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USTRANSCOM Navy Reservists continue 'mustang' history

A little bit of Navy history was made - and celebrated - in November when one generation of Reserve Limited Duty Officers symbolically passed responsibility for their shared heritage to the next generation of LDOs.

As part of a commissioning ceremony at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., the senior most LDO in the Navy Reserve, Capt. Richard Eich, gave his original ensign bars to the newest and most junior LDO in the Navy Reserve, Ensign Daniel Monahan.

During the ceremony, Eich explained to the audience, made up of Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force and Coast Guard reservists from U.S. Transportation Command's Joint Transportation Reserve Unit - the organization to which both Eich and Monahan belong - that in the Navy, a mustang is an officer who has earned a commission based upon many years of demonstrated enlisted leadership and exceptional technical expertise. A selectee is promoted up from the enlisted ranks through an in-service procurement program, with no interruption of his/her duty status, much like a battlefield commission during WWII.

Eich said Navy mustangs traditionally have been either LDO's, or Chief Warrant Officers, though other enlisted-to-officer programs have sprouted up over the years.

"The LDO/CWO program remains the only commissioning program where highly qualified enlisted personnel can earn a commission without first having a college degree," said Capt. James Elizares, chief of staff, U.S. Harbor Defense Forces Western Pacific. Elizares also serves as the deputy chairman for the U.S. Navy (Reserve Component) LDO/CWO Mustang Community Executive Steering Group.

Elizares goes on to say, "Although many former enlisted personnel may eventually earn a commission after having earned a degree by any number of ways (Seaman to Admiral, Enlisted Commissioning Program, etc), if they did not receive their commission as a direct result of their combined leadership and technical ability, and thus were selected by the LDO/CWO board, they are not true 'mustangs.'"

While there are several accounts of the origin of the term "mustang" - a relatively modern term - one holds that it originated at the US Naval Academy where the term "mustang" was used to distinguish traditional officers ("thoroughbreds") from prior enlisted officers ("mustangs"). Started as an insult, just like "Yankee", the slur stuck and soon became a badge of honor.

While it is believed to be a sea service term, other service officers have increasingly been referred to as "mustangs."

However the term came into usage, the mustang has the technical background and experience gained from their enlisted time, plus the rank and protocol to carry out specialized tasks and missions that require both attributes.

"As an LDO mustang," Monahan said, "I have the previous enlisted experience that will be invaluable as time goes on in leading other officers and enlisted members."

During World War II, the Navy increasingly saw the need for such sailors, and extensively promoted qualified enlisted men to the rank of CWO to fulfill some of these needs.

Officially designated the Limited Duty Officer Commissioning Program in 1948, this small, elite group of officers was intended to support the Navy's leadership with their technical expertise and was designed to enhance the junior officer ranks.

"When I was commissioned in 1982," Eich told the crowd, "Lieutenant was as high as I could be advanced. However, as you can see, this changed over the years and I was able to advance to my present grade."

After the Korean War, the use of LDOs and CWO's declined, only to have the Navy again rely heavily on mustangs during the Vietnam conflict. The Navy revived the LDO/CWO program in 1976, and in 1980, they revised the Reserve Component LDO/CWO Commissioning Program.

Today, LDOs and CWOs are filling critical positions of leadership - many having commanded on the front lines in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Yet LDOs and CWOs are still a small, elite group.

"Today, the Active Component LDO/CWO makes up about 13% of the wardroom," Eich said, "while the Reserve Component LDO/CWO makes up less than 4% of the Reserve Officer Corps."

Elizares says that there are about 480 LDOs/CWOs in the Reserve Component today, down from more than 650 just a few years ago.

"If you consider the very small number of annual applicants that make it to the board (less than 200)," Elizares explained, "and there are 40,000-plus enlisted reserve personnel, you can see that the applicants represent a very small percentile. Historically, the overall selection rate has hovered around 20 percent with some designators - such as Security and Intelligence - currently having selection rates near 50 percent due to the high demand for their expertise in today's War on Terrorism. Other designators - like Administration, Operations, and many others - may only have one or two selectees from groups of 40 or more applicants."

This makes being a mustang a real achievement.

"The fact that Dan [Monahan] was selected against the large number of candidates for the [administrative officer] slots," Eich said, "means he would have been in the top percentile of all candidates reviewed."

On hand to help celebrate Monahan's achievement were his wife, Michelle, and son, Nicholas. Both helped pin on Monahan's new rank with Eich's old insignia.

Then, in keeping with a military tradition dating back before the birth of the United States, Monahan received his first salute as an officer from shipmate PO1 Peter Deschene, for which the new ensign presented Deschene with a silver dollar.

Reflecting on the value his new status as an LDO brings to the JTRU and USTRANSCOM, Monahan said, "With my previous enlisted experience, I will be able to move into more of a leadership and management role already knowing USTRANSCOM's role."

USTRANSCOM, one of U.S. military's ten combatant commands, provides common-user and commercial air, land, and sea transportation, terminal management, and aerial refueling to support the global deployment, employment, sustainment, and redeployment of US forces. As the Department of Defense's Distribution Process Owner (DPO), USTRANSCOM directs and supervises the execution of the distribution system and develops and implements distribution process improvements.

The JTRU, the first Department of Defense-authorized "joint" reserve unit, provides USTRANSCOM with the highly skilled personnel it needs from the reserve components of all the services.

Monahan said he was very aware of the debt he owns mustangs past and future, "It's an honor to be commissioned to Ensign through the LDO Program," he said, "and to follow in the footsteps of the other LDO mustangs that have led the way and open doors for future Mustangs."

Referring to the age gap between his generation of LDO's and Monahan's, Eich confessed, "While reviewing his [Monahan's] commissioning documents, I noted he was born in 1971. I enlisted in the Navy in 1968 ... I was in the Navy three years before Dan was born."

The ceremony also marked a sad symmetry between Eich and Monahan. As Monahan took his place in the LDO community, Eich was preparing to say goodbye. After 41 years of unbroken service, Eich will be retiring in January of 2010, closing one chapter in LDO history.

In closing his remarks, Eich looked at the new ensign, but addressed their peers, "I am fully convinced Dan will continue the LDO tradition and I pray he will enjoy his career as much as I have mine."

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