Mentorship: The NCO's Role in Developing Junior Officers
By Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Caywood, Master Sgts. John Kirby, James Prescott, & Alan Sutton
U.S. Army Cadet Command
December 30, 2020
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“The Nation, our Officers and our Soldiers have placed great trust and confidence in the NCO Corps, and deserve nothing less than competent, confident, and trusted professionals to remain the world's premier land fighting force.”
—Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston (Department of the Army, 2020, Foreword)
Developing future officers in the U.S. Army is a responsibility of the Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Corps and falls to senior enlisted NCOs to pass on their experience, discipline, and management skills (Department of the Army, 2020). For the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), the number one attribute NCOs bring to the development of cadets is experience. Cadets will remember their senior NCOs similar to how enlisted Soldiers remember their drill sergeants. It is important senior enlisted leaders fulfill their roles as mentors and leave a positive impression junior officers take with them as they transition into the U.S. Army.
The NCO and Officer Relationship
The NCO Corps is a collective of Soldier professionals who are responsible for unit readiness, leadership, training management, communications, operations, and program management (Department of the Army, 2020). However, NCOs do not operate alone and share many unit responsibilities with an officer counterpart. The relationship between officer and NCO must be built on the core value of trust, with both parties upholding the Army Values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage (Department of the Army, 2019). The senior NCO at the ROTC should be a reflection of these values and a positive example for cadets and young officers to follow.
The path of commissioning through the ROTC is not easy. Balancing Army requirements, university standards, and social pressure is not a simple task. The senior NCO is responsible for cadet development and teaches them how to successfully manage and uphold Army expectations while completing their studies.
To demonstrate the scope of the ROTC program on a national level, as of 2018, there were 20,000 cadets enrolled in 273 host programs and over 1,100 partnerships and affiliate schools (Department of the Army, 2018). Ideally, each program is staffed by senior NCOs that uphold the Army Values. This builds the confidence and trust necessary between young officers and NCOs and helps officers learn to build successful working relationships in their future units.
The Senior NCO
Being a great leader is more than just what someone does during working hours. It's a lifestyle adopted and demonstrated by senior NCOs and is passed on to young cadets and officers. According to Army Regulation (AR) 350-1: Army Training and Leader Development, leader development is “…achieved through the lifelong synthesis of the knowledge, skills, and experiences gained through the training and education opportunities in the institutional, operational, and self-development domains” (Department of the Army, 2017, p.3). This means it is vital cadets not only learn leadership attributes and competencies in the classroom, but also observe senior NCOs demonstrating Army attributes in their professional and personal lives.
The senior NCOs that make up ROTC cadre must lead by example and be present, authentic, empathetic, and engaging. They are a young officer's first representation of the NCO Corps. “The relationship established during junior officer development will have a lasting impact on those officer's opinions, respect for, good will, and confidence in NCOs for the rest of their careers” (Department of the Army, 2020, pp. 7-3-7-4). A failed mentorship can negatively influence a young officer's opinion of NCOs and affect their trust relationships with the NCO Corps, ultimately impacting future unit readiness and capabilities.
The mentorship between senior NCOs and their officer counterparts in the command team is critical to the success of an organization. Senior NCOs are subject matter experts, which is why commanders rely on them to utilize their experience to develop junior leaders from the technical, tactical, and even personal levels.
Former Sgt. Maj. of the Army Leon L.Van Autreve said:
“It is the noncommissioned officer to whom the Soldier first turns when he needs information, counsel, or other help. Squad leaders, platoon sergeants, and first sergeants create the leadership environment in which today's Army concepts thrive or expire. The quality of the Noncommissioned Officer Corps determines in large measure the quality of the Army.” (“NCO Leadership,” n.d., para. 21)
Senior NCOs bring both professional and life experience to the partnership. They are generally older, more mature, and have increased self-awareness. They also understand the difficulty of balancing family needs with the mandatory requirements of the Army (Eckhart, 2020). Their experience includes leadership schools, multiple units, multiple deployments, and they have mentored Soldiers of different ranks. All of which needs to be passed on to young and inexperienced officers and cadets starting their U.S. Army career so they can better effectively lead their first unit.
Leaders are not born, they are trained, shaped, coached, retrained, advised, and empowered through formal education, mentorships, and their own experiences. A military career for a young officer will be full of physical and emotional obstacles that require a guide. A cadet should understand that once commissioned, they become responsible for everything their unit does or doesn't do. The competence and confidence instilled in them by their senior NCOs will steer them towards mission success.
Department of the Army. (2017). AR 350-1: Army training and leader development. https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/ARN18487_R350_1_Admin_FINAL.pdf
Department of the Army. (2018). Army ROTC. https://www.goarmy.com/rotc/legacy-and-value.html
Department of the Army. (2019). ADP 6-22: Army leadership and the profession. https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/ARN20039_ADP%206-22%20C1%20FINAL%20WEB.pdf
Department of the Army. (2020). TC 7-22.7: The noncommissioned officer guide. https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/ARN20340_TC%207-22x7%20FINAL%20WEB.pdf
Eckhart, J. (2020). Balancing the military and family life. Military.com. https://www.military.com/spouse/military-life/balancing-the-military-and-family-life.html
NCO leadership. (n.d.). Association of the United States Army. https://www.ausa.org/nco-leadership
Command Sgt. Maj. Greg Caywood currently serves as the command sergeant major for 2nd Brigade, U.S. Army Cadet Command, Fort Knox, Kentucky. Caywood previously served with 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery, 25th Infantry Division. He holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice administration from Columbia College and a master's degree in international relations from Webster's University.
Master Sgt. John Kirby currently serves as the Senior Military Science Instructor for the U.S. Army ROTC program at Princeton University, New Jersey. Kirby previously served as an infantry first sergeant with 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team. He is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in professional studies and business management through Excelsior College.
Master Sgt. James Prescott currently serves as the Senior Military Science Instructor at Clarkson University, Potsdam, New York. Prescott previously served as an infantry first sergeant with 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. He is currently working toward a bachelor's degree in organizational leadership from Western Kentucky University.
Master Sgt. Alan Sutton is the Senior Military Science Instructor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts. Sutton's previous assignments include 5th Ranger Training Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, and XVIII Airborne Corps. He holds a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in international relations from the American University in Washington, D.C. He is currently working towards an additional master's in national defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas.
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