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.[1]


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).[2]

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.

By Branch[edit]

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.[3]

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)[4]

Notable mustangs[edit]

American mustang officers[edit]

19th century[edit]

  • 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[edit]

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. ^ Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony Koch (July 17, 2007). "Making Mustangs: Helping Enlisted Sailors Become Officers". 
  4. ^ Marine Corps Mustang Association: Membership Eligibility Retrieved 1 May 2017
  5. ^ "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)
  6. ^ Reynolds, Nicholas E. (2005). Basrah, Baghdad and Beyond. p. 4. ISBN 9781591147176. Retrieved 20 February 2013. 

External links[edit]