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Thu, Jan 26, 2006

Navy Opens Cockpits To Warrant Officers

Test Program Will Give 30 Enlisted Sailors Wings... and Commissions

One of the world's largest Air Forces -- the US Army's aviation branch -- is made up mostly of Warrant Officers. It's worked well for the Army for 40 years, attracting everyone from 19-year-olds with no other way to learn to fly to Air Force Lt. Colonels who were about to lose flying status and start commanding desks (one of whom, Mike Novosel, went on to win the Medal of Honor in Vietnam -- I bet the USAF regrets giving him up). But the other services have resisted the idea of flying Warrant Officers.

Until now.

The Navy, which sixty-five years ago actually had enlisted pilots, is going to dip a toe in the warrant-officer pool and see how it works out. The program is a pilot program in both senses of the word: only 30 enlisted sailors are going to be accepted in this program, and their career horizons are going to be considerably narrower than a regular commissioned officer (which Army warrants have traditionally called "RLO's" -- a pointed acronym for "Real Live Officers").

The Navy isn't going to be putting these pilots and Naval Flight Officers in the ejection seats of the glamor community: no F-18 rides here. Instead, they're being offered the hard work of Patrol, Electronic Warfare, and Light and Cargo Helicopter assignments. The plan is for these officers to fill junior officer slots that aren't in the career progression of the Navy's future captains and admirals. They will incur the usual eight year minimum service requirement for Pilots (six years for NFOs).

"The intent is to create flying specialists unencumbered by the traditional career paths of the unrestricted line (URL) community," the message from Vice Admiral John C. Harvey, Jr., Chief of Naval Personnel, said.

Translated from Admiral-speak, what he means is, the Navy knows its flying officers now are its future senior leaders, and there's room in the fleet for pilots and flight officers that just fly, and aren't focused on climbing the ladder. Another Navy document explains another rationale: "A secondary goal of the program is to offer increased opportunity to the Enlisted ranks." The Navy knows that it has some outstanding people in white hats, and it can put them to better use.

Some sailors can't apply: SEALs, Special Operations boat crew, divers, nuclear specialists and Masters at Arms. What these communities have in common is higher standards and lengthier training than many other Naval ratings (so we're told; we only have former grunts and zoomies here). Or to put it another way, the Navy is already extracting max potential, or very nearly so, from those men and women.

With a whole Navy --almost -- to choose from and only 30 billets to fill, the officers that want to see this program succeed can afford to be selective. The sailors that apply must be in grades E-5 through E-7, young (must be commissioned by 27th birthday, although one can get a waiver for each of up to four years spent in the Navy), fit and smart. They need to have at least an Associate's Degree, and pass the Aviation Standard Test Battery (as other Naval Aviators now do). Adm. Harvey's message asks for "highly-qualified and hard-charging sailors".

The selected sailors will be commissioned as Chief Warrant Officers (CWO2), and subsequently undergo flight training (as pilots or Naval Flight Officers). When they get their wings, they'll go to the fleet, and alternate ship and shore tours.

The first board will meet this summer and select 10 pilot and 4 Naval Flight Officer candidates. They'll be commissioned September 1st. The next board will select 10 more pilots and six more NFOs in 2007.

Of course, if you know anything about Navy aviation, you know that even highly-qualified candidates can fall short in training or in the fleet. What then? The cut-off point is three years of commissioned service (which is well beyond training). If the candidate loses (or turns in) his or her wings before that point, it's back to the enlisted grade and rating he or she came in with (for the rest of the five or eight year obligated service).

And then there's the $64,000 question: this is a pilot program after all, what happens to the warrants if the Navy pulls the plug? The Navy is saying, a deal's a deal. If they cancel the program, they'll keep the individual aviators flying, alternating between sea duty and shore duty (such as flight instruction).

Navy email contacts for this program are listed as -- OCM: james.a.thompson@navy.mil, AOCM: michael.a.scott1@navy.mil, AOCM: moe.kehrer@navy.mil

More information, including a sample application and Frequently Asked Questions in Microsoft Word format, is available at the Navy Limited Duty Officer/Chief Warrant Officer Community webpage, listed in the FMI link.

FMI: www.npc.navy.mil/OFFICER/LDOCWOCOMMUNITY

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