Competition necessary for the future of the force, HRC officials say

NCO Journal

As the Army downsizes its active-duty force from 510,000 Soldiers to 450,000 by 2015, U.S. Army Human Resources Command’s top NCO said it’s now more critical than ever for Soldiers to do what they can to stay in the Army.

Decisions on who will stay in the Army will be made using various tools − such as the Qualitative Service Program or QSP, in which NCOs in overstrength and stagnant military occupational specialties will be considered for involuntary separation; the Qualitative Management Program or QMP, which reviews Soldiers’ performance and conduct − as well as through natural attrition. But once the target number is reached, does it mean Soldiers can rest assured in their future? Not at all, said Command Sgt. Maj. Charles E. Smith, command sergeant major of Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Ky. That’s when remaining competitive becomes imperative.

“How do you stay competitive? You have got to do things to keep you ahead of your peers, and that’s why you have got to continue taking on those exciting assignments, such as the generating force (training units and schoolhouses, drill sergeants and instructors) and operational Army (all of the combat and combat support units),” Smith said. “The senior leaders of the Army do not want noncommissioned officers or leaders as a whole to just stovepipe − staying in your MOS and going straight to the top. They want you to have a variety of assignments so you can stay more competitive, because the end state is that Army leadership wants to be able to put an NCO anywhere in the Army.”

“We as branch managers and the Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate have to take a better interest in ensuring that we are developing those junior NCOs,” said the directorate’s former senior NCO, Sgt. Maj. Rodney Allen, left. (Photo by Martha C. Koester, NCO Journal)
“We as branch managers and the Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate have to take a better interest in ensuring that we are developing those junior NCOs,” said the directorate’s former senior NCO, Sgt. Maj. Rodney Allen, left. (Photo by Martha C. Koester, NCO Journal)

Broadening assignments are a critical part of the Army’s strategy in developing and growing new leaders. In February, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army chief of staff, approved the Strategic Broadening Seminars program, which allows NCOs to attend graduate-level courses at various learning institutions including the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., and the University of North Carolina. The Strategic Broadening Seminars program was set to begin this summer.

“It’s very important to [Odierno] and the senior leaders that NCOs are broadened just as much as officers,” Smith said. “The intent is that we want [NCOs] to speak at a strategic level when you are talking to those three- and four-star generals. The bottom line is, with a combination of broadening and staying competitive, hopefully we can have a well-rounded NCO for the future. We want to build the future leaders of the Army.”

However, remaining competitive in the Army won’t be easy, officials said.

“We want Soldiers to continue to take on different assignments,” Smith said. “We want you to continue to exceed physical fitness requirements. We want you to be healthy, and we also want you to continue your educational opportunities. Because again, the Army is looking for that smart person who has all the different abilities and can go out and operate independently.”

Branch managers are key

While the Army reshapes the force, key personnel at HRC such as branch managers become vital to the mission. The Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate there is working to ensure a balance in assignment operations while the Army downsizes its ranks, said the directorate’s former senior NCO, Sgt. Maj. Rodney Allen, EPMD.

Though the force is being downsized, some elements are being grown, such as Army Cyber Command, which will host newly designated MOSs, such as cryptologic network warfare specialists and cyber network defenders.

“One minute we are telling a Soldier, ‘We really need you to be in the Army,’ but at the same time we’re telling them, ‘At this particular junction, we have to downsize,’” Allen said.

EPMD wants to keep Soldiers motivated, Allen said. The Army wants them to stay, but Soldiers are expected to meet and exceed standards, he said.

So, with Soldiers in certain overstrength MOSs being scrutinized, opportunities may exist for them in other MOSs, and branch managers are available to help Soldiers with the details. For example, Soldiers may reclassify into an MOS that has a critically short supply of personnel, enabling them to remain in the Army as long as the Soldier meets qualifications.

“That’s another thing that branch managers are responsible for – making sure that Soldiers stay competitive,” Allen said. “Because as the Army continues to draw down its size, staying in the Army is going to be very difficult. If you’re not competitive or willing to take those hard assignments or do those things that set you apart from your peers, then you’re going to find yourself on the low end of the totem pole, and you may be asked to leave.”

Structured Self-Development is another important component in the NCO leader development strategy for Soldiers. Part of remaining competitive means completing SSD requirements on time in order to be considered for promotion. As the Army changes, Soldiers need to stay on top of all qualifications, and they need to make time to get it done, Allen said.

“In my career management field, I had 256 folks who did not get looked at for sergeant first class in this last board because they did not complete one of the Advanced Leader Course [components] or the SSD portion,” said Sgt. Maj. Michael Barbieri, a Military Police Corps branch manager at HRC. “It doesn’t take much to do [to complete SSD requirements]. Like Sgt. Maj. Allen said, you have got to make time and we’ve got to make sure that the leadership is making those Soldiers take those steps.”

“To be competitive, you have to want to be competitive,” Allen said. “You’re going to have to trust that your branch managers have your best interests in mind because there is nothing we can get out of not developing a Soldier in the NCO Corps. The NCO Corps … is our future. We as branch managers and the EPMD have to take a better interest in ensuring that we are developing those junior NCOs.”

Assignment process perspective

In an effort to better connect with Soldiers, Allen said the Enlisted Personnel Management Directorate took part in an initiative to change the culture of the assignment process. Career-specific sergeants major, such as Barbieri, were brought in to guide Soldiers and help make decisions in certain career management fields.

These sergeants major can really guide Soldiers and give them the institutional knowledge on how to get ahead, Allen said. He also strongly advises Soldiers to find a mentor.

“Every Soldier needs a mentor – someone who is going to hold you accountable,” Allen said. “If you’re held accountable, then you’re going to perform. That mentor is very instrumental in the development of a Soldier.”

If a Soldier takes all of the necessary steps to remain competitive, it increases his or her chances of staying in the Army. However, every Soldier should know that every MOS is subject to scrutiny through the Qualitative Service Program.

“It’s basically a numbers game with the QSP, based on force structure requirements versus available inventory,” said Sgt. Maj. Wayne A. Penn Jr., Transition Branch sergeant major in the Force Alignment Division. “There are options to reclassify into a critically short MOS, but only for Soldiers in the rank of staff sergeant, who are not eligible for retirement under the Temporary Early Retirement Authority.”

“The QSP and QMP – they’re here, and they’re real,” Allen said. “Soldiers have to understand that everyone is subject to it. The misconception is that you have to have a bad record [in the Army] to get selected; it’s not the case. If the Army has authorized [fewer Soldiers for a selected position], we have to get rid of [Soldiers]. We have to make that determination of who those Soldiers are, and some of those Soldiers are probably great Soldiers. They’re probably Soldiers who had the mindset to be in [the Army] for 20 years and get that retirement. … So, everybody is subject to it, from staff sergeant all the way to command sergeants major.”

Unlike the QMP program, which is designed to ensure that senior NCOs continue to serve in a manner consistent with good order and discipline, Soldiers don’t necessarily have to have derogatory information in their records to be identified for the QSP program, Penn said. These could be Soldiers who are otherwise eligible for promotion.

“Their records are good, but we have that imbalance with the number of Soldiers we have versus the number of positions we have,” Penn said. “So, unfortunately, under this program, we are going to have to ask a lot of stellar Soldiers who have done the right thing over the years to leave our Army.”

Penn strongly encourages Soldiers to update their records as often as possible.

“Make sure your NCO evaluation reports contain quantifiable bullet comments and include substantive information that will separate you from your peers,” Penn said. “Because at the end of the day, under this program, the Army is really looking to retain the best of the best of the best.”

Since June 2012, more than 1,200 Soldiers have been identified for involuntary separation through the QSP program, Smith said.

Data accuracy campaign

Human Resources Command uses road shows to engage the Army community. “We speak to them about where the Army is right now and where we are going in the future,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Charles E. Smith, command sergeant major of Human Resources Command. Smith, center, is shown at a road show in Daegu, South Korea. (Photo by Cpl. Dong-weon Kim, U.S. Army
Human Resources Command uses road shows to engage the Army community. “We speak to them about where the Army is right now and where we are going in the future,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Charles E. Smith, command sergeant major of Human Resources Command. Smith, center, is shown at a road show in Daegu, South Korea. (Photo by Cpl. Dong-weon Kim, U.S. Army)

In the Army’s current climate of drawing down, it’s also very important that Soldiers review their records for accuracy and completion, said Sgt. Maj. Myrna Magapan, the sergeant major of HRC’s Army Personnel Records Division. It’s the Soldier’s responsibility to update and review his or her record annually as it may have a significant impact on promotions, selections and assignments, she said.

On average, most Soldiers only have about 50 percent to 60 percent of the supporting documents that belong in their records, Magapan said. Errors in a Soldier’s Enlisted Record Brief involving mailing addresses, awards, overseas service and deployment histories are common. A Soldier’s ERB also offers other pertinent data, such as marital status, awards and assignments information.

“It’s [vital] that you have an accurate record because it’s important when considering future assignments, promotion, retention, separation or professional development opportunities,” said Sgt. Maj. Galin Bowens, the sergeant major of HRC’s Field Services. “With the downsizing of the military, it’s very important that you have a correct and accurate record because it’s very competitive out there. You never know what might happen.

“It’s very important [to have all documents in order] if a Soldier’s record is going before a board or if commanders are reviewing a record for future assignment or separation.”

Along with important changes ahead related to the Army’s downsizing is a new NCO Evaluation Report system, which remains a work in progress. The new Officer Evaluation Report was unveiled in April, but the NCOER has been under revision for the past two years, said Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Jackson, sergeant major of the Army’s Adjutant General Directorate. The rating system dates back to 1987.

Though changes in the NCOER may be forthcoming, NCOs are advised to do whatever they can to remain competitive in the evolving Army.

“Soldiers have got to go out there and go get it,” Smith said. “They can’t sit and wait. Wait on it, and someone is going to pass you by.”

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrea Smith, U.S. Army) Drill Sergeant of the Year competitor Sgt. 1st Class Ryan McCaffrey completes the pushup event of the Army Physical Fitness test at Fort Jackson, S.C. Senior Army leaders urge Soldiers to take on a generating force assignment to remain competitive in the Army, said Command Sgt. Maj. Charles E. Smith, command sergeant major of Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Ky.
Drill Sergeant of the Year competitor Sgt. 1st Class Ryan McCaffrey completes the pushup event of the Army Physical Fitness test at Fort Jackson, S.C. Senior Army leaders urge Soldiers to take on a generating force assignment to remain competitive in the Army, said Command Sgt. Maj. Charles E. Smith, command sergeant major of Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Ky. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrea Smith,  U.S. Army)



Inspiring Leadership

U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy

A Soldier can spend his or her entire military career without ever finding that one mentor whose leadership style is both inspirational and motivating. Yet those who’ve had the good fortune to work under these inspiring leaders often attribute their success to their transformational leaders.

I have experienced this unique opportunity on many occasions throughout my 20-plus years of military service as an infantryman. These leaders are particularly easy to pick out of crowd with their dominating presence and charisma, which is felt immediately upon arriving to a unit. Though some units are cluttered with substandard Soldiers, mediocre noncommissioned officers and junior—and sometimes senior officers—whose toxic presence destroys morale and cohesion, I have seen inspiring leaders immediately recognize these deficiencies and, at once, create a positive, cohesive atmosphere. They motivate Soldiers, prepare them for combat and ultimately enhance a command climate that fosters camaraderie. Not only do they leave a lasting impression on Soldiers, their leadership affects countless officers and NCOs for many years. Since my first encounter with this type of inspiring leader, I have tried to hone my leadership style, in order to mirror their continuous success.

My first encounter with a true, caring mentor was during a unit awards ceremony in 2002 during my first tour in Germany. I was young a staff sergeant at the time; I had not deployed and had never heard the whiz or crack of enemy bullets in combat. I remember feeling disdain about attending an awards ceremony on a Friday afternoon, for someone I did not even know. Standing side-by-side with my fellow NCOs and Soldiers, the buzz about why we were there was lingering in the humid, mid-afternoon air.

As the ceremony began, I caught my first glimpse of a sergeant major as he walked to the front of the formation when his name was called. He looked all the part of a seasoned combat veteran. His uniform featured the Combat Infantryman Badge with a star affixed atop the wreath, 1st Ranger Battalion combat scroll and the coveted Bronze Service Star, “mustard” stain on his Jumpmaster wings. With eyes slightly closed and squinting in the full sun, his swaggering walk of confidence carried him to the front of the battalion formation. He was being awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his actions as a company first sergeant in Afghanistan.

Until this point, only a small handful of Soldiers in the formation had deployed— most during the Gulf War—and combat awards were merely a thing we read about in history books. But here, standing in front of the formation, was the battalion commander speaking of this sergeant major as a true warrior. His words about the sergeant major’s actions in combat, which earned him the Bronze Star, fell on anxious, curious ears: “For displaying outstanding courage and exemplary leadership during ground combat operations against a determined enemy force in the Afghanistan area of operation.”

Humbly, Sgt. Maj. Darrin Bohn, expressed that it was not his actions that earned him this award, but the actions of his men in A Company, 1st Ranger Battalion, while he was the first sergeant. He was a true warrior who had seen the deadly arena of war, and it became very clear to me on that day that I had found one of my mentors.

In 2001, the Army announced the consolidation of the light and mechanized infantrymen military occupational specialties. The Army identified that it needed a more flexible infantryman, the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, announced, and it was in place by July 2001.

Affected by this transformation, Bohn, who was new to mechanized infantry, was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, at Vilseck, Germany in the summer of 2002 as the battalion operations (S-3) sergeant major.

In that position, Bohn became obsessed with the technical and tactical aspects of mechanized infantry and was constantly picking the brain of the battalion master gunner. Bohn was well aware that the superior technology and firepower able to be unleashed by the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, BFV, against an enemy force would no doubt determine the outcome of any battle. As luck would have it, there were two battalion master gunners (normally a battalion only has one) serving in the operations section, Staff Sgt. Ray Zumwalt and me.

Zumwalt, the more senior master gunner, was transitioning out of the operations shop, and I was stepping in to fill his shoes for the next 18 months. Zumwalt and I would spend countless hours answering questions thrown at us by Bohn about the logistical, technical and tactical aspects of the BFV and the training associated with the mechanized concept. He was determined to know everything about the BFV, and it would take both Zumwalt and I to fuel his curiosity.

In the countless hours we spent together, we developed an inspiring sense of camaraderie, and there were many occasions that helped break through the mechanized-light infantry barrier. Zumwalt and I soon realized that Bohn was a down-to-earth leader. His sheer presence commanded respect, and his devotion to learning the concept of mechanized infantry was entirely wrapped in his commitment to take care of Soldiers, which he said came from what his team, squad and platoon had instilled in him as an NCO—the good qualities of a successful leader.

I remember thinking, “What a great concept, learning from your subordinates.”

After these and many other encounters with Bohn, I committed myself to incorporating his leadership competencies and characteristics into my own style as I continued my career.

During the next few months, I found myself scribbling notes about Bohn’s leadership style in one of those typical, green Army notebooks. I continued to write in this book and, years later, would go back and read some of the things that I had written. Most of my notes were anecdotes and lessons that I used again and again during the next 10 years.

One that sticks out is something that Bohn said to me once when I showed up late to a command and staff briefing. Carefully opening the door to the brief, I tried not to call attention to myself and found my seat. This, of course, was impossible as Bohn immediately called me out in front of the entire battalion staff.

“Brosch, come on in, have a seat. There’s not always room for someone at the table, but if you get here on time I bet you can find one,” he said.

His tone was a bit more than sarcastic, and I felt uneasy for the better part of an hour waiting for the meeting to end. He approached me afterward and used my lateness as a learning experience; but I did not realize it at the time. The entire conversation took less than three minutes, and I remember walking away needing to write something in my green book to reference later. The only three words I could remember were, “stupid, coach and mistake.”

Later I recalled what he had actually said: “You can’t coach stupid” and “never make the same mistake twice.” Even inside a good ol’ fashioned butt chewing, I was able to pull away with something good to add to my little green book.

Caring For and Training Soldiers

As the end of the summer of 2003 was drew near, our unit received orders to deploy to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. An intense training plan was immediately set in motion, and the men were eager to get into the fight with the rest of the Army. Bohn was a constant presence during the intense pre-war train up.

Exercising his expertise in light infantry, he spearheaded multiple training events from demolition training to close-quarters marksmanship. Much of the expertise he brought to the training would pay huge dividends for the unit during The Battle for Fallujah later that year. It was clear during the entire preparation phase that he was fanatical about ensuring all Soldiers received quality, realistic training. A few years after Fallujah, Bohn was interviewed for an oral history and asked about the unit’s training plan prior to deploying to Iraq:

“Those guys [Soldiers] just need good leadership. No one wants to go to work and be a dirtbag and fail at what they’re doing–and with good leadership and guidance, those guys shined. Lt. Col. Newell and I—and Command Sgt. Maj. Faulkenburg in the beginning—really put a good comprehensive plan together before we left for Iraq. We knew it was going to be a ground fight, we knew there was going to be a lot of room clearing, and we knew the man with the rifle was going to win the battle, so we did a lot of close-quarters battle and close-quarters marksmanship. With my background, I even ran a leadership program through the Soldiers in the brigade that came to Vilseck. We ran them through a quick two-day [close-quarters battle] and [close-quarters marksmanship] to get the other two or three battalions up to snuff where we were. I still have guys coming up to me and saying they thought it was horse s— that they had to go through the courses in Vilseck but, that said, they wanted me to know it also saved their lives and other Soldiers’ lives as well.”


During the Battle for Fallujah, on Nov. 11, 2004, Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Faulkenburg, our battalion command sergeant major, was killed by small-arms fire in the breach phase of the operation. Immediately and without hesitation, Bohn assumed the role as battalion command sergeant major. Positioned with the maneuver element of the task force in the heavy forward tactical operations center and commanding a BFV, he took time when there were lulls in fighting to visit the Soldiers of the battalion to instill confidence and inspire them to continue to fight. A few hours into the battle, one of the company executive officers was fatally wounded; his vehicle was pinned down and unable to conduct a casualty evacuation. Bohn, with a complete disregard for his own safety, positioned his BFV in between the wounded XO’s vehicle and the enemy rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire to provide suppressive, accurate fire to facilitate the XO’s evacuation. These actions earned Bohn the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for Valor.

Robert Harvey states in his book, Maverick Military Leaders: The Extraordinary Battles of Washington, Nelson, Patton, Rommel and Others, “Leaders who appreciate the importance of their men and morale in turn will be entrusted by their men and will be followed to the ends of the earth or, more importantly, to the ends of their lives, if necessary.”

This was apparent throughout Bohn’s tenure as the senior enlisted NCO in charge of training the battalion. Granted, Bohn is not a commissioned officer like those referenced in Harvey’s book and he would scoff at the idea of being compared with the likes of Patton, Rommel and so many other “mavericks” listed by Harvey.

Perhaps a look at what some of the Army’s most senior leaders say about Bohn will shed some light onto his inspiration and leadership. When asked about this his leadership, the U.S. Africa Command commander, Gen. David M. Rodriguez said in 2013:

“He has a feel for people and interpersonal skills that enable him to engage with people in a way that inspires them to do more than they ever thought possible. The ability to lift people up gives them the enthusiasm to make a difference in the mission, no matter how hard it seems. He is one of those leaders who treats people with dignity and respect, and builds relationships effectively with our joint, interagency and multinational partners. The resulting teamwork is one of the strengths he brings to any organization. He has the intellectual gift to listen intently, analyze the situation and get to the heart of the problem. He makes these recommendations and judgments with consideration of the strategic context, all the way down to the individual context, always thinking through the second and third order effects.”

Over the last 12 years, for me it has been an illuminating experience to have served with such a great mentor as Bohn. He truly internalizes his beliefs, the Army Values and, above all, cares for and brings out the best in Soldiers. Some argue whether or not leaders are born or made. While I personally think this is a polar argument, Gen. Colin Powell said in 2005 during an interview, “Effective leaders are made, not born. They learn from trial and error and from the experience and puts it behind them.”

A statement Bohn has said reminds me of Powell’s: “Never make the same mistake twice.”

Born or made, a leader must come from the sort of background that fosters a strong character with morals and beliefs that define that. I have seen my fair share of both great leaders and extremely toxic ones. The leader who cares and who can bring out the best in their subordinates is the one who will be successful and never be forgotten.

Being taught to always be self-aware, adaptive and, most importantly, reflective on who I was and where I came from has no doubt been a contributing factor to my success in the Army.
Bohn’s success can be summed up in saying that he never forgot where he came from. He was not born a command sergeant major, and he knew that. He started at the very bottom of the military ranks and rose to one of the highest enlisted ranks (and positions) in the Army by always being forthcoming, deeply caring for his subordinates, embodying the Warrior Ethos, and exercising the core leadership competencies outlined in FM 6-22, Army Leadership.

Sgt. Maj. Bohn is now Command Sgt. Maj. Bohn and is serving as the AFRICOM’s senior enlisted leader. His transformational, inspiring leadership has been the cornerstone of my leadership style since the day I first met him. I have since served through two other combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan and never lost a Soldier. I contribute my accomplishments and success to Bohn’s inspiring leadership and mentoring.

Sgt. Maj. Michael Brosch is a recent graduate of the Sergeants Major Course student at the United States Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss, Texas. He has served in every infantry NCO position from team leader to first sergeant. His previous assignments include Fort Bragg, N.C., Vilseck, Germany, Fort Benning, Ga., Ft. Hood, Texas and Korea. His previous duty assignment was the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 525th Battle Field Surveillance Brigade first sergeant at Fort Bragg. In his 21-year career as an infantryman, he has deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Paul Willey, an instructor at the Army's Northern Warfare Training Center in Alaska, inspects a student's equipment during the Basic Mountaineering Course. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brehl Garza)
Staff Sgt. Paul Willey, an instructor at the Army’s Northern Warfare Training Center in Alaska, inspects a student’s equipment during the Basic Mountaineering Course. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brehl Garza)

Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitts inducted into Hall of Heroes

Army News Service

Former Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts was inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes yesterday, the day after receiving the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama, for his bravery in combat at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler, in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, July 13, 2008.

“While the Medal of Honor is awarded to an individual, it is anything but an individual achievement. It is ours, not mine,” said Pitts. “I will wear it for everyone there that day, especially for those we couldn’t bring home.”

Pitts began his acceptance speech with a quote from Steven Pressfield’s book “The Afghan Campaign,” which he felt best embodied the dedication of his fellow Soldiers: “Of one thing I am certain. I will die before I let harm come to him. The shaft that impales him must first pass through my flesh.”

The greatest men in military personified this passage: Men who placed themselves between their brothers and the enemy in order to protect and defend them, Pitts said.

“It was the men to our left and right that compelled us to fight with everything we had. There was an absolute duty to be your brother’s keeper. A sentiment that I think we all shared,” he said.

Pitts served with 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade.

On the morning of July 13, at about 4 a.m., Pitts was manning Observation Post Topside, which was positioned east of the main base, and east of a bazaar and hotel complex in Wanat.

Soldiers identified potential insurgents. They put together a request for fire. But before approval, Soldiers heard an eruption of enemy fire.

They were hit with small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades. Pitts and six other paratroopers were injured in the initial volley of enemy fire. Two paratroopers were killed. Pitts took grenade shrapnel in both legs and his left arm.

For more than an hour after, Pitts continued to fight and defend his position and his teammates, despite his injuries.

“I have thought about [those Soldiers] and their sacrifices every day. I will for the rest of my life and I am not alone. You raised, molded and loved incredible men. Many of the men present in this room are here because of their actions, actions that changed the course of history for us, actions that gave the rest of us a second chance,” Pitts said.

“My son Lucas exists because of them, as do many other men’s children,” he added. “I promise that my son will grow up appreciating the actions of these men he never knew.”

Those men were the nine who didn’t return home: Spc. Sergio Abad, Cpl. Jonathan Ayers, Cpl. Jason Bogar, 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, Sgt. Israel Garcia, Cpl. Jason Hovater, Cpl. Matthew Phillips, Cpl. Pruitt Rainey and Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno then recounted some of the events that day.

“Staff Sgt. Pitts’ incredible physical and mental toughness, his determination and resilience, his ability to communicate with leadership while under heavy fire allowed U.S. forces to hold the OP, which turned the tide of battle,” he said.

Without Pitts’ efforts, the enemy would have gained a foothold on high ground and inflicted significantly greater casualties onto the vehicle patrol base, and the enemy could have been in possession of the fallen Soldiers at the observation post, Odierno concluded.

Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh also spoke:

“These men were committed to one another; they were committed to their uncommon lives and equally their common challenge,” he said. “And just like any true family, love and trust laid at the heart of it all.

“Now it might seem odd to some to speak of love and trust when recounting the brave and bold actions of such rough and tumble warriors. But, make no mistake, their love for each other was real,” McHugh continued. “Even, as it was, in the midst of indescribable chaos.

“To be sure, on the day of the Wanat attack, Ryan Pitts was wearing the KIA bracelet bearing the name of Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Kahler, as you heard, a platoon sergeant of 2nd platoon, who had died just months earlier. Ryan unabashedly said that Kahler ‘loved his Soldiers. Each and every one of them, [he] loved them like they were his own kids.’ Of that I have no doubt,” said McHugh.

“At the height of the Battle of Wanat, (Spc. Michael) Denton and three other Soldiers scrambled up the bullet-rocked terraces of OP Topside to reinforce the position where, as the chief told you, Ryan had been alone, fighting off the enemy single handedly,” McHugh said. “Ryan had no idea the four were coming.”

The scene was awful, Denton later recalled. He found the body of his “best bud,” Spc. Jason Hovater, lying there, lifeless.

“I took ammo from Hovater’s body, and told him I loved him,” Denton said.

Denton then went on to man a machine gun.

Moments later, after another barrage of RPGs tore into the OP, wounding all five of the men, Sgt. Israel Garcia lie mortally wounded. Ryan pulled his close friend to him, his brother. And knowing there was nothing he could do for him, he just laid there and held his hand.

“We just talked for a while,” Ryan said. “He told me he wanted me to tell his mom and wife that he loved them.” Pitts later honored that commitment.

“So, through all of the chaos, through all of the destruction, we can clearly see that love, even in the face of such tragedy, bonds these men and their families,” McHugh said. “And believe it or not, just as it is on the home front, love and trust are the foundations of this incredible professional American Army.

“Not surprisingly, today’s Soldiers trust each other, they trust the Army and those who fill its ranks, and they also understand the moral dimensions of war,” he said. “I’ve heard the chief speak often about the issue of trust. It’s the backbone of our professional Army. It’s what defines our profession of arms.

“Ryan has said he trusted everyone around him,” McHugh said. “That he’d follow his officers anywhere. That he knew help would come, if humanly possible. He knew it, because he knew he would do the same. He trusted the skills of the Apache helicopter pilots who flew and fired danger close to his embattled position.

“Love and trust abounds in this Army amongst the men in women who wear the uniform. And we have men like the “Chosen Few” truly to thank for it,” the secretary concluded.

Former Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts, Medal of Honor recipient, is inducted into the Hall of Heroes during a Pentagon ceremony July 22, 2014. (Photo by Lillian Boyd)
Former Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts, Medal of Honor recipient, is inducted into the Hall of Heroes during a Pentagon ceremony July 22, 2014. (Photo by Lillian Boyd)

U.S. Army Africa Soldiers demonstrate importance of officer-NCO relationship

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NCO Journal

U.S. Army Africa’s mission is the same as any other command’s mission. They keep Americans and American interests safe, in this case, through their actions on the African continent, said Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffery Stitzel, command sergeant major of USARAF, based in Vicenza, Italy. USARAF engages in training operations, programs and exercises with defense forces across Africa in the hope that a secure environment may be maintained and minimal U.S. involvement will be needed when problems arise.

U.S. Africa Command’s motto is “African solutions to African problems.” USARAF follows this motto and accomplishes its mission by helping African nations strengthen their own defense capabilities so that they are better equipped to address their own security threats.

“We still have a lot of terrorist organizations that move through the northern part of Africa: elements of al-Qaida, AQIM (al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb), Boko Haram from Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Those issues are the kind of things that make what we are doing in Africa really important.”

One of the best ways to strengthen a nation’s defense capabilities is by investing in its NCO corps, Stitzel said. But, the change has to come from within. USARAF can’t go in saying, “This is what you need to do; you need to become just like us,” Stitzel said. Rather, the U.S. armed forces must inspire the militaries of our partner nations to want it for themselves, and must help them reach their own goals in their own ways.

“On the continent, what our NCOs really do for us is show foreign countries how they are empowered by American officers to be valued and trusted tools to accomplish missions,” Stitzel said. “These officers in other nations watch us and see that our NCOs allow officers to be less burdened. Our officers have someone helping them; they have more time to think about in-depth things. They’re not really involved in everyday activities and are really thinking at a higher level – the strategic level.”

NCOs within USARAF and the continent’s regionally aligned force can have a profound impact on the future of these nations while they are on missions in Africa, Stitzel said. Whether they are expanding cadets’ horizons in a cultural language program in Senegal, teaching basic medical techniques in Cameroon or helping with gender integration in Botswana, he said American NCOs need to remember that one of the best ways they can accomplish their mission is by being model NCOs in everything they do. Just as NCOs must teach by example when working with their Soldiers, they must be the example that inspires other nations.

Finding common ground

The reason the U.S. military is so well accepted on the African continent, Stitzel said, is because these African countries were once European colonies.

“Who else was a colony of someone in Europe? We were,” he said. “They kind of see us as a big brother, and they really like American NCOs because we don’t look down on them. We look at them as peers. There is a professional courtesy that is extended between us, and they really like that, that we share our experiences and [have a similar history].”

Many African nations have gained their independence only in the past 50 years and have developed under the British or French military systems, which traditionally have not empowered NCOs like the United States system does. Stitzel asks his Soldiers to think about where the United States was in 1826, only 50 years after gaining our independence. The country hadn’t even been through the Civil War yet, when the military was just beginning to figure out the role of the NCO, he said.

“Some would argue that the true, professional role of NCOs didn’t come until after Vietnam. We forget that,” Stitzel said.

The role of the NCO has grown in the United States over time as the military has learned from past mistakes and solidified its values and policies. The strengthening of the NCO corps in these African nations must also come about as a result of internal change, Stitzel said.

“Their officer corps has to want to change within the country, and the training must start with their young officers. It has to grow,” he said. “True change, as we are beginning to see in Malawi, will come gradually. Gen. Henry Odillo, commander of their armed forces, said it best when he told the first class of graduates at the Malawi NCO academy, ‘You all are pioneers for our army.’ And that’s exactly what they are. They are pioneers. It isn’t going to be perfect on their backs going through. But they are going to pave a way for the generation that comes after them. I told them, ‘Somewhere in your country, somebody just joined your army who is going to be the sergeant major of the army in 30, 35 years.”

The Malawian Defense Force has observed the U.S. military and how its NCO corps is utilized. Odillo decided he wanted that for his military, and made it a priority for the MDF. The driving force that made the first class a success at the Malawi NCO academy was the soldiers’ desire for change, Stitzel said.

We can’t force our way

Being an NCO is about caring for other people and wanting them to learn and figure things out for themselves, Stitzel said. It is USARAF Soldiers’ job to find out what works best for these other countries, even if it is not what our country has done.

“Sure, I can go in there and say, ‘This is how you do it,’ and give them all the equipment,” Stitzel said. “But we have computers in our army. Some of these countries don’t. They may have computers, but they don’t have the access to them that we do. A perfect example is our surgeon directorate, which recently completed medical readiness training exercises in Chad and in Burkina Faso. Instead of sending a team of doctors and surgeons and nurses down there with all of the magical instruments that we have in America, they go down there and do it with only the supplies available in that country. That’s how they figure out how to develop the best practice for them.”

These militaries benefit not only from the treatment individuals receive from the U.S. doctors and surgeons, but from the knowledge they gain from the sergeants major, the master sergeants, the first sergeants and the combat medics, Stitzel said. And this training goes both ways. There are some diseases in these countries that Soldiers don’t encounter in the U.S. They are able to work with malaria or polio patients, for example, and take away a lot from the experience, he said. This is true not only for medics, but for all of the USARAF Soldiers on missions in Africa. They learn to be better teachers as they adapt to the different cultures and adjust to different ways of thinking, Stitzel said.

Demonstrating the officer-NCO relationship

“What others can learn from USARAF NCOs is that we can’t force our way of life – we can’t force the way our Army functions – onto another country. We need to wait for them to ask us for it. And it’s not about telling them; it’s about showing them,” Stitzel said. “We can do it by working together with our officers. I don’t want to see missions in Africa completed by just NCOs or just officers; it’s got to be together. They are watching us. How do our NCOs and officers interact? How do we show that NCOs are an integral part of our program?”

Just as we should not send only female NCOs to an area struggling with the integration of women into their military, we should not expect NCOs to, on their own, help a military develop their NCO corps, Stitzel said. Officers must be involved, he said, because they are the ones who already have the respect of that nation’s force. New ideas are always more readily accepted when the origin is trusted and respected within a culture.

“If the training is about gender integration, we need a gender-integrated team conducting it,” Stitzel said. “It’s the exact same thing with the NCOs and officers. You can’t just talk about it. You have to show it. It is through our actions that we teach people. Our officers and NCOs need to keep that in mind.”

Even if there is a mission that is run by either NCOs or by officers, there are always opportunities to demonstrate the importance of the officer-NCO relationship, Stitzel said. U.S. Soldiers should seize those chances to show how we work together.

“Take myself, for example. Most of the trips Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahue (commanding general of USARAF) takes, I go with him,” Stitzel said. “I sit right by him; he introduces me first and demonstrates that respect. And he really empowers me when he sends me out in his stead. When I go down, and they see that I am the senior representative from the general, that’s powerful.
“When they see it, that’s when they want it for themselves. I think when individuals see a behavior they want to model themselves, that’s when they say, ‘Hey, I want to be like that.’ Then they start asking.”

Related stories:
Graduates of Africa’s first NCO academy become leaders of change for Malawi
162nd Infantry Brigade NCOs behind success of Army’s first Regionally Aligned Force unit in Africa

Sgt. David Daerr, right, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and Soldiers with the 9th South African Infantry Battalion participate in Shared Accord 13, a biennial training exercise designed to increase capacity and enhance interoperability across the South African and U.S. militaries. (U.S. Army Africa photo)
Sgt. David Daerr, right, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and soldiers with the 9th South African Infantry Battalion participate in Shared Accord 13, a biennial training exercise designed to increase capacity and enhance interoperability across the South African and U.S. militaries. (U.S. Army Africa photo)


162nd Infantry Brigade NCOs behind success of Army’s first regionally aligned force unit in Africa

NCO Journal

When six Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division visited Washington, D.C., in late May, they offered Congress insight into one of the Army’s newest strategies from the Soldiers charged with employing it.

During their meeting in the nation’s capital, congressional staff members got to hear in more detail about the regionally aligned forces, or RAF, mission, a strategy initiated by the Army in 2010 to strengthen existing allied and partner relationships. The 2nd BCT, based at Fort Riley, Kan., is the Army’s first RAF unit and was aligned with U.S. Army Africa Command, in which it worked behind the scenes with partner nations while deployed.

In the same vein, the NCOs of the 162nd Infantry Brigade at Fort Polk, La., have worked tirelessly in the background to ensure Soldiers that are part of the RAF mission to Africa — and the other five geographic combatant commands — know all they need to know about a foreign country before they set foot in it.

The African continent has received special emphasis from the 162nd’s Regionally Aligned Forces-Training Teams, or RAF-TTs, as it is viewed as the area with the most potential for volatile situations.

“Right now, that’s the focus,” said Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Baxter, one of four lead instructors for the 162nd’s AFRICOM RAF-TT. “That’s where we want to get our fingers in the most and support. That’s where we see the need. In [U.S. Southern Command], a lot of those countries are a little more advanced and don’t need as much support. Africa, because of colonialism, they’re a little more behind. Certain areas are hotbeds.”

The RAF’s footprint in Africa

The regionally aligned forces project was borne out of the 2010 U.S. National Security Strategy. A regional alignment flags Army units of various sizes to provide support to 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.

The opening stages of the RAF plan rolled out during the past two years, with the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd BCT taking the lead as the first RAF unit to deploy, heading to Africa in spring 2013. The 2nd BCT conducted more than 160 missions during its deployment, highlighted by the establishment of the East Africa Response Force, which is based in Djibouti and works to secure the U.S. embassy in South Sudan.

“Through the conduct of over 160 missions in 30 countries over the past year, we were able to develop the capabilities of our African military partners, empowering them to strengthen and better secure their borders,” said Col. Jeffery D. Broadwater, commander of the 2nd BCT, during his meetings with congressional staff. “More importantly, we developed relationships as representatives of the United States who promoted our nation’s interests and ethics.”

The 2nd BCT concluded its deployment in June 2014 before transferring its RAF duties to the “Big Red One’s” 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Before the 4th BCT’s Soldiers shipped out, much like their 2nd BCT counterparts, they spent time with the NCOs of the 162nd Infantry Brigade to learn about the areas to which they are deploying.

“The idea is that they’re trained on Africa,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mitchell Petry, another of the 162nd’s AFRICOM RAF-TT instructors. “Whether it be culturally, geopolitically, the conflicts in the region that they are potentially deploying to, they’re given that taste of the African continent and their culture, because it’s vastly different from Iraq and Afghanistan. Especially in today’s Army and today’s world where we’ve spent so many years dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of these Soldiers need to learn to downshift and switch gears and focus on a completely different culture.”

Training up

The 162nd is already battle-tested in providing instruction to foreign forces. The unit spent more than a decade training combat advisors and working with their security forces counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan as those countries prepared to take over the job of protecting their own lands. As such, it was a natural fit for the 162nd to evolve into instructors of the Regionally Aligned Forces-Training Team.

When the Army began discussions about the RAF concept, Africa quickly became a focus.

“When we started putting our footprint in the Middle East, it’s kind of like plugging water as far as terrorism goes,” Baxter said. “You block it in one area, and it’s gonna overrun into somewhere else. So you start to see common threats that are starting to spill into Africa and work their way down. You’re starting to see extremist organizations start to filter their way from Egypt all the way down into the southern part of Africa.

“Potentially, you can have a situation where you have another country that doesn’t have a lot of money, a lot of funding. A lot of foreign aid comes in from countries that we’re not in collaboration with, and they start pushing their agenda in those countries. When the infrastructure is really low, and a lot of money starts coming in, a lot of people start leaning that way to survive.”

When the 2nd BCT was tasked, unit leaders realized they weren’t knowledgeable about the culture, customs and conflicts of African countries.

“They were one of the first ones to reach out and say, ‘We need this training. We know that we don’t have this experience or this knowledge yet. So, who can give it to us?’” Petry said. “And the 162nd said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got you.’”

The curriculums that the 162nd’s RAF-TT instructors develop to teach deploying units are largely based on their research of a given country. Instructors receive help from personnel at the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Center of Excellence of Fort Huachuca, Ariz., as well as the NATO School Oberammergau in Germany. But developing a class and its delivery is largely up to instructors. Petry said the challenge to do this seemed immense at first. But RAF-TT instructors have gradually eased into the role.

“Initially when the section first stood up, it was pretty challenging, because we were starting from square one with most of our curriculum,” Petry said. “But it helps that the NCOs in our section are assigned to specific regions. We don’t all focus on the entire continent of Africa. I’m northwest Africa. There are NCOs that focus on the countries in south, eastern and central Africa. It’s a lot of research reading about the countries. We’ve had the opportunity to look at the embassies’ mission strategic resource plan. It’s what their goals are for that country and what they want to accomplish in the next year and near future. So we know how the State Department is looking at it, too.

“It’s a lot of research. I’ve probably read about 50 to 60 books about the countries. As far as curriculum goes, it’s gotten pretty intensive at times. But we’re far enough along that, when a country does come up that we haven’t had a lot of dealing with, it takes some research, but at the same time, the curriculum and tailoring it to that country, is not that hard anymore.”

Behind the success

Broadwater, the 2nd BCT commander who briefed Congress, said one of the highlights of the unit’s deployment was the leader-development missions its junior leaders were able to partake in.

Those opportunities are afforded because the 2nd BCT — and all other RAF units — do not have to deviate from their primary mission attaining current knowledge about the areas they are working in, Petry said.

“This unit has NCOs and officers from across the Army with widely varying experiences,” Petry said. “At the same time, they have a great amount of knowledge on the most recent activities, missions, stuff that has shaped doctrine or has continued to shape doctrine in-country. The 162nd has the ability to train these units as our sole mission focus. If we were to give this mission to a brigade who already has or already is a fully deployable unit that’s told, ‘You’re going to X country on this date and time. Train up. Go,’ in my eyes, it would be very difficult to train for their primary mission and to conduct this mission.

“Our primary focus is training these Soldiers who are going to their combatant command or their area of responsibility to do partner-nation training events. So having that as our primary mission, our sole purpose in life is to make sure that the Soldiers deploying forward have the most current training, the most current knowledge. It’s a lot easier for us to be the ones to conduct that as opposed to a brigade who already has a primary mission. To give them a mission like this, as large as this, as their second/alternate primary, it would be extremely difficult.”

The 2nd BCT has also benefited from working with foreign soldiers who are as dedicated to their military as U.S. forces are.

“Most people serving in the military, especially on the African continent, are very well educated,” Petry said. “They are very proud of their nation, very proud of their cause, very proud of their service. They are there to learn just like us. We have an all-volunteer service. So when you raise your hand to join the military, you do it because you want to, because you’re proud of it, because you want to do something for your family for your country. And in a lot of ways, these countries that we’re going to train with are the exact same way. In a lot of cases, they’re well beyond square one. We’re simply going to exchange ideas. It’s, ‘Here’s our thoughts on it; what are your thoughts on it?’ And it becomes building that doctrine, those TTPs for both militaries at the same time.”

And while RAF missions and training continue moving forward, the work of the 2nd BCT has provided a primer for the Army, Petry said.

“The way it’s looking, the regionally aligned force is the way the Army is going to begin looking at things on the world stage,” he said. “There’s going to be units assigned to a specific geographic combatant command, and when it comes down to something actually happening, something needing to be dealt with, or being asked for assistance, that regionally aligned force for that area is going to be the first one that’s tasked. That’s not to say there won’t be other units that are needed. But that regionally aligned force is going to be the first one told, ‘Let’s go. You guys have already been living and breathing this for the past year, two years or whatever it may be.’

“We have an important mission,” Petry said. “I think we’re in a very good position to provide the training and to take the extra stress off these units who have to actually go and conduct these missions. They don’t have to worry about doing all the training for them at the same time, when they can contact the 162nd and say, ‘We have this mission going in this country, can you support?’ And we have that entire package ready to go and say, ‘Yes. When do you want it?’”

Maj. Joey L. Errington, center right, executive officer of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, responds to a question from a congressional staff member in May in the Rayburn House Office Building. Errington and five other Soldiers from the brigade were on Capitol Hill to share their experiences with Congress as members of the Army's first regionally aligned brigade. (Photo by Maj. Martin L. O'Donnell, Army News Service)
Maj. Joey L. Errington, center right, executive officer of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, responds to a question from a congressional staff member in May in the Rayburn House Office Building. Errington and five other Soldiers from the brigade were on Capitol Hill to share their experiences with Congress as members of the Army’s first regionally aligned brigade. (Photo by Maj. Martin L. O’Donnell, Army News Service)