WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, Sept. 6, 2007) - It will take 10 years to breed Iraq's noncommissioned officer corps, the general who oversees training for Iraq's security forces said.

Often described as "the backbone of the Army," a noncommissioned officer, or NCO, is an enlisted member of an armed force who has been given authority by a commissioned officer. The NCO corps includes all grades of sergeant, in addition to corporals.

"Growing an NCO corps is not a month-long deal; it's a decade-long deal," Army Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, told online journalists and "bloggers" in a conference call Aug. 31.

In the last 18 months, the Iraqi army has grown by two divisions, seven brigades and 16 battalions, Lt. Gen. Dubik said. "When you grow that fast, regardless of what army you're in, ... you're not going to be able to produce leaders at the same rate that you produce soldiers. It's just physically not possible," he said.

Earlier this month, Lt. Gen. Dubik made a similar observation about commissioned officers. "You can't grow majors and lieutenant colonels and colonels in four years. You can grow good captains and lieutenants in four years, ... but it takes longer to build the field-grade officer," he said.

Lt. Gen. Dubik's decades of experience in the U.S. Army give him insight into NCO development.

"We had to re-grow the Army's NCO corps in 1975 after the Vietnam War, because we had pretty much destroyed it ... by promoting people too quickly," he said. "And then once we took the number of casualties we did, we really didn't have a strong NCO corps left in 1975 when the war ended."

To fix the fractured system, the Army created a professional development program called the NCO education system. It revamped personnel policies, selecting NCO candidates and training them before the soldiers promoted to NCO ranks.

"Those were new organizational habits for the United States Army, and it took from 1975 to 1985 to re-grow the U.S. Army NCO corps," Lt. Gen. Dubik said. "The expectation that I have of the new Iraqi army in developing new organizational habits is the same. This is a decade-long project."

To speed Iraq's NCO growth, the Iraqi army siphons the top 10 percent of enlisted graduates into an NCO training program, or "corporals course." Recruiters also are recalling former NCO-grade soldiers who served in Saddam Hussein's army and retraining them at an academy. Lt. Gen. Dubik called such procedures "positive steps in the right direction."

The deputy commanding general of Iraqi joint forces, Lt. Gen. Nasser Abadi, noted that Iraqi forces under Saddam Hussein's regime were modeled on the Soviet style, in which NCOs didn't play a strong role. In developing Iraq's NCO backbone, the country has had to start from scratch.

"We had the junior officers performing the task of the NCOs," he said, "so this is a new idea for the new Iraqi army."