What do Warrant Officers do in the US armed forces?

I know of the enlisted men and officers, but warrant officers seem to be in between, and I am uncertain of what their role is.

Warrant officers are specialists, like Finance or Intelligence. They hold a warrant as opposed to a commission and aren’t in the usual chain of command. Helicopter and fixed-wing Army pilots are also often warrant officers as well.

My cousin was an Army Counter-Intelligence Special Agent.

Warrant Officers in the Navy in my experience worked as junior officers mostly. In E-div we had a good Lt JG as Division Officer and an asshole Warrant as his assistant. In one of the Main spaces they had an ass of a Lt and a great Warrant. Neither were in anyway especially specialists. Sorry Silenus. Maybe the Army is very different.

They are officers, they just don’t have a commission. And officially below the lowest 2LT, but often have more actual experience.

The USAF has not made WOs since 1959, last one retiring in 1980.

Side topic - what, in simple terms, does it mean to have a commission?

A commission means you have a piece of paper signed by the President saying “you are an officer.” What that means is that legally you have a high degree of responsibility for oversight of the people under your command. Usually, commissioned officers are the only people who can hold the position of Commanding Officer of a unit, though in practice NCOs may sometimes act in that role.

Fight my ignorance for me, but why does commission matter vs. rank? Surely a non-commissioned colonel outranks a commissioned sergeant?

It is not possible to be a noncommisioned colonel or a commissioned sergeant. A sergeant is a noncommissioned officer (NCO). LTs, CPTs, MAJs, LTCs, COLs are all commissioned officers. It gives them certain legal authorities.

Just to muddy the water a little, Cheif Warrant Officers in the Army are commissioned now.

So what legal authority does a commission give that an NCO does not have?

Authority to impose restrictions and punishments. Authority to issue orders. Authority to administer oaths and/or act as notary. That kind of stuff.

Do you know the difference between officers and NCOs or regular troops? A commission puts the person in a higher class who must be respected in certain ways, like mandatory saluting, special privileges, etc. Officers can use officers’ mess (better food), officers’ latrines (better shitting facilities); it’s a long list.

FYI: A bandmaster in the Army is a warrant officer, or used to be. It’s a lot like a captain of a special outfit.

NCOs, for the most part, cannot issue orders. They can only enforce the orders of officers.

Unless you have some unusual definition of “orders,” NCOs certainly can give them. Who do you think runs basic training exercises? “Drop and give me 10!” sure sounds like an order to me.

Sometimes it’s a distinction without a difference. But if you push the issue, “drop and give me 20” is the method by which a drill sergeant enforces his orders to train the recruits.

Commissioned officers have very broad authority over their commands, but rely on NCOs to execute their objectives. In practice the actual amount of authority delegated to NCOs is often a matter of expediency. But ultimately the officer is always responsible for the outcome.

10? That’s an NCO administering corrective action, not issuing orders. Now, if that NCO tried to order that Soldier to go do 100 push ups, he would be over-stepping his authority. An officer, however, can order the unit to do physical exercise. That’s why training schedules are signed by officers.
Yes, NCOs can issue orders and directives, but only to enforce, policy, regulatuons, their commander’s intent, etc.

Eg. An officer orders an NCO to clean a building. The NCO can give directives and order subordinate soldiers to do specific things in order to accomplish that mission and carry out that order. But the lawful authority of his orders fall narrowly within the scope of that task.

In practice, its really simple. NCOs tell soldiers to do stuff, and they mostly obey. But its actually a rather complicated system when you start digging into it. With few exceptions, an NCO’s authority to issue orders is limited to his enforcement or execution of regulations or officers’ orders.

Very well put, friedo. Thank you.
BTW, musiccat, I was a drill sergeant. So I’m quite aware of who runs basic training, for what that’s worth. I cam tell you that we were required to follow a very strict schedule with a tight timeline. The training schedule was signed by an officer. If the schedule called for classroom instruction, and a trainee was falling asleep or otherwise distracted or unmotivated, the drill sergeant could order that soldier to do ten pushups. No more than 10, though. The drill sergeant had no authority to make a soldier do 20. However, in practice, a drill sergeant might overstep his authority. He might tell the soldier to do 30, and the soldier will obey and at the end of the day, nobody cares. But unless physical readiness training was on the officer approved schedule for that time block, the drill sergeant could be severely reprimanded.

To get back to the initial questions, regular commissioned officers in the Army are normally generalists, and are expected to do a variety of different jobs in their careers. They may technically be a Military Police lieutenant, but might wind up supervising the supply section one year, being the platoon leader for the Headquarters admin personnel another year, hopefully command an MP Company when they are a Captain, maybe work on the Operations floor when the unit is deployed, etc. It’s expected to do a wide variety of stuff, command roles, key development, etc.

A Warrant Officer is intended to stick to one job, but it’s a job where there is more authority and specialization than an enlisted Soldier would bring. A WO helicopter pilot will pretty much just fly helicopters his entire career, with maybe a side jaunt to train helicopter pilots. An admin WO will always be working in admin supervising admin jobs, etc. Obviously there is some variation in jobs between units or garrisons, but that’s the gist.

Just another Navy and Army differ note:
In the Navy, on board a ship, or at least the big ships like Carriers and Battleships, the Chiefs eat the best*. It is the Chiefs that really run the Navy as they say.

The Officers do have better quarters though, even junior and warrant officers. I’m not as sure about the heads (bathroom facilities). The Chief might have at least the cleaner heads.

  • With the possible except of the Captain’s Mess and if an Admiral is on board the Admiral’s Mess.

Spoken like a Chief . . . :slight_smile:

Not to get too far off topic, but that “Chiefs run the Navy” so leave our lexicon. We all run the Navy from E-1 to O-10, and the Navy can’t function without them all. That saying usually is there to separate Chiefs from junior Officers but it seems to rankle junior Enlisted the most.

I was only an E4, Petty Officer 3rd class. No jealousy, it was reality. Junior Officers barely and rarely had a clue, it was Chiefs that knew both the job and how to handle us junior enlisted. I understand it was different on Subs, especially in engineering but I have no experience with that.