Busting myths about the warrant officer corps

Story by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Warrant Officer Print

“Let Go!” depicts the founding the Army Mine Planter Service as part of the Coast Artillery Corps. The act designated warrant officers to serve as masters, mates, chief engineers and assistant engineers of mine-planting vessels.

July has been declared Kentucky National Guard Warrant Officer Month in a proclamation by Gov. Steve Beshear.  This is one of a series of articles we are publishing in celebration of the warrant officer corps.  Click here to read more about 95th birthday of the Army’s warrant officer corps.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The warrant officer corps is probably the most misunderstood of all of ranks in the United States Army.  The truth of the matter is that the warrant officer rank has a long and distinguished legacy going back to 1775 and the founding of our nation.  As far as the Army is concerned, in July 1918 the first Warrant Officer Corps was established when an act of congress established the Army Mine Planter Service as part of the Navy’s Coast Artillery Corps; during the First World War warrant officers were responsible for mine defenses in major ports and vessels of all sizes were used to lay and maintain minefields.

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Chuck Yeager, famed for breaking the sound barrier, began his career during World War II as a flight officer, the U.S. Army Air Corps equivalent of a warrant officer.

There are several notable warrant officers in military history.  Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, famous for breaking the sound barrier, began his career as a flight officer (aka warrant officer) in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.

Michael Novosel once piloted a B-29 bomber in World War II.  During the Vietnam War he made the decision to give up his rank of lieutenant colonel in the Air Force to fly Army helicopters as a chief warrant officer with special forces and MEDEVAC units.  It was as a warrant officer that he was presented the Medal of Honor for his bravery in conducting a medical evacuation under fire.

Tom Hennen was a United States Army warrant officer with 24 years in the imagery intelligence field.  His skills and training led to him becoming the first warrant officer in space, flying aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1991.

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A B-29 bomber pilot during World War II, Michael Novosel gave up his commission as an Air Force lieutenant colonel to fly Huey helicopters with the Army during Vietnam. He was a chief warrant officer when he received the Medal of Honor in 1971.

Today, in its 95th anniversary, the Army’s warrant officer corps continues its legacy as an integral and essential element in daily operations and the chain of command.  Following are a few myths and facts about this fascinating and often misunderstood rank.

Myth #1.  Warrant officers are not “real officers.”

False:  Warrant officers are highly skilled, 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. Warrant officers can and do command detachments, units, activities, vessels, aircraft, and armored vehicles as well as lead, coach, train, and counsel subordinates.

According to Chief Warrant Officer Ryan Turner, who runs the Kentucky Guard’s warrant officer recruiting program, “The warrant officer’s main job is to serve as a technical expert, provide skills, guidance, and expertise to commanders and organizations in their particular field.”

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Among his many accomplishments, Tom Hennen goes down in history as the first warrant officer in space.

Myth #2.  Only the Army has warrant officers.

False:  The United States Navy and the Marine Corps have warrant officers, as does the Coast Guard and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.  The United States Air Force inherited the warrant officer ranks from the Army Air Corps at its inception in 1947, but stopped appointing warrant officers in 1959.

Myth #3.  All warrant officers are pilots.

False:  Not so, says Turner.  “Warrant officers in the Army are the technical experts, combat leaders, trainers, and advisors in more than forty basic military occupational specialties.  They serve across the active component, the Army National Guard, and the U.S. Army Reserve.”

Warrant officers also command the Army’s waterborne and sea-going 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 such as special forces and criminal investigation detachments.

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Warrant Officer Robert Boatman’s calibration shop ensures that the Kentucky Guard’s equipment and gear are all set to the right specifications, an essential factor in the increasing technology used by today’s soldiers. (Photo by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs)

Myth #4.  Warrant officer training is a piece of cake.

False:  Well, depending on your point of view.  There are three basic approaches to becoming a warrant officer:  1) The six-week active resident course at Fort Rucker, Ala.  2) Distance learning plus four and a half weeks (if you are an E-5 with Warrior Leader Course) or 3) Through the 238th Regimental Training Institute, completing distance learning, five drills and a two-week annual training period.  No matter which direction take, there are classes in leadership, tactics and military history and protocol, along with extensive physical training and testing.

According to Chief Warrant Officer Rick Skelton, TAC officer with the 238th RTI’s warrant officer candidate school, the training ain’t easy, but it’s not insurmountable, either.

“At one point it was actually one of the toughest schools in the army,” said Skelton.  “It’s still pretty rigorous.  We just finished a 6.2 mile ruck march with a fifty pound pack.  You’ve got to have your head in the game, but you can do it.  You just have to want to be there.”

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Kentucky National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Harold Brandenburg runs satellite communications during emergencies and natural disaster missions, linking local, state and federal agencies together when traditional networks are at a complete standstill. (Photo by David Altom, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs)

Myth #5:  The warrant officer corps is an archaic and dying breed.

False:  “The warrant officer corps is alive and well and growing,” said State Command Warrant Officer Chief Jimmy Simms.  “Just recently the Kentucky Army National Guard has received authorization for new warrant positions in electronic warfare, putting us ahead of the curve in this growing field.  Artillery targeting is another warrant officer field that is growing, as are warrant positions in special forces.  So, yes, we are a powerful force in the Guard and we’re getting stronger every day.”

For more information on the Kentucky National Guard’s warrant officer program contact Chief Warrant Officer Ryan Turner at (502) 607-6200, Cell: (502) 320-3653 or email him at Ryan.turner2@usarec.army.mil.

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