The current misassignment of ordnance (OD) warrant officers (WOs) is causing the atrophy of key knowledge, skills, and behaviors (KSB) required for those leaders to remain subject matter experts (SMEs) and develop into senior SMEs. If there are no deliberate changes in how commanders manage these WO military occupational specialties (MOSs), it will degrade their ability to maintain equipment during potential large-scale combat operations (LSCO).
The current personnel management process for OD WOs, based on a legacy promotion system, has caused significant gaps in the technical understanding of the OD cohort. Commanders still manage the four 91 career management field (CMF) WO MOSs based on the idea that all 91 CMF MOSs merge to 915E, Senior Automotive Maintenance WO, at chief warrant officer 4 (CW4). This process of personnel management directly contributes to the perception of WOs no longer being SMEs and, if allowed to continue, will lead to irreversible atrophy of key skillsets, adversely affecting OD MOSs and the Army’s ability to sustain combat power for LSCO.
Commanders regularly allow the assignment of OD WOs to positions outside their primary MOSs without complying with the approval requirements in Army Regulation (AR) 614-100, Officer Assignment Policies, Details, and Transfers, due to vacancies. This averts key developmental assignments and experiences outlined in Department of the Army Pamphlet (DA PAM) 600-3, Officer Professional Development and Career Management, and the professional development model needed to build depth in these primary MOSs, creating gaps in critical sustainment capabilities on the future battlefield.
Career managers and senior OD WOs must advocate for the correct utilization of junior WOs. DA PAM 611-21, Military Occupational Classification and Structure, must be updated to clarify ambiguous duties for these MOSs. Commanders and senior OD WOs must acknowledge that vacancies in 915A positions should be mitigated by utilizing 91A maintenance control officers (MCOs), 91X4O maintenance control sergeants (MCSs), and 91X4O maintenance section sergeants (MSSs). Lastly, commanders must enforce the procedures outlined in AR 614-100 to ensure WOs develop the KSBs that enable them to become the senior technical SMEs required in the future.
The OD corps is comprised of five 91 CMF and two 94 CMF WO MOSs, each with specific expertise.
An Armament Systems Maintenance Warrant Officer (MOS 913A) is the resident SME in all small arms, field artillery, and armament systems and, from WO1 to CW3, manages an armament shop in a field maintenance company (FMC) or support maintenance company (SMC), supporting all armament systems within the brigade (BDE) and/or echelons above brigade (EAB) supported units.
An Allied Trades Warrant Officer (MOS 914A) is the resident SME in precision machining, welding, fabrication, and vehicle recovery operations and, from WO1 to CW3, manages an allied trades shop in the FMC or SMC, supporting all precision machining, welding, and fabrication requirements within the BDE and/or EAB supported units.
An Engineer Equipment Maintenance Warrant Officer (MOS 919A) is the resident SME in all engineer, ground support, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and, from WO1 to CW3, either manages a ground support equipment shop in the FMC or SMC, supporting all engineer, ground support equipment, and HVAC maintenance within the BDE or manages an engineer battalion (BN) motor pool.
An Electronic Systems Maintenance Warrant Officer (MOS 948B) is the resident SME in communications equipment and, from WO1 to CW2, manages a communications and electronics shop in the FMC or SMC, supporting all radio, radar, computer, electronic data processing, controlled cryptographic items, television, fiber optical, radiological, and related communications equipment requirements within the BDE and/or EAB supported units.
An Electronic Missile Systems Maintenance Warrant Officer (MOS 948D) is the resident SME in the Army’s missile systems and associated equipment and, from WO1 to CW2, manages a missile repair shop in the FMC or SMC, supporting all missile systems and associated equipment requirements within the BDE and/or EAB supported units.
In BDE level units, only one 913A, 914A, 919A, 948B, and 948D each is assigned, and they are the commander’s only experts for this commodity. They should track and advise on all facets and issues of their respective specialties across the BDE.
An Automotive Maintenance Warrant Officer (MOS 915A) is the resident SME in ground vehicles and, from WO1 to CW3, manages a BN motorpool providing SME expertise for ground vehicles.
In BDE level units, there are multiple 915As (generally one for each BN). When properly utilized in their assigned authorizations, the 915A can leverage the 913As, 914As, 919As, 948Bs, and 948Ds to assist in the maintenance of the unit’s low-density equipment.
A Senior Automotive Maintenance Warrant Officer (MOS 915E), a CW4 or CW5, is a maintenance warrant officer within a BDE or higher who manages the unit’s maintenance program and advises the unit commander on maintenance requirements to support the mission.
History of OD WO Merging
Before 2009, each MOS was tracked from WO1 to CW5. The smaller MOSs had very small populations at the top (one or two CW5s) to conform to the Average Grade Distribution Matrix requirements. In 2009, the OD branch merged the 91 CMF MOSs at CW4 into the 915E MOS. The consensus from senior logisticians was that the specialty did not matter at this level as the individual was just managing maintenance. This led to less-than-optimal results. Some prior 913As and 914As excelled, some failed, and some were just mediocre. For more than seven years this continued, and in 2016 the discussion about demerging the MOSs was brought up again due to the perception from senior leaders that OD WOs had significant loss of technical expertise. The OD branch decided to demerge the 913/914As at CW4 but continue to have them merge at CW5. This change was approved in 2019 and fully implemented in fiscal 20.
One of the biggest factors of success as a 915E was the 915A’s background in managing BN motorpools, since these individuals already had years of experience. This led senior OD WOs to recommend junior 913As and 914As be assigned to 915A positions earlier and earlier to help develop them. All too often, 913As and 914As are assigned to 915A positions immediately after the Warrant Officer Basic Course, for which they have no training. This can potentially result in career-ending officer evaluation reports (OERs). This approach inadvertently underwrites the collapse of all the specialties by taking personnel out of their MOS during their key developmental years.
The MOSs were demerged in 2020. Some commanders and even senior OD WOs who were hesitant to change the WO management culture inside their formations continue to allow and even advocate for this misassignment. Junior OD WOs frequently discuss broadening in this fashion because they have been convinced that by being assigned to 915A positions they are becoming multifunctional technicians. The reality is they are watering down their own specialty. Many senior OD WOs recommend all six MOSs be used interchangeably, and commanders continue accepting these recommendations. This is especially apparent due to current shortages of 915As across the Army as leaders look to fill these vacancies with a WO.
Slotting WOs outside their primary MOS is against Army regulations. AR 614-100 states WOs are only authorized to be slotted outside their primary MOS with approval from the Human Resources Command (HRC) commanding general (CG). WOs have a separate section in this regulation for a reason. WOs must serve in MOS-authorized assignments to develop the KSBs to perform their specialty at the next higher echelon as they progress. If these personnel are not placed in positions to develop, the result will be the lack of senior low-density warrants who have the requisite KSBs to fill key positions such as instructors, trainers, and capabilities developers. This causes the degradation of required knowledge across the board and increases reliance on contracted logistic support and field support representatives.
There is a huge disparity in the total number of active-duty WOs across these six MOSs. Removing a handful of low-density MOSs from their qualified positions drastically affects the entire MOS. About 87 percent of 915As, 81 percent of 948Bs, 79 percent of 948Ds, 68 percent of 914As, 61 percent of 913As, and 48 percent of 919As are assigned within their MOS. The actual rates are likely much lower because rates are based on the unit assigning the WO to the position. Unless a unit has multiple low-density MOSs, it normally doesn’t officially slot them so they can continue showing the vacancy.
A 915A vacancy should be filled by an MCO, MCS, and MSS. There is a major shortage of 915As, and this MOS is at 75 percent strength. The old approach of interchangeability between the MOSs pushes many commanders to assign MOSs in 915A positions to fill voids based on the recommendation of some senior OD WOs. The problem is 913As, 914As, 919As, 948Bs, and 948Ds cannot, should not, and, more importantly, are not qualified to fill this void. They are not technical experts in automotive systems maintenance.
To get a WO accession packet approved by the OD office, an applicant must prove technical expertise in a feeder MOS. Current business practices of misassigning WOs negates this mandated accession requirement.
The MCO, MCS, and MSS are the next logical replacements for a 915A. Most motorpools are authorized these same three maintenance leaders. When a vacancy exists in one position, commanders in that unit must balance the talent among the personnel in each subordinate unit.
The 913As, 914As, 919As, 948Bs, and 948Ds should not be assigned to 915A positions because they should fill the BDE-level commodity manager role for their specialty. If a 913A works as a 915A, they are focused, understandably, on their BN alone rather than serving the remaining BNs within the BDE to support their organic armament systems.
Commanders must understand they underutilize and gamble with critical SME careers and Soldier safety when they make these risky decisions. Too often this issue is dismissed, and senior leaders assure SMEs they will be taken care of when it comes time for their OER. In this case, we falsely guarantee the promotion of these individuals who may or may not have the KSB required to secure their next promotion. This only allows the perception of substandard WOs to persist among senior leaders.
The resulting single biggest issue is the removal of WOs from positions critical to developing specific KSB, which they will need as senior SMEs in their commodity. Additionally, WOs may be unfairly and adversely affected by a bad or mediocre OER while working outside their MOS. WOs generally only have a few OERs between promotion boards, so one bad OER can disrupt their career. In the past ten years, promotion rates for CW3 914A have been between 25 to 40 percent. Due to the competitiveness of these promotions, commanders gamble with WOs’ careers when making these decisions.
This misassignment is detrimental to the unit. The unit has no true SME in the position. A 913A, 914A, 919A, 948B, or 948D in a 915A position has no more technical expertise in automotive maintenance than the MCO. Unit readiness depends on having an SME ensure correct faults are identified and fixed and installation is completed and inspected correctly. The unit continues to deplete time, effort, and fiscal resources without improving readiness.
This misassignment also hurts the Army. Misassignment of WOs contributes to a significant loss of subject matter expertise in these specialties. The Army requires WOs to develop within their craft, ensuring they are prepared to provide this expertise when needed. When WOs are placed in positions outside their primary MOS, leaders take their ability to develop in their primary MOS away from them. This is the main contributor to skillset atrophy within these MOSs.
Improper utilization of WOs is particularly harmful to low-density MOSs. Assigning a small number of low-density MOSs outside authorized positions will prove detrimental in the near future when these personnel move to subsequent ranks of even smaller densities.
Vacancies in low-density WOs from their authorized position also create a developmental and training gap in the enlisted MOSs that feed into the WO MOS. This practice has resulted in vacancies in units for years with no 913As, 914As, 919As, 948Bs, or 948Ds in their respective sections, which translates to 91 and 94 Soldiers without technical mentors to develop future WOs.
Lastly and specific to 914As, if they are unable to maintain their proficiencies, the Army will never see a return on investment in innovation and advanced manufacturing efforts. The Army has invested heavily in advanced manufacturing during the past 10 years, with efforts in computer numerical control precision machining, 3D printing, RAPTOR database, digital thread, and others. The Army has finally fielded the metalworking and machining shop set across most of the force, but in many units, these machines lay dormant because 914As fill 915A roles. Senior Army leaders continue to ask why so few individuals use the additive manufacturing digital thread. One reason is the MOS misassignment of OD warrants. If the Army expects to develop SMEs who can produce parts on demand, complete field expedient repairs, and repair hulls on tanks during LSCO, we must support the development of those individuals now. This is not a capability that can be developed overnight. These skills take years to develop, so allowing 914As to work within their MOS is critical.
- Enforce regulatory guidance within AR 614-100, which only allows WOs to work outside their primary MOS with approval from CG HRC.
- Commanders and senior WOs must acknowledge vacancies in 915A positions should be mitigated by utilizing 91A MCOs, 91X4O MCSs, and 91X4O MSSs.
- Ensure career managers understand the regulatory requirements to correctly advise their WOs on navigating the misassignment.
- Ensure commanders and senior OD WOs understand this problem and how imperative it is to allow junior WOs to develop the KSB required to become SMEs as senior WOs.
- Senior commanders must review the current assignments of the WOs inside their formations to ensure they are being utilized in their current MOS.
- All leaders must empower OD NCOs to operate at a higher level, make readiness decisions, and manage unit maintenance when there is a vacancy in the WO MOS.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Alex Taylor serves as the ground readiness branch senior ordnance logistician at the XVIII Airborne Corps, assistant chief of staff, G-4. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from American Military University. He is a graduate of the Warrant Officer Senior Service Education course and the Joint Logistics Course.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Michael Theroux serves as the ground readiness branch chief in Army Special Operations Aviation Command. He holds a master’s degree in transportation and logistics management from American Military University. He is a certified Project Management Professional graduate of the Warrant Officer Senior Service Education course and the Theater Sustainment Planner course and is a certified Project Management Professional.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Wencil serves as the senior ground maintenance warrant officer in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. He is a graduate of the Allied Trades Warrant Officer Basic and Advanced courses, is a Training with Industry fellow, and is an American Welding Society Certified Welding Inspector. He holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from American Military University.
This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.