Signal warrant-officer corps will see transformation

by CW5 Pete Hewitt

The Army is undergoing a major transformation to meet the 21st century’s challenges. For the Signal Regiment’s warrant-officer corps to continue as the technical linchpins for mission success, the warrant military-occupation-specialty structure must also change.

We must be able to provide units and commands with skilled technicians to integrate and manage emerging information-technology systems and networks at brigade level or higher. We must also make all warrant-officer MOSs more viable in a reduced-force-structure environment while providing progressive development and enhanced career paths. Third, we must increase the quality and quantity of potential warrant-officer candidates by expanding the accession population to include more enlisted MOSs. Last, we must increase warrant-officer retention through better alignment of skillsets with emerging warrant-officer positions in operational units.

Under the current Signal warrant-officer structure, MOS 251A (data-processing technician) manages personnel and equipment assets associated with battlefield automation systems, automated information systems and internet networks, to include internetworking these systems at all echelons. To support digitization of the force at maneuver brigade and equivalent-unit levels, MOS 251A is projected to increase authorizations. More increases are also projected for corps-level units and above, with additional requirements being identified in Signal brigades and battalions.

In spite of intensive efforts, the Signal Regiment continues to experience difficulty in accessing and retaining enough 251As to meet current authorizations, let alone these additional requirements. Some reasons for this are:

The stringent accession prerequisites required for entrance into 251A;
The limited quantity of enlisted soldiers in the primary enlisted feeder MOS (MOS 74B);
Changes in working environment from primarily sustainment base as a 74B enlisted soldier to primarily tactical units as a 251A; and
The highly marketable skills of both MOS 74B and MOS 251A in the civilian sector.

MOS 250N (network-management technician) designs, engineers and supervises voice, data and video-communications systems over wide-area networks at division level and above. The current MOS 250N evolved from MOS 250A (communications-security security technician) and MOS 250B (tactical automated-switching technician). During the 1980s, implementation of the electronic-key management system led to the eventual elimination of MOS 250A; MOS 250B subsumed many MOS 250A functions and positions. Eventually, MOS 250B was realigned and redefined as MOS 250N.

EKMS was expected to result in user-owned and -operated automated COMSEC accounts, thereby eliminating the need for dedicated COMSEC warrant officers. EKMS’ current fielding hasn’t resulted in the expected manpower reductions; commands are still requiring warrant-officer supervision of their COMSEC accounts.

In the current force structure, there are more than 100 250N positions where COMSEC management is the primary function, and information management and information assurance are secondary functions. There’s no plan to eliminate these positions.

Assignment to a COMSEC position currently has a direct and long-term negative impact on the 250N’s technical skills. The high-tech, complex telecommunications skills and experience needed for advancement and success in 250N are extremely perishable. These skills rapidly deteriorate through non-use while warrant officers serve in these positions. This results in a warrant officer who has lost his technical edge and is unable to support his commander fully when reassigned as a communications-system planner in a Signal unit. The unit’s ability to accomplish its mission is jeopardized, and the warrant officer’s career is also placed at risk.

The Army is pushing digitization down to the lowest levels of the warfighting force, which in turn will increase requirements for skilled IT soldiers in the field. The projected increase of Signal warrant-officer positions at division level will be unique in that they’ll be authorized in the S-6 section of maneuver brigades and equivalent-level units. These warrant officers will plan, integrate and manage communications, computers and visual-information systems into local-area and wide-area networks that support tactical-operations centers.

A multifunctional warrant officer is needed who possesses tactical communications and computer-systems networking skills, as well as a thorough understanding of warfighting operations at brigade and below. The current skillset of MOS 251A is limited to computers and LANs, nor does it fully meet the technical and tactical Signal-support proficiency required at these levels. The current skillset of MOS 250N is limited to large, backbone communications systems and WANs. The current skillset also fails to satisfy the need for the multifunctional Signal-support technician.

Under the current Signal warrant-officer grade structure, there are 15 chief warrant officer five authorizations. Although coded for a specific MOS, most positions are MOS-immaterial in that the expertise required to perform the duties isn’t dependent on specific technical skills. These positions are normally at the upper echelons of command and require maturity, broad professional military experience and a more global understanding of Signal-support organizations and operations. Most CW5 positions can be filled by Signal warrants from either MOS 250N or 251A. Also, the low retention rate for MOS 251A has caused a shortage of CW5, so the Army is unable to fill the current small number of five authorizations.

The Signal Center made a proposal in March 2000 which was approved by the deputy chief of staff for personnel in October 2000. The proposal is to make major changes and realign the Signal warrant-officer structure. MOS 254A (Signal systems technician) will be created to provide a specially trained multifunctional (communications/information systems/COMSEC) warrant officer. This warrant officer will:

Manage Signal-support equipment, systems, networks and technical devices;
Integrate unit Signal systems and networks into the wide-area telecommunications networks;
Perform LAN administration management; and
Supervise EKMS and COMSEC accounting functions.

MOS 254A warrant officers will be the linchpins (go-to technician) for IT operations and technical issues in warfighting brigade-level and equivalent units.

The primary enlisted feeder MOS for this warrant-officer specialty is 31U (Signal-support-systems specialist). MOS 31U is the best feeder for 254A because it’s the primary enlisted Signal MOS in non-Signal tactical units. MOS 31U soldiers are the Signal-support-systems experts familiar with how warfighting soldiers live and fight. They know and understand the information systems and services requirements of tactical operational units, and they have a multifunctional skillset. They know communications, computers, networks and COMSEC.

This change opens up warrant-officer opportunities to a previously untapped inventory of 7,000 MOS 31U soldiers. Heretofore MOS 31U has been closed to warrant-officer opportunity except under unusual circumstances (waiver). MOS 254A places warrant-officer role models and recruiters into the trenches and in direct contact with potential warrant-officer candidates, the 31U enlisted soldier.

The combined impact of a dramatically larger accession pool, plus accessing warrant officers from soldiers within their own environment, will greatly enhance recruiting and retention of Signal warrant officers. Any MOS possessing requisite tactical operations and Signal-support-systems experience will also qualify for accession into MOS 254A.

MOS 74B (information-systems specialist) will continue to be the primary feeder for MOS 251A. MOS 74B has about 3,000 soldiers; we anticipate this number to increase to more than 4,000 soldiers as the Army continues to digitize tactical units. In the future, as more MOS 74B soldiers develop in tactical units, their participation in MOS 254A will also increase. MOS 254A presents a broadened opportunity for Signal soldiers who want to pursue a warrant-officer career.

More than 100 current 250N authorizations in which COMSEC management is the primary function will be recoded from MOS 250N to the new MOS 254A. This will remove MOS 250N from maneuver units and eliminate the misutilization and technical-skill degradation of network-management technicians. Fourteen MOS 251A authorizations located in maneuver brigades will be reclassified to MOS 254A.

In the future, all Signal warrant-officer positions documented to support digitization in tactical units will be evaluated to determine if they should be coded as either MOS 251A or 254A. Current warrant officers in both MOS 250N and 251A will be offered voluntary reclassification to 254A; no mandatory reclassification actions will be taken. A survey was made in March to determine interest in 254A.

MOS 255Z (senior Signal warrant officer) will be created to consolidate all technical and institutional expertise from MOSs 250N, 251A and 254A into a "capper" MOS at CW5. This MOS has enough density to allow distribution to positions requiring senior advisers with telecommunications and automation functional expertise. This action will provide commanders in chief, major commands and theater Signal commanders with well-rounded, broad-based, technically and institutionally oriented advisers. Consolidation will allow CW5 promotion selections to be made from a broader-base population, which ensures positions are filled and promotion opportunities are increased for all MOSs.

Implementing these changes is underway, and milestones have been identified. A combined 250N/251A/254A critical-task site-selection board was held in January. Course development for a 254A warrant-officer basic course is underway. A pilot WOBC will begin in June for two 254A warrant-officer candidates selected by a special board in November 2000.

Recruiting for MOS 254A will begin the first quarter of fiscal year 2002. Changes to the tables of distribution and allowances/tables of organization and equipment and personnel reclassification become effective during first quarter FY03.

These changes will meet evolving IT requirements while strengthening the accession, professional development, utilization and retention for warrant-officer specialties. They will position the Signal warrant-officer corps to enter the 21st century and continue their heritage of technical excellence. As the Army transforms, we must look toward the future and take the necessary actions to ensure the warrant officer remains the commander’s go-to person.

CW5 Hewitt is the Signal Regiment chief warrant officer. He holds a bachelor of science degree in business from the University of Maryland and a master’s in information-resource management from Webster University, St. Louis, Mo.

Acronym QuickScan
COMSEC – communications security
CW5 – chief warrant officer five
EKMS – electronic-key management system
FY – fiscal year
IT – information technology
LAN – local-area network
MOS – military-occupation specialty
WAN – wide-area network
WOBC – warrant-officer basic course

dividing rule

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