Yesterday, I wrote about how to pick the right MOS when you enlist in the Army. Today, I want to educate you about how to pick the right Army Officer branch when you get commissioned.
I should start out by telling you that you really don’t get to “pick” your Army Officer branch. Basically, you get to pick “three” branches that interest you, and then the Army decides which branch you get, based upon the needs of the Army. So, it’s partially out of your control.
I had people I graduated college/ROTC with that got their first choice, but many didn’t. It’s weird because I was near the bottom of my ROTC class and I got my top choice (Quartermaster) yet other students who did much better than me academically didn’t all get their top choice. It’s funny how things work out.
Even though you don’t ultimately get to pick your branch, I still think you should put some thought into the officer branch(es) that you request. Here are a few things to think about.
# 1 Do You Plan on Making a Career Out of the Army?
The first thing you should consider is “do you plan on making a career out of the Army?” I understand that you might not be able to answer that question objectively right now. After all, you’re probably just 21-22 years old and you aren’t really sure what your life’s purpose is. That being said, if you think you are going to be a lifer in the Army, I would definitely pick a branch that interests me the most. If you plan on just doing four to five years in the Army and then moving on to a civilian career, you might want to consider a branch that will help prepare you for your future civilian occupation.
# 2 What branches do you think would interest you the most?
Here’s what I learned after serving as an officer for more than a decade. If you love your branch, you’re probably going to do very well with your Army career. People who love what they do are typically very productive and good at what they do (in most cases anyway). I would make a list of your natural talents, abilities, and passions and then ask yourself “what officer branch lets you leverage those talents, abilities, and passions the most?” You can also have the other mindset and pick the branch you think will be the most fun and most challenging.
# 3 What branches would give you job skills you can use after the Army?
Once again, if you plan on just doing one stint in the Army and then resigning your commission, pick a branch that prepares you for whatever career you think you want to have.
# 4 What branch gives you the most career opportunities?
If you plan on making a career out of the Army, you should evaluate each branch that interests you and try to figure out which one gives you the best career opportunities in the Army.
Additional Things to Consider
Once you know your top five to seven branches, I would do some additional research. Spend some time on YouTube to learn more about each branch. Interview current and former Army Officers in the branches that interest you and find out what they have to say and recommend. Surf the internet. There is tons of information about every branch online.
Do your preliminary research and then whittle your list down to your top three choices. After that, all you can do is cross your fingers and hope for the best.
I should also remind you that just because you don’t get the branch you want doesn’t mean you are trapped in that branch forever. In many cases, you will have the opportunity to acquire a new branch when you are a Captain and attend your Captain’s Career Course.
I should also remind you that most new officers in the Army do similar tasks, regardless of their branch. The only real exception might be Aviation. Most new lieutenants are Platoon Leaders, responsible for supervising NCOs and Soldiers. Most officers are managers and leaders, regardless of their branch.
Choosing the right Army Officer branch is a big decision. Even though the “Big Army” ultimately gets to pick your branch, you should spend a considerable amount of time researching branches ahead of time, so you can make an educated decision about which branches you want to be considered for.
What are your thoughts? What do you recommend? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you.
Former Army Major (resigned)
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12 thoughts on “How to Pick the Right Army Officer Branch When You Get Commissioned”
Great advice to pick something that you love, because people who love what they do are usually successful. This will also translate into a high level of expertise when, and if, you re-enter the civilian world. Passion for your job goes a long way toward achieving success. That said, it is sometimes hard to find a job you are passionate about, especially when you are young.
Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.
I'll caveat and say that OCS candidates do not always get to pick their branches. That is state dependent.
I've seen it multiple ways: potential candidate must first get an LOA before going to OCS, candidate secures an LOA while in OCS, candidate submits their top 3 and the State S-1 decides their fate depending on "needs of the state" which sometimes makes the Top 3 irrelevant.
There's no one catch all when it comes to Guard branch selection.
Great information, Eric. Thanks for sharing.
In the Guard, ROTC cadets have the options of selecting their branch with confidence because the vacany positions available in the Guard Unit is attached to a branch. In essence, a ROTC cadet can locate a guard unit with a vacant position in the branch they desire and commit to that vacant position in the guard unit to secure their branch selection prior to OML (Order of Merit list) publication.
Thanks for clarifying. I will need to update the article. I appreciate it.
One thing to note here Chuck is that there is a big difference in the process of choosing a branch between ROTC cadets and OCS candidates. I’m not sure the process for the Reserve OCS candidates, but the National Guard OCS candidates do get to choose exactly what their branch is. In fact, they have to go out and find an open slot in a unit by the time they commission. There are more considerations for them because of that.
One of them is the location of the slot. If you want to be FA, but the closest FA unit is three hours from where you live, you may not find the commute worth it. There is also the decision if you want to commission in the same branch you were in as an enlisted Soldier. To expand on the career opportunities topic, you need to look at your state’s officer slots. You may really want to be an MP, but if you see that there is only one or two CPT slots for a MP officer, you may decide that will not be the best choice for your career.
Best thing to do is to talk to as many current officers in your state and get as much information from them as possible.
That’s some great advice Tim. I will update the article and clarify the difference between picking your branch in the National Guard, Reserve and Active Duty. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
I want to add to my comment below that knowing that you will not be trapped in a branch you don’t like your entire career as an Army Officer should give guys and girls confidence.
Knowing you can look around and pick another branch if you don’t like the first one, but you like being an Army officer, should be a relief. You can continue your Army career and simply choose another branch.
This economy will make you rethink giving up your career as an officer. A career Army officer has a solid standing in the Army and the civilian world.
If you finish your Army career and have that retirement coming in, you have built a financial buffer that will be good to have in a less than smooth economy.
Your leadership skills will help you step into a solid position with a company, When retirement comes, you will have two solid retirements and I promise you that will be huge.
Another dead on comment Scott. Today’s economy is terrible, and the Army can provide great pay, and great training that can land a person a great job when they leave the service. As an officer, you essentially have the world by the tail. If a person always keeps that in mind even if they do not like the branch, it will make it easier.
There are definitely ways to get more information on what you choose for a branch now.
When I joined the service, the only information you got was the recruiter.
Now, you can certainly research things more.
An officer will definitely benefit from the research and from the points in this post.
I must say a big amen to that Scott.
As I was not an officer, I still know that all we really had was a recruiter. We had to trust there say so, and it was usually more wrong than right. Yep I was told I was going to be a tank mechanic and after all was said and done, I was straight up 11 Bravo. Nothing more or less.
These days the internet can help you choose that right branch. Yes, you get 3 choices and then they choose, make all 3 choices you won’t dislike.
I believe you should always consider the after Army career possibilities when making these choices.
Great post sir.