Prior to assuming responsibilities as the 8th Chief Warrant Officer (WO) of the Adjutant General (AG) Corps, I experienced senior leader sentiments regarding warrant officers’ need to “regain their expertise,” to which I took umbrage. It is my belief the warrant officer cohort is stronger than ever; never before has so much been asked of the warrant officer, and we continue to deliver. From an AG perspective, while officer and enlisted requirements dropped 14% and 18% respectively, warrant officer requirements increased by 20%. In my previous role as a proponent, warrant officers were the most often requested solution to organizational gaps. Furthermore, my experience in the operational Army repeatedly revealed warrant officers as one of every commander’s critical priority of fill on unit status reports.
My thoughts on “owning our expertise” are my thoughts alone. They are ever evolving and are shaped by over 28 years of Army service; 16 of those years serving as a warrant officer in numerous positions ranging from Personnel Services Branch to Corps, and multiple assignments at the AG School influencing the full range of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities, and policy. In most cases, my thoughts do not refer to specific technical knowledge or any one system or function, but rather the capacities of warrant officers across the spectrum who own their expertise through the focused action of individuals, influencers, and the entire network of warrant officer professionals.
Experience. The experiences we gain throughout a breadth and depth of positions are the building blocks upon which we develop our future capabilities. As such, it is critical that WOs are assigned to varying positions of increased responsibilities within the operational Army, as well as positions in the generating force, driving enterprise deployment and policy development of sustainment competencies. Few warrant officers will have the opportunity or time to serve in each area at every level. However, individual warrant officers and assignment influencers, to include senior warrant officers, assignment managers, talent managers, mentors, and personal champions, must strive to ensure WOs achieve a breadth of experience serving in positions in both the operational and generating forces. DA Pamphlet 600-3 is a great resource that depicts the professional development model specific to each warrant officer specialty. Achieving great depth in one without the perspective of the other inhibits the ability to maximize Total Army awareness and develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities required at mid-grade and senior-warrant officer levels.
Education. Professional military education and civilian education strengthen and provide depth of knowledge and empower individuals to create new skills and abilities through study of common and best practices in a learning environment.
Leadership. Through self-development and experience, warrant officers continue to hone their own leadership skills and develop skills in their subordinates and peers. Expertise in leadership is just as important as expertise in one’s technical field; both can be achieved through observation, education, practice, challenging assignments, and focused mentorship.
Intelligence. It is important that leaders develop practical knowledge based on the fundamentals of the Army profession. Leaders achieve this by reading professional books (by military, business leaders, thought provokers, and politicians), studying and understanding operational and strategic frame-works and interrelationships, practice, and taking weighted risks. Some questions to consider include: How do others think? Why do we make the decisions we make? What are other ways to look at problems? What were keys to success for others? Taking the time to intelligently think and look at issues, concerns, problems, and solutions exercises the mind to generate the best outcomes. Understanding one’s (and others) preferred method of learning will enable efficient approaches to problems. We don’t always get it right, but reflection and correction are key parts to increasing one’s intelligence and self-awareness. Emotional intelligence is a key trait that every warrant officer should work to improve, and there is always room for improvement. The ability to engage in different environments is critical to ensuring maximum capacity to serve in a multitude of positions and environments.
Initiative. The level to which one gains experience, education, and intelligence is largely an output of their initiative. Inherent responsibilities, and all the little “extras,” are driven by one’s initiative and desire to improve one’s self, their organizations, and others in expanding areas of influence. Initiative is fluid; there are those who lack it, those who show it at intervals during their career, and those who continuously integrate it into every aspect of their life. Warrant officers get it done; if they don’t know something, they figure it out and find the answer or solution to the problem; this takes initiative.
Talents. One’s talents are derived from the previously discussed competencies in experience, education, intelligence, and initiative. This is reinforced with the passion to develop special skillsets which includes, but is not limited to, systems, databases, leadership, policy, and operations. Initiative drives us to gain the experience and education to pursue individual passions, such as technology, science, and organizational leadership, to further shape our individual and organizational capabilities.
Mentorship. Providing and receiving mentorship is an honor and a privilege that requires and demonstrates trust and respect between the mentor and the mentee. Mentorship extends well beyond a senior-subordinate relationship; it’s a relationship that exists from above, below, and parallel to one’s grade and position, and should be mobile as careers progress and locations change.
Development. Development can be defined and approached in many different ways. It can take the form of direct “Oak Tree Counseling” about job performance and career management, desk side training, or casual conversations exploring the why and how of the sustainment or Army profession. In any capacity, influencers can have a huge impact towards the development of others.
Opportunities. Influencers should be champions of the talents and stewards of the professional development of those they influence. Steering warrant officers toward opportunities to utilize, align, and develop their talents in accordance with the professional development model is crucial to ensuring that warrant officers receive proper development. This process also ensures that the right organizations are supported by the right warrant officer at the right time by sharing awareness of the individual’s unique knowledge, skills, and behaviors (KSBs) to other influencers (help the warrant officer become “known”). There are many avenues that influencers and warrant officers can utilize to accelerate a warrant officer’s unique talents resulting in actionable results to their organizations. Some examples include: skill building courses in advanced data analytics, business intelligence, and training with industry, with an expectation of actionable results as an output of the training. Providing the right opportunity is not about playing favorites with the assignment process; it’s about ensuring the assignment makes sense while supporting the individual warrant officer, other warrant officers, and the Army.
Talent Management. Talent management is a balance of identifying and using an individual’s unique talents while developing additional talents required to progress professionally. In today’s environment of providing officers and commands greater input to assignments, the need to develop talent through a variety of positions and experiences must be constantly reinforced. My fear is that warrant officers and commands will silo their experience and talents vice broadening them. This will inevitably lessen the ability of the Army, via career managers, to place fully qualified warrant officers in positions of increasing responsibility and scope. It is imperative that career and talent managers, mentors, champions, and others are cognizant of the effects of siloed experience, and they take action to educate warrant officers and commands on the components of the professional development model. This model is not merely a list of assignments, but rather a path that ensures warrant officers meet the experiential and educational requirements through a series of progressive assignments.
Serving as a Senior. To me, being the senior in an organization or location that has other like-MOS warrant officers means something. Being a senior is an important privilege that comes with distinct responsibilities. I expect seniors to be the senior, and I expect their subordinates to understand and support the role of that senior. Seniors do not have the right to be reclusive. They must be involved in the mentorship, development, championing, and maintenance of their warrant officers. Seniors need to be aware of what is going on within their footprint; if not directly, they should achieve awareness via their subordinate seniors. As such, juniors should be strongly encouraged to not reach out directly to HRC or other influencers (i.e., division to command bypassing a corps) without providing their senior with a courtesy copy of their intent. Conversely, HRC or other influencers should, within their ethical, legal, and moral boundaries, ensure seniors are aware of correspondence either directly or as a copy to a response. In a collaborative and communicative environment, this should not be an issue.
The Warrant Officer Network (All of Us)
Further Develop and Sustain the WO Network of Professionals. The warrant officer network is the envy of the officer and enlisted cohorts, but it is not a network that exists without the constant reinforcement of our actions and the inherent responsibilities to grow and maintain the network. Proactive networking, as opposed to reactive networking, takes work, time, and constant maintenance of personal and professional relationships. Proactive networks gather, reinforce, and champion best practices, TTPs, and solutions, and often include a slate of warrant officers in key supporting positions who understand (i.e., Combined Arms Support Command, Human Resources Command, Forces Command, Army National Guard, Army Reserves). The best representations of proactive networks I’ve seen are those that over communicate in circles of relevant commonality. These circles encompass groups of warrant officers at a location, within same-type organizations (all CABs), within a grade band or an MOS, or even across the Total Army. No single individual does all of the contributing, and all do not contribute every time, but everyone responds and receives as needed, often realizing gains that would otherwise have been unachievable on their own. A reactive network, in which warrants only provide assistance when requested, holds value as well, but is generally not as productive as proactive networks.
Create a community of collaboration and communication with a sense of purpose towards common goals. WOs should strive to contribute to each other’s success and should openly collaborate and communicate to achieve both individual and community success. This sense of community does not preclude individuals from striving to be the best of the best; it reinforces the idea that such aspirations can be achieved without doing harm to others (for example, harboring products, lessons learned, tactics, techniques and procedures , etc.). All warrant officers should seek to consistently share and collaborate to build the community’s success by over communicating in local and greater networks. We are stronger because we are a team of talented individuals who are focused on a common goal of getting the job done, day in and day out. We also take extra efforts to contribute on a higher level beneficial towards our branch, our warfighting function, and the warrant officer cohort.
We have a voice, and we are agents for change. Our experience and position enables, empowers, and demands that we provide accurate and blunt assessments of our warfighting functions and our technical requirements. We are the linchpins between enlisted and officers, and we execute with standards and discipline, while holding each other responsible and accountable for our performance. We must be selfless in our approach to our contributions and management of our careers, we must be aware of what is expected of us, and we must be connected and supportive of each other's successes. Most importantly, we must own our expertise through not only our individual efforts, but those who we mentor and coach, and as a community of mutually supportive warrant officers.
Chief Warrant Officers 5 Mark W. Hickman is a Human Resources technician currently serving as the Chief Warrant Officer of the Adjutant General’s Corps. CW5 Hickman’s Adjutant General career started in 1992 as a traditional guardsman in the Montana Army National Guard, and he entered active duty in 1993. Hickman has served as Human Resources Technician in multiple operational and generating force assignments; his previous assignment was as America’s First Corps G1 Senior Human Resources Technician at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. He has deployed to Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.
This article was published in the January-March 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.