NCO creates SHARP app to aid Soldiers in an emergency

NCO Journal

Sgt. 1st Class Sarah Whatley was taught to leave a unit better off than when she came to it, and that is exactly what she did.

Sgt. 1st Class Sarah Whatley created a mobile SHARP application to help the Soldiers of her brigade if they ever find themselves in a time of need. Whatley and her commanders think it is an effective tool that could benefit the entire Army. “It’s a simple question of is it being used? Did it help you? If I’m getting people telling me yes, I am using it and yes, it helped me, then this is something we need to sustain. I always said if the app helps even one person in a time of need, then it did its job,” Whatley said. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Sarah Whatley created a mobile SHARP application to help the Soldiers of her brigade if they ever find themselves in a time of need. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

Whatley, the brigade sexual assault response coordinator, or SARC, for 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, has created a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention application for mobile devices to help Soldiers and their leaders respond to sexual assaults. The app allows users to call the SHARP hotline, locate a hospital or contact brigade SARCs, victim advocates, the Family Advocacy Program, Child Protective Services, the military police or local police departments at the touch of a finger.

The app — SHARP 1ACB — is a free download in Google Play and in the iTunes App Store, and Whatley has encouraged every Soldier in her brigade to keep it on their phones.

“I hope this is a new step in bringing resources to Soldiers – especially now,” Whatley said. “Soldiers now are so technologically dependent. They come to us straight from basic training. They are in the reception battalion over there, and they don’t have a TV. They don’t have a car. They have a little duffel bag full of clothes and a few things they were issued in basic training. But they have the newest, latest, greatest phone with all the bells and whistles. And they never leave it behind.”

How will this app change things?

If a Soldier is assaulted and needs help, he or she may need to contact the brigade SARC, the hotline or a victim advocate. Many units have cards printed with SHARP information, but Soldiers often may not have access to them when they need it the most.

“You could tell a Soldier, ‘You have to carry this card,’ and it just goes in the stack of accountable item cards,” Whatley said. “They have the ACE (Ask, Care and Escort) suicide prevention cards, they have the taxi cab don’t-drink-and-drive cards. This is just another card in the stack. So if an assault does happen when they are out at a house party with some friends, at a club or something like that, not very often are they going to be like, ‘Oh, hold on, I have a card for that.’”

Most of the time, victims are upset. They are distraught. Alcohol or drugs may be involved. Yes, they could Google contact information or look on the SHARP Facebook page for guidance, but Whatley says that is not fast enough during an emergency.

Whatley was searching for a way to simplify things, and she and her commanders think this app is the answer. It puts any resource Soldiers may need only three taps away. With all of the numbers hyperlinked, users need only tap once to open the app, tap on the category of resources they need – hospital, police, SARC, etc. – and tap to dial.

The Army has a ton of programs out there to help Soldiers, but many don’t know about them, Whatley said. Advertisements abound on cluttered boards in offices and hallways, but how much are Soldiers really taking in? And how much of it would they think of in an emergency?

“Maybe we wouldn’t need to print out so much take-away material if we could say, ‘Hey, download this free app.’ It would save the Army a lot of money,” Whatley said.

Because Whatley did the legwork of developing and publishing the app, her brigade only pays $108 per year to keep it going.

“How much do you think it costs to print off one SHARP booklet?” Whatley asked. “Let alone that whole case of them I’ve got in there. And by the time I get those books passed out, they are going to have new ones made – a newer, updated version.”

With the app, Whatley can employ an unlimited number of live updates. If a SARC or victim advocate’s number is changed, all it takes is an update on Whatley’s computer for every single app user to have continued access to the latest information.

She said she hopes the Army will utilize apps as an avenue to save resources while more effectively helping Soldiers.

What does this mean for NCOs?

The app is also an invaluable tool in the hands of NCOs, as they are often the ones a Soldier turns to after an assault, Whatley said. They need to know the information contained in the app and how to handle any given situation appropriately.

Sgt. 1st Class Sarah Whatley created a mobile SHARP application for 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. “Maybe we can start a reaction Armywide,” Whatley said. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Sarah Whatley created a mobile SHARP application for 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

“Even if all of the Soldiers don’t have it, if their NCOs do, then that is one step forward,” Whatley said. “As an NCO, Soldiers are our business. We have to know them, be able to train them and look out for them. The Soldiers look to us to do that. And when it comes to a topic like sexual harassment or sexual assault, a whole other level of trust is put into play. That Soldier may trust that NCO wholeheartedly and [prefer to come to him or her instead of a SARC they don’t know.] It is vital that that NCO, one, knows how to handle that situation appropriately, and, two, knows how to get that Soldier to assistance. It may be hospital care, or they may need protection from the individual who assaulted them. They may want to be removed from the situation – temporarily reassigned out of the unit. NCOs need to react appropriately and get those Soldiers where they need to be.”

Sgt. 1st Class Yvonne Desfasses, a SARC currently assigned as the first sergeant for 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, presented the app to her battalion during a safety brief.

“I think it will be useful to our NCOs who have to come through and check the barracks, because if they come upon a situation, they may need those resources,” Desfasses said. “This way, they don’t have to hunt down a number. It’s just always there.”

Creating the app

Whatley has learned that, as an NCO, there is more than one way to reach out and help Soldiers. Creating this app was her way of being there for every Soldier in her brigade, even though she can’t give them individual attention.

“When I got into this position and was asked to be the brigade SARC,” Whatley said, “I thought, ‘This is my opportunity to really try to leave not just a company or a battalion, but a whole brigade better off and have an impact on that many Soldiers.’”

The idea for the app came to Whatley while she was on 24-hour hotline duty, discussing modern solutions to Soldiers’ needs with a victim advocate. As Whatley had never created an app before, her colleague pointed her to several websites that would guide her through the process. She decided to use, and found the process easier than she had anticipated.

“Instead of me having to build codes to have a function, they had preset codes, and I pulled and manipulated everything the way I wanted it,” she said. “They reviewed it for appropriate pixel resolution, data, made sure there were no copy-right issues, made sure everything functioned like it was supposed to, that everything was legitimate.

“Then, once I had my command’s approval, I had to go through a long legal process to justify funds so that the unit paid for the app. The unit and the unit command ensured we did everything appropriately, legally. I may have had the idea, I may have put it together, but it’s not mine. It’s the unit’s. I wanted it that way; I wanted it to belong to the unit instead of to me.”

When Whatley got the green light, she had to tackle the publishing process. It was important for her to publish the app in both Google Play and in the iTunes App Store so that all Soldiers would have access to the app, no matter what kind of phone they may have.

She submitted a coded file containing the finished app to Google, along with a one-time publishing fee, and the app was available to android users before the end of April, SHARP awareness month. The process to publish the app through the iTunes App Store was more complicated, she said, as Apple has different requirements and screens every app before publication. If an app does not have a clean, refined and user-friendly interface, for example, or has broken links or incomplete information, it will probably not make the cut.

“Apple doesn’t take apps from just anyone. But they took the app and it was published by the 18th of June,” Whatley said.

After Whatley created the app for the brigade, her commander, Col. Jeffery Thompson, had her brief her work to the 1st Cavalry Division commander, Brig. Gen. Michael Bills. Bills then had her present her work to the III Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, and every brigade commander on Fort Hood.

Whatley said success is hard to measure, but she will be tracking downloads.

“It’s a simple question of – is it being used? Did it help you?” Whatley said. “If I’m getting people telling me, ‘Yes, I am using it,’ and ‘Yes, it helped me,’ then this is something we need to sustain. I always said if the app helps even one person in a time of need, then it did its job.”

gt. 1st Class Sarah Whatley has created a mobile SHARP application for use by Soldiers in the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. The app is designed to bring life-saving contacts and information to Soldiers’ fingertips in the event of an emergency. Other brigades have been challenged to create something similar, and commanders have hopes of an Armywide app in the near future. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Sarah Whatley has created a mobile SHARP application for use by Soldiers in the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. The app is designed to bring life-saving contacts and information to Soldiers’ fingertips in the event of an emergency. Other brigades have been challenged to create something similar, and commanders have hopes of an Armywide app in the near future. (Photo by Meghan Portillo/NCO Journal)

This Month in NCO History: Sept. 20, 1863 — The youngest NCO earns his stripes

In the waning hours of the Battle of Chickamauga, a Confederate colonel on horseback happened upon a 12-year-old boy in a Union uniform lugging a sawed-off rifle.

It was a muggy afternoon Sept. 20, 1863. Union forces were hastily retreating after their failed campaign to force the Confederates out of Chattanooga in the region along the Chickamauga River in northwest Georgia and southeastern Tennessee. With the Confederates in hot pursuit, young John Clem — one of 10,000 Soldiers younger than 18 who served in the Union Army — was separated from a fleeing group and could hear a horse approaching from behind.

“Drop that gun,” barked the Confederate officer atop the horse before demanding Clem’s surrender.

Clem calmly turned around and raised his rifle. He quickly shot the colonel off his horse before sprinting back to the safety of Union lines. The act was the culmination of a series of impressive feats showcased by the drummer boy of the 22nd Michigan Infantry. During the two-day Battle of Chickamauga, Clem was said to have ridden an artillery caisson to the front and wielded a musket trimmed to his size to fight Confederate troops in hand-to-hand combat. Despite losing the battle, Union officers promoted Clem to the rank of sergeant, making him the youngest Soldier to be a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army.

Though newspaper articles of the time reported Clem’s actions during the battle, there are no Confederate records of a colonel being wounded. Nonetheless, Clem was later decorated for his actions by then-Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, who would go on to become chief justice of the United States.

A month after the Battle of Chickamauga, Clem was captured by Confederate cavalrymen in Georgia. Confederate newspapers used his age for propaganda purposes, illustrating how desperate the Yankee cause was “when they have to send their babies out to fight us.” Clem returned to the Union Army through a prisoner exchange and fought with the Army of the Cumberland until he was discharged in September 1864.

Clem was born Aug. 13, 1851, with the surname Klem in Newark, Ohio. He ran away from home at age 9 after the death of his mother. Not much is known about Clem’s actions between then and the time he was allowed to enlist in the 22nd Michigan in 1863, though he was reportedly allowed to tag along with the unit when it was mustered into service in August 1862. A popular Civil War song, “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh” by William S. Hays, was written for Harpers Weekly after the Battle of Chickamauga. It was reportedly inspired by Clem.

After the Civil War, Clem graduated high school in 1870 in Ohio. A year later, after failing the entrance exam to the United States Military Academy, he was appointed second lieutenant in the 24th Infantry Regiment by President Ulysses S. Grant. Clem was promoted to first lieutenant in 1874.

In 1875, Clem successfully completed artillery school at Fort Monroe, Va., and was sent to the Quartermaster Department, where he was promoted to captain in 1882. He spent five years as chief quartermaster at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, before retiring in August 1915 at age 64 and after 45 years of service. As was customary for American Civil War veterans who retired at the rank of colonel, Clem was promoted to brigadier general. Clem was the last Civil War veteran to serve in the U.S. Army. On Aug. 29, 1916, he was promoted to the rank of major general while on the retired list.

Clem married twice. His first marriage, with Anita Rosetta French, came in 1875. After her death in 1899, Clem married Bessie Sullivan in 1903. The couple had three children. Clem died in San Antonio on May 13, 1937. He was 85. The youngest NCO in the history of the Army is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

WCAP boxing coach says success is possible through good leadership

NCO Journal

As a troubled youth, Staff Sgt. Joe Guzman says leaders and mentors changed his life. And now, after 16 years in the Army, he is changing the lives of others.

That’s clearly evident in his current role as assistant coach for the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program boxing team at Fort Carson, Colo., where since 2008 he has helped mold elite Soldier-athletes vying for a berth on the U.S. Olympic team. The task comes after his own five-year stint as a Soldier-athlete in which his work ethic and prowess inside the ring earned him a spot as one of the WCAP boxing team’s captains.

But it wasn’t always easy for Guzman.

“I’m that story of the young Mexican kid who was doing all the wrong things,” Guzman said after a recent morning workout at the WCAP boxing facility. “It’s not how all Mexican or Hispanic kids who join the Army get here. But that was my way out. Sixteen years later, here I am.”

Guzman is a shining example of how Hispanics and other minorities can live out their dreams in the Army. As the nation celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month — from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 — he hopes his story can inspire youngsters of all races and backgrounds to forge ahead in the chase of their aspirations even when the obstacles in front of them seem insurmountable. The biggest factor in overcoming those hardships, Guzman says, is heeding the knowledge and advice of leaders be they in the Army, in schools, in churches or at home.

Staff Sgt. Joe Guzman, from left, Spc. Alex Love, Spc. Rianna Rios and Staff Sgt. Charles Leverette. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program)
Staff Sgt. Joe Guzman, from left, Spc. Alex Love, Spc. Rianna Rios and Staff Sgt. Charles Leverette. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program)

“We work with recruiters throughout the United States,” Guzman said. “I go to different high schools to give talks. I might be talking to a school of 3,000 people and I guarantee you there’s a handful of Hispanics, boys and girls, in there. I tell them the same story. I tell them, ‘Listen, I’m a perfect example that if you toe the line, you stay disciplined, you stay consistent, you finish school, do all the right things, you can get to your dream.’”

Overcoming obstacles

The annals of U.S. Army history are laden with significant contributions by Hispanics dating back to the Revolutionary War. Today, about 20 percent of the force — both enlisted and officer ranks — are Soldiers with a Hispanic background, according to U.S. Census Bureau data for fiscal year 2013.

Nationally, the Hispanic population in the decade before 2010 grew 43 percent, compared with 10 percent overall population growth. That makes for roughly 54 million people in the country who identify as Hispanic. About one in four of those — 23.5 percent, according to Pew Research Center data — live in poverty. Guzman grew up as part of that statistic.

The Eloy, Ariz., native was one of six children living with a single mother. It was easy for him to run afoul of stated rules and, with limited supervision, he took advantage of it.

“I was one of those juveniles out there getting in trouble,” Guzman said. “I was doing all the wrong things, hanging out with the bad crowd. I was doing whatever I wanted, and that was the wrong answer.”

His mischievous ways were curtailed at age 12 after a chance meeting with a neighborhood kid.

“I remember being at my friend’s house,” Guzman said. “It was a hot summer day. We were just sitting there and a little kid came by. He said, ‘Hey my dad’s starting a boxing club. You guys want to try it?’ I said, ‘I’ll try it, I’ll do it. I’m not doing anything else.’ From that day I started working out at the trailer park on the front porch, punching his dad’s hands, learning the combinations, jump-roping, shadow boxing. I moved from there to the city when it opened up its own gym. Then from that to a bigger gym where we were able to put in a boxing ring. From there to the fire station.”

Guzman took part in the practice of pugilism off and on until he was 18. Although at the time he didn’t think it would define his life, he did credit it with keeping him from veering too far off course.

“I boxed off and on from 12 to 18,” Guzman said. “It kept me from getting too out of hand.”

A fighter turned warfighter

Eventually Guzman had an epiphany. He watched as friends and acquaintances succumbed to the perils of drugs and violence. Some of them were strung out. Others were starting to serve prison sentences. Guzman didn’t want any part of it.

“I said to myself, ‘You know what? That’s not what I want,’” Guzman said. “I didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of some of my friends.”

Guzman said stories from a friend who joined the Navy and advice from his mentors persuaded him to join the Army upon graduating from high school. He says it was this guidance that shaped his outlook on the importance of good leadership, a notion he would eventually adopt and exemplify.

“I was fortunate enough to always have good mentors,” Guzman said. “I had teachers, some of my mother’s friends, police officers, guidance counselors — they saw something good in me. They always talked to me and always gave me good advice.”

Guzman didn’t have a phone number for the Army but knew the toll-free number for the Navy.

“I remember the commercial — 1-800-GO-NAVY,” he said. “So I’m talking to a Navy recruiter and he says, ‘Man, why you calling the Navy?’ But he had a good friend who was an Army recruiter. So he gave me his number and next thing I know he’s knocking on my door.”

Joining WCAP

Guzman completed basic training at Fort Knox, Ky., and was a 19D — cavalry scout —stationed at Fort Polk, La., before earning his sergeant stripes and deploying to Iraq in 2004.

While in Iraq, Guzman rekindled an interest in the sport of his boyhood and was amazed that there was a place in the Army where he could continue to partake in it.

“I read about the WCAP program in a Soldiers magazine while I was in Iraq,” Guzman said. “I was like, ‘Wow!’ When I saw that, I familiarized myself with the program and I kept following it. There’s articles in there like every other month.”

Then, fortuitously, Guzman received orders to Fort Carson. While signing in at the welcome center, he asked a fellow Soldier on duty if he had heard of WCAP.

“He chuckled,” Guzman said. “And he said, ‘Man, I just left the program.’ So he gave me a coach’s phone number and I called.”

The coach in question was Staff Sgt. Charles Leverette. Leverette is the current WCAP head boxing coach and was then an assistant coach under Staff Sgt. Basheer Abdullah, a four-time U.S. Olympic Boxing coach.

“He told me a little about his background so we invited him in to spar,” Leverette said. “He showed us something.”

After dispatching the team’s super heavyweight in sparring, WCAP coaches drafted a memorandum to have Guzman released from his unit and attached to the post boxing team where, if he found success, he could earn a spot with the WCAP team. Guzman didn’t disappoint. In his first year as an Army boxer, he won the All-Army competition and made it to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Nationals in the heavyweight division. An invitation to WCAP soon followed, and Guzman spent the next four years finding success in the ring. Despite being undersized for the weight class at 5-foot-10 and 218 pounds, Guzman gave taller fighters — including 6-foot-7 Deontay Wilder, the current WBC world heavyweight champion — problems with his aggressive, come-forward style.

Guzman became a three-time All Armed Forces champion and won a silver medal at the 2007 World Military Championships. He qualified for the Olympic Trials in 2008, but his career was cut short by a knee injury.

“I remember we were running and I felt something pop,” Guzman said. “I had a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and MCL (medial collateral ligament). I’ve had a couple shoulder surgeries, too. I’m one of those athletes that’s smart and knew when to walk away.”

By 2008, Guzman was a two-year staff sergeant and at a crossroads. But Abdullah gave him a chance at something that would allow him to become the figure he had once relied on for advice and guidance.

“Coach Abdullah saw something in me,” Guzman said. “He gave me a chance. He allowed me to come in and coach.”

A rewarding transition

Though Guzman was overjoyed to still have a hand in his beloved sport, he struggled with his leadership role over the fighters he was only recently flinging fists with.

“It was easy transitioning to coaching, but it took me about a year to make that transition,” Guzman said. “I remember the day I was selected to coach. Then, about two weeks later, the athletes were still calling me, ‘Guz,’ or, ‘Hey, G.’ Coach Abdullah called me in, and I already knew where he was going. I stopped him and I said, ‘Coach, I got it.’ So I got the whole team together, formed them up and I broke it down to them. I said, ‘It’s a struggle for me, too. I’m still trying to get myself together, too. It’s no longer G, it’s no longer Guz — it’s coach.’ That was hard for me. I was stuttering, I was nervous.”

Staff Sgt. Joe Guzman helps Spc. Alex Love warm up before a fight at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program)
Staff Sgt. Joe Guzman helps Spc. Alex Love warm up before a fight at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program)

But since then, Guzman has been unshakable. He has proven his mettle as a molder of fighters and remained on the staff when Leverette took the helm as head coach after Abdullah’s departure.

“Everybody’s got to have their offensive coordinator,” Leverette said. “You, alone, can’t do it all. He’s my offensive coordinator. This program might be good but it wouldn’t be great like it is now without him. He’s definitely been that right-hand man. I don’t mind giving him the opportunities that he’s been getting because he’s right there, he’s got that Olympic caliber. He’s on the Olympic level with the coaches.”

That was no more evident than in 2012 when Guzman was named to the staff of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.

“It was big. I was proud of myself,” Guzman said. “I started coaching in November 2008. I had only been coaching four years, and I got selected to the biggest stage in amateur boxing. I wasn’t a credentialed coach, but I was a trainer. I was still part of the staff. I was definitely proud of myself.”

Now, as the 2016 Olympics inch closer and as Leverette nears retirement, Guzman is poised to take over the program that has helped him live out his dream.

“Coach Lev and I have talked. He’s told me I’m next,” Guzman said. “I’m ready. I feel confident. If they say, ‘Hey, it’s your time.’ Then I’ll go.”

But whether or not his name is called, Guzman is happy to serve the program in any facet. He said he doesn’t crave the limelight. He merely wants to guide his fighters toward success the same way his mentors did when he was younger.

One of those is Spc. Alex Love. Love just missed making the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Since then, she has been racking up wins as she prepares for a run at the 2016 team. Guzman traveled with her to the 2014 World Boxing Championships in Jeju City, South Korea.

“Coach Guz is great,” Love said. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to get the best out of us.”

That effort being put on display is plenty satisfying for Guzman.

“I’ve got the athletes up front, and I’m way behind,” Guzman said. “I’m just doing my job. My reward is their success. When I see them on a medal podium and I hear my national anthem being played, that’s my success.

“But it’s a struggle. When you’re making weight you’ve got to cut out a lot of stuff. You’ve got to live right, eat right, stay disciplined. That goes into being a Soldier. All of these athletes are mentally and physically strong. If this is what you want to do, then you have to make sacrifices. Our main mission in the World Class Athlete Program is to make the Olympics. Everything is said to them at the beginning; they know what’s coming. It’s different for different athletes, but we make the atmosphere here to help them succeed.”

Great leadership

Though Guzman delights in the chance to be a leader in the gym, he concedes it’s important to be a leader in other capacities, particularly as an NCO.

“I remember when I first came in the Army, I was cutting a lot of grass and doing police calls. That’s not what I signed up for,” Guzman said. “Then I made my stripes and everything changed. I want to be a good sharp leader because your Soldiers under you, they look at you. If you’re doing the wrong thing, then obviously you’re setting them up for failure because they’re going to do it, too.”

He said his time in a combat MOS showed him the importance of reading manuals and taking drills seriously. It’s just as important to follow that notion in WCAP despite the perception that the program merely entails heightened physical training.

“Sometimes we have athletes that come out of basic training so it’s very important to have NCOs here who create that type of good leadership,” Guzman said. “Everyone’s different. Everyone has their own style. But we all put our heads together and lead us in the same direction. It’s important for these young Soldiers to read their manuals, stay up on their soldiering. We put that together for them because boxing won’t last forever. You might get hurt, you might have to leave. So we don’t want to set you up for failure when you leave here, go to another unit and you don’t know anything. They’ll say, ‘Where did you come from? Oh, WCAP?’ We don’t want that. So it’s not just boxing, it’s all the sports. When I say that, I’m speaking for all the sports. That’s how we work.”

That constant work at leadership is Guzman’s way of giving back and showing his appreciation for the leadership figures that prodded him to not give up on himself at a time when he needed it most. That is why he has embraced it and always has it on his mind in the ring, on post and in the schools he visits. He knows there might be a handful of people listening to him who might be looking for that snippet of advice to heed.

‘The big thing to me is telling them that no matter how bad it seems, you just follow your dream,” Guzman said. “Sometimes it might be challenging. Sometimes it might take saying, ‘Hey, you know what, I can’t hang out with you guys anymore.’ It might take you moving on and joining the military. That was my way out. I was fortunate to have the mentors that never gave up even though I was in trouble, doing all the bad things and known as this negative kid. These mentors I had, they saw something in me and they never gave up on me. So I tell these kids to follow their dreams. Obstacles get thrown at you. That’s life. But what are you going to do? Are you just going to stop, give up, turn around, go back and keep doing the same thing? Or are you just going to bum rush that thing and continue on toward your goals?”

Friedrich von Steuben: A closer look at the ‘father’ of the NCO Corps

NCO Journal

The Army’s 239-year history is laden with momentous battles and monumental figures.

But perhaps no personality had as great an impact on that story than the man called in to help start it — Friedrich von Steuben.

Steuben’s portrait doesn’t grace any currency. His name may not evoke the same familiarity as Washington, Lincoln or Kennedy. He doesn’t have a granite tribute brimming with tourists on the National Mall. But his contribution to the annals of the Army — and the United States — is astonishing.

Many historians have deemed Steuben the “father of the American military” for his role in building Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army from a bedraggled bunch to a regimented, disciplined force that went toe-to-toe with the British on battlefields in Monmouth, Stony Point and Yorktown en route to American independence. While his military experience before the Revolutionary War as a Prussian officer was largely embellished, Steuben’s guidance upon his arrival at Valley Forge, Pa., on Feb. 23, 1778, led to major changes, some of which pervade throughout the Army to the present day. He trained Soldiers in the use of the bayonet. He established standards for camp layouts and sanitation. But Steuben’s biggest gift to the Army was the creation of the American noncommissioned officer.

“He said that the sergeant was the most important soldier in the Army,” said William Troppman, a historian and interpretive ranger at Valley Forge National Historical Park. “He shared his knowledge, and he believed the best men should teach it.”

Steuben hand-picked 150 to 200 men at Valley Forge to learn his Prussian drill techniques. His drill manuals — the original “Blue Books” — were written in French and translated into English by Alexander Hamilton and Nathanael Greene. The trained NCOs then drilled the thousands of other Continental Soldiers camped at Valley Forge throughout the course of four months. This model of efficiency helped lead America to independence and laid the foundation of training that the Army continues to this day.

As such, you won’t find many NCOs who make it through their Army careers without hearing the name Friedrich von Steuben. That NCOs are referred to as the “Backbone of the Army” is a testament to his diligent toils during the Revolutionary War.

Here are the seven things all NCOs should know about Steuben’s contribution to American independence and the formation of the NCO Corps:

1. What’s in a name

The man who would help the Continental Army shift the direction of the Revolutionary War was christened Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben on Sept. 24, 1730, in Magdeburg, Prussia, about 80 miles southwest of Berlin.

The verbose name paid tribute to the exalted men who stood witness as Steuben’s godfathers: Ludolf von Luderitz, royal forester in Magdeburg; Gerhard Cornelius von Walrave, colonel of artillery and a Catholic of Dutch birth who would become the highest-ranking engineer officer in the entire Prussian army; and Augustin von Steuben, the younger Steuben’s paternal grandfather.

A fourth sponsor wasn’t present, but his name became the one that Steuben was most commonly known by. That man was Friedrich Wilhelm I, king of Prussia. His agreement to be listed as a godfather was a testament to the standing of the Steuben family in the eyes of the Hohenzollern dynasty, which ruled the land that would eventually become Germany from 1415 to 1918.

2. A military life; a false baron

Steuben was born Sept. 17, 1730, near Magdeberg to Wilhelm August von Steuben and his wife, Elizabeth von Jagvodin. The elder Steuben, a captain in the Prussian military’s engineering arm, was ordered to Russia by King Friedrich I before his son’s first birthday to help rebuild the army of Czarina Anna Ioannovna for their efforts in the War of Polish Succession (1733–1735) and the Russian-Turkish War (1735–1739).

The family returned to Prussia in 1740 with the younger Steuben ready to take on a military life. He became an officer in the Prussian military at age 16 and was aide-de-camp to King Frederick the Great, the son of Friedrich Wilhelm I, during the Seven Years War.

In 1762, the army was reduced in size, leaving Steuben to take on jobs intermittently. In 1769, Steuben began using the title of baron, based on a false family history prepared by his father, and spent most of the next eight years looking for work.

3. A chance meeting; a damaging accusation

While in Karlsruhe, Germany, in May 1777, Steuben learned about the political challenges unfolding for Britain in America from Peter Burdett. Burdett was a scout working for America’s commissioner in Paris, Benjamin Franklin, who was looking for European military officers to whip the colonies’ upstart militias into a real army.

Though Burdett became quickly enthralled by Steuben’s military background, Franklin wasn’t as enthused upon meeting Steuben in Paris on June 25, 1777. But fellow American commissioner Silas Deane was encouraged by Steuben’s potential. Steuben’s case was aided further by a glowing recommendation from Claude Louis, Comte de St. Germain, the French minister of war.

The initial effort to get Steuben to America faltered when Franklin balked at paying for Steuben’s travel. Steuben stomped out of Paris with news that an officer’s commission awaited him at the Margrave of Baden in Karlsruhe. But what Steuben found waiting for him were allegations that he engaged in improper relationships while under the service of Prince Josef Friedrich Wilhelm of Hohenzollern-Hechingen. The allegations were never proven, but Steuben knew they would stymie his chances at an officer’s position in Europe. His prospects were bleak enough to send him back to Paris and onto a ship bound for America in September 1777.

Steuben carried letters written by Franklin, Deane and others that deliberately inflated his rank and experience with the understanding that he would initially serve as a volunteer without rank and pay — one claimed he was a “Lieutenant General in the Prussian army.” The group hoped these letters would persuade Washington and the Continental Congress to allow Steuben to aid the American cause.

4. From Portsmouth to Valley Forge

Steuben made landfall at Portsmouth, N.H., in December 1777. He went before the Continental Congress on Feb. 5, 1778, in York, Pa., where it conducted business after its ouster from Philadelphia. Congress accepted Steuben’s services and sent him to work under the command of Washington.

Steuben reached Valley Forge on Feb. 23 and quickly impressed Washington, who commissioned Steuben with the rank of inspector general and asked him to oversee the training of the army.

“When he arrived (at Valley Forge), he conducted a tour of inspection of the encampment grounds,” Troppman said. “He came up with a plan for the organization of the Army under one system. Gen. Washington knew that there needed to be a thorough reorganization or overhaul of the Army, but things weren’t quiet enough for a long time in order to do that. In the winter and spring of 1778, the enemy is quiet enough — or things are quiet enough in that area — that they could conduct a thorough plan.”

5. The model company

In March 1778, Steuben came up with a plan to form what he called a model company. He selected 180 to 200 Soldiers and drilled them under a system of infantry drill.

The training was meticulous and was hindered by a language barrier; Steuben didn’t speak English. Instead, his daily drill instructions were written in French and were translated into English by his assistants. In the drills, Soldiers learned how to properly handle a musket, how to maneuver on the battlefield and scores of other lessons.

This model company then drilled other Soldiers in the regiments. Those Soldiers trained the brigade, then the division level and so on. Troppman said Steuben’s motivational techniques were “something to behold.”

“He gave the men more and more pride in what they were doing,” Troppman said.

The training culminated with a grand display May 6, 1778. Word of the colonies’ alliance with France had reached Valley Forge, and the camp hosted a celebration to mark the moment and to show off the work of Steuben. That day, officers and civilians witnessed thousands of American Soldiers march up the parade grounds to the signal guns of 13 artillery pieces. The Soldiers conducted mock battles, worked the flanks and rolled up artillery. The end of their demonstration featured a feu de joie, a fire of joy, in celebration of the alliance with France.

6. The Blue Book

When Steuben needed a way to spread his training approach, he wrote the Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States. The manual, which was completed in 1779, is known as the Blue Book and served as the Army’s standard training tome into the 19th century.

More importantly, the manual offered lessons and knowledge for Soldiers in leadership positions.

The Blue Book remained the official guide to military training and maneuvers until it was replaced in 1812. Many of Von Steuben's writings are still in use in today's manuals, such as FM 3-21.5 Drill and Ceremony. (photo courtesy of Army News Service)
The Blue Book remained the official guide to military training and maneuvers until it was replaced in 1812. Many of Von Steuben’s writings are still in use in today’s manuals, such as FM 3-21.5 Drill and Ceremony.
(photo courtesy of Army News Service)

“His major impact during the war was instilling a degree of professionalism into Washington’s citizen-soldier army,” said Kennedy R. Hickman, a museum professional and historian who writes about military history for “While much of the attention on Steuben’s work at Valley Forge focuses on his efforts to teach proper military skills and drill, it should be noted that he also imparted basic knowledge, such as where latrines should be located and how camps should be constructed. This type of instruction was important for reducing disease and improving the overall health of the army.”

Many of Steuben’s writings are still in use in today’s manuals, such as FM 3-21.5, Drill and Ceremony. The usefulness of the Blue Book led to the publication of the first official Noncommissioned Officer Guide in 1904. The latest edition of the guide, FM 7-22.7, was published in December 2002 and provides important information, such as the history of the NCO Corps, the importance of NCO professional development and the roles of the NCO.

Yet at their core, the duties and responsibilities of NCOs in 1779 have largely remained the same to this day.

7. Later years

Steuben held field command in Virginia in 1780 but struggled in this post because of the unreliability of the militias that were in his command.

After the war, Steuben hoped to return to a profitable station in Europe, but to no avail. He settled in New York City but had severe financial issues when Congress initially denied his pension, which was ultimately granted in 1790.

Four years later, Steuben moved to Remsen, Oneida County, N.Y., to live on land given to him for his service. He died there Nov. 28, 1794. Steuben’s tomb monument sits on the site, which is now the Steuben Memorial State Historic Site, a state park on the National Register of Historic Places since 2009.

Today, apart from his military contributions, Steuben’s legacy is also celebrated nationwide through Von Steuben Day, a German-American event traditionally celebrated in mid-September. The Chicago version of the event was famously incorporated into the 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Baron von Steuben drilling American recruits at Valley Forge in 1778, painted by Edwin Austin Abbey. (Image courtesy of Army News Service)
Baron von Steuben drilling American recruits at Valley Forge in 1778, painted by Edwin Austin Abbey. (Image courtesy of Army News Service)

Shake-up in promotion, NCOPD policy a ‘STEP’ in right direction

NCO Journal

The path to promotion in the Army’s Noncommissioned Officer Corps has been reshaped as the Army has rolled out its initiative to systematically realign the structure of its “backbone.”

Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh recently signed Army Directive 2015-31, which affects Soldiers vying for promotion to the ranks of sergeant through sergeant first class.

The change in the system shifted the synchronization of the noncommissioned officer professional development system and promotion eligibility requirements as part of the Army’s Select, Train, Educate and Promote (STEP) program.

“Under STEP, NCOs will have to meet Army standards for the knowledge, skills and attributes for the grade they wish to hold, before they will be promoted,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.

“For years, that wasn’t the case,” said the 15th sergeant major of the Army. “During the height of the deployment years, NCOs could advance with no additional primary military education.

“Under this realignment, we are reaffirming that America’s sons and daughters are being trained and mentored by men and women with quantifiable standards of knowledge, skills and attributes associated with the grade and position they hold,” he said.

Lessons learned

The change was prompted by the NCO 2020 survey, which was compiled from NCOs throughout the NCO Corps and validated during subsequent studies by the Center for Army Leadership Annual Survey of Army Leadership; and the Research and Development Corporation.

“We learned … that a more rigorous and effective system is needed for developing NCOs today — not based on a desire to separate from past traditions — but instead based on getting back to a focus on building a competent and professional NCO Corps,” said Sgt. Maj. James Thomson, the sergeant major for the Institute for Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

According to Thomson, four key roles and competencies of the NCO, both now and in the future, will be to lead by example; train from experience; enforce and maintain standards; and take care of Soldiers, their families and equipment.

“Until now,” Thomson said, “development of NCOs focused on leveraging their experiences in the operational realm and providing individuals with exposure to technical training in the institution.

“Now, following a long period of war and deployments, Soldiers can benefit greatly from a revitalized set of processes designed to shape their professional growth and optimized performance,” he said.


The change in the promotion system will have a ripple effect on how Soldiers are enrolled in NCOPD schools.

“Under the STEP career model,” Thomson said, “HRC will [send only] those selected for promotion to sergeant first class to attend SLC. So the scheduling is going to be, when the E7 list comes out, HRC is going to schedule all those [Soldiers] to go to school.

“Every month, when they get the new list from the E6 board,” he said, “those folks will be scheduled to go to school. We actually think that we’ll gain efficiencies in our school scheduling and attendance processes.”

Recently promoted Sgt. Felipe Zamora, a paratrooper assigned to the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, passes through the archway, symbolizing his induction in to the noncommissioned officer corps during an induction ceremony Aug. 27 on Fort Bragg, N.C. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)
Recently promoted Sgt. Felipe Zamora, a paratrooper assigned to the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, passes through the archway, symbolizing his induction in to the noncommissioned officer corps during an induction ceremony Aug. 27 on Fort Bragg, N.C. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull)

There will be no new additions to school backlogs as of Jan. 1. because Soldiers will not be scheduled to attend school if they are not in a promotable status, Thomson said. However, there will be a backlog for Soldiers who have not attended schools that will be required for their rank.

“There are some staff sergeants today who have not been to ALC,” Thomson said. “After [Jan. 1], they will be in what we call the ‘legacy backlog.’

“We are going to give every one of those [Soldiers] in that legacy backlog one opportunity to complete their [Professional Military Education],” he said. “If they don’t complete it, if they don’t take that opportunity, they will not have an opportunity to go again, nor will they be competitive for any future promotions.”

The realignment will serve as a potential promotion opportunity for Soldiers who are doing the things needed to qualify for promotion.

“As Soldiers choose not to attend their requisite schooling or meet the prerequisite standards for PME success like [the Army Physical Fitness Test] and height/weight,” Dailey said, “they are self-selecting to be removed from the promotion lists. This will allow those who are committed to the Army profession a chance to demonstrate initiative, and they will be the ones to get promoted.”

The STEP program is one of several ways the Army plans to improve its NCO Corps.

“There is more work to be done,” Dailey said, “including adding levels of PME and adding rigor to the course work in those classes, which also can lead to ultimately more college credits. With these and other advancements in the works, we are on a path to maintain the undisputed title of ‘The Most Highly Educated Enlisted Force in the World.’”

New requirements

Beginning Jan. 1, Soldiers competing for the rank of sergeant must be graduates of the Basic Leader Course and individuals competing for the rank of staff sergeant must be a graduates of the Advanced Leader Course in addition to meeting or exceeding the promotion point cut-off score, which is published monthly. Those who meet point requirements but have not completed school requisites will not be promoted, but will retain their promotable status.

Staff sergeants who are selected for promotion by the fiscal year 2016 Regular Army or Reserve sergeant first class selection board will be required to have completed Senior Leader Course to be fully eligible for promotion, regardless of their sequence number. Soldiers who are eligible by sequence number but have not completed SLC will retain their sequence number, but will not be selected for promotion until they have completed the course.

The realignment will also affect National Guard Soldiers. Those Soldiers selected for higher-grade positions but who have not completed the NCOPD requirements will have 24 months to complete the level of NCOPD required for promotion pin-on or they will be removed from the position that fill.

“One key line of effort for the [NCOPD] is a focus on ensuring that NCOs have exposure to the right types of education and broadening experiences as a part of their career life-cycle,” Thomson said. “Systematic changes to the way the Army trains and develops NCOs are also necessary to achieve strategic goals and objectives the Army has in mind for its operating concept in the future.

“NCOs must become more knowledgeable regarding their role within unified land operations, joint force planning, and the tenets of operational art,” he said.

Additional reading

To read the full text of Army Directive 2015-31, click here.