Mustang (military officer)
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"Mustang" is a slang term used in the United States' military, referring to a commissioned officer who began his or her career as an enlisted service member prior to commissioning. Mustang officers are generally older, theoretically more experienced than their peers-in-grade who have entered the military via commissioning from one of the service academies (such as the United States Merchant Marine Academy, United States Military Academy, United States Air Force Academy, United States Naval Academy, or United States Coast Guard Academy), Officer Candidate School, or the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
The original definition of a mustang was a military officer who had earned a battlefield commission; they were especially prevalent during World War II and the Korean War. Notable examples include Audie Murphy (World War II) and David Hackworth (Korean War). During the Vietnam War, however, when some Army warrant officer pilots were offered a direct commission to 2nd or 1st Lieutenant, they were usually younger than 25 at the time of commission. Department of Defense military pay tables authorize approximately ten percent pay premiums for officers in grades O-1, O-2 and O-3 who have credit for over four years of enlisted or warrant officer service prior to commissioning (Grades O-1E, O-2E, O-3E).
A mustang is characterized by former enlisted service prior to transitioning to officer rank. As a slang term, there is no official U.S. Government definition or set of criteria to determine which officers can properly be called a mustang; as the term varies in usage and criteria from service to service. By the end of World War II, it was understood across the armed forces that a mustang was an officer with service in the enlisted ranks before commissioning.
It refers to the mustang horse, a feral animal and therefore not a thoroughbred. A mustang, after being captured, can be tamed and saddle broken but it always has a bit of wild streak, and can periodically revert to its old ways unexpectedly and therefore the owner needs to keep an eye on it at all times. However, since a mustang was formerly a feral and free animal, it may very well be smarter, more capable and have a better survival instinct than thoroughbreds.
A United States Navy mustang officer can be a chief warrant officer, a limited duty officer, a staff corps officer, a restricted line officer or an unrestricted line officer, depending on their particular situation.
A United States Marine Corps mustang officer is a former enlisted service member (regardless of former branch of military service), who has earned an appointment as a warrant officer or a commission as a chief warrant officer, limited duty officer, or unrestricted line officer, regardless of commissioning source. Per the Marine Corps Mustang Association website: "Membership shall be open to Marines who, after having served on active duty in the enlisted ranks of the Marine Corps, or Marine Corps Reserve, have risen to the officer ranks and served as commissioned or warrant officers in the United States Marine Corps. This has also been extended to Marines and former Marines who have; Risen from the enlisted rank of another service and received an officers commissioned or warrant in the Marine Corps, or Enlisted in the Marine Corps and received a commission or warrant in another service." (sic)
American mustang officers
- Samuel Chamberlain (1829–1908) - Dragoon sergeant of the Mexican War who re-enlisted in 1861 and eventually became a brevet general.
- Patrick Cleburne (1828–1864) - British army corporal who later became a Confederate general.
- Johnny Clem (1851–1937) - Enlisted in the US Civil War as a drummer boy and retired as a US Army general in 1917.
- Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821–1877) - Began his career in the Confederate States Army as a private in the cavalry and was commissioned colonel in 1861; eventually becoming a Lieutenant General.
- Mirabeau B. Lamar (1798–1859) - Enlisted as a private during the Texas Revolution and received a battlefield commission as a colonel and command of the Texian cavalry immediately prior to the Battle of San Jacinto. Lamar would later serve as the Texas Secretary of War and be elected president.
- William McKinley (1843–1901) - Enlisted as a private in the Union Army in 1861; promoted to the rank of sergeant. Received a battlefield commission for valor under fire at the Battle of Antietam; mustered out of the Army as a major. Subsequently, became the 25th President of the United States.
- John Murphy (born c.1820, date of death unknown) - Irish sergeant who deserted the US army during the Mexican War and received a commission in the San Patricios Battalion of the Mexican Army.
- Bennet C. Riley (1787–1853) - Commissioned as an ensign (an obsolete army junior officer rank) in the Regiment of Riflemen in 1813; eventually becoming a colonel and brevet major general.
- Winfield Scott (1786–1865) - Enlisted as a militia cavalry corporal in 1807. Commissioned as a captain in the Regular Army in 1808. Was promoted to brigadier general in 1814, aged 27, and eventually became a Major General (and Brevet Lieutenant General).
20th and 21st centuries
- Jeremy Boorda (1939–1996) – Rose from the USN enlisted ranks to become a four-star admiral and Chief of Naval Operations. Committed suicide in 1996 while serving as CNO.
- Ernest C. Brace (1931–2014) - Enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a radio/radar technician in 1947, earned a commission as a Marine pilot, and flew more than 100 missions during the Korean War before being court-martialed.
- Dale Dye (born 1944) - Retired USMC captain. Awarded Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts during the Vietnam War.
- John William Finn (1909–2010) – Enlisted in the navy in July 1926, shortly before his seventeenth birthday. Promoted to chief petty officer in 1935 after only nine years of active duty. Awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay during the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1942 Finn was commissioned, and served as a limited duty officer with the rank of ensign. In 1947 he was reverted to his enlisted rank of chief petty officer, eventually becoming a lieutenant with Bombing Squadron VB-102 and aboard the USS Hancock (CV-19). Retired from the Navy as a lieutenant in September 1956.
- Robin Fontes - Enlisted in the United States Army Reserve in 1981, earned a commission from West Point in 1986, and was promoted to major general in 2017.
- John W. Foss (born 1933) - Enlisted in Minnesota National Guard at 16 and then Regular Army upon graduation from high school. Served as an infantry private. Accepted to United States Military Academy Preparatory School and then United States Military Academy, graduating in 1956. Served two combat tours in the Vietnam War and eventually became commanding general United States Army Training and Doctrine Command. Retired as four-star general in 1991.
- Wesley L. Fox (1931–2017) - Retired USMC colonel, who rose from the ranks of private to first sergeant to colonel. Awarded Medal of Honor, Bronze Star (with Combat V), and four Purple Hearts during the Vietnam War.
- Tommy Franks (born 1945) - Enlisted in 1965 as a cryptologic analyst; selected to attend the Artillery and Missile Officer Candidate School, Fort Sill, Oklahoma and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1967, rising to four-star general. Franks was the U.S. general leading the attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan in response to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon in 2001.
- Alfred M. Gray, Jr. (born 1928) Retired United States Marine Corps general who served as the 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1987-91. Served as an enlisted Marine sergeant before becoming a Mustang.
- David Hackworth (1930–2005) - Korean War and Vietnam War veteran. Retired in 1971 with the rank of colonel.
- Courtney Hodges (1887–1966) - Enlisted as a private in the US Army in 1906, was commissioned and served in both World War I and World War II, during which he commanded First US Army, retired in 1949 as a general.
- Carwood Lipton (1920–2001) - World War II veteran who was a member of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division. He enlisted as a private and eventually received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant. His story was featured in the Band of Brothers and was portrayed in the miniseries adaptation by Donnie Wahlberg.
- James Mattis (born 1950) - Retired USMC general, the current Secretary of Defense. Enlisted in the USMC in 1969 and was commissioned a second lieutenant through Naval ROTC on January 1, 1972.
- Audie Murphy (1925–1971) - The most decorated US soldier of World War II, Staff Sergeant Murphy received a battlefield commission in France in 1944; subsequently became an actor. Received the Medal of Honor and later held a major's commission in the US National Guard.
- Peter J. Ortiz (1913-1988) - Enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, receiving a field commission. Enlisted then commissioned a second-lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in 1942. Retired as a Colonel in the USMCR.
- Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller (1898-1971) - Enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1918 and received a commission in 1924. Retired as a lieutenant general. Was awarded the Navy Cross five times, the second person in history to be awarded as much.
- John Shalikashvili (1936–2011) – Enlisted in the Army in 1958; applied to and accepted in Officer Candidate School the following year. Went on to become a four-star general and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1993-1997), and retired in 1997.
- Clarence A. Shoop (1907–1968) - Enlisted in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 1927, earned a commission in the Army Air Corps as a pilot, and retired from the United States Air Force as a major general.
- Larry O. Spencer (born 1954)– Enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1971, subsequently earned a commission as a second lieutenant in 1980 through the Officer Training School and later became the 37th Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. Retired as a four-star general in 2015.
- Jeff Struecker (born 1969) - Retired US Army major. He served as an enlisted man in Panama and Somalia, before attended and graduating from seminary and commissioned as a pastor in the army. Portrayed by Brian Van Holt in the film Black Hawk Down (2001).
- John William Vessey, Jr. (1922–2016) – Enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard in 1939 at the age of 16; received a battlefield commission at the WWII battle of Anzio, and fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars, rising to a four-star general in 1976 and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1982.
- Larry D. Welch (born 1934) – Enlisted in the Kansas National Guard in 1951; later enlisted in the USAF and rose to become Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. Retired as a four-star general in 1990.
- Chuck Yeager (born 1923) – Enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1941 and began as an aircraft mechanic. He soon entered pilot training and served as a Flight Officer upon receiving his wings. He later earned a commission as a second lieutenant and was a noted combat pilot during World War II and as a test pilot during the postwar era, to include being the first to successfully exceed the speed of sound. Retired from the U.S. Air Force as a brigadier general in 1975.
Non-American mustang officers
- Adrian Carton de Wiart - Joined British cavalry as an enlisted man during the Second Boer War. Commissioned as a lieutenant in 1901, and later served as a general during World War I and World War II.
- Arnold Ridley, best known for playing Private Godfrey in Dad's Army, rose from private to captain during World War I, and also served with the British Army and Home Guard during World War II.
- William "Wully" Robertson. Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS - professional head of the British Army) during the First World War. The first, and to date only, British soldier to rise from private to Field Marshal.
- Jan Smuts, South African World War I and World War II general, began his military career as a corporal in a commando before the Boer War.
- Charles Upham (21 September 1908–22 November 1994) WW2 20th Battalion NZEF started the war as a private, rose to the rank of captain, and went on to become the only combat soldier awarded a Bar to the VC.
- Pierre Augereau - Served as enlisted men in numerous European armies, including the French, before the French Revolution; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte (aka King Charles XIV John) - Served in the Régiment Royal–La Marine for a decade; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon, and later was elected Crown Prince of Sweden, he died as the King of Sweden and King of Norway.
- Jean-Baptiste Bessières - Enlisted in the Constitutional Guard and served in the army during the French Revolutionary Wars; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- Jean-Baptiste Jourdan - Enlisted in the French Army when he was 15 years old and fought in the American War of Independence; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- Jean Lannes - Served as Sergeant-Major of a volunteer battalion during the French Revolutionary Wars; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- Jacques MacDonald - Served as enlisted man in the Irish Legion and in Dutch service before receiving a commission in the French Army; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- André Masséna - Served as enlisted soldier in the Royal Italian Regiement of the French Army for 14 years; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- Bon-Adrien Jeannot de Moncey - Enlisted twice as a kid but was quickly dismissed when his father intervened; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- Michel Ney - Served 5 years as an enlisted cavalryman; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- Nicolas Oudinot - Had served 3 years as an enlisted soldier; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- Laurent de Gouvion Saint-Cyr - Briefly served as enlisted soldier before being elected as officer in a volunteer unit during the French Revolutionary Wars; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- Jean-de-Dieu Soult - Enlisted in the French Army as a teenager and served for several years before receiving a commission; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- Louis-Gabriel Suchet - Served as cavalryman in the National Guard before receiving a commission; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- Claude Victor-Perrin, Duc de Belluno - Had already retired after 10 years of enlisted service; became a Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon.
- Semyon Budyonny, Red Army general during the Great Patriotic War, was a sergeant in the Tsarist cavalry during World War I.
- Prokofy Romanenko was promoted from sergeant to praporschik before the October Revolution, and later joined the Red Army.
- Georgi Zhukov was a corporal in a Tsarist Dragoon regiment during World War I, and became a successful Red Army general during World War II.
- Hugo Gutmann, the commanding officer of Adolf Hitler during World War I, was promoted from Feldwebel to lieutenant in 1915.
- Milzarski, Eric. "7 reasons why enlisted love 'Mustang' officers". We Are The Mighty. Mighthy Networks. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
- Senior Airman Andrea Posey (May 12, 2016). "Face of Defense: Airman Earns Selection for Unique Commissioning Program". Archived from the original on 2016-07-13. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
- Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony Koch (July 17, 2007). "Making Mustangs: Helping Enlisted Sailors Become Officers". Navy.mil.
- Marine Corps Mustang Association: Membership Eligibility http://www.marinecorpsmustang.org/membership/ Retrieved 1 May 2017
- "James Mattis speech, "In the Midst of the Storm: A US Commander's View of the Changing Middle East"". 2013-09-25. 80:10 minutes in. Missing or empty
- Reynolds, Nicholas E. (2005). Basrah, Baghdad and Beyond. p. 4. ISBN 9781591147176. Retrieved 20 February 2013.