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 his or her career as an enlisted service member prior to commissioning. Mustang officers are generally older, and 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 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]

20th and 21st centuries[edit]

Non-American mustang officers[edit]

British Empire[edit]

  • William Slim, commander of the Fourteenth Army in Burma in World War II, was often, as a result of his unpretentious manner and modest social origins, wrongly supposed to have risen from the ranks. He had in fact - despite having no formal connection to the university - trained with Birmingham University Officer Training Corps before World War I and was directly commissioned when he joined the Army in that war.



  • Pavel Ivanovich BatovRussian Imperial Guard during World War I, Red Army commander during the Russian Civil War, Spanish Civil War, Winter War and Great Patriotic War.
  • Ivan Bogdanov – NCO in Tsarist army and Red Army commander during Russian Civil War and Great Patriotic War. Killed in action in 1942.
  • Semyon Budyonny – NCO in the Tsarist army, decorated multiple times during World War I, commander of the 1st Cavalry Army of the RFSFR in the Civil War, Marshal of the Soviet Union from 1935 to his death in 1973.
  • Vasily Chapaev – NCO in the Tsarist army and three times decorated with the Order of St. George in World War I, joined the Bolsheviks in 1917 to become one of the first "Red Commanders". Noted for his bravery, he was killed-in-action in the Ural River in 1919 and has been since immortalized as a hero in both the Soviet Union and Russian Federation.
  • Pavel Dybenko – Promoted to naval NCO in the Baltic Fleet in 1912. He took part in the October Revolution in Petrograd, fought in the Civil War and reached the rank of Army General and military district commander in the Red Army. Executed in Stalin's purges in 1938.
  • Vasily Gordov – Junior sergeant in 1915–17. He commanded the Stalingrad Front in 1942 during the early stages of the Battle of Stalingrad. Took part in the Battle of Berlin and the Prague Offensive in 1945.
  • Grigory Kulik – Promoted to senior Feuerwerker (artillery NCO) in 1915 and decorated many times for bravery in World War I, joined the Red Army after the Revolution and became a Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1940, taking part in the Great Patriotic War.
  • Mikhail Lashevich – Senior NCO in the Imperial Army, was wounded twice in World War I. In the Civil War he held commanding positions in various Red armies, then went to Harbin to serve as deputy chairman of the Chinese Eastern Railway (1926–1928).
  • Rodion Malinovsky - Corporal in the Tsarist army, Red Army general during WWII.
  • Lev Mekhlis – Bombardier in the 2nd Grenadier Artillery Regiment (1911), Feuerwerker (Senior Artillery NCO) in 1917, joined the Red Army in 1918, Colonel-General from 1939, member of the Stavka in the Great Patriotic War, responsible for five to seven fronts.
  • Romuald MuklevichPetty officer in the Baltic Fleet from 1912, took part in the Storming of the Winter Palace in October 1917, rose to become an admiral and the commander-in-chief of the Soviet Navy 1926–31, commissar for shipbuilding industry 1934–36, deputy minister for the defence industries 1936–37. Killed in Stalin's purges in 1938.
  • Konstantin Rokossovsky – Tsarist cavalry NCO until 1917, then served in the Red Army until arrested and imprisoned during Stalin's purge. Reinstated in the Red Army in 1940 and retired in 1962.
  • Prokofy Romanenko was promoted from sergeant to praporschik before the October Revolution, and later joined the Red Army.
  • Andrey Yeryomenko – In 1914 he took part in the capture of Przemysl and was promoted to NCO. Joined the Bolsheviks in the Civil War, he was a proponent of mechanized warfare and earned the nickname "Russian Guderian". In 1941–45 he commanded many fronts, including the Stalingrad Front during the main phase of the Battle of Stalingrad.
  • Georgy Zhukov – NCO in the Tsarist army in World War, Order of St. George, Marshal of the Soviet Union from 1941 and Defence Minister during and after the Great Patriotic War.
  • Andrei Zhdanov – NCO in the 139th Infantry Regiment (1916–1917), member of the Central Committee of the CPSU and Stalin's inner circle in the 1930s, Colonel-General of the Red Army and head of the defence of Leningrad in the Great Patriotic War.
  • Dmitry Zhloba – Studied as a military engineer and became a Tsarist NCO in 1917. Joined the Bolsheviks in Moscow and took part in the storming of the Kremlin. In 1918 he led the famous "Steel Division" of 15,000 men to a legendary 800-kilometer march in sixteen days from Nevinnomysskaya to Tsaritsyn, falling on the rear of Pyotr Krasnov's besieging White Army to relieve the Bolshevik garrison during the Battle of Tsaritsyn.[7]




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 978-1-59114-717-6.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Achtung Panzer!

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