Thursday, August 2, 2018


German Army Gen. Volker Wieker, chief of defense, places the medal for the Knights Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany on U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a ceremony at the Defense Ministry in Berlin, Sept. 10, 2015.
DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen
There are three types of officers in the Armed Forces of the United States of America...

No, no, no. I don't mean good ones, bad ones, and second lieutenants (ensigns for you nautical types).

There are commissioned officers, warrant officers, and non-commissioned officers. (The Pedia of the Wikis has a fair article on military officers, covers multiple nationalities and has some interesting factoids. You can read that here.)

For the U.S., a commissioned officer receives his or her commission from the President of the United States and in most cases has a four-year college degree. Commissioning can take place through one of three sources (I'm speaking generally of line officers in this instance, not doctors, nurses, lawyers, and the like who can be directly commissioned into the service after attending "knife and fork" school as we used to call it) - one of the service academies (think West Point, Annapolis, etc.), the Reserve Officer Training Corps, or ROTC, which is a special program in many universities and to which one must be selected, or a potential officer can attend Officer Candidate School (OCS, or Officer Training School - OTS - as the Air Force calls it, yes, we always have to be different), which requires one to have a college degree and which takes roughly 90 days. A civilian (or an enlisted person) goes in one end and comes out the other as a second lieutenant/ensign. Also known as "90 Day Wonders." No, it's not a compliment.

My three kids all went through Navy ROTC, my son-in-law did Navy OCS. So yes, Big Time is a 90-day wonder. I have yet to call him that as he is, in my estimation, an exceedingly fine officer. As he's now a Hinge, and no longer a member in good standing of the JOPA, we tend to treat him with a bit more respect. I mean he's like ancient for a fighter pilot...

(Yes, LUSH, you may tell him I said that. 😁 And yes, Hinge and JOPA are both described here.)

Okay, got all that? The next type of officer is the warrant officer. Currently the Air Force has none of these, the last one retiring back in the '80s. The Army, Navy, and the Marines all have 'em. A lot of your chopper pilots (what the Army calls helos) are warrant officers. I knew one warrant officer, Army type, in Korea who worked in the same building as our shop. He was an old(er) crusty dude. A technical wizard who garnered great respect from all who dealt with him.

I spent some time with a couple of Navy warrant officers out at sea on USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (calm down, it was one day, I don't wish to come across as too salty, well I do, but I can't really back it up). They look like chiefs (they wear khakis like the officers and chiefs) but have an immense amount of gravitas. Very crusty, very salty. I get the feeling that if they fell overboard, Neptune himself would return them to the ship with his apologies. Impressed I was!

So the way I understand things, and my research seems to confirm this, is that the service secretaries are the ones who provide warrants to the lowest grade of warrant officer. W-1. From that point on, the President of the United States "commissions" them. (See here.)

Warrants are above all enlisted grades (E-1 to E-9) and are below second lieutenants/ensigns in the hierarchy. But woe betide the junior officer who doesn't take a warrant officer seriously. My thoughts are that said junior officer may not have much of a career after that!

The last, and certainly the finest, of the officer types are the non-commissioned officers. The Army, Marines, and Air Force call them sergeants, the Navy calls them petty officers. Petty as in minor, not petty as in trivial. Call an old chief trivial while in the Navy, I dare ya. Just make sure your insurance is paid up and your will is up to date.

Of course, I was a non-commissioned officer in the Air Force, had that gig for 21 years. From buck sergeant (back then we had such a thing) to Master Sergeant. My fellow sergeants and I would often joke that if "Lieutenant So-and-so doesn't pull his head out of his ass soon, I'm gonna march into the colonel's officer and resign my non-commission." I actually had a lieutenant who started to explain to us that one could not resign something we didn't actually have. Yes, I played dumb with him and was having a riotous time playing the fool until the captain came in, shooed the lieutenant out and gave me the "stop messing with the lieutenant" look. Which officers, good ones anyway, learn shortly after making captain. (Oh yes, that would be lieutenant to you nautical types. Why does the Navy seem to do everything different? Because they can, tradition and all that, Sir Winston's views on that notwithstanding.)

So where am I going with all this blather? Well, I have a story to tell. A story in which I don't exactly cover myself with glory, but felt like I walked away with honor intact. Kind of like surrendering a fortress and being accorded the "honors of war" by one's opponent. Kind of, but not exactly.

I alluded to this story here, I never really did tell you why I went to San Antonio and why on earth was I in Fort Collins, Colorado when the nearest Air Force bases were fifty miles away. (One to the north, where The WSO was born, and one to the south, where The Nuke was born, more or less.) I also mentioned the hideousness of the cuisine at one Air Force installation here. Again, what the Hell were you doing there Sarge? Secret squirrel stuff?

Not hardly.

I have been reluctant to tell this story, though there is much hilarity to be had in the remembrances of certain events in the early months of 1987. There is also a certain amount of bitterness which yet remains, lo these thirty-one years later.

It was (with apologies to Dickens) the best of times, it was the worst of times. Of wisdom and foolishness there was much. There was light, darkness, hope, despair, I tell you, this story has it all.

Because, Dear Readers, once upon a time, Your Humble Scribe, your much beloved Sarge, was on the cusp of gaining a commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force of the United States. I was right there.

And walked away from it all.

Regrets? A few.

Would I do it differently? Probably not. I am what I am, and I know what I am.

A sergeant, first, last, and always.

In the days and months ahead I shall tell this tale. In installments naturally, as why do it all in one post when I can stretch it out over a number of posts?

So there it is. I've confessed, now it's just the details which need telling.

Take a deep breath, make sure your seat belt is securely fastened, the ride could get bumpy at times...

Tomorrow: Chapter One, How I got there.

They say that confession is good for the soul. We shall see...


  1. Huh......imagine that..... Sarge being Not-Sarge. Baited breath here....... :)

  2. "Toby Kahntin Yewd."

    Seat belt tightened and standing by. Well, sitting by is more accurate.

  3. You forgot us mustang officers who received our commissions "direct from enlisted". We're people too... ;^)

    1. Didn't really forget, you guys are a breed apart. Far too complicated a topic to enter.

      I do know about Navy LDOs, not many mustangs exist outside of wartime. Perhaps I should have said "unrestricted line officers." Which mustangs usually are not. (AFAIK - As a mustang you know more about it than I.)

    2. Hear, hear. I was also a Hinge when I hung up my uniform for the last time.

      My buddy and I were a Spec/5's for about five hours. We were both promoted at morning formation. As we broke for noon chow, we cruised through the orderly room to check our mail. Our 1st Sgt. was waiting for us. He locked us up at attention and gave us a short, impassioned lecture on proper wear of the uniform, and that we had best get our 'cheets' together. He then (literally) slapped new orders to each of us and walk away cackling with glee. Our MOS (Small Arms Repair) had just been changed to hard stripe, and we were now sergeants.

    3. Perhaps I really should have stressed the unrestricted line officer nuance.

    4. There are more mustangs in the 1130 designator (NAVY) than others. As far as I know, all of us have combat experience. It's recognition, reward and so forth, but it's also good for some specialty service areas because the decision making process is improved by breadth of experience. SPECWAR has a few warrant officers but the DIRCOMs are all unrestricted line officers because of how they serve and the NOBC structure. In my case, it also came with a slot for Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey since I had a BA. As I suggest, it's a reward but the Navy plans to use people as well. Two way street.

    5. Makes perfect sense LL, special ops is a whole other world compared to the rest of the military. I would assume that unconventional thinkers would flourish there.

      Gives me a fuller understanding of what unrestricted line means. Thanks.

  4. My Brother was OCS, not a bad program considering there are many fine candidates that are not ready to make a huge commitment to the service at the age of 18.

    1. All of the commissioning programs in use have produced some very good officers.

      Of course, they've produced some bad ones as well. It always comes down to the individual wearing the uniform.

  5. Our EMO, Ensign Fisher, was a Mustang.
    The DivO and the OpsO both deferred to him on occasion.
    All of the EMs pretty much loved [is that too strong a word?] him.
    The ETs flat out worshipped him.
    On top of being popular, he was squared away, one of those one in a million people.

    1. Was he an LDO?

      I knew a few mustangs in the Air Force (former enlisted who went through OTS to become officers), some were outstanding. Some were probably crappy sergeants before they became crappy officers.

      Your guy Fisher was definitely one in a million. It usually is an individual thing, the military can commission a person, which makes them an officer, takes something within the individual to be a good officer.

  6. You have been hinting about this for like forever and you go Serial Chapter Cliffhanger on us? Who do you think you are, Alexander Dumas?


    Just for that, go ask your lovely wife what you are.

    Grumble, grumble...


    1. Ah, another happy camper. My job here is done.

      You really have been paying attention, reading old posts and all. You're starting to scare me Beans. ;)

    2. Uneasy lies the crown........

    3. As my dad used to say, "You wouldn't feel guilty unless you are."

      My response when I got older was, "I'm Catholic. Guilt is part of us."

      Dad, "Yes, but..."

      Since you're not Catholic, then you must be regular guilty, right?

      As to going back and re-reading old posts, well, know your enemies, and your friends. Muhahahahahahaha..

    4. Guilt? An emotion I leave to others.

      Besides which, no witnesses, no harm, no foul.


  7. Brown bars seemed for me a lofty achievement after ten years of wanting to go into space with Buzz et al. I felt better when my flight CO and drinking instructor gave me his captain bars when he made O-4. Good feelings. Soon erased by MacNamara, Johnson and others. But, I digress.

    1. Well, you did get to fly the Deuce and the Phantom. That's something right there. (In my book it's a BIG something.)

  8. Do you call them "ossifers" because they're ossified?

    1. Old slang term, not sure where it came from.

      But yes, some of 'em are indeed ossified.

  9. Replies
    1. Hey Thom Z! You might be the first Coastie to ever comment here!

      Welcome. (If there were others they hid their identity well.)

    2. stationed at CGAS San Fran. the furthest south: Acapulco. furthest west; ocean station November. furthest north; Seattle. furthest west; Sacramento. Four hours a day cept duty days. C130...Hu16g...HH52

  10. I once had the dubious honor of being chewed out by a Navy Warrant Officer. It was a fair cop--I'd actually done what he was irate about--but I'd just as soon have forgone the ceremony.
    Funny thing--every Naval Air Station or ship I was aboard, everybody but the Mess Specialists (fancy title they gave the cooks in lieu of more pay, or time to sleep) would wax eloquent about how much better Air Force chow was than the Navy slop we had to eat. As I was (and remain) a dumbassed hillbilly, I thought Navy chow was generally damned good.
    --Tennessee Budd

    1. I wonder how often they actually ate AF chow. It was generally good, but there were some places that weren't so good at all.

  11. Ossifers, as the son of one and having served in two of the five services, I have known some good ones, some very poor ones, and some in between.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Yup.

      Son of an officer? I didn't know that. I'm the son of a corporal, Dad to two Lieutenants and one Hinge, father-in-law to another Hinge.

      Most excellent. But yeah, serve any amount of time and your officer experience will run the gamut from poor to good. Every now and then you'll serve with a great one. I met a few.

  12. Why does the Navy always seem to do things different you ask? Most of the time it's because we're better. Lush told me to say that.

    1. Hahaha!

      In many (most) instances I would have to agree!


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