What's it like being an officer in the Army or Navy?

I’m interested in joining either the Army or the Navy as an officer. I’ve heard that you can have the recruiter guarantee you a spot in OCS after basic training. Is this true? Also, what is it like being an officer in general?

If you are joining as an officer in the Air Force you don’t go to basic training, you go right to OCS. That is basic for officers. I believe the Army and Navy are the same. In the Navy or AF you have to have a college degree to get into OCS, not sure about the Army.

I can’t really tell you what it’s like being an officer, since I never was one. But I was enlisted in the Army for 5 years, so I’ll put a few thoughts down until somebody more qualified shows up:

Officers get treated better and have more freedom. With that comes a lot more responsibility. In fact, despite all the talk about responsibility to us junior NCOs and lower enlisted, officers are the only ones who take any real responsibility at all. I had a buddy who lost a SINCGARS radio once in Ft. Riley. He got a stern talking to, $400 taken out of his next paycheck, and probably some extra duty. Everyone pretty much forgot about it within a few weeks. The lieutenant in charge of his detachment had to pay the Army something like $10,000 and probably never got promoted again.

When change of command time came around once every 2 years or so, we had to lay out every single durable item our company was signed for, so the incoming commander could put eyes on all the myriad tools, trucks, camouflage netting, test equipment, rifles, etc., that he was taking responsibility for. Every time some idiot private got a DUI, the commander’s professional reputation took a ding.

It’s up to you do decide if being treated like an adult and getting a little bit better pay is worth all that responsibility.

On preview: Yes, you need a bachelor’s degree to be an officer in the Army. I think you can get a commission with 90 credit hours and the the caveat that you can’t be promoted to captain without a degree, but in reality >99% of Army officers have a bachelor’s degree.

Well, you’ll get a lot of different opinions on your second question. I don’t know the answer to the first (about guarantees to enter OCS), although I would doubt that there are hard guarantees except in very limited circumstances.

I enjoyed my time on active duty as an officer in the Navy, although there were times when the bureaucracy and general working conditions (e.g., long stretches of boredom or menial tasks, even as an officer) made me more certain of my desire to resign from active duty. I’ve been in the reserves for about five years now, and I’m glad I decided to get off active duty and join the reserves.

The type of job you have in the Armed Forces can play a huge role in whether or not you like your job. I was a cryptologist (now we’re called “Information Warfare Officers” :dubious:), and I spent two relatively enjoyable WestPac deployments on large amphibious ships, and an awesome two year tour stationed on the coast of Australia. The best part of the deployments was seeing a new and (sometimes) exotic location every few weeks. The worst part was the drag of doing the same job day in and day out, seven days a week at 12-18 hours per day. Let’s just say that the Navy promised me they’d show me the world, and they kept the promise.

I think it probably goes without saying that officers get better treatment (and the pay is better) than enlisted folks, but I know many sailors (and Marines) that wouldn’t ever want to trade in their enlisted uniform for an officer uniform. It’s a bit more rough-and-tumble in the enlisted corps. I generally tell people that as an officer I pushed a lot of paper around while my enlisted sailors did all the fun work.

I suggest finding a few non-recruiters to talk to about their experiences. The more recent the experience, the better, but you can also learn a lot from older vets, too. Oh, and remember: never, ever, sign anything in a recruiter’s office before reading it fully (I mean, absolutely word-for-word, even if it takes an hour), and if you don’t understand something, get outside assistance in order to understand it. I’ve never had a problem with recruiters, but their job is to get you to sign on the dotted line, so their loyalties aren’t necessarily towards you and your understanding.

Lots of good info in this thread. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask or PM me. The “what’s it like” questions don’t go too well, since the jobs are so varied and no two are alike.

What tofergregg said is accurate, but whatever job you have will determine how much paperwork vs. operational fun stuff you wind up doing. For my job, there’s plenty of paperwork and studying for quals, but there have also been plenty of deployments where the fun meter was pegged and paperwork was minimal.

As far as OCS goes… I don’t think there are any guarantees when you enter as an E (although I may be mistaken) in the hopes of eventually getting into OCS. If you want to be an O, try to join as an O–there is no Basic before OCS.

Thanks for the info. I do have a BS degree, and I should have a MA in December, but I’m not sure that is any use to becoming a military officer. What are the chances of making a career out of it? Do most people just stay as officers for a short period and then switch to the private sector?

Naval Aviation is holding its O’s pretty well since 9/11, indicating that most pilots and NFO’s (like me) are staying for 20 (like me). I’m guessing you’ll see a similar trend in the other Navy communities like Surface, Intel, Supply, IW, Subs, etc.

Your MA will help an OCS package, but there are many other factors which can strengthen/weaken the package. What’s most critical at this point is your age, since there are hard cut-offs for how old you can be when you commission. There are some places you can dig around, like navyocs.com and airwarriors.com, which will have decent gouge on what a competitive package looks like, as well as give you the age limits if that’s a concern. If you’re still young, then start looking at putting a package together, and get in touch with an Officer Recruiter. If you get that far, it’s likely the OR will be flaky in terms of keeping in touch with you. That’s normal. If you want it, be pushy, be aggressive, don’t wait around for things to happen, and always keep tabs on your situation with the OR. They want to see who wants in, and who’s willing to push to get there.

usnavyocs.com is an excellent site. Exactly the information I was looking for. Thanks flyboy.

I’m currently an active duty Naval officer. If you have specific question, PM me, and I’ll give you the no-bull answers to your questions - honest, truthful, and my own personal experiences and opinions.

I think the term “treated better” is a misnomer. Officers have a better quality of life (or more “perks” than a typical enlisted member) but we also work for ass-hats from time to time, just like everybody else in the services (and civilian life for that matter). The increase in pay, benefits, and quality of life comes from the increase in responsibility. Most of the decisions officers make after their basic qualification and training process is over have no-shit, real world, legal implications. Enlisted don’t have the “burden of command” as it is called.

In terms of “freedom”, we have more privacy and the assumption that we will make smarter choices in our lives. Alas, I make sure my enlisted go home at the end of the day before I do. Again, another misnomer depended on how you look at it.

I am also prior enlisted, so I have seen both sides of the house. There were many days when I was enlisted that I dreamed of being an officer because they had it better. There are many days now where I dream of being enlisted because they have it better. :smack: The grass isn’t always greener. You just trade one set of gripes for another set! I’m a surface warfare officer specifically. I whine about never getting to fly. My HSC (helo) buddies whine about always having to fly. Expect much bitching if you join! :D:cool:

One last rant if I will - if there was ONE thing about being an officer in the Navy that I don’t like but can’t change, it’s this: you live with your boss, literally.

Hope I didn’t get too far off the beaten path and hope I gave you some insight. Like I said, PM me if you have any questions.

I’m an active duty Army officer. Though I’m a direct commissionee still in the thick of judge advocate training, so my limited insight is pretty… limited.

In terms of officers in general, should you join any of the armed services as an officer, expect to be told over and over that you are a leader. As such, you will be expected to set and live as an example to all the enlisted (and to a lesser extent, NCOs) not just under your command, but on the same post or base as you in general. That means in physical fitness tests, drills, or PT, you’ll be expected to keep up with all the fresh-from-high school kids as well as exceed the minimum PT standards for your age group. It means wearing your uniform smartly and correctly, not ducking out of or avoiding salutes, and generally being the first and last resort for responsibility in a given situation. Above all, it means showing the proper respect for your superior officers as well as those you outrank, particularly the sergeant majors, first sergeants, chief warrant officers, and chief petty officers who have sometimes been in the service longer than you’ve been alive.

Enlisted Soldiers (the Army’s policy is always to capitalize the singular or plural form of “Soldier”) have a reputation for complaining and whining about everything under the sun. Some of the complaining certainly has a point, but other times it’s just a function of training the civilian out of them. As an officer, above all, at least in the Army, you’re expected to “suck it up.” The Marines call it “embrace the suck,” but it’s all basically the same thing.