Dozens of NCOs applauded when one asked Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey to try to “hold off making any more uniform changes for a while.”
Dailey replied to the NCOs — half of whom were wearing Operational Camouflage Patterns, or OCPs, the other Army Combat Uniforms, or ACUs — “I don’t want to make any more changes.”
He then qualified the remark: “I’m working hard to minimize changes, but I’d be lying if I promised you there’d be no more changes.”
He joked that he’s becoming known as the “black socks and tattoo” sergeant major.
The exchange came as Dailey fielded questions on the fourth and final day of the chief of staff of the Army-sponsored NCO Solarium II on Nov. 20 at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
The Noncommissioned Officer Solarium II 2015 is an effort by the sergeant major of the Army to inform and shape the future direction of the U.S. Army. The on-site session at Fort Leavenworth ran from Tuesday through Friday and brought together 60 sergeants first class. In addition to Dailey’s address, the NCOs in attendance identified issues that will have an impact on the Army into the foreseeable future and provided recommendations to Dailey, who will brief that “unfiltered feedback” to the chief of staff of the Army.
As part of the uniform changes discussion, Dailey reminded participants that at least enlisted Soldiers are fortunate to have a clothing allowance that will completely pay for the new uniforms over the phase-in period. Officers bear that expense on their own.
When changes are made, Dailey said, it’s normally by consensus. As a rule of thumb, a consensus is roughly 60 percent, he said. He gets that percentage by surveying Soldiers and then is able to inform leadership from the bottom up.
Dailey referred to a uniform survey conducted in August as an example of consensus building. Soldiers were surveyed about making the blue service cap be the required headgear with the Army Service Uniform for senior NCOs, officers and warrant officers, instead of the beret.
Just over half of the respondents favored the change, but the 60 percent threshold wasn’t met. One Solarium II participant told Dailey that she was passionate about the need for one cap for all.
Dailey said he’d heard from others who agreed with her, but some who just as passionately disagreed.
For example, he said, one Soldier he spoke with said she appreciates the two versions because she likes the men and women to be differentiated by their apparel.
There could be times in the future when changes will be made without survey or convention, Dailey said — for instance, a change to the uniform that provides Soldiers a greater level of protection.
Dailey said he and the Army chief of staff are both fond of period uniforms, such as those worn during World War II. They were both happy to see the return of the Ike jacket, he said. However, he said, their preferences will not have much of a bearing on future changes.
Lastly, Dailey advised having an open mind to changes in general to avoid a stagnating force.
COMBAT IN SYRIA?
One NCO wondered whether Soldiers would be battling the Islamic State in Syria or elsewhere within the next 18 months. Dailey responded that that would be hard to predict and that he didn’t have any inside knowledge about forces in Syria.
He did, however, offer his personal assessment: With the recent attacks in Paris and elsewhere, Dailey said there’s a growing concern globally the severity of the IS threat is setting in.
He said he believes one of the main reasons another attack hasn’t yet happened on the homeland is because of worldwide involvement of the United States and others, including the some 190,000 Soldiers serving abroad in 90 countries.
He harkened back to the Army chief of staff’s main focus of being deployable and ready at all times to fight and win the nation’s wars.
“The only certainty is uncertainty for the future,” he said.
“We own the world’s intellectual capital. We have the most intelligent NCOs, officers and Army civilians,” Dailey said of Army leaders. But there’s always room for growth, he added.
Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown, commander of the Combined Arms Center, followed Dailey’s closing remarks about leadership with his own.
“A sergeant in the Army does what a colonel or brigadier general does in the Chinese army,” he said. “We have mission command empowering leaders like you.”
NCOs at the small-unit level are making strategic decisions.
“You are the Army’s ‘trusted professionals,’” he added, recalling a previous Solarium in which that phrase was suggested and adopted by the Army.
Brown hailed the new Army University as the most revolutionary step in education that the Army has taken since 1881, when Army Chief of Staff Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman first established Army school houses at Leavenworth and elsewhere.
Brown said Army University was created not to compete with but to collaborate with other excellent American universities.
At one time, all of the Army schools were stove-piped, he said. Now they’re synchronized as they must be, because the Army no longer has the luxury of infusing good ideas across the school houses over a long period of time. The world has changed and good ideas need to flow faster, he said.
At one time, Brown said, there were 100 doctors of philosophy at Fort Leavenworth, helping only students at the Army Command and General Staff College. Now, he said, they’re helping everyone across the force.
The other thing the Army is doing is working to provide Soldiers college credit for Army education courses and certifying Soldiers for job-related training.
For instance, when a Soldier separates from the force and goes into welding in the private sector, the difference between having welding certification and not can add up to more than $50,000 per year. Certified welders earn an average of $80,000 annually, and those who are not certified average $30,000.
One of the world’s premier foreign language schools has a six-year plan to boost the quality of its graduates’ communication skills, and the military’s noncommissioned officers will play a key role in getting them there.
The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center intends to boost its standards by requiring about 25 percent more proficiency from its graduates. A key part of that mission — called the “2-plus plan” — is an increase in the use of immersion training.
The school, in Monterey, California, uses two types of immersion, and is exploring other methods to enhance its linguistic training. Most students go through an immersion facility operated by DLIFLC just off-campus, and just fewer than 20 percent of basic language students take a four-week trip outside the continental United States as part of their education.
“What we have found through statistics is that after doing an immersion, students come back more confident, more capable in their listening, certainly more capable in their speaking,” said Army Col. David K. Chapman, the institute’s commandant. “And on standardized tests, they improve, generally about 20 to 25 percent. They have better scores once they return.”
Those reasons alone would be enough for Chapman to implement the plan to increase the number of students who are able to participate in OCONUS immersions to about 50 percent in six years’ time. But he sees other positive outcomes from the OCONUS immersion, as well — albeit effects that are more difficult to quantify.
“What we can’t measure is the career impact,” Chapman said. “How willing is someone to re-enlist because they got that opportunity? How much more excited about their jobs are they? But I can tell you with nonempirical data, they’re super excited about it. They all come back and they rave about the immersion program. Not just the language, but the culture as well.”
The institute’s command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Matildo Coppi, said NCOs who work in linguistics, both at the institute and in the field, were among the driving forces behind the push toward increasing immersion training.
“They saw that there was a gap that needed to be filled,” he said. “We huddled with our chief of staff, and it was briefed up to the commandant. He really put that objective out there: to increase our immersion footprint.”
Coppi also says NCOs will be critical to helping the institute achieve its 2-plus plan. Students at the institute take the Defense Language Proficiency Test as a condition of their graduation. It tests listening and reading skills in a foreign language, grading each ability on a scale of 0 to 5, with 0 being no proficiency and 5 denoting a native speaker with an intimate familiarity with the culture. The institute requires a score of “L2, R2” from its graduates, meaning a limited working proficiency in both listening and reading the target language.
The goal to require “L2+, R2+” scores of its graduates translates to about a 25 percent improvement in students’ listening and reading skills, and “is getting closer to that native or heritage speaker type of arena,” Coppi said.
A score of “L3, R3” might indicate a heritage speaker, meaning someone whose parents spoke the language natively and was raised to speak it and could be described as an expert in the language, Coppi said.
In six years, graduates “are going to be force multipliers, enablers, for those combatant commanders or regionally aligned forces commanders, so they can have not a competent linguist, but more of an expert linguist,” Coppi said.
At every level, Coppi and Chapman said, an NCO is helping to lead the student along the path.
During a typical OCONUS immersion, an NCO is in charge of students before and during the trip. He or she would double-check documents and make sure that everyone gets to the airport on time before the trip, then ensure that students get to their classes on time once they arrive. An immersion consists of four to five hours a day of instruction at a partnered institution of higher education in the country being visited and a number of organized field trips and other activities designed to expose students to the culture of a country.
Sgt. Renee Green has been in charge of two groups of students visiting South Korea, the first in 2013 and another early this year. She didn’t have the opportunity to participate in an OCONUS immersion as a student at the institute, but after she graduated, she was stationed in South Korea, so she was able to see how valuable it was to live in a country where her target language was spoken.
“My language improved, because I was using it and I had to use it. And that’s the benefit” of immersion, Green said. “The students have to ask questions. People there don’t know what they know.”
In a classroom setting, instructors have a pretty good idea of where students are with vocabulary and grammar and tailor conversation and instruction to that level, she said. But when the students visit another country, they are forced into conversations and topics outside of what they’ve learned in class.
“They just talk, and you have to figure it out,” Green said. “That’s the benefit I got when I was stationed there” and what she sees in the group’s she has led.
As the groups’ NCO, she was also charged with facilitating immersion. As a fluent speaker, all of her interactions with the students were conducted in Korean while they visited Seoul. And during downtime, she sometimes helped students find a cultural experience to develop their language skills and cultural awareness.
“When I went two years ago, some of the students were a little more introverted and not as open to just going exploring,” Green said. “Being that I had lived in [Seoul] before, I have a pretty good idea of the city. I asked them what they liked to do and found events that matched their interests, so that way, when they’re there, they’re immersing themselves.”
For instance, if the students enjoyed baseball, she might encourage them to attend a South Korean baseball game. She tried to avoid allowing them to fall into the stereotypical Seoul activities of nightclubs and high-end shopping that the city itself seems to promote.
“That’s what I think the goal of the DLI immersion is — finding the history behind everything and seeing the real culture, not just the culture they’re promoting,” she said.
During her two visits as an NCO, Green has visited the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea; reached the top of the Seoul Tower, a communication and observation tower at Seoul’s highest point; attended the National Theater of Korea, the South Korean version of Broadway; traveled to a traditional village for the day; learned Korean calligraphy; taken a tour of a tunnel dug by North Koreans in an attempt to reach Seoul; and learned how to make kimchee — “that was pretty cool.”
She said her favorite event, though, is watching the students when they first arrive at Seoul National University and immerse themselves in the college experience.
“The first thing they do is they all buy sweatshirts,” she said.
Students visit four-year universities, but the institute has been accredited since 2002 by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and has granted more than 11,500 Associate of Art degrees in foreign language.
Eileen Mehmedali, assistant director of the institute’s Immersion Language Office, helps coordinate both the OCONUS immersions and the immersion scenarios all students undergo as part of their training in Monterey. Her office works closely with the NCOs in both settings, receiving daily updates from the NCO in charge during OCONUS trips and relying on NCOs at the immersion center to counsel students and be in charge during overnight immersions and ensure the target language is spoken at all times.
Every student in his or her first semester participates in a one-day immersion that lasts from morning to evening. Many students in their second or third semesters participate in an overnight immersion that lasts two days. Mehmedali said the mornings generally consist of structured activities that are task-based and job-related. Those activities might involve role-playing — for instance, operating a checkpoint in Afghanistan or a taking part in a peace-keeping mission in another part of the world. As the day progresses, the job-based activities taper off and cultural exercises come to the fore. Students might participate in a simulated Iraqi wedding, play traditional Korean games or cook a traditional meal from the culture they’re studying. Students staying overnight might also watch movies or other videos that they write reports on and present about the next day.
Coppi notes that NCOs can be particularly helpful in improving the local immersion experience.
“From a noncommissioned officer perspective, we’re amping up our efforts out at the local immersion so that we can mimic and mirror those things that service members experience abroad,” he said.
And Mehmedali said those efforts are beneficial.
“It’s very difficult to replicate the culture here, but we try our best,” she said. “And the possibilities are endless, even on the isolation immersion side. If you put your mind to it, if you have committed and enthusiastic personnel and instructors, then anything is possible. Obviously, I would love to send every student on an OCONUS immersion, but that’s not possible, it’s not practical, that’s not the reality we’re living right now. We will be growing, which is encouraging. But in the meantime, this is a goldmine — the isolation side of the immersion facility — that we’ve just scratched the surface of. There’s so much more that we can do and develop.”
In addition to the on-site immersion center and the OCONUS immersions, DLIFLC is exploring options for a third type of immersion experience for its students — one that takes place in a U.S. city with a large concentration of native speakers of the target language. Safety is a paramount concern in any OCONUS immersion, Mehmedali said, so some target languages are difficult to coordinate immersions for because of instability or diplomatic relationships. Also, as the political situation has changed in some countries, the institute has had to discontinue its immersions there, as recently occurred in Egypt. However, the institute has piloted immersion programs in the Iraqi and Levantine dialects of Arabic at San Diego State University, and it has begun exploring a similar program with the Persian language Farsi at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The expanded immersion programs, both OCONUS and stateside, are just more evidence that the importance of linguistic skills to the Army shows no signs of abating.
“Language and culture matter,” Coppi said. “The business that we’re in requires us to go abroad. It’s an away game, whether it’s a humanitarian act, to prevent something from happening, or to shape conditions.”
He says that when he considers the Army’s Operating Concept, “Win in a Complex World,” he sees direct correlations to the training conducted at DLIFLC.
The first paragraph of the TRADOC pamphlet reads, “The Army Operating Concept (AOC) describes how future Army forces will prevent conflict, shape security environments, and win wars while operating as part of our Joint Force and working with multiple partners.”
Coppi said, “As I look at ‘prevent,’ ‘shape’ and ‘win,’ I could easily attach language and culture to all three of those tenets.”
U.S. Army Recruiting Command would appear to agree. During a recent visit to the institute, the commanding general of USAREC, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, said, “It’s nice to come here and see the investment we are making in young men and women and the growing appreciation that we really need to cultivate language capability in our Army.
“We are absolutely committed to ensuring that quality applicants are coming to the Army,” which includes linguists, he said.
Chapman, who speaks Serbian, Russian, Greek and is about to do an immersion program in French, argues that for the U.S. military to understand the world in which it’s operating, its officers and NCOs must develop their language skills.
“To speak someone’s language is to know them. You can be a U.S. military member assigned to Germany and you can drink the beer and eat the bratwurst and do all those things that you think make German culture, but until you’re speaking in their language and talking to them about their problems and their views on American policies or whatever the discussion is, you’re not really getting it.”
The need among the NCO Corps may be even greater, Chapman said.
“It opens so many doors from an NCO perspective. A lot of officers across the world will have a level of English that allows them to communicate some. It’s not such the case with NCOs,” he said. “A lot of our partners’ NCO corps aren’t nearly as developed. And frankly, they don’t put the responsibilities on their NCOs that we do on ours. And so being able to speak their language is very important, particularly with coalition operations, coalition training, it’s all just really critical.”
The DLIFLC’s enrollment reflects that importance: 97 percent of the institute’s students are enlisted. That’s a statistic Coppi knows is important.
“The noncommissioned officers are the glue, that backbone,” he said, “so the more who are out there who know about language and culture or who have walked through the halls, the better off the Army is.”
The U.S. military is changing the way it teaches Arabic.
Until recently, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center had focused its efforts on teaching service members Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), but recently that focus has shifted to teaching dialects.
“Certainly, through the war years, the Iraqi dialect became critical for us, so we trained a lot of Iraqi dialects,” said Army Col. David K. Chapman, DLIFLC commandant. “But (now) we’re going to be training four full dialects of Arabic. We’ll train Iraqi, Egyptian, what we’ll call Levantine dialect — which isn’t really a dialect; it’s a number of dialects, but it’s Arabic spoken in the Levant — and Sudanese, which is another critical one.”
The Levantine dialect is spoken widely in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian areas of Israel.
The institute, in Monterey, California, doesn’t decide which languages to teach, Chapman said. Instead, it takes direction from each service, the National Security Agency and each of the major combatant commands, among others.
“The Army is the executive agent for all of language training for the” Department of Defense, he said. “But I get as much direction from the deputy assistant secretary of defense. From a policy perspective, he tells me which way to go.”
And the Soldiers and commanders in the field realized that when it comes to Arabic, the way to go is dialects.
“Our graduates who studied MSA, when they went to the field and were stationed in the Middle East, sometimes found some difficulties, because the language spoken in the streets is different than the MSA that they studied,” said Souzy Guirguis, an assistant professor in the institute’s Egyptian school and team lead of the Egyptian dialect rollout. “The (spoken) language was more of a dialect, so this is why we thought that we will give them the language that they will use in reality to perform their tasks over there.”
Guirguis said the new emphasis on dialects does not mean that students won’t be exposed to Modern Standard Arabic, but MSA instruction will be secondary to the dialect.
“We are integrating MSA into the dialect course in a way that each of them will enhance learning the other,” he said.
Lessons are planned in such a way that dialect instruction complements learning some standard Arabic, Guirguis said. Interestingly and somewhat surprisingly, he said, students in pilot courses or who have been focused on dialect instruction in the past tend to score better on tests of their MSA knowledge.
“But this is not the reason we are doing this,” he said. “We are not after grades; we are after communication. What do our linguists need in order to communicate in the Arab countries? Whether it’s Egypt, whether it’s the Gulf countries, whether it’s Syria or Lebanon, they need the dialect in order to communicate. But we didn’t forget about reading and writing, which is mainly in MSA.”
Assistant Professor Khalda Tahir, who teaches the Sudanese courses that started in the summer at the institute, said the new emphasis on dialects is important to the mission and the learner.
“I think this is very important if we look from the student perspective,” she said. “They need to learn the basics of MSA and the dialect. This will help them to communicate, to immerse, in any Middle East country.”
The need for speakers of common dialects has been known for a decade, and instruction at the institute is further reflecting that need, Chapman said.
“When I served in Iraq, I had about 10 interpreters who worked for me in my command, and they all spoke a different dialect — because we needed it,” he said. “Even within Iraq, we had different dialects for the different parts of the country.”
Chapman said that in general, the demand for speakers of Arabic dialects has increased significantly in recent years. As dialects have become more important, the military’s need for other languages and skills have diminished. For instance, Dari, which is the Persian language derivative spoken in Afghanistan, has been discontinued at the school, although demand for the primary Persian language, Farsi, has remained strong.
“You can kind of follow the news in a way, and see what comes and goes,” Chapman said of the changes to course offerings at the institute. “What is interesting is that we didn’t have a large surge in Russian requirements based on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. My amateur analysis is that we have such a strong bench of Russian speakers in the force, there was no real signal command to change that.”
Chinese has continued to be an important language for the Department of Defense. Increasingly, Spanish instruction has been added, although the Army does not train its linguists in Spanish.
“I can tell you, pound for pound, Spanish is probably the most difficult language we teach,” Chapman said. “Mostly because of the time. You only get six months, and we have four dialects within Spanish. It’s been so difficult that we’re actually lengthening the course by 10 weeks.”
The institute puts languages in four categories.
Category 1 includes the Romance languages — such as Spanish, French and Portuguese — and students get six months of instruction. Chapman said French students, like Spanish students, will probably soon be given additional time.
Category 2 includes the Germanic-oriented languages and Indonesian. Students receive nine months of instruction.
Category 3 languages include Russian, Serbian, Greek and Farsi. Instruction in these takes almost a full year.
The Category 4 languages — Arabic and its dialects, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Pashto (which, along with Dari, is another commonly used language in Afghanistan) — take 16 months of instruction at the institute.
The DLIFLC’s command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Matildo Coppi, said that no matter what language or category students study, the institute’s noncommissioned officers serve three critical roles in helping students succeed.
Many Soldiers at the institute are Advanced Individual Training students, so they need the indoctrination into customs and courtesies, Coppi said.
And of course many of the NCOs at the institute, being linguists themselves, also assist in the instruction, serving as a bridge between the language instruction and the required military components.
“The third role is more of a mentorship role,” Coppi said.
Even without expertise in a particular target language, NCOs are experts at developing Soldiers and other service members, Coppi said. At the institute, they help students adjust and implement their language training plan just like a Master Fitness Trainer helps Soldiers reach their fitness goals, Coppi said. So regardless of how requirements change or which languages come in and out of vogue at the institute, Coppi says its NCOs are ready to help Soldiers achieve proficiency and provide commanders with Soldiers who can meet the needs of any mission.
Spc. Jared Tansley wasn’t surprised to be on the stage at the Sergeant Major of the Army’s Awards Luncheon on Monday. And he expects to be back soon.
The 11B infantryman with 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, in Vilseck, Germany, was named the winner of this year’s Best Warrior Competition. He represented U.S. Army Europe.
“I always thought I would (win), because I was going to push myself forward and eventually accomplish as much as I can,” he said in an interview after being named the Soldier of the Year. “And hopefully I can get the NCO of the Year in 2016.”
This year’s NCO of the Year wasn’t always quite as confident about his success.
“They’re just great NCOs and competitors all around,” Staff Sgt. Andrew Fink said of the 26 Soldiers and NCOs who competed from the Army’s 13 commands. “Everybody had a chance at the end to win, I was just lucky enough to come out on top.”
Fink, a medic with the 409th Area Support Medical Company in Madison, Wisconsin, represented U.S. Army Reserve Command.
Fink said that until his name was announced Monday afternoon, he had no idea how he was doing. That’s partially by design, he said. Organizers keep competitors separate as they participate in events, so keeping track of how they’re faring compared to their opponents is nearly impossible.
“For me, the toughest part of the competition was the 12-mile ruck march, the very last physical event,” Fink said. “Because I’m a little bit shorter, I have shorter legs, it’s hard for me to keep up with those taller boys. But you have to just grit your teeth, go on and do your best.”
This year’s event marked several firsts for the competition. It was the first under Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, and he refocused the already grueling events to be even more physically challenging. It was also the first year the competition was organized by the Asymmetric Warfare Group, which was intended to simulate combat conditions even more realistically. Dailey also moved the bulk of the competition to Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, because of the post’s tougher terrain.
Most of the changes were designed to further challenge the competitors, but one of Dailey’s adjustments may have frustrated others. He kept the names of the winners under tight wrap until his Awards Luncheon on Monday. In his opening remarks at the luncheon, Dailey said the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs wrote him a three-page email explaining why that office should be notified in advance of the results.
“You know what it must feel like after you write a three-page note to the SMA, and you get a two-letter response back: No,” he said. “No, because this is special, and it deserves to be special.”
The “final” event at Fort A.P. Hill was the ruck march Oct. 7, but Dailey noted that even after the competitors were brought to Washington, they were always being monitored, graded. The group was invited by Dailey to participate in the Army 10-Miler on Sunday, and he said he promised them that after the tough week they had endured, he would maintain a leisurely 9- to 10-minute mile pace.
“They quickly found out that that turned into about a 6:30 pace, and you know what they said?” Dailey asked. “‘Hooah!’ They showed up for that 10-mile run and said, ‘I’ll do it, sergeant major.’ … Thank God we have Soldiers like the ones who are going to be recognized today.”
In addition to the physically challenging events, competitors are graded on their knowledge, composure under pressure and other mental tasks.
“This four-day competition tests aptitude, urban warfare, board interviews, physical fitness, written exams and warrior tasks and battle drills relevant to today’s operating environment,” said Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, vice chief of staff of the Army and the keynote speaker at Monday’s Awards Luncheon. “The Best Warrior Competition recognizes Soldiers who demonstrate commitment to our Army values, embody the Warrior Ethos and represent the force of our future.”
Fink noted that the skills tested are no surprise.
“They’re all basic Soldier tasks, so it’s something that every Soldier should be able to do,” he said. “They just grade you as hard as they can.”
Allyn noted that any day he could spend with Soldiers was a great day, and he lauded the quality of all U.S. Soldiers. “And frankly,” he said, “the greatness of our Soldiers is inspired by the greatness of our Noncommissioned Officer Corps.”
That high standard was evident in the 2015 NCO of the Year — not just in Fink’s performance in the competition, but even in his reasons for participating.
“The driving factor for me to get going and started with these competitions was really my Soldiers,” he said. “I wanted to show them that commitment to excellence. Being in the Reserve, you don’t get a lot of opportunities, but when they do come along, you have to do your best, make a plan, stick to it.
“My training from active duty — when I was on active duty for four years — really helped me out a lot with that, being with the Ranger battalion and just that never-quit attitude,” he continued. “I wanted to show my Soldiers that they could do that as well, that a Reserve soldier could go through the ranks and win this competition. Hopefully, I inspired them to do the same next year.”
The Soldier of the Year isn’t an NCO yet, but he’s ready to return to his duty station and begin the transition to leader.
“I’m ready to set the standards for my men, the new team I got, and I’m eager to teach and learn,” Tansley said.
Tansley was thankful for all the support he received from his command and his family, including his wife who helped him study with flash cards.
“Even my dog is going to be happy because all that running has paid off,” he said.
The winners receive substantial amounts of recognition and gifts, but Tansley seemed most excited by one of the side benefits.
“I did get to meet the wonderful 11 Bravo hero Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey, and he is everything we always dreamed of,” Tansley said after winning and he noted that Dailey was proud that a fellow 11B infantryman had taken the title of Best Warrior.
“This whole event has made me realize a lot of things about myself, things that I can always improve on,” Tansley said. “When you’re trying to control the four fundamentals of marksmanship and treat a casualty at the same time, you realize in a stressful situation, you always need more and more practice to come out overall.”
COMPLETE LIST OF WINNERS
Soldier of the Year
Third place: Spc. Emanuel L. Moore, U.S. Army Special Operations Command
Runnerup: Spc. Cruser Barnes, National Guard
Soldier of the Year: Spc. Jared R. Tansley, U.S. Army Europe
NCO of the Year
Third place: Sgt. 1st Class Elijah Dean Howlett, U.S. Army Europe
Runnerup: Staff Sgt. Kevin Simpson, Military District of Washington
NCO of the Year: Staff Sgt. Andrew Fink, U.S. Army Reserve Command
The Best Warrior competition recognizes excellence in weapons qualification, a timed event that included hitting pop-up targets with three weapons systems; top scores on the Army Physical Fitness Test administered on the second day of the competition; and top finishers of the 12-mile road march, which included 35-pound packs for the Soldier of the Year competitors and 45-pound packs for the NCO of the Year competitors and required the marchers to find items as they marched.
Top guns: Sgt. 1st Class Elijah Dean Howlett and Spc. Shane A. Sital
Iron Warriors: Sgt. Michael L. Hooks, with a 316 score on the extended scale, and Spc. Jared R. Tansley, with a score of 321.
Road march winners: Sgt. Robert Cunningham (2 hours, 13 minutes) and Spc. Emanuel L. Moore (2 hours, 11 minutes).
The Army Operating Concept is “Win in a Complex World.” The Soldiers of U.S. Army Europe know better than anyone that we can’t do that alone.
USAREUR is down to about 28,000 troops from a Cold War peak of 218,000, but the threats across the Atlantic have only magnified since the latest major U.S. cuts to the region in 2012. Vladimir Putin’s Russia skirmishes with Ukranian forces after occupying the nation’s Crimea region and aggressively menaces the United States’ allies — NATO and otherwise. The Islamic State is building up its land forces near the continent’s southern edges, its wars create a burgeoning immigrant crisis and the terrorist organization’s recruiters and sympathizers put all of Europe under constant threat.
“Nowadays our enemies — it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the Russians or the Islamic State — will use any means and any way to achieve their strategic ends,” Brig. Gen. Miha Škrbinc, assistant to Slovenia’s chief of defense, told a gathering of NCOs from more than 30 countries recently. “That means they will use all spectrum of power.”
It’s called “hybrid warfare,” Škrbinc said, and it’s defined as a combination of regular and irregular warfare. “But that would be so easy if hybrid warfare was just that,” he said. Škrbinc described Russia’s tactics as a combination of economic exertions, aggressive foreign policy, diplomatic pressure and diversions, clandestine cyber warfare attacks, information and propaganda offensives — all backed by a well-equipped and well-trained conventional army.
Škrbinc was speaking at the ninth annual Conference of European Army NCOs, which took place in April in Bled, Slovenia. The conference, co-hosted by USAREUR and the Slovenian army, is intended to develop professional land forces across Europe and build relationships among the enlisted ranks of those armies. But the critical need for that professionalism and relationships may be more apparent now than at any other time in the conference’s decade-long history.
“I think they (the allied nations) were reassured,” Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins said after the conference he helped organize with Igor Tomašić, the senior enlisted leader of the Slovenian army. “We don’t know much about the deterrence piece of what we’re doing, but I think that having that large group gathered together, having a common understanding and shared vision of the future — at least the defense part — I think there has to be some kind of deterrent value in that.
“I don’t know if that’s something that translates into the Russian lexicon or not,” he said.
Maybe not. Even as the conference was underway, Russia was conducting artillery exercises along its border — “literally counter-battery fire to the CEANCO,” Huggins called them.
Usually, the command sergeant major of USAREUR would help lead the conference, but the new senior enlisted advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Sheryl Lyon, just started her duties late last month. She was able to attend, but Huggins, who is command sergeant major of the 7th Army’s Joint Multinational Training Command at Grafenwoehr, Germany, stepped in to coordinate.
The conference included presentations about some of the large land-forces programs available across Europe, through the United States and NATO. As the host nation, Slovenia was able to show off its Multinational Center of Excellence for Mountain Warfare, which is expected to be accredited by NATO later this year.
The conference also featured speakers from armies throughout Europe describing topics that might be of particular interest to NCOs, such as how selection boards and pre-deployment training work in various countries.
“It’s a shared understanding of what all of us have as a problem set,” Huggins said. “Each one of us goes through some kind of process like that, and by showing a couple of examples, we’re hoping that people can go back” and share those lessons with their armies.
Conference attendees were the top enlisted leaders — “the heavy hitters” — in their respective countries, Huggins notes. After the conference, those senior NCOs can share ideas and best practices with their top commanders and chiefs of defense.
“They can go back and say, ‘Hey, here’s how the U.S. briefed,’ or ‘Here’s how the Croatians have got it going on,’ or ‘Here’s how maybe we want to do that,’” Huggins said. “There’s a lot of that that has come to pass because of these briefings.”
Huggins said that during another conference he attended in Estonia that included representatives from all the Baltic countries, the sergeant major of the Estonian army was pulled out during a presentation. He had received a call from his chief of defense and was flown out on a helicopter. When the Estonian sergeant major arrived, his chief of defense promoted him to the senior enlisted advisor for all the Estonian militaries, equivalent to Marine Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia’s position in the United States as senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Estonian chief of defense “wanted to make sure that his army knew he valued his noncommissioned officers to the point where he wanted to have one with him to help advise him on everything that they did,” Huggins said. “That’s part of what this group is accomplishing.”
The senior enlisted leaders gather together annually at CEANCO, but exercises at Grafenwoehr’s JMTC and the nearby Hohenfels training area help Soldiers at all levels build trust and relationships and learn to work together in a true interoperable environment before facing real-world threats together.
JMTC has several major regularly scheduled training exercises, some with U.S. forces functioning as the high command and multinational forces integrated and some in which U.S. units participate under the command of allied nations’ units.
In response to Russia’s aggression, USAREUR took part in a multinational training exercise that spanned Europe, demonstrating the United States’ commitment to defending its allies and those nations’ abilities to protect their borders — Operation Atlantic Resolve.
“This is a major commitment by the United States,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commanding general of USAREUR, told attendees during the CEANCO’s closing remarks. But it’s a commitment well worth making, Hodges said.
“I’m a big believer that the United States is never, ever going to go anywhere by itself,” he said. “We have learned a lesson — that we need allies, that we need partners, that other countries will know more about a place than we will ever know. It’s not just a political cover. Other nations have capabilities that we don’t have. I am convinced that we will always be in a coalition, and that almost always, the most reliable partners we’ll ever have come from NATO or they’re PFP, Partnership for Peace, countries — the same people we’ve been with all these years.”
U.S. and allied forces rolled through Europe as part of Atlantic Resolve even as the senior NCOs gathered in Slovenia. Elements of the 3rd Infantry Division, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment and the 173rd Airborne Brigade trained with Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish forces as part of Atlantic Resolve-North, then those and other allied forces demonstrated their capabilities in Bulgaria, Romania and other areas of the Black Sea as part of Atlantic Resolve-South.
Meanwhile, back at Hohenfels, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment was conducting one of JMTC’s major exercises, Saber Junction, which this year included soldiers from 17 European countries. Saber Junction is USAREUR’s Decisive Action Training Environment rotation, but with an international flavor, says Command Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Alexander Rolling, command sergeant major of the JMTC’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center. The JMRC is the only Army Combat Training Center outside the continental United States.
Rolling and Huggins said being in Europe presents unique training opportunities: 28 nations are part of NATO, and with other partner nations, forces from any of 43 countries can take part in any exercise.
“We’re not in this alone,” Rolling said. “In the future, we’re going to fight together. If we’re going to fight together, we have to learn to work together. We have to get past some of those stereotypes. We have to get past some of those operational barriers. And how do we bridge those gaps? Well, you do it through training. Through training you build friendship, you build capacity and you share ideas.”
The role of NCOs
One of the greatest ideas the U.S. has to share is the competence and professionalism of its NCO Corps. Rolling says that around the world, “if you find a great organization, if you find a great unit, you’ll find a great NCO corps.”
Other countries look to U.S. NCOs to understand the Army’s emphasis on education and the enlisted leaders’ responsibilities. The United States has invested in this shared understanding for decades, and as Europe becomes a more frightening place, that investment is paying dividends.
“Because we don’t have the bodies that we had (in Europe), we need to make sure that everybody else is capable,” Huggins said. “That’s why we have a corps dynamic, which is developed just like our Army’s: We go after the corps of the NCO first to make sure you’ve got all the leader skills, the attributes, all the stuff that I need you to have so I can trust you. Because now when I trust you, mission command works. If I don’t trust you, mission command can’t work, because now I have to micromanage. I have to figure out ways to be on your back and watch exactly what you’re doing.”
Nagy Kornél had participated in training exercises with USAREUR before, but the Hungarian NCO’s visit to Hohenfels in March and April for Saber Junction was his first multinational exercise acting in the role of first sergeant.
“I’m not saying we’ve finished with training and that we’re ready to fight or deploy, but it was a big, big help, especially in this kind of area,” he said. “With this kind of training, we have everything that the JMRC can provide us, so it was real situations — almost like real situations, I mean. And it put focus on lots of things that we have to improve.”
Hungary’s NCO corps and support channels are modeled on the U.S. Army’s, so Kornèl knew the system, but he still found it invaluable to see it in action.
“It was good just to see how it works,” he said. “It’s an old system in the States, but about a 10-year old system back in Hungary. So previously, I had just a little picture of the total picture, especially for me, of how I should act as a first sergeant.”
During the 30-day exercise, he learned about managing resources, logistics, fight operations and planning procedures.
“In every army, the NCOs are the backbone of the army, so we have to be very focused on the task and the fight,” he said. “But on the other side, we have to take care of our guys and that’s very important to understand.”
Lessons for U.S. Soldiers
Romanian Sgt. Strizu Călin, a squad leader of a rank equivalent to sergeant first class in the U.S. Army, also participated in Saber Junction. He deployed with U.S. forces before — with the Army in Afghanistan and more recently with the Marines in Serbia — but he said the exercise in Hohenfels was much different.
“There was a lot of action, day and night, day and night,” he said. “It was very successful for me. To teach with other sergeants, to work with the U.S. Army, was a good thing.”
He said he got a better sense of how his soldiers react under stressful conditions, and they all learned new techniques and tactics from the U.S. Army NCOs. During the exercise, his six-man squad, including one from the United States, captured three Strykers, at night.
“That was something — I don’t know the word,” he said and thought for a moment. “Something outstanding.”
He impressed his U.S. counterparts, as well.
“I learned a lot of techniques. But we taught them some of our techniques — survival techniques. I talked with the platoon sergeant who was with us, and he told us that they don’t make traps like us.”
Part of Călin’s basic training, as it is for all his fellow members of Romanian reconnaissance platoons, consisted of being left in the wild for two to three months to fend for himself. He and his soldiers, therefore, are quite skilled in survival tactics, including fishing and trapping animals.
He called his time during Saber Junction a “two-way street of learning.”
That’s exactly what U.S. Soldiers who participated in the training exercise described, as well.
Staff Sgt. Danny Allen Doss, a platoon sergeant in the 4th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, worked with a Latvian platoon in his scout reconnaissance troop. He felt he helped the Latvians with some procedures, noting the U.S. casualty evacuation procedures, and from the Latvians he took away a newfound emphasis on discipline and enforcing standards — and a healthy respect.
“We called them monsters,” he said. “They’re the Wolves, that’s their unit. Their logo had two wolves, an older wolf and a younger wolf, and that’s how they work in the organization. It’s the older guys pulling the younger guys. As NCOs, we teach our Soldiers and mentor our Soldiers, but these guys made them do things — like made them be better than them. That’s what I want for my Soldiers, I want them to be way better than me. For those guys and their discipline and just their physicality, they’re just sheer monsters.”
He described how the Latvian soldiers he rode with would dismount on patrols. “And we’re like: ‘That’s 20k through the mountains with full kits and Javelins!’ They could just go.”
That’s a common experience for U.S. Soldiers working with multinational forces for the first time, said Command Sgt. Maj. Shane Pospisil, command sergeant major of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. He said multinational soldiers know U.S. and NATO doctrine thoroughly, they understand and use camouflage effectively, and, as Doss found, they’re still dismounting and moving all their gear and anti-tank missile launchers on foot for 10 miles or more, while during the past decade U.S. Soldiers have become accustomed to traveling in armored vehicles because of the threat of improvised explosive devices.
“These guys bring a lot to the table,” Pospisil said. “They’re very proud of their identity. They’re good at what they do.”
Huggins said U.S. Soldiers have learned much about small unit tactics and discipline, as well as digging in and handling artillery. Rolling noted how impressive one country’s graphics were during an exercise and how they were incorporated into all briefings during that operation.
The lessons from an operation such as Saber Junction abound on all sides, Pospisil said.
“It allows junior leaders to solve those simple and complex tasks and problems and really find a way ahead, around them,” he said. “But it’s giving us an opportunity to do it together with our allies. We’re not just learning these lessons ourselves.”
When Hodges took command of USAREUR, he looked at where the Army was going and how its forces in Europe fit into that strategy. He took the Army slogan, “Army Strong,” and applied it to his command, now known as “Strong Europe.”
But Strong Europe isn’t just about the U.S. Army and its Soldiers and equipment. It’s about the Army’s relationships on the continent. It’s about ensuring that we — the U.S. and all of its allies — can respond when any of us are threatened. And Hodges says that as global attention shifted to Europe when Russia occupied Crimea, the U.S. and allied response showed we were ready.
“I tell Americans that Europe is an ocean closer to every problem we have,” Hodges said. “When my president last year saw Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, which is part of Ukraine — sovereign terrain of Ukraine — my president reminded our allies: We will defend Estonia, we will defend Latvia, we will defend Lithuania, we will defend all of our allies. He didn’t bring Soldiers from North Carolina or Texas. He sent American Soldiers, who were in Europe, on five days’ notice.
“I think it’s important to demonstrate not only that we can do that, but also that Georgia can make its own decision, that Bulgaria can make its own decision, that Turkey can make its own decision, that nations can move across the Black Sea, that it’s not a sphere that is the decision of Russia,” he continued. “There will be some Americans that will be very worried about this: that somehow we will be provoking Russia. But this is the 21st century. Nobody gets to have a sphere. Every nation gets to choose what they want, who they want to be (allied) with, what kind of government they want to have.”
Ukraine is not a NATO ally, but Hodges said that is the direction the country was moving — it had voted out its pro-Russian president in favor of a European Union-leading faction. And, Hodges said, that movement prompted Putin’s ire. The Russian president moved quickly, in a matter of days, to seize Crimea. Hodges and Huggins warn that if the conflict escalates, it will be equally quick.
“Everybody draws this (potential conflict) back to (Iraq’s former leader) Saddam Hussein and going into Kuwait,” Huggins said. “We took six months to bring in the Reserves, to stack up big arsenals in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. And then, ta-da! The war. We overwhelmed them. The next one, if the Russians were to do something, it’s going to be 24 or 48 hours. They’re already there. Now we have to build up some way to get them out. And you know they’re going to be right in the heart of the cities, they’re going to be in all those places that are going to require us to do something we don’t typically do. It’s going to neutralize airpower, it’s going to neutralize artillery.”
But Huggins is confident that Europe will stay strong.
“It goes back to our Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World. It talks about all that capability and leaders. The one constant we have is us: the NCO Corps. Because we’re the ones who are going to get the Army through whatever happens to it here in the next couple years. Leaders are what will take whatever’s available and go win, go solve that next problem.”
Operation Atlantic Resolve, which will continue with actions indefinitely, has and continues to work out logistical kinks, Huggins said. Transportation by road and rail differs from country to country; different rules regulate hazardous material rolling across a border; U.S. and Western European allies have never moved through former Soviet bloc countries. But Atlantic Resolve and other operations are stretching and testing all those concerns, Huggins said.
“That’s going to get accomplished by those young officers and those NCOs who are out there on the sharp end of this thing, making it all happen,” he said. “So having professional folks and relationships already established in those countries? Hugely important.”
How we win
U.S. forces and its allies in Europe hope that showing capability and resolve are enough to deter Russia from any further action. U.S. paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, stationed in Vicenza, Italy, are in the Ukraine training that country’s national guard soldiers to combat continued Russian aggression. Huggins said that when he told one of the two Ukranian sergeants major attending the CEANCO that U.S. Soldiers would be helping his nation’s military, “he grabbed me like I was throwing him a life vest.” The Ukranians, Huggins said, feel they are at war already.
Putin denies Russian involvement in the battles, but as the body count continued to rise on both sides, Hodges told the CEANCO participants: “There is no doubt that Russia is involved in eastern Ukraine. If you don’t believe that, then you don’t want to believe that. The amount of artillery, and rockets, and electronic warfare that is being used against Ukranian defense forces — these are not coal miners and tractor drivers as President Putin described them. This is not something that you can do in the basement of your home. These are professional, very well-equipped, Russian soldiers and Russian commanders in eastern Ukraine. We know that. You know that.”
No one knows exactly what Putin’s plans are, but Slovenia’s Brig. Gen. Škrbinc thinks he has an idea.
“What is actually the center of gravity that Putin wants to attack at this moment?” he asked. “I would guess that that is unity of the alliance. If he were able to break and separate allies or within NATO or within the European Union, I think his ways to achieve strategic goals is open.”
With that in mind, Hodges urged the senior enlisted leaders from 30 countries that “we have to stick together.”
“At the end of the day,” he said, “it’s going to be soldiers led by good sergeants that are the best way to deter that war from ever happening.”
The official magazine of noncommissioned officer professional development