Major recalls service as an NCO
February 26, 2009
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. - The Army designating 2009 as the Year of the NCO is a testament to the importance and value of NCOs in the Army and a validation of their status as the backbone of the U.S. Army.
I have had the privilege of serving my country as a Soldier for the past 18 years and am currently a commissioned officer in the Army. However, I originally enlisted in the Army in 1991 and spent the first seven years of my career serving as an enlisted Soldier and as a noncommissioned officer.
Once I made it to the rank of staff sergeant, I thought I had a good understanding of the importance of the NCO role in the Army. However, it wasn't until serving as a commissioned officer and a company commander that I truly saw the importance and influence that NCOs can have.
While serving as a young enlisted Infantry Soldier, I quickly understood the importance of the NCO to me, my peers and my squad as a whole. The NCOs were basically the father figures for the younger Soldiers; they made the lives of the Soldiers very simple by establishing basic rules, such as "Do what I tell you, do only what I tell you, and do it when I tell you."
They managed and ran every aspect of our military lives from the time we arrived at work until the time we went home at night. Many times their work still didn't end there; they were still responsible for our actions while we were home or away from work. The concept of being a Soldier 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was driven into our heads and reinforced by the NCOs while checking on Soldiers over weekends and after duty hours.
I had great NCOs in charge of me when I first joined the Army. They truly cared about me and the other Soldiers they were in charge of and made every effort to look out for our well-being. They were fair and impartial when it came to presenting awards and to serving punishment and made every effort to get to know and understand every aspect of the Soldiers they were responsible for.
When I was promoted to sergeant in 1995 and to staff sergeant in 1996, I always kept those NCOs in the back of my mind to use as a guide for my actions and behavior while I served as an NCO.
In 1998, I attended Officer Candidate School and became a commissioned officer. I had the same difficulty that many of my OCS peers had with differentiating between the role of a lieutenant and platoon leader from the role of an NCO. It was hard to step away from the direct mission accomplishment, Soldier care and Soldier management roles that were ingrained into me and learn to be a leader and planner who provides the resources required for the NCOs under me. NCOs manage the most important asset in the Army, the Soldier. Without Soldiers there would be no Army. Without NCOs leading and managing the Soldiers, nothing would get accomplished in the Army.
Once I became a company commander, I was able to see and appreciate the influence that NCOs have a little clearer. However, this time it wasn't just the good NCOs that made an impact on me; the bad NCOs provided a valuable learning experience as well. Managing four very different platoons that were being run by four very different platoon sergeants, I was able to notice how the NCOs attitude and behavior affected the Soldiers they led. The stronger, more professional NCOs produced a positive environment for the Soldiers that was contagious within the platoon. The morale was high and the discipline problems were low.
Unfortunately, two of the NCOs had bad attitudes and their display of professionalism was questionable. The tension and stress in their platoons was very high and there were numerous discipline issues with the Soldiers. After removing the two NCOs and replacing them with strong, confident, professional NCOs, the morale of the Soldiers drastically increased and the discipline problems dropped.
I loved my time as a noncommissioned officer and enjoyed the experience it gave me, but I didn't truly learn to respect the value of an NCO's role until becoming a company commander. Missions only get accomplished because of the hard work and dedication of good NCOs, and the Army designating 2009 as "Year of the NCO" gives great testament to that fact.
Editor's note: During the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, the Fort Leavenworth Lamp is seeking essays from Command and General Staff College students and others about NCOs who have inspired or influenced officers' careers, as well as stories about NCOs who later became officers. Send ideas or essays to firstname.lastname@example.org.