Enlisted leaders from the United States, Europe and Africa gathered in a hotel ballroom in El Paso, Texas, on April 13 to discuss shared goals, concerns and how they could help each other achieve better readiness.
The discussion was part of the first International Training and Leader Development Symposium, a three-day event in El Paso that brought together enlisted leaders from all over the world to foster international partnerships and professional NCO development.
Command Sgt. Maj. Darrin Bohn, command senior enlisted leader of United States Africa Command, started the discussion. He said a main concern for African NCOs is the often unbalanced level of education given to officers versus NCOs.
“Some of the countries that I deal with, and thankfully they are not in the room, but they default always to the officers,” Bohn said. “They send someone to the war college. Well, we can send somebody on a Mobile Training Team over there to train 60 noncommissioned officers at the same time for less money.”
Master Warrant Officer Dickson Owusu, the sergeant major of the Ghana, Africa, army, said one of the roadblocks to getting more NCO training in African countries is that NCO development and empowerment can be seen as a threat.
“That’s why I like to use the terms ‘roles and responsibilities’ instead of empowerment,” Bohn said in response to Owusu. “We need to convince the officers that our roles and responsibilities give them more time to plan the big things. We’ll get our soldiers there in the right uniform, with water and ammunition, ready to execute the mission.”
The senior enlisted leaders of four African countries – Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Liberia – took part in the symposium. The four shared their struggles in getting their officers to accept NCO involvement in decisions. Bohn encouraged them to continue to fight for NCO empowerment and let them know it’s not ever going to be easy.
“To be honest with you guys, even I struggle with my headquarters to get NCO involvement,” Bohn said. “Every day is a fight for me, as well. Every day is a fight to make sure the noncommissioned officer’s voice is being heard. I don’t always get my way, but at least I get my say. So it’s a fight all the time for me, too. I know what you guys are going through. Don’t think the struggle is just on the African continent. The struggle is still on the American continent, as well. So how do we make ourselves relevant? How do we interject in some of these things to get what’s best for our NCOs and soldiers?”
Command Sgt. Maj. Sheryl Lyon, the command sergeant major of U.S. Army Europe, said that joint training in Europe also includes talk about NCOs’ roles and responsibilities, but with the additional need to incorporate NATO doctrine.
“For U.S. Army Europe, we’re a little bit different because our partnerships have been going on for 70-plus years,” Lyon said. “State partnerships, at least some of them, have been going on for 25 years. They’re very well established. So there is a difference in the way we see things and the way AFRICOM sees things. Being well established helps us in that we can focus on other things.”
The State Partnership Program has established 70 partnerships in 76 countries, pairing state National Guard units with other nations’ armed forces. SPP partnerships with European countries started as early as 1993.
Both Lyon and Bohn stressed the importance of using Mobile Training Teams in the effort to educate and train noncommissioned officers in Europe and Africa.
“I advocate for MTTs,” Lyon said. “It works much better for a country. For one, it’s cheaper. You don’t have to pay for 40 students to come to an NCO Academy somewhere in the states or in Germany. It comes to you. It works much better to get them certified, able to instruct their own courses.”
After the discussion, Lyon said that the talks showed that NCOs around the world share common goals.
“One of the things I took away from the breakout sessions was that we face many of the same challenges in our NCO corps regardless of where we are from or how long we’ve had an NCO corps,” Lyon said. “Readiness is our number one priority, making training essential to success.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Gilpin, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Africa, noted that only four senior enlisted leaders, out of 54 countries in Africa, were represented at the symposium. He said the discussions were fruitful, but more participation will be a goal in the future.
“We were able to better communicate expectations, capabilities and understanding of how we can strengthen our partnership and be more efficient,” Gilpin said. “That directly leads to readiness as we optimize personnel and resources.”
When senior enlisted leaders from the regions covered by the U.S. military’s Pacific and Central commands gathered two weeks ago during a breakout session of the sergeant major of the Army’s International Training and Leader Development Symposium, it didn’t take long before the conversation turned to the regions’ most pressing threat: the Islamic State.
USCENTCOM covers areas in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. USPACOM encompasses more than half of the world’s surface, including much of Asia. Worldwide, about 188,000 Soldiers from the active, Guard and Reserve components support combatant commands in more than 140 locations worldwide, and almost 60 percent of them are tied to Pacific or Central command.
Command Sgt. Maj. Ng Siak Ping, the sergeant major of Singapore’s army, noted that his small nation has been infiltrated by members of the Islamic State who travel through Indonesia and other nearby countries, requiring a shift in warfighting tactics.
Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Agueda, the operations sergeant major for USCENTCOM’s land component, U.S. Army Central, said, “Jordan is dealing with that right now, too.”
“Both Kazakhstan and Jordan have well-developed NCO corps,” he said. “They have academies and they work out very well. And as we make plans on how we help them train, the reality of the world is that the enemy has some say about what you train on. In Jordan, the priorities changed dramatically when the [Islamic State] and Syria situations started happening.
“So we started focusing more on border security,” Agueda said. “Also, they’re dealing with all the refugees, so from an intel aspect of who’s coming into their country, the priorities shifted dramatically.”
Chief Warrant Officer Mohammad Al-smadi, the sergeant major of Jordan’s army, agreed.
“Nowadays, you don’t know who is your enemy,” he said. “ISIS is not a country; ISIS is an idea. And the ideology can enter this room right now. They are supported from many countries all over the world. So we have to focus on different ways of training, and probably a better way of communication with security agencies in Jordan.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Bryant Lambert, the command sergeant major of USPACOM’s land component, U.S. Army Pacific, was one of the facilitators of the breakout session. Though he acknowledged the changing nature of the conflict armies around the world, he encouraged participants to focus on the areas NCOs can affect, including training and professional development, and how to best share information in those realms.
“Right now, we’re just trying to identify what are our roles as noncommissioned officers in our environment or region and what different ways we can have an effect,” Lambert said. “All our countries have multiple cultures within our militaries and within our societies. So it’s imperative that we understand each other’s culture before we engage each other, that we understand what the needs are, that we understand who has the lead in a particular country.”
The sergeant major of Singapore’s army noted that his soldiers interact closely with the armies of the Philippines, Brunei and especially Malaysia. Lambert said that if another partner nation wished to engage with Malaysia, for instance, officers and NCOs from that partner nation should speak with Singapore’s army before entering Malaysia or as soon as they arrive to find out as much as they can to help them be effective.
“Noncommissioned officers can only influence so much,” Lambert said. “We know that we have to look at policies and the ambassadors of particular nations. There’s a lot involved that we as noncommissioned officers, when we go and engage, that we must understand. We must understand lines of authority, we must understand policies, and we must understand executive agents.”
Agueda noted that before country plans can be developed effectively, some countries may require exposure to the role of NCOs from the United States and nations with similarly structured armies.
“I think when we talk about country plans and putting it in writing, especially in CENTCOM, it’s very important that command teams show up together and participate together because the role of the officer in those countries usually is what drives authorities and what happens.”
NCO roles and responsibilities are well-understood in Jordan, for instance, he said, “but other countries require a lot more layers.”
Jordan is considered an NCO success story in USCENTCOM for a number of reasons, but its decade-plus relationship with the Colorado National Guard as part of the U.S. State Partnership Program may have helped lay much of that groundwork.
Jordan is one of only five countries inside USCENTCOM that participates in the SPP and the only one from the area of the Mideast known as the Levant.
Worldwide, 70 nations have state National Guard partners, with the biggest concentrations — more than 20 each — in the U.S. military’s Europe and Southern commands.
With the SPP’s limited application in the USCENTCOM, Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher K. Greca, senior enlisted leader of the command, wondered whether the program should be re-evaluated.
Command Master Chief Mark W. Rudes, senior enlisted advisor to U.S. Pacific Command, which has eight nations with state partnerships, shared some of Greca’s concerns.
“There are elements of that state partnership that I don’t necessarily know are communicated clearly with our Title X forces, specifically Army Pacific having a good understanding of what goals and objectives” align with USARPAC and the theater campaign.
“There’s a lot of capacity, everybody wants to do good,” Rudes said. “But the problem with some of the efforts is that we all go in and either duplicate or we step on each other’s lines and it crisscrosses communication and we actually cause, indirectly, more harm than good.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Houten is the command sergeant major for CENTCOM’s joint force development and serves as the command’s senior enlisted National Guard advisor. Houten said that in the eight months he has been in his position, “I’ve seen some great stuff going on between Jordan and Colorado.”
But, he acknowledged, “whether or not those sync with the CENTCOM commander’s line of effort, I honestly couldn’t answer that. I know they have a large number of engagements in both Colorado and Jordan, but whether those line up? I couldn’t tell you.”
In his previous position at USSOUTHCOM, though, he was heavily involved in the state partnership between New Hampshire and El Salvador and said the combatant commander and the country teams worked closely together to coordinate their efforts and training.
If there are struggles in USCENTCOM or USPACOM, Houten said, “I think we need to get better at synchronizing the efforts, because I truly believe state partnership plays a critical role.”
The partnerships “have longevity, they have relationships, they’ve been in some countries – not necessarily CENTCOM – but some of those AORs, they’ve been in those countries long before Regionally Aligned Forces, long before we had a need to go in there,” he said.
Some U.S. Soldiers who first visited as sergeants or staff sergeants are now sergeants major and have been traveling to those partner countries for 20 years, Houten said.
“We should leverage that,” he said.
Master Sgt. Khalykov-Temyrbek Myrzakhanovich, the senior enlisted leader of Kazakhstan’s land forces, pointed out that in developing countries’ NCO corps, the U.S. and other nations should leverage their own officer-NCO relationships, as well.
“That officer-NCO relationship is something that can be taught,” Khalykov-Temyrbek said. “It can be practiced.”
A one-hour “theoretical” brief won’t change an army’s culture, he said, but practical exercises can go a long way in showing how a healthy and vibrant NCO corps functions with its officers.
Lambert agreed and encouraged participants to leverage existing exercises to interface with partner nations, both to facilitate greater shifts of responsibilities to NCOs and to better explore what each countries’ needs are.
Command Sgt. Maj. Edward W. Mitchell is the command sergeant major of the 2nd Infantry Division/Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Division. Although it’s a combined division, Mitchell said no Korean NCOs are part of the staff, only officers.
Still, the ROK army is beginning to see how important NCOs can be, he said.
He took a ROK battalion through the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, recently, and he said that in the beginning, everything was “officer-centric.”
“When they started going through NTC, the officer was trying to do everything. It lasted one day,” Mitchell said. “He had to empower every last one of his noncommissioned officers in order for him to accomplish his mission at the National Training Center. When it got back to the ROK army, they realized that when you go to war, you’re going to have to empower your noncommissioned officers in order to accomplish the mission. You can talk it all day long, but sometimes you have to show them. When they have to execute, they’ll see why it’s important to empower them. Sometimes training together is a big asset to get to where you need to get to.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Steven M. Payton has watched closely as the U.S. Army continues to make progress on its Regionally Aligned Forces mission.
As the sergeant major of G3/5/7 operations and plans, Payton has been privy to details concerning RAF since its inception in 2013. He shared some of those details with Army senior enlisted leaders and their international counterparts from 55 countries April 13 during the second day of the International Training and Leader Development Symposium at El Paso, Texas. The aim of the three-day event was to reinforce the importance of a quality noncommissioned officer corps, to foster international partnerships, and prepare U.S. senior enlisted leaders for the tasks they face as part of a fast-changing Army.
Payton outlined the basic RAF concept to attendees, describing how the fluid structure of the U.S. Army in a drawdown climate affects the strategy’s principles when trying to properly assist partner nations. Though the tenets and statistics behind the RAF concept are firm, Payton concedes its intricacies and strategic approaches are malleable.
“The numbers themselves tell a story,” Payton said while describing how the 187,560 Soldiers engaged in RAF missions are spread throughout the world. “But the story they do not tell is what goes along with it: how we work with our teammates in a collective effort across the globe.”
The Regionally Aligned Forces project was borne out of the 2010 U.S. National Security Strategy, which instructed the U.S. military to strengthen existing allied and partner relationships, as well as to pursue new partnerships. A key role of the defense strategic guidance was regionally aligned, mission-tailored forces, which would be rebalanced to the Asia-Pacific region while maintaining a commitment to Middle East partners.
A regional alignment flags Army units of various sizes to prepare to support combatant commanders as they deal with mutual threats and interests with partner nations. The support is offered in the hope that any given nation’s defense forces can handle security issues without involving U.S. forces. Under the current RAF structure, an Army unit of varying sizes will be assigned to one of the U.S. military’s six geographic combatant commands — U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command.
The opening stages of the RAF plan rolled out during the past three years, and the process for Army units to become regionally aligned is ongoing as it follows State Department direction to assign brigades to particular geographic combatant commands. Brigades aligned under the RAF concept lean heavily on NCOs to carry out their missions. In turn, those NCOs must be able to rely on their international counterparts to ensure that partner nations can reach their goals. That notion is part of what spurred last week’s gathering, Payton said. After laying out the vital elements of the RAF mission, Payton challenged the symposium’s attendees to keep those concepts in mind as they headed to their respective breakout sessions with enlisted leaders from their specific geographic regions.
“This presentation is meant to be a tool to shape what you do when you move out to your breakout groups,” Payton said. “Ask yourself, ‘What do we want to accomplish?’ We want to generate discussion. I presented to you what we see through the eyes of our commands and what they’re telling us that they’re accomplishing out there. What is key is to also remember that we, as the United States Army, are deployed around the globe. Our partner nations are deployed around the globe as well. What best practices do they have that we all can learn from? What should we be doing? What should we not be doing? We want to build upon what we currently have in place. We want to become better at what it is we want to accomplish collectively and individually.”
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey echoed those sentiments.
“This is all about what you put into it,” Dailey said. “This is focused on giving the state partners, the secretary and the COCOMS the ability to bring the team together regionally so you can break out and discuss things that you want to work on in the future, initiatives that you want to work on. This is just to confirm, ‘Hey, here’s where we’re headed.’”
Calling it an honor to have international military senior enlisted leaders come through the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, U.S. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey congratulated seven of its Sergeants Major Course alumni during their induction into the International Student Hall of Fame on April 12.
“This is an institution that is built time and time again from the great men and women who have been students here, but also from the great leaders who have had the privilege of leading this institution to an institution of excellence throughout history,” Dailey said during opening-day ceremonies of the 2016 International Training and Leader Development Symposium at Fort Bliss, Texas. “I am truly proud and honored to represent the Army that represents the world through education.”
Each inductee was invited onto the stage to unveil their plaques. The seven honorees were Sgt. Maj. Lyubomir Kirilov Lambov, sergeant major of the Bulgarian Armed Forces, Class 61; Sgt. Maj. of the Army Henry Whistler Dulce Dulce, sergeant major of the Colombian army, Class 62; Warrant Officer One Anthony Lysight, force sergeant major of the Jamaica Defence Force, Class 55; Chief Warrant Officer Mohammad Al-smadi, sergeant major of the Jordanian Armed Forces, Class 59; Command Sgt. Maj. Lee Gil Ho, command sergeant major of the Combined Forces Command, Republic of Korea and Ground Component Command, Class 59; Sgt. Maj. Genc Metaj, sergeant major of Kosovo Security Force, Class 63; and Plutonier Adjutant Principal Adrian Mateescu, senior enlisted leader (command sergeant major) for the Romanian Land Forces, Class 57.
“There is a common bond between all of us in here … each of us has the same basic duty: accomplishing the mission and taking care of our Soldiers,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of USASMA. “The students and faculty here get more from our international students and faculty and their diversity, knowledge and experiences than they get from us. This newest class of hall of fame inductees are outstanding examples of this.”
The focus of the three-day symposium was on training and fostering international partnerships. Attendees included Dailey, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn and more than 50 international military senior enlisted leaders.
Since USASMA hosted its first international class in 1975, the academy has graduated 821 international students, representing 76 countries, from its Sergeants Major Course. The International Student Hall of Fame was established in 2009 to recognize those international students who graduated from the course, have advanced to a position similar to that of the U.S. Army’s sergeant major of the Army, and have made enduring contributions to the leader development and education of the noncommissioned officers corps of their respective countries.
The symposium gave International Student Hall of Fame honorees a chance to return to USASMA and its familiar surroundings. Al-smadi said he was humbled to be part of the International Student Hall of Fame and felt at home.
“I came through USASMA eight years ago,” Al-smadi said. “It gave me the opportunity to learn from others’ experiences ─ not just the United States’ sergeants major who are very professional, but from NCOs from all around the world.”
“This is a big deal because this is a recognition not just for me, but for the entire Bulgarian Army,” Lambov said. “This is a great honor, and I am proud of this.”
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