Panel: NCOs are ‘Glue’ for Building Lethal, Ready Forces

Panel: NCOs are ‘Glue’ for Building Lethal, Ready Forces

People at a panel discussion
Photo by: AUSA/Jared Lieberher

From all-volunteer forces to conscript armies, NCOs serving across the Indo-Pacific must work together to prepare for an uncertain and evolving future battlefield, a panel of senior enlisted leaders said.

Speaking May 14 during the Association of the U.S. Army’s LANPAC Symposium and Exposition in Honolulu, senior enlisted leaders from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Singapore discussed the evolving role of NCOs in land power across the Indo-Pacific.

Technology will “never substitute boots on the ground,” said Warrant Officer Kim Felmingham, regimental sergeant major for the Australian Army. “Wars will remain dirty, bloody, unpredictable and chaotic,” she said.

“Technology improvements may temporarily tip the balance of the conflict in the favor of anyone who can adapt quickly, but they do not change what’s fundamental around human nature and behavior,” Felmingham said. “This is why our NCOs need to adapt to the changing dynamics of warfare but still be experts in close combat and warfighting skills.”

For Chief Warrant Officer Sanjee Singh, sergeant major of the Army of the Singapore Army, the biggest challenge he faces is the conscript nature of the force. “We see new soldiers every two years,” he said. “As a conscript army, we have soldiers coming in who do not want to serve.”

To help those young people buy in to their purpose and mission, the Singapore Army has been looking at how it can better educate its NCOs and expose them to seminars, courses and symposia hosted by partner and allied militaries, Singh said. The Singapore Army also is starting a mentor-mentee program and training NCOs to be more ambidextrous and adaptable, he said.

By providing these opportunities, the Army hopes to build NCOs who can better connect with and develop their soldiers, Singh said. “All these things give us a sense of purpose of why we are in the business,” he said. “When you deal with a conscript army, you need to show them the purpose of why they’re being brought into the army.”

For the U.S. military, strong ties to partners and allies are critical, said Marine Sgt. Maj. Joy Kitashima, senior enlisted leader for III Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa, Japan. “Our advantage, we believe, is a strong network of allies and partners,” she said.

Tough, realistic training also is a top priority, Kitashima said. “We continuously talk to Marines about small-unit leadership … and emphasize discipline, physical and mental discipline,” she said, adding that III Marine Expeditionary Force Marines are regularly “put in [training] situations where they’re uncomfortable” and forced to make difficult decisions “so they’re ready if and when the fight were to come to us.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Jack Love, senior enlisted leader for U.S. Forces-Korea, agreed. The purpose of the Army is to “deploy, fight and win when called upon against anybody, anytime,” he said. “Sometimes we can lose sight of that, but I think the glue that keeps us together … is the NCO corps.”

NCOs must master individual and small-unit tasks and, in turn, train, coach and lead soldiers and build cohesive teams, Love said.

These teams are the foundation for a successful force, Kitashima said. “An individual performs better when they have a sense of purpose and they have an understanding of how they fit into the warfighting equation,” she said.

Warrant Officer Class One Wiremu Moffitt, sergeant major of the New Zealand Army, agreed, emphasizing the importance of “people to people connections.”

“People want to be on a winning team,” he said, “and I think we do that very well in the NCO corps.”