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Defining the True Professional NCO: In simplest Terms

By: SFC (RET) Kelly McMurtrey

Published: 11 Jan 09

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I had a very disturbing conversation with a young staff sergeant a couple of years ago. This particular NCO was a former artilleryman, who had recently reclassified into an intelligence MOS, and at the time, was working on an Army level staff in Germany. Imagery analysis was his forte. Unfortunately at the Army level, and specifically on this particular staff, there was not a copious amount of imagery to analyze. In fact, there was none. This, of course, caused this NCO a great amount of consternation which was vocalized in perhaps a rather expected way: "I don't like it here because I am not doing my job." It didn't take an excess amount of empathy to understand his frustration, and I certainly knew what he meant. Therefore, even with his anxiety, it was an easy matter to placate his concerns by simply explaining to him the important position that he did have. In fact, he worked side by side with the G2's civilian collection manager helping coordinate and manage real-world collection assets in support of real-world intelligence operations. Not a bad job indeed and a position that was not totally unheard of in the sphere of imagery analysts. Problem solved? At the time, I certainly thought so.

So with the trepidation concerning his job significantly diminished, I felt it might be a good idea to increase his responsibility by placing two young Soldiers under his direct supervision. This I hoped would further add to the personal fulfillment of this young Staff Sergeant. You see, Soldiers, specifically lower-enlisted Soldiers, were a rare commodity among the throngs of civilian employees in this four-star Army theater headquarters. Fortunately we did, however, have a small handful of young Warriors–many fresh out of the schoolhouse–in desperate need of NCO leadership. I was fairly certain that I had finally come up with a rather concrete solution with which to solidify this NCO's sense of duty and service.

If there's one thing that I've learned in life, however, it's that things more often than not just don't turn out the way you expect–and this NCO's reaction to having been given the opportunity to lead Soldiers was no exception. Needless to say, I was utterly taken aback when he vehemently objected by saying, "I don't want to supervise Soldiers; I just want to do my job." Do you know those moments when something so unexpected, so astonishingly unpredictable happens that you can do little more than stare wide-eyed off into space in a semi-vegetative state contemplating the reality of what just happened? This was one of those moments. It was a time for pause, a time for inner inquisition in which I simply had to ponder...

How could a young Soldier who cut his teeth in the challenging world of combat arms, who successfully transitioned from Soldier to Sergeant, and then later ascended the NCO ladder to Staff Sergeant, never learn, never realize, never be intuitively cognizant of the basic fundamental fact that taking care of Soldiers is not only the very essence of an NCO's profession but his sacred duty? I was indeed flabbergasted. It was agonizingly obvious this NCO needed an extensive amount of supervision and mentorship before he would be ready to have the honor of leading American Warriors.

I do not believe that the ambivalent attitude toward Soldiers and service which was displayed by this inexperienced NCO is ubiquitous in today's professional Army; nonetheless, his comments were quite disturbing. In fact, they provided the impetus which compelled me to write this essay in order to define in simplest terms the mind-set of a true professional noncommissioned officer. Words that I had to echo to a young Staff Sergeant a couple of years ago, who for whatever reason, had never quite found his way.

A true professional noncommissioned officer understands that his job is not encapsulated within the generic confines of a Military Occupational Specialty–it is more, much, much more. A true professional noncommissioned officer understands that he is a member of an all volunteer force, and as such will selflessly apply himself to the upmost of his ability in any capacity that the Nation, the Army, or his senior leadership need him to serve. A true professional noncommissioned officer does not complain about his job, he does his job; he places his mission first, and clearly understands that he is never "off the clock." A true professional noncommissioned officer is proud to serve his Nation, is proud of his Corps, and is grateful for the responsibilities that his country has entrusted to him. And most importantly, a true professional noncommissioned officer never shirks from the responsibility of leading, mentoring, and training Soldiers. He understands that ever Soldier has a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, or a friend who are counting on him to prepare their loved one for war, and he approaches this duty with the utmost seriousness and reverence. He understands that leading Soldiers affords him the opportunity to positively influence the lives of young American Warriors, and to perhaps leave a legacy behind that is capable of vicariously influencing the lives of others for generations to come. And he knows–without a doubt–that there is nothing on earth more fulfilling than that.

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