In the military, there has always been some sense of competition between the enlisted personnel and the commissioned officers. It does not matter which branch you’re in, or what rank you are: there is a huge difference between the two job types. There is also a difference in opportunities for enlisted personnel and officers in certain branches. The officers run the Navy, while the enlisted run the Marines and the Army, and are really the backbone of the Army. I have not had enough of an opportunity to work with the Air Force or Coast Guard to be able to say which type runs their branches. In general, many people will describe the officers as managers and planners, while describing the enlisted as problem-solvers and role models. The enlisted soldiers are the backbone of the Army. Some of the best officers in any branch are former enlisted soldiers, sailors, marines, or airman. No matter how closely in each branch, enlisted personnel and officers work closely together, and get to know one another, friendly competition will always remain between them.
The Difference Between Enlisted vs Officers
One of the major differences between enlisted personnel and officers is income potential. The officers will make considerably more money than enlisted as they move up through the ranks.
But differences between the enlisted service member and the officer are not just about the income. It’s also about the level of personal responsibility that comes with each US military rank. The officer will be thrust into a leadership position at a young age with very little military experience. The enlisted service member will be appointed right out of bank, and will normally report to a command as an E1 or maybe an E2. During their first year, they will be given tasks that are not so glamorous. They will spend time doing working parties and performing tasks that do not even relate to their own military occupation.
When I served in the Navy and on board a ship, the new sailors reporting there would spend their first 90 days working on the mess decks. Once they had completed these 90 days, they would then report to their actual division in accordance with their own military occupation.
The Army private will be assigned to their own company and platoon. Over time, as additional duties or guard watches are assigned, they will be the first in line. The officers, on the other hand, are not assigned these types of duties. Instead, they will be assigned directly to their platoon or, in the case of the Navy, to their division to begin their leadership.
For Army officers first reporting to a platoon, the most important is the platoon sergeant. The platoon sergeant will train them to run the platoon, even though it belongs to the platoon sergeant. The Navy, however, is ran more by the officer, who must rely on their division officer. The Navy officer will utilize what they learned in OCS to lead their units, while the Army officer will rely on the senior enlisted in their platoons to help them. They will work more closely with enlisted personnel than officers.
It is my honest opinion that the Army officer becomes a better leader at a younger age than a Navy officer, due to their working more closely with the enlisted personnel in their unit. They will make less mistakes at first, and earn the respect and trust of their soldiers far faster than a Navy officer might, especially one who comes in with an “I am an officer, hear me roar” attitude, which many Navy officers have at first.
Army and Navy officers will be responsible not only for their personnel, but for the millions of dollars of equipment that the division or platoon has assigned to them. The enlisted member, on the other hand, will only be responsible for their own weapon and equipment. As they grow in rank, they will be given additional responsibilities and equipment. While I was deployed to Afghanistan as an E7 in 2014, I was responsible for over 300 million dollars of Army vehicles, computers, explosives, weapons, and other equipment. Similarly, the battalion commander was responsible for billions of dollars of equipment assigned to companies within his battalion. So, you can see the difference in levels of responsibility between officers and enlisted troops.
There will always be this sense of friendly competition between the enlisted vs officer. It manifests itself in the annual softball games, basketball games, and PT scores. It is just a fun part of the military and will always represent what the military is all about. Yes, the officer will always have a higher rank than any enlisted person, however, the way they work together and set rank aside to help units achieve their mission is evidence of the trust and respect they have in and for one another.