Should I Go Army Officer or NCO?
By Charles Holmes
Should I go Army Officer or NCO?
This is an important question every new recruit and young Soldier should think about. Since most recruits and young Soldiers don’t know the major
differences between the two, I want to take some time to educate them about the differences between Army Officers and NCOs.
But before I dive too deep into the training I want you to know that Officers and NCOs have different responsibilities and duties. While some of their duties
overlap, there are some distinct differences. In the paragraphs below I will highlight the major differences between Army Officer and NCO duties so you
have a better understanding about each option.
What Army NCOs Do
Army NCOs are the backbone of the Army. They handle most of the day-to-day issues in the Army. They lead Soldiers and get the mission done. They
focus on individual training and ensure their soldiers can shoot, move and communicate. They execute the orders given to them by their officers and they
do lots of behind the scenes type stuff such as resourcing and coordinating. They sign for property, maintain equipment, and run sections.
Most young NCOs (E-4 to E-6) lead 3-10 Soldiers. As NCOs progress through the NCO ranks they get additional responsibilities. By the time they reach
the rank of Sergeant First Class, they could supervise up to 50 or more Soldiers. Once they reach First Sergeant and Sergeant’s Major, that number
could reach 100 to 500+ Soldiers.
Pros of Serving as an Army NCO
There are many great reasons to serve as a NCO. Here are a few of my favorite reasons.
• Work Closely with Troops Your Entire Career – My single favorite thing about the NCO Corps is that you get to work closely with Soldiers your entire
career. You are their supervisor, mentor and coach. Even as you progress to the senior enlisted ranks, you still get that personal interaction (even
though it’s much less than your earlier NCO years).
• Do More Hands On Work, rather than mission planning and staff work – If you’re the hands on type of person or a doer who likes to roll up your sleeves
and get dirty, the NCO Corps is the perfect fit for you. You are where the rubber meets the road. Yes, you might get some staff assignments from time-to-
time, but you still get to do the hands on work in those assignments.
• Teach Basic Army Fundamentals Such as Shoot, Move and Communicate – NCOs train Soldiers. Beginning in Basic Training and continuing through all
Soldiers’ careers, it’s the NCO that ensures the Soldiers are trained for combat.
• Subject Matter Experts – The NCOs are the subject matter experts in their specific specialty. They advise their officers in their area of expertise.
Cons of Serving as an Army NCO
I can’t think of many reasons NOT to serve as a NCO. But since I have to pick a couple examples, this is what comes to mind.
• Less pay – Pay for senior NCOs is pretty competitive, but for most of your career you won’t earn that much. I’ve always believed that NCOs were
underpaid for what they did, but that is just my personal opinion.
• Less variety in jobs – Most NCOs stay in the same job for a few years, whereas officers move around a lot. Additionally, there’s a good chance you will
be doing something similar most of your career, unless you get an additional MOS or special assignment.
Once you weigh the pros and cons of serving as a NCO, you will discover that it is a great career choice for most people.
What Army Officers Do
Army Officers have a wide variety of responsibilities in the Army that vary by rank and duty assignment.
Some of the common duties include:
• Tacticians – Officers are the Army’s tacticians. They are the subject matter experts in the Art of War. In combat, a good Officer is worth his or her weight
• Mission Planning – Officers are the planners in the Army. They develop mission orders, plan for missions and utilize the Troop Leading Procedures and
Military Decision Making Process.
• Leader Development – Officers develop their subordinate officers, NCOs and Soldiers. They do this through counseling, Officer Professional
Development, NCO Professional Development and by leading by example.
• Collective Training – While NCOs handle the individual training, officers are responsible for collective training: training performed by the entire unit.
• Develop Policies and Procedures – Officers develop policies and procedures throughout all levels of the Army
• Enforce the Army Standards – While NCOs enforce Soldier standards the officers enforce standards to everyone under their authority. This includes the
Uniform Command of Military Justice.
Listed below I want to talk about some of the pros and cons of serving as an Army Commissioned Officer.
Pros of Serving as an Army Officer
• Get More Responsibilities From an Early Age – Starting at the age of 21 or 22 you can be in charge of 30 or more Soldiers. From your first job as a
Platoon Leader you are given an enormous amount of responsibility, probably a couple million dollars worth of equipment to maintain and account for, and
at least 30 Soldiers to supervise.
• Get Paid More – Officers get paid a good wage right from day one. Even as a young Army Officer, you earn the same amount as a senior NCO,
someone with 10 to 15 years MORE experience than you have.
• Get a Variety of Job Experiences – If it’s one thing I love about the Army Officer corps it’s the wide variety of jobs you can have. Even with just one officer
branch you can do so many different things. This rounds out your experience and teaches you a little bit about a lot.
Cons of Serving as an Army Officer
• Very Political – The Army Officer Corps is VERY political. Not all officers look out for each other. You have to be very cautious about what you say and
do because someone is always watching.
• Limited Troop Time – Once you’ve finished your Company Command as a senior Captain, your troop leading days are pretty much over. Sure, you might
get some future command assignments, but at those levels you aren’t working as closely with the troops.
• Lots of Desk Time – As an Army Officer, most of your career will be at a desk, preparing reports, doing PowerPoint slides and writing mission orders. For
a select few, this is a good deal, but I’ve found that most officers hate the staff time.
As you can see, serving as an officer isn’t for everyone. Although it has its unique set of challenges, it is also very challenging, rewarding and fulfilling.
Questions to Ask Before You Decide Which Route to Take
Before you decide which career route is best for you (NCO or Officer), here are a few questions you should ask yourself.
1. What do I want to do in my career?
2. What are my strengths?
3. What are my weaknesses?
4. Am I a big picture kind of person, or a hands on person?
5. Can I see myself leading 100, 500 or even 1,000+ Soldiers?
By answering these five questions you should have a better idea about which route is better for you.
If you’re thinking about becoming an Army Officer one day, I would still recommend that you enlist first and get some Soldier and NCO experience. This will
give you some leadership experience and you will learn how the Army works. You can do a short 2-3 years enlistment and then go to OCS. And if you are
unsure about what you want to do, I would still recommend enlisting first.
Additionally, I highly recommend you sit down with a senior NCO or two and an Army Officer or two and pick their brains. Ask them your questions. Get
their input. Find out what they recommend based upon their experience.
I’d like to close by saying that the Army needs both good Officers and good NCOs. Both jobs are equally important. One is not better than the other. If
you want to have a successful, fulfilling and fun career, you need to do your research before you decide to go Army Officer or NCO. That way you can
pick the right career for you!
What are your thoughts?
About the Author: Charles Holmes is the creator of Part-Time-Commander.com, the largest website in the world exclusively for part-time Soldiers in the
ARNG and USAR. He is a former Army Major and author of 12 books. You can learn more about his products and services in his military store. Charles is
a successful blogger, author and infopreneur. You can visit his Charles Holmes blog to learn more about him and his business, Holmes Internet Marketing.
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