Today's Army is composed of a highly trained team of individuals. The individual Soldier, the noncommissioned officer (NCO), and the officer make the Army's sophisticated technology work. They operate tanks, fly helicopters, and launch missiles. They build bridges, calibrate and operate computers, and apply state-of-the-art tools and methods to solve critical problems. Working together, these elements enable the Army to accomplish its mission to deter war and be prepared to fight and win should deterrence fail.
The Army is made up of nearly 500,000 bright, well-trained men and women on active duty, including more than 68,500 officers and 12,000 warrant officers. These men and women compose the best-trained, best-disciplined, and most self-assured Army in recent history. The Army needs about 7,000 new officers each year.
BECOMING AN OFFICER
You may become an officer in the U.S. Army through one of four commissioning programs: the United States Military Academy, the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), the Officer Candidate School (OCS), or direct appointment. All require, as a minimum, that the applicant be a high school graduate, pass a medical and physical exam, and be at least 17 years old. To be competitive for these programs, an individual needs to be working toward or already have acquired a four-year college degree.
U.S. Military Academy
The United States Military Academy, located at West Point, New York, offers Bachelor of Science degrees with majors in both engineering and liberal arts. Graduates earn a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
Admission to the academy is very competitive. Appointments are generally made through nominations from U.S. Senators and Representatives. Applicants should begin their quest for entry into the academy no later than the middle of their junior year in high school.
Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC)
Army ROTC is the primary source of college-trained officers for the Army. It is an elective curriculum offered at more than 700 colleges and universities nationwide. Army ROTC consists of two phases.
The Basic Course is comprised of elective courses that take place during the first two years in college. Students learn basic military skills including the fundamentals of leadership and start the groundwork toward becoming an Army leader. Students may take Army ROTC Basic Courses without a military commitment.
The Advanced Course takes place during the last two years in college as elective courses. Students learn advanced military tactics and gain experience in team organization, planning, and decision-making. To benefit from the leadership training in the Advanced Course, all cadets must have completed either the Basic Course or have attended the Leader’s Training Course, a four-week course of intense classroom and field training held in the summer at Fort Knox, Kentucky. This course is an accelerated version of the two years of leadership development training cadets receive in the Basic Course. Entering the Advanced Course requires a commitment to serve as an officer in the U.S. Army after graduation.
College-bound high school students and students already attending a college or university may be eligible for merit-based Army ROTC scholarships worth up to $20,000 for tuition and a $4,000 living allowance for each school year. Scholarship students must meet minimum eligibility criteria and agree to accept a commission and serve in the Army on active duty or in a Reserve Component (U.S. Army Reserve or Army National Guard).
Officer Candidate School (OCS)
Officer Candidate School (OCS) is a 14-week course to train enlisted personnel, warrant officers, and civilians with a college degree to be Army officers. Enlisted Soldiers and warrant officers must have 90 hours of college before applying for OCS. Civilian applicants must have a bachelor’s degree. College seniors may apply if enrolled in a degree producing program at an accredited institution of postsecondary education.
The Army offers direct appointment opportunities for civilian degreed professionals in selected legal, medical, and ministerial career fields. Professional experience can even earn a direct commission officer a higher entry grade, if qualified.
An Army warrant officer is an officer appointed by warrant of the Secretary of the Army, based on a sound level of technical and tactical competence. The warrant officer is a highly specialized expert and trainer who gains progressive levels of expertise and leadership by operating, maintaining, administering, and managing the Army’s equipment, support activities, or technical systems for an entire career.
Becoming a warrant officer requires great skill in a specific occupational specialty. Army warrant officers must demonstrate leadership abilities and have the desire and dedication to perfect their technical proficiency through professional development, training, and education. Through schooling, experience, assignments and promotions, they are trained to perform effectively in the highest, most demanding positions within their career specialties. A local Army Recruiter can provide up-to-date information about how to qualify to become a warrant officer.
Newly commissioned officers attend an Officer Basic Course (OBC), which prepares them for their first assignment. OBC contains a mix of classroom education and physical training. Much of the time is devoted to practicing leadership skills in a work-like environment. During OBC, which lasts about four months, Lieutenants also participate in a vigorous physical fitness program. OBC instruction is provided by the branch of the Army that utilizes an officer’s specialty. For example, newly commissioned infantry officers attend OBC at the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Special skills that may be needed by new officers are developed at a functional training course. Pilots complete their flight training after OBC. Army infantry Lieutenants may volunteer for airborne (parachute) or ranger training. Some infantry officers complete additional certification courses as Bradley fighting vehicle commanders if they are being assigned to units equipped with that vehicle.
Army officers are also provided advanced training and refresher instruction to meet the needs of the Army or their next assignment. These courses usually are not more than six months in length. For example, Army supply officers can take advanced courses in materiel management, air delivery of cargo, and food services management. Specialized courses are available in every career area.
At various points during a career as an Army officer, there are opportunities to participate in professional military education such as the Combined Arms and Services Staff School or the Command and General Staff College. These programs prepare officers for the increasing responsibilities associated with career advancement to the more senior grades in the Army. They are primarily the study of the command and staff knowledge required to be a professional officer at higher levels in the Army.
Most new Army officers begin their careers as Second Lieutenants. A few officers receive a direct appointment to a higher grade. There are established points (time-in-grade) at which time an officer is considered for promotion. Army officers are selected for advancement based on being qualified to meet the requirements of the Army. The Army promotion process is designed to ensure advancement of the best officers, promote career development, and promote officers with the greatest demonstrated potential.
Promotion to the grade of First Lieutenant usually occurs at two years of service. After an additional two years of service, the best qualified officers are promoted to Captain. After being in the Army a total of nine to 11 years, an officer becomes eligible for promotion to Major. This and subsequent promotions are more competitive. While all officers compete with each other for promotion, the Army recognizes a need to retain the right number of officers with the skills to meet Army requirements. A selection board evaluates the potential of all eligible officers and recommends the best qualified in each career area for promotion. There are provisions for early promotions of outstanding performers (limited to no more than 10 percent of promotions).
Advanced education is a goal for most Army officers. Some officers may be selected to pursue full-time studies toward a master’s or doctorate degree through programs paid by the Army. Many officers pursue advanced education on their own time. Here are some of the programs offered by the Army for the advanced education of its officers:
Advanced Degree Program
The Army Educational Requirements System determines the Army’s need for officers with advanced degrees. Selected officers are provided an opportunity to attend graduate school for up to three years in a discipline required by the Army. After completing their graduate studies, these officers are assigned to positions that utilize their education. These officers can also anticipate future assignments that capitalize on their specialized knowledge. Officers are considered for this program after completing six to eight years of active duty.
Fully Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP)
The Judge Advocate General’s Funded Legal Education Program allows up to 25 officers to be selected each year to attend a regular course of instruction leading to a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or Bachelor of Law (LL.B.) degree at an approved civilian law school. These programs are provided at government expense and usually last three academic years. Upon completion of schooling, the officer is required to accept an appointment in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps for the period of active duty obligation.
Training With Industry (TWI) Program
The TWI program provides training in industrial procedures and practices not available through military or civilian schools. It provides officers with vital knowledge, experience and perspective in management and operational techniques. This experience is necessary to fill positions of significant responsibility in Army commands and activities that normally deal with civilian industry. Currently, these programs are concentrated in the areas of artificial intelligence, aviation logistics, communications-electronics, finance, marketing, ordnance, physical security, procurement, public affairs, research and development, systems automation, and transportation. These programs are normally one year long, with a predetermined follow-on assignment.
In thousands of cities and towns across America, men and women work in their communities and serve their nation in one of the Army’s reserve components (close to home, but ready to answer the call to duty). There are more than 7,000 units of the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. These units are trained and equipped to accomplish Army missions worldwide on very short notice. They are a vital part of the total Army team, often training alongside active duty Army personnel at home and overseas.
There are about 37,000 officers currently serving in Army National Guard and Army Reserve units. They serve in all career fields found in the active component of the Army. Often they serve in a career field that is the same as their civilian profession. Many serve in military units that offer them an exciting and demanding change from their civilian jobs. Most Army Reserve Soldiers will agree that the skills and qualities that are necessary for success in civilian life are enhanced by their military training and experience.