Leadership: Why So Many Damn Officers?

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September 30, 2009: Some 14 percent of the people in the U.S. Army are officers, and about twenty percent of those are Warrant Officers. This is a special rank for specialists, who outrank all enlisted personnel, but are outranked by all officers. In effect, they are super NCOs who specialize in one particular technical task. Most of the army warrants are pilots, but over a third take care of dozens of technical jobs. All warrants go through a six week "Warrant Officer Candidate School" (WOCS). This is not as rough as the OCS (Officer Candidate School), which lasts twice as long, mainly because nearly all the prospective non-aviation warrants are already sergeants, some quite senior. There are separate WOCS courses for the aviation and non-aviation candidates. For example, a recent WOCS class of 201 sergeants, had prospective warrants headed for the following job specialties; Field Artillery Targeting Technician, Command And Control Systems Integrator, Special Forces Warrant Officer (usually the number two guy on an A Team), Network Management Technician, Information Systems Technician, Signal Systems Support Technician, CID Special Agent (criminal investigator, or detective), All-Source Intelligence Technician, Imagery Intelligence Technician, Attaché Technician (deals with foreigners), Counterintelligence Technician, Human Intelligence Collection Technician, Signals Intelligence Analysis Technician, Human Resources Technician, Marine Deck Officer (the army still has a fleet of supply vessels), Mobility Officer, Armament Systems Maintenance Warrant Officer, Automotive Maintenance Warrant Officer, and Electronic Missile Systems Maintenance Warrant Officer.

The growth in the number of officers is partly justified by the need to offer competitive pay for technical specialists. But the army is stuck, by tradition and bureaucratic inertia, with making highly sought after specialists officers, because the pay scales follow a rigid, and ancient, progression, from recruit, up through the NCO and officer ranks. Historically, the most effective armed forces were those that had only about five percent of their strength are officers. Back in the day, technical jobs were given to civilian professionals, who remained civilians. In fact, the first warrant officers in the U.S. Army, a century ago, were considered civilians (that soon changed). The American military has been using civilian experts, especially for those who were only needed for short periods. The army has also adapted by using the “Warrant Officer” rank for technical specialists. Without these two improvisations, the American army would be nearly twenty percent officers, and many of those officers would basically be civilian technical experts pretending to be officers.

The WOCS aviation graduates go on to a series of aviation schools, while the non-aviation warrants often get shipped right out to a unit that needs them (although most do attend several technical schools.)

 

 


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