Mustang (military officer)

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A mustang is slang term in the United States Armed Forces, referring to a commissioned officer who began his or her career as an enlisted service member. Mustangs are older and more experienced than their peers-in-grade who 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. 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.


A United States Navy mustang can be a Chief Warrant Officer, a Limited Duty Officer, a Staff Officer, a Restricted Line Officer or an Unrestricted Line Officer, depending on their particular situation.

A United States Marine Corps mustang can be a Chief Warrant Officer, who has gone on to earn a commission from the Officer Candidate School.

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).

A mustang is currently defined[citation needed] by a continuity in military service from enlisted to officer (i.e., no break in military service). Being a slang term, there is no precise 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.

The term originated either just prior to or during World War II; no one seems sure of the year.[1] Initially a Navy term, other services adopted it as well. 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 being commissioned.

It refers to the mustang horse, a wild 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 wild and free animal, it may very well be smarter, more capable and have a better survival instinct than thoroughbreds.

Notable mustangs[edit]

19th century[edit]

  • 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, at the age of 27.
  • Bennet C. Riley (1787–1853). Enlisted as a naval ensign rifleman in the War of 1812. Commissioned in 1817, recommissioned in 1823. By 1848, served as a major in the Mexican War; subsequently Brevet Major General in California during the statehood controversy.
  • 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.
  • Samuel Chamberlain (1829–1908) - Dragoon sergeant of the Mexican War who re-enlisted in 1861 and eventually became a general.
  • John Murphy (Saint Patrick's Battalion) (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.
  • 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.
  • Patrick Cleburne (1828–1864) - British army corporal who later became a Confederate general.
  • 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.

20th and 21st centuries[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "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 |series= (help)
  3. ^ Reynolds, Nicholas E. (2005). Basrah, Baghdad and Beyond. p. 4. ISBN 9781591147176. Retrieved 20 February 2013. 

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