An officer is a member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority. Commissioned officers derive authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position. Commissioned officers are typically the only persons, in a military environment, able to act as the commanding officer (according to the most technical definition of the word) of a military unit. A superior officer is an officer with a higher rank than another officer, who is a subordinate officer relative to the superior.
Newly commissioned U.S. Navy and Marine Corps officers celebrate their new positions by throwing their Midshipmen covers into the air as part of the U.S. Naval Academy class of 2005 graduation and commissioning ceremony.
Non-commissioned officers (NCOs) in positions of authority can be said to have control or charge rather than command per se; the use of the word "command" to describe any use of authority is often unofficial.
Having officers is one requirement for combatant status under the laws of war, though these officers need not have obtained an official commission or warrant. In such case, those persons holding offices of responsibility within the organization are deemed to be the officers, and the presence of these officers connotes a level of organization sufficient to designate a group as being combatant.
Commissioned officers generally receive training as leadership and management generalists, in addition to training relating to their specific military occupational specialty or function in the military. Many advanced militaries require university degrees as a prerequisite for commissioning, even from the enlisted ranks. Others, including the Australian Defence Force, the British Armed Forces, Nepal Army, the Pakistani Armed Forces (except the Pakistan Air Force), the Swiss Army, the Singapore Armed Forces, the Israel Defense Forces, Swedish Armed Forces and the New Zealand Defence Force, are different in not requiring a university degree for commissioning, although a significant number of officers in these countries are graduates. In the Israel Defense Forces, a university degree is a requirement for an officer to advance to a Lt. Colonel rank. The IDF often sponsors the studies for its Majors.
In the United Kingdom, officers are commissioned both directly into the officer corps or from junior ranks as what are known as 'Direct Entry' or DE officers, or commissioned from senior ranks as 'Late Entry' or LE officers. LE officers, whilst holding the same Queen's Commission, generally work in different roles from the DE officers. In the infantry a number of Warrant Officers - Class 1 are commissioned as LE officers.
Commissioning for DE officers occurs after a 1 year course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for regular officers or the Territorial Army Commissioning Course for Territorial Army Officers, or for Royal Navy and Royal Air Force candidates, an equivalent period at either Britannia Royal Naval College or the RAF College Cranwell respectively. Royal Marines Officers receive their training in the Command Wing of the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines. The courses consist of not only tactical and combat training, but also leadership, management and international affairs training.
In the U.S. military, officers without a university degree may under certain circumstances be commissioned, but are required to earn one before being promoted to Captain (USA, USMC, USAF) or Lieutenant (USN, USCG) (pay grade O-3). Officers without a degree are usually Officer Candidate School (OCS) graduates from the enlisted ranks and comprise less than 2% of all officers. Officers may also be commissioned through the Reserve Officer Training Corps, which is composed of small training programs at several hundred American universities. Graduates from the service academies are commissioned immediately upon graduation and comprise around 20% of the Officer Corps. An officer may also be commissioned at a federal or state based OCS. These schools train and commission college graduates and enlisted personnel toward being promoted to Officer ranks.
Another route to becoming a commissioned officer is through direct commission. Credentialed civilian professionals such as scientists, pharmacists, physicians, nurses, clergy, and attorneys are directly commissioned upon entry into the military or another federal uniformed service. However, these direct commission officers normally do not have command authority outside their specific branches (e.g., Medical Corps (United States Army) or Judge Advocate General's Corps).
Such commissioning of civilians was widely used in World War II to bring industrial management expertise (for materiel production) and medical and surgical skills into the U.S. armed forces. William S. Knudsen, with the highest-ranking such commission, is possibly the most famous example.
In countries whose ranking systems are based upon the models of the British Armed Forces, officers from the rank of Second Lieutenant (Army), Sub-Lieutenant (Navy) or Pilot Officer (Air Force) to the rank of General (Army), Admiral (Navy) or Air Chief Marshal (Air Force) are holders of a commission granted to them by the awarding authority. In Britain and other Commonwealth realms, the awarding authority is the monarch (or a Governor General representing the monarch) as head of state. The head of state often is granted the power to award commissions, or has commissions awarded in his or her name.
In Commonwealth nations, Commissioned Officers are given commissioning scrolls (a.k.a. commissioning scripts) signed by the Sovereign or the Governor General acting on the monarch's behalf. Upon receipt, this is an official legal document that binds the mentioned officer to the commitment stated on the scroll.
Non-commissioned members rise from the lowest ranks in most nations. Education standards for non-commissioned members are typically lower than for officers (with the exception of specialised-military and highly-technical trades). Enlisted members only receive leadership training as they are promoted to positions of responsibility, or as a prerequisite for such. In the past (and in some countries today but to a lesser extent) non-commissioned members were almost exclusively conscripts, whereas officers were volunteers.
A non-commissioned officer (NCO) is an enlisted military member holding a position of some degree of authority who has (usually) obtained it by promotion from within the non-officer ranks. Non-commissioned officers usually receive some leadership training, but their function is to serve as supervisors within their area of trade speciality and, at lower NCO grades, they are not generally considered management specialists. Senior non-commissioned officers serve as advisors and leaders from the duty section level to the highest levels of the military establishment. The duties of an NCO can vary greatly in scope, so that an NCO in one country may hold almost no authority, while others such as the United States and the United Kingdom consider their NCOs to be "the backbone of the military."
In most maritime forces (navies and coast guards), the NCO ranks are called Petty Officers and Chief Petty Officers, with enlisted ranks prior to attaining NCO/petty officer status typically being called Seaman, or some derivation thereof. In most traditional infantry, marine and air forces, the NCO ranks are known as Sergeants and Corporals, with non-NCO enlisted ranks referred to as Privates and Aircraftmen (or Airmen).
However, some countries use the term commission to describe the promotion of enlisted soldiers. Especially in countries with mandatory military service, NCOs are referred to as professional soldiers, not officers.
In some branches of many militaries there exists a third grade of officer known as a warrant officer. In the military of the United States, warrant officers are initially appointed by the Secretary of the service and then commissioned by the President of the United States upon promotion to chief warrant officer. In many other countries (as in the armed forces of the Commonwealth nations), warrant officers fill the role of very senior non-commissioned officers. Their position is affirmed by warrant from the bureaucracy directing the force - for example, the position of Regimental Sergeant Major in regiments of the British Army is held by a warrant officer appointed by the British Government.
In the US military, a warrant officer is a technically focused, single specialty officer - helicopter pilots and IT specialists of the US Army, for example. They are given salutes and they are addressed as Mr, Ms, Mrs, Sir, or Ma'am. There are no warrant officers in the U.S. Air Force (the ranks exist, but go permanently and completely unfilled), but each of the other U.S. Armed Forces have warrant officers though each warrant accession program is unique to the individual service's needs. Because warrant officers normally have more years in service than regular commissioned officer counterparts, their pay is often slightly more than regular commissioned officers. In the United States military, commissioned officers and commissioned warrant officers are the only officers allowed to command units.
Officer ranks and accommodation
Officers in nearly every country of the world are segregated from the enlisted soldiers in many facets of military life. Facilities accommodating needs such as the mess hall, bunks and domiciles, and general recreation are separated between officers and enlisted personnel. This class system, historically correlated to socioeconomic status is focused on discouraging fraternization and encouraging professional and ethical relations between military personnel.
Traditionally officers are from the landed, ruling or professional classes and are socially treated as gentlemen, in the old fashioned sense of the word. Soldiers on the other hand tend to be recruited from the working class. For example, officers do not routinely perform physical labor; they typically supervise enlisted soldiers/other ranks, either directly or via NCOs. Officers will and do perform physical labour when operationally required to do so, e.g. in combat, however it would be very unusual for an officer to perform physical labour in garrison. This traditional class difference is also reflected in the terminology used to describe officers. For example in recruiting material officers will be described as members of the profession of arms, as opposed to other ranks who will typically be equated to tradesmen, with soldiering (as opposed to officering) described as a trade.
The social gulf between officers and "men" is also a psychological enabler that allows the officers to keep the social distance required to lead and command effectively. For example to reduce the incidence of favouritism between troops under their command and to make difficult decisions such as ordering men to their death or sacrificing some men to save others.
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