Becoming an Officer in the Military

How do you become an officer in the military? This week I’m diving into the typical ways people become officers. That being said there are a lot of specialized programs and make sure to talk to a recruiter to find the best option for you. I also included an interview with a cadet going through ROTC and a new 2d Lt who completed Army Officer training. You can also check out episode 151 with two cadets at West Point sharing their experiences.

becoming an officer in the military

Becoming an Officer in the Military

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Photography by Trish Algre-Smith

The difference between being an officer and being enlisted largely impacts the type of work you do. Officers are typically managers and the enlisted members are the workers. As a Lieutenant, I was given the opportunity to work in the shops of the Civil Engineering Squadron and get to do some hands-on work. But this was to learn about the squadron and not my primary duty. Because of this distinction, it also comes down to what job you can do based on if you are an officer or enlisted. In the Civil Engineering Squadron officers are leaders of various sections but the enlisted members do the hands-on work. In the maintenance shop, the officers manage and lead the teams while the enlisted maintainers do the hands-on work of fixing the aircraft.

Military Academies

The Military academies are undergraduate programs that upon completion also gain you a commission into the U.S. Military. Getting accepted to a military academy is challenging. I did an interview with Lisa Rielage sharing all about the nomination process. Many people know about the Congressional Nomination but there are actually more nominations and the Coast Guard Academy does not require a nomination. Lisa wrote this great article to explain all the types of nominations.

The five U.S. academies are:
  • Military Academy (USMA), or West Point at West Point, New York
  • Naval Academy (USNA) at Annapolis, Maryland
  • Air Force Academy (USAFA) at Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) at New London, Connecticut
  • Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) at Kings Point, New York

In episode 151, I interviewed two West Point cadets who talked about their experience at the West Point. I also interviewed Claire Gibson who wrote Beyond the Point a fictional novel based on the interviews of women who attended West Point. Personally, I really enjoyed Beyond the Point because it went into so much detail about the challenge of being a cadet at West Point. I have interviewed women who have attended the Air Force Academy (episode 130 and 15), Naval Academy (episode 96 and 15), and Coast Guard Academy (episode 112 and 142) as well.

Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)

ROTC is a program that you complete alongside attending college. There are programs for the Air Force, Navy, and Army. Based on what university you attend will likely affect the options for ROTC but some colleges offer cross-campus programs. High school seniors can apply for an ROTC scholarship that will pay for their tuition throughout their school. Typically a monthly stipend along with a book stipend is provided. You can also join ROTC without a scholarship (no contract) and try out the program and work to gain a scholarship or contract with the military.

This week’s episode features Keiara Williams sharing her experience in ROTC. I have also talked to women who have joined the military through ROTC. Here are some of the episodes:

Serving as an Officer in the Marine Corps – Episode 51

Graduating Debt-Free with an ROTC Scholarship – Episode 89

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome – Episode 160

Rock the Boat – Episode 161

Asking Questions to Find Your Next Step – Episode 190

Officer Training School

If you already have your degree often the best option to consider is Officer Training School. Some people with degrees opt to get their masters and complete ROTC. Enlisted members who have gained their degree also can use OTS as an option but past military experience is not required. OTS programs vary by branch. For example, the Army will require new recruits to first attend Basic Training before attending OTS while the Air Force, Navy, Space Force, and Marine Corps do not.

Alison shared her story of attending OTS after completing Basic Training. I have had other guests on the podcast who have completed OTS here are some of their stories:

A Marine Astronaut at NASA – Episode 113

The Challenge of Officer Candidate School – Episode 85

Empowering women through Storytelling – Episode 108

Specialized Programs

There are specialized programs if you are joining certain career fields. Doctors, lawyers, dentists, social workers, and other career fields have specialized training and often start their military career at a different rank than 2d Lt. Make sure to talk to your recruiter about what options are available for you.

From Social Worker to Coach – Episode 177

Being a Dentist in the Military – Episode 103

Facing Discrimination in the Military – Episode 159

Check out the whole series here.

How to become in an officer in the U.S. Military can be complicated but if you know what you need to do it can be easy to get the process started.

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