A non-commissioned officer
(sometimes noncommissioned officer
), also known as an NCO
, is an enlisted
member of an armed force
who has been given authority by a commissioned officer
. "Noncom" is the lesser-used term in many militaries since it may also refer to non-combatants. The NCO corps includes all the grades of sergeant
and, in some militaries, corporals
and warrant officers
. The naval equivalent includes some or all grades of petty officer
, although not all navies class their petty officers as NCOs.
The non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps (which includes Navy and Coast Guard petty officers (PO)) is often referred to as "the backbone" of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. NCOs and POs are the primary and most visible leaders for the bulk of Service personnel – the enlisted corps. Additionally, NCOs are the primary military leaders responsible for executing the military organization's mission—and for training the personnel in an organization so they are prepared to execute the mission. NCO/PO training and education is rigorous and includes leadership and management as well as Service-specific and combat training. Another critical role NCOs and POs play is providing advice and guidance to the officer corps at all levels. This role is particularly important for junior officers, who begin their careers in a position of authority but lack practical experience, commanders at all levels and flag officers (generals and admirals). Senior NCOs and Chief Petty Officers, with their wealth of leadership and mission training and experience, are the primary link between the bulk of the enlisted personnel and the officers in any military organization. The top two SNCO/PO ranks are limited by Federal law: paygrade E-8 is limited to 2% and paygrade E-9 is limited to 1% of each Service's enlisted manning.
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 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
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.
-speaking countries like Austria
, the term Unteroffizier
(literally: "Under 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
) and Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee
(without swordknot), both containing several ranks.
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.
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)
In the Singapore Armed Forces, the term "non-commissioned officer" is no longer used, being replaced with Specialist. Apart from the different name, Specialists perform similar tasks and roles as NCOs in other militaries.
In the British Armed Forces
, NCOs are divided into two categories. Lance Corporals
in the Royal Artillery
) and Lance Sergeants
are Junior NCOs (JNCOs). Sergeants
, Staff Sergeants
, Colour Sergeants
(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. 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.
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) function as first tier supervisors and technical leaders. Of all five branches of service, only the Marine Corps authorizes its NCOs to carry swords on ceremonial occasions.
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. Within the Marine Corps, senior NCOs are referred to as Staff NCOs and also include the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6). 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.
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 a Warrant Officer achieves the rank of Chief Warrant Officer, CWO2 or higher, they are commissioned and are considered as commissioned officers just like any other regular 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 UCMJ are considered on par with NCOs.
- NCOA - Noncommissioned Officers Association (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.)