Tag Archives: U.S. Military Academy

Tactical NCOs help forge officer, NCO relationship at U.S. Military Academy

U.S. Military Academy Public Affairs

Building the relationship between officers and NCOs is important to the Army. The process starts at the U.S. Military Academy, where Tactical Noncommissioned Officers, or TAC NCOs, are assigned to each cadet company.

“The officer and NCO relationship truly matters, and building that relationship has to start here at USMA,” said Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Clark, the 18th command sergeant major of the U.S. Military Academy. “The TAC NCOs here are an integral part of the shaping and molding (of) the Army’s future officers.”

The TAC NCO is the senior NCO within the cadet company of roughly 125 cadets and serves as one of the essential leader developers at the TAC team level. The other member of the TAC Team, the TAC officer, serves as the legal company commander of the cadet company and works closely with the NCO to establish the proper command climate within their respective companies.

Additionally, the TAC NCO assists the TAC officer with his or her responsibilities, and the team usually divides the workload. The TAC officer focuses on the development of the cadet officers, also known as the first class cadets, or seniors. The TAC NCO’s primary focus is the development of cadets holding the NCO ranks, which are the second and third class cadets, or the juniors and sophomores, respectively.

First Sgt. William Coultry, U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School first sergeant and a former TAC NCO, said there seems to be a misconception among the field force about taking a position at USMA.

“Some people think this may be a break from the force assignment, and it most certainly isn’t,” Coultry said. “You are a two-person team, managing 125-plus cadets on a daily basis, and when those cadets graduate from West Point, they become leaders of leaders.”

The duty description of the TAC NCOs states that they are expected to counsel, train and develop cadet corporals and sergeants on all aspects of Army operations, from company to brigade level. They are also expected to teach and supervise drill and ceremony, monitor and conduct military training, and inspect company areas and formations.

Sgt. 1st Class Stuart Corlett, Tactical NCO, 1st Regiment, Company E, inspects a cadet company prior to conducting drill and ceremony rehearsal for a regimental review on Oct. 6, 2015. The TAC NCO is expected to teach and supervise drill and ceremony, along with their other numerous duties, while assigned at the U.S. Military Academy. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Bunkley)
Sgt. 1st Class Stuart Corlett, Tactical NCO, 1st Regiment, Company E, inspects a cadet company prior to conducting drill and ceremony rehearsal for a regimental review on Oct. 6, 2015. The TAC NCO is expected to teach and supervise drill and ceremony, along with their other numerous duties, while assigned at the U.S. Military Academy. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Bunkley)

The ultimate goal of the TAC NCO is to assist in the overall development of the cadets so that they are prepared to assume the position of platoon leader upon graduation from the academy. The NCO does this by assisting each cadet in balancing and integrating the requirements of the academic, physical, military and character development programs.

“It’s such a professional environment,” said Sgt. 1st Class Sara Bradley, TAC NCO, C Company, 4th Regiment, U.S. Corps of Cadets. “Being around such professional officers and noncommissioned officers makes you want to be better.

“You’re supposed to be top in your branch to get here anyway, and now you are with the top,” Bradley said. “You’re around a bunch of professionals, expected to be at your absolute best, and it pushes you past what you’re used to.”

Bradley said the exposure cadets get by interacting with a senior NCO gives them the opportunity to experience a type of leadership they could encounter when they enter the regular Army and reach their first units. The TAC NCO is usually the first senior NCO the cadets will have the opportunity to interact with, and it is the job of that NCO to figure out the best way to engage with the cadets while in the position, Bradley said.

“I feel like I have given the cadets an example of what their platoon sergeant could be like when they head out into the Army upon graduation,” Bradley said. “I try to set a high standard even though all NCOs are different, and I hope I give them a good understanding of what an NCO is and what the NCO role is within the unit.”

Professional development

Although the majority of the NCOs’ time is spent developing cadets, Command Sgt. Maj. Dawn Rippelmeyer, the 23rd command sergeant major of the U.S. Corps of Cadets, said the leadership has not forgotten about NCO professional development.

“We want to make sure that our NCOs don’t lose contact with the operational Army,” Rippelmeyer said. “Although we have a graduating class of cadets each year, we also have a group of NCOs who PCS back out into the force, and we have to make sure that they are prepared to take on those senior NCO roles.”

NCOs have various opportunities to develop at USMA.

“An opportunity that we are extremely proud to offer here is the Benavidez Leader Development Program,” Rippelmeyer said.

The BLDP is a three-week program that allows TAC NCOs to learn some of the same skills their officer counterparts receive when they attend the Eisenhower Leader Development Program. The first week of the course is at USMA, where the NCOs focus on learning study skills and critical thinking. The next three weeks of the course are at Columbia University in New York City, where the focus shifts to leadership, supervision, executive coaching, organizational psychology and organizational dynamics.

Upon completion of the program, NCOs receive 10 graduate credits if they have completed their bachelor’s degree or 12 undergraduate credits if they have not. Rippelmeyer said that this is the pilot year and that the intent of the program is to allow every TAC NCO assigned to West Point the opportunity to participate.

USCC and USMA also have a Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Program in place, which focuses on better preparing senior NCOs at West Point to take on greater roles of responsibility when they leave.

“We have a great NCOPD program focused on leadership and administrative skills an NCO should know, in order to help them be a better first sergeant,” Rippelmeyer said.

Tactical NCOs and Tactical Officers, lead the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2015 as they march to their graduation ceremony at Michie Stadium at West Point, May 23, 2015.  Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff served as the commencement speaker for West Point’s 217th graduating class. (U.S. Army photo by John Pellino)
Tactical NCOs and Tactical Officers, lead the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2015 as they march to their graduation ceremony at Michie Stadium at West Point, May 23, 2015. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff served as the commencement speaker for West Point’s 217th graduating class. (U.S. Army photo by John Pellino)

The NCO Fusion Forum, overseen by Clark, and the USCC NCOPD Program, overseen by Rippelmeyer, focus on bringing the strategic Army perspective to senior NCOs at West Point, while providing them with the knowledge of what a first sergeant is expected to manage and be an expert on when in the field.

“We are looking for NCOs who have a desire to develop leaders, those who will really get after being involved and truly engage with the cadet chain of command,” Rippelmeyer said.

Rippelmeyer reviews every applicant’s packet and said there are certain prerequisites that the command requires its NCOs to possess. The applicant should be in the rank of staff sergeant (promotable), with platoon sergeant time, or sergeant first class, having completed drill sergeant duty, platoon sergeant time or both.

The applicant should have served nine to 14 years of active-duty military service at the time of application and must have a strong desire to serve in a critical and career progressive assignment, while also possessing strong physical fitness attributes and communication skills. Not every MOS is eligible to serve in a TAC NCO billet, but the position is open to the following specialties: 11B infantryman, 21B combat engineer, 21C bridge crewmember, 13B cannon crewmember, 14S air and missile defense crewmember, 14T Patriot launching station enhanced operator, 19D cavalry scout, 19K M1 armor crewman, 25U signal support systems specialist, 91X maintenance supervisor, 88M motor transport operator, 91E allied trades specialist, 92A automated logistical specialist, 31B military police, 88N transportation management coordinator and 15P aviation operations specialist.

TAC NCO positions may become available at any time, but it’s best to start actively pursuing the position once interested NCOs have successfully completed or are close to completing their platoon sergeant time, Rippelmeyer said.

She added that NCOs should work closely with their career branch assignment manager to get the specifics on when the position will be available and if it coincides with their projected PCS timeframe.

All nomination packets are sent directly to the USCC command sergeant major and should include the following documents: a letter stating the NCO’s desire to be assigned as a TAC NCO, a letter of recommendation from the NCO’s commander, a letter of recommendation from the NCO’s battalion commander or command sergeant major, the applicant’s last NCOER, and the current version of the NCO’s Enlisted Record Brief.

“If you’re looking for an experience where you can have a big effect on the Army… definitely look into this,” Rippelmeyer said. “It is extremely rewarding to see these cadets go from civilian, to someone you would want as your platoon leader, being a part of your company… because you see greatness.”

For more information on the program and to find out how to file a nomination packet, visit the U.S. Military Academy website at www.usma.edu, or contact the office of the U.S. Corps of Cadets command sergeant major at 845-938-4601.

Eagle Attack NCOs mentor cadets

101st Combat Aviation Brigade,
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)

Cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps recently got a first-hand look at NCO leadership at Fort Campbell, Ky. Noncommissisioned officers with 3rd Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), mentored students participating in cadet troop leader training from July 17 to Aug. 7.

The students, assigned to the 3rd Battalion “Eagle Attack,” saw what it is like to serve as a platoon leader in an active aviation unit. During the assignment, the students gave briefings and assisted in planning day-to-day missions under the mentorship of the battalion’s senior NCOs.

The mentorship opened the lines of communication between the soon-to-be junior officers and the Soldiers they will be working hand-in-hand with once they receive their commissions. By working with NCOs, the cadets gain experience in seeking guidance from their enlisted counterparts and establishing relationships founded on trust.

“I have 24 years in the Army,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Nichols, production control NCO in charge for D Company, 3rd Battalion, 101st CAB. “I have heard jokes about second lieutenants not having experience in the Army but having a lot of authority when they get to their unit. When good NCOs mentor the cadets, it gives us a chance to make sure that doesn’t happen nearly as much. It gives us the opportunity to make sure that when they commission, they can lean on and learn from the knowledge and leadership of their NCOs.”

For the cadets, establishing that trust provided a new perspective. By working in an active-duty unit with their NCO counterparts, the cadets learned some of the realities of working with the Soldiers they’ll be leading.

“You really can’t compare what we learned here to what we learned back at school,” said Cadet Olivia Lynch, a student at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Fla. “In the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at my school, we only learned about our duties as an officer. Here, we’re learning what it’s actually like working with the enlisted, what their day-to-day jobs are, what it’s like for them to live in the barracks. We learned what a platoon really needs out of a platoon leader. We learned that even something as small as going to a softball game can make a huge difference in morale.”

Though taking care of Soldiers is the realm of NCOs, command climate is often influenced by the officers in an organization. Mentoring the cadets is a great way for NCOs to hone their skills training Soldiers and set the cadets up for success, Nichols said.

“One of our basic functions as NCOs is to train Soldiers,” Nichols said. “Our job is to get privates and specialists mission-ready. Now, instead of training a private, you’re training a cadet. As my father used to say, ‘Get them young, start them young, train them young, and they’ll work forever that way.’ If you bring the cadets here to the active-duty Army and establish good habits of working with NCOs, only good things can come out of it. Pairing NCOs and cadets gives leadership opportunities to both sides. It gives junior NCOs the experience of reporting to a platoon leader, in a training sense. Those junior NCOs will become senior NCOs who will be reporting up the chain of command. It gives the cadets the opportunity to lead Soldiers, which will ultimately be their job. It shows both sides how an effective line of communication works both ways.”

Building avenues of communication is an important part of building any team. When it’s time to make things happen, other skills are needed. Time and resource management have to be included in the process.

“I think it’s absolutely necessary for the cadets to get the enlisted perspective as well as the officer mentorship now and as they progress through their careers,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Carter, D Company component repair supervisor. “It gives a new set of eyes and vision for fixing future problems. If it takes five Soldiers 30 minutes to move the aircraft, that’s 2.5 hours of manpower. The cadet needs to understand that maybe the time spent moving the aircraft can be better spent on other tasks. Instead of just giving direction, working smarter with your Soldiers would benefit the Army no matter what kind of unit you’re in.”

Leading Soldiers is a big responsibility. Having a taste of what they’ll be doing when they become platoon leaders will better prepare cadets for their responsibilities.

“What I see as a command sergeant major is that sometimes new officers don’t understand the responsibilities of being a platoon leader and the gravity that position possesses,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Brock, senior enlisted advisor for the “Eagle Attack” Battalion. “I think it catches them by surprise. I think the NCOs at ROTC or West Point need to convey that, unlike privates, a newly commissioned officer is a leader from day one by virtue of the fact that he or she is a second lieutenant or a first lieutenant.”

Giving the cadets a bigger toolbox before they receive their commissions helps them build and maintain positive relationships with their NCOs.

Officers have a lot of responsibilities placed on them because they are officers, Brock said. Every officer has an NCO. It’s NCO business to keep officers informed of Soldier issues because NCOs have more experience dealing with them. If officers and NCOs establish that communication and work together as teammates, the organization benefits.

NCOs begin new school year as staff — and students — at West Point Prep

NCO Journal

As students nationwide prepare to return to school this month, two groups of NCOs are also preparing to start another year as staff members and students at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School at West Point, N.Y., commonly known as West Point Prep.

There, prior-enlisted Soldiers and recent high school graduates develop their study, military and athletic skills as cadet candidates before going “down the hill” — to the other side of the West Point campus — to begin their journey toward becoming commissioned officers. And guiding these aspiring students are the school’s complement of NCOs.

Sgt. 1st Class Thaddeus Martin, a tactical NCO at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School at West Point, N.Y., inspects new cadet candidates on their reception day in July 2013. (Photo by John Pellino)
Sgt. 1st Class Thaddeus Martin, a tactical NCO at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School at West Point, N.Y., inspects new cadet candidates on their reception day in July 2013. (Photo by John Pellino)

“NCOs have a huge impact here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tristan Ruark, a tactical NCO at West Point Prep. “The day-to-day contact we have, the legacy of these NCOs, will be passed down the ‘Long Gray Line’ and out into the Army when these young men and women become officers.”

The school has its origins in President Woodrow Wilson’s 1916 authorization of appointments to West Point for enlisted Soldiers. From then until just after World War II, various programs operated in locations as varied as Fort Snelling, Minn., and in-theater in Langres, France, to prepare candidates for admission and graduation at the U.S. Military Academy. These ad hoc programs were consolidated at Stewart Army Air Field just north of West Point at Newburgh, N.Y., in 1946. The school then moved to Fort Belvoir, Va., in 1957, and to Fort Monmouth, N.J., in 1975, before settling at the West Point installation in 2011 as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure process.

Today, the school is no longer exclusively for enlisted Soldiers. Most of its student body are recent high school graduates who typically need to boost their academic skills before starting West Point’s legendarily tough curriculum. A typical day at the prep school is filled with math, English, study skills and military science classes, plus up to three hours of physical training and team sports, which are often coached by NCOs. Cadet candidates who graduate from the year-long program enter West Point as freshmen cadets — “plebes.” Proof that candidates leave well prepared is in the numbers: Since 1951, West Point Prep graduates have comprised 11 percent of the academy’s Corps of Cadets, yet have held 25 percent of the senior leadership positions.


A different role for NCOs

Because of West Point’s unique time-honored traditions, how NCOs there perform their customary roles of training, coaching and mentoring is unlike anywhere else in the Army. Cadets and cadet candidates operate their own chain of command and are the ones immediately responsible for student training and correction rather than the NCOs on staff.

“When I first arrived, I think the biggest shocker to me was that we weren’t the trainers anymore,” said Sgt. 1st Class Kristy Armstrong, who completed her tenure as the school’s first sergeant earlier this year. “Everywhere else in the Army, NCOs are the trainers. But when we get here, we’re told, ‘Here is your cadet leadership, and they’re going to train the cadet candidates.’”

Because older West Point cadets are the primary trainers at both the academy and the prep school, and that duty is designed as a learning experience for them, NCO staff members take a back seat during training events.

“During marksmanship training, for example, we give the cadets the overview of what we want the cadet candidates to know. But when we go to the range, we’re on the sidelines. We step back instead of being the subject-matter experts and the ones who validate the training as accurate and correct, because that’s not our role here.”

That doesn’t mean they stop showing what right looks like, however, Ruark said.

As a West Point cadet (left) leads a lesson teaching new West Point Prep students how to salute correctly, Martin (background) checks for deficiencies. (Photo courtesy U.S. Military Academy)
As a West Point cadet (left) leads a lesson teaching new West Point Prep students how to salute correctly, Martin (background) checks for deficiencies. (Photo courtesy U.S. Military Academy)

“We still are making sure that the cadet candidates are maintaining the standards,” he said. “But it’s when there are problems that the [cadet candidate] chain of command can’t take care of, that’s when we step in. And we’re always helping guide them and mold them.”

That caring for Soldiers — a hallmark of NCO leadership — is just done differently at the school than in regular Army units, said Sgt. 1st Class Thaddeus Martin, also a tac NCO at West Point Prep.

“It’s the same message getting across, we just do it differently here,” he said. “You still have to know your Soldiers, get that standard out there and enforce that standard. If we do that, everything else just falls into line.”

Almost all the NCOs on staff at the prep school were prepared for the job through previous stints as drill sergeants or platoon sergeants, Armstrong said.

“But this job really doesn’t compare to being a drill sergeant, because being a drill sergeant, you do everything. Everything falls on you,” she said. “Here, you’re more of a mentor. In my opinion, I’d say platoon sergeant would be the best preparation.”

“Having been a drill sergeant helps a little bit as far as the task management piece of things and because everything here has to be so structured,” Martin said. “As a drill sergeant, you do things every single day the same way, with the same schedule. It’s kind of the same thing here.”

But perhaps the biggest impact the NCOs at the prep school have on their students is simply exemplifying the value of NCOs in the Army, Ruark said.

“Having NCOs here, [the cadet candidates] get a good introduction to what the role of the NCO is,” he said. “They get to see different aspects of what NCOs do every day — not only the expertise part and the experience part, but also that we take care of Soldiers. We do that so officers have the time to accomplish their mission and do all the things they need to do. Eventually, if we stay in the Army long enough, these guys are going to come back to us as officers themselves, and we’re going to be part of that journey.”

That journey includes developing a healthy understanding of the officer-NCO relationship early on and learning to value NCOs as an indispensable resource, Armstrong said.

“Officers are the planners, and they’re a lot better at it than most of us are; they have more experience in that,” she said. “But they don’t have more experience in the implementation piece — the actual, no-kidding, breaking it down to the lowest level possible, like when we are training our team leaders and squad leaders to actually go outside the wire. That lieutenant is not training them; it’s the senior NCO who’s training those squad leaders. … We have all this knowledge, combat experience and leadership experience that shouldn’t be ignored because of the rank we wear.”

That the students will take this knowledge with them to West Point and onward into their Army careers is an immense responsibility, Ruark said.

“We develop and mentor, and try to set these guys up the best we can,” he said. “If they do make it into the academy, then hopefully they’ll take some of what we’ve given them and give it back to their classmates and to the Army.”

On the other hand, the NCOs said their experience in training future officers will also make them better senior NCOs.

“It’s going to help me be a true first sergeant of a company, because I’ve been able to step back,” Armstrong said. “I won’t just jump off the handle as my first instinct, but look to see what the actual problem is.”

“After this assignment, I think I’ll be a better planner,” Martin said. “NCOs, we usually execute. But we’ve planned so much in the past two years, it’s going to give me a foundation for years to come.”

“A little bit of it as well is working in close proximity with high-level leaders like field-grade officers,” Ruark said. “Learning how to work with them in this environment will definitely transfer to when you become a first sergeant or you’re in operations and you’re going to battalion-level meetings.”

Understanding how officers are trained will also be an asset, Ruark said.

“It definitely is a unique experience to see what goes on to produce the officers who are going to take charge of us,” he said.


From Soldier to student

For the West Point Prep students who’ve transitioned from being enlisted Soldiers to being students on the path toward being commissioned as officers, life at the school takes much adjusting.

“It could be that you’re prior-service, but have been out of high school too long,” Armstrong said. “The Army wants to make sure that you can adapt back into the classroom environment.”

Prior-service cadet candidates must trade their lives of relative autonomy and responsibility to start over at the lowest rung of West Point’s student leadership structure. But for one candidate, it was an opportunity that he couldn’t pass on.

“The Army is something I love, and I thought that if I really wanted to make a step up, the positives really outweighed the negatives exponentially,” said Cadet Candidate Samuel Crump, who was a sergeant when he enrolled in the school last year and is now a West Point plebe. “If I really wanted to take my career to the next level, I realized this was something I had to look into.”

At first, Crump said he chafed a bit at cadet leaders calling the shots, having come from a position where that was his job.

“I was pulled out of a mobilization to come here,” he said. “I was a training NCO, and I was training my Soldiers, making sure everything was good to go. We were so gung-ho, ready for that mission. Then this happened. It was definitely an interesting transition.”

But Crump and his fellow prior-service students quickly realized they still were able to positively impact their colleagues. Though informal, that mentorship was no less impactful, Armstrong said.

“[Students with prior service] are definitely used as internal leadership,” she said. “To not use the knowledge that they have to bring to the table would be silly on our part. Their peer leadership is definitely a necessity according to the way this place is set up.”

Helping others understand the different roles of officers and NCOs was a common theme, said then-Cadet Candidate Matthew Seyfried, who was a private first class when he enrolled in the school and is now a first-year cadet at West Point.

“The prior-service [cadet candidates] try to help the non-priors differentiate the roles of the tac officer and the tac NCO,” he said. “It’s probably one of the biggest things for them, because they don’t have any experience with NCOs before coming here. So, I think that’s one of the biggest reasons they bring enlisted Soldiers here, to show how enlisted life is so they have a well-rounded base.”

Crump said one of the hardest things to do — amid the trials and frustrations of what will be for them a five-year stay at West Point — is to remain focused on the ultimate long-term objective for every West Point Prep student: becoming a commissioned U.S. Army officer.

“The system they have in place accomplishes its goal. The goal is to get people down the hill, and that’s what they’re doing,” he said. “Now is the time you need to evolve so you can fit into the West Point mold. That way, when you go down the hill, everything’s going to go smooth for you. That’s the ultimate goal — stay on the glide path and graduate.”

Seyfried agreed.

“If you just remember the end state — I’m going back to the Army and I’m going to have a different impact there and perform a different role in a different way — and stay excited about it, you’ll be able to keep that positive mentality even on those days when you wish you could just go back to doing what it was you were doing before,” he said.

But Crump said they wouldn’t forget their roots as enlisted Soldiers and NCOs.

“After all, I’m not here to be Sgt. Crump,” he said. “I’m here on a long transition to become 2nd Lt. Crump. Then one day perhaps, when I’m Maj. Crump and he’s Maj. Seyfried, we’ll be able to look at doctrine differently and influence the enlisted side and give them what they need.”