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What Are the Duties of a Lieutenant Colonel?

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A lieutenant colonel is a senior commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, Air Force or Marines. Although pronounced like "lieutenant kernel," a variation from a word used in 16th century French, the modern spelling refers to an officer who wears a silver oak leaf cluster and serves in any of a variety of roles.

Job Description

Commissioned officers in the military hold ranks equivalent to federal civilian pay grades, from O-1 (2nd Lieutenant) to O-10 (general). A lieutenant colonel (LTC) is an O-5. The duties of officers depend on their military occupational specialties. Depending on their education and training, some LTCs work as physicians, nurses, dentists, attorneys and chaplains. Others have leadership roles in any of a broad range of military occupational fields, including combat arms, intelligence, aviation, engineering, communications, law enforcement, logistics and personnel.

Education Requirements

There are four paths that lead to a commission as an officer: a degree from one of the academies, completion of a program through a college-based Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), Officer Candidate School (OCS) or a direct commission.

Attendance at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army), the U.S. Air Force Academy or the U.S. Naval Academy is for a select few. Admissions are competitive and require nomination by a government official, usually a senator or member of Congress. Cadets pay no tuition and after earning a bachelor's degree, transition into active duty service.

Most officers enter the Army or Air Force through ROTC programs. Students pay tuition at any of the 1000+ institutions offering ROTC programs, though there are 2-, 3- and 4-year scholarships available to some.

Officer Candidate School (OCS) is a selective program available to enlisted personnel, warrant officers and civilians. The number of candidates accepted in any given year depends on the needs of the military. Enlisted personnel who already have some military service generally need 90 semester hours of college credits to apply. Civilians must have a bachelor's degree.

Direct appointment is for individuals with credentials in certain medical, ministerial, legal and technical fields. Although most officers begin their military careers as 2nd Lieutenants, officers receiving a direct commission may start with a higher rank, depending on their education and skills.

For the most current information about becoming a military officer, talk with someone in the recruiting office representing the branch in which you'd like to serve.

Work Environment

Lieutenant colonel responsibilities work where the military sends them. Depending on the occupational specialty, the job may take an LTC to a foreign country, or to an office setting somewhere in the United States. The role of an LTC in peacetime is to help ensure the readiness of soldiers and airmen in case of war.

Salary and Job Outlook

Pay for an Army colonel, as in the Air Force or Marines, is based on length of service, although other factors can play a part in salary calculations. For 2018, the basic pay ranged from $5,462.40 per month for less than two years of service, to $9,280.20 per month for 40 years of service. Those figures translate to annual salaries of $65,548.80 to $111,362.40, respectively. All LTCs receive a housing allowance, adjusted for cost of living according to where they're assigned. Individuals who receive a direct commission and have experience in a professional field such as medicine or law generally receive credit for their education and years in the civilian workforce. LTCs receive full medical, dental and vision benefits, and they are entitled to a pension after completing the equivalent of 20 years of military service. The pension is calculated according to earnings while on active duty. Other factors affecting salary include hazardous duty pay, flight pay and bonuses for special skills.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics makes employment predictions only for civilian occupations. That's because the needs of the military determine the size of active duty and reserve forces. The economy, the federal budget and the world political situation all impact the number of personnel in the Armed Forces.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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