Battlefield commission: under certain conditions, enlisted personnel who have skills that separate them from their peers can become officers by direct commissioning of a commander so authorized to grant them. This type of commission is rarely granted and is reserved only for the most exceptional enlisted personnel; it is done on an ad hoc basis, typically only in wartime. No direct battlefield commissions have been awarded since the Vietnam War. The Navy and Air Force do not employ this commissioning path.
All of the branches work together during operations and joint missions in Unified Combatant Commands, under the authority of the Secretary of Defense with the typical exception of the Coast Guard. Each of the Unified Combatant Commands is headed by a Combatant Commander, a senior commissioned officer who exercises supreme command authority per 10 U.S.C. § 164 over all of the forces, regardless of branch, within his geographical or functional command. By statute, the chain of command flows from the President to the Secretary of Defense to each of the Combatant Commanders. In practice, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff often acts as an intermediary between the Secretary of Defense and the Combatant Commanders.
Additionally, all services except for the Air Force have an active warrant officer corps. Above the rank of warrant Officer One, these officers may also be commissioned, but usually serve in a more technical and specialized role within units. More recently, they can also serve in more traditional leadership roles associated with the more recognizable officer corps. With one notable exception (Army helicopter and fixed-wing pilots), these officers ordinarily have already been in the military often serving in senior NCO positions in the field in which they later serve as a warrant officer as a technical expert. Most Army pilots have served some enlisted time. It is also possible to enlist, complete basic training, go directly to the Warrant Officer Candidate School at Fort Rucker, Alabama and then on to flight school.
Each branch of the service operates its own Service Academy as a four-year institution of higher education. All students receive a full scholarship with a small monthly stipend. Upon graduation, you're commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps or as an ensign in the Navy or Coast Guard. Appointment to a service academy is extremely competitive. For more information, call 1-800-822-8762 (US Military Academy in West Point, New York), 1-800-638-9156 (US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland), 1-800-443-9266 (US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado), 1-800-883-8724 (US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut), and 1-866-546-4778 (United States Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, New York).
The military organization is characterized by a strict hierarchy divided by military rank, with ranks normally grouped (in descending order of authority) as officers (e.g. Colonel), non-commissioned officers (e.g. Sergeant), and personnel at the lowest rank (e.g. Private Soldier). While senior officers make strategic decisions, subordinated military personnel (soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen) fulfil them. Although rank titles vary by military branch and country, the rank hierarchy is common to all state armed forces worldwide.
Examinees also receive a score on what is called the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). AFQT scores are computed using the Standard Scores from four ASVAB subtests: Arithmetic Reasoning (AR), Mathematics Knowledge (MK), Paragraph Comprehension (PC), and Word Knowledge (WK). AFQT scores are reported as percentiles between 1-99. An AFQT percentile score indicates the percentage of examinees in a reference group that scored at or below that particular score. For current AFQT scores, the reference group is a sample of 18 to 23 year old youth who took the ASVAB as part of a national norming study conducted in 1997. Thus, an AFQT score of 90 indicates that the examinee scored as well as or better than 90% of the nationally-representative sample of 18 to 23 year old youth. An AFQT score of 50 indicates that the examinee scored as well as or better than 50% of the nationally-representative sample.