Differences Between a Commissioned & a Non-Commissioned Officer in the Army


The United States Army relies on a relationship between commissioned and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) to ensure effective leadership to all soldiers. Commissioned officers act as managers and leaders over large organizations within the Army. NCOs help train and develop individual soldiers to make the Army and effective fighting force.

Education Differences

  • To receive a commission, the army requires officers to have at minimum a bachelor's degree. Although many NCOs get bachelor's degrees, it is usually not required until later in their career. Many senior NCOs have associate or bachelor's degrees.


  • With great authority comes great responsibility. Commissioned and non-commissioned officers alike carry great responsibility. However, the level of responsibility each carries throughout his career is different. A new sergeant is likely to be responsible for a single squad, whereas a lieutenant will have responsibility for an entire platoon.


  • The commissioned officer fills a management role. She may be responsible for utilizing hundreds, even thousands of soldiers to accomplish a mission. An NCO is a teacher and personal leader. The NCO has more direct involvement with the troops at the most basic levels. NCOs ensure their soldiers are trained, equipped and ready to accomplish the mission when called upon.

Experience Factor

  • Officers are expected to lead from the beginning of their careers. However, no one comes directly into the army as an NCO. NCOs enlist as privates and take several years and attend a number of schools before they are expected to be leaders. This fact lays the ground for the relationship between commissioned and non-commissioned officers. A lieutenant outranks his first sergeant. However, the first sergeant has probably been in the army since the lieutenant was in diapers.

Career Opportunities

  • The commissioned and non-commissioned officer each has a different role to play in the army. Because of this, each throughout his career will fill positions that are not available to the other. NCOs are trainers and may fill roles such as the Army Drill Sergeant. However, officers may fill many professional careers, such as accountant, JAG attorney or medical doctor

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  • Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of US Army Africa
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