Mustang (military officer)

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Mustang is a military slang term used in the United States Armed Forces to refer to a commissioned officer who began their career as an enlisted service member. A mustang officer is not a temporary or brevet promotion but is a commissioned officer that receives the same pay and command responsibilities as all other commissioned officers.

Mustang officers are generally older than their peers-in-grade who have been commissioned 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.[1]


The term "mustang" refers to the mustang horse, a feral animal and not a thoroughbred, which is captured and tamed.

The original definition of 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, some army warrant officer pilots were offered a direct commission to 2nd or 1st Lieutenant, while usually being 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 before commissioning (Grades O-1E, O-2E, O-3E).[2]

A mustang is characterized by former enlisted service before 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. 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.

A similar term is Maverick used for the same reason.[3]

By Branch[edit]

A United States Navy or United States Marine Corps 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 the particular situation.[4][5]

Notable mustangs[edit]

American mustang officers[edit]

19th century[edit]

20th and 21st centuries[edit]

  • Ellis E. Austin Joined the U.S. Navy in 1941 as an aviation electronics technician. Promoted to Chief Warrant Officer 1956 (Mustang) and advanced to Commander as a Bombardier/Navigator on the A6-A Intruder (Attack Squadron VA-42) flying off the Kitty Hawk in 1966. Shot down over North Vietnam on April 21, 1966. Still Missing in Action. Awarded the Purple Heart in 1966, The Distinguished Flying Cross, The Bronze Star, and Navy Commendation Medal with "V" for heroic achievement. He joined the Caterpillar Club when he was ejected from his disabled AJ Savage aircraft in 1956.
  • John F. Aiso (1909–1987) - Already a practicing lawyer, he was drafted in the Army in 1941 and assigned to menial jobs. Recruited by Army Intelligence to teach Japanese, but due to a prohibition of Japanese Americans being commissioned, was discharged and hired as a War Department Civilian at the Military Intelligence Service Language School. It took the intervention of Gen Clayton Bissell to demand a direct commission for Aiso to Major, the highest-ranking Japanese-American during the war.
  • Jeremy Boorda (1939–1996) – Rose from the USN enlisted ranks to become a four-star admiral and Chief of Naval Operations. He 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.
  • Gregory R. Bryant (Born 1950) - Enlisted in the United States Navy in 1970 and was selected for the Naval Enlisted Scientific Education Program. Following the selection, Gregory studied at the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering magna cum laude with distinction. Gregory's first position was Engineering staff for Admiral Hyman G. Rickover at the Division of Naval Reactors. Subsequently, he served many positions at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, including Senior Nuclear Ship Superintendent, Non-Nuclear Ship Superintendent, and Assistant Nuclear Repair Officer. He would then travel to Mare Island Naval Shipyard to serve as Type Desk Officer, Planning and Estimating Superintendent, Nuclear Repair Officer, and Nuclear Production Manager for his tour there. Gregory would then serve on the USS Holland (AS-32) as Repair Officer at Apra Harbor, Guam. In 1994, Gregory transferred to Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, where he served as the Engineering and Planning Officer and would later hold the position of Operations Officer. Following such a tour, in 1998 became commander of the Engineering Duty Officer School in Port Hueneme, California. In 1999, Gregory became the commander of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Following that position, in 2002, Gregory was selected for promotion to Flag Officer. RDML Bryant would then report to Chief of Naval Operations office as Deputy Director Fleet Readiness Division (N43B). Following his position, his final position would become Deputy Chief of Staff for Fleet Maintenance the U.S. Pacific Fleet. In 2005, Gregory retired after 35 years of military service. His awards include but are not limited to the Legion of Merit and four Meritorious Service Medals.
  • John Francis Burnes (birth name: Martin Maher) (1883–1918) – Enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1904, achieved the rank of Sgt. Major by 1916, appointed a Marine Gunner on 24 March 1917, was promoted to Captain (temporary service) on 3 June 1917, wounded in WWI during the Battle of Belleau Wood, and died soon after. Awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the Silver Star citation. The destroyer USS John Francis Burnes (DD-299) was named for him. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
  • 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 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 a 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.
  • Harry K. Fukuhara (1920–2015) - Sent to a internment camp at the outbreak of WWII. Enlisted with the Military Intelligence Service in the Pacific, earning a battlefield commission for his bravery. Inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame and honored by the naming of the 500th Military Intelligence Brigade HQ at Schofield Barracks as "Fukuhara Hall."
  • Tulsi Gabbard (born 1981) – Currently, a lieutenant colonel in a California unit of the U.S. Army Reserves, previously a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard and a member of Congress representing Hawaii's 2nd congressional district in the United States House of Representatives. Enlisted as a Medical Specialist with the 29th Infantry Brigade Support Battalion of the Hawaii Army National Guard, serving a 12-month deployment in Iraq in 2004. Commissioned as an officer in March 2007, deploying to Iraq for a second tour of duty with the 29th Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the Hawaii Army National Guard as the Military Police Platoon Leader. In January 2019, she began a campaign for U.S. President.
  • Jim Gant (born c.1965) - US Army sergeant during the First Gulf War and captain during the American Afghan War.
  • Alfred M. Gray, Jr. (born 1928) – Retired United States Marine Corps general who served as the 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1987 to 1991. 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.
  • Daniel Inouye (1924–2012) - Enlisted in the segregated Japanese-American 442nd RCT in WWII, earning a battlefield commission for his bravery. Elected to the US Senate in 1962, he served for almost 50 years as a strong supporter of the military with chairmanships in the influential Senate Intelligence & Appropriations committees. Countless military assets & installations have since been named in his honor. After reviewing military records in the 1990s, Inouye was decorated with the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Italian Campaign. The original MOH recommendation had been lost but was discovered during a search of military records of ethnic minorities who had served in World War II.
  • Young-Oak Kim (1919–2005) - Drafted into the Army in 1941, served a year as an enlisted engineer before being selected for the Infantry Officer Candidate School. Served as a staff officer with the 442nd RCT in WWII. He became the first minority officer to command an Army battalion in combat in Korea and an instructor at the Army Command and General Staff College.
  • Jonny Kim (born 1984) - After enlisting with the United States Navy in 2002 as a seaman recruit, Kim graduated BUD/S class 247 and was assigned to SEAL Team 3 with the rating Special Warfare Operator. He deployed twice to the Middle East and participated in over 100 combat missions as a combat medic, sniper, navigator, and point man. Kim served with PO2s Marc Alan Lee and Michael A. Monsoor during his SEAL tenure. Kim was accepted for commissioning in 2009; when he graduated from the University of San Diego in 2012 and left the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, Kim entered the Medical Corps. Jonny Kim then received a Doctor of Medicine from Harvard Medical School and completed astronaut flight training in 2020 as part of the Artemis program. Kim is a recipient of a Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal (with Combat "V"), the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (with Combat "V"), and Combat Action Ribbon. As of January 2020, he was on active duty with the Navy Reserve as a lieutenant. According to Jocko Willink, Kim's Silver Star was awarded for rescuing multiple wounded Iraqi soldiers in the face of enemy fire.
  • George E. R. Kinnear II (1928–2015) – Enlisted as a Seaman Recruit in the US Navy in 1945, was commissioned as an Ensign in 1948, served as a Naval Aviator in Korea and Vietnam and as commander of NAS Miramar ("Top Gun"), and retired as a four-star admiral in 1982.
  • 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, a former Secretary of Defense. Enlisted in the USMC in 1969[6] and was commissioned a second lieutenant through Naval ROTC on January 1, 1972.[7]
  • 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 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. He was awarded the Navy Cross five times, the second person in history to be awarded as much.
  • John Shalikashvili (1936–2011) – Drafted in the Army in 1958; applied to and accepted in Officer Candidate School the following year. He 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 attending and graduating from seminary and being 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 (1923–2020) – 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. He was a noted combat pilot during World War II and as a test pilot during the postwar era, including being the first to successfully exceed the speed of sound. Retired from the U.S. Air Force as a brigadier general in 1975.
  • Richard J. Tallman (born 1925-1972) - Enlisted in 1943 as a Private first class in the 42nd Infantry Division. After the Battle of the Bulge, was field commissioned to 2nd Lieutenant. After the war, he went to West Point and became a 1st Lieutenant. He was a company commander in the Korean War and was on his third tour in Vietnam before he was killed in 1972 during the Battle of An Loc as a brigadier general.

Non-American mustang officers[edit]

British Empire[edit]






See also[edit]


  1. ^ Milzarski, Eric. "7 reasons why enlisted love 'Mustang' officers". We Are The Mighty. Mighthy Networks. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony Koch (July 17, 2007). "Making Mustangs: Helping Enlisted Sailors Become Officers".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Marine Corps Mustang Association: Membership Eligibility Retrieved 1 May 2017
  6. ^ "James Mattis speech, "Amid the Storm: A US Commander's View of the Changing Middle East"". 2013-09-25. 80:10 minutes in. Archived from the original on 2021-12-22. {{cite episode}}: Missing or empty |series= (help)
  7. ^ Reynolds, Nicholas E. (2005). Basrah, Baghdad and Beyond. Naval Institute Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-59114-717-6.
  8. ^ [bare URL]
  9. ^ Achtung Panzer!

External links[edit]