By Maj. Sean O'Connell, Special to the Fort Leavenworth LampMarch 19, 2009
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (March 19, 2009) - It has often been said that the noncommissioned officer is the backbone of the U.S. Army. And in the current operational environment, NCOs are needed to provide that structure more than ever.
NCOs are the primary trainers for Soldiers, both officer and enlisted. From the first day a person joins the Army, an NCO has a hand in his or her training. For enlisted Soldiers, the first instruction is from a drill instructor, and officers are no different in this process. No matter if you are an officer candidate, West Point cadet or ROTC cadet, NCOs have the unique job of training and mentoring the people who will eventually become their officers.
NCOs also provide the mentorship needed by Soldiers and officers not only through their operational experiences, but their experience in units. NCOs often stay at the operational level for longer periods of time than officers. It is because of this that officers and NCOs are paired together in all organizational structures - the NCO becomes the primary adviser to the officer.
NCOs use their experiences to mentor and train officers new to a job as well as provide the continuity needed to provide stability to the organization. They also join with the officer to provide a unified voice within the unit; this unified voice is provided by the NCOs and officers working together. The officer plans and resources while the NCOs see to the detailed execution of unit operations. In addition to unity of voice, this pairing provides unity of effort.
Decentralized mission execution is a primary function of an NCO. Based on his or her vast operational experiences and pairing with officers, the NCO has the ability to take over in any situation in the absence of their appointed officer. Leaders may fall, but the mission cannot. The NCO is there to ensure mission accomplishment. For this reason, all commanders have an NCO as a primary adviser. That NCO is privy to all operations in the unit and answers only to the commander. This allows the NCO Corps to have a parallel chain of command that ensures continuing smooth operations when officers are replaced, incapacitated or not available.
For me, I've seen all of this in practice. As a new captain out of the Captains Career Course, I was assigned to a battalion S4 position with no logistics experience. I arrived at the unit the day before the outgoing S4 was departing. The extent of the handover between us was a quick tour of the base, a rundown of where his files were and his contact information if I had any questions.
The bright spot of my day was seeing the section NCO in charge - she was a sergeant first class with almost 20 years of experience. Over the next several months, she became an integral part of anything and everything I did. For all the many - and often competing - requests from the units, she had the knowledge and experience to accomplish the mission. She provided me with advice and counsel on everything from technical questions to dealing with the many personalities in the battalion.
Eventually, as she passed on her vast knowledge of logistics, we became a team with one voice. We could "cover down" in each other's absence. This NCO provided the stability and experience to both me and the organization needed to make the battalion S4 section successful. Without her I would not have had the trainer, mentor and advisor I needed as a new battalion S4 to help accomplish the unit's mission.
To me she was the backbone of our section as well as the U.S. Army.
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 their careers. Send ideas or essays to editor@ftleavenworthlamp .com.