Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 - Page 92

F ollowing the conclusion of the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army had a series of successful combat operations, including Operation Urgent Fury, Operation Just Cause, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Military pundits, both friendly and unfriendly, often attribute much of this success to the technol ogical advantages the United States has had over its enemies—in weaponry, modern equipment, and cutting-edge intelligence-gathering capabilities—as well as to the diplomatic, political, and military support of its close allies. However, insufficient attention has been given to the human dimension of the Army’s structure, particularly the doctrinal manner in which it encourages initiative through the decentralization of power from the officers who plan its operations and command its formations to the noncommissioned officers (NCOs) who execute those plans in both garrison and combat. The secret to the success of the Army is twofold. The first aspect is the manner in which it capitalizes on the effective use of its most important resource—soldiers. The second, and the focus of this paper, is the manner in which the NCO corps, promoted from the most talented members of the population of enlisted soldiers, has developed over the last forty years into a professional institution. The empowerment of U.S. Army NCOs over this period is now an indispensable feature of Army structure and culture that saves officers’ precious resources—principally in freeing up their time to concentrate their attention on the management of vast and increasingly complex organizations. This creates efficiencies in the Army that effectively extend its operational and tactical reach—especially at the battalion level and below—by enabling each soldier to take initiative and resolve problems at the lowest level appropriate to achieve the commander’s intent. As partner nations look forward, to plan, build, and implement new security cooperation agreements over the future decades with the United States, it may be to their advantage to take a closer look at the pride of the Army—the NCO corps—and the way it was developed following the Vietnam War to become the professional institution it is today. Some traditional U.S. allies, such as Jordan and Colombia, have recently recognized the lack of an empowered NCO corps as a shortfall within their own armies, and they are working with the United States to bring about systemic long-term changes to increase the autonomy of lower-level units within their armed forces.1 They are doing this by improving the leadership qualities in their NCOs and revamping their NCO education systems. This change can reap benefits by expanding the operational and tactical range of those armies. The U.S. Army Model Toward the end of the unpopular Vietnam War, strategic leaders within the Army recognized that the conscripted force would soon be a relic of the past. The war-weary U.S. citizenry was tired of the draft and called for an all-volunteer force. Among the many initiatives Army leaders discussed to encourage enlistment and reenlistment for the volunteer soldiers were better pay, fair and improved opportunities for promotion and upward mobility, and a diffusion of power to enhance the capacity and effectiveness of the all-volunteer force. Officers in charge of implementing these changes, such as Gen. Eugene Depuy, spent (Photo courtesy of the National Army of Colombia) several years perfecting the Colombian army Col. Juan Felipe Yepes Lara presides over a military ceremony 22 February 2013 honoring 658 graduates of the Colombian “Sargento Inocencio Chincá” Noncommissioned model that would eventually Officer Academy, Tolemaida, Colombia. be adopted. 86 November-December 2015  MILITARY REVIEW