This article is the place to find out about the process of becoming a commissioned officer if your soldier is joining the military for the first time. Let me say up front that this information has been gathered from our experience through this process and a combination of online resources. Your soldier’s experience may differ, but I hope that this article can at least give you an idea about what is to come. We had a hard time finding information about the process, so I hope that this article can help you learn a little bit about the process you are about to enter.
In order to attend OCS (Officer Candidate School) you must be a US citizen between 19 and 29 years old and have a college degree. Age waivers are considered if you are not within the age range.
My husband started the process by talking to a few different recruiters. We found that many recruiters have never done an officer packet before and did not know the process for officer enlistment. If there is a college campus (especially a school with a large military tie or ROTC program) near you, I recommend that you talk to the recruiter there. If you don’t live near a college, you can always call a campus recruiter somewhere else. Unfortunately we moved during the process, and my husband had to find a recruiter in our new area. The local recruiter assigned to him had never done an officer enlistment before, but an older NCO (Non Commissioned Officer) at the station had some experience and helped to oversee the process.
At that point, the recruiter will give your husband a set of information that he will need to return to the station as soon as possible. This is called your “officer packet.” This includes copies of all high school and college transcripts and diplomas, 3 letters of recommendation, a current resume, an essay explaining “why I want to be an Army officer”, an 8×10 picture, and the dreaded SF86. The SF 86 is the federal government’s security clearance form. All officers must be able to get Secret clearance. This form will ask for every address he has had for the last 7 years, the name and address of a non-family member who can verify that he lived there, every school he has attended and job he has held in 7 years and the information of his supervisor, a drug and mental health history, information on family members, detailed information on spouses and former spouses, and contact information for 3 people that have known him well throughout his life. This takes a long time to fill out, so be prepared with your address book and do not wait until the last minute. (Keep a copy of the SF86 forever – you do not want to have to fill this out again.)
His packet will also contain a medical evaluation, ASVAB (a vocational test) scores, and physical fitness test scores. The recruiter will handle these.
When you have gathered everything for the packet, he will take it back to his recruiter who will schedule an appointment for him at the nearest MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) center. (Note – If you live more than a few miles away from a MEPS center they will put him in a hotel the night before.) He will arrive there around 4 or 5 in the morning and take his medical exams and the ASVAB. Officers must score a 110 on the ASVAB. There are plenty of study guides available if you need one. Many wives go to MEPS with their husbands, but there is no need for you to go that day. I can assure you, there will be nothing for you to do, and he will not sign his contract or be sworn in that day.
The recruiter will take your husband for a physical fitness test sometime during this process. He may have a few different tests. Scoring well on this part is very important for his packet. He must score at least 60 points in each area. For a male 22-26 years old, that is 40 pushups and 50 sit-ups in 2 minutes each and a 2-mile run in 16:33. They might test him a few times during the application process. My husband met his recruiter at the station about 6:30 am and they conducted the test at a nearby high school track. If your husband needs help getting into shape, someone from the station will probably help him.
Once all of these components are completed, his officer packet will be sent to the Officer Board Selection Committee. They usually meet once every month or two and select the people who will be offered an opportunity to attend OCS. They will review his packet and interview him. My husband knew he had been approved before he left that day.
The next step is to return to MEPS for a mini-physical and to sign his contract and take his Oath. This is the day you want to go to MEPS. You can discuss his contract with him before he signs it, but there is not much to negotiate as an officer. We were told that since officers are not assigned their MOS (job specialty) until OCS, you can’t negotiate for MOS or choice of duty station. Also, officers usually do not qualify for the big enlistment bonuses that are advertised so much right now. You can negotiate his start date, but keep in mind that there are a limited number of days he can start because they only offer OCS a few times a year. If he has student loans, you can negotiate to have the Army pay those off. (More information about student loan repayment is at the end of this article.) He will sign his contract and take his Oath that day. Take your camera. They will also tell him his ship date (the day he will leave for basic training).
Your husband will ship out from the MEPS center. The day before his ship date, my husband had to meet at the recruiting station at about 4:30pm. They took him to the hotel near MEPS and I drove there to have dinner with him. I stayed in a hotel nearby so that we could spend as much time together as possible. He went to MEPS about 4:30 the next morning, and I went up there around 7:30. He spent the morning doing more processing, took the Oath again, and then left on a bus around noon. There are other families there, so don’t be worried that you will be the only one. I know my husband appreciated having a few more hours to spend with me, and I felt sorry for the other soldiers that did not have family there to see them off. Feel free to take your camera on shipping day too.
Your soldier will attend Basic Combat Training (BCT) for 9 weeks and then OCS. The schedule varies for everyone, but my husband spent 1 week in Reception, 9 weeks in BCT and then had 1 day to get to OCS. Some officer candidates leave BCT before graduation and head straight to OCS, so don’t book your plane ticket until you know what he will be doing.
OCS is held at Fort Benning, Georgia and is 14 weeks long. He will be told his MOS during OCS, and from there you will know where he will attend officer basic (MOS training).
Good luck with the process. I wish you and your soldier the very best!
Here are two helpful websites:
Student Loan Repayment:
The Army pays one-third of the loan every year for three years and will only pay principal, not interest. You can request that his loans be put on forbearance for 3 years and you will not be required to make monthly payments during that time. Request the forbearance due to military service paperwork. Interest will still accrue monthly, so be sure to find out how much will accrue and make sure you pay that off every month. Some companies only send out statements once a quarter, so be sure to save every month for those payments. The Army will not pay your loans if they are not in good standing, and they won’t pay for the interest that accrues during those 3 years.