What’s old is new again

| November 18, 2023

Trying to address many shortages in Army knowledge of  beneficial skills, the service is ramping up an old practice you may remember from the old, old days – direct commissioning.

Eight decades ago, when the world was at war, the Army needed experts it couldn’t mass produce: medical professionals, lawyers, intelligence analysts, communications experts, electrical engineers, industrial planners, film actors and more.

Direct commissions filled the void, according to service historians, producing around 104,000 officers in 1942 from experienced civilians.

Speaking at a panel discussion last month, Army Reserve chief Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, spoke candidly about her struggles cutting through red tape to appoint new officers via direct commission.

“Our process right now for direct commission is a disaster,” the three-star general said.

The numbers largely support Daniels’ argument.

Outside of specialty fields (like law, the chaplaincy and medical professions), the Army only netted 13 direct commission officers in fiscal year 2020 and 32 in fiscal 2021, according to annual historical summaries.

Problem seems to be that the Army wants to recruit folks with vital skills (as one example cited, wouldn’t it be nice to put an experienced UPS executive advising on logistics?) But they don’t have expedited procedures in place to actually get the folks they want, and someone making it through the process in a year is exceptional. Seems that 2 years is the current norm.

One of Daniels’ deputies at Army Reserve Command, Brig. Gen. Kelly Dickerson, said the long waits for civil affairs experts have provided valuable lessons in improving the pathway.

“We have the talent — we can do these things, and that took a lot of pushing on the system,” Dickerson said. “It is [around] 46 steps to be directly commissioned into the United States Army … we’re going to fix that.”

Army Times


Category: Army

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Just curious: why would an “experienced UPS executive” probably pulling down north of $200k a year with benefits and expense accounts ever even consider accepting a commission?

It was different during WWII. Most people actually loved (or at least liked) their country and were willing to make sacrifices to serve it.

Maybe I’m just out of the loop, but that doesn’t seem to be the prevailing sentiment these days.

So, again, what would be the impetus for an experienced executive to give up their well paid job to accept a commission into the military (that they’ve most likely been trained to despise)?

I suppose Sam Brinton’s probably in need of employment, and he’d fit in nicely with the current military culture, so there’s one I guess.


Just because something isn’t the “prevailing sentiment” doesn’t mean that some people don’t still believe in something greater than themselves.

I’m not sure postal employees are the best choice though….

In any case, the Army is not short commissioned officers. The military is short enlisted troops. Every direct commission officer I ever knew was prior service enlisted. One went enlisted, warrant and then when he couldn’t fly anymore they commissioned him into a different branch. He was actually pretty squared away guy But he had low blood pressure.


How about a direct non-commissioning system? What many here might call “shake and bake”. There are plenty of successful professionals out there, including everything from HR to mid-level management to mechanics who might be good fits for either Reserve or Active service as a junior NCO. The Army already does something kind of similar; I was offered E-3 or E-4 (forget which) if I had enlisted as a mechanic, since I had both technical training and experience as an automotive and forklift mechanic. I joined the Infantry as an E-1, though.

Not all MOS’ need experienced Leaders in their NCO ranks. They need experienced professionals. In a sense, this is why I think the Specialist ranks should be brought back. An E-5 or E-6 working in S-4 should be proficient in their knowledge of Logistics and Supply, but might not need to have the same level of military experience or leadership skills as their counterparts in the Cavalry Squadron or Field Artillery Battalion down the road.

Of course, many of us know the mindset that some get when they become hard-striped. They might be an ineffectual leader in a “soft skill” MOS, but they have something to prove and that Infantry CPL bringing his Soldier in for a pay issue had better remember custom and courtesy.


Time and again as an E-3 or E-4 I had to “guide” senior NCOs and Officers to the correct answer (mine) on mail or awards.

A few particularly unpleasant cases ended with the BNCO saying “Stop fucking with my mailclerk.” (Thanks sir).


Usually, once they realized I made them look good whenever possible, they decided maybe I had a point.


Ah well, lots of fun in my little corner of it.

Dennis - not chevy

It could get complicated; but, I think the whole rank structure should be re-organized for all of the branches. A blending of the specialists ranks and what the Navy used for Construction Battalions in WWII.

Say a customer walks into a recruiting station holding a journeyman’s card as a (fill in the blank) welder, heavy equipment operator, electrician, whatever and the recruiter says you’ll make a fine E-1 and we’ll throw in three hots and a flop. Unless the recruit is excited about serving the President and Constitution, I don’t see the recruiter making the quota that month.

So the same recruit gets an offer for Spec-4 or Spec-5, maybe they’ll talk.

Here’s the downside. When I was a USAF tech training instructor, I had students (especially ANG) who did the job I was teaching. Some of them had skills far beyond what I was teaching. Some of them were as smart as a box of rocks. Experience is not always the same as competence.

I was teased by a Master Corporal in the CND, here I’ll quote, “You guys have got a shit load of Sergeants.” He was right. If everyone’s a leader, who does the work?

Leave the hard stripes and crows to the leaders. Keep the pay up for the workers by having the possibility to make it up to, at least, E-7. Do not abandon the troops who sign up to learn a job – keep the tech schools open and don’t limit the students’ opportunities.

Recognize the higher-ups may have leadership and management ability but the next E-3 I meet who knows more about the wrench bending than the senior NCO running the shop will not be the first.

Recognize the senior NCO running the shop is not paid to bend the wrenches.

Once upon a time, one was a Sergeant, or a Supply Sergeant, or a Gunnery Sergeant, yet still, unless one was a Sergeant Major, a Sergeant.

My roundabout point is, the military job should be more about the work and less about the book.


I think you guys make great points.

Part of the problem though is when the shit goes down. typically in Iraq and Afghanistan they would target CSS convoys. Having non-leaders in leadership positions tends to create disaster. If the SPEC7,6,5 believes that combat isn’t part of his/her job description than he will be unhelpful and clueless when the time comes.

Dennis - not chevy

‘how about, keeping the hard stripes to those in combat arms or have been trained in combat arms. For example, a mechanic who has been through infantry training, is competent at the mechanic job, and shows leadership abilities is the Corporal; the mechanic without combat arms training is the Specialist?

I don’t mean a gentleman’s course where one learns how to operate the bang switch; but real combat arms training. If it happens the Corporal tells the Spec7 to set up defilade, the Spec7 does it with no I’m an E-7 and you’re an E-4 whining.

Why not just make the Corporal a SFC and the Spec7 an E-4? I say no, why stay in if there’s no chance to get ahead? Does the USAF Surgeon General riding in an airplane tell the pilot who’s a Captain how to fly the airplane?


Wish I’d have read this before my reply, but I agree. I’ll bring up Army Special Bands again. On Fort Myer there are numerous E-9s on post any any given time, from the SMA to the Garrison CSM, Old Guard Regimental and Battalion CSMs, HHB USA CSM, and so on. A lot of those are SGMs from The US Army Band “Pershing’s Own” (TUSAB). I counted at least sixteen looming through the various ensembles just now. There are many more MSGs and SFCs.

We all know that, at that level, a SGM or MSG in TUSAB doesn’t carry the same weight as a CSM or 1SG, but I feel like it’s a bit un-Army to pin SSG on a Musician with under a year in while there’s an Infantry unit with PFC Team Leaders right next door.

I always enjoyed TUSAB, have a few friends from the Band, and one of the pinnacles of my second stint in TOG was being the setup/teardown NCOIC for the 1812 Overture Performance in Conmy Hall. Even so, as an E-6 Drill Sergeant I supervised probably 25x the number of junior enlisted Soldiers that a TUSAB SGM Element Leader oversees at any given time (all of whom are SSG-MSG). They are professional Musicians deserving of high pay grades, but shouldn’t be handed the title of Sergeant.


How about all Specialists are E-4, but with skill set brackets for more pay. Those brackets parallel 5-6-7-8 pay. “Earn the Up”. A very senior cryptographer in a vault by herself doesn’t need MSG stripes. A very senior medic who can’t lead a fire drill can be retained by that “E4-7” paycheck.

If they want NCO status, go to PLDC and buck for Sergeant. Turns out not your thing? Back to your Specialty.

You could also do that with NCOs. If someone is a darn good squad leader but lost at platoon, level up their pay to 7 and leave them wearing E-6.

We had an E-5 who said he had 30 years of AD and a winning lottery ticket cashed. Oddddddd duck. Last I saw him, he was cooking sandwiches for EMs in the barracks dayroom.


Agreed, the Army has a problem with Soldiers who think soldiering should be the Infantry’s problem, not theirs. Of course, I heard “I gotta know your job and mine” from Support personnel quite a bit before Iraq. After the wars got long in the tooth and most had deployed, though, there was a wakeup call. For a while 88M (truck driver) was one of the most dangerous jobs out there.

Dennis – not chevy brings up a good point. Have technical experts, trained and capable of defending themselves even if not outstanding combat leaders, do the work. Have Sergeants do the leading. I’ve shared before my experience with one of the most effective NCOs I encountered. SFC Testament was the Motor Pool NCOIC when I was a PVT tasked with helping the Rear-D mechanics. Air Assault, nothing else, and a mustache of all things (strictly verboten in the Infantry units of the 101st). I have few doubts he could have led my Infantry platoon into Baghdad. He was probably also a good wrench-turner, though. In subsequent years, I met too many NCOs who might have earned their paychecks through knowledge, experience, and sheer productivity, but who should have never been given stripes.


I see too much “I just do my specialty” out there and it’s annoying. Plus, lots of those dudes get out because the service insists they become NCOs when the don’t want leadership responsibility, then they get hired as or become a “manager” on the outside and find personal responsibility, initiative and other leadership behavior alien and get hostile toward it.

Slow Joe

My spider senses fire up every time I hear “believe in something greater than yourself”. That’s the line used by radicals for generations to recruit lost youth to their evil causes.
I know you used it for the right reasons and for the right end, but, red flags went up.
People pushing for climate change use this very claim of fighting for something greater than themselves.

Last edited 6 months ago by Slow Joe

They pervert every decent and noble thing in achieving their evil.

Don’t give up on the decent and noble. Scrutinize, and where needed drop the hammer.


“Be the change you seek in the world.” –Adolph (and not Coors)


Seems to be a good idea to expedite direct commissions for some technical fields. I think it best if they focus more on the Reserve side of the house. Your example of a UPS exec commissioning into Logistics is a good one. The military isn’t going to pay well enough to entice the best-qualified from their civilian jobs to Active Duty, though depending on the Branch and specific job, I could see a well-educated recent college grad taking a direct commission as a 2LT to get some experience in their field.

“…the Army needed experts it couldn’t mass produce: …communications experts, electrical engineers, industrial planners, film actors and more.”

Imagine a solid core of Reserve officers (CPT and higher) who have already proven themselves in civilian sector. Rather than gamble on a ROTC or Military Academy grad learning a certain job and excelling at it solely through military training, experience, and mentorship, you’ll have what amounts to a cadre of part-time Mentors who will be more likely to think outside of the box. Public Affairs could have MAJ Jean-Pierre at the Pentagon and COL Baldwin could dual-hat in advertisements and as an RSO on range day (kidding, of course).

But seriously, imagine if an experienced and pro-military actor like Gary Sinise were eligible to direct commission (he’s 68, so definitely not) and work with the Army Enterprise Marketing Office. Do you think the recent advertising fails would be so bad, or that his decades of experience and love for the Troops would see more effective marketing. Now, team him up with people like the Black Rifle Coffee execs (got it, BRCC is not the least controversial of Vet-owned companies, but you can’t deny their marketing is effective and their growth has been outstanding). I think the Army would have a little less of a struggle in generating interest.


Personally, I’d rather drink a tepid cup of mouldy goat diarrhea than another cup of BRCC joe.


I’ll admit, I’m still subscribed to them and get a box of pods every couple of months, but those go to work with me for the break room. I might have a cup of BRCC coffee every six months.


BRCC drank the “woke” Kool Aid because, not knowing any better, they thought they couldn’t get funding or otherwise survive in business without that– integrity for sale, too late they found they shouldn’t have.

Their coffee tastes like stuff Joes make in the TOC on field problems, too. (Great if you’re hard up, but… )


BRCC pimps their coffee by making fun of the military. People not privy to the joke (non vets) think that they get the joke but they are actually mostly clueless. If anything, they discourage people from serving. I’m not saying they aren’t funny either, they are, but it isn’t helpful to gaining enlistments.

The military does spend billions hiring and contracting with marketing firms to recruit. Commissioning people to serve in that capacity would likely be counterproductive.


I know they spend billions on marketing firms, but with campaigns like Emma’s Two Moms, maybe they need to rethink who they have hiring the marketers. I joined at the tail end of Be All That You Can Be, and here we are 22 years later with that slogan back, albeit with an Army ad campaign that catches heat when it shows a group of All Americans jumping from a CH-47. Since they’re non-diverse White men, the comments for that video are just plain sparky. Not because they’re White, but because the Army has been pushing its DEI nonsense for so long.

BRCC does produce funny stuff, and I admit that it’s mostly due to them poking fun at the absolute BS we have to put up with while in uniform. But what they do has been effective for them over the past nine years. Would it help grow the Army? Maybe not, and I’m sure there are more positive examples of outside corporations that could help. Who knows? I was just an enlisted Recruiter who had to work with what tools the Army provided.


Remake don’t beat original:

West Point 1987

There’s an urban legend that that guy in the commercial got chaptered some time later…anyone know if that is true?


Good luck with all of this…you gonna need it. Maybe if Big Military hadn’t of run off some many good ossifers during the JEF’s purges, or the not-a-jab takers, and poisoned the well of potential recruits (O & E) they wouldn’t be facing this. Here’s a novel idea…go grab some of the former direct commissioned ossifers that left to take Gas Company and/or artist jobs and put them back in uniform.

When the draft comes back this problem will be fixed.

Old tanker

I don’t think the draft is going to fix Officer vacancies. Asking others who were forced out is not a bad idea but I wonder how many who found good employment would even be interested in coming back. Given Officers are Commissioned with an indefinite term of service, it’s not like they would be expected to serve 3 years then ETS, as long as there is no “stop loss” in effect.


“When the draft comes back”

It won’t be a breeze because the pool of available men willing to serve no longer exists. It would require a brutal involuntary
servitude at the point of a gun or the end of a rope.


Malicious compliance will be a thing.

As will be “accidents”.

Green Thumb

Direct commissions are a slippery slope.


Yes, they are. I spent four years learning how to be an Army officer. It required a great deal of effort but paid off when I received a Regular Army commission by act of Congress. Exhibits “A” and “B” of your slippery slope are Hunter Biden and ex-mayor Pete Buttgaygay. Both received direct commissions. Neither is qualified to lead a squad of latrine orderlies. They also had no expertise in anything when their political connections got them their direct commissions. At least the doctors getting direct commissions know how to practice medicine.


Why recruit more cheifs when there aren’t enough indians to do the work. Yeah, some of them would be specialized officers, but when the manpower isn’t there, the job(s) would just fall back on them. I mean, it’s a good idea, but I don’t see it working at the current time.


“wouldn’t it be nice to put an experienced UPS executive advising on logistics”?

Nice, no. Funny, yes.

I always shake my head whenever the idea of using corporate solutions to fix bureaucratic problems is broached.

The two systems are polar to each other by design.

These dipship senior field grades and flags LOVE throwing around business lingo but that is where their appreciation of it begins and ends.

Hack Stone

Some of the more successful recent Direct Commissions include our current Secretary of Transgenders, Hack means Transportation, and of course US Naval Reserve Ensign Hunter Biden.


Yes, they both had impressive service as Direct Commissioned officers. A coke/crack head political bagman who failed his first drug test; and an officer who was only useful and capable as an admiral’s driver and dog robber aka coffee fetcher. Was the admiral gay? ( Asking for a friend.)