By Jim Gill
Turning the clock back a ways to 1955, the enhanced grades of E-8 and E-9 for a Chief Petty Officer were non-existent and there were only two grades of Warrant, W-1 and W-2. You had the choice of staying where you were as an E-7 or attempting to move up into the warrant grades. The first step up then was W-1 or just plain Warrant. From W-2 and up it was called Chief Warrant. The Chief Warrants were commissioned officers but the W-1 Warrant was not, and therein lies this story.
If the Warrant was no longer a chief petty officer and was not a commissioned officer, what was he? The gold band on his cap was very narrow as was the single stripe on the uniform sleeve. The “Pin Stripe” they called it, and the cap device was a pair of crossed anchors. Thus, the pin striper was neither fish nor fowl. He rated a salute and to be called “Sir” by his subordinates. He lived in officers country and took meals in the wardroom. Most unique of all, he was addressed by his specialty, as Bos'n Jones, Machinist Smith and so on. (A custom normally reserved for the rank of Commander and up.)
I spent most of my years in the Coast Guard as a Quartermaster. That could mean a lot of sea duty and for me that’s the way it happened. From the troop transport of WWII there seemed to one great white cutter after another. IROQUOIS, SPENCER, TANEY, ESCANABA. I made QMC in 1951 and went to FINCH. All those ships were assigned to the Ocean Weather Station Project and in the period 1946 to 1952 I suffered through 29 weather patrols. I hated it !
In 1952-53 the cutters in the Pacific were making 5 and 8 month rotational patrols. I saw guys just in from one patrol get snagged for the next one leaving. With another ten years before I could retire there was no way I was going to keep on with that kind of nonsense.
About 1949 it dawned on me that there was a way out. None of the big white cutters carried a BOSN or CHBOSN in their ship’s compliment. If I could work my way up to the warrant grade, that would be the end of those hated weather patrols. I went to work on it with a vengeance and in 1952 I qualified and took the exam for advancement. . On 1 November 1955 I was promoted to BOSN W-1.
My first assignment was to CGC CHEROKEE (WATF-165) home ported in Norfolk, Virginia. I reported on 12 December 1955. The ship was a former Navy fleet tug, 205ft in length with a crew of 78 and the primary mission was search and rescue. It was all new and exciting but as a “boot” warrant officer I had much to learn. My primary function was as the ship’s maintenance boss or First Lieutenant as it is called. There is much to tell about the adventures of CHEROKEE but let’s get back to the warrant problem.
Being a W-1 was very interesting. The white hats didn’t know whether to salute or shake hands. The chiefs were disapproving, as though, “there goes one of us that went astray.” The younger officers were baffled, not knowing what your place was. The CO was tolerant and seemed to understand but was skeptical. I took it all in stride, did my job and looked forward to the day when I would become a “real” officer as W-2. I served in CHEROKEE for two years and was transferred back to the West Coast where I was assigned to the Naval Weapons Station at Concord, CA as Explosives Loading Officer. This was a function of Captain of the Port, San Francisco and it was here on 1 November 1958 that at last I was advanced to CHBOSN W-2.
So that made three years as a BOSN W-1 and that was part of the deal. I suppose the idea was to see if you could cut the mustard before they handed you the commission.
At this point I also had the option of going ahead with it or reverting back to CPO. As I pointed out earlier, there were no E-8 or E-9 grades to consider so the obvious choice was to accept a permanent move to the commissioned ranks.
I look back at my time as a W-1 with great appreciation for the entry grade into the warrant cadre is now W-2 with W-1 being merely statutory. This in part was to provide a better pay incentive to make the Chief Warrant community more attractive. The creation of the CPO grades E-8 and E-9 had previously preempted the choice of many well qualified candidates to move up. By eliminating the three year period as W-1 the path to the prestigious grade of W-4 was shortened. Last but not least it removed the three year problem of everybody including the W-1 trying to figure out who and what they were.
I retired from the USCG in 1963 as a W-3, my last assignment being Commanding Officer of Lightship 612.
Was that better than weather patrol?
It most certainly was!
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