MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — The Army ruled almost every category on its way to grabbing the Chairman’s Cup for the second straight year at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games held at this historic Marine Corps base.
“That very first event, cycling, is what really brought this team together,” said Sgt. 1st Class Keoki Smythe, the noncommissioned officer in charge at the Alexandria-based Warrior Transition Command.
“Then our track athletes and swimmers gave us a huge lead, and our archery team had a gold medal sweep,” the Seattle native said.
Other events included wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball and shooting. Wheelchair rugby had been slated as an exhibition sport but fell victim to hasty schedule changes after two days’ severe downpours and tornado activity in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Begun in 2010 to test — and showcase — the resilience and adaptability of combat-wounded, ill and injured Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, the first several games were dominated by the Marine Corps before the Army surged to a victory last year.
This time, it was a Soldiers’ competition from start to finish as the Army notched 69 gold medals to the Marines’ 47.
The Army out-medaled all competitors in the silver and bronze categories, as well, rolling to 141 points for the Chairman’s Cup over the Marine Corps’ 96. The Air Force, with 65 points total, finished next. The British Armed Forces had 62 points, Special Operations Command had 34 and the Navy/Coast Guard team finished with 30.
Led by team captain Frank Barroqueiro and assistant team captain Samantha Goldenstein, the Army was presented with the monster-sized Chairman’s Cup by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Army chief of staff.
In a touch of friendly rivalry, the Army beat a Marine Corps contingent in the presence of the hosts’ service chief, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford. Like Dempsey before him, Dunford has already been tapped by President Barack Obama to ascend to the chairman’s job.
But Dunford was quick to minimize the competition piece in favor of underscoring the healing power and heartfelt nurture brought to bear through the athletes’ families, friends, physical therapists and other caregivers — many of whom were in the bleachers for the closing ceremonies.
Smythe also alluded to an almost spiritual intangible that superseded scores, times and photo finishes.
“Truly, it is an honor, I feel very fortunate, just to be around these Soldiers, the way they support each other,” he said.
The Army Operating Concept is “Win in a Complex World.” The Soldiers of U.S. Army Europe know better than anyone that we can’t do that alone.
USAREUR is down to about 28,000 troops from a Cold War peak of 218,000, but the threats across the Atlantic have only magnified since the latest major U.S. cuts to the region in 2012. Vladimir Putin’s Russia skirmishes with Ukranian forces after occupying the nation’s Crimea region and aggressively menaces the United States’ allies — NATO and otherwise. The Islamic State is building up its land forces near the continent’s southern edges, its wars create a burgeoning immigrant crisis and the terrorist organization’s recruiters and sympathizers put all of Europe under constant threat.
“Nowadays our enemies — it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the Russians or the Islamic State — will use any means and any way to achieve their strategic ends,” Brig. Gen. Miha Škrbinc, assistant to Slovenia’s chief of defense, told a gathering of NCOs from more than 30 countries recently. “That means they will use all spectrum of power.”
It’s called “hybrid warfare,” Škrbinc said, and it’s defined as a combination of regular and irregular warfare. “But that would be so easy if hybrid warfare was just that,” he said. Škrbinc described Russia’s tactics as a combination of economic exertions, aggressive foreign policy, diplomatic pressure and diversions, clandestine cyber warfare attacks, information and propaganda offensives — all backed by a well-equipped and well-trained conventional army.
Škrbinc was speaking at the ninth annual Conference of European Army NCOs, which took place in April in Bled, Slovenia. The conference, co-hosted by USAREUR and the Slovenian army, is intended to develop professional land forces across Europe and build relationships among the enlisted ranks of those armies. But the critical need for that professionalism and relationships may be more apparent now than at any other time in the conference’s decade-long history.
“I think they (the allied nations) were reassured,” Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins said after the conference he helped organize with Igor Tomašić, the senior enlisted leader of the Slovenian army. “We don’t know much about the deterrence piece of what we’re doing, but I think that having that large group gathered together, having a common understanding and shared vision of the future — at least the defense part — I think there has to be some kind of deterrent value in that.
“I don’t know if that’s something that translates into the Russian lexicon or not,” he said.
Maybe not. Even as the conference was underway, Russia was conducting artillery exercises along its border — “literally counter-battery fire to the CEANCO,” Huggins called them.
Usually, the command sergeant major of USAREUR would help lead the conference, but the new senior enlisted advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Sheryl Lyon, just started her duties late last month. She was able to attend, but Huggins, who is command sergeant major of the 7th Army’s Joint Multinational Training Command at Grafenwoehr, Germany, stepped in to coordinate.
The conference included presentations about some of the large land-forces programs available across Europe, through the United States and NATO. As the host nation, Slovenia was able to show off its Multinational Center of Excellence for Mountain Warfare, which is expected to be accredited by NATO later this year.
The conference also featured speakers from armies throughout Europe describing topics that might be of particular interest to NCOs, such as how selection boards and pre-deployment training work in various countries.
“It’s a shared understanding of what all of us have as a problem set,” Huggins said. “Each one of us goes through some kind of process like that, and by showing a couple of examples, we’re hoping that people can go back” and share those lessons with their armies.
Conference attendees were the top enlisted leaders — “the heavy hitters” — in their respective countries, Huggins notes. After the conference, those senior NCOs can share ideas and best practices with their top commanders and chiefs of defense.
“They can go back and say, ‘Hey, here’s how the U.S. briefed,’ or ‘Here’s how the Croatians have got it going on,’ or ‘Here’s how maybe we want to do that,’” Huggins said. “There’s a lot of that that has come to pass because of these briefings.”
Huggins said that during another conference he attended in Estonia that included representatives from all the Baltic countries, the sergeant major of the Estonian army was pulled out during a presentation. He had received a call from his chief of defense and was flown out on a helicopter. When the Estonian sergeant major arrived, his chief of defense promoted him to the senior enlisted advisor for all the Estonian militaries, equivalent to Marine Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia’s position in the United States as senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Estonian chief of defense “wanted to make sure that his army knew he valued his noncommissioned officers to the point where he wanted to have one with him to help advise him on everything that they did,” Huggins said. “That’s part of what this group is accomplishing.”
The senior enlisted leaders gather together annually at CEANCO, but exercises at Grafenwoehr’s JMTC and the nearby Hohenfels training area help Soldiers at all levels build trust and relationships and learn to work together in a true interoperable environment before facing real-world threats together.
JMTC has several major regularly scheduled training exercises, some with U.S. forces functioning as the high command and multinational forces integrated and some in which U.S. units participate under the command of allied nations’ units.
In response to Russia’s aggression, USAREUR took part in a multinational training exercise that spanned Europe, demonstrating the United States’ commitment to defending its allies and those nations’ abilities to protect their borders — Operation Atlantic Resolve.
“This is a major commitment by the United States,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commanding general of USAREUR, told attendees during the CEANCO’s closing remarks. But it’s a commitment well worth making, Hodges said.
“I’m a big believer that the United States is never, ever going to go anywhere by itself,” he said. “We have learned a lesson — that we need allies, that we need partners, that other countries will know more about a place than we will ever know. It’s not just a political cover. Other nations have capabilities that we don’t have. I am convinced that we will always be in a coalition, and that almost always, the most reliable partners we’ll ever have come from NATO or they’re PFP, Partnership for Peace, countries — the same people we’ve been with all these years.”
U.S. and allied forces rolled through Europe as part of Atlantic Resolve even as the senior NCOs gathered in Slovenia. Elements of the 3rd Infantry Division, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment and the 173rd Airborne Brigade trained with Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish forces as part of Atlantic Resolve-North, then those and other allied forces demonstrated their capabilities in Bulgaria, Romania and other areas of the Black Sea as part of Atlantic Resolve-South.
Meanwhile, back at Hohenfels, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment was conducting one of JMTC’s major exercises, Saber Junction, which this year included soldiers from 17 European countries. Saber Junction is USAREUR’s Decisive Action Training Environment rotation, but with an international flavor, says Command Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Alexander Rolling, command sergeant major of the JMTC’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center. The JMRC is the only Army Combat Training Center outside the continental United States.
Rolling and Huggins said being in Europe presents unique training opportunities: 28 nations are part of NATO, and with other partner nations, forces from any of 43 countries can take part in any exercise.
“We’re not in this alone,” Rolling said. “In the future, we’re going to fight together. If we’re going to fight together, we have to learn to work together. We have to get past some of those stereotypes. We have to get past some of those operational barriers. And how do we bridge those gaps? Well, you do it through training. Through training you build friendship, you build capacity and you share ideas.”
The role of NCOs
One of the greatest ideas the U.S. has to share is the competence and professionalism of its NCO Corps. Rolling says that around the world, “if you find a great organization, if you find a great unit, you’ll find a great NCO corps.”
Other countries look to U.S. NCOs to understand the Army’s emphasis on education and the enlisted leaders’ responsibilities. The United States has invested in this shared understanding for decades, and as Europe becomes a more frightening place, that investment is paying dividends.
“Because we don’t have the bodies that we had (in Europe), we need to make sure that everybody else is capable,” Huggins said. “That’s why we have a corps dynamic, which is developed just like our Army’s: We go after the corps of the NCO first to make sure you’ve got all the leader skills, the attributes, all the stuff that I need you to have so I can trust you. Because now when I trust you, mission command works. If I don’t trust you, mission command can’t work, because now I have to micromanage. I have to figure out ways to be on your back and watch exactly what you’re doing.”
Nagy Kornél had participated in training exercises with USAREUR before, but the Hungarian NCO’s visit to Hohenfels in March and April for Saber Junction was his first multinational exercise acting in the role of first sergeant.
“I’m not saying we’ve finished with training and that we’re ready to fight or deploy, but it was a big, big help, especially in this kind of area,” he said. “With this kind of training, we have everything that the JMRC can provide us, so it was real situations — almost like real situations, I mean. And it put focus on lots of things that we have to improve.”
Hungary’s NCO corps and support channels are modeled on the U.S. Army’s, so Kornèl knew the system, but he still found it invaluable to see it in action.
“It was good just to see how it works,” he said. “It’s an old system in the States, but about a 10-year old system back in Hungary. So previously, I had just a little picture of the total picture, especially for me, of how I should act as a first sergeant.”
During the 30-day exercise, he learned about managing resources, logistics, fight operations and planning procedures.
“In every army, the NCOs are the backbone of the army, so we have to be very focused on the task and the fight,” he said. “But on the other side, we have to take care of our guys and that’s very important to understand.”
Lessons for U.S. Soldiers
Romanian Sgt. Strizu Călin, a squad leader of a rank equivalent to sergeant first class in the U.S. Army, also participated in Saber Junction. He deployed with U.S. forces before — with the Army in Afghanistan and more recently with the Marines in Serbia — but he said the exercise in Hohenfels was much different.
“There was a lot of action, day and night, day and night,” he said. “It was very successful for me. To teach with other sergeants, to work with the U.S. Army, was a good thing.”
He said he got a better sense of how his soldiers react under stressful conditions, and they all learned new techniques and tactics from the U.S. Army NCOs. During the exercise, his six-man squad, including one from the United States, captured three Strykers, at night.
“That was something — I don’t know the word,” he said and thought for a moment. “Something outstanding.”
He impressed his U.S. counterparts, as well.
“I learned a lot of techniques. But we taught them some of our techniques — survival techniques. I talked with the platoon sergeant who was with us, and he told us that they don’t make traps like us.”
Part of Călin’s basic training, as it is for all his fellow members of Romanian reconnaissance platoons, consisted of being left in the wild for two to three months to fend for himself. He and his soldiers, therefore, are quite skilled in survival tactics, including fishing and trapping animals.
He called his time during Saber Junction a “two-way street of learning.”
That’s exactly what U.S. Soldiers who participated in the training exercise described, as well.
Staff Sgt. Danny Allen Doss, a platoon sergeant in the 4th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, worked with a Latvian platoon in his scout reconnaissance troop. He felt he helped the Latvians with some procedures, noting the U.S. casualty evacuation procedures, and from the Latvians he took away a newfound emphasis on discipline and enforcing standards — and a healthy respect.
“We called them monsters,” he said. “They’re the Wolves, that’s their unit. Their logo had two wolves, an older wolf and a younger wolf, and that’s how they work in the organization. It’s the older guys pulling the younger guys. As NCOs, we teach our Soldiers and mentor our Soldiers, but these guys made them do things — like made them be better than them. That’s what I want for my Soldiers, I want them to be way better than me. For those guys and their discipline and just their physicality, they’re just sheer monsters.”
He described how the Latvian soldiers he rode with would dismount on patrols. “And we’re like: ‘That’s 20k through the mountains with full kits and Javelins!’ They could just go.”
That’s a common experience for U.S. Soldiers working with multinational forces for the first time, said Command Sgt. Maj. Shane Pospisil, command sergeant major of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. He said multinational soldiers know U.S. and NATO doctrine thoroughly, they understand and use camouflage effectively, and, as Doss found, they’re still dismounting and moving all their gear and anti-tank missile launchers on foot for 10 miles or more, while during the past decade U.S. Soldiers have become accustomed to traveling in armored vehicles because of the threat of improvised explosive devices.
“These guys bring a lot to the table,” Pospisil said. “They’re very proud of their identity. They’re good at what they do.”
Huggins said U.S. Soldiers have learned much about small unit tactics and discipline, as well as digging in and handling artillery. Rolling noted how impressive one country’s graphics were during an exercise and how they were incorporated into all briefings during that operation.
The lessons from an operation such as Saber Junction abound on all sides, Pospisil said.
“It allows junior leaders to solve those simple and complex tasks and problems and really find a way ahead, around them,” he said. “But it’s giving us an opportunity to do it together with our allies. We’re not just learning these lessons ourselves.”
When Hodges took command of USAREUR, he looked at where the Army was going and how its forces in Europe fit into that strategy. He took the Army slogan, “Army Strong,” and applied it to his command, now known as “Strong Europe.”
But Strong Europe isn’t just about the U.S. Army and its Soldiers and equipment. It’s about the Army’s relationships on the continent. It’s about ensuring that we — the U.S. and all of its allies — can respond when any of us are threatened. And Hodges says that as global attention shifted to Europe when Russia occupied Crimea, the U.S. and allied response showed we were ready.
“I tell Americans that Europe is an ocean closer to every problem we have,” Hodges said. “When my president last year saw Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, which is part of Ukraine — sovereign terrain of Ukraine — my president reminded our allies: We will defend Estonia, we will defend Latvia, we will defend Lithuania, we will defend all of our allies. He didn’t bring Soldiers from North Carolina or Texas. He sent American Soldiers, who were in Europe, on five days’ notice.
“I think it’s important to demonstrate not only that we can do that, but also that Georgia can make its own decision, that Bulgaria can make its own decision, that Turkey can make its own decision, that nations can move across the Black Sea, that it’s not a sphere that is the decision of Russia,” he continued. “There will be some Americans that will be very worried about this: that somehow we will be provoking Russia. But this is the 21st century. Nobody gets to have a sphere. Every nation gets to choose what they want, who they want to be (allied) with, what kind of government they want to have.”
Ukraine is not a NATO ally, but Hodges said that is the direction the country was moving — it had voted out its pro-Russian president in favor of a European Union-leading faction. And, Hodges said, that movement prompted Putin’s ire. The Russian president moved quickly, in a matter of days, to seize Crimea. Hodges and Huggins warn that if the conflict escalates, it will be equally quick.
“Everybody draws this (potential conflict) back to (Iraq’s former leader) Saddam Hussein and going into Kuwait,” Huggins said. “We took six months to bring in the Reserves, to stack up big arsenals in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. And then, ta-da! The war. We overwhelmed them. The next one, if the Russians were to do something, it’s going to be 24 or 48 hours. They’re already there. Now we have to build up some way to get them out. And you know they’re going to be right in the heart of the cities, they’re going to be in all those places that are going to require us to do something we don’t typically do. It’s going to neutralize airpower, it’s going to neutralize artillery.”
But Huggins is confident that Europe will stay strong.
“It goes back to our Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World. It talks about all that capability and leaders. The one constant we have is us: the NCO Corps. Because we’re the ones who are going to get the Army through whatever happens to it here in the next couple years. Leaders are what will take whatever’s available and go win, go solve that next problem.”
Operation Atlantic Resolve, which will continue with actions indefinitely, has and continues to work out logistical kinks, Huggins said. Transportation by road and rail differs from country to country; different rules regulate hazardous material rolling across a border; U.S. and Western European allies have never moved through former Soviet bloc countries. But Atlantic Resolve and other operations are stretching and testing all those concerns, Huggins said.
“That’s going to get accomplished by those young officers and those NCOs who are out there on the sharp end of this thing, making it all happen,” he said. “So having professional folks and relationships already established in those countries? Hugely important.”
How we win
U.S. forces and its allies in Europe hope that showing capability and resolve are enough to deter Russia from any further action. U.S. paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, stationed in Vicenza, Italy, are in the Ukraine training that country’s national guard soldiers to combat continued Russian aggression. Huggins said that when he told one of the two Ukranian sergeants major attending the CEANCO that U.S. Soldiers would be helping his nation’s military, “he grabbed me like I was throwing him a life vest.” The Ukranians, Huggins said, feel they are at war already.
Putin denies Russian involvement in the battles, but as the body count continued to rise on both sides, Hodges told the CEANCO participants: “There is no doubt that Russia is involved in eastern Ukraine. If you don’t believe that, then you don’t want to believe that. The amount of artillery, and rockets, and electronic warfare that is being used against Ukranian defense forces — these are not coal miners and tractor drivers as President Putin described them. This is not something that you can do in the basement of your home. These are professional, very well-equipped, Russian soldiers and Russian commanders in eastern Ukraine. We know that. You know that.”
No one knows exactly what Putin’s plans are, but Slovenia’s Brig. Gen. Škrbinc thinks he has an idea.
“What is actually the center of gravity that Putin wants to attack at this moment?” he asked. “I would guess that that is unity of the alliance. If he were able to break and separate allies or within NATO or within the European Union, I think his ways to achieve strategic goals is open.”
With that in mind, Hodges urged the senior enlisted leaders from 30 countries that “we have to stick together.”
“At the end of the day,” he said, “it’s going to be soldiers led by good sergeants that are the best way to deter that war from ever happening.”
“Without strong NCOs, there is no Strong Europe,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges told an international gathering of senior enlisted leaders from throughout Europe.
The U.S. Army Europe commander wasn’t just talking about noncommissioned officers from the United States. The U.S. Army needs strong allies in the region, and strong allies have strong NCO corps.
USAREUR has worked to build relationships through a number of training exercises — at its own European installations, as well as throughout its partner countries — and through shared education at all enlisted levels, from the first exposure to the NCO ranks at WLC to the pinnacle of enlisted education at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy.
One of U.S. Army Europe’s most important training hubs, the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command, has increased its work with multinational forces in recent years. And that only benefits U.S. Soldiers, said Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins, command sergeant major of the JMTC.
The 170th Infantry Brigade left Germany in 2012, and the 172nd Infantry Brigade, which had been based in Grafenwoehr, was inactivated in 2013. To stay relevant, Huggins said, JMTC had to increase the work it did with U.S. allies. As the Army has shifted toward aligning units based in the United States with specific Geographic Combatant Commands, U.S. forces have returned en masse to the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas.
“We have Regionally Aligned Forces now that are really starting to retap old resource requirements that we got rid of,” Huggins said. Grafenwoehr houses a contingent of vehicles and equipment, known as the European Activity Set, which is enough to equip a battalion-sized RAF as it rotates in and out. The permanent stationing of equipment at Grafenwoehr is intended to allow easier rotations, as personnel can be moved without having to ship equipment and vehicles across the Atlantic. The EAS includes the latest iterations of the M1A2 Abrams tank (the System Enhancement Package version 2) and the M2A3 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, as well as other vehicles.
The Pentagon has sought approval to expand that program into Eastern Europe to deter Russia from further aggression after its occupation of the Ukrainian area of Crimea, and would like to place equipment in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and possibly Hungary.
State Partnership Program
Like the RAF, the State Partnership Program also helps augment the U.S. presence in Europe, and elsewhere around the globe, by partnering U.S. state National Guard units with another country’s forces. The program started in the early 1990s, when U.S. state National Guards were paired with three former Soviet bloc countries.
“I’ve been in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard for a long time, and Pennsylvania is partnered with Lithuania,” said Sgt. Maj. Scott Haymaker, senior enlisted advisor for European Command’s J5/8, which develops military and political policy for the command’s activities with international militaries and other U.S. commands. “We’ve done multiple, multiple missions and events with Lithuania, but it wasn’t until I got this assignment at EUCOM that I really started digging deeper into the State Partnership Program.”
During a presentation on the program at the Conference of European NCOs, Haymaker said the National Guard can be particularly helpful in training armies in disaster relief and protecting a nation’s borders, two of the primary responsibilities of Guard units in the states. But perhaps the greatest advantage — on both sides — is the relationship that develops between the allied nations.
Air Force National Guard Command Chief Master Sgt. Annadele Kenderes, state command chief master sergeant for the Colorado Air National Guard, also spoke to conference participants about the program. The Colorado Guard has had a long-standing relationship with Slovenia, but just recently added Jordan, as well.
“Each state partnership program looks a little different; each friendship that we have with whatever country looks a little different,” she said. “I know each relationship is different; you have a different need. With our Jordan relationship, we’re just fostering and feeding that, but when you saw the Jordanian pilot who was burned and killed on TV, it was like we lost a family member. We truly understand these friendships and these relationships.”
USAREUR works hard to develop and maintain its relationships, but in Europe, the state-nation partnerships go back 10, 15 or even 20 years and give USAREUR something to build on.
“We have a partnership with Maryland, and it’s already 12 years old,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Armed Forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina Mario Bagaric. “At the beginning, it was just visiting National Guard and us going to the States. Now it’s a two-way road. We developed ULF — unit-level familiarization. Every year, we send 10 to 15 people to training events in the National Guard. In the future, we’re looking to have one unit from the National Guard visiting our training event in Bosnia-Herzegovina.”
Development and deepening of those relationships is exactly what the SPP is intended to do, and it’s hoped that relationship will make training and any future actions smoother.
“The purposes are to promote mutual understanding and — this is key — interoperability,” Haymaker said. “How do we work together during all these missions that we are now doing together? This has been a topic of discussion at EUCOM for the last two or three months now. With the deployments to [Iraq and Afghanistan] drawing down, how do we maintain the interoperability that we’ve built up? How do we keep it? How do we sustain it?”
Maintaining and sustaining skills are a primary concern to the agencies that oversee the partnership program, as well. The SPP falls under EUCOM and is overseen in each country by Offices of Defense Cooperation, or ODCs.
Lt. Col. Stephanie Bagley, who leads the ODC in the Czech Republic, told CEANCO attendees about the challenges and successes of her ODC. The United States maintained ODCs in 40 countries until recently, when the Moscow office was shut down.
She noted that the Czechs had recently purchased a Scan Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System from the United States, but that the United States’ responsibility doesn’t end with the sale.
“If we just deliver that capability, it’s never going to go anywhere,” Bagley said. “We have to figure out how to sustain it. So what resources do I leverage to help the Czech Republic sustain that capability? That’s where the State Partnership Program comes in. That’s where I work with my bilateral affairs officer, the Texas National Guard officer in my office.”
Texas is the Czech Republic’s partner, and Bagley noted that because of the state’s size, there’s almost no capability it’s not able to deliver or train on. And in fact, she was able to schedule several weeklong trainings from Texas’ UAS experts, she said.
Training exercises are a key element to maintaining U.S. and allied experience with interoperability and equipment. Even this month, Soldiers and airmen from several state National Guard units are participating in the USAREUR-led Sabre Strike 15 across Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Such exercises help with another goal of the State Partnership Program.
“Building enduring relationships is also key,” Haymaker said. “Some of these relationships have been built for more than 20 years. And I’m not talking about just the senior-level relationships. We’re talking about the bottom-level relationships, the two E-5s or the two OR-5s (“other rank 5” — the NATO designation for enlisted personnel at the rank equivalent to U.S. sergeant) meet and they start a relationship together that spans throughout their career. So when they move up in responsibilities and positions and authorities, they can still communicate and foster that relationship.”
Training exercises are a powerful tool for building relationships, but the United States shares its formal NCO Education System with other countries, as well. As the CEANCO was underway in Bled, Slovenia, a mobile training team from the 7th Army’s NCO Academy, in Grafenwoehr, Germany, was visiting the Czech Republic for that nation’s first Warrior Leader Course.
And the commandant of the U.S. Sergeants Major Academy, Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis E. Defreese, led the first session at the conference. As he described the latest developments at the academy and encouraged attendees to participate in the programs, he also explained why the shared education is so important to the United States.
“For the Sergeants Major Academy and for me, it’s not about bringing NCOs from around the world to the U.S. Sergeants Major Academy and teaching them how to be a U.S. Army sergeant major,” he said. “It’s about all of learning from each other. It’s a fairly important thing for me, because we (the NCOs) are the people who do the things that need to get done in our armies. There is a responsibility and requirement for us to be better educated as we move into this more complex world that’s continuing to get more and more complex.”
The debut of the new noncommissioned officer evaluation report, or NCOER, expected as a cure for rating inflation, has been pushed to the new year.
During an Army birthday town hall meeting with Soldiers on June 4, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey said the new NCOER, which was originally slated for release in October, would instead be pushed to 2016. The additional time will allow for a fine-tuning of the
process and procedures for tracking rater profiles to ensure Soldiers have a fair chance at promotions and prevent rating inflation.
During a town hall meeting at Fort Meade, Md., Dailey answered questions from more than 100 Soldiers. He also answered questions, which came via social media and pre-recorded video message, from Soldiers throughout the world.
In terms of training military human resources specialists on how the new NCOER will work — that training has been completed, Dailey said. Those human resources Soldiers will in turn train their units on how to use the new NCOER web system and forms.
One of the biggest changes to the new NCOER, Dailey said, is that it introduces rater accountability as a way to address the issue of rating inflation. The NCOER was both “out of date” with Army doctrine and subject to rating inflation, he said.
“We have to get at that,” Dailey said. “We have to make sure, that our people we ask to run promotion boards, have the full capability to understand and know who is best for promotion. This new NCOER is going to help do that.”
The sergeant major of the Army said that for years, those who have rated Army officers have been held accountable for how many they rate as being “the best.” The new NCOER introduces a similar concept for enlisted Soldiers.
Under the current NCOER, he said, “Everybody in the Army had the potential to get a number 1 block. In most cases, that’s what happened.”
When every Soldier is rated as the best, Dailey said, it makes it difficult to decide who gets promoted.
“With a rater profile, your rater is going to be limited on the total number ‘1 blocks’ they can give out,” he said.
The new standard for Soldiers, Dailey said, will be “fully qualified.” Only those exceeding the standard will be marked higher. He told Soldiers that those who rate “fully qualified” will still be getting promoted.
“We are designing the system so that you can get promoted; you will get promoted if the rest of your records are consistent with the good order and discipline of the U.S. Army,” he said.
Addressing a related question regarding promotions, Dailey told Soldiers that one thing they should be doing each month— something many Soldiers fail to do, and pay a price for by not getting promoted — is ensure that their personnel records are maintained and accurate.
Dailey also said that there are some daily activities Soldiers can do to get a leg up on promotion: physical training and education.
“Challenge yourself every day,” he said. “It starts at 6 a.m. You can make a difference as early as tomorrow morning. You can add points to your promotion standing just by doing better at PT. One more push-up is one more point. One more sit-up is one more point. And study hard, do your structured self-development.”
The sergeant major of the Army acknowledged that as the Army draws down, there will be fewer promotions, because there will be fewer Soldiers. But he said the Army still needs to promote Soldiers to have the right leaders in the right positions. He said Soldiers will still get promoted in the same percentage in order to ensure the Army structure is maintained.
“As Soldiers transition and the need arises, the Army will continue to promote in accordance with these needs,” he said.
If a Soldier wears it, eats it or sleeps under it, chances are a noncommissioned officer helped contribute toward its development at the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. As the scientists, engineers and equipment designers focus on the science behind the Soldier, a small force of NCOs are charged with sustaining Natick’s mission – maximizing the warrior’s survivability and combat effectiveness.
It’s easy for Soldiers first assigned to the small installation to experience culture shock after coming from posts with larger Soldier populations. Located in Massachusetts, the birthplace
of the U.S. Army, the SSC employs about 120 active-duty Soldiers and 2,250 civilians. The majority of the Soldiers at Natick serve as human resource volunteers for studies, ensuring every product is Soldier tested and approved.
NCOs work at SSC’s several tenant units, including the Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, also known as Natick Labs, and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. At Natick, NCOs fill roles such as coordinators for the HRVs taking part in studies, parachute riggers in the parachute shop or noncommissioned officers in charge at USARIEM.
For Sgt. 1st Class Adam Nicholas Adams, a senior combat advisor for Operational Forces Interface Group, his 15 years of experience as a Soldier has proved essential in serving as a liaison between the Army and researchers on projects. OFIG works closely with NSRDEC on equipment.
Adams is often deployed to Army installations ─ whether in Afghanistan or Fort Bragg, N.C. ─ to field requests for information from Soldiers on equipment, which will be used in the development of new projects. The NCO extrapolates information from Soldiers in the battlefield, compiles it, then presents it to NSRDEC researchers, who may make adjustments to products.
“My experience in having deployed to combat zones helped me understand exactly what [kinds of issues with equipment Soldiers encountered] because they were exactly the same problems that I had faced,” said Adams, an 11B infantryman. “My deployment time became really important [for researchers] to understand the nature of combat and how we operate in that environment.”
“Coming from the ground up [as a Soldier] and having different tiers of leadership along the way allowed me to interface with [lower-ranked enlisted] Soldiers in a way that no one
really can unless they are [an NCO],” he said. “There’s a certain bond that happens … and when you have that, Soldiers tend to really open up to you [in the field]. For the cross talk and information exchange, it just has to be an NCO [in my job]. I can’t imagine it would work with anyone else.”
Respect for the rank
Being an NCO comes with its own set of benefits when working with other professionals at Natick.
“When [researchers] see that you are an NCO, you’re afforded credibility when you walk into a room by nature of your rank,” Adams said. “You bolster that by the way you speak and carry yourself as a professional. We carry ourselves pretty proudly, but we also carry ourselves very professionally, because that’s what they expect from us and that’s what we project.”
Aside from having a group of HRVs under his charge, Master Sgt. Brian David Gemmill, senior NCO of Headquarters Research and Development Detachment at NSRDEC, is on an advisory group and offers a “nonengineering stance” on newly developed equipment. He helps to determine if a new product meets the needs of Soldiers, he said.
“What I try to focus on is working with the acquisition professionals and ensuring that the ideas coming from the field are based off an operational need,” Gemmill said. “Most of these scientists and engineers here haven’t been in the military, so they are working in an academic capacity and they may not understand if the Army or Soldiers are saying, ‘This piece of equipment needs to be improved upon.’ They may not understand the backstory on what the problems are with this piece of equipment, and that’s where myself and these NCOs who have hypothetically carried that piece of equipment can say, ‘Here’s the problem.’
In addition to helping the scientists and engineers in project development, Gemmill said he also trains and continues to develop the Soldiers serving as research volunteers.
“We’re also in charge of maintaining their tactical proficiency while [the volunteers] are here,” Gemmill said. “They’re at Natick for 90 days of research studies, and we want to make sure they are just as proficient when they get to their first duty stations three months later as they were when they graduated [advanced individual training].”
Part of the equation
NCOs are necessary cogs in the machine at Natick, and work collaboratively with the
scientists, engineers and equipment designers to bring projects to fruition. At the Aerial Delivery Directorate at NSRDEC, engineers work side-by-side with NCOs such as Sgt. Courtney Williams, Aerial Delivery Directorate NCO, and Sgt. Candice Holmes, Personnel Parachute Team subject matter expert.
“The most interesting people [we work with] are these guys right here,” said NSRDEC mechanical engineer Marc Tardiff, pointing at Williams and Holmes. “It’s just amazing how helpful they are. We probably pull them in every direction possible, and they still keep coming back for more. … [We appreciate the] knowledge that [NCOs] have, and they get a chance to influence how a project is being developed and created. Then, when they move on to their next assignment, they have that much more knowledge of a particular item and can share it. ”
“In the field, there are a lot of myths about [equipment like parachutes],” Holmes said. “[Soldiers will complain], but they don’t really know the technology and the statistics behind the parachute and how much testing it went through. When I go back into the field [for my next assignment], I can squash those myths and actually show them what I have learned at Natick through the testing and the systems.”
Working at Natick has given NCOs a new appreciation for Army equipment and the people who developed it.
“We have the [military] experience; they are the engineers, they are the designers,” Williams said. “[When you’re using your equipment,] you don’t really realize all the processes it has to go through to get to us [Soldiers]. It takes time, years and years, to get to us.”
“Seeing this side of things, where our parachutes come from, how much testing they go through before they get to the actual units is amazing,” Holmes said.
Broadening their fields
The opportunities for broadening weren’t lost on NCOs such as Williams, who said he appreciated getting cross-trained in his field and learning more about the Personnel Parachute Team while working on new projects.
Staff Sgt. Eric M. Murray, combat arms NCO at Natick Labs, deals exclusively with volunteers, which has afforded him the opportunity to broaden his leadership skills.
“I have been able to develop more of my leadership style because I don’t deal with my actual military occupational specialty as an 11B infantryman on a daily basis,” Murray said. “We get all kinds of Soldiers from all different MOSs. I get to see not just how the 11 bravo world works, but how other branches of the Army work as well.”
NCOs agreed that their experience at Natick, the only active-duty Army installation in New England, has been unique and unparalleled.
“Because I’m also friends with some of the [scientists and engineers who work here], I talk to them and see where some of the products that I have actually worn come from,” Murray said. “I get to see some of the ideas that are going into the future.”
“[Working at Natick] really has recharged my view of what and how broad the military is,” Adams said. “It’s not just the very obvious units out there that are doing great things in the battlefield, but there is an entire infrastructure of civilians, contracting professionals, academia and all the military acquisitions folks here who are all pushing you forward to cross the finish line. A lot of folks sitting in little, tucked-away offices are dedicating themselves to trying to find a new way to create better readiness on battlefields. They are doing amazing things and leaning forward on amazing projects.”
After his experience at Natick, Staff Sgt. William D. Chandler hopes to open other Soldiers’ eyes to the research aspect of the medical field. Chandler is the NCO in charge for the Office of Medical Support and Oversight, USARIEM.
“What being at Natick has done for me is helped me to understand where our military equipment comes from, why we use it and why it was designed,” he said. “When you get to see altitude studies and others like it, it gives you a greater appreciation of why we have a lot of the rules in the Army. If an NCO has an opportunity to come to a military research facility like this, I would say do it because you get to see a side of the Army that hardly anyone gets to see.”
The official magazine of noncommissioned officer professional development