All posts by Michael L. Lewis

NCOs integral to enabling the president to communicate anytime, anywhere

By MICHAEL L. LEWIS
NCO Journal

Clad in smart suits, they blend into the bevy of staff members, reporters and security personnel who surround the president of the United States during his day-to-day activities. Yet it is this unique uniform that camouflages the service members working in the White House Communications Agency, whose no-fail mission is to enable the nation’s top leader to communicate with the government, military and world, whether that be in the Oval Office or on the other side of the globe.

The Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of WHCA, a joint unit headquartered at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., are tasked with providing everything the president, vice president and first lady need to deliver their message anywhere at any time — whether it be the lectern, lighting, TelePrompTer and sound needed for a Rose Garden news conference; live video for the world’s press from Air Force One while flying over the Pacific; or the operators who answer calls from citizens and foreign leaders alike in the White House.

President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office on Feb. 5. The mission of WHCA is to provide the president with the same ability to communicate as in the Oval Office no matter where he travels. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama talks on the phone in the Oval Office on Feb. 5. The mission of the White House Communications Agency is to provide the president with the same ability to communicate as in the Oval Office no matter where he travels. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

Integral to WHCA’s mission are its noncommissioned officers and petty officers, all of whom have responsibilities that exceed those of their peers elsewhere in the military, said Command Sgt. Maj. Nathaniel Jett, the agency’s command sergeant major.

“When someone asks what NCOs do in this organization, I only have to use one example,” he said. “Whenever you see the vice president of the United States on the road, every support person — with the exception of his military aide — they are all enlisted personnel who are setting him up for success out there. This is what our noncommissioned officer Soldiers, sailors and airmen are doing for the No. 2 guy in the free world. His presidential communications, all his audio and visual support, the lectern you see him stand behind, that’s all the work of enlisted behind the scenes making that happen.”

“NCOs, as we know, are the backbone of the Army, and they’re definitely the backbone of this agency,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Lewis, a personnel security NCO in the agency’s J-2 security directorate. “NCOs run the vice presidential communications program in its entirety, but NCOs in every corner of this agency are making the mission happen, and that impact is monumental. The president can’t communicate to the world without the agency providing him the means to do that, and noncommissioned officers at WHCA make that happen. Nowhere else in your career are you able to say the stakes are this high. It takes a lot of responsibility, but that’s something you already carry with you as an NCO.”

The ‘voice of the president’

As their motto states, personnel at WHCA collectively serve as the “voice of the president.” But the agency’s name is somewhat misleading, said Jett, who like all of his predecessors spent his career in the Signal Corps.

A WHCA NCO checks a camera during a White House-sponsored event. (Photo courtesy of WHCA)
A WHCA NCO checks a camera during a White House-sponsored event. (Photo courtesy of WHCA)

“People see ‘White House Communications’ in our name, but it’s not just [signal] people,” he said. “I have transporters, logisticians, carpenters, sheet metal workers, multimedia specialists, and military intelligence and finance leaders, in addition to my signal leaders. We may be a ‘communications’ agency, but we do so much more.”

The startling diversity is a necessity for an organization that must do almost everything in-house for both security and quality reasons, Jett explained. Service members at WHCA build every presidential podium, outfit and man every motorcade communication vehicle, operate the president’s TelePrompTer, and transport the necessary equipment wherever its needed worldwide.

“Every location the president goes to — even if it’s here in D.C. — we have to provide the same communication capabilities as in the White House. That’s our job,” Jett said. “Wherever the boss goes, it’s our job to make sure that whatever he can do in downtown Washington, D.C., he can do in Siberia, if he goes there.”

As a result, the majority of WHCA’s personnel are assigned as needed to ad hoc travel teams that are deployed whenever one of the three principals — the president, vice president or first lady — is at an event away from the White House. The teams are responsible for determining everything that is required — phone, fax, Internet and satellite links; computers, printers and copiers; cameras, microphones, lights and transmission equipment; and the iconic presidential podiums — then transporting it to the site, setting everything up, executing during the event, taking everything down, then resetting for the next trip. It makes for a constant rhythm of travel, often with little to no advance notice, and with the expectation of nothing less than perfection.

A WHCA NCO, center, carries camera equipment during an event at the White House. (Photo courtesy of WHCA)
A WHCA NCO, center, carries camera equipment during an event at the White House. (Photo courtesy of WHCA)

“That we can support the leader of the greatest nation in the world with no-mistake, no-fail missions anywhere, any time, that says a lot about our corps of noncommissioned officers,” said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Bray, the senior enlisted advisor of WHCA’s Visual Information Command, which is responsible for teams’ audio, visual and multimedia support. “The tempo here is not like in other units where you deploy, you come back and you reset. The tempo here is fast-paced. At any time, I can get a phone call that says, ‘I need you to go to such-and-such place,’ and you might not even get a day’s notice. During campaign season, we’re traveling constantly. It’s a lot of hard work and 16-hour days.”

But it’s not the glamorous life some see it as, Jett said.

“This job is not the designer-suit, caviar-eating, five-star-hotel life everybody thinks it is,” Jett said.

“Forget the five-star hotel; you may not even see the hotel,” Bray said. “We’re in the business of customer service, and our customer is the president of the United States. We’re not going to stop working until we’re at that presidential level of quality.”

Training for perfection

Though WHCA recruits the cream of the military crop, once service members arrive, they must enter the agency’s internal academy to learn from square one how to do their specific job, no matter their rank.

A WHCA NCO monitors communication equipment during a presidential event. WHCA personnel wear business attire as their uniform when traveling. (Photo courtesy of WHCA)
A WHCA NCO monitors communication equipment during a presidential event. WHCA personnel wear business attire as their uniform when traveling. (Photo courtesy of WHCA)

“We’re going to train you to do those things, and we’re going to train you to do them well,” Lewis said. “It’s a world-class faculty. They’ve been traveling for years with the president and vice president. Many of them can draw from their years in the (President Bill) Clinton administration (1993-2001), so they have been around for a while and have been doing a good job for a long time.”

The academy integrates protocol instruction with multidisciplinary technical instruction, Bray said.

“In the Visual Information Command, we have videographers, photographers and audio-visual technicians working hand-in-hand with each principal, making sure they’re looking good, they’re sounding good, and that everything is presidential quality,” Bray said. “Our training academy teaches you how to do that. So even if you have no knowledge of audio-visual things, they teach you the basics all the way to advanced audio, advanced lighting techniques.

“At the apprentice level, you’re learning how we conduct business, the basic policies and procedures. You’ve got to know the policies and procedures before you go out there and do an event,” Bray said. “At the technician level, that’s when you start focusing more on the rule of thirds, how many foot-candles (of light) will look good with this type of camera. Once you’ve perfected that, you’re ready to lead your own site, in terms of audio and visual. That means that person has knowledge of every key element that is supporting the president, whether that is video, photo, audio or providing feeds to the press.”

The WHCA academy’s training programs are so comprehensive, a service member from any military occupational specialty may volunteer to become an affiliate in an unrelated specialty. That allows great flexibility in filling slots for travel teams, Jett said.

A White House Communcations Agency NCO monitors sound equipment during an event. WHCA Visual Information Command personnel are responsible for all video and sound during events featuring the president, vice president and first lady. (Photo courtesy of WHCA)
A WHCA NCO monitors sound equipment during an event. WHCA Visual Information Command personnel are responsible for all video and sound during events featuring the president, vice president and first lady. (Photo courtesy of WHCA)

“You may start in a fixed (Washington-based) mission, like in the J-1 (personnel directorate). But you might be trained so that you can go set up an airport site or assist with the hotel operation,” Jett said. “Then, when campaign season rolls around again and we are running thin on people, we’ll ask the J-1 if they can spare anybody, and we’ll send them out on the road to help with communications.”

Because leadership within each team is dependent on technical expertise learned in the academy and on-the-job, often an experienced junior NCO will be directing newer senior NCOs at an event site, Lewis said.

“For example, I jumped in on a trip in Iowa as an E-6, and I had an E-4 managing me, because he knew the mission and had been traveling quite a bit; he knew the technology,” Lewis said. “Despite me being an E-6 and him being an E-4, I still fell in line and he told me what he needed me to do.”

“But even if we’re not in charge, we senior enlisted are still there coaching and mentoring to ensure not just their technical proficiency, but also that they are reaching their military goals,” Bray said. “It’s not like an E-6 is telling an E-8 to run around or do push-ups.”

Recruiting the best, and getting them vetted

Because of their mission, every WHCA service member works with people at the highest levels of government every day. And sometimes, that means working with the president, Jett said.

“Case in point, a week before last year’s State of the Union address, before the president spoke in front of Congress, one of my young E-5s was downtown at the White House with the president looking over his shoulder,” Jett said. “The E-5 had the president’s speech on his laptop because he was going to be controlling the TelePrompTer at the State of the Union. The president was asking him to make last-minute changes to the text here and there, and this is an E-5 doing this. That’s the level of maturity you have to have to join this organization.”

Presidential quality equates to near perfection, Lewis said, and potential candidates have to be able to handle that demanding responsibility.

“When you come here to work, you are being depended on. Everyone’s role here is extremely significant,” he said. “Without each person doing their job well and doing it to the fullest extent they are able to, the organization won’t function well. That’s why we put such scrutiny on our applicants.

“We don’t have the option of failure,” Lewis said. “You can never use the excuse that, ‘Oh, it just didn’t work out,’ or that you were waiting on somebody else, or that there’s no way to do it. None of those are options. We’ve got to get done what we’re asked to do, and we can’t fail when doing it. Any failures on the part of our agency would have major implications on the office of the president, and we don’t need that to happen at all.”

“It’s a very thorough vetting process,” Lewis said. “But the same things that would make you a solid NCO in the regular Army will make you meet our security requirements. The common pitfalls: You get disqualified outright for a lot of personnel issues — height and weight failures, PT failures, bad or even average evaluations. Other than personnel issues, bad credit is probably our No. 1 disqualifier. We want to make sure that you are able to meet your financial obligations — that you’re not living paycheck-to-paycheck — that you’re trustworthy.”

President Obama concludes an address in Cairo, Egypt, in June 2009. No matter the locale, WHCA personnel are in charge of lights, podiums, TelePrompTers, videography and sound at all presidential events. (White House photo by Chuck Kennedy)
President Obama concludes an address in Cairo, Egypt, in June 2009. No matter the locale, WHCA personnel are in charge of lights, podiums, TelePrompTers, videography and sound at all presidential events. (White House photo by Chuck Kennedy)

“You’d be amazed at how many young people have no clue that they have bad credit until we go digging,” Jett said. “But that’s not to say that if you have bad credit now, you can’t come back and reapply after taking the steps needed to clean it up.”

Why would bad finances preclude a job at WHCA? Jett said it speaks to applicants’ overall management skills.

“Do you know how to manage your finances properly? We don’t have time to take the risk and assume that you’ll figure it out. We just don’t have that luxury,” he said. “I don’t need somebody here out on the road — potentially controlling the TelePrompTer of the president of the United States — who is worrying about all the bills they have. I can’t have you distracted like that. I need you to be focused on what’s in front of you.”

But Lewis cautioned that coming to work at WHCA is not as hard as some imagine.

“People tend to think it’s impossible to get an assignment here. But that’s just a complete misconception,” he said. “Normal military folks apply and get jobs here. Don’t disqualify yourself. Apply. We recruit aggressively. If you’ve done decent work for the military, have kept in line, are meeting your financial obligations and aren’t a security threat, we’ll get you cleared.”

The benefits of working at WHCA persist long after one’s assignment there is complete, Lewis said.

“I think working here helps you develop the ability to operate professionally within an environment where the stakes are very high and there’s a lot expected of you,” he said. “Doing your job well here enables the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, to communicate with the world and, thereby, allows the executive branch of our federal government to function.

Knowing your actions allow that to happen, I think, really sets you up to be professional, and you’ll carry that for the rest of your military career.

“It shapes you, really, into a more mature and more experienced NCO, and you gain this breadth of knowledge not only of how you operate and do your job, but also the whole strategic picture, the big picture, and how you fit into it,” Lewis said. “You’ll see how the executive branch works. You’ll see how the Department of Defense fits into that, how the Army fits within that and how you fit within the Army.”

NCOs’ help needed to make Army’s national museum a reality

By MICHAEL L. LEWIS
NCO Journal

The Navy has had one for more than 50 years. The Air Force’s draws more than 1.3 million people to it every year. And the Marine Corps opened its version to great fanfare in 2006. But when it comes to a national museum to highlight the history, sacrifice and contributions of the U.S. Army, there has never been one, despite Congress appropriating funds to construct one — in 1814. But with luck, and the help of NCOs past and present, that will change before this decade is over.

On what used to be part of the golf course at Fort Belvoir, Va., the Army has set aside 45 acres to build a state-of-the-art, $175 million showcase that will finally tell the full gamut of stories of America’s Soldiers. And a large part of the future National Museum of the United States Army will be the stories of the Army’s noncommissioned officers, said retired Brig. Gen. Creighton W. Abrams III, the executive director of the Army Historical Foundation, which is in charge of fundraising for the museum.

The front of the new National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, Va., can be seen in this artist's rendering. (Photo courtesy of the Army Historical Foundation)
The front of the new National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, Va., can be seen in this artist’s rendering. (Photo courtesy of the Army Historical Foundation)

“There aren’t a lot of armies that have relied as much on NCOs as ours has over the years. So, there will be a lot of NCO stories in the museum,” Abrams said. “It’s long overdue. It’s going to tell a lot of different stories that no current Army museum does.”

“We’re the only service right now that does not have a national museum,” said retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, a member of the museum’s board of directors. “We’ve got lots and lots of little museums in posts, camps and stations all across the country. But at the national level, we need this. For us to have a museum here within the Washington, D.C., area, I think, is very, very important. This is the nation’s capital, and there are literally millions and millions of Americans who come here every year. So we need a museum that tells the Army’s story.”

Because many Americans don’t understand the outsized contributions of NCOs in the U.S. Army, the museum can be an unparalleled opportunity to educate the public, Preston said.

“When you talk to most civilians out there, they know privates, they know sergeants, they know colonels and they know generals. For the most part, those are the ranks they know in the Army,” he said. “But they don’t understand the roles and responsibilities that noncommissioned officers play in the Army and, of course, the accomplishments that they’ve had throughout history. When you look at the Army, 85 percent of the Army is enlisted. And specifically, when you look at the breakdown of enlisted soldiers, 50 percent of them are noncommissioned officers. By far, we are the largest part of the Army, and [NCOs] should have the largest representation when it comes to the museum.”

Indeed, the museum — from its design to its interactive exhibits to its educational programs — is being built to do just that, Abrams said.

“The idea of this museum is really to be the Army’s national landmark, the one place where every Soldier and former Soldier, their families, and other relatives can come and see the whole Army story told in a very interactive and interesting way,” Abrams said. “Gen. [Martin] Dempsey (the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) wrote an editorial recently about the importance of an all-volunteer force staying connected to the American people. Well, the museum is also going to help with that.”

The missing piece

Once constructed, the Army museum will, at last, fill a gap among the national museums devoted to each service, Abrams said. The Navy’s, at the Washington Naval Yard in the capital, opened in 1961. The Air Force’s, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, opened in 1971. And the Marine Corps’, just south of Washington at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., opened in 2006.

The Army’s new museum will also improve on the lack of public Army destinations in the national capital region, Abrams said.

The Soldier's Gallery will feature 41 individual displays, each telling the remarkable story of a Soldier in history. The majority of the Soldiers will be NCOs, museum officials said. (Photo courtesy of the Army Historical Foundation)
The Soldier’s Gallery will feature 41 individual displays, each telling the remarkable story of a Soldier in history. The majority of those depicted will be NCOs, museum officials said. (Photo courtesy of the Army Historical Foundation)

“As an Army guy, it’s somewhat galling to realize that, when you come to Washington, flanking Arlington National Cemetery is the Air Force Memorial and the Marine Corps War Memorial (popularly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial), and downtown, you have the Navy Memorial,” he said. “Then there’s the Navy Museum in the Navy Yard, and just south of here in Quantico, they have a terrific new museum for the Marine Corps. But there’s nothing here for the Army — not a landmark, not a museum, nothing.”

Yet, if the success of the Marine Corps’ museum is any indication — the 100,000-square-foot facility attracts more than 500,000 visitors annually — the new Army museum will more than compensate, presenting the Army story to hundreds of thousands of people each year, Abrams said.

“We associate four verbs with the mission of the museum: engage, educate, honor and inspire,” Abrams said. “Engage because if you don’t engage, you don’t get to do the other three. Educate is really the overall mission of the museum. We think if we do the first two well, we cannot help but honor those who’ve served and inspire those who might want to serve.”

To accomplish this mission, the Army hired the same firm that designed the state-of-the-art exhibits at the Marines’ museum; the National Infantry Museum outside Fort Benning, Ga.; and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington. As in those places, designers had to figure out ways to tell stories while capturing the attention of visitors young and old alike.

They were also tasked with selecting and showcasing priceless artifacts from among the Army’s collection of millions, some more than 200 years old.

“It’s amazing to see what we have — everything from weapons to books to manuscripts — very important pieces of our history that not only tell the Army’s history, but also tell America’s history,” Preston said. “If you’ve ever seen the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, at the end, they’ve got this crate and are carrying it off with the ark in it. They put it in this warehouse, and all you see are boxes and crates for as far as the eye can see. Well, that’s kind of what the Army museum looks like right now — it’s all in a big warehouse.”

Once built, however, the Army museum won’t look anything like a warehouse, nor a museum of yesteryear with its endless rows of static display cases. Rather, interactive and immersive galleries will engage visitors with audio, video, light and sound. And the experience will start before visitors even enter the 185,000-square-foot building, Abrams said.

“We’ll have a gallery that we call the Soldier’s Gallery. There will be, at the beginning, 41 Soldiers represented, and the preponderance of those will be NCOs,” Abrams said. “Each one is kind of a monolith, a plinth, that will have an image of an individual Soldier and a brief synopsis of that Soldier’s experience in the Army. Each story will reflect in some way one or more of the Army Values. I always think that Army Values are better caught than taught. So, if you tell a story about an individual Soldier that reflects one or more of the Army Values, that’s a better way of doing it. We’ll have about half a dozen of those Soldier Stories as you’re walking up to the door, so that the experience begins before you actually get inside. I think it’s kind of neat having visitors march into the front door alongside those Soldier stories.”

Once inside, visitors will encounter a two story-tall representation of the Soldier’s Creed and a listing of the 187 campaigns Soldiers have fought in since Lexington and Concord in 1775. Beyond, in the largest section of the museum, visitors will learn the Army’s history of fighting for the nation in six galleries, each devoted to a particular segment of time:

  • “Founding the Nation” explains the birth of the U.S. Army during the Revolutionary War — the transformation from a loose federation of state militias to the unified fighting force of a new sovereign nation.
  • “Preserving the Nation” dramatizes the political, regional and philosophical tensions that led to the Civil War and the new tactics and technology that developed out of it.
  • “The Nation Overseas” documents Army actions in the Philippines, Cuba and elsewhere as a prelude to America’s entry into World War I.
  • “Global War” chronicles the epic conflict of World War II and the wide-ranging changes in Army infrastructure and doctrine that resulted.
  • “Cold War” tells of the ideological war between the United States and the Soviet Union that simmered for 40 years.
  • “Uncertain Battlefields” describes the Army’s reinvention after the Persian Gulf War, peace operations in the Balkans and Somalia, and 9/11 into a force prepared to defeat the threats of non-state adversaries, terrorism and asymmetrical warfare.

The museum’s other large exhibit gallery, “The Army and Society,” explains the interaction between the Army and the American public, Abrams said.

“There’s absolutely fascinating stuff in there,” he said. “For one thing, the Army invented a lot of stuff, and that crossed over into the civilian community. We aren’t going to have it in there — because it’s too darn big — but if we could, we’d include the first mainframe computer in America, the Electronic Numeric Integrator and Computer, built for the Army to do the tabular firing tables for the field artillery. It was part of what has truly been a technological revolution for this country and for the world.”

In the lobby of the new museum will be campaign ribbons and streamers from throughout the Army's nearly 240-year history. (Photo courtesy of the Army Historical Foundation)
In the lobby of the new museum will be campaign ribbons and streamers from throughout the Army’s nearly 240-year history. (Photo courtesy of the Army Historical Foundation)

Other exhibits will include a replica of the 1908 Wright Flyer, which heralded the beginning of both Army aviation and civil aviation throughout the world (the original crashed, killing a lieutenant on board); the story of how Army surgeon Maj. Walter Reed beat yellow fever, enabling the Army Corps of Engineers to construct the Panama Canal, which changed worldwide transportation; and a re-enactment of George Washington’s 1783 speech at Newburgh, N.Y., which calmed a group of officers intending to overthrow Congress and helped establish the foundational principle of civil control of the military.

Perhaps the most forward-thinking part of the museum will be the Experiential Learning Center, where middle-schoolers will use smart tables, touch displays and other multimedia tools to creatively plan and execute a mock rescue mission that will integrate the GSTEM — geography, science, technology, engineering and math — skills that are used so often in Army occupations.

“They’ll have to work collaboratively and collectively to accomplish the mission,” Abrams said. “We picked middle-schoolers because educators say that’s the perfect age to capture their interest in GSTEM. But there will also be stuff for kids of younger ages, too.”

On the uppermost floor of the museum will be the rooftop Medal of Honor Garden, an area of quiet reflection that will feature a wall with the name of every recipient, with stations to learn more about the gallantry and valor that earned each the nation’s highest military award.

Bringing forth the vision

Yet all the exhibits, artifacts and stories won’t have a home without the help of NCOs, Preston said.

“I think it’s important that noncommissioned officers support the Army museum,” he said. “Particularly now, as we’re coming out of a war that we’ve been involved with for more than 13 years, it’s important right now to help educate the American people. With the museum strategically located here with all the other museums, it will be an opportunity to capture and tell the Soldier’s story. The Army needs that right now. Soldiers, noncommissioned officers and leaders across the force need that right now, because we need the support of the American people. If we want to continue to have a strong Army for the defense of the nation, then we have to be able to showcase all that Soldiers have accomplished over 239 years.”

Though major corporations have donated a large chunk of the $175 million total cost, there’s still a large shortfall — more than $30 million — that must be raised before construction can begin, Preston said.

“We’re at the point right now when a lot of the big donors have given a lot of money already. But it’s going to take more than just the big corporate donors out there to fund this project,” he said. “It’s going to take fundraising at the individual level. Historically, with a lot of these projects, 50 percent to 70 percent of the money comes from the individual level.”

Preston said it will take support from individual Soldiers of every rank to make the museum a reality for the Army they have served or currently serve.

“I would hope that all noncommissioned officers out there look at it from an individual perspective, but also take a step back and look at it from an institutional perspective, that we tell the Soldier’s story for the American people.”

With individual donors in mind, the Army Historical Foundation asked the museum’s architects to include commemorative bricks in the building’s design.

“We knew all along that we wanted to do something that would be accessible — in terms of contributions — to the largest group of people,” Abrams said. “So from the very beginning, we told our designers, ‘Design in bricks — lots of bricks!’ So the museum and the campus accommodate 30,000 bricks. They’re granite, and they’re part of the design — they’re not something extraneous.”

The bricks, along with replicas for display in a home or office, may be purchased at https://armyhistory.org/bricks/.

“For noncommissioned officers out there, it’s an opportunity for them to contribute,” Preston said. “You can have your name, your unit, the time you served out there for generations of Americans to see.”

But Preston stressed another museum program that’s not soliciting money, but rather stories. Soldiers, former Soldiers, family members or friends may submit their reminiscences at the Registry of the American Soldier — accessible at https://armyhistory.org/the-registry-of-the-american-soldier/. What is collected will be on display at the museum and online.

“One of the neat things that this museum can do — and you can do this right now online — is you can register and send in Soldiers’ stories. You can capture your own personal experiences from your deployments, from your time in service. Regardless of when you served — if you are World War II private who was part of the Normandy beach landings, or you served in Korea, or you served most recently in Afghanistan or any of the peacekeeping roles that have Soldiers deployed now in more than 80 countries in the world — we want to capture that piece of history; we want to tell the Soldier’s story as part of this museum.”

Ultimately, the entire point of the project is encapsulated in its name, Preston said: to provide a museum for the entire nation to learn about its Army. And the best way for that to happen is through the experiences of the millions of Soldiers who have formed its ranks over nearly 240 years, he said.

“This museum is important, because not only do we want to get a lot of those artifacts out where they can be seen and enjoyed by the public, we also want to capture and tell those personal stories from each individual who served,” Preston said. “I think it’s important. We need this. We need a museum that tells the Soldier’s story, that tells the story of the noncommissioned officer.”

ARCENT NCOs building relationships with officers, other branches and other countries

By MICHAEL L. LEWIS
NCO Journal

Though there are hot spots throughout the globe, U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility — the Middle East — has been the locale for several spots that, during the past 13 years, have been hotter than most. Supporting the land forces in the region is U.S. Army Central, commonly known as ARCENT, whose headquarters at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., includes NCOs who are expected to be strategic thinkers capable of working alongside officers, be subject-matter experts able to deploy temporarily when needed downrange and be able to build relationships with members of other U.S. military branches and the militaries of other countries. It’s a tough job description, but one for which ARCENT’s NCOs say they routinely rise to the occasion.

 

Covering all the angles

Sgt. 1st Class James Garton, an explosive ordnance disposal NCO with U.S. Army Central, observes a Tajikistan engineer wire explosives for an electric demolition during the ARCENT-sponsored International Mine Action Standard EOD level-one course in Tajikistan on June 5, 2014. (Photo by Sgt. Tracy R. Myers)
Sgt. 1st Class James Garton, an explosive ordnance disposal NCO with U.S. Army Central, observes a Tajikistan engineer wire explosives for an electric demolition during the ARCENT-sponsored International Mine Action Standard EOD level-one course in Tajikistan on June 5, 2014. (Photo by Sgt. Tracy R. Myers)

NCOs at ARCENT are quick to dispel the myth that NCOs assigned there don’t have much to do. Noncommissioned officers are constantly going in and out of theater to supplement units downrange, said Master Sgt. James C. Brown of ARCENT’s G-4 logistics directorate.

“I think the misconception out there is based on the fact that a lot of people don’t know what ARCENT does,” Brown said. “They don’t know that ARCENT really controls everything out there Army-wise in the AOR. So when they hear people are coming to ARCENT [headquarters], they think we’re ‘taking a knee.’”

“In this unit, you work,” said Master Sgt. Amel Brooks of ARCENT’s inspector general’s office. “If you take your average inspector general office in the U.S. Army, this office has a bigger footprint than them, including the ones at Fort Jackson (S.C.), Fort Bragg (N.C.) or Fort Stewart (Ga.), because, not only do we cover down on this headquarters, we have the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait — all that is under us. So we get it coming in from all those different angles.”

“Then there’s the fact that this is a three-star headquarters,” Brown said. “A lot of people ask, ‘How much work [is an NCO] really going to be doing at a three-star headquarters?’ But just about everybody here is on a deployable status and TCSes (temporary change of station) downrange. Some deploy more than others, depending on MOS shortages or shortages of personnel with a skill set that is needed downrange.”

Besides helping their U.S. Army colleagues, ARCENT NCOs are also key participants in one of the command’s hallmark missions: building relationships with nations in the region.

“We do a lot of partnerships,” said Sgt. 1st Class Nick Salcido of ARCENT’s public affairs office. ”We have 20 countries in our AOR, 18 of which we have regular participation in. Partnership is a big part of ARCENT; it’s a large part of what we do.”

“In May, our office visited with the Kuwaiti inspector general to build a relationship and partnership,” said Master Sgt. William Cintron of ARCENT’s inspector general office. “They wanted to learn from us, because they really don’t have established inspectors general like the U.S. Army does. They only do inspections — they don’t do assistance or investigations — and the way they do inspections isn’t like how we do them. So they really wanted to learn from us how we did them, how to do the follow-up and how to correct the deficiencies. That’s a good example of the kinds of partnering we do.”

 

A part of something bigger

Cpl. Sara Manning, a military police officer with the 450th Military Police Company, 304th MP Battalion, 290th MP Brigade, U.S. Army Reserve, tests the balance of a Kuwaiti soldier serving with the 94th Al-Yarmouk Mechanized Brigade during an ARCENT-supported training exercise at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Oct. 29, 2013. (Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin)
Cpl. Sara Manning, a military police officer with the 450th Military Police Company, 304th MP Battalion, 290th MP Brigade, U.S. Army Reserve, tests the balance of a Kuwaiti soldier serving with the 94th Al-Yarmouk Mechanized Brigade during an ARCENT-supported training exercise at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Oct. 29, 2013. (Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin)

The relationships NCOs help develop are the building blocks of the larger strategy the U.S. Army is employing with other countries throughout the globe, said Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Greca, the senior enlisted leader of ARCENT’s higher headquarters, U.S. Central Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

“What I would underline is the multinational approach,” he said. “How do you build coalitions so that people internal to the areas of responsibility solve their problems? Operationally, I had been to both Iraq and Afghanistan, and I thought I understood the AOR. But, frankly, I didn’t understand — every place in that AOR is slightly different. How can we assist as a nation through DIME — through the diplomatic, informational, military and economic elements of U.S. power?”

NCOs also need to understand how the various pieces of the U.S. military contribute in the region, and the Army’s place in that mix, Greca said.

“As our Army goes to 450,000 Soldiers, we can’t do it alone,” he said. “It’s been pretty eye-opening [getting to know the component commands]. As I formerly understood CENTCOM, I didn’t understand the NAVCENT (U.S. Naval Forces Central Command) piece, and I didn’t understand the AFCENT (U.S. Air Forces Central Command) piece. Certainly, I understood that there are airplanes and ships out there. But to truly understand how, day-in and day-out, they are supporting the commander’s intent and providing support internal to the AOR has been eye-opening. I just had no idea.”

Neither did many of the NCOs who relocated to Shaw when ARCENT moved there from its former home of Fort McPherson, Ga., which was closed as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process. Shaw, already the location of AFCENT’s headquarters, was seen as a natural place for ARCENT to call home, too. But the co-location of the two commands resulted in a culture clash at first, Brooks recalled.

“When we first got here, we had a big cookout at one of the hangars, and it was Air Force sitting on one side and Army sitting on the other — completely separate,” he said. “But, hey, we’re supposed to be here together. So one of our Soldiers went above and beyond. He helped develop a Shaw Air Force Base soccer team — an Army and Air Force joint team. That sergeant first class took initiative and helped build that joint relationship, showing the Air Force what we do and letting the Air Force show us what they do.”

That interaction is exactly what Greca envisions as the ideal throughout the larger joint command.

“You can sometimes get wrapped up in the little world, the little place, the little cubicle, the little team that you’re exposed to, and not appreciate what’s going on on the outside,” he said. “If our NCOs pay a little bit more attention and truly talk with our joint brothers and sisters on our right and left flank, it would give them an appreciation for the other services and our role and how we fit into the team,” he said.

That appreciation includes learning the different duties and responsibilities of NCOs in the two service branches that call Shaw home, Salcido said.

“In the Army, it is better to be multifunctional rather than to be so niche, because we often have to cover down on so many different kinds of positions,” he said. “In the Air Force, you have to test in your job in order to advance to the next rank. So you tend to have individuals who are very knowledgeable about their particular career field, rather than being a jack-of-all-trades, which is to our benefit in the Army.”

Being knowledgeable in areas outside of one’s primary military occupational specialty helps keep NCOs relevant, said Master Sgt. Christopher Pair of ARCENT’s G-6 signal directorate.

“I’m a 25W (telecommunications chief) now, but I need to know the 25B job, which is computers; I need to know the 25Z job, which is (video teleconferences); I need to know the 25L job, which is cable installer. I’ve got to know all their jobs. So it is different [than in the Air Force].”

But the exposure to other U.S. military branches and the militaries of other countries is providing invaluable insight into a wide-angle view of the world, which can benefit NCOs throughout their careers, Brooks said.

“Being in a line unit, you see the small picture. But you have to look at the big picture,” he said. “If, when I leave here, I go on to be a first sergeant, I will be getting my team leaders, my squad leaders, my platoon sergeants to see the bigger picture. I think that will help them better train their Soldiers, because they’ll understand the bigger picture.”

“Other units, it’s all about the micro. Here, it’s about the macro, the overall picture,” Pair said. “That’s what I’ll definitely take back and tell others: Stop looking at the micro and start looking at the big picture, because the big picture is going to directly affect the smaller picture. With the big picture in mind, you can prepare a lot better for whatever comes your way.”

 

Not typical NCO duties

Sgt. Edgar Sanchez (center), an EOD NCO, and 1st Lt. Mitchell Amoriello, an EOD operations officer with the 75th Ordnance Disposal Company, 79th Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group, conduct a practical exercise with a Tajikistan engineer during the International Mine Action Standard EOD level-one course in Tajikistan on June 3, 2014. (Photo by Sgt. Tracy R. Myers)
Sgt. Edgar Sanchez (center), an EOD NCO, and 1st Lt. Mitchell Amoriello, an EOD operations officer with the 75th Ordnance Disposal Company, 79th Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group, conduct a practical exercise with a Tajikistan engineer during the International Mine Action Standard EOD level-one course in Tajikistan on June 3, 2014. (Photo by Sgt. Tracy R. Myers)

Perhaps the biggest difference of NCOs’ work at ARCENT headquarters versus elsewhere in the Army is the interaction they have with officers, Brooks said.

“The the role of the NCO in your average line unit? Your role here is much more broad than there,” he said. “NCOs have a huge role here. Sometimes, you’re doing the work of a field-grade officer, sometimes that of a senior NCO. You’re never going to just stay in the NCO’s lane here.”

To be successful means understanding your unique role within the organization and cultivating a culture of trust, Greca said.

“When you talk about a shared understanding, everybody understands the environment that he or she is working in,” he said. “You build cohesive teams based on mutual trust, and that trust goes up and down; it’s not only trusting subordinates, it’s the subordinates trusting their leaders.”

“It’s about understanding that you’re on a staff, understanding the staff’s functions, and being productive in that,” Brown said. “It’s easy to become complacent here, so you should make yourself relevant. Insert yourself into what is going on.”

Being a valuable asset to a staff requires NCOs to become more of a strategic thinker than they may be used to, Greca said.

“We need our NCOs — we even need our junior Soldiers — to think,” he said. “There was a time when the expectation was you just acted. There was this battle drill concept where, without thought, you just reacted. But in today’s environment, the environment requires leaders and Soldiers to think.

“[The Army] talks about discipline and initiative internal to mission command, and that discipline piece gives a military solution to a problem set that a service member is exposed to,” Greca said. “So he or she has to be able to think. The environment is complex, and if you don’t have those service members out there putting a deliberate decision-making process against a problem, the results are — well, we just can’t have that happening.”

“In school, we learn about the military decision-making process,” Brooks said. “Here, you’re doing the military decision-making process, and you have to know your role in that process.”

That means taking into consideration a multitude of variables, Greca said.

“How can you be value-added for that commissioned officer?” he said “They often talk about noncommissioned officers as the executors — the commanders specify the task, and we ensure those tasks are accomplished to a high level. Regardless of where you’re at, I think that remains constant, however the tasks change. Maybe you’ve got a greater emphasis on force protection, because you’re in a deployed environment and you have to secure a piece of tactical infrastructure on which your organization is sitting. How do you ensure that your personnel recovery [standard operating procedures] are solidified? How do you ensure there’s no needless loss of life internal to those environments, where there are a lot of moving pieces? Equipping — how do you ensure our Soldiers have the best equipment on hand to be prepared for their particular mission?

“Then, you certainly have professional development,” Greca said. “Every day, we’re charged with ensuring the professional development of our enlisted formation is done correctly. How do we ensure they are best positioned, not only for them personally but for the good of the Army? We’re doing a multitude of things, and you have to prioritize the tasks the commander gives you — what’s important at that time and place? That means you have to really understand the environment in which you’re working and your commander.”

An NCO must find a way to balance their staff duties with their normal NCO duties, Salcido said.

“In a lot of the operations and planning scenarios, we’re doing a lot of the work of the field-grade officers. We’re pretty interchangeable in that way. And that’s where part of the challenge comes being an NCO. Ensuring sergeant’s time training takes place is a challenge, because some in a field-grade officer-heavy environment don’t see the value in that. Just making sure some of those things happen for the junior Soldiers — prepping them for boards, doing mock boards before the real board — that stuff becomes more of a challenge than it might be in another unit.”

Though the headquarters environment is officer-heavy, ARCENT officers quickly come to appreciate the value of NCOs — if they haven’t before — through the work of the NCOs on staff there.

“In our office, the officers really listen to the NCOs. We NCOs have a huge say-so,” Brooks said. “Our officers will come to us and will ask us questions. During sergeants time training, our officers are welcome to come, and they learn things there, too.”

“The officers will definitely seek you out,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jared Oberman of ARCENT’s G-33 current operations division. “They’ve definitely expected a lot from me, and I would like to say that I’ve been able to pull through and show them what an NCO is capable of doing, because they sure as heck haven’t stopped giving me stuff to do.”

Greca said that is indicative of the ever-growing confidence officers have in NCOs.

“I think the trust has risen and continues to rise,” he said. “I think part of that is because the capabilities of our NCO Corps and our enlisted Soldiers have increased. They’ve been given more responsibility, and they’ve excelled in taking that responsibility and have run with it. I think what we have proven to our commissioned officers is that we’re capable, agile and adaptive, and given the requirements, we will achieve the mission.”

The next SMA: ‘You just have to work hard, take the hard jobs and do the right things’

By MICHAEL L. LEWIS
NCO Journal

After 25 years as a Soldier and three years as the command sergeant major of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine command, the Army still managed to surprise Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Dailey last month when its chief of staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, told Dailey he had been chosen to become the 15th sergeant major of the Army. Dailey’s appointment to replace the office’s incumbent, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, was announced Monday and is expected to take effect at the end of January with Chandler’s retirement.

“I was extremely humbled,” Dailey said. “It’s really tough to realize that you would ever be selected for such a prestigious position that requires a great amount of responsibility and accountability to the Soldiers of the U.S. Army. I was surprised and shocked, but mostly I was humbled by the fact that the chief of staff of the Army has chosen me to represent Soldiers. But I tell people that anybody can be the sergeant major of the Army; you just have to work hard, take the hard jobs and do the right things.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Dailey, then the command sergeant major of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, stops by a checkpoint in Baghdad on Oct. 30, 2008, during his fourth combat deployment. It was announced Nov. 3 that Dailey will become the 15th sergeant major of the Army in January 2015. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army)
Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Dailey, then the command sergeant major of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, stops by a checkpoint in Baghdad on Oct. 30, 2008, during his fourth combat deployment. It was announced Nov. 3 that Dailey will become the 15th sergeant major of the Army in January 2015. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army)

Dailey, originally from the eastern Pennsylvania town of Palmerton, enlisted as an 11B infantryman in 1989. During his first assignment as a radio telephone operator and rifleman with 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, at Schweinfurt, Germany, he deployed to Saudi Arabia and Iraq in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Upon returning to Germany, he continued with the 1-15 as a team leader and as a commander’s gunner, and was soon promoted to sergeant.

“I attribute my success to great leadership at the start of my career,” Dailey said. “I had the best squad leader in the battalion — it was Staff Sgt. Davis — and he did everything he could to make sure we were brought up right. The first leader a Soldier has is critically important and sets the foundation of success for that Soldier. That’s why I say first-line leadership is the most important leadership the Army has.”

At his next assignment, as a Bradley Fighting Vehicle commander and battalion master gunner with 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, he rose to the rank of staff sergeant. In 1996, he spent 12 months with 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, at Camp Casey, South Korea, where he served as a section leader and was promoted to sergeant first class.

“I spent a lot of time taking the hard assignments,” Dailey said. “I always went where the Army told me to go — even when it was tough to leave your family and go to Korea, or to the other theaters of operation.”

After his tour in Korea, Dailey served as a Primary Leadership Development Course instructor and later as a platoon sergeant at Fort Stewart, Ga. During his time as an instructor, Dailey says he grew much as an NCO professional, which is why he recommends such work to all noncommissioned officers.

“The NCO of the future has to have a broad range of assignments,” Dailey said. “We’ve got to get out of the traditional mindset of staying in the operational domain. [NCOs] have to go out there and be a drill sergeant; they have to go out there and be an instructor. It builds subject-matter expertise and, in the end, is a payback to the organization while broadening the capabilities and skills of noncommissioned officers.”

In 2001, Dailey was reassigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, at Fort Carson, Colo. There, he was promoted to first sergeant of C Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, and later of the battalion’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, with whom he deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 to 2004. He was a member of Class 54 of the Sergeants Major Course at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, in 2004 before returning to the 1-8 to serve as the battalion’s command sergeant major and again deploying to Iraq.

Gen. Robert W. Cone, commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Dailey, TRADOC's command sergeant major, salute the colors as the flag is lowered during Dailey's welcome ceremony at Fort Eustis, Va., in December 2011. (Photo by Sgt. Angelica Golindano)
Gen. Robert W. Cone, commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Dailey, TRADOC’s command sergeant major, salute the colors as the flag is lowered during Dailey’s welcome ceremony at Fort Eustis, Va., in December 2011. (Photo by Sgt. Angelica Golindano)

He was selected in 2007 to become the command sergeant major of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, with whom he deployed a fourth time from 2007 to 2009. In March 2009, he was selected as the 4th ID’s command sergeant major, serving also as the command sergeant major of Fort Carson and of U.S. Division–North in Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn during his fifth combat deployment.

He began his most recent assignment at TRADOC in December 2011. As the top enlisted leader at the command in charge of Soldiers’ professional development, Dailey said he has relied on his educational experiences to be successful.

“I always took my institutional education very seriously,” he said. “I always tried to do the best that I could and maintain focus on staying in the books. What I also attribute to my success was going to Ranger School. That’s a very, very good school that develops leaders and produces the type of Soldier that can sustain over time. Also, the Master Gunnery Course — in my field, it’s a very challenging course that a lot of noncommissioned officers stay away from. But that really helped me advance my career as a young, junior noncommissioned officer.

“I also always encourage noncommissioned officers to go out and get their civilian education,” said Dailey, who graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree from Excelsior University. “Though the NCO Education System will provide the fundamental skills necessary to perform NCOs’ duties and responsibilities, NCOs also have to be well-rounded, and college is going to give them that level of expertise. It’s definitely something that noncommissioned officers need to pursue on their own.”

Though he has not begun his tenure as the senior enlisted advisor to the chief of staff of the Army, Dailey said he will continue pushing forward the Army’s focus on leader development.

“I told the chief that I fully believe in his strategic priorities,” he said. “NCO 2020 really identified for us where we need to take the NCO Corps for 2025. We need to take a look at our curriculum and add rigor and relevance to the levels of NCOES. We need to do a better a job synchronizing our Structured Self-Development levels with the institutional training and experience they are supposed to complement. We’re getting ready to add another level of NCOES — there was always a gap at Skill Level 5 and master sergeant. We’re also looking to maximize the equivalency for accreditation for what Soldiers do in their MOSs and how that translates to civilian and academic equivalency.

Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Dailey
Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Dailey

“But overall, I think we are postured for success in the future. We have to make sure our noncommissioned officers realize that, in order to maintain the pace of staying ahead of our adversaries, we have to embrace change. Change is always going to occur, and sometimes it’s the toughest thing to do because it’s not how we’ve done things in the past. But if we want to stay ahead of the game, we’re going to have to continue changing.”

As he looks ahead toward being sworn in as the 15th sergeant major of the Army at a Pentagon ceremony Jan. 30, Dailey said he couldn’t be more proud of where the NCO Corps is and where it’s headed.

“We are heading into a world that is complex and we know the challenges we face in the future. But we remain the best NCO Corps in the world,” he said. “We’re going to be faced with challenges, and they’re going to be different. It’s going to continue to take sacrifice, as it does now. It’s not going to get any easier. But I think the future is bright for the noncommissioned officers of our Army.”

 

The sergeants major of the Army

  1. William O. Wooldridge July 1966–August 1968
  2. George W. Dunaway September 1968–September 1970
  3. Silas L. Copeland October 1970–June 1973
  4. Leon L. Van Autreve July 1973–June 1975
  5. William G. Bainbridge July 1975–June 1979
  6. William A. Connelly July 1979–June 1983
  7. Glen E. Morrell July 1983–July 1987
  8. Julius W. Gates July 1987–June 1991
  9. Richard A. Kidd July 1991–June 1995
  10. Gene C. McKinney July 1995–October 1997
  11. Robert E. Hall October 1997–June 2000
  12. Jack L. Tilley June 2000–January 2004
  13. Kenneth O. Preston January 2004—March 2011
  14. Raymond F. Chandler III March 2011—January 2015 (announced)