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In the United States Armed Forces, the rank of warrant officer (grade W-1 to CW-5) (NATO: WO1-WO5) is rated as an officer above the senior-most enlisted ranks, as well as officer cadets, midshipmen and candidates, but below the officer grade of O-1 (NATO: OF-1). Warrant officers are highly skilled, single-track specialty officers, and while the ranks are authorized by Congress, each branch of the uniformed services selects, manages, and utilizes warrant officers in slightly different ways. For appointment to warrant officer one (W-1), a warrant is approved by the secretary of the respective service. For chief warrant officer ranks (W-2 to W-5), warrant officers are commissioned by the President of the United States and take the same oath as regular commissioned officers (O-1 to O-10).
While the term 'warrant officer' is used by many military services the world over, the category of officers to which the United States applies the term is unique to the U.S. armed forces. Care should thus be exercised when interpreting the phrase in international contexts. In most other militaries, such as those of the Commonwealth, "warrant officer" refers to NATO OR-8 and OR-9, the equivalent of American master sergeants, senior chief petty officers, sergeants major, and master chief petty officers.
Warrant officers can and do command detachments, units, activities, vessels, aircraft, and armored vehicles as well as lead, coach, train, and counsel subordinates. However, the warrant officer's primary task as a leader is to serve as a technical expert, providing valuable skills, guidance, and expertise to commanders and organizations in their particular field.
In the United States Navy, the chief warrant officer (CWO) rank is a technical specialist who directs specific activities essential to the proper operation of the ship, which also require commissioned officer authority. Navy CWOs serve in 30 specialties covering five categories. CWO should not be confused with the limited duty officer in the Navy. CWOs perform duties that are directly related to their previous enlisted service and specialized training. This allows the Navy to capitalize on the experience of CWOs without having to frequently transition them to other duty assignments for advancement. With the exception of the Navy's short-lived flying chief warrant officer program, all Navy warrant officers are accessed from the chief petty officer pay grades, E-7 through E-9, analogous to a senior non-commissioned officer in the other services.
The United States Navy has had warrant officers among its ranks since 23 December 1775, when John Berriman received a warrant to act as purser aboard the brigantine, USS Andrew Doria. That warrant was considered a patent of trust and honor but was not considered a commission to command. Since this first appointment, Navy warrant officers have held positions as surgeons, master mates, boatswains, carpenters, and chaplains. Until 1912, a midshipman graduating from the United States Naval Academy was required to have two years of sea duty as a warrant officer before receiving a commission as an ensign. Although based on the British Royal Navy warrant officer ranks that were in place until 1949, the United States had never needed to address an issue of aristocracy, which resulted in warranted officers in the Royal Navy. However, the United States Navy experienced a similar issue of rank, where highly competent senior non-commissioned officers are required to report to inexperienced junior officers, giving rise to special status to the Navy's chief warrant officers.
In 1975, the Navy ceased utilizing the rank of warrant officer 1 (WO1), also known as pay grade W-1, because chief petty officers in pay grades E-7 and above with many years in service would lose pay when appointed to the rank of warrant officer. The Navy appoints their warrant officers directly to the rank of CWO2 (i.e., as chief warrant officers), and are "commissioned" officers, with the Navy Personnel Command/Bureau of Personnel (NAVPERSCOM/BUPERS) managing all grades (CWO2 through CWO5) by billets appropriate for each rank. In past years, some CWOs resigned their warrant commission prior to retirement in order to receive greater retirement pay at their former senior enlisted rank. However, this pay disparity has effectively disappeared in recent years and all Navy CWOs now retire at the appropriate officer grade.
The Navy started a test program called the "Flying Chief Warrant Officer Program" in 2006 to acquire additional Naval Aviators (pilots) and Naval Flight Officers (NFOs) who would fly naval aircraft, but who would not compete with traditional unrestricted line officers in naval aviation for eventual command of squadrons, air wings, air stations, etc., the numbers of which had been greatly reduced in the post-Cold War era. Enlisted Sailors in the grades E-5 through E-7 who had at least an associate's degree and were not currently serving in the diver, master-at-arms, nuclear, SEAL, SWCC or EOD communities were eligible to apply. Upon being commissioned as CWO2, selectees underwent warrant officer indoctrination and then flight school for 18 to 30 months. After completion of flight school, selectees were placed in one of four types of squadrons: shipboard maritime strike/anti-submarine helicopter (HSM) and combat support helicopter (HSC), and land-based fixed-wing maritime patrol and reconnaissance (VP) and fleet air reconnaissance (VQ). These pilots and NFOs were then trained to operate the P-3 Orion, the EP-3E Aries II, the E-6 Mercury, or variants of the MH-60, SH-60 and HH-60 Seahawk. Those in the VP community would also eventually qualify to fly the P-8 Poseidon once that aircraft began replacing the P-3 in 2012. The Navy reevaluated the program in 2011, when the last of the "flying" chief warrant officers reported to their operational Fleet squadrons and opted to subsequently terminate the program.
The Army warrant officer traces lineage to the civilian headquarters clerk, later designated the Army field clerk. An Army Judge Advocate General review determined that field clerks should be members of the military. Legislation in 1916 authorized those positions as military. On 9 July 1918, Congress established the rank and grade of warrant officer concurrent with establishing the Army Mine Planter Service (AMPS) within the Coast Artillery Corps. Creation of the Mine Planter Service replaced an informal service crewed by civilians, replacing them with military personnel, of whom the vessel's master, mates, chief engineer, and assistant engineers were Army warrant officers. The official color of the Warrant Officer Corps was based on the brown sleeve insignia of rank for ship's officers of the Army Mine Planter (AMP).
Since that time, the position of warrant officer in the Army has been refined. On August 21, 1941 Congress authorized two grades: warrant officer (junior grade) and chief warrant officer. In 1942, there were temporary appointments in about 40 occupational areas. The insignia for warrant officer (junior grade) was a gold bar 3/8 inch (0.95 cm) wide and 1 inch (2.54 cm) long, rounded at the ends with brown enamel on top and a latitudinal center of gold 1/8 (0.32 cm) inch wide. The insignia for chief warrant officer was a gold bar 3/8 inch (0.95 cm) in width and 1 inch (2.54 cm) in length with rounded ends, brown enamel on top with a longitudinal center stripe of gold 1/8 inch wide (0.32 cm).
On July 18, 1942 Public Law 658 (Flight Officer Act) was enacted, creating the rank of flight officer, equivalent to warrant officer (junior grade) and assigned to the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). Insignia was the same as for a warrant officer (junior grade), except the backing was in blue enamel rather than brown. Most flight officers were graduates of various USAAF flight training programs, including pilot, navigator and bombardier ratings. Graduates were appointed to the rating of flight officer, but a portion of each graduating class were commissioned as second lieutenants. Once reaching operational units and after gaining flying experience, flight officers were later offered direct commissions as lieutenants.
Flight sergeants, who were assigned as transport and glider pilots, were appointed as flight officers when the new rank was created. Some of the first eligible flight officers were Americans who had served as sergeant pilots in the Royal Air Force and who transferred to the USAAF after the U.S. entered the war.
In November 1942, the War Department defined the rank order as having warrant officers above all enlisted grades and below all commissioned grades. In 1944, the first women were appointed to the warrant officer grades.
In 1947, legislation was sought to introduce four grades of warrant officer. Proposed rank titles were: chief warrant officer, senior warrant officer, warrant officer first class, and warrant officer.
In 1949, the Career Compensation Act created four pay grades, W-1 through W-4, for all the armed services. There two warrant ranks were unchanged, however: Warrant officer (junior grade) was pay grade W-1, while chief warrant officer started at W-2 and could advance to W-3 and -4.
In 1953, the warrant officer flight program was created, which trained thousands of warrant officer pilots.
In 1954, the Warrant Officer Act (Public Law 370, 83rd Congress) created separate ranks for each pay grade, W-1 through W-4.
In 1988, the rank of master warrant officer was created in the grade of W-4 with chief warrant officer.
At the end of 1991, the grade of W-5 was created for the same rank of chief warrant officer as well, using the master warrant officer insignia.
The Army warrant officer is a technical expert, combat leader, trainer, and advisor in 45 basic military occupational specialties. They serve in 15 branches of the service, spanning the Active Component (i.e., Regular Army), the Army National Guard, and the U.S. Army Reserve. Warrant officers command the Army's waterborne and seagoing vessels, most Army Bands and as aircraft commanders of most Army Aviation aircraft. In addition, they may be found in command of various small units and detached teams.
The Army uses warrant officers to serve in specific positions which require greater longevity than the billet duration of commanders and other staff officers. The duration of these assignments result in increased technical expertise as well as increased leadership and management skills.
Regardless of rank, Army warrant officers are officially addressed as Mister (Mrs., Miss, Ms.). Unofficially, the informal title of "Chief" is often used as a familiar form of address.
British forces who work with the U.S. Army often call chief warrant officers "CWO" as British forces usually abbreviate ranks.
The body of warrant officers in the Army is composed of two communities: technicians and aviators. Technicians typically must be enlisted sergeants (E-5, NATO: OR-5) or above in a related specialty to qualify to become a warrant officer. A waiver may be granted on a case-by-case basis if the applicant has comparable experience in the government service and/or the civilian sector. The aviation field is open to all applicants, military or civilian, who meet the stringent medical and aptitude requirements.
After selection to the warrant officer program, candidates attend Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS), which is developed and administered by the Warrant Officer Career College at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Army candidates on active duty must attend the course at Fort Rucker. Candidates in the Army Reserve or National Guard attend the course either at Fort Rucker, or one of the National Guard's Regional Training Institutes. After graduation, all candidates are promoted to warrant officer one. Technicians attend training at their respective branch's warrant officer basic course (WOBC), where they study advanced subjects in their technical area before moving on to their assignments in the Army. Aviation branched warrant officers remain at Fort Rucker to complete flight training and the aviation WOBC.
Special Forces warrant officer candidates from both the active and reserve force components attend the Special Forces Warrant Officer Technical and Tactical Certification Course (SFWOTTC) at the Special Forces Warrant Officer Institute, John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The course includes both WOCS and WOBC, tailored to the unique training and experience of the Special Forces Sergeant. Candidates must be a staff sergeant (E-6, NATO: OR-6) and above, and have served three years on an operational detachment.
In 2008, the Army tested limited training of warrant officers at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, a course normally reserved exclusively for majors). The CGSC Class of 2009 included five warrant officers, and the Class of 2010 included nine warrant officers. Three 2010 graduates continued on to higher-level training at the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) in 2011.
Chief warrant officers in the Coast Guard may be found in command of larger small boat stations and patrol boats, as specialists and supervisors in other technical areas, and as special agents in the Coast Guard Investigative Service. They wear insignia essentially like that of their Navy counterparts, but with the USCG shield between the rank insignia and the specialty mark, as Coast Guard commissioned officers do with their rank insignia. Like their Navy counterparts, candidates for the rank of chief warrant officer must typically be serving in the chief petty officer grades (E-7 through E-9), however, the Coast Guard also permits selection of first class petty officers (E-6) who are in the top 50% on their advancement list to E-7. Like the Navy, the Coast Guard does not use the rank of warrant officer (WO1). Although authorized in 1994, the Coast Guard also does not currently use the CWO5 grade.
The Marine Corps has had warranted officers since 1916 when the Commandant of the Marine Corps made a request to the Secretary of the Navy for the creation of two warrant grades, Marine Gunner and Quartermaster Clerk. Those appointed were to be selected from the non-commissioned officer ranks.
On 26 August 1916, Congress increased the Corps strength, which included adding the rank of warrant officer; 43 Marine Gunners and 41 Quartermaster Clerks would be appointed. It is strongly believed that the first Marine Gunner was Henry L. Hulbert. On 22 May 1917, due to commissioned officer shortages, all but three of the appointees were commissioned as temporary second lieutenants. In 1918, the grade of pay clerk was added.
In June, 1926 Congress created the commissioned warrant grades of Chief Marine Gunner, Chief Quartermaster Clerk and Chief Pay Clerk. Requirements for promotion to chief warrant officer were six years of service as a warrant officer and an examination to qualify.
During World War II, Congress abolished the titles of Marine Gunner, Chief Marine Gunner, Quartermaster Clerk, Chief Quartermaster Clerk, Pay Clerk and Chief Pay Clerk. Instead they would be designated warrant officer or commissioned warrant officer. In 1943, all Marine warrant officer ranks were aligned with the other services. They were warrant officer and commissioned warrant officer.
Then in 1949, the grade of WO (paygrade W-1) was created for warrant officers and CWO2, CWO3 and CWO4 (paygrades W-2, W-3, and W-4) were created for commissioned warrant officers. In 1954 title "Chief Warrant Officer" replaced "commissioned warrant officer" for those in grades CWO2, CWO3 and CWO4.
On 1 February 1992 the grade of CWO5 (paygrade W-5) was created and those who are appointed serve on the highest unit echelon levels. Only 5 percent of chief warrant officers occupy this grade.
The duties US Marine warrant officers typically fulfill are those that would normally call for the authority of a commissioned officer. However, they require an additional level of technical proficiency and practical experience that a commissioned officer would not have had the opportunity to achieve.
An enlisted Marine can apply for the warrant officer program after serving at least eight years of enlisted service, and reaching the grade of sergeant (paygrade E-5) for the administrative warrant officer program or after serving at least sixteen years of enlisted service and reaching the grade of gunnery sergeant (paygrade E-7) for the weapons warrant officer program. If the Marine NCO is selected, he or she is given additional leadership and management training during the Warrant Officer Basic Course (WOBC), conducted at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia.
The United States Air Force no longer uses the warrant officer grade. The USAF inherited warrant officer ranks from the Army at its inception in 1947, but their place in the Air Force structure was never made clear. When Congress authorized the creation of two new senior enlisted ranks in each of the five services in 1958 (implementing them in 1959-60), Air Force officials privately concluded that these two new "super grades" of Senior Master Sergeant and Chief Master Sergeant could fill all Air Force needs then performed at the warrant officer level. This was not publicly acknowledged until years later. The Air Force stopped appointing warrant officers in 1959, the same year the first promotions were made to the new top enlisted grade, chief master sergeant. Most of the existing air force warrant officers entered the commissioned officer ranks during the 1960s, but tiny numbers continued to exist for the next 21 years.
The last active duty air force chief warrant officer, CWO4 James H. Long, retired in 1980. The last Air Force Reserve chief warrant officer, CWO4 Bob Barrow, retired in 1992. Upon his retirement, Barrow was honorarily promoted to CWO5, the only person in the Air Force ever to hold this grade. Barrow died in April 2008. Since Barrow's retirement, air force warrant officer ranks, while still authorized by law, are not used.
42 U.S.C. § 204, 42 U.S.C. § 207 and 42 U.S.C. § 209 of the U.S. Code of law establishes the use of warrant officers (W-1 to W-4) with specific specialties to the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps for the purpose of providing support to the health and delivery systems maintained by the service, however the grades have never been used in Public Health Service history to date.
|Navy||Coast Guard||Marine Corps|
|W-1||Warrant officer one||WO-1|
|W-2||Chief warrant officer two||CWO-2|
|W-3||Chief warrant officer three||CWO-3|
|W-4||Chief warrant officer four||CWO-4|
|W-5||Chief warrant officer five||CWO-5|
|United States commissioned officer and officer candidate ranks|
|Pay grade / Branch of service||Officer|
|Air Force||Cadet / OT / OC||2d Lt||1st Lt||Capt||Maj||Lt Col||Col||Brig Gen||Maj Gen||Lt Gen||Gen||GAF|||
|Army||CDT / OC||2LT||1LT||CPT||MAJ||LTC||COL||BG||MG||LTG||GEN||GA||GAS|
|Marine Corps||Midn / Cand||2ndLt||1stLt||Capt||Maj||LtCol||Col||BGen||MajGen||LtGen||Gen|||||
|Navy||MIDN / OC||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RDML||RADM||VADM||ADM||FADM||AN|
|Coast Guard||CDT / OC||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RDML||RADM||VADM||ADM|||||
|Public Health Service||[OC]||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RADM||RADM||VADM||ADM|||||
Unofficial 1945 proposal for General of the Armies insignia; John J. Pershing's GAS insignia: ; George Dewey's AN insignia:
 Rank used for specific officers during World War II and Korea only, not permanent addition to rank structure
 Grade is authorized by the U.S. Code for use but has not been created
 Grade has never been created or authorized
|United States warrant officer ranks|
|Public Health Service|||||||||||
|National Oceanic and|
 Grade is authorized for use by U.S. Code but has not been created
 Grade never created or authorized