Field commisions - Any difference by not going to an Academy/University?

I was watching Band of Brothers last night and it reminded me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask. At the end of the show, a Sargent recieved news that we was going to be the recipient of a Field Commision and become a Lieutenant.

  1. Does an “Officer” that is commisioned in the field “short” any privilages/abilities that an officer that say, went the typical route and became an officer from the get-go may have?

  2. Are there limits on how far they can go? IE - Could they get to General (albiet unlikely)

  3. Are they required to meet the minimum requirements (IE-Education) that any officer that is commisioned before battle would need? Example - If you joined the Military right now, you’d need a university/college degree. Lets say you didn’t have that and joined the military as an enlisted man. A war started and you’ve been in the field for a couple of years, working your way up. Could you get a field commision as an officer? Or would you only be considered if you had the prerequisites already?

I am not an expert on this by any means but this is how I understand it (and might be completely wrong).

I thought a field commission is just a temporary deal to allow a proper chain of command to exist under battle conditions. The promotion is NOT permamanent and must be ‘officially’ approved when time allows. As such, an NCO promoted to officer level on the battlefield may find his/her new rank stripped at the end of it all and go back to whatthey once were. I could, however, see the military telling the person that they may keep the new rank but must embark on the effort to meet the minimum requirements for that rank and may be stripped of the commission should they fail.

Field commissions aren’t contingent on the usual qualifications, at least not to get one. My grandmother’s husband got one in the Navy in WWII. I don’t know about keeping one, since he got out after the war.

There is such a thing as a “reserve” commission, where the only educational requirement is an associate’s degree. For example, Airman can finish his associate’s and apply for a reserve commission. He’s still a second lieutenant and entitled to the usual perks that go with that, but he’s still got to finish his bachelor’s degree and go to officer’s training school to keep it. (His unit gives five years to complete the bachelor’s.) My brother did the same thing in the Army Reserve.


You can get and keep a field commission but without a university education, you won’t be considered capable of the complex administrative tasks that come with higher officer ranks. Being a Lieutenant is relatively simple, since you only deal with your platoon (about 30 men) and anyone with reasonable intelligence and leadership ability can do a decent job. At the rank of Captain, though, your direct control of the men starts to evaporate and you’ll spend more time on organization and administration than ordering grunts around.

Heinlein’s Starship Troopers discusses this, in the form of a character (Hassan) who has gotten a field commision to 2nd Lieutenant, but goes to Officer Candidate School anyway because he knows he won’t be able to advance without the formal education.

As W-A-M points out, battlefield promotions are not permanent, and (I have not looked this up) at least sometimes are revoked.

It happened to Custer (also one of the few who made it all the way up to General by this route):

Though who knows what happened with the CSA; didn’t they have all sorts of 22 year old colonels and the like due to their manpower shortage and frequent casualties?

Interesting. I had no idea they were temporary.

Y’all are really trashing the mighty fine corps of men and women who comprise the Navy’s LDO ranks. In the US Navy and the Naval Reserve, the Chief Warrant Officer (one may advance all the way to CW4 as the Navy doesn’t have CW5) and the Limited Duty Officer (one may advance all the way to Captain {equivalent of Army Colonel}) programs are commissioning programs which do not require college education.

Also, an individual who receives a field commission isn’t “an officer,” he or she’s an officer–no quotes.

No disrespect whatsoever was intended with the “”

How are the LDO’s getting “trashed?” I asked an honest question and so far I believe have been getting honest, well worded answers.

In the Army in WWII, as in WWI and the Civil War, all promotions were temporary. In WWII everyone’s promotion was in the AUS or Army of The United States and not the regular Army, the United States Army, i.e. the USA.

For example, a regular army officer with the rank of, say, 1[sup]st[/sup] Lt. might be promoted during the war to the rank of Lt. Col. or even higher but all of those promotions were in the AUS and were temporary. At the same time a regular could be a Lieutenant in the USA and a full Colonel in the AUS. And the promotions in the regular army came along at the same time. In this example, the 1[sup]st[/sup] Lt. could be promoted to Capt., USA while holding the rank of Colonel, AUS.

The same was true of enlisted ranks. A USA sergeant could be given a commission as Lt. which would be in the AUS. He would still be a sergeant, USA and might be promoted to Staff Sgt., USA while holding an AUS rank of, for example, Capt.

In the Civil War I believe the temporary promotions were called Brevet and didn’t necessarily carry the higher pay that went with the higher rank. In Custer’s case he became a division commander in cavalry which is ordinarilly a Major General but his permanent rank in the USA at the time of Little Big Horn was Lt. Col.

By the way, the OP asked if there was a difference between “field commissions” and academy commissions. I don’t know about the Army but in the Navy, although there is no legal difference, there is sure a lot of difference in practice.

Naval Academy graduates are a clannish lot who hold the traditions and esprit of the Academy in high regard. Enlisted personnel who get a commission are called “Mustangs” and in spite of the best efforts of the high naval command are definitely limited in career opportunities as compared with Academy graduates. The Chief of Naval Operations who committed suicide, I can’t come up with the name right now, was a Mustang and was the only one I know of who achieved statospheric rank and that was an exception…

That would be Jeremy “Mike” Boorda.

When I was in I only heard former-enlisted-now commissioned referred to as mustang(er)s, but that may have been that there simply weren’t any field-commission types from WWII left.