There are several different types of personnel in the United States Armed Forces, the most well-known being “enlisted.” Enlisted personnel are military servicemen and women who are recruited to joint either the Army (ages 18-35), Marine Corps (18-34), Air Force (18-39), and Coast Guard (18-27; 32 if qualified for attending “A” school). Other personnel types include warrant officers and commissioned officers. But a lesser-known type of personnel in the Armed Forces is a non-commissioned officer (NCO). So, what is an NCO?
While there are always exceptions, an NCO — when speaking in the context of the U.S. military — is a personnel type that is achieved through progression from lower ranks. As the name suggests, non-commissioned officers do not earn commission through their rankings, and instead their rankings are achieved through progression. This is in start contrast to commissioned officers, who are typically paid more; have a more legal duties; and have more non-military training, such as a University diploma. Furthermore, commissioned officers earn commissions without rising through their respective ranks. The U.S. military even has a term used to describe commissioned officers who began at a lower rank: “mustang,” which is a reference to the fast-moving horse.
NCO ranks start at E-4 or E-5 as the lowest (varies depending on branch), and are obtained after three to six years of active service. There are also Junior NCOs, whom are responsible for supervising enlisted cadets and helping them advance through their respective career paths. And then there are chief petty officers, who are also known as senior non-commissioned officers (SNCOs). SNCOs are found in the Navy and Coast Guard, as well as non-commissioned officers from the Marines. SNCO ranks are typically either E-7 through E-9, and due to the prestige of this rank, it is highly competitive and difficult to achieve.
According to Wikipedia, each of the five military services employs a Senior Enlisted Advisor, who is the highest ranking member within their respective branch of service. The Senior Enlisted Advisor serves as the chief advisor to the service secretary, as well as the chief of staff and Congress.
Hopefully, this will give you a better understanding of the role of non-commissioned officers in the military. Unlike commissioned officers, NCOs do not receive commission for rising through the rankings, rather their rankings are achieved through progression. NCOs are highly prized among military servicemen and women.
Here’s a fun fact: NCOs have their own “creed,” which can be found at http://www.army.mil/values/nco.html.