Posted on Sep 1, 2023
CSM William Everroad
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This topic popped up recently in the CSM Facebook group (credit: CSM Sloan).

The idea is that at a certain point in an NCO's career (say E6), they should be eligible for commissioning (with a degree) to 2LT. The military could retain direct commissioning, but eliminate NCO progression past that point and bring back the technical ranks. The example given in discussion was to follow concepts of law enforcement rank progression.

I found that it was an interesting discussion and see the pros and cons. Obviously SEAs would be eliminated as well as PSGs and 1SGs. This would put the brunt of running small units back on the officer.
Edited 6 mo ago
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SGM Mikel Dawson
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Edited 6 mo ago
The biggest mistake the Army did was doing away with the Specialists ranks above Speedy 4. Not everyone is a leader. I have served with many who were not leaders, yet they were in a leadership position. I have seen the Army loose many good soldiers because they were technically and tactfully proficient, but they were not leaders nor did they want to be - they just wanted to do a job. For me, yes leadership traits can be taught, but the best leaders are "born" leaders, those who have the ability to know what to do, when to do, how to do without being to school to learn it. Yes, going to school does help, in knowing how to focus, find the courses of action, knowing how to lead the troops. But there are some things which just can't be taught. This would lead to a higher quality of leaders, on the flip side, this would also lead to better quality, more dependability in those who don't want to lead, but just want to do a job. I believe the retention of higher skilled soldiers would have been higher if the SPC 5,6,7,8 was here today. After all they did this for the officer ranks - thus the Warrents.

As to the question, no I do not. I do not believe SNCOs should be required to obtain a "degree", leave that to the officers. The NCOs of the United States Army are the backbone of the Army and always will be. A good SNCO doesn't need a degree to do his/her job.
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SGT Cheryl Meadows Smith
SGT Cheryl Meadows Smith
4 mo
I left as an Sergeant (E5) because although I was qualified in every other way to become a SSG I was never promoted due to not having any college other than a couple classes. 7 years as a SGT was a bit to much. So I do not agree with tying college to being promoted.

Referencing the OP, I disagree with doing away with the enlisted ranks above E5. My reasoning behind this is that the enlisted people do the work. They, again in my opinion, are the backbone of the military, they do the grunt work. Not everyone wants to be an Officer same as all enlisted do not want to be leaders. Why change what has worked for decades? Enlisted, Warrants then Officers. Each have their specific "jobs". Many, many enlisted do not want to lead, do not want to become Warrants and especially do not want to become Officers. Why force someone into leaving something they love to become something they will likely not love or even like? I think that making this drastic of a change will only lead to a lot more people leaving the military. They would be taking all that knowledge and experience with them. You are then left with the ones that are only there for the large paycheck.

I loved the military, I loved my life in the military but I also wanted to be promoted on my merit not on some piece of paper from some educational institution. I did go on to get that piece of paper but was sorry I wasted the VA's money on it because I turned out to be a less than average student. That was a very mind blowing experience. I was military smart but not college degree smart.
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SPC Edward Abney
SPC Edward Abney
2 mo
I agree with SGM Dawson, 100 %. The worst mistake the Army ever made, was to eliminate the Specialist ranks above E4. And, I am "old" Army, (62-65), when Specialist 5 and above were common. Who the hell thought that ALL soldiers have to be NCO's if they want to move beyond E4.
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SPC Edward Abney
SPC Edward Abney
2 mo
CW3 Kevin Storm - I disagree, Mr. Storm. Why saddle an Electronic warfare specialist, who has highly desirable skills that pay significantly above NCO pay in the private sector, with the requirements of an NCO? It just doesn't make sense!
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SSG Dave Johnston
SSG Dave Johnston
2 mo
You realize that it was MILPO/PERSCOM/USAHRC that interfered with the Specialist grades by overlooking or ignoring the coding between a unit needing a Specialist E-5/6/7 or NCO E-5/6/7 to fill the vacancy... Think about it... a CBT Arms Battalion forwards a request for a PLT SGT and MILPO/PERSCOM/USAHRC issues orders to SPC-7 who has never in their career been assigned to a CBT Arms BN. The same applies when a CBT SVC SPT or CBT SPT BN forwards a request for a SPC-6 and gets a SSG who hasn't worked that side of their MOS since he was an E-4...
Then we also have a numbers pyramid that is correspondent to the enlisted/officer grades, as you go up in rank the fewer number of that rank/grade are needed... So why would DOD/DA pay for an E-5/6/7 that has the same amount of authority as a SPC-4??? There goes your pay role budget...
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COL Randall Cudworth
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I would think that you would be in a much better position to speak to the advantages and disadvantages of getting rid of the senior NCO ranks, but let me pontificate from the officer side.

Going way back to my 2LT days, I have to say I was 'raised right' in respecting NCOs. My father was career military and pretty much beat into my head that the main difference between a 2LT and a PFC was that the 2LT had a college degree and the PFC was promoted twice. Both were new to the military and had a LOT to learn.

When I took command of my first platoon, that education of "here's what they didn't teach you before" wasn't by the company commander (though he did help), it was my second platoon sergeant (I'll skip over the first one that was relieved within my first month there).

Throughout my career I've often agreed with a comparison of the commander and his senior enlisted (Platoon Sergeant, 1st Sergeant, CSM, etc.) as being more of a partnership instead of a superior/subordinate relationship. Each has a distinct role they perform within the structure, and those roles are tied to the experience, skills and knowledge that those individuals are expected to possess by someone of their rank.

Unless we significantly reshape the military, ESPECIALLY the Army and Marines, there will be critical shortfalls if those senior NCOs (as we currently know them) aren't present - those roles would have to be replaced with someone with the experience, skills and knowledge to fulfill that role.

I wonder at the "rest of the story" to the suggestion by CSM Sloan. Is it just an academic exercise for debate or is there something else? I absolutely can see an argument for address whatever underlying reasons might be driving this suggestion (I saw something along these lines last year in an article in CSIS*), but getting rid of senior NCOs (you would have 'senior enlisted technicians', but no senior NCOs) would need a significant structural change to maintain the advantages our current one has ('Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater').

If you compare our NCOs to to other countries and look at their can look at other countries that actually have a model you describe you can easily see a predictor of what it could become. Take Russia for example. While the difference between the two models is that there are still junior NCOs in the one you described, there are practically no NCOs (~7%) in their army, and it shows. It really shows. In our military, the senior NCO's establish standards, outline the expectations, and develop leaders across their formation and this goes down to the lowest junior Soldier.

NCOs in our military are the envy of our partner nations - our NCO Corps is the reason that the military is considered the best in the world for the simple reason that our military culture has evolved through generations to 'power-down' leadership and decision making capability to the lowest level. Senior NCOs develop those junior NCOs who in turn develop the lower enlisted ranks. Removing the senior NCOs form the process will affect the development of all those downstream.

As SMA William Connelly (the Army's 6th SMA), "Good NCOs are not just born. They are groomed and grown through a lot of hard work and strong leadership by Senior NCOs".
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* CSIS article - https://defense360.csis.org/bad-idea-the-officer-enlisted-divide/
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SSG Rick Miller
SSG Rick Miller
6 mo
CSM William Everroad - Comparing law enforcement to military rank structure seems to me to be a case of apples and oranges. The LEO's have a fixed set of tasks and skills for all members. The US Army does not. While the basic KSA'a are warfighter related, there are myriad KSA's in effect throughout the force. Removing NCO's above E-6 would be a horrible mistake, in my estimation. I think the Specialist ranks should be restored, rather than NCO ranks discarded. I don't really care when we became the backbone of the Army, but that is exactly what we are. The officers dictate policy, the NCO implements it. The NCO trains and teaches junior officers, at least the ones willing to listen.
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1SG Ron Schlatter
1SG Ron Schlatter
5 mo
Sr. NCO’s are the ones that should mentor soldiers regardless of their rank. It requires tact and professionalism. Most officers I have worked for were very professional and respected my opinion and advice.
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Capt Robert Stozek
Capt Robert Stozek
5 mo
On my first assignment as an 2nd Lt I quickly learned the value of my SMSgt as a mentor, a wise counsel, and a really smart guy. I always remembered that he told me the many reasons he never wanted to be an officer.
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CPT Eireanne Russ
CPT Eireanne Russ
5 mo
CSM William Everroad - BLUF: Let us not forget, or avoid, the absolute truth that Armies (militaries) are not supposed to be efficient (use only the minimum amount of resources and people that might get the job done and save money, and have a low cost, flat management structure). Our job is to accomplish a battlefield, or even humanitarian, mission and make sure it is done right the first time. In Vietnam we were hamstrung by fighting a war on a budget...very efficient, but not effective. Armies win by destroying the enemy army...nothing less. You can not do that by focusing on efficiency (the use of the least amount of materiel, peopole and time you think may be sufficient...in war none of those things ever are), you focus on maximum resources, most bodies and biggest bangs you can find and them apply them in great abundance.

In my day we were told that the reason for the number of extra officers and NCOs was so every existing unit had enough leaders AND so that others could go to professional school, work on degrees, lead training units and be Academy/ROTC instructors. AND in wartime most of those in schools and other assignments would be redirected to provide trained, experienced leaders for new units with new recruits that would be able to pluss up the service rapidly and with a minimum degrading of effectiveness. You can grab a young person from civilian life and train them to do Army stuff fairly quickly, but you can not go to a college MBA program and find a Captain, Major, LTC, COL or Flag officer. This is a lesson we learned in the mid 1800s and it led to our Officer and NCO training programs as early as the 1880s and 1890s.

Think about it this way: very few privates, e-4/s or even Sgt E-5s have the motivation to do significantly more than their job description. A Team leader learns most of his skills from his squad or section leader, the squad leader learns from the PSG, the PSG from the 1SG and the 1SG from the CSM. One of a leaders primary roles is to mentor his direct reports so they can mentor their direct reports, ad infinitum. An NCO at the platoon and above levels also has the job of helping to train his officer. I knew enough as a 2LT about tactics and leadership to be a danger until my PSG mentored me. As a Company COmmander, I still needed my 1SG's input to help me understand, and manage, the minutia at that level of leadership.

I spent 11 years as an Army Infantry Officer. Afterwards I spent 33 years in various supervisory roles in corporate America. Ours (Army) is a very effective, and flexible, structure. It allows for quick and forceful response in an infinite range of situations from the battlefield to disaster relief, to cleaning up a fluid spill in the motorpool, and even to gettng a barracks GI'ed for an inspection.

In my 33 years a a civilian, every place I worked was looking for ways to flatten the organization by recreating/streamlining/removing management structures. I saw matrix management used as a way to try to circumvent poor leadership by spreading the blame around to the point no one could be held responsible. I worked on self-directed teams where each person was pretty darn good at their job, but there was no one person responsible for directing the effort. Imagine an Orchestra, or even a garage band, where no one is directing the effort, The Tubas are playing The Colonel Bogey March, the trumpets are playing Stars and Stripes Forever, the strings are playing Flight of the Valkeries, and the percussion sections are playing Wipe Out.

In every case, this pursuit of efficiency led to decreased effectiveness. While there are places for these and other management models, there is always a need to acknowledge the span of control of leaders is finite, soldiers and employees still need to be supervised. In places I worked we had cases where customer service folks were stealing credit card information, leaving early and having friends clock them out, and adding their friends to someone else's account. An example of the latter, on steroids, is Wells Fargo, who over a decade looked the other way, even incentivized, its people creating multiple accounts for customers without customer approval because employees received a bonus based on the number of accounts they opened.

Two final points: (1) Soldiers do well those things the commander/leader checks. An officer is often overwhelmed with other stuff that is critical so can only spend so much time overseeing. That is where we rely on our NCOs, whom we train, for whom we set standards, and whom we then allow to be their best selves to be our eyes and ears, and voices. (2) The military is not a business, It is a service. Services are designed to get a job done, and rely on the government to provide the resources. While there is a responsibility not to be wasteful, the military has to stand up and tell the civilian government that there is a cost to the security we have guaranteed for so many generations.
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CSM Chuck Stafford
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I saw that too. Interesting concepts that I'd not given any thought towards. The institution is too big for a revolutionary re-set. That said, supplementing the current promotion system with an officer path in conjunction with the a DA centralized board may be a value added proposition.
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