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

by Mike Parker

The United States Army is the oldest branch of the U.S. armed forces, having been established by the Continental Congress in 1775, prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Following military traditions dating back to ancient Rome and earlier, the U.S. Army relies on the leadership skills of both commissioned and non-commissioned officers to accomplish its mission.

Enlistment Status

Non-commissioned officers are enlisted personnel. These soldiers enlist in the Army, typically as private soldiers. Through an advancement process that includes time in service combined with additional training and experience, a private soldier may be promoted to the position of a non-commissioned officer such as corporals and sergeants. Commissioned officers, ranging from 2nd lieutenant up to general, are appointed by the President of the United States and commissioned to their role by an act of Congress. To become a commissioned officer, most candidates either go through college ROTC programs, enter Officer Candidate School after earning a bachelor's degree, graduate from the U.S. Military Academy or receive direct commissions in professional fields such as law, medicine or religion.


Commissioned officers have command authority. They are responsible for setting policy and standards, and conveying those policies and standards to the non-commissioned officers who serve under them. They are primarily involved with accomplishing the mission at the unit level. Non-commissioned officers are responsible for seeing that the policies and standards set by their commanders are carried out by the soldiers who serve in the unit. They are more involved with leading individual soldiers to accomplish the necessary tasks.


There are differences in the amount of authority given to commissioned officers and NCOs. For example, a commissioned officer might command a company of soldiers, while a non-commissioned officer might lead a platoon of soldiers. While authority can be delegated, accountability cannot. Each soldier is accountable for his or her own actions and must adhere to the rules established by the Army.


The lowest ranking commissioned officer, 2nd Lieutenant, technically out-ranks the highest ranking non-commissioned officer, Sergeant Major. Officers tend to be more highly compensated than non-commissioned officers with the same amount of time in service. For example a Sergeant, pay grade E-5, with four years in service received basic pay of $2,529.90 per month during the 2013 fiscal year, while a 1st Lieutenant, pay grade O-2, with the same time in service received $4,493.70 per month.

About the Author

Mike Parker is a full-time writer, publisher and independent businessman. His background includes a career as an investments broker with such NYSE member firms as Edward Jones & Company, AG Edwards & Sons and Dean Witter. He helped launch DiscoverCard as one of the company's first merchant sales reps.

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