This was published in The Belle Banner, July 17th 2019.
I recently wrote about taking ROTC in college. Many people start college unsure of what they want to do in life, and decide on a final major when they discover an interesting subject. Why not consider a career as a professional army officer. It is a respected career, whose products becomes business leaders, politicians, and even presidents.
The majority of Army officers come through ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps). Upon graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree and completing the military science program they are commissioned as second lieutenants. Upon commissioning, they are also branched into one of the army’s 16 basic branches, which are; Adjutant Generals Corps – Human Resource people who run the army personnel systems, Air Defense Artillery – shooting things in the air, Armor/Cavalry – Tanks and reconnaissance, Aviation – fly helicopters, Chemical Corps – Supervise chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense and offense, Engineers – Combat Engineers build things and blow up things, Field Artillery – Big guns that shoot big bullets for miles, Finance Corps – The money managers, Infantry – Combat with the enemy, Medical Services – Doctors, nurses, specialists, and administrators of the army health system, Military Intelligence – Finding the enemies secrets, Military Police – The cops, Ordnance Corps – The maintainers of weapons and munitions systems, Quartermaster Corps – Supervise the army’s massive supply system, Signal Corps – Supervising everything signal from radios to satellite communications to computer hackers, and Transportation Corps – Moving the Army – people and things by truck, rail, and water.
What type of college degree matches to what army branch? Answer – It doesn’t make much difference. The army’s first requirement for an officer is that he or she has a bachelor’s degree. I’ve known business administration majors in infantry, adjutant general’s corps, and quartermaster corps. One of the best infantry officers I knew had a degree in physical education, I knew a couple very good infantry officers who had degrees in psychology, and a couple were sociology majors. History with emphasis on military history probably aligns closest to the infantry. Ordnance, Transportation, and Quartermaster officers can transition into the higher level composite “Logistics Corps” as captains around four to five years of service. A bachelor’s degree in logistics management, which is now being offered by some schools, would be an ideal education base for those branches. Logistics managers are also highly valued in civilian industry. Starting salary around $55 to $60 thousand, older experienced managers around $120 to $150, national average around $75 thousand.
The first thing a new second lieutenant does is attend an officer basic leadership course (OBLC), most are about three months long, conducted at the army post where his or her branch school is located. Fort Leonard Wood is home to Engineers, Military Police, and the Chemical Corps. Infantry and Armor are at Fort Benning, Georgia, Adjutant Generals Corps at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Ordnance, Transportation, and Quartermaster are at Fort Lee, Virginia. At their OBLC, second lieutenants are taught what they need to know to perform as lieutenants in their branch. There may be some specialty schools after OBLC such airborne (parachute) school, then they are assigned to their first job.
Quartermaster Basic Officer Leadership Course Graduation
When second lieutenants begin their first job, they begin to realize the difference between enlisted soldiers and officers. Enlisted soldiers are not dumb. Dumb people can’t get in the Army now, and most senior sergeants now have bachelor’s degrees, but enlisted soldiers are the workers and officers are the managers. Senior Command Sergeants Major, old enough to be the lieutenant’s father, salutes the newest Second Lieutenant and calls him sir or her ma am. First jobs for second lieutenants are usually a platoon or a section where he or she is the leader and a senior sergeant, a Staff Sergeant, Sergeant First Class, or a Master Sergeant is the NCOIC (Non-commissioned officer in charge). Most sergeants in those positions accept that part of their job is to train their lieutenant, whether or not the lieutenant realizes he or she is being trained.
Smart lieutenants, in their first job, absorb all the experience and knowledge they can from their sergeants. They hear a lot of advice from their sergeants, but the lieutenant is still the boss. The lieutenant is the leader and as an old combat general once said; “The leader (officer) is the first boots on the ground and the last boots in the chow line”, meaning that the officer sets an example for personal conduct, enthusiasm for the task at hand, and concern for the soldiers under him or her. The lieutenant is responsible for accomplishment of the mission and for the welfare of his or her soldiers. Officers and enlisted soldiers do not socialize together, except at organized functions such as unit parties, anything outside of that type of setting is fraternization, which is against the law in the military. Officers socialize with officers.
New lieutenants are usually in that first job for around six to nine months, then depending on branch and availability of jobs they are moved to a job of more responsibility. A larger, more complex platoon, or a staff section of more responsibility. Second lieutenants are promoted to first lieutenant around 18 months time in service. First lieutenants are company executive officers, meaning they are the second in command of a unit of 100 to 250 soldiers, they also move up in staff jobs, often working in positions requiring a captain.
Lieutenants commissioned from a normal ROTC program are committed to three years active duty, or four years for ROTC scholarship recipients. Most officers are promoted to captain around the four year mark, which often coincides with their decision to extend their active duty or leave the service. Captains, who are remaining on active duty, attend a six month long Captains Career Course at their branch school. That is a permanent change of station, with quarters provided for the captain and his or her family. The Captains Career Course is to prepare them for company command and battalion level staff work, after that course they are assigned to a unit where they may command a company, which is normally a year to two year job, or they may go to a specialty assignment such as ROTC instructor, Reserve Component Advisor, or Recruiting supervisor. Officers serve as captains for around six years before they are considered for promotion to Major. During that time they are encouraged to get a masters degree, some do that at night and online, some are given the time to attend full time, and some are sent to graduate school, while on active duty, paid for by the Army.
Promotion to major happens around the 10 to 11 year mark, and most new majors attend the one year long Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. That is also a permanent change of station, with family quarters provided. That course teaches strategic thinking for army level staff work, and preparation for battalion command. There aren’t many command jobs for majors, but there are a lot of staff jobs. In combat arms battalions, majors serve as battalion executive officers and battalion operations officers.
Consideration for promotion to lieutenant colonel happens around the officers 15 to 16 year mark. The boards which select officers for lieutenant colonel also select some for battalion command. Battalions usually consist of 800 to 1,000 soldiers’ in five or six companies. Battalion command is normally a two year job. Lieutenant colonels also head division (two star) level staff sections, G1 Personnel, G2 Intelligence, G3 Operations and Training, and G4 Logistics.
Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Curtis (at that time) Commander of the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, with retired four star Ann Dunwoody, who also commanded that battalion 1992-1994.
Promotion to full Colonel, if it happens, is around the 20 year mark. Colonels command brigades consisting five or six battalions. Colonels also attend a year long “War College” which is a course in national level strategic thinking. Colonels are also the principal staff officers at corps (three star) level commands.
Army officer pay chart
Life as an army officer is very different from life as an enlisted soldier. Officers are paid much more than sergeants, but they are also responsible for much more. The most wrong description of army officers I have heard, by people who not familiar with the military, is that they always have to give orders. In 21 years, I never heard, “I am ordering you” or “that is an order”. An officer saying that usually means that they have failed at leadership. Officers are leaders. Leaders lead by setting an example, by encouraging and inspiring soldiers to want to do what must be done.
Serving as an army officer is an exhilarating and tremendously satisfying career.