This article provides an outline of the recruitment and selection process for individuals wishing to join the United States Air Force (USAF) as commissioned officers, i.e. not as enlisted personnel.
The US system for the recruitment and selection of USAF Officers is highly diverse and flexible enough to meets the needs of the diverse population that is encountered in America. Although the recruitment and selection an individual goes through varies depending on their method of entry, the underlying principles of recruiting and selecting high quality candidates to be the officers of the USAF remains constant.
1.1 Who Does This Recruitment and Selection Process Apply To?
The recruitment and selection process described in this article applies to individuals who are interested in a career as a commissioned officer in the USAF as a:
- US Air Force Regular (Active Duty) officer:
- US Air Force Reserve officer; or
- US Air National Guard officer.
2.0 A General Outline of the Officer Recruitment and Selection Process
Figure 1 provides an outline of the current US military recruitment and selection process for officer aspirants. Each stage of the officer recruitment and selection process is detailed in the following sections.
Figure 1: Outline of the US Air Force Officer Recruitment and Selection Process
3.0 Stage 1: General Eligibility
There are a number of eligibility criteria that must be considered before making an application to join the USAF and these vary across the Service branches of the USAF due to the nature of the job/role an individual may wish to undertake. The general principles are outlined below.
3.1 Age Criteria
Every job/role in the USAF has a minimum and maximum age limit (Table 1). The minimum age can differ between jobs/roles and is specified within each job description. However, the earliest application is at least 18 years old (17 years old with parental consent) when an individual applies, and under 35 years old when beginning basic training (although the maximum age is typically around 27 years of age). However, keep in mind that almost all male US Citizens and Permanent Resident Aliens living in the US, who are 18-25, are required to register with the Selective Service.
|Table 1: Age criteria by Service branch in the US Air Force|
Regular (Active Duty)
3.2 Physical Criteria
Due to the varying physical demands on service personnel in each Service branch, the physical criteria vary greatly. These differences can vary even within each branch of the Service. Generally speaking, potential service personnel should be in good physical condition, of appropriate weight and able to pass a standard physical screening prior to entry. For more specific information speak to a recruiter.
3.3 Educational Criteria
To become an officer in the USAF individuals must have received a 4-year BS or BA degree from an accredited university and have strong grades.
3.4 Nationality & Residency Criteria
Individuals who are US citizens may join the USAF as officers. However, Permanent Resident Aliens (people who have an INS I-151/I-551 ‘Green Card’) may only join the USAF as enlisted personnel. Properly documented non-citizens may enlist, however, opportunities may be limited.
For enlistment purposes, the US includes Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.
Documents required include passport, Social Security card, birth certificate, driver’s license and educational qualifications.
Individuals can join the USAF if they are a single parent. However, the USAF will normally not allow individuals to join if they have more than two dependents under the age of 18.
3.5 Criminal Convictions Criteria
Some kinds of offences and sentences can bar recruits from joining or re-joining; typically 2nd and 3rd degree misdemeanours and/or felony convictions are disqualifying. For more specific information speak to a recruiter.
3.6 Tattoos & Piercings Criteria
These are dependent on location and nature and will usually need to be declared and shown during a medical examination or to a recruiter. During the selection process individuals should remove piercings and not wear clothing with obscene images.
4.0 Stage 2: Meet with an Officer Selection Officer
After an individual confirms that they meet the general eligibility for service with the USAF they will be able to meet with an Officer Selection Officer (OSO).
When an individual meets with an OSO, the OSO will be able help the individual fill out their application and conduct an initial screening. Individuals will need to provide their OSO with the following if they are applying as an officer candidate:
- Medical records;
- Birth certificate;
- Social Security card;
- Citizenship certificate (if applicable);
- High school diploma;
- Complete list of places the individual has worked;
- Four character references;
- List of all the places the individual has visited outside of the US;
- List of all the places the individual has lived; and/or
- Any information involving the police and drug use.
5.0 Stage 3: Decide on Method of Entry
An individual interested in serving as a commissioned officer in the USAF has four options as outlined in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Method of entry
5.1 Option 1: Officer Training School
Individuals with a 4-year college degree can join the USAF by completing the officer training programme at the Officer Training School (OTS). Eligibility requirements for this method of entry include:
- Between 18 and 34 years old;
- US citizen; and
- Have at least a Batchelor’s degree.
Evaluations (discussed in Stages 3 and 4 below) conducted as part of the selection process for this method of entry include:
- Medical examination (Military Entrance Processing Station, MEPS); and
- Aptitude Test.
5.2 Option 2: Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Programme
The Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) Programme is for individuals who choose to complete a 3- or 4-year college degree and commence a career in the USAF at the same time. The AFROTC is offered at more than 1,100 colleges and universities across the US and the programme is for:
- High school students;
- College students; and
- Enlisted airmen/airwomen (discussed in Section 5.4).
There are five general standards and requirements that individuals must achieve in order to be eligible for AFROTC as outlined in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Standards and requirements for AFROTC
5.2.1 High School Students
High school scholarships are available for aspirants who wish to combine military service and a college education. The AFROTC is delivered in two stages:
- Stage 1, General Military Training (GMC):is a 2-year programme offered to freshmen and sophomores who meet the minimum requirements. It consists of 1-hour of classroom work and 1-2 hours of leadership laboratory each week. GMC is designed to improve communication skills and provide a window into military life. It is an opportunity for students to try out the programme with no obligation (for those not on an ROTC scholarship). GMC entry requirements include:
- Enrolled in an accredited college that hosts or has a cross-town agreement with an USAF ROTC detachment.
- US citizen (if on scholarship).
- In good physical condition.
- Of good moral character.
- 14 years or older (17 years old to receive a scholarship).
- Committed to attending both the aerospace studies class and Leadership Lab each semester.
- Stage 2, Professional Officer Course (POC): After completing GMC requirements, if students wish to be considered for entry into the last two years of the programme they must meet certain requirements. This system uses qualitative factors, such as grade point average, unit commander evaluation and aptitude test scores, to determine if a candidate has officer potential. After selection, and before entering POC, individuals must successfully complete a 24-day summer field-training exercise at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. Once enrolled in POC, individuals will attend class 3-hours a week and participate in a 1-2 hour weekly Leadership Laboratory. POC is offered to juniors and seniors who have already committed to a 4-year postgraduate service commitment with the USAF. Individuals must meet all GMC entry requirements and:
- Be of legal age as required by the state in which you will be attending ROTC (or 17 years old with parent or guardian consent).
- Be in good academic standing.
- Have three academic years remaining in a 3-year degree programme.
- Meet the following age requirements:
- Rated (Pilot, Combat Systems Officer, Air Battle Manager and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Pilot), commissioned before reaching the age of 29.
- Scholarship applicants, be younger than 31 years old as of December 31 of the year they will be commissioned.
- Tech, non-Tech and non-rated, commissioned by age 30 (waiverable up to age 35).
- Be physically qualified by meeting USAF height and weight standards, passing the Air Force Physical Fitness Test (PFT) (an exam composed of three events: push-ups, crunches and a 1.5-mile run. The test is used to ensure cadets maintain an acceptable level of fitness).
- Have a military certified/qualified physical.
- Pass the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test.
- Complete a field training course (a 24-day encampment in which cadets receive officer training).
- Be selected by a board of Air Force Officers.
5.2.2 College Students
If an individual is already in college, it is not too late to experience the benefits of joining the AFROTC programme. There are options for individuals even if they start after their freshman year.
College students follow the same AFROTC programme, outlined above, as high school students.
5.3 Option 3: US Air Force Academy and Military Colleges
These highly competitive schools are virtually free of charge for those accepted. The US government pays for each student’s tuition, room and board, uniform and books. Students are sometimes given a living stipend as well to help cover fees, a personal computer and other class supplies. In return, the student commits to serving as an officer in the US military for a set period after graduation, typically five years.
5.3.1 The US Air Force Academy
For students who would like to experience a military environment while getting a first-class education, the US Air Force Academy offers an outstanding education and full four-year scholarships. The US Air Force Academy, founded in 1954, is located 55 miles South of Denver and just North of Colorado Springs, on Interstate 25. Tuition, books, board and medical and dental care are all fully paid for all four years.
Academy cadets are immersed in a military-oriented environment, gaining an unparalleled undergraduate education and leadership skills through a rigorous curriculum. As such, graduates of the Academy receive a Bachelor of Science degree and are commissioned as officers, in the rank of Second Lieutenant, as Active Duty officers. There is a service obligation of a minimum of five years.
To apply for the US Air Force Academy individuals must be:
- At least 17 but not yet 23 years old on 1st July of the year admitted;
- A US citizen;
- Not married;
- Not pregnant or with any legal obligation to support a child or children;
- Congressionally nominated or have a service-connected nomination; and
- A recipient of strong scores on either college entrance exam (ACT or SAT).
Prospective students should visit the Academy’s website for further information.
5.3.2 US Air Force Academy Preparatory School
The United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School, commonly known as the ‘Prep School’, located at the US Air Force Academy and is a preparatory school for the Academy.
Admission to Prep School is seen as alternative route to gaining acceptance to the US Air Force Academy and ensures that cadets are better qualified for the academic and military training there.
Prospective students should visit the Academy’s website for further information.
5.3.3 Senior Military Colleges
Like the academies, the Senior Military Colleges (SMCs) offer a combination of higher education with military instruction (i.e. ROTC). SMCs are specifically recognised under US Law 10 USC 2111a(f) and US regulations. In addition to SMCs, ROTC programmes are also delivered at local colleges and Junior Military Colleges (JMC). SMCs include:
- Texas A&M University;
- Norwich University;
- The Virginia Military Institute;
- The Citadel, Charleston, Carolina;
- Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech);
- University of North Georgia; and
- The Mary Baldwin Women’s Institute for Leadership.
SMCs are among the most prestigious and famous education institutions in the world and they offer financial aid packages for eligible students. Every cadet must participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programme, but only those cadets who receive an ROTC scholarship are required to enter military service following graduation. For example, about half of Virginia Military Institute’s cadets earn commissions as Second Lieutenants (US Army, US Marine Corps and US Air Force) or as Ensigns (US Navy).
5.3.4 Junior Military Colleges
A Junior Military College (JMC) enables individuals to become commissioned officers in the US Army through the Early Commissioning Programme (ECP), and is completed in two years instead of the usual four. However, individuals must still go on to complete a bachelor’s degree before serving as regular officers on Active Duty.
The ECP began in 1966 and is a major component in the officer recruitment and training pipelines. ECP is a major financial incentive for individuals who receive their commissions early and serve as officers while still attending college and gaining service time for promotions and retirement. The JMCs are:
- Wentworth Military Academy (Lexington, Missouri): Wentworth Military Academy and College, founded in 1880, is a JMC and private 4-year college preparatory high school and is the oldest military academy west of the Mississippi River. The campus is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Valley Forge Military Academy (Wayne, Pennsylvania): founded in 1928, it is a boarding school for young men, grades seven through twelve, and additionally offers a coeducational 2-year junior college programme.
- Marion Military Institute (Marion, Alabama): is the state military college of Alabama; it was founded in 1842 as Howard English and Classical School by the Alabama Baptist Convention. In 1887, when Howard College’s operations (now Samford University) were moved to Birmingham, local leaders and school faculty reorganised the school as Marion Military Institute.
- New Mexico Military Institute (Roswell, New Mexico): Founded in 1891 by Colonel Robert S. Goss as the Goss Military Institute and inspired by Virginia Military Institute, NMMI includes a 4-year high school and a 2-year junior college.
- Georgia Military College (Milledgeville, Georgia): founded in 1879, it includes a liberal arts junior college, a high school, and a middle school.
5.4 Option 4: Enlisted to Officer
The USAF offers a number of programmes aimed at enlisted personnel who aspire to be commissioned officers in the USAF. These programmes include:
- Airman Scholarship and Commissioning Programme (ASCP);
- Scholarships for Outstanding Airman (SOAR);
- Professional Officer Course – Early Release Programme (POC-ERP); and
- Nurse Enlisted Commissioning Programme (NECP).
Individuals within one year of completing their bachelor’s degree, with a bachelor’s degree or desiring to earn graduate degrees may not participate in any of the above programmes; they should seek commissioning through the Officer Training School.
5.4.1 Airman Scholarship and Commissioning Programme (ASCP):
The ASCP offers active duty enlisted personnel the opportunity to earn a commission who can complete all bachelor degree and commissioning requirements in 2-4 years as an AFROTC cadet. Those selected separate from the Active Duty Air Force, join an AFROTC detachment and become a full-time college student. The USAF provides individuals with a tuition/fees scholarship of up to $18,000 per year, an annual textbook allowance, and a monthly non-taxable stipend.
5.4.2 Scholarships for Outstanding Airman (SOAR):
SOAR offers Active Duty enlisted personnel the opportunity to earn a commission who can complete all bachelor degree and commissioning requirements in 2-4 years as an AFROTC cadet. Applicants must have at least 24-hours of graded college course work with at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA and have a minimum ACT composite score of 26 or an SAT combined Reading and Math score of 1180 or an AFOQT Academic Aptitude score of 57.
Applicants are not authorised to pursue a second bachelors or graduate degree. Degree plans should be in full year increments (e.g. 2, 3, 4 year academic plan). If approved, any degree plans that require an extra semester (e.g. 2.5, 3.5 year academic plans) do not receive scholarship entitlements unless they are in a Secretary of the Air Force approved 5-year major (Ref: AFROTCI 36-2011 4.28. – 18.104.22.168., and Attachment 8). Any summer courses taken are not authorised entitlements unless it is a mandatory course required for the degree and the course is only offered in the summer.
Those selected separate from the Active Duty Air Force, join an AFROTC detachment and become a full-time college student. The USAF provides them with a tuition/fees scholarship of up to $18,000 per year, an annual textbook allowance, and a monthly non-taxable stipend. This scholarship is awarded for 2-4 years, depending on how many years the individual has remaining in their bachelor’s degree program. Upon graduation and completion of the programme, individuals will be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and will then be returned to Active Duty with a military obligation of 4-years Active Duty and 4-years Reserve Duty.
5.4.3 Professional Officer Course – Early Release Programme (POC-ERP):
POC-ERP offers active duty enlisted personnel the opportunity to earn a commission who can complete all bachelor degree and commissioning requirements in 2-years as an AFROTC cadet. Applicants are not authorised to pursue a second bachelors or graduate degree. Those selected separate from the Active Duty Air Force, join an AFROTC detachment and become a full-time college student. The USAF provides them a monthly non-taxable stipend. Upon graduation and completion of the programme, individuals will be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and will then be returned to Active Duty with a military obligation of 4-years Active Duty and 4-years Reserve Duty.
5.4.4 Nurse Enlisted Commissioning Programme (NECP):
The USAF Nurse Corps is continually seeking qualified enlisted personnel for commissioning as officers in the nursing role. Eligibility criteria include:
- Must be able to commission prior to 42nd birthday;
- Have a minimum of 59 semester hours of graded college coursework from an accredited university;
- Be in the grade of E-4 or higher; and
- Meet graduation requirements within 24 months.
5.5 Transitioning from Enlisted to Officer Status
In addition to the above options, there are two other ways that enlisted personnel can progress to officer status:
- Warrant Officers (WO): are promoted from the enlisted ranks for technical expertise and rank between the highest enlisted and lowest commissioned officers; or
- Non-commissioned officers (NCOs): are high-ranking enlisted personnel who have been given officer-like authority by their superiors.
Additional training is provided in both cases.
6.0 Stage 3: Air Force Qualifying Test
Individuals aspiring to be commissioned officers in the USAF must first pass the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT). The AFOQT measures aptitudes used to pick candidates for officer commissioning programmes and specific commissioned officer training programmes.
The AFOQT is similar to the SAT test (i.e. multiple choice) and covers topics ranging from verbal and maths skills to pilot and navigation aptitude. It should be noted that this test can only be taken twice, with a minimum interval of 6-month between the tests.
The AFOQT has 11 subtests (Table 2) plus a personality assessment. Knowledge and cognitive aptitude subtest scores are combined to create one or more of the six composite scores used to help predict success in certain types of USAF training programmes.
The AFOQT takes approximately 5-hours to complete (yes, 5-hours!) and the scores are reported in six composite areas: Pilot; Combat Systems Officer (CSO, formerly Navigator); Air Battle Manager (ABM); Verbal; Quantitative (Math); and Academic Aptitude. These are the only scores that will be reported to the individual – AFPC/DSYX does not combine or total the areas – and each one is reported separately with a percentile score (indicates how your test performance compared to a normative reference group). The composite score is determined using a combination of the 11 cognitive subtests as identified in Table 2.
6.1 AFOQT Minimum Standards
The USAF has established minimum AFOQT standards for commissioning and rated classification (Table 3). Beyond these minimums, each commissioning source determine the criteria for selection. The AFOQT score is just one of the many factors considered in the selection process.
7.0 Stage 4: Military Entrance Processing Station
This stage of the selection process involves a visit to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) were physical and mental screening is conducted. A detailed overview of MEPS can be found here.
8.0 Stage 5: Officer Training School Selection Board
All applications by individuals aspiring to be USAF officers are reviewed by the Officer Training School Selection Board (OTSSB), approximately every six weeks at the Air Force Recruiting Service Headquarters.
The OTSSB evaluates an individual’s application on objective and subjective factors which include:
- Objective: academic discipline, grade point average (GPA) and AFOQT.
- Subjective: work experience, accomplishments, adaptability, character, leadership ability, potential for future growth, and other recommendations.
For Active Duty enlisted personnel, performance reports and commander’s recommendations are also evaluated. A minimum of three USAF Colonels (OF-5) review every application. The selection process is similar to a USAF officer promotion board. Key to the entire process is that no single factor leads to an individual’s selection or non-selection, according to OTS selection officials.
Some of the regulations governing selection boards include:
- AFI 36-2005: Appointment in Commission Grades and Designation and Assignment in Professional Categories – Reserve of the Air Force and United States Air Force (Temporary).
- AFI 36-2013: Officer Training School (OTS) Enlisted Airman Commissioning Programmes.
- AETCI 36-2002: Recruiting Procedures for the Air Force.
- AFROTC 45-13: AFROTC Weighted Professional Officer Course Selection System.
- AFRCI 36-2602: Application Procedures for Specialised Undergraduate Pilot Training (SUPT), Specialised Undergraduate Pilot Training-Helicopter (Supt-H) and Specialised Undergraduate Navigator Training (SUNT).
9.0 Stage 6: Delayed Entry Programme
Once individuals have achieved all the necessary requirements and passed all the tests, they will enter the Delayed Entry Programme (DEP). The DEP is were successful individuals wait to be called forward for entry into basic, or Phase 1 initial, officer training.
How long an individuals will have to wait to be called forward can depend on a variety of factors including specific job availability.
10.0 Stage 7: Basic Officer Training
Basic, or Phase 1 initial, officer training is a 9-week training programme designed to challenge individuals both mentally and physically, preparing them for their career as a commissioned officer in the USAF.
An overview of basic officer training for USAF officers can be found here (TBC).
11.0 Useful Links
Although outdated, the reader may find this 1990 report on the officer selection process of interest: US Air Force Officer Training School Selection System Validation (Cowan et al., 1990) (PDF).
Listed are some links which the reader may find useful:
- US Joint Chiefs of Staff: http://www.jcs.mil/Home.aspx
- US Department of Defence Careers Website: https://dod.usajobs.gov/
- US Air Force: http://www.airforce.com/joining-the-air-force/officer-overview/
- US Air Force Academy: http://www.academyadmissions.com/
- US Air Force Academy Preparatory School: http://usafa.smartcatalogiq.com/en/2013-2014/Catalog/The-Academy-Preparatory-School
- Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) Programme: http://www.afrotc.com/
- US Air Force Enlisted Commissioning Programmes: http://www.au.af.mil/au/holmcenter/afrotc/EnlistedComm/EnlistedCommissioning.asp
- Nurse Enlisted Commissioning Programme (NECP): https://kx2.afms.mil/_layouts/login/Privacy.htm?ReturnUrl=/kj/kx1/AFNurseEducation/_layouts/Authenticate.aspx?Source=%252Fkj%252Fkx1%252FAFNurseEducation%253FfunctionalArea%253DAFNurseEducation&Source=/kj/kx1/AFNurseEducation?functionalArea=AFNurseEducation
- US Air Force Recruiting Service (AFRS): http://www.rs.af.mil/
- The OCS Foundation Network: http://www.airforceots.com/portal/index.php
- Defence Manpower Data Centre (DMDC): https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/appj/dwp/index.jsp
- Careers in the US Military: http://www.careersinthemilitary.com
- Website about joining the US Military: http://todaysmilitary.com/
- Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Programme Official Site: http://asvabprogram.com/ or http://official-asvab.com/
- United States Military Entrance Processing Command Official Site: http://www.mepcom.army.mil/
- Selective Service System: http://www.sss.gov/default.htm
- Defence Reviews: http://www.defense.gov/defensereviews/
- US Immigration and Nationalisation Service (INS) Official Site: http://www.uscis.gov
- General Education Development (GED) Certificate Programme: https://ged.com/en/?lang=en.
- Two UK-orientated pieces that may be of interest:
- A very thorough document ‘Informed Choice? Armed Forces Recruitment Practice in the United Kingdom’ written by David Gee in 2007 and available from: http://www.informedchoice.org.uk/informedchoice/informedchoiceweb.pdf.