As a professor whose online courses include many military students, I commonly read in their biographies that they are pursuing their education to gain a commission to become an officer. Some of these students are directly out of high school, but the vast majority are currently either on active duty or in the reserves.
Becoming an officer is an admirable ambition and I consistently encourage my students to pursue that goal.
Transitioning from Enlisted to the Officer Corps
Becoming a military officer is challenging. For enlisted personnel, there are more requirements than simply earning their degree.
Often, military evaluation scores along with endorsements from the enlisted members’ commands are considered in determining their eligibility to becoming officers. Weight standards, fitness standards, age restrictions, and other factors also apply.
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Once enlisted members become officers, they have a unique opportunity to benefit their branch of service because they are familiar with the daily routine and tasks of enlisted personnel. As officers, their experience, leadership, and mentorship of enlisted members can be an advantage over officers who have not come up through the enlisted ranks.
Programs Designed to Assist Enlisted Members Pursue a Commission
There are several ways to transition to the officer ranks. A common path is through Officer Candidate School (OCS). Enlisted personnel in any branch of the military who have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree can apply for OCS.
The branches of service may have different requirements to qualify for OCS. This is often a very competitive and rigorous process that may involve selection by a panel or board. The branches of service have different commissioning programs, so it is best to research these programs in the branch in which the enlisted member is either already serving or is interested in joining.
For example, the Air Force’s Airman Scholarship and Commissioning Program (ASCP) gives enlisted men and women the opportunity to be released from active duty and to enlist in the Air Force Reserve. There they can receive scholarships up to $15,000 per year for tuition to pursue their education requirements to qualify for a commission. Another program is the Scholarships for Outstanding Airmen to ROTC (SOAR) that offers similar benefits involving college funding and the opportunity to apply for a commission through the Air Force ROTC.
The Army has three commissioning programs for enlisted members: the Green to Gold program, Army Medical Department Enlisted Commissioning Program, and Inter-service Physician Assistance Program.
The Coast Guard offers several commissioning programs that can help enlisted members become officers, including commissioning opportunities for Reserve members. A Navy’s Seaman to Admiral-21 Program is a full-time education and commissioning program for enlisted personnel of all pay grades.
It is important for enlisted members who wish to pursue a commission to seek out every opportunity the military provides to advance their career. This could include special assignments, additional enlisted collateral duties, or optional training. In addition, it is very helpful to have a mentor who is already an officer or in chief warrant officer ranks. A mentor can provide valuable advice on how to best prepare for the opportunity to become an officer. Both enlisted and officer ranks have important roles in the military. I made the transition from the enlisted ranks to earning a commission in my Reserve career. Setting milestone goals can help enlisted personnel become officers along with a strategy that is supported and mentored by those who have already reached this goal.