What is a Warrant Officer? A View from the Navy

We have a great group here in the Pittsbugh Area called the Veteran’s Breakfast Club. Men and women of all branches of the service and all eras gather together for breakfast and conversations. I was featured earlier before the Pandemic and had an opportunity to talk about my submarine service.

The have on line and paper outlets that are delivered to the membership. The articles are very enlightening but recently they had a section called “Q: WHAT IS A WARRANT OFFICER”

Click to access Print-Magazine-VBC-JAN-2023.pdf

I read the article. About five times.

I was actually kind of shocked that one single article could contain so many misconceptions. So I wrote the following story and they very graciously published it on their web site.

More about the VBC at the end:

Retired Navy Chief Warrant Officer Two, Bob MacPherson, took umbrage with our VBC Magazine‘s article, “What Is a Warrant Officer?” “It has more errors than Pittsburgh has potholes,” he said. Specifically, Bob says the article failed to describe Navy Chief Warrant Officers adequately. Bob shares his story and corrections below.

Most of us take an enormous amount of personal pride in getting to the rank of Chief Warrant Officer. The Navy in my generation technically had no Warrant Officers. The beginning of our journey was as a Chief Warrant Officer. But saying that is the beginning is a misnomer.

You begin as an E1 and as you advance in rank, you develop your technical skills and abilities. You are consistently ranked against your peers year after year and keep learning higher level skills. In my career, for instance, I completed over sixty two technical and leadership schools. At each level, you complete technical and leadership courses and must pass a competitive fleet wide exam. Many never make it past E-6 or First Class Petty Officer. There is no shame in that. They are fine technicians. But at each level, it gets harder and more complicated. And competitive.

To make Chief Petty Officer, you complete written course work, take a fleetwide exam, and go before a board. You compete against hundreds of people who have had similar experience and achievements. Your assignments and sea time all factor in. And your ability to lead must have solid evidence.

The national board makes the final decision and the successful candidates are given a permanent appointment as a Chief Petty Officer in your technical field.

I was a Machinist Mate Chief with a Submarine Service designation. I served on five nuclear powered submarines and the Trident Training Facility school, the most advanced technical training the Navy maintained at that time besides advanced nuclear power schools.

I was a Master Training Specialist, command Career Counselor and certified as a Submarine Auxiliary Technician among other sub specialties.

Only a permanent Chief Petty Officer could then apply for Chief Warrant Officer  and only in the technical field you were experienced in. My field was non-nuclear Submarine Engineering Technician 7131.

The competition for the limited openings is even fiercer than the Chief’s process. The year I entered the competition, there were 1300 of the very best Chiefs in the Navy competing for what would end up being 13 slots.

You go through a local board of officers, complete an extensive package of application and are scrutinized for everything you have done in the past ten or more years. Then the completed package goes to a national level where people you have often never met give further scrutiny to your achievements.

Of the 13 Machinist Mate Chiefs advanced to CWO2 that cycle,  I personally knew over half. They truly were the best of the best. I was number 11.

You receive a full Commission from the President of the United States. To say that I was proud to accept that on July 1,1990 at the Submarine Memorial in Pearl Harbor would be the largest understatement of my life. I had not done well academically before entering the Navy but the Navy gave me a great chance to become a commissioned officer. My family was three generations Navy and I was the first. I later graduated with honors from college and I credit the Navy with giving me the skills I needed to learn. My second and one third careers were all directly impacted by that extensive training.

No one is given Chief Warrant Officer. The barriers and obstacles are countless. It is probably why most of us took umbrage at the way this article was written.

Mustangs in the Navy have a saying.

I did it the hard way… I earned it.

Thanks for understanding.

Bob MacPherson

Chief Warrant Officer Two

US Navy (retired)

Bob MacPherson is a retired Navy CWO2 and currently works as Chief of Staff for Westmoreland County Commissioner Douglas Chew.

Last evening, there was a collective Zoom call that I was asked to participate in. I was able to share with the folks that checked in about how important Chief Warrants are for the services that use them. I am grateful to VBC for the opportunity to cear the air a bit.

You can check out their web site here:  https://veteransbreakfastclub.org/

They are a good group and if you are in the Pittsburgh Area, I would encourage you to attend.

Mister Mac

2 thoughts on “What is a Warrant Officer? A View from the Navy

  1. I always enjoy your well researched and well written The Lean Submariner.
    I too re-read the What is a Warrant Officer more than once. I’ll admit the author(s) started off discussing Warrant Officers only then seguing into CWOs. My Navy years were similar to yours albeit starting a bit earlier. I was 17, a high school dropout with one year of high school when I enlisted in the Navy in 1955. Your overview of enlisted progress up through the ranks had not changed much either. Although I wanted to be an Engineman when I enlisted, to my surprise they made me a Radioman. I later I realized my Guardian Angle was looking out for me even way-back-when as the RM rate for most of my career was not only very interesting but also a critical rate, which meant a variety of Pro-Pay (Proficiency Pay) extra dollars.
    On to RMC(A) in 1963 – the last year of Acting Appointment Chiefs. Up thru E-9, COB on a Nuc Fast Attack and where do I go from here. Ta-Dah! W0-1. One of two selected. Undersea Warfare Communication Specialist. In all honesty it had to be a small pool of applicants. Had to leave the boats as they were fazing out non-nuc trained Officers. W-1 and a Division Officer- CommO /A-Ops on Canopus (AS-34). Another (provisional) year and then… Commissioned as a Chief Warrant Officer.
    I loved it (as I did just about all of my career). A large wardroom and all CWOs and LDOs except the CO & XO – those two both (and most in the wardroom) Submarine Qualified. In 1978, after my three years of obligated, and young enough to start a second career, I checked out with a ton of fine memories, experiences, shipmates, few regrets and had a great second, though much shorter, career.
    Possibly this may be useful a fodder re this topic if you have any such conversations if you have a chance for breakfast with your buddies.
    Fair winds Shipmate.
    Bob Gerle, Sr.

    1. I will certainly add your story to the conversation. It been difficult this year to make the breakfasts since I am fully employed as a CHief of Staff for one of my county commissioners. But I lok forward to my third retirement when I can once again attend more regularly. Thanks for sharing yours.

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