Two common routes to obtain a commission in the United States Army are through Officer Candidate School (OCS) and the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Together, they produce the majority of the Army’s officers. Many people do not know the difference between the two sources, but they have some key differences.
For example, a 4-year college degree is required for OCS. ROTC, to the contrary, takes place concurrently with a 4-year college program.
OCS is held at Fort Benning, Georgia and lasts for 12 weeks. Candidates attend after Basic Combat Training (BCT) at Fort Benning or one of several other bases, or after attending a board if they are already enlisted Soldiers. Candidates will learn everything from tactics to land navigation and military history. After graduation, newly-commissioned 2nd Lieutenants will attend their branch’s respective Basic Officer Leaders Course and report to their units. OCS is a military environment where Candidates are entirely immersed during their time there. Candidates compete on an Order of Merit List (OML) within their class for branches, and they will learn their branch toward the end of the course.
ROTC is available at over 270 colleges and universities across the United States and its territories and possessions. ROTC Cadets conduct their training while attending college full-time. A large number of the Cadets receive scholarships from the Army or are also enlisted in the Army National Guard or Army Reserve through the Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP) to help pay for tuition and books. The course of instruction can last anywhere from 2 to 4 years, depending on prior military service and training and if Cadets who are not freshmen take extra ROTC courses to catch up. There is no military service obligation for the first 2 years of ROTC unless a Cadet accepts a scholarship, enlists through the SMP, or wants to continue ROTC past the 2-year mark. Cadets attend summer training at Fort Knox, Kentucky during their freshman-sophomore and junior-senior summers. They also have opportunities for other Army schools such as Air Assault or Airborne School. Cadets learn their branch and component (Active Duty, National Guard, Reserve) in the fall of their senior years.
OCS is a great way for someone to join the Army as an officer if they already have a college degree, or if their college does not have an ROTC program nearby. The downside is that the Army will not provide any tuition assistance while the Candidate is a student, nor will it repay student loan debts. If a Candidate does not complete OCS, he or she will return to the Army as an enlisted Soldier, either to their previous rank and Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) if they were previously enlisted, or as a Specialist (E-4) and will be assigned an MOS based on the needs of the Army.
ROTC allows Cadets to attend college and receive military training at the same time. The ROTC curriculum is designed so it does not interfere with college classes, as the major training events are in the summer. However, an Active Duty commission is not guaranteed with ROTC. Cadets have to compete through a nationwide OML for Active Duty spots and their branch. Some branches, such as Aviation and Military Intelligence, are highly competitive and are often selected by higher-ranking Cadets. Cadets who do not place high enough on the OML will not be selected for Active Duty and have to choose between the National Guard or Army Reserve.
OCS and ROTC both have distinct advantages and disadvantages, but they are great avenues for someone to pursue a commission as an officer in the United States Army. No matter which route a person follows, they can achieve great success.