By Staff Sgt. Crista Yazzie, USARPAC Public AffairsFebruary 20, 2009
CHIANG MAI, Thailand - Non-commissioned officers make it happen. At Exercise Cobra Gold 2009, this U.S. Army standard for its NCO corps is made manifest through the professional performances and missions accomplished by NCOs throughout the country of Thailand.
Cobra Gold is an annual multi-national joint exercise led by the Kingdom of Thailand and United States, now in its 28th year. The exercise has expanded to include the countries of Indonesia, Japan and Singapore and incorporates a variety of training in different locations.
"During Exercise Cobra Gold, the role of our non-commissioned officers is to demonstrate the dedicated professionalism of our non-commissioned officer corps in everything that they do, from jungle warfare to peacekeeping training, and to exchange ideas with their counterparts so they have a taste for just how professional and skilled our non-commissioned officers are," said U.S. Army Pacific Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph P. Zettlemoyer.
Zettlemoyer emphasized this professionalism as indicative of one of the many reasons the Department of the Army officially named 2009 as the Year of the NCO.
"Year of the NCO means that we have a professional and competent standard of leaders found within the NCO corps," he said.
"As managers and Soldiers, our technical expertise means that we're not just pencil pushers or middle managers, we are actually leaders taking care of our Soldiers," said Staff Sgt. Alexander White, A. Co. 205th Military Intelligence Battalion, 500th M.I. Bde. White is the non-commissioned officer in charge of the Trojan communications support to the command group of Cobra Gold 09.
The Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative, a United Nations training conducted as part of Cobra Gold, was fully manned and executed by a team of six NCOs and one senior NCO as an observer, the first time the training was conducted without any assistance from a commissioned officer.
"We've hit a major milestone by having a total NCO lead," said Sgt. Maj. Michael Thomas, GPOI observer. "Putting faith in us and knowing that NCOs can competently assume the same responsibilities of a field grade officer, which is the rank that ran the GPOI in all years previous to this one, is very rewarding."
The team filled a role as trainers to 30 Royal Thai Army Soldiers, ten Indonesian Soldiers and five Japanese Soldiers.
"The NCOs from our partner nations are learning from being exposed to this and in some cases you will see them actually step up and take charge," said Zettlemoyer. "At the GPOI, one of the advisors is a sergeant major from the Singapore Army."
Another way Cobra Gold NCOs accomplished the mission was by fulfilling job requirements that may be initially slotted for other ranks.
"Normally a major or captain does this job," said Sgt. 1st Class Devin Winnegan, U.S. Army, Pacific, Significant Activity Manager for the Cobra Gold Joint Task Force, regarding his position during Cobra Gold. "But, I don't look at the fact that I replaced a major or a captain, I adapt to the battlefield and consider that I'm meeting my commander's intent and being successful at what I do."
NCOs play a vital role in the shaping of military operations within the U.S. Army as well as in Cobra Gold, according to Staff Sgt. Daniel Shaffer, an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army, Japan Support Unit. Shaffer supported Cobra Gold within the Coalition Army Forces of Cobra Gold 2009.
"An NCO is the one responsible for all the Soldiers' welfare who takes a proactive role with all the Soldiers to be sure that when they become leaders they know the right way of doing things," said Shaffer.
Officers and NCOs in the U.S. Army supported one another in mission accomplishment during Cobra Gold as well.
"A few days ago, our officer in charge was away at different briefings throughout the day, and if it weren't for the leadership of the NCOs, the flow of everything probably would have stalled, " said Shaffer. "They stepped up and finished the job with a flawless transactions."
With all of the positive interaction from this year's Cobra Gold, particularly the GPOI, Zettlemoyer hopes to have more NCO-led training in future exercises.
"I would love to have part of our NCO-development system, our education system, be a part of future exercises," said Zettlemoyer. "Certainly a Warrior Leader Course-type squad leader level training event for the Thai and other nations' NCOs would be worthwhile looking into."
Whatever the mission, Zettlemoyer emphasized, non-commissioned officers will get the job done, and that is why it is the Year of the NCO.
"As NCOs we make things happen, whether it's Cobra Gold or anywhere else. It doesn't matter whose job it is, if something's broke, we fix it," said Zettlemoyer.