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An officer (of French officier from the medieval Latin officiarius "official, servant" or "war servant, Commander") is a soldier mostly from the rank group of lieutenants upwards. Officers are responsible for the command, training and deployment of units as well as units and platoons . In the purely hierarchical division into three career groups, they take first place, so they have authority over the subordinate NCOs and the teams . The officers themselves are in turn divided into rank groups.


The term has been used as a military rank since 16./17. Century attested. When the standing armies were set up towards the end of the 17th century, officer positions were usually for sale (in England until 1877) and often only reserved for the nobility, the existence of military knowledge was only a secondary criterion for the granting of an officer license . In the course of the 18th century this was recognized as a deficiency in some European countries and attempts were made to raise the military qualifications of young officers by setting up military educational institutions. A rise from the rank of non-commissioned officer was theoretically possible, but in practice it was rare and in the late 18th century it became virtually impossible, especially in France. In the army of the French Revolution , officers were chosen by members of their units to fill the gaps created by the emigration of noble officers. This practice was discontinued under Napoléon Bonaparte , but members of the lower ranks could become officers with the appropriate experience and qualifications. From the coalition wars , military training was generally required for professional officers, and in some states (such as Bavaria) the Abitur was also required at the end of the 19th century . In Great Britain one was considered an officer at the same time and automatically as a gentleman with the associated rights and duties. Many nobles, especially younger sons without inheritance rights, embarked on the officer career. Since the Napoleonic Wars at the latest, it was also possible for middle-class youth with a certain level of schooling to pursue an officer career and thus to advance socially, e.g. B. in the Royal Navy as an ensign (English midshipman ). The military training in this case did not take place at a military academy , but directly in use. A famous example of such a rise is the explorer James Cook .


An officer of the Bundeswehr is someone who has a rank that is reserved for officers in accordance with the order of the Federal President regarding the rank designations and the uniform of soldiers .


The officers of the Austrian Armed Forces are trained at the Theresian Military Academy. There you will be completing the University of Applied Sciences in Military Leadership , which will be completed with a Bachelor's degree.

There are also police officers in the Austrian Federal Police , the judicial guard in the penal system, as well as operational and staff officers in the rescue services (for example at the Austrian Red Cross or the fire services ).



Starting as an officer is not associated with a job or long-term commitment, but is covered by compulsory military service. As a militia officer, you can normally work for around four weeks each year (max. 60 paid days of service within two calendar years). Since the army reform ( Army XII ), training has lasted between 62 and 68 weeks, depending on the role.

Proper entry into training
school Duration Promotion too
General basic training with all service providers 18-21


NCO school 4th


Internship in a RS 7 weeks No promotion
Officers school (the usual name for the candidate is aspirant ) 15th


Internship in a recruiting school as a platoon leader 18-21 weeks No promotion

In contrast to professional officers BO (instructor officers), academic training is not necessary for a career as a militia officer. Officer aspirants only need a completed apprenticeship or high school diploma. Professional and militia officers are fundamentally equal. Professionally, however, the BO usually has different tasks ( training army) than the militia officer, while the militia function of the BO does not differ from that of the militia officers (the BO also works for around four weeks every year). Professionally, the BO is more active in schools and in the teaching associations in the field of training and planning, while most of the militia officers are divided into staffs of the large associations or, up to the battalion, do their approximately four-week service together with the NCOs and teams. Militia officers in the Swiss Army are fully fledged cadres and can theoretically make it to the rank of general. From the brigadier level, however, there are practically only professional officers.


Subdivision of the group of officers
group Grade
Subaltern officers lieutenant
First lieutenant
Captains Captain
Staff officers major
Lieutenant colonel
Senior staff officers Brigadier
Divisional officer
Corps commander
Commander in Chief of the Army General (will be elected by the United Federal Assembly in an emergency )

The so-called specialist officer is a degree to which a soldier, non-commissioned officer or higher non-commissioned officer is not promoted, but is appointed on the basis of special civilian qualifications (this does not include professional non-commissioned officers, which, due to legal regulations, cannot achieve an officer degree even with the highest qualification). Depending on the position held, a specialist officer corresponds to a degree between first lieutenant and colonel.

United States

About 15% of US soldiers are army officers . A distinction is made between commissioned officers (from Leutnant / Ensign ) and warrant officers (WO) , a four- or (in the US Army) five-tier group of specialist officers in the ensign rank .

A distinction is made in the active armed forces of the United States between regular and reserve officers. The regular officers form the core of the professional officer corps. With the appropriate performance, you are generally entitled to a full military career. Reserve officers on extended active duty make up well over 40% of active officers and should not be confused with reservists doing military exercises. You serve for years with no formal difference to the elite status of a regular officer , but can be dismissed from active service at any time without loss of honor.

The Warrant Officers (WO) are mainly recruited from the teams. A six-week basic course is followed by specialist training. The service obligation as a WO is at least three years. You can also become second lieutenant in the same way as civilians , after which there are no more advancement limits.

The officer's license can be obtained in three ways:

The military academy comprises four years of training combined with intensive military training and preparation for leadership with a degree. Military academy graduates receive a regular officer patent , a bachelor's degree and commit to at least six years of active service. Graduates currently make up approximately 20% of the new officers in the US armed forces and have above-average career prospects.

The reserve officer training accompanying college studies, so-called "ROTC", is offered at 500 colleges. Students receive two to five hours of military training per week, and training camps or internships are held at military bases during the semester break. The active service obligation is usually four years.

The short courses for college graduates at the OCS / OTS schools consist of a three-month officer course (12 weeks Basic Officer Training (BOT) ). Unemployed people take part in an eight-week basic training course beforehand; physical fitness is an essential requirement. The service obligation is at least two years.

Depending on the career field, most officers, regardless of previous training, attend additional special schools for three to 18 months before their first deployment of the troops. Officers must carefully plan their careers. Promotions, and even remaining in service, depend on the officer completing certain “career steps” at given times. Warrant officers spend most of their careers in one area of ​​activity, whereas a commissioned officer should be as flexible and versatile a troop leader as possible and must therefore have the right mix of troop and staff assignments as well as assignments in a special area. The officers also receive further training opportunities through courses at the Command and General Staff College of one of the armed forces. In order to improve the ability to cooperate between the branches of the armed forces, a three-year assignment at "Joint Service" level (i.e. across branches of the armed forces) is provided for field grade officers (ranks major to colonel) and experience in a command or staff unit consisting of several branches of armed forces is a prerequisite for promotion to general. The National War College , operated by the National Defense University , prepares officers for higher levels of command and staff assignments and promotes the ability to plan and operate at a strategic level.

Special rights under the Geneva Convention

The Geneva Conventions contain some special rights for officers. According to the Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949 on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, lower ranks prisoners of war are obliged to show due respect to officers of the capturing party (Article 39). Officers among the prisoners are only obliged to deal with higher-ranking officers and, regardless of their rank, the camp commandant (Article 41). Lower ranks prisoners of war may, depending on their age and physical condition, be used for work (Article 49), NCOs, however, only for non-physical activities. Officers are not required to work, but should be given the opportunity to do so if they so wish (Article 50). The capturing party is to grant prisoners of war a monthly payment, which should correspond to between 50 and 75 francs for officers of different ranks (Article 60).


  • Diana Carmen Albu-Lisson: From the Austro-Hungarian Army to the German Wehrmacht. Officers and their lives in changing political systems and armies . Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2011, ISBN 978-3-631-61351-1 .
  • István Deák : The K. (below) K. Officer. 1848-1918 . 2nd Edition. Böhlau, Vienna [a. a.] 1995, ISBN 3-205-98242-8 .
  • Jörg Muth: Command culture. Officer education in the US Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901–1940, and the consequences for World War II . University of North Texas Press, Denton 2011, ISBN 978-1-57441-303-8 .
  • Edgar Schumacher : From the officer's profession (= collection of my profession . Vol. 3). Publishing house Die Arche, Zurich 1957.
  • Hubert Zeinar : Manager in Uniform: Development and Tradition of the Officer's Profession . Neuer Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-7083-0031-9 .

Web links

Commons : Officer  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Officer  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Duden . Origin dictionary. Etymology of the German language. 2nd edition, Dudenverlag, Mannheim 1989, p. 495.
  2. officier, officer, m. In: Jacob Grimm , Wilhelm Grimm (Hrsg.): German dictionary . tape 13 : N, O, P, Q - (VII). S. Hirzel, Leipzig 1889, Sp. 1184–1191 ( ).
  3. Der Bundespräsident (Ed.): Order of the Federal President on the rank designations and the uniform of the soldiers . BPresUnifAnO. July 14, 1978, Art. 1 ( [PDF; accessed on April 24, 2015] Order of the Federal President on the rank designations and uniforms of soldiers from July 14, 1978 ( Federal Law Gazette I p. 1067 ) which was last amended by Article 1 of the order of May 31, 1996 ( Federal Law Gazette I p. 746 )).
  4. Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949 on the Treatment of Prisoners of War. In: Swiss Confederation - The Federal Authorities, accessed on April 24, 2015 .