Mustang Officer: (slang) A military officer who previously served in the military as an enlisted service member.
Most often, Marine Mustang Officers are prior enlisted Marines who commissioned without a break in service. So, they went through OCS via the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Programs, instead of leaving service, going to college perhaps, and then rejoining. In fact, some enlisted Marines attend the Naval Academy while in service, to graduate as an officer, all while on active duty. There are multiple paths to becoming an officer.
Common Attributes of Marine Mustang Officers
Generally, due to their time in enlisted service and the possible additional delay of a college degree program, Mustangs are almost always older than fellow Lieutenants who immediately commission after graduating college in their early twenties. In general, Mustangs are more savvy to military culture and customs, although they are not necessarily better officers overall.
Exceptions to the General Mustang Officer Path
Upon occasion, enlisted service members have received direct commissions to either Warrant Officer (still counts as a Mustang Officer) or Commissioned Officer ranks. Most often, this happens in wartime.
Famous Marine Mustang Officers
Both 29th Commandant Gray and General, now Secretary of Defense, Mattis were Mustangs. They both enlisted briefly before commissioning after receiving their college degrees.
Recognition and Community
Marine Mustangs have much to be proud of. In fact, there is an entire Marine Mustang Officer Association!
However, there is nothing that specifically marks a Mustang or sets them apart on a day-to-day basis. As a boot Lieutenant, Mustangs will have more ribbons on their service and dress uniforms, but those differences are somewhat mitigated over time.
In the end, whichever route you take to becoming an officer is the right one for you, and your success depends on your leadership and commitment!
Read more from one Marine Mustang who shares the surprises along his path from enlisted to officer via OCS here.