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Believe in The NCO Creed

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A code of ethics … cannot be developed overnight by edict or official pronouncement. It is developed by years of practice and performance of duty according to high ethical standards. It must be self-policing. Without such a code, a professional soldier or a group soon loses its identity and effectiveness.

—Sgt. Maj. of the Army Silas L. Copeland, 1972

The shared principles and convictions we call the NCO Creed have stood the test of time, guiding numerous generations of NCOs. Elements of this creed date back to Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the Prussian military advisor to Gen. George Washington who first standardized the duties and responsibilities of the NCO. The creed was formalized in 1973 by a group of NCOs gathered on the fourth floor of Building 4 at Fort Benning, Georgia. Within that creed, they incorporated a brief, clear statement of the shared principles and convictions that became the identity of the U.S. Army NCO.

Why does the creed have such importance in our NCO corps? If someone asked you what you or your unit believe about NCOs, how would you answer? How does the NCO Creed relate to those beliefs? Our creed must be more than just words that are shouted at Warrior Leader Course graduations or a piece of paper we hang on the wall.

To begin, it’s important to explain the meaning of creed. The word itself is derived from the Latin word credo, which means “I believe.” Sociologists tell us that it’s part of our human nature to develop creeds. We need creeds to provide guiding principles and summaries of truth that allow us to move forward in all areas of our lives. Creeds are meant to define the boundaries within which a group of people operates. The NCO Creed is a concise statement of what we as a group believe to be true about the basic ideas and practices that define us and our professional work as NCOs.

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Staff Sgt. David Carter, the 2014 U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command NCO of the Year, competed in U.S. Army Materiel Command’s Best Warrior Competition in July. (Credit: U.S. Army)

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Soldiers swear into the NCO corps during an induction ceremony at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. (Credit: U.S. Army)

So, who are we, and what core beliefs are contained in our NCO Creed? The core purpose and role of an NCO have remained unchanged since our beginnings during the American Revolution. In recent years, the responsibility, authority and influence of NCOs throughout the Army profession have grown in many ways. Over the course of my years of service, I have reflected many times on the meaning of the NCO Creed and how it molds us. I believe the creed inspires NCOs to be the trusted Army professionals that the American people expect and that American soldiers require. Let’s examine how the NCO Creed expresses these core principles.

No one is more professional than I. I am a noncommissioned officer, a leader of Soldiers. As a noncommissioned officer, I realize that I am a member of a time honored corps, which is known as the Backbone of the Army.

These first three lines of the NCO Creed express our shared identity as trusted Army professionals inside a proud and honorable military profession. To live this identity—on and off duty—we must continuously develop as NCOs of character, competence and commitment. Each of these attributes is touched on throughout the NCO Creed.

I am proud of the Corps of noncommissioned officers and will at all times conduct myself so as to bring credit upon the Corps, the military service and my country regardless of the situation in which I find myself. I will not use my grade or position to attain pleasure, profit, or personal safety.

These words begin to describe the value that the NCO has in the principle of selfless service. The creed requires us to have a deep commitment to the Army profession and the nation we serve. Commitment is our ability to serve the nation honorably in all aspects of our lives by performing our duties with discipline and to standard as well as accomplishing the mission despite obstacles and adversity.

Competence is my watchword. My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind—accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my Soldiers. I will strive to remain technically and tactically proficient. I am aware of my role as a noncommissioned officer. I will fulfill my responsibilities inherent in that role. All Soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will provide that leadership. I know my Soldiers and I will always place their needs above my own. I will communicate consistently with my Soldiers and never leave them uninformed. I will be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment.

These words suggest that central to our success is competence. Nevertheless, being a professional is more than just being good at your job. We demonstrate our competence through the ability to perform our duties and accomplish the mission with discipline and to standard. This passage clearly outlines our most basic duties as NCOs and then explains how we aspire to achieve those responsibilities. We demonstrate this proficiency through our military skills and by providing soldiers with servant leadership, clearly communicating to them the standards and holding them accountable.

Officers of my unit will have maximum time to accomplish their duties; they will not have to accomplish mine. I will earn their respect and confidence as well as that of my Soldiers. I will be loyal to those with whom I serve; seniors, peers, and subordinates alike. I will exercise initiative by taking appropriate action in the absence of orders. I will not compromise my integrity, nor my moral courage. I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget that we are professionals, noncommissioned officers, leaders!

Over the history of our corps, our commitment, character and competence have been our calling card. As we move forward, the passage above underlies the confidence we must elicit not only from those we lead but also from those officers we serve. The trust relationship between officers and members of today’s NCO corps is the envy of armies around the world. Many of our allies send their NCOs to our training institutions in an effort to recreate our success.

This is the desired outcome of our behavior in accordance with the words contained within the NCO Creed. Our reputation is the result of our demonstration of decisions and actions based on our dedication to the Army Ethic and Army Values. Character is vitally important in all aspects of an Army professional’s life, so we must hold ourselves and others accountable to the established standards of the profession as described in our creed. Self-policing is an important aspect of any profession’s continued livelihood and relevance, and each of us has a responsibility to protect the reputation of our Army profession.

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Over the next few years, you will continue to see many challenges to the Army. The issues will change over time, but the foundation of our responses to them must be the same. Our success will depend on how well we remain grounded in our core beliefs and convictions as outlined in our NCO Creed. If each of us takes time to reflect on our understanding of and commitment to the creed, I’m confident our Army will only get stronger. We need to take more time in our professional-development sessions and everyday tasks to understand how they can be opportunities to reflect on the NCO Creed. From corporal to sergeant major of the Army, we must constantly ask ourselves how we measure up in our adherence to the creed.

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Sgt. 1st Class Jason J. Manella competes in the improvised explosive device portion of the 2013 Best Warrior Competition. Manella, who represented U.S. Army Reserve Command, was declared top NCO of the Year. (Credit: U.S. Army)

I’ve spent my time as sergeant major of the Army talking to soldiers and leaders about our NCO Creed and how it relates to our success as individuals and as an Army. As I near the end of my tenure in this position, it becomes very clear that the soldiers who joined in the decades after I did are inheriting the future of our NCO corps. Let our creed be the touchstone that guides you—in both words and deeds—as the trusted Army professionals that the American people expect and that our soldiers require. At the end of the day, the NCO Creed forces us to say “I believe”—and that’s a good place to start.