Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 - Page 94

Officer Candidate School. The NCOs with duty at these education sites demonstrated to the prospective lieutenants what their future subordinate squad leaders and other NCOs should be, know, and do. In the U.S. Army today, officers and NCOs are paired together at each level of command to form an efficient and effective command team. As a captain, an officer typically has the opportunity to command a company—his or her first command. This occurs at the seven- to ten-year mark of the officer’s career. The officer is normally paired with a senior NCO—a first sergeant—who typically has between seventeen and twenty-two years’ professional experience. At battalion level and higher, commanders are paired with even more-experienced senior NCOs: command sergeants major. Over time, a unique and mutual trust has developed between officers and NCOs. Army NCOs indeed follow “the orders of the officers appointed over” them and, in fact, affirm their commitment to do so frequently in the oaths they take.5 Officers, on the other hand, learn quickly to appreciate the experience and wisdom shared with them by seasoned NCOs, and they quickly learn to distinguish the poorly performing NCOs from the exceptional ones. An officer’s responsibility includes applying pressure where it needs to be applied to motivate and elevate the abilities of those poorly performing NCOs; officers are assisted in doing so by other NCOs. Conversely, oftentimes seasoned professional NCOs can make up for the shortcomings of poorly performing or inexperienced commissioned officers, tactfully assisting in the professional development of those officers while cushioning the potentially negative effects poor junior officer leadership could have on their units. In the end, what the Army has developed is a highly educated, all-volunteer enlisted force, fully capable of executing a wide variety of missions in accordance with the commander’s intent in a fully decentralized manner. Led by career and midcareer professional NCOs, many with post-high-school degrees and other higher-education credentials, this potent force has yielded tremendous benefits for the U.S. Army.6 Officers, supported by their NCOs in a team effort, have more time available to plan, coordinate, and synchronize garrison, training, or combat events, as compared to their counterparts in similar armies without such a well-developed and self-aware NCO corps. Officers in other armies often must personally manage numerous 88 time-intensive tasks that would be regarded as NCO duties in the U.S. Army, which interferes with focusing on the next mission or critical leadership issues. Mission Command Philosophy: Decentralized Execution Employing the U.S. Army’s mission command philosophy—decentralized execution—means a commander economizes time by only having to move within his or her command to where the commander’s presence is most needed, where a conflict exists or a decision requires command authority.7 Nevertheless, decentralizing exercise of power by delegating authority does not relieve the commander of any responsibility, nor does it drain the commander’s power away. Counterintuitively, it actually increases the commander’s power and makes him or her accountable for even more, as many more macro- and micro-actions occur simultaneously in this decentralized model, often without the direct supervision of the officer. Irrespective, it remains incumbent upon the officer to follow up with his or her NCOs to ensure command guidance is being met. A well-worn adage in the Army is that “one can delegate authority, but never responsibility.” Though U.S. Army planning is largely centralized, with ample input from senior NCOs, execution is nearly always accomplished in a decentralized manner. This is especially true in combat environments, where young officers often rely on their squad leaders—who are, at many times, well beyond the officers’ line of sight—to provide updates on the rapidly changing situations on the battlefield. Skillful officers use these extensions of their power to quickly transition phases of tactical operations, synchronize operational areas with adjacent units, and execute complicated tactical maneuvers at the small-unit level. The net effect is a thoroughly efficient organization that maximizes the use of all of its assets, especially its technically and tactically proficient NCO corps, in a decentralized manner. Today’s NCOs pride themselves on being able to operate under duress with little or no supervision from officers to accomplish their units’ missions. This gives officers the freedom to concentrate their own leadership skills and capabilities on more narrowly focused areas of concern where they need to be applied the most. Meanwhile, competent, dedicated, and trusted NCOs operate efficiently in their commands without the officers’ direct supervision—but following the direction of a November-December 2015  MILITARY REVIEW