What is a Mustang?
In the Sea Services (Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard), a Mustang is an Officer who has promoted up from the ranks of Navy enlisted personnel through an in-service procurement program, with no interruption of his/her active duty status. It is also understood that the Mustang Officer was a career Sailor or Marine, and normally wears one or more Good Conduct Medals.
Thus, the Navy Mustang is either a Navy Limited Duty Officers (LDO), a Chief Warrant Officers (CWO), or commissioned through the Direct Fleet Accession, Seaman to Admiral (S2A) program, or through the Enlisted Commissioning Program. In the past, there were other programs leading to a commission, such as NESEP, or the Naval Flight Officer program, but these have since gone away.
LDO's and CWO's are a very unique part of the Naval service. The LDO or CWO serves in a role like no other commissioned officer can. LDOs and CWOs are enlisted people who are commissioned as Officers, and have been called to serve from their senior enlisted ranks as technical managers. An LDO or CWO has the necessary experience and technical background to perform tasks that call for the "officer" rank and protocol to carry out, but require the enlisted heart and experience to get accomplished. Currently, the US Navy and Marine Corps are the only branches of the armed forces to have such commissioning programs in place.
The term "Mustang" is a relatively modern term, originating either just prior to, or during World War II. It is believed to be a Sea Service term, although other service officers are beginging to be described as Mustangs.
It literally refers to the mustang horse, which is a wild animal and therefore not a thoroughbred. A mustang, after being captured, can be tamed and saddle broken but it always has a bit of wild streak, and can periodically revert to its old ways unexpectedly and therefore the owner needs to keep an eye on it at all times.
By the same token, however, since a mustang was formerly a wild and free animal, it may very well be smarter, more capable and have a better survival instinct than thoroughbreds. The mustang can take care of itself when things get tough, thriving on rough treatment, while the thoroughbred, having been pampered its whole life, cannot.
You can easily see the parallel between horses and Naval Officers. The term "Mustang" is used in a complimentary sense most of the time.
Another accounting for the term "Mustang" is derived from the US Naval Academy where the term "Mustang" was initially used by USNA grads as an insult to the "lower class" of prior enlisted officers. They considered themselves as thoroughbreds and, meaning to insult, called our honored predecessors, "Mustangs" because we were less than pure. Like "Yankee" the slur stuck and soon became a badge of honor.
An LDO or CWO is an officer by appearance and in the minds of the "top brass," and an enlisted technician at heart. The creed of the LDO/CWO, upon receiving their commission is: "I did it the hard way... I earned it."
Please note: The term Naval Officer here is used to refer to Mustang Officers in both the Navy and Marine Corps who are both Officers in the Navy Department.
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