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Become an Air Force Officer: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a U.S. Air Force officer in this video. Learn about the job description and the education requirements to find out how to start a career in the Air Force.

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Should I Become a U.S. Air Force Officer?

Becoming an officer in the U.S. Air Force requires rigorous screenings that test one's physical stamina, mental acuity and leadership potential. Once commissioned, officers serve in a wide variety of airborne, technical and administrative roles, from pilot to combat rescue officer to cost analysis officer. U.S. Air Force officers who engage in combat activities put their lives at risk to serve their country. They are typically stationed on military bases, and might have to be away from loved ones for long periods of time to fulfill missions.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; Direct Commission Officers (DCO) may need a graduate or professional degree
Degree Fields No specific field; Air Force ROTC scholarships have stipulations about acceptable and favored majors; DCOs must have a degree relevant to their field
Training Basic officer training that includes classroom study and physical training required
Licensing DCOs need a valid civilian license to practice in their field (such as law or medicine)
Key Skills Physical fitness; leadership potential; commitment to the Air Force's core values of integrity, service and excellence
Salary $33,941 per year (2014 base pay for all officers starting at the 0-1 level)

Sources: U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Air Force ROTC, Airforce.com, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Select a Route to Officer Commissioning

Aspiring Air Force officers have multiple options in order to begin their careers. Bachelor's degree holders can apply to the 9-week Basic Officer Training program at the Air Force's Officer Training School (OTS). A 5-week program is required for medical, judicial and clerical professionals licensed in their fields who are interested in becoming Commissioned Officers.

While in college, students can gain an officer commission through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) program. The AFROTC awards scholarships based on students' chosen majors, with higher awards offered to preferred technical fields, such as engineering, meteorology and chemistry. High school graduates can apply to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. There they receive an undergraduate education offered through a number of available majors, such as foreign studies, computer science, aeronautical engineering and operations research.

Step 2: Meet Air Force Academy Admission Requirements

To be eligible for both the Air Force Academy and the AFROTC program, students must be U.S. citizens at the time of enrollment. Entering freshmen at the Academy must be 17 to 23 years of age and unmarried with no dependents. Applicants must have an impressive academic record, but also high moral standards, a history of community service and leadership potential. The Academy also requires a physical fitness test, a medical evaluation and a nomination from a member of Congress or other government official.

AFROTC scholarship applicants must be 14 to 17 years old. They must meet competitive academic standards n high school GPA and college entrance admission tests. In addition, they must pass a physical fitness assessment and meet with an Air Force interviewer.

Step 3: Meet Officer Training Requirements

The basic requirements for applying to Officer Training School are a bachelor's degree, U.S. citizenship and being 18 to 34 years of age. To begin the application process, aspiring officers need to sign up through a local recruiter. Applying to OTS requires passing the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT) and a physical and mental assessment. The final step is an application review by the OTS Selection Board, which looks at each candidate's overall qualifications, character, experience and achievements.

Licensed medical, judicial and clerical professionals seeking a Direct Commission Officer appointment (DCO) must go through an evaluation by the Air Force Recruiting Service (AFRS). The AFRS considers applicants' academic record, work experience, accomplishments, character and leadership potential. Like OTS applicants, DCO candidates must also go through physical and mental screening.

Step 4: Complete Officer Training School

Those enrolled in the Air Force Academy or an AFROTC program receive their officer training in conjunction with their college studies. All others must attend Officer Training School at the Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, AL. Basic Officer Training includes field exercises, classroom study and physical training.

The intensive course builds trainees' fitness, ability to lead, communications and weapons skills as well as knowledge of the military and the world's regions. Officers who complete the training are commissioned as second lieutenants. The 5-week Commissioned Officer Training is a condensed version of the basic program. Rank awarded at the end of this training depends on professional accomplishments.

Step 5: Complete Advanced Training For an Officer Career

Every officer is assigned a specific job or Air Force Specialty Code after training and commissioning. DCOs serve in the occupation in which they originally applied to join the service; their ranks include physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, health administrators, judge advocates and chaplains. Other officers must select a career specialty, for which most receive advanced training.

All Air Force members are considered airmen, though only a small percentage serve as pilots. Those who do must meet exacting physical requirements and undergo prolonged training. Others enter combat-related roles (e.g., air liaison officer), operations support (e.g., weather officer) or various administrative areas (e.g., public affairs officer). A newly commissioned officer's individual qualifications and scores on the AFOQT, along with the Air Force's current personnel needs, generally determine career choices.

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