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Military Services:  Air Force Officer
Photo: collage of a soldier standing in front of a helicopter, a female sergeant, flying fighters, and the Air Force logo.


The U.S. Air Force is the primary aerospace arm of our nation’s armed forces. The men and women of the Air Force fly, maintain, and support the world’s most technically advanced aerospace vehicles, including long-range bombers, supersonic fighters, Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, and many others. These forces are used whenever and wherever necessary to protect the interests of the United States and our allies. The Air Force is made up of nearly 350,000 men and women — disciplined, dedicated, and professionally trained officers and airmen — from all walks of life. Some 72,000 officers pilot multimillion-dollar aircraft, launch satellites, gather sensitive intelligence data, manage maintenance and other logistical support, or do one of many tasks vital to the Air Force mission. The Air Force currently commissions about 5,000 male and female officers each year to fill openings in a wide variety of challenging careers.

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The Air Force commissions only United States citizens who possess a bachelor's degree from an accredited college. Depending on the career field an applicant selects, additional academic qualifications may be required (e.g., a graduate degree, specific courses). Applicants for a commission must also be physically fit and of high moral character. Typically, men and women may earn commissions through one of three pre-commissioning sources: The US Air Force Academy, Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC), or Officer Training School (OTS). Individuals in some professions may obtain a direct commission without attending one of the above commissioning programs.

U.S. Air Force Academy

Located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains near Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Air Force Academy annually accepts about 1,300 young men and women into its four-year program. Graduates earn a Bachelor of Science degree and an Air Force commission.

The program is intense, with a well-balanced curriculum that includes the physical and social sciences, humanities, and math. In addition, the academy provides cadets with a background in space operations through courses such as astrodynamics and aeroengineering.

Admission to the Air Force Academy is generally made through nominations from U.S. Senators or Representatives, but other avenues to receive an admission appointment are available.

Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC)

This program gives college students a unique opportunity to earn a commission and complete their degree requirements while attending the college/university of their choice (college must have an AFROTC Detachment affiliated with it). The AFROTC program offers four, three and two-year programs (in selected fields) at more than 1,000 colleges and universities across the nation. Scholarships are available for all programs on a competitive basis. Scholarships pay up to full tuition, laboratory and incidental fees, $600 for textbooks, as well as a monthly stipend that ranges from $250-$400.

High school students interested in the four-year scholarship should apply on the web site in late spring of their junior year through 1 December of their senior year of high school.

In-college students may apply for the AFROTC program by contacting the Detachment Unit Admissions Officer at their college or university and/or simply by enrolling in the aerospace studies course at the time you register for your other college courses. College students do not need to be on scholarship to participate in the program. For additional details on the AFROTC Program you can contact your local AFROTC representative at your college, visit the website at or call 1-866-423-7682 to talk to a representative.

Officer Training School

The Officer Training School (OTS) at Maxwell AFB near Montgomery, Alabama, conducts Officer Training for both Line Officer and Professional Officer Cadets.

Basic Officer Training (BOT) — Line Officer

Prior to attending BOT you must have a bachelor's degree however; applications are accepted within 270 days (Airmen applicant) 450 (civilian applicant) days of their projected graduation date. The rigorous 12-week program guides college graduates or airmen with degrees to commissions as Second Lieutenants. OTS cadets acquire knowledge and skills to perform as effective Air Force officers. Civilians who believe they may be qualified for BOT should contact their nearest Air Force recruiter; Airmen should contact their local Air Force Education Center for additional eligibility criteria.

Commission Officer Training (COT) — Direct Appointment

The Air Force directly commissions men and women in certain professions. Individuals are eligible for direct appointment if they are fully qualified in certain medical, legal, or religious fields. Individuals who believe they may be qualified for a direct commission should contact their nearest Air Force recruiter.

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Most new officers attend a technical training course immediately after coming on active duty. Technical training equips new officers with the specific skills required by their job specialty. Depending on the specialty, technical training lasts from a few weeks to over a year. (Some officers go directly to their first assignment without attending technical training.) Technical training centers are located at military installations throughout the United States. Upon completion of initial technical training, officers are assigned to an Air Force unit where they put their newly acquired skills to work.

At various points during a career as an Air Force officer, there is an opportunity to participate in professional military education – such as Air and Space Basic Course, Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and the Air War College. These programs prepare officers for the increasing responsibilities associated with career progression to the more senior grades in the Air Force. In addition, they provide the command and staff knowledge required to be a professional officer. Other educational opportunities are also available to Air Force officers.

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Most newly commissioned officers enter the Air Force as Second Lieutenants. A few officers receive a direct appointment to a higher grade. There are established points when an officer is considered for promotion. Air Force promotions are based on future potential as demonstrated by past and current performance. Promotion to the grade of First Lieutenant usually occurs after two years of service. After an additional two years of service, most officers are promoted to Captain.

Subsequent promotions are competitive, and only the best-qualified officers are selected for promotion. Most officers compete for promotions without regard to their specific career specialty, though some officers (physicians, dentists, nurses, lawyers, chaplains, etc.) compete within their own specialties. There are provisions for early promotion of outstanding performers.

Most young officers (Lieutenants) start out in small units. As they gain experience and progress in rank (Captain), they are assigned to larger units, overseeing the operation of several smaller units. More senior officers (Majors and Lieutenant Colonels) are usually assigned as commanders of squadrons and are responsible for accomplishing that squadron's mission, as well as for the welfare of the men and women under their command. Colonels typically command large units or head major staff functions. Generals command combat organizations and oversee thousands of personnel and hundreds of millions of dollars in aircraft, supplies, and equipment.

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The Air Force sponsors advanced education for qualified officers. Officers attending graduate school in their off-duty time can have the Air Force pay up to 100 percent of their tuition. The Air Force also sponsors officers' advanced education at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) or at one of the many civilian colleges throughout the country. The Air Force pays for all tuition, fees, books, and equipment and continues to provide full pay and benefits. AFIT provides scientific, technological, and other specialized education to satisfy Air Force requirements. Air Force-sponsored education leads to degrees in engineering, management, social sciences, and many other fields.

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The reserve forces consist of two components, the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve. Their primary mission is to provide trained units and qualified personnel for active duty in the Air Force in time of war or national emergency and at such other times as the national security requires.

The reserve forces are highly trained, combat ready, and available for immediate call up to serve on active duty. They train (drill) regularly and provide a significant contribution to the daily operations of the Air Force as a by-product of their training. Guard and Reserve air crews currently fly the Air Force's front line aircraft.

Air National Guard

The Air National Guard (ANG) provides 89 major flying units and several hundred mission support units, with at least one flying unit in every state. During peacetime, the Guard also has a state mission that includes disaster relief, maintaining peace and order, and civilian defense. Guard units are under the control of the state governors through their Adjutants General. There are approximately 115,000 men and women in the ANG.

Criteria for appointment as an officer in the ANG are similar to those for active Air Force officers and are spelled out in Air Force instructions. However, selection and appointment to fill ANG unit vacancies are prerogatives of the states, with the Air Force granting federal recognition as reserve officers of the Air Force. Nonprior-service line officers selected for appointment in the ANG must attend six weeks of pre-commissioning training at the ANG Academy of Military Science, McGhee-Tyson AB, Knoxville, Tennessee, where they are prepared for their initial commissioned service in the ANG. Upon commissioning, many new ANG officers are scheduled to attend further Air Force training in their specialty. There are approximately 14,000 ANG officers, of which over 4,200 are pilots.

Air Force Reserve

The Air Force Reserve is a federal force. It provides 58 flying squadrons and nearly 400 mission support units. The Air Force Reserve has both "equipped" units with their own aircraft and "associate" units that fly and maintain active force aircraft and augment their active force counterparts during wartime or times of crisis.

The Air Force Reserve consists of approximately 78,000 men and women who train regularly, either in the units or as Individual Mobilization Augmentees (IMAs). IMAs are individual Reservists who train with active-duty Air Force organizations and who will augment those organizations for wartime, contingency, and limited peacetime requirements. There are approximately 12,400 IMAs.

Criteria for appointment as an officer in the Air Force Reserve are similar to those for active-duty Air Force officers and are discussed elsewhere in this guide. Nonprior-service personnel selected to be candidates for pilot or navigator training or to become engineers are sent to the Officer Training School along with the active-force line officer candidates. Reserve nonprior-service personnel who are not rated attend the Air National Guard Academy of Military Science. Medical officers attend an active-force short course at bases near Montgomery, Alabama. Each year, a small number of "deserving airmen" are selected to be commissioned from the enlisted ranks of the Air Force Reserve. They attend a two-week course at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, to learn officer skills.

There are approximately 15,000 Air Force Reserve officers (including IMAs). Approximately 2,300 are pilots and 350 are navigators. Over 21 percent of Reserve officers are women. The vast majority of the officer corps of the Air Force Reserve consists of prior-service officers who were commissioned through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, the Air Force Academy, or the Officer Training School and who served several years in the active Air Force before leaving extended active duty and joining the Air Force Reserve.

The focal point for recruiting officers in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard is the unit, since officers are basically recruited from each unit's local area. The Military Personnel Flights, located at each flying unit, are aware of all officer vacancies in both the flying units and the mission support units they service.

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