Chief Warrant Officer (W-3) Michael Long's article in the
July-August issue of Army Logistician, "Warrant Officer Corps: How
to Get There From Here," cannot go unanswered. Mr. Long addresses four areas
of the Warrant Officer Corps that he feels are broken: recruiting, assignment
management, representation, and pay. I'll follow that same pattern in my
Mr. Long feels the reputation of technical (nonaviation) warrants has been hurt by not recruiting warrants with more time in service, or "seasoning." This proposition is abstract and cannot be defended without an Army-wide survey of perceptions. It is true that the Army goal is to recruit soldiers who have between 5 and 8 years of service. This was a resource-driven decision that represents a conscientious effort to find the hard-chargers early on and let them mature and develop within the warrant officer system. With the technological advances the Army is experiencing, this is not a bad approach. The quick learners will be in excellent positions to acquire skills needed to employ new technology on the battlefield.
It's difficult to find a balance among enthusiasm, energy, and
expertise. I often discuss warrant officer issues with officers attending
battalion and brigade pre-command courses. All of them generally understand
that new warrant officers will not be treasure chests of knowledge, but I
have yet to encounter one officer who did not prefer enthusiasm and a willingness
to learn over indifferent, inflexible know-how. In any case, reputations
are individual things. Reputations are won and lost by how each of us soldiers.
Most of the officers, noncommissioned officers (NCO's), and soldiers I know
have encountered many good warrant officers and very few bad ones.
CWO3 Long attempts to build a case for WOl's being assigned with senior warrant officers; however, he fails to provide convincing justification. On the other hand, it's easy to see why the Army cannot do this: It has gotten smaller. Personnel managers have fewer people to manage within each specialty. While it would seem that fewer people would be easier to manage, in reality there is less flexibility in moving people around. Some people will always be in transit (permanent changes of station, hospitalizations, or attending professional development schools). Further exacerbating the process are other considerations like joint domicile, short-notice retirements, and home-base assignments. Those available for assignment must be placed where requirements exist. In many instances, personnel managers have little choice-mission always comes first.
"Mission first" is why the Total Army Personnel Command (PERSCOM) only assigns warrant officers to installation or theater level. Commanders in the field must have the prerogative of assigning available resources, including personnel, where they will best support the mission. This is so basic it is axiomatic; I will not belabor it here. Note also that authorization documents do not drive officer and warrant officer assignments; the Officer Distribution Plan (ODP) does. The ODP is the overarching plan for distributing available personnel assets when there are shortages. The ODP is managed at the installation and major Army command (MACOM) levels-again putting personnel decisions in the hands of the commanders who must decide the best way to accomplish the mission.
Given today's environment, the best survival tool we can give junior warrant officers is already out there. It's called mentorship. It doesn't require that a WO1 be assigned with a senior warrant. It does require that warrant officers network with each other. With the communications available today, a WO1 can pick up a phone, log on to the Internet, or send a fax to get answers to his questions. There are two things required for this to work, and it is already working in the field. First, the junior warrant officer must be willing to ask questions and initiate contact. Second, senior warrants must make themselves available and provide well-thought-out responses to questions.
It seems that Mr. Long also has forgotten the official description of a warrant officer: a "highly specialized expert and trainer." This means that a warrant officer can expect to have successive assignments that are not necessarily progressive in terms of responsibility or technical requirements. It is in those assignments that the warrant officer must concentrate on his duty to train others. Those assignments also are excellent opportunities for the warrant officer to work on his college education to enhance his own competitiveness for promotion as well as enhance the skills he brings to future assignments.
So if a CWO2 finds himself assigned at battalion level after
having served 4 years at brigade level, he should regard it as an opportunity
instead of a "career management error," "misapplication of human resources,"
or a "mismanagement blunder." It's all a matter of attitude. From my experience,
those warrant officers who have a healthy, proactive attitude go further
than those who sit around and hang labels on the circumstances in which they
Mr. Long cites the Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) as an example of the kind of representation warrant officers need at the Army Chief of Staff (CSA) level. He proposes establishing a Chief Warrant Officer of the Army position. On the surface, this seems to be a simple, direct, easy-to-implement solution, but let's look deeper.
The SMA communicates with the command sergeants major of the MACOM's as well as with the sergeants major in each Department of the Army staff activity. Through those sergeants major, the SMA keeps his finger on the pulse of the enlisted force. This works because every level of command-from squad to CSA-has a senior enlisted soldier assigned who provides the continuity for information to flow up and down. The same is true for officers from the CSA down to company and platoon level.
Warrant officers, on the other hand, are not assigned at all levels; there is no line of continuity. A warrant officer's specialty is not necessarily the same as those of the warrant officer population he represents. For example, as a warrant officer in the Signal Corps, I would rather have a senior Signal Corps officer represent me on most, if not all, issues than a warrant officer with an aviation specialty. With my limited understanding of aerodynamics, I am not sure I would be able to represent my aviation comrades adequately either. This is not to say representation should be military occupational specialty (MOS)-specific or branch-related, but officers and NCO's perform more generalized functions while warrant officers perform primarily within narrow technical fields.
Having said all this, I need to explain the representation warrant officers do have. Each branch or functional proponent that has warrant officer specialties has a senior warrant officer who acts as the personnel proponency manager for those warrant officers. "Personnel proponency" is described in Army Regulation 600-3, The Army Personnel Procurement System, and assigns responsibility for each MOS and career field in the eight functions of the personnel management life cycle: structure, acquisition, individual training and education, distribution, unit deployment, sustainment, professional development, and separation.
The Warrant Officer Career Center (WOCC) at Fort Rucker, Alabama, represents the Warrant Officer Corps on matters that are not MOS-specific, especially those related to professional development, training, and education. The WOCC and personnel proponents interface with senior warrant officer representatives at the Army Training and Doctrine Command; PERSCOM; Army Reserve Personnel Center; Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, Department of the Army; and National Guard Bureau. Each has interface with, or input to, the Army's senior leadership-the general officers who run the Army. Rather than contrast the Warrant Officer Corps' representation at the Chief of Staff of the Army level with that of officers and NCO's, compare it with a civilian corporation, where a technician's supervisory chain and union representative may be the only representation available.
OK, in what areas are warrant officers underrepresented? Mr. Long feels that the Warrant Officer Corps and future leaders are "cheated" because they do not have warrant officer instructors at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA). To teach at any college, an instructor must have an advanced degree. The numbers themselves suggest why warrant officers are not considered for instructor positions at the USMA. Only 3.7 percent of warrants have advanced degrees, compared with 40 percent of officers. That translates to just over 450 warrant officers and 26,600 officers. If you exclude academic disciplines that do not lend themselves to the military world, the disparity is even greater.
Look beyond the numbers and understand that warrant officers do not need advanced degrees for career progression as commissioned officers do. Realistically, if you have a limited pot of money, are you going to send a good officer for an advanced degree or a good warrant officer? For the officer, it is a survival tool; for the warrant officer, it is largely icing on the cake.
There are other aspects of the education issue, too. Assuming
you find a warrant officer whose advanced degree is in the same discipline
as his MOS, what does a cadet or student gain by seeing a warrant officer
at the front of the classroom? Also, what happens to warrant officers' skills
when you pull them out of their technical fields and put them in the classroom
for several years?
Discussions of pay invariably lead to disagreement. Most people feel they are not paid enough and that others are paid too much. Mr. Long proposes making education goals mandatory for warrant officers. Unfortunately, he does not explain the link between mandatory education levels and pay. Mr. Long expresses his thoughts that warrant officer pay grades should be linked to officer pay grades in a subordinate fashion. For example, WO1's pay should be slightly less than an Ol's, CWO5 just under O5, and so forth. There are as many opinions on this subject as there are payees. What must be considered, however, is the difference in years of service, where officers and warrant officers are employed, and the relationship between them. What officer grades typically supervise which warrant officer grades? How many years of service does the typical officer have at each grade level as compared to warrant officers? Note, too, that the basic allowance for quarters is perhaps a greater reflection of family needs rather than a rank-based rewards system. The average second lieutenant is likely to have a smaller family than the average sergeant major. In our society, supervisors and managers generally are paid more than their subordinates. Military pay scales generally follow that philosophy. If you compare military pay with that of the private sector, you will find that military pay scale relationships are pretty fair.
To warrant officers who are unhappy with their pay I say, "What would your pay be if you had not become a warrant officer?" You cannot assume that you would be E9's or E8's. Selection for those grades is a very tough cut-generally in the 15 to 25 percent range. CWO3 and CWO4 selection rates, on the other hand, have ranged from 70 to 82 percent for the last 4 years.
The Warrant Officer Corps, though not perfect or as well paid
as some would like it, is not broken. Most warrant officers are proud
professionals who are less motivated by money and privileges than by the
satisfaction and respect associated with doing a good job.
Chief Warrant Officer (W5) Charles K. Smith is the Signal Corps warrant officer personnel proponency manager assigned to the Office of the Chief of Signal, Fort Gordon, Georgia. He has a master's degree in human resources administration from Central Michigan University and holds a professional certification in human resources from the Human Resources Certification Institute.