Becoming an officer

Even in the days when the usual route to a commission and promotions was by purchase –  for large sums of money, increasing greatly for higher ranks in prestigious regiments, individuals with valuable skills – engineers and artillerymen, and when military academies were founded, military graduates with professional training, were also made officers.

Today, those with degrees are encouraged to apply directly for officer training, the Army also  very much encourages other ranks with the potential, also to apply for officer selection.  All officer training now takes part at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS), which runs various courses for the different categories of aspiring officer.

At any point a solider may ask to be considered for officer training, and if successful will go to Sandhurst on the usual one-year course.  Soldiers who become Warrant Officers Class One (RSMs and their equivalents), can apply for commissions, and after a short time at Sandhurst, become Second Lieutenants, but very swiftly move on to the rank of captain, and usually progress to major or lieutenant colonel.

Civilians with the professional skills needed by the Army: doctors, lawyers, dentists and priests; are commissioned from the very start and attend shortened military courses at RMAS known as the “Vicars and Tarts Course”.

Normal cadet entry to RMAS is via officer selection at Westbury.

Choice of Regiment

My best advice is to start researching regiments a couple of years before going to Sandhurst, and certainly as soon as you’ve passed AOSB, beginning the process through the good offices of   your recruitment officer.  All regiments will respond to your inquiries (if they don’t, forget about them unless you’re really keen, as they don’t sound well-enough organised to deserve your interest) – by letter in the first instance, after which invitations to visit and be interviewed will be issued.

Once you’ve identified a number of ‘possible’ regiments, which will certainly summon you for interview with the Regimental Colonel,  you should mount a careful campaign of chatty, informative letters to said Regimental Colonel, keeping in touch and passing on appropriate news. At some point, you will be told whether or not you are likely to be offered a place.

It’s a tough, competitive system. Always remember that each regiment is a family, and looking for people who will fit in (their number one requirement). The larger Corps are less interested (or perhaps more forgiving) regarding this more personal aspect, but do look very hard at qualifications and potential.

Officer selection

For hundreds of years, the Army has been selecting the right people to become its officers ; since 1949 a process  dependent upon  intensive three-day War Office Selection Boards, now known as Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB), held in Leighton House, at Westbury in Wiltshire – rather than as in earlier centuries, who your father knew or which school you went to.

However, once at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, determining the regiment or arm into which you are to be commissioned does depend upon knowing people, being accepted and so to some extent your family and other background factors. Especially with the smaller regiments,  which are themselves very similar to families, fitting in is the most important characteristic.

The earlier you decide on an arm or type of regiment, the most effort you can put into getting to know people and having them get to know you – and achieving a mutually satisfactory decision over choice of regiment or arm.  I strongly recommend starting in this process before arriving at Sandhurst.

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