How to Become a Military Officer
If management and leadership are among your top qualities list, becoming a military officer may be an amazing potential career choice. Officers in today’s military are in the business of taking care of people and paperwork. They are looked upon for guidance and to uphold the highest standards while performing their duties.
Whether you’re an enlisted military member or a civilian who has no military experience, this article from Empire Resume will provide insight on the various paths that lead to the road of being a commissioned officer in each branch of the military.
But first, let’s look at the five general paths to becoming an officer in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard.
General Paths to Becoming A Military Officer
As a rule of thumb, there are five primary options to serve in the U.S. military as a commissioned officer:
- Enroll in a service academy
- Join the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at a traditional college
- Attend officer training school
- Direct commission with a professional 4-year undergraduate degree
- Climb up the enlisted rank ladder and complete officer training
General Officer Requirements for the Military
Requirements to enter the military as an officer slightly vary by each branch of the military as each branch specifies its own policy. Overall, they are as follows:
- Be between 17 (with parental consent) and 34 years of age;
- Be a U.S. citizen; and
- Have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Under the Code of Federal Regulation, the age of 42 is the maximum age for any person interested in joining the military. For more information, review 32 Code of Federal Regulations Section 66.6.
Specialty careers in the legal industry, healthcare, and ministry contain a different set of guidelines. For those seeking to be lawyers, medical professionals or chaplains, the requirements are:
- Be between 18 and 48 years old;
- Be a U.S. citizen;
- Have a career-relevant degree or postgraduate degree; and
- Be licensed and eligible to practice in the field
Next, we’ll break down the paths one by one and show some differences in each branch of the Armed Forces to better help you decide the route that’s best for you.
1. Be an Officer by Enrolling in a Military Service Academy
The military service academies are federal institutions that offer a bachelor’s degree as well as training of future officers. The military service academies include:
- The U.S. Military Academy (USMA) also known as West Point in New York;
- The U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado;
- The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) in Maryland;
- The U.S. Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) in Connecticut; and
- The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) also in New York
Although applying and being accepted into the academy is a competitive process, academy cadets do not pay tuition or room and board. Cadets also receive a small monthly stipend of 35% of O-1 base pay. O-1 is the starting rank and first paygrade for military officers.
Upon completion of the academy, cadets become commissioned officers and begin serving in the military.
To determine eligibility for the academy, applicants must be a U.S. citizen, single without dependents, and be at least the age of 17 but less than 23 by July 1st of the year of entrance.
Additionally, applicants must meet academic and physical fitness standards and current enlisted service members are encouraged to apply.
Finally, candidates should obtain a congressional nomination from a local congressman or woman, two state senators, or vice president of the United States.
2. Be an Officer by Joining the ROTC program
The ROTC program can be found at more than 1,700 colleges and universities according to US News.
By joining the ROTC program, students are offered a scholarship where they take regular college classes in addition to military classes. Upon graduation, they are required to serve as an officer either in the Army, Air Force or Navy upon graduation.
Unfortunately, the Coast Guard does not have an ROTC program, but a College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative instead. The Coast Guard’s initiative offers scholarships and a slot at officer candidate school after graduating college.
3. Be an Officer by Completing Officer Training School
If men and women have an undergraduate degree in hand, they can begin a career as an officer by attending Officer Training School.
In fact, Empire Resume’s very own President and CEO took this route to be an Air Force Officer. “I went through Air Force Officer Training School (OTS) after I graduated college and worked for a few years as a professional,” said Dr. Phillip Gold.
OTS in the Air Force is a nine-and-a-half-week program where candidates develop the skills and confidence, they need to be a leader in the U.S. Air Force.
For the Army, this path is known as OCS or Officer Candidate School. OCS in the Army is a rigorous 12-week schooling where candidates learn tactical training, how to give orders, and manage crisis.
The Navy’s Officer Candidate School lasts for 13 weeks and is designed to prepare candidates to assume the duties of a Naval Officer.
Officer Candidates School in the Marines is where leadership is measured. Marine OCS is approximately 10 weeks and tests candidates on academics, leadership and physical fitness.
4. Achieve Direct Commission as an Officer
With a professional undergraduate degree in the medical field, legal industry or ministry, people interested in the military can achieve direct commission as an officer.
Those who gain a direct commission in the Army can serve in the Active Duty Army, Army Reserve, or Army National Guard.
The Air Force’s Direct Commission program consists of sending candidates off to commissioned officer training for medical, legal, and ministry professionals.
Those interested in gaining a direct commission in the Navy, the Navy’s Direct Commissioning Officer Indoctrination Course was consolidated with the 5-week Officer Development School as of October 1, 2019.
Unfortunately, the Marine Corps no longer has a direct commissioning program.
5. Be an Officer by Climbing up the Enlisted Rank
The final way to become an officer is to achieve promotion through the enlisted ranks in the respective military branch and then attend officer training school.
The enlisted ranks range from E-1 through E-9. To learn more about each rank, visit the VA’s website list of military ranks and for additional information, visit federalpay.org for detailed information about each rank.
No matter the route and branch chosen, being a military officer is a rewarding opportunity with many long-lasting benefits throughout one’s professional career even through the transition back to civilian life.
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Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for service-members transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a PhD in Finance.