FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Army News Service, Nov. 24, 2015) — The Army has a lock on the world’s best leaders when it comes to noncommissioned officers, or NCOs. But within their ranks, there are an unacceptably large number who are “stagnant,” Sgt. 1st Class Matt Torres told Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.
He and other NCOs spoke at the chief of staff of the Army-sponsored Noncommissioned Officer Solarium II, held at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College here, Nov. 20.
Torres serves with the U.S. Army Reserve Command on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He has served with active and Reserve Soldiers for 13 years and said he has seen stagnant Soldiers in all components and all ranks. But since this solarium is about NCOs, he said that’s who they’re focusing on.
A stagnant NCO is one who is not taking the initiative to improve himself professionally and is not going out of his way to help other Soldiers, Torres said.
Once some NCOs reach the 10-year mark, about halfway to retirement, “they’re at the point in their career where they say, ‘you know what, I’ve given enough to the military, now I’m going to sit back and chill. I’m going to take up this position until it’s time for me to retire,'” he said.
The current system is structured to enable this to happen, Torres said. Once staff sergeants reach their 10-year mark, they can re-enlist indefinitely to stay until retirement. It’s similar to what civilians refer to as having tenure.
The importance of a re-enlistment, he said, is to give commanders a point in time where they can, if need be, “bar a Soldier from continued service” by denying re-enlistment.
One small step to reducing stagnation, Torres said, is to require Soldiers to re-enlist up to their 12-year mark.
Another thing that would help, he said, is getting senior leadership more involved in assessing the potential of NCOs for further service. Leaders need to say: “‘If you can’t fight and win, then I don’t want you on the team.’ We need to call them out.”
With the Army drawing down from 490,000 to 450,000, Torres said the problem of stagnation is magnified, with fewer Soldiers expected to do more with less. Since NCOs are not only expected to lead junior Soldiers but also mentor officers, having one who is stagnant – and does just the bare minimum to get by – creates low morale.
Dailey said he agrees with Torres and other NCOs who called out stagnant NCOs and said he’d present recommendations to the Army’s chief of staff.
Readiness is the chief’s No. 1 priority and Dailey translates that as the “the ability to fight and win when called to do so.” There’s no room in the Army for those who stagnate, he said, by doing the bare minimum to pass the physical fitness test and refusing to attend leadership courses.
Three in 10 Soldiers already have permanent profiles and that, coupled with those who are stagnant, damages morale and torpedoes readiness, Dailey said.
IMPORTANCE OF COUNSELING
Looking out for the growth and welfare of one’s Soldiers is a sign of a good NCO – one who is not stagnant. Counseling plays a major part in that effort, said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Scherbinski, Headquarters, 4th Infantry Division on Fort Carson, Colorado.
“When someone says, ‘I just got counseled,’ people think it means you did something wrong,” Scherbinski said.
Unfortunately, that assumption came about because often, the only time Soldiers E-4 and below got counseled, is when they screwed up, he said.
Counseling should be something that’s a set requirement for NCOs to do and should focus on the positive as well as the negative, he said. Junior Soldiers need that feedback and NCOs need to know how well their troops are doing to provide constructive coaching.
There’s no mechanism in place to do that, he added. “It’s hit or miss,” with some units requiring counseling for junior Soldiers and not for others.
For example, in Scherbinski’s case, he said he was never once counseled as a junior enlisted.
On the other hand, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Hull, 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, said he always received formal monthly counseling as a junior enlisted.
Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Rawls, 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment on Camp Carroll, South Korea, said it’s important to provide NCOs and officers with training on how to effectively communicate and how to write incisive counseling statements so it’s not just template or copy-and-paste writing.
Rawls said individuals require counseling that’s tailored specifically to them. Doing this requires a certain amount of time and effort, he added, something that a stagnant NCO might not have.
Dailey said he wholeheartedly agreed with everyone’s feedback on stagnation and counseling and he said this solarium itself was a kind of professional development counseling he and the chief were receiving from them.
Looking back in his earlier career as a platoon sergeant, Dailey said he recalled working over the weekend on writing counseling comments for his Soldiers. But the added effort pays off with better, more ready Soldiers.
Scherbinski offered that counseling of junior enlisted could be tied in to the Army Career Tracker, or ACT. As it is, ACT is useful but could be even more useful if used as a counseling tool.
Hull added that time should be allotted to “oak tree” style counseling, an informal group counseling between an NCO and the junior troops he supervises.
Dailey agreed that “we’re terrible at documenting counseling. Counseling is serious business and it’s not getting the attention it deserves.”
He promised to take their input to the chief.
By David Vergun