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A direct commission officer (DCO) is a United States uniformed officer who has received an appointed commission without the typical prerequisites for achieving a commission, such as attending a four-year service academy, a four-year or two-year college ROTC program, or one of the officer candidate school or officer training school programs, the latter OCS/OTS programs typically slightly over three months in length.
Civilians who have special skills that are critical to sustaining military operations, supporting troops, health and scientific study may receive a direct commission upon entering service. These officers usually occupy leadership positions in the following areas: law, science, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, nurse corps, intelligence, supply-logistics-transportation, engineering, public affairs, chaplain corps, oceanography, merchant marine affairs, and others.
The U.S. Marine Corps does not offer a DCO program anymore; Navy officers provide medical, legal and chaplain services, and chief warrant officers (CWO) and limited duty officers (LDO) serve as occupational field experts.
The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps exclusively use a DCO program to commission their officers.
Depending on the specialization and duty-status of the officer, "DCOs" as they're called, will attend either Officer Indoctrination School (OIS), Officer Development School (ODS), or Direct Commission Officer School (DCO School) which vary from two weeks duration for certain Reserve DCOs to five weeks duration for Active Duty DCOs.
U.S. Army Active and Reserve Direct Commission Officers
Active United States Army direct commissions are available in the medical, legal, chaplain corps, and cyber as of November 2017[update]. Each branch will rank the officer candidate upon completion of Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC). The United States Army Reserve uses the DCO program to bring specialized skills and backgrounds, and to fill critical shortages in the Army Reserve commissioned officer corps. A majority of the people obtaining direct commissions in the Army Reserve are prior-enlisted personnel. However, there have been instances when qualified civilians were directly commissioned as well. The general requirements for a direct commission in the Army Reserve are: 60 semester hours of college credit; the ability to get and maintain a "secret" clearance; be physically qualified (obtain and pass a medical evaluation); an open slot or "billet" in an Army Reserve unit; three recommendation letters from commissioned field-grade officers; and a recommendation from a direct commissioning board. Once selected, the applicant signs the oath and is sworn in by another commissioned officer. At that point the newly commissioned officer will then need to attend the Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC) in their assigned area of concentration (AOC) before becoming fully qualified.
Direct commission officers in the Army Reserve can serve in the same specialities and hold billets as ROTC, OCS, and USMA graduates. Direct commission officers may be promoted to flag officer rank and hold command within their specialty of work.
The United States Navy has an extensive DCO program. As of October 2019[update], the Navy consolidated its two-week reserve training program (Direct Commission Officer Indoctrination Course, DCOIC) with its five-week Active Duty training program (Officer Development School, ODS), also at Newport, Rhode Island. Officer Candidate School (OCS), the 12-week program that college graduates wishing to join the U.S. Navy as active duty line officers must complete, is also located at Newport.
Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) of 2005 decreed that the Navy Reserve officer DCO School be relocated from Naval Aviation Schools Command at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida to Naval Education and Training Center Newport, Rhode Island effective January 2007. As a result of BRAC and other budgetary-driven actions, the U.S. Navy consolidated many of its schools at NETC, Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island.
The Navy is currently considering merging DCO School, Limited Duty Officer School, and Mustang University into one contiguous officer training program—all located in Newport, Rhode Island. As of January 2007[update] all Navy Reserve DCO, LDO and CWO Officers attend the same two-week course of instruction in Newport.
The U.S. Navy Reserve Direct Commissioning Program allows university-educated professionals, between ages 19 to 35 (or older, in some cases), the opportunity to be appointed as an officer in the Navy Reserve. Most DCOs hold advanced degrees (MAs, MBAs, MSs, JDs, MDs, DOs, PharmDs and Ph.Ds.) and/or significant civilian work experience. In recent years, the number of direct commissions offered by the Navy Reserve has increased due to the need for skilled officers to serve as Individual Augmentees (IAs) in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Direct Commissioning Program serves the expanded needs of the Navy in certain officer skill areas listed below in alphabetical order by category:
- Special Warfare Officer
Restricted Line Officer (including Special Duty Officer)
- Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer (AEDO)
- Aerospace Maintenance Duty Officer (AMDO)
- Engineering Duty Officer
- Foreign area officer (Country or Regional Specialists, Non-Intelligence)
- Human Resources Officer
- Information Professional (typically, personnel have Computer Science degrees and extensive industry experience)
- Information Warfare Officer (formerly Cryptology Officer)
- Cyber Warfare Engineer
- Intelligence Officer
- Merchant Marine Officer
- Meteorology/Oceanography Officer (METOC)
- Public Affairs Officer
- Chaplain Corps Officer
- Medical Programs (Medical, Dental, Nurse, Pharmacist and Medical Service Corps)
- Supply Corps Officer (Logistics, Transportation, Supply Management, Customs, Contracting)
- JAG Corps Officer
- Civil Engineer Corps Officer
Limited Duty Officer (Various specialties)
Warrant Officer (Various specialties)
Some skill areas may not have openings each year. Each year, skill area recruiting quotas are promulgated for recruiters to fill. Upon completion of their training regimen, DCOs serve on nearly every type of ship in the fleet and at shore establishments around the globe. Navy DCOs are forward deployed and are currently serving on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are an integral part of the Navy's role in the War on Terror.
U.S. Coast Guard Direct Commission Officers
The United States Coast Guard uses the DCO program to bring specialized skills and backgrounds into the Coast Guard commissioned officer corps. The DCO course is conducted by the Officer Candidate School, located at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Depending on program and background, the course is three, four, or five weeks long.
There are seven Direct Commission Officer programs:
- NOTE: Individuals in this category are typically rated/designated military aviators who have previously served on active duty as officers in other branches of the U.S. armed forces. They have transferred to and are being recommissioned as officers in the U.S. Coast Guard in order to serve as Coast Guard Aviators.
- Engineering (Various disciplines)
- Environmental Management
- Prior-Trained Military Officer
- Maritime Academy Graduate From the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy or a State Merchant Marine Academy
Some DCO programs may not have openings each year. While DCOs are expected to fill specific specialty areas, they are not specifically precluded from crossing into other operational or support billets in follow-on assignments.
U.S. Public Health Service (Commissioned Corps) Direct Commission Officers
The PHSCC Direct Commissioning Program allows university-educated professionals, between ages 19 to 45 (or older, in some cases), the opportunity to be appointed as an officer in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. All candidates must complete a two-week Officer Basic Course (OBC) before entering active duty. Most PHSCC DCOs hold advanced degrees (DDSs, DMDs, MSs, MDs, DOs, PharmDs and Ph.Ds.) and significant civilian work experience, and the minimum in many programs is a master's degree from a duly accredited program. One of the fields requiring only a baccalaureate degree is engineering. The Direct Commissioning Program serves the expanded needs of the PHS in certain officer skill areas listed below:
- Environmental health officer
- Health services officer
- Therapist (includes occupational therapy, physical therapy, registered respiratory therapist, speech-language pathology, and audiology)
- Medical Technologist
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Commissioned Officer Corps) Direct Commission Officers
The NOAA Corps Direct Commissioning Program allows university-educated professionals, between ages 19 to 35 (or older, in some cases), the opportunity to be appointed as an officer in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps. All must complete a 19-week basic officer training class (BOTC), at the United States Coast Guard Officer Candidate School, before entering active duty. Many NOAA Corps DCOs hold advanced degrees (MS, MAs and Ph.Ds.) and significant civilian work experience, though the minimum requirement is a baccalaureate degree. The Direct Commissioning Program serves the expanded needs of the NOAA Corps in certain officer skill areas listed below:
- U.S. Army
- U.S. Navy
- U.S. Coast Guard
- U.S. Public Health Service