Empowerment of the American Non-Commissioned Officer (nco) Over Time

Argumentative Essay

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The objective of this work is to analyze the three most important factors that have led to the ever-increasing empowerment of the American Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) over time. This work will address the questions of: (1) what are the fundamental causes and consequences of this shift in responsibilities down the chain of command? (2) How well has the U.S. military prepared-or not prepared-it’s NCO for ever-increasing burdens of responsibility that have transpired (3) will this trend continue or is this trend reversible.

Statement of Thesis

The NCOs see themselves as being responsible for their own training and self-development and as autonomous individuals who will reliably prepare themselves for their roles as NCOs rather than being individuals who require supervision in this area of training, education and self-development.

U.S. Army: NCO Study Report Findings

The work entitled: “U.S. Army: NCO Study Report” states that informal self-development takes place routinely among NCOs as they actively assess the experiences of their subordinates, their units, and themselves, learn from that assessment and apply it to their next experience.” (the Army Training and Leader Development Panel Report NCO, 2002) Stated to be that which enables the process of feedback and assessment are factors including: (1) formal and informal counseling and mentoring; and (2) after-action reviews. (the Army Training and Leader Development Panel Report NCO, 2002) the expectations and outcomes of formal self-development of the Army are stated to fail to correspond with those of its NCOs” as the Army’s expectations for self-development are in the form of a formalized, directed program that is the foundation of a professional’s lifelong learning process by effectively linking operational and educational experiences with the tools to fill knowledge gaps.” (the Army Training and Leader Development Panel Report NCO, 2002) NCOs are stated to view themselves as being “responsible for their learning” and therefore desire that the Army treat them as “capable of directing their self-development.” (the Army Training and Leader Development Panel Report NCO, 2002)

NCOs were found to be “familiar with distance learning…and…interested in using it.” (the Army Training and Leader Development Panel Report NCO, 2002) However, it is reported that the Army and the field’s expectations for distance learning “are not the same.” (the Army Training and Leader Development Panel Report NCO, 2002) the perception of the field is that distance learning is a type of replacement for resident education…” and that the Army is presently unable to make provision of the “quality of products the field expects” and which includes:

(1) Interactive online collaboration; and (2) Real-time practical applications and multimedia instruction vs. simply uploading text-based lessons onto a new delivery system.” (the Army Training and Leader Development Panel Report NCO, 2002)

II. Limitations of NCO Self-Development Noted

It is stated in the Army Training and Leader Development Panel Report (NCO) that NCOs report that they do not feel that have “adequate involvement in or control over their assignments. They do not believe their assignments process focuses on leader development.” (the Army Training and Leader Development Panel Report NCO, 2002)

The Army Training and Leader Development Panel Phase II (NCO Study) Final Report states that requests were made by the NCOs to the Army for the following:

(1) Re-establishment, updating and publication of the NCO guide with the doctrinal roles, duties, authority and responsibilities of the NCO;

(2) Transformation of NCOES for full spectrum operations in the contemporary operational environment;

(3) Restoration of the focus on individual and small unit training as well as proving more training enablers, improving those already existing and development of new one that are ‘cutting edge technology and learning models’;

(4) Updating Army training doctrine and discipline training management;

(5) Updating, developing and sustaining individual and small unit training standards and products;

(6) Re-establishing competency assessment for NCOs link to training and readiness;

(7) Adoption and inculcating warrior ethos throughout all soldiers in the Army; and (8) Retooling NCO assignments system to focus on leader development. (the Army Training and Leader Development Panel Report NCO, 2002)

Stated as three factors that serve to ensure the competence of NCOs in the U.S. Army are the following three factors:

(1) Situational Awareness – formulation of an awareness of key elements relevant to the situation — ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘where’;

(2) Formation of an understanding or ‘meaning-making’ in a specific context upon the basis of experiential knowledge, training, education and cognition which includes the (a) Formulation of hypotheses and making of inferences as well as generalizations concerning future events; and (b) Formulation of a sense of the implications for various courses of action; and (3) Decision-making upon the basis of:

(a) Generation of alternate responses and applied actions for controlling the situation;

(b) Identification of the objectives, constraints and factors that influence each alternative’s feasibility and desirability; and (c) Conduction of an assessment of the alternatives. (the Army Training and Leader Development Panel Report NCO, 2002)

The work of Jelinek and Litterer (1995) identified three elements that are cognition-based and which contribute to the ability of the organization to effectively respond to crisis and ambiguity. Those three elements are stated as:

(1) Shared management: every individual in the organization from the top to the bottom is responsible for overall performance of the system;

(2) Mindful alertness to anomalies: Data takes on meaning only within context and subordinates therefore should remain alert to patterns, anomalies, and change and push this information upward in the organization;

(3) Ambiguity absorption: the organizational design should pinpoint who is responsible for dealing with ambiguity in the organization, the manner in which data is matched up with those providing context and interpretation and the attentional resources within the organization as well as where a need for shared interpretation exists. (as cited in Leedom, 2001)

Stated as four types of organizational responses are those of:

(1) Non-adaptive;

(2) Emergent adaptive;

(3) Operative adaptive; and (4) auto-adaptive. (Leedom, 2001)

In the non-adaptive response the technical support system, organizational flexibility and cultural openness are low while the emergent adaptive organization ranks low in terms of its technical support system and medium in the areas of organizational flexibility and cultural openness. The operative adaptive system ranks medium in all three categories while the auto-adaptive organization ranks high in all areas including the technical support system, organizational flexibility, and cultural openness. (Leedom, 2001)

Summary and Conclusion

Three primary factors that assist and enable the NCO in self-development are and organizational effectiveness are those of: (1) shared management; (2) mindful alertness to ambiguities; and (3) ambiguity absorption. Three organizational factors that assist the NCO and organization towards these ends are those of the: (1) technical support system; (2) flexibility of the organization; and (3) cultural openness.


Brickner, M.S. & Lipshitz, R. (2004) Pilot Study: System Model of Situation Awareness: “Sensemaking” and Decision Making in Command and Control. AFRL-HE-WP-TR-2004-071. Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio: U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.

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Klein, G., Moon, B. And Hoffman, R.F. (2006a). Making sense of sensemaking I: alternative perspectives. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 21(4), 70-73.

Klein, G., Moon, B. And Hoffman, R.F. (2006b). Making sense of sensemaking Ii: a macrocognitive model. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 21(5), 88-92

Leedom, D.K. (2001). Final Report: Sensemaking Symposium. (Technical Report prepared under contract for Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications & Intelligence). Vienna, VA: Evidence-Based Research. Inc. http://www.dodccrp.org/files/sensemaking_final_report.pdf

The Army Training and Leader Development Panel Report (NCO) (2002) Final Report. Online available at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/1824864/U.S.-Army-NCO-STUDY-REPORT