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Training Shows Eastern Nations Still Need Strong NCO Corps

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C., Aug. 28, 1996 – As an Eastern European infantry platoon worked its way through a village alley, a U.S. Marine Corps evaluator touched the platoon leader's shoulder -- a captain directing the unit in an urban peacekeeping mission.

"A sniper just fired out the window of that building and you're now dead, said the controller. "Come with me, and don't speak to your troops for the rest of this scenario."

For the platoon, the loss of its leader brought confusion as the soldiers moved through the urban terrain. No one really assumed command, and troops looked for guidance on how they should complete their mission.

The men had no noncommissioned officer to guide them, and this lack of NCOs could have cost lives had the situation been real. That fact is not lost on many Partnership for Peace countries, which use opportunities such as Cooperative Osprey '96 here to develop that mid-range leadership.

"You can definitely tell which units have a leadership chain and which ones need help," said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Monroe Stueber of Camp Lejeune. "All it takes is for the country to develop an NCO corps that builds leaders -- people who can assume responsibility at a moment's notice and complete the mission."

Unlike U.S., Canadian and other NATO forces, where the NCO routinely leads troops through their missions, many countries of the former Warsaw Pact don't have an NCO corps. Unit commanders -- usually lieutenants and captains -- delegate little or no authority to their enlisted troops.

Both Stueber, who trained partnership units in urban missions, and Marine Reserve Sgt. Duane Hauer could see the differences immediately. Both said Eastern European nations use a centralized command structure and give little authority to anyone besides the commander. The lack of leadership often leads to confusion on and off the training field.

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Charles Wilhelm, commanding general of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic, described one situation that shows the change in leadership thinking.

One year ago, 132 members of a Ukrainian naval infantry company trained with Camp Lejeune Marines. Their command chain was the commander and his executive officer. Wilhelm said it took the two Ukrainian leaders nearly five hours to get their troops into billeting.

"This was with rooms already marked and prepared for them, ... every possible accommodation made," said Wilhelm. "In our system, we'd have had them in their rooms in 20 minutes, because corporals and sergeants take care of the troops, get them into their rooms, then report back to the platoon sergeants. That's NCO business."

However, when the Ukrainian platoon arrived here this year for Cooperative Osprey, Wilhelm said he saw an immediate difference in leadership.

"The minute they got off the aircraft, we saw they had a platoon sergeant, they had squad leaders and they had team leaders already appointed," said Wilhelm. "Everything was clicking. You could see while the officers were getting their initial business done, they also watched as their NCOs took charge of their troops."

It's message that not only caught on with the Ukrainians at Lejeune, but also with other partnership units that attended Cooperative Nugget last year at Fort Polk, La. During the exercise, partnership nations saw the importance U.S. Army leaders placed on NCOs during the NATO exercise, and they are now trying to incorporate those lessons in their own leadership structure.

That trend is catching on in other nations as well. Although still holding an officer influence in their ranks, Sgt. Asim Brlici of Albania is proof NCOs are developing in that nation's ranks.

As a team leader, Brlici was a strong presence at the Albanian base camp. He detailed his soldiers to specific chores, conducted impromptu training sessions, issued weapons and made sure his men had the equipment they needed for maneuvers. He did this while his officers met to discuss team strategy for their three-day field exercise.

"We are new at this, but it is good to have soldiers who are experienced and can handle the troops in different situations," said Brlici through a translator. "We've seen how American sergeants lead soldiers, and we're building to have our sergeants become leaders, too."

Yet these NCO roles will take time, training and experience to fill. Stueber said it's not going to be an overnight process, but he saw a lot of positive signs at the urban training site.

"You'd expect the Canadians and the Dutch to do well here because they already have an established NCO corps that knows how to lead," said Stueber. "But the Romanians and the Ukrainians also did well, and that's a sign that they are starting get more leaders within their platoons."

Hauer pointed out several situations where the partner countries still need improvement -- suggestions he would make to training evaluators. "I found that those [platoons] without NCO leadership tend to center themselves around their leader in a large group," he said. "That leaves the platoon open to catastrophe."

In a village assault designed to detain dissidents, Hauer showed how one platoon without NCO leadership bunched together at their first site. "Instead of having separate leaders directing each phase, they assaulted the building as one large unit," he said.

Had observers been strict about tactics, Hauer said, they could have dropped a "grenade" and wiped out half the platoon. "But this is a learning experience for many of these troops, and they're seeing they'll need subordinate leaders to handle missions -- leaders they'll have by developing good NCOs," he said.

In a world where more and more nations are becoming involved in peacekeeping operations, having trained NCOs provides leaders the flexibility they will need to concentrate on mission planning.

"We need to know understand how our allies will work in peacekeeping missions" said Brlici. "We are finding that if we work hard and gain this experience, we can gradually move to become better leaders for our countries."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageHungarian soldiers mass around their platoon leader before beginning their search of a town building. Although some Eastern European nations are just forming an NCO corps, many still rely on a single platoon officer for direction. Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA  
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