The recent release of NAVOP 128/22 announced the suspension of the cryptologic LDO program, bringing to an end a path to a commission that produced some of the community’s finest technical managers and leaders.  Selection for a commission under this highly competitive program was based on proven cryptologic expertise and leadership, important in a career field where no corresponding college program existed. 

Currently the final 681X LDOs selected is attending the Cryptologic Warfare Officer Basic Course at the Information Warfare Training Command-Corry Station, in Pensacola, Florida.  We know who the final selectees are, but who were the first?

The LDO program was an outgrowth of the Navy’s Warrant Officer program.  Warrant Officers have served the Navy since its inception at the time of the Revolution.  Unlike today’s Warrant Officers, most of these initial WOs had little Navy experience, but were directly appointed based on skills they had obtained elsewhere, typically on merchant vessels or as privateers.  As the Navy progressed technically, the program was expanded to encompass the new technology.  With the introduction of wireless communications in the first decades of the twentieth century, the Gunner Warrant was split, first into Gunner and Gunner (E) [for electrical]; followed by a further breakout of wireless specialists identified as Gunner (W) [for wireless], later changed to Gunner (R) [for radio].

In 1910 Congress first authorized the promotion of ten WOs annually to the rank of Ensign.  These in effect were the first LDOs, Sailors who began their careers as enlisted, progressing through the ranks to First Class or Chief Petty Officer (then the top enlisted rank), then transitioning to Warrant Officer and finally to officer status.   Of necessity the WO program grew significantly during World War II, and was expanded to include direct commissioning of skilled senior enlisted. By war’s end approximately 25 to 30 percent of the Navy’s junior officers were either permanent CWO or enlisted that held temporary commissions. 

Concerned that critical technical skills gained through enlisted or warrant service were often lost when such Sailors were commissioned into the general line, in 1948 the Navy established the Limited Duty Officer program.  Initially authorized under the Officer Personnel Act of 1947, the LDO community was envisioned as a small corps of officers who had acquired technical proficiency in a particular enlisted specialty, and who would continue to serve only in that specialty after commissioning.  Initially LDOs received permanent appointments to commissioned status; in 1957 initial appointments were changed to temporary with the option to become permanent after a designated period of commissioned service.  The enlisted Communications Technician field was also established in 1948, separating Radiomen who were engaged in cryptologic operations from those who handled the Navy’s general service communications.  Because the CT rating fell under the Administrative and Clerical Group, initially Communications Technicians selected for LDO were commissioned as Limited Duty Officers (Administration) [designator 1720] or (Electronics) [designator 1750].   Since LDOs selected from any of the source ratings in this group (RM, CT, YN, PN, etc.) were all grouped together under either of these two designators it difficult to isolate those commissioned from the CT ranks.  Warrants were commissioned as Radio Electricians, which included RMs and CTs.

In 1952 the system of designating Warrant Officers was expanded, and the 1952 Naval Register is the first to distinctly identify CT Warrants [Radio Electrician (CT) – 764X].  CT LDOs continued to be grouped under the LDO (Administration) designator.

In 1958 the Career Compensation Act established the pay grades of E-8 and E-9, and at the same time directing the phase out of service warrant programs.  To compensate for the elimination of WOs, the LDO program would be expanded and other WO duties would be assumed by the two new enlisted pay grades.  In 1963 a second review concluded that WOs were still required, and scaled back the LDO program a bit to allow a revitalization of the warrant program.  In late 1974 the Navy concluded that both programs would be retained.

The first Naval Register to indicate a separate designator for LDO-Cryptology (646X)[1] was the 1960 edition, suggesting that the designator was established about that time.  The register lists two 6460 Lieutenant Commanders – LCDR Abrahm H. Brower (previously designated 1750) and LCDR John Kriss (previously designated 1720).  These were the two senior cryptologic LDOs on active duty in 1960, both with a date of rank as LCDR in 1954.  Brower initially joined the Navy in 1934 as a Radioman, was commissioned as a CWO (Chief Radio Electrician) and then commissioned as an Ensign in 1944.  Kriss was directly commissioned from the enlisted ranks in 1944, most likely serving as a Radioman engaged in cryptologic duties.

Although able to rise to Commander as an LDO, few LDOs were able to reach that level due to a statutory requirement to retire when thirty years total service was reached.  LDO promotions were also “capped” at the O-5 level. In 1985 this cap was lifted, paving the way for LDOs to promote to Captain.  Captain Al Ross was the first cryptologic LDO Captain (selected as an LDO), selected in 1990 and promoted 1 March 1991.  Captain Tom Botulinski followed in 1998.  Although these two Captains are among the few who retained their LDO designator, there were other LDOs who were promoted to Captain after switching designator to avoid the cap. 

During the life of the program, LDOs were detailed interchangeably with their 1610 counterparts, and as junior officers provided technical depth and leadership to any command to which they were assigned.  Although sadly the cryptologic community has chosen to terminate the program, their legacy will live on. 

Who was the first cryptologic LDO? The answer remains hidden – maybe someone can suggest a candidate and post it here.

By LCDR Robert E. Morrison, USN (ret.)

[1] The designator has been changed several times, to 644X in the mid-1970s and later to 681X.