JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- (Feb. 28, 2017) Understanding the contributions by Soldiers across the Mission and Installation Contracting Command to sustain materiel readiness for our Army has been a treasure trove of knowledge since I joined the command more than 15 months ago. I've realized that the significant role by Soldiers in the 51C military occupational specialty often fails to receive its due credit as much of what they do is behind the scenes and comes ahead of mission execution.

More than 183,000 Soldiers are currently supporting combatant commanders. In fact, the Army is sourcing 46 percent of the demand for joint forces this fiscal year, and that demand is projected to grow in fiscal 2018. Synchronizing logistics and sustainment needs for this demand is not possible without acquisition support.

Contracting Soldiers are essentially the tip of the spear for sustainment operations. They are at the forefront of direct support to any Army command, combatant commands, Army service commands, and direct reporting units and play a key role in any one of those organizational requirements. Army activities recognize that their mission needs are being met, but don't necessarily know where they're getting it from or the complex processes involved because contracting NCOs have always been behind the scenes; on the outside looking in. Without fail, acquisition Soldiers are delivering those unique requirements in support of deployments, installation management, field training and readiness exercises as well as any essentials for corps, divisions, brigade combat teams, sustainment brigades and DRUs.

So, for the first time since the standup of this MOS at the end of 2009, we finally have cracked the code for integrating the 51 Charlie as a multifunctional NCO into the Army structure where they are recognized by the corps, divisions and BCTs as an enabler to their operational mission sets. They recognize that the Army is a people-based institution, not platform-based. Individual Soldier readiness is the foundation of Army readiness, and our contracting NCOs are helping deliver that readiness.

We've overcome many hurdles in being recognized as the Army's premier contracting organization. Our contracting officers and NCOs are no longer the Soldier behind a desk writing a contract or doing market research, they are now aligned and embedded where they are needed. They maintain their technical and tactical proficiency as they continue to deploy in support of numerous named operations and training environments. More importantly, they are fitting into the parameters of what Army NCOs are required to do: be multifunctional. Contract planning requires our Soldiers to be out ahead of the thought process and decision making by analyzing gaps and implementing solutions so the Army maintains its operational edge.

Now that the 51 Charlie MOS has matured, focus must now shift on continued professional development to include broadening opportunities for our NCOs. Although Soldiers come to contracting from a variety of career fields at the staff sergeant level, a broadened knowledge of the multiple tenants of sustainment to include transportation, medical, maintenance, supply, field services, distribution operations, general engineering support, human resources, financial management, religious support, and last but not least, legal support that cultivates a multifunctional NCO for the Army.

We have the most educated NCO corps in the Army, hands down. Their technical proficiency will never be questioned. Great focus is placed on certification, and rightly so as one of the tools to execute contracts on behalf of the government. But that doesn't necessarily translate to the tactical and operational experience that other NCOs in their grade equivalents are receiving across the Army. As leaders, we must be confident that when we place an NCO in another environment, they possess the necessary training and development essential to succeed.

For instance, what if a contracting NCO was needed to take charge of a port support activity? Is he or she prepared to transition their mindset from the desk and technical-specific MOS to that of a tactical manager responsible to account for cargo and ships to get from the continental U.S. to warfighters overseas? NCOs should be able to function in any environment, whether in garrison or forward deployed, or we've done the Army a disservice. We owe it to our NCOs and Soldiers that they are prepared with a baseline skill set to operate wherever the Army needs them, and that they are the most adaptable, resilient and multifunctional "sustainers!"

The question is, then, how do we broaden our NCOs? Most only consider NCO broadening as recruiting, drill sergeant duty, inspector general NCOs, or equal opportunity advisers. Each are elements of broadening, but from a command sergeant major perspective, I envision broadening the NCO Corps by allowing them to attend functional courses that also will broaden their tactical skill sets such as the support operations course, unit movement officer course, battle staff and ammunition management, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Prevention, Master Resiliency Training, air load operations, just to name a few.

Leaders at all levels need to be able to look beyond contracting and think about the tactical expertise that our NCOs require as well. Functional training adds one more modicum of expertise to the roster. Although we've only just began to scratch the surface for functional training opportunities in the logistics arena when you consider the number of staff sergeants and sergeant first classes across the MICC. Not only will these development opportunities broaden their tactical and functional skill sets, but also allows our organization to take greater control of our internal training requirements and execution of deployment operations without having to borrow manpower of other organizations.

Supporting the warfighter demands a ready and resilient workforce. One that is guided by proficient leaders with the knowledge, capabilities and expertise to sustain readiness -- the Army's No. 1 priority. Fundamental in this is a corps of multifunctional NCOs who are interchangeable and capable of performing outside of the technically specific limits of contracting.