Redo Warrant Officers

A confusing and burdensome component of the U.S. military are warrant officers. They are unnecessary and cost more than senior enlisted. The U.S. Air Force eliminated warrants decades ago, and they are the most technically oriented of all the services. There is no task that warrants perform that cannot be done by enlisted men. This is what the Air Force concluded after World War II when Congress authorized two more senior enlisted grades. The only advantage is they can stay in service after 30 years, but Congress can change laws to allow enlisted men to serve longer. 

Warrants require more pay, require their own promotion boards and career management, and their presenceW5ChiefWarrantOfficer5.gif causes command friction as they fit awkwardly between officers and enlisted men. For example, a W-4 does not like to salute and say "yes sir" to a 2ndLt, and many refuse. Likewise, an E-9 does not like to salute and say "yes sir" to a W-1, who was an E-5 last year. Further confusion arises as each service has its own rank insignia. Very few servicemen and no civilians know what to make of someone wearing the odd insignia at right. There is no reason why senior non-commissioned "officers" cannot lead a platoon or section, as thousands do today. Enlisted men can pilot aircraft too, as they did in World War II. The Navy and Marine Corps even duplicate warrant officers since they have Limited Duty Officers (LDOs).

Warrant officers were created at a time when enlisted men had little education and low pay. Around 100 years ago, the U.S. military realized that it needed technical experts from the civilian world. Rather than awarding them an upper-class officer commission, they were given temporary warrants to provide higher pay and officer privileges, without the rank to command. This made sense, yet they eventually grew in number and began to lobby Congress for a permanent status. This resulted in an added layer of bureaucracy, added costs, command confusion, and eliminated the valuable concept of issuing temporary warrants to civilians.

Chiefs.jpg (17211 bytes)The U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps should phase out warrant officers and replace them with senior enlisted personnel, which is simple since they come from these ranks. Meanwhile, all the armed services should re-establish a temporary warrant program for civilians serving with deployable units in the armed forces. Warrant cadets can attend a two-week school to learn military customs, law, how to fire a rifle and wear a uniform, then off to the front they go.

Problems With Contractors

The best case for temporary warrants are translators. There is always a sudden need for hundreds of people fluent in a certain language to serve directly with military units. A temporary warrant officer program allows the military to offer translators high wages and status, and send them overseas within a month. This is attempted today with civilian contractors, resulting in a host of problems. Each person costs four times more since contractors have overhead costs, murky expenses, and a large profit to generate.

Moreover, military officers have little direct control over contract personnel working among troops, including minor issues like hygiene, sexual harassment, dress, attitude, and major issues like criminal activity. Congress passed a law in 2006 subjecting contract personnel to the UCMJ, but this is rarely used since most legal experts expect it to be found unconstitutional. They can be prosecuted in the federal court system, but don't expect the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington D.C. to dispatch lawyers to an overseas war zone every time a contract worker is involved in a fistfight or caught stealing.

Military officers also struggle with contract worker complaints about pay and working conditions, and there were many cases of workers going on strike in Iraq. Medical care is not an issue since the U.S. military usually gets stuck with providing them free care. Since contractors are not military personnel, they can later sue doctors for malpractice for providing sub-standard care in a war zone. Contractors are supposed to be covered with workman's compensation insurance and long-term disability insurance. However, many contractors form to profit from a war, and may not fully insure workers. In addition, many small insurers haven't the resources to pay hundreds of long-term disability claims that may result from heavy casualties.

The U.S. military now employs far more contractors than it did two decades ago, but these have supported fairly safe activities. A serious war will find contractors deserting their post and fleeing for safety, since they are not paid enough to risk their lives. There have been many cases in Iraq where contract truck drivers refused to drive when they felt security was inadequate. Contract personnel can also refuse to perform tasks not listed in their contract. This will be a problem on a chaotic battlefield where the food supply has been cut, yet kitchen workers refuse to dig trenches.

If captured, they may not be afforded POW status since they are not part of a uniformed army,  which is stated on their ID. If they pick up a weapon to help defend their unit, they could be captured, charged with murder, and executed. Contract personnel haven't the legal exemptions afforded military personnel, and may be arrested for crimes by local authorities or sued for damages by anyone.

An August 2008 report by the Congressional Budget Office: "Contractors Support of U.S. Operations in Iraq"(pdf) noted these problems. It also determined that Blackwater bills the U.S. Army $1325 a day for each security person. This compares to the average cash compensation for a GI of $165 a day, which the CBO says should be doubled to account for housing, retirement, and other benefits. This means the Army is paying four times more for each contract person, so makes more sense for the U.S. military hire their own specialists as warrant officers. Companies like Blackwater could help recruit and even train potential warrant officers, but they would deploy as American GIs under the command of commissioned officers.

Contractors are valuable and should be used for specific tasks, like building a bridge or road. However, using individual contract personnel to work alongside military personnel in war zones is expensive and problematic. It is far cheaper and more effective to hire civilians directly as uniformed warrant officers. In a crisis, civilian firms can be employed to recruit warrant officers, but the military already has the administrative and logistical overhead in place to support them in the field. Moreover, a warrant officer status eliminates the leadership and legal problems with contract workers.

Legislate Warrant Officers

New legislation should phase out current warrant officers and clearly define and restrict the role of future warrant officers:

1. Warrant contracts are limited to two years, but may be renewed.

These are temporary positions filled for emergencies. If the military decides they need such skills permanently, it needs to develop a career field from within.

2. Warrant officers get military benefits, except veterans and retirement benefits. 

This will deter a gradual return of career warrant officers. If warrants prefer a military career, they can enlist or seek an officer commission, perhaps as part of a new career field the military needs. 

3. Lower physical fitness standards apply.

Many of these temporary technical types will be older and in poor physical shape. Rather than turn most of them away, allow lower standards. The career force will not be upset knowing they are "just warrants." Many will be veterans forced out of the service with minor disabilities, often combat related.

4. Warrant pay scales will match officer pay scales, W-1 through W-10.

This means a warrant can earn as much as an O-10 four-star General. This would be odd, but may occur.  Generals may want retired Generals or former ambassadors to advise them, so they can hire them for two years at W-9 or even W-10 pay. There may be an urgent need for medical surgeons at combat hospitals. This allows the military to offer civilian surgeons W-7 pay (equal to that of an 0-7 Brigadier General) and ship them overseas after just two weeks training. This is problem today because the services don't want to pin anything more than 0-4 insignia on any new officer, no matter his skill level. It then expects them to sign up for at least three years and go through several weeks of training to become an "officer" who enters service a decade behind his peers. They can even grant warrants to non-U.S. citizens to serve with American forces. As a result, a fat cyber security expert with no interest in military leadership may be hired as a W-5.

5. All warrant officers will wear the same insignia, like a W, and addressed as "warrant" regardless of their pay scale. 

This is necessary because if a warrant paid as an O-6 wears a W-6 insignia and is called a W-6, he may feel like an O-6 Colonel, and his ego will cause friction. Likewise, career servicemen may become envious that a high school dropout who joined two months ago earns W-3 pay just because he speaks Farsi. Therefore, it is best that all warrants are just warrants, regardless of their pay level. While warrants will enjoy officer privileges, like officer quarters and club access, they will not be commissioned officers, so they will not be saluted or called "sir" by enlisted personnel. They are "just warrants," although enlisted men and junior officers may be assigned to work for them and ordered to do what the warrant wants.

6.Retired military can serve as warrants, if they temporarily forfeit their retired pay.

The U.S. military often needs the skills of the retired military, but most old horses are reluctant to return to service because they are out of shape, or because the pay is not worth it for combat duty. However, returning as warrant allows even the partially disabled to return to service, or entices a retired O-4 to accept a two-year warrant contract at W-6 pay. This is excellent to fill pilot shortages. For example, the Air Force may calculate that it needs three dozen more C-130 pilots, so it can offer two-year warrants at W-6 pay to fill this temporary shortage.

Forfeiting retired pay may seem unfair, but this is essential to prevent institutional subversion in which the existence of a warrant officer programs encourages "double dipping." This would occur if servicemen can retire after 20 years to collect retirement pay, and then sign up for even higher warrant pay. This is a major problem today where military men retire after 20 years of service and return the next day in civilian clothes to perform the same task as a contractor. 

In recent years, the U.S. Special Forces lost thousands of specially trained senior enlisted personnel during wartime when they retired early to accept highly paid jobs with private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a warrant officer, they would forfeit retired pay, and warrant pay will be less extravagant than what private contractors offer today.

Another Reserve Force

The potential for temporary warrant officers is so great that it must be considered in each wartime contingency plan. For example, Serbia may reoccupy Kosovo and take American troops hostage. That war plan will include a virtual reserve force of 2000 warrants to be recruited, trained, and deployed in 30 days. These may include 500 Serbian translators, 200 Albanian translators, 300 port operations specialists, 400 transport pilots, 100 cyber security specialists, 200 medical doctors, and 300 other experts from various fields. Military recruiters will receive this list while government databases churn out offers to mail to thousands of potential warrants. Two weeks later, hundreds of warrants are attending the two-week warrant cadet course with orders to deploy overseas.

A Place for Retreads

Many highly skilled captains and mid-level enlisted are forced out of the service because of an incident, often involving drugs or alcohol. Some end up in jail for a few months in the civilian world because of spouse abuse or minor insurance fraud. Even if their skills are in critical need and the service spent years training them for specialized tasks, they are deemed unfit for career service and discharged. In addition, many servicemen are forced out because of a minor disability, sometimes combat related. However, there is no reason why an experienced helicopter mechanic with a minor limp cannot serve as a warrant officer.

The armed services should review discharge papers for serviceman with critical skills and consider giving them a second chance as a warrant officer. In some cases, they may choose to wait a couple years to see if he can stay out of trouble as a civilian, then offer him a warrant position. They may have a stain on the record, but they are not career servicemen, just warrants.

Redo Warrant Officers

The armed services are unlikely to support this change, not because it isn't a good idea, but because current warrant officers will object. Bureaucracies place careers ahead of all else. Moreover, this doesn't appear to a problem in today's relatively benign combat environment. Warrant officers have served admirably for decades, yet they could have served just as well as an enlisted man or commissioned officer. Pinning on red spotted insignia does not make one more capable or increase intelligence. This only caused command confusion and expanded the bureaucracy.

As a result, Congress must force this change through legislation. The services could be allowed six years to phase out warrant officers so most could retire as planned. The remainder could be awarded a senior enlisted or officer grade. Converting the warrant officer program back to a temporary contract status would save billions of dollars a year, and improve the morale, discipline, and effectiveness of the U.S. military.

                                              Carlton Meyer