Defense Secretary Ash Carter wants to open the door for more “lateral entry” into the military's upper ranks, clearing the way for lifelong civilians with vital skills and strong résumés to enter the officer corps as high as the O-6 paygrade.

The idea is controversial, to say the very least. For many in the rank-and-file military, it seems absurd, a bewildering cultural change that threatens to upend many assumptions about military life and traditional career paths. But while it's not universally embraced, there is interest in Congress and among some of the military's uniformed leaders — even, they say, in exploring how the services could apply this concept to the enlisted force.


It is an interesting proposal, the Navy and Air Force seem to be the most supportive, the Army and Marine Corps being more reserved.

I see benefits and drawbacks to the idea.

As admitted by the Navy, the focus for this effort currently is in the cyber warfare community where, the skills just don't exist in the current force to meet the mission, the people who have the skills do not want to assess as an E1 or E3 or O1 so ... what to do. In that respect making them an instant E5 or E7 / O3 or O4 is the same thing we do with lawyers and doctors etc.

As a drawback (probably what the more combat oriented services are concerned about) is the lack of military experience that these technical experts have. And a potential lop-siding of the rank structure in particular fields. For officers specifically there are limits on the number of a particular grade of officer built into Congressional end-strength limits (gain an O5 technician, lose an O5 tactician).

A possible work around would be to establish something like the discontinued Army Specialist ranks that went from E4 to E9 (non-NCO's with technical expertise.) They could still be compensated more appropriate to their skill sets, but do not exercise the authority of an NCO the way a SGT or SSGT would.