Stripes to bars: How to get commissioned

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Katherine Windish
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Airmen looking to trade in their stripes for a set of bars can take advantage of five different commissioning programs offered by the Air Force.

According to Melanie Mendez, 31st Force Support Squadron education and training specialist, enlisted Airmen have an advantage when applying for commissioning programs.

Being enlisted puts Airmen a cut above in the application process, said Mendez. It circumvents a lot of the red tape civilians usually go through and demonstrates how an enlistment and military experience have matured and made Airmen a valuable asset as a leader.

Officer Training School, Airman Scholarship and Commissioning Program, Leaders Encouraging Airmen Development, Scholarship for Outstanding Airmen to ROTC and Professional Officer Course Early Release Program are the five programs offered.

Each program has different requirements. Which program a member qualifies for depends on their qualifications, lifestyle and family situation.

Graduates of all programs are commissioned as second lieutenants with a minimum four-year active-duty contract.

Officer Training School
Airmen applying for this program must have a bachelor's degree or higher. The 12-week program focuses on military customs and courtesies; military history; leadership and officership techniques; small arms training; combat skills; physical training; drill and ceremonies.

"I really feel that my prior military experience really helped out since you are competing against the civilian sector as well," said Staff Sgt. Brandon Fowler, 31st Munitions Squadron, who was recently selected for OTS. "I have really worked hard throughout my career to stay ahead of the game as far as my work is concerned and I believe that showed through on my [enlisted performance reports.] The board doesn't necessarily want someone that excels in only one or two fields, but is more spread out across the board. This means volunteering, working with squadron events, being involved in professional associations, and anything else that would show that you are the 'whole package.'"

Airmen Scholarship and Commissioning Program
Airmen must separate from active-duty service and join an Air Force ROTC detachment to earn their degree. Members can receive scholarships of up to $15,000 for two to four years plus a $750 book allowance and monthly stipend of $250 to $400.

Leaders Encouraging Airmen Development
Airmen must be nominated for selection to this program by unit commanders. Airmen are selected based upon demonstrated leadership skills, SAT scores and high school grade-point-average. Once selected, Airmen will attend the U.S. Air Force Academy or Academy Preparatory School based on their credentials. Every year there are 85 slots reserved for prior enlisted Airmen directly to the Academy and 50 slots reserved for the Academy Preparatory School. To apply for LEAD Airmen must be at least 17, but less than 23 years of age by July 1 of the year they would enter and they must be unmarried and without dependents.

"This is where being prior enlisted is a huge advantage," said Mendez. "The only nomination required of enlisted Airmen applying to the LEAD program is a letter from their immediate commander, whereas civilian applicants require a congressional nomination. Also, enlisted Airmen who are selected to attend the preparatory school portion of the LEAD program get to retain their enlisted rank for the duration of the school, keeping their current pay a little while longer before entering the academy."

Scholarship for Outstanding Airmen to ROTC
Airmen must separate from the Air Force. Members can receive scholarships of up to $15,000 per year in tuition and fees plus a monthly stipend of $250 to $400. Only 50 slots are available per year in this program. It is open to all college majors.

Professional Officer Course Early Release Program
Airmen must have completed at least two years of schooling toward their degree. Airmen will be released early from active duty to attend Air Force ROTC and attend school full time.

To learn more about or sign up for any of these programs Airmen must contact the education office and attend a commissioning briefing. At the briefing, an education and training specialist goes through the specifics of each program and talks with each attendee to find which program fits best. The specialist then goes through the package checklist step-by-step and details what needs to be done to be selected.

Before being considered for any of the programs, Airmen must take the Air Force Officer Qualification Test, a standardized test similar to the SAT or ACT that measures the test takers learning aptitude. The AFOQT can only be taken twice and examinees must wait at least 180 days between tests.

"It is important to remember that the AFOQT is only a portion of the package and not to get too caught up on the scores," said Fowler. "Don't just assume you have it in the bag with 99's across the board, or vice versa that you don't stand a chance with lower scores."

Applicants must also include a commander's recommendation and a completed Air Force Form 56. The Air Force Form 56 gives applicants an opportunity to show selectors why they deserve to be selected. Board members also look at college transcripts and enlisted performance reports.

"The board members are evaluating the applicants using the whole-person concept," said Mendez. "Three main scoring areas are evaluated: education and aptitude; experience; and potential and adaptability. Selectors review an applicant's GPA and AFOQT scores to determine a candidate's education and aptitude levels. EPRs are used to determine an applicant's experience and to see if they took on a greater scope of responsibility. EPRs also reflect leadership abilities and potential as well as community involvement.

"The commissioning program boards are very competitive," continued Mendez. "I would advise Airmen to take advantage of opportunities to excel both on and off duty. Competing for awards, maintaining a strong grade-point-average and serving the community by volunteering are all great examples. It is also recommended that you complete your Community College of the Air Force degree and work toward another because you are furthering your education and showing initiative."