A century ago, the Army officially recognized for the first time an echelon of Soldiers that have existed in the ranks since 1896: the Army warrant officer.
During World War I, an act by Congress in 1918 established the Army Mine Planter Service, or MPS, as part of the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps. But long before the congressional actions, the Army recognized a need for technical experts and leaders in support of mine planting operations.
Before the war, mine planter ships were often piloted by civilian mariners under the direction of Army Coast Artillery Officers. Friction developed between the Army and their non-military counterparts, as civilians mariners would often leave to seek other employment, ultimately impacting Army operations.
Due to the constant flux in personnel, the Army Chief of Coast Artillery requested legislation in 1916 to help militarize the mine planting vessels. Two years later, Congress granted request. Along with the MPS, the act established the U.S. Army Warrant Officer Corps.
Shortly after the act of 1918, the Army opened its first official warrant officer training institution in Fort Monroe, Virginia. Commanded by a U.S. Navy officer, the new school taught navigation and marine engineering skills to the Army’s newest warrant officer candidates.
A total of 40 warrant officers were sanctioned to serve as masters, mates, chief engineers, and assistant engineers within the Army Mine Planter Service.
With no official rank insignia, the newly appointed warrant officer wore simple bands of brown cloth on their uniform sleeves. Masters wore four bands, deck officers wore an embroidered brown fouled anchor above the braid, and engineer officers wore an embroidered brown three-bladed propeller in a similar position.
Throughout the war and beyond, warrant officers served alongside crews of enlisted mine planting specialists in support of MPS operations. Mine planting teams were responsible for the maintenance of underwater minefields to defend U.S. coastal fortifications at major ports, to include the Panama Canal and Manila Bay in the Philippines.
One hundred years later on July 9, 2018, the Army still relies upon warrant officers to be adaptive technical experts, combat leaders, trainers, and advisors, according to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Billy L. Frittz, the Army staff senior warrant officer and the assistant executive officer for Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley.
“On the centennial of the warrant officer cohort, we celebrate who we are, knowing that every situation represents an opportunity to improve our service and support to Army leaders, Soldiers and families,” Frittz said.
“Today’s warrants are faced with limited resources, demanding conditions, and an Army that must meet the challenges of the day while keeping an eye on preparing and modernizing a ready force.”
Today’s warrant officers serve at all levels of the Army, Frittz added. Junior warrant officers are typically assigned at the tactical and brigade level, while senior warrant officers often serve at the brigade level and above. Moreover, warrant officers hold positions throughout the Army, Department of Defense, and interagency partners.
“To date we remain leaders of Soldiers, professional members of a cohort that continues to produce amazing technicians and operators. As warrant officers, our ability to reinforce a professional culture, keep pace with emerging technologies, and remain the Army’s premier technical experts, systems integrators and leaders, will define our legacy from this day forward.”
Currently, more than 26,000 warrant officers -- roughly 2.5 percent of the Army -- are distributed throughout the total force. Warrant officers are highly specialized technicians spanning 17 different Army branches and 44 warrant officer specialties. About 40 percent of warrant officers are involved in aviation. The other 60 percent are highly specialized technicians or leaders, Frittz said. These technical officers manage, maintain, operate, and integrate critical Army systems and equipment across the full spectrum of Army operations.