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A non-commissioned officer (sometimes noncommissioned officer), abbreviated to NCO or Non-com (US), is an enlisted military member holding a position of some degree of authority who has (usually) obtained it by promotion from within the non-officer ranks. Many countries use the term sub-officer for these ranks.

In the USA, the NCO corps includes the rank of corporal and all the grades of sergeant elsewhere warrant officers are also NCOs. The naval equivalent includes some or all grades of petty officer, although not all navies class their petty officers as NCOs. There are different classes of Non-commissioned officer, including Junior Non-commissioned Officers (JNCO) and Senior (or Staff) Non-commissioned Officers (SNCO). In the Australian Defence Force the distinction between SNCOs and JNCOs are: Sergeant (SNCO) and Corporal (JNCO), Petty Officer (SNCO) and Leading Seaman (JNCO).

"Noncom" is the lesser-used term in many militaries since it may also refer to non-combatants.



The non-commissioned officer corps is often referred to as "the backbone" of the armed services.[1][2] as the primary and most visible leaders for most military personnel. Additionally, they are the primary military leaders responsible for executing the military organization's mission and for training military personnel so they are prepared to execute their missions.

NCO training and education typically includes leadership and management as well as Service specific and combat training.

Senior NCOs with their wealth of leadership, mission training and experience are considered the primary link between the bulk of the enlisted personnel and the officers in any military organization. Their advice and guidance is particularly important for junior officers, who begin their careers in a position of authority but generally lack practical experience.

National usage

An experienced NCO corps is a key component of Western armies: in many cases NCOs are credited as being the metaphorical "backbone" of their service.



In the Australian Army, the NCOs perform most of the physical duties and management. LCPL and CPL are called Junior NCOs and Sergeants, Warrant Officers Class Two and One, are classified as Senior NCOs. Officers in the Australian army perform paper work duties whilst in a barracks environment while the NCOs ensure discipline is being maintained. In battle, it is the Senior NCOs that ensure the soldiers are doing their job, while the officers are looking at the wider picture.


In the Canadian Forces, the Queen's Regulations and Orders defines a non-commissioned officer as:

"A Canadian Forces member holding the rank of Sergeant or Corporal." QR&O 1.02[3]

By definition, with the unification of the CF into one service, the rank of Sergeant includes the naval rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class, and Corporal includes the Naval rank of Leading Seaman; Corporal also includes the appointment of Master Corporal (Naval Master Seaman).

NCOs are officially divided into two categories: Junior Non-Commissioned Officers (Jr NCOs), consisting of Corporals/Leading Seamen and Master Corporals/Master Seamen; and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (Sr NCOs), consisting of Sergeants and Petty Officers 2nd Class. In the Canadian Navy, however, the accepted definition of "NCO" reflects the international use of the term (i.e. all grades of Petty Officer).

Junior Non-Commissioned Officers mess and billet with Privates and Seamen; their mess is usually referred to as the Junior Ranks Mess. Conversely, Senior Non-Commissioned Officers mess and billet with Warrant Officers; their mess is normally referred to as the Warrant Officers and Sergeants Mess (Army and Air Force establishments) or the Chiefs and Petty Officers Mess (Naval establishments).

As a group, NCOs rank above Privates and below Warrant Officers.


In the Land Forces of Finnish Defence Forces, korpraali (Lance corporal), vänrikki (Ensign) aren't considered NCOs as these ranks are achieved during the standard 6 or 12 month conscription service. The NCO staff includes alikersantti (Corporal), kersantti (Sergeant) when he or she is enlisted instead of a reservist (a Corporal promoted to Sergeant near the end of conscription for outstanding achievements), ylikersantti (Staff Sergeant), vääpeli (Warrant Officer?), ylivääpeli (Senior Warrant Officer?), and sotilasmestari (Quartermaster?). The next series of ranks, aliluutnantti (Sub-lieutenant), luutnantti (Lieutenant), yliluutnantti (Senior Lieutenant), and kapteeni (Captain), usually denotes commissioned officers but in some cases refers to a NCO in a supervisory position. The following ranks, majuri (Major), everstiluutnantti (Lieutenant Colonel), eversti (Colonel), prikaatinkenraali (Brigadier), kenraalimajuri (Major General), kenraaliluutnantti (Lieutenant General), kenraali (General) are only commissioned officers. The nomenclature is historic and has seen some modifications in the 1990s through 2000s to fit new organizational needs, therefore older information with references to the FDF rank system may be partially obsolete. The Air Forces and the Border Guard (which is under Justice Ministry instead of Defense Ministry but trains batches of ranger-like troops specializing in long-range reconnaissance and guerrilla missions for wartime military use) follow the Army rank system. The Navy that also controls the (primarily missile equipped) Coastal Artillery has its own traditional rank system, harking back to Imperial Navy of Czarist Russia, and is similar to most other navies.


In Germany and German-speaking countries like Austria, the term Unteroffizier (meaning: "Lower Officer") describes a class of ranks between normal enlisted personnel (Mannschaften) and officers (Offiziere). In this group of ranks there are two other classes: Unteroffiziere mit Portepee (with sword-knot) and Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee (without swordknot), both containing several ranks.

Rome (historical)

Some have compared the centurions of the Roman Army with modern NCOs. At some levels this comparison may be apt, but a Roman centurion was responsible for between 60 and 120 men, making him most comparable to a Company Commander in terms of the trust and responsibility given to him by his cohort. The Roman Principalis more closely represents the idea of an NCO; being a very experienced veteran, these individuals could provide a source of great insight to initiates with regards to conducting one's self on the battlefield.

New Zealand

In the New Zealand Defence Force, a non-commissioned officer is defined as:

"(a) In relation to the Navy, a rating of warrant officer, chief petty officer, petty officer, or leading rank; and includes—
(i) A non-commissioned officer of the Army or the Air Force attached to the Navy; and
(ii) A person duly attached or lent as a non-commissioned officer to or seconded for service or appointed for duty as a non-commissioned officer with the Navy:
(b) In relation to the Army, a soldier above the rank of private but below the rank of officer cadet; and includes a warrant officer; and also includes—
(i) A non-commissioned officer of the Navy or the Air Force attached to the Army; and
(ii) A person duly attached or lent as a non-commissioned officer to or seconded for service or appointed for duty as a non-commissioned officer with the Army:
(c) In relation to the Air Force, an airman above the rank of leading aircraftman but below the rank of officer cadet; and includes a warrant officer; and also includes—
(i) A non-commissioned officer of the Navy or the Army attached to the Air Force; and
(ii) A person duly attached or lent as a non-commissioned officer to or seconded for service or appointed for duty as a non-commissioned officer with the Air Force:" — Defence Act 1990, Sect 2 (Interpretation)[4]


In the Singapore Armed Forces, the term "non-commissioned officer" is no longer officially used, being replaced with Specialist. The term NCO however is still used unofficially among the army frequently.

United Kingdom

In the British Armed Forces, NCOs are divided into two categories. Lance Corporals (Lance Bombardier, depending on unit), Corporals (Lance Sergeant, Bombardier, Lance Corporal of Horse) are Junior NCOs (JNCOs). Sergeants (Corporal of Horse, Serjeant) and Staff Sergeants (Colour Sergeant) (and in the RAF Chief Technicians and Flight Sergeants) are Senior NCOs (SNCOs).

Warrant Officers are often included in the SNCO category, but actually form a separate class of their own, similar in many ways to NCOs but with a royal warrant. SNCOs and WOs have their own messes, which are similar to officers' messes (and are usually known as Sergeants' Messes), whereas JNCOs live and eat with the unranked personnel.

The Royal Navy does not refer to its Petty Officers as NCOs, but calls them Senior Ratings (or Senior Rates). Leading Ratings and below are Junior Ratings.

United States

In the United States Army, United States Air Force and United States Marine Corps, all ranks of Sergeant are termed NCOs, as are Corporals in the Army and Marine Corps. The rank of Corporal (E-4) in the Army is a junior NCO, and is to be shown the same respect as any other NCO. In the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard, all ranks of Petty Officer are so designated. Junior NCOs (E-4's through E-6 grade), or simply "NCO's" (E-4 and E-5 only) in USMC usage, function as first tier supervisors and technical leaders.

NCOs serving in the top three enlisted grades (E-7, E-8, and E-9) are termed senior noncommissioned officers (Chief Petty Officers in the Navy and Coast Guard). Senior NCOs are expected to exercise leadership at a more general level. They lead larger groups of service members, mentor junior officers, and advise senior officers on matters pertaining to their areas of responsibility. A select few senior NCOs in paygrade E-9 serve as Senior Enlisted Advisors to senior commanders in each Service (e.g., major command, fleet, force, etc.) and in DoD (unified commands, e.g., STRATCOM, EUCOM, PACOM, etc., and DoD agencies, e.g., DISA, DIA and NSA. One senior E-9, selected by the Service Chief of Staff, is the ranking NCO/PO in that Service, holds the highest enlisted rank for that Service, and is responsible for advising their service Secretary and Chief of Staff. One E-9 holds a similar position as the SEA to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Senior Enlisted Advisors, Service Enlisted Advisors and the SEA to the Chairman advise senior officer and civilian leaders on all issues affecting operational missions and the readiness, utilization, morale, technical and professional development, and quality of life of the enlisted force.

Within the United States Marine Corps, senior NCOs are referred to as Staff Noncommissioned Officers and also include the rank of Staff Sergeant(E-6). SNCOs are those career Marines serving in grades E-6 through and including E-9. The ranks include Staff Sergeant, Gunnery Sergeant (E-7), Master Sergeant / First Sergeant (E-8), and Master Gunnery Sergeant / Sergeant Major (E-9). The position corresponds to that of Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy or Chief Master Sergeant in the US Air Force, and compares to Warrant officer in Commonwealth countries, Adjutant in France, Feldwebel in Germany, and Praporshchik in Russia.

Unlike Warrant Officers in other militaries, Warrant Officers in the United States Armed Forces are considered specialty officers and fall in between non-commissioned and commissioned officers. Warrant officers also have their own rank tier and paygrade. However, when Warrant Officers achieve the rank of Chief Warrant Officer, CWO2 or higher, they are commissioned and are considered as commissioned officers just like any other commissioned officer but are still held in a different paygrade tier. They are entitled to salutes from their juniors, an officer's sword and uniform, but for much of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) are considered on par with NCOs.

Related abbreviations

  • NCOA - Noncommissioned Officers Association (U.S.)
  • NCOA - Noncommissioned Officers Academy (U.S.)
  • NCOER - Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report (Department of the Army FORM 2166-8)
  • NCOIC - Noncommissioned Officer In Charge (U.S./UK/Canada)
  • NCOWC - Noncommissioned Officers' Wives Club (U.S.)
  • NCOCC - Noncommissioned Officers Candidate Course (U.S.)
  • NCA - Noncomissioned Aircrew (UK)

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ QR&O Chapter 1 - Introduction and Definitions
  4. ^ New Zealand Defence Act 1990, Sect 2

External links


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