For more than 240 years, the American soldier has answered the call to action; in every era of conflict and war, the professional NCO has played a significant role as a leader of soldiers. The roles and responsibilities of the NCO have always been to lead, mentor and train soldiers while enforcing standards. The NCO Creed galvanizes the idea that NCOs are professional soldiers who are also members of a time-honored corps known as “the backbone of the Army.”Though the values associated with the NCO corps will never change, the future operating environment will most certainly be more complex and uncertain than we’ve ever known. NCOs today must be prepared to operate and lead in this ever-changing and multifaceted environment with character, competence and commitment.The Army Operating Concept (AOC), as outlined in Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet 525-3-1, describes the multitude of challenges our Army will face in future conflicts in which the environment, the enemy, the location and our allies are unknown. How do we win in such an ambiguous and complex world? While the answer will require that “Army forces must provide the joint force with multiple options, integrate the efforts of multiple partners, operate across multiple domains, and present our enemies and adversaries with multiple dilemmas,” it is assured that the role of the NCO will be as critical as ever in our Army’s ability to operate and win the wars of tomorrow.Despite these constraints, war fundamentally remains a human tournament of willpower—a contest of wills. As the prospects of human conflict across groups increase, the action in this tournament will only build up. I cannot affirm our Army’s future challenges; I can only emphasize that they will appear swiftly and in unanticipated ways. As our uncertainty grows, the Army must concentrate its investment on its most agile and flexible asset: the NCO corps. We must leverage our experiences to prepare our soldiers and develop the future NCO corps to meet those challenges and succeed.Leveraging ExperienceMany of our senior leaders grew up with known adversaries whose equipment, ideologies and tactics were studied and understood. Nations have fought wars for many reasons. However, the Greek historian Thucydides identified fear, honor and interest as prevailing reasons. Moreover, the adversaries of the future are less interested in winning than in prolonging war. They understand that our nation is driven by a trinity that was described in the 1832 book On War, by Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. Clausewitz explained that for a nation to be successful in war, the people, Army and government must encompass the same goals and objectives.During the last decade, NCOs have led soldiers under a variety of operating conditions, from the oil fields of Iraq to the provinces of Afghanistan. They have learned many of the principles of Mission Command under fire rather than in the classroom. NCOs have learned to adapt and innovate their thinking as a result of experiences soldiering in austere and challenging environmental conditions. NCOs have developed tactics, techniques and procedures that are now being incorporated into new programs of instruction within our NCO academies and throughout structured self-development to better train and educate soldiers.Elusive and Unknown AdversariesThe ability to think and predict where the Army will enter and engage future missions is harder than ever before to determine. The AOC suggests that for the future, we will find ourselves developing scenarios for addressing national security requirements in support of defeating elusive and unknown adversaries.In the recent article “Win in a Complex World—but How?” Gen. David G. Perkins, TRADOC commanding general, offers that the AOC doesn’t attempt to predict the future—nor, necessarily, to answer that question directly. It does assess the current threat climate, and extrapolates from there to help the Army plan for an unknown future. Accordingly, this concept offers a dose of realism to the extent that NCOs need to break free of constraints that often narrow our vision—budget, bureaucratic inertia, and the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality—and think hard about where the Army is and where it needs to go.To achieve cognitive dominance and intellectual overmatch, we must redesign our professional military education (PME) system to strike the right balance between technical and tactical mastery of skills and learning and developing the art of leadership. It is imperative that we leverage the latest learning sciences and technological advances in education to reinvigorate NCO PME. The uncertainty of tomorrow requires NCOs who are innovative, critical thinkers able to operate in ambiguity and thrive in chaos.Need for Realistic TrainingSince the days of Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army, and further codified after the Revolutionary War when Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben published instructions to the NCO in his Revolutionary War Drill Manual, training soldiers has been a core mission of the NCO corps. As we prepare our forces for an uncertain enemy, we must recognize the need for realistic, relevant and rigorous training at the individual, team and collective levels. NCOs must adjust conditions during training events to create ambiguous situations, and inject chaos when feasible to challenge our soldiers to their fullest.We also cannot be afraid to fail during training. Not meeting the mission at the National Training Center can teach much more about maneuver, squad and platoon tactics, logistics and communication than getting first-time “go’s” ever will. Structuring training events where learning from failure is the objective is one of the greatest weapons an NCO can give his or her soldiers.We must also look upon all of our training events as opportunities to development our future NCOs. Senior NCOs must give junior leaders time and practice to grow and learn. As NCOs, we have an obligation to provide the most realistic and valuable training events for our soldiers, whether it’s during a Combined Training Center exercise or Sergeant’s Time Training at home station.Broadening OpportunitiesNCOs develop as leaders over time through deliberate progressive and sequential processes incorporating training, education and experience across the three learning domains throughout the soldier life cycle. Experiential learning is arguably the most valuable component of an NCO’s developmental process and should be managed appropriately. TRADOC is working to expand opportunities for educational fellowships as well as interagency, joint broadening assignments for our most talented NCOs. To support this future vision of the NCO corps, a talent-management approach will be used, including a review of NCO evaluation reports, and PME class ranking and assignment history of soldiers. The most talented and experienced NCOs will be selected to return to the institutional schools at some point in their careers and serve as instructors.Beginning this fall, the U.S. Sergeants Major Academy will be implementing a fellowship program providing NCOs the opportunity to complete a master’s degree in adult education, along with several instructor certifications. Our most senior NCOs must have the ability to coach, teach and mentor the future generation of NCOs based on academic credentials and rigorous learning.Physical TrainingOne of our responsibilities as NCOs is to prepare our soldiers to fight in progressively complex and challenging conflicts. The effectiveness of every soldier relies heavily on his or her physical, mental and emotional conditioning. “Deployability” is the standard for every soldier. As a result, together we must be prepared to adapt new methods that are scientifically proven, such as the Army surgeon general’s Performance Triad.We can start demonstrating our commitment to this responsibility as early as tomorrow morning. NCOs must take back the sacred hours and keep them sacred. Wars are won by getting the sacred hours right every day. At 6 or 6:30 a.m., you should be standing tall somewhere on an Army post, camp or station saluting the flag with your soldiers, ready to dive into a challenging and realistic physical training (PT) session the moment the last bar of “Reveille” sounds and your right hand snaps back to your side. Building physically strong soldiers helps build emotionally and mentally strong soldiers. That’s why I say PT may not be the most important thing you’ll do today, but it is the most important thing you do every day as a soldier. Leading PT is the most important thing you do every day as a leader of soldiers.Building TrustNCOs are looked upon as stewards of our profession of arms. Therefore, we must recognize that the bedrock of our profession is trust. Our nation trusts Army leaders with their sons and daughters, and we must honor this privilege bestowed upon us by living up to their faith. Arguably, the highest-performing squads in our formations are those that are built upon trust: trust in their leaders, and trust in one another.This is the essential element of “not in my squad.” This anthem accentuates the ethical obligation of our NCOs. From the squad level through every level of leadership, leaders must embrace and guarantee each and every soldier, civilian and family member is treated with grace, decency and, most important, respect.As NCOs, we must focus our efforts on building cohesive teams that are bonded by trust and not only capable of fighting and winning in a complex environment, but also able to protect and inspire each other in all aspects of their lives. Close-knit teams with sound leadership don’t allow teammates to be assaulted, or to drive under the influence, or to behave unprofessionally online. By their actions they say, “Not in my squad.” Close-knit teams are built on a foundation of trust that is singularly focused and optimized for performance regardless of the complexity or chaotic conditions they are operating in.As NCOs, we have a duty to not only earn, but also to nurture and sustain that trust within our teams and create a climate where teammates proudly state, “Not in my squad” to those behaviors that venture outside our values or our ethic. Such a climate epitomizes what America expects of trusted Army professionals.NCOs are professionals who motivate and inspire soldiers through the ethical conduct of the mission with discipline and training to standard. We are stewards of the Army profession who unceasingly care for and grow subordinates, peers and leaders in character, competence and commitment. Just as our NCO corps has done for the last 240 years, we will continue to develop the next generation of NCOs as trusted Army professionals who thrive in chaos, and adapt and win in a complex world.