According to Chief Warrant Officer 5 John Freeman, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's command chief warrant officer, times - and perceptions - are changing for warrant officers.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, recently added a senior warrant officer to his staff as a primary advisor on warrant officer issues. Freeman - who serves as an advisor to Wisconsin National Guard senior leadership on warrant officer issues - said this signals a change in the duties and responsibilities of the warrant officer at the highest levels of the Army.
"Historically, the warrant officer cohort's roles and responsibilities have been fairly narrow in focus, because warrant officers are subject-matter experts in their respective fields or disciplines," Freeman said. "Right or wrong, the roles of today's warrant officer are being broadened.
"In today's environment, warrant officers can no longer afford to be just technical experts," he continued. "Because of their expanded roles, warrant officers must understand the commander's intent and turn it into action in order to execute today's complex full-spectrum missions."
Helping warrant officers do that is a big part of Freeman's job in the Wisconsin Army National Guard. He described this responsibility as warrant officer life cycle management - in other words, providing guidance beginning with the initial selection process, through training and promotion, to selection for advanced positions. It's a process he brought with him from his last job at the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Va.
"I interacted with command chief warrant officers from all 54 states and territories," Freeman said. "I had the privilege of being able to see [warrant officer life cycle management] programs that worked and did not work. Through these opportunities I believe I had built a 'tool box' that could assist in improving a state's warrant officer readiness."
One tool in that toolbox is the Warrant Officer Muster, the first of a recurring annual event, to be held March 22-23 at Volk Field, Wis. The muster aims to retain warrant officers by clarifying career goals and developing long-term strategies that target continued service and career advancement. More than 100 Wisconsin Army National Guard warrant officers - including candidates - are expected to attend.
"Junior and senior warrant officers have to be technical experts, but they also must possess staff skills to assist the organization in accomplishing its mission," Freeman said. "The ability to analyze, anticipate, plan, coordinate and prepare detailed briefings are all part of what warrant officers do routinely in their daily duties. They must be able to execute these tasks in the language commanders understand through the military decision-making process and troop-leading processes."
Freeman explained the warrant officer role this way: Commanders command, and warrant officers ensure the commander understands the capabilities of his or her assets, whether that asset is a warehouse or a howitzer.
"Not many decisions are made without a warrant officer being involved or providing wise words to the commanders at all levels," he said. "Throughout the process you will hear commanders ask, 'Has chief looked at this?' or 'What does chief have to say?' By maintaining strong bonds and building relationships, commanders will always call on 'chief' and [we] must be ready to answer."