Direct commission officer

Direct commission officer

A direct commission officer (DCO) is a uniformed officer who has received a commission without the typical prerequisites for achieving a commission, such as a four year service academy, a four year or two year college ROTC program, or one of the officer candidate school or officer training school programs, the latter typically slightly over 3 months in length.

Civilians who have special skills that are critical to sustaining military operations, supporting troops, health and scientific study may receive what are called "direct commissions." These officers usually occupy leadership positions in the following areas: law, science, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, nurse corps, intelligence, supply-logistics-transportation, engineering, public affairs, chaplain corps, oceanography, merchant marine affairs, and others.

The U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Coast Guard have more extensive active and reserve component DCO programs than the other two U.S. armed services.

The U.S. Marine Corps does not offer a DCO program. The Marines, however, do have a substantial population of "Mustang" Officers who are Limited Duty Officers and Chief Warrant Officers recruited from their senior non-commissioned officer ranks, typically gunnery sergeants (E-7) and above.

The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps exclusively use a DCO program to commission their officers.

Depending on the specialization and duty-status of the officer, "DCOs" as they're called, will attend either Officer Indoctrination School (OIS), Officer Development School (ODS), or Direct Commission Officer School (DCO School) which vary from two weeks duration for certain Reserve DCOs to five weeks duration for Active Duty DCOs.


U.S. Army Reserve Direct Commission Officers

The United States Army Reserve uses the DCO program to bring specialized skills and backgrounds, and to fill critical shortages in the Army Reserve commissioned officer corps. A majority of the people obtaining direct commissions in the Army Reserve are prior-enlisted personnel. However, there have been instances when qualified civilians were directly commissioned as well. The general requirements for a direct commission in the Army Reserve are: 60 semester hours of college credit; the ability to get and maintain a "secret" clearance; be physically qualified (obtain and pass a medical evaluation); an open slot or "billet" in an Army Reserve unit; three recommendation letters from commissioned field-grade officers; and a recommendation from a direct commissioning board. Once selected, the applicant signs the oath and is sworn in by another commissioned officer. At that point the newly commissioned officer will then need to attend the Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC) in their assigned area of concentration (AOC) before becoming fully qualified.

Direct commission officers in the Army Reserve can serve in the same specialities and hold billets as ROTC, OCS, and USMA graduates. Direct commission officers may be promoted to flag officer rank and hold command within their specialty of work.

U.S. Navy Direct Commission Officers

The United States Navy has an extensive DCO program. It is important to distinguish between the Navy's active duty component staff corps school, called Officer Development School (ODS), and the Navy's reserve component Direct Commission Officer School (DCO School).

Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) of 2005 decreed that reserve officer DCO School be re-located to Newport, Rhode Island from its current location at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida as of January 2007. The U.S. Navy is consolidating many of its schools in one central location -- Naval Station Newport, RI. The Navy is currently considering merging DCO School, Limited Duty Officer School, and Mustang University into one contiguous officer training program—all located in Newport, RI. As of January 2007 all Navy Reserve DCO, LDO and CWO Officers attend the same two week course of instruction in Newport. Active duty ODS, a five week course, is also located in Newport, RI, as well as Officer Candidate School (OCS), the twelve week program that college graduates wishing to join the US Navy as active duty officers go through.

The U.S. Navy Reserve Direct Commissioning Program allows university-educated professionals, between ages 19 to 35 (or older, in some cases), the opportunity to be appointed as an officer in the Navy Reserve. Most DCOs hold advanced degrees (MAs, MBAs, JDs, MDs, DOs, PharmDs and Ph.Ds.) and/or significant civilian work experience. In recent years, the number of direct commissions offered by the Navy Reserve has increased due to the need for skilled officers to serve as Individual Augmentees (IAs) in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Direct Commissioning Program serves the expanded needs of the Navy in certain officer skill areas listed below in alphabetical order by category:

Unrestricted Line Officer

  • Special Warfare Officer

Restricted Line Officer (including Special Duty Officer)

  • Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer (AEDO)
    • NOTE: Unlike AEDOs in the Regular Navy, who must first be qualified Naval Aviators or Naval Flight Officers with at least 5 years operational flying experience in naval aircraft, direct commission AEDOs in the Navy Reserve are not required to have any military flight experience
  • Aerospace Maintenance Duty Officer (AMDO)
  • Engineering Duty Officer
  • Foreign area officer (Country or Regional Specialists, Non-Intelligence)
  • Human Resources Officer
  • Information Professional (typically, personnel have Computer Science degrees and extensive industry experience)
  • Information Warfare Officer (formerly Cryptology Officer)
  • Intelligence Officer
  • Merchant Marine Officer
  • Meteorology/Oceanography Officer (METOC)
  • Public Affairs Officer

Staff Corps Officer

  • Chaplain Corps Officer
  • Medical Programs (Medical, Dental, Nurse, Pharmacist and Medical Service Corps)
  • Supply Corps Officer (Logistics, Transportation, Supply Management, Customs, Contracting)
  • JAG Corps Officer
  • Civil Engineer Corps Officer

Limited Duty Officer (Various specialties)

Warrant Officer (Various specialties)

Some skill areas may not have openings each year. Each year, skill area recruiting quotas are promulgated for recruiters to fill. Upon completion of their training regimen, DCOs serve on nearly every type of ship in the fleet and at shore establishments around the globe. Navy DCOs are forward deployed and are currently serving on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are an integral part of the Navy's role in the War on Terror.

U.S. Coast Guard Direct Commission Officers

The United States Coast Guard uses the DCO program to bring specialized skills and backgrounds into the Coast Guard commissioned officer corps. The DCO course is conducted by the Officer Candidate School, located at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Depending on program and background, the course is three, four, or five weeks long. For the five-week program, the first week is an Indoctrination week.

There are seven Direct Commission Officer programs:

  • Aviation
    • NOTE: Individuals in this category are typically rated/designated military aviators who have previously served on active duty as officers in other branches of the U.S. armed forces. They have transferred to and are being recommissioned as officers in the U.S. Coast Guard in order to serve as Coast Guard Aviators.
  • Engineering (Various disciplines)
  • Environmental Management
  • Intelligence
  • Legal
  • Prior-Trained Military Officer
  • Maritime Academy Graduate From the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy or a State Merchant Marine Academy

Some DCO programs may not have openings each year. While DCOs are expected to fill specific specialty areas, they are not specifically precluded from crossing into other operational or support billets in follow-on assignments.

U.S. Public Health Service (Commissioned Corps) Direct Commission Officers

The PHSCC Direct Commissioning Program allows university-educated professionals, between ages 19 to 35 (or older, in some cases), the opportunity to be appointed as an officer in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Most PHSCC DCOs hold advanced degrees (DDSs, DMDs, MSs, MDs, DOs, PharmDs and Ph.Ds.) and significant civilian work experience, and the minimum in many programs is a master's degree from a duly accredited program. One of the fields requiring only a baccalaureate degree is engineering. The Direct Commissioning Program serves the expanded needs of the PHS in certain officer skill areas listed below:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Commissioned Corps) Direct Commission Officers

The NOAA Corps Direct Commissioning Program allows university-educated professionals, between ages 19 to 35 (or older, in some cases), the opportunity to be appointed as an officer in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps. Many NOAA Corps DCOs hold advanced degrees (MS, MAs and Ph.Ds.) and significant civilian work experience, though the minimum requirement is a baccalaureate degree. The Direct Commissioning Program serves the expanded needs of the NOAA Corps in certain officer skill areas listed below:

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