West Point is one of the few installations where officers outnumber the enlisted, and for cadets receiving a noncommissioned officer’s perspective on Army life is key to developing them as leaders of character. With a small NCO-to-officer ratio, Command Sgt. Maj. Sam Crislip, senior enlisted advisor for the Army Cyber Institute, took initiative and found a new opportunity to provide more NCO perspective and leadership for cadets.
For the most part, cadets’ interactions with NCOs are with their tactical NCO at the company level or with an occasional military science NCO instructor. Crislip worked with Col. Jeffrey Erickson, the director of the Army Cyber Institute, to find a way to teach and dedicate some time apart from his standard duties as the sergeant major for ACI. Erickson felt it was a good opportunity to have an enlisted member teach cadets as it was a non-traditional opportunity.
“Our NCOs in the Army provide a variety of skills, knowledge and experience that we should always look to leverage,” Erickson said. “Providing Command Sgt. Maj. Crislip this chance to teach cadets, going above and beyond his duties as senior enlisted advisor at ACI, was something that benefits all parties involved.”
“I think it is important for NCOs to have a part in teaching cadets,” Crislip said. “It demonstrates to cadets that the NCOs they will work with in the future can contribute meaningfully in the conversations and analyses necessary to be a part of the commander’s decision cycle.”
He continued to say, “NCOs are sometimes perceived as being good at task organization and accomplishing those tasks. However, NCOs have more to contribute if their counterparts give them the opportunity to be a full member of the team, not simply just responsible for the health, welfare and task accomplishment of their subordinates.”
Crislip earned a bachelor’s degree in computer information technology and a master’s in science and technology intelligence; he has also served in the Army for 22 years and been in cyber since 2014, when it officially became a branch. Given his background and education, Crislip was a perfect fit to teach a higher-level course in cyber: an information technology course, focusing on cyber policy, strategy and operations.
“Command Sgt. Maj. Crislip taught his students two perspectives not commonly found at West Point,” said Class of 2021 Cadet Bryan Kim, a computer science major and member of the Cadet Cyber Policy Team. “The first perspective is his experience and values as a senior NCO within the Army. The second perspective is his technical and strategic knowledge as a senior, cyber NCO.”
Kim explained that it is rare to find cyber officers and NCOs at West Point compared to the other branches, which have higher representation at West Point. Having Crislip as an instructor exposed Kim to the culture and capabilities of NCOs within the cyber branch and what cyber NCOs expect from their cyber officers.
“His value was significant to the class, especially during the technical block, and important to the cadets who will become future cyber officers,” Kim said.
He elaborated by saying that his favorite parts of class were during the live demonstrations. Crislip would show cadets a variety of different offensive and defensive cyber tools, explaining how to gain access to an unsecure network and how to better protect themselves against cyberattacks.
“Command Sgt. Maj. Crislip was the first cyber NCO I ever met,” Kim said. “His wealth of knowledge and wisdom strengthened my decision to branch Cyber and gave me a positive first impression of cyber NCOs.”
“What I enjoyed most about teaching was having an opportunity to work directly with future officers in a complex and challenging course that offered more than traditional institutional training,” Crislip said. “Their questions and curiosity helped me learn while also allowing me to impart some of the knowledge I have gained during my career.”
Crislip noted that there should be an emphasis on recruiting NCOs to West Point to fill teaching roles, even if it was only one NCO per department. He believed it would lend to the overall learning experience for cadets and inject new viewpoints into existing course material. It would also give NCOs another broadening opportunity to enhance their experience in the military and further their professional expertise.
“Teaching allows you to share your knowledge and experience with others, giving them the opportunity to grow from what you have learned over time,” Crislip said. “I think it is a gift to have the opportunity to teach for both the teacher and the student.”