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Adjustment of the NCO Corps

"Anonymous" has written for us before. They are an avid fan of military history and their former positions include Platoon Leader, Troop Commander, Company and Battalion Observer/Controller Trainer, Battalion Operations Officer, Brigade Executive Officer and Battalion Commander. Here, they offer a radical view on the view of the NCO Corps and how we might be at a turning point regarding their professionalism. Read on and tell us about your opinion!

“Leaders and their Soldiers suffer at the hands of CSMs which are guided by the three Ps-Privilege, Politics, and Perks”. - BG (R) John C. Bahnsen

“Soldiers expect the noncommissioned officer to be technically proficient, up front, and honest with them. Soldiers must know that NCOs care, that they can approach the NCO for guidance and direction, and that NCOs can make things happen when a difficult situation arises”. - CSM Glenn Morrell

Twenty plus years of persistent conflict has eroded the Sergeant Major (E-9) and Master Sergeant (E-8) ranks within the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps and created a false impression of command authority. E-9s can either be Sergeants Major (SGMs), which are more staff-centric roles, or Command Sergeants Major (CSMs), which are paired with commanding officers at the Battalion and higher levels. E-8s can be Master Sergeants (MSGs) in staff-centric or lower leadership roles, or First Sergeants (1SGs) that are paired with Company Commanders (usually Captains or Majors). Having worked with over thirteen nations’ NCO corps, the United States Army NCO corps is miles ahead of other nations with similar rank structures. However, I believe that over the past decade CSMs and 1SGs specifically have abused their positions, corroded the NCO chain of support, and damaged the structure which has been a mainstay for over 275 years.

The roles and responsibilities of an CSM and 1SG revolves around maintaining the health and welfare of the unit and the principal advisor to the commander. ‘AR 600-22 states that the NCO support channel (leadership chain) parallels and complements the chain of command. It is a channel of communication and supervision from the CSM to the 1SG, and then to other NCOs and enlisted personnel of the unit. Commanders will define the responsibilities and authority of their NCOs to their staffs and subordinates. This position title designates the senior NCO of the command at battalion or higher levels. They carry out policies, enforce standards, and advise the commander on the performance, training, appearance, and conduct of enlisted Soldiers.1 Decades of conflict has created a false impression of command authority which threatens to potentially confuse Soldiers and Leaders of the role of the CSM. NCOs do not have authority to impose nonjudicial punishment on other enlisted Soldiers under the MCM (UCMJ, Art. 15).2 This is key in the delineation of the roles and responsibilities of officers and NCOs. Examples of the abuse of the CSM/1SG rank observed over the last two decades include:

1. A CSM providing ‘Command guidance’ to Battalion Commanders in a public forum that does not possess the necessary formal Command authority.

2. A CSM making a tweet regarding a policy, thus being viewed by the force as official policy with no signatory authority on said policy being in place.

3. A Company 1SG threatening Soldiers with UCMJ that does not possess Command/UCMJ authority.

4. Holding Changes of Responsibility ceremonies that make it seem that CSMs hold the same level of responsibility as a Battalion Commander's Change of Command. In the past, CSMs just changed out, but over the past twenty plus years an overly formal ceremony has become the norm and provides a false impression of the same level of responsibility and burden.

5. Referring to the Commander and CSM as a ‘Command Team’. Although the Battalion/Brigade Commander are a team, when it comes to accountability and responsibility, the Commander is the only one who will be relieved if charges/allegations are founded.

6. A CSM moving Soldiers across the formation without formal paperwork/correspondence, or command /signatory authority and endorsement.

One method to revive the roles of the CSM/1SG is establishing left and right limits according to regulations within the Non-Commissioned Officer Educational System and SGM academies. The dangers of NCOs believing they have the same power as commanders is that if an action occurs, the accountability piece goes overlooked, and that NCO does not hold the level of responsibility. Commanders must know the status of their forces. CSMs, 1SGs, and Platoon Sergeants play vital roles in providing commanders real time awareness about the morale and physical condition of their Soldiers. Commanders need to know when circumstances may prevent friendly forces from performing to their full potential.3 Removing command" from the title of CSM could assist in ensuring there is no misunderstanding of command authority/responsibility versus execution of commanders’ guidance acting as the senior enlisted advisor. NCOs ultimately carry out policies, enforce standards, and advise the commander on the performance, training, appearance, and conduct of enlisted Soldiers.4 Properly empowering the CSM and 1SG in their roles as senior enlisted advisors ensures that command and signatory authorities are in the correct place. Commanders are responsible for units-including the training and care of Soldiers, using NCOs as the primary means of carrying out these duties.5

The rank of E-8 and E-9 are vital roles in the Army and for officers to make critical decisions within units at echelon. However, equating the responsibilities, accountability, and burden of a commander to a 1SG or CSM is dangerous, and the Army needs to address this issue to ensure our Army remains the most lethal and effective fighting force on the planet. The Army overhauled the NCO corps and established the NCOES system post-Vietnam as part of the transition from a conscripted force to an all-volunteer force. This concerted effort resulted in the NCO Corps becoming "the backbone of our force" which resulted in the preparation and execution of Desert Storm. The NCO Corps is not in the near in the deprived shape of the NCO Corps post-Vietnam, but the same energy, focus, and emphasis needs to be provided towards the NCO Corps of today. Officers are the nexus of the issue, granting power to CSMs and 1SGs to recklessly make decisions and overstep their bounds. This is not an indictment against the NCO Corps, but rather a cautionary note to ensure we protect our NCO Corps from being misidentified as decision makers rather than executors of Command guidance.

“If the NCO Corps is the backbone of the Army and the posture is poor, it’s our job to fix this posture to support the rest of the body”. - Misc Battalion Commander

1. Department of the Army. Army Regulation 600-20, Army Command Policy. Washington D.C. 20 July 2020.

2. Ibid, 34.

3. Department of the Army, Training Circular 7-22

4. Department of the United States Army. Army Regulation 600-22

5. John C. Bahshen, James W. Bradin, The Army’s Command Sergeant Major Problem. The Army War College Quarterly: Parameters, Volume 18, Number 1, Parameters. 1988, pg. 12.

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