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Executive officer

An executive officer (often abbreviated XO) is generally a person responsible for running an organization, although the exact nature of the role varies depending on the organization.


  • Administrative law 1
  • Corporate law and other legal associations 2
  • Military 3
    • United Kingdom 3.1
    • United States 3.2
      • United States Army 3.2.1
      • United States Marine Corps 3.2.2
      • United States Navy and United States Coast Guard 3.2.3
      • United States Air Force 3.2.4
      • Personal staff officers 3.2.5
      • Executive Officer, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe 3.2.6
  • References 4

Administrative law

While there is no clear line between executive or principal and inferior officers, principal officers are high-level officials in the executive branch of U.S. government such as department heads of independent agencies. In Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602 (1935), the Court distinguished between executive officers and quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial officers by stating that the former serve at the pleasure of the president and may be removed at his discretion. The latter may be removed only with procedures consistent with statutory conditions enacted by Congress. The decision by the Court was that the Federal Trade Commission was a quasi-legislative body because of other powers it had, and therefore the president could not fire an FTC member for political reasons. Congress can’t retain removal power over officials with executive function (Bowsher v. Synar). However, statutes can restrict removal if not purely executive (Humphrey’s executor), but can't restrict removal of purely executive officer (Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52 (1926)). The standard is whether restriction "impedes the president’s ability to perform his constitutional duty" (Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654 (1988)).

Corporate law and other legal associations

In business, the executive officers are the top officers of a corporation, the chief executive officer (CEO) being the best-known type. The definition varies; for instance, the California Corporate Disclosure Act defines "executive officers" as the five most highly compensated officers not also sitting on the board of directors. In many insurance policies, executive officer means, in the case of a corporation, any chairman, chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, president, or general counsel. In the case of a sole proprietorship, an executive officer is the sole proprietor. In the case of a partnership, an executive officer is a managing partner, senior partner, or administrative partner. In the case of a limited liability company, an executive officer is any member, manager, or officer.

In the airline industry, the executive officer, more commonly known as the first officer, is the second in command of the aircraft. In a fixed wing aircraft the first officer sits in the right-hand seat but a rotary wing aircraft they sit on the left.

In Governance Document.


In the units of some military forces, typically those that are naval in nature (including the U.S. Marine Corps), the executive officer is the second-in-command, reporting to the commanding officer (CO).

In most non-naval military services that are land-based (except the U.S. Army, where an executive officer is the second-in-command at the company/battery/troop and battalion/squadron level) or in joint military organizations, the executive officer is an administrative staff position versus a command position. XOs in these positions typically assist a commander or deputy commander (or in the case of joint staffs or joint commands, a director) by managing day-to-day activities such as management of the senior officer's schedule, screening of documents or other products, and oversight of the senior officer's administrative support staff.

United Kingdom

The term XO is not used in the British Army or Royal Marines, in which the designation second-in-command (2i/c) is used as a formal appointment. In the Royal Air Force, the term XO is informally used between officers and airmen, referring to the officer who is second-in-command. It is, however, formally used in the Royal Navy. In smaller vessels, such as submarines and frigates, the executive officer also holds the position of first lieutenant. Originally, the second-in-command was usually referred to as first lieutenant (or as "number one"), although it is becoming more common to hear the term XO. On larger ships of the Royal Navy, in which the XO holds the rank of commander, the XO is usually referred to simply as "the commander". The XO also heads the executive department.

United States

United States Army

There are executive officer slots in each chief warrant officer to serve as an XO/2IC, one example of this is the Modular Ammunition Platoon, where the Ammunition Technician acts as the second-in-command during the absence of the platoon leader. While the experience gained as an XO is highly beneficial for an Army officer's professional development, it is not necessarily a prerequisite for a command position. At the Army level of command, a commanding general will have a deputy commanding general as second in command and an 'executive officer' on his personal staff who works as his liaison to the general staff and an aide-de-camp who takes care of his calendar and personal needs.

United States Marine Corps

The executive officer is the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), deputy commander. For those commands having a general officer (usually a brigadier general) in command without a designated assistant commander or deputy commander, such as a Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) or Marine Logistics Group (MLG), the chief of staff (a colonel) is the second-in-command. Unlike their U.S. Navy counterparts, XOs of Marine Corps squadrons in naval aviation do not "fleet up" to become CO.

United States Navy and United States Coast Guard

Executive officers (XOs) are assigned to all ships, aviation squadrons and shore units and installations. Carrier air wings in the U.S. Navy will not have an XO, but will have a deputy commander ("DCAG") instead; for shore-based or functional naval air wings, the equivalent position will be the deputy commodore.

In the Coast Guard, on board small cutters and patrol boats that are commanded by either a junior officer or a senior enlisted member, executive chief petty officers or executive petty officers are usually assigned to serve as second-in-command.

On U.S. aircraft carriers, per Title 10 United States Code, both the captain (i.e., the commanding officer or CO) and the XO assigned to the ship are both naval aviators or naval flight officers. Although not specified by 10 U.S.C., large, air-capable amphibious assault ships will have one of the two senior positions (CO or XO) occupied by a surface warfare officer and the other by a naval aviator or naval flight officer, alternating at each change of command. In naval aviation, in U.S. Navy squadrons (other than fleet replacement squadrons and the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron {viz., Blue Angels}), the XO will eventually "fleet up" to become the CO of that squadron after twelve to fifteen months as XO. This fleet up model was also adopted in the early 2000s for XO and CO positions of both large amphibious assault ships (but not aircraft carriers) and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers. In addition to operational / tactical responsibilities, XOs will also shoulder most of the CO's administrative burden, to include oversight of the command's administrative officer (if assigned) and administrative department.

The term of XO in the Navy and Coast Guard should not be confused with the term executive assistant (EA) in those services, the latter being an officer in the rank of captain (O-6) who serves either dual-hatted as, or in addition to, the chief of staff to a flag officer.

United States Air Force

In the U.S. Air Force, the XO is not a command or second-in-command position. Instead, it is used to designate a company grade officer or junior field grade officer who serves as a staff administrative assistant to a senior officer, starting with a commander at the squadron level or above (e.g., squadron, group, wing, numbered air force, major command).[1] In the other uniformed services, this position may be called an aide, an "executive assistant" or an lieutenant or captain working for a colonel, to a major or lieutenant colonel in support of a brigadier general or major general, to a colonel serving as the executive officer to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

Personal staff officers

The US Air Force uses the term "executive officer" for officers assigned as personal staff officers to general officers. Their role is similar to aides-de-camp in the US Army, Marine Corps and Air Force and flag aides and flag lieutenants in the US Navy and Coast Guard.

Executive Officer, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe

A unique application of the term is executive officer to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and commander, United States European Command. This position is typically held by a brigadier general or rear admiral (LH) and is drawn from all of the armed services. The duties involve serving as both an "executive assistant" to Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and also includes command responsibilities for the U.S. military community at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Belgium.[3]


  1. ^ Air Force Organization, AFI 32-101
  2. ^ The Executive Officer Guide Accessed 2012-05-02.
  3. ^ Biography of Brigadier General Gregory Lengyel, Executive Officer to SACUER (2010-2012) Accessed on 2012-05-02.
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