Teams featuring NCOs take Best Ranger, Best Sapper competitions

Army News Service

NCOs made up half the winning teams of both the Best Ranger and Best Sapper competitions earlier this month.

Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein, with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, competed with Capt. Robert Killian, from the Colorado Army National Guard, and the pair were named the Army’s best Rangers after the 60-hour crucible ended April 17 at Fort Benning, Georgia.

It was the first time in the competition’s 33-year history that it has been won by an Army National Guard team.

Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein navigates a water confidence course. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Edward Reagan)
Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein navigates a water confidence course. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Edward Reagan)

“It still really hasn’t totally sunk in yet,” Friedlein said after the awards ceremony. “I’m just really amazed. I can’t believe we did it after the three days of struggling and just constantly trying to chip away at first place, then taking the lead after night orienteering and losing it on the obstacle course, just fighting all the way to the end.”

Friedlein, whose team finished with 4,063 points, said he has never seen a competition so close, with only a 12-point difference between first and second place.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein, left, and Capt. Robert Killian, right cross the finish line of the 33rd annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition 2016 at Fort Benning, Ga. Friedlein and Killian were the first National Guard team ever to win the competition. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Edward Reagan)
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein, left, and Capt. Robert Killian, right cross the finish line of the 33rd annual David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition 2016 at Fort Benning, Ga. Friedlein and Killian were the first National Guard team ever to win the competition. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Edward Reagan)

The pair narrowly beat out 1st Sgt. David Floutier and Staff Sgt. Joshua Rolfes of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade.

In third place was the Maneuver Center of Excellence team of Capt. Michael Blanchard and Capt. Brian Slamkowski.

Events for this year’s competition included an unknown distance run, unknown distance swim, urban obstacle course, weighted litter carry, a stress shoot, nighttime ruck march under load, a written exam while fatigued, night land navigation, combat water survival obstacle course, the Darby Queen obstacle course, helocast and a final buddy run.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein scales a climbing wall. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Wooten)
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein scales a climbing wall. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Wooten)

“Everything was back-to-back,” Friedlein said. “The competition this year was designed really well. They gave you no time to recover and you just had to give everything and stay focused and prepare for the next event after you finished the one you were just on.”

The competition pace also meant no dwelling on any missteps along the way.

Capt. Robert Killian helps Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein exit Victory Pond after  swimming to their next event. (U.S. Airforce photo by Senior Airman Keith James)
Capt. Robert Killian helps Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein exit Victory Pond after swimming to their next event. (U.S. Airforce photo by Senior Airman Keith James)

“If you made any mistakes, just let them go and say ‘Alright, it’s done, can’t go change it,” Friedlein said.

Going into the first night’s ruck march, Friedlein said he and Killian knew they had to push hard.

“We already knew we were kind of behind in points, not exactly where we wanted to be,” he said. “We didn’t want a real big point gap, so Capt. Killian really pushed me.”

That meant more than just verbal encouragement, Friedlein said.

“When I say he pushed me, he physically pushed me on a lot of the uphills just to get me going faster so we could close the gap.”

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein ties knots during the Best Ranger Competition (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Wooten)
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein ties knots during the Best Ranger Competition (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Wooten)

By the end of the first day more than half of the 50 teams that began were cut. Medical problems forced two teams out and competition officials dropped the teams with the 25 lowest scores.

As the competition wore on, Killian and Friedlein continued to bounce around the top three spots, with mistakes on individual events preventing them from definitively jumping ahead.

“The key thing is making the least amount of mistakes as possible,” Killian said. “We just left it, went on to the next one and said, ‘We’re just going to have to push harder now and make up for any shortcomings that we had.’ ”

Both Killian and Friedlein continued to push each other until the climactic end. Going into the final event — a buddy run — Friedlein said the pair knew they had a 3-point deficit to make up. Killian kept him focused on the way ahead.

“I wasn’t allowed to look back to see where the other guys were. He just kept lying to me, telling me they were right there,” he said. “It wasn’t until [the final turn] that he put his hand on my head and said ‘Hey, man, we’re about to win the pistols,’ and I was thinking, ‘How are you saying that if they’re right behind us?’ ”

It was a moment of supreme accomplishment for Friedlein.

“The whole three days, trying to keep up with Capt. Killian was a struggle,” he said.

The struggle paid off. Patrick Murphy, the acting secretary of the Army, presented the first-place awards to Killian and Friedlein.

Capt. Robert Killian, right, and Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein move to the next firing range during the Stress Shoot event at the 2016 all-Army Best Ranger Competition. (Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Darron Salzer)
Capt. Robert Killian, right, and Staff Sgt. Erich Friedlein move to the next firing range during the Stress Shoot event at the 2016 all-Army Best Ranger Competition. (Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Darron Salzer)

“[The competitors] are an inspiration to all of us in our military, all one million Army Soldiers,” Murphy said. “The fact that we had a team from the [Army] National Guard — Colorado and Pennsylvania — team up and win that competition is pretty special.”

After the ceremony, Killian said he’ll be back to compete again. He promised a former teammate, who is now going through the Special Forces qualification course, that the two would compete as a team again.

“There hasn’t been a Green Beret team to win it in a while, so I have a different reason to come back,” Killian said.

Friedlein had a more immediate goal.

“I’m going to eat a big burger and probably go home and take a nap,” he said.

As the Ranger competition closed at Fort Benning, the Best Sapper Competition got underway April 18-21 at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Sgt. 1st Class David Rizo controls a Talon mobile robot during the Best Sapper Competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)
Sgt. 1st Class David Rizo controls a Talon mobile robot during the Best Sapper Competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)

Forty-eight pairs of the Army’s toughest engineers from Hawaii to Italy showed up for the 10th annual competition, but hoisting the trophy on the third day was the team of Sgt. 1st Class David Rizo, a platoon sergeant with the 37th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, and Capt. Jason Bahmer, a paratrooper with 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

Capt. William Whitfield and Capt. Michael McLaughlin, both from the 1st Cavalry Division’s 3rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, placed second. First Sgt. Jose Casillas and Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Shay of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion placed third.

The 82nd Airborne Division team of Capt. Jason Bahmer and Sgt. 1st Class David Rizo hold up the first place trophy after winning the Best Sapper Competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)
The 82nd Airborne Division team of Capt. Jason Bahmer and Sgt. 1st Class David Rizo hold up the first place trophy after winning the Best Sapper Competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)

“I’m ecstatic,” Rizo said after the competition. “We put a lot into this and were really confident going into the events with the chance to come out and represent the 82nd Airborne Division.”

The three-day competition consisted of 42 events, more than 50 miles of distance covered and only 50 hours to complete it.

The events tested Sappers in technical and tactical skills and challenged their physical and mental strength.

Engineers moved all over Fort Leonard Wood on foot participating in a non-standard physical fitness test, a rappel tower, stress shoots, zip lines, door breaches, demolition charges, ingenuity tasks and the famous X-mile run that has been described as the Sapper Cross Fit games — a final event the 19 remaining teams experience before finally crossing through the red Sapper castle at the finish line.

Sgt. 1st Class David Rizo performs 135-pound thrusters during the Best Sapper Competition. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)
Sgt. 1st Class David Rizo performs 135-pound thrusters during the Best Sapper Competition. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)

“These guys are the best,” Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Green, command sergeant major of the 82nd Airborne Division, said of the division’s teams. “They’ve dedicated blood, sweat, and equity to come out [here], represent the division and show that they are the best of the best.”

Each day, a handful of teams were eliminated.

“We push the competitors to their mental and physical breaking points to see what they are made of,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Moore, an instructor at the Sapper Leader Course. “Teams that are strong will succeed and teams that are unprepared or fall behind will be cut.”

Master Sgt. Eric Prescott, of the 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, was the primary coach for the first- and third-place teams, who had been training for the event since January.

He says the teams conducted fitness training three times a day and trained in engineer skills throughout the week to ensure proficiency.

Capt. Jason Bahmer and Sgt. 1st Class David Rizo carry a 250-pound crate during the Best Sapper Competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)
Capt. Jason Bahmer and Sgt. 1st Class David Rizo carry a 250-pound crate during the Best Sapper Competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Anthony Hewitt)

He incorporated training events at Fort Bragg’s Pre-Ranger facilities, including multi-day events simulating the competition. The competition’s schedule and events are kept confidential from the public; coaches and candidates can only anticipate the events.

Moore said, “The tasks they are evaluated on differ from year to year so they don’t know what to expect.”

International armies embrace NCO development

 

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

The U.S. Army has long understood that developing noncommissioned officers is critical to maintaining a competitive advantage. Though not every nation has embraced NCO development, Army senior enlisted leaders with U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Army North and U.S. Army South continue to impart the message to partnering nations that empowering NCOs is the key to success.

Navy Fleet Master Chief Terrence Molidor, command senior enlisted leader for North American Aerospace Defense Command and USNORTHCOM, acknowledged the challenges in persuading some countries’ leaders that the empowerment of NCOs does not pose a threat to their jobs. Molidor, U.S. Army leaders and state partners gave updates about NCO development efforts during the second day of the International Training and Leader Development Symposium in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by Spc. James Seals/NCO Journal)
Navy Fleet Master Chief Terrence Molidor, command senior enlisted leader for North American Aerospace Defense Command and USNORTHCOM, acknowledges the challenges in persuading some countries’ leaders that the empowerment of NCOs does not pose a threat to their jobs. Molidor, U.S. Army leaders and state partners gave updates about NCO development efforts during the second day of the International Training and Leader Development Symposium in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)

“We have developed a regional strategy for NCO development with individual countries,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Olvera, senior enlisted advisor for Army South. “We never force NCO development because the country may not want it. It’s always done by, through and with [their cooperation], and it’s always at their request. In all of our cases, the foreigners have asked us to work with them to develop a more professional noncommissioned officer corps.”

U.S. and international senior enlisted leaders and State Partnership Program members focused on fostering international partnerships and NCO professional development when they gathered April 13 during the second day of the 2016 International Training and Leader Development Symposium in El Paso, Texas. U.S. military leaders and state partners gave updates about NCO development efforts within their areas of responsibility.

“One thing we have learned that’s kind of hard to do is we need to engage with most senior leadership on NCO development in Central and South America to get the real results,” said Navy Fleet Master Chief Terrence Molidor, command senior enlisted leader for North American Aerospace Defense Command and USNORTHCOM. “When that happens, it really gains a foothold and then our SPP partner nations start working on NCO development events.”

Empower the NCO

International senior enlisted leaders focused on fostering partnerships with their American counterparts at the symposium. (Photo by James Seals / NCO Journal)
International senior enlisted leaders focused on fostering partnerships with their American counterparts at the International Training and Leader Development Symposium. (Photo by James Seals / NCO Journal)

U.S. senior enlisted leaders acknowledged the challenges in persuading some countries’ leaders that the empowerment of NCOs does not necessarily pose a threat to their jobs.

“You have some differences between the very senior leadership and that mid-grade officer leadership,” said Command Sgt. Maj. William B. Zaiser, senior enlisted leader for USSOUTHCOM. “That mid-grade officer leadership feels a little more challenged by a more empowered NCO, where I think the senior leadership, through the experiences they have had working in the United States and with partner nations, see the value in it.”

“We are trying to crack the code with Mexico, to get them to realize that having a strong NCO corps not only makes their military stronger it makes them better,” Molidor said. “NCO development is not really a top priority in Mexico, whereas in the Bahamas it is a priority.”

Olvera said NCO development takes precedence at Army South.

“When I travel internationally with [Army South Commander] Maj. Gen. Clarence K.K. Chinn, we engage the other army commander,” Olvera said. “Chinn is always bringing up: ‘What are you doing to develop your leaders? You can influence them. Show them the way that we do it.’ Then, he often asks, ‘Are you developing noncommissioned officers? Here is my sergeant major who can talk about NCO development.’ It’s work.”

U.S. senior enlisted leaders also agreed that all NCO corps don’t have to be identical to the U.S. model.

“We have developed a regional strategy for NCO development with individual countries,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Olvera, senior enlisted advisor for Army South, during the International Training and Leader Development Symposium. (Photo by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)
“We have developed a regional strategy for NCO development with individual countries,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Olvera, senior enlisted advisor for Army South, during the International Training and Leader Development Symposium. (Photo by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)

“I think if there’s one thing we do wrong sometimes it’s that we think the only good NCO corps is the U.S. NCO Corps, so they all need to look like us,” Zaiser said. “One thing we have learned from our gatherings is that that is absolutely not true. We have El Salvador, which has its soldiers [maintaining order] in its streets in a semi-policing environment. That’s something Colombia has had to do for 30-plus years. Those different threats drive a different look of an NCO corps. Some are more aligned to being able to react to national disaster and humanitarian efforts. That’s a thing we learned early on: Don’t make this massive effort to try to make them look exactly like our corps.”

Warrant Officer 1 Anthony Lysight, force sergeant major of the Jamaica Defence Force, said his country’s NCO corps is similar to that of El Salvador and Colombia.

“In Jamaica, we have a system of NCOs that work starting from the roots,” Lysight said. “We are on the streets, assisting police to maintain law and order. We have the lowest NCO, the lance corporal, in charge of small teams. They go out and find the bad guys. It is a system that works.”

Lessons learned

U.S. senior enlisted leaders and state program partners agreed that they have learned a lot from working with partner nations.

“When we go down and do these exchange trainings, we are learning as much if not more than what we have imparted on our partners,” Zaiser said. “Probably one common thing they exhibit in addressing their threats is strict adherence to standards and discipline. Jamaica talked about that lance corporal walking down the street ─ he has to be a confident, disciplined noncommissioned officer who has not only the trust of his command but the trust of the population of that country. When we traveled in Central and South America, we learned that the Catholic church and military are the most respected institutions in the country.”

Held up as the textbook model for what “right looks like,” Colombia’s army has successfully developed its NCO corps through persistent engagement, said senior enlisted leaders for USSOUTHCOM and Army South. The country has been locked in a civil conflict against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for more than 50 years.

“To see where they are now is pretty incredible,” Zaiser said. “They are taking partner nation capacity and exporting it to other countries. It’s pretty much the end-state that you hope you get.”

Colombia is no doubt the example in the region and perhaps even elsewhere in terms of having a threat, defeating the threat and then exporting security expertise based on what they developed,” Olvera said.

Sgt. Maj. Henry Whistler Dulce Dulce, sergeant major of the Colombian army, said his nation’s leadership has learned many lessons fighting terrorist groups for the past 50 years.

“The important thing in this is the NCO corps has been the backbone of the victory of the Colombian army,” Dulce said. “The NCOs have been involved in every step in the fight against terrorism. Many years ago, the NCOs did not have the responsibility that they have now. But during the past years, NCO development has been a work in progress.”

Colombia’s army has also established a sergeant major academy and is inviting other countries from Central and South America into their schoolhouse to learn from them. Dulce said because of NCO development, all generals and colonels are asking to receive a sergeant major ─ a position that has become indispensable in the command of the Colombian armed forces.

Dulce believes the reason his army has been so successful in developing its NCO corps is because it has never deviated from the model.

“My main campaign during my time as sergeant major of the army was to make our NCOs proud to be an NCO and start to change the culture,” Dulce said. “That way, everyone understands their role. NCOs learn the role of the officer, NCO and soldier. Everybody understands their role and works together.”

U.S. senior enlisted leaders also spoke of the strides other countries have made in NCO development, including Brazil, El Salvador and Chile.

“Chile has a very professional, very structural army,” Olvera said. “Zaiser and I visited when they appointed Sgt. Maj. Julio Peña as the first sergeant major of their army. They essentially have a vision for the NCOs [which mirrors that of the U.S.] They have a structured self-development, some resident courses, some development courses throughout the ranks, so as one gets promoted they must attend a leader development course and then they get promoted. I was truly impressed.”

This Month in NCO History: April 14, 2004 — A running start on the long road back

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article included an incorrect image of Staff Sgt. Michael J. McNaughton. It has since been removed.

Staff Sgt. Michael J. McNaughton was met by a crisp breeze and an overcast sky when he stepped outside for a run the morning of April 14, 2004. The occasional drizzle magnified the chilly conditions. But the weather was not a deterrent. This run was 15 months in the making and McNaughton wasn’t going to disappoint his running partner — President George W. Bush.

McNaughton’s run took place after a private workout with the president at the White House. The pair ran a mile around the South Lawn. Bush did it on aching knees. McNaughton did it on a prosthetic leg.

President George W. Bush runs with U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. McNaughton on the South Lawn on April 14, 2004. The two met Jan. 17, 2003, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where McNaughton was recovering from wounds sustained in Afghanistan. The President wished McNaughton a speedy recovery so that they might run together in the future. (White House photo)
President George W. Bush runs with U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. McNaughton on the South Lawn on April 14, 2004. The two met Jan. 17, 2003, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where McNaughton was recovering from wounds sustained in Afghanistan. The President wished McNaughton a speedy recovery so that they might run together in the future. (White House photo)

McNaughton lost his right leg after he stepped on a land mine Jan. 9, 2003, near Bagram Air Base in the Parwan province of Afghanistan. McNaughton was part of a Louisiana National Guard mine-sweeping unit at the air base nearly 30 miles north of Kabul. That fateful morning, he learned his Soldiers would be sweeping a nearby field for trash burning. McNaughton emailed his wife before walking onto the field with a Polish officer to assess what the job would require. On the way back he triggered the explosive device and was sent hurtling into the air.

His right leg was gone and his left leg was severely injured. But McNaughton was alive. He was flown to Germany and then to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, then located in Washington, D.C., where he began an arduous road to recovery. Eight days into his stay, McNaughton met Bush during a visit by the president and first lady.

“I was on morphine,” McNaughton recalled in a video for the George W. Bush Presidential Center. “Once I saw him and his wife come in, it was pretty darn cool. He came over and kissed me on the forehead. Really nice, really nice to my wife. … We just started talking about what I was going to do. I just told him one day I was going to run again.”

McNaughton made the pledge despite not knowing about the extent of his injuries or how he would adjust to a prosthetic limb. Even so, he upped the ante on his bold claim.

“As a matter of fact,” McNaughton told Bush, “I’m going to outrun you.”

Bush told him he’d be glad to allow McNaughton to make good on his promise and pledged to keep in touch with the wounded Soldier until he became well enough to hit the pavement. McNaughton underwent a dozen surgeries and extensive rehabilitation throughout the following year. Ultimately he lost a piece of his left leg and two fingers as well as his right leg as a result of the blast. He had only been able to run on his newly fitted prosthetic leg for two weeks before he called the president the following spring.

After the visit, McNaughton said the president wished him well. He said it was an honor to spend time with the commander-in-chief and a moment he knew the future would be bright. Less than six months later, McNaughton ran his first 5-mile race. He ran as often as he could while he completed his Army career, leaving as a sergeant first class in 2007. He then began work with the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs. McNaughton eventually gave up running because of the discomfort, but he continued his athletic forays through cycling and parlayed that into a managerial stint with Ride 2 Recovery, a cycling-based veterans program. He resumed working with the Louisiana VA in 2011.

McNaughton is a native of Yonkers, New York. He originally enlisted in 1990, spending 10 years with the Army before deciding the toll of his absences on his family was too high. He left in December 2000 after spending time in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bosnia. He watched the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, unfold on television from his home in Denham Springs, Louisiana, and seethed. His ties to the New York area pulled at him and he joined the Louisiana National Guard in November. When he learned the Army needed volunteers to clear mines, he asked for the assignment without hesitation — it would change his life forever. But McNaughton’s resolve has never wavered, and it all started with that visit from the president.

“He can do other stuff with his time,” McNaughton said. “He was the president, so he can do million-dollar speeches but he’s taking the time to do this. It’s really good that he gives us the opportunity to see each other. We’ve all been through hell. Now, we just want to have a good time and enjoy ourselves.”

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

 

Enlisted leaders talk about shared goals, concerns in U.S., Europe, Africa

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

Enlisted leaders from the United States, Europe and Africa gathered in a hotel ballroom in El Paso, Texas, on April 13 to discuss shared goals, concerns and how they could help each other achieve better readiness.

The discussion was part of the first International Training and Leader Development Symposium, a three-day event in El Paso that brought together enlisted leaders from all over the world to foster international partnerships and professional NCO development.

Command Sgt. Maj. Darrin Bohn, command senior enlisted leader of United States Africa Command, started the discussion. He said a main concern for African NCOs is the often unbalanced level of education given to officers versus NCOs.

“Some of the countries that I deal with, and thankfully they are not in the room, but they default always to the officers,” Bohn said. “They send someone to the war college. Well, we can send somebody on a Mobile Training Team over there to train 60 noncommissioned officers at the same time for less money.”

Master Warrant Officer Dickson Owusu, the sergeant major of the Ghana, Africa, army, said one of the roadblocks to getting more NCO training in African countries is that NCO development and empowerment can be seen as a threat.

“That’s why I like to use the terms ‘roles and responsibilities’ instead of empowerment,” Bohn said in response to Owusu. “We need to convince the officers that our roles and responsibilities give them more time to plan the big things. We’ll get our soldiers there in the right uniform, with water and ammunition, ready to execute the mission.”

The senior enlisted leaders of four African countries – Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Liberia – took part in the symposium. The four shared their struggles in getting their officers to accept NCO involvement in decisions. Bohn encouraged them to continue to fight for NCO empowerment and let them know it’s not ever going to be easy.

“To be honest with you guys, even I struggle with my headquarters to get NCO involvement,” Bohn said. “Every day is a fight for me, as well. Every day is a fight to make sure the noncommissioned officer’s voice is being heard. I don’t always get my way, but at least I get my say. So it’s a fight all the time for me, too. I know what you guys are going through. Don’t think the struggle is just on the African continent. The struggle is still on the American continent, as well. So how do we make ourselves relevant? How do we interject in some of these things to get what’s best for our NCOs and soldiers?”

Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Sweezer, command sergeant major of the Joint Multinational Training Command in Grafenwoehr, Germany, gives a brief on the command to a group of senior enlisted leaders from Africa and Europe on April 13 in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by Spc. James Seals)
Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Sweezer, command sergeant major of the Joint Multinational Training Command in Grafenwoehr, Germany, gives a brief on the command to a group of senior enlisted leaders from Africa and Europe on April 13 in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by Spc. James Seals)

Command Sgt. Maj. Sheryl Lyon, the command sergeant major of U.S. Army Europe, said that joint training in Europe also includes talk about NCOs’ roles and responsibilities, but with the additional need to incorporate NATO doctrine.

“For U.S. Army Europe, we’re a little bit different because our partnerships have been going on for 70-plus years,” Lyon said. “State partnerships, at least some of them, have been going on for 25 years. They’re very well established. So there is a difference in the way we see things and the way AFRICOM sees things. Being well established helps us in that we can focus on other things.”

The State Partnership Program has established 70 partnerships in 76 countries, pairing state National Guard units with other nations’ armed forces. SPP partnerships with European countries started as early as 1993.

Both Lyon and Bohn stressed the importance of using Mobile Training Teams in the effort to educate and train noncommissioned officers in Europe and Africa.

“I advocate for MTTs,” Lyon said. “It works much better for a country. For one, it’s cheaper. You don’t have to pay for 40 students to come to an NCO Academy somewhere in the states or in Germany. It comes to you. It works much better to get them certified, able to instruct their own courses.”

After the discussion, Lyon said that the talks showed that NCOs around the world share common goals.

“One of the things I took away from the breakout sessions was that we face many of the same challenges in our NCO corps regardless of where we are from or how long we’ve had an NCO corps,” Lyon said. “Readiness is our number one priority, making training essential to success.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Gilpin, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Africa, noted that only four senior enlisted leaders, out of 54 countries in Africa, were represented at the symposium. He said the discussions were fruitful, but more participation will be a goal in the future.

“We were able to better communicate expectations, capabilities and ‎understanding of how we can strengthen our partnership and be more efficient,” Gilpin said. “That directly leads to readiness as we optimize personnel and resources.”

 

 

U.S. NCOs tackle new threats with help from allies in Pacific, Central commands

Read more about the Regionally Aligned Forces mission
By CLIFFORD KYLE JONES
NCO Journal

When senior enlisted leaders from the regions covered by the U.S. military’s Pacific and Central commands gathered two weeks ago during a breakout session of the sergeant major of the Army’s International Training and Leader Development Symposium, it didn’t take long before the conversation turned to the regions’ most pressing threat: the Islamic State.

USCENTCOM covers areas in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. USPACOM encompasses more than half of the world’s surface, including much of Asia. Worldwide, about 188,000 Soldiers from the active, Guard and Reserve components support combatant commands in more than 140 locations worldwide, and almost 60 percent of them are tied to Pacific or Central command.

A group of U.S. and international senior enlisted leaders listen during a breakout session on PACOM and CENTCOM at the inaugural International Training and Leader Development Symposium for enlisted leaders. (Photo by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)
A group of U.S. and international senior enlisted leaders listen during a breakout session on PACOM and CENTCOM at the inaugural International Training and Leader Development Symposium for enlisted leaders. (Photo by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)

Command Sgt. Maj. Ng Siak Ping, the sergeant major of Singapore’s army, noted that his small nation has been infiltrated by members of the Islamic State who travel through Indonesia and other nearby countries, requiring a shift in warfighting tactics.

Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Agueda, the operations sergeant major for USCENTCOM’s land component, U.S. Army Central, said, “Jordan is dealing with that right now, too.”

“Both Kazakhstan and Jordan have well-developed NCO corps,” he said. “They have academies and they work out very well. And as we make plans on how we help them train, the reality of the world is that the enemy has some say about what you train on. In Jordan, the priorities changed dramatically when the [Islamic State] and Syria situations started happening.

“So we started focusing more on border security,” Agueda said. “Also, they’re dealing with all the refugees, so from an intel aspect of who’s coming into their country, the priorities shifted dramatically.”

Chief Warrant Officer Mohammad Al-smadi, the sergeant major of Jordan’s army, agreed.

“Nowadays, you don’t know who is your enemy,” he said. “ISIS is not a country; ISIS is an idea. And the ideology can enter this room right now. They are supported from many countries all over the world. So we have to focus on different ways of training, and probably a better way of communication with security agencies in Jordan.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Bryant Lambert, the command sergeant major of USPACOM’s land component, U.S. Army Pacific, was one of the facilitators of a breakout session on PACOM and CENTCOM at the inaugural International Training and Leader Development Symposium for enlisted leaders. (Photo by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)
Command Sgt. Maj. Bryant Lambert, the command sergeant major of USPACOM’s land component, U.S. Army Pacific, was one of the facilitators of a breakout session on PACOM and CENTCOM at the inaugural International Training and Leader Development Symposium for enlisted leaders. (Photo by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)

Command Sgt. Maj. Bryant Lambert, the command sergeant major of USPACOM’s land component, U.S. Army Pacific, was one of the facilitators of the breakout session. Though he acknowledged the changing nature of the conflict armies around the world, he encouraged participants to focus on the areas NCOs can affect, including training and professional development, and how to best share information in those realms.

“Right now, we’re just trying to identify what are our roles as noncommissioned officers in our environment or region and what different ways we can have an effect,” Lambert said. “All our countries have multiple cultures within our militaries and within our societies. So it’s imperative that we understand each other’s culture before we engage each other, that we understand what the needs are, that we understand who has the lead in a particular country.”

The sergeant major of Singapore’s army noted that his soldiers interact closely with the armies of the Philippines, Brunei and especially Malaysia. Lambert said that if another partner nation wished to engage with Malaysia, for instance, officers and NCOs from that partner nation should speak with Singapore’s army before entering Malaysia or as soon as they arrive to find out as much as they can to help them be effective.

“Noncommissioned officers can only influence so much,” Lambert said. “We know that we have to look at policies and the ambassadors of particular nations. There’s a lot involved that we as noncommissioned officers, when we go and engage, that we must understand. We must understand lines of authority, we must understand policies, and we must understand executive agents.”

Agueda noted that before country plans can be developed effectively, some countries may require exposure to the role of NCOs from the United States and nations with similarly structured armies.

“I think when we talk about country plans and putting it in writing, especially in CENTCOM, it’s very important that command teams show up together and participate together because the role of the officer in those countries usually is what drives authorities and what happens.”

NCO roles and responsibilities are well-understood in Jordan, for instance, he said, “but other countries require a lot more layers.”

Jordan is considered an NCO success story in USCENTCOM for a number of reasons, but its decade-plus relationship with the Colorado National Guard as part of the U.S. State Partnership Program may have helped lay much of that groundwork.

Jordan is one of only five countries inside USCENTCOM that participates in the SPP and the only one from the area of the Mideast known as the Levant.

Worldwide, 70 nations have state National Guard partners, with the biggest concentrations — more than 20 each — in the U.S. military’s Europe and Southern commands.

With the SPP’s limited application in the USCENTCOM, Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher K. Greca, senior enlisted leader of the command, wondered whether the program should be re-evaluated.

Command Master Chief Mark W. Rudes, senior enlisted advisor to U.S. Pacific Command, which has eight nations with state partnerships, shared some of Greca’s concerns.

“There are elements of that state partnership that I don’t necessarily know are communicated clearly with our Title X forces, specifically Army Pacific having a good understanding of what goals and objectives” align with USARPAC and the theater campaign.

“There’s a lot of capacity, everybody wants to do good,” Rudes said. “But the problem with some of the efforts is that we all go in and either duplicate or we step on each other’s lines and it crisscrosses communication and we actually cause, indirectly, more harm than good.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Houten is the command sergeant major for CENTCOM’s joint force development and serves as the command’s senior enlisted National Guard advisor. Houten said that in the eight months he has been in his position, “I’ve seen some great stuff going on between Jordan and Colorado.”

But, he acknowledged, “whether or not those sync with the CENTCOM commander’s line of effort, I honestly couldn’t answer that. I know they have a large number of engagements in both Colorado and Jordan, but whether those line up? I couldn’t tell you.”

In his previous position at USSOUTHCOM, though, he was heavily involved in the state partnership between New Hampshire and El Salvador and said the combatant commander and the country teams worked closely together to coordinate their efforts and training.

If there are struggles in USCENTCOM or USPACOM, Houten said, “I think we need to get better at synchronizing the efforts, because I truly believe state partnership plays a critical role.”

The partnerships “have longevity, they have relationships, they’ve been in some countries – not necessarily CENTCOM – but some of those AORs, they’ve been in those countries long before Regionally Aligned Forces, long before we had a need to go in there,” he said.

Some U.S. Soldiers who first visited as sergeants or staff sergeants are now sergeants major and have been traveling to those partner countries for 20 years, Houten said.

“We should leverage that,” he said.

Warrant Officer Class 1 Mark Mortiboy, the equivalent of the sergeant major of the army for New Zealand, noted that his country and Australia work closely with Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. “There is an appetite from all those three nations to professionalize their NCOs,” he said during a breakout session focusing on PACOM and CENTCOM. He recommended deeper information-sharing on the NCO profession of arms through courses operated in each country. (Photo by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)
Warrant Officer Class 1 Mark Mortiboy, the equivalent of the sergeant major of the army for New Zealand, noted that his country and Australia work closely with Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. “There is an appetite from all those three nations to professionalize their NCOs,” he said during a breakout session focusing on PACOM and CENTCOM. He recommended deeper information-sharing on the NCO profession of arms through courses operated in each country. (Photo by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)

Master Sgt. Khalykov-Temyrbek Myrzakhanovich, the senior enlisted leader of Kazakhstan’s land forces, pointed out that in developing countries’ NCO corps, the U.S. and other nations should leverage their own officer-NCO relationships, as well.

“That officer-NCO relationship is something that can be taught,” Khalykov-Temyrbek said. “It can be practiced.”

A one-hour “theoretical” brief won’t change an army’s culture, he said, but practical exercises can go a long way in showing how a healthy and vibrant NCO corps functions with its officers.

Lambert agreed and encouraged participants to leverage existing exercises to interface with partner nations, both to facilitate greater shifts of responsibilities to NCOs and to better explore what each countries’ needs are.

Command Sgt. Maj. Edward W. Mitchell is the command sergeant major of the 2nd Infantry Division/Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Division. Although it’s a combined division, Mitchell said no Korean NCOs are part of the staff, only officers.

Still, the ROK army is beginning to see how important NCOs can be, he said.

He took a ROK battalion through the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, recently, and he said that in the beginning, everything was “officer-centric.”

“When they started going through NTC, the officer was trying to do everything. It lasted one day,” Mitchell said. “He had to empower every last one of his noncommissioned officers in order for him to accomplish his mission at the National Training Center. When it got back to the ROK army, they realized that when you go to war, you’re going to have to empower your noncommissioned officers in order to accomplish the mission. You can talk it all day long, but sometimes you have to show them. When they have to execute, they’ll see why it’s important to empower them. Sometimes training together is a big asset to get to where you need to get to.”

State partnerships

USCENTCOM

  • Kazakhstan-Arizona (1993)
  • Jordan-Colorado (2004)
  • Kyrgyzstan-Montana (1996)
  • Tajikistan-Virginia (2003)
  • Uzbekistan-Mississippi (2012)

USPACOM

  • Bangladesh-Oregon (2008)
  • Cambodia-Idaho (2009)
  • Indonesia-Hawaii (2006)
  • Mongolia-Alaska (2003)
  • Phillippines-Hawaii/Guam (2000)
  • Thailand-Washington (2002)
  • Tonga-Nevada (2014)
  • Vietnam-Oregon (2012)