What is an Army Officer?
First and foremost, an Army officer is a leader. The officer plans the work of the organization, assigns tasks to subordinates, and sees that the work is accomplished to the highest standard. In that regard, an Army officer is similar to a manager in a corporation. But that is where any comparison to the corporate world ends. Officers lead by example. An officer must be willing to personally undertake any task that is assigned to a soldier.
Even the most junior officer routinely has forty or more soldiers working directly under his or her control. In the corporate world it could take decades for an individual to achieve that level of responsibility.
The level of integrity and personal conduct required of an officer are quite high — with very good reason. Officers daily make decisions that involve millions of dollars of resources. Their judgment and skill can mean the difference between life and death for the soldiers they command.
Over the years, three words have become the hallmark of what it is to be an Army Officer. Those words are Duty, Honor and Country. No matter what their specific duties are, or where they serve, these three words embody what it is to be an Army officer.
An Army officer's career is generally a series of 2 and 3 year assignments, each one preparing you for the next. Personal abilities and preferences affect the choices a person makes, so there is no one career blueprint. There is, however, a general progression most officers' careers follow.
The Lieutenant Phase
Once a cadet graduates, he/she is commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. The first thing a young officer does is develop in his/her primary branch by attending the Basic Course. After that, some officers opt for Airborne or Ranger training (or both). But most go right to their first duty assignment. Progressing from second to first Lieutenant, the young officer applies his/her training and develops his/her leadership abilities. In fact, learning how to lead troops is the key objective of this phase. Promotion to First Lieutenant takes about two years.
The Captain Phase
A lot happens while you're a captain. The most important thing is to get experience as a company commander. A Company Commander is normally in charge of over 100 soldiers. Command experience, obviously, is a valuable resource throughout a career. During this phase, you attend the Officer Advanced Course. Later in this phase, you will attend the Combined Arms and Services Staff School (CAS3), which provides you with the necessary training to perform as a field grade staff officer. Additional training during the captain phase is your opportunity to become more valuable to the Army, since this is when you choose and begin to become qualified in a functional area. Promotion to Captain takes about four years.
The Major Phase
Being promoted to major signals a big step in your career. You've become a key staff officer in charge of such areas as Personnel, Intelligence, Operations, or Logistics. You'll be given new assignments which permit you to use previously developed skills, as well as expand your overall professional development. The objective here is to develop further in your branch, and continue development in your functional area. Some officers area selected for Command and General Staff College or given the opportunity to attend civilian schools. Promotion to Major takes about 11 years.
The Lieutenant Colonel Phase
Your assignment might be as a Battalion Commander in charge of hundreds of soldiers or a general staff officer in a division or corps. Outstanding performance will merit more and more challenging positions. Some officers are selected for the Army War College, where they become "experts" at their profession. Promotion to Lieutenant Colonel takes about 17 years.
The Colonel Phase
At this phase, the Army takes maximum advantage of your talents. This means you'll be assigned as a Brigade Commander in charge of thousands of soldiers or director of a large staff. Your technical skills and accumulated executive talents will be put to the test. This is the senior level of responsibility. You're a top executive. Promotion to Colonel takes about 22 years.
Officers who demonstrate extraordinary leadership and executive abilities are selected to become general officers; the CEO's of the Army. They do nothing less than run the Army. From division commanders to post commanders to high level staff positions, general officers are responsible for maintaining an efficient and effective Army. Promotion to General takes about 25 years.