Being promoted to a non-commissioned officer in the United States Army is a privilege and responsibility that not all soldiers are ready to undertake. It can be a delicate balancing act, between the camaraderie of enlisted service to the leadership of being an officer. To be able to do the job well, a non-commissioned officer must maintain all of the sever Army Core Values and practice them every day and he must be able to place the needs of his service and his country above personal needs and ego. Being a non-commissioned officer requires that the soldier be prepared to train soldiers who will eventually become his superiors, that he understand the rules of engagement and that he be the best soldier that he is capable of being.
The first challenge of being a non-commissioned officer is garnering the respect and loyalty of your fellow enlisted men. The challenge begins long before a soldier is promoted. Reflecting the core army values in everything you do, from the moment on enlisting, is how a non-commissioned officer begins to build the respect and loyalty he will need to command troops. Even more so than commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers must prove themselves worthy of the promotion. They must understand that every action is under scrutiny and accept that they are being held to a higher standard than fellow soldiers and fellow officers. Because you are one of them, went through boot camp with them, and trained with them, enlisted men know non-commissioned officers better than they know commissioned officers. They are better able to see your faults and your successes. For that reason, as a non-commissioned officer, you must be above reproach. Sure, you can be friends with your fellow soldiers, but you had better treat all of them well. You cannot play favorites before or after your promotion. You must treat all of your fellow soldiers equally.
You must also be above reproached in your personal life. This can be particularly difficult for young people who enter the Army right out of high school. There is a natural tendency of youth to want to be free and wild during the early days of their enlistment and to be certain, some amount of ribald behavior is acceptable. In fact, it will help to build camaraderie with your fellow soldiers if you have the ability to relax with your troops. However, too much partying with fellow soldiers can lead to situations wherein you look less than your best and this is not acceptable for those who want to be an officer of any type, non-commissioned or commissioned. Much like a police officer or even a politician, an army officer is never off-duty, so even when out of uniform you must hold yourself to a higher standard, being ever mindful of the question, “How would my command view this action?”
As a non-commissioned officer you should also be prepared to constantly be bettering yourself. Whether leading a tank battalion or directing the motor pool, a non-commissioned officer’s responsibility to his fellow soldiers is great. You must always be prepared to do your job to the best of your ability. That means regular classes to update your skills and your leadership abilities. You must be prepared to be constantly learning more about your job title and ever improving your knowledge of military procedures and the world around you. And then, as a non-commissioned officer, you must always live by the Seven Army Core Values. Primarily, as anon-commissioned officer you should live up to the core values because you are an example to your men. They will imitate what they see in you and you must give them an example that the Army can be proud of. While John Kerry’s careless comment that you should go to school or else you’ll end up in the military was crass and an unflattering characteristic of the men and women who choose to join the U.S. Army, the reality is that for a lot of these young men and women, you, as their non-commissioned officer, may be the first truly good role model that they have. It is an awesome responsibility to have young people, often just barely 18, looking to you for guidance, leadership and a role model that they can respect.
Living to the core values every day can be a struggle, not everyone can maintain their composure at all times, but as a non-commissioned officer you are not most people. You have greater discipline and strength of character than the average person. Better even than the average soldier. You have been chosen as an officer in the United States army, one of the premier fighting forces in the world. You know that how you live every day is an example to others, be they your enlisted men or civilians on the streets of Baghdad to whom you are the representation of America. Everywhere you go whether in a combat situation or on leave or as an honor guard, you represent the world’s perceptions on the Untied States. Fairly or not, mostly not, your actions dictate to the world what your country stands for and you have the option to be a shining beacon of what America stands for or to contribute to worldwide perceptions of Americans as know-it-all bullies, brash and uncaring. And, simply by living to the Seven Core Army Values, you can help change that perception worldwide.
The first of the core values that you must live to as a soldier and even more so as a non-commissioned officer is loyalty. Loyalty can mean a lot of things on a lot of different levels. At the most intrapersonal level it means treating people the way you would like to be treated. A loyal friend, for example, would never spread rumors about another friend or degrade them in front of others. As a loyal friend, when someone speaks poorly about your friend, you will gently and politely correct their misconceptions or if circumstances demand it, back your friend up in a fight. A loyal friend never allows his friends, fellow soldiers or loved ones to get backed into an unfair fight.
But loyalty does not mean stupidity. Being loyal to a drunken pal may mean trying to talk his way out of that fight and keeping him from getting jumped three on one, but it can also mean letting him take a couple punches when he truly deserves them. Loyalty is neither blind nor stupid. We are loyal to people who deserve it and we take the best option for showing our loyalty, not the quickest or most obvious. This is a high standard to hold yourself to and it can be difficult. Most soldiers spend at least some amount of time mocking and tormenting one another in good fun. The key here is knowing when the teasing goes beyond fun and becomes hurtful to the other person.
Another important form of loyalty is loyalty to one’s spouse. Even more than to a friend, this is an important form of daily loyalty. This is another form of loyalty that is also subtle. A loyal husband sees his wife’s flaws and helps her overcome them. A loyal wife will not exploit her husband’s flaws for her own gain or make a mockery of him, to her friends or to his, because of his flaws. And most importantly, loyal spouse are committed to one another. Within the framework of their relationship, loyal spouses remain true to one another regardless of the circumstances.
As a soldier, another form of loyalty that you should always practice is to your country. Sadly, we have seen this loyalty severely lacking in many of our politicians and national leaders in recent years. Because you are loyal to this country, you will not speak ill of the Commander-in-chief. Though the Constitution guarantees our rights to say what we think, as a non-commissioned officer you understand that criticism of superior officers, including the president, is not appropriate at any time, but especially in times of war. You understand that you may question his order and dislike him personally, but out of loyalty to your country and his oath of office, you will respect him in the office her holds.
Loyalty to your country also means that you will take no action that will lend aid or give comfort to the enemy. That sounds simple enough, but as we are well-aware in the current war we are fighting, identifying the enemy is not as easy as looking a flag on his sleeve. The reality is that in the Iraq war, we are tested daily to determine who our enemy is and how we should treat them. Many Americans, including several prominent Senators, claim that we are know by how we treat are enemies. If we hold them in high regard do to their elected office and we are loyal to our country, we must then treat the Iraqi people and even potential hostiles with respect. That does not mean we will lay down on the job or allow them to randomly kill American soldiers or civilians, but it does mean that unlike any previous conflict, we are charged with a duty of first determining who the enemy is and then determining how to fight him.
A second core value that non-commissioned officers must hold in high regard is their obligation to duty. Again, this is a rather complex and broad-spanning value. In the simplest terms, holding duty as a core value means showing up for work when expected and doing the job that is expected. This is the most basic form of duty, the duty that we would expect from a well-trained dog. To a soldier and to an officer, duty means much more. It means not only showing up for work, but giving your all to that job while you are there. It means understanding that duty goes beyond a simple assignment and to the core of who we are. It means knowing that duty can mean protecting Americans from themselves in the event of a major natural disaster or killing terrorists in an Iraqi desert.
Duty is also the value that we use to explain our willingness to lose a limb or even our lives in the protection of our families. Duty is an internal fortitude that we develop that does beyond most simple comprehension. It is what makes us give up our air-conditioned homes for a tent in the desert or a tank in Afghanistan. Duty is less a value than something you feel, something in your blood or your soul that calls you to do whatever is necessary to protect those you love and the place you love. And, as non-commissioned officers, we must do our duty in the smallest sense so that we are prepared when the time comes to do it on a grander stage.
The third core value that we must keep as a soldier and non-commissioned officer is respect. This is respect for one’s self and respect for others. Like many of the core values, respect is trait that can be applied in many different forms. For example, when we treat others the way we would like to be treated, we call that respect. When we are kind and polite to all people regardless of their age, race, color, creed, religion and more, we call that respect. And, when we follow the orders of commanding officers without rolling our eyes or back-talking, that is respect as well. A good soldier must practice all these forms of respect and more.
A soldier must first respect himself. You must know that you are a worthwhile human being and have an important role to play in the lives of the people you love, your unit and your country. Self-respect can come in many forms ranging from personal hygiene to diet and exercise. If we respect ourselves, we do the things that are necessary to make ourselves and happier and healthier person, including care for our health. Then, there is respect for those below us. Many people miss this form of respect, believing that they can mistreat underling as being less valuable parts of the Army machine. Do not make this mistake! As a non-commissioned officer, you must understand that every soldier has a role to play and has value. You should treat those soldiers in the manner you wish to be treated. If you do not like the individual, treat them with respect for the uniform they wear.
A soldier must also respect the equipment that is issued to him and entrusted to his care and his unit. No, you should not value a tank over a human life. However, respecting your tank as an intricate piece of machinery that could save your life is a very important attitude to hold. It is very easy to forget that the Army has entrusted you with a multi-million dollar machine and you should have enough respect for your job and your country to take good care of it. Even if that meets changing the oil in a truck, refueling a jet or performing basic maintenance at an Army facility, treating these things with respect as every bit as important as treating your superiors with respect. And of course the first thing that comes to mind when talking about respect is respect for superior officers. Despite the cuteness of shows like MASH and movies like Down Periscope and McHale’s Navy, respect for rank is fundamental to the way the Army operates. More importantly, respect is fundamental to the operation of American society. We have developed a governmental system which believes fundamentally that every person has an equal right to protection and respect under the law. When someone sworn to uphold that belie, such as a soldier, fails to do so it undermines the entire system and can lead toward anarchy.
The concept of selfless service is another hard to define value, but happens daily on the battlefield when soldiers put the needs of their country and their fellow citizen above themselves. It is that decision every morning to lace up your boots and go back to the fight, even if you never got to take them off the night before. Selfless service for a non-commissioned officer means thinking of your unit and your country before thinking of yourself. It means nights away from the comfort of home, leaving behind your children and spouse to go build roads in Afghanistan because it is what your country needs and what the world needs for yo9u to do. Often the selfless service of the American soldier is overlooked because it is so expected. For example, after the tsunami in Southeast Asia at Christmas, 2004, the American military began rescue and recovery operations without a second thought even though these countries were not high on our list of allies and knowing that their work would be largely thankless because that is what the world needed.
It is the same spirit that drives soldiers to donate to charities to support other soldiers and the children who lost parents in various wars and a hundred other causes that have nothing to do with military service. Selfless service is in many ways even above courage the highest calling a non-commissioned officer or soldier can have. It is what makes personal courage possible. If one truly believes in the need to do whatever it takes to make the world a better place, there is no ear of personal consequence or death. Selfless sacrifice makes life worth living. It is what truly separates men from the beasts. The moment a man cares for something else more than he cares for his own safety, he has achieved a degree of enlightenment unmatched by any religious concept. It is, ultimately, what believers claim that made Christ the Messiah. Even with his own life at stake, he was able to do what was necessary for other people. That is the calling of an American soldier, to willingly go where his superiors command, knowing that he might not make it back but doing it anyway because it is what is required for the safety and well-being of those he loves and his country.
The fifth core value of the Army that needs to be reflected in the lives and actions of non-commissioned officers is a dedication to honor. The dictionary definition of honor is perceived trustworthiness. This is a very important trait and one that can easily be lost. Once, not too many decades ago, Americans conducted business on the honor a handshake. People were believed to be trustworthy and they followed through with what they said. Then, something happened. We quit living to our word and everyone seemed to be out for themselves. This shameful decline lead to a rise in the crime rate as people began to believe that it was okay to steal from one another and to cheat and to kill one another. And, it all circles back to trustworthiness. When people act honorably, none of those things happen.
As an American soldier and non-commissioned officer, you expect your word to be your bond. When you say something to your men, they need to know that they can believe what you tell them. If you have been less than honest in your dealings with them before you hit the battlefield or if you have been less than honorable, lying or cheating them, how can you expect your men to believe in you when in truly matters, when lives may be at stake. This is why it is important for a soldier and an officer to be honest with his unit and his command. The ability to rely on one another without question is forged on the battlefield, but it also forged on the obstacle course, in the motor pool and in the mess hall. Once lost, trust is a difficult thing to rebuild, so the best course of action is to maintain it from the beginning, with truth and honor.
The sixth core value of the U.S. soldier is integrity. This goes hand in hand with honor and you generally cannot have one without the other. Psychologist Abraham Maslow said integrity comes with self-actualization that it is acting in accordance with one’s belief system. If he is correct, then we are expecting every Army soldier to be self-actualized. We believe that it is a core value of the American Army to believe in what is right and then act on it.
A person acting with integrity will not allow his fellow man to be abused based on race, creed, color, nationality or some other meaningless triviality. A person who acts with integrity believes that the cause of freedom is worth fighting and potentially dying for. He believes that cheating someone else in an effort to get ahead is wrong and therefore doesn’t do it. For the purposes of our argument, we will define a person of integrity as someone who knows the difference between right and wrong and acts according to what is right. More than forty years ago, in his letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr. martin Luther King Jr. challenged his fellow clergymen to take a stand based on right and wrong, not based on the law, and we make that same challenge today to soldiers. If the law were to be wrong, then it is your duty to stand up against and do what is right. You are a rational, intelligent being. You can define right and wrong and you must act accordingly.
As a non-commissioned officer, it is your duty to provide not only an example of this behavior, but in some cases to pound it into the minds of young recruits. Many have been taught that there is a moral ambiguity that circumstances can dictate the right action and it is your job as an officer to show them that there is no ambiguity between right and wrong. If it is wrong to treat one person in a harsh fashion, it is wrong to treat all people that way. Personal integrity is about knowing within yourself what is right and then acting on it. It is not good enough to recognize it if you do nothing about it.
The final core Army value is personal courage. This value follows out of selfless service. If you truly believe that you are making a difference in the world, personal courage becomes easy. It is important that soldiers understand that courage does not mean a lack of fear, but rather working through that fear to do the right thing anyway. Anyone with the ability to think is going to be afraid of running into a firefight to save a fallen comrade, but a soldier does it anyway because it is the right thing to do. That personal courage comes from the integrity and selfless service he has already developed. Because he knows that the struggle is about more than just him, a soldier can face his fears and take action to save his unit, his family and his country. This is the knowledge that members of United Airlines flight 93 found on September 11, 2005. They knew that taking action against the terrorists would likely result in their deaths, but they acted with personal courage to change the situation because they knew what it meant to their families and their nation.
Likewise, every day, American soldiers act with this type of personal courage to go out and do what their country requires of them. This can mean deployment in a war zone or simply standing guard at an American nuclear facility Every time a soldier dons his uniform he knows that he could face a challenge to his life because of the flag on his sleeve and he does so willingly because he has developed the personal courage to look into the face of adversity, injury and death do his duty anyway.
It may seem redundant to say that a non-Commissioned officer needs to hold these Seven Core Army values sacred and live by them on a daily basis. After all, we expect every soldier to do that, right? Yes and no. yes, we hold all soldiers to these core values and believe that they should employ them every day, but it is our non-commissioned officers, among others, who have stood the test and passed with flying colors. To live up to the standard that they have already achieved is the task. These values are what got you promoted to non-commissioned officer in the first place and they are the values needed to keep you there.