This article provides an outline of the recruitment and selection process for individuals wishing to join the US Army as commissioned officers, i.e. not as enlisted personnel.
The US system for the recruitment and selection of US Army 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 US Army 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 US Army as a:
- US Army Regular (Active Duty) officer:
- US Army Reserve officer; or
- US Army National Guard officer.
Please view Pocket Recruiter Guide 2013-14 for an outline of the US Army’s general entry requirements, MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), and more.
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 Army 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 US Army and these vary across the Service branches of the US Army 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 US Army 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 Army|
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
Success in any branch of the US military has its foundations in a good education, and a high school diploma is most desirable. Individuals with a General Education Development (GED) certificate can enlist, but some Services may limit opportunities.
It will be very difficult to be considered a serious candidate without either a high school diploma or accepted alternative credential.
3.4 Nationality & Residency Criteria
Individuals who are US citizens or Permanent Resident Aliens (people who have an INS I-151/I-551 ‘Green Card’) may join the US Army. 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.
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.
After an individual confirms that they meet the general eligibility for service with the US Army 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 US Army has four options as outlined in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Method of entry
5.1 Option 1: US Military 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.
For students who would like to experience a military environment while getting a first-class education, the US Military Academy offers an outstanding education and full four-year scholarships. The US Military Academy is located in West Point, New York, and is the oldest of the five academies having been founded in 1802.
Tuition, books, board and medical and dental care are all fully paid for all four years. The competition to get in is fierce and admissions criteria include:
- High school academic performance;
- Standardised test scores (SAT or ACT);
- Athletics and extracurricular activities;
- Leadership experience and community involvement; and/or
- A congressional letter of recommendation (not required by the Coast Guard Academy).
West Point cadets are immersed in a military-oriented environment, gaining an unparalleled undergraduate education and leadership skills through a rigorous curriculum. As such, graduates of West Point receive a Bachelor of Science degree and are commissioned as officers, in the rank of Second Lieutenant, as Active Duty soldiers. There is a service obligation of a minimum of five years.
5.1.2 Entry Requirements
To apply for the US Military 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).
5.1.3 Military Academy Preparatory School
The United States Military Academy Preparatory School (USMAPS), located at West Point since 2011, is a preparatory school for the US Military Academy. Formally established in 1946, its official mission is:
“…to provide academic, military and physical instruction in a moral-ethical military environment to prepare and motivate candidates for success at the United States Military Academy.”
Admission to USMAPS is seen as alternative route to gaining acceptance to the US Military Academy and ensures that cadets are better qualified for the academic and military training there.
5.1.4 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 Army 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).
5.1.5 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.
The US Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) range of programmes provide officer training for students during college in exchange for scholarship money. In return, students commit to military service for a set period of time after graduation. ROTC programmes are offered at over 1100 schools, colleges and universities across the US and allow students to have a traditional college experience while preparing for their future as an officer in the US Army.
The ROTC range of programmes is very flexible and as a result there are a number of avenues as highlighted in Table 2: ROTC Range of Programmes.
5.3 Option 3: Officer Candidate School
The US Army Officer Candidate School (OCS) is the Army’s main training academy for prospective Army Officers. The OCS is open to civilians who hold at least a 4-year college degree as well as qualified enlisted Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs).
Individuals who successfully complete the 12-week training programme receive formal commissions as US Army Officers and assume the ability to command Soldiers.
OCS is designed to give individuals a framework for their role as a unit commander. Individuals will learn tactics training, how to deal with mental and emotional stress, and how to give orders. By the end of the course, individuals will know how to lead.
The benefits of becoming an Officer rival those from the very best jobs in the civilian environment; however, an individual’s experiences as an officer will also signify to others that they have the fortitude to lead in any situation, no matter the environment or the stakes.
Further information on the US Army’s Phase 1 initial training for officers can be found here (TBC).
5.3.1 Entry Requirements
Table 3 outlines the requirements for entry to the US Army’s OCS.
|Table 3: Entry requirements by candidate type|
Enlisted Soldier (Active Duty)
5.4 Option 4: Direct Commission Officers
Direct Commission Officers (DCOs), known as Professionally Qualified Officers in the UK, are civilians who have special skills needed for military operations. The US Army currently employs DCOs in three fields:
- Medical: The US Army Medical Department is one of the largest and most advanced healthcare systems in the world, offering careers in over 40 specialty and sub-speciality areas. There are significant financial incentives and benefits for medical personnel.
- Legal: The Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps is the US Army’s law firm. Its lawyers, called Judge Advocates, represent the United States in both civil and criminal military matters.
- Chaplaincy: US Army Chaplains act as mentors and counsellors to military personnel seeking spiritual guidance.
Those who earn a direct commission will receive the rank determined by their career branch and serve in the Regular Army, Army Reserve or Army National Guard.
5.4.1 Entry Requirements
Table 4 outlines the requirements for entry as a DCO in the US Army.
|Table 3: Entry requirements by DCO field|
5.5 Transitioning from Enlisted to Officer Status
There are opportunities for certain enlisted personnel to make the transition to commissioned officer. Enlisted personnel, with the right qualifications, may be recommended by their commanding officers for OCS or ROTC (if they plan to go back to school) and the US Army has a transitional programme (see Table 2) designed to aid enlisted personnel make that transition.
In addition, 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 Useful Links
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 Military Academy (West Point): http://www.westpoint.edu/admissions/SitePages/Home.aspx
- US Army: http://www.goarmy.com/
- US Army Cadet Command: http://www.armycadetportal.com
- US Army PaYS Programme: http://www.armypays.com
- 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: http://www.gedtestingservice.com/ged-testing-service
- 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.