Officer (armed forces)

Officer (armed forces)

An officer is a member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority. Commissioned officers derive authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position. Commissioned officers are typically the only persons, in a military environment, able to act as the commanding officer (according to the most technical definition of the word) of a military unit.[1] A superior officer is an officer with a higher rank than another officer, who is a subordinate officer relative to the superior.

Newly commissioned U.S. Navy and Marine Corps officers celebrate their new positions by throwing their Midshipmen covers into the air as part of the U.S. Naval Academy class of 2005 graduation and commissioning ceremony.

Non-commissioned officers (NCOs) in positions of authority can be said to have control or charge rather than command per se; the use of the word "command" to describe any use of authority is often unofficial.

Having officers is one requirement for combatant status under the laws of war, though these officers need not have obtained an official commission or warrant. In such case, those persons holding offices of responsibility within the organization are deemed to be the officers, and the presence of these officers connotes a level of organization sufficient to designate a group as being combatant.


Commissioned officers

Commissioned officers generally receive training as leadership and management generalists, in addition to training relating to their specific military occupational specialty or function in the military. Many advanced militaries require university degrees as a prerequisite for commissioning, even from the enlisted ranks. Others, including the Australian Defence Force, the British Armed Forces, Nepal Army, the Pakistani Armed Forces (except the Pakistan Air Force), the Swiss Army, the Singapore Armed Forces, the Israel Defense Forces, Swedish Armed Forces and the New Zealand Defence Force are different in not requiring a university degree for commissioning, however a significant number of officers in these countries are graduates. In the Israel Defense Forces, a university degree is a requirement for an officer to advance to a Lt. Colonel rank. The IDF often sponsors the studies for its Majors. In the Pakistani Army all officers are by definition graduates, since in Pakistan, officer training is recognized as the equivalent of a Pakistani bachelor's degree.[citation needed]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, officers are commissioned both directly into the officer corps as what are known as 'Direct Entry' or DE officers, or commissioned from the ranks as 'Late Entry' or LE officers. LE officers, whilst holding the same Queen's Commission, generally work in different roles from the DE officers. In the infantry a number of Warrant Officers - Class 1 are commissioned as LE officers, ensuring that British infantry LE officers are in the top 1% of their peers[citation needed]. DE Officers require Secondary Education to A-Level standard and 85% of officers have a degree[citation needed].

Commissioning for DE officers occurs after a 1 year course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for regular officers or the Territorial Army Commissioning Course for Territorial Army Officers, or for Royal Navy and Royal Air Force candidates, an equivalent period at either Britannia Royal Naval College or the RAF College Cranwell respectively. Royal Marines Officers receive their training in the Command Wing of the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines. The courses consist of not only tactical and combat training, but also leadership, management and international affairs training.

United States

In the U.S. military, officers without a university degree may under certain circumstances be commissioned, but are required to earn one before being promoted to Captain (USA, USMC, USAF) or Lieutenant (USN, USCG) (pay grade O-3). These Officers comprise less than 2% of all Officers and are usually Officer Candidate School graduates from the enlisted ranks. Roughly 70% of all active-duty U.S. military officers are commissioned through the Reserve Officer Training Corps, which is composed of small training programs at several hundred American universities.[2] Graduates from the service academies are commissioned immediately upon graduation and comprise around 20% of the Officer Corps. Officers may also be commissioned at federal or state based Officer Candidate Schools. The various Officer Candidate Schools commission approximately 700 second lieutenants and ensigns each year during peacetime and make up less than 10% of all Officers.[citation needed]

Another route to becoming a commissioned officer is through direct commission. Credentialed civilian professionals such as scientists, pharmacists, physicians, nurses, clergy, and attorneys are directly commissioned upon entry into the military or another federal uniformed service. However, these direct commission officers normally do not have command authority outside their specific branches (e.g., Medical Corps (United States Army) or Judge Advocate General's Corps).

Such commissioning of civilians was widely used in World War II to bring industrial management expertise (for materiel production) and medical and surgical skills into the U.S. armed forces. William S. Knudsen, with the highest-ranking such commission, is possibly the most famous example.


In countries whose ranking systems are based upon the models of the British Armed Forces, officers from the rank of Second Lieutenant (Army), Sub-Lieutenant (Navy) or Pilot Officer (Air Force) to the rank of General (Army), Admiral (Navy) or Air Chief Marshal (Air Force) are holders of a commission granted to them by the awarding authority. In Britain and other Commonwealth realms, the awarding authority is the monarch (or a Governor General representing the monarch) as head of state. The head of state often is granted the power to award commissions, or has commissions awarded in his or her name.

In Commonwealth nations, Commissioned Officers are given commissioning scrolls (a.k.a. commissioning scripts) signed by the Sovereign or the Governor General acting on the monarch's behalf. Upon receipt, this is an official legal document that binds the mentioned officer to the commitment stated on the scroll.

Non-commissioned members rise from the lowest ranks in most nations. Education standards for non-commissioned members are typically lower than for officers (with the exception of specialised-military and highly-technical trades). Enlisted members only receive leadership training as they are promoted to positions of responsibility, or as a prerequisite for such. In the past (and in some countries today but to a lesser extent) non-commissioned members were almost exclusively conscripts, whereas officers were volunteers.

Non-commissioned officers

A non-commissioned officer (NCO) is an enlisted military member holding a position of some degree of authority who has (usually) obtained it by promotion from within the non-officer ranks. They usually receive some leadership training, but their function is to serve as supervisors within their area of trade speciality and, at lower NCO grades, they are not generally considered management specialists. Senior non-commissioned officers serve as advisors and leaders from the duty section level to the highest levels of the military establishment. The duties of an NCO can vary greatly in scope, so that an NCO in one country may hold almost no authority, while others such as the United States and the United Kingdom consider their NCOs to be "the backbone of the military."[3]

In most maritime forces (navies and coast guards), the NCO ranks are called Petty Officers and Chief Petty Officers, with enlisted ranks prior to attaining NCO/petty officer status typically being called Seaman, or some derivation thereof. In most traditional infantry, marine and air forces, the NCO ranks are known as Sergeants and Corporals, with non-NCO enlisted ranks referred to as Privates and Aircraftmen (or Airmen).

However, some countries use the term commission to describe the promotion of enlisted soldiers. Especially in countries with mandatory military service, NCOs are referred to as professional soldiers, not officers.

Warrant officers

In some branches of many militaries there exists a third grade of officer known as a Warrant Officer. In the militaries of many countries (as in the armed forces of the Commonwealth nations), a Warrant Officer is a very senior non-commissioned officer whose position has been affirmed by warrant from the bureaucracy directing the force - for example, the position of Regimental Sergeant Major in regiments of the British Army is held by a non-commissioned officer appointed by warrant.

In the US military, a Warrant Officer is a technically focused, single specialty officer - helicopter pilots and IT specialists of the US Army, for example. They are given salutes and they are addressed as Mr, Ms, Mrs, Sir, or Ma'am. There are no Warrant Officers in the U.S. Air Force (the ranks exist, but go permanently and completely unfilled), but each of the other U.S. Armed Forces have Warrant Officers—though each warrant accession program is unique to the individual service's needs. US Warrant Officers are appointed by a warrant issued by the service secretary of their branch of service. Upon being promoted to Chief Warrant Officer, however, Warrant Officers of the US military receive a commission from the President of the United States, and have all the rights and privileges of commissioned officers, although they are paid somewhat less than regular commissioned officers. In the United States military, Commissioned Officers and Commissioned Warrant Officers are the only officers allowed to command units, although command by Commissioned Warrant Officers is rare and done so in units such as Army Bands or Criminal Investigative Units.[citation needed]

Officer ranks and accommodation

Officers in nearly every country of the world are segregated from the enlisted soldiers in many facets of military life. Facilities accommodating needs such as the mess hall, bunks and domiciles, and general recreation are separated between officers and enlisted personnel. This class system, historically correlated to socioeconomic status is focused on discouraging fraternization and encouraging professional and ethical relations between military personnel.[4]

See also

Common anglophone military ranks
Navies Armies Air forces
Admiral of
the fleet
Marshal /
field marshal
Marshal of
the Air Force
Admiral General Air marshal
Commodore Brigadier Air commodore
Captain Colonel Group captain
Commander Lieutenant colonel Wing commander
Major /
Lieutenant Captain Flight lieutenant
Sub-lieutenant Lieutenant Flying officer
Ensign 2nd lieutenant Pilot officer
Midshipman Officer cadet Officer cadet
Seamen, soldiers and airmen
Warrant officer Sergeant major Warrant officer
Petty officer Sergeant Sergeant
Leading seaman Corporal Corporal
Seaman Private Aircraftman


  1. ^ 10 U.S.C. § 101, US Congress [1], 2009-01-05 
  2. ^ [2][dead link]
  3. ^ NCOs are 'backbone' of the Army, US Army Public Affairs Office, Fort Monmouth, NJ [3], 2009-04-15 
  4. ^ Fraternization Policy Update Reflects Current Operational Tempo, US Navy Chief of Naval Personnel Diversity Directorate, 2007-05-26 

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