WEST POINT, N.Y. (Nov. 18, 2015) -- The history of the Noncommissioned Officer can be traced back to the establishment of the Continental Army in 1775 and since then, the NCO has been there, leading Soldiers in battle and training them in peacetime, leading by example and always leading from the front.That piece of history remains no different at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where the NCO has played an active role since the establishment of the institution in 1802. In a 1999 report on the history of the Tactical Noncommissioned Officer at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point Department of History instructor Capt. Christopher J. DeGaray explains that Sylvanus Thayer, the third Superintendent of West Point, also know as the "Father of the Military Academy," relied heavily on the enlisted Soldiers of the ordnance platoon in the early 19th Century, as they cleared large boulders from what is today referred to as "The Plain." This made way for many of today's facilities positioned around the West Point central area, including the academic buildings, barracks for the cadets and offices to house the staff and faculty.The NCO continued to play a key role in educating, training and inspiring cadets at West Point through the mid-19th Century, where NCOs of the engineer platoon provided instruction in practical military engineering. Unfortunately this practice was ended in the late 1950's, but that gave way to the summer Cadet Field Training of the 1960's and 1970's, where active duty NCOs brought in from various Army units, oversaw the training and instruction of basic military field skills.However, cadet interaction with the NCO was limited to these few training opportunities until the early 1980's, when NCOs were formally assigned as staff members of the Brigade Tactical Division. At that time, the BTD consisted of regular Army officers whose primary mission was to develop the U.S. Corps of Cadets through the integration of the Academy's programs, training them to be leaders in the United States Army. To this point, the officers of the BTD served as the principal leadership for the cadets and were know as the Company Tactical Officer, or Company TAC.DeGaray's report added that these BTD NCOs started off at the cadet regiments, where they became known as Tactical Noncommissioned Officers, or TAC NCOs, and were assigned at a ratio of one NCO per 360 cadets, or one NCO per cadet battalion for a total of 12. During the late 1980's, the position persevered through several resourcing and structuring changes, due to the belief of academy leadership that the TAC NCO played a critical role in the cadet's development.The position ultimately transformed for the last time in 1992, taking on the current structure of the position today, where one NCO is assigned to each individual cadet company, totaling 36 TAC NCO positions."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 of today is the senior NCO within the cadet company of roughly 120 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 proper command climate within their respective company.Additionally, the TAC NCO assists the TAC Officer with their responsibilities and the team usually divides the developmental workload. The TAC Officer will mostly focus on the development of the cadet officers, also known as the 1st Class cadets, or seniors. The TAC NCOs' primary focus is the development of cadets holding the NCO ranks, which are the second and third class cadets, or the sophomores and juniors, respectively.First Sgt. William Coultry, U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School First Sgt. and a former TAC NCO, said that there seems to be a misconception amongst the field force about taking a position at USMA and that people shouldn't always believe what they hear."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 NCO 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.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 and 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, Tactical NCO, United States Corps of Cadets, 4th Regiment, Company C. "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," Bradley added, "and now you are with the top. 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 that the exposure cadets get with interacting with a senior NCO gives them the opportunity to experience first-hand a type of leadership style that they could encounter when they enter the regular Army and head off to their first unit of assignment. 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, added Bradley.
"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 added. "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."Although the majority of the NCOs time is spent on developing cadets, Command Sgt. Maj. Dawn Rippelmeyer, the 23rd Command Sergeant Major of the U.S. Corps of Cadets, said that the leadership has not forgot about the professional development of the NCO at all."We want to make sure that our NCOs don't lose contact with the operational Army," said Rippelmeyer. "Although we have a graduating class of cadets each year, we also have a group of NCOs that PCS back out into the force and we have to make sure that they are prepared to take on those senior NCO roles."There are various ways in which an NCO has an opportunity to develop while assigned as a TAC. "An opportunity that we are extremely proud to offer here is the Benavidez Leader Development Program," said Rippelmeyer.The BLDP is a three-week program that allows the TAC NCO an opportunity to learn some of the same skills that their officer counterpart receives when they attend the Eisenhower Leader Development Program. The first week of the course is held at USMA, where the NCOs focus on learning study skills and critical thinking. The next three weeks of the course are held at Columbia University in New Your City, and focus on leadership and supervision, executive coaching and organizational psychology and organizational dynamics.Upon completion of the program, the NCO receives 10 graduate credits if they have already completed their bachelor's degree and will receive 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 an outstanding Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Program in place, which truly focuses on better preparing the 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 1st Sgt.," said Rippelmeyer.The NCO Fusion Forum, which is overseen by Command Sgt. Maj. Clark, and the USCC NCOPD Program overseen by Command Sgt. Maj. Rippelmeyer, focus on bringing the strategic Army perspective to the senior NCOs at West Point, while providing the senior NCO with the knowledge of what a 1st Sgt. is expected to manage and be the expert of 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," said Rippelmeyer when asked about the type of NCO that the U.S. Military Academy is looking for to fill the TAC NCO positions.Rippelmeyer reviews every applicant's packet and said that there are certain prerequisites that the command requires the NCO to possess, prior to assuming the role. The applicant should be in the rank of Staff Sergeant (Promotable), with Platoon Sergeant time, or Sergeant First Class, having completed a highly successful Drill Sergeant duty, platoon sergeant time, or both.The applicant should have served nine to fourteen years of active duty military service upon 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, 21B, 21C, 13B, 14S, 14T, 19D, 19K, 25U, 63X, 88M, 91W, 92A, 31B, 88N and 15P.TAC NCO positions may become available at any time, but it's best to start actively pursuing the position once the interested NCO has successfully completed or is close to completing their platoon sergeant time, said Rippelmeyer.She added that the NCO should work closely with their Career Branch Assignment Manager to get the specifics on when the position will be available to apply to and if it coincides with their projected PCS timeframe.All nomination packets are sent directly to the USCC Command Sgt. Maj. and should include the following documents; a letter stating the NCOs' desire to be assigned as a TAC NCO, a letter of recommendation from the NCOs' Commander, a letter of recommendation from NCOs' Battalion Commander or Command Sergeant Major, the applicant's last NCOER, and the most current version of the NCOs' Enlisted Record Brief."If you're looking for an experience where you can have a big effect on the Army… definitely look into this," said Rippelmeyer. "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, you can visit the U.S. Military Academy website at www.usma.edu, or contact the office of the U.S. Corps of Cadets Command Sgt. Maj. at, (845) 938-4601.