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Thread: Initial Officer Selection

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    Default Initial Officer Selection

    I am doing some comparative research into initial officer selection processes.

    The Brit system termed the AOSB (Army Officer Selection Board) is a two phase exercise comprising the two-day AOSB Briefing followed by, if successful, the four-day AOSB Main Board.

    During the ASOB Briefing candidates "will be assessed on physically and practical exercises designed to test your leadership and teamwork potential." While during the Main Board; "The officers assessing you will be interested in your approach to problems and challenges, and your attitude towards other members of the group – both as a team player and as a team leader."

    The Royal Marines have the POC (Potential Officers Course) which claim; "The POC is designed to see whether you are likely to meet the challenge. It is a gruelling test of your physical fitness, and we are assessing your determination and commitment. But we are looking for a little more than that: your leadership potential and intelligence, how you communicate and whether you can keep a sense of humour even when exhausted. Can you think on your feet when the going gets tough?"

    As far as the US is concerned I have a document Policies, Procedures, and People: The Initial Selection of U.S. Military Officers.

    Two questions.

    One, is this document an accurate and current reflection of the subject matter? Or is there better out there?

    Two, it is not evident from the quoted document whether any of the US initial officer selection processes involve group activities such as the Brit examples. Is this so?

    Clarity would be appreciated.

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    Default Army OCS

    Having just finished Army OCS I can say the initial selection was non existent. I went before a board of three Officers, they asked a few trivial questions. Basically tried to make sure I was not completely incompetent. About 25% of the candidates is OCS were garbage (many did not make it through). So I do not give much to the initial selection.
    The worst part of the initial selection was the one year wait to get into OCS. Frankly, many highly qualified future Officers were dissuaded by the long wait.
    There are no group activities until OCS.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jpk View Post
    Having just finished Army OCS I can say the initial selection was non existent. I went before a board of three Officers, they asked a few trivial questions. Basically tried to make sure I was not completely incompetent. About 25% of the candidates is OCS were garbage (many did not make it through). So I do not give much to the initial selection.
    The worst part of the initial selection was the one year wait to get into OCS. Frankly, many highly qualified future Officers were dissuaded by the long wait.
    There are no group activities until OCS.
    Thank you for the response. If I may ask a question or two (assuming you to be a 'young' officer with the training fresh in your mind).

    One, (in the military context) do you believe (or were you taught to believe) that leadership can be taught (off a zero base if necessary) or that those with 'natural' leadership ability routinely demonstrate this skill by the age of officer selection (18-22) which can be honed and developed but not taught?

    Two, cadets learn to assess each other pretty well during an Officer Cadet Course and know who the 'no-hoper's' are. Do you consider it fair to to such individuals to let them start a course only to be failed after months of sweat and toil (and humiliation)? And does their presence on the course distract the other course members?

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    From YouTube we get these clips on:

    ASOB - Briefing

    ASOB - Main Board

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    Army OCS assumes that Officership can be taught on the fly, sometime after OCS. There is a minimal amount of selection.

    They go through the right steps, but they provide no quality control.

    There are teamwork exercises, but people that fail them and prove themselves unable to either lead or follow routinely graduate.

    I still believe that OCS ought to be selection based, where qualified, board selected candidates are evaluated in a modified SFAS setting and judged on (primarily) integrity, flexibility and determination.

    The current setup is a watered down, 12 week USMA, which is not surprising considering that the men that started it were VMI/USMA sourced Officers, and it hasn't changed as much since 1941 as one might hope.

    Just my opinion, as a grad.

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    The best wartime recruiting scheme is imo to approach proved NCOs who showed the necessary potential.

    The best peacetime recruiting scheme is imo still to be attractive for a far too large quantity of applicants and then be able to pick the most promising ones in an assessment centre approach (btw, the latter was pioneered by the Prussian army pre-WWI).


    The situation as of now seems to be that
    * we apply peacetime mechanisms because we're 'not enough' at war for a real wartime mode
    and
    * we fail to attract enough applicants for a well-done peacetime mechanism.

    This "we" means "just about every country on earth".



    IIRC even wartime officer courses of the Wehrmacht (can't vouch for this) required to dismiss 40% of those who attended the course back to their NCO life.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    The best wartime recruiting scheme is imo to approach proved NCOs who showed the necessary potential.
    If one assumes that the value of direct entry officers (which I do) is that you get to produce experienced senior officers young enough to actively and energetically command brigades/divisions/corps/armies. The platoon/company command phase is merely an 'apprenticeship' to gain the operational insight and experience required for higher command.

    To keep this in mind one has to work backwards from the estimated number of generals an army needs to figure out how many 'quality' officers one needs to commission every year.

    By all means make up the numbers of the up to field officer ranks from NCOs who may be of an age which may limit them to say a maximum of Lt Col. But be wary of denuding the NCO structures of the quality that makes them the backbone of the army as a result.

    My position has always been that an army does not need lieutenants to command platoons (senior sergeants have done that before) but lieutenants who have aspirations of higher command need to gain the experience of commanding a platoon (preferably in combat) for as long as possible.

    Yes I accept that during wartime many things change as the attrition rates demand rapid replacements... but something as got to give... and that is normally quality.

    The best peacetime recruiting scheme is imo still to be attractive for a far too large quantity of applicants and then be able to pick the most promising ones in an assessment centre approach (btw, the latter was pioneered by the Prussian army pre-WWI).
    Can you explain what you mean by "an assessment centre approach".

    The situation as of now seems to be that
    * we apply peacetime mechanisms because we're 'not enough' at war for a real wartime mode
    and
    * we fail to attract enough applicants for a well-done peacetime mechanism.

    This "we" means "just about every country on earth".
    The selection process is not IMHO dependent upon war or peace. Length of training probably does though.

    In addition, I am still not sure why there is a need for a degree before commissioning when there is plenty of time in a 25-30 year career to take three or so years for the purpose (around the senior Capt/Maj level for the infantry). Too much time and money (again IMHO) is invested in training of officers the majority of whom (it seems) will leave the service before they have justified the initial expense.

    IIRC even wartime officer courses of the Wehrmacht (can't vouch for this) required to dismiss 40% of those who attended the course back to their NCO life.
    Yes, that is how it worked in Rhodesia despite having used the Brit AOSB system which I say is an indictment of either the AOSB system or how it was run there back then. The Brit approach (as I understand it) is that passing the AOSB virtually assures one of a commission as the onus passes to the course instructors to 'develop' the cadets over the period of the course. Not sure that is the best way either.

    IMHO those that pass the AOSB should get commissioned but for the reason that the AOSB selection mechanisms are accurate and as a result the cadet is worthy of a commission in the end.

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    Assessment centre approach means to keep them busy, challenged and under observation for a long enough time (days) that they cannot fake qualities that they don't possess.

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    Selection and development need to be separated, or you will accomplish neither.

    The USMC OCS model is the most successful that I can think of for this very reason.

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    @Seth B

    One interisting aspect of the officer selection in the Prussian army and Reichswehr was that the CO of the regiment the officer candidate would join did the final decision whether the candidate is accepted or rejected.

    Later (3-4 years after commission) the same CO would deceide whether the officer attend the section process for staff officer training. You can combine selection and developement, however, the regiment CO needs a good vision of the product (officer) he has to produce.

    @JMA
    Do you propose a merger of NCO and officer corps?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    Assessment centre approach means to keep them busy, challenged and under observation for a long enough time (days) that they cannot fake qualities that they don't possess.
    Yes that is what I understand, thanks for the clarification.

    Perhaps the following paper will be of value to you as it compares this selection process over the procedures of a number of countries:

    Research and Study Group 31 - Officer Selection

    Maybe you can help me here, but it does not appear that the current German system (as explained in the document) has a practical task phase (held outside as opposed to in a lecture room or equivalent). That said two days of tests is far better than a mere paper exercise (IMHO).

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    Quote Originally Posted by SethB View Post
    Selection and development need to be separated, or you will accomplish neither.

    The USMC OCS model is the most successful that I can think of for this very reason.
    Just to see if we are on the same page here.

    'Selection' takes place before the course begins (with the successful candidates being allowed to start the course) and 'development' takes place during the course itself (taking this raw material and moulding it into something vaguely resembling what is expected of a young officer).

    How may I ask is the USMC model more successful in this regard?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ulenspiegel View Post
    @JMA
    Do you propose a merger of NCO and officer corps?
    No, not at all.

    I believe that under the almost universal system officers and NCOs complement each other in making up the whole. There are specific skills required amongst the Officer corps as there are amongst the NCO corps. I don't believe you can mix and match the two without something getting compromised. There are a percentage of NCOs who display the skills required of an officer and who should be considered for officer training on application. But as I said in an earlier post IMHO care should be taken not to denude the NCO corps of its brightest and best (with the resultant massive downstream knock-on effect) in order to address a (normally short term) platoon commander shortage.

    There is an old US Cavalry saying (I believe) which goes: "Officers come and officers go but the don't hurt the troop". This can only be true if the NCO structure is strong and intact.

    In the doc Research and Study Group 31 - Officer Selection in the year under review only a small percentage of German officer candidates appear to have come through from the ranks.

    I suggest that the officer function at company level be carefully kept in focus when discussing such matters. He is serving his apprenticeship for higher command. He needs the experience for this and he needs the support of quality NCOs to achieve this.

    A thought that I kept in mind all the time and later never let any of the officer cadets under my control forget is that when you command a platoon you have 100-150 years of military service in your hands (when the total service of the platoon is added up)... and that is one massive responsibility which the army can not allow you to squander. (A believe you me any platoon sergeant worth his salt won't let you do so either).

    I don't know the state of the NCO corps in various armies but I hear that in the Brit army the NCOs may not be what they once were. But the problem (one problem) is that the officer corps has its challenges. One of which seems to be the initial selection process which allows too many people through who are not up to the required standard.

    Deal with this problem but do not tamper with the NCO structure in order to achieve a quick fix. That is what I am saying.

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    The UK AOSB is failing more candidates then ever before. Candidates are also scrutinised closely at the officer academy (Royal Military Academy Sandhurst - RMAS), especially those aspiring to the combat arms.

    Royal Marines officers also had to undertake the Admiralty Interview Board (AIB) in addition to POC, although I am not sure if this is still the case.

    The general consensus is that the UK officer selection procedure is providing both the number and quality of officers required - that at least is the opinion of commanders. Most debate within the UK army at the moment is less on officer selection and more on officer training and development; namely the RMAS syllabus and the tactics used in the field exercises there, as well as special to arm training (Basic Officers Course in the US terminology) after officer training.

    I will see if I can get some hard statistics on AOSB pass/fail rates and those for RMAS.
    RR

    "War is an option of difficulties"

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    JMA, thank you for your long response, gave me some stuff to digest.

    My question arose as the officer and NCO recruiting in Germany perfectly mirrowed the school system during the last 150 years. With dramatic changes in our educational system (dying of Hauptschule, much more Abiturienten) one question is how the armed forces are affected and how could we for example make NCO positions more attractiv for Abiturienten.

    The low number of ACTIVE officers coming from the ranks is quite usual in the German army during peace time. You got a completely different answer, if you check reserve officers, many of them decided during the first six month of their mandatory service to serve longer and attend the required NCO courses.

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    The USMC uses a board to select applicants. It is highly selective.

    Then they go to ten or twelve weeks of OCS, where 50% pass.

    There is no emphasis on training, just selection.

    Then they go to The Basic Course for six months of training in the basics, followed by an MOS course (Infantry, Artillery, etc).

    It's a good system. I like working with Marines. Very professional and well educated. A far cry from the Army system.

    60% of Marines come from OCS. 30% come from USNA, where there is less selection. The two groups don't always get along at first...

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    Quote Originally Posted by SethB View Post
    The USMC uses a board to select applicants. It is highly selective.

    Then they go to ten or twelve weeks of OCS, where 50% pass.

    There is no emphasis on training, just selection.

    Then they go to The Basic Course for six months of training in the basics, followed by an MOS course (Infantry, Artillery, etc).

    It's a good system. I like working with Marines. Very professional and well educated. A far cry from the Army system.

    60% of Marines come from OCS. 30% come from USNA, where there is less selection. The two groups don't always get along at first...
    To emphasis this point the entire OCS course is an evaluation and selection process and candidates are told this from the very beginning. The only actual skills learned there are drill, basic weapons handling (but no live-fire), and fire team and squad tactics. Thats it. The learning takes place at TBS.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Rat View Post
    The UK AOSB is failing more candidates then ever before. Candidates are also scrutinised closely at the officer academy (Royal Military Academy Sandhurst - RMAS), especially those aspiring to the combat arms.

    Royal Marines officers also had to undertake the Admiralty Interview Board (AIB) in addition to POC, although I am not sure if this is still the case.

    The general consensus is that the UK officer selection procedure is providing both the number and quality of officers required - that at least is the opinion of commanders. Most debate within the UK army at the moment is less on officer selection and more on officer training and development; namely the RMAS syllabus and the tactics used in the field exercises there, as well as special to arm training (Basic Officers Course in the US terminology) after officer training.

    I will see if I can get some hard statistics on AOSB pass/fail rates and those for RMAS.
    Happy to hear this. I think my point was that the AOSB should produce passes who are more likely to complete the course and obtain a commission rather than err on the side of leniency and push candidates through to maybe... just maybe... pull through on a wing and a prayer. Hard on the course, an additional unnecessary training cost and psychologically devastating on some of the individuals who fail in the end.

    Of course the AOSB can't be foolproof and there will be those who make it through with flying colours yet fail to perform on the course. I believe that these cases should be studied and the AOSB reports reviewed to refine the process.

    All this said IMHO if the OSB is an effective process then the vast majority of those who pass and go on to officer training should be commissioned in the end.

    Having been on the receiving end of courses (as course officer) selected by others through an OSB process that I and the Course Instructors (NCOs) had to train in which it was quickly apparent there were no-hoper's became pretty irritating. These extras serve to further divide the attention that can be given to others to good effect in addition to being a waste of money.

    All this said I do know from experience that there is always some pressure on the system to come up with 'right' number of commissions to fill the vacancies. This is the thin edge of the wedge that starts the rot.

    Good if you can find some stats.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SethB View Post
    The USMC uses a board to select applicants. It is highly selective.

    Then they go to ten or twelve weeks of OCS, where 50% pass.

    There is no emphasis on training, just selection.

    Then they go to The Basic Course for six months of training in the basics, followed by an MOS course (Infantry, Artillery, etc).

    It's a good system. I like working with Marines. Very professional and well educated. A far cry from the Army system.

    60% of Marines come from OCS. 30% come from USNA, where there is less selection. The two groups don't always get along at first...
    Up front let me say that this obviously works for the marines (and that's really all that counts).

    My initial focus was upon the initial pre-course selection process because it is the quality of which informs as to how many (what percentage) pass in the end. The attrition rate I experienced was similar to the 50% you speak of. I am now questioning this in the light of the quality of the initial pre-course selection process.

    What happens to the 50% who fail? What is the cost of training those who don't make it? What psychological impact does this (largely avoidable failure) have on these individuals? Are they lost to the service? Is there not some room for improvement in the initial selection process?

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    Quote Originally Posted by JMA View Post
    Up front let me say that this obviously works for the marines (and that's really all that counts).

    My initial focus was upon the initial pre-course selection process because it is the quality of which informs as to how many (what percentage) pass in the end. The attrition rate I experienced was similar to the 50% you speak of. I am now questioning this in the light of the quality of the initial pre-course selection process.

    What happens to the 50% who fail? What is the cost of training those who don't make it? What psychological impact does this (largely avoidable failure) have on these individuals? Are they lost to the service? Is there not some room for improvement in the initial selection process?

    Initial selection is... not very valuable. It certainly dismays those who are not determined (it takes about a year from the day you walk into a recruiters office to OCS), but leadership cannot be screened for.
    My OCS class started with 128, only 87 commissioned as 2lt's. Many of those would did not make it went to good schools, got good grades had fine jobs ect.
    Our distinguished leader grad failed out of college the first time and finished at some tec school no one has never heard of. But I would follow him into anything. That just goes to prove being a leader is completely different than the resume padding kids do now a days.
    I have a masters in Middle eastern studies and know arabic, does that make me a good officer? No. Does charisma matter? No.
    IMHO It all comes down to two things. 1st. I am willing to suffer for those around me. 2nd can I make the hard decision at the right time.
    Few have it. After 12 weeks you know who do.

    Now to adress your other question, what happens to those who fail. In most cases you get recycled and can class up with another company. Some chapter out of the army, some go AIT. If you cannot get through OCS the second time you need to be let go. It is just not that hard of a course. I am sure it is crushing to fail.

    The Initial selection needs to be tighter. But by what metrics?

    Also think of the needs of the Army - does that reserve quartermaster need to be a stud?

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