Afghan Sergeant Major Shows Way Ahead for Fledgling Army
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 11, 2006 Foreign observers of the U.S. military often say what puts it above other militaries is the quality of the noncommissioned officer corps.
Many other nations want the same for themselves.
The Afghan National Army is learning from Western military trainers who stress the central role of NCOs in a world-class military. Afghan army Chief of Staff Gen. Bismullah Khan stressed the role of NCOs in the new military by recently appointing the nation's first sergeant major of the army, Roshan Safi.
Senior American NCOs say the appointment is crucial to developing an NCO corps in the country. "It's huge," said Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "The appointment sends a message to the officers of the Afghan National Army that officials at the very top of the military consider this important."
Gainey visited the country with the chairman, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, from July 26-29.
The senior enlisted adviser to Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel R. Wood, said Safi's appointment came as an eye-opener for many officers in the Afghan National Army. "Typically, NCOs didn't get a lot of respect under the old regime," Wood said.
He noted that the former Afghan army followed the Soviet style of management: officers made all decisions and discouraged individual initiative. "Lieutenants and captains made all the decisions at the unit level, and they had captains or majors doing what we would consider NCO work at higher levels," Wood said.
Safi graduated from the U.S. Army's Sergeant Major Academy, at Fort Bliss, Texas, and came back to the Afghanistan with a thorough knowledge of how the American NCO corps functions. "He identifies problems, solves the ones he can, and suggests solutions for those above his pay grade," Wood said.
"He is an asset to his commander and a role model to his soldiers," Gainey said.
Still, the Afghan National Army’s NCO corps is likely to have growing pains. Wood said many officers remain reluctant to accept an expanded role for NCOs, and cultural and societal problems must be overcome. "Many of the soldiers in the ANA are illiterate," he said. “They are good soldiers, but have never been to school. This places a barrier in the way of many who would otherwise make fine NCOs.”
The U.S. military serves as a model for other countries seeking to build more effective NCO corps. "These countries see us, they see the British and Germans and other western nations, and they like the capabilities NCOs bring to their military," Gainey said. "They want to learn from the best."