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Gainey Shares NCO Leadership Ideas With International Audience

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa, Feb. 9, 2006 – Senior noncommissioned officers should afford their troops responsibility, authority, accountability and assistance, the U.S. military's top NCO told an international conference of sergeants major here today.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace, is attending the International Warrant Officers Conference at Tempe Military Base here Feb. 6-10. South Africa and many other nations use the term "warrant officer" to describe senior NCOs, about equivalent to grades E-7 to E-9 in U.S. military services.

In a presentation to the conference's roughly 50 attendees from about 20 countries around the world, Gainey introduced what he calls "R-Ax3" - responsibility, authority, accountability and assistance.

Senior leaders, Gainey explained, must afford these to junior troops:

  • Responsibility, to instill a sense of worth, pride and accomplishment;
  • Authority, to effectively carry out tasks they are responsible for;
  • Accountability, for actions right and wrong; and
  • Assistance, to help junior troops learn from leaders' experience and expertise.

He said such actions by leaders are vital to developing junior troops who will be tomorrow's leaders. Senior leaders must "coach, teach, mentor and train" subordinates to effectively replace the leaders in the future, Gainey said.

He also described what American military officers expect from their senior NCOs and vice versa. Officers in the U.S. military expect their senior enlisted leaders to be tactically, technically and strategically proficient; to be "professional beyond reproach"; and to be "the eyes and the ears for the commander" - the voice of servicemembers and their families, Gainey said.

Senior NCO leaders should expect several things from their commanders:

  • Direct and open communication. "No one has permission to stop me from seeing General Pace," Gainey told conference attendees.
  • Trust and respect. These are not a right, he said, but must be earned through consistently professional and proficient actions.
  • Freedom of movement throughout the command. "You need to tell that commander, 'Sir, I need to have freedom of moment throughout my area of responsibility. The only way I can advise you is if I see it,'" Gainey said.
He said senior U.S. NCOs are empowered in many ways. However, he added, empowerment is not about having "power," per se, but about influencing junior troops to do the right things. "We're not worried about power, but we teach our leaders to exercise influence over their subordinates," he said.

The sergeant major also introduced conferees to his concept of the "strategic corporal."

"We understand that corporals do not plan battles," he said. "But what corporals do on the battlefield can result in a strategic victory for the enemy," he said.

He pointed to incidents of prisoner abuse by U.S. troops in Iraq as an example of a situation in which the actions of even junior servicemembers constitute a strategic victory for the enemy in terms of influencing the actions of others.

Gainey also shared a favorite quote - from a grizzled Vietnam veteran sergeant major - that he said summed up the value of freedom to him: "You have never lived until you have almost died. For those who defend it, freedom has a special flavor the protected will never know."

Gainey encouraged the international senior NCOs at the conference to continually seek self-improvement and assess themselves, "Look at yourself in the mirror at the end of every day and ask: 'What have I done to positively affect someone today?'" he said.

He acknowledged his comments may not constitute exactly the right way to do things for all countries present, just the way the U.S. military does things. "You don't have to believe what I say," he said. "But you better believe that I believe every word of it."

Contact Author

Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, USA

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Top U.S. NCOs Meeting With International Counterparts

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