From the 98th Command Sergeant Major

Positioning Senior NCOs in Your Formation

Command Sgt. Maj. Todd R. Kaim
CSM, 98th Training Division (IET)

Senior NCOs play a critical role in all operations, combat, garrison, and training. Understanding how to employ them is instrumental to the success of your organization. Being able to identify friction points is one of the most crucial. Like an NFL free safety, a senior NCO will roam the battlefield cleaning up mistakes. While officers and junior leaders will position themselves to best control their element, senior NCOs should be at the point of maximum friction. 

Doctrine and professional military education will tell us that on the battlefield that may be the casualty collection point (MEDEVAC) or the resupply point (sustainment operations), but it boils down to where can the CSM or senior NCO best position themselves to extend influence and solve problems. NCOs know their Soldiers better than anyone. Having an understanding of the commander’s intent, the operational environment, and their Soldiers NCOs can better posture themselves to make informed decisions. 

Senior NCOs are generally the most experienced Soldiers in a formation. The platoon Sergeant, first sergeant, or command sergeant major have years of experience and education. Commanders expect senior NCOs to identify and solve problems through all phases of the operation. Placing senior NCOs in the correct location can reduce risk and optimize productivity. Leaders solving issues before they become an impediment to success can be the difference between success and failure of an operation or the unit’s deployable status. In our operational environment, which is the training command, commanders and senior NCOs need to ensure that the NCO is at the point of friction. It might be a unit moral issue that needs a fresh set of eyes and ears, it might be a lack of quality and purposeful training, low recruiting or Soldier readiness, or maybe it is a standards and discipline issue. Whatever the issue that is unique at the company, battalion, or brigade level the senior NCO should be present and helping to impact direct positive change through problem solving. 

Commanders and senior NCOs need to be in sync to understand the entire operational picture. A commander may ask themselves two questions: “where do I have to be?” and “where do I wish I could be?’’ In an operational scenario, the commander may wish to be at the landing zone but understands they are better positioned being in the C2 aircraft to better synchronize the fight and the CSM is better positioned at the “LZ” as that is the most likely point of maximum friction. In our environment we can apply the same principles. This rubric works for us when we understand the senior NCO’s need to be empowered and yes even directed to be at the maximum point of friction to effect change. Commanders need to ensure their units are synchronized with higher HQ and move their units to positions of health and strength to better effect the overall plan while senior NCOs need to enforce standards to ensure Soldiers and collectively units are postured to meet the commander’s intent and vision.

As an NCO your responsibility is immense and wide ranging in scope, you are charged with the proper care of your Soldiers, whether that is promotions, education, training, moral, health, and welfare. Never discount the impact you can have on a Soldier by simply being present, asking questions, and actively solving problems. Be present and be at the point of friction to positively impact your Soldiers, your unit, and the mission.

“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.” – Peter Drucker

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