From Enlisted to Officer: My Journey Exploring Commissioning Resources

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Thomas Sjoberg
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

As a Public Affairs Specialist for the 51st Fighter Wing, I have been fortunate to witness and share countless stories of dedication, commitment and the pursuit of excellence within our Air Force community. When prior enlisted officers from the 694th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group organized an enlisted to officer forum, I had the privilege of stepping into the role of an aspiring officer.

The event focused on commissioning through three primary avenues: U.S. Air Force Academy, Officer Training School, and Reserve Officer Training Corps. In this article, I will take you through my firsthand experience at the forum and give you a glimpse into the opportunities that lie ahead for those of us who have dreamed of donning the officer ranks.

The Forum: Insights and Highlights

The enlisted to officer forum was a one-of-a-kind opportunity to interact with prior-enlisted officers from across the 694th ISRG. Around 40 attendees from across Osan Air Base were present, all determined to pursue their dreams of becoming officers. While the forum lasted no more than an hour, it was packed with valuable information and experiences shared by these seasoned individuals. I could tell the officers were passionate about what they were preaching, and had a genuine desire to develop innovative leaders around Osan.

The U.S. Air Force Academy - For Those with a High-Flying Dream

The Air Force Academy is a dream destination for those who aspire to become commissioned officers. It's a place where academic excellence, leadership, and physical fitness reign supreme - as I learned during the forum. During this portion of the forum, Capt. James Rogers, 694th Intelligence Support Squadron flight commander, discussed the requirements for cadet admission to the academy. His story of determination, rigorous training, and the pride of being a USAFA alumni, left a lasting impression on me. While my age rules out this path, for those eligible, it's an incredible opportunity to soar as an officer in the U.S. Air Force.

Rogers discussed the Leaders Encouraging Airman Development program, also known as LEAD, which provides enlisted Airmen and Guardians with the chance to commission as officers through the USAFA. To attend the academy as a prior-enlisted Airman, you must meet specific eligibility criteria: be a U.S. citizen, be no older than 23 and have at least one year of satisfactory service in the U.S. Air Force. Obtaining a nomination - often through a member of Congress or the Vice President - is also essential. Seeking guidance from USAFA liaison officers and starting early in preparation is pivotal for success in pursuing this path.

Officer Training School - A Bridge to Commissioning

For those of us who may not have the opportunity to attend the USAFA, OTS offers another path. U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Alydia Ball, 694th ISRG executive officer, shared her experience and the invaluable knowledge she gained while commissioning through this pathway.

To become eligible for OTS as an enlisted Air Force member, you must meet specific criteria: be a U.S. citizen, hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 2.5 and meet the age requirement of under 40 for non-rated and under 33 for rated officers.

Meeting score requirements on the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test is imperative. This includes obtaining a minimum score of 12 in the verbal section and 10 in the quantitative section. For rated officer applicants, achieving a score of at least 25 in the pilot section is required, along with a minimum Pilot Candidate Selection Method score of 10.

The selection statistics for enlisted members pursuing OTS reveal some important trends. Notably, the acceptance rate for enlisted applicants has been decreasing compared to civilian applicants. For rated positions, 44% of enlisted applicants (365 out of 847) were selected, while only 13% of non-rated enlisted applicants (100 out of 747) were chosen. On average, those selected held the rank of technical sergeant, had 8.5 years of service and boasted a commendable average GPA of 3.5.

In terms of AFOQT scores, successful rated officers demonstrated an average of 78 in pilot, 68 in navigation, 53 in quantitative and 66 in verbal, with an average PCSM score of 53.

Meanwhile, non-rated officers who were selected achieved an average of 56 in pilot, 68 in navigation, 52 in quantitative and 67 in verbal on the AFOQT. These statistics offer valuable insights into the competitive nature of OTS selection for enlisted members and the standards required for successful applicants.

There are numerous paths one can take to OTS, including notable programs like the Senior Leader Enlisted Commissioning Program, where Air Force senior leaders actively select enlisted members who have demonstrated exceptional leadership potential for commissioning. Additionally, the Nurse Enlisted Commissioning Program offers enlisted Airmen with nursing backgrounds the opportunity to become officers in the Nurse Corps. However, I strongly encourage independent research on all options available, as various programs cater to different careers within the Air Force.

What really stood out for me in this part of the discussion was how Ball stressed the need to be adaptable and open to tackling challenges. OTS might be a shorter route compared to the academy or ROTC, but it calls for the same level of commitment and leadership. It is a competitive journey that demands patience and a great deal of ambition.

ROTC - A Proven Pathway

The forum also highlighted the benefits of the ROTC program, with insights from Capt. Rajeev Stephens, the 694th ISRG mission management team chief. He explained how ROTC allows enlisted Airmen to pursue their degrees while preparing for future officer roles, offering flexibility and opportunities for leadership development before commissioning. Given his guidance and considering the current OTS statistics, ROTC appears as a promising option for me.

It is crucial to understand that ROTC is a demanding commitment on top of full-time schooling, involving various activities such as leadership lab, physical training sessions and ROTC classes. The ROTC program is typically divided into a general military course for the first two years and then a professional officer course for the last two years, with various cadet options, including two, three and four-year programs.

Enlisted Airmen interested in ROTC have several pathways available to them. Two prominent options are the Airman Scholarship and Commissioning Program and the Scholarships for Outstanding Airmen to ROTC, which offer the chance to be released from active-duty service commitments and complete both undergraduate studies and commissioning requirements within 3-4 years, with the Air Force covering tuition costs.

While the Professional Officer Course-Early Release Program doesn't provide scholarship funding for tuition, it does offer a two-year accelerated path to commissioning while releasing you from active-duty service commitments. Another alternative is to separate from the military and utilize the GI Bill to attend ROTC, which allows you to attend ROTC and commission without the stringent requirements of other options.

For many, the GI Bill route seems particularly appealing as it provides flexibility in degree selection and potentially covers more expenses than an ROTC scholarship. When utilizing the GI Bill, individuals will be eligible for E-5 basic allowance for housing along with dependent pay. While each route has its unique requirements and selection processes, it's important to ensure eligibility, secure university acceptance and meet ROTC requirements to embark on the path of becoming an officer through ROTC.

Breakaway Discussions - The Real Gem of the Forum

Following the presentation, attendees had the chance to participate in breakaway discussions where we could ask questions and seek personalized advice from the prior-enlisted officers.

This was the heart of the event, where individual aspirations met the wealth of experience, creating a unique opportunity for mentorship and guidance.

In a one-on-one conversation with Ball, she shared that it took her three tries to secure her commission through OTS. She told me the most important thing is to never give up. It's about trying, and then trying again, persistently pursuing that gold bar until it's proudly bestowed upon your chest.

A Glimpse into the Future

I'm more inspired than ever to pursue my dream of becoming an officer. The forum has shown me that the path is within reach and that with dedication, determination, and hard work, it's possible to achieve.

Personally, I am going to be working towards rallying my leadership team’s support to put in a package for the SLECP program. I must admit, it's an ambitious endeavor given the program's stiff competition. However, I see it as an extraordinary chance to not only wrap up my bachelor's degree requirements, but also achieve my dream of commissioning through OTS. The thought of being chosen for this program feels like a dream come true and I’m ready to put in the hard work required for a shot at this incredible opportunity.

If things don’t work out, I won’t give up; I will shift gears to POC-ERP and plan to commission through ROTC. Whatever the journey, I’m excited for what’s to come, and I know that one day I will proudly serve amongst the officers of the U.S. Air Force.

If you've ever considered the journey from enlisted to officer, I encourage you to explore the opportunities available and take the first step towards your dream. The Enlisted to Officer Forum has shown me that the sky is not the limit; it's just the beginning.