Source of Commission
The criteria for the selection of potential officers for commissioning include age, U.S. citizenship, physical fitness, moral character, education, and cognitive ability. Given that officers form the military’s leadership and professional echelon and that financial investment in officer education programs is high, the selection standards are quite stringent.[Footnote 2]
A 4-year college degree, while not a universal prerequisite for commissioning, is necessary for continued service in the military. To this end, two of the primary commissioning programs, the Service academies and the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), are administered in conjunction with an individual’s academic preparation. The United States Military Academy (USMA), the United States Naval Academy (USNA), and the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) each offer room, board, medical and dental care, salary, and tuition throughout a 4-year undergraduate program of instruction leading to a baccalaureate degree.[Footnote 3] Located at numerous undergraduate colleges and universities throughout the country, ROTC has both scholarship and non-scholarship options.[Footnote 4]
The two remaining primary commissioning programs, Officers Candidate/Training School (OCS/OTS) and Direct Commissioning, are designed almost exclusively for individuals who already possess at least a baccalaureate degree. OCS/OTS exists as a rather quick commissioning source for college graduates who did not receive military training or indoctrination as part of their undergraduate education. This source also provides a means for high-potential enlisted personnel to earn a commission. Direct commissions, with a minimum of military training, are offered to professionals in fields such as law, medicine, and the ministry. Because of their advanced degrees and/or work experience, officers directly appointed are often commissioned at ranks higher than the customary second lieutenant or ensign. There are other specialized commissioning sources that, together with the primary programs, ensure that the Services have access to a number of different pools of personnel with diverse skills.
Table 4.3 highlights the flexibility in officer procurement afforded by the alternative commissioning programs. The largest proportion of FY 2002 officer accessions (33 percent) came through ROTC programs—with a roughly equal split between those receiving scholarships (48 percent) and those who did not (52 percent). Direct appointments and academy graduates accounted for 11 percent and 15 percent of incoming officers, respectively. OCS/OTS produced about 29 percent of FY 2002 Active Component officer accessions.
[Footnote 2] See Eitelberg, M.J., Laurence, J.H., and Brown, D.C., "Becoming Brass: Issues in the Testing, Recruiting, and Selection of American Military Officers," in B.R. Gifford and L.C. Wing (Eds.), Test Policy in Defense: Lessons from the Military for Education, Training, and Employment (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991). [back to paragraph]
[Footnote 3] There is no separate academy for the Marine Corps, but a percentage of each Naval Academy graduating class pledges to become Marine Corps officers. [back to paragraph]
[Footnote 4] Non-scholarship ROTC is not without benefits. There is a subsistence allowance upon progress to advanced training.[back to paragraph]