Soldiers transitioning from the lower enlisted ranks to becoming a noncommissioned officer (NCO) are among the most important people in the Army as they prepare to lead the organization into the future, said Command Sgt. Maj. Leon E. Caffie.
Caffie, the Command Sergeant Major of the Army Reserve, was the guest speaker at the Fort McCoy NCO Academy Warrior Leader Course graduation March 20.
"You are part of the select elite who have the opportunity to attend this course," Caffie said. "I need you more than I needed you before, because I cannot do this job by myself. Aca,!A| I can set a tone, but I cannot get out in the trenches and do the work that you are required to do."
"I need you in order for this organization to succeed and grow and to continue to flourish in the future as the backbone of the Army," he said.
In return, Caffie told the graduates, he would make their training challenging and take them down a path that hasnAca,!a,,ct been traveled down before. NCOs need to know how to write and to communicate effectively, think under pressure and know they will succeed or fail with their buddies in the foxholes with them.
Caffie also discussed challenges the Army faces, such as gender bias and racism, he said. "The enemy doesnAca,!a,,ct care if you are male or female," Caffie said. "They know you are an American citizen and stand for a certain democratic policy that doesnAca,!a,,ct look great for them."
To help NCOs accomplish their mission, the Army must sustain a fair and honest system, uphold the seven Army Values and maintain Army standards, Caffie said.
NCOs will face many obstacles, and Caffie said he will help NCOs give everything they can give.
"I have been where you are sitting today on a different set of standards," he said. "IAca,!a,,cve felt no one cared about me. They saw me as a nuisance, not as an asset. I see you as an asset because without you I donAca,!a,,ct have an Army Reserve. Without you I donAca,!a,,ct have an Army National Guard. I need your talent."
Caffie said NCOs need to step forward to say they are part of the greatest Army in the world.
No army has an NCO Corps like the U.S. Army, he said. When he meets with NATO counterparts during his travels, Caffie said the first thing they ask is how we develop our NCO Corps to make the split-second decisions necessary to lead Soldiers.
Caffie said he tells them the U.S. Army trusts its NCOs and prepares its NCOs.
"We hold you to a certain set of standards. Those standards were formulated way before I became a sergeant," he said.
CaffieAca,!a,,cs vision for reserve-component Soldiers and NCOs can be summed up by the results of the last Best Warrior Competition.
During the first years of the competition, the Army funneled the Reserve competitors through the U.S. Army Forces Command competition, from which they didnAca,!a,,ct advance to the Army-level competition.
Caffie said he decided to upset the apple cart and change things a little bit by going to the Chief of the Army Reserve Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz and telling him he wanted to go plead his case directly to the Sergeant Major of the Army.
Along with his National Guard counterpart, Caffie went to the Sergeant Major of the Army to make the case that the Reserve and National Guard winners were worthy of going directly to the Army-level competition and to break through the glass ceiling.
"He (the Sergeant Major of the Army) was apprehensive, but he said Aca,!EoeOKAca,!a,,c with the expectation that we would have marginal performance," Caffie said. "That we wouldnAca,!a,,ct be as strong as they were. That we would not do as well as they (active-duty) did."
The first year, Army Reserve Soldiers did OK, but Caffie accepted full responsibility to Stultz for his Soldiers not being optimally prepared to compete in the competition and vowed it wouldnAca,!a,,ct happen again.
In 2008, the breakthrough came at Fort McCoy. He told entrants the training in the competition was tough and that some of them wouldnAca,!a,,ct make it because he was looking for the best.
His faith paid off at the Association of the U.S. Army ceremony announcing the winners of the Army-level event.
First, an NCO from the Army National Guard won the NCO of the Year title. Then an Army Reserve Soldier, Spc. David Obray, who advanced to the competition by winning the Army Reserve Soldier of the Year competition at Fort McCoy, won the Army-level competition as the Soldier of the Year.
"All I asked for was to give my Soldiers the opportunity to compete at that level," Caffie said. "Because we have arrived."
"ItAca,!a,,cs because of you, I do what I do," he said. "I talk to members of Congress. I fight for the needs of the Reserve."
Caffie said he continues to move ahead on issues for the Reserve Soldiers, including fighting to get them the medical care they need through TRICARE.