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Army Officer Career Progression

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The U.S. Army officer corps is composed of college-educated professionals from nearly all academic and military disciplines. Officers lead enlisted men and women in training and in combat. Commissioned officers in the U.S. Army are highly trained and are specialists in areas as diverse as small unit tactics, cyber security and trauma surgery. Army officers begin with the rank of second lieutenant and can work their way up to a three-star or even four-star general.

Becoming a Lieutenant

Commissioned officers in the U.S. Army begin with the rank of second lieutenant. You must have a four year bachelor's degree and have graduated from the Army Academy at West Point, or from a reserve officer training Corps program or officer candidate school to become a second lieutenant. You are eligible to be promoted to first lieutenant after completing basic officer leader courses II and III. It typically takes around two years to move from second to first lieutenant.

Charging to Captain

A captain is usually in charge of a company of around 100 men. It takes around four years of time in service -- TIS -- to be considered for a promotion to captain. You also have to attend the captain's career course to be eligible for promotion to captain. Although according to the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act of 1980, 95 percent of first lieutenants are promoted to captain, less than excellent job evaluations can delay your promotion.

Moving Up to Major

The promotion to major is the first truly competitive promotion. Only about 80 percent of captains are promoted to major, and given it takes 10 years TIS to be considered for promotion to major, most of those who make major have made a commitment to a career in the Army. Those at the rank of major often choose to go back to school to earn a master's degree or a professional certification in their specialty.

Advancement to Colonel

It takes 16 years TIS to be considered for promotion to lieutenant colonel, and DOPMA mandates that only 70 percent of majors will become colonels. This makes promotion to colonel highly competitive, and lack of promotion to lieutenant colonel after a certain period of time can mean the end of a career. A lieutenant colonel is typically in charge of a battalion or serves as divisional-level staff. Promotion to "full-bird" colonel is possible after 22 years of TIS. Per DOPMA, only 50 percent of lieutenant colonels become colonels. Colonels frequently continue their education, either at the Army War College or a civilian academic institution.

Achieving the Highest Rank

Generals are the highest rank in the army. Brigadier general is the first general rank, then major general, lieutenant general and general. DOPMA standards do not apply to the rank of general, and generals are promoted as required. It takes an impeccable service record and the highest possible job recommendations to be promoted to general.


Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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