FORT PICKETT, Va. – When thinking about Army officers, the first thing that comes to mind most likely are commissioned or noncommissioned officers, but there is another crucial officer role that continues to serve as a cornerstone in the military—warrant officers.
Warrant Officer Michael McMahan, an Army Reserve Soldier assigned to the 94th Training Division – Force Sustainment (TD-FS), officially joined the warrant officer ranks after completing Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS) and participating in a graduation and pinning ceremony held at Fort Pickett, Virginia, this year.
"Throughout my 16 years in the Army, I have been supported and developed by leaders and peers to gain the skills and abilities that I have," McMahan said. "It is gratitude and a confirmation for the efforts of others that inspired my ambition for accession, and why I decided to become a warrant officer."
To become a warrant officer, Army Reserve Soldiers can complete phase one of WOCS at the Regional Training Institute at Fort Pickett, Virginia, over five battle assembly weekends followed by attending a two-week course at Fort McClellan, Alabama for the second phase of WOCS.
However, this was not the case for McMahan. Both phases and the graduation and pinning ceremony took place entirety for him at the Fort Pickett location because of COVID-19 impacts.
"The hardest part of this course is just remaining focused throughout the process," McMahan said. "Especially phase one, when there is an entire month between battle assemblies and juggling family life and a civilian career with all the requirements of WOCS."
While phase one included a 6.2-mile foot march culminated with an exam and a community project, phase two of WOCS required candidates to pass exams in military history, the law of war, military justice, and warrant officer heritage.
In addition to the exhaustive academics, candidates had to pass a land navigation course and complete an obstacle course, all while being evaluated on leadership at every step of the way.
"Most people think about the technical aspects of becoming a warrant officer," said McMahan. "They think I'm qualified, I have the experience, I have certifications, etc., but they need to remember the physical requirements of attending WOCS."
Candidates such as McMahan, who complete Warrant Officer Candidate School, are appointed to the grade of Warrant Officer (better known as the rank of WO1 for some) and transition back to their units to serve as highly specialized technical experts in their career field.
Although he now wears the warrant officer rank, McMahan knows his journey is not complete. He credits several warrant officers who have helped him along the way, including the 94th TD-FS's highest-ranking and most senior warrant officer, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Angela Nichols.
"CW4 Nichols has been my guide throughout the WOCS process," he said. "Always checking in and making sure I'm squared away to meet the next milestone and eventually walk across the stage at graduation."
In November 2019, Nichols was appointed as the first 94th TD-FS Command Chief Warrant Officer by Brig. Gen. Stephen Iacovelli, the Division's commanding general.
"I am beyond humbled and proud that I was selected," said Nichols, a Columbus, Ohio, native. "I am currently responsible for about 20 Division warrant officers and am considered part of the Command Team."
Nichols's role provides oversight of the Division's warrant officer strength management, career development, vacancy projection, manning, and resourcing.
"Warrant officers work with Soldiers, of all levels, and proudly serve as their eyes and ears acting as a liaison to the Non-Commissioned Officer and Commissioned Officer Corps," she said. "Understanding your role…and remaining proficient is crucial to a warrant officer's success."
Nichols was fortunate to attend McMahan's pinning ceremony and happy he is now a warrant officer because she remembers how difficult WOCS is, and graduation isn't something to take lightly.
"I was ill-prepared and had no idea what to expect," said Nichols when reminiscing about her days at WOCS. "Not only was it physically demanding and challenging, but mentally and emotionally difficult too."
"I saw people more physically fit, with more rank and more time in service drop out on days one through five, and that completely freaked me out," she added. "It honestly took me until day 11 of candidate school to finally realize I could do it. I knew I wasn't going to be the strongest or the fastest, but I was going to try and be the smartest and best class leader possible."
Nichols figured out how to maneuver the warrant officer world because she has reached a pinnacle point in her career, but she isn't entirely on the downward swing toward retirement yet. She continues to funnel her passion for helping Soldiers like McMahan prepare for the journey into the ranks of the warrant officer world.
"This isn't for everyone, and that's ok," she said. "With the right mindset, technical knowledge, and willingness to exceed standards, I would encourage any Solider, young or old, to become a warrant officer."