Tag Archives: Army Values

NCOs of Old Guard lead 58th Presidential Inauguration

NCO Journal

Being a part of the renowned 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) affords many Soldiers unparalleled opportunities on a global stage. For Sgt. 1st Class Christopher G. Taffoya, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon Honor Guard Company, it was an opportunity to perform in his second inauguration in an honor guard cordon – this time, as noncommissioned officer in charge of the ceremonial unit.

Taffoya was in charge of a six-man cordon, which serves as an official escort, for President Donald J. Trump at the Capitol before his presidential swearing-in ceremony Jan. 20.

“We are the first Soldiers that he interacts with, which is really cool,” Taffoya said. “It’s just six Soldiers and me.”

It’s a pretty big deal to the NCO from Montclair, California. His first inauguration was President George W. Bush’s second in 2005, where Taffoya served in an honor cordon for the entire day.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher G. Taffoya, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon Honor Guard Company, stands at attention during the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C., Jan. 20, 2017. More than 5,000 military members from across all branches of the armed forces of the United States, including Reserve and National Guard components, provided ceremonial support and Defense Support of Civil Authorities during the inaugural period. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. William Lockwood)
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher G. Taffoya, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon Honor Guard Company, stands at attention during the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C., Jan. 20, 2017. More than 5,000 military members from across all branches of the armed forces of the United States, including Reserve and National Guard components, provided ceremonial support and Defense Support of Civil Authorities during the inaugural period. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. William Lockwood)

“It’s a big deal to me, being just a kid from California coming from an extremely modest upbringing,” Taffoya said. “And then to be in two presidential inaugurations, making that history, just for my family alone, is really awesome. But to be [a part of] the representation of the free world, showing the world that this is what right looks like. This is how you change power. It’s just really cool. It’s a big thing, and it’s not something I take lightly.”

Celebrating pageantry

More than 2,000 Soldiers from the Old Guard were tapped to support the 58th Presidential Inauguration. The Old Guard’s Presidential Salute Battery, the Fife and Drum Corps, as well as Army cordons were among the performers. Service members participating in the inauguration represent a joint force, which includes Soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen and Coast Guardsmen.

Every Soldier from the Old Guard who has a role in the presidential inauguration has a responsibility to get every detail right.

“The magnitude of the operation was immense,” Old Guard commander Col. Jason T. Garkey, told Army publications. Garkey participated in President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997 and Bush’s second one in 2005. “In previous inaugurations, I participated in specific parts, but as the regimental commander responsible for Joint Task Force Ceremony, I had visibility on every detail involving the regiment.”

Garkey was pleased with the inauguration planning.

“The complexity and amount of detail developed into the plan was extremely impressive,” Garkey said. “The seamless integration of our ceremonial and contingency tasks capitalized on every aspect of the regiment. It validated everything we have worked toward since this past summer.”

Military tradition

The military’s contributions to the presidential inauguration have evolved into a centuries-old tradition. The U.S. military has participated in inaugurations since April 30, 1789, when members of the Army, local militia units and Revolutionary War veterans escorted President George Washington to his first inauguration ceremony at Federal Hall in the nation’s first capital in New York City.

Taffoya takes pride in the Old Guard’s historical role in such a momentous event like the inauguration.

“One thing in common through all 58 inaugurations is … us ─ from the start with President George Washington until now,” Taffoya said. “The Old Guard has always been a part of inauguration. We have been a part of that foundation, and America has seen us. To be part of that representation is a big deal. It’s an honor. Just being in the unit is cool, but to be able to have the president 1 foot from you, passing you by and being able to render honors to him is just surreal.”

Every NCO in the Old Guard strives for perfection in performing ceremonial duties, and discipline is necessary to serve. Soldiers in the Old Guard must pass the demanding Regimental Orientation Program, a three-week course designed to teach new arrivals the subtle distinctions of the uniforms of the Old Guard, rifle movements and marching that is unique to the elite precision unit. Maintaining ceremonial composure is critical to the unit’s Soldiers.

Members of the Joint Honor Guard stand at attention during a early morning rehearsal for the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C. The rehearsal was held on Jan. 15, 2017, the Sunday before the inauguration. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Members of the Joint Honor Guard stand at attention during a early morning rehearsal for the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C. The rehearsal was held on Jan. 15, 2017, the Sunday before the inauguration. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“My discipline didn’t start when I showed up to the Old Guard,” Taffoya said. “It started with my first squad leader, who instilled the discipline in me as a Soldier in 2002. I do the same for my Soldiers. Whether it’s here or at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the one thing that carried through is discipline and enforcing it as an NCO.

“That’s the biggest thing because everything else is a breakaway of discipline,” he said. “You could have all of the Army Values, but if you don’t have the discipline to use them or to implement them, you don’t have any of them. We in the Old Guard take it seriously because we are representing our Army. If we don’t represent the Army right, then we are not doing Soldiers justice, whether we are deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

NCOs such as Taffoya recognize that all of the painstaking attention to detail at the Old Guard helps make for better leaders.

“You have to be on your game,” he said. “This is like our Super Bowl. It comes once every four years, so it’s all hands on deck. A lot of the whole regiment is bringing their ‘A’ game so you don’t want to be that one guy who doesn’t bring his and ends up being the sore spot. I appreciate my subordinates, my squad leaders and team leaders … [because] they know what this involves. They understand that they, too, are making history for their families and legacies.”

TRADOC leader sees ‘major step forward’ in NCO 2020

NCO Journal

As technology, the environment, and the strategies and complexities of warfare continue to evolve in the new millennium, national defense leaders are preparing what is widely regarded as the foundation of that security – the Noncommissioned Officer Corps – with 50 initiatives designed to help NCOs meet those evolving challenges. These key initiatives to the nation’s defense in the modern operational environment are known as NCO 2020.

The NCO-driven plan will serve as the lynchpin of the nation’s defense.

The NCO Professional Development System will be the vehicle that drives the NCO 2020 strategy through human performance optimization in the areas of leader development, talent management, and stewardship of the profession. More than education and knowledge, it is a system of professional development based on substantive concepts that matter, delivered in an efficient and effective way, with each and every part of the system integrated with the others, according to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s “NCO 2020 Strategy: NCOs Operating in a Complex World.”

“We are talking about no less than a paradigm shift in NCO development,” TRADOC’s Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport Sr. said.

Davenport envisions “a continuum of learning” for NCOs, where training designers look at content, how the training is delivered and how to make it matter.

“At times in the past, we’ve had training NCOs completed, but it didn’t really mean anything,” he said. “We want training that has value, that leads to something, and that matters.”

Credentialing is a big part of plan for NCO 2020. Leaders working the initiatives are looking for ways to show affirmation or evidence that NCOs’ training is meaningful and relevant ways. Grading is another tool being considered by the NCO 2020 contingent. Assigning grades to courses and other training may make them more meaningful for NCOs. Moreover, where does the training lead? Does it have a purpose? Does it have a direction? NCO 2020 is implementing an integrated, comprehensive approach to NCO development.

Some of the NCO 2020 initiatives are reviews of structured self-development, curriculum relevance/rigor, skills/qualification/certification, training with industry, professional writing/reading, character development and update Army Career Tracker.

With character development, sergeants major are working on a plan to make Army Values a part of NCOs’ inner being, so when they are in a complex environment they have a foundation of trust.

“NCOs should be an example of honor and integrity because as they progress they are given more and more authority, making the way they handle that authority all the more important,” Davenport said.

The NCO 2020 board is looking at the rigor and relevance of structured self-development and how germane it is to NCO duties and responsibilities, including the provision of self-paced learning allowing NCOs to either take more time with course instruction and material or, for quick-learning NCOs, to test out of NCO training programs.

The board has already decided the Skill Qualification Test, a staple of NCO military education in the 1980s, will not be coming back.

“The more we can encourage NCOs to research, write, and convey their thoughts the better,” Davenport said of the professional writing initiative.

This initiative is actually already underway in the form of the Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston NCO Writing Excellence Program. Submission dates, themes and guidelines can be found at http://armypress.dodlive.mil/nco-writing-excellence-program/

In fact, Davenport said he wholeheartedly agrees with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey making Army University and Soldier education in general a top priority, adding he has every confidence NCOs can “handle any educational challenge and operate at any and every level of the Army.”

Training with Industry has real value and should not be seen by promotion boards as a promotion stopper, Davenport said.

“Those who downgrade Soldiers because they’ve participated in a Training with Industry program do not understand AR 600-25,” he said, adding, however, that Soldiers should not participate in back-to-back programs of that nature – and that Soldiers’ branches have a role in ensuring they are given assignments that help them progress in accordance with their career map.

Extensive planning, effort and innovation are being applied in many other NCO 2020 initiatives.

The NCO Corps has the support of Army leadership, and the initiatives are being carefully planned and put together to ensure they are solid, enduring programs, Davenport said.

The key to the overall plan of NCO 2020 is “an understanding by all parties of what we are doing here and the integrated, sequential way we are making this relevant development happen.” Davenport said.

“I think NCO 2020 will have a very lasting impact,” Davenport said. “These 50 initiatives are the azimuth to take the Corps a major step forward in NCO development.”

Editor’s Note: To review “NCO 2020 Strategy: NCOs operating in a complex world,” click on the following link: https://actnow.army.mil/communities/service/html/communityview?communityUuid=fa6e7266-0b78-4b82-b6d7-bcdbff64d5e1

*(At the Army Career Tracker web site, click on “Communities” on the left side of the page, then select “Other Communities” and select the page “NCO Professional Development,” and click on “NCO 2020” on the right side of the page.)

Senior NCOs, international counterparts begin first-ever leadership symposium

NCO Journal

The value of good leadership wasn’t the only thing stressed during the opening day of the first-ever International Training and Leader Development Symposium.

The event, which began Tuesday at Fort Bliss, Texas, with opening remarks from Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey and Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, Army vice chief of staff. In attendance are a slew of U.S. Army senior enlisted Soldiers along with their international counterparts representing about 55 countries.

The objective of the conference, which ends Thursday, is not only to reinforce the importance of a quality noncommissioned officer corps to a country’s respective army, but also to foster international partnerships and gird U.S. senior enlisted leaders for the task they face as part of a fluctuating Army in a world rife with tumult. Dailey said the impetus for the conference came about nine months ago while he was in Indonesia meeting with New Zealand, Australian and Canadian counterparts.

“The Australian sergeant major said, ‘Hey, mates, let’s go get a pint and talk about something,’” Dailey said. “I said, ‘Hey, 2 o’clock in the afternoon, that’s not an American tradition, but I’m willing to learn international ways.’ So we did just that. We came up with this idea of bringing an international coalition of senior enlisted partners together on an annual basis to be able to build the coalition partnership. The officers already have it, and we thought it was important that our Soldiers see that.”

To help underline that message, Dailey invited Allyn to speak at the conference.

“The vice chief of staff of the Army is the person who helps you get the things you need done on an everyday basis for Soldiers,” Dailey said. “The chief and the secretary, unfortunately, could not come, so I walked into the vice’s office about a week ago, and in Pentagon time that is way late. I said, ‘Sir, I need your help. I have a group of noncommissioned officers, both American and international, that need to hear the voice of senior leadership in the Army.’”

Allyn jumped at the chance. The 35th vice chief of staff of the Army — a role he assumed in August 2014 — said he holds the NCO Corps in high regard, and not merely because his father-in-law was a command sergeant major.

Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, Army vice chief of staff, speaks Tuesday during the opening remarks of the International Training and Leader Development Symposium at Fort Bliss, Texas. The event has drawn dozens of senior enlisted leaders and their international counterparts to discuss the challenges they face in the future. (Photo by Spc. James Seals)
Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, Army vice chief of staff, speaks Tuesday during the opening remarks of the International Training and Leader Development Symposium at Fort Bliss, Texas. The event has drawn dozens of senior enlisted leaders and their international counterparts to discuss the challenges they face in the future. (Photo by Spc. James Seals)

“I had no intention of making a career of service,” Allyn told those in attendance. “I was smart enough to marry a command sergeant’s major daughter. So I was getting noncommissioned officer counseling every single time I went back home. Just think about having a command sergeant major in your hip pocket for life. Is that awesome or what?

“I actually had a motto when I first joined the Army that I’m not in the Army for a long time, I’m in the Army for a good time. But what’s happened along the way is I’ve been having a good time for a long time. The reason is because of how I’ve been inspired by our Noncommissioned Officers Corps. I tell people the reason I’m still in the Army today is I’m trying to pay back the noncommissioned officers who taught me what right looked like as a young company commander in 1st Ranger Battalion. I’ve been paying back for 28 years and I can’t get the debt down.”

Allyn said one of the main challenges facing today’s senior enlisted leaders is maintaining professionalism and competency in an age in which the Army’s resources are stretched considerably. He pointed to the commitment of all three of the Army’s corps headquarters and eight of its 18 division headquarters to missions throughout the globe under the cloud of a drawdown as evidence of how engaged the Force is. Doing more with less is a notion the Army will face as it moves into the future. It’s something even Allyn’s office knows too well.

“Believe me, Gen. (Mark A.) Milley would much prefer to be here,” Allyn said of the Army chief of staff’s absence from the conference. “But he suffers from the same problem that we all do as senior leaders in the Army — that is an inability to clone yourself and be two places at one time. So what do we do? We empower our team to help represent and expand influence and be the chief of staff of the Army’s representative everywhere we go. Certainly all of you as command sergeants major understand what that’s all about. You are the Army’s support chain that represents all our commanders in the field. You do it ably, you do it professionally and you do it each and every day. That’s what makes our Army such an amazing place to come to work and, really, the most trusted profession in the world.”

Working through a drawdown in the Army is not a new concept. It’s something that retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, former Army chief of staff, dealt with during his tenure from 1991 to 1995. Sullivan was present at the conference where he was honored by Dailey and five former sergeants major of the army. Dailey awarded Sullivan with the first-ever honorary sergeant major of the army award during a ceremony. Afterward, he addressed those in attendance.

“I had the unenviable task of making the Army smaller after the first Gulf War,” Sullivan said. “In four years, we lost 400,000, we brought the Army down to about 500,000 active. The glue that held it all together was the noncommissioned officer corps — people out on the front lines, people like you. You are the ones who shoulder the heavy burden.”

To help fulfill that duty going forward, Allyn said leaders have to commit to living and exuding the five essential characteristics of the Army profession — military expertise, honorable service, trust, esprit de corps and stewardship of the profession. These characteristics are based on the Army Values and help foster trust between Soldiers, leaders, families, the Army and the American people.

“This profession of ours has been built on the backs of extraordinary leaders over the past three or four decades,” Allyn said. “When we talk about, ‘How do we keep this going? How do we ensure that this great profession that we’ve built endures.’ It’s all about (these characteristics). It’s about living and exemplifying leaders of character who make values-based decisions each and every day. It’s living up to the SMA’s initiative with, ‘Not In My Squad.’ … It is all about inspiring our Noncommissioned Officer Corps to exemplify the first stanza of the NCO Creed each and every moment of each and every day — ‘No one is more professional than I.’”

That professionalism is something that has long been admired by armies of partner nations. Allyn said one of the recurring questions he is asked when overseas is how to grow a noncommissioned officer corps such as the one in the U.S. Army. Allyn said it is a longstanding and arduous commitment that has yielded such an accomplished group of American NCOs. The challenge that the Army has faced in imbuing partner nations with its concept has been immense.

“We’re finding out that this is a lot harder than just putting stripes on a soldier’s uniform and saying, ‘Hey, go do good things,’” Allyn said.

That is part of the reason USASMA has brought together so many international leaders — to learn from each other’s tribulations and to establish a lasting network of international partnership that can prove mutually beneficial during future conflicts and challenges.

“It’s great to be surrounded by so many professionals,” Allyn said. “It’s an incredible honor to have 55 countries joining us here today. As I have served around the globe and particularly in combat environments over this last 20 years, it has been our teammates, our partners and our allies that have stuck with us through some pretty tough times. Their nations have signed on and committed with us.

“(U.S. NCOs should know) just how important you remain to our Army, how important your leadership, your professionalism, your commitment to standards of discipline will be as we try to stabilize a world that is rapidly trying to spin out of control. It’s going to be the actions of empowered and accountable leaders at the noncommissioned officer level who will ensure that we continue to deliver what our nation needs to do.”

NCO’s continued service ‘more than just an inspiration’


REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. — Every American Soldier is familiar with and strives to live by the seven Army values, but for one U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Soldier, despite receiving a life-changing diagnosis in 2013, he continues to serve and to live by them all: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.

Staff Sgt. David L. Thomas, noncommissioned officer in charge, S-2, 1st Space Battalion, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer that metastasized to the brain in April 2013, but has chosen to continue his service.

“I was given a prognosis of six to 18 months survival rate,” Thomas said. “What I was most disappointed about at that moment was the fact that I was selling Bethe (his wife) and our children short. Second was the fact that I would no longer be here serving in the U.S. Army doing what was the most important thing: overseeing the safety of my family and our great country via my service.”

Thomas enlisted two weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in the Delayed Entry Program until the opening date for training of his military occupational specialty. Upon enlisting, he intended to be a career service member.

“Joining the Army was something that was always on my mind since I was a child,” Thomas said. “The attacks made up my mind for me. Defending my family and America itself was no longer an option, but rather a duty. There was no time left to ponder; it was a matter of how fast I could sign up.”

Six days before his 35th birthday, Thomas reported for Basic Combat Training at Fort Benning, Ga. His wife, Elizabeth, had just recently begun law school, but despite the hardships, the couple decided this is what he had to do.

In March 2004, Thomas deployed to Iraq for the first time. After 13 months in Baghdad and a few months at home, he deployed again in September 2005, back to Baghdad. He returned home in January 2007, reclassed his job specialty, and in December 2008 deployed to Northern Iraq, first to Kirkuk and then to Mosul. He returned home in September 2009 and began preparing for his next deployment, this time to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in May 2011. It was during this fourth deployment that he began to notice a prevalent and chronic cough. He returned from this deployment in May 2012, and in October 2012, Thomas transferred to the 1st Space Battalion headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“I saw a doctor in January 2013, and was told I had an upper respiratory infection or the flu,” Thomas said. “I did not receive any diagnostic testing such as a chest X-ray or lung function test. I was given an antibiotic and sent on my way.”

Elizabeth had begun insisting that he go to the doctor because of the chronic cough, and finally on April 19, Thomas decided to seek medical advice.

“My wife and I were in bed watching TV when I had an episode of chest pain. I thought I had a mild heart attack,” Thomas said. “The next morning I went to the emergency room since sick call could not see me for chest pain.”

After diagnostic testing, Thomas was informed that he had a nodule in his medial left lobe, and additional doctor visits and testing were conducted.

“It was the day after my 46th birthday that I was diagnosed,” Thomas said. “I also learned that I had actually had lung cancer for more than two years, including during my last deployment to Afghanistan.”

Elizabeth said her initial reaction was shock.

“I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m hearing these words,” she said. “I felt cheated. This was the first time in a while we were going to have uninterrupted family time free from deployment. I thought we were going to have all of this time together.”

Thomas began treatment in May 2013.

“I determined to fight cancer and have been undergoing chemotherapy,” Thomas said. “I have also undergone two cyberknife procedures to my brain for tumors and a week of radiation to my chest.”

Through it all, Thomas has continued moving forward in his Army career, earning badges and awards for excellence even as recently as January when he was awarded the Army Space Badge.

In addition to the Army Space Badge, Thomas has earned over the course of his 11-year career: six Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals, three Army Good Conduct Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, the Iraq Campaign Medal with six campaign stars, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, two Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbons for the Warrior Leader Course and the Advanced Leader Course, the Overseas Service Ribbon with the numeral four for four deployments, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, and the NATO Medal Ribbon. Also, he was twice part of units that received Meritorious Unit Commendations.

According to Capt. Adrian Donnahoe, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Space Battalion, Thomas’ dedication is inspiring.

“David has been so much more than just an inspiration,” Donnahoe said. “His patriotism has reminded so many of us that our jobs as Soldiers mean so much more than just ourselves. I truly wish there were more Americans who felt the way David does about the importance of serving. Through David’s fight both internally and externally without complaint, we are witness to his courage and commitment to complete the mission. I am truly a better person for serving in the same ranks with David, and I am blessed to know him and his family.”

Thomas, however, does not feel like he is doing anything extraordinary.

“Never did quitting my career in the U.S. Army cross my mind,” Thomas said. “Nor will I allow this illness to prematurely cause me to leave the Army. If it is up to me, I will be a member of the armed forces until the day I do leave this world to be with my father in heaven.

“I have made a decision that I will not let cancer change my duty to my country, family or friends,” he said. “I will fight cancer and continue to work as long as I am able. I will continue to place the mission first while acting with professionalism and continuing to mentor my NCOs and Soldiers.”

Upon learning of his cancer, Thomas began to research what could have caused it.

“I began to uncover the research and studies on Iraq Afghanistan War Lung disease, and the devastating effects of the ‘burn pits’ on service members and civilians who have served overseas,” Thomas said. “Through my research I learned that IAWL is a chronic pulmonary condition that will affect one in seven service members who have served overseas. While Veterans Affairs and the services have not officially recognized IAWL or the effects of the burn pits, there are a lot of people suffering and awareness of IAWL needs to be brought to the public’s attention.”

Thomas established the David Thomas IAWL Foundation to promote awareness of the disease.

“Eventually, through fundraising, we hope that the foundation has enough funds to provide basic testing for veterans or active duty service members who might need to determine if they have IAWL,” Thomas said. “In many ways, through my foundation, my last mission is to bring awareness to IAWL and those who are suffering.”

Elizabeth said that her husband is her hero, and not just because of his current fight.

“David kept saying, ‘I’m never going to deploy again. I need to be able to. It’s my job,'” she said. “He loves what he does. He’s always saying he wished he could do more; that what he’s done isn’t enough. He’s a hero to me. Not just that he’s kept going, but his whole Army career. Even with all of this, he doesn’t take the praise. But just by getting up every day and going to work, he shows everyone that he doesn’t quit. He always replies with, ‘Where else would I be?'”