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An officer is a member of an armed force who holds a position of authority. Commissioned officers derive authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position. Commissioned officers are typically the only persons, in a military environment, able to act as the commanding officer (according to the most technical definition of the word) of a military unit.

Non-commissioned officers (NCOs) in positions of authority can be said to have control or charge rather than command per se, although the use of the word "command" to describe any use of authority is widespread and often official.

Having officers is one requirement for combatant status under the laws of war, though these officers need not have obtained an official commission or warrant. In such case, those persons holding offices of responsibility within the organization are deemed to be the officers, and the presence of these officers connotes a level of organization sufficient to designate a group as being combatant.

Commissioned officers

Commissioned officers generally receive training as leadership and management generalists, in addition to training relating to their specific military occupational specialty or function in the military. Most developed nations have set the goal of having their officer corps university-educated, although exceptions exist in some nations to accommodate officers who have risen from the non-commissioned ranks (e.g. the battlefield commission). Many advanced militaries require university degrees as a prerequisite for commissioning, even from the enlisted ranks.

The Australian Defence Force, the British Armed Forces, Nepal Army, the Pakistan Army and Navy (though not Air Force), the Swiss Army, the Singapore Armed Forces, the Israel Defense Forces and the New Zealand Defence Force are different in not requiring a university degree for commissioning. They emphasise military, technical and leadership training and skills over academic qualifications, although a majority of officers in these militaries are now graduates. In the Pakistani Army all officers are by definition graduates, since officer training is recognized as the equivalent of a bachelor's degree.

In the United Kingdommarker, officers are commissioned both directly into the officer corps as what are known as 'Direct Entry' or DE officers, or commissioned from the ranks as 'Late Entry' or LE officers. LE officers, whilst holding the same Queen's Commission, generally work in different roles to the DE officers. In the infantry a number of Warrant Officers - Class 1 are commissioned as LE officers, ensuring that British infantry LE officers are in the top 1% of their peers . DE Officers require Secondary Education to A-Level standard and 80% of officers have a degree . Commissioning for DE officers occurs after a 1 year course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurstmarker for regular officers or the Territorial Army Commissioning Course for Territorial Army Officers, or for Royal Navy and Royal Air Force candidates, an equivalent period at either Britannia Royal Naval Collegemarker or the RAF College Cranwellmarker respectively. Royal Marines Officers receive their training in the Command Wing of the Commando Training Centre Royal Marinesmarker. The courses consist of not only tactical and combat training, but also leadership, management and international affairs training.

In the U.S. military, officers without a university degree may under certain circumstances be commissioned, but are required to earn one within a time limit. Roughly half of all active-duty U.S. military officers are commissioned through the Reserve Officer Training Corps, which is composed of small training programs at several hundred American universities. Officers may also be commissioned at federal or state based Officer Candidate Schools. The various Officer Candidate Schools commission approximately 700 second lieutenants and ensigns each year during peacetime. Another route to becoming a commissioned officer is through direct commission. Graduates from the service academies are commissioned immediately upon graduation; credentialed civilian professionals such as scientists, nurses, doctors and lawyers are also directly commissioned upon entry into the military or another federal uniformed service.

In countries whose ranking systems are based upon the models of the British Armed Forces, officers from the rank of Second Lieutenant (Army), Sub-Lieutenant (Navy) or Pilot Officer (Air Force) to the rank of General (Army), Admiral (Navy) or Air Chief Marshal (Air Force) are holders of a commission granted to them by the awarding authority. In Britainmarker and other Commonwealth realms, the awarding authority is the monarch (or a Governor General representing the monarch) as head of state. The head of state often is granted the power to award commissions, or has commissions awarded in his or her name.

In Commonwealth nations, Commissioned Officers are given commissioning scrolls (a.k.a. commissioning scripts) signed by the Sovereign or the Governor General acting on the monarch's behalf. Upon receipt, this is an official legal document that binds the mentioned officer to the commitment stated on the scroll.

Non-commissioned members rise from the lowest ranks in most nations. Education standards for non-commissioned members are typically lower than for officers (with the exception of specialised-military and highly-technical trades). Enlisted members only receive leadership training as they are promoted to positions of responsibility, or as a prerequisite for such. In the past (and in some countries today but to a lesser extent) non-commissioned members were almost exclusively conscripts, whereas officers were volunteers.

Non-commissioned officers

A non-commissioned officer (NCO) is an enlisted military member holding a position of some degree of authority who has (usually) obtained it by promotion from within the non-officer ranks. They usually receive some leadership training, but their function is to serve as supervisors within their area of trade speciality and, at lower NCO grades, they are not generally considered management generalists. Senior non-commissioned officers serve as advisors and leaders from the duty section level to the highest levels of the military establishment. The duties of an NCO can vary greatly in scope, so that an NCO in one country may hold almost no authority, while others such as the United States and the United Kingdom consider their NCOs to be "the backbone of the military."

In most maritime forces (navies and coast guards), the NCO ranks are called Petty Officers and Chief Petty Officers (Chiefs), with enlisted ranks prior to attaining NCO/petty officer status typically being called Seaman, or some derivation thereof. In most traditional infantry, Marine and air forces, the NCO ranks are known as Sergeants and Corporals, with non-NCO enlisted ranks referred to as Privates and Aircraftmen in the case of the UK.

However, some countries are using the term commission to describe the promotion of enlisted soldiers.Especially in countries with mandatory military service, NCOs are referred to as professional soldiers, not officers.

Warrant officers

In some branches of many militaries there exists a third grade of officer known as a Warrant Officer. A Warrant Officer is typically a non-commissioned officer whose position has been affirmed by warrant from the bureaucracy directing the force (as in the armed forces of the Commonwealth nation), or may be a separate cadre altogether (as in the United States armed forces). After 2 years of service a warrant officer in the U.S. Army will normally be promoted to a CW2 (known as a "Chief Warrant Officer"). In the United States military, Warrant Officers and General Commissioned are the only officers allowed to command units. Due to their technically focused nature they are usually instead focused on their technical expertise in a given field -- helicopter pilots and IT specialists of the US Army, for example. In the United States military they usually do not exercise the same political power that commissioned officers do, and are paid somewhat less than commissioned officers. They are given salutes and they are addressed as Mr, Ms, Mrs, Sir or Ma'am. There are no Warrant Officers in the U.S. Air Force (the ranks exist, but go permanently and completely unfilled), but each of the other U.S. Armed Forces have warrants—though each warrant commissioning program is unique to the service's needs.

Officer ranks and accommodation

Officers in nearly every country of the world are segregated from the enlisted soldiers in many facets of military life. Facilities accommodating needs such as the mess hall, bunks and domiciles, and general recreation are separated between officers and enlisted personnel. This system is focused on discouraging fraternization and encouraging professional and ethical relations between military personnel.

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