Tag Archives: NCOs

Post-military employment: the final collective task

Special to the NCO Journal

More than 200,000 servicemembers are projected by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to leave the active service annually through 2019. Data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that recent veterans from 18 to 34 years of age have a higher unemployment rate than non-veterans in the same age range. Veteran hiring programs and initiatives have been shown to contain value. However, unemployment and post-military job retention problems among recent veterans persist.

Many public and private sector employers have undertaken initiatives to attract and hire veterans transitioning from active service. Ultimately, however, the primary responsibility for obtaining post-military employment rests with the individual Soldier. Thus, an NCO’s duty to care for a Soldier’s well-being is fulfilled once the individual leaves active service — or is it?

In contemplating what additional steps may help Soldiers establish productive post-military careers, NCOs may consider employing a “TripleA strategy,” where the three “A”s stand for Acceptance, Assistance and Accessibility.

A leader must first make a conscious commitment to accepting responsibility to support a Soldier entering the civilian workforce. It is purely a personal choice, but acceptance of this responsibility involves taking a proactive position, or mindset, that indicates a willingness to help the Soldier beyond mandated transition requirements.

Once a leader decides to accept responsibility to aid a transitioning Soldier, the second step requires leader assistance during the Soldier’s job-search period. The period occurs while the Soldier is in uniform. However, it is common for Soldiers to begin their job search on their own before entry into formal transition programs or after they leave the service. This aspect of the Soldier’s transition requires that the leader has a basic understanding of the civilian hiring process.

The NCO should understand that though there are differences in specific hiring procedures among private sector employers, as well as among federal and other public sector employers, the overall hiring process follows a general pattern. First, consider and identify the type of employment the Soldier desires after military service. When the Soldier shares his or her post-military employment plans with his or her leader, the leader, in turn, is better prepared to assist with and monitor key points in the hiring process.

It may be said that a Soldier’s relationship with an organization begins when the Soldier applies for the desired position, commonly through a company’s website. The individual is viewed as an applicant once their application is entered into the organization’s applicant tracking system for prescreening analysis. Depending on the system used, even highly qualified candidate applications may not make it beyond this stage of the process if the resume is not formatted to match the essential job functions of the position closely. It is vital that applicants read the position description carefully and ensure that their experience, knowledge, skills and abilities align with the specifications of the job — without copying the job description word-for-word into the resume.

Although it may initially appear as simple as uploading one’s resume, the application process often involves both uploading a formatted resume and manually entering the same resume information into specific fields on the company’s ATS. The applicant should have an electronic copy of the resume opened and be prepared to copy and paste information from it into the company’s system.

After the system has identified what its algorithm suggests are highly qualified candidates, applicants are selected for initial interviews. The interview validates information on the resume and further determines which candidates best meet the organization’s specific needs. As many Soldiers’ immediate supervisors are noncommissioned officers, the next step is where the NCO plays the most critical role: accessibility. After an interview, the remaining applicants may undergo testing, which may involve measures of aptitude, physical ability, personality and other pre-employment assessments.

Many employers also conduct background and reference checks of candidates they are interested in at this point. The leader should be accessible not only to their former Soldier but also the potential employer. Therefore, it is vital that applicants obtain and maintain accurate contact information (e.g., emails and phone numbers) of their former leaders or immediate supervisors. It is essential to establish a reach-back point of contact before transition between the Soldier and leaders who have something positive to say about the Soldier.

In the final stages of the process, companies often have narrowed the list down to a few candidates, sometimes holding a second or third round of interviews with additional company personnel present — potential supervisors or co-workers, for example — before making a conditional job offer. After the conditional offer is made, companies may sometimes require the candidate to undergo a physical exam or other post-offer assessments, making the job contingent on passing any final requirements. After that, the final offer is made. The final offer period is where many companies negotiate salary and benefits packages with the selected candidate, and presuming that there is agreement, the candidate is hired.

The current generation of veterans are the beneficiaries of unprecedented levels of collaboration between public and private sector entities in efforts to utilize the skills, knowledge and abilities that service members bring to the civilian workplace. Leaders who understand the selection and hiring processes are better able to predict where and how to assist Soldiers in their search for employment. For their part, transitioning service members who equip themselves with knowledge of civilian employment practices are better prepared to navigate paths toward obtaining the job they desire. Through effective communication between the transitioning Soldier and the leader, they can ensure that the final objective is successfully achieved.

Dale Williams is a performance consultant with a Central Texas consulting firm that specializes in providing evidence-based integrated solutions to small businesses that increase efficiency, strengthen employee knowledge and abilities, improve leadership, and attain business goals. In addition to business-related consulting, he has worked with service members pro-bono for more than 10 years on numerous aspects of transitioning into the civilian work sector.

NCOs learn about changes in leadership development

NCO Journal

Putting the spotlight squarely on leadership development, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey warned senior noncommissioned officers early last month of the “tough changes” coming as part of NCO 2020 and the updated NCO Professional Development System during an NCO and Soldier forum at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“Sergeants major are what makes the United States Army the strong power that it is,” said retired Gen. Carter Ham, president and chief executive officer of AUSA, to senior noncommissioned officers in October at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
“Sergeants major are what makes the United States Army the strong power that it is,” said retired Gen. Carter Ham, president and chief executive officer of AUSA, to senior noncommissioned officers in October at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

“What it’s really about is getting our noncommissioned officers to a place we need them to be for 2025 and beyond, and maximizing the equivalency in the education we get in both the academic field and credentialing perspective so that we can sustain the all-volunteer force for the future,” Dailey said. “There are some tough changes coming ahead in the Army. Some of those affect Soldiers both positively and negatively. What I can assure you, though, is [that there is] a very good, comprehensive plan for the future.”

NCOs and Soldiers gathered Oct. 3-5 to not only tell the Army’s story and share it with the public and corporate supporters, but also to educate and share leadership development strategies with Soldiers, Dailey said. Gen. Mark A. Milley, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, has called readiness the Army’s No. 1 priority, and Army leaders agree that leadership development is central to building readiness.

“We have to sit back, take our blinders off and ask ourselves what it takes for every single Soldier in the Army to be ready,” Dailey told NCOs.

Dailey said Army downsizing is still underway to reach the goal of 450,000 Soldiers by 2018. Talent management will play a large part in deciding future promotions.

"There are some tough changes coming ahead in the Army," said. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey to senior noncommissioned officers. Dailey said the changes are coming as part of NCO 2020 and the updated NCO Professional Development System during an NCO and Soldier forum in October at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
“There are some tough changes coming ahead in the Army,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey to senior noncommissioned officers. Dailey said the changes are coming as part of NCO 2020 and the updated NCO Professional Development System during an NCO and Soldier forum in October at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

“We’re going to keep people based upon talent,” Dailey said. “We are going to promote people based upon talent, and we will slot people for advancement in the United States Army based upon talent. That is exactly what we are going to do to make sure we maintain the quality of Soldiers and noncommissioned officers who are in place to fight our nation’s wars.”

Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, told NCOs about changes on the horizon to enhance professional military education.

“We are looking at all the programs of instruction, with all of the proponents, and we are integrating common core standards,” Davenport said. “We’re investing in our facilitators, our instructors. We are going to consolidate all the various instructor courses into one. Just like we advise to grow noncommissioned officers based on experience and education, same goes for our instructors.”

Davenport also trumpeted the release of three applications to help guide Soldiers through PME ­─ Army Career Tracker, the Digital Job Book and the Digital Rucksack.

Davenport encouraged NCOs to take a look at Army Career Tracker online, a leadership development tool that integrates training and education on one website. Career maps have been updated and follow the five lines of effort ─ military life cycle, education, assignment/experience, credentialing/experience and self-development. Lines of effort link multiple tasks and missions to focus efforts toward establishing operational and strategic conditions.

Davenport praised the Digital Job Book app for its ease of use.

“What is really important about it is [it] allows organizations ─ commanders and sergeants major ─ to add up to 10 tasks that are specific to your organization so that you can battle track it,” he said.

The highly touted Digital Rucksack app will work with tablets and smartphones Soldiers bring into classrooms, Davenport said.

“Our Soldiers scan a QR code, and it puts all the material that they are going to need for the PME,” he said. “We think [the apps] are really going to help us connect Soldiers and organizations to leader development.”

Retired Gen. Carter Ham, president and chief executive officer of AUSA, thanked noncommissioned officers during the forum for their continued and sustained leadership and acknowledged their vital role in the Army.

“Sergeants major are what makes the United States Army the strong power that it is,” Ham told senior NCOs. “We should never lose sight of that, and the investment in you, the investment in those Soldiers who aspire to be noncommissioned officers, we owe them the best possible development that we can afford them. So that when they follow you to lead this Army, they will build on all you have achieved to keep the United States Army as the premier land force on this planet. That is only possible because of the people in this room.”

Capitalizing on human dimension enhances combat capabilities


After the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army had a series of successful military combat operations, including Operation Urgent Fury, Operation Just Cause, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Military pundits, both friendly and unfriendly, attribute much of this success to the technological advantages the United States had over its enemies — in weaponry, modern equipment and cutting-edge intelligence-gathering capabilities — as well as to the diplomatic, political and military support of its close allies. However, insufficient attention has been given to the human dimension of the Army’s structure, particularly the doctrinal manner in which it encourages initiative through the decentralization of power from the officers who plan its operations and command its formations to the noncommissioned officers who execute those plans in both garrison and combat.

The secret to the success of the Army is twofold. First is the manner in which it capitalizes on the effective use of its most important resource — Soldiers. Second, and the focus of this article, is the manner in which the NCO Corps, promoted from the most talented members of the population of enlisted Soldiers, has developed during the past 40 years into a professional institution. The empowerment of NCOs during this period is now an indispensable feature of Army structure and culture that saves officers’ precious resources — principally in freeing up their time to concentrate their attention on the management of vast and increasingly complex organizations. This creates efficiencies in the Army that effectively extend its operational and tactical reach — especially at the battalion level and below — by enabling each soldier to take initiative and resolve problems at the lowest level while achieving the commander’s intent.

As partner nations look to plan, build and implement new security cooperation agreements during the future decades with the United States, it may be to their advantage to take a closer look at the pride of the Army — the NCO Corps — and the way it was developed after the Vietnam War to become the professional institution it is today.

Some traditional U.S. allies, such as Jordan and Colombia, have recently recognized the lack of an empowered NCO Corps as a shortfall within their own armies and are working with the United States to bring about systemic long-term changes to increase the autonomy of lower-level units within their own armed forces.1 They are doing this by improving the leadership qualities in their NCOs and revamping their NCO education systems. This change can reap benefits by expanding the operational and tactical range of those armies.

The U.S. Army model

Toward the end of the Vietnam War, strategic leaders within the Army recognized that the conscripted force would soon be a relic of the past. The war-weary U.S. citizenry was tired of the draft and called for an all-volunteer force. Among the many initiatives Army leaders discussed to encourage enlistment and re-enlistment for the volunteer Soldiers were better pay, fair and improved opportunities for promotion and upward mobility, and a diffusion of power to enhance the capacity and effectiveness of the all-volunteer force. Officers in charge of implementing these changes, such as Gen. Eugene Depuy, spent several years perfecting the model that would eventually be adopted.

Depuy envisioned that this new model would be built around the squad leader, one of four primary subordinates of a platoon leader (the lowest organizational level of authority for officers).2 The squad leader would be a staff sergeant, an NCO with a few years of experience as a sergeant or team leader. The span of control for the squad leader would remain eight to 11 Soldiers. The doctrinal difference would be the amount of power extended to the squad leader, as well as other NCOs in the Army. This newly empowered group of NCOs would be formally educated in the classroom and trained in tactical field environments using advanced tactics and new doctrine — with a heavy emphasis on leadership. In this manner, the Army would develop NCOs who were fully capable of managing, leading and directing squads. In Depuy’s words, the new NCO would be “a commander … at the smallest tactical level (squad) … just like an officer.”3

By empowering these sergeants, and demanding they possess high-level leadership capabilities, the Army slowly developed a corps of professional NCOs over time. The NCO Corps created its own motto, proudly proclaiming that, “No one is more professional than I,” which is a part of the NCO Creed. It declares that, “Officers of my unit will have maximum time to accomplish their duties; they will not have to accomplish mine.”4 NCOs took, and continue to take, great pride in performing the daily tasks that make an army function. These include accountability of personnel and equipment; equipment maintenance; and individual and team training on tasks such as marksmanship, first aid, patrolling, land navigation and radio communication procedures, to name just a few.

As the NCO Corps matured, the Army increased the responsibility of its NCOs, demanding that more senior NCOs mentor inexperienced officers. The senior NCOs were to provide a voice of skilled reason and to offer sound advice based on their years of accumulated professional knowledge. Soon, NCOs were also required to demonstrate a baseline competency by successfully performing standardized tasks, regardless of their particular specialty, during annual skill qualification testing, or common task training. Task difficulty and complexity increased with higher skill levels and grades. The Army also began introducing NCOs to future officers at the earliest opportunities in officer educational institutions, including the three commissioning sources: Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and Officer Candidate School. The NCOs serving at these education sites demonstrated to the prospective lieutenants what their future subordinate squad leaders and other NCOs should be, know and do.

In the U.S. Army today, officers and NCOs are paired together at each level of command to form an efficient and effective command team. As a captain, an officer typically has the opportunity to command a company — his or her first command. This occurs at the seven- to 10-year mark of the officer’s career. The officer is normally paired with a senior NCO, a first sergeant, who typically has between 17 and 22 years of professional experience. At battalion level and higher, commanders are paired with even more experienced senior NCOs: command sergeants major.

Over time, a unique and mutual trust has developed between officers and NCOs. Army NCOs indeed follow “the orders of the officers appointed over” them and, in fact, affirm their commitment to do so frequently in the oaths they take.5 Officers, on the other hand, learn quickly to appreciate the experience and wisdom shared with them by seasoned NCOs, and they quickly learn to distinguish the poor-performing NCOs from the exceptional ones. An officer’s responsibility includes applying pressure where it needs to be applied to motivate and elevate the abilities of those poor-performing NCOs; they are assisted in doing so by other NCOs. Conversely, oftentimes, seasoned professional NCOs can make up for the shortcomings of poorly performing or inexperienced officers, tactfully assisting in the professional development of those officers while cushioning the negative effects of potentially poor junior officer leadership on their units.

In the end, what the Army has developed is a highly educated, all-volunteer enlisted force, capable of executing a wide variety of missions in accordance with the commander’s intent in a decentralized manner. Led by career and mid-career professional NCOs, many with post-high-school degrees and other higher-education credentials, this potent force has yielded tremendous benefits for the U.S. Army.6 Officers, supported by their NCOs in a team effort, have more time available to plan, coordinate, and synchronize garrison, training or combat events, as compared to their counterparts in similar armies without such a well-developed and self-aware NCO corps. Officers in those other armies often must personally manage numerous time-intensive tasks, which interferes with focusing on the next mission or critical leadership issue, and which would be regarded as NCO duties in the U.S. Army.

Decentralized execution

Employing the U.S. Army’s mission command philosophy — decentralized execution — means a commander economizes time by only having to move within his or her command to where the commander’s presence is most needed, where a conflict exists or a decision requires command authority.7 Nevertheless, decentralizing exercise of power by delegating authority does not relieve the commander of any responsibility, nor does it drain the commander’s power. On the contrary, it actually increases the commander’s power and makes him or her accountable for even more, as many more macro- and micro-actions occur simultaneously in this decentralized model, often without the direct supervision of the officer. It remains incumbent upon the officer to follow up with his or her NCOs to ensure command guidance is being met. A well-worn adage in the Army is that “one can delegate authority, but never responsibility.”

Though U.S. Army planning is largely centralized, with ample input from senior NCOs, execution is nearly always accomplished in a decentralized manner. This is especially true in combat environments, where young officers often rely on their squad leaders — who are, at many times, well beyond the officers’ line of sight — to provide updates on the rapidly changing situations on the battlefield. Skillful officers use these extensions of their power to quickly transition phases of tactical operations, synchronize battle space with adjacent units and execute complicated tactical maneuvers at the small-unit level. The net effect is a thoroughly efficient organization that maximizes the use of all of its assets, especially its technically and tactically proficient NCO Corps, in a decentralized manner.

Today’s NCOs pride themselves on being able to operate under duress with little or no supervision from officers to accomplish their units’ missions. This gives officers the freedom to concentrate their own leadership skills and capabilities on more narrowly focused areas of concern where they need to be applied the most. Meanwhile, competent, dedicated and trusted NCOs operate efficiently in their commands without officers’ direct supervision — but following the direction of a widely disseminated commander’s intent and within the realm of officer influence.

The recent defeat of the Iraqi army by Islamic state insurgents is a case of what can happen when all the decision-making is concentrated solely in the hands of senior leaders. Recent combat history shows much of the same style of hierarchical structure in the defeated armies from Operation Just Cause to Operation Iraqi Freedom. In each of these operations, the losing forces were configured with command structures that were centralized, unwieldy and inflexible.

While technological advantages cannot be discounted as a contributor to the U.S. Army’s success, the inability of the enemies’ professional enlisted corps (and junior officers) to take autonomous initiative was a debilitating factor that negatively affected enemy combat performance. Institutional decentralization of authority, if it had been fostered over time, could have made huge differences in the manner the various battles and operations played out in these conflicts. Given the rapid nature of modern-day combat, an army that is encumbered with poor tactical and operational agility, stemming from a lack of an empowered NCO corps, results in a clumsy and slow force that can quickly become outflanked, encircled and overwhelmed at all levels of command, from platoon to division. This was recently demonstrated in northern Iraq by Iraqi government forces with a weak and ill-trained NCO corps.

From the present doctrinal perspective of the U.S. Army, the more operations are decentralized, the more flexible and ingenuous the methodology that junior officers and their NCOs will use to overcome the obstacles they encounter to reach their objectives and complete their assigned missions.

Making changes

Nations and their armies that desire to develop a professional NCO corps similar to that of the U.S. Army must consider the following recommendations as they make that transition.

Add leadership training: Leadership training must be incorporated into all NCO training and education. While many armies, including those within our own hemisphere, have robust military academies for their officers that emphasize leadership and technical training through four or more rigorous years as a cadet, many of their professional enlisted educational academies train strictly on technical skills with little emphasis on leadership. These technical schools rarely elaborate on leadership principles, indoctrinate leadership abilities or encourage unilateral decision making to facilitate mission accomplishment. This lack of emphasis on junior leadership can handicap a platoon leader by having an entire platoon awaiting its officer’s instructions without the willingness or ability to independently resolve problems within the scope of their own competencies in order to carry out the mission.

Change the pay system: As the U.S. Army realized after the Vietnam War, you eventually “reap what you sow.” In order to attract quality recruits, the pay scale for enlisted personnel should at least be comparable to the civilian sector’s wages. In nation-states that are postconscript, this can be a subject of great controversy and may create negative headlines in the national press. The United States faced similar problems after the Vietnam War when defense budgets were slashed. Nevertheless, restructuring defense spending methods is a matter of national priorities and is an important component of reform. Pay tables should also be configured in such a way that promotions are encouraged, earned and awarded with a monetary incentive. This goes along with the enhanced military prestige and increased levels of both authority and responsibility for the promoted NCO.

Transform the promotion system: A professional NCO corps requires a merit-based promotion system in which upward mobility is encouraged. This may require modifying the way NCOs are traditionally promoted in other countries. In many armies, career soldiers are compensated based exclusively on their time of military service. In contrast, while the U.S. Army also rewards for time in service, the rank and pay grade of each NCO is also determined based on that individual’s merit. Over time, U.S. Army NCOs build individual profiles based on their job performances, which are evaluated for promotion by more senior NCOs and officers. Promotion boards for junior NCOs (corporal through staff sergeant) are decentralized and held locally, but promotion boards for senior NCOs (sergeant first class through sergeant major) are centralized and conducted annually.

Adapt the evaluation system: Assuming a desire to emulate such a merit system for promotion, the NCO evaluation system of a given army may need to be revamped as well. It should not only continue to evaluate technical skills, but it should also place a much greater emphasis on evaluating leadership — one that reflects the changing relationship between the NCO and the officer.

Empower the NCO support channel: In the U.S. Army, the chain of command is reinforced by the NCO support channel. The NCO support channel serves as a “backbone,” supporting the officer’s command positions and military authority. While this system is not necessarily required, it has certainly been effective for the U.S. Army and should be considered by those armies in other countries desiring to mold a professional NCO corps that works efficiently and effectively with their officers’ corps.

Change the officer mind-set: A reforming army’s officer corps may need to be entirely retrained as well. Many U.S. Army officers were resistant to what some perceived as a radical change in doctrine in the 1970s.8 They mistakenly thought that empowering their subordinates would hollow out their own power base. This type of resistance can be expected in any army attempting to implement similar changes. However, with military orders mandating change, along with the support of senior and mid-grade officers who buy into the changes and possess the ability to foresee the long-term benefits of enforcing these improvements, this innovation will eventually be accepted and endorsed.              

The benefits and ground rules must be explained thoroughly to the entire officer corps — from cadets to general officers. Benefits from NCO empowerment can include, for example, improved logistical support, equipment maintenance and personnel accountability. Additionally, delegation of authority to NCOs for conducting individual and small-unit collective training without constant direct supervision saves officers time and eliminates duplication of efforts. Empowering and trusting NCOs with these responsibilities greatly increases small-unit cohesion, morale, and technical and tactical proficiency.

Improve the personnel management system: Finally, improvements must be made to enlisted personnel management systems in changing armies. Many armies have not invested deeply in their enlisted personnel management systems, which may make the creation of a competitive centralized promotion board and a professional career track for NCOs difficult. Having gone through the evolutionary process of establishing an enlisted personnel management system initially in the 1970s, the U.S. Army is still in the process of modifying its own system. For example, it is currently streamlining its personnel system and minimizing the differences between the way NCO and officer records are managed.


Although the human dimension alone does not fully explain the success of the U.S. Army, it is often underappreciated as the foundation upon which the Army is built. Recognizing this frequent omission, the U.S. Army celebrated the “Year of the NCO” in 2009, acknowledging the critical contributions of its career enlisted Soldiers.9 While media headlines related to the military consistently mention general officers, much of what actually happens within the U.S. Army is attributable to its structure and its effective employment of its human dimension resource — specifically, its NCOs and enlisted Soldiers. The proof lies not only in the U.S. Army’s successes but also in its sacrifices. Of the 18 Soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor (the highest medal for valor presented by the United States) in the post-Vietnam War era, 16 were enlisted.10

There are no magic bullets, weapons platforms, defense alliances, communications systems or any other advanced technologies that can replace solid leadership. By pushing power both down and out to expand the influence of competent leadership to its lowest organizational levels, encouraging the upward mobility of its greatest resource — its volunteer force — and demanding successful results, the U.S. Army has set a shining example of how to effectively utilize Soldiers, especially career NCOs, to the maximum extent of their abilities. Other advantages are important but not nearly as critical. Partner nations of the United States should look internally, within their own armies, and analyze if they are leveraging their own enlisted corps to the maximum extent of their capabilities. It is an affordable military solution well-worth exploring.


1. Joseph Rank, “Building Partnership Capacity 101: the New Jordan Armed Forces NCO Corps,” Military Review, September/October 2014; See also, Gabriel Marcella, The United States and Colombia: The Journey from Ambiguity to Strategic Clarity, Special Series, Shaping the Regional Security Environment in Latin America (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2003), 43, accessed 16 July 2015, http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/52427009.html.

2. Ernest F. Fisher, Guardians of the Republic: A History of the Noncommissioned Officer Corps of the U.S. Army (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994), page 394.

3. Ibid, 392.

4. U.S. Army website, “NCO Creed,” accessed 14 July 2015, http://www.army.mil/values/nco.html.

5. U.S. Army website, “Oath of Enlistment,” accessed 14 July 2015, http://www.army.mil/values/oath.html.

6. United States Army, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1, “Demographics” accessed 25 April 2015, http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/demographics.asp

7. Army Doctrine Publication 6-0, Mission Command (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, May 2012), 5. The Army promotes decentralized execution through the use of mission orders.

8. Fisher, 392.

9. Army News Service, “Army Leaders Kick off Year of the NCO at Texas Installation” accessed 14 July 2015, http://www.army.mil/article/15567/army-leaders-kick-off-year-of-nco-at-texas-installation/.

10. Congressional Medal of Honor Society, accessed 14 July 2015, http://www.cmohs.org/.


Maj. Jonathan Bissell is a student at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in the Master of International Policy and Practice program. He is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College, and he holds a bachelor of science degree from Cameron University and a master of science in International Relations from Troy University. A logistician for the majority of his career, he has worked as a foreign area officer in Latin America for the last four years. He has served overseas in Panama, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Peru.

Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Olvera is the senior enlisted advisor for U.S. Army South Command. He holds a bachelor of science in business management from Empire State College, and he is currently pursuing a master of science degree in Management from Excelsior College. Olvera has graduated from the Joint Staff College Course for Senior Enlisted Leaders and the Army Force Management Course for Command Sergeants Major. His most recent assignment was as the command sergeant major of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Photo illustration by Spc. James Seals from U.S. Army photo.

NCOs lend expertise to Army Research Laboratory

NCO Journal

Working among the scientists and engineers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory has given Sgt. Maj. Kevin M. Connor a new appreciation for how much work goes into the equipment he and his Soldiers have used on the battlefield. Before he came to Maryland, and an issue with military equipment arose, Connor didn’t know there was an organization in the Army he could turn to, one which links the military and science communities.

As sergeant major for ARL in Adelphi, Md., Connor now has the opportunity to fix those things before they get to the Soldier.

“[As a noncommissioned officer,] I came up through the ranks, knowing certain equipment didn’t necessarily work for me,” Connor said. “Hopefully, we [NCOs assigned to ARL] can give Soldiers a better experience with the equipment versus some of the challenges we have faced in our previous assignments and duty stations.”

As the premier laboratory for the United States’ land forces, ARL

Sgt. 1st Class John C. Hardwick sees how testing of advanced combat helmets is done at Army Research                                                                                                                                                                                                             Lab’s Environment for Auditory Research. EAR is a part of the Human Research and Engineering Directorate. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class John C. Hardwick sees how testing of advanced combat helmets is done at Army Research Lab’s Environment for Auditory Research. EAR is a part of the Human Research and Engineering Directorate. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

of the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command has touched all NCOs and their Soldiers by providing the enabling technologies in many of the Army’s critical weapons systems. NCOs play a direct role in the development of weapons technology, serving as advisers for ARL’s directorates and assisting in equipment testing.

“Most of the Army doesn’t even know ARL exists,” Connor said. “So, one of the things I do when I’m at other military installations is I try to meet other sergeants major and educate them about ARL and say, ‘Did you know that we can help you solve some problems or issues you have with equipment?’ Or I will talk to Soldiers if they have a better equipment design or something of that nature [so I can pass it along].”

Doing their part

At the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., NCOs such as Connor assist operations by providing the Soldiers who will test equipment. SPEAR puts equipment, which is intended to augment Soldiers, through vigorous testing.

For example, Soldiers may run through an obstacle course to test whether exoskeletons offer improved agility, or Soldiers may test devices developed to assist in carrying their loads as scientists measure their activity on a treadmill, said Philip Crowell, SPEAR biomechanics team leader.

“Our research focuses on how equipment affects Soldier

Staff Sgt. David A. Hoisington works at the Communications-Electronics Command, analyzing software data. CECOM researchers say Hoisington’s experience contributes greatly to research. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. David A. Hoisington works at the Communications-Electronics Command, analyzing software data. CECOM researchers say Hoisington’s experience contributes greatly to research. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

performance,” Crowell said. “For the Soldiers who participate in our studies, it’s an opportunity for them to see a different part of the Army. They get to see the research and development side where equipment and concepts are created and refined long before they get fielded.

“Because we value their feedback regarding the studies, this is also a chance for them to have an influence on things that are being developed for use by Soldiers in the future,” Crowell said.

Soldier participation is important to the scientists who research human factors and the ways Soldiers interact with military equipment. At ARL’s Environment for Auditory Research, which is part of the Human Research and Engineering Directorate, or HRED, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a Soldier is valued for his or her knowledge of jargon and types of cues or commands used in military communication systems during the testing of advanced combat helmets, said Dr. Angelique A. Scharine, EAR auditory research team lead.

Acting branch chief Christopher Paulillo praised Staff Sgt. David A. Hoisington, an enlisted advisor for HRED, and said Hoisington’s intelligence background is invaluable when analyzing software data for the Communications-Electronics Command, or CECOM, at Aberdeen Proving Ground. CECOM researcher Diane Quarles also said Hoisington’s experience contributes greatly to research.

“[Staff] Sergeant Hoisington was asking questions that a user would want to know and I don’t have the operational knowledge that a user has to ask those questions,” Quarles said. “He was able to ask the questions that the Soldiers would want to know, as opposed to me just saying, ‘Does your software do this and how?’ With his support during these interviews, we were able to collect more detailed information on the systems.”

A collaboration

NCOs also see their subject-matter expertise as a vital contribution to ARL’s piece in the big Army puzzle.

“We offer that ground-level, subject-matter expertise,” said Sgt. 1st

Army Research Laboratory’s Staff Sgt. David A. Hoisington (left) and Sgt. 1st Class John C. Hardwick demonstrate how testing is performed at the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. At the SPEAR facility, researches examine how equipment affects Soldier performance. Hoisington is an enlisted advisor for Human Research and Engineering Directorate at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Hardwick is senior enlisted advisor for ARL’s Simulation and Training Technology Center in Orlando, Fla.  (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
Army Research Laboratory’s Staff Sgt. David A. Hoisington (left) and Sgt. 1st Class John C. Hardwick demonstrate how testing is performed at the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. At the SPEAR facility, researches examine how equipment affects Soldier performance. Hoisington is an enlisted advisor for Human Research and Engineering Directorate at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Hardwick is senior enlisted advisor for ARL’s Simulation and Training Technology Center in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

Class John C. Hardwick, senior enlisted advisor for ARL’s Simulation and Training Technology Center in Orlando, Fla. “I think it’s important to have that NCO, that subject-matter expert involved in the early stages of the research and the development. They can point out some of those things at the beginning when flaws are easily fixed.”

We have the opportunity to reach out and work with a lot of people, during the opening stages of military equipment development, Hoisington said.

“We’re looking at the human factors of what can be better, how can we make it work easier and what are the basic things that you can look at to change and integrate better for the Soldier,” he said.

Soldier feedback counts greatly for teams such as HRED’s Dismounted Warrior Branch at Aberdeen Proving Ground, which focuses on shooting performance research and development.

I love this job. It’s the best job in the world,” said Frank Morelli, an experimental psychologist for the Dismounted Warrior Branch. “It’s very satisfying working with Soldiers. You can see the appreciation they have for what you do because what you do is try to make their jobs better, try to make them more capable. It makes us feel good because that’s who we work for.”

Impact on the future

For NCOs accustomed to being at larger military installations where civilians are in the minority, working for ARL may be a little disorienting. Its workforce of scientists and engineers vastly outnumbers Soldiers.

“It was culture shock because I had been in Germany, where we didn’t have many civilians and it was primarily Soldiers,” Hoisington said. “We had two or three civilians supporting us. It’s definitely been a growth opportunity because I was used to dealing with Soldiers. Dealing with civilians is completely different.”

“I know for me it was a very eye-opening experience, having been an infantry Soldier and pretty much being operational my entire career,” Hardwick said. “This was an entirely different part of the Army I never knew existed. I look at it as very rewarding because I am now on the technology end of military equipment and technology and helping out the Army of the future.”

As sergeant major for ARL in Adelphi, Connor’s working relationship with subordinate NCOs in his charge has to be long distance.

“It is a little different being in ARL versus a garrison because most of the NCOs in the unit are in another location,” Connor said. “It’s really having the faith and trust in those NCOs who are out in other locations.”

ARL’s NCOs realize their time there has afforded them many advantages and lessons they can take and use later in their Army careers.

“It has helped me develop interpersonal skills,” Hardwick said. “It’s given me that perspective on this entire other side of the Army that I was just never really aware of. Now, I know who I can reach out to and say, ‘There’s a problem with this piece of equipment.’ Or if I have a Soldier who has a good idea for a piece of equipment, I know the system and the process of how to get that to RDECOM.”

“There are a lot of people here doing a lot of things for the Army that people just don’t know about,” Connor said. “When I go back to the mainstream Army, I can say to my Soldiers, ‘You don’t realize all the work that goes into the equipment in your hands. This is years in the planning to get it to you.’”

Equipment issues?

The Army Research Laboratory’s Operations Center is ready to assist with equipment issues. Please contact the center by email at usarmy.adelphi.rdecom-arl.mbx.arleoc@mail.mil or by calling (301) 394-0988 or via DSN at 290-0988.


Teamwork is key part of discipline

1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment

Now this is the law of the jungle,
as old and as true as the sky,
and the wolf that shall keep it may prosper,
but the wolf that shall break it must die.

As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk,
the law runneth forward and back; For the strength of the pack is the wolf,
and the strength of the wolf is the pack.

—Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936
“The Law for the Wolves”

These first two verses from the Kipling poem, “The Law for the Wolves,” featured prominently in “The Jungle Book,” epitomize the culture that we have created in my company, the “Wolfpack.” We keep this as our rallying cry and use it to highlight the importance of each Soldier in the team. All Soldiers need something to belong to. They need a sense of purpose and something positive to rally behind; the “pack” fulfills that need. Each member of the company is taught that he owns his piece of the Wolfpack. There are no expendable Soldiers, nor are there insignificant positions. Each Soldier is vital to the company’s lethality. This culture we have fostered is what has led this company to success.

Company D “Wolfpack”, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division of Fort Riley, Kan., returned from deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in January, 2012. In Afghanistan, the Wolfpack, was split up throughout 10 different locations, performing village stability operations side-by-side with special operations forces. Upon their redeployment, the company command team changed hands in March 2012 and began the task of rebuilding a company that had not worked as a cohesive team in more than 15 months. New Soldiers arriving to the company, combined with the loss of much of the company’s experienced cadre because of regular permanent change of station moves, made the task of team building even harder. Since that time, D Company has been rebuilt with a strength of 77 Soldiers, NCOs and officers to include the field maintenance team, medic and fire support team attachments.

Since April 2012, this company has experienced zero driving under the influence incidents, zero alcohol-related incidents and zero drug incidents. These accomplishments are in no way, shape, or form the sole responsibility of either the company commander or first sergeant.  These are the accomplishments of every individual of the Wolfpack.

This culture was not created overnight and requires energy to maintain. It’s cerebrally intense and the results were not instantaneous. Building this culture requires patience and steady forward progress. Every leader in the company must understand the culture and not only adhere to it, but promote it to our junior leaders. The dividends, however, are enduring and create a model of good leadership for our Soldiers to emulate when they become leaders.

The foundation of our culture is trust, discipline, compassion, enthusiasm, morale and genuine care for each other. The Wolfpack’s culture starts when each and every Soldier and NCO becomes a part of the pack, I brief them on three very simple rules: Never lie to anyone in the company, never give the company less than your best and never embarrass the company through your actions or inaction.

With these three things we have created a simple, yet effective, basis of understanding for the standards that are expected of each member of the company. We have created a set of societal norms that dictate which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. For those who are not willing to participate as good-standing members of the pack, we work to assist them in overcoming their failings.

For example, we preach to our Soldiers that alcohol is not the centerpiece to a good time. We teach moderation and personal responsibility when drinking. We have taken the universal acceptability of alcohol and deglorified it. The Wolfpack’s societal norm for alcohol is that of responsible moderation.

Another example is drug use. We have made drugs taboo in our company. It’s not just the illegality of drugs that keeps Soldiers away from them but the social stigma we have attached to it. The company is taught, “In our pack, we don’t have room for drug users. If you choose to do drugs, you will have to find another pack, because you are not welcome here.” We scrutinize poor behavior that does not positively reflect the true character of a professional Soldier.

We strive very hard to foster trust in the Wolfpack. This is of utmost importance in our line of work and harkens back to the first rule. When we say we are going to do something, we follow through. The Soldiers of the pack know their leadership will always look out for them and will fall on their own swords for them if necessary. We don’t pacify with empty promises, nor do we make empty threats.

Word travels fast in the ranks. Soldiers see very quickly that their leaders care enough to follow through on their word.  They also see when their leaders fail them at that same task.

We make it a point to never fail. We trust our Soldiers. We trust them to do the right thing when the chips are down. Everyone’s life depends on this. This belief that our Soldiers are mature adds to their empowerment and to that of our junior leaders. Just as we strive to earn their trust, they strive to earn ours.

Discipline is the bedrock upon which our culture is built. It’s more than doing the right thing. It’s looking and acting like a professional Soldier just for the sake of being professional.  We applaud and glorify discipline in the Wolfpack. Sgt. 1st Class Todd Cornell, the platoon sergeant, for 1st platoon, said it best: “They can take away our money for training. They can take away our tanks. But they can never take away our discipline.”

We do the things no one else wants to because they are inconvenient at times. We march as a company when it would be easier to move as a gaggle. We practice whatever task we are given when it would be easier to “shoot from the hip,” because practice is where excellence comes from.  We fight for that extra exercise iteration when it would be easier to sit down and relax. That’s what makes us lethal. We never quit and never allow someone to look at us with disdain because of a lack of discipline. Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew McCready, battalion’s command sergeant major, once said when he took over as the battalion’s senior enlisted advisor, “Iron Rangers (1-16th Infantry’s nickname) are the quiet professionals.”

We have tried to take his word to heart.

We may be loud and somewhat arrogant amongst our peers, but we strive to be the “quiet professionals” that win graciously, yet always take their licks with a smile. We don’t yell and scream to maintain discipline. We work with temperance to correct Soldiers. We use the Uniform Code of Military Justice as a tool of last resort when other means of corrective training have failed. We do not use UCMJ actions as a threat to be swung around like a cudgel at the first sign of a problem. We do not allow the UCMJ to become a substitute for real leadership.

Compassion is something very important to our culture. Compassion for a Soldier doesn’t necessarily mean coddling him or her. I believe that one of things some leaders fail at is remembering where they came from. We didn’t all start our careers in the Army at our current rank. We made the same, often stupid, choices that our Soldiers make today as the Soldiers we once were. We just learned from those mistakes. We praise in public, chastise in private. A stern word spoken directly to a Soldier in private will get better results than humiliation or an iron fist.

Morale, I think, is sometimes more often used as a convenient buzzword than to represnet the tangible thing that it is. The Wolfpack maintains a very high state of morale. Much of it comes from the “pride in ownership” and the “buy-in principle” addressed earlier, but some of it comes from enthusiasm built by the leadership. Motivation is contagious. If the leadership is motivated and can get the junior leaders excited about being a part of the pack, it tends to spread like wildfire amongst the Soldiers. I specifically time my “pep-rally speeches” to the company to take place when the pack may have been beaten down a bit, are tired and and in need of some encouragement.  I use our triumphs to praise and build the team through my own enthusiasm.

Above all else, our leaders show genuine concern and care for their Soldiers—not just in thought, but true care in deed. We must be interested in their lives; be interested in their futures; be interested in their hopes, dreams and fears. Real leaders don’t fake it. Soldiers can tell very quickly if a leader is just faking it with them. If NCOs take care of their Soldiers, I promise, those Soldiers will take care of their NCOs.

None of our Soldiers who may have come to the unit with issues or have developed issues are thrown away or pushed off on other units to train. They are worked with and rehabilitated so that they become productive members of the pack again. We have a proven track record. Our Soldiers do not need to attend battalion-or brigade-level remedial physical fitness training; we work with them and help them meet the standard at the company level. If a Soldier is deeply in debt, we work to assist them in building a budget and working down that debt; we don’t send them off to another unit to be someone else’s problem. They are part of the pack and we will always take care of our own. We treat our Soldiers as we would our own kids.  All of these kids’ moms and dads and the U.S. Army entrusted these Soldiers into our care. This is a responsibility that we do not take lightly. How would we want our own kids treated by their leaders if the roles were reversed?

No one is immune to the three core tenets of the pack; this is what will ensure the lasting legacy that the Wolfpack has created. All Soldiers of the pack, regardless of rank, are bound by them. We share the burden of soldiering equally. The leadership of the company holds themselves to the same standards that we hold our Soldiers. We share in our Soldiers’ hardships and show them “what right looks like.” It is imperative that the correct example be set without exception. I often ask myself, “What type of leaders do we want leading us?”

We are those leaders. This is how we have become successful.


First Sgt. Jeremy M. Mastran is currently the first sergeant for Company D (Tank), 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Ft. Riley, Kan. His previous assignment was as a Senior Gunnery Doctrine Developer/Writer at Ft. Knox, Ky. In his 21 year career, he deployed to Macedonia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.”