Mustang (military officer)
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A mustang is slang term in the United States Armed Forces, referring to a warrant officer or commissioned officer who began his or her career as an enlisted service member. Mustang officers are generally older and more experienced than their peers-in-grade who entered the military, without prior enlisted service, 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. 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 United States Navy mustang 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 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)
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 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.
- 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). Commissioned as an ensign (an obsolete army junior officer rank) in the Regiment of Riflemen (United States) in 1813 and was successively promoted through each officer rank, becoming a brevet major general in 1848.
- 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
- 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 (born 1931) - 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.
- Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller (1898-1971) - Enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1918 and received a commission in 1924. Retired as a two-star general. Was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross six times, the second most in history.
- John Shalikashvili (1936–2011) – Enlisted in the Army in 1958; applied to and accepted in Officer Candidates 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.
- 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 example
- 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.
- Senior Airman Andrea Posey (May 12, 2016). "Face of Defense: Airman Earns Selection for Unique Commissioning Program".
- 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.