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Senior NCOs Discuss Readiness Challenges

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Department of Defense
Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Senior noncommissioned officers provided a rundown of current soldier readiness, and the challenges they are facing, during a contemporary military forum at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

“Soldier readiness is Army readiness, and every member of the team needs to be experts in their position,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Schroeder, U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM).

The role of the NCO is sometimes not well-defined, Schroeder said. “We need to vector NCOs at every echelon toward what is expected of them.”

He briefly discussed the basic responsibilities of each rank:

  • Sergeant: Lead by personal example, inspect, and train individual tasks. Sergeants must also account for their team’s equipment, and be PME (Professional Military Education) compliant. “Sergeants must master these skills before they make staff sergeant,” Schroeder emphasized.
  • Staff Sergeant: Plan, track and execute. Staff sergeants need to be able to track the personal status, equipment status and training status, and use that information to execute as a leader. “They’re responsible for knowing their soldiers: mentoring, developing and supervising teams.”
  • Sergeants First Class: Supervise, integrate enablers and coordinate. Platoon sergeants must coordinate the resources of the unit, and understand Army programs in detail so they can make recommendations to the commander. They are also partially responsible for the development of young officers they work with, Schroeder said.
  • First Sergeant: Manage, mentor/develop and forecast. At this point in the NCO career, they also start managing facilities and supervising motor pool operations. “They are also responsible for training two levels down—team leaders and squad leaders.”
  • Sergeant Major: Plan in detail, synchronize and resource. “This is where we start having problems, when we talk about the tactical domain,” Schroeder said. The biggest issues are at the battalion and brigade levels, integrating different operators and organizations together. “We need to be able to step outside our comfort zones, and expand our knowledge and horizons.”
  • Command Sergeant Major: Shape, influence and drive. They develop systems and standard operating procedures, “which are critical to integrate enablers,” Schroeder said.

He emphasized that at any level, “Once you get to a point where you can’t do the fundamental tasks, then it’s time to leave the Army. We all need to lead by personal example all the time.”

From a FORSCOM perspective, the most significant challenge to readiness is personnel, Schroeder said. “Soldiers being ready to deploy, family readiness, medical readiness—that’s what takes the longest time to recover from.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald Ecker, U.S. Army Medical Command, said it’s critical for NCOs to start keeping track of soldiers’ health at the sergeant level. “That’s dental appointments, immunizations and other basic medical tasks,” he said.

He also emphasized the importance of the Army’s Performance Triad: sleep, activity and nutrition. “Doing smart PT, getting the proper amount of rest, and giving the body the proper fuel … it’s a magic triad for readiness.”

Medical readiness is compromised by health and fitness issues because soldiers aren’t taking enough care at the individual level, Ecker said.

As the Army has modernized, equipment has become very complex, and soldiers need more training to operate and maintain it, said Command Sgt. Maj. James Sims of U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC). “You can look at any up-armored- type vehicle on today’s battlefield, and what you see is multiple pieces of equipment and end items in one platform,” Sims said.

Additionally, over the past 15 years of war, units have become accustomed to deploying and falling in on pre-prepared equipment sets. That is no longer the case, Sims said. Now, “The equipment in your unit is all you have. This means that maintenance can’t just be a logistics responsibility. It’s the responsibility of every soldier and every unit,” he said.

Training time is the biggest readiness challenge from an AMC perspective. “Time in the motor pool, to really get at operating and fixing” is what logistics soldiers need, Sims said