As wars always do, the conflict in Ukraine brought the importance and criticality of logistics and sustainment to the forefront. It also demonstrated — as has been the case throughout history — that the NCO Corps is what distinguishes and sets apart the U.S. Army. Sustainment NCOs provide a unique strategic advantage, providing the depth and breadth to execute sustainment operations at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels.
But we cannot rest on our laurels. Sustainment NCOs must be fully engaged in warfighting, continuous transformation, building ready combat formations, and strengthening the Profession of Arms. We must major in warfighting and minor in sustainment operations. As a prerequisite to obtaining a degree in warfighting, sustainment NCOs must be brilliant at the basics. We must know our roles within each, refine our skills, and establish a sustainable path for the future force.
Developing an agile and resilient force for the future is a critical component to delivering ready combat formations. While the future fight will be more complex and challenging than ever, the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and competencies for our sustainment NCOs will ensure our cohort is well-prepared to fulfill the requirements of an ever-changing landscape of future warfare across all domains.
For the Army sustainment enterprise, this means our NCOs must be experts in warfighting and sustainment operations. Talent management, education, and training, complemented by diverse creative and critical thinking, play pivotal roles in building and continually enhancing the quality of elite NCOs.
Instruction acquired through professional military education (PME) is the key element to ensure NCOs remain relevant as they serve in various positions in their career. Sustainment NCOs must continually develop and possess a broad spectrum of experiences and competencies, enabling them to seamlessly adapt to and fulfill multiple roles as our Army prepares for an unpredictable future. In response to this complex environment, we can use the example of the Army’s rapid transition to a more data-centric approach. NCOs must be at the forefront of digital transformation. We must be able to comprehend and employ the power of data and information as a critical readiness asset to inform future sustainment actions reliably and rapidly. Innovative and modern courses like those offered at Army Sustainment University (ASU) are good places to start. ASU offers various levels of data-focused PME for NCOs throughout their career. Additionally, NCOs can leverage Training with Industry and other trade-based broadening opportunities for lifelong learning and credentialing. The education acquired through the PME system, complemented by diverse operational experiences across various military occupational specialties, plays a pivotal role in building and continually enhancing the pedigree of high-performing NCOs. Additionally, NCOs should lean into the traditional and non-traditional training received through field experience and rotations at combat training centers and contingency deployments to give them depth and breadth of knowledge on sustainment requirements and missions.
Finally, it is no secret we are in a war for talent. Effective talent management will not only assist us in attracting and retaining high-performing NCOs but will also help us win the war for talent. The sustainment NCO initiatives lines of effort outlined in the sustainment NCO guide summarize supporting tasks needed to increase commitment and retention while improving performance across the sustainment NCO’s career. Talent management is a collaborative effort that requires buy-in and involvement of all leadership levels. Sustainment NCOs must continually develop through avenues like PME and possess a broad spectrum of experiences and competencies, enabling them to adapt to and fill multiple roles.
I always tell NCOs to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. While sustainment NCOs can be placed in duty assignments that are tailored based on their knowledge, skills, and competencies, the willingness to serve in diverse operational positions within the sustainment enterprise can provide opportunities for NCOs to boost their confidence, tap into previously unexplored potential, and develop expertise that can serve them throughout their careers. These broadening assignments will serve NCOs well in the later part of their careers, helping them vie for positions within battalion, brigade, division, or corps-level staff, further contributing to their multifaceted skill set. Simply put, talent management is an element of warfighting we have to get right; it is non-negotiable. Placing NCOs with the right skills and competencies in the right positions will help us maintain a competitive advantage and ensure readiness for the future.
The sustainment NCO must be a highly adept Soldier with tactical and technical competencies and proficiencies acquired from PME, training, and effective talent management processes. These factors play pivotal roles in building and enhancing the abilities of sustainment NCOs needed for large-scale combat operations. As we adapt to an unpredictable future, the backbone of the Army will be called upon to ensure the preparedness of ready combat formations. As the Army’s senior sustainer, Gen. Charles Hamilton, would say, sustainment is about warfighting, period.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Sellers currently serves as the Command Sergeant Major of Army Materiel Command. He graduated from all levels of the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development System, culminating with the Nominative Leaders Course. He has a master’s degree in business management from Excelsior University, New York. He is also a graduate of the Force Management Course, Senior Enlisted Joint Professional Military Education Course, and Legal Orientation Course.
This article was published in the Winter 2024 issue of Army Sustainment.