The Legacy of Leadership as a Warrant Officer- 90 years of technical expertise in the Army

Written By: Chief Warrant Officer Five David Welsh

Many of the Army’s early warrant officers served as masters, mates, chief engineers, and assistant engineers in the Army Mine Planter Service, established in 1918 as part of the Coast Artillery Corps. (Let Go, by Don Stivers; courtesy of Don Stivers)

The rank of warrant officer has a long history and is one of the oldest in Western military systems, dating back two centuries prior to Christopher Columbus during the fledgling years of the Royal Navy. At that time, nobles assumed command of the new navy and adopted the army ranks of lieutenant and captain. These royal blood officers often times had no knowledge of life onboard a ship, let alone how to navigate such a vessel or operate the guns.

They would often rely on the technical expertise and cooperation of a senior sailor who tended to the technical aspects of running the ship and operating the cannons. These sailors, sometimes referred to as “boat mates” or “bosun’s mates,” became indispensable to less experienced officers and were subsequently rewarded with a Royal Warrant. This Royal Warrant was a special designation, designed to set them apart from other sailors, but not violate the strict class system that was so prevalent during the time.

The “Eagle Rising” was adopted by the Army in 1921 to be worn by warrant officers. (Warrant Officers Heritage Foundation)

Based on the British model, the U.S. Navy has had warrant officers among its ranks, in some form or another, since its conception. The American military heritage of the warrant officer can be traced back to 23 December 1775 when a seaman by the name of John Berriman was appointed as a warrant officer to act as purser aboard an American ship. The rank was considered one of trust and honor but was not considered a commission to command.

Since this first appointment, Navy and Coast Guard warrant officers have held positions as surgeons, master mates, boatswains, carpenters, and chaplains. In the U.S. Navy, warrant officers have traditionally been the technical experts whose skills and knowledge were an essential part of the proper operation of the ship. Warrant officers have a long history within armies dating back to the Napoleonic Wars.

Eight of the original forty Army Mine Planter Service warrant officers pose for a photograph at Fort McPherson, Georgia, in 1922. (U.S. Army Warrant Officers Association)

There is some evidence to suggest that Napoleon used warrant officers as communications links between his commissioned officers and the rank-and-file soldiers. In the U.S. Army, the warrant officer can be traced back to 1896, specifically to creation of a position known as the headquarters clerk. Between 1914 and 1918, a position of field clerk also existed. These two positions are generally considered to be predecessors of the warrant officer. The official birthday of the Army Warrant Officer Corps is 9 July 1918.

An act of Congress in 1918 established the Army Mine Planter Service as part of the Coast Artillery Corps. Implementation of the Act by the Army was published in War Department Bulletin 43, dated 22 July 1918. A total of forty warrant officers, selected from the enlisted ranks, were authorized to serve as masters, mates, chief engineers, and assistant engineers on each mine-planting vessel.

The home of the Mine Planter Service was Fort Monroe, Virginia Although only one rank of warrant officer was authorized by Congress, in effect, three pay rates were created because of the varying levels of pay authorized for masters, 1st mates, 2nd mates, and corresponding levels of marine engineer personnel. This is also when the official color of the Army Warrant Officer Corps came to be brown.

The color emanated from the brown strands taken from burlap bags that the Mine Planter Service personnel wore as their insignia of rank. The National Defense Act of 1920 provided for warrant officers to serve in clerical, administrative, and band leader positions. This act also authorized 1,120 warrant officers to be on active duty. During this time warrant officers were excluded from performing duties from which enlisted personnel were also excluded.

On 12 May 1921, a distinctive insignia was approved for warrant officers. It consisted of an eagle rising with wings displayed, adapted from the great seal of the United States. The eagle is standing on two arrows, which symbolize the military arts and sciences. The eagle rising is enclosed within a wreath. Warrant officers of the Tank Corps were the first to wear this new insignia. In 1922, warrant officer strength authorization was reduced from 1,120 to 600, exclusive of the number of Army Mine Planter Service warrant officers and Army bandmasters.

No warrant officer appointments other than bandleaders and the Mine Planter Service were made between 1922 and 1935. Despite the authorized strength remaining at 600, subsequent laws authorized appointment of additional classes of certain personnel with specific qualifications to exceed authorized warrant officer strength.

In 1926, the first two female field clerks became the first female warrants. They were Jen Doble, assigned to the IX Corps Area headquarters in San Francisco, and Olive Hoskins, assigned to the VII Corps Area headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. Both women then had about twenty years service; once they retired, the Army had no more female warrant officers.

Not until World War II did the Army again appoint women as warrants. In 1934, the “Music Under the Stars Concerts” at Fort Monroe, were initiated by Chief Warrant Officer Michael A. Quinto, bandleader of the 2d Coast Artillery Regiment Band from 1932 to 1938.

Quinto was appointed a warrant officer in 1921, and bandmasters were some of the earliest warrant officers in the U.S. Army. The building in which the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Band (formerly the U.S. Continental Army Band) now resides is named after Quinto. A room in Quinto Hall contains a display and biography of Quinto’s forty-two years in the Army.

In 1936, the Army began to examine the role of the warrant officer and whether there was a place for warrant officers in the Army’s personnel structure. Although the Army had given the rank to such specialties as bandleaders, marine engineers, field clerks, and pay clerks, it had also used the rank and the Corps as a reward for former commissioned officers who no longer met the officer educational requirements, and as a reward for outstanding enlisted personnel who were too old to be commissioned and who otherwise could look to no further advancement.

Also, in 1936, the Army held competitive examinations to replenish lists of eligibles for Regular Army appointment. The Army appointed warrant officers against vacancies from this 1936 list until the beginning of World War II.

In 1939, warrant officers who were qualified pilots were declared eligible for direct appointment to lieutenants in the Army Air Corps. This action caused a serious decline in the Warrant Officer Corps.  As of 30 June 1939 there were 775 Warrant Officers serving on active duty. Later that same year a memorandum from the Army G-1 to the Chief of Staff stated “The Warrant Officer grade continues to be used as a reward to enlisted men of long service and special qualifications rather than to fill essential military requirements.” In 1940, warrant officers began serving as disbursing agents. Warrant officer appointments began to occur in larger numbers for the first time since 1922.

The Quiet Professional, commissioned by the U.S. Army Warrant Officers Association in 1995 and painted by Don Stivers, depicts an Army warrant officer of a caisson platoon at Fort Myer, Virginia, in the 1930s. (Courtesy of Don Stivers)

However, overall strength declined due to a significant number were transferred to active duty as regular commissioned officers. In 1941, Public Law 230 authorized appointments up to one percent of the total Regular Army enlisted strength. This law also established two pay rates for warrant officers, Warrant Officer Junior Grade (W-1) and Chief Warrant Officer (W-2). One other benefit of Public Law 230 was the authorization of flight pay for those involved in aerial duties. In November 1941, an executive order further extended warrant officer positions In January 1944, the appointment of women as warrant officers was first authorized. In March 1944, the first six female warrant officers appointed. Several were bandleaders, but others were administrative specialists.

In April 1955, the 1st Aviation Class was graduated at then Camp Rucker, Alabama. Pictured above is Class ACHPC 55-F on 30 April 1955. (Courtesy of Chief Warrant Officer Four Don Joyce, USA-Ret., a graduate of the 1st Aviation Class)

In May 1945, when peak personnel strength was reached during World War II, almost 57,000 warrant officers were serving in the Army, including flight officers in the Army Air Forces. After World War II appointments of warrant officers virtually ceased because of the Army demobilization, dissatisfaction with the decentralized appointment system, and confusion about the purpose of warrant officers. In 1949, the Career Compensation Act brought about two new pay rates for warrant officers.

The designations of Warrant Officer Junior Grade (WOJG) and Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) were retained, and the grade of Chief Warrant Officer was provided with pay rates of W2, W3 and W4. During the 1950s, the Army determined there was a vital need for warrant officers and proposed that appointment to warrant officer should be based on the needs of the Army and not simply as a reward for long and faithful service. During 1950, approximately 900 warrant officer appointments were made using the 1948 and 1949 lists from competitive examinations.

In 1951, senior commanders were once again authorized to tender temporary warrant officer appointments. Some 1,400 temporary appointments were tendered in some sixty occupational specialties under this authority. In 1953, the inception of the Warrant Officer Flight Program lead to the training of thousands who later became helicopter pilots during the Vietnam War. The following year, the Warrant Officer Personnel Act of 1954 established Warrant Officer grades W1 through W4, and officially eliminated the Mine Planter Service. In April 1955, the 1st Aviation Class was graduated at then Camp Rucker, Alabama.

Over the years Army warrant officers have served gallantly above and beyond the call of duty. As helicopters played a major role during combat operations during the Vietnam War, warrant officers were at the forefront of the fighting, piloting UH-1 Hueys or CH-47 Chinooks into landing zones under fire to deliver soldiers and supplies or evacuate the wounded, providing close air support flying AH-1 Cobras, or scouting enemy positions in OH-6 Cayuse (“Loach”) or OH-58A Kiowa aircraft. During the Vietnam War, three warrant officers, all of them helicopter pilots, Michael J. Novosel, Lewis R. Rocco, and Frederick Edgar Ferguson, earned the Medal of Honor.

On 21 January 1957, a new warrant officer concept, resulting from a Department of the Army study, was announced and provided the following guidelines: 1. The need for warrant officers; 2. The warrant officer category would not be considered a reward or incentive; 3. The first published definition for warrant officers was established in AR 611-112 and defined the warrant officer as follows: “The Warrant Officer is a highly skilled technician who is provided to fill those positions above the enlisted level which are too specialized in scope to permit effective development and continued utilization of broadly trained, branch qualified commissioned officers.”

In 1958, the Air Force discontinued its warrant officer program following the passage of legislation (Military Pay Act of 1958) which created the grades of E8 and E9. After careful review of the duties performed by their warrant officers, Air Force leaders decided to restructure the warrant officer authorizations into the senior enlisted grades (E7/E8/E9). In the eyes of the Air Force leadership, loss of the warrant officers cut out an additional management layer and a separate personnel management system, and additionally created increased promotion opportunity for the senior enlisted force. To this date, the Air Force is the only service without warrant officers.

In April 1960, the Warrant Officer Program was outlined in Department of the Army Circular 611-7. This document covered utilization policies, criteria for selection, and instruction for conversion to the then new Warrant Officer Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) system. In 1966, the Army conducted a review of warrant officer career progression and the first Warrant Officer Professional Development Program was published in Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-11. In 1968, the Regular Army program was reopened to warrant officer applicants after having been closed for twenty years. Additionally, service requirements were reduced and application procedures were simplified.

In July 1972, Army warrant officers began wearing newly designed silver rank insignia with black squares, where one black square signified Warrant Officer One (WO1) and two through four black squares signified Chief Warrant Officer Two (CW2) through Chief Warrant Officer Four (CW4). Also in 1972, a tri-level education system was established to provide formal training at the basic or entry level for warrant officers in fifty-nine occupational specialties. The educational system further provided intermediate-level formal training in fifty-three specialties and formal training for twenty-seven specialties at the advanced level. 

In 1973, the levels of the Warrant Officer Education were redesignated as entry, advanced, and senior level respectively. Because these courses were so successful, the Warrant Officer Senior Course was established to provide warrant officers with access to the highest level of professional education.

In 1978, Army National Guard & Army Reserve warrant officers were integrated into the Army Professional Development System. This satisfied the need for qualified, highly trained warrant officers to access to the active Army rapidly in times of emergency. In 1984, an entire new era for warrant officers began when the Army Chief of Staff chartered The Army Total Warrant Officer Study (TWOS).

This was the first Department of the Army level comprehensive study of warrant officer management across the total Army. In 1985, as a result of the study, the Army developed a clear and concise definition of the warrant officer that encompassed all warrant officer specialties: “An officer appointed by warrant by the Secretary of the Army, based upon a sound level of technical and tactical competence. The Warrant Officer is the highly specialized expert and trainer who, by gaining progressive levels of expertise and leadership, operates, maintains, administers, and manages the Army’s equipment, support activities, or technical systems for an entire career.” The Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1986 amended Title 10 of the United States Code (U.S.C.) to provide that Army chief warrant officers shall be appointed by commission.

The primary purpose of the legislation was to equalize appointment procedures among the services. Chief warrant officers of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard had been commissioned for many years. Contrary to popular belief, the commissioning legislation was not a TWOS recommendation but a separate Army proposal. Further clarification of the role of an Army warrant officer, including the commissioned aspect, was published: “Warrant Officers are highly specialized, single-track specialty officers who receive their authority from the Secretary of the Army upon their initial appointment. However, Title 10 U.S.C. authorizes the commissioning of Warrant Officers (WO1) upon promotion to chief Warrant Officer (CW2).

These commissioned Warrant Officers are direct representatives of the president of the United States. They derive their authority from the same source as commissioned officers but remain specialists, in contrast to commissioned officers, who are generalists. Warrant Officers can and do command detachments, units, activities, and vessels as well as lead, coach, train, and counsel subordinates. As leaders and technical experts, they provide valuable skills, guidance, and expertise to commanders and organizations in their particular field.”

In 1991, the Warrant Officer Management Act (WOMA) proposal was considered by Congress and it was incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 1992. Key provisions were enacted as signed by the President in December of 1991: A single promotion system for warrant officers; tenure requirements based on years of warrant officer service; establishment of the grade of Chief Warrant Officer Five (CW5) with a five percent cap on the number of warrant officers on each service’s active duty list at any one time; and selective mandatory retirement boards for retirement-eligible warrant officers.

Also in 1991, two more TWOS recommendations were implemented. Also, contrary to popular belief, the following resulted from TWOS recommendations and not WOMA provisions. The first recommendation was coding of authorized positions by rank grouping of Warrant Officer (WO) [W1 or W2 authorized], Senior Warrant Officer (SW) [W3 or W4 authorized], and Master Warrant Officer (MW) [CW4 or MW4 authorized]. The second recommendation called for automatic Regular Army integration upon selection and promotion to Chief Warrant Officer Three.

From 24 November to 1 December 1991, then Chief Warrant Officer Three Thomas J. Hennen made history as the first and only warrant officer astronaut. He flew aboard NASA’s orbiter Atlantis as a payload specialist, completing 109 orbits of the Earth and traveling 2.9 million miles.

In October 1993, a new Warrant Officer Education System (WOES) went into effect. Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS) retained that name. Warrant Officer Technical Training Certification became the Warrant Officer Basic Course (WOBC). Senior Warrant Officer Training became the Warrant Officer Advance Course (WOAC). The Warrant Officer Staff Course (WOSC) was added by reduction in length of MWOTC. The Master Warrant Officer Training Course was renamed the Warrant Officer Senior Staff Course (WOSSC).

In May 2001, Chief Warrant Officer Two Nicholas L. Punimata, Commander, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 151, Fort Lewis, Washington, became a part of warrant officer history by being the first warrant officer to be presented the prestigious General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award. His award was presented on 23 May 2001 in the Pentagon by General Eric K. Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff, and Mr. William Sherman Hull from the General Douglas MacArthur Foundation. On 29 August 2002, Chief Warrant Officer Five Daniel J. Logan, Jr., was appointed as the first Warrant Officer Advisor to the Army Chief of Staff. The Warrant Officer Assistant Executive Officer to the Chief of Staff continues to also perform the duties and responsibilities of Warrant Officer Advisor to the Chief of Staff.

On 9 July 2004, Army warrant officers were integrated into the officer branch of their primary occupational specialty. They were transferred from management by the separate Warrant Officer Division of the Army Personnel Command to management by the respective Army branch of their Warrant Officer Occupational Specialty. The Eagle Rising insignia and Warrant Officer Brown trim on their dress uniforms were replaced by the branch insignia and trim colors of their new branch. On 14 October 2005, new Army warrant officer definitions were published in Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-3.

This Pamphlet includes the career development of Warrant Officers, thus superseding Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-11: “The Army WO is a self-aware and adaptive technical expert, combat leader, trainer, and advisor. Through progressive levels of expertise in assignments, training, and education, the WO administers, manages, maintains, operates, and integrates Army systems and equipment across the full spectrum of Army operations. Warrant Officers are innovative integrators of emerging technologies, dynamic teachers, confident warfighters, and developers of specialized teams of soldiers.

Chief Warrant Officer Three Thomas J. Hennen (left) became the first and only warrant officer astronaut when he served as a payload specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis during a week-long mission in November-December 1991. (Defense Visual Information Center)

They support a wide range of Army missions throughout their career. Warrant officers in the Army are accessed with specific levels of technical ability. They refine their technical expertise and develop their leadership and management skills through tiered progressive assignment and education.” Specific characteristics and responsibilities of the separate, successive warrant officer grades were also published in the document. In December 2006, WARRANT: The Legacy of Leadership as a Warrant Officer, was published. Commissioned by the Warrant Officer Heritage Foundation, this book tells the history of the Army warrant officer from July 1918, the official birthday of the Corps, and progresses through the many changes that the warrant officer has undergone, including insignia changes and integration of the Army warrant officers into the various Army branches.

It also contains a dedication to fallen warrant officers since that fateful day of 11 September 2001, plus a listing of their names. In addition, it outlines the warrant officer programs of the other U.S. uniformed services, histories of the various warrant officer associations, clubs, and foundations. Included are pictures and information about warrant officer Medal Of Honor recipients, other warrants of historical significance, and the Army’s only warrant officer astronaut. In October 2007, TRADOC announced a plan to accelerate leader development at all levels and a panel at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting outlined more of the specifics. This plan was the first step which ultimately would evolve into integration of Warrant Officer Education System (WOES) into the Officer Education System (OES).

Chief Warrant Officer Three John Steventon of the 158th Aviation Regiment performs a pre-flight check on his UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter at Aviano Air Base, Italy, in January 2006. (Photograph by Airman Nathan J. Doza, USAF, courtesy of the U.S. Army)

As of 30 September 2007, the Army Warrant Officer Cohort was comprised of about 22,000 men and women broken down as follows: Active Army—56 percent; Army National Guard —32 percent; Army Reserve—12 percent (not counting members of the Individual Ready Reserve also available for mobilization); Technical Branch Warrant Officers—65.4 percent; Aviation Warrant Officers—34.6 percent; Percentage of the total Army —2 percent; Percent of the Officer Corps—14 percent; Branches with Warrant Officers assigned—15; and Warrant Officer Military Occupation Specialties—67. On 11 January 2008, the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower & Reserve Affairs) issued a memorandum authorizing thirty years of active service for all Regular Army warrant officers of any grade. Previously only Regular Army Chief Warrant Officers Five (CW5) were allowed thirty years of active service.

Army warrant officers of today are soldiers, technical experts, officers, and leaders that manage and maintain increasingly complex battlefield systems. Chief warrant officers are commissioned by the President and have the same legal status as their traditional commissioned officer counterparts. However, warrant officers remain single-specialty officers whose career track is oriented towards progressing within their career field rather than focusing on increased levels of command and staff duty positions.

In April 2008, five warrant officers were selected for Intermediate Level Education (ILE) Pilot Program. These officers are currently attending ILE (formerly Command & General Staff Course) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The intent of this program is not for all warrant officers to attend, but for a select few who are the best candidates for strategic level positions within the Army.

On 24 April 2008, a memorandum addressing Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) Policy and Guidance, was signed by the Deputy Commanding General for Initial Military Training. BOLC is designed to ensure tough, standardized, small-unit leadership experience that flows progressively from the per-commissioning/appointment phase (BOLC 1), through the initial-entry field leadership phase (BOLC II), to the branch technical phase (BOLC III). Over time warrant officer training will be phased out of the Warrant Officer Education System (WOES) and into BOLC and the Officer Education System. On 7 May 2008 , the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G3/5/7, signed a memorandum on the subject of Request for Delay of Warrant Officer Integration into Phase III of the Basic Officer Leader Course.

The memorandum allows TRADOC to delay Warrant Officer Integration in BOLC II until the third quarter FY 2009. Today there are five grades within the Army Warrant Officer Corps. A person is initially appointed as a Warrant Officer (WO1), and progress to Chief Warrant Officer Two (CW2) after two years. Competitive promotion to Chief Warrant Officer Three (CW3), Chief Warrant Officer Four (CW4), and Chief Warrant Officer Five (CW5) occur at approximately six year intervals for Aviation warrant officers and five year intervals for those in technical specialties.

Today’s warrant officers enhance the Army’s ability to defend our national interests and to fight and win our nation’s wars. They are serving in the active Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve in Iraq, Afghanistan, around the world, and at home in support of our Army and defense of our nation.