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Difference Between NCO and Commissioned Officer

Military traditions dating back to ancient Roman times and earlier are responsible for the varying positions of commissioned and non-commissioned officers. It is said that non-commissioned officers (or NCO’s) are the backbone of the army even though commissioned officers rank higher and generally have a higher pay grade. Both of these roles depend on the other to accomplish their objectives and goals. Let’s take a look at these two roles a little more closely and differentiate between them.

Non-commissioned officers:

These are soldiers that enlist themselves into military service. They are generally started off as soldiers. Over time and through career advancements, these private soldiers can be promoted to other non-commissioned positions like sergeants or corporals. NCO’s are responsible for carrying out policies and standards set by their commanders. The level of authority obtainable by NCO’s would be equal to leading a platoon of soldiers. The highest ranking NCO is generally below the lowest ranking commissioned officer and is usually paid less. They are the most visible and primary leaders who are mainly responsible for fulfilling a mission and training military personnel. NCO education and training generally includes management and leadership training as well as combat. When an NCO works his or her way up the corporate ladder, they will become a link between lower ranking NCO’s and their commanding commissioned officers. They have been known to be advisers to junior commissioned officers who may outrank them on paper, but not practical experience. NCOs operate on a contractual basis for a specific term. When the contract is about to expire, they can make a new one until they are considered “E-6” and have more than 10 years of service. At this point they are on an indefinite contract.

Commissioned officers:

Commissioned officers are appointed by the President and their commission is an act of Congress. Typically most candidates go through higher education programs in order to procure a commissioned position in the military. These officers are responsible for setting the standards and policies and conveying these roles to the NCO’s that serve under them. As an example, think of a general contractor assigned to build a house. The commissioned officer would be the contractor who can then delegate specialty roles such as carpentry, painting, cabinetry, etc. Commissioned officers will generally be in charge of a company of soldiers. In general, the lowest ranking commissioned officer (2nd lieutenant) will out-rank the highest ranking NCO (sergeant major). These officers are also more highly paid than their NCO counterparts. Commissioned positions include; captains, lieutenants, colonels, majors, lieutenant-colonels and generals. These positions are termed as “line” officers. Non-line officers are non-combat specialists filling various professional roles such as lawyers, medical personnel, and chaplains. These non-line officers cannot issue any commands relating to combat operations. If the lieutenant passes away in combat, command will shift to the highest ranking NCO, not the non-line officer. This does not mean they will not be in charge of their own teams. They can lead medical teams, departments and units, ensuring the operational plans are being carried out. Commissioned officers can request to leave the military at any time.


– NCO stands for Non-Commissioned Officer
– NCO’s enlist themselves into military service, commissioned officers are appointed
– Commissioned officers rank higher and are paid more than NCO’s
– The biggest difference is the level of authority. Commissioned officers can command all personnel under his command, an NCO cannot command a commissioned officer other than for training purposes.
– Regardless of command structure, every personnel member is personally liable for his or her own actions
– Commissioned and non-commissioned officers relay on one another’s roles to work together for the same employer
– Commissioned officers can fill professional, “non-line” roles like doctors or accountants. These roles are not entitled to a issuing combat related commands
– Although NCO’s cannot outrank commissioned officers, they can serve as advisors for younger officers who lack practical experience
– NCO’s operate on a contractual basis, commissioned officers can request to leave at any time
– NCO’s lead Soldiers, where commissioned officers lead units.

Both of these roles are very important for the functionality of the units in question. Without either section, the other couldn’t fully achieve their objectives and goals.

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