Since 1775, the Noncommissioned Officer Corps has distinguished itself through leadership, professionalism, commitment, courage and dedication. It is comprised of trained, adaptable, self-sacrificing professionals who have earned the admiration of both the officer and enlisted ranks. From the time a Soldier enters the Army until the time he or she leaves this profession, the NCO is there every step of the way to guide Soldiers and help them navigate any situation with their professionalism, competence and caring. The NCO Corps is the reason behind our success on the battlefield today and on battlefields of the past.
During the American Revolution, the very first NCOs were known as file-closers. Back then our Army fought in long lines. The way you won a battle was to break the other side’s line and then charge the disorganized Soldiers with bayonets. It was NCOs who kept our lines steady and enforced discipline during combat. In fact, it was the Army’s first Inspector General in 1778 during the cold days of Valley Forge who called NCOs “the backbone of the Army.”
So, we carry on a tradition first defined in the earliest years of the American Army’s history.
When tactics changed and we no longer fought in those long lines, formations of Soldiers wheeled and rallied on the colors. As that became the central point of the battle, the job was transferred from an officer to the color sergeant, who had a guard of corporals around the colors. That tradition lives on today when a color guard posts the nation’s flag during our ceremonies, and those are just two examples.
Throughout the Army’s history, whenever tactics or technologies have changed, whether from horses to tanks or from jeeps to humvees, the role of an NCO has also changed. As the battlefield became more and more decentralized and complex, NCOs have stepped up and taken on more leadership duties. This change in roles has come into clearer focus since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Our enemies know they have no hope of surviving a head-to-head battle with our Army, so instead they specialize in attacking small teams, convoys and isolated outposts. That means NCOs are often the senior leaders during those types of encounters. The trust and confidence held in our NCOs has never stood firmer.
In addition, today’s NCOs serve as positive, community role models. From a drill sergeant’s long hours in the training base to the disregard for personal safety from a squad leader in battle, NCOs’ tireless efforts to achieve the nation’s goals set a daily example of commitment to service for us all.
What is your role? A role is defined as your job, your profession, responsibilities, and your position. The U.S. Army is in a period of continual conflict and transformation that will last for a while longer. The Army will not sustain this pace without the guidance, support and leadership of its NCO Corps. Throughout this period, NCOs must maintain fundamental soldiering at the forefront of everything we do, and that means we must focus on the basics, maintain Army values and facilitate the transformation.
The best way to lead in a period of fast-paced change is to focus on the basics. NCOs don’t need to worry about the color of the beret or type of Class A uniform we’re all going to wear next year. We need to spend more time conducting in-ranks inspections and pay-day formations to teach Soldiers how to properly wear the uniform they have. We set the standards.
NCOs need to spend more time with squad and platoon leaders, teaching them the importance of counseling and communicating with their Soldiers and less time on the Internet. (And communicating means more than just talking to them; it’s also listening to Soldiers concerns and doing something to solve their problems.) In other words, we need to train and mentor.
NCOs need to spend more time in the barracks waking up young Soldiers and ensuring their living areas are up to standard, not assuming they’re responsible adults who will accomplish these tasks. We need to supervise and develop Soldiers, so they, too, may be NCOs one day.