Warrant officer (United States)

Warrant officer (United States)

In the United States military, the rank of warrant officer (grade W-1 to W-5) is rated as an officer above the senior-most enlisted ranks, as well as officer cadets 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).

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 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.[1] 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.[2] With the exception of the Navy's 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 recently implemented Flying Chief Warrant Officer program that will train qualified non-college degreed sailors to become Naval Aviators and Naval Flight Officers in selected naval aircraft is open to sailors in pay grades of E-5 and E-6 and chief petty officers in pay grade E-7.


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.[1] 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.[3] Although based on the British Royal Navy warrant 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 stopped 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), considers them as "commissioned" officers, and manages 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.[4] However, this pay disparity has effectively disappeared in recent years and all Navy CWOs now retire at the appropriate officer grade.

Flying Chief Warrant Officer

The Navy started a test program called the "Flying Chief Warrant Officer Program" in 2006, to acquire pilots and naval flight officers. Enlisted sailors in the grades E-5 through E-7 who have at least an associate's degree and are not currently serving in the diver, master-at-arms, nuclear, SEAL, SWCC or EOD communities are eligible to apply. Upon being commissioned as CWO2, selectees will undergo warrant officer indoctrination and then flight school for 18 to 30 months. After completion of flight school, selectees will be placed in one of four types of squadrons: anti-submarine, combat support, patrol or reconnaissance. The pilots and naval flight officers will then be trained to operate the P-3 Orion, the EP-3E Aries II, the E-6 Mercury, or the MH-60 Seahawk, and will eventually qualify to fly the P-8 Poseidon. The Navy will reevaluate the program in 2011, when the last of the "flying" chief warrant officers are expected to report to their operational Fleet squadrons.[2][5]



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)[6] 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).[7][8][9]

Since that time, the position of WO in the Army has been refined. In 1941, two grades were created, Warrant Officer Junior Grade (W1) and Chief Warrant Officer (W2). In 1942, there were temporary appointments in about 40 occupational areas, then in September 1942 the grade of Flight Officer was created in the W1 pay grade and assigned to the US Army Air Force (USAAF).

Some of the first flight officers were Americans serving as sergeant pilots in the Royal Air Force and were transferred to the USAAF after the U.S. entered the war. Most flight officers were graduates of various USAAF flight training programs, including pilot, navigator and bombardier ratings. A portion of each graduating class were commissioned to Second Lieutenants, while the remainder were appointed to Flight Officer. Once reaching operational units and after gaining flying experience, many flight officers were later offered direct commissions as lieutenants.

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, women were appointed to the warrant officer grades. In 1949, the grades of W-3 and W-4 were created with Chief Warrant Officer now comprising the W-2, W-3, and W-4 grades. In 1953, the Warrant Officer Flight Program was created, which trained thousands of warrant officer pilots. At the end of 1991, the grade of W-5 was created.

Mission and utilization

The Army warrant officer is a technical expert, combat leader, trainer, and advisor in 45 basic Military Occupational Specialties.[10] They serve in 15 branches of the service,[11] spanning the Active service, the Army National Guard, and the U.S. Army Reserve. Warrant officers command the Army's vessels and most bands and aircraft. In addition, they may be found in command of various small units and detached teams.[12]

The Army utilizes 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.). [13] Unofficially, the informal title of "Chief" is often used as a familiar form of address.


The body of warrant officers in the Army comprises two communities: technicians and aviators. Technicians typically must be enlisted in the rank of Sergeant (E-5) or above in a related specialty to qualify to become a Warrant Officer. The aviation field is open to all applicants, military or civilian, who meet the stringent medical and aptitude requirements. Civilian applicants to Warrant Officer Flight Training (WOFT) are occasionally referred to as going from "high school to flight school" because a college degree is only a recommended qualification, this as compared to a degree being mandatory in tandem with a commission in at least pay grade O-1 in the other U.S. military aviation programs.[14]

a brown shield shaped patch with a yellow border. Yellow stars are in each corner, surrounding crossed yellow cannons superimposed by a torch in yellow, which in turn is superimposed by a blue sea mine.
The USAWOCC patch was created in 2008.

After selection to the warrant officer program, candidates attend Warrant Officer Candidate School, which is developed and administered by the Warrant Officer Career College at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Active duty Army candidates must attend the course at Fort Rucker's Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS), while Army Reserve or National Guard candidates can attend the course either at Fort Rucker, or one of the National Guard's Regional Training Institutes. After graduation, all candidates are promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer One (WO1). Technicians attend training at their respective branch's Warrant Officer Basic Course (WOBC) where 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. Upon completion of their training, aviation warrant officers receive the Army Aviator Badge.

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 Staff Sergeant (E-6) and above, and have served three years on an operational detachment.

In 2008, the Army began training a limited number of warrant officers at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth (training at the college in the past was reserved almost exclusively for majors).[15] The CGSC Class of 2009 included five warrant officers, and the Class of 2010 included nine warrant officers. Three warrant officers from the graduating CGSC Class of 2010 were subsequently selected as the first-ever to attend the prestigious School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) and joined the Class of 2011. [16]


Warrant Officer, One (WO1)

  • Appointed by warrant from the Secretary of the Army, WO1s are technically and tactically focused officers who perform the primary duties of technical leader, trainer, operator, manager, maintainer, sustainer, and advisor.

Chief Warrant Officer, Two (CW2)

  • CW2s become commissioned officers by the President of the United States. They are intermediate-level technical and tactical experts who perform increased duties and responsibilities at the detachment through battalion levels.

Chief Warrant Officer, Three (CW3)

  • CW3s are advanced-level experts who perform the primary duties of a technical and tactical leader. They provide direction, guidance, resources, assistance, and supervision necessary for subordinates to perform their duties. They primarily support operations levels from team or detachment through brigade.

Chief Warrant Officer, Four (CW4)

  • CW4s are senior-level experts in their chosen field, primarily supporting battalion, brigade, division, corps, and echelons above corps operations. They typically have special mentorship responsibilities for other WOs and provide essential advice to commanders on WO issues.

Chief Warrant Officer, Five (CW5)

  • CW5s are master-level experts that support brigade, division, corps, echelons above corps, and major command operations. They provide leader development, mentorship, advice, and counsel to Warrant Officers and branch officers. CW5s have special Warrant Officer leadership and representation responsibilities within their respective commands.

Coast Guard

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 (CGIS). 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 (WO-1). The Coast Guard also does not use the CWO-5 grade.[17]

Marine Corps


Uniform of a Marine Chief Warrant Officer

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 to be selected from the non-commissioned officer ranks.

On August 26, 1916, Congress increased the Corps strength, which included adding the rank of Warrant Officer; 43 Marine Gunners and 41 quartermaster clerks would be appointed. On May 22, 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 were six years of service as a warrant officer and an examination to qualify.

During World War II, Congress abolished the titles of Chief Marine Gunner, chief quartermaster clerk, chief pay clerk, Marine Gunner quartermaster clerk and pay clerk. Instead they would be commissioned warrant officer and 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 pay grades of W-4, W-3 and W-2 were created for commissioned warrant officers and W-1 was created for warrant officers, and in 1954 title "chief warrant officer" replaced "commissioned warrant officer" for those in pay grades W-4, W-3 and W-2.

On February 1, 1992 the pay grade of W-5 was created, only 5 percent of chief warrant officers were to occupy this grade.


The duties Marine warrant officers typically fulfill are those that would normally call for the authority of a commissioned officer, however, 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 E-5 (Sergeant) for the administrative warrant officer program or after serving at least sixteen years of enlisted service and reaching the grade of E-7 (Gunnery Sergeant) 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.[18]

Air Force

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 1958, Air Force officials privately concluded that these two new "super grades" could fill all Air Force needs then performed at the warrant officer level, although this was not publicly acknowledged until years later. The Air Force stopped appointing warrant officers in 1959,[2] 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 warrant officer, CWO4 James H. Long, retired in 1980. The last Air Force Reserve 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.[2] Barrow died in April 2008.[19] Since Barrow's retirement, the Air Force warrant officer ranks, while still authorized by law, are not used.

Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

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.

Modern insignia and grades

Grade Rank Abbreviation Army Air Force
Navy Coast Guard Marine Corps
W-1 Warrant Officer One WO-1
WO1 (Army)
U.S. Army Warrant Officer 1 Rank Insignia
U.S. Air Force Warrant Officer 1 Rank Insignia
USN - CWO1 insignia.png
USCG - CWO1.png
USMC Warrant Officer 1 Rank Insignia
W-2 Chief Warrant Officer Two CWO-2
CW2 (Army)
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rank Insignia
U.S. Air Force Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rank Insignia
U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rank Insignia
U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rank Insignia
USMC Chief Warrant Officer 1 Rank Insignia
W-3 Chief Warrant Officer Three CWO-3
CW3 (Army)
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rank Insignia
U.S. Air Force Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rank Insignia
U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rank Insignia
U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rank Insignia
USMC Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rank Insignia
W-4 Chief Warrant Officer Four CWO-4
CW4 (Army)
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rank Insignia
U.S. Air Force Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rank Insignia
U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rank Insignia
U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rank Insignia
USMC Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rank Insignia
W-5 Chief Warrant Officer Five CWO-5
CW5 (Army)
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rank Insignia
U.S. Air Force Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rank Insignia
USN - CWO5.png
USMC Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rank Insignia

Notable warrant officers

See also


  1. ^ a b "History of the Warrant Officer". United States Army Warrant Officer Association. http://www.usawoa.org/woheritage//Hist_of_Army_WO.htm#Introduction. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Warrant Officer Programs of Other Services". United States Army Warrant Officer Association. http://www.usawoa.org/woheritage//WO_Prog_Other_Svc.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  3. ^ Commission of ensign to graduates of the Naval Academy at end of four years' course, Pub. Law No. 62-98. 37 Stat. 73 (1912).
  4. ^ MILPERSMAN 15560.D, OPNAV 1811.3, OPNAV 1820.1
  5. ^ "Flying CWO Program". http://usmilitary.about.com/od/navytrng/a/navwarflight.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  6. ^ http://www.militarymuseum.org/Mines.html | The California State Military Museum - Forts Under the Sea - Submarine Mine Defense of San Francisco Bay
  7. ^ "Warrant Officer History". U.S. Army Warrant Officer Career College. http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/wocc/woprogram.asp#history. Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  8. ^ http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/UniformedServices/Insignia_Rank/warrant_officers.aspx |Insignia of Grade Warrant - Officers
  9. ^ Ship's officers
  10. ^ U.S. Army Recruiting Command. "Warrant Officer MOS List". http://www.usarec.army.mil/hq/warrant/WOgeninfo_mos.html. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  11. ^ "What is a Warrant Officer?". U.S. Army Warrant Officer Career Center. http://usawocc.army.mil/whatiswo.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  12. ^ United States Army (August 2007). "Army Warrant Officer" (PDF). RPI-938. www.usarec.army.mil/warrant. http://www.usarec.army.mil/hq/warrant/download/Warrant_Officer_RPI.pdf. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  13. ^ Headquarters, Department of the Army. "Military Grade and Rank", Army Regulation 600-20; Army Command Policy. Headquarters, Department of the Army. 18 March 2008. Accessed on 23 August 2008.
  14. ^ "About the Army: Warrant Officers". United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) and the Department of the Army. http://www.goarmy.com/about/warrant_officer.jsp. Retrieved 2008-09-04. 
  15. ^ http://www.army.mil/-news/2009/06/18/22946-largest-cgsc-ileclass-graduates/
  16. ^ http://www.ftleavenworthlamp.com/features/x816850884/SAMS-warrant-earns-top-rank
  17. ^ United States Coast Guard. "USCG Rank Insignias." United States Coast Guard. Department of Homeland Security. website. Retrieved on 8 October 2009.
  18. ^ General Emphasizes Leadership at Warrant Officer Commissioning 2nd Lt. Patrick Boyce, 8 February 2007. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  19. ^ Air National Guard Retired Fire Chiefs. "CWO4 Bob Barrow". Accessed on 27 January 2009.

Further reading

  • United States Congressional Budget Office study on Warrant and Limited Duty Officers [1] PDF version

External links

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