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Africom Working to Help Nations Develop Professional NCOs

March 17, 2022 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

Professional military organizations serve their people, not the elites of nations, and the hallmark of these military organizations are effective NCO Corps, said Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Richard Thresher, the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Africa Command.

The American military empowers non-commissioned officers to know the commander's intent and carry through with execution of that intent. There are any number of instances in U.S. military history where NCOs ended up in command of units and carried out their missions. 

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Thresher has responsibility for his command's African enlisted development strategy. "It is a strategy that's low to no cost," he said in an interview. "What we do is we work through our partners and our components."

African nations have seen how the U.S. military works. The NCOs in American formations are empowered to make decisions and carry out missions. These African partners also see this in other successful international partners as well.  

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Africom works with these nations to establish a viable, effective NCO corps. "We go to those countries that have existing NCO academies and help them to formalize it, professionalize it, make it a little better," Thresher said. "We also take their existing instructors and train them and certify them."  

The command also consults with countries that don't have NCO schools but wish to have them. The command helps them with curriculum, to identify instructors and certify those instructors, the sergeant major said.  

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The command also works with U.S. National Guard units that are partnership organizations for African militaries. "We've got 18 of them, but we need more," he said. "The state partnership programs that are most involved seem to have the best NCO academies that are growing and building." He specifically cited the Vermont National Guard 's work with Senegal. 

Other African nations with good NCO academies are Botswana, Malawi, Kenya and Morocco, he said.  

He stressed that the countries need to adapt the programs to their own needs. "I tell them is this is not a U.S. program — we're not trying to make them a U.S. … Army or Marine Corps," the sergeant major said. "What we're trying to do is help them best develop their own noncommissioned officers and professionalize their force."  

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But it is not enough to simply train these NCOs; the militaries must use them correctly once the NCOs return from training. This is a cultural shift for many of these countries. In some African nations, every armored personnel carrier will have an officer in charge —NCOs are not trusted to handle this responsibility.  

When African leaders visit exercises such as African Lion in Morocco and Senegal, they notice that American formations will have E-5s in charge. "They see these NCOs empowered and in charge of making these decisions," Thresher said. "They go, 'Wow, if we had that we could relieve their commanders to make other decisions.'" 

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Thresher is hosting an African Senior Leaders' Conference for NCOs in Rome later this year. They will discuss professional military education, but Thresher also wants to bring up the need for a bridging program for personnel who leave the forces to go back to civilian life. "These are people who work hard and can lead teams," he said.  

He also wants to discuss the process of competent NCOs becoming officers. 

It is an on-going process, but it is achieving results, Thresher said.