NCOs Offer Voice of Experience
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 27, 2000 As the Army two-star general sat down to lunch with several E-9s and their spouses, he pointed at an Air Force chief master sergeant and gruffly snapped, "You're in charge."
The major general then looked at the others seated around the table; slowly he smiled, and said, "I've had a long, successful career -- and that's why. Wherever I've gone, I've found the senior NCO and put him or her in charge."
The general certainly wasn't off his mark in this instance.
Shortly before he arrived, the Air Force chief master sergeant did what NCOs do best. He scanned the room to ensure that his 83 counterparts and their 60 spouses all had seats. Like all good NCOs, he was looking out for his troops.
DoD gathered about 2,000 years of collective NCO experience in one room when these top NCOs assembled for the first Senior Enlisted Advisors Forum here June 22. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, hosted the daylong conference on readiness and quality of life.
Cohen said DoD asks a lot of its NCOs, and the least DoD leaders can do in return is to listen. "We ask you to teach our young men and women to be warriors," he said. "We ask you to instruct them in terms of the development of their character. We ask you to be advocates for their welfare."
After noting his wife's "grand entrance" shortly after beginning his remarks, Cohen laughed along with the rest of the group when Langhart Cohen brightly quipped, "At ease, Mr. Secretary." She then joined her husband in welcoming the group to the Pentagon.
"Not long ago, Bill and I were in New Orleans at the dedication of the D Day Museum," she said. "Yesterday we were in the rarefied air at the White House when we honored the Asian Medal of Honor recipients. On Sunday, we go to Arlington (Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery) and Bill will lay a wreath (at the Tomb of the Unknowns) and we will honor the Korean War veterans. Each time we do these honors, we think of you, and (all) those who sacrificed and served with them.
"Every day, wherever our military is, extraordinary things happen," Langhart Cohen said. "And something extraordinary and significant is happening today with this Senior Enlisted Advisors Forum with our senior leadership."
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Collin Younger, senior enlisted advisor for reserve affairs, helped pull the June 22 forum together.
Cohen meets quarterly with the top service NCOs, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, his own senior enlisted advisor Army Sgt. Maj. Marshall Williams and Younger, who represents the reserve components. The forum gave the secretary a chance to meet with people who serve in the field, Younger said.
"As soon as word got out that DoD was holding the forum, interest grew and we got calls from all over," he said. "Commanders called because they wanted their senior enlisted advisors to attend."
Throughout the day, senior Pentagon officials and the NCOs themselves highlighted the role NCOs play in the military.
"The job of the E-9 is to advise the commander about exactly what is happening with the troops on the ground," Younger said. "The E-9 ought to be able to come into the commander's office and say what's working, what's not and why. He ought to be able to come in and say, 'If we do it this way, we're making a mistake.'"
The E-9's candid appraisal is based on about 20 years military experience, he said. "You understand because you've been there and you've done that. If you have a commander and a sergeant major who do not talk, you have a bad unit. They have to trust each other. When we do, it works."
Younger commended the Cohens for hosting the forum and inviting those at "the other end of the chain" to meet with Pentagon officials. There are service members out there who have some real problems, he said, and it's the NCOs who deal with these troops. "They know what's going on," he said.
"When soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsman, see a master chief or a sergeant major or a chief master sergeant, they come to them for help. We see it everyday, but the people in this building don't."
Bernard Rostker, the new undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, hopes to build on the impetus of this forum. He will hold monthly meetings with the senior enlisted panel.