Understanding Military Skillsets: Part III


What's the Difference Between Enlisted and Officer Ranks?

In a nutshell, enlisted soldiers are the backbone of the military, comprising about 83% of the armed forces. Enlisted service members are responsible for completing military missions and carrying out orders. Officers act as managers for those soldiers, planning missions, giving orders, and assigning soldiers to tasks.

Every year, more than 180,000 people enlist in the armed forces, and nearly another 20,000 become officers. Both enlisted and officer ranks provide rewarding career experiences, educational and training opportunities, and competitive compensation.

What does Enlisted mean in the Military?

To be “enlisted” in the military, means that an individual has successfully gone through the process of becoming a service member and has taken an oath of U.S. military service. The enlistment process will usually begin with speaking with a military recruiter and visiting a Military Entrance Processing Station.

Incoming enlisted service members must pass a physical examination and the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which will help to determine which family of jobs, or MOS they are best suited for. To complete the enlistment process, prospective soldiers are then required to take an oath of enlistment, complete Basic Combat Training, complete Advanced Individual Training, then they will be assigned a job within a unit.

Enlisted vs. Officer Careers

But what do enlisted service members and officers do? Having the knowledge of the differences between enlisted personnel and officers helps to connect the dots of how the Military works.

Enlisted service members typically do the following jobs:

  • Participate in, or support, combat and other military operations, such as humanitarian or disaster relief
  • Operate, maintain, and repair equipment
  • Perform technical and support activities
  • Supervise junior enlisted personnel

Officers typically do the following jobs:

  • Plan, organize, and lead troops and activities in federal government military operations
  • Manage enlisted personnel
  • Operate and command federal government aircraft, ships, or armored vehicles
  • Provide military personnel with professional services in medical, legal, engineering, and other fields

These jobs all require intensive training that develops skills that are highly transferable to civilian employment.

Enlisted & Officer Experience & Training

Enlisted Personnel Experience & Training

In order to become an enlisted service member in the U.S. military, it is required that applicants have completed their GED or high school diploma. Once enlisted, many enlisted service members will train for jobs and learn skills and get hands-on experience in fields of employment such as transportation, human services, office administration, or mechanics. These skills learned during their time in the military will usually prove to be an asset to veteran job seekers as this experience transfers well to civilian employment.

Officer Experience & Training

Officers in the U.S. military are almost always required to possess a four-year degree or equivalent. Many colleges and universities have Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs on campus, which allow cadets to have the benefit of receiving a paid college education in exchange for their commitment to serve as officers in the Military after they graduate. Within the military, Officers act as managers and are placed in leadership positions that involve making tactical decisions, planning and directing operations.

Can an Enlisted Person Become an Officer?

Transitioning from an enlisted personnel to become an officer is possible and most branches of the military have transitioning services. These transitioning services will assist personnel who want to begin the transitioning process to become an officer. With recommendation from a commanding officer, enlisted personnel who meet the right qualifications and requirements can enroll and train at an Officer Candidate School (OCS), or if they need to go back to school they will enroll into an ROTC program.

Another way that enlisted personnel can begin transitioning to an officer title would be through promotion and training to a Warrant officer title for technical expertise. Enlisted service members can also be promoted through the ranks by their superiors to a noncommissioned officer (NCOs) title where they would have officer-like authority and be provided additional training.

What is the Difference Between Enlisted and Officer Ranks?

Both enlisted personnel and officers have their own unique ranks of hierarchy. Ranks will differ between the different branches of the military, however ranks are used to indicate enlisted personnel and officer’s level of seniority, leadership, and responsibility and are associated with a pay grade.

To get a better idea of how each segment is organized, download our Guide to Enlisted and Officer Ranks for a handy reference that outlines enlisted and officer ranks, with detailed information that will help you better understand the level of experience and responsibility for each rank. Next topic: Best Practices for Interviewing Veterans

Next topic: Interviewing military veterans.

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