Though they have existed for barely over eight decades, the Marine Warrant Officer has become part of the Corps' folklore. Despite this fact, little history has been documented on this small band of Marines.
It was just prior to World War I that the rank of "Warrant
Officer" was placed among those that already existed. It was early in
1916 that the Commandant of the Marine Corps recommended to the Secretary of
the Navy that the warrant grades of Marine gunner and quartermaster clerk be
created. Those selected for such positions would be appointed from the
noncommissioned officer ranks of the Corps.
The Act of Congress of August 29, 1916 to increase the Corps' strength provided for the rank of "warrant officer" and, in fiscal year 1917, 41 quartermaster clerks and 43 Marine gunners were appointed. Henry Lewis Hulbert was believed to have been the first to pin on the bar and "bursting bomb". Unfortunately little else is recorded about the man. Under the pressure of officer shortages in WW1, all but three of the appointees of 1917 were commissioned temporary second lieutenants. The Warrant Grade of Pay Clerk was added in 1918.
On 22 May 1917, "temporary appointments" were authorized for World War I. The temporary rank had its beginnings long before the outbreak of World War I. During the War with Spain, forty-three (43) temporary officers were appointed in the Marine Corps from civil life or Non-Commissioned Officers from the Corps. The last of these Officers appointed only for service during the war was discharged on 16 March 1899. Even earlier, during the Civil War, the Navy made a large use of Volunteer Officers. When the press of war had passed by 4 December 1865, most of these 7,500 Volunteer Officers had been discharged and returned to civilian life.
In contrast to the easy promotion of the war years, the post-World War I years saw Marine Officer promotions being resolved into a survival of the fittest. Beginning 4 March 1925, if an officer failed twice to qualify for promotion, he would, if of less than ten (10) years service, be honorably discharged with one (1) year's pay. If of service beyond ten (10) years, he would be retained but ineligible for promotion. Not until 30 June 1942 did Congress relax these stern provisions, and then only for the period of World War II.
Life after the war became exacting for the new warrant
officers. Although in June 1926 Congress established the commissioned warrant
grades of chief Marine gunner, chief quartermaster clerk and chief pay clerk,
it took the warrant officer six years of service, and an examination to
qualify for promotion from warrant to chief. The rigid guidelines existed for
the warrant officer until a few months before Pearl Harbor was attacked, when
Congress provided that under a temporary appointment "in time of war or
national emergency", warrant officers, like NCO's could be jumped to
Captain, keeping such temporary status until six months after the end of the
war or national emergency.
In the middle of World War II, Congress abolished the lengthy titles of chief Marine gunner, chief quartermaster clerk, chief pay clerk, Marine gunner quartermaster clerk and pay clerk and established in lieu of them the grades of commissioned warrant officer and warrant officer. Attention was again focused on the warrant officers in 1949 when pay grades of W-4, W-3 and W-2 were established for commissioned warrant officers and W-1 was established for warrant officers.
Change hit the warrant officer ranks again in 1954 when the title "chief warrant officer" replaced the of "commissioned warrant officer" for those in pay grades W-4, W-3 and W-2.
The practice of temporary appointment (hitherto a wartime privilege which was authorized for World War I and enormously increased in World War II) received sanction for peacetime use. On 18 April 1946, Congress authorized male officers of the Marine Corps Reserve, Officers of the Regular Marine Corps without permanent appointment, and warrants with temporary appointments in higher grades to receive permanent appointment in the Regular Marine Corps - but not to a grade any higher than that held previously on active duty.
Then, the Officer Personnel Act of 1947 provided that a
peacetime temporary appointment could be revived by any Commissioned Officer,
Warrant Officer, and Staff Noncommissioned Officer. Only a Commissioned
Officer could be appointed to a higher temporary rank than Captain. An Officer
holding a permanent appointment in one grade and a temporary appointment in a
higher grade would be held to serving in the higher grade. Regarding
eligibility for selection, promotion, and involuntary retirement, however, he
would be considered at his old grade. An Officer could be retired in the rank
which he held on a temporary appointment, but no increase in retirement pay
would accrue solely as the result of this advancement in rank. Any
Officer who had been commended for combat duty would be p1aced on
the retired list with the rank, but not the pay,of the next highest
On 17 August 1956, the time-honored title of Marine Gunner was restored for qualified personnel appointed as non-technical Warrant Officers. As first drafted, the proposed directive would have permitted certain women Marines to be designated as Marine Gunners. Since the title was being revived specifically to lend deserved prestige to the old fighting line Marine, the word "male" was inserted, thus insuring that only males would bear the title of Marine Gunner.
Just three years later, on 10 September 1959, new appointments in the non-technical Warrant Officer Military Occupation Specialties were discontinued with the adoption of a new Warrant Officer program which did not provide for the appointment of Marine Gunners. As a matter of fact, the conversion of all non-technical Warrant Officers to technical specialties began, but personnel already designated Marine Gunner were permitted to retain the distinction. Thus for five years, there were to be no new "Bursting Bomb" awarded.
In October 1964, the designation Marine Gunner was reinstituted for Warrant Officers who were initially appointed in the Infantry, Artillery, Tank, Amphibian Tractor, and Operational Communication fields.
With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, the Marine Corps again made wide use of the Temporary Officer, tapping its large source of qualified Enlisted Marines and Warrant Officers. Notwithstanding their valuable wartime service, practical peacetime considerations directly related to personnel strengths and requirements of the Corps necessitated a gradual return to its normal Officer Programs with the goal of stabilizing its Officer structure on a long-term basis.
The various integration programs after the Korean War
helped many temporary officers to obtain permanent commissioned status, but as
late as November 1956, there were still 1,900 Marine Officers serving with
temporary commissions. Any future decreases in the Temporary Officer group
were intended to be phased out in such a manner as to meet the best needs of
the Corps, while at the same time allowing as many temporary officers as
possible to retire at their current status.
Increased American involvement in Vietnam during the Spring and Summer of 1965 again caused the Marine Corps to turn to its greatest reservoir of potential officers - its experienced active duty Staff Non-Commissioned Officers and Warrant Officers. In November 1965 it was announced that effective immediately, and continuing in three increments through February 1966, more than 2,300 new Second Lieutenants and Warrant Officers would be selected from the ranks of eligible Warrant Officers and Staff Non-Commissioned Officers. These temporary promotions were to be effective for three to four years unless the appointees were subsequently selected for a Limited Duty Officer program or for permanent Warrant Officer.
After being discontinued yet again in 1974, the Marine
Gunner program was revived in 1989 and the first class of Marine Gunners
graduated from the Warrant Officer Basic Course in Quantico, Virginia. The
Marine Gunners are still alive and the minimum requirements for eligibility to
wear the "Bursting Bomb" is a minimum of sixteen (16) years of
active duty service and be at least a Gunnery Sergeant. The Marine Gunner
today is designated as an Infantry Weapons Officer (MOS 0306). They are found
in Infantry & Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalions, Infantry Regiments,
and the Schools of Infantry. They are the "duty experts" on all
infantry weapon systems within the Marine Corps inventory. Upon selection for
Marine Gunner, the Marine is automatically advanced to the Commissioned Grade
of Chief Warrant Officer, CW02.
The promotion and management of the warrant officer ranks have been completely overhauled with legislation signed into effect in the FY92 and FY93 Defense Authorization Act.
Called the Warrant Officer Management Act, the law establishes a Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) 5 rank and provides for all future warrant officer promotions, continuations, and retirements to be based on the Marine Corps needs rather than on a fixed formula.
The creation of the CWO5 rank was actually an Army initiative. That service has very young warrant officers--many of them are helicopter pilots--and it had trouble retaining these expensively trained personnel once they were promoted to CWO4 and had nowhere else to go. The Navy and Marine Corps originally were reluctant to go along with the creation of a new rank, but with minor modifications to the Army policy it was approved. One of Secretary of the Navy H. Lawrence Garrett's changes was that the Marine Corps will cap the number of CWO5's at 5 percent of the warrant officer ranks.
The new law also eliminates the dual promotion track for warrant officers, doing away with temporary and permanent promotions. As of 1 February 1992, when the law took effect, all Marine warrant officers will receive permanent promotions, and those holding temporary promotions will be permanently promoted to that rank.
The Marine Corps now considers for promotion the best qualified based on the needs of the Service, not just those fully qualified because of time in grade. Previously, the law required that no fewer than 80 percent of those with enough time in grade be promoted. Now, time in grade will be only one consideration for eligibility, and the law now allows for 10 percent below-zone promotions. There is no longer a statutory requirement for annual promotion boards.
Because of downsizing, the new law allows for selective
early retirement of certain warrant officers, and it provides a 6-month period
between a second passover for promotion and actual discharge or involuntary
retirement. Before, the grace period was 60 days.