Top NCOs Offer Formulas for Success
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 12, 1999 Looking for success in the military? Who better to ask for advice than the service members who rose through the ranks from E-nothings to become their services' top enlisted advisers?
That's exactly what Janet Langhart Cohen, wife of Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, recently did during interviews for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. Here's what the military's top noncommissioned officers told her:
Volunteer for the hard jobs. "I've never looked for a particular job, and I always volunteered for the hard jobs," said Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Lewis Lee. It's a formula that's worked for him and that he recommends to other Marines. "I've always been able to go and do whatever had to be done when it had to be done," he said.
Develop your leadership skills. Sergeant Major of the Army Robert Hall said working as a drill sergeant early in his career gave him a chance to discover and develop his leadership abilities. It also got him servicewide recognition when he was named Army Drill Sergeant of the Year in 1979.
Nurture junior service members. "We don't recruit master chiefs; we grow master chiefs, and it takes us awhile to do that," said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Herdt. He said he's built his career with the recognition that today's youngest men and women in uniform will become tomorrow's military leaders.
Look out for your people. "Leadership is pretty simple," said Sergeant Major of the Army Robert Hall. He defined the mantra for leadership that's guided his career: "just taking care of soldiers and soldiers' families and everything that entails."
Identify your goals and work toward them. Master Chief of the Coast Guard Vincent Patton said he knew from his earliest days in the military that he wanted to rise to become the Coast Guard's master chief. He said he loved the idea of "being a direct representative to the people in the field and a link to the commandant of the Coast Guard," so he "became a student of the job," watching his predecessors and learning from them.
Don't waste time and energy worrying about the next assignment. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Herdt tells service members to "just concentrate on the work you do day to day." He advises, "Try to be the best sailor you can be. Look for the good in people. Look for the good in the work you do, and if you do that, the follow-on assignments have a way of taking care of themselves."
Build on adversity. Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Lewis Lee grew up under tough circumstances. He said facing the challenges and difficulties the military presented him -- including a tour in Vietnam, where he was wounded twice and had to be medically evacuated -- helped him develop the "natural leader" within. "I became a leader without ever realizing I was becoming a leader," he said.
Broaden your experience base. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Herdt said his serving both in the submarine force and on aircraft carriers gave him "a very broad background from which to draw experience" as he climbed the ranks.
Get as much education as you can. Master Chief of the Coast Guard Vincent Patton said he "got hooked on" correspondence courses while at sea when he first entered the Coast Guard. He continued pursuing his education throughout his career, earning bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees and always "maxing out" the points awarded for education by promotion boards.
Respect and work within the military command structure. "If you take a look at the work we do, you can't have everyone in charge. Battle brings confusion," said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Herdt. He tells his sailors that the strength of the military is "the discipline and teamwork and everyone understanding the hierarchy."
Take pride in your people's success. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Eric Benken said the biggest reward of his job is the recognition that "we produce winners." He takes training and mentoring seriously, noting that "It's incredible what we're able to do with young people who have zero experience."