of verification and is necessary for a variety of uses such as receiving benefits from the VA. Requesting records is possible if the enlisted service number is known or if it’s not, alternative methods of obtaining a copy exist. Ultimately, it is important for veterans to understand their rights and responsibilities as individuals in the army and have access to the necessary resources that enable them to do so. Accessing MSN is a crucial step toward achieving this goal.


Is military service number Same as SSN?

No. Service numbers are unique to each service member and based on the branch of service. Social Security Numbers (SSNs) were not used as military identification numbers until 1974. Prior to that, MSNs were used for identification purposes.

Is your military ID number your Social Security number?

No. In many cases, your military ID number is not your Social Security Number (SSN). Before 1974, military personnel was issued unique service numbers that were used for identification and assignment tracking purposes.

How many digits is a military ID number?

Military ID numbers today issued by the Department of Defense have 10 digits.

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