Story and Photos by David Crozier, Command Communications
The students of Sergeants Major Course Class 69, who are in the Department of Professional Studies, were treated to a panel discussion November 6, on NCO Roles and Responsibilities. Command Sgt. Maj. (ret) Dave Stewart, from the Department of Force Management, facilitated the event. Panel members included Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Sellers, commandant, NCO Leadership Center of Excellence; Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Henry, deputy commandant, NCOL CoE; Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Barker, 5th Armored Brigade, First Army West; and Sgt. Maj. LaDerek Green, a facilitator in the Department of Command Leadership.
The session began with the showing of the video, “CSM/SGM Roles and Responsibilities – Leader Core Competencies” which intertwined the NCO Creed and the LCCs – Program Management, Operations, Readiness, Leadership, Communication, and Training Management – creating a correlation to NCO roles and responsibilities.
“That is probably not the first time you have seen that video or had a discussion on the NCO Creed,” Stewart said. “But what is an NCO?”
The question received several different answers ranging from mentor to standard bearer and Stewart agreed with them all saying there were similarities in everything they said, but there were some differences as well, and asked, “Why the difference?”
“We always refer back to the NCO Creed to determine what we should be doing in any given situation,” he said. “But when the LCCs were first brought out by the NCOL CoE it (helped us) define and codify those roles and responsibilities so we can have a shared understanding of what an NCO is.”
Stewart added the LCCs are not going to tell you to get up every morning at 5:00 a.m. and do certain things; they were derived to give NCOs their left and right limits.
“Good NCOs fill in the voids that a unit has, but by defining the leader core competencies what we are able to do is give you a minimum (level) of the things that you should have your hands in.”
The Leader Core Competencies are identity statements derived from the NCO Creed, Stewart said as he introduced the panel members who would discuss them and then take questions from the students.
Starting off the panel discussion Sellers said his role was to provide context and clarity about where the Army is going with NCO roles and responsibilities. For many years the Army trained using the Eight-Step Training Model at the battalion or leader level. The NCO Creed tells us what to do on a daily basis, but how do we measure the NCO Creed, he asked.
“We see the NCO Creed as the foundation of how we operate and the framework on how we build that foundation,” Sellers said. “The Leader Core Competencies came about in 2015, surfaced from this organization, because we were lacking in leadership skills, operations skills, program management skills, communication skills and training management skills. We needed to fill those gaps, so we created the LCCs.”
Inside of the NCO Professional Development System or outside of it, you are going to see the Leader Core Competencies, Sellers said. Starting with the Basic Leader Course all the way through to the Sergeants Major Course, it is the highest priority for each course.
“We are putting the ‘L’ back in leadership,” he said. “So, no matter what course you’re in you are going to know leadership the same way.”
Sellers continued saying the corps needs to figure out how to get involved in, and own, training.
“As sergeants major you really have to be involved (in training) regardless of what level you are at,” he said. “We put the onus and responsibility back on us… We need to do better as sergeants major in getting our roles and responsibilities straight and allow the commander to go his or her way and the sergeant major goes (his or her way) with the commander’s intent.”
Speaking to Soldier education Sellers said the corps needs to change the culture of a lack of fitness and a lack of education.
“We need to do a better job of educating our Soldiers where the Army is going in terms of education and training,” he said. “The Army Combat Fitness Test is our opportunity as senior leaders to change the fitness culture of the Army.”
Concluding his remarks Sellers said when you take the NCO Creed daily and break it down, this is where NCOs can have a lot of leverage and kind of “BE, KNOW, DO” and go out and effect change in your organization.
“This is not the one all, be all, of exactly how you accomplish your day in and day out,” Sellers said. “But it is the left and right limits of what you should be thinking about.”
Henry took on the topics of Leadership and Training Management.
“The biggest thing about leadership is presence,” he said. “Your presence is huge, and it starts with physical readiness training every morning.”
Henry said moral courage in leadership is important noting that as a sergeant major you are always being watched and should set the standard for appearance but should also have the moral courage to correct things you see that are wrong. Leadership is also executing enlisted talent management utilizing Soldier knowledge, skills and attributes.
“I always go back to the NCO Creed – ‘I will know my Soldiers and I will always place their needs above my own,’” Henry said. “As a battalion command sergeant major, I had a Team Leader Course, and on my own a Pre-Ranger Course. I had a squad leader put it together … because it was squad leader business.”
Speaking to mission command, Henry said he ties that in with developing agile and adaptive leaders because he looks at that as the heart of the NCO Creed.
“‘I will exercise initiative and take appropriate action in the absence of orders,’” he said. “It’s about taking and exercising discipline initiative in the absence of orders to be able to accomplish the mission you need to do. It’s huge to do that.”
The next subject Henry addressed was Training Management.
“I look at it as outcome-based; what is the outcome we need to get to within the training management process?” he said. “You have to eliminate training distractors because it goes to making sure you have a readiness posture.”
Sergeants major should collaborate efforts and resources to allow for cross-training and continuity, Henry said, recounting an operation Barker and he was involved in several years ago during a live fire exercise in Italy.
“We collaborated our efforts as battalion CSMs and with the brigade to meet the intent of the commander showing what we could do as an Army,” he said. “It was impressive.”
Henry concluded his discussion with verifying completed training using the tools provided by the Army, specifically the Digital Training Management System.
“You can either accept the difficulties of it and work within the confines or you can fight it,” he said. “I always choose to work with it because that is what the Army has said our system is, and it works. You just have to learn how to use it as a training tool.”
Barker took on the topics of Operations and Readiness.
“Competence is my watchword,” Baker said referring to the NCO Creed. “Competence is your credibility. If you are not competent, you have no credibility.”
Barker said that if you lack competence you should seek out those that do, people who have been there before.
“You have a great network here,” he said of Class 69. “Rely upon that network and gain competence.”
“My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind – accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my Soldiers,” Barker read.
“That’s a big responsibility and they are kind of opposing each other,” he said. “We are in a dangerous business. So how can I accomplish my mission if my mission is to fight and win our nation’s wars?”
You know you are going to have Soldiers wounded and possibly killed by accomplishing the mission, “So what is more important? Accomplishment of my mission, right?” he said.
“What you don’t want to do, and what you cannot do as an NCO, and what you are responsible for, is having Soldiers not come back because you failed to train them,” Barker said. “It’s a huge responsibility we have as NCOs.”
Sergeants major need to understand their operational environment and learn where those gaps are, he said adding that sergeants major don’t have priorities, their commanders do.
“You need to utilize mission command to support those priorities,” he said. “You have to be able to see an opportunity and capitalize on it. Too often opportunities pass by because we are not looking.”
Sergeants major must extend the operational reach of the commander in all aspects.
“You are the trusted right arm of your commander. They will turn to you and trust what you will have to say,” he said. “Make sure you are not steering him or her wrongly and you are doing what is right for the organization.”
Someone smarter than himself, Barker said, once told him when you get to be a battalion or brigade command sergeant major, once you understand the operation pick two or three things that you want to change and hold those dear to accomplish those in the time you are there.
On training, Barker said that too often you go to a training event and focus on one task you want to train on – like squad live fire. So, we focus on squad movement. There are a lot of things that can tie into that.
“At the National Training Center, you will fall apart at the most basic level,” he said. “Don’t wait for the perfect time for the perfect event. There are opportunities out there to train.”
Last to speak was Green who addressed Program Management and Communication.
Beginning with Program Management piece Green said, Shape leaders through talent management efforts that grow NCOs through educational and training opportunities.
“How are we integrating Soldiers into our formations? How do we measure their ability to perform?” he asked. “Sergeants Major are critical to those programs that drive our formations.”
Green said to ensure programs are done properly sergeants major should integrate teams to optimize performance.
“We have programs that organizations must do like the command inspection program or the command supply discipline program,” he said. “How are we leveraging those teams? We need to train and educate our formations and assess the capabilities of your leaders and understand what these teams have to offer us.”
Speaking of Communication, Green said that sergeants major have a responsibility to communicate a commander’s vision and have a plan to ensure that vision is understood by all. In closing his remarks, he said knowing a unit’s history was important.
“Understand the history and heraldry of the unit and ensure your Soldiers understand it and know it,” he said. “Become stewards of your profession.”
Stewart told the students you don’t know where you are going to be five years from now. This information you received today is critical.
Sellers ended the discussion with some closing remarks noting that as a new battalion command sergeant major, he thought he had his left and right limits, but stumbled along the way. He said you must be engaged and part of that is showing up. “Don’t miss an opportunity to engage,” he added.
Sellers continued that sergeants major need to understand priorities and balance family, profession and free time to decompress and reenergize.
Sellers concluded, “This (LCCs) has nothing to do with doctrine. These are fundamental tasks of sergeants major and noncommissioned officers.”
The roles and responsibilities of noncommissioned officers and the Leader Core Competencies will be put into the next revision of the NCO Guide.