History of the Warrant Officer
80th Anniversary
7 July 1918 -7 July 1998


Historical Warrant Officer Insignia

Based on the British model , the US Navy has had warrant officers among its ranks, in some form or another, since its conception. In the US Navy, warrant officers have traditionally been the technical experts whose skills and knowledge were an essential part of the proper operation of the ship. In the US Army, the warrant officer can be traced back to 1896, specifically to the headquarters clerk. The official birthday of the Army Warrant Officer Corps is 7 July 1918. During this time warrant officers were not commissioned officers; but in reality were considered civilians. The Judge Advocate General later determined that warrant officers held military status.

1918 - 1922

An act of congress in 1918 established the Army Mine Planter Service as part of the coastal artillery. This is when the official color of the Army Warrant Officer Corps color came to be brown. The color emanated from the brown stands from burlap bags that the Mine Planter Service personnel wore as their insignia of rank. Warrant officers served in four known positions aboard vessels used to plant the sea mines: masters, mates, chief engineers, and assistant engineers.

The National Defense Act of 1920 provided for warrant officers to serve in clerical, administrative, and band leading positions. This act also authorized for 1120 warrant officers on active duty. During this time warrant officers were excluded from performing duties from which enlisted personnel were also excluded.

A distinctive insignia was approved for warrant officers on 12 May 1921. It consisted of an eagle rising with wings displayed, adapted from the great seal of the United States. The eagle is standing on two arrows, which symbolize the military arts and sciences. The eagle rising is enclosed within a wreath.


1936 - 1941

In 1936, warrant officers who were qualified pilots were declared eligible for direct appointment to lieutenants in the Army Air Corps. This action caused a serious decline in the warrant officer corps. In 1941, Public law 230 authorized appointments up to one percent of the total Regular Army enlisted strength. This law also established two pay rates for warrant officers, Warrant Officer Junior Grade (W1) and Chief Warrant Officer (CW2).

WO(JG)                                                        CWO 

wo                                                            cwo
 (W1)                                                           (CW2)

One other benefit of Public Law 230 was the authorization of flight pay for those involved in aerial duties. In November of 1941, an executive order further extended the Warrant Officer positions and provided the following additions:
1. Warrant Officers can be assigned as prescribed by the Secretary of the Army. 2. When such duties included those normally performed by commissioned officer, the warrant officer would be vested with all the powers usually exercised by commissioned officers in the performance of those duties.

1942 - 1954

In November of 1942, the War Department defined the position of the Warrant Officer in the rank order as being above all enlisted personnel and immediately below all commissioned officers. January 1944 saw the authorization of appointment of women as warrant officers and by the end of WW II, forty-two female warrant officers were serving on active duty. Warrant Officers were filling 40 different occupational specialties by early 1946 and approximately 60 specialties by 1951.

In 1948 the Career Composition Act brought about two new pay rates for warrant officers. The designations of Warrant Officer Junior Grade and Chief Warrant Officer were retained, the grade of Chief Warrant Officer was provided with pay rates of W2, W3 and W4. The Warrant Officer Personnel Act established warrant officer ranks W1 through W4, and officially eliminated the Mine Planter Service.

WO(JG)                                                        CWO 

wo                                                            cwo
             (W1)                                              (CW2), (CW3), (CW4)

Modern Era

It was during the 1950s, that studies determined there was a vital need for warrant officers, and proposed that appointment to warrant officer should be based on the needs of the Army and simply a reward for long and faithful service.


In 1957 both changed to square-cornered gold or silver bars with blue enamel stripes for the Air Force and brown for the Army. There were four grades of Warrant Officers. The Warrant Officer (W-1) wore a gold bar with two enamel stripes, the Chief Warrant Officer (W-2) a gold bar with three stripes, the Chief Warrant Officer (W-3) a silver bar with two stripes and the Chief Warrant Officer (W-4) a silver bar with three stripes. The Army found this system confusing so in 1969 asked its Institute of Heraldry to design another device.

On 21 January 1957, as a result of a Department of the Army study, a new warrant officer concept was announced and provided the following guidelines:
1. The need for warrant officers
2. The warrant officer category would not be considered a reward or incentive.
3. The first published definition for warrant officers was established in AR 611-112 and defined the warrant officer as follows:

"The warrant officer is a highly skilled technician who is provided to fill those positions above the enlisted level which are to specialized in scope to permit effective development and continued utilization of broadly trained, branch qualified commissioned officers."


Ave Maria