There are various ways of joining the Army: as a junior soldier, an adult recruit, and as an officer. Within these three broad categories, there are also options, allowing people with ability to find their own levels. Each person’s career path in the Army is determined when they join, but unlike in earlier times, is not restricted by this. People who join as private soldiers have far more opportunity to be selected for promotion or for officer training than in the past.
If your intention is to become an officer, it is easier to enter the Army having passed the Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB). Year 11 school leavers can attend the Services’ Sixth form College Welbeck, to study science-based subjects. Although requiring only a shortened AOSB, Welbeck graduates are usually restricted to joining the technical arms.
Although most officers enter with degrees and are given a couple of years seniority (and the increased pay to go with it) as ‘compensation’ for the years spent at university, it’s not essential to have a degree. Indeed, the additional time a non-degree officer spends at regimental duty gives him/her much better experience (which is particularly appreciated by the Sergeants Mess).
As to whether having a degree enhances officer promotion prospects depends on the degree; reading water skiing with the sports centre management option at Poshington probably isn’t going to help, whereas the intellectual rigour of for example an Oxbridge degree has obvious usefulness – for overall perception, but also for specifics like engaging similarly qualified civil servants. In some units like the Intelligence Corps and REME, many of the NCO’s will have degrees.
All Sandhurst graduates are granted a three year Short Service Commission, from which they may apply for an Intermediate Regular Commission of 18 years, or a Regular Commission of 35 years or to age 60 whichever comes first.
Officers and Soldiers
Soldiers usually join much younger than officers, and their pay is structured so that by the time they achieve similar levels of responsibility, they’re being paid roughly the same. For example, a lance corporal in his third year is paid more than a second lieutenant, whose troop or platoon sergeant is paid a third more than him. A Warrant Officer Class Two – a company sergeant major, is paid the same as an experienced captain.
This helps illustrate the duality of Army ranks; there are two different types of authority by which the job gets done, each equally important. The soldiers and NCOs concentrate on the drills, management routines and processes, whilst the officers concentrate on the purpose and application of the unit’s activities, and their morale and efficiency . The officers are held totally responsible for everything that takes place within their unit, up through the company commanders and the Commanding Officer.
The RSM exercises a similar and parallel chain of command down through his company sergeant majors and NCOs. Both systems are vital, and everyone at the top of each chain has come up through it, so understands what everyone else is doing. The other vital dimension to this, is that officers at each level can confide in their NCO counterpart in the certainty that each respects the other, but also that the officer remains totally responsible, and so makes the decisions. In combat, the clarity of the officers’ position is vital.
The first big hurdle after Basic Training for soldiers is the often dreaded NCO’s Cadre Course – a robust, highly active selection and training course required for progression to corporal.
The toughest moment is often regarded as the first days after being promoted to lance corporal – the rank with least authority. Some soldiers fluctuate up and down at this stage – sometime after over-enthusiastic celebration.
Entering the Sergeants Mess along with the extra responsibilities of this rank, often requires a further and considerable adjustment; very different from the relative informality of the Corporals Club, and like the Officers Mess, the home of a wide range of rank levels and ages, the people who run the unit.
Many soldiers become officers at the end of their careers, having passed through all the ranks. Most RSMs these days can expect to be commissioned as officers, but this is less a reflection of new-found Army egalitarianism than it is on the education, ability and flexibility of the Army’s senior ranks. For them, entering the Officers Mess can be as much of a transition as entering the Sergeants Mess a decade or so earlier; and for the Officers, the experience they bring is invaluable.